Monday, November 4, 2013

My Weekend in the Mountains

What does $485 buy these days? Not as much as it did twenty years ago, for sure, but that’s not to say it is a worthless sum. I spent $485 this past weekend on an idea that lodged itself in my brain when I woke up Friday morning, and wouldn’t let go. The idea was, “Get out of Richmond.”

I started poking around on the internet, searching for some out of the way place in the mountains where Pam and I could escape for a couple of days. Since the leaves had begun to burst with color practically overnight, I figured that I had little chance finding a decent place that wasn’t already booked. I got lucky. Apparently, there is an actual town near Lexington called Vesuvius. With volcanic enthusiasm, I discovered a quaint and extremely isolated destination at 2800 feet of altitude called the Sugar Tree Inn. One of its cabins, the St. Mary, was available for one night and one night only. I clicked the “book it now” button, then texted Pam, hoping against hope that she hadn’t scheduled us to attend some wedding planning seminar or something. A more intelligent approach might have been to check with her first, before plowing ahead with such a spontaneous plan, but that’s not how I roll.

So, Saturday morning, we got up, packed an overnight bag, had a bagel breakfast at Einstein’s, then hit the road for the two hour trip to a corner of Virginia where neither of us had ever been. It was a gloriously beautiful fall day, almost perfect with its bright blue sky and cool 60 degree breezes. By the time we hit Charlottesville, we were both starting to relax. Usually when Pam and I go somewhere like this we spend most of our time talking about our kids, but on this day we had launched into a full throated discussion of the myriad twists and turns of Breaking Bad. It was as if we had forgotten that we were married!

Most of the trip was on familiar roads, interstates 64 and 81. When we departed 81, everything changed. For me, there is something wonderful and exciting about driving down a road never before travelled. I suppose I get this from my Mother, that famous lover of those far away places with strange sounding names. Vesuvius, Virginia qualifies. It’s kind of like finding a town just outside of Paris named Bubbaville.

The further we drove the narrower and more precarious the roads became. Then we began a steady climb, further and further away from anything that looked at all familiar. Oddly, every home, every barn we passed along the way was meticulously maintained, each yard, neatly trimmed and free of junk. Each blind curve we went around revealed some new breathtaking vista, and with each new curve, Pam began to become more and more agitated. “What’s happening to the road? It’s too narrow! Where are the guardrails??”

Vesuvius ended up being a tiny hamlet containing a post office and an antique store dissected by a set of railroad tracks. According to my GPS, the Sugar Tree Inn was 5 miles straight up an extremely narrow road ahead of me where a sign greeted all those entering with this unsettling warning, “GPS navigation not recommended.” The rest of the drive was nothing short of awesome…for me, for Pam, not so much. 5 miles and several near death experiences later, we arrived at the Sugar Tree Inn sign and pulled off the State road onto the Inn driveway, a mile long, white knuckled thrill ride full of switch backs and hairpin turns. It was the kind of road you drive down while wondering if anyone making this drive had ever returned, and wondering what in the name of all that is holy you’re going to do if you meet someone coming the other way??

Finally, at the top of the last blind hill we arrived at the lodge. We climbed the staircase out front and turned around, marveling at the treacherous climb we had just survived. The view back down the valley was nothing short of stunning. How exactly we were going to coax our exhausted and traumatized car down this mountain would be left for another time. The Inn owners couldn’t have been nicer, as they reassured us that the driveway is actually ten feet wide. “We’ve measured it! Oh, and don’t worry, in the eleven years we’ve been here, we’ve only met another car coming the other way 3 times!” No explanation of what ever became of the unlucky three was offered.

Saturday afternoon was spent making the 1.7 mile hike up to nearby Crabtree Falls. Spectacular views and clean fresh air made for a wonderful climb. On the way back we discovered an incredible general store in the tiny town of Montebello. Pam would end up getting an unexpected jump on her Christmas shopping snatching up the mountain cabin motif regalia.

By the time dinner was served in the main lodge, we were both starving but unsure what to expect from such a remote kitchen manned by people who had only run into three other incoming cars over the past eleven years! Once again, we learned for the hundredth time not to judge a book by its cover. Pam’s beef short ribs were delicious and my braised pork tenderloin medallions yielded to my fork like a mound of rice, tender and juicy beyond description.

Our cabin was beautiful and new, hanging precariously out into the forest, a deep gorge just outside our back deck. Inside was a king size bed, two of the most comfortable chairs I have ever sat in, a gas fireplace and a TV that only worked with DVDs and VHS tapes, which were free in the lodge. It would have been asking a lot for a place this remote to have cable and internet. I felt fortunate to have electricity! We snuggled together after dinner and did something we hadn’t done in at least fifteen years… we slid a VHS tape in the oversized slot on the front of our 18 inch TV set and watched a jumpy, scratchy version of Bull Durham.

Sunday morning’s breakfast was sensational. We settled up our bill around eleven and then survived the free fall descent down the mountain to the relative safety of Vesuvius. By the time I filled the car with gas after a walking tour of VMI and Washington & Lee, the entire weekend’s bill came in at $485.

What a deal!