Valley View Mike Donahue Memorial 5 miler

November 15, 2018

Written by: Mike Ellsworth


Valley View 2018 is over.  As Director of Outdoor Rec, I have been a part of a lot of events through the years.  I have helped out with the Liberty Mountain Trail Race Series since 2009 and have directed each of them since July 2016.  Each race feels very different and has unique moments of excitement.  Our largest and most popular race is the Deep Hollow half-marathon and 5k.  This race boasts the most runners, is scheduled on Homecoming weekend and has the most energy on race day.  Our newest race is the novelty “hill kill”, King of the Mountain.  This shorter race is quickly becoming popular and appeals to the non-runner just as much as the experienced racer.  But by far, my favorite race-day environment of them all is the Valley View Mike Donahue 5miler.

       First, I think this race is the perfect distance.  I love a 5 mile race.  It can be a challenge for a beginner runner, though it is a manageable distance that anyone can train towards.  A more advanced runner will get a good work-out out of the mileage and the peaks of Liberty Mountain ensure that the race still pumps up your heartrate.  5 miles is also a great timing distance.  On average it takes around an hour to finish and with a 9am start time, that means you can be home and showered by lunch!

       Second, the course is near perfect.  This race gives one of the fullest and enjoyable routes through the Liberty Mountain Trail System.  With over 60 miles worth of trails, 5 miles is just a snapshot, but it is a great snapshot.  The course starts towards Snowflex from Hydaway along Falwell road where you pass by the faux-snow ski resort.  Right around the 2 mile mark, the course moves onto the single-track stretch of Peak-to-Peak and climbs to the top of the LU Monogram.  If you wanted to take a breather to enjoy the view of Liberty campus you could, it will give you a chance to recuperate after your brutal quarter-mile climb.  Then the course follows Valley View road to Split Decision all the way back to Hydaway.  The stretch near Oaks Way is a beautifully serene section of the trail that follows a small stream as it meanders through the valley.  This course represents the best and worst (over 1300ft of elevation change) aspects of Liberty Mountain.

       Third and most notable, it is held in remembrance of hero.  I was only able to meet Maj. Mike Donahue a few times.  He was much closer to my boss at that time and probably never knew my name.  But, every time I had an opportunity to engage with him, it was a joy.  He made me feel like I belonged, like I was a part of “the gang” and that he valued the opportunity to meet with me.  I think that is why so many people have such a noble opinion of him.  Mike was engaging, passionate and excited about everything.  His personality seemed to “jump start” everyone he interacted with.  

       As every year passes, I am saddened that another generation of students is not able to understand who Mike was and what he meant to LU Army ROTC, the Liberty trail system and the Lynchburg running community.  I become burdened that the runners of the race that bear his name will never understand why he was significant.  But, this year, Major Winkelmann helped ease this burden.  He is a current professor in the Army ROTC department and he was able to share a few words about Maj Donahue in a very noteworthy way.  He declined using the microphone and chose to bring all the runners closer together so that he could speak more expressively and with more familiarity.  He shared what he had learned about Donahue and told Mike’s story.  He did it exactly the way that Mike would have.  He brought every runner, spectator and staff together in that moment.  He unified us in one memory and in one person.  Winkelmann caused us to pause, take a breath, enjoy life together and attack the next moment.  He reminded us, much like Mike would have, that “Every Day is a Good Day.”  

This year, the race was blessed with a wonderful Army ROTC color guard, the support of the Military Affairs department, Major Winkelmann and a solemn playing of taps.  The pre-race ceremony at this event is always special, though this year felt a little different.  For that I am thankful.


Falling into rivers

November 9, 2018

Written by: Danielle Ledgerwood


       One of the great things about working in the outdoors is that I learn so many lessons that I can apply to other areas of my life. Lately, I’ve been noticing a trend in my experiences that didn’t seem to mean much in the moment, but looking back now, I realize that it’s taught me a few things.

       It started this summer, when a few of our managers took a scouting trip down a river we had never been before. We went to the Maury River in Lexington, a designated class I section through a wooded area that was supposedly a very peaceful paddle. The four of us were about 9/10 of the way down our section of river when suddenly, the bottom of my kayak skidded over a rock and tipped me right into the river. Given my experience paddling, I had been pretty confident that a class I river trip was not going to result in my body submerged in water, so I had kept my phone in the pocket of my PFD. It’s an iPhone 6, with no Lifeproof case, and no plastic bag to keep the water out, so needless to say a 5 lb. bag of rice could not resurrect it. It was toast.

