I’m very excited that my piece “Hiking with Stonewall” has been published in the Sonderers Magazine. Check it out here: https://sonderers.com/spring-nature/hiking-with-stonewall
Our next trip was Washington DC. We were there for a wedding but we spent all of our free time visiting museums and hiking. Overall, it was a good trip but the first day of the trip was a bit more exciting than we had originally anticipated.
It started a bit rough when our checked bag on Frontier was returned to us covered in sticky green goo. We think someone’s mouthwash leaked from their bag into ours. Many of our clothes were stained bright green. We tried talk to Frontier but after an hour of arguing, they did nothing. They claimed that the stains were normal wear and tear. Having flown 100s of times, I can assure you that this was the first time this had ever happened to us. If it were something in our bag that leaked, that would be our fault. This was not the case. We also learned that we had four hours to make a complaint but the staff of Frontier at the airport refused to file the complaint and were unsympathetic and frankly rude. I tried calling their Customer service line, which was a joke. I first connected to “Complaints and Complements”, but when I told the representative what happened, he informed me that he was just reservations and could do nothing. He transferred me to the correct department and was told my the automated system that there was a hold time of an hour. So I stayed on hold for over 1 hour and 18 minutes until my phone battery gave out. We will never fly Frontier again. Ever.
After this fruitless battle with the machinations of Frontier, we proceeded with our plans to go to Virginia to visit Civil War battlefields. We first stopped by a BBQ place that looked promising. I love BBQ; I really can’t get enough of it. The sign had a pig in a chef’s hat holding a knife. I ended up ordering some Carolina BBQ, which was delicious. I had some corn bread on the side and hush puppies. Very tasty. We then decided to head to Chancellorsville to check out the battlefield there. That was where Stonewall Jackson was accidentally shot and later died from those wounds.
When we got out of the car, it was delightfully warm. Steam was actually coming off the pavement and the roof of the Welcome Center. We wandered around the little museum there. We learned about “War Trees” that were trees that had gotten hit by a cannon ball (and maybe bullet) that just stayed in the tree. I hope there is a metal song somewhere called “War Trees.”
We took a short hike around the Visitor Center to see the memorials built to Stonewall Jackson. There was a newer one that looked fairly standard. And then there was an old one that had aged badly.
Then we began the longer hike through the battlefield. We had been told it was 3.5 miles which sounded perfect. We were surrounded by tall trees with a green undergrowth that made it look a little prehistoric. We kept finding frogs hanging out on or near the path. We then saw a deer running through the woods. Wonderfully pastoral. We also found battlements built by the soldiers for the war.
As we were about 1/3 of the way through the hike, we heard lightning. I inquired if this was something we should be concerned about but we thought that we’d be fine. But then we encountered a clearing when the rains came. It was light rain at first but then it became an all out downpour. The rains were unrelenting and there was no place to hide. Upon reflection, we should have immediately turned back when the rains came. But we didn’t.
As we wandered along the paths, the water began rising. And then the lightning sounded a little too close for comfort. At one point, we smelled burning that suggested lightning had struck a tree not too far away from us. We could hear the cracks of lightning and the thunder. I was rather concerned about the rising water; would it be conductive? But we couldn’t stay put, there was no place to take cover, especially under trees struck by lightning. There was even a turtle swimming in the hiking path, which would have been cool if I hadn’t been freaked out. I also tried to hope that nothing else was in the water, namely snakes. At one point, I actually saw lightning strike a tree about 20 feet in front of me. That was absolutely terrifying. My instincts kicked in and told me to get the hell out of the forest. So I started walking faster through this never-ending hiking path to find our car. I don’t know how long we were in the storm but it was the longest and most miserable hike I’d ever been on. I’m really glad this was not my first experience hiking since it would have made me swear off it forever. But fear not, I’ll definitely go back.
When we finally got back to the safety of the car, I was relieved we had survived. I never want to hike with a thunderstorm nearby again. It wasn’t thrilling. It was nice to be inside out of the rain. We were drenched to the bone; nothing was dry on our bodies. And that’s when we assessed our electronics. I had inexplicably decided to take my cell phone and two cameras with me on the hike. I asked my friend to hang on to my good camera under his thick jacket with his own fancy camera. Thankfully, they seemed okay. Kudos to him! My other camera didn’t look good and my cell phone was in bad shape. All of us were in the same boat with the phones.
