Dolly Sods a.k.a Dahle Sods – 2001

August 18, 2017 § Leave a comment

In September of 2000, I started a new position at a small, growing fast startup called Tellium. I left IBM after only being with them for 2 months after AT&T sold our business unit to IBM for eventual outsourcing, so AT&T could sponsor the new stadium in Denver. There is no evidence that was the case, but the sponsorship deal was 200 million, and the IBM deal was about 190. At Tellium, I was hired to work on a team to in-source the Network Management software FROM India. Tellium was working night and day, and had just entered their third round of Venture funding, and they were gearing up for the big delivery. A brand new architecture in backbone network design, a mesh architecture with home-grown hardware and software.

Did I say day and night? Well, it was a startup. They brought in lunch. They brought in dinner every night. They gave us options that, at the time, based on what was going on in the industry, amounted to some decent wealth potential, and people were willing to work hard and long to achieve great results. It was a very vibrant time. There were consequences though. If you are working 17 hours a day, and working most weekends, you are not physically doing much. Also, your caloric input is high, and as said, your caloric burn is low. They had something called the “Tellium 20”. Your weight incremented by 20 pounds, and there were wagers on when new hires would “earn” their first Tellium 20.

The hardware, and embedded programmers worked some pretty hard hours. We had some long days on the Network Management side, but I was able to steal some time here and there. On one of the there steals, I and my friend Randy (from AT&T) embarked down to the DC area to meet up with my DC area friends, Chris, Larry, Greg and others. The destination was Dolly Sods in West Virginia, which is almost 4 hours drive from Larry’s place in Herndon. It would be 4 hours because it was Winter, and because it was Winter, the forest roads were closed, and so we had to drive all the way around to the South near Senaca Rocks and then North through Dryville and onto Laneville to enter Dolly Sods on paved open roads where Red Creek exits the wilderness. The plan was to hike in to the first creek that drains from higher ground (Little Stone Coal Run), and hike up to the plateau and find a place to camp.

Dolly Sods (Originally Dahle Sods) was once a vast plateau of high grasses and berries surrounded by tracts of Spruce, Hemlock and Black Cherry. After being heavily logged, a fire broke out in 1930, and devastated the organic matter, burning much of it down to the bare rocks. Dolly Sods has been in recovery ever since, and has been coming back quite nicely. The entire plateau drains via Red Creek, which begins as simple drainage high, and can become a roaring angry snake of a raging river further downstream. It is not uncommon to see huge piles of organic debris as evidence from past torrents.

It was against this backdrop that my first adventure into Dolly Sods began. You never know what you will get from the Sods, but on this day, we arrived after a rainy week, with the rain only ending while we drove over. At higher elevations it was one of those slushy wet snows, so we knew that getting in quickly, and finding a decent camp site with access to burnable wood would be paramount to enjoying our first night out. The first section of the hike on the West bank of Red Creek was uneventful. We crossed Little Stone Coal Run, and then hung a left and started the long gain of elevation. I wasn’t completely without physical activity as I did manage to get some riding in, but that was limited. What I was very aware of though, was how much I was suffering on this section.

Figuring that even if we got an early start out of Larry’s, after 4 hours driving, we couldn’t have started hiking much before noon. It was also late February or at the least 1st week of March, and so, the Sun wasn’t going to stay in the sky much beyond 5:30 or 6 at the latest, so the point here is that we weren’t going to be going far before we needed to find a camp site, and gather wood, and get ourselves together to enjoy the night.

As I recall it seemed like the ascent went on forever. Refer to the picture below and note the at 1), this was about where I had reached when a certain picture (still have to find), was taken that I will reference later, and I realized that I was very much out of hiking shape. As we continued on we eventually reached the point on the map where the Green Trail transitions to the Orange Trail. At that time, I didn’t know this place, and I didn’t know that is where we were. All I know is we noticed that it was a flat area, there was water near by, and we might use it as a camp site. While everyone was deciding what would be done, a biological need that I had been resisting was getting too much to ignore, and so I took off my pack, grabbed the TP, and a shovel and headed perpendicular to the trail in about 150 yards till I found a private location, and proceeded to take care of business. On that map that is location 2).

Some of our group was familiar with Dolly Sods, and after a little discussion decided to see if there was a better location further up the trail. Larry, Greg and Mike took went to investigate, and followed the trail which had transitioned until they came to location 3), and there I was about 5 feet off the trail taking care of business. “Eric? Why are you taking a crap so close to the trail? Don’t you know the rules?”


