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Discovering Virginia: climbing in George Washington National Forest

Discovering-Virginia1

This is the second in the series of posts and videos where affable, adventure-loving traveller and presenter Andy Shepherd discovers what the beautiful Capital Region of the USA (Maryland, Washington DC and Virginia) has to offer. After travelling through autumnal landscapes their first stop was kayaking in the Blue Ridge Parkway, next it was time for Andy to try his hand at rock climbing in George Washington National Forest….

I don’t mind admitting it. When it comes to heights, I’m a complete chicken; climbing a stepladder to change a light bulb is normally enough to have my palms sweating with nerves. So imagine my fear when I peered over the edge of a sheer rock face, and prepared to launch myself over the top. Mamma.

Having paddled my way down the Shenandoah River a day or so earlier, this was the second (and scariest yet) adventure on my road trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia – part of a network of 150 Scenic Byways that thread their way through America.

Lury

It began in the sleepy town of Luray, which, I have to say, was pretty special in itself. You see these “all American” hometowns in the movies – you know, with the yellow school buses, white picket fences and Star Spangled Banner flying from the big old porches – and you assume it’s not really like that. Yet that’s exactly what I saw as I cruised into Luray.

What’s more, I was here just as fall had kicked in, so each café, each house, was dotted with little orange pumpkins and scarecrows. You could really feel the sense of community here and I wish I could have stayed longer. But I had a cliff to climb – and a fear of heights to conquer.

Autumn leaves Virginia

Nervous

Having met my guides, Ian, Zach and Lee from Vertical Rock, we drove 45 minutes outside Luray to theand  George Washington National Forest. These boys were honestly three of the coolest guys I have ever met, and completely made the day – especially as I was so nervous. We began with a two-mile hike up small gravel paths that wound their way through the forest, the sounds of birds and rustling of critters accompanying our footsteps. The hike was challenging in parts but when we came over that last mound our reward was to have the entire forest laid out before us; it was, in a word, spectacular.

Forest Virginia

Now, though, came the moment of truth. Time to rope up and make my way up a 45-metre slab of rock. With encouragement from the boys, I picked my way to the top relatively easily. But, as they say in the trade: what goes up, must come…

Rock climing

And so here I was, leaning back into thin air with nothing but a rope to stop me falling. In truth, abseiling is very safe; you’ve more chance of getting rope burn than anything else. For the next 20 minutes it was just me, the rock face and my growing confidence, as I repelled my way back down the cliff-face – to arrive at the bottom with an involuntary grin that lasted the next few hours. Don’t get me wrong: this was a real, real challenge, but the sense of self-accomplishment was immense – and heightened by the incredible views of this pristine wilderness.

From the heights of Virginia, it was time now to explore its depths, at the Luray Caverns – a vast underground network of spectacular caves. Watch the video above to find out how I got on!

Deep Cave

Look out for the next instalment of my epic Capital Region road trip, as I make my way to the great city of Washington DC, where more adventures lay in store.

Photos taken by Lisa Downs, the camera was operated by Timothy Flower and the video was presented by Andy Shepard. 2013 has seen Andy Shepherd become one of SBTV’s hosts, presenting their sports content. In the past year he has travelled the length and breadth of the country interviewing stars of screen, pitch and track for Gaff. TV. Highlights include conducting an hour long interview with Ashley Cole and becoming best friends with Tinchy Stryder and Ruff Squad. He’s also been busy filming for Channel 4’s ‘For 3 Minutes’, hosting a series of travelogues for Guardian.co.uk and developing a number of projects with leading production companies. As well as all that he was a top ten finalist in a competition to find the next Blue Peter presenter and appeared on CBBC programme Blue Peter: You Decide. He was also a regular contributor on Big Brother’s Bit on the Side for Channel 5, as well as hosting the One Direction event “1D Day”

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