He wanted to camp and have an outdoor experience so, on the recommendation of friends, we made Nelson Rocks in West Virginia our destination. It is a private wilderness area with a canopy tour, essentially a network of zip lines through the woods.
I was thrilled that he wanted to camp, but also apprehensive. I don't think I have ever been camping when I was the sole adult responsible. I have been with friends and with Gabe, but this time out, it was all on me to make sure we had all of the supplies we needed and to be the expert for getting us there, setting up the tent, making fires, and cooking meals.
Here is my suggestion if you venture down that way: buy a map. There is no satellite service so my GPS and cell phone did not work.
Or you can do what I did: get lost. I had printed out directions and a map before I left home, but one of the highways on the route I had planned was closed off just before it ended. There were big barricades across the road and a detour sign. We followed the detour sign but at the next intersection, there were no more instructions. We were on our own.
It is amazing how reliant I have become on that phone to get me places and to call for help. We headed in the direction we thought we should go, and by the time we pulled over to get help the old fashioned way -- by buying a map and having an actual face-to-face human interaction -- we were far off course. The woman who helped us at that stop was extremely helpful, though, and we eventually plotted our way back on a paper map with her borrowed highlighter.
So much for my role as the responsible adult. In the end, I think it was good for Oscar to see that we could get out of our pickle without any electronic devices, and I know it was good for me to remember how I used to get around unplugged.
We eventually made our way to our campsite in the dark, pitched our tent, made a fire, and cooked our dinner. All way later than we planned, but fun nevertheless.
The next morning, we toured Smokehole Caverns where we were reminded of the difference between stalagtites (which hang down from the ceiling) and stalagmites (which build up from the floor), drank from an artesian well, and experienced total darkness.
We lunched at the base of Seneca Rocks, watching climbers clinging to the rock face. The topography reminded me more of Yosemite than it did of other parts of West Virginia.
In the afternoon, we did the canopy tour. We rode a bus to the top of the mountain and then flung ourselves back down, sailing from tree to tree on a series of zip lines and suspended bridges. It was more beautiful and peaceful than I had expected and also less rigorous.
We stayed overnight one more night, enjoying cooking in the daylight and sitting by the fire playing games and chatting into the night.
And, really, that was the highlight. Sitting together, staring up at the trees or the stars, watching the fire, talking about life, memories, planning the future, or just sitting and not talking at all. In the car, we listened to music and Oscar snapped photos of things he found interesting while telling me about whatever was passing by that caught his interest "That high school won the football championships in 2004." "Happy birthday, Ruth, who turned 101 today." I am incredibly lucky to have such a funny, smart, son who is really great company. I soaked in as much of that as I could.
Our friend Andrea recommended a restaurant that we tried on the way home, The Little Grill Collective in Harrisonburg, Virginia, a homey restaurant with good food and an even better vibe.
There are lots of other things to do in that area, and I would love to go back to hike to the top of Seneca Rocks and swim in the swimming hole at the base. I'd also love to check out Dolly Sods Wilderness Area, and we heard good things about Grand Caverns. Shenandoah National Park is not too far away either and, among other things, it offers the challenge of Old Rag.
Nelson Rocks also has a Via Ferrata, an Italian term meaning "iron way," so named because it is a series of fixed anchors for climbing up a rock face. The minimum age for that is 13 years old. Maybe we'll be back for Oscar's pre-high school trip.