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Ten Things to Know Before Hiking Old Rag

7 Oct
Old Rag 2

Fall, with all the changing colors, is the best time to hike Old Rag.

There’s no day-hike within driving distance of the DC area that’s more popular than Old Rag Mountain in the Shenandoah Mountains, and with good reason. The 9-mile loop offers gorgeous views, fun rock scrambles and is challenging yet doable for most fitness levels. It takes about 2 – 2.5 hours to get there and is particularly great in the fall.

1. It can—and will—get crowded. If you’re going on a weekend and it’s nice weather, you’ll want to plan on leaving as early as you can tolerate. There’s one particular place about halfway through that requires a tricky shimmy in between two rocks. I have twice waited a whopping 45 minutes to get through this section. There’s another option, walking around a large bolder, but the ledge is pretty narrow (as is the margin of error).

2. You’ll have to pay for parking. There’s a grass field down the road from the trailhead with a park ranger pay booth. The cost is $8/individual, $15/ car or $30 for an annual pass and, surprisingly, they prefer credit cards. Don’t forget to get a national park stamp if you’re into that sort of thing. Note: There used to be a few parking spots right by the trailhead, but they’re no longer available.

3. Go before you go. There also used to be a port-o-potty right at the trailhead. They got rid of that, so make sure you use the two that are in the parking lot before heading up the road to the trailhead.

4. Bring some cash. On the road walking to/from the trailhead, there’s often someone selling cider or apples. I always regret not having cash on hand to purchase some.

5. Don’t forget to bring the basics. Over the winter my roommate and her friend forgot to bring water on their Old Rag hike. They had to eat snow. So yeah, don’t do that. And bring lunch, snacks and sunscreen too.

One of the trickier (and most fun) sections.

6. Decide where you’re going to eat afterward, beforehand. There’s no question that you’ll want to eat a big meal after the hike. You’ll pass through Sperryville, but the only cheap option is pizza. (Here’s a list of the most current dining options.) Last time I hiked Old Rag, my friends and I had trouble finding a convenient place to eat on our way home, and it was annoying because by that time we were tired and hungry. I advise pre-planning and making a decision on the drive up.

7. Go clockwise. I get so annoyed with hikers who go in a counter-clockwise direction. Most people go clockwise, and so you will be constantly going against traffic if you go the other direction.

8. You will hate your life for the last 45 minutes. Assuming you go clockwise, the last 45 – 60 minutes are down a dirt path. It’s boring and by then I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll be over it. Since there’s not actually anything you can do about it, maybe I shouldn’t have brought it up at all … oh well!

9. Beware of bears. The first time I did this hike it was on a weekday and I was by myself. I only saw a few other hikers the entire time. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Luckily, I didn’t see any bears that time, but I saw one on my most recent trip a few yards from the trail.

10. Be realistic. The amount of time this hike takes varies dramatically depending on your fitness level and the number of breaks you take. My roommate took 4 hours while my co-worker, on the same day, took 7.5. If you think you’ll be pretty slow, make sure to bring adequate supplies and leave early enough so you don’t have to worry about the sun setting while you’re still on the mountain.

Want more info? Check out the National Park Service’s Old Rag webpage.

Ten Potomac River Facts

28 Aug

The Great Falls © Jan Kronsell on Creative Commons

Known as “the nation’s river”, the Potomac runs through West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and DC.

10. The Potomac is about 383 miles long.

9. About 90 percent of DC area drinking water comes from Potomac.

8. There is some fantastic local hiking along the Potomac, including the popular Billy Goat Trail in Maryland and trails in Virginia’s Great Falls Park.

7. The water quality of the river began deteriorating in the 19th century as a result of mining, agriculture and sewage. It became so polluted that President Lyndon Johnson called the river “a national disgrace” and put measures in place to return it to its former glory. It’s made substantial success since that time, but still has a long way to go.

6. Rumor has it that Abraham Lincoln would escape to higher ground on summer nights to escape the smell of the Potomac.

5. You’re not allowed to swim in the Potomac (but that’s not to say that people don’t). In 2009, six people died in the river. You will see signs posted on trails near the river stating the number of people who have died so far that year.

