The Road South

There was this guy, Scottish bloke, who once wrote a poem to a mouse after accidentally ruining the mouse’s house. The short version of the incident was that this particular mouse made the poor decision of building its winter nest in the farmer man’s field. Seemed like a good plan at the time, but Spring plowing brought the house down. Oops…

But Mousie, thou are (not alone),
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice and Men (often go awry),
And leave us nought but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

Still, thou art blest, compared with me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Ouch! I backward cast my eye,
On prospects drear!
And forward though I cannot see,
I guess and fear!

from To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest With the Plough
by Robert Burns (1785)

The Best Laid Schemes

I like plans. In fact, I like planning to plan plans…according to a preplanned master plan handed down by the party-planning committee. Me and Heath Ledger’s Joker would not be friends. I’m one of the schemers he’s so irked by in The Dark Knight. And I had big schemes in mind for this, our third day of adventuring. We were hitting the road, plowing south, ring ruin on our minds.

As the crow flies…no, not the right expression…as the crow mindlessly drives down the Blue Ridge Parkway, it would be about sixty miles from the Crabtree Falls to the Peaks of Otter Campground. But we would not be following the same turn-by-turn directions as this silly crow. Our intended scheme was to zigzag back and forth across the blacktop backbone, following dirt service roads to a few hidden gems along the way to our adventure’s next basecamp. Three of these stops would be waterfalls…

The Wigwam Falls

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Staton Creek Falls

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Panther Falls

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We couldn’t have asked for a better morning. Sun was shining. Beautiful dirt drives. Interesting sights to explore, including an old dwarven logging railroad. We also met several people along the way, including an off-road instructor from the Rausch Creek area of Pennsylvania and a retired couple full of info on the best swimming holes between their home state of North Carolina all the way into West Virginia. But best of all: three waterfalls, and three more rings ruined.

Even the Best Laid Schemes…

For the first time all trip ALL of my boxes were checked and we were ahead of schedule. All that planning ahead was finally starting to pay off. But then, in the words of the Joker, a little anarchy got introduced, upsetting the established order, bringing in some chaos.

Riding the back roads and dirt tracks is fun for all the things you get to see, but there are some things you’ll never see…like gas stations.

My Montero has a bit of a drinking problem, and despite having a twenty-four gallon canteen to sip from supplies were running a little lower than anticipated. I’ve heard rumors that this thing should be getting about eighteen miles per gallon, but being a little depressed over news of Mitsubishi’s corporate woes has the ogre hitting the bottle a little harder than it should (I’m sure there are mechanical reasons in there somewhere too, probably, but it’s mostly psychological).

Thirteen miles per gallon, maybe…in the shade downhill.

No problem, right? We’ll just jump back onto the Parkway and scoot on down to Big Island for a refill. Now…hmm, no cell phone service. Where’s that paper map we’re supposed to be following? Where are we, exactly? How come there’s a locked gate here, blocking this road? Let’s try this road. Wait a minute, this isn’t the service road. It’s a…driveway…with a No Tresspassing sign for added emphasis.

Another u-turn, another unknown road. Hey, another sign…Now Leaving the George Washington National Forest. Wait, we’re not supposed to be leaving the national forest! Where in the world are we and how do we get out of this crazy dirt maze!? Even the animals were looking at us like, “Hey man, you lost?” Maybe, just a little.

But Ouch! I backward cast my eye,
On prospects drear!
And forward though I cannot see,
I guess and fear!

This part wasn’t quite so fun for anyone. Despite my wife’s best attempts at navigation we kept running into locked forest service gates. Some weren’t on the map, some were listed as seasonally opened, some were supposed to be open…but they weren’t. And we were getting lower and lower on gas, as the helpful little orange dash light kept reminding me. To add a proverbial fan to this crap-fest the napping princes started to wake up in the back of the car. Like most children born to Adam, my boys aren’t exactly excited to be awake after a long nap.

Whining ensued, and admittedly some of it was mine.

Our car was quickly becoming a cocktail of chaos, and wouldn’t you know, so was the weather. More fog rolled in with a light drizzle on top. The white wizard must have gotten off to a late start this day.

Oh, and did I mention how our Montero has a few issues? Well, around the top of the list of annoying foibles are these little electrical gremlins involving the air conditioner hogging all the volts, refusing to share any with the spark plugs. It’s a long story for another thread, save to say here that the current accessories on included wipers, fog lights, rear a/c, headlights, fan, etc. Looking down at the plug-in volt meter’s meager 12.7 volts was not exactly inspiring my confidence in my oil-soaked alternator. Neither were the red warning lights.

Yet, right there above the aftermarket meter was that little strip of blue tape. “Choose Joy!” Words to lead by. My inner Bobby McFerrin got into a little “Don’t worry. Be happy.”, but nobody in the back was going “Ooh-ooh-hoo-hoo-ooh hoo-hoo-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh.” I’m not a very good singer. But I am a dad, so I had to at least try to be a leader. If anybody was going to be happy it had to start with me.

When our headlights finally punched through an open yellow gate, back onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, my wife and I cheered, taking in a great sigh of relief. Hopefully we had the two or three gallons of gas left to get us to a filler station, but at least the maze was ended.

And we did.

In fact, while filling up, the weather even broke back into some sunshine. Having lost all the time we were originally ahead we decided to take a different road south than the Parkway. Just an old country road, flanked by rolling fields on either side, rolling left, rolling right, up, down, and all around.

And then my oldest PUKES ALL OVER THE PLACE. Wonderful.

I’ll spare you the glorious, aromatic details save to say that everybody was somehow laughing at this point. Rather than feeling terrible or embarrassed, my son was joyfully intrigued by the second glimpses of his lunch. “I must have ate way too much of this, and THAT,” he’d say, pointing out the menu items all over the inside of the Montero. It was gross, but it was hilarious. And he was happy. That meant my wife and I were happy. Circumstances what they were, the boys were at least making an effort to enjoy life. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice” said my inner Apostle Paul.

At The Foot of the Mountain

Coming in sight of our destination at the Peaks of Otter, we noticed Sharp Top Mountain’s peak forebodingly wrapped in cloud. That was a matter for tomorrow’s consideration though. This evening we just needed to find and make camp. Next stop would be the campground.

Exhausted, hungry, road-weary, car reeking of vomit, with the sun dipping low we finally rolled into our much-desired haven…

…only to be greeted by this.

You’ve got to be kidding me! At this point it looked as if Saruman had spent his Spring day driving his plow through all of our well laid schemes…but this, this was through our home for the night.

But Mousie, thou are (not alone),
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice and Men (often go awry),
And leave us nought but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

Recommended Posts

1 Comment


Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *