Happy Campers

This past weekend I had the chance to go on an adventure with a friend that I’ve known since the 1960s. Tim and I share a hometown and a lot of interests–including a passion for the outdoors–and we’ve been tied together for a long time (sometimes literally, on technical climbing trips). Tim also happens to be my brother.

This was to be the first-ever backpacking trip for Tim’s sons Sebastian and Tristan, so it seemed important to pick a good place! We chose one of our favorites, the Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia, about three hours to the west by car.

The Sods are one of our favorite places for a bunch of reasons. There’s a great trail system, nice cool weather (even in summer), and the high elevation (4000′) translates to flora and fauna that are more typical of Quebec. It is the southern-most range of a lot of interesting plants, and the winds up high are so constant that many of the spruce trees are three-sided.

The human history of the Sods is interesting, too, as the region was named after a German immigrant (Johann Dahle) that used the area for grazing cattle in the mid-1800s. At some point, the spelling of the region was changed to the now familiar Dolly, and in 1975 the area was designated as Wilderness.

Some years back, we had the chance to meet one of the original Dolly descendants, known to the locals simply as “Mister Dolly.” We wanted to cross his property with our kayaks to access the river, so we walked up Dollytown Road (really) and knocked on his door to ask permission. He answered right away and talked with a thick accent and a rapid fire cadence that made him hard to follow (but made it easy for my friend KB to imitate him afterwards).

As we chatted, we noticed that Mister Dolly was calling city folk like us “smarties,” and we wondered where the conversation was headed. But in the end he charged us a dollar a boat and tucked the bills into his shirt pocket in a way that made it seem like he’d done that before. It was a pretty good deal considering that we got river access and a story, all for $4. We enjoyed meeting him…and he seemed to enjoy meeting us.

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That’s me and Souzz to the left with a few smartie friends. Guess which one is Mister Dolly?

Smarties or not, the Dolly Sods are a pretty smart destination. We started out from Red Creek Campground under cloudy skies but generally great weather. Sebastian and Tristan did more than their part, carrying packs that included their gear as well as a Nerf football. Tim and I shouldered the rest—including a generous kitchen and a rain tarp (in case the skies ended up “watering the family tree,” so to speak).

The trail was wet and muddy, but that didn’t dampen anybody’s spirits–and might even have lifted a few, as the boys enjoyed the challenge of keeping dry feet. The hike was fairly straightforward and the terrain and scenery were interesting, including blooming mountain laurel. We also saw a deer and jumped a wild turkey, so we had a pretty good sampling of the flora and fauna.

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At some point, the boys decided to “gameify” the hike and rock-hopped most of the way. I have no idea who won–but when we got to camp, they immediately started throwing the Nerf ball, played baseball using hiking poles as bats, and swimming in the creek. There was no shortage of energy in this crowd (or at least half of it).

The trip really wasn’t about the food…but what backpacking trip isn’t at least a little about food? With this being a short hike, just four miles or so, we’d brought along homemade beef jerky, antipasto, homemade Buffalo wings, and the makings for two fry-bake pizzas.

The boys jumped right into prep, which was a great help! For the pizzas, we used store-bought fresh dough and sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, and a bit of fresh basil. For the baking itself, we used 6 charcoals on the bottom, 12 on top, and the baking took about 50 minutes (which gave us time to devour the wings, which we heated in a frybake).

After dinner, we started a fire and then we turned attention to dessert. The center of attention was a treat that dates to the 1920s that was originally called a graham cracker sandwich. Now it is commonly called a s’more—two graham crackers, chocolate, and a roasted marshmallow. No matter how old I get, s’mores are still a ride right back to childhood, when my campfire limit was about a dozen. As an adult, just one bite had me searching for a glucometer (a new vocabulary word inspired by the trip).

What I’d forgotten about s’mores is just how social an experience that they are. For starters, there’s the need to search for and then carve the perfect roasting stick, with plenty of consultations along the way. That’s followed by a lot of discussion about the best area of coals for roasting, and then a lot of riffing on anyone that drops a marshmallow into the fire. The whole process is a Sociology Masters Thesis waiting to be written (providing one has access to a good ultralight glucometer and doesn’t mind that nobody reads their thesis).

