Growing up in rural West Virginia far from even a small town’s lights will give you an appreciation for a dark night. The quiet. The stillness. The twinge of fear of the unknown.
All these were present in the early hours of my final night in Dolly Sods. Under the thick pine branches and with an overcast sky, the visibility that night was zero. I’d wake up every so often from either the need to switch positions or from the sound of a little critter scurrying along the tarp I’d laid out beneath my tent, and the world was black. No sight of my sleeping bag, the tent, the trees, nothing.
It was eerie. And kinda nice.
After I’d woken for good that morning, I walked down to the Left Fork of Red Creek to filter more water for breakfast and the hike out. This little stream may have been my favorite spot of the whole trip. Open meadows. Pine trees. The sky reflected in the almost still water.
After a few minutes of squatting by the stream and filtering water I stood back up to relieve my aching knees and was surprised to see two white-tail deer who too had wandered down to get an early morning drink.
I had decided the previous day to cut the last bit of the trip somewhat short. I was tired. I was sore. And, in planning my route, I was a little ambitious. Initially I had wanted to make a large loop to the north, taking in both the Rock Ridge and Raven Ridge trails before cutting south to take the Blackbird Knob trail back to my car.
At this point I just didn't have it in me. Instead, I continued east along the Blackbird Knob Trail from my campsite for a leisurely morning hike to round out the trip.
I was not disappointed by the sendoff that Dolly Sods had in store for me.
The sun was just beginning to filter through the trees.
It wasn't long before I had made it back to the trail head and my car. As much as I had enjoyed the solitude, I was relieved to be on my way back home.
What did I take away from this experience? I’m still sorting through it all, but here’s what I've come up with so far:
- Clif Bar wrappers make a decent fire starter when in a pinch.
- I need to step up my trail meal planning: food that can be fixed without a fire would be a plus (see Day 1's fire starting ordeal).
- I need to exercise more: my slight frame needs a little bolstering if I’m going to keep lugging a loaded backpack through the woods that weighs almost a third of what I do.
- There are few things more beautiful to me than a clear, warbling birdsong in an otherwise quiet forest.
Lastly, and perhaps most encouraging, is the fact that with this trip I pushed at my boundaries of comfort, of camping and hiking skill, and of organization. I learned from this trip.
And I will continue to do so for some time.