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Today is Opposite Day. Actually, we just had three whole days of Opposite Day. Oh, come on – you remember Opposite Day, right? When everything you said meant the opposite, where all the boys were told to dress in skirts and the girls drew mustaches on their faces? OK, so maybe you didn’t go to elementary school in the 1970s in the U.S. Well, then.

If Mumbai is the reality, the truth of my life at the moment, then the Shenandoah National Forest is its opposite. Where Mumbai teems with people, in the Shenandoah you can hike a couple of miles before you meet another soul. If Mumbai rush hour is thousands of cars lined up from Bandra Kurla Complex to take the Sea Link to the South that don’t move more than twenty for forty-five minutes, Shenandoah is a leisurely but constant 35mph along Skyline Drive with the occasional stop to let Bambi and his mom cross the street. It’s awesome. http://www.nps.gov/SHEN/planyourvisit/index.htm

Knowing that the Shenandoah is DiploDad’s true spiritual home, I pushed him to reserve somewhere to camp during our U.S. trip. Unlike previous trips, we had no camping gear per se, and we didn’t feel like borrowing it from DiploBIL and cleaning it all up, so we investigated new options. Turns out, in addition to the more upscale lodging at the Big Meadows Lodge and Skyland Resort, there are also some cute little cabins at Loft Mountain called Lewis Cabins. http://www.nps.gov/shen/planyourvisit/lodging.htm Private bathroom, beds, linens, you were only on your own for meals, and with a campfire grate and a grill, we would be more than fine.

After a few days in town, a celebration for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, and an almost complete recovery from jet lag for DiploDad, we set off for the land of nature. I love the Shenandoah River Valley. http://www.shenandoahvalley.com/ As you wind along the rural highways, there is a sense of time slowing down, a feeling of relaxation that you just don’t get in the Big City. Cute little Mom & Pop stores pop up along the highway like cornflowers in July, and gas prices take a precipitous drop. The fields widen and the sky seems even bluer than you ever remembered. DiploDad was driving, the boys were not fighting (yup, you read that correctly), and I was almost lulled into hypnosis when the inevitable growl of DB1’s stomach cut through the peace and quiet of the drive.

Luckily, we’ve been down this road before, and we knew where to go – and it wasn’t Mickey D’s.

“Where are we GOOOing???”

“I’m STARRRRVING!”

“I’m going to DIIIIIEEEEE!”

“Just a few more miles, boys.”

“I wanna go to McDonald’s! I wanna go to Arby’s!” whined DB2.

“No, you don’t,” I practically snapped.

“I’ll even just go to the auto parts store and eat car parts and drink oil,” stated DB1, “but you probably are going to make us to something traditional and classic and annoying, if you are doing what you usually do.”

“And WHAT, exactly, young man, do you mean by THAT?” I definitely snapped.

“SIGH,” said DiploDad.

A few more rumbles and we pulled into our destination – The Brookside Restaurant. http://brooksidecabins.com/brookside-restaurant/

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All decked out and ‘Murican to the core.

We’d last been when DB1 was less than a year old, but it still looked the same. Opening the door, I got a feeling that it still smelled the same – bulk purchase cleaning products and down-home cookin’. How promising.

We ordered Heart Attack on a Plate, otherwise known as chicken fried steak.

Sweet Baby Jesus, it's GOOOOOD.

Sweet Baby Jesus, it’s GOOOOOD.

We even rescinded the no caffeine rule and ordered sweet tea for everyone. It was perfect in all its teeth shuddering sweetness. The food was fantastic, and at the end of the meal, which included cherry pie for DiploDad and Creamsicle pie for me and the DBs to split, we had converts to local foraging outside the chain restaurants.

We headed back on the road and shortly thereafter hit Skyline Drive. I love Skyline Drive. When we live in NOVA, we buy a national parks annual pass just so that we can come down and watch as each season moves on and welcomes the following one. It’s worth every penny. http://www.nps.gov/shen/planyourvisit/driving-skyline-drive.htm

After several miles and deer sightings, we arrived at the cabins. They were perfect. Two bedrooms, furnished with two chairs, a dresser, two lamps, a nightstand, a bed, and a private toilet, sink, and shower.

Home Sweet Home, cabin style.

Home Sweet Home, cabin style.

The linens were even nicer than the ones DiploSis puts in her guest room.

The linens were even nicer than the ones DiploSis puts in her guest room.

Out back was a picnic table, a fire pit, and a bear box. We unpacked and set out for our first hike, at Bear Mountain Rocks.

Keep them in sight!  No bears on the trail this time though.

Keep them in sight! No bears on the trail this time though.

A leisurely walk along 3 miles of rolling hills, it was the perfect first walk to kick things off.

DB2: “Hey, what’s that smell?”

Me: ???

DB2: “Ahhhh . . . clean air!”

DB1: “No, that was me.”

