Heat, humidity and a hike up a mountain

My neighbor across the street has this thing going in which he loves to ask “how I’m liking the weather today?”

He NEVER fails to ask me that question. Each time we run into each other, I can expect him to grin, ask me about the weather and then chuckle to himself when I scowl.

He doesn’t really care what I think. He’s just tweaking me. He already knows how I feel about sweating through a sticky, soupy West Virginia summer – and, just to be clear, IT’S NOT GOOD!

Frankly, I’d rather join our big dog Rodney atop an AC vent and stay there until Labor Day, but circumstances conspire against me.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Nic texted me. He wanted to know if I’d like to join him and another friend of ours on a quick overnight backpacking trip.

Knowing what you now know about my hostility toward heat and humidity, you’d be right to think it a safe bet that I wouldn’t give the matter much thought, that I would flatly refuse and then give Rodney a nudge (he’s a vent hog). But, in this instance, if you had actually made that bet, you would have lost.

I can’t really explain why I went against the odds other than to say the cool air emanating from the vent must have made me temporarily delirious. In any case, I agreed to hike Shockeys Knob, a mountain about a half-hour from my home in Martinsburg, along West Virginia’s border with Virginia.

Last Wednesday, I found myself struggling up the mountain path with Nic and our friend John. Actually, I huffed and puffed more than either of them, but my feeble efforts to keep up aren’t the point. While temperatures weren’t nearly as hot as they were last week and it rained off and on, it was still humid. I was dripping with sweat before we even got halfway up the path.

Did I mention I prefer AC vents even if I have to nudge Rodney to make room?

I do.


But despite the humid, and sometimes rainy weather, that hike was worth it. And not just because we rewarded ourselves with the beer we had iced down and lugged up the mountain in our packs. It was because we had accomplished something, we had met a shared goal, we had been through the crucible and Shockeys Knob was ours.

But despite that sense of satisfaction, I’ve made a promise to myself. The next time my friends want to hike a mountain when it’s humid outside just to share a few beers beside a campfire, I’m going to suggest they come over to my house, instead. I’ve got plenty of AC vents and Rodney doesn’t mind sharing. Plus, the beer will be colder. I’ve got a fridge.

I don’t like humid weather.




A Memorial Day Misadventure

Usually, all my wife and I ever get out of our 16-year-old son are short, unintelligible grunts in response to questions about his day. He also grunts complaints that we don’t keep enough snacks around the house and when we require him to be seen in public with us.

Which was why I was surprised this past Memorial Day when he emerged from his basement lair and said in a clear voice, “I really should have gone with you guys.”

My wife and I had just returned from what we had billed as a holiday hike. We had planned to use Memorial Day to stretch our legs, discover more about our region’s Civil War history and, in the process, embarrass our kids by making them come along.

A few nights before the holiday, I announced our intention to scale, as a family, the Maryland Heights Trail, high above Harpers Ferry.

The news was met by our son’s customary grunt.

For those unfamiliar with the language of a teenage boy, it’s hard to tell one grunt from another. But that one was easy. I interpreted it as an expression of displeasure.

At least he didn’t actively try to avoid the hike. He left that to his way more talkative 12-year-old sister, whose desire never to be seen with her parents rivals his in its intensity. The only difference is that while he grunts his objections, she starts talking faster.

“But dad,” she complained like a locomotive belching steam and picking up speed. She went on to quickly explain that she had planned to spend Memorial Day at a friend’s house. They were working on a school project together and it was due later that week.

She kept talking until I acquiesced.

When Memorial Day dawned, it occurred to me that since our daughter wasn’t going, it might be nice to hike Maryland Heights with just my wife for company. With my schedule, we rarely have the opportunity to be by ourselves. I work nights and weekends, the kids are around most of the time, and our needy dog Rodney demands attention at every turn. So when I woke up our son, it was to tell him that we were leaving and would be gone most of the day.