       Moving ahead to our fall break fly fishing trip, where we were wading almost up to our waists to catch trout in the fast-flowing Jackson River. I had finally reeled in a fish after several hours on the river, and I wanted a photo to prove it. I clumsily dropped my phone (in a plastic bag this time) as I was trying to take a picture, and in a purely instinctual reaction, I collapsed onto the river bottom to grab it, dropping the fish and bruising my knees.  No picture of my hard-earned catch.

       Fast forward further to our whitewater rafting trip a couple weeks ago on the Gauley River in West Virginia. These rapids are high class IV, almost class V, and it had been raining a lot due to Hurricane Michael, so the water was moving quickly. Our raft flipped all six of us into one of the largest rapids on the river. We were underwater for what felt like forever, stuck underneath our own raft going through the rapid. When I finally came up for air, I was shaking. I had never swam such huge water before, and it made me hesitate to even get back in the boat.

       To sum all that up, I feel like I’ve been falling into rivers a lot lately. Maybe you feel like that too. Maybe you’re not literally submerged in water, but maybe life hasn’t been exactly going your way lately, or it seems like there’s a reoccurring theme of things not going according to plan. But that’s okay! Take what I’ve learned and apply it to your life:

  • Get back in the boat. You can’t quit when something knocks you down. You can’t give up because you failed the first time. You can’t let one bad experience ruin a lifetime of good ones.
  • Learn from your mistakes. They can be turned into lessons, and you’ll be less likely to repeat them.
  • The river will keep moving. Just like your life. If you feel embarrassed, time will pass and it will fade. People will forget. The only thing that will keep you stuck in your past is you, and you’re ever going to get anywhere, you’ve got to start by moving forward.

Charlottesville in the Fall

November 1, 2018

Written by: Linda Galvez

       Charlottesville has a very special place in my heart and as a local, I love giving anyone who plans to visit suggestions on where to eat, shop, and visit. Virginia in general is absolutely breath-taking in the fall, the simple drive up 29 North provides beautiful and tranquil scenes of fall foliage and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Here are a few of my favorite things to do when I am home!

Apple Picking:

Growing up in Charlottesville means visiting Carter’s Mountain Orchard, whether with your family or on school field trips. I remember going with my elementary class and having such a fun time picking apples, which is why I love going back as an adult. The peak of apple season is from September – October and Carter’s Mountain is open from 9 am – 9 pm. If you don’t like crowds, avoid going on weekends as many locals and visitors also go up during these days. If you can make it up on a weekday, I suggest going on Thursday (also crowded) and hanging around for the sunset!


The Downtown Mall:

One of my favorite local things to do is head to the Downtown Mall. The Downtown Mall is a single strip on and around old Main Street with 130 shops and restaurants. During the colder months you won’t see many people sitting and eating outside, but grab a cup of coffee from Mudhouse and wander into the many unique and eclectic shops. You can also check out various events at The Jefferson Theater or catch a movie at The Violet Crown. If you’re hanging around for lunch, I suggest Christian’s Pizza on West Main or Revolutionary Soup on 2nd and West Main.

If you head up on a Saturday, check out the City Market on Water St. before walking over to the Downtown Mall. Your senses will immediately be hit with aromas of ethnic cuisine, fresh produce, farm raised and organic meats, cheeses and fresh bread. Sights and sounds of people of all ages and walks of life wandering through the maze of vendors. I love going to each vendor’s table and finding craft artisan jewelry, artwork, and home goods. City Market is known for its diversity in the people you meet, food you’ll try, and things you’ll find. City Market is open from 7 am – 12 pm through the month of October, and 8 am – 1 pm from November 3rd – November 17th.

Bodo’s Bagels and Hiking:

Another Charlottesville staple I suggest everyone go check out is, Bodo's Bagels. There are three locations to choose from, my personal favorite is on Emmet St., I love the simplicity of their menu and you can’t go wrong with a classic bacon, egg and cheddar on an everything bagel! After you’ve gotten your Bodo’s fix, head out for a hike to White Rock Falls. This hike starts on the Blue Ridge Parkway MP 20, and you can park at Slacks Overlook about 300 feet from the entrance. The hike is a moderate 2.5-mile loop that has a gorge with a cascading waterfall and a natural wading pool.

UVA and Monticello:

Charlottesville is rich in history, it was home to three former Presidents and is also home to the University of Virginia (Go HOOS).  If you’re a history buff, I suggest visiting the grounds of UVA as well as Monticello, home of President Thomas Jefferson for a day of learning.

