As Emily mentioned, those of us who were driving south two weeks ago were headed into a ferocious storm system.  Given the killer tornadoes Alabama just endured, you have to wonder just what the heck is going on with the weather systems in this country.

Our family’s plan was this.  Start the college tour week by staying in a cabin owned by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club for three nights, then move on to hotels.  However, as we drove down on Day One, it was clear that the gods were angry.  Rain lashed.  Winds howled.  Hailstones pelted.  And outside the window, we saw  freshly snapped trees, downed wires and overflowing streams.

When we finally found our remote cabin-access route, there was a huge orange sign forbidding entry:

So we pointed the car towards Charlottesville, VA, and found a lovely Best Western (the best Best Western ever), complete with snowy white fluffy duvets, “log pillows,” and spa-ish bathroom.  Also taking shelter from the storm at the BBW were Boy Scouts who had bumbled out of their cabin in search of a board game in the nearest town, only to find their access cut off, and other college-touring families (easily ID’d by the little kids wearing brand-new college T-shirts and their long-suffering teenage siblings).

On Day Two, we climbed Old Rag mountain, and found the descent to be absolutely interminable.  At one point the sign said “Parking Area 2.5 miles.”  After what seemed like 5 hours, we were still trudging towards the promised land where our Jetta was parked.   Finally back in the car and thoroughly exhausted, we nevertheless drove to the cabin road and found it open.  Frankly, I was dreading the .75 mile pack-in with heavy cooler, four sleeping bags, four pillows, and meal provisions.  As it happens, this time we were turned back by locals who pointed out that the bridge was washed away and the rushing stream was impassable. 

Back to a hotel, a different one this time.

On Day Three, after Hugh’s UVA visit, we once again attempted to take possession of John’s Rest Cabin for the third and final night.  This time the car easily splashed through the now-tamed stream, and after parking on a gravel pile, Hugh and Chris set off on a trial expedition, leaving Malcolm and me at the car.  After an hour, they returned with soaking wet boots and socks.  The stream was still roaring, they reported, and the cabin inaccessible to everyone except Bear Grills.

Off to another hotel, and from then on, the trip went as planned.  Visit colleges, check into hotels, eat at restaurants (but not the Shoney’s advertising Frog Legs in Harrisonburg.)

So it was a complete treat to return home on Friday and find a good surprise:  our friend Penny and her daughter Hollis, who were visiting PA schools from their home in Boston, had arrived at our house before us.  They had come in, turned on the heat, cleaned the fridge, gone to the grocery store, and started dinner for us…AND Penny made me a beautiful beaded yoga bracelet.

It was like being the First Family, returning home to find the household staff had been busy making everything ship-shape before Air Force One touched down.  The height of luxury, and the perfect end to a trip that had taken many twists and turns.  

Hollis & Hugh, college hunters.

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