Our September trip to Virginia didn’t exactly go according to plan. During the planning phase, we were unsuccessful in finding a camping spot at Smith Mountain Lake, so we decided to try an Army Corps of Engineers campground, which is something we have talked about quite a bit. They’re typically well maintained and low-cost. Enter Philpott Lake, located approximately 40 miles southwest of where we initially hoped to camp.
Andy purchased an inflatable two person kayak just prior to the trip, so we were able to take it out on its maiden voyage. The boat and seats quickly inflate with foot-pump, and it all flattens down into a compact carry bag. The paddles also break down into smaller pieces. We reconfigured our outside storage to fit everything more easily. We also purchased new chairs for this trip, as one of our old ones started to break on our Pennsylvania trip.
Our first stop was to Ridge Valley Alpacas, a Harvest Host, in Fairfield, VA for one night of dry camping. I don’t know about you, but I think an alpaca farm is one of the coolest places to visit. We learned so much about the animals and farm. I took some photos, we fed some of the friendlier alpacas*, I pet one of their huge farm dogs, and we had a couple of nice conversations with the owners. We also purchased some beautiful items from their store, and they let us use our Blackstone grill on the store’s covered porch since it was raining. It was a perfect spot to grill up some burgers and smiley fries, have a beer, and take in the beautiful view of rolling hills and farms all around.
* Apparently, personality wise, alpacas are more like cats and llamas are more like dogs. Alpacas, while generally curious, are more aloof. However, llamas are much more willing to walk up to people and interact. Llamas will also spit.
After our alpaca farm stay, we drove a few more hours south to Philpott Lake. We arrived before checkout, and our space was still occupied, so we backed into the spot next door and had lunch. By the time we were finished eating, our site was empty, so we popped over there. It was really nice to have both water and power on-site. We still have yet to camp at a full hook-up site (water, power, sewer). The campground and facilities were very well-maintained and clean, and the Park Rangers were really friendly and kept a watchful eye over the campground.
During our stay, we biked, hiked, and kayaked. We also experienced a full day of torrential rains (remnants from Hurricane Sally), Stevie was nearly attacked by another dog, and we found a bunch of drugs in the woods during a hike. After being eaten alive by a mystery bug, we rolled up camp a day early.
Kayaking was a lot of fun. We were surprised at how comfortable the boat was, and how at ease Stevie was with the whole situation. She put her front feet on the bow of the boat and stood there while we paddled. I had to grab her life-jacket handle a couple of times because she seemed inclined to jump in. I thought putting her in the water briefly next to the boat might dissuade her from attempting to get in herself, but it just seemed to encourage her.
Though the kayak doesn’t move as quickly as a single person or hard sided kayak, we all really enjoyed exploring from on the water. We saw quite a few fish jump while we kayaked, and toured around a couple of the islands within Philpott Lake. There were a bunch of folks out fishing and tooling around in other boats, canoes, and kayaks.
On our second full day, we encountered a few hiccups. We decided to take a roughly 6-mile hike on a wooded trail. Rather than go the full 10-miles, we decided to jump onto a fire road that looped back around. The trails were covered in cobwebs, so we picked up some walking sticks to sweep them away. Around the 4-mile mark, we came to a fork. We knew that we needed to jump off onto the fire road at some point, but the path veering left was partially blocked by an old, gutted Mercedes. It looked ominous and I didn’t really want to walk by it, so we turned right. Andy noticed something off the trail in the brush, and I walked over to check it out. A zippered pouched was laying on the ground, it’s contents strewn about–alcohol pads, dozens of syringes, two metal spoons, a vial full of clear liquid, and a couple flashlights. I poked it with my stick, and decided we’d better check whether we were headed in the right direction. My phone didn’t have service, but luckily one of Andy’s biking apps showed us where we were. Turns out that we did need to walk by that ransacked car. The fire road was deeply rutted clay that eventually led to this pretty cool little cemetery. We stopped for a bit to check it out, and then continued on.
The road led us to the tail end of a rural, residential street. I noticed a woman walking to her mailbox at the opposite end of the road where we were headed. She had a large dog on a long chain-link leash in tow. I wasn’t worried until I saw an even larger unleashed dog start to follow the lady. Stevie, for some unknown reason, really likes to try to provoke big dogs. I asked Andy to hang back a bit to give us time to assess the situation.
