A Look Back: Backpacking Trials and Tribulations on the Massanutten Trail, Part 2

Last week, I shared the first half of a trip that didn't quite go as planned. However, as it seems, the best trips never do. We'd planned an ambitious week-long backpacking trip along the 71-mile Massanutten Trail in Virginia in March of 2006, but found ourselves ill prepared for the weather, among other things. 

We'd already admitted to ourselves that we'd overestimated how fast we'd be able to travel and underestimated the rigor of the route. After three days on the trail, I received snow reports from friends via text, and we had a choice to make. 

After discussions over breakfast, we packed up with the intention of staying at Elbow Landing that night, provided "The Barn" was available. After experiencing such kindness from the bed and breakfast's owners when we first arrived in the area, it seemed like a perfect place to seek refuge from the impending weather. It was a tough choice, without a doubt. I'd just gotten into the routines involved in setting up camp, cooking, prepping for bed, suffering through the cold, breaking camp, and doing it all over again the next day. It was nice to be away from the world.

I had this naive hope that I'd use the week in the wilderness to cleanse myself of all of the issues I left at home. (At the time, I was struggling with decisions about my post-college life, among other things.) I saw myself happy, refocused, and completely free of worry after it was all over. But we know it's not that simple. A friend of mine once told me that no matter where you go, you take you with you. No number of changes of scenery will magically make your troubles disappear. But I can dream, right?

One of my favorite campsites from the trip. Spacious, and with a pre-built fire pit!
We broke out the camera, took a few shots of camp, and moved on. The worst part about the hike out was the mile we had to trek up the highway from the trailhead to Elbow Landing. There was a ton of truck traffic, my ITBS was acting up again, and the road was at a steady, steep incline. By the time we made it to the bed and breakfast, one of the owners, Henry, came out to greet us. He'd been hard at work in their garage, but dropped what he was doing to give us a tour of "The Barn."

From the Elbow Landing driveway. Not a bad view!
The little one-room cottage had a small kitchen area, a huge jacuzzi tub, a giant bed with a beautiful country quitl and a cozy dining table with a "Reserved" sign on it. I couldn't stop smiling because I knew I was going to get clean, sleep in a bed, and be warm for the first time in four days. The $125/night rate was exactly $125/night more than we'd spent for each night in the woods, but it was worth it. We cleaned up, ate, unpacked, then started repacking with the goal of finding a place to hop back on the Massanutten the next day. We knew finishing the trail wasn't an option, but I so enjoyed just being out there that throwing in the towel entirely wasn't an option.

The next morning, we found a spot where the trail crossed the road, dropped the car in a nearby parking lot and walked in for about two hours. The weather was perfect, and much warmer. We found an unbelievable campsite next to a stream with a fire pit already built. I dropped my pack and went to collect firewood, namely as an excuse to run around on my own for a little while. The stream had carved little islands and I was hopping all over them, excited to just be in the woods again. The sun moved out of our path in the valley around 3pm and it got cold fast. Our MSR Whisperlite Stove clogged in the middle of preparing dinner, but we got it working again. That night, my partner in crime and I switched sleeping bags, and I slept much better in his 25º down bag than I had in my 30º synthetic bag.

A journal page with the brochure for Elbow Landing,
where we sought refuge from the trail.
We got up early the next day and made the decision to head home. I spent a little time exploring the stream again before we left. We took our time getting going, but packed up and were on the road by 2pm for the 6 hour drive back to Upstate New York.

I wished I'd been equipped to handle the cold weather, but given we'd had several successful days on the trail, I was ready to leave. The trip had been stressful on the two of us; dealing with making an early turnaround decision is never easy. Even if you and your trip partners are on the same page, when things don't go as planned, sometimes it's best to head home with lessons learned for next time.

One of the most important lessons I learned on this trip is to go with the flow. What's one lesson you've learned on a trip that hasn't gone as planned? I'd love to amass as many lessons as I can!


Heidi Henry said…
Really liked these 2 posts Katie. I love hearing about your learning experiences as I just start to have mine =)
Katie said…
Thanks Heidi! It's fun to look back and see how what I've learned from past trips has influenced how I approach them now. I think the hardest part about this one was admitting I wasn't equipped to sleep outside in below-freezing temperatures, and it just wasn't going to be fun if I tried to anymore. I'd love to give this trail another go someday, though. Want in? :)
Shannon Wood said…
It is reads like this that keep me coming back. I have followed your blog for some short time now and always look forward to reading the next. As an avid Outdoorsman in the Outdoor Industry I to have learned from some very good mistakes in the past. I once heard that those ones that do not learn from the mistakes they make in life are bound to repeat them again. Katie I really love your articles and I would like to say that you have surely inspired me. I too have written about you in a online outdoors magazine called Hello Hunting. keep up the great work for I hope to enjoy much more in the future to come.
Katie said…
Shannon, I so appreciate the kind words! It's good to know that I can share mistakes I've made and that they'll help others in the long run. It means a lot!
Lauren Rains said…
I have had plenta a trip and travel go "wrong", having to make giant changes to the initial plans. And learning to go with the flow is probably one of the greatest lessons I myself have learned. Things "going wrong" have oftentimes led me to some of the greatest adventures I've had.

My other lesson: SHOES. Don't skimp out on shoes. If you're feet are hurting, or wet, or blistering - your trip is over, or you can try to keep going and you'll be in pain the entire time. That being said, while it's great to fly by the seat of your pants, there's a happy medium about being prepared as well.

- Lauren (outdoormindedmag.com)