Not necessarily draw to scale, but I think you get the idea.

We settled on that spot mainly because it was just getting dark, and we needed to get a fire going quickly if there was going to be any kind of evening sit around. Remember, it is fire that makes Winter camping possible. We had some fits and starts. Everything that was on the ground was soaking wet, and until you HAVE a roaring blaze, you cannot through wet wood on a fire, because it was just simply extinguish the fire very slowly. You will say something like “That fire was warmer 5 minutes ago”. The fire was on the verge of going out when the alarm went off that we had to do something quick or our first evening would be a cold miserable, eat fast, and go to bed event.

I don’t recall who tried it, but down the hill was a lot of Rhododendron and someone went down, and if you are familiar with this weed of the forest, it grows thick, and there are a lot of standing dead branches that remain attached. Someone brought some up and the put it on the fire, and another quality of Rhodo kicked in. It has oil. The fire came to life. We all ran down into the patch of Rhodo and started breaking off all the dead branches we could find, and some live ones as well. Oil burns.

Disaster was averted, we ate our meals, and though we were tired, we stayed up and fed the fire with the wood we had, even throwing some of the wet shit back on, and we enjoyed as much of the evening as we could and then turned in, leaving enough Rhodo for the morning fire.

On Saturday, the plan was to hike to Lion’s Head, which offers some very nice local views, and from there to work our way down to the banks of Red Creek, further upstream from where we branched off the day before, and find a nice place along the flood plain to camp for night two. At Lion’s Head, we would drop our packs and take lunch up to the rocks, and see if we could stand being on the exposed rock long enough to eat. As it turned out, it was quite windy, and while the views were awesome, the shelter needed to eat, was non-existent, and we abandoned lunch thoughts, to return to the trail and hike further off the mountain until we found a quiet place. Eventually we settled on some rocks along the trail and ate. In those days, many of us like the .99 cans of herring or fish steaks in Oil, or Hot Sauce. Packed with energy, and pretty tasty on Matzah, we would add some cheddar, and that was a meal!

Our second night was not as dire as our first night. There was a lot of wood that wasn’t simply sitting on the forest floor, and there were piles in some log dams created by previous floods. The area was wide and open, and along with plenty of places to set up tents, there were places for me to set my tent up such that my snoring, at the time pretty ferocious, wouldn’t bother my companions. The issue facing us the next morning would be how to get across Red Creek.

My last story about this adventure will be about getting across the creek. At this point in its drainage, Red Creek has carved out a path out of the plateau that moves from hugging one side of the gorge to hugging the other side. As the creek drains, it widens as well. The official place to cross was were we were camped. We had to head south, and you could only go so far south before the creek cut into this side and there was no trail. Either we go back up the long way, or we figure out how to cross. As said already the creek was wide here. Very wide in fact. As I recall it was at least 25 yards across, so the thought of finding some fallen tree, or even a set of trees on which to cross was pretty far out there in the world of “never will happen”, so we prepared for the only way we were going to cross. We took our boots off and prepared to wade across the near freezing waters in our sock clad feet. You have to have something on your feet, and hiking out in wet boots was out of the question.

I have pictures of this crossing, but I have to find them. They are on a SCSI drive that I need to recover, but haven’t yet, and I do still have the originals, but scanning them again is a pain in the arse. One by one we took our boots off, tied the laces together, and then draped our boots around our neck, and eased down the bank and into the water. Using a thick stick for balance we each made our way across, with the water coming as high as my thighs, which would be other people’s crotch. Correction. We also took our pants off. We didn’t need those getting wet either.

On the other side of the creek each of us found a place to sit, where we quickly removed the cold icy socks from our near frozen feet, and then quickly dried our feet, put on dry socks, and re-panting ourselves, re-engaged our feet in our boots and quickly got moving again. Nothing gets your feet warmer faster than hiking again, and so we started moving again, and soon all our feetsies were quite toasty and warm again.

The downside for a Jersey dude like myself, is that while I can break up the trip down into two days, the trip home is one long slog. Fortunately, I was a passenger for the first part before leaving Larry’s to drive home with Randy. It wouldn’t be until weeks later that after getting the film processed from the trip that I realized just what a big piggy I had become, and that is why I suffered so much. I was 235 pounds, which is the heaviest I have ever been in my life. That was the moment I committed to changing my diet, and changing my ways, and 25 weeks later I was down in the 190’s again, and kicking ass on the bike. That was a transitional weekend for me, and I have been reaping the rewards ever since.

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