My Side of the Mountain
- Summer camp complete - CHECK
- Home office make-over - CHECK (well, almost)
- Submissions for the next magazine - Check
So for the final week in August we decided to take a short trip to the Blue Ridge. We reserved a small cabin north of Charlottesville where we'd rented a few times before. The first day we hiked Old Rag Mountain - an 11.5 mile loop hike/climb with 3,961 foot rise from the parking area to the peak. The trek starts along the valley floor as a mild wooded trail, becoming steeper with switchbacks and finally a set of challenging rock scrambles for the last mile before the summit.
When I last tackled Old Rag, around 30 years ago, those rock scrambles weren't nearly the challenge they are now that I'm in my 50s. Go figure. But the hard work pays off in spades as the summit rewards the effort with gorgeous 360 degree sweeping vistas of the Shenandoah National Park and rolling hills of the Piedmont. The trip down is decidedly milder (mostly fire road) but it's decidedly the longer leg of the loop and tough on the knees.
When I was about 9 or 10 years old, I read "My Side of the Mountain" by Jean George. A Newbery Metal winning children's book about a boy who runs away from home to live up in the Catskills. In this coming of age tale the main character, Sam, must learn wilderness survival from trapping small game to farming and staying healthy. When my son got to be about the same age and not wanting to read any more than comic books, I recommended he give it a read and he ended up completing the trilogy. I like to think it was the book that sparked his love for reading as it did for me. When the two of us are out hiking, especially a long hike like this one, "My Side of the Mountain" always comes up. I've seen my son mature much the same as Sam did in that story - save for the almost dying while foraging for food in the woods in winter to stay alive part.
After conquering Old Rag, enjoying a fine meal, and good night's sleep in the country air, we dragged our aching bones down to the headwaters of the James River the next morning. Tubing was just the ticket to compliment the exertions of the previous day. Our 4 hour soak in the refreshing clear river water was only interrupted by our picnic lunch stop along the way on a rocky beach. Since it was a weekday, we pretty much had the river to ourselves.
For our last day in the region our plan was to visit a monastery known for their Gouda cheese. We arrived as the sisters were in prayer and had to come back later in the day, only to find out they only take cash. Who carries cash anymore? We left with only an order form to buy some through the mail. The nun who talked to us was going to give us a wheel on the honor system to mail money later saying that we had "honest faces." We didn't take her up on her kind offer but we did manage to stop in at a few wineries while we were in the heart of the Monticello Trail.
A few hours later we were outside Richmond where my sister lives with her two kids. My nephew has recently completed his Eagle Scout requirements so I agreed to an impromptu photo shoot of him in uniform at the site of his project for his upcoming pinning ceremony. That night all three cousins played Twister while the "grown ups" supervised with a wine glass in hand.
The final stop on our mini vacation came the next morning at Lucky Lake mineral mine. This vein was discovered by the land owners while digging a pond behind their farm house. They decided to set up a sluice and sell buckets of excavated soil to tourists and buses of school kids who sift the dirt to discover the semi-precious gems. Our finds included ruby, amethyst, quartz, garnet, and a bunch of other stones whose name only the on-site gemologist remembers as he tells you the story and significance of each stone. We drove away with our bags full of "riches" except a few we left to have cut and polished.
I guess that pretty much puts a punctuation mark on the summer for us. I'm looking forward to fall - my favorite season.