4. The Potomac Conservancy is a non-profit working to improve the river’s water quality.

3. Activities you can enjoy on the Potomac include flat water kayaking, whitewater kayaking, stand up paddling, sculling, canoeing and cruises.

2. About 5 million people live in the Potomac Watershed and the population is expected to grow 10 percent each decade.

1. President John Quincy Adams swam naked in the Potomac every day. One afternoon Anne Royall, one of the first female journalists, forced Adams to give her an interview by standing on his clothes and refusing to move until she got her questions answered.

A Day Away: Annapolis

20 Jul

© Dan Smith on Creative Commons

There’s no better place to enjoy a beautiful, summer day than Annapolis. Maryland’s capital is only about an hour away from DC, depending on where exactly you’re starting from, and is easy to get to. Here are my five favorite things to do …

Time on the water
Ideally, you’ll have a friend with a boat who can take you out on the water but, assuming that’s not an option, there are a couple alternatives. You can take a cruise (including one with a pirate theme) , take a kayak tour or rent a kayak and go out on your own. A water taxi is also an option, but they’re not cheap.

Hang out at City Dock
No visit to Annapolis is complete without a walk around City Dock, the main hub along the water with cute shops and restaurants. Make sure to check out “Ego Alley” where boaters pull up in an unspoken “mine is bigger than yours” contest.

 Take a tour
I highly recommend taking the Naval Academy hour-long tour. Just go to the visitor center to sign up. When my friends and I were taking the tour, we walked by a student who muttered “welcome to hell.” Yikes!

Last summer I had the interesting and (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime experience partaking in a “haunted pub crawl.” If that’s not your thing, there are plenty of other walking tours to choose from.

Eat
I’m particularly fond of eating brunch in Annapolis. My most favorite place is Boatyard Bar & Grill. It’s not near City Dock so you have to either take a short drive or a longish walk, but to me it’s worth it.

My boyfriend is obsessed with The Big Cheese which has amazing sandwiches, and used to be in “Market Place” before all the local places got kicked out when there was drama that I won’t get into now. It’s still close by though. People also really like Chick & Ruth’s Delly.  It’s good but really crowded.

Drink
Going out in Annapolis has a totally different feel compared to going to bars in DC. Jeans and T-shirts are the norm, anything fancier than that and you’ll stick out. I’m partial to the back bar at Pusser’s, which is right on the water, but it’s easy to hop around to different bars because there are plenty of options in the City Dock area. Of course, make sure you have a designated driver if you’re planning on coming home to DC at the end of the night.

Insider’s Tip: There is plenty of street parking in Annapolis if you’re willing to a) look for it, b) walk a few blocks and c) parallel park. There’s also metered parking at City Dock, but if you manage to get a spot, make sure to play the lottery that day too.

Delmarva Beach Basics, Part II: Where to go

26 May

Rehoboth Beach

There are multiple beach towns in Delmarva, but which to choose?

Rehoboth Beach, DE
One of the best known resort towns, Rehoboth has it all: a nice boardwalk, shops and salons, a movie theater and probably the best (though pricey) restaurants. It’s also well-known for its large gay population. Parking near the beach can be a nightmare, so staying at a place within walking distance to the beach is ideal.

Hot Spot: The Tanger outlets! Delaware has no sales tax, ya know. There are four separate—though close together—outdoor outlet malls that people flock to, especially on rainy days.

Dewey Beach, DE
Dewey is right next to Rehoboth and known for being a party town. Lots of young people and lots of bars. It’s pretty astonishing to me that a town as small as Dewey—year round population is 300—could have enough drama to fill a TV show.

Hot Spot: All the bars in Dewey seem pretty popular, but Dogfish Head in particular is always hoppin’.

Bethany Beach, DE
About 15 minutes down Route 1 is the next beach town, Bethany, which is known as a quiet family resort. There’s a nice boardwalk that often has entertainment on the small outdoor stage. The beach can get intensely crowded, so you’ll probably want to set up shop early.

