Contributed by Will Rice
George Washington could very possibly have been America’s first dirtbag. He dropped out of school, succumbed to the lure of the western wilderness for a while, kicked it around in the Caribbean for a couple of years to start off his twenties, and eventually settled down to a crummy, albeit steady, job leading a revolution and the new country it created. In the depths of his angsty teens, young George took a job as a surveyor for Lord Fairfax, who owned the bulk of Virginia’s wilderness. He would go on to complete surveys of much of the Lord’s lands, some of which is now George Washington National Forest, but this first trip would take him up the Potomac River, the river he called “the great avenue into the Western Country”. His experience was pure dirtbag, as his writings confirm.
His tent left something to be desired:
Sunday 3d. Last Night was a much more blostering night than the former. We had our Tent Carried Quite of with the Wind and was obliged to Lie the Latter part of the Night without covering.
He got jazzed on nature:
Sunday March 13. Rode to his Lordships Quarter about 4 Miles higher up the River we went through most beautiful Groves of Sugar Trees & spent the best part of the Day in admiring the Trees & richness of the Land.
His existence was often at odds with the elements:
Wednesday 6th. Last Night was so Intolerably smoaky that we were obliged all hands to leave the Tent to the Mercy of the Wind and Fire this day was attended by our aforesd.
He ate with twigs:
Fryday 8th. We Camped this Night in the Woods near a Wild Meadow where was a Large Stack of Hay. After we had Pitched our Tent & made a very Large Fire we pull’d out our Knapsack in order to Recruit ourselves. Every[one] was his own Cook. Our Spits was Forked Sticks our Plates was a Large Chip as for Dishes we had none.
When the weather turned south, he headed for the hot springs:
Fryday 18th. The Allegany Mountains as they told us which was then bringing down the melted Snow & that it would not be fordable for severall Days it was then above Six foot Higher than usual & was Rising. We agreed to stay till Monday. We this day call’d to see the Fam’d Warm Springs
Today the land where Washington spent the spring of 1748 is part of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail. Along its corridor sit swaths of public lands such as Ohiopyle State Park, Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, and the winding C & O Canal National Historic Park. It’s important to note that the entire Potomac River corridor used to be in private hands. It took American visionaries and dirtbags, like Washington, to realize that perhaps it would be novel if the citizens held a stake in their country’s wild places. This fact is especially important in an age where our founding fathers are so often seen as static, conservative characters. Patriots can vary wildly in ideology and lifestyle, and, as made evident by the original patriot, we must count the soap-in-hand hot spring bather and mildew-smelling tenter among their ranks.
Image courtesy of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.