It's often strangely hard to leave the house. What's the deal? Packing always takes longer than you expect!
I finally leave at 2 PM, having gathered (most of) the necessary camping supplies. Traffic is light through Frederick, with a brief slowdown at the bridge near Harper's Ferry. I stop in Winchester for food and matches and head off to what is, for me, undiscovered country.
For the next hour and a half, I wind through the mountains on Route 48, listening to my Splendortree CD. Views of homesteads are replaced by views of mountain rock, blasted away to make way for the highway.
I take the turn off 48 and get a glimpse of rural towns, then turn right onto Forest Road 75. My tiny car handles the gravel road fairly well and I eventually arrive at the summit, next to West Virginia's famous Bear Rocks Preserve. Aware of impending sunset, I drive on to the Beaver Creek trailhead, grab my gear, and start off down the hill. Ahead of me is a vast plain, dotted with pine trees.
I wonder how I'll handle setting up camp until, after half a mile, a small pine copse appears to my right, just off the trail. I dart in and find a campsite nearly prepared - a fire ring, scattered wood, a clearing for my tent. Hurriedly, I set up my tent, as it is nearly sunset and my flashlight turns out to have died during the day's journey. This task accomplished, I turn to the fire: kindling, tinder, and paper shreds I packed with me. Wind blows from the west, the matches struggle to stay lit. The wood, damp from the night before, stubbornly refuses to take light. In my haste, Scout training is set aside and I burn through my matches, defeated by the wind and water, having not arranged my firewood optimally. Nevertheless, my spirits remain high; I have a short snack and retire early, surrounded by rustling birds and undulating winds. I'm struck by the vulnerability of solo camping: cocooned in a sleeping bag, alone in a forest, quite far from vehicles and further still from civilization.
I awake before dawn and rush back to the car, which iced over during the night. I scrape the windshield clean and head back to Bear Rocks, joining a half-dozen other photographers. We capture the first light, the rising of the sun over the furthest mountain ridge, the fog in the valleys below. I put the camera away after some time and simply watch, grateful.
The sun rises high in the sky and I head back to camp and spend several hours wandering the strange boglands of Dolly Sods, deep in thought and prayer. Soon, thirst calls, and I return to camp for water and lunch before packing it all up and heading back home.
After a night in the wilderness, my heart is full.