“Alright, Andrew. I’ll set the GPS going but you’ll have to remember it only gets us in the area, not to the area — only in the area. Okay?”
“Right,” he told me, starting the car. “Let’s go.”
Off we headed to George Washington National Forest’s Tibbet Knob, our first hike of the new year together.
- Almost four miles (Oh, and for those interested, there is a thirteen-point-three mile hike that combines Tibbet with a second trail on nearby Long Mountain, but you need to get the shuttle between the two.)
- It is an 830-foot elevation
- Rated a Level Two of Five difficulty
On and on we drove, twisting up and down mountains, going as backwoods as backwoods gets. Here’s an example: I needed to go to the bathroom so Andy stopped at some ultra-remote, hidden gas station on the side of a gravel road. The place had one pump.
“I’ll be back,” I told him before literally jumped from his car then sprinting to the door as he parked.
BATHROOMS ARE FOR PAYING CUSTOMERS ONLY!!!!! The handwritten sign on the door yelled — all caps with way too many exclamation points.
I ran back to the car, cross-legged and fearful I may have to use my ‘appendage‘ and find a tree soon. “ANDY!” I screamed. “ANDY! I NEED MONEY!”
“Wot?! Are you alright!” He looked alarmed, glancing over my shoulder as if a thief with a gun would show to steal the cash I was begging him for cash.
“I NEED TO PEE! There’s no time to explain — just trust me. PLEASSSE!” His confused look grew but he unlocked the doors regardless, allowing me to rifle through his pack. “Thanks!” I hollered then darted off a second time. “Oh and do you want anything to eat?” I questioned over my shoulder.
“A Snickers!” I barely heard him say as I opened the door.
“Can we help ya find sum’m,” the older hunched woman said to me. I didn’t see anyone else to make there be a “we.” Regardless, her question wasn’t a question. She glared with eyes that followed me around the shop and a scowl that showed she did not trust me. Clearly my appearance screamed “I’m going to steal your toilet paper and waste your water.”
“I am going to buy a Snickers and . . . ” I looked around. I didn’t care what I was going to buy. I would have bought suntan lotion in the middle of winter if I saw it first. ” . . . food — um, crackers and . . . ” I kept looking ” . . . more crackers. Then I’ll go to the bathroom.” I think this was the first greeting I’ve had with a stranger where I announced my toilet-destination less than a minute into meeting.
“Go on t’tha bathroom first then,” she remarked and aggressively pointed towards the direction. Her expression changed but I couldn’t tell if she was angrier or a bit happier now that she knew I would be making a purchase. Let’s be honest — This place did not indicate it got a high volume of traffic. Or any traffic for that matter.
“Thank you!” I squealed as I dashed to the bathroom door.
BATHROOMS ARE FOR PAYING CUSTOMERS ONLY!!!!! the sign repeated with the same crazy amount of exclamation points. And this wasn’t the only message — The bathroom door was plastered, graffiti-style, with other hand-scrawled signs that were covered in packing tape in an effort to preserve the words. I could feel the anger increasing, too, hear the train of thought, the conversation. I imagined it went something like this:
“Ya know, Hank. They may have ignored that first there sign.”
“Yea. I reckon.”
“Hank. We need ta do sum’m! Those hooligans com’a inta MA store ‘nd use MA toilet paper ‘nd MA water ‘nd leave ‘out payin’ fa anythin’?! I’m NOT havin’ it! Those damn misfits need ta PAY!”
And that’s where Hank and Scowl made the decision to vandalize their own property with signs. THE TOILET PAPER AND WATER ARE NOT FREE!!!!!! message was adjacent to the WE HAVE TO PAY — SO DO YOU!!!!!” sign and the CAN’T YOU READ — YOU NEED TO PAY!!!!!!!!!! It was the first time I felt scared — as in life threatened — when going to the toilet. I knew they would get my money but their messages made me felt like a criminal, as if I had done something wrong and I began to rethink my desire to go. Running out of time though, I opened the world’s most flimsy door. And the lock didn’t work. I tried again. Still didn’t lock. It must have been Protocol Two (after the messages) in which Hank and Scowl planned to forcefully rip the poor victim off the loo if that person didn’t identify the items he or she was going to buy. I tried the lock again to avail so I dug into my pockets for my phone — Surely I could ask Andy to stand at the door — but I left my phone in the car with him. Suddenly having a body guard at the door no longer mattered — What was critical was having a device to make emergency calls in case I was about to be murdered in the bathroom seemed very important. Panic began to overtake me until I was about to pee myself so I decided to take the risk and use the bathroom. If Hank and Scowl wanted to come in that badly, I determined a lock wouldn’t stop them. To my relief though, I peed alone.
Closing the door behind me, I searched for the Snickers and crackers I mentioned earlier. Scowl moved behind the counter.
I went to grab my card (because who carries cash?) and she smiled a gummy grin as I moved.
“There’s a $5.00 limit.”
“Of course,” I told her, not the “of course” that sounds in agreement but the “of course” that made it known I thought she was odd and her bathroom was odd and her entire daggon store was odd. You know, they say Southerners are nice and welcoming. I am a Southerner; I like to believe this is true. Here and now though, I was sorely let down.
