First Day, 2021

It's the first day of 2021. It's been cold, wet, and dreary all day, but I don't mind. Claytor Lake is beautiful in the fog, our state park cabin is warm and cozy, and a rainy day lends itself to reading, writing, and playing cards. 

We left Richmond a few days ago, on Tuesday, December 29. The amount of stuff the two of us pack for a 5-day outing is beyond belief, but we managed to cram it all into the van and still had room for two dog beds laid out flat on the floor. This is the first time we've taken John's black lab twins to stay with us at a cabin. We've brought them on plenty of day outings, but never overnight, and never in the van. They settled onto their beds without any fuss. We took two walk/potty breaks on the way to Claytor Lake State Park, which was a lot of fun for them – new trails, new smells! 

We stopped at a convenience store near the park; I masked up and ran in to pick up some eggs. Although the door bears the standard pandemic sign saying that masks are required, the two staff members and a customer I saw in there were maskless. I made a mental note to report the place to the Department of Health. 

We got to the park after dark, and were delighted to find that the back porch, overlooking the lake, is screened in and pet-proof. We put the dogs out there temporarily while loading everything in. We built a fire in the wood-burning fireplace, rearranged the cabin furniture to accommodate the dog beds, and made up our own bed. (You have to bring your own linens to the state park cabins now, since Covid-19). Dinner was a breeze; we just reheated the leftovers from the feast we had for Christmas dinner, which John had picked up at a place called Stump's Pig and Pint. The dogs settled right in to their new surroundings, unlike when we had them over at my house, where they always seemed on edge, probably in part due to my belligerent cat.

Later in the night, we took the dogs out for a walk. We only meant to go for a short walk to get their business done so we could sleep in the next morning, but it was such a lovely night, we kept going. The moon was full and the sky was cloudless, and we could see quite well without the assistance of a flashlight. We glimpsed a skunk, and made a wide berth around it. At one point we came across a herd of about seven deer, and the dogs nearly burst out of their fur with excitement. Not much farther after that, we got to the edge of a little inlet, and gazed across the water at a gazebo and a tree festooned with holiday lights. And then we headed back to our home away from home. 

On Wednesday after brunch, I did a little training session with the dogs; we've been working on improving their on-leash behavior. After that we took them on a loop hike of about 2 miles, which started a short walk from our cabin and featured a scenic view of the lake.

In the late afternoon we ventured into the town of Fairlawn to pick up a bunch of groceries and some firewood. We are making full use of the fireplace! Dinner was again a low-maintenance affair, since we had lasagna left over from Christmas Eve. I made a fresh salad and garlic bread to go with it. Before bed time we took another long walk with the dogs in the moonlight. 

Yesterday, the last day of 2020, was probably the dogs' best day EVER, and one of our best days, too. For starters, the early morning looked like this:

After a short walk on one of the Claytor Lake trails and brief exploration of one of the campgrounds, we drove for about an hour to the Cascade Falls trail head in Jefferson National Forest. The trail there is a 4-mile loop, with 66-ft falls at the far end.

It was a moderately challenging hike, so gorgeous, and very well worth the hour-long drive and the $3 parking fee.

On the drive back, the pooches were sacked out on their beds, exhausted. 

We realized in the evening that we did not have enough wood to reliably keep a fire going that night. And the park office was closed, so we couldn't buy any here. But while walking through that campground earlier in the day, we had discovered a bundle of unused firewood under the picnic table at one of the yurts. The campground has been closed for months, so no one was going to be claiming the wood. We went out in the dark to pick up the abandoned bundle, which was all we needed to supplement what we already had. 

Our New Year's Eve dinner was steamed crab legs, a decadent treat we indulge in on special occasions maybe once or twice a year. As sides, we had a crusty baguette and corn on the cob. Everything was slathered in melted butter, and delicious. We had some beers, and some celebratory pineapple-coconut rum drinks. We took the dogs out for another long walk, and this time went all the way out to the gazebo. We reached it just before the timer turned off the holiday lights for the night. When we got back, it was about 25 minutes till midnight. I had a miniature bottle of champagne gifted to me by my friend Rebecca, and we used that to ring in the new year. There may or may not be video evidence of a drunken rendition of “Auld Land Syne”. 

This morning when I got up, it was raining pretty hard, so taking the dogs out to pee was a drag, but thankfully they were quick about it. I did my yoga routine, made a pot of coffee, and then got to work on brunch. There was some crab meat left over from the night before, so I made a fancy bacon-crab-cheddar omelet, along with spicy potatoes, fresh tomatoes, and a fruit salad. It's been a fairly uneventful but relaxing day, with a cribbage match as a highlight.

We're all a little restless from lack of exercise today, but the weather is supposed to be nice again tomorrow, and I've already picked out a new place for us to hike: a cluster of trails at Pandapas Pond recreation area.