He roused himself just long enough to offer a grunt in reply. I took it to mean he was relieved.

After dropping our daughter off at her friend’s house, my wife and I made our way to the trailhead, across the river from Harpers Ferry. That’s when we discovered that hiking a popular trail on a holiday was not such a good idea.

The small parking area along the narrow road hard at the base of the mountain was frustratingly full. So frustrating that after making several passes in hopes that someone would leave, I simply gave up and suggested we go over to Shepherdstown in search of parking and a far less strenuous stroll along the C&O towpath. But no one wanted to give up their parking space there, either.

All told, we spent about three hours failing to find a place to get out of the car to take a long walk. In that time, I could have commuted to my job in Washington, D.C. and returned home.

To make matters worse, I told my son the truth after he expressed remorse for not going. In hindsight, I should have let him feel guilty.

Because now, I’ve only hardened his conviction about how lame his parents really are.

Our trip to Seneca Rocks – No rest for the out of breath

I didn’t know it at the time, but one of the pictures I took during a family hike at West Virginia’s Seneca Rocks last week pretty much sums up our long slog up the mountain. At least, it pretty much sums up the hike for me.


The picture shows our 16-year-old son starting to take a fairly commanding lead over his mother and sister, who appear to be holding a conversation of some sort. All three are walking along a wooded track with their backs to the camera. All three seem to be moving at a good clip.

I’m nowhere to be seen.

That’s because I possessed the camera and took the picture from behind.

Way behind.

Which begs the question – why was I lagging?

Just to get that shot?

Or was I struggling to keep up?

It depends on whom you ask. My wife would probably tell you that I was getting a little red in the face. In fact, she asked several times on our way up the mountain if I was “okay.”

Personally, I like to think I was leading from the rear. After all, our trip to Seneca Rocks was my idea.


West Virginia’s Seneca Rocks is popular with climbers and rapellers. Also, the 10th Mountain Division trained here during World War 2.

I told my wife about a month ago that I wanted to take the kids to the Rocks over spring break. I figured they could use some fresh air – especially our son, who, if left on his own, would probably figure out a way to somehow become one with the Internet like Johnny Depp does in the new movie “Transcendence.” But instead of hatching an evil plan to destroy the world, our son would likely use his extravagant power to have a pizza delivered to the house every day.

As ideas go, that’s not such a bad one. But even the digitally omnipotent need to flex their muscles every once in a while.

And, flex them he did.

The trail up to the observation platform at Seneca Rocks is a mile-and-a-half. One website I found describes it invitingly as a “pleasant hike along gentle uphill grades and switchbacks.”

For a 16-year-old (and, apparently everyone else) that description rings true. But I’m a newly minted 50-year-old who realized not far up the trail that our teenage son is not the one who needs to get out more – that being dragged around our neighborhood by our giant dog Rodney once in a while was not going to be enough exercise to keep from getting a little dizzy from exertion.

Thankfully, there are plenty of places to stop and rest on the way up. Wooden benches are placed strategically along the trail, and fallen trees and big boulders are handy to lean against as you catch your breath and let the burn in your legs subside.

Not that I ever got to take advantage of any opportunity to rest.

As anyone who has ever had the misfortune of bringing up the rear will tell you, there really is no rest for the weary. I’m just glad I was in charge of the water bottles.

I had them in a fanny pack strapped around what passes for my waist – a happy circumstance that forced my wife and kids to stop and wait for me when they got thirsty. Unfortunately, my joy at each pause in our hike didn’t last long. After they sipped some water and I began settling in for a well-deserved break, our son would turn almost immediately and start back up the trail with my wife and daughter following closely in his wake.

I had no choice but to get moving, again.

I finally got to catch my breath when I stumbled up to the observation platform to join my family. The view is spectacular and well worth the hike up Seneca Rocks, especially if you’re concerned about someone in the family who really ought to get out more.


And, just for the record, I actually led the way for much of the trek down the mountain.

There are times when gravity really is my friend.