Me: (facepalm)

After finishing our hike, we headed back to our cabin to rustle up some grub. I’d just put the cornbread on the grate to cook when the first drops hit.

DD: “Uh-oh.”

Me: “I’m sure it will blow over quickly. It’s fine.”

DB1: “No it’s not fine, Mommy. And we all know it’s your fault”.

I have a perfect record for rain during my camping trips.  PERFECT.

I have a perfect record for rain during my camping trips. PERFECT.

I should take a moment to admit that it has literally rained every single time that I have EVER camped in my entire life. The DiploGrans even had to call camping in our big orange VW pop-top camper whenever we used it because it poured. It rained at my first Girl Scout campout – my mother, the leader, wound up dragging us all to the basement meeting room of our military housing compound to cook hobo stew over a borrowed grill, and I swear she blamed me. My first camping trip with DiploDad in college it poured the minute we got out of the car and continued through the night. I was dry until DD decided to move and released a wall of water that he’d been playing dam for and I darn near drowned. I, however, was not the one who chose to pitch the tent in a sandbar island of a mountain wash. Just sayin’.

So anyway, the rain continued, just as we all knew it would and within minutes the campfire was snuffed. Gah.

Plan B was dinner at the Big Meadow Lodge.

Yeah, I really should have waiting until they cleared the table off before I took the photo.  Ugh.

Yeah, I really should have waiting until they cleared the table off before I took the photo. Ugh.

Not bad, and they had an excellent selection of local wine and beer. It made the ribbing I endured during dinner much easier to endure. Bellies full, we headed back to the cabin with a quick stop at Big Meadow, as the rain had stopped. (Of course.) It was packed. But not with people, with deer. As we walked down the fire road, we kept counting, higher and higher. DB1 said he counted 26, and that’s probably correct.

Good evening, Bambi!

Good evening, Bambi!

At one point we were probably less than ten feet away from one of them. I could hear her exhale of breath and DB2 stepped even closer.

"Mommy, I'm waving to them!"

“Mommy, I’m waving to them!”

Eventually, we headed back out of the Meadow and back to the cabins and to dreamland. It took me forever to fall asleep. Peace and quiet is awesome until you try to sleep. If you are used to the sounds of the city, free-roaming roosters, festival fireworks, or preferably all three at once, it takes a while to nod off in their absence. Finally, a hoot owl set up shop a few trees away and I drifted off to his call.

The next morning we took stock of supplies and I readied things while DD made a campfire. DD makes awesome campfires. Sometimes, it pays off to marry a Boy Scout.

We forgot to pack the pancake mix.  But we did manage to throw in  ALL of DiploSis' bread, so French Toast it was.

We forgot to pack the pancake mix. But we did manage to throw in ALL of DiploSis’ bread, so French Toast it was.

During breakfast, we met our neighbors. Violetta, a very exuberant rising Kindergartner, came over and told us ALL about her family, including her cute three-year-old brother whose name escapes me. We just referred to him as “that boy with the goldfish crackers” since the bag was perpetually in his hands. Violetta did all the talking anyway.

Fortified with breakfast, we headed off to Dark Hollow Falls. The good thing about the hike to the falls viewpoints was that it was all downhill.

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The bad thing about the hike back to the car is that it was all uphill.

We even saw brook trout in the water.

We even saw brook trout in the water.

Somehow, the DBs didn’t put that together until halfway up the hill on the return trip. It is times like these that makes me question how they dress themselves, much less figure out complex video games.

We made it!

We made it!

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At lunch, Violetta and her brother told me all about their hike. She had discovered mushrooms and told me all about how they could kill you if you ate them, so “don’t even think about it!” I promised that I wouldn’t.

Later on that afternoon, we did our second hike of the day out to an old Presbyterian mission. It was the perfect late afternoon hike – about one mile in and one mile back, past an Appalachian Trail designated cabin and an AT bulkhead. We walked up to see the cabin, noticed someone was staying there and backed away – best not to mess where there’s a dog bowl THAT large on the front porch.

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After another fifteen minutes of hiking, we found the mission clearing.

The fallen chimney.

The fallen chimney.

The church fell into ruins when local folk were forced off the land in a bid to create the National Park that is there today. Next to the church was a structure that was obviously someone’s home – complete with a tin roof and a rusted out washbasin still hanging outside.

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It’s one of the dirty little secrets of the Shenandoah, how families that had lived there for generations were forced off their land and the only home they’d ever known.

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Poor hill and country folk. It never fails to make me sad when I am confronted with the traces of their lives, and I am grateful to them for their unintended and forced sacrifice. When our exploration was complete, we silently headed back to the parking area. History can weigh heavy even on the youngest among us. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/05/27/735042/-These-Hills-Were-Once-Home-A-Shenandoah-National-Park-Photo-Diary and see also http://www.nps.gov/shen/learn/historyculture/displaced.htm

Dinner the second night was much better, and it seemed that we had appeased the Rain Gods. So much so, that we burned through three packs of firewood and half a bag of marshmallows.

