Looking for Sasquatch

The east coast has some fun destinations, including Great North Mountain, which forms the border between Virginia and West Virginia for about 50 miles. Much of the mountain is above 3000 feet, so the views across neighboring valleys are among the best around. The area also has a well-developed trail system, including a few summits that offer 360-degree views (ok, so I guess you can actually see in multiple directions from any place).

This weekend’s trip was to Sugar Knob Cabin, which was built in 1920 as a shelter for rangers patrolling the George Washington National Forest. Nowadays the cabin is managed by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and is rented out to backpackers willing to make the six mile (round trip) trek.

I have backpacked past this modest 10 foot square stone structure many times, dating back to the mid-1980s, and have always been curious about it. I was invited inside once by a few new friends on a rainy day, but I had never stayed there–until this past weekend.

Souzz and I arrived at the trailhead on Forest Service Road 92 on Saturday morning, heavy on food but light on everything else. We carried just a small butane stove, a first aid kit, headtorches, a small lantern, a water filter, a few extra clothes…and the frybake, which I carry with me at all times (in case somebody needs an emergency casserole). As for water, there’s a spring not far from the cabin, and we’d been told that the cabin was stocked with pots, pans, utensils, axes, a wood stove, and pretty much anything else we were likely to need.

The hike in was steady uphill (1500 feet of elevation gain), but not too steep. Little Stony Creek runs right along much of the trail, and there were some nice views as we got closer to the ridge. The hike seemed longer than three miles, suggesting that the map is wrong…or perhaps suggesting that most hikers don’t carry a 6-pack, a bag of charcoal, a mini-cooler, and a four course meal.

The area has a deep history, including a moonshine operation in the 1930s, a tragedy in the 1950s (sadly, a scout leader got lost near here in in a winter storm), a lot of bear sightings, and even a pretty recent Bigfoot sighting.

As for Bigfoot, a hiker wrote that his group was staying in Sugar Knob Cabin and saw “a dark, very hairy large face looking at us about a foot outside the window.” Hmm…that sounds suspiciously like just about everybody I’ve ever hiked with (except Souzz).

With no Bigfoot sightings to amuse us, we were left to enjoy this fabulous spot. Sugar Knob Cabin is cozy and quaint, and one could almost feel the history of the place. Looking around inside at the stonework and the wood stove, I wondered what those walls would say if they could talk (perhaps something like “man, Souzz’s husband is a total blowhard.”)

As for dinner, we started with cheese and salami, then moved on to steamed mussels and fresh-baked bread (from the frybake). The mussels appetizer was pre-cooked with tomato and garlic sauce by a company called Bantry Bay. We highly recommend this dish–but I suppose there is a carbon impact when one eats mussels from Chile sold by an Irish company while hiking in the Blue Ridge. All told, it did feel like a big foot print (so to speak).

We followed the mussels with filet mignon, mashed fingerling potatoes, and green beans with mushrooms. It was great to eat next to the fire, and the weather was perfect.

After dinner, we enjoyed the fire, made “break and bake” cookies in the frybake, and marveled at the beautiful starry night sky.

As we soaked in the sounds of crickets and tree frogs, all was well in our world–until Souzz was startled by a huge, smelly, hairy creature tromping around near the cabin.

I was just getting some more wood.

Mussel Beach

This past weekend we took a little overnight sea kayak camping trip out at Assateague National Seashore. Gusty winds to 25 mph took a little wind out of our sails, but it was perfect prep for a trip further afield that we are planning later this summer—and we’d do it again in a heartbeat. Assateague is bug-free and beautiful this time of year, with wild horses cruising through camp at full gallop (no kidding) and a sunset that seems to last a full hour.


Sunset from Tingle Island

We are new to sea kayaking, but we learned a lot on our maiden voyage. For further practice for our summer trip, we cooked pretty light, but we happened into a lovely surprise appetizer. As the tide went out on the bay side, we did, too, and we discovered that the shoreline was teeming with mussels—just what our team needed, and an unexpected windfall.

When the backcountry kitchen isn’t about planning, it’s about ingenuity. With that in mind, sand substituted for a cleaning brush, a nesting pot substituted for a steamer, and red wine filled in for white wine.  In the end, the mussels came out perfectly. Prep was easy, and a big key was soaking them IMGA0046in fresh water for about 20 minutes to allow them to breathe out built-up sand. We also had to “de-beard” a few of them–a new term for me that triggered an endless stream of bad puns, but a task that was easily done by hand. It was twenty minutes from ocean to table, and it was a delightful little warm-up to our unremarkable boil-in-bag dinners.

While mussels were the only delicacy of the weekend, we did experiment a bit on Sunday morning with a new breakfast dish made with dehydrated hash browns and “no refrigerate” bacon that we named Old Bayside Quiche, inspired by the Old Bay IMGA0079seasoning that we sprinkled liberally while cooking.  Mixing up fresh eggs ahead of time at home and then freezing them in a ziplock bag was just the trick. While not exactly a new concept, the egg mixture works well and the resulting baggie is way less bulky than those plastic egg carrier thingies. It does make you look weird(er) when you do the prep before a dinner party at a friend’s house in Annapolis the night before—but at least I shaved beforehand, which is more than I can say about those mussels.