Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Cole, Earl of Monticello

Day 13 of our trip is a blur.  Working on only 2 hours of sleep, I endeavor to drive over 8 hours from Northern Massachusetts to Southern Pennsylvania.  We stop at Promised Land State Park somewhere in PA.   2 hours, 2 shots of caffeine and I aim our little tin can back towards south.  
Destination:  Twin Bridges Campground.
I have a site reserved by the creek.  Nirvana awaits.  Murphy's Law interferes.
Something happens to close all Southbound lanes of I-81 crossing over the Susquehanna River, implying that a 2 hour detour is necessary to inch 30 miles over to the next available bridge.  Not every day can be a perfect Maine Day.  While at a standstill in traffic, I'm frantically trying to secure alternate accommodations at a motel, being that the campground office would be closed by the time we rolled in.  
"No dog friendly rooms available"
"Only one dog allowed"
"Dogs under 25 lbs only"
One desk clerk makes the mistake of holding a room for me, before I can tell her it's dogs, plural. When we arrive, she tries stand her ground.  Futility against the cuteness staring back at her from the car windows.  She's wavering, so I slip a $20 in her hand and clench the deal.  We sneak in the back door.  
While they play king of the castle on the beds,
I relearn how to operate a remote,
and ascertain that I truly do despise television. After 12 hours on the road, unwinding with my snuggle bunny is the smarter option anyway.
Day 14.  Monticello is in our cross hairs. It's been on my bucket list for 15 years!  Today, I get to put my hands in Thomas Jefferson's garden soil.
This, to me, is an incredible moment.

Thomas Jefferson was an avid gardener.  His Garden Book, from 1809 to 1826, contained detailed notes about his experimental figs from France, vegetables from Italy, and beans  from the Lewis and Clark expedition. 
For three years, I have failed to grow 4 different varieties of artichokes.  Here, they're 3 foot tall plants, hardy as weeds!  
Even the plant markers provide so much information and history.
Jefferson came up with the now popular mixed green and mesclun salad 200 years ago.  He grew every imaginable type.  I've aspired over the years to replicate his collection.  I don't know if it is permitted, but I grazed in his kale patch!!! I did!!!
The dogs humor me for over an hour as we cruise around and around the gardens.
 One last contemplative stop to admire the vegetable plot.
Then, a brief walk around the house.
Not too shabby.
It's uncomfortably hot, thus curtailing any further hiking on the grounds. I drive towards our campground on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Blue Ridge, Skyline, Natchez Trace Parkways-- love them all.  So what if the speed limit is only 45 mph?  Fair trade to get rid of traffic and road sign adverts. 
With our camp set up and an hour left before dusk, Cole decides we should hike up the mountain.  
I only read this sign the next morning.  We barely made it back before dusk.  Oops.
Right before the summit, there's a spur trail to an outcrop called Buzzard's Roost. Curiosity killed the cat.
 Didn't appear ominous.  Cole follows the trail up between that tree and the large rock.  It's very narrow.  I can't see what's on the other side, but two hikers are already up on the rock and they call back to see if I want them to come halfway down and grab the dogs to lift them up.  Pete, mistaking them as his saviors from hiking, offered himself up to them first.  Meanwhile, Garret, Cole and I are still trying to figure out what's on the other side of the rock.
Curiosity trumps caution every time.
I pass each dog over to unseen strangers. Then one scrambles down and reports that there isn't much room up there, I'll have to trade places with her boyfriend (who's now holding the dogs).  Dear God, what have I done??
Pete wants to report me for animal endangerment.
We are marooned.  There is no way I can get even one dog down safely.  Never mind the fact I'm having to hold all three close to me to keep them from slipping off the edges.
My bonehead moment:
I've never had to be rescued, but as I'm Googling the Park Service's number, I hear voices approaching.  A young woman pops her head around the corner, "how did you get up here?".   I don't know, I didn't see how it was done.  Two benevolent, but petite women help me out of my predicament.  The dogs resist mightily being dragged down off the rock.  Twice I see Garrett and Pete's weight almost overwhelm the women as they teeter on the edge.  
This could've been the picture in the local news with the headline:  Alabama woman falls to her death taking 3 dogs and 2 good Samaritans with her.  Lesson probably not learned, but we gratefully run back down the mountain.  We get back to camp to find that I'm not the only bonehead in the park.
A fellow camper of infinite wisdom has decided to set up a dozen Tiki torches in the pine forest surrounding his tent.  Clear signs everywhere announce the fire danger to be high and to make sure any fires are kept within the designated fire rings.  Another camper tells me that he's not putting his kids at risk, he's leaving because he can't get anyone to answer the park service number... coincidentally the same one I was preparing to call for my mayday.  I mean, we can afford mega million dollar fighter jets to protect our oil interests in the Middle East, but we can't afford the salaries of park rangers to protect our national treasures.  These federal and state budget cuts are costing us more than they're saving us.
I'm determined to drive the Parkway until I find a ranger.  What I discover is Peaks of Otter Lodge... complete with a ranger and buffet line!  They don't usually allow it, but I convince them to charge me $25 to fill up some to go boxes.  I need a wheelbarrow to haul off my bounty!
A feast for all four of us!  We sit back and wait for the show when the park ranger appears to usher the arsonists off the campground.  Totally better show than anything on TV!