Post # 112 Mid-Winter Hike

April 17, 2013 at 3:17 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 112 Mid-Winter Hike

I enjoy hiking and backpacking.  What’s the difference, you ask?  Duration and preparation.  A hike is usually less than a day, while backpacking can be an affair of a couple of days to a lifetime career.  Both require different skills and levels of commitment.  I’ve had great times doing both.

I did most of my hiking in Virginia while I lived there.  I loved hiking in any of the seasons, although summer could be a challenge due to humidity and bugs.  Winter could be a challenge if the snow was deep and roads were closed.  One hike I went on with a group was spectacular because it was at Shenandoah National Park, but with the recent ice storm, the roads were closed so we could hike at will.

One friend that I went hiking with said she always learned something from me as we hiked.  I was constantly pointing out what was good to eat and what to stay away from.  She said going on a hike with me was more like a trip to the grocery store.  I studied books for the area, read survivalist guides, took classes, and finally learned what could sustain life and what couldn’t.  Like Ewall Gibbons in the seventies, I was “stalking the wild asparagus.”  Which I found several times and it’s delicious!

On one survivalist weekend class, I was eating a handful of berries and the instructor told me to always be certain of what I was eating.  I told him I was, and if I died during the weekend, he could use me as a good example.  We were constantly bickering like that.

In Virginia, they always had what I called the mid-winter thaw.  Right after the first of the year, temps would climb into the 50s and 60s for about two and half weeks.  It almost made you think that winter was over (except we still had February which I called the bitch month because you never knew what that bitch was going to throw at you.)  During the mid-winter thaw, I was always itching to get out on the trail just to get out of the house and clear the stale air out of my lungs.   It’s always a little dicey being that far from people alone, so I would try to get people to go with me, but I was seldom successful.  I have one friend I could usually convince by promising a good view that he’d enjoy.

So this one mid-winter thaw, I took him to a place that he hadn’t been to at that time.  Since then, it’s become one of his favorite hikes and he’s done it several times a year in all kinds of weather.  I parked in a pull out designed for the trail and we got our things ready.  I had a day pack on with a couple of surprises in it.  He had a belt pack with a couple of energy bars and water.  We set off, talking and joking, confidant in the fact that we had the whole mountain to ourselves.  I was wearing a light pair of cross trainers and the cold air from the woods entered the mesh uppers chilling my feet more than a little.  There was more snow on the mountain than I anticipated and we had to be careful in several places due to ice.

We started on one local trail which went about a mile and a half to connect with the Appalachian Trail, my sentimental favorite trail of all times.  I was telling my friend all about the trail and where we were going and he was getting more excited.  I was also pointing out what was good to eat, even at that time of year.  In no time, we connected with the larger trail and started our hike upwards, through several switchbacks.

After about an hour and half, we arrived at our destination, an overlook, a cliff really.  He was properly impressed.  He stood looking for several moments then looked back at me.

“Dude, you did it again!  This is amazing.”

We were looking over the Shenandoah valley and far in the distance you could see the Shenandoah river, south fork.  In the winter, when the trees had no leaves, and the sun shone on the water, it was like a glittering ribbon.

We sat on the cold rocks and talked about a few things, then he had to pee.  I directed him to a side trail.  While he was gone, I took several things out of my pack.  I took a small camping stove out and set it up quickly.  I had water boiling quickly, and by the time my friend returned, I had home made chocolate chip cookies, home made hot chocolate, and cheese and crackers with some fruit set out on a rock with two small plates for us.

Laughing he said, “Only you would come up with this.”

“Not really.  Sometimes I bring wine, but I thought since it was cold you’d prefer this.”

“This hot chocolate is the best I’ve ever tasted.  What brand it is?”

“Mine.  I made it.”  I took the plastic zip lock bag out of my pack and threw it at him.  “Keep it.  It’s easy to make.”

So now, I’m telling you how to make it.  Cuz it really is easy.  Take 1/2 cup of cocoa and 1 cup of sugar and mix well until there are no cocoa lumps.  The easiest way I’ve found to do this is to put them in a zip lock bag, close it, and mash them together by hand.  The sugar grains will break up the cocoa.  Add 1 cup of powdered milk, and a half teaspoon of salt and mix thoroughly.  Add one or two teaspoons of vanilla and continue mixing for several minutes.  The vanilla will be absorbed by the dry ingredients and distributed throughout the mix.  Keep it in an airtight container (a zip lock bag works well) and store in the fridge.  When it’s time to make a cup of hot cocoa, add two heaping spoonfuls to a cup of hot to boiling water.  Stir until blended and drink.  Add marshmallows or whipped cream if desired.  Not sure how long it keeps since I usually drink it all before anything spoils.  Adjust the amount of cocoa mix to water to your own tastes.

Enjoy!

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