my daughter’s birthday weekend in Virginia. I let my imagination gleefully run with the imminent opportunities to create “bumps in the night” while floating down the James River in Virginia with my favorite coven of wild women to see whose imagination would run most rampant, who would scream first, who would scream loudest as we kayaked under a full blue moon. If for some unforeseen reason no opportunity presented itself to create a bit of havoc, then surely our next day’s hike on the Chessie Trail wouldn’t disappoint. Well, so much for that.
Despite a questionable weather forecast, we made the short drive to Buchanan, VA where the Twin River Outfitters awaited our arrival. After watching a brief video on water safety and ensuring that everyone was properly outfitted with life vests, our river guides offered us the last-minute chance to opt out - rain was indeed forecast for the evening and the trip might prove to be less than expected.
Better-seasoned kayakers and canoers were in our company. They were the ones wearing arrogant demeanors and tee-shirts from previous kayaking adventures, the ones sporting specialized water shoes, the ones who brought their own oars- nothing would deter them from the trip. They talked amongst themselves while we tadpoles strained to catch any information we might deem useful to our impending trip. We heard their comments on that night’s weather - “...after all, it’ll be nothing more than a little rain if it ever shows. We went down Class 4 rapids last weekend...” The coven unanimously agreed that the “devil should take the hindmost” and piled into a repurposed school bus for the short yet winding trip to a point where we’d launched our kayaks and canoes onto the James.
After affixing glow sticks to the cleats on our kayaks, in we went. Having heard the guide’s advice to immediately paddle to the right bank of the river upon launch, my kayak headed a swift and dead left. No amount of furious paddling would extricate me from the river’s current, and I promptly went sideways smack into a rock formation. At least I didn’t capsize the kayak, but I had to wait briefly for the guide to step - yes, I said step - out of his kayak to put my craft aright and give me a gentle push. I’d have bet good money that the river was deep at that point. Humiliating? A little. The hoots from the coven bounced off of both riverbanks but their cheers also met my ears as I finally made some progress to meet up with them downriver.
Dusk quickly turned into dark night as we paddled the five miles back to camp. Rain clouds obscured the full moon and we all became thankful for our glow sticks despite their casting what could be woefully inadequate light. What had started as a soft drizzle had turned into a persistent rainfall. At one point a disembodied voice asked me, “Are you my husband?” I replied, “Nope!” and then giggled to myself. I couldn’t at first discern whose canoe bumped into the back of my kayak but quickly figured it out when I heard from the darkness, “Paddle UP! Why do they let these idiots on the river?” I heard the guide’s authoritative voice warn everyone to again paddle a hard right to avoid a fallen tree in the middle of the water...but I heard it too late. Thankfully, I was able to push myself away from the tree and didn’t require the guide’s help once again. We straggled and dripped safely back to camp, roasted s’mores over a welcome fire and warmed up with cups of hot chocolate. Believe it or not, I was the second craft to pull into basecamp There’s nothing like a hard-driving rain, a bruised ego and smelling home’s camp fire to motivate a soul!
The next day the coven hiked all 7.2 miles of the Chessie Trail on a gloriously warm and sunny day. At the trail’s beginning, signs warned us that we’d cross personal property along the way and asked that we please be respectful, to please not stray from the trail itself in order to meander on said personal property, and to leave the beautiful path as we’d found it (i.e., pick up your own trash). About half way through the hike we encountered cows. Large cows. Very large cows with small calves. It’s amazing how abruptly our constant chatter ceased upon spotting the first one - how gingerly and respectfully we crept past their unblinking stares, how completely oblivious I was to the giant pile of cow poop I’d be forced to wear on my shoes for the rest of the hike.
I’d take that trip all over again given the chance, river rocks, fallen trees, cow pies and all. I didn’t even mind unintentionally providing the weekend’s comedic relief. It’s hard to be too full of oneself when you’re surrounded with so much love and laughter.
Cow Pie Cookies
2 cups white sugar
½ cup milk
½ cup unsalted butter
3 cups quick-cooking oatmeal
⅔ cup chunky peanut butter
5 tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a medium-sized saucepan, combine sugar, milk and butter. Slowly bring to a boil and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add rest of ingredients. Mix well and immediately drop by spoonfuls onto waxed paper. Cool on waxed paper and store in airtight container.
Finally, a haiku to remind you to enjoy the season, whatever it hands you.
the tug of red clay between my toes blue moon