It’s not exactly a country road that cuts Shenandoah National Park in half, winding through the Blue Ridge Mountains, but we couldn’t help but sing along to John Denver’s Country Roads. “Blue Ridge Mountaaaiins, Shanendoahhh Riiiver,” we chirped. The first night of our camping adventure had started off perfectly, just our style. We’d lost our way, arrived to a locked entrance gate, and it was already dark. With headlights glowing, we rapidly assembled poles and raised our tent near the entrance, planning on leaving at sunrise to begin our four day hike in the wilderness. Knowing this was our last moment for luxury, we cracked a cold beverage from our cooler and said a “cheer” to our first night in Virginia. It only took ten minutes for headlights to illuminate our tent and a voice to call out in a southern drawl,”Who gives ya’ll permission ta camp her?” Jason and I smiled and he stepped out of the tent to chat, hoping he could smooth it over so we didn’t have to move everything in the dark.
Now this may not seem like the perfect scenario I just promised, but be patient and let me explain why it was.
Jason shook hands with Daniel, a local whose home butts up to Shenandoah National Park. After Jason finished apologizing and explaining that the National Park’s Website told us to camp outside the gate, Daniel said things had changed and this was private property, but since we seemed like “nice people” he’d let us stay and we could park our car in his yard for the duration of our trip. He said he and his wife had been surprised to see us camped near their home since we thought it was the public gate, and he reenacted the scenario by reporting they said, “By golly! Whats that?! A tent?!” We all had a laugh and were friends. May I note, Jason’s charm lead Daniel to the conclusion we were “nice people” within one minute of the conversation?!
Coming back with a can of beer and a mouthful of stories, we got an insider’s perspective to this area. He told us tales of fishing and hunting for mushrooms in the woods, which got our attention since we’d brought poles and fishing licenses. When asking if he ever found morels, Daniel got excited and exclaimed,”Well y’all do know ya shrooms!” He told us tales of finding leatherbacks, a mushroom that looks like leather on the top, but when you break it off, it drips a milky dew. He told us it was delicious with fish, fried up with grease or butter. (Note that there were only two ways to cook them in his mind: fried in grease or fried in butter. Southern home cooking!) We commented that we’d be on the lookout for them, hoping not to go the way of “Into The Wild.” We clarified the specifics and he told us we’d know we had one when our hands stained black from touching.
As you can see from the photos, this was one of the best parts of our hiking trip to Shenandoah! Mushroom hunting became a sport for us. Had we not gone astray the first night, we may have never learned to appreciate what the locals do! More on our domestic backpacking adventure to come.