I went on a group outing to mount the Majestic Old Rag Mountain April 2013 and it was a heady affair that left me reeling, shocked, shook, and not thrilled although there were many “thrills” to be had during this hike, surely. But I was told by a wise man (Sir William J. Melendez Diaz) during the tail end of the Hike while I was bitching about what we just went through that I needed to get into “Retrospective” mode about the experience and he was right. After putting some distance between me and the experience, I can honestly say 3 days removed that I had alot of Fun (in retrospect) and definitely enjoyed the motley crew of entertaining and supportive peeps that were in our group. But during the Hike, I didn’t have such perspective. First of all, I readily admit that I had alot of misconceptions about Hiking. People always intimate that Hiking can bring you inner peace, clarity, calm, and make you feel one with nature all the while feeling you are made of the sterner stuff and able to deal with the primitive environment like the ultimate warrior or warrioress (yes, I made that word up for gender parity). But If I had to judge by this Hike, I CALL BS! There was no peace for me and nature was not a kind host during this trek.
We left in a 4 car caravan at 6:15am sharp towards our destination. First big laugh was the amount of Food I bought along for the Hike in 3 large shopping bags that I had to stuff into the small backpack that Dante lent me for the occasion- 5 soyburger sandwiches, 3 liters of water, 1 huge Gatorade, 7 bananas, and 4 long packs of saltine crackers. Why did I bring so much food? This is what Dante listed as food I should bring. Unfortunately, since subtlety is not my middle name, I took his list to be everything I should bring instead of picking and choosing my treats FROM the list he provided. The running joke was that my backpack of goodies would be able to feed our entire car load of peeps during the trip. I just had this strange idea that at the top of the mountain, we would be sitting around the grassy knolls picnicking- Boy was I wrong about that one, but I digress. I also wore an outlandish camo hat with big dookey hoop earrings hoping that my headgear would alert potential hunters that I was not a target. Unfortunately, I was told that I looked like a leopard- not a good choice apparently. More laughs.
We get to Old Rag in 2 hours and soon enough, we are off to the races to confront this Mountain in our Hiking Boots, backpack, several layers of clothes, and gloves. Five (5) minutes into our Hike at the base of the mountain, I noticed a little shack/house on the side of the road with a laundry line that was drying out a big ole confederate flag flapping in the wind. It should be no surprise that my feelings about the confederate flag are not in the least bit civil. But 6-7 hrs later, getting within view of that same dingy Flag blowing gently on the laundry line signaling the end of our hike gave me so much joy!
The first leg of the hike is a steep zigzag climb up the mountain via 8- 10 Switchbacks. The cardio produced from hiking these Steep Zigzags/Switchbacks up the mountain in the increasingly cold air as altitudes got higher was arduous, unrelenting, & brutally invigorating to the point that I thought I would pass out. Unreal. Of course, I was in no danger of really passing out but I just wanted this to END! I typically don’t run on the track or the treadmill more than 5 miles at a good clip so going further was a tad beyond my mental stamina. I had to stop at least 3X to catch my breath. Already, I was thinking about getting back home but I silently trudged along at a clipped pace breathing like I was running 6 minute miles. Starting out near the front of the pack, I quickly fell to the middle of our group climbing to the Summit. One little warning sign for upcoming trials during this hike was the increasing amount of snow/ice that was on the trail but what did I know- this was my first time so I just thought this was normal.
We finally reach the Summit and we were greeted by a Christian Banjo & Violinist Duo serenading the climbers who made it. They were part of a Church doing their Public Service for Easter Holiday in a lovely setting and their concert took place with them perched on a nice large Boulder overlooking a Vast Abyss with eagles flying around- so soothing and welcome. But my joy at reaching the Summit was short lived when I found out that this was NOT the top of the mountain. I silently groan but decided to sing along to the Americana & Christian Hymnals the Duo was playing to get my mind right for more cardio abuse on my body- little did I know it would get much worse. I wasn’t even mad when one of the Church leaders chatting me up and started some low-key evangelizing- I guess I look like an easy mark for the church, HA! I took his church pamphlet and even promised him I wouldn’t litter the mountain side with it torn up in little pieces. Interesting side affect throughout this entire hike was that I completely lost my appetite. I nibbled on 5 crackers, ate 2 bananas, and drank less than half of one liter of my water bottles and that was it for the entire hike. I think my stomach already knew we were in for rough times ahead and my adrenaline rush didn’t need any additional sugar, water, or protein to power me back to safety.
