Road Trip! Friday, August 12, 2011-Blue Ridge Parkway

I am driving down the Blue Ridge Parkway in southern Virginia.  The top is down for the first time, the roadside barns and split rail fences are the only sign of man, the road winds out like a long sleek snake between the trees,  and “Take it Easy” is blasting through the speakers

 Life is good…:)

We started out this morning at the Stonewall B & B, where Scott and Sally made us a light breakfast of pancakes, blueberry muffins, eggs, homemade sausage, fresh fruit, coffee, and OJ…perfect for lumberjacks or Marathon runners, but for a middle aged guy trying to lose weight, it’s Death by Syrup.

Scott is a heavy equipment mechanic who works in the DC area 4 days a week and acknowledges most of his work is to keep government contracts on schedule.  Sally is a school principal in her spare time and they have two teenagers, six cats, and two dogs they’re raising in between running this home business.  I don’t know how they do it, but they are wonderful hosts and I highly recommend staying there the next time you are in the middle of nowhere and would like to gain a kilo or two…

So we head off into that engineering marvel, that ribbon of concrete and steel that cuts through the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains in southern Appalachia on a gorgeous summer’s day.  The elevation is about 3500′, the weather is perfect, and the twisty mountain road beckons like a siren song.

We stop at Rock Castle Gorge Trail and take a short hike to work off our huge breakfast, and soon we are in deep woods that occasionally open onto rocky meadows and high alpine pastures filled with wildflowers and yielding incomparable views of the green valleys 1000 meters below and the misty blue mountains stretching to infinity on a broad  horizon.  Here the trees close in so much that you must watch for the roots, there a field so wide you expect to see a remake of “The Sound of Music” in progress.  At times, we must cross a cattle fence.  At others, we meet hikers just like ourselves, out with their families and pets, and everyone is enjoying it, though I am told by the Park rangers that not too many people make it out here anymore.  She doesn’t know why, but posits that maybe they’re in too much of a hurry to slow down and enjoy such simple pleasures as a gnarly mountain blacktop through some of the oldest mountains on earth yielding vistas that cannot be found anywhere else.  I have to wonder what kind of culture doesn’t value these things.

I am thankful that I’ve had the chance to enjoy this mountain run, and wonder what it must have been like 300 years ago when the first white men explored them.  It doesn’t take much imagination to picture Natty Bumppo stalking a buck for tonight’s supper, which he’ll share with his Indian friends.

But we must be off to Goode, Va, to visit my old Army buddy John Schmidtbauer.  Goode is really just another way of saying you’re in “Deliverance” country, and soon I’m lost, sailing down a gravel road flanked close in by trailers and the rusting hulks of old Plymouths up on blocks.  My son pulls in to an aluminum shack that was probably decent shelter during the Eisenhower administration, and announces that we’ve arrived.  Now, I know that the Army may not be the best preparation for civilian life, but I looked at the white box van, old dog kennel, and knee high grass in the yard, and wondered if my friend had fallen on hard times.  It seems that every major appliance he’d ever owned was in the front yard, and I was looking for the oven I used to make grease fires in back when I had the moxie to think I could actually boil water without the need for notifying the local fire and rescue authorities, when it occurred to me that we were probably in the wrong place.  A quick phone call confirmed my suspicions, and soon we were approaching John’s 20 acre spread, complete with a 6000 square foot ranch with swimming pool.  I guess John did OK for himself after all (I later learn he is an executive in a company that manufactures feminine hygiene products, and wonder how many suppositories and douches must be sold to finance a spread like this).

He’s happy to see me, a fact that is soon confirmed as we reminisce about the good ol’ days when we played soldier and participated in all kinds of illegal activities that I refuse to divulge on the grounds that they might incriminate me, but I will allow that they involved wild women and strange, yet somehow…hallucinatory pharmaceuticals, but of course we must keep some of our talk on the QT, as my old buddy has sired some of the cutest and smartest little girls (Chloey 11, and Evana, 13) that you’re ever likely to meet with his lovely wife Susan, and it probably wouldn’t do for them to know every little detail of the ill fated trip to Panama City, anyway.

But Susan is happy to introduce me to their pets, a yellow lab, a Shih-tsu, and a pair of Sphinxes, which are like normal cats, except they cost more than a used Volvo, have no hair (yes, you read that right), must be kept in a kind of incubator like bubble felines or something, and have more wrinkles than an old Shar-Pei. I can’t imagine who ever thought this was a really good idea, except perhaps as a strange experiment in radiation tolerance back during the Cold War, or as Bram Stoker’s idea of an animal companion for his favorite monster.  Now I hope Susan doesn’t hate me for saying this, but I can honestly say as the owner of an Old English Bulldog, which is about a 9.5 on the ugly scale, that these are about the most bizarre critters that i have seen outside of a science fiction movie, and that includes Alien and Rosemary’s Baby.

So after only a few bottles of good wine, we are feeling pretty good about ourselves and our old adventures, and after telling me about his tour of duty as the Trojan Man (yes, he sold condoms too), John thinks this would be the perfect time to exercise our Second Amendment rights, so we scurry down to the creek behind his house and proceed to pepper a target with 30-06 rounds, and do surprisingly well considering our state of inebriation.  We follow this up with more wine and a few games of pool in his “man cave” which also has a big screen TV, surround sound, and a wet bar, and end the night way too late for us to start the next morning at a reasonable time.

They say there’s no friendship like those that stand the rigors of military life.  I don’t know about that, because I can’t honestly say it was all that hard on us, (and in fact it was kind of an eye opener to see that civilian salaries were actually lower than the military), but I will say that it seems to me that old friends like John are hard to come by, and after all this time I’m damned glad to see he has a beautiful wife and children and it’s nice to know that sometimes the good guys don’t finish last after all.  I’m sorry to put him in my rearview, but I am thankful that I had a chance to see him again and for the incredible hospitality of his wife and family.

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