Sunday, September 21, 2008

Our Weekend

Ok, so a few weeks ago, I told Matt that we should plan on doing something this weekend. He could get the day off on Friday, and that could give us a three day weekend. I was hoping to have our bikes by then, and maybe we could try them out. Well, Friday morning, we were still undecided on where exactly to go. Finally, we made the decision to go to Shenandoah National Park and bike along the Skyline Drive. We've driven it before, and it seemed like a cool thing to do. Matt went to the sporting goods store and got some camping equipment like a tent and other essentials. I tried to figure out what we should bring as food, and I settled on spaghetti (what else) and granola bars and peanut butter and honey sandwiches. That should get be enough for the weekend, right? Well, we headed out, with the plan to maybe do some primitive camping in the back country. By the time we got to the Park, we realized how unprepared we were. We didn't take into consideration that it would be colder up in the "mountains" and when we stepped out of the car, it was COLD! (OK so it was only about 65 degrees, but with a breeze blowing, and the promise to get colder as the sun went down...) So we decided to stay in a campground. That way we wouldn't have to worry about bears b/c we could put our food in our car overnight. We set up camp, and decided to take a ride.

Boy was it cold on the downhills! We ended up camping at Lewis Mountain, which is at mile marker 57 on the Drive. We rode our bikes up to Big Meadow which is at mile 49 or so. By the time we got up there, it was freezing! But we did see some deer. They were right next to the road.

When we finally made it to Big Meadow, we were exhausted, but we had to have our pictures taken next to the sign.

When we finally got back to our campsite, we decided that we probably needed a fire. So Matt purchased some wood and we tried to start the fire. Well, since I wasn't planning on having to start a fire, I had taken the two newspapers out of the car when I was packing up. So...we didn't have anything to start a fire with. We resorted to using the pamphlet that we got coming into the park, and a piece of cardboard we use in the trunk to hide the spare tire. After about an hour, we finally got the fire to start. The wood was wet, which didn't help us at all. But here is proof....

So, the first night sleeping in a tent in a long time is, I mean it was fun. Yeah, that's it. It was fun. Sure...the ground was so hard! I could not fall asleep for the life of me. I don't know how we did it as kids. We slept more outside in the tent in the summer as kids than we did inside, it seems. Then I was awakened by some guy in the campground yelling "Oh, my gosh! It's a bear!" really loud at about midnight. And the guy in the tent one campsite over snoring like a chainsaw all night (I can't complain about him, though. The next day he was a life-saver and gave us some lighter fluid to start our fire.) Other than that, it was a short night's sleep, then we were up and ready to go early. We decided to try to bike to the highest point on Skyline Drive: Skyland, which is 3680 ft. We were 3295 ft, so that shouldn't be too bad, right? 15 miles and 400 ft? Not too bad.... And then we got to Big Meadow and hit the 350 ft downhill (we hit 30.8 mph :)we knew we were in trouble. {Matt just gave me a cool picture of our ride, and maybe you can see it and understand what a daunting task we had: }

If you notice, that first big hill is right after Big Meadows. The first ride we did was so mild compared to what we had to endure for the next 9 miles. We went 1175 ft up, and 856 ft down (that means that total hills we went up 1175 ft, and downhill 865, but remember we did the reverse on the way home, thank goodness) That was the hardest 16 miles I have ever ridden. By far. Most of the time we were going up the hill in our lowest gear, averaging about 4 miles an hour. Plus, time to stop for me to rest. I am not in the greatest shape (although this trip went a long way towards that) and I got tired really easily.
Here's me riding at a point along the way, before we were really tired:

We were so tired by the time we got to the "top" that we had lunch and rested for a bit and came right back. We made it down to Big Meadow in time for me to collapse right in front of the "big meadow". We watched the hikers and bikers moving through the meadow for a while.

We got back, and the "neighbors" took pity on us and gave us some lighter fluid so it wouldn't take an hour to get a fire started. We had (what else?) s'mores and peanut butter sandwiches for dinner, let the fire burn down, and hit the sack. Our tent was pretty cozy, and I wasn't looking forward to spending another night on the hard ground, but maybe I was tired? Because it wasn't as bad as the first night. We got up really early, broke camp, and were out of there by 7:30am. Not too shabby. We decided to drive to the end of Skyline Drive on our way home, and I'm glad we did. Here's some of what we saw on the way out.

The thing I have to say about this weekend is it was the best impromptu, spur-of-the-moment, unplanned, disorganized weekend I've ever had. It was so much fun, our first camping trip together. We did something challenging, and we made it! I had my doubts, especially that second morning when we first started out. But I'm glad that I persevered, and it will be an experience we will never forget. And the best thing about it? We got a car rack for the car so we saved gas! :)


  1. Pam, that is just sooo crazy and cool. I'm proud of you that you actually went camping, on the ground and everything. I am just way impressed. Keep up the good work, and keep doing those weekends because it will help you when you bike across the country.

  2. Awesome story! It's hard to believe that one of the Helms could actually feel cold at 65 degrees, though...are you sure you are Pam?

  3. Yes, I'm still Pam, but I guess I've gone soft...
    You know, it was chilly, but not too bad, until we started riding and sweating on the uphills and freezing on the downhills. The ride we took that first evening I was wearing only my shorts and short sleeved shirt, too. Ooh, Boy! It was cold! I learned my lesson, and if you notice, I wore long johns the next day under my riding gear. It was much better, even though the day was warmer anyhow.

    I think I've gotten used to warmer weather, but I must say that I just wasn't expecting the cold. Maybe if I had prepared myself for it...but I think I had in mind that it would only be a couple degrees colder than down here by the ocean. Nope! Much colder, by 10-20 degrees. That makes a huge difference! :)

  4. skyline drive, huh? that WAS unexpected! :) I could have told you it was gonna be colder!
    it's not that you have gone soft, 65 degrees is kinda chilly! it was 69 degrees in DC, and i was freezing. ;)

  5. OH, to set the record straight, it was 65 during the day, and it dropped at least 10 or 15 degrees at night, so that was like 50 degrees! I forgot how cold 50 degrees feels, especially when we didn't have the right clothes for it :)

  6. Wahoo for you! Wow, I am really impressed! Thanks for inviting me to your blog, beautiful pics!! I love it

  7. I read your blog and I was thinking about what I would (honestly) do in that situation...and I'm pretty sure Daniel and I would have ended up at a restaurant AND hotel that night!
    So much for not camping too much! You guys really stuck it out! Kudos