After a short break singing along to the pleasant music, we are off again to what everyone kept saying was the “Fun” Part- The Rock Scramble. Well, we approach this section and I’m puzzled- where are the rocks? I see huge BOULDERS but no rocks. I’m now told we have to climb over & under said “rocks”, Jump across said “rocks”, and squeeze in between the small crevices of these “Rocks”. This wasn’t a Rock Scamble, It was now forever christianed THE GIANT BOLDER CLIMB. Did I forget to mention that the surfaces are glistening with fresh slick ice on their surfaces? Joy. All I can do is to look at Dante balefully thinking, I can’t believe you got me into this mess. I now realize that we are on some ultra adventure hike where the goal or challenge was to see who will make it to the end alive bare minimum or without injury. My goal now? To get back home to my comfy life and that is all I was hyper focused on with a burning intensity. I’m now in Full Panic Mode and must survive at any cost. Were there beautiful views of nature? Yes. Was I paying much attention- no, my mind was finely attuned to me getting back to the car safely- that is ALL I COULD THINK ABOUT, GETTING HOME. So to review, the Rock scramble was sold to me as when the fun would start. Reality- that is when the terror began for me. OMG. I should have had to sign a waiver form or something to clue me in, but then it gets worse….
Many people had to get Butt Shoves euphemistically called Butt assists from others to climb over/on top of the Bolders for those without the upper body strength or firm grip on the Large Icy Bolder Thingys. I pride myself during this section that I was able to get all spyder monkey on those bolders and actually handled it quite well not requiring much help- every other day pushups and pullups finally paid off. Members of our crew were saying, wow, look at Tanya scramble over those bolders! I could not focus on these compliments meant to calm me down and to help me get into the spirit of this “fun” hike. I quickly dismissed such talk- all I knew was that I had to get back to the car and I only wanted to hear about the quickest way we could accomplish this. We finally reach the top of the Mountain and I was in Heaven! Its finally over, I’m thinking. People are looking at the beautiful views and I do the same- although from a safe distance hunkered down underneath one of the bolders which had a built in rock couch for me to relax on. Also, I’m afraid of heights so not one to tempt nature, I stay pretty far from the cliff’s edge and elect not to take any pictures of me with the abyss behind me. So we try to chill out for a bit but the wind is whipping around like a small scale hurricane. Because of the Bitter winds at the top, our group curtails our siesta and we decide to descend the mountain
The route back down the mountain is supposed to be straightforward and pedestrian- pretty much a straight shot without too much drama. But this was not to be our destiny this hike because we were in for a surprise no one anticipated. First we encounter a muddy, slushy trail but hey, so what, a little dirt won’t hurt no body. But slowly but surely, the path gets narrower and icier and suddenly, we are confronted with a snow-packed hard ice narrow trail where only one person can pass at a time What in the world?! When things got particularly helter skelter with me busting my arse 3X on the icey trail and breaking my fall and my continued lurch to the cliff’s edge with branches and my now sore wrist, I would cast a loving (not so) look at Dante, my friend Dante who invited me as a first time hiker on this journey of nature’s fun house and thought, wait til I get him on solid ground. Truthfully, the reason why I fell so often was that I was so anxious to get through this crap and get off of this bloody mountain that I was panicking and moving too quickly. To negotiate the narrowest passage that had a steep cliff on one side and shrubbery/bolders on our left side, it was decided that we had to do Butt-slides or luges down the path so we didn’t slip-n- slide off the freaking mountain. I’m like, Really??? I’m pretty much in an active, focused stupor where all I could do was concentrate on getting home and if it took me sliding my butt on a hard cold icy trail, so be it. I think Luis Morales knew I was in a serious heightened mental state of full alarm so he kept a hold of my backpack to keep pulling me back when I kept trying to race on the icy pack. I am forever thankful to him for watching over me because I clearly was not thinking rationally. I just wanted to get the heck out of this fiendish nightmare NOW. After much sliding on our asses and crouching low moving slowly along the trail grabbing from branch to vine to tree trunks to anchor ourselves, we get through the Devil’s playground and onto flat ground.