Hot Spot: The Fat Tuna Grill is technically in Millville, but that’s basically Bethany so I’m going to put it anyway. It’s a couple miles from the beach and popular with locals. If you’re lucky, you’ll visit on a karaoke night!

Fenwick Island, DE
Another 10 minutes down the coast and you’ll arrive at Fenwick Island, with about 380 year-round residents. I really like Fenwick’s beaches because they’re less crowded but be warned, you have to pay to park at some of them. Interestingly, Fenwick isn’t an island but a narrow peninsula.

Hot Spot: Warren Station is a great family restaurant.

Ocean City, MD
Next to laid-back Fenwick is the intense, high-rise ridden Ocean City. And, I swear, it must be the mini-golf capital of the world (actually, I just Googled mini-golf capital of the world and it’s Myrtle Beach). The boardwalk is huge, has roller coasters and water rides and attracts all types of people. There’s also a (kind of crappy) movie theater in case of a rainy day.

Hot Spot: Day or night, the answer is undoubtedly Seacrets.

Delmarva Beach Basics, Part I: To and From

20 May

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge

Leading up to Memorial Day, I’ve decided to do a few posts about visiting Delmarva beaches. My parents live there, and I lived there for a year after college, so I think I have some good advice on the matter. First up: Getting there.

There is exactly one way to get to all beaches: The Bay Bridge. This can pose some problems when you and every other DC area resident is driving across the bridge simultaneously. The traffic, particularly on three-day weekends in the summer, can be terrible/awful/horrendous/sob-inducing. For that reason, it’s important to plan ahead. Leave as early as possible if you can. Or really, really late. And I urge you to have an E-Z Pass.

Luckily, the toll is only charged crossing the bridge going east, and it’s $2.50. You might want to consider subscribing to the Email Alerts, and I recommend always calling Bay Span right before you drive to or from the beach (877-BAYSPAN) though I have been sitting in traffic on the bridge when BaySpan said there was no delay, so it’s not perfect.

If you don’t have a car, you’re in luck because the DC2NY bus has JUST started a route from Dupont and Union Station to Rehoboth and Dewey. There used to be the RehoBus that went from DC to Rehoboth, but it didn’t run often and it doesn’t seem to be operation anymore. So this new bus route is great news!

Weekend Away: Monticello

21 Apr

TJ's house

A couple months ago my dad and I visited Monticello, aka the estate of Thomas Jefferson, aka our third president, aka the author of the Declaration of Independence. It’s roughly a 2 ½ to 3 hour drive, depending on where in the DC area you’re coming from and, of course, traffic.

Monticello is a great weekend getaway because it’s right outside of Charlottesville, which is in-and-of itself a great place to visit. And I recommend visiting the University of Virginia, which is in Charlottesville and is, along with Monticello, a UNESCO Heritage Site. PRETTY impressive. But anyway, back to Monticello …

So when my dad and I went it was actually snowing. The good aspect of this was that there were virtually no other tourists. We were able to get tickets for the house tour right away. Tickets are $17 in low season and $22 in high season. I recommend paying in cash. Why? Because they give you TWO DOLLAR BILLS in change!

The house tour lasted about 45 minutes and was quite interesting—we saw the very place where Jefferson died—but I can only imagine the long lines and mayhem in the summer. The good thing about going in the summer, however, is that—judging by the postcards—the estate is absolutely beautiful at that time of year. It’d be a great place to meander, take a picnic, etc.

In addition to the standard House Tour, you can also take a Behind the Scenes Tour or a Gardens and Grounds Tour, among others. There’s an introductory film at the Visitor Center, but I wasn’t too impressed by that, to be honest. I did quite enjoy the Discover Room, which is meant for kids. I tried my hand at Jefferson’s polygraph invention, which isn’t what you think it is (unless you’ve already been to Monticello, then it is what you think it is).

Monticello is most definitely worth a visit, but if you go during the warmer months, take some time to plan in advance to make the most of your visit.

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