Signal Knob and a Birthday Hike

September 13, 2008 at 1:22 am 7 comments

I am a fan of the birthday hike. Friends and colleagues of mine are well aware that regardless of what day of the week my birthday falls on, that day I *will* be taking off work and going for a hike. It is a given. And just like with weddings, I will happily tag along on other people’s birthday hike as well.

So it is no surprise that this year when one Ryan Somma indicated that he wanted to celebrate his birthday with a hike that I would quickly attach myself to those plans.

But as the hike day neared, a tiny, tiny, tiny little obstacle surfaced. It went by the name of “Tropical Storm Hanna”. Earlier in the week, watching storm projections, a backup plan involving various nearby caverns was discussed.

On Saturday morning, I woke up in the Elizabeth Furnace campground and noted the dry surface area in my tent was becoming more scarce. I further observed that sleeping bags have quite the impressive capillary action. Finally, I stepped outside of the tent and witnessed steady rain.

Oh yeah,” I concluded, “This is definitely a cavern day.”

But my findings were subject to a peer review and Ryan Somma had a different assessment.

“I still want to try the hike,” he said.

And since he was in fact, the birthday boy, his vote counted just a tad more than mine.

We ate an Omega-3 filled breakfast of smoked salmon and avocados on pita bread, put on ponchos and headed out. When we started out, I still suspected that we would have to summon the strength to wuss out. Especially when we had conversations like this one:

Vicky: Are your shoes water tight?

Ryan: Water tight?

Ready to Hike
Poncho and shoes that are not water-tight

Lo and behold, we completed the entire 10.6 mile hike, including a 2,680 foot climb. In fact, I would  tag on “with ease” to the end of that statement. And even though the views were obscured (Vicky: Umm…I think there is supposed to be a mountain over there), hiking in the storm brought forth other benefits.

The pitter patter of the rain in the tree canopy definitely added a peaceful soundtrack to the journey. The moisture made the trees seem more vibrant and alive. The clouds and the rain kept us at comfortable temperatures. Finally, just as the different seasons provide different views, we got to see a slightly different forest than we would have if it were sunny.

In a blog post about his own birthday hike in 2006, Marty Martin from observed:

It had rained during the night so the woods were good and wet, which normally can lead to an uncomfortable hiking experience, but I also know that certain woodland critters come out after a rain…

He then goes on to share his encounter with Red Efts (the terrestrial stage of the Red-Spotted Newt). Ryan and I got to encounter the very same, captivating creature:

Red Eft
Red Eft

Now, there were couple of items that we came across, that could have been around on a sunnier day. We got to see my favorite reptile, the box turtle, and when I wasn’t even looking for it, we came across an unexpected American Chestnut burr on the trail!

American Chestnut Burr!
American Chestnut Burr!

And here was another amusing conversation:

Vicky (holding the chestnut burr): Wow!!!! I want to eat it! Do you know how to eat it? Do I have to cook it?

Ryan: You don’t want to plant it?

Vicky (suddenly remembering the restoration effort and the importance of keeping the gene pool diverse): Oh… uh… yeah. Yeah, I’ll plant it.

I’ve already started research on planting the nut. Even if my efforts fail, I figure I can turn it into some kind of blog post. Though I do have to admit, part of me still wants to eat the nuts within and see what tastes extinction (or near extinction) has deprived me of.

Even without a chestnut in my belly, it was an amazing time. We did have a couple of casualties though. Remember my question about water tight shoes?  Well, my Asolo hiking boots and SmartWool socks kept my feet pretty dry and comfy.  My hiking companion, on the other hand, got to be a living example of osmosis at work:

Prune Feet
Prune Feet!

And remember my wet tent? I put it in my car where it helped demonstrate three concepts:

1) Evaporation
2) Condensation
and most importantly:
3) the Conductivity of Water

All the water from the tent evaporated and then condensed on my cold windshield where it trickled down and shorted out my radio for a good half day. 🙂

The water in my radio.
All that water WAS in my tent. Not pictured: The water in my radio.

The conditions certainly were not ideal and we could have easily been miserable, but instead we ended up with a great adventure. We got to exercise. We got to enjoy the outdoors. We got to be invigorated by new discoveries, fascinated by old ones, and feel the soothing sense of accomplishment that comes with worked muscles.

In other words– we got to share everything a great birthday hike should be.

Signal Knob Circuit Hike
Massanutten Trail – Tuscarora Trail
Map and Mileage

Elizabeth Furnace Recreation Area
Strasburg, VA

Length: 10.6 mile loop

Elevation Gain: 2680 feet

Parking: Park at the Signal Knob Parking Lot

Entry filed under: American Chestnut, Elizabeth Furnace, George Washington National Forest, Hiking, Ryan Somma, Signal Knob.

Improvisation More Red Efts!

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. More Red Efts! « TGAW  |  September 13, 2008 at 1:40 am

    […] 13, 2008 The rain last weekend did not keep us from hiking Signal Knob, but it did keep me from taking my camera with me.  So all my shots on Signal Knob were courtesy […]

  • 2. Crappiest View Picture Ever « TGAW  |  September 13, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    […] behind, so I had to rely on my cell phone to capture images, including this one of the view at Signal Knob.  Between the cloud cover, the wind, the rain AND a crappy focus job by my LG enV, I’m ready […]

  • 3. geekhiker  |  September 13, 2008 at 7:24 pm

    I find that when the day is that wet, I often just give up on the idea of keeping my feet dry!

  • 4. Sour Swinger  |  September 13, 2008 at 9:47 pm

    As we say in the Army: “If ain’t raining, you ain’t training.”

  • 5. Aaron  |  September 15, 2008 at 8:13 am

    I’m an Asolo & Smart Wool hiker too. 😛

  • 6. tgaw  |  September 16, 2008 at 8:10 pm

    @Aaron – Right on!

    @Sour Swinger – Heh heh heh, I will keep that motto in mind.

    @GeekHiker – Perhaps you need Asolo boots and SmartWool socks too. 🙂

  • 7. Wedding Behind the Scenes: Tree Tablecards « TGAW  |  March 10, 2010 at 10:00 am

    […] to sprout again in hopes for better odds.  This is a tree that reminds me of our birthdays.  On Ryan’s 35th birthday, we stumbled on an American Chestnut bur on a hike.  On my 34th birthday, we attended the planting […]


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