When I traveled to Virginia, I expected to travel to gorgeous mountains and historic old homes. I didn’t expect I would travel back in time. But one day, I did.
I visited Virginia in the fall, and although I was chilly, it was worth seeing Shenandoah National Park in all its colorful glory. The park encompasses a large area of land with many different features, like mountains, hills, valleys, rivers, fields, and lakes. Hikers flock to Shenandoah, especially in the fall. There, vistas and ridges in red, orange, and gold are really second to none. While I was still out selling caricatures near busy areas like the visitor center, I tried my hand at some watercolor landscapes and sold quite a few outside my van. No one can resist the colors of Virginia.
Wondering how I stayed warm? Thermal underwear and a good sleeping bag. And of course, if it was a particularly chilly night, I could turn my van on for heat, though I don’t like to leave it on for long. I headed south in mid-November, before the truly cold temperatures set in.
Before I left, though, I made sure I went on some amazing hikes. While these were all worthwhile experiences that treated me to incredible views and challenges, I wanted to seek out something truly unique. Virginia is rich with history from colonial times through to the Civil War. When I saw the opportunity to take a guided hike with a group of Civil War re-enactors, I was in.
I soon learned that these Confederate boys weren’t quite like others I’ve seen carrying out demos for tourists at historical sites. These were some hardcore re-enactors. They would follow the same marches and trails that Confederates also followed. As we went on our day-long hike, they pointed out battlefields to us as well as some other spots of historical significance. Maybe more interesting than that, though, were the things they taught us about surviving the wilderness as a soldier.
The members of this regiment live as close to the time period as possible. They go on weeks-long treks together without stopping for baths, without stopping for food, and without bringing modern medicine. I did say it was extreme. We had a lunch of apples, hardtack, cheese, and jerky. The soldiers explained that they hunt their own food while out on their long treks. That includes skinning and cooking it themselves.
I also learned how to start a fire with flint and steel. I was glad to not have to hike in historical garb, all wool and cotton. The wool is pretty resistant to the rain but very warm! Apparently, the most dangerous thing that has happened on their trek was when a soldier named Kyle got a cut that became infected. They made it back in home before anything too serious happened. All the same, it seems pretty wild! I wondered, what would you do if someone broke their leg? “Bind it up and help them soldier on. No man left behind,” said Kyle.
“Why do you do it?” I asked him. “Why go to so many extremes?”
He smiled at me from underneath a month-old beard and said, “It’s just kind of a rush.”
Their commitment to history and thrills is admirable, but one day on the trail was enough for me. I felt like I got a taste of what it was like to march with the army during the Civil War.