I rearranged my work schedule, cleared my social calendar, packed my bags, and waited...
...until the day of, when I checked the weather and saw it was scheduled to thunderstorm every night that weekend. Discretion is the better part of valor; I stayed in town. A project kept me homebound through the next two weekends, and more thunderstorms through a third... would I ever get to leave on this trip?
I finally set out on the 19th, nearly a month later than intended. Despite the delays, I was excited: it would be my first proper backpacking trip, my first chance to use the Osprey overnight pack that had spent four years holding hats in my closet. Whatever happened out there, it would be an adventure.
To get there, I retraced the route I'd taken to Old Rag Mountain that winter; the Whiteoak trailhead was just a few miles down VA-231 from there. The drive was uneventful except for a tense moment when a family of geese waddled onto US-211 right in front of my car. I braked hard and managed to stop just in time. The poor gander wound up three feet from my bumper, honking his head off as if he'd had the right of way.
As I approached the mountains, I noticed that their upper ridges still looked brown compared to their lower slopes. The leaves had come in weeks ago back home; had they not yet up there?
Soon after, I pulled into the Whiteoak Canyon parking lot, which was tucked into a narrow stream valley at the end of Weakley Hollow Rd.