Sunday, March 14, 2010

Winter's End Game

When I was growing up in rural Rappahannock County VA in the 1970's, there was very little to do beyond farm work, skiing, climbing, hiking and canoeing. High school sports were limited to basketball and baseball. In 1970, my 8th grade year, (high school was grades 8-12) two new teachers from some far away place introduced two new sports: cross country and track.
As it turned out, those were perfect sports for a school with lots of hilly farm fields and a bunch of "hollow boys" (as in, from up in the hollows) and notably, no track.

In the first five years of Rappahannock County cross country, the school not only won the state championship every year, they won it with a perfect score of 15 (the first five runners were all from RCHS). And if that weren't enough, the "trackless track team" was district and regional champs and state runners up.

Many of the members of those early teams were lucky enough to go on to be intercollegiate competitors... several of us continued to run many years past college. .. even to today.

In the 40 years since that first year, I've often reflected on what it was that made those years, those teams, so special.. indeed, remarkable. Of course, the biggest part is pure heart. Those teams were nothing but heart. But there was more.
The pure joy of running thru the mountains regardless the weather.. the camaraderie.. the innocence of not ever knowing failure (or at least not acknowledging it)... and on those long runs, the realization that if you were hurting, so was everyone else... and that the one who could deal with the most discomfort would win.
.. and more often than not the one in front got great refreshment from a fresh mountain wind on his face and the first drink of ice cold spring water...
The magic of those 5 years has never been forgotten.

Over the years since, there have been many occasions and challenges where quitting would end the discomfort of the moment... but that would be breaking the faith with my teammates from all those years ago... and in my heart I'd never savor the fresh mountain breeze the same.

This year has been a very long winter in a tough economy. We have seen several of our good friends and business partners close their doors... a real loss to the community... and here we are, entering our 18th season.

Our snowbanks are quickly eroding in the warm rains, the 2010 guiding season is upon us, and we've just finished boiling maple sap for the year...
And not so coincidentally I think, that sweet treat, also, only comes at the end of winter..

Yes, I think it's almost Spring!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Mountainbike Mecca - Nordic Nirvana

Normally this blog is all about the land around Shenandoah National Park.. a region of spectacular high mountains and waterfalls.. and our spiritual home..
But I want to take you to another very special spot a little to the north... a place that few know about... and most can't believe exists.

In north central Maryland lies a low range of mountains, a branch of the northern Blue Ridge, known as the Catoctins.. famous mostly for being the home of Camp David, the presidential retreat. In fact,"mountains" may be stretching it a bit.. they are more like a rolling 2200' plateau. The entire region is laced and crisscrossed by trout streams, old trails and roads, forests and mountaintop meadows... the majority of which is public land, but unlike Shenandoah, open to the public for recreation, from hunting and fishing to mountainbiking, rock climbing and skiing... and not just a few, but miles upon miles upon miles of single track, trail and roadgrades.. particularly the areas known as the Frederick Watershed and Gambrill State Park..

During mountain biking seasons, it is the norm to find cars from no less than 5 states.. all coming to test the rocky and steep singletrack..

Winter however is the best kept secret... high enough to catch and hold snow.. and accessible enough to, well, access... "the Watershed" is an amazing winter playground... and with a local population that is predominately focused on urban pleasures and pursuits.. a recreational "nord" can be assured of pretty much having the whole place to him/herself. Despite the lack of snow in the lowlands to the East... the Catoctins are virtual islands in the sky (ok, that may be stretching it a bit!) .. In every year, sufficient snow can be found for cross country skiing.

It's always been amazing to me that folks will drive to WV, Garrett Co, or SWPA for snowplay, when it's right in their backyards... for free. What's even more amazing to me, is that the vast majority of the residents of Frederick County are ignorant of the recreation to be had out their backdoor..."Ski??? hike??? bike???? no thanks... can someone point me to the mall?"

Monday, March 1, 2010

"Pay the man..."

Everything worthwhile, it seems, comes with a price.. For many folks that may be an admission ticket, or maintaining the "right" social status or driving the "right" kind of car or wearing the "right" clothes... for some it's just talking the "right" talk..
Often if you try to find adventure on those terms.. you will meet with rejection and disappointment.

In our world,frequently the admission comes in the form of a tough approach... a steep brushy mountain, deep and steep snow, a long flatwater paddle... icy, cold, windy and wet conditions.... the admission price paid for great adventure.
But once that admission price is paid... then all we have to do is enjoy the perfection of the experience.

We used to have t-shirts that read :"If it's not hard to do, it's hardly worth doing".. my how true that is..
Earn your turns..(one of my favorite sayings) Today I went out for a short ski... but the higher I got, the better the snow got.. by the time I topped out the snow was PERFECTO... which made for sweet turns on the descent.. which took me about a dozen runs before I was sated...

But it's close to spring, which means the snow will not be here much longer.. we're on borrowed time. But it also means that the door is opening on a big wide world of mountain fun...

If you're looking for really good adventure this year, call us... it'll be so good, the admission will soon be forgotten!