CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you,

plans to give you hope an a future. Jeremiah 29:11

I feel terrible immediately that my words slipped out the way they did. I became the person on a trip that I do not like.

Also, my mind flies to what time is it? Where are we going to stay tonight? There isn’t anywhere we can get to safely before nightfall. We are trapped out here wherever here is. At this hour, we could never walk out as far as we walked in. We are LOST?!?!

I want to say no one is to blame, and that we’ll figure it out, don’t worry. But I am certain more words won’t help after what I already blurted out.

Stalker C turns to Sunshine Rat. She holds horizontal to her chest one of my poles, “Spear me.  Spear me now.”

Sunshine Rat is unfazed.

Stalker C says, “Right now.” Her jaw is clenched with determination.

I attempt to give Stalker C comfort. I try to express “don’t worry” body language. Clearly I can’t trust my words right now!

Sunshine looks at her boob-o-meter. She states calmly, “It is 6:35pm.”  I look to the sky. It looks every bit of 9pm.

Sunshine Rat and SunFloJo converse over the map. 

I think we might as well keep walking because, well, really, what options do we have other than that?  They come to the same conclusion. We continue down the hill. 

I hear Sunshine mention that she really needs to pee.  I am in and out of reality in what I can hear or think.  Is that the exhaustion, the stress or both?

We pause for needs and then continue our descent.

Look! There is a gravel road. We all see it, hoping it is not a figment of our imagination. We pick up our steps.

The gravel looks familiar. The whole scene looks slightly familiar—like maybe I saw this online in a photo?!

SunFloJo sees a bridge and across it is a parked white truck. She says, “We can sleep under it if we have to.”

I veer slightly right and forward motivated by our change of landscape. Then I see it!  “Hey, this is like the website. I think this is Rapidan Camp!”

We see a wood sign that says Creel House. This is it! This is it! 

We walk toward the building that blends in with the forest around it.

An image emerges from the wooden deck. It is a man. A guy who looks dressed for a golf outing in the middle of the woods? Is he a mirage?

“Well, hello,” he says seeming surprised to see us. Yep, he is real.

“What are you ladies doing here?” Oh, thank God. We are still recognizable as female.

SunFloJo leads with enthusiasm as if we all were not having heart attacks just .25 miles back. “We came to see Rapidan Camp. Can we still get a tour?”

“Well,” he chuckles. “This has to be the latest that I’ve ever had visitors arrive. I have already begun to have my end of the night cigar and glass of wine on the porch. I took off my park ranger clothes and put on casual clothes.”

The Steam Team snickers about our late arrival and give sideway glances at one another. 

SunFloJo kids, “You can stay in your casual clothes.” He wears a white t-shirt and salmon-colored shorts. He is protected from the rain by the porch roof. We stand dripping wet on the ground below his steps.

This backpack is even more heavy now that we are standing in one spot. I hurt all over. My mind is somewhere between wondering where his wine is so I can chug it to numb the pain and fearing that I may pass out at any moment. 

“Where did you come from?” He half grins, but I suspect he is wondering if we are a threat. At the same time, I wonder if he is a threat. Could we take him at this point of the day if we had to defend ourselves? 

Ah, the words of Dorian comfort me from lunch time: No man would ever approach 4 women.

He continues, “Most people who come from Big Meadow are down here by 9am.”

Sunshine’s face laughs without a sound.    

He is measuring if we are just this…dumb, inexperienced…?  Fill in the blank. The answer is:  Yes, probably.

“My name is Ted.” After asking us a few more questions, he determines we did not come the fast way from Big Meadow. 

There is a fast way? Really? Shocker. We went the long way indeed.

“Sure I’ll give you a tour.  Why not?  You’re here,” he says and grabs his keys and an umbrella.

Yes, we are here. I am believing that this mirage continues to be the real deal.

We walk drag ourselves further into the camp property. Ted locks into the full swing of his tour guide job. He points to where small cabins used to be but have been torn down. He says, “And some mornings I see a bear walk right through here.” 

He just had to mention that! I peek at Stalker C. Her face tightens.

“And this,” he points to a giant stone structure. “People tend to think this is a fireplace left from when a house was torn down, but it is not. It was designed to be an outdoor cooking area from the beginning.”

We follow Ted to a brown painted set of stairs.

“Welcome to The Brown House.” Rain changes from drizzle to pour. My hands and fingers wrinkle like I have been in a bathtub all afternoon. “Put your packs on the porch. We can’t take them inside.” No problem. The indentions in my shoulders thank you.

The Brown House is the Hoover House. President Hoover called it brown because it is somewhat an opposite name from the White House.

“Do you care if we take a quick picture in front of Hoover’s House?” I ask. Where did I muster the strength or desire? But I want to remember this.

“No, go ahead.” Ted is accommodating and pleasant.

We pose in the rain, click, and leave the packs. Ted leads our bodies to the back of the house. The wrap around deck overlooks the river. Water flowing over rocks back here sounds amazing. I picture President Hoover sitting outside to clear his thoughts.

Ted steps up the back stairs and pauses, turning to us. He points to a mounted video camera and says, “You can be watched by security at all times.”