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And beer. How much, I ain’t sayin’.

The next morning, we (I) got up early and started packing the car. I wanted to get one more hike in before we left, and I knew that if we got up late, all bets were off. I got coffee for DD at the camp store and brought it to him while he was still in bed (sometimes it’s good to marry a failed Girl Scout) and rousted the DBs for breakfast. I’d barely poured milk on my Cocoa Krispies when Violetta appeared, proudly bearing an Audubon book on mushrooms. I finished my cereal and while cleaning up I agreed to go for a “tiny walk” to see a “serious poison mushroom you should not eat”.

We walked off to the side of her cabin, up the hill a little and she showed me the most average looking mushroom I’d ever seen in my life.

“THAT is the poison mushroom! Do NOT eat it!”

“I won’t!”

“Promise me! It will kill you!”

“I promise.”

“Good. You know what? There’s this one kind of mushroom my daddy told me about and that if you eat it you see flying pink elephants with wings and I LOVE pink so I want to try it and he told me that when I get older, I can try it with HIM!”

I almost had an aneurysm holding in my laughter.

After packing everything up, we headed out to our final hike: Big Meadows. It was beautiful, and I got lots of awesome photos.

View from the Visitor's Center

View from the Visitor’s Center

Thistle.

Thistle.

Through the branches.

Through the branches.

Black-eyed Susans.  Along Sklyline Drive.

Black-eyed Susans. Along Sklyline Drive.

After saying goodbye to the park, we headed north to Shenandoah Caverns and American Celebration on Parade. I’d wanted to see it for a few years, ever since I saw a local travel article on Route 81 roadside attractions. http://www.washingtonpost.com/express/wp/2015/04/23/interstate-81-attractions-see-parade-floats-vintage-cameras-and-woodrow-wilson/

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Shenandoah Caverns generally gets billed lower than its more popular sister, Luray Caverns, but is definitely worth a visit. Unlike Luray Caverns, Shenandoah Caverns isn’t a state or federal park and is a family owned and operated business. I like that. http://www.shenandoahcaverns.com/v.php?pg=26

DB2 is currently into rocks. Yup, rocks. Crystals, semi-precious stones, gems, sea glass and fossils litter his room. Doing laundry every week is a musical experience. My sister went crazy finding her landscaping stones all over the house for the first week we were there until we finally got him to leave the rocks in the flowerbeds. In short, the Caverns were custom-made for my little rock hound.

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Please tell me you get the joke.  Please?

Please tell me you get the joke. Please?

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It's called "Cave Bacon".

It’s called “Cave Bacon”.

Obligatory cheesy rainbow-lit photo.

Obligatory cheesy rainbow-lit photo.

When you go to the Shenandoah Caverns, you purchase a package ticket that includes American Celebration on Parade, and something called Main Street, USA.

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The father of Earl Hargrave, the patriarch of the family that owns the two attractions, had a business setting up department store sales displays back in the 1930s and 1940s. Sadly, the elaborate displays have gone the way of Woody’s https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woodward_%26_Lothrop and the Red Rider BB Gun. http://www.walmart.com/ip/Daisy-Red-Ryder-BB-Gun/15730097 Oops, so the second still exists, and is available with all the other firearms at Wal-Mart.

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Anyway, today the business specializes in props that are used on floats and in celebrations such as the Presidential Inauguration.

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I can’t imagine a more fun thing to do for a living, and when I read about Mr. Hargrave, who passed away earlier this year, I thought to myself, “That was truly an American life”. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/earl-c-hargrove-jr-86-outfitter-of-inaugurations-and-extravaganzas-dies/2015/04/11/c6ec3722-dece-11e4-a500-1c5bb1d8ff6a_story.html

From there, we stopped to picnic, and for supplemental road snackage, we stopped by the Route 11 Potato Chip Factory.

Stop there if you are nearby.  You won't be sorry.

Stop there if you are nearby. You won’t be sorry.

http://www.rt11.com/ We held ourselves back from true gluttony, and bought merely one small bag each. And a giant, 5-gallon tub for DiploSis.

The boys went for plain. I indulged in dill pickle. And DiploDad chose these:

I take that back.  You will be sorry if you get these.  DiploDad:  "I felt like my throat was going to close up in rebellion."

I take that back. You will be sorry if you get these. DiploDad: “I felt like my throat was going to close up in rebellion.”

We crunched along for a few miles, and finally settled into the hum of the highway in the background and the snoring of the DBs, who had passed out in the back seat. DD and I smiled at each other across the console. As I settled back into my seat for the remainder of the drive, I was already planning my next trip back to the Shenandoah. My soul was already answering her call to return.

Oh Shenandoah, I long to hear you . . . .

Oh Shenandoah, I long to hear you . . . .

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