April 22, 2016
I’m a planner. We’ve discussed this. I’m happiest when I get to organize, when there’s a to-do list, and when I can track my accomplishments. I get frustrated and disappointed when my hard work is undone by things that are outside of my control. But I’m also the person you want on your side in a crisis. Change is good. I’m flexible. Two opposite people living in my little virgo body. The struggle is real.
We like to take trips with the dogs. The Outer Banks, Asheville, Woodstock (which I neglected to blog about but I’ll get back to)… this year is no different. For our very first “just us three” trip, Zo, James and I set our sights on Charlottesville, VA. We heard it was a great place to hang out: funky, historic, walkable, pet-friendly. I rented a house. I made reservations for dinners. We made “excursion” plans. And then we changed them on the fly.
See, on our way to Charlottesville, we planned to take a slight detour along Skyline Drive and take Zo for a hike. Our travel plans coincided with the commencement of year-long activities celebrating the Centennial of the National Park Service. We were excited to hike newly refurbished, blazed trails; to shake off the city and work and stress and enjoy the fresh, clean air.
In the days leading up to our trip, the news began reporting of a wildfire along Skyline. We tracked the fire and changed our route. Every day in the week leading up to the trip, we tracked and changed and tracked and changed. Thousands of acres of forest were destroyed. Skyline closed. Our big “WE’RE ON VACATION” moment came to a halt.
So I stressed and planned. The morning of our departure, I nooked into the corner of the couch, laptop perched on my knees, looking for solid hikes do-able with a dog. I hounded James with links and maps and “what abouts.” He told me to calm down. I scowled a lot. Zozo slept. And then I found it: Humpback Rocks in Crozet, VA. 45 minutes from Charlottesville along the Blue Ridge Mountains.
We packed the car, strapped the pup in, and hit the road. I felt better.
And then the rain started. It rained fairly steadily the entire drive. When it wasn’t raining, it was misting. But I was going to hike, dammit. And so, we did.
Because of the rain, the trail was ours. The site reads it’s a little over two miles and strenuous. You climb 1,240 feet. I don’t know what we expected. No, that’s a lie, I do. We expected strenuous to mean this:
And it was that. And more… much more.
The three of us are stubborn. James delightfully (for me) goes along with my terrible ideas. Zozo is part goat, scampering and hopping along like a fearless puppy (he’s 9). The rain wouldn’t stop us. And the final view… totally, absolutely worth the stress.
Covered in mud and more damp than dry, we made our way back down the mountain. Someone fell on their tush (hint, it wasn’t me). We piled back in and made the drive to Charlottesville. More on that later.
(yes, I’ve been horrible about completing our Asheville series. I’m not going to offer explanations or excuses. You might not believe me anyway.)
After our trip to the Biltmore, and wandering humans-only through downtown Asheville, we fell in love with how walkable and pet-friendly this city is. Storefronts have bowls of water or treats on hand to spoil four-legged shoppers. There’s a bookstore/wine bar that not only welcomes lupine literati, but has an entire menu dedicated to their sampling pleasure. This place is awesome.
We knew a lot of places would be shut down to celebrate Turkey Day, and that was fine with us. After an early season dusting overnight, we are happy to have a quiet day of eating and imbibing. But first, we need to earn our meal, and the dogs need to burn off a little energy.
Bundled and leashed, we braved the cold to test Asheville’s Urban Trail. Part walking tour, part art installation, the Urban Trail is a 1.7 mile stroll through 30 landmarks highlighting people places and events clutch to Asheville’s history. We were among the few out and about, and we relished the opportunity to take our time, get turned around (we were horrible at map navigation) (both of us), and enjoy the quiet of the city. Oh the smells! Oh the sights! Oh the strangers commenting on our awesome puppy attire!
We were drawn to Asheville for a number of reasons: artsy community, excellent food, walkable, and dog-friendly.
Since we went the week leading up to Thanksgiving, James still had to check in with work. To keep our dogs out of his hair while on a conference call, we leashed up and headed out to the Biltmore Estate.
Holy cow is that place incredible. Under construction from 1889-1895, George Vanderbilt’s 3,000 acre estate boats of “four acres of floor space, including 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces.” So, your typical country cottage.
While dogs aren’t allowed inside the main house, they are permitted to roam the gardens, hike the trails, and get a coffee.
[Side note: If you want to walk the estate and then tour the mansion, the Biltmore does have first-come/first-serve kennels where dogs can curl up with fresh water and protection from the elements. We didn’t opt for that feature during our tour– first came the adventure with the dogs, then I dropped the furries back and snagged James for our human’s-only tour in the house.]
