Sunday, October 23, 2016

Basic City Beer Co. opens, brings tasty brews to west Rockfish Gap

By Brian Schwarz
Hiker and Beer Lover

After months of local and regional anticipation, Basic City Beer Co. finally opened. The beer is solid. Let me start by saying that. Living in the land of the Beerwerks and Brew Ridge trails, two of Virginia's premier tourism-supported craft beer corridors, I enjoy easy access to dozens of craft breweries, from little neighborhood operations to farm brewers to large distribution-scale craft breweries. Trust me when I say that Basic City Beer Co. stands tall among them.

Basic City Beer Co., a hiker's respite near Rockfish Gap
This is my third visit to the brewery since its three founding brothers opened shop a week ago. I have had their porter and coffee porter, named N&W Porter and C&O Coffee Porter respectively after the Norfolk & Western and Chesapeake and Ohio railroads that form the famed Iron Cross intersection along the banks of the South River nearby. Each of these dark, flavorful brews weighs in at 6.4 ABV and pack an hardy punch on a chilly fall day, post hike.

I've also had their first take at an IPA and DIPA, which are both good, too. The IPA has a higher IBU, and the DIPA is more citrusy. Both stand on their own, but mixed, they're delish.

This "stargate" marks the entrance to Basic City Beer Co.
Located west of Rockfish Gap, near the southern gateway to Shenandoah National Park and north entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway, Basic City Beer Co. is smack dab in the middle of Virginia's hiking county. Part of Virginia's Beerwerks Trail, its regional significance lies in the fact that it is the closest Beerwerks brewery to Virginia's famed Brew Ridge Trail. In fact, it is a mere seven miles from one of that trail's finest flagship purveyors, Blue Mountain Brewery.

For those from out of town, Basic City is a neighborhood within the city of Waynesboro, Virginia, conveniently located halfway between Charlottesville and Staunton, right off Interstate 64, which links Richmond and Virginia's port cities to points west. Get off at Exit 99 and head down the mountain on 250; You'll find Basic City Beer Co. on the left.

You might miss it if you blink, so keep an eye out for what looks like a grand iron stargate at the entrance to the two-tiered parking lot. Pick up some tasty tacos while you're there, too, from the food truck positioned outside.

NOTE: I pair most of my brewery visits with a hike. While the closest popular hike along the Appalachian Trail is to Humpback Rock, along the Blue Ridge Parkway, I paired a recent visit with a the Lefthand Hollow to Buzzard Rock Overlook hike, which is found in Shenandoah National Park at the Paine Run Trailhead off of the East Side Highway at Harriston.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Hiking the East Side Highway - Lefthand Hollow to Buzzard Rock Overlook

by Brian Schwarz

The stretch of Route 340 in Virginia, between the town of Elkton and city of Waynesboro, is known locally as East Side Highway. It runs north and south along the western Blue Ridge Mountains, making it an important route for outdoor adventurers set on enjoying Shenandoah National Park South District, as well as nearby river communities of the eastern Shenandoah Valley.

Take a moment to pose for the camera, Brian! That's Buzzard Rock behind.
This week I've been exploring some hikes I spotted by reading the 2014 edition of PATC Map 11: Appalachian Trail and other trails in Shenandoah National Park South District. The map's previous version was less descriptive than the new version, and there are two hikes in particular that I would not have even considered before.

Because the 2014 PATC Map 11 does a better job highlighting overlooks and vistas, I found some short hikes that I can do on my daily commute, between Massanutten and Waynesboro. So far I have only done one of the two new hikes I've identified, so I'll talk about that one now and tell you about the other one once I've scouted it out myself.

The Paine Run Trailhead, located on Horsehead Road, just west of the town of Harriston - which is one of the aforementioned East Side Highway river towns - is the entry point for the hike I'm calling the Lefthand Hollow-Buzzard Rock Overlook Hike. It's a short, two-mile out-and-back, that is well graded and has about 350-feet elevation gain to an south-facing rock outcrop overlook.