At this point, my rational mind returns and I’m mildly incredulous that a first time hiker (me) was invited to this madness. During the last two mile hike straight-a-way along Firehouse Road back to our car with William, Luis, & Dante, I calmly give Dante an earful of what I thought about this expedition. No need to retell it here, I ‘m sure you can imagine my mild indignation (not mild at all) about the experience I just went through. Suffice it to say, I was totally putting the blame on Dante for inviting me to this mess and putting me in this predicament. But in his defense, he reminded me that he sent everyone including myself the link giving a full accounting of Old Rag Mountain and her messiness. Had I read it, I wouldn’t have been shocked. However, in my defense, had I read it, I probably wouldn’t have gone on this hike either but that is water under the bridge now.
We later all had dinner in Warrenton Virginia and it was a great time recounting all of the shennigans that occurred and a few hearty laughs were had by all. The only sour reminder of the trip was that during my nap in the car back to Vienna, I had a dream loop of seeing Big Boulders and me screaming- no joke.
In conclusion, Dante and William were masterful Hike Guides and did a wonderful job checking on everyone to make sure we all made it through this hike safely and kept everyone’s spirits up during the rough spots- even my mercurial temper. And I also thank Luis for being my full time personal escort during huge swaths of this hike especially through the icy cliff hanger portion making sure I didn’t dart clear off the mountain due to the state of abject fear I was in. I was comforted by the presence of people I knew and people I just met who were all supportive and in good spirits the entire time regardless of the circumstances. In fact, the group as a whole was a fun bunch who occasionally fell apart into little clumps along the way but always checked in periodically to gell back together as a group. I normally don’t do many group activities because I often have anxiety about being around people I don’t know well and like to keep my social circles small but that is one of the reasons I pushed myself to do this hike. So for all of these reasons and more, it was an awesome bonding experience.
I’ve had time to consider why people want to do this type of thing and it isn’t hard to fathom. For some it is bragging rights and for others, I suppose the adrenaline rush or thrill of facing the unknown and feeling a sense of accomplishment in making it to the end. Quite a few do it to achieve some type of transcendental peace or clarity through communing with nature- I totally missed out on the peace, calm, clarity portion. And last, for many, its the intense cardio rush that attracts because it is achieved in less pedestrian ways than a treadmill at the gym or monotonous weight regimens. I remember the days when I got thrills from doing semi-dangerous stuff like going to GoGo Clubs where Gangs regularly fought, knifed people randomly, girls jumped other girls brutally, and gun shots were fired in the club. At that time (age 12-24), I thought these “activities” were fun. I remember many a time hanging with my brother and his friends and for reasons omitted here, we were suddenly in the midst of groups trading gunfire and my brother and I would branch off and run through a playground, throw off our coats and pretend to embrace like lovers to throw our chasers off the scent. And when the crew all met back up- usually but not always, safe and sound- we would LAUGH and KiKi about how much fun it was. So I get it. But I guess I no longer want that type of excitement in my life- not with sudden, reckless gunplay and definitely not around heights with out walls and borders to keep me safe. Sure, I’m more than physically fit to handle the rigors but I just don’t want to. And let’s face it- I openly confess I’m a scardy cat and my mind too readily goes into flight or fight mode when confronted with challenges that can possibly maim or kill. So the daily challenge for me is to keep my adrenaline down, my temper steady, and my mind rational and not always operating from the gut for a peaceful existence with others and low blood pressure.
So now the $64, 000 question– Would I go back? Honestly? Do you even have to ask after everything you just read? All I can say is ask me in 6 months- that is how long it will should take my mind to rinse this experience from my memory banks. Was it fun? Yes- in Retrospect.