Two dogs, one Kari and a pocketful of treats left our little mountain respite for this expansive tourist draw in Asheville. We had a dusting of snow that morning, so MJ was wearing one of her (my) favorite hoodies to keep her warm. We got more comments about the dog-in-outfit during our walk!
We got to the estate as they opened for the day, so the trails were rather un-peopled and we could take our time with sniffs and changing directions. If I read the map correctly, we wandered over 5 miles of the estate, which wore everyone out and drained the pocket of treats.
James and I have started planning our out-of-town escapes around things we can do with the dogs; rather, places we can go with the dogs.
We’ve taken them to the Outer Banks. We take them on overnights to relatives’ houses. And now, they’ve been to Asheville.
Through homeaway.com, We rented a wonderful converted barn just a few miles outside of downtown Asheville, NC, for a Thanksgiving escape. Pet-friendly with wooded trails, lots of sniffs and radiant flooring.
We woke up our second morning to find a dusting of mountain snow!
We ate, we napped, we went on adventures (you’ll have to wait for those), and we broke out of our travel crate.
Oh, and there were bears. We saw them. Well, one. Our renters book was full of helpful information, like “Will a bear attack my dog?”
Asheville is a great, walkable town. And we have the pictures to prove it. Next time, on Serial.
One set, men’s golf clubs.
Two portable dog crates– or as we call them, winnebagos.
Four dog bowls.
28 ziplock bags of kibble with measured portions, labeled with each pup’s name and meal (breakfast or dinner).
2 pairs of doggles.
4 leashes and 2 extra collars (in case two get wet).
One small suitcase (for human stuff).
One foldable garment bag (for human stuff).
One canvas tote with snacks for the car ride, including dog treats.
One canvas tote with dog toys.
One laptop bag.
One page of driving directions.
Two dogs, harnessed and buckled into their respective spots in the backseat.
Two humans, also buckled into their respective seats.
Bye bye house; see you in a week.
We start the adventure by taking the pups up to the local dog park to burn off some energy before hitting the road. They’re so keyed up about the trip, they’re not interested in playing with any other dogs. MJ spends most of her park time pretending to be shy, and Zozo finds a tennis ball, flops down and starts nomming on it. (Stop #1)
Alright then, back to the car.
We buckle everyone back in, find a playlist on the iPod (a musical, natch), and start on our should-be five hour drive to the Outer Banks. Zozo is a trooper on long road trips. He typically falls asleep as we’re pulling out of the neighborhood and has to be woken up for a pit stop. This is MJ’s first trip that exceeds an hour. Since she sometimes gets carsick, the backseat and floor is covered in puppy pads and towels. Perhaps I’ve over-prepared.
MJ is content to look out the window while sitting on Zozo’s snoring head for the first couple of hours, and then she’s antsy (or bored). We find a rest stop and James goes in to get us food while I leash the furries up for a potty break. We dine al fresco, then hop back in the car. Zozo falls right back to sleep and MJ sighs, flops down and closes one eye. Just. One. (Stop #2)
We’re making tremendous time, and just as we cross the state line into North Carolina, Shifty MaJee gets restless. We pull over for gas, and I run her out. Zozo can’t be bothered to get out of the car. (Stop #3)
We make it forty five more minutes before she’s had enough. No more snout pressed to the window. No more sitting quietly, or as close to quietly as an 7 month old puppy can possibly be. She’s had it. We pull over. (Stop #4)
It’s not optimal. We push the passenger seat back as far as it will possibly go, and then recline it. I settle into the car and throw a towel over my legs. James helps MJ into the car, where she climbs up onto my lap and plops down. He buckles us both into the seat, making sure she’s harnessed back in and engaging the seatbelt lock. Neither of us is going anywhere. She falls asleep. So do my legs.
45 minutes later, 6.5 hours after we left home, we pull into the driveway of the beach house. It’s the dead of night and everyone is drained. We grab what we need immediately– the crates, the dog food for the morning– and climb the stairs into the house. James returns to the car for our suitcase and I wander to the kitchen to get some water. Expecting the clicking stampede of curious furbabies behind me, I’m startled when I realize the house is quiet. No prancing noises. No exploratory sniffs. Just the whir of the airconditioner.
I dreadfully walk back to the bedroom.
I’m so glad we brought the winnebagos.
we’re suiting up for an adventure, so there won’t be a full post today! have a safe weekend, and we’ll see you next week.
mj and zozo