Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Great Road Trip Gets High

After I had abandoned the idea of a rental along some trendy ocean front location, I just started surfing the web; casting a wide net and open to just about anything until I found a place called Wapiti Woods in Weedville, Pa. (Yes, that's a real place.) They had a perfect little two bedroom cabin available for exactly when I wanted it. I booked Marissa and me for a week. I had no idea what we would do once there, but who really cares, I thought to myself, just look at those beautiful elk!

Therefore, we headed out from Hagerstown on a sunny summer morning, the car loaded with fresh produce from their Farmers Market and groceries from the local store, my sense of calm restored after the hideous Beltway, and headed into north central Pennsylvania toward Route 555, the Elk Trail.

I had grown up around elk, they are magnificent creatures. According to, an adult male is about 600-700 pounds, a female is a dainty 500 pounds, and they stand 4 1/2 to 5 feet tall at the shoulder. If you've never seen one, to give you some perspective, as I fed the largest male in my herd last night, his shoulder came up to roughly my waist, and at his full maturity, he will probably weigh about 200 pounds, maybe 225. They are regal, elegant and not to be trifled with. The elk in the region were introduced there from the Rocky Mountain elk that I saw as a girl. The environs in the Allegheny Mountains are not exactly the same as the rougher, rugged Rockies, but they've done alright for themselves in their adopted home. They look and act as though they belong.  I look back and wonder if somehow I was meant to see that, because it was definitely the first in a long line of dominoes that have fallen that has caused me to make a life altering decision.

Probably I'm reading too much into it, but maybe decide.

Anyway, the actual cabin site is outside of Weedville by a few miles along Route 555, set back off the roadway so it's isolated from the highway, but fairly easy to access from it. There are a cluster of various sized, simple wood cabins that are neat, well maintained and equipped with modern kitchens and a bathroom. Outside each one is a fire pit, and there is an ample supply of logs, split into larger, rougher pieces for outside burning and smaller ones for the iron stove inside. About 20 feet from our cabin, and down a sharp embankment, runs a little river - which one, I have no idea - and across on the other side of the bank, the mountain side raises up, a rail line cut into it. Guests park in a common lot about 100 feet from the cabins and load their belongings into large hand carts to carry into the compound. There is a common building with washing machines, a TV with videos available (there is no television reception there, just like there is no cell phone reception or Internet) and there is a common outdoor sitting area, designed if large groups are renting multiple cabins. During the time we were there, I saw people use the common cabin to do laundry, as did I, but nothing else. The crowd who generally chooses a vacation like this generally spends most of their time in the great outdoors.

The owners are a nice family who live in a very nice home just up the road from where we stayed with their son and their Airedale. The man is who I dealt with, and he learned I was a Steeler fan, so he kept me updated on the contract negotiations with Troy Polamalu that were taking place while we were there, and let me play a bit with his dog, but I could tell he keeps his distance emotionally from the guests to a degree.  I'm sure he doesn't want them showing up at dinner time trying to be best pals. That was fine by us; we weren't looking for a lot of company.

I look back on that time now and realize what we needed, I think, and what we got from it, was downtime. Pure and simple. It was a place to decompress. I remember the look on the proprietor's face when, as I turned the keys back in, he asked me what all we did.  I said not much. He was bemused by that, and it clearly was not the typical answer. There were two whole days where we didn't leave the area. I sat outside and read the entire 6th Harry Potter book. Marissa would sleep. At that point, we had been battling addictions, eating disorders and an increasingly bizarre Mother for more than half a decade. Marissa had almost died on multiple occasions, and she had just turned 18. We were tired. Pure and simple. The quiet of that week was something we hadn't had in years.

The weather was perfect, the first couple of days were rainy and chilly, even at the height of the day, so I kept a small fire burning outside and huddled around it, listening to the sounds of the birds and the chipmunks. I say it was perfect, even on those chilly, rainy days because it was a respite from the unrelenting Texas summer heat. To have to wear a sweater on a July day is beyond words for someone like me. I would probably gripe if I had to do it all the time, but it was a rare and wondrous treat under the circumstances.

I would wander down the river bank and follow it back toward Weedville, where it eventually opens up onto a meadow. Some days, a thick coating of fog would lie over the mountains on either side of me, other days it was crisp and bright. No matter which way I saw it, it was beautiful. Not quite like the Rockies of my youth, and the sweet smell of the grass wasn't as strong as it is in West Virginia, coming in waves on a breeze instead of a pervasive, constant smell, but it definitely worked in a pinch. I felt comfortable there. Sheltered, if you will.

We did venture out most days, taking little day trips here and there, like to the vineyard where I bought a bottle of wine to take back to Mother, promptly breaking it in my car a few miles later when it rolled off the seat. We wandered into Punxsutawney to see the actual famous Phil, who lives at the town library, and have a look around. (Candidly, that place creeps me out a little. That whole ground hog thing, which is that town's life blood from what I can tell, is just sort of weird, and I don’t think it’s enough to sustain it entirely. I saw too many people who looked like they were on the raggedity edge hanging out in the parks to reconcile myself with the quaint little historic fa├žade the town wants you to see. But, they do boast a decent car wash where I finally was able to shampoo the interior of my car and remove the last of the red wine stains and smell!) And, finally, toward the end of the week, we saw what had drawn me there in the first place, the elk that give the area its name.

We packed a picnic dinner and went to an elk viewing station, where several other tourists and a park ranger gathered, the ranger narrating what we were about to see and generally answering questions, trying to look casual and helpful, but I think really there to make sure nobody did anything stupid, like try to a) get close to one and b) shoot one. We were on high ground overlooking a massive meadow about a quarter mile away, watching a modest sized group of elk lazily graze as the sun set on the valley. I thought I was in hog heaven. We finally pulled away and headed back to the cabin as the last of the day's light faded. And that's when I saw the really amazing sight! Elk meandering in people's yards, up along the roadway, just like my deer back home, but five times bigger! I couldn't believe it. How lucky these people were!

I had decided I would talk to Marissa about our plans to move back home on this trip. There was a little ice cream stand just up the road from where we were, so we went up there one afternoon and got a little treat and sat on their patio and talked about it. As we discussed it, I realized for the first time I was conflicted. I was falling in love with this area too. All my life, I had looked back toward the north; now the east was showing me it had everything I had wanted, plus my Steelers too!

And that was all before we hit Pittsburgh.

1 comment:


    apparently I can't post a picture as a comment which is bullshit.. or I just haven't figured out how yet, but yeh I like this shot