I’ve heard many times in my life that you can steer a boat yourself if you get it. In essence, this means that no matter the circumstances, you still have the ability to make decisions and take actions to achieve a desired goal.
I recently made it my mission to visit the Northern Virginia and DC Metro area for some camping adventures. Those adventures went horribly wrong and I had no way of achieving all of the goals I set out to do. With perseverance and some motivation from friends, I was able to have a fun time in the dense, urban area around our capital.
Follow us to see how a weekend trek ended when I met some old friends, got bitten by various animals, and learned a place that some believe was where the pre-emptive battle that began triggered the civil war.
Welcome to our recurring series of “The less traveled path.” In this series, we want to take you on our exploits in the wilderness of hiking, camping, exploring, and general adventures. This includes our little daily wins, weaknesses, tips, tricks, and reviews of gear that we really appreciate and use often. While a beaten path can often be the path to a leisurely day, the less traveled paths can often lead to some of the greatest memories, mishaps, and fun imaginable. Join us in the comments as we share our travels and hopefully we can all come together to better appreciate the great outdoors.
South Park was right
Remember Towlie the glassy-eyed towel always reminding people not to forget to bring a towel? Well, he had one thing right. Don’t forget to bring everything you need, even if it’s not a towel.
For my weekend getaway, I wanted to start on Friday after work by driving to the Raven Rocks Trailhead and camping at the overlook. As I climbed to the scenic Instagrammable lookout and started digging for things from my bag, I realized I had placed the wrong tent poles there and had no way to pitch for the night. Since there were heavy rain forecasts, I decided to make it back to my car and drive to a nearby church that had a small covered picnic area. Luckily I’m pretty familiar with this part of the Appalachian Trail, otherwise I would have slept in my car or booked an AirBnB at short notice.
Using some Macguyver skills, some packing tape, and lighting tripods, I tried to give the appearance of a roost as attaching the rain cover wasn’t an option. The pavilion kept me dry, the inner tent kept the bugs away from me. In the morning the light stands were on me and I was basically squirming around in a bivvy. On disembarking, I got my best impression of a butterfly emerging from its cocoon.
Now that my plans for two more days of hiking were basically ruined by my failure to pack the right things, I decided to head down to DC and have some Da Hong Pao Dim Sum with a Discord member/friend of mine . We met up with three law students who we offered food to as basically everything on the menu was ordered between two people. The conversation was great and I’ve made some friends who live across the country if I’m ever in NYC or California.
Random fact: Did you know that it’s only 51 miles (as the crow flies) from the nearest tip of West Virginia to the US Capitol Building?
looking for nature
Even in the metropolitan areas of Northern Virginia there are some fun sights and scenery to experience. My alternate camping goal was to find a spot as close to the IAD as possible and camp while enjoying the planes flying by. Since this was removed from my itinerary, a friend and I went to Roer’s Zoofari. The best thing about small zoos is that you get up close and personal with all the animals. While wandering around the zoo, I was bitten by several animals including a llama, goats, an emu and (almost) a large turtle.
By biting I mean nibbling. One left a scratch which I immediately washed and covered. There was a tram ride at Zoofari where we got to drive around and feed animals which were a good mix of exotic and local. I ate many of them on one plate and without hesitation I told the kids on the tram that goat and bison were delicious. The parents of one of the children were eager to hear stories about it since their parents shared stories about eating goat in the Philippines, but it was something they had never experienced in the States.
The experience at Roer’s was definitely not an outdoor wonderland for escaping people and society, but it was a fun way to spend an evening and wander around. I’ve also found that I’m a bit scared of emus. Is that normal?
John Brown’s Last Stand
Prior to this weekend I only visited Harper’s Ferry while hiking or at the onset of COVID-19 before things went into lockdown but foot traffic was significantly less than now. The town of Harper’s Ferry is a historic town steeped in significant events, buildings three or four centuries old and what some claim to be the first land battle to ignite feelings of civil war. Philippi, West Virginia’s Civil War claim as the first land battle still stands, don’t worry I’m not disproving that.
I still think the attack on Harper’s Ferry Armory in 1859 is something a lot more people should know about.
While the armory was demolished, its fire station has survived in one way or another in several locations since the rebellion. John Brown was an evangelical abolitionist who believed that violence was necessary to end slavery in America. During the 1850s he amassed several attempts to disband groups, parties, or militias that further entrenched slavery. Finally, on October 16–18, 1859, Brown and 21 other members raided the Harper’s Ferry Armory to steal live carbines to further their cause.
Many see the actions of the Armory as preparation for the Civil War. This “riot” was telegraphed nationwide at the time and included such famous figures as:
Since the end of the Civil War, the fire station (“Fort”) has been considered by many to be a relic of African American freedom. Although a brick building, it was disassembled and reassembled four times for display, but was eventually returned to West Virginia in 1968, though not to its exact original location.
The memorial was so crowded it was impossible to get any decent photos in the fifteen or twenty minutes I was in the area. This memorial is a big deal, but I still know so few who are familiar with the importance of modern-day West Virginia to the abolition of slavery.
If you’re ever in the greater DC area, please take the 40 minutes to look around Harper’s Ferry.
Also, don’t forget the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s headquarters in Harper’s Ferry! They’re finally reopening after COVID-19!
Just like Paul McCartney sang – life goes on. If you end up not having fun, that doesn’t mean you have to commit to getting wet in a bivvy you made out of your tent. Do some fun with friends and do something different. There may be things nearby that are worth your time and that the larger crowds are less focused on.