Sunday, November 24, 2013

Powhite Park Orienteering

On Friday, I got an email from the Meetup Group that I sometimes go hiking with, Richmond / Charlottesville Adventurers, asking if I would be interested in orienteering at Powhite Park yesterday.  I have never done formal orienteering on a course before, and it sounded like fun, so I replied "yes."  And yesterday being a really nice late fall day, I showed up at the park, compass in hand.

My compass and route finding skills are pretty rusty.  How rusty?  Well, let's say if I had the same skill level for my job, I would have been fired long ago.  Especially since the advent of handheld geographic positioning system receivers, the compass pretty much stays in my emergency gear bag buried in my pack.  I always bring it when I hike, but it never sees the light of day.  And that is bad.  Anything electronic, like a GPS, can fail at any time, and having a compass that I have forgotten to use is not really a backup, is it?  So I think I need to make a goal of relying less on the GPS and relearning those orienteering skills - and improving significantly on what I used to know.

It turns out that the founders of my meet up group, Alec and Ellen, are also very active in the Central Virginia Orienteering Club, who put on events like this every month or so.
When I got there, I paid $5 for my map (a compass is next to worthless without a map - compass and map are one of the 10 essentials you should always take hiking).  I bought the beginner course map.  Then Ellen gave several us an orientation to orienteering, explaining how to navigate and what to do when we find one of the 17 "flags."  For this course, as it turns out, we could pretty much move along an extensive and unmarked trail system to locate the flags, so the map was really essential, and the compass less so.  The map we got was amazingly detailed, even marking things such as gullies, boulders, and large uprooted trees.  Whoever prepared it did a wonderful job, and after I had found a few flags, I learned how to make use of all of the information beyond just the contour lines.

Here is a section of the map showing more detail.  The paths (which are unmarked) are the dashed lines and the 3 meter contour lines are the narrow orange lines.  The numbered purple circles mark the locations of flags we are to find.  You can see number 3, 4, 5, and 7 here.
Here is a partial legend for the map.  On the left are a few of the symbols and markings found on the map.  On the right are some of the flags we are to find with their identifying letters.  For example, if you are looking for #8 and the flag you are looking at doesn't have an "X" on it, you are in the wrong spot.  They also give a clue what type of feature each flag is near.  For example, flag #7 is in a small gully.

After our orientation, I signed in to get my time marked down - people do this competitively as a race - and started moving to find the first "flag."  The woods are still lovely this time of year, even without many leaves.
This is an example of one of the flags.  They are meant to be easy to see.  This is not geocaching, where things are hidden.  See the red hole punch hanging below the flag?  I'll explain that in a second.  One young girl, who was trail running the more advanced course, told me how much she loves orienteering and how geocaching (which actually sounds kind of fun to me) is for "weaklings."  I had to laugh at her enthusiasm, and it was great to see a girl out by herself developing her sense of confidence and strength.  I ran into her parents later back at the starting point and complemented them on raising their kids.  They had three girls out doing this course yesterday.
So, on the side of the map is a series of little numbered boxes.  Each one represents the flag we are to find for that number.  The flags are marked with letters, and have a hole punch.  Each punch has a different pattern, so it can be determined if you really found the exact flag.  We are supposed to find the flags in numeric order, which I did, except for a little mishap where I got disoriented (and I knew I was but I didn't check my compass for some reason) and ended up finding flag 13 (which was on the east side of the park) instead of flag 8 (which was on the west side).  But even so, I did not punch the box for 13 until I found it again after 12.  I also found about 3 of the advanced course flags just by chance, because the orange and white stands out in the November woods.
Some of the paths are very easy to follow, like this one.  Others, because of leaf fall, are obscured and hard to find and see.  That is why I ended up at flag 13 instead of 8.  I knew I was going in the wrong direction but couldn't find the intersecting paths.  So I backtracked all the way back to 7, my last known exact condition, and tried again until I found it.
Flag 10 was by this pretty river.  I had lunch near here.  What, lunch, during a timed event?  Well, I was doing this for fun, not competition, and my peanut butter sandwich was calling.  It was after this point I ran into another guy, I think at flag 12, and we did the rest of the course together.  It was nice to chat with someone else while walking through the woods.
Can you imagine the force needed to snap these two large trees about 15-20 feet up?  Must have been a helluva storm!
When I got back to the start, I got my time recorded (it was a total of about 2 hours and 7 minutes, something like that.)  I don't know how far I walked.  If you did the course point to point, I assume along compass bearings, it would have been 3.2 kilometers.  But I did it along trails for the most part, and made some gaffes, so I would guess it was more like 6 or 7K.  I enjoyed this and would like to do it again, and become better and finding my way through the woods with map and compass.  Something to focus on in 2014?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

My New "Water Shoes"

For my aborted backpacking trip of last week, I was pretty sure I would have to ford a river - the North Fork of the Thornton River.  I don't think it would be a wide, deep river, but from what I had read about the trail, I would have to find a shallow spot to wade across rather be able to rock hop it.  And I was not eager to have soaked boots.  My pair of river shoes is supremely uncomfortable.  I had bought them years ago out of desperation when unexpected kayaking the Contoocook River.  They are also bulky and heavy.  Time for something more comfortable and light that can just slip in my pack.

So last week, I went back to REI and picked out a pair of Teva Terra Fi Lite shoes, kind of like a sandal.  I figured I could switch out of my boots at the Thornton River, slip these on, and wade across.  Plus, they looked comfortable enough to wear around my campsite, although with the dipping temperatures I expected, maybe not warm enough.  The salesperson who I talked to told me that he actually uses them exclusively now for hiking, and does not even bother with boots.  He recommended a special pair of socks to go with them, so I got them too.