We stopped at the first Target to purchase towels, clothing (since we had green stained clothes), and snacks. After our harrowing experience, I decided to buy Cotton Candy Oreos. That was a good decision. If you ate only one side with the filling, it tasted like Cotton Candy should. We demolished them within two days.
I was super excited to check into our room in Maryland. We discarded all the wet clothing. My fiancé discovered that the green goo did come out so at least our clothing wasn’t ruined. Our suitcase wasn’t in good shape and a purse of mine had stains on the back. But given that the fiancé had packed a white suit for the wedding, we were damn lucky.
After hanging out all the clothing to dry, we decided to check out Silver Springs. We were in the downtown, which seemed full of chain stores. We found a Nando Chicken, which is a South African chain that is about to open in Chicago. We opted for it since it was different from the usual chains nearby. It was rather tasty. I ordered chicken with a mango lime sauce. They have a bunch of sauces on the side that you can try in addition to what you ordered. I was fond of the lemon one. And the Peach Sangria was what the doctor ordered. What a day.
So that’s all for now!
We set off for our afternoon drive. Just outside the gates of the lodge, there was a small colony of meerkats. Three of them. They were so adorable. They came out to check out the truck. At different points, all three of them ended up underneath the parked truck, which was a bit nerve-wracking. One of them had been hand reared so he was very comfortable with humans. He rubbed himself against the tire of the truck. Then he started to dig where the truck was dripping water. So cute. The rangers were trying to catch them to bring them back into the conservation area set aside for them. They explained that there weren’t enough meerkats for them to survive by themselves.
Then we were off to see the rhinos. They can’t put tracking collars on the rhinos since poachers can use the frequency to hunt them. Horrible. So we had to hope that we could find one of them at a favorite haunt. As we were driving by another watering hole, my friend shouted, “There he is.” She had turned around and had seen this incredible brown colored beast grazing. It was a black rhino covered in mud. We kept our distance from him (all the guides knew the comfort level of all the animals). But the rhino decided to trot off into the bush. I feel incredibly lucky to have seen a rhino in the wild. I fear that this might be something that I tell my grandchildren about. I hope I’m wrong but I fear that the economics aren’t good in favor of the rhino.
Also, my friend taught me an important lesson: look to your left and right and behind you when on safari. You will catch some amazing things. That’s how she found the rhino.
After our incredible rhino sighting, we drove up to another small mountain/large hill. Over in the distance, we could see a very nasty thunderstorm coming across the park. It was super exciting to see the dark clouds rolling in and see the rain in the distance. Lightening would occasionally strike, sometimes three times at once! There we heard stories about how they once found the leopard there. The trick with the leopard is to walk away slowly, ignoring it, but you never turn your back. That’s how you survive. Not exactly the most reassuring thing to hear!
Then it was time to return to base camp and deal with the storm. As we descended the rocky outcropping, our friend spotted little eyes from a hole. Another aardwolf! I think it was new for the rangers too! These tiny black eyes and big ears peaked from the hole. So cute. We continued our descent. It started to rain a bit as we began to return to the lodge.
In the midst of it, we stumbled upon Goldie again, sitting in the middle of an open area, no cover from the thunderstorm. He was a little bit more alert this time but not by much. We drove around him, caught some magnificent yawns. Then it was time to face the storm. We all got prepped, positioned our blankets and scarves.
Then the storm came upon us. It was a doozy. It rained so hard that the drops stung when they hit us. My fiancé and I used our hats as shields to block the rain hitting our faces. It actually worked rather well. Then the rain became less painful. That’s when we noticed that all the roads were now effectively rivers. This was the desert, so there wasn’t a lot of water beforehand….For the first time in my life, I was really concerned the jeep was going to stall and we were going to have to be rescued from the bush. But Mrs. Jones kept her reputation. Uly and Mrs. Jones got us home safe and sound. It was really remarkable!
I got my first African thunderstorm. Woohoo!
That’s all for now!