A story in three acts: Otter Creek Wilderness

On August 16, 1985 Cristin Milioti was born to an Olive-Garden-variety Italian-American family in a quiet suburb of Philadelphia. After dropping out of NYU to pursue acting full-time, Cristin Milioti appeared on popular TV shows such as 30 Rock and The Sopranos. On January 26, 2020 she appeared at the Sundance Film Festival to attend the premiere the film in which she starred, Palm Springs. And on the night on September 19, 2020, Cristin Milioti made an unexpected but not unwelcome appearance in Alex’s (Escobar’s) dreams. No less unwelcome, the nipping air of autumn had dropped in on Alex as he slept that night. But here we are, getting ahead of ourselves. The story of that night begins earlier that day, deep in the woods in Monongahela’s Otter Creek Wilderness.

Act One

First off, there was an ensemble cast. In the opening act, they arrived mostly in twos. Ginny and Ian. Molly and Ben. Alex and Aileen. Yossi and Kathryn, together in their separateness, each turned up on their own. Linsey and Vivien, who camped halfway between Silver Spring and the trailhead, were running a bit late. The group checked in about mask-wearing preferences before stepping out onto the trail. Without cell reception, the group could not predict how far out Linsey and Vivien still were. Nor could the group tell the couple where to meet up, as no one had any clue where camp would be. Then someone – possibly Aileen – suggested that Alex write a note and leave it on the trailhead information board. The note was written on the back of a map with a highlighted route, complete with their names and the mark of DCUL. Groups have been reunited on DCUL trips with far less, so they were feeling fairly confident that this plan would work.

Photo credit: Ian Lee

Act Two

The hike on Saturday itself was a bit embarrassing. Typically, when DCULers get caught in those brief and friendly chats with oncoming hiker traffic, we get to smugly share that we are hiking 20+ miles that day, or that we are confidently on our way to completing some otherwise unattainable feat. This time, day hikers had already completed more miles by early afternoon than the group had planned for the whole day. At the first trail intersection – Shavers Mountain and Mylius — Alex realized he forgot to download the maps around the track he had built and distributed. He didn’t mind being out front, as long as someone told him where to go. At the same intersection, the group converged with a crew of muscular men, all over six-foot with crew-cut hair, draped in flannel and functional but not especially stylish jeans. It was as if they were the local firefighters scoping out a spot for their upcoming calendar shoot. But this is not their story, and so what they were doing in those woods will remain a mystery.

Photo credit: Ian Lee

The group passed over three or four campsites early on that could have supported a group of their size. After about five miles in, about where the trail had been partially eroded by the creek and otherwise colonized by rhododendron, faith in the mapless leader was noticeably eroding. There had not been a workable campsite for a few miles and the relative flatness had disappeared as the group continued to follow the creek deeper into the valley. Alex kept talking about some mythical “confluence of the three rivers.” The group knew better, but what else were they to do? With a stroke of luck, the trail opened up around mile six to a welcomingly large campsite. Within moments, our group could hear the distant reassurances of Ward Cleaver-type, that the perfect campsite was just up ahead. Upon arrival, finding that our group had already dropped their bags, the Cleaver family paused in our group’s camp.  Our story’s June Cleaver – certainly no Barbara Billingsley – plopped to the ground in apparent exhaustion. Ward brought his eyes up to meet Alex’s, who had been foolish enough to stare at this masterclass in dramaturgy. It was as though Ward was looking for Alex’s permission to join our group in the campsite, which no doubt had abundant space. Selfishly, Alex gave up no such indication. After a few moments, the Cleavers were on their way. No one said this guy was a saint.

Once settled, the group dispersed to do their own thing. Ian flew his drone. Aileen sunned herself on the creek’s boulders. Alex attempted to fish, despite the obvious absence of aquatic life. Within the first hour, Linsey and Vivien united with the rest of the group and enjoyed a quick dip in the breath-stealing cold waters.

Photo credit: Aileen Kroll

But everyone came back together for the end of the second act – dinner around a campfire. Ginny and Ian shared a cherry-bourbon liquor, Aileen the pictures of her newest grandchild. As Vivien fueled the fire, each hiker took turns stoking the collective rage against a common foe (in this case, Trump, who gives orange fools a bad name). By nine o’clock, the fire had been snuffed and the group went to sleep.

There, now we’re all caught up.

Act Three

The gang woke up around seven the next morning, at which point Alex built a morning fire and described his imaginary meetup with Cristin Milioti. Not your typical DCUL trip: breakfast spanned an hour as they let the fire turn to embers and then to ash. With around 9 miles or so to go, the group was not too worried about an early start.

The Otter Creek Trail and Green Mountain Trails became increasingly difficult to traverse. Blow-downs, erosion, and miles of grabby rhododendron slowed the ascent up and over the valley. At the junction with Shavers Mountain Trail, the group stopped for a sunny snack in the semi-abandoned camp of a fellow but unmet hiker. Within an hour, the group was back at the trailhead and ready to caravan their way to Davis. To their surprise, the town of Davis more-or-less closes down mid-afternoon. So there was a bit of a scramble to get everyone fed and sated with beer while meeting various dietary and currency-based restrictions. Around four o’clock, the group said their goodbyes.


As many of you know, this was Alex’s last trip with DCUL before he and Danielle shove off on their long journey as off-grid nomads. If you’d like to get in contact with Alex, you can reach him via email (alex.breiding@gmail.com). He will be documenting their travels on a blog (gonetocroatan.site).

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