Jen and I are the unlikeliest of pairs, but being roommates at Clarkson, we found a common love of the outdoors and in the heart of the Adirondacks on some twenty mile hike or another, our friendship was cemented. I invited Jen on an adventure for a multitude of reasons, the least of which frankly is, despite how much of a worker bee she may be, she can easily be swayed into abandoning work for time outdoors- my kinda girl! Probably more importantly though, despite our differences, I respect Jen’s convictions, intelligence, and humor, and I value our friendship.
Saturday morning, I woke up early to make the most of the day and check-in with Jen, who was driving north to Front Royal from NC State. I had a beautiful, calming yoga practice (Day 5), lounged in the hottest, steamiest shower, fried a couple of runny eggs for breakfast, and chowed down over a pile of work with Wolf of Wall Street raging in the background. After a nearly perfect morning, it was time to hit the road.
Shortly before 10:00 AM, I arrived at the Cabbin (with two b’s). The Cabbin is a small log cabin with a brick façade that sits on the property of a larger, pre-Civil War estate, Mountain Home. This was my first Airbnb experience and I was unsure of what to expect. I poked my head into the screened in front porch of the Cabbin and saw a sign welcoming visitors and encouraging them to call the owner upon their arrival. I called. Left a message and waited. Jen pulled up, all smiles a few minutes later. Assuming we could enter the unlocked Cabbin, we entered and quickly sized the space up- a small kitchen, a small “living room” with a couple futons and a bed, and a loft upstairs with 4 beds and a small bathroom. The space was well kept, charming, and most importantly warm. Another guest from the DC-Metro area was staying upstairs.
Scott, the husband of the B&B’s co-owner duo, entered the tiny Cabbin as Jen and I hauled our armfuls of gear into the space. He quickly set to making us a pot of coffee and began rifling through various maps to answer our inquiries of nearby hikes. With a to-go cup and a couple of folded 8.5”x11” pages littered with trails, Jen and I said our goodbyes and left for the George Washington National Forest to hike to Signal Knob. Though it took us [more than] a couple tries to find the trailhead of the approximately 10-mile loop, when we finally did, we were happy to extricate ourselves from the car and begin our walk in the woods. Researching the Signal Knob loop, I read mixed reviews- some raving about greatness, others thoroughly disappointed. I’ve learned that most hiking reviews need to be taken with a grain of salt; any given hike is what you make it.
The trek up and out to Signal Knob was straight forward with frequent switchbacks and a meandering, winding trail weaving past several vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains. As we turned an ascending bend, I noticed a looming signal tower on an outcrop, I mean, knob ahead- ah, Signal Knob. Got it! Though it was a little late for lunch, Jen and I hunkered down on some snow covered rocks for a cup of tea and Mountain House Sweet and Sour Pork (much tastier than I could have ever anticipated). Conscious of time and starting to get a little chilly in the wind, we packed up my WhisperLite and continued on the loop back to the car.
Scott warned that the backside of the loop was steep at points, but I shrugged the warning off, until we came off of the Signal Knob Fire Road, face to face with what was almost a straight shot ascension. Jen stretched my microspikes on over her boots and I slipped on my running YakTrak chains in preparation for the climb. Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. Was this little rinky dink climb Everest? No. Was it technical? No. But it was steep, so back off. Fortunately, the views through the bare tree canopy were well worth every drop of sweat and aching muscle fiber. With the sun beginning to set, Jen and I hurried our way down the wooded trails descending over the crest of the ridge and back to the car. On the drive back to the Cabbin we caught the most spectacularly colorful sunset over the Shenandoah River. Could two people be any luckier?