After enjoying a handful of s’mores, my nephews told us that the only thing that they loved more than s’mores was ice cream. Of course, we knew that going into the trip, so there was another surprise in store. Through the wonders of dry ice, two pints of (very frozen) ice cream made their appearance, along with grishgroom (homemade chocolate sauce). At that point, the night became one long sugar coma. And isn’t that what a backpacking trip should be with your dad and your uncle?

 

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Tristan, Tim, and Sebastian, ready to head homeward

Grishgroom

Another weekend, another PATC cabin visit–or so it seems. And while that may look like a pattern of sorts, it’s really not—as each of the PATC cabins are so incredibly different. This weekend’s destination is Olive Green Cabin in Cunningham Falls State Park near Thurmont, Maryland.

DSC_0752Olive Green cabin is named after its last resident, Olive Green (duh!), whose father built the cabin in 1871. There is a ton of history here, with a rusted old car and a bunch of stone fence lines that hint at stories of days gone by. Olive lived in this simple two story 15×15 structure until 1986, when she was 83 years old. She raised eight kids here, despite no sink, no counters, no power, no water–and not much insulation, as I soon learned.

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As for the present day, the cabin is very well maintained and much appreciated by its visitors. Its guest book is also full of references to strange noises in the dark of night, which most of the prior guests credit to Olive and say that they find comforting. With Souzz out of town, I am flying solo tonight, so I’m not interested in a lot of company.

DSC_0763In any case, there are a lot of reminders around the cabin about Olive, including notes from relatives that still visit regularly. Olive sounds like she was an amazing woman, and she was apparently a gracious host that always fed her guests with a home cooked meal. I hope she’d be pleased with my menu: antipasta, spaghetti and meatballs, brownies, and grishgroom.

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Aaah, so what is grishgroom, you might ask? (ok, so you probably wouldn’t ask, but let’s play along.)

So here’s the backstory. When I was a kid in Rapid City, South Dakota, my tv trayenterprising older sister and my two older brothers had a favorite dessert: ice cream with chocolate sauce. It was generally served in a bowl on a TV tray while watching The Man From U.N.C.L.E. or Mannix on a Zenith black and white TV that took about two minutes to warm up. The chocolate sauce recipe was one that my mom basically made up (marshmallows, chocolate chips, evaporated milk, and a dab of peanut butter).

As older siblings sometimes do, my sister and my brothers convinced me that this dessert wasn’t called “ice cream with chocolate sauce” but instead was called “grishgroom,” and that word then entered my ever-expanding vocabulary. My sister told me later that she just made it up  (shocking, I know).

1968 Rapid City Arroyo Drive  before church 1      That’s me in the stylish shorts, thinking about grishgroom, no doubt.

 

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Me and my sister, perhaps as she sells me on another lark…

Some time later, when I was about five years old, we were enjoying a rare dinner out as a family. After the meal, my sister and brothers made a recommendation for my dessert order as they pointed to a menu that I couldn’t yet read. To this day, I’m not sure what is more memorable: my parents’ confused stares, the blank expression of our server, or the belly-laughing convulsions of my siblings. If the fist bump had been invented by then, I’m pretty sure that my sister and brothers would have had to ice their hands on the way home.

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DSC_8240Last year over the holidays, I shared the story of grishgroom with my nieces on Souzz’s side of the family. As you might expect, they enjoy any story that makes their uncle look like a dork (time is of course the limiting factor here). Armed with their new vocabulary, they marched into the living room and announced to their parents that they were going to serve themselves up some grishgroom. That led to a few confused nods from the adults, and then the nieces returned with giant bowls of ice cream–not exactly what a parent wants to happen after dessert at 10:30 pm on Christmas Eve.

It’s fair to say that my in-laws weren’t as amused as my siblings about grishgroom. Somewhere out there is a retired server nodding in agreement.

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 My sister still has the original grishgroom bowl (but thankfully, no sign of the tv trays).