       There are so many more restaurants, shops, and things to do that I could suggest, but I’ll leave the exploring to you! Charlottesville is great for exploring alone, but it’s more fun to grab a few friends and enjoy everything it has to offer together.

Coffee and Hiking

October 12, 2018

Written By: Jacen Hamilton

       As cooler weather moves through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, outdoor adventurers congregate to enjoy a myriad of outdoor recreation opportunities within a stone’s throw of Liberty University. It is no secret that Liberty students enjoy hiking, camping, kayaking, and many other outdoor activities as leaves begin to detach from tree branches throughout the mountains. Likewise, Liberty students thrive (and often times, survive) on an assortment of coffee products throughout the greater Lynchburg area.

       What do coffee and hiking have to do with one another? I think that these two experiences, though very different, often prove to be mellow, smooth and warming.  They also both work together to bring community and encourage relationships.  I have shared memorable experiences and conversations over a cup of coffee and on trails. 

       So, for the first time, I have paired my experiences hiking the Blue Ridge Mountains with my Lynchburg coffee preferences to produce the official “Coffee Hikes” lineup.

Best Overall: Third Wave Coffee / Spy Rock

       Coming in at the top spot, Third Wave Coffee located in Forest, VA boasts unbelievably rich coffee alongside a welcoming atmosphere. Third Wave’s top-notch customer service paired with an intense care for the art of coffee making brands this shop as the best coffee in Lynchburg. A large inventory of Third Wave’s premium coffee is ethically sourced from high altitude locations throughout the world. Likewise, Spy Rock provides hikers a 3,980ft elevation pinnacle in addition to a full 360° panoramic view at the top. The 3-mile hike to the top of Spy Rock is a great workout and provides the hiker a sense of accomplishment when reaching the top. In my book, Third Wave and Spy Rock take the best overall spots in the “Coffee Hikes” lineup.

Best on-the-go:  Joe Beans / Cole-Cold Mountain

       If you need great coffee on the go, Joe Beans is your spot. Joe Beans has a variety of pop-up locations throughout Lynchburg (Wards Road & Timberlake are the two locations I frequent the most). Joe Beans thrives on quality coffee (I also enjoy their muffins) at an affordable price. Additionally, Joe Beans relies heavily on convenience to attract regular customers. Similarly, Cole Mountain has become an intensely popular hike within the past four years, largely in part to its convenient, yet quality atmosphere. Cole Mountain is roughly a one hour drive from Liberty, leading many students to explore the Cole Mountain area on a regular basis.

Over-Hyped: Bean Tree Café / Sharp Top

       Bean Tree is extremely well known for their delicious lavender lemonade, a crowd favorite. However, it seems that Bean Tree has had a hard time standing out from other local coffee shops like Dublin 3 Coffeehouse or The Muse Coffee Company in the minds of many Lynchburg residents. Similarly, Sharp Top Mountain is an extremely popular destination for many in the Lynchburg area. Sharp Top has a beautiful view, but high foot traffic often deters many hikers from visiting Sharp Top on a regular basis. The website provides a variety of great hikes in the area... minus Sharp Top.

Under-Hyped: Biscuitville / Devil’s Marble Yard

       9/10 people I meet on a regular basis in the Lynchburg area have never tried Biscuitville coffee. Many have never even heard of Biscuitville. If I am in the mood for a fantastic bacon, egg & cheese biscuit and quality cup of dark coffee, Biscuitville is my choice. Do yourself a favor and grab some Biscuitville on your way over to Devil’s Marble Yard. Devil’s Marble Yard is one of the most unique hikes in the area due to the massive amount of boulders along the 1.5 mile hike. Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy Devil’s Marble Yard for the mixture of scaling large rocks and enjoying a satisfying view from the top of the rock pile.

Newbies: Golf Park Coffee Co. / Moormans River

       Golf Park Coffee Co. is no stranger to Lynchburg, frequenting Liberty University events like Outdoor Rec Fest and Block Party. However, Golf Park just opened their first in-store location off Bedford Avenue. This makes Golf Park the “newbie” when it comes to new coffee shops in the Lynchburg area. Golf Park serves their signature coffee combined with a reputation for unbeatable customer service (check out their Instagram for more info). Similarly, Moormans River hike is one of the prettiest hikes within a two hour drive of the Lynchburg area. Though Moormans River is not necessarily a new hike, it is a hidden gem as many Liberty students are unaware of the hike. Simply park at the Sugar Hollow Dam and Reservoir to begin the hike alongside Moormans River.