We didn’t get a chance to decide what we were going to do though. When the woman turned to see her unleashed dog and and us with a small dog, she completely panicked. She screamed at me to pick my dog up immediately. Andy stepped between us and the dog as a buffer. Meanwhile, the dog was carefully trying to slip past Andy to get to Stevie. I was so worried the dog was going to jump on me and bite me to get to Stevie, or rip her from my arms, or both. You’re never supposed to pick up your dog when an aggressive dog is coming at you. After what seemed like 10 minutes of the lady screaming at her husband to get the dog and screaming at the dog to leave us alone, the dog was retrieved and walked back to the house… where the husband promptly let go of its collar. I can’t make this stuff up. The dog went around to the back side of the house and started to follow us down the road. I didn’t put Stevie down until we got to our campground around the corner.
Once we got back to the site, we had lunch and I tried to calm my nerves. While we ate, I noticed Stevie was biting at her feet, so I took a look at her feet, legs, and belly. She had barely visible red dots all over her. I started to pick them off, but there had to be thousands. We determined they were likely chiggers, so we set-up our folding table next to the outdoor shower, and Stevie got to be the very first one to use it. Unfortunately, she still seemed irritated after her bath. I sent Andy up to the little store outside of the campground to see if they had anything we could use to treat her. We definitely didn’t want to bring bugs into the RV. He returned with some Epsom salt. I kid you not, it took both of us to hold her in a small plastic tub full of warm water and the salt that came just to over her shoulders. I think a few folks driving by got a laugh; we were certainly laughing at the ridiculousness of it all.
After we were done torturing the dog, Andy went to explore paths on his bike. I decided to stay close and ride around the campground. We both returned, and then took showers. Later that night, we started to notice tiny bites. They seemed to multiply day after day, even on the day we had to stay inside due to the rain. I stripped the bed immediately and put clean bedding on. We wiped every surface and made sure all of our hiking clothing were contained in a laundry bag, but still more bites appeared daily. In total, Andy had about 250. I probably had 20. And Miss Stevie? She had none. Not a single bite.
I spent a significant time during the rainstorm looking up bug bites and reading about every kind of tiny, biting thing. We never figured it out. The bite patterns and size didn’t make sense to be chiggers, though they certainly itched and hurt in the same way. Since we were frustrated from itching and not sleeping well as a result, we decided to pack-up camp and head home. We definitely revised our must-have items for future trips to include cortisone, flea/tick bath, and dog shampoo.
Since it would have been too taxing to drive straight home, we decided to stop in Strasburg, VA, where my brother and his family live. We initially called the Harvest Host we were supposed to stay at 15-minutes from my brother’s house. They couldn’t accommodate us early because they were preparing for a wedding, so we spoke to Box Office Brewery and asked if it would be okay if we stayed in their lot overnight. It worked out well because it’s a public lot and the fire department is in the same area, so we felt very safe there. My brother was working when we arrived, but his wife and kids joined us for dinner and ice cream. It was so good to see them all, and overall a really fun, impromptu stop.
How’s Stevie Mix Doing?
Stevie is our little road warrior and adventure dog. She’s no longer rattled by the noises the RV makes when we hit bumps in the road. She’s typically curled up in her bed (harnessed in) while we’re driving, but occasionally she’ll get onto the couch and look out the window at the passing landscape. Once we get to our camp site though, she doesn’t want to miss out on anything. She tends to skip her afternoon naps and is pretty tired by bedtime. As a result, she seems content to stay in the RV and rest while we ride our bikes. We were pretty surprised at how well she took to being in the kayak. The night we inflated the boat in our living room to see what it was like, she jumped right in when we called her. We expected a little hesitation once it was in the water, but she didn’t have any issue at all with it. I’m happy that we can bring her with us on those outings.
Where Are We Headed Next?
We’re looking forward to sampling some bourbon. After watching Neat: The Story of Bourbon on Hulu, we were really excited to venture down to check it out. We’re also planning to visit Mammoth Cave National Park, which will be the first national park we tour in Homie Roam-o.
Wishing you all a happy autumn!