Park at the Paine Run Trailhead at the end of Horsehead Road and enter the woods, going downhill briefly before the trail levels off and follows the banks of Paine Run for about a third of a mile, crossing the creek twice on nicely lain, large and sturdy rocks. Some 100 steps after the second creek crossing, turn left and begin the steady trudge uphill.

The hike is basically one big switchback along the side of Trayfoot Mountain as you rise above Lefthand Hollow, the other side of which is formed by Horsehad Mountain. Continue up - about a third of a mile for each switchback - and you will reach the overlook at approximately one mile.

What looks like a perfect cone of a mountain in front of you is actually the northern end of a ridge line. The top of this photogenic mound is called Buzzard Rock, so-named for the buzzards who frequent the area. The upper Shenandoah Valley stretches out past Round Hill and other valley structures to the south and west.

Stay tuned for descriptions of Cave Hill and Furnace Mountain hikes.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Brew-Hiking the Shenandoah Valley - Two days in Roanoke (part 2 - doing it!)

This morning as I plan my second two-day trip to Roanoke, I came to realize I hadn't posted anything following last week's trip when The Oelander and I hiked Mill Mountain's Star Trail for the twilight views of twinkling city lights and sunset-framed mountains dotting the skyline.

We loved both hikes - more to come on these later - but Parkway Brewing's Majestic Mullet Krispy Kolsch was the star of the weekend. We took an insulated growler along  and toasted the hiking life as we arrived at the summit, standing in the glow of the famed neon star until sun's light finally faded and a twinkling celestial canopy came into view high above the expansive Roanoke valley.

Today I'll be taking the two-hour drive south from Harrisonburg once again to explore more trails. I'm not sure which I'll end up taking, but I'm looking into doing a sunset hike this evening to Read Mountain's summit at Buzzard Rocks and a day hike tomorrow at Peaks of Otter.

I'll be hiking alone this weekend but I do plan on stopping in at Soaring Ridge Craft Brewery for a post-hike beer at some point. These trips are part of ongoing research, of course, so I may have a second beer (or third). In any case, it's my mid-week "weekend", so I'm going to make the most of it as always!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Brew-Hiking the Shenandoah Valley - Two days in Roanoke (part 1 - planning)

Hey reader, 

Later today I'll be doing an urban sunset hike to watch the lights come up over Roanoke (hoping my friend Laura and her daughter come along to join in the fun); then tomorrow I'll be doing one of the most iconic hikes on the Appalachian Trail. Oh, and of course there will be a brewery visit in between!

A buddy of mine, trail name The Oelander, will be along for the ride. Being a college student can be hard - or at least that's what we all think at the time, right? - so he's getting a get-out-of-jail card for the next two days while I'm off on my regularly scheduled midweek "weekend". Luckily I'm off work for the next 48 hours, and I plan to squeeze the marrow out of every moment.

This afternoon we'll be heading down the highway to a place known as the Star City of the South, Roanoke, Virginia. After dropping the dogs off at the motel, we'll head out to fill a growler at a local brewery - probably Parkway Brewing Company or Soaring Ridge Craft Brewers. We plan to enjoy a toast as the lights come up in the valley and the big neon Roanoke Star flickers on at the top of Mill Mountain. 

To brew-hiking! 

Also, we'll swing by Blue Ridge Hydroponics and Home Brewing to pick up some ingredients for our next batch (still waiting on the Belgian Tripel to fully ferment; could a coffee porter be in our future?).

Post-hike we'll be heading to a local establishment famous for its great food and hearty brews - there are several places we're considering actually, so I look forward to reporting back on where we ultimately decide to tuck in and splash back an ale or two.

In the morning, we'll wake when we're able and head out to the trailhead en route to McAfee's Knob. This iconic knob is located about 3.5 miles in, and its views are pretty damn spectacular from what it looks like on the multitude of shots I see daily on Instagram. It's one of those bucket-list hikes, surely among the top of the top photographed spots along the A.T.

