With all the organizing and anticipation for our annual long weekend in the mountains, Miss Chef and I nearly forgot about a bonus mountain stay on the calendar. Good friends of ours were celebrating a milestone birthday, and invited us (and Rosie!) to join them at Pipestem, a state park in West Virginia.
Suprisingly enough, even though it’s two states away, the park is only about 40 minutes more of a drive than our familiar destinations in the North Carolina mountains. Which was fortunate, because we weren’t able to arrange an extra day off for this weekend. We planned to leave home Saturday morning, stay overnight and return home on Sunday. It might be a bit rushed, but other than hiking and a hearty group meal, there were no specific plans to accomplish anything other than enjoying each others’ company.
The drive up through western Virgina was gorgeous. Miss Chef and I had traveled up Interstate 77 a few years ago on a longer trip, and we still talk about how I nearly steered us off the road while gaping at the scenery. The highway winds through and around the mountains, and every once in a while one hillside drops away to reveal a stunning vista of picturesque farmland framed by forested slopes. This time we were surrounded by vibrant golds, fiery reds and rich oranges, as the annual fall spectacle reached its peak.
It was perhaps fortunate that I had had a chance to take in some mountain splendor the previous week, since I was driving again. (Miss Chef would like me to inform you here that it was my choice to drive…)
Anyway, we arrived at the park in the early afternoon, just in time to find our friends returning from a hike with their dogs. All told, there would be five of us, sharing two cabins, with four dogs. Miss Chef and I were in Cabin 4 with my friend Brian and his greyhound/lab/?? mix Amita. Luckily, she and Rosie got along fabulously, as Amita was more than happy to let Rosie be in charge.
After we exchanged greetings and unloaded the car, we put on our hiking boots and went out with most of the dogs and humans for another hike. First we went down, down down a big slope to a small lake. We stopped briefly while the dogs decided not to jump in the water (good girl, Rosie), and that was my only opportunity to snap a quick picture.
The path wound around the lake for a quarter mile or so, and then began to climb, and wind some more, and climb even more. We had let the dogs off lead once away from the cabins and Rosie, my little suburban sidewalk dog who prefers not to get her feet wet, was leading the pack. She always has enjoyed seeing what’s around the next corner, and this was a perfect opportunity to do just that. I found it ironic, though, that the the owner of the leading dog of the pack was the slowest human. I had to take a quite a few standing stops to get to the top of the ridge…only to find there was more climbing ahead.
It was all worth it, though, if only because I knew a feast lay ahead. Once back at the cabins, we took a short break before starting to prepare our meal. Miss Chef and I had brought locally made salami from our stop the previous weekend at Hickory Nut Gap Farms, as well as some cheeses, crackers and grapes. We lit a fire in the hearth while Miss Chef made an inviting hors d’oeuvres tray, then we each cracked open a drink of choice—cider, beer or wine—and gathered round for some catching up and fun conversation.
One of our friends wanted to take us back out the entry road to see the huge herds of deer that they had seen the previous evening. We loaded took Rosie along, but didn’t get very far before getting out again at another scenic overlook. This time I took pictures, though the lighting wasn’t the best.
On our drive to the golf course we did see a few deer, and even a herd of probably 30 of them, but the one who really made the evening was this lone buck, standing guard under an apple tree by the side of the road.
I stopped the car and got out to get a little closer for this zoomed-in picture. He’s a little fuzzy, because he kept lifting his head and trying to scent me out, but there were at least six points on those handsome antlers. When I finally lowered the camera to just look at him, we stared at each other for a good ten seconds, and then he began to casually paw the ground. When he switched legs and became a bit more serious about it, I decided the prudent action would be to get back in the car—despite my friend’s urging to “go on, see how close you can get.”
No, she wasn’t serious. I don’t think, anyway.
When we got back to the cabin, steaks were on the grill outside, and the premade twice-baked potatoes were in the oven. A little quick salad action, some refills on the drinks, and soon enough we were gathered around the table stuffing ourselves. It’s so nice to be able to spend time with good friends, when you can be yourself, and everyone knows your history, your pets, your family, and of course, some of your embarrassing secrets.
Miss Chef and I had brought the makings for s’mores, but we ended up passing on those in favor of the small birthday cake brought by the others. I think we sang Happy Birthday, perhaps a bit half-heartedly, but between the hiking, the laughing and the beverages, nobody really cared about ceremony at that point.
Eventually we let the fire die down, the party broke up, and everyone went off to their respective beds. The next morning, we appreciated the extra hour from the end of Daylight Savings Time, as we cleaned the cabins and packed the cars before heading off on a shorter, “relatively easy” hike. Though not nearly as strenuous as the long ridge we’d climbed the afternoon before, there was a steep slope in the middle that I christened “Relatively Hill.” Still, the dogs were happy, and it was a good way to enjoy the last bit of our time at the park.
Once again there was a round of hugs and promises to regroup at Thanksgiving in a few weeks, then we finally separated to return to our homes and Real Life. Miss Chef had a lot of grading to do, and she and Rosie slept for about half the trip back. We had left McKenna at home, with a neighbor coming in to check food and water, and she was content to have company again when we arrived.
That evening, while Miss Chef and I both graded (I helped!), I got another fire going in our own fireplace. I wasn’t going to let those s’more supplies go to waste! When McKenna came strolling in to see what was going on, I realized that this was probably the first time she’d seen fire.
She didn’t seem to have any problems with it.
So now we begin the headlong dash into the holidays—Thanksgiving in three weeks, then Christmas and New Year’s. For now, though, it’s one thing at a time…right now, it’s time for bed.