We nod. You are not going to get any problems from us, Mister. We have enough problems. One being that it is getting dark soon and we have not figured out where we will camp tonight. 

Technically we are supposed to hike another mile and a half before finding the fire ring. I look around.  We are in a deep valley. It appears that the trails out of here are uphill. I do not know if any of us can make it another mile and a half uphill in the dark and then set up camp. 

Dear Lord, please give us a place safe to stay tonight. I am not sure I can walk further to set up camp. If this is a safe guy, please influence him to help us find a nearby solution. Amen.

I consider that maybe if we eat something soon, then our energy will be renewed a little bit but not enough to hike much further. 

So tired.  Everything hurts.

We walk into the Brown House via an enclosed porch office which Ted tells us was designed by Lou Henry Hoover. 

SunFloJo says, “Ooh, look at these book holders. I love those.”

Ted, “Yes, she had them specially made just for this desk.”

Me, oh my God in Heaven, how does SunFloJo have any oomph left in her to observe and admire a detail like that?

I do admire the porch office. 3 walls of windows would be exactly where I’d want to do my First Lady correspondence and planning also.

We inch into the living room with exposed log walls. It is the size of a traditional ranch home. I find it lovely. Quaint. Humble. Sturdy. I imagine it is not what a President would want these days.

There are ropes that prevent tourists from walking further into the living room or forward into the sitting room.

We stand within the ropes. Ted is talking and talking.  He has many facts to share.  He mentions the original pieces and the recreated period pieces. He talks about how the windows used to be open with fabric coverings, but the Hoovers had to change that due to reasons like bugs. My eyes fixate on an old rotary telephone. My knees feel weak.

My legs will not hold me up much longer if we keep standing in the same spot. 

Would Ted mind if I sit on the floor?

He is still talking.

I am going down. Slowly.

To the floor.

I tuck in my knees to make myself as small as possible. Maybe he won’t notice I’m on the floor? 

So far, he is not kicking us out. I am still on the floor. 

Sunshine sinks to the floor.

Then Stalker C sinks to the floor.

Hard wood. Feels good. Not standing–that’s all that matters. I notice my pants and sides of the boots are a bit muddy. Hopefully Ted and the Hoover ghosts don’t mind.

SunFloJo talks it up with Ted.  She is working the tour. She is totally interested I suppose, or making a new friend, or giving us time to sit, or all 3 at once. 

My mind has gone almost as numb as my body.

I. Have. No. Idea. What. They. Are. Talking. About. At. This. Point.

Oh shoot. We are on the move to the back bedroom. Maybe I had enough minutes on the floor to get me through this? Or not.

The three floor friends crawl and stand in stages to our feet. We limp ten feet into the bedroom. There is an office behind the bedroom so that the President could work after hours and not disturb his bride as she slept.

“So, people go up Laurel Prong to camp for the night?” SunFlo fans an S.O.S. signal. She digs.

Go Jo. 

My ears perk up. “About how far is that,” she pauses and adds a concerned jaw line, “from here?”

Thunder rolls outside. A lightning bolt flashes. The rain pours even harder now. It looks like midnight outside with the rain, thick forest and fact that we are in a valley between mountains. I would love this scenery if I could lay down right where we are. I’d give a lot if I could sleep on this wood floor right now. 

My lady parts go numb again. I have lost mental capacity to try and figure out why this keeps happening down there. I may need to pee. I’m not sure. I finished drinking almost all of my water a few miles back, but I feel thirsty. I don’t want to drink the little bit I have left because that bottle needs to last until morning.  This may be what dehydration feels like. I’m messed up more than a mild headache and thirst. My whole body is shaking on the inside.

“Oh that’s pretty far,” Ted says. He continues to size us up. Are we troublemakers?  Can we be trusted?  Is that one (me) gonna pass out any minute now?  He scans us head to toe occasionally and I am not offended. I bet he’s had CPR and First Aid training for this job. He’s must know we’re in a dangerously exhausted state.

We stand in the Hoover’s bedroom. I resist sinking back to the floor. Ted talks about how he loves caring for the place.

He says, “I try to get family or friends to come visit me down here, but they never do.”

He continues, “But there’s really only one bed big enough to fit me let alone anyone else. They’d have to bring air mattresses or something.”

One of us asks, “How long have you been working here?” Whose mouth did that come from?  I don’t know.  The room spins a bit. It’s good to feel safe indoors. If I pass out, I’ll be inside and dry.

“Oh, over ten years now.” He is dedicated.

Ted describes his daily schedule, “Every morning I walk through the buildings before guests arrive.  Sometimes I find snakes wrapped around these rafters.” He points up. 

We all peek at the ceiling and rafters above our heads. So much for feeling safe.  “And sometimes I find mice at the Prime Minister’s house next door, but I haven’t found any mice in a while,” He continues.

I imagine the snakes and lack of mice are connected.

“Oh, yeah, there’s another cabin. The Prime Minister’s house? Tell us about that.” SunFloJo is keeping us dry as long as she can.