       As the fall semester continues, I encourage you to make an intentional effort to go on at least one hike this year! Grab some friends, enjoy a cup of coffee together, and get outside. As always, please practice Leave No Trace Principles as you enjoy the outdoors this semester! For any questions about hikes in the Lynchburg area, please see the Outdoor Recreation DIY page or call us at Hydaway during operating hours.

When plans go awry...

October 3, 2018

Written by: Hunter Steadman

       Being an employee of the Outdoor Rec department at Liberty, has continued to expand my love for the outdoors as well as my knowledge of outdoor related topics. I have even acquired certifications in things I knew little to nothing about just a few years ago such as swift water rescue and challenge course facilitation. However, the best piece of knowledge I’ve gained since beginning my time here would undoubtedly be the 4 E’s of decision making.

  1. Environment
  2. Element
  3. Experience
  4. Equipment

       The 4 E’s are kind of like a checklist of things to think through before making a decision.  By using the 4 E’s you should be able to make sound decisions regarding the planning and execution of any trip you may be taking. This helps us here at outdoor recreation throughout the process of planning trips, executing trips, as well as making changes of plan “on the fly” when needed.


       I use the E’s to plan and prepare for my own trips. Though, I remember an experience that was definitely an example where I could have planned and prepared a little more than I did…

       In December of 2016. My best friend Jordan and I were planning a backpacking trip along the Three Ridges Loop on the Appalachian trail, southwest of Charlottesville. The loop is one of Virginia’s most popular backpacking trails and a beautiful hiking route.

       As we began planning our trip, we first looked to the Environment. When we talk about environment, we are speaking to the things that are out of our own control. Some examples would be the weather or topography. The weather looked relatively mild for being the dead of winter, with highs in the mid to upper 40’s and lows in the mid 20’s at night. There was a very small chance of light rain/sleet in the area but nothing that we couldn’t handle. We also knew that there would be some snow on the mountain from weeks prior but nothing deep enough to be concerning.

       Next, we thought through the Element itself. Element is the actual thing you are doing. Hiking, mountain biking, fishing etc. Some questions to ask yourself at this point would be what is the activity and where will it be taking place? The Element of our trip was that it was an overnight backpacking trip, easy enough.  Based on the current weather conditions as well as our individual levels of Experience we felt like we would do just fine.  Knowing the experience of the members in the group is our third “E” as we make planning decisions.  Everyone has varying levels of experience in different elements and you have to consider this when planning a trip.

       After deciding that the environment, element and experience were sound for the weekend, we began to look at our Equipment.  This is the stage where packing properly is key. Will the equipment you have get you through the element? Things to think about packing here could include adequate amounts of food and water and extra supplies.  Knowing that the temperature would be relatively cold, especially at night, we packed multiple layers of well-insulated clothing. For myself, I brought a down jacket as well as a fleece pullover to wear overtop of a thin merino wool shirt. Layering would allow me to be as warm as I needed to be either I was hiking at noon or hanging by camp at night. I also always bring a rain jacket with me, obviously to stay dry but it also works great as a windbreaker. A warm hat, wool socks, waterproof boots, gloves also found their way into my pack.  After preparing, we set out on the trip. 

       Once we started hiking the weather seemed perfect, everything was going according to plan. Because we layered well we could easily take off and put on clothes, as we needed. We hiked for about seven and a half hours on the first day and set up camp up on a ridge. Once it started to get dark the temperature began to drop rapidly, we failed to account for rapid weather changes that can occur at a higher elevation. It actually began to precipitate a wintery mix of snow and sleet, which made making a fire nearly impossible. Therefore, dinner consisted of rock hard cliff bars that had all but frozen solid in our packs. We bundled up for a very cold and sleepless night.

       The following day came early and we were eager to get moving and get off the windy ridge. About 3 hours into the hike, we ran out of water and realized there were not many streams along the second half of the route. The last four-ish hours became brutal, with major elevation gain/loss and no water.  We were spent. When we finally reached the car, we headed into the closest town for some much needed pizza. It was there that we talked about the trip and kind of “debriefed” the trip. Ultimately concluding that we could have…probably…maybe been a little better at planning and preparing.

Don’t make the mistakes that we made.  Use these 4’E’s to thoruoughly plan out your trips, think through as many scenarios as you can, and do your best to prepare for the unknown. 

Stay safe in the woods!