Well, it's time to pack up and head out fairly soon, so I'll log off and leave part 2 until I get to it later this week. Thanks for reading. Ciao for now.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

My Labyrinth of Grief

By Brian Schwarz

The day after my mom lost her battle with cancer, I got in my car and headed for the mountains. In search of a summit that would take me to a place far above the pain, I landed in Harrisonburg, Virginia, in a free fall of grieving.

I booked into a local motel, and I hiked the next day. But the short trek I took to the summit left me unusually exhausted. The reality was, escaping the emotions that were welling up inside me was not an option. Somehow, I would have to work through them.

“Sit with your pain,” the hospice therapist told me. “Be in it.”

Days on end with curtains drawn ended when I realized I needed to venture out for some exercise, lest my body and mind deteriorate beyond recognition. Lacking energy for a hike but wanting to get out and walk, a quick Google search led me to find trails at the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum and Botanical Gardens at James Madison University.

As I pulled into the parking lot at the arboretum, I noticed a sign for a labyrinth. Considered a metaphor for grief, I knew that many people walk a labyrinth in search of peace and understanding, often after the loss of a loved one. So I made my way up the gravel path to a stand of pines, at the center of which I saw light colored stones arranged in a seemingly simple but complex pattern, and a stone bench there at the entrance.

I sat for a while and contemplated what I was about to do. Feeling tired, and sad, and more alone than I had ever felt, I considered giving up, going back to my motel and hibernating until this terrible nightmare faded to black. My best friend for life was gone! I thought, “How could walking through some confusing setup of rocks do anything to change that?”

Compelled to at least try, I took my first step into the labyrinth. Then a second. And a third. Before long I was slowly making my way up, down and over, along a path that still made no sense to me in my mind. I knew where I was going – I could see the labyrinth’s center, and I focused on the large stone there, as I could envision myself collapsing on it once I arrived – but the way to the center made no sense to me at all.

Still, I walked. I stopped focusing on where I was going and finally succumbed to the path, looking down at my feet, trusting them to help me make my way to the center. My mind fell blank. Or was it lost in a sea of sullen nostalgia?

When I arrived at the center, instead of collapsing, I stood up on the rock, took a deep breath, and stretched my arms to the sky. Then I looked down, hoping to make sense out the labyrinth’s complex yet simple design. Did I feel something different now than I had when I started, I wondered? I didn’t feel better, per se, but I did feel something like understanding creeping in. I laughed at the absurdity that I would ever understand.

My walk out of the labyrinth was different. Each step made my heart feel heavy, as if the weight of it all were rising up through my chest and into my throat. Finally, as I was reaching the beginning, which is also the end, the heavy burden burst out of my eyes. Rivers of grief flowed down my cheeks, and a guttural moan escaped my control, lifting me up from the inside.

It was time to go home.

Brian Schwarz is a freelance writer and adult educator based in Harrisonburg, VA, the heart of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. For more information on labyrinths, read this article from the blog Seven Ponds: Embracing the End of Life Experience.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Right on trend, I'm Straight Outta Megalopolis!

I have to admit, I haven't seen Straight Outta Compton - the movie that inspired this meme - but I just had to jump on the trend! Make your own "straight outta" meme at

Straight Outta Megalopolis

Saturday, November 15, 2014

15 Hikes within Two Hours' Drive of Washington DC Metro Area

by Brian Schwarz, hike leader and geophile

The Washington Metro Area - known by locals as the DC metro or the DMV to include Virginia and Maryland - is home to some exceptional hiking. From rambles through urban watersheds to suburban-ring mountain hikes and wilderness treks, this area provides diverse outdoor appreciation opportunities during all four seasons.

Fun strenuous hiking along the Western Ridge Trail in DC's Rock Creek Park
An hour beyond DC's urban core, you'll find The Bull Run Mountains in Virginia and Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland. Within a two-hours' drive, the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains rise above the Piedmont foothills, and they carry with them the Appalachian Trail. These prominent mountains of the Appalachian Range span two national parks on either side of the Potomac: Shenandoah National Park and Catoctin Mountain. 

