Known Firsts

Before the COVID quarantines started some weeks back, Souzz and I snuck in an overnight paddling trip to Hopeville Canyon in West Virginia. We’d run that stretch on day trips several times before, so a packrafting camping trip was a new twist in a familiar place (and a socially distant twist at that).

On the drive up, Souzz asked if I knew anyone that had camped in the canyon before. I answered that I didn’t know anybody, that the run was a “known first.” This little fun fact added to the anticipation for me, but it made Souzz a bit anxious. She remembered plenty trips in the past that didn’t go exactly as planned–like the time when an escaped cow wandered through our backcountry kitchen, or when daybreak revealed a giant heap of trash next to a camp we’d found in the dark.

Her reaction was an amusing contrast in our partnership: she balances adventure with sensibility, and I unwittingly pitch tents next to garbage dumps.

Even with all of the sunshine, it was a pretty raw day, and my hands were freezing as I biked the shuttle back from the takeout (after dropping off the car).

An hour after launching, we were sitting streamside next to a nice fire—staying plenty warm despite a brisk wind and temps in the high 30s.

As for our camp, the shoreline was a bit rocky, the tent wasn’t quite level, and the wind was pulsing…but this place was perfect. It was all ours, away from the city and the lights and the people and the tension. We shared a pasta dinner as we enjoyed the sounds from the rush of the river and some passing mergansers.

We were in an area that doesn’t get much use (we didn’t see a single footprint, a rarity in the East), so wood was plentiful. We fiddled with the fire well into the night–moving a stick here and a log there—and we tried to soak it all in as we wondered if this might be the last time that we camped for a while.

The backcountry has a tendency to re-order one’s priorities, and this trip was no exception. With so much happening in the world, it was great to focus on staying warm, finding our way downriver, and pulling together a few meals. Thankfully, we also managed to avoid stray cows and piles of garbage.

As we drove home, we enjoyed reminiscing about past trips and I let my mind wander a bit…until Souzz pointed out that we were almost out of gas. But this time our reactions were in sync, perhaps because our running out of gas is not a “known first.”

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