This weekend H and I went backpacking at Sky Meadows, a close-ish state park in Fauquier County. The campground is pretty cushy, so this was our backpacking trial run. H wants to do more challenging backpacking trips together, like Mount Rogers, and my previous camping experiences have mostly been youth group-style camping in a field on someone’s farm or car camping at a site with running water and other modern conveniences.
Since I’m not the most experienced/willing camper, H planned the trip: we would drive to Sky Meadows State Park, hike about a mile to the campground, stay the night, and hike out the next morning. I wasn’t eager to go camping, but the promise of mountain views, a trip to a nearby winery, and s’mores around the campfire lured me in. I rationalized that since we would only camp a mile from the car and I run a seven minute mile, we would only really be seven minutes away from the car in case of emergency. Preparing for the trip, I brought one winery outfit and two camping outfits.
We got to Sky Meadows early to check in, and walked around the historic farm, where they had a tiny farmer’s market, a modern blacksmith working at the old forge, and an interpreter cooking a historically accurate meal in the kitchen. Once we checked in with a park ranger, who said we could set up camp anytime after three, we went to a nearby winery, Delaplane Cellars. We sat in the huge open tasting room, trying their signature wine blends and enjoying the view over the vineyard and the mountains. After the tasting, we got a picnic basket from the winery and sat on the terrace to eat our half-loaf of bread and George Costanza-sized hunk of cheese with a glass of white wine, feeling like French peasants.
For the first part of the day, I was winery-ready in this sweet white eyelet dress. I wore it with cowboy boots, so I could walk around Sky Meadows during the day without ruining my shoes, a denim jacket, since the weather was finally warm enough to not wear a coat, and a mint-green crossbody bag. I got a few weird looks that morning at the state park from fleece-clad hikers, but I was perfectly dressed for the winery.
After lunch, we drove back to Sky Meadows and I changed before we left for the campsite (at the last flush toilet we would see for the rest of the day) into a cozy plaid flannel shirt, jeans, and Bean boots. We made sure we had everything we would need for the night in our packs—I brought a Patagonia fleece, a quilted vest, and a raincoat for inclement weather—and set out for our campsite. H made fun of me for wearing Bean boots, which aren’t exactly hiking shoes, but I was fine for our one-mile walk.
At the campground, we were surprised to see that almost every site was taken. Luckily, campsite #12, which is on a steep uphill slope, with terraced steps built into the hillside for the tent site, picnic table, and fire pit, was still open. We pitched our tent and stowed our food and toiletries in the bear locker (You heard me: bear locker. To keep out bears.)
Once our campsite was set up, we went for a short hike on a trail that led up through the fields of Sky Meadows and along a ridge, almost to where it connected with the Appalachian Trail. The trail was beautiful—from our vantage point, we could see houses and fields of cows in the valley, and tiny wildflowers were blooming everywhere. In early April, the whole forest was just starting to come alive. Once we got back to the campground, we got firewood and non-potable water from a station near our site and made dinner on our camping stove: microwaveable mac and cheese, which was mostly uncooked and had too much water in it, and precooked rice and beans, which we also made with too much water.
After dinner, I had my heart set on a campfire and s’mores. H said a campfire would be more trouble than it was worth, but he was willing to try to build one. Approximately one hundred twigs, a full pack of REI firestarters, and one possible case of smoke inhalation later (at one point we tried to use our water bladder as a makeshift bellows), we were sitting around our crackling campfire, roasting marshmallows on one of the few remaining sticks that had escaped my twig collection efforts. The fire kept us warm—the temperature had dropped and I had put on every layer except my raincoat while we were building it—and the s’mores tasted much better than our watery dinner. We sat by the fire stargazing and talking for hours.
Around midnight, we were ready to go to bed and realized that the fire wouldn’t die down on its own, so we made a nighttime trip to the pump to get water to put it out. We were settled in the tent when we realized we both had to use the bathroom, so we went back down to the latrine and then, finally, went to sleep. I slept soundly (I had the warmer sleeping bag) except for a nightmare about my sleeping bag catching on fire.
The next morning we were awake by eight, heating water for coffee and hot chocolate. I was relieved to change into a clean outfit: athletic leggings, a long-sleeved t-shirt, and a quilted vest. We packed up and hiked back to the car, sunburned from spending all day Saturday outside at the winery and hiking, and smelling strongly of wood smoke. I was relieved to be back in civilization but I’d say our first camping trip of 2019 was a success!
Have you been camping near DC? What do you wear for camping? Let me know in the comments!