It's a pretty incredible thing, if you stop to think about it, and I've been thinking about it fairly often as I'm currently in the planning stage for group hikes I'll be leading in this section of Mid-Atlantic America over the course of the next year. 

Hiking diversity throughout the Mid-Atlantic DC Metro Area and beyond!
Below is just a primer list of hikes great DC Metro hikes. I've personally hiked all but one of these sometime in the past three or four months. If you're interested in coming along with an experienced hike leader on any of these, keep an eye on my Facebook page, Hiking Megalopolis.

  1. Rock Creek Wilds Hike (DC) - the northern woods of Rock Creek Park, from Military Road up to the mouth of the valley, above the piedmont-to-plain fall zone
  2. Rock Creek Bluffs Hike (DC) - the southern scrambles of Rock Creek Park, in the fall zone; excellent conditioning hike to prepare for more challenging hikes, like the Billy Goat Trail at Great Falls Maryland
  3. Ridge and Valley Hike (DC) - circuit thru-hike of Rock Creek Park, above and below the fall zone
  4. Northwest Tributaries Hike (DC) - Rock Creek and Potomac tributaries, local neighborhood trails
  5. Southeast Hills and Gardens Hike (DC) - national botanical garden sits atop hills rising above the Anacostia River
  6. Sugarloaf Mountain Northern Peaks Hike (MD) - a well-worn piedmont monadnock with a summit and several sub-summits
  7. Catoctin Mountains Hike (MD) - several prominent overlooks with piedmont, valley and mountain views
  8. Cunningham Falls Hike (MD) - a prominent rock outcrop and the base of cascading falls
  9. Maryland Heights Hike (MD) - prominent rock outcrop a Appalachian gap along a ridge overlooking historic town and confluence of Potomac and Shenandoah rivers
  10. Great Falls Maryland Hike (MD) - popular rock scramble and side trails on the east side of Great Falls along the fall zone
  11. Bull Run Mountains Hike (VA) - rock outcrops at the high point of a piedmont Appalachian Blue Ridge mountain outlier that rings in Northern Virginia suburbs
  12. Sky Meadows Hike (VA) - hike from a historiv farm up through a wooded hollow to the AT on a unique meadowed ridgeline then descend with breathtakimg valley views 
  13. Old Rag Mountain Summit Hike (VA) - the number one hike in the area - and not just according to me; strenuous, at the 10 mile range, wilderness, difficult rock scramble, summit, stay for sunset, night hike past abandoned graveyard and site of a long-gone town in a mountain hollow, perfectly darkened for superior star gazing
  14. Great Falls Virginia Hike (VA) - varied opportunities in C&O Canal National Historic Park, including a strenuous rock scramble along dramatic Potomac River bluffs
  15. Rollercoaster to Ravens Rock Hike (VA) - apparently a strenuous up-and-down, out-and-back along mountain ridges to striking rock outcrop known alternately as Ravens Rock and Crescent Rock; this is the only of the 15 hikes within two hours of the DC Metro Area that I haven't done as of the time publishing this article
Best hike in the DC Metro?: Shenandoah National Park's Old Rage Mountain
While there isn't a ton of description this list, I will blog about several of these hikes over the next month or so, and as the weather allows, I'll be doing more scouting of local hikes throughout the winter as I gear up and strengthen up so I can begin taking on the Dirty Dozen Wilderness Hike Challenge, sponsored by The Wilderness Society and Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine, which I have from now to September 2015 to complete (hiking 10+ miles in 12 separate designated wilderness areas in the southeast United States, that is).

Meanwhile, if I'm leading hikes with the Sierra Club Potomac Regional Outings and the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, you can find them posted on those clubs' respective MeetUp pages. But last minute hikes and tips on accessing local trails on your own are found only through my blogs, updates for which are always posted on Hiking Megalopolis on Facebook.