This was not a throw-your-gear-in-the-car-and-go kind of camping trip. Let me clarify: We definitely did throw our gear into cars and we certainly did go to Shenandoah National Park. But the GatherDC Camping Trip from May 11-13 was about more than just satisfying an urge to get outdoors, it was a welcome opportunity to unplug while checking in with our natural world, with each other, and with elements of our often-fragmented Jewish lives.
I really wasn’t looking for any sort of revelation on our first hike of the trip. I was more focused on not getting sunburnt. During our first group activity on the lookout of Stony Man Mountain, we spent time among the soaring hawks and ravens talking about the differences between the week and the weekend. I didn’t grow up with any strong Shabbat traditions and likewise had not thought very deeply about what this weekly exercise really is.
Shabbat, to me, had always meant candles and challah, so framing it as a deliberate and meaningful separation from the week was pretty profound. And so the week ended. The Sabbath began in a wild, green place. And I did not get sunburnt.
For the next two days, we hiked, we ate, we laughed, and we met cool people from DC, MD, and VA. We were pretty unplugged from technology, which was refreshing, but we did try to capture a few photos.
14 really good-looking Jews on the summit of Old Rag, arguably the most strenuous and rewarding day hike in the DC area. After thousands of feet of elevation gain and some rock scrambles, our PB&J tortilla lunch could not have tasted better.
Group Campsite D166 at Mathews Arm Campground treated us well. It was large enough to allow our 6 tents (and 1 hammock) to be spaced out. Some of us felt so good about the weather Saturday night that we took our rainflies off. That allowed me to see a shooting star from my sleeping bag. Of course the tradeoff was having to scurry out of the tent at 4am to get the rainfly back on before we got poured on for several hours!
A lot of people on this trip felt that this experience couldn’t have come at a better time. This could have been for one of many reasons. For me, it was a particularly stressful month at work. All of this hiking time allowed for some deep conversations with people we had just met, some jokes, some riddles, and even some peaceful silence.
Back at the campsite, GatherDC is chillaxing for real. The campsite made a great backdrop for our Havdalah service and campfire songs led by Truman Braslaw on guitar. John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” was a crowd pleaser, believe me. Later in the night you could hear crackling fire, breakouts of laughter, and even some enthusiastic owl mating calls in the trees above us that were, uh, apparently pretty successful.
The three wonderful people who organized this trip and brought it to life: Daniel Wasserman, Natalie Birnbaum, and Mark Nathanson. From driving, to cooking, to buying all the supplies, to leading our activities, these three did it all. If you run into one of them, ask them about the trip, and when another one might happen. It’s a long summer. Who knows?
Ok, if you made it this far, this is what epic PB&J Tortilla lunch looks like. #FeedtheJews.