Solo on Ice

Here’s the TL;DR. A few weekends ago I went camping and cut my stay a day short partially due to a gathering of a white identity/separatist/preservation/(?) group.

For a minute, it felt like I was about to star in a Jordan Peele movie, but it was uneventful, and I want to make it clear that, as far as I know, no one did anything wrong or illegal. Freedom of speech, religion, the right to assembly and all that. Also, I want to make a distinction between what I saw/heard, what I assumed, and what I speculate.

Okay. Let’s go.

I don’t really like camping alone. I do. Until I don’t. On a cold night in a tent, you typically won’t sleep well until you really nail your sleep system (I still haven’t figured out how to keep my face warm without feeling smothered) and you’ve adapted psychologically to being in the woods at night. You sleep lightly, at best.

3AM, 19º F (-7º C), I woke up, crystallizing breath hanging in the air, the inside of the tent glowing green from the glow-sticks.

It sounded like a non-canine bark that woke me up. Not too close, but not far from the campsite. I almost drifted off to sleep until I was roused again by howling farther in the distance. Coyotes?

It’s those moments when you think about how homosapiens have thrived and are thankful for it. Who run the world.

We’re mid-sized. We don’t have giant fangs and claws. We’re slow. We’re not very strong, pound for pound. Our vision isn’t too shabby, except at night. Our hearing is just okay. Our sense of smell is subpar and underdeveloped. But somehow we’re top of the heap. All because of big brains, opposable thumbs and strong social bonds.

Strong social bonds.

This is why I prefer a quiet-ish camping site but with a few neighbors. Or even better, camping with a good outdoor partner or group takes a load off in every way.

I got to camp the previous night later than I wanted to, just as the sun was setting. I walked around the campsites first just to scope out the scene and I was the only one there. There was a guy from out of state pulling into camp as I was loading gear into a wagon. I asked him if he was camping. He said he was traveling and headed to DC. I do the same thing sometimes; on road trips I’ll find campgrounds instead of hotels: $25/night vs $125-$180/night. He asked if I was traveling, too, or just out for the fun of it.

Pro tip: Spend a little more and you can sleep in a small cabin or yurt instead of having to worry about a tent.

Yo mama

The next morning, I put on my microspikes and walked around the ice crusted snow a little, putting some things in the car (a slight walk from the campsite) before I went to explore the area and figure out what I was going to do with my day.

A guy pulled up and I asked if he was camping. He wasn’t. He was looking for a spot for a gathering. I told him it was pretty slippery back there but most of the campsites were open. The fire pits may have been filled with snow unless you had the campsite reserved. Pleasantries exchanged.

After exploring the area — Skyline Drive, Target, Sky Meadows — and looking for snowshoe-worthy snow, I drove back to the park. I wasn’t sure if I was going to stay for a second night.

Since I wanted to use an actual heated bathroom instead of a (well maintained and sheltered, but still) pit toilet, I went to the picnic area. I saw a bunch of cars and a group of people off a ways at one of the picnic sites.

As I was walking to the bathroom, I heard a group of men heartily chanting, “Hail the [acronymn]! Hail [indiscernible]! Hail the [acronymn]! Hail [indiscernible]!”

I walked to the bathroom, peed, then back to my car. The chanting was done. I looked over at the group, but to be honest, I didn’t retain any detail or observations. But I was thinking, “Is this something I need to worry about?”

(If you come to this blog and don’t know me personally, I’m a black dude, by the way.)

Probably not, but… I drove to another parking area to put some distance between me and the picnic area and googled some of what I heard. That lead to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s entry for [acronymn] and the New Völkish (Folkish) movement. It’s a Viking-centric(?) identity movement with a wide spectrum of philosophies.

From a laid back “preserve northern European whiteness; white women should focus on having white babies; make the world safe for white children” to much more extreme “we need to separate the races and that can only be accomplished with a temporary Fascist dictatorship.” And, of course, as with all of the more radical -isms, some are of the “by any means necessary” variety.

I was already thinking of leaving a day early because it was going to be another super cold night. On one hand, I was looking forward to giving it another shot because I think I had honed my winter sleep system a bit, and I was going to fire up the portable fire pit. I also didn’t want to waste my money. On the other hand, I was going to have to wake up very early and pack up in single-digit temperatures so I could get to work on time. Packing up is the least fun part, to begin with.

But then — this. Politics. Identities. Gatherings. Chantings and hailings. Just one too many things on the plate. Wait a minute. It’s possible that I was the only person at the campgrounds who wasn’t part of that group. Everyone I interacted with was fine, but in hindsight, that’s awkward. So with my spider senses tingling, I figured, “It’s time I got the f—- up outta here.”

