God Bless President's Day.So we (the lady-friend & I) leave NoVA around 11 AM, heading west along I-66. At the first highway sign for the Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park, we exit and head south to Warrenton, VA. There, we pick up route 211 headed West again.A few miles outside of Warrenton, in Amissville (where the only thing I've ever known to be amiss was due to the exploits of one Col. John Mosby during the Civil War) we stopped in at the Grey Ghost winery. It's a small mom & pop vineyard that seems to have excellent whites and dessert wines, and often times very good reds. We were the only folks present, and were given a sampling of three whites and two reds, after which we bought 4 bottles of wine between the two of us. I asked about Adieu, a sweet but not syrupy ambrosia in the guise of dessert wine (due out in April!) and then signed up for this autumn's harvest, in which the winery brings folks out to pick grapes early one morning in the fall, and cooks breakfast for the volunteers, open bottles of wine, and generally have a good time.We left the winery, and drove into the rolling foothills that precede the park. We commented on the homes with wrap-around front porches, and the character and distinction that went into the truly older homes. We passed by the currently closed "Cooter's Garage" where the former Congressman who once played "Cooter" in the Dukes of Hazzard runs a hamburger stand and pop-culture museum dedicated to the TV show. We chuckled at the sign in front of a local furniture shop that read "Antique Tables: Made Daily". We passed the cider and produce stands, and wound our way into the Shenandoah.I don't go into the National Park Service portion of the park. I see no need to shell out $10 just to park and get out on the trail. However, about 50 yards passed the exit for the park, there is a tourist trap directly out of the 1950's that advertises a "PANORAMA" restaurant and Gift Shop. In the corner of the parking lot there, you will find the entrance to a 3.7 mile "moderately difficult" (whatever that means) hike along the Appalachian Trail to "Mary's Rock." The internet being what it is, I found the following link to a passage about the very same trail: http://www.rapplinks.com/Activity.cfm?TheActivityID=181. I donned my pack (thirty pounds of worthless baggage to help me train... similar to but removed from the 30 pounds of worthless baggage I carry around everywhere) and we hit the trail.Eve L'Dog didn't quite grasp the value of waiting for the group. I held on tightly and was able to mush-mush her into a good pace. Lady Friend followed closely behind, wary of being tangled on a narrow path between me and the oblivious dog. It was brisk. Lady Friend would say otherwise, to include a choice set of expletives before the word "cold." At times we saw patches of ice on the trail. In sunny portions the sun had melted the ice to provide a pasty mud. The path is fairly uneven, and narrows quite a bit in places with an exhilarating drop on the non-mountainous side. The nefarious hound couldn't quite wrap her brain around this, and repeatedly tugged on her human to her utmost ability. Fortunately with the pack I outweighed her by more than 7 times, and I buffeted the discourtesy without sustaining any serious risk to life or limb. We met a few other dogs along the path, to include a number of seasoned veterans of trail hiking. Eve, the quintessential herder, gets very bossy when she meets other dogs. This can be dicey on the aforementioned narrow paths. Eve and I took more than a few detours to let others pass. One toy poodle - looking hound accompanied one party, and I didn't see it until they were upon us. Eve just sat there befuddled not knowing what to make of this thing strutting past her ankles, which was quite full of itself and there to show the world that it was fully in touch with its 'inner hellhound.' A little further up the trail, I saw a beast of amazing proportions up ahead of me. Momentarily, I was unsure as to whether I was facing a cow or a horse (it was white with large black spots) but it was imposing whatever it was... and completely out of place on the trail. It turned its massive head, and looked right at my dog. It was a great dane. All bossiness left my dog, and she (who has never done anything like this before) just laid down in the middle of the path quite confident in her impending demise. Fortunately, its human showed up, and after coaxing Eve into another detour, the behemoth passed us by.After about an hour and a half we reached the summit of Mary's rock. The view is beautiful, and large. You get about a 240 degree view of the valley, and the rocks above the clearing are easily climbed. That is, easily climbed until your Lady Friend sees you bounding up them full bore and behaving like a poor mimicry of DiCaprio in 'Titanic.' She emitted a string of demands and ultimatums that proved... if nothing else... that she likes me. Probably better in the end. Being a peak, if only 3514 feet, it was much more windy up there, and I suppose I could of misstepped and tumbled and we really wouldn't... oh heck, I LOVE CLIMBING.Well, the descent was much easier. They normally are. There were some bumpy areas, some breathtaking views, and many shouts and imprecations towards a mutt who was finding it much easier to pull a large person with his momentum leading downhill than it had been going up. It was a blast, but a bit chilly by the end, there being a noticeable drop in the temperature whenever we'd scuttle out of reach of the sun's rays. We were tired, and hungry, and satisfied with a decent climb.We got into the car, and drove back. I stopped at a cider stand & picked up some apple butter, some pumpkin butter, and some good pithy country apple cider. We toured a few old, small towns in the area, and daydreamed a bit about winning the lottery and just moving out to that kind of existence. On the way back, we hit a favorite dining establishment of mine. It's named "Lom-bar-dy's" and it is located near the winery in Amissville. As you drive up, you notice the restrooms removed from the restaurant and in a little outhouse at the far end of the gravel parking lot. As you walk in, you pass a sign wishing John and Bertha a happy 34th wedding anniversary. Inside you find a grand total of 7 tables and a bar. The tables seat two or four, and are set with souvenir place settings. There is a TV in the corner tuned to the Olympics this time, as opposed to NASCAR the last time I visited. At the bar there are two functional barstools, and a few replacement stools lined up. Signs behind the bar advise patrons against using profanity or two-party checks. It is an establishment that supports my generalization that the flashiness of the exterior of an establishment is often in inverse proportion to the quality of the food. Dinner was inexpensive and excellent. I had pork chops with succotash and macaroni salad. My lady friend had hamburger steak covered in gravy with mashed potatoes similarly attired and cole slaw. These folks do basic stuff. But my GOD do they do it well. Needless to say, if you ever get the chance...I drove home full and happy. The dog passed out in the back seat, and lady friend maintained a contented smile all the way back to NoVA. It's the only way to hike.Cheers,Tim(PS) The souvenir placemats on the tables? They were the newest edition of the "Presidents of the US" placemats featuring George Washington through Dubyah, and with little tidbits regarding each administration on the back. God Bless President's Day.
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