Friday is the last day of my anesthesia conference. Like most conferences that I have attended, the crowd has thinned to a sparse few by the last presentation. We are done by 11:30 am. I stand in the heat and call my hubby to pick me up in front of the conference center. Because of hotel rules about check-out of the room by 11 am, husband and daughter have been homeless and wandering around the town of Williamsburg waiting for me to get done.
After a quick stop at Kentucky Fried Chicken, we are on the road to my younger brother’s house in the Charlottesville, VA area. We are hoping to be there in time for supper. Once we get off Interstate 64, the roads become narrow and curvy. My brother’s driving instructions were to follow the road which twists, turns, curves, and goes up hill and down for 15 miles. I guess that describes what roads that lie in the foothills of the mountains are like. It is beautiful country except the trees are a little too close to the side of the road for what Minnesotans are used to. We arrive around 4 pm in the afternoon. We had been instructed that once we left the hard top road and transitioned onto a gravel road that we were to turn left at the next driveway. Turn left we do, into a driveway in a forested area. My mother used to say that my husband and I lived in the “boonies.” I think this seems like the “boonies” to me too. The two story house is set against a backdrop of a hill that disappears into the sky – a lovely setting of peace and privacy. It is cooler here than on the east shore, a relief from the unrelenting heat of the last few days.
That evening while sitting and chatting, my 9 year old nephew, draws our attention to a deer that has been visiting them every evening. The doe has two fawns – one is pure white, an albino. They come very close to the house and Nephew creeps out to photograph them. They are beautiful.
My brother and his wife graciously offer their bed to us for our use while our daughter sleeps upstairs in our nephew’s bedroom. There is no air conditioning here so the windows are open. I notice that the night is silent except for the sounds of the night creatures – no voices, no far off car or truck sounds. I used to love to fall asleep to the chirping of the crickets. I, however, have a hard time falling and staying asleep here. I have started to develop the dreaded rash on my legs from the mosquito bites I received on Wednesday. I notice some hydrocortisone cream on the bathroom counter and help myself to it even though I know that in the past, it has not helped. Hubby and I have also switched bed sides because the only outlet available to run his CPAP machine for sleep apnea is on “my” side. As creatures of habit, we collide in the middle of the slanting mattress as we roll.
Saturday dawns bright and sunny. We all pile into my brother’s van. The 3 young, not quite so wide ones, are delegated to the rear seat. That means us old ones get the middle seats. My brother has kindly planned a family day for us visiting some of Virginia’s natural wonders. We visit the Virginia Safari Park, the Natural Bridge Park and the Natural Bridge Caverns, all located in Natural Bridge, VA. The whole town and these attractions revolve around the theme of the natural bridge. The natural bridge is a huge rock arch formation that was formed years ago when a cavern collapsed leaving the 215 foot tall towering rock bridge. It has a span of 90 feet and, we are told, has a road that runs over the top of it.
The Safari Park contains numerous wild animals much like a zoo though which one can drive to view the animals. It is a great place but I can’t help but think that none of these man-made parks begins to compare to God’s wild animals in the natural habitat of the African plains. Since our trip to Africa, I am always somewhat disappointed in the man-made parks and zoos.
We dutifully stand in line after lunch to buy our tickets to the bridge and the cavern. We all decide to buy the combo ticket pack which allows us to see both the caverns and the natural rock bridge for a cheaper price. At least, that is what we think. Because of the time of day, the caverns becomes our first stop of the two. Imagine my shock when we approach the check-in at the caverns and the lady there says, “That will be $56.”
“What?” is the response of both my brother and me. “We paid for the combo tickets down below.”
“Oh,” responds the lady, “We don’t do that anymore. You only pay for the Natural Bridge admission tickets down there and we charge the rest up here.”
I am really confused but as I look at the receipt, we did only pay the single admission price. I notice the confused looks of my brother and the building frustration of my hubby. I quickly pay the extra as I assure my brother and hubby that everything is OK and that I will explain later. We all agree that this is a really misleading way to handle things – make people believe they are paying for both attractions and then ask them later for the additional amount.
We have arrived just in the nick of time as the next group is starting their decent into the caverns. I am wishing that I had a coat but I don’t. I will have to survive without it. If I could just absorb some of this cold and use it when we get back out into the sunshine, I could actually enjoy this chilly atmosphere. We do have a grand tour into the depths of the earth and then it is time to hike to the natural bridge.
A group is milling around under the bridge preparing for a military wedding. This is a beautiful place to have a wedding. The only problem is the constant stream of people who will be tromping through the ceremony. The magnificent rock formation frames a small staging area nestled between the bridge and the tree lined gorge behind it. The temperature is moderate in this ravine as the path is shaded by the rock wall and trees that grow from it. A stream runs beside the path, tumbling down from a higher elevation. A mile walk along this path will take us to Lace Waterfall. By the time we reach the waterfall, it is pushing 4 pm and we retrace our steps back down the path to the natural bridge. The wedding is just getting ready to begin. Respectfully, people pause as the wedding proceeds and the crowds gather to watch. It is a short wedding – probably not even 30 minutes. The military wedding theme is culminated with the bride and groom passing under the raised swords of the honor guard as they depart. Just as the couple passes under the swords of the last two men in the row, the one soldier reaches out with his sword and smacks the bride of the butt. Ouch! I don’t think that was the way it was supposed to end.
On our way “home,” my brother takes us on a fast tour of the Blueridge Mountains via Blue Ridge Parkway. We climb up and up as we speed around curves for a number of miles.
“Would you like to see Crabbtree Falls?” asks my brother.
“If we are anywhere close, I would like to at least see it. But I don’t think I want to climb a 3 mile trail tonight yet.” I respond.
Soon we are plunging downhill and around corners at breakneck speed. I am not too worried or frightened as my brother is a truck driver and travels Virginia roads every day. My husband tells me later that he was hanging onto his seat for dear life. I worry about our daughter as she is in the back and she tends to get car sick. I keep asking her if she is OK. As we pull into the Crabtree Falls parking lot and get out of the car, a strong smell of burning brakes assaults our noses. Oops! Someone just about burnt up the brakes.
“No o…” I groan but my hubby thinks that is a great idea so off we go. I can do anything that he can do. Even he agrees to not go to the third platform when it is suggested. It is time to find some food and go “home.”
By Sunday morning and our departure time, the mosquito itch and rash on my legs has grown to a frenzied roar. Nothing makes it stop except numbing my legs with ice cubes. At my brother’s house, I can do that. How am I going to make it home without going insane as anything touching my legs only makes the itch worse? This is like a form of torture. I discover that if I roll up my pant legs as high as they will go so nothing is touching my skin, the itch is tolerable. But I don’t want to look like a world class dork in public. But as I look around the airport at the bustling crowds of people, I realize no one, except my family, knows me and I will never see these people again. The creeping insanity of the itch soon overrides my self-conscious desire to be socially proper. I walk around with my pants rolled up. And on the airplane, I ask for only ice when the stewardess comes around with drinks. Ah, that ice provides immeasurable relief. At least, I can make it home without losing my mind although I am not sure, as a Minnesotan where mosquitos are the state bird, how I am going to avoid these situations in the future if I want to spend any time in my beloved outdoors.