I looked around. There was bug spray coated in a layer of dust next to dog food which was above bread. Grabbing another set of crackers, I walked back to the counter.
“$4.76,” she gummed.
We were on only-essential-words speaking terms so I declined to comment a second time and glanced around again — The bug spray still had dust on it, the dog food was still one of the most peculiar gas station items, and the bread was still — I don’t even want to know. Skittles — I saw a large pack and let them fall in front of her.
“With tax, that brings your total to $7.12,” she smiled.
“Great,” I told her and I meant it — I don’t know if it was more due to relief that I didn’t have to buy the dog food or sarcasm at having to go through all those hoops just to pee but I was finally able to leave.
“L. It’s scary here,” Andy confessed once I was in the car again and we were well on our way again. “Let’s hope something doesn’t happen to my car because if it does, I have no doubt we are going to die a bloody and tortured death like those in horror movies.” I couldn’t agree more. “Can you tell me how much farther we have to go on this road?”
Taking his phone, I began to navigate, following the GPS which lead us down one-lane dirt roads . . . past a closed zoo . . . and into a massive circle, and that’s around when I started feeling carsick so I relinquished the phone and closed my eyes. A few moments later, I was woken up to Andy’s un-amused voice.
“It says we have arrived, L.” I looked around — We were in the middle of nowhere. Not the “Let’s go on a hike in the middle of nowhere”, but actually and truly nowhere.
“We’ve arrived? You mean at the destination? You’ve been listening to the GPS for the exact spot?!” I asked incredulously.
“Yea?!” he questioned, equally incredulously. He has this way of making the simple one-syllable word ‘yea’ carry multiple pitches, sounding something like ye-ah-ag, with each pitch breaking into another syllable so that the middle “ah” almost sounds as if he is clearing his throat for effect. “It is the GPS, L! Why would I NOT follow it?!”
“It’s not God! We don’t have to follow it exactly! Remember when I said, ‘The GPS was only going to get us in the area, not to the area?’ It was only meant to be a guide!”
This didn’t turn out so well and, as I am writing this, I am having a realization that the most used term Andrew says to me is “bloody hell” — used in the sense of “Bloody hell, why would I not follow a GPS?!” and “Bloody hell, I’d expect to at least be on the same road to where we were going!” and “Bloody hell — Then where IS the area?!”
Turns out his solution to the problem was to drift, turning left and right down little mountain roads because surely, the hike would just pop up. Still nothing though — no parking lot, no signs, no trail head. To add to frustrations, we lost all service so were unable to find useful information or directions online.
“What streets are mentioned on the paper you printed?” he asked.
“You mean a cross street?”
“What’s a ‘cross street’?
“Oh Andrew. Not now,” I told him because sometimes it is just too difficult to explain the differences in American speech and British speech. “Okay — Streets I see are VA 675 and . . . Wolf Gap Campground . . . ?”
“Thanks. That helps a tremendous amount.”
Ambling down more roads, we determined it best to backtrack until we got some type of signal and could plug in a better address. About half an hour later, we finally had service so Andy punched in information until a better address showed.
“WOT!!!” Andy’s calm, dejected personality abruptly changed. I didn’t want to ask. There are times when his ‘what’ is a question and there are times when this word is simply an exclamation of disbelief. This one was the second. “It says we are 174 MILES AWAY!!!” He looked at me. I refused to give in and look at him. “It says we are TWO HOURS AND THIRTY MINUTES from our destination!” It’s not as if he did not have reason to be astonished; all the same, I’d never heard a person be more astounded. “I thought you said it was in the area!”
“Andy! I said it would get us in the area — not to the area! You remember me saying that when we first set off, don’t you?”
“Bloody hell, L! You are kidding?! In the area?! We are two and a half hours from the area. I’ll have to fill up with petro twice. Two full tanks. That’s not in the area!”
Maybe my stubborness got the best of me. “I mean . . . it is still . . . in the area” and I motioned to the vast nothing-ness of trees and dirt and dead grass.
“We aren’t even near the area! ‘In the area’ is a couple miles away. ‘In the area’ is we are on the same road. In the area?! We might as well be in a different STATE!”
I didn’t know what to tell him except that we were still in Virginia so that must have meant we were technically ‘in the area.’
“And why on earth was I even taking directions from you!? Bloody hell — Something must be wrong with me! To trust you with directions!” I didn’t want to tell him I agreed but I did — That was the question worth answering.
Regardless, after moments on silent contemplation from the both of us, we determined we were ready to go home. A five hour and fifteen minute drive total was not worth it for a short four mile hike. So, just like that, first hike of the new year together — cancelled.
Unfortunately, due to looking at the directions and glancing down at my phone to check for service, I felt carsick again so I apologized and closed my eyes a second time while Andrew re-traced our drive — two hours and thirty minutes — back home.
“Hey, Andy?” I asked after I’d slept for about half an hour. “How far are we now?”
“Close to two hours,” he responded before asking if I felt better.
“I do actually. I really do.” I hesitated. What I was going to say needed to be broached lightly. “So . . . you’re still heading home, right?”
“Yea . . . ”
“And we are still about two hours away, yes?”
“Yea . . . ”
“And the hike is about two hours away, right?”
“Yea . . . ”
“Well. I was just thinking — The reason I called off the hike was because I didn’t feel good. But now I feel much better after that nap. So . . . if it’s the same distance for each direction . . . then maybe we should just go on the hike? I mean, we put all this energy in so far . . . for . . . nothing . . . ?”
It was quiet for several minutes. I waited. I knew he needed those moments.
“Right. So you’re telling me that after you slept and I was driving half an hour home that — now that you’re awake again — you want to go back on the hike?”
“I mean . . . only if we don’t have to go in a different direction?”
“No, we don’t have to go in a different direction,” his voice was even. He wasn’t angry but it was clear he had to focus on remaining calm. “We are almost at the point where we have to make this decision though.”
“Okay. So what do you think?”
“Fine. For the past half hour, I’d been determining what I was going to do when I got home — have some lunch, maybe play video games, go fishing — I was getting excited about that. But you’re sure you want to hike now?” I nodded. “Alright. Fuck it. I wanted to hike. That’s what we came out to do and I’d still like to go so let’s go.” And with that, decision made — We were hiking again.
A long two hours passed until finally we were welcomed to our hiking spot with this sign that seemed to pop from the forest: WELCOME TO WEST VIRGINIA, as if on cue for Andrew. I saw his facial expression out of my peripheral vision.
“In the area . . . ” he puffed quietly.
“Not to the area,” I responded.
“Ohhh, I know, I know. Not to the area. How I know.” Then he paused, turned to me, and smiled. “You’re bloody hard work, you know that, right?”
I did. And do.
Finally though, after our five hour car ride we were on our way! And goodness, it was a gorgeous day. Unlike my earlier hike that had below freezing temperatures, this one was sunny, warmer with a light coaxing breeze. The sky seemed to be celebrating the temperatures too, throwing as many hues of blue above the gnarled limbs.
Following the yellow blaze trail, we set off for the Tibbet Knob overlook.
Other than the crunch on fallen leaves, the forest was quiet, the way we adore on hikes.
Plus, the bare trees allowed the sun to almost guide us as the rays streamed in just right.
More visibility also allowed us to see we were bordering fantastic views of Big Schloss and Mill Mountain.
Because there are two short but steep rock scrambles, this hike is not as family-friendly; therefore, it is more secluded. This left us feeling we had a private tucked away location where nature welcomed us. Even the fuzzy green moss stretched before our feet, illuminating the trail.
Pines fanned their needles beside us and the rhododendrons held delicate buds that waited for spring . . .
We continued to weave around the yellow blaze . . .
and soon came upon this (below) tree, which appeared to have been heavily scratched.The damage did not seem to be from a fallen limb as there were no limbs nearby and there were many wood chips on the ground, scattered at the base of the tree.The damage was also about five or so feet high and seemed to be fresh as the wood was a bright cream and did not have a large amount of dirt or debris covering it. Andy and I think this was done by a black bear. According to park rangers I’ve spoken to before, black bears in Virginia don’t hibernate due to temperatures never getting cold enough so they are actively walking the forests. However, in all of our hikes we have never seen these markings so we are not positive. I did do some research and found similar markings other hikers have posted. For instance, the hikers that had these below pictures all claim it was due to bears.
Anyway, help us out and take a guess to tell us what you think caused these markings! I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Returning to our hike: I will say it seemed a bit more strenuous than it actually is. Phrases like ‘short, steep rock scrambles’ and ‘one of two steep sections’ and ‘may require hand-over-hand climbing’ can be seen when investigating this trail beforehand, but we found it wasn’t that serious (this coming from a guy and girl that haven’t been out hiking in months). Still, it does require a more energy than a casual walk in the woods so an occasional rock-touch was embraced by us as it made this hike different. Anyway, here’s a good example of how it wasn’t a difficult hike — I apparently did not find the first rock scramble astounding enough to photograph as I see no pictures of it now that I am writing.
Anyway, onward we walked pass these tickets to our last rock scramble.
After that though, we were instantly greeted with amazing views of the valley below and mountains ahead.
Dramatic drop offs allowed us to dart from one overlook to the other . . .before coming to sit at the cliff edge.
We stayed on the top of the mountain for awhile, nestled into one another, before trekking back down the trail, an easy and calm hike.
Preparing to go, we got back into the car, started the engine, and headed out. That’s when we came across this massive heron in a river of melting ice.
Life felt stable and good . . . until we got further on our journey when our two and a half hour drive ended up being over five hours as two major roads were closed. Let’s just end here saying the trip back felt as if it were the never-ending drive from hell because every possible turn that could have lead us home was somehow thwarted.
But there was a huge bonus: Circling and turning down numerous roads allowed us to be beside this exploding sunset so that in the end, even though the trip there and back drug at a crawl, we had this to look at and know there’s only more in store for us as our 2018 hikes have just begun.