Tag Archives: Virginia

Buzzard Hill Appalachian Trail hike

[Editor’s note: this hike took place at the end of August, the week before my and Lexi’s wedding, when everything was extremely hectic. It was the perfect antidote to the stress we were feeling at the time. And now, I’m finally catching up on blogging!]

Length: 9 miles — Height gain: 3,000ft

Known as the “roller coaster”, this section of the Appalachian Trail is an hour drive outside of DC, to the north of Shenandoah NP, and somewhere we had not yet explored.

AT South sign

AT South sign

The trail duly lived up to its name with hardly a flat mile as we climbed and descended all day. Our reward was a stunning lookout from the summit of Buzzard Hill. We gazed out at an endless sea of wooded hills, entirely natural and devoid of man made intrusions.

Hiking south along the AT

Hiking south along the AT


View from the summit of Buzzard Hill

View from the summit of Buzzard Hill

The team at the summit

The team at the summit

First signs of fall

First signs of fall

This turned out to be one of the harder hikes I’d done in the DC area, on account of the endless up and down. My calves ached for days after this one! The view was one of the best though, so this is definitely going in the memory bank as a great day out.

Check out the hiking guide – information on this site here.

Overnight bike adventure out of DC – Day 2

Yesterday, June 16, Lexi and I cycled out of DC through the evening light to camp at Horsepen Campsite, along the C & O Canal, on our first bike tour together.

After a fun night camping beside the river, we were shaken from our slumber at 6 this morning by the unexpected sound of a truck rumbling into camp – the last thing I expected when we’re far into the woods with no road access. Turns out it was a trail crew coming in to empty out the port-a-loo (toilet) at camp. Following an inevitable snooze it was time to strike camp and return to DC. I’d been eaten alive by mosquitos the previous evening – I stopped counting at 30 bites.

The same slow puncture that caused problems yesterday evening persisted all the way home, so every couple of miles I had to stop to pump up the rear tyre, a rather frustrating process when repeated over and over. So it was that we returned home, stopping at various locks and sights along the way, taking photos, enjoying the woods and the river. It always amazes me that even on the shortest of tours, on familiar terrain, one always sees new things, enjoys new experiences or meets wonderful people. We saw plenty of wildlife, including herons, turtles, turkey vultures, northern cardinals, snakes, toads and fireflies. We met some fellow cyclists who had travelled all the way from Pittsburgh on the full C&O/GAP tour – an 8 or 9 day itinerary that is on our list.

We rolled into DC around lunchtime, having been out for less than 24 hours. In that time we’d cycled 60 miles and spent a night out in the woods. Pretty good for a Sunday evening.

Some photos from the day:

Lexi drawing up water from the well

Lexi drawing up water from the well

Idyllic conditions on the trail

Idyllic conditions on the trail

Heron fishing

Heron fishing

Resting outside one of the historic lock houses

Resting outside one of the historic lock houses

At Great Falls

At Great Falls

Getting close to Georgetown

Nearly home – getting close to Georgetown

Southern Shenandoah National Park Photos

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” ― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods


After a busy summer dominated by work it was high time for a weekend getaway to the woods. I’ve come to love the subtle beauty and rich woodland experiences that characterize any trip to Shenandoah. We had booked a wonderful cabin – High Laurel Inn – for the weekend. Situated on the edge of the National Park (the back fence of the property is the Park boundary!), it was the perfect spot. We could hike from our doorstep.


Our home for the weekend


The front of the cabin

Day 1: 14 September 2013 / Paine Run Trail and Trayfoot Mountain Trail Loop / 10 miles


The leaves are turning; fall is on the way


On the Appalachian Trail

The halfway point of the day’s walk was also the most spectacular viewpoint, the summit of Blackrock mountain:


A contender for the best vantage point in the Shenandoah National Park perhaps?