From the Cabbin we drove the few mile trip into downtown Front Royal- a quaint little town appealing to locals, hikers, and visitors to Shenandoah National Park alike. At Scott’s recommendation, Jen chose a local bar for dinner for the live music entertainment- entertainment in this case being a very loose term. Though dinner was nothing spectacular, the price was right and the company was good. I also had a good laugh as the server who filled my glass of unsweetened iced tea for the umpteenth time, asked if I’d like another. I quickly apologized, as I usually do, for being such a camel and he shushed my apology and called me a “thirsty flower”. HAHA! Thank you, kind sir, for feminizing my unquenchable thirst for fresh brewed iced tea.
Jen and I headed back to the Cabbin for an early night after dinner. For an hour or more, we sat at the kitchen table in the Cabbin, chatting with Scott, and picking his brain about local history and trail history. He even divulged us with some of the ghost stories of Mountain Home! As he told us about some of the colorful characters who had come to stay at the Cabbin in the previous year, I joked that the Cabbin was a real bargain- for $20 you get a warm bed, a hot shower, breakfast, a tour guide, concierge service, and a therapist!
We retired upstairs to the dorm-style bedroom for some shut eye. Jen reminded me of a little girl at a sleepover; my head was nodding and eyes were drooping, but she was chattering away and storytelling until I fell asleep. I slept as well as I do after any hike, but the coziness and warmth of the loft made extricating my tight calves and shoulders from bed before dawn a challenge. I quickly scurried to dress myself and pack my bag for the morning to the sound of coffee brewing downstairs; Scott had started a pot for us despite the ungodly hour. After some contemplation as to whether we would be best off taking a good snow car with bad tires or a bad snow car with good tires down an unplowed fire road, Jen and I loaded into the Aveo to meet the sunrise over the Piedmont Valley.
With no real trouble, we managed our way down the single-track fire road to the parking area and set out on the Appalachian Trail to Sky Meadows State Park. The sky was a dusky purple gray when we began, but quickly showed reds and oranges and blues as the sun inched into the sky. I caught myself whispering the lyrics of Eddie Vedder’s Big Hard Sun. As we came off the crest of a ridge and began descending into a valley, we rustled a few White Tail deer- seeking refuge from the neighboring State Hunting Grounds, no doubt- out of the underbrush. We walked until we reached a vast opening in the tree line with a view of the Blue Mountains and the Piedmont Valley and the sun erupting over the horizon.
This wasn’t the first sunrise I’ve seen from Nature’s arms. Jen and I conquered Mount Marcy (Adirondack, New York) for sunrise in the fall of 2013 and it was one of the most magnificent, awe-inspiring moments I’ve experienced. I was really excited when Jen made the suggestion of doing a sunrise hike on this trip. The crisp, January morning sunrise followed suit. I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face as we sat on a wooden bench with a geocache box overlooking what only Jen, me, and a herd of fifty deer in the lowlands of the field were experiencing that morning.
The sun rose higher and we set back to hiking, looping through various trails in the park. We came across ruins of a burned down manor home and admired the farm homes sitting in the valley. After a few hours of hiking and exploring, we wound our way back to the parking area to drive back to the Cabbin for a hot breakfast, but not before Jen made a snow angel!
When we arrived back at the Cabbin, Scott, the consummate host, began cooking fried eggs, bacon, and toast for us. We devoured the food and then eagerly followed him on a tour of the main estate of Mountain Home. As I mentioned, Mountain Home predates the Civil War and was home to Samuel Gardner and his three daughters. During renovations, the youngest daughter’s diary was recovered and she indicated that Union soldiers were occupying the downstairs rooms of the home and the “Cabbin”- hence, the two b’s. Scott pointed out various architectural and structural components of the home which were fascinating and told numerous stories and theories about functions of the home in yesteryear. Like much of history, the restoration of Mountain Home seems to be a bit of an information treasure hunt. Because the Home is on the National Historical Registry, its renovations are strictly overseen and Scott and his wife Lisa are on a 5-year timeline for completion. I cannot wait to visit the Cabbin again and to see the finished product of Mountain Home when it is opened as a fully operational B&B.
Looking forward to more wandering in Northern Virginia and with Jen