I went to pack up. There’s no such thing as one person tearing down a big tent campsite quickly, by the way. It took about half an hour, at best. While I was packing up I heard loud booms that were definitely gun shots of some sort. There’s a good chance that those booms/shots could have been coming from across the river. Someone could have been hunting. Is it still hunting season? [googles] Oh, it’s small game hunting season. (People hunt crows?!?) Or maybe they were ceremonial booms of some sort, I dunno.

On my way out of the park, I stopped at the overlook again to take some pics of the view with snow. My brain was churning, at this point. I had a brain blast, Jimmy Neutron style. A gathering of a white identity group on a seemingly random winter weekend with a lot of out-of-staters? Was there a reason for the gathering? An anniversary, maybe? Was there a protest or something in DC?

So I googled that, and it turns out there was a vaccine mandate/freedom protest in DC that weekend. I figure these guys may have been tailgating after the protest and taking the opportunity to gather their folks to enjoy a sense of community and brotherhood. That’s just speculation, though.

Again, no one did anything wrong, inappropriate or threatening in any way. Everyone I interacted with was neighborly. No problems at all. It was just a bunch of dudes having a club meeting in the cold. It just happened to be a white identity movement club. It’s a free country.

Survey says…

The park did send a survey via email. I filled it out and mentioned this situation. My suggestion was — and this was one of the choices in their multiple choice section — to have more visible patrols in the park, particularly if there are large or organized gatherings.

I have thoughts…

People are people. 99% of the time, people just want to mind their own business and go about their day. Even people who are straight up [fill in the blank, mad-libs style, of your idea of the worst kind of person] will interact with whoever whenever and go about their lives. Not many of us are looking for trouble because trouble is trouble. Trouble multiplies exponentially.

I firmly believe that if you treat people with basic respect and consideration they’ll do the same even if they have beliefs toward the opposite end of the spectrum as your own.

Still, these are tense times. I also have a bit of an aversion to crowds and groups. I don’t truss ‘em. And someone who would drive hundreds or thousands of miles to attend a political gathering/rally may be riled up more than usual. A group of politically agitated individuals — well, that’s uncomfortable for me, at best.

Oh, and let me clarify something.

There’s nothing wrong with being proud of and celebrating your identity and ancestry, if that’s something you value. There’s nothing wrong with being proud of European ancestry. Or any other background. Celebrate yourself and the cultures you come from — your heritage. Celebrate the positive, learn from the negative.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to keep cultures, traditions, languages, stories, and skills alive and vibrant. It’s important to preserve them.

Just. You know. Don’t be a dick about it.

Of course, that’s a lot different than notions of supremacy or genetic “purity”, obviously. I don’t truck with that.

And that’s all I have to say about that

Get out there in the great outdoors. There’s a lot of interesting things going on. You might even learn a thing or two. I definitely did.

Leave no trace. Be courteous. Be patient with each other. Be bear aware. Trust your gut. Don’t be scared; be prepared. Dress in layers — no cotton. Try a little cinnamon in your coffee grounds.

4 thoughts on “Solo on Ice

  1. You had me at “Hail”. Feet, don’t fail me now.

    I did a paper once on mob behavior. Not a fan of chanting crowds myself – even ones for which I feel solidarity. One’s exit strategy can become very complicated very quickly whether you are inside the group or out.

    Oh, and I heartily agree with everything in your last two paragraphs. I am getting to the point where cotton socks get packed away with the bathing suits at the end of summer. Spend the money. Buy merino wool and alpaca and learn how to darn.

    Always a pleasure to vicariously share your adventures. Stay safe out there.

    1. Thanks for reading.

      My thoughts exactly. People are fine. Crowds, meh. Chanting, yelling, or agitated crowds, no thank you.

      I’ve heard some firebrand politicians using “Viking” terms in their speeches recently. I thought it was strange, but, as a dog whistle, it makes sense.

      I wore a cotton hoodie under a snowboarding jacket on a recent hike in the snow. I didn’t realize until I got back to the car that the hoodie was soaking wet in places. Not smart of me. I have to find my mid-layers.

  2. Great post, Gary! I’ve long thought that nationalism always starts for the right reasons (survival), and almost always goes too far (racism, fascism, etc). I think it gets accelerated by mob behavior.

    Alas, I wouldn’t have been camping, whether 16° or 70°!

    1. It’s the King of Bass!

      Thank you. Agreed. And people can self-radicalize and join self-radicalizing communities online.

      I like camping, but it’s a whole thing. Glamping, on the other hand, seems like all the fun without all of the work. I’ve always wanted to stay in one of those fancy treehouses.

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