As it turned out, I scrubbed my trip because of the back injury.  I wondered if I should return the Teva's, but then decided I would use them at some point.  So on my six mile hike at High Bridge Trail State Park last Saturday, I decided to try wearing them to see how they would do.  It was an easy, level trail with a nice gravel surface.  To my surprise, I really liked them.  I don't know if I will ever use these instead of boots, but I do know they will be in my pack in the future when I hike anywhere I may have to cross water.  I may even try hiking in them in the mountains at some point, just to see how they do.
Here is my left foot in the funky socks that I bought.  I am trying to spread my toes out so you can see that they are kind of like gloves.  I was surprised to find that I kind of like them!
I can see wearing the Teva's a lot in warmer weather without socks, especially if I were not planning a lot of walking.  I think to hike in them without socks would invite friction.  And my original intent being to get a new pair of water shoes, these will be perfect for using in a kayak or canoe, or for making a portage with a canoe - not that I have had the pleasure of that event in many years.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

High Bridge Trail State Park

When I woke up yesterday, the miracles of chiropractic care and ice had my back feeling almost normal, so I decided on a hike on a nice late fall day.  I didn't want to drive all the way to the mountains and do something rugged until I test the back out.  So I went to High Bridge Trail State Park, a converted rails to trails project, near Farmville.  The trail is 31 miles long and ideal for walking and bike riding.  I don't think that the state park encompasses the entire trail length, but it has the part with the High Bridge, which looms 125 feet over the Appomattox River and is nearly a half mile long.  And that is the high point, literally and figuratively, of this hike.

The map below shows my route, just over three miles out and three back.  It also shows thumb nails of three of the photos later on.

The current bridge was built in 1914, the one before that in 1853.  It must have been an engineering and construction marvel.  The original bridge was involved in military action just days before Lee's surrender of his army in April, 1865.
Here is a view back after I had crossed about a third of the bridge.
The Appomattox River far below is little more than a wide stream at this point in its journey to meet the James River at City Point in Hopewell.  From there, it will have a date with the Chesapeake Bay.
Here is a view back showing some of the outside of the bridge.
If you click on the photo, you will see the bridge on the left the river right of center.  You can see that peak foliage is well past here.
Here is the gravel trail looking back from the south.
This nice field was one of the open views along my hike.
 If you look at the topo map above, you might notice a short branch on my hike.  I saw a narrow and rutted gravel road climbing through the woods and decided to see where it went.  After maybe 0.2 miles, I came to two parked trucks and several guys.  I asked them if it would be disturbing to any hunters if I continued.  The oldest said to me, "You shouldn't be walking back this way.  Stick to the trail.  There are people hunting in here."  We chatted for a minute or so and then I turned back.  I didn't want to disturb anyone, nor did I want to be mistaken for a deer.

Friday, November 8, 2013

So Frustrating!

I have today off from work and had big plans.  I should be on the road right now, heading for Shenandoah National Park for two days of backpacking.  This is my makeup trip from the longer trip I had to cancel last month because of work.  It would have been a bit chilly up in the mountains - highs of about 47 and lows in the mid to upper 20's as of now - but I was prepared for it.  I learned my lesson at Mount Rogers last year and was taking my bulkier and heavier, but much warmer, sleeping bag.  It takes up almost half the space in my pack!

On Wednesday, I did a presentation for work at a conference near here.  I was leaving the building and carrying a large and awkward flip chart stand that totally blocked my vision.  I had forgotten that as you leave the conference building, there was a single step to step down to the portico before getting on the short flight of stairs leading to the ground.  So I stepped off, not expecting a drop of six inches.  Strong legs and good balance kept me from falling.  Luck prevented a sprained or broken left ankle.  And I thought all was well.

Then yesterday, the left side of my back started hurting.  I obviously wrenched it during the unexpected step down.  It wasn't too bad, but kept getting a little worse.  I got my gear organized and was all packed up by 10PM, ready to head out this morning.  I figured I could deal with a sore back.  But this morning, it is even more sore and clearly needs to be adjusted.  So I stopped thinking with my male brain and - after carrying my pack downstairs and making final preparations to go - I used my more rational brain and decided that this is nuts!  To head out alone for two days carrying a 35 pound pack over very rugged and remote terrain does not concern me.  But doing all that with a sore back is just crazy.  So around 6:45, I made the decision to cancel the trip and call a chiropractor as soon as they open at 8:30.  If an adjustment works, I will try a short hike later today and if it still feels good in the morning, then I can at least go for a nice day hike in the mountains.  But for the second (and likely last) time this fall, I am cancelling a backpacking trip.  It is very frustrating, but compared to a broken leg or a bad fall from the misstep, not really that bad.

I am showing my roughly 17 mile route - where I planned on going - below: starting and ending at the orange arrow top left, camping at the orange triangle bottom right, and moving clockwise.  This area is in the northern section of Shenandoah NP, and other than a hike a few years ago up Little Devil Stairs, would all have been new territory for me.  I'll plan on doing this trip next fall.  As for today, I will find something to turn lemons into lemonade.

Friday, November 1, 2013

On Election Day, Vote for Strong Abs!

Virginia has elections Tuesday, including for governor.  Most people seem to dislike both the Democratic candidate (Terry McAuliffe) and the Republican candidate (Ken Cuccinelli), and wouldn't trade a bucket of warm spit for either of them, from what I read and hear.

But there is a vote that everyone should be in favor of on Tuesday!  On the drive up to hike Buck Hollow on Sunday, I saw these two political signs next to one another in a rural area:

So, who is with me, America?  On Tuesday, cast your vote for "Strong Abs" (or at the least for "Strong Abbs").  Who can be opposed to that?  It's political "crunch" time!