Me and Lexi on the summit of Blackrock


Blackrock mountain summit panorama


Onwards to our next summit, Trayfoot Mountain




Yogini Lexi showing good form on the shoulder of Blackrock Mountain


My own attempt


Hairy caterpillar


Beware of the Yellow Jacket Wasps on Trayfoot Mountain – I was stung 4 times after stepping on a ground nest on the trail. I can tell you they HURT!


Wooded mountains


Sunset from the balcony of the cabin


Meet the locals

Day 2: 15 September 2013 / South River Falls / 8 mile out and back


On the Appalachian trail


Spot the caterpillar


Looking down to South River Falls


Humbled by the scale of it all


South River


Trail through the woods


Lexi finds the clearing


Wild flowers

4th July Bike Tour

Day 1: Washington DC to Calico Rocks camp area, Maryland – 43 miles

Finding myself having a few days free in a row, I decided to make the most of the opportunity and head out for a little adventure. I strapped the tent to the back of my bike and pedalled out of Washington DC into the evening sunshine.

Heading W into the evening sun, beautiful but hot

Heading W into the evening sun, beautiful but hot

I didn’t end up departing until 4pm – work to do, then it took a while to get ready, hey it’s been a long time since I’ve been bike camping! – which left me about four and a half hours to reach camp. The light was gorgeous, the roads were relatively empty as people were getting in place for the fireworks, but damn, it was hot as hell out there. I had planned to do the climb up and down Sugarloaf Mountain en route, but didn’t have the time on this occasion.

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Sugarloaf Mountain

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This area is rich in history

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Long evening shadows

The C & O Canal is 185 mile National Park stretching from Washington DC to Cumberland, West Virginia, running along the Potomac River. There are camp areas every 8 – 10 miles so I aimed for Calico Rocks camping area, near to Point of Rocks, for my overnight stop.

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Riding along the C & O canal. Feeling the heat but happy to have arrived at camp

All I could think about in those final few miles was the prospect of cold, fresh water. With bottles almost depleted, it would have been a thirsty night if the well was dry. It took many pumps to draw up the first water, as the old-fashioned hand pump creaked, groaned and gurgled into life. There’s nothing quite like a drink of cool, fresh water when you’re baking hot and dehydrated.

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Water pump at Calico Rocks camp area, C & O canal

The sultry temps in the high 80s (around 30 degrees C) persisted well into the evening. The mosquitoes had a plentiful 4th July feast. Sleep was not easy until it cooled off, even after I left the flysheet off in a bid to increase the airflow.

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Home, sweet home

Day 2: Return to Washington DC via Purcellville, Virginia and the W&OD trail – 75 miles

My original plan was to stay out for another night and head down to Shenandoah National Park, but with another hot, hot day in prospect I decided against a second oppressive night in the tent. Plan B was to ride south for 30 miles through the Virginian countryside, pick up the W & OD trail and then follow it 45 miles to home.

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Early morning day 2 – pondering my strategy to cope with the onslaught of mosquitos once I exit the tent

Leaving camp I crossed from Maryland over the Potomac river into Virginia by the Point of Rocks bridge. Immediately afterwards I turned off onto quiet side roads, through rolling farmland along the base of big hills. This was the most enjoyable and scenic stretch of the tour.

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Mountain Road, Virginia, about 30 miles North of Shenandoah National Park

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Old corn dryer, Mountain Road, Virginia and yup, starting to get damn hot

There were plenty of other cyclists about at the start (or end) of the W & OD trail at Purcellville. I stopped to top up my water bottles and take a break from the sun.

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The Town of Purcellville and the start of the W&OD trail back to Washington DC

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On the W&OD trail

I was really struggling with the heat by the early afternoon; the hottest part of the day and no shade to hide. I rode at a leisurely pace, within myself, to ensure I’d make it home. Big grin on my face of course, I was thoroughly enjoying being out bike touring again.

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Keep on pedalling

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One of the old rail cars that would have served this route

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A family of deer on the trail (blurry photo taken whilst on the move)

Half the fun of these sorts of trips is the return and being able to feast on whatever you’ve spent the past few hours dreaming about. A cold beer and pizza on this occasion!

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Reward for all the effort