Hike at Sugarloaf Mountain – back to my old stomping grounds

Last Sunday I went for a hike at Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland. I had crashed on my friend Rach’s couch the night before in Gaithersburg and was excited for the relatively short half hour drive in front of me. When I got off of I-270 at the appropriate exit, I began winding through the narrow, pockmarked back roads at about 20 miles per hour. It occurred to me pretty quickly that the route didn’t look familiar, but I brushed it off, thinking I’d never been the driver when coming in the past.

After driving on for another 15 minutes, I finally dead-ended at a private road that led to someone’s farm. Hm, I’d definitely followed the directions to a T. OK, let’s look at the directions again. Oh, oops. I had plugged in Sugarloaf Mountain Road, which apparently isn’t where one accesses the hiking trails to Sugarloaf Mountain. Well, that’s just silliness.

I drove all the way back to the highway entrance, hoping I’d see something that would jog my memory, to no avail. I ended up calling my mom and pulling an “Are you in front of your computer?” After wagging her finger at me for not having a GPS, Mom set me on the correct course.

When I got off the phone and began driving, I turned the radio on. Loser by Beck was playing. I love that song. If you know the song, have you ever really listened to the lyrics? They’re all sorts of nonsensical. By the time I finally made it to the parking lot, it had taken me over an hour to get there. So much for a short drive.

When I arrived, I spent a few minutes getting myself put together. All loaded up, I put on my pack and walked to the porta-potty up the road. I put my pack down for a quick pit stop. When I got back out, I grabbed the strap of my pack and gave it a quick heave. I heard a tear, and in an instant the left shoulder strap had rended from the pack at the highest point. Whaaaaa?! You have to be friggin’ kidding me! Sigh, OK, I’ll go walk the pack back to the car. No! Wait! F it! I’m just going to hike like this.

I laced my arms through the shoulder straps, which were still connected to the pack in the area between my shoulder blades, cinched the pack’s belt tight around my waist to shift the weight from my shoulders, and began my hike in earnest. I was 0 for 2, and it wasn’t even 10:30am.

I’ve been to Sugarloaf several times, but I still love it. I decided to take a slightly different route than I’ve done in the past to mix things up. There are three trails that lead to the summit, and I’d never taken the green-blazed one. And you know what I was missing? Stairs. I’m generally not a fan of stairs because they’re usually constructed too tall for me, testing my knees. But these were actually well spaced.

At the summit, I spent a few minutes enjoying the view of the nearby power plant (so beautiful…blargh!) and chatting with a young couple from nearby Gaithersburg. Then I continued on, aiming for the prettier overlook at White Rocks a ways up the trail. Surprisingly, the injured pack situation didn’t hinder my pace substantially. I probably looked slightly off kilter, but I didn’t feel it.

When I finally made it to White Rocks maybe an hour and a half later, I unwound myself from the pack and sat for a few minutes snacking. By then the sun had shown its face, alternately blanketing the landscape in a soft glow and hiding behind the clouds. I took off my long-sleeved top layer long enough to feel the chill in the air and replaced it quickly.

On my hike back to the parking lot, I found myself edgy and anxious to finish. The sun was fading toward the horizon, and it felt like evening was approaching. In reality, it was not even 3pm by the time I made it back to the car. I’m always thrown at this time of the year by the increasingly dark afternoons, and walking through the woods enhanced the phenomenon.

I hiked at least 7.5 miles in four and a half hours. And although I started off a bit shakily, it was a great hike and well worth my time. If nothing else, my experience reiterated the need for a small repair kit (needle/thread, duct tape). Oh, and most importantly, I definitely burned enough calories to justify a hearty (read: gluttonous) impending Thanksgiving dinner.