Sunday, June 8, 2014

Graduation, Celebration, Hike!!

On Friday, June 6th,  the IMS and IMTS folks graduated from the IRM program portion of our training. It was a nice ceremony with Mr. Steve Taylor, our CIO, as the commencement speaker. He spoke of our role as communicators, enabling diplomacy to happen. I liked hearing that. I have no desire to be an Ambassador or a public diplomat, but supporting them in doing that job so we can avoid the alternative (say, go to war) is a good way to spend my time. I am not sure how this is all going to work out, and who knows where I’ll be in 5 years, but right now it has a nice ring to it.

A big “Thank You” goes to Brenda who organized a Happy Hour after our graduation ceremony. She ordered some tasty appetizers and even got us cake. Most of our IMS class showed up and several of the other 132nd Specialists came as well. It was a great way to get together, say goodbye to those who are leaving soon, and to drink some beer. We had cake too. Beer and cake, a great combo...

Saturday, I went hiking with a Sean and Rebecca, two friends from the 132nd. We had picked a hike and float scenario in the Shenandoah River State Park from the 60 hikes within 60 miles book. The State Park is different from Shenandoah National Park. The two parks are almost across the street from each other but, although you can hike in both, the State Park is the only one with a river where you can recreate and enjoy a few wet, relaxing hours after a hot hike. Being the only one with a car, I had said that I wanted to pick up my co-hikers early and I would leave my apartment at seven. I almost made it, and by 8AM we were all in the Hamster Mobile on our way to Shenandoah River State Park. The park charges a $5.00 entry fee for cars, but if you walk in you get to pay nothing. This seems to be usual in Virginia state parks; I've noticed the same policy at some of the other parks I hiked at. I guess more people come by car than on foot and the money gets put to excellent use. Since the roads and parking lots in the park are well maintained and the bathrooms were nice and clean, I feel the fee is a bargain.

We started by hiking up the Hemlock Hollow trail, which was the equivalent of 24 flights of stairs. I try to walk about 5 miles a day (10,000 steps) but this trail made me short of breath. We made a short stop at the visitor center at the top of the hill. It’s a lovely place with great examples of native growth and a beautiful water feature in front of the building.

After picking up more water and leaving some behind, we set off on the Overlook Trail and after whacking through the bushes to make it to the actual overlook, we enjoyed the beautiful view.

Afterwards, we continued along the road looking for the service road that would lead us to Culler’s Trail. From there we had to make a choice to hike the Bear Bottom Loop bottom or the Bear Bottom Loop top loop. We picked the top loop, and then we took the Big oak trail to the Shale Barrens Trails. The trails are marked with difficulty ratings: circle for easy, square for moderate, and diamond for difficult. It’s the same system you see on most ski slopes. We saw some awesome wildlife, namely a bright green beetle. The beetle could possibly have been an emerald ash borer, as it looked very similar to this picture on the Virginia Tech website. Pretty but deadly. I made pictures of mushrooms on account that they don’t run away.

Once we made it to the Culler’s Trail, we hiked to the Low Water Bridge, which isn’t much of a bridge at all right now because they are replacing it. It’s just a narrow concrete strip across the water, just wide enough for a single car or bus. This is where the Downriver Canoe Company was located. I've been tubing in Missouri, and the outfitters there sell everything from sunglasses to tubes and food and drinks. This outfitter was much more modest. They sold t-shirts, water shoes (shoes are an absolute must to wear if you are on this river because of the sharp rocks), water and Cliff Bars. That was about it. The people running the outfitter's were super nice and very patient with our myriad of questions and the fact that I had three transactions because after paying for our tube rentals I ended up buying a Cliff bar for lunch after realizing that they did not make any food, and then having to make another purchase for water as they don’t even have a water fountain to fill up my water bottle. Since we were on a “go slow day”, it took us almost an hour to get going again once we reached the outfitter’s location. It was nice to simply take our time.

We had rented a floating cooler (as opposed to a cooler float….) to accommodate our beverages. The right side of the river is part of the State park and the left side is private property. We were told that we would get the cooler at the launch site, which was on the other side of the river, but once we got there were told that we should have received it on the store side of the river. The bus driver took the big bus and got us our cooler (I already said that they were nice people). Once we got the cooler, I realized that we had no way to keep the backpacks dry as the cooler was, well,… a cooler.

Sean walked back to the store and rented a cooler float (thank you, Sean) to put our stuff in. Having that dry bottom thing to keep our backpacks with our electronics gave me the peace of mind to truly enjoy the rest of the trip. Once we were on the river, I wanted to make some pictures, so after tipping over and losing my beverage, I found a low water spot before carefully unwrapping my iPhone and snapping some before carefully putting the phone back in the Dry Sack and trying to get back into my tube. I guess practice makes perfect, but it was a lot of trouble and so I didn't make any more pictures.

Time just lazily passed by as we floated back to the parking lot in the State Park. It was a gorgeous day with the temperature in the low 80s, and we had made sure to slather on extra sunscreen. 

On the way back we stopped for frozen custard at Spelunker’s in Front Royal. After dropping off Rebecca at her apartment, I felt like eating pizza so Sean and I stopped off at Pupatella. The pizza was so good that I ate the other half right after I came home. So much for ‘moderation’.


Ellie Beerendonk said...

Yeahhhhh my sister graduated! I am so proud of you.
Big hugs from you sister.

w.zaagman said...

Congrats on graduating! What's this 132nd Specialists reference? It sounds military, and you what a militaristic little (ahem) sh*t I am ;-). ANd how much km did you hike in the end? I'm just in from the Falcon Walk, a hike organized by 11 Luchtmobiele Brigade (that's Airmobile Brigade). I survived 20km, which is not bad for a mostly untrained person - I've only started hiking seriously this year.