Ted smiles. His love for Rapidan is clear. He loves the history. Oh, and the wine earlier may have softened his congenial spirit.

We walk toward the back-porch door.  I see through the wrap around windows that the rain is coming down in sheets. How is that possible? The sky has certainly had plenty of water to share today.

Ted nods toward the Prime Minister’s cabin. “So, in 1929 when Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald and his daughter were coming to stay President Hoover had that cabin built especially for Ramsay.” We look toward the cabin a short distance away from The Brown House over a foot bridge.

We are about to step outside the back door when lightning sparks and thunder cracks.  Paul is home no doubt watching the weather and wondering how we are doing. Anyone like Amy and Deb who also had a hold of our trail plan may be praying for us right now. Thanks, friends & family.

I wish I could tell Paul So far so good. We are ok, and we are going to figure this out.

I imagine us somewhere soon in the dark trying to stake tents in the mud. We, along with our gear, will be covered in mud just trying to accomplish such a task that should be easy by now. The tents may collapse around our bodies because the stakes will not hold. We will be like muddy mummies laying in the forest somewhere waiting for first light. Whew! I’ve gotta stop thinking about it!

“So, Ted, you know this area.” SunFloJo seeks more info, “We heard there is a fire ring up on Laurel Prong Trail which is where we are heading next to set up camp tonight.”

He replies, “Yeah, people tell you it’s like a mile or so up the hill, but it’s more like two miles.”

“People generally aren’t down here this time of night,” He reiterates. Yep, thank you. We established this fact a while ago.

He continues, “And you got to be careful that you don’t end up heading up the wrong hill trail. Fork Mountain Trail would be the wrong way to go.” He diverts to talk more history, “Lou Henry Hoover used to take horses and guests on horses up that trail. It is pretty steep. You want to make sure you are on Laurel Prong Trail for sure. There are 2 trails that start with the name Laurel.  It can be hard to make sure you’re on the right one.”

Thunder rumbles again. More lightning and more thunder cracks and crackles. I jump at one sky whack sound.

“I normally don’t tell people this, but if you go down the access road across the bridge opposite the trails that you will eventually need…”

“Toward where we saw the white car?” SunFlo interjects.

“Yeah.” He points. “If you follow that, you actually end up at a Fisherman’s Camp that is outside of the park boundary, but much closer than if you try to walk up Laurel right now.”

Sunshine says, “Oh, a Fisherman’s Camp.” Like it is the savior information we need. And maybe it is. She nods soaking it in.

Now I have another visual for where we will lay our heads in mud tonight.  Right next to a watering place that animals will visit in the morning. Great. But closer. We will take closer.

Ted says, “If you have time, I’ll show you the Prime Minister cabin.”

“Oh yes, of course. We’ve got nothing but time,” SunFloJo says avoiding the fact that it is nearly dark now.

We walk across the bridge with no rails. Ted tells us that Marines lay every stone for the bridge.

I still think I might need to pee. The numbness and dehydration has me confused. It is not like I can pee with Ted around though.

Ted says, “Yeah on this Prime Minister Cabin porch sometimes I see little critters sniffing out anything that seems odd from the day.”  This is another beautiful porch wisely built with benches and plenty of places to sit and enjoy the water flowing in the creek behind the cabin which leads to the river.  There is a small path that leads behind the porch to the water’s edge. 

Ted adds, “I weed-eat and do all the landscaping while I’m here.  Just cleared that area over there today.”  He points to where I bet another cabin used to stand. At one time there were thirteen cabins. Now, just three.

“I’m not sure if the security cameras are working in this cabin,” he says.

Interesting piece of information. 

He unlocks the Prime Minister door. This building is painted white.

“Where The Brown House is set up to look like it would have when Hoover used the space; this cabin is set up more like a museum.”

I note the pictures secured to the wall and plaques with descriptions throughout the first room I see.

“So, I’m thinking,” Ted says. “That maybe you four give yourselves a self-guided tour in here. You can read the museum information for yourselves.”

I pick up on a hopeful tone. We are all ears. And…?

“And if your tour takes most of the night and you are gone well before 7am then no one will probably know, and I probably won’t get fired. But this would have to be a secret. A big secret.”

Our ears and eyes are at full attention.

“You cannot post this on Facebook or social media. And I had no idea that the door here was left unlocked.”

Sunshine Rat says, “Oh Ted! You don’t even know what this means to us.”

Um, I think he knows what this means. Look at us.

This means we’ll probably live through the night…and that is what his conscience has been weighing since he met us. Should he save these wild girls or follow the rules?  Oh, hallelujah, thank you Ted for choosing to keep us alive!

Stalker C says, “Oh! This is amazing. We can’t thank you enough.”

SunFloJo has worked her magic, “Ted, thank you.  Would you like to eat some snacks with us?  We haven’t eaten in a long time. We will snack and get the heck out of here. No one will know we were ever here.”

I pipe in with, “We will leave no trace behind. I will clean or carry out any evidence.” 

Ted’s cheekbones might crack from his smile. He has faith in us. And he is literally a life saver times four. 

We scoot across the bridge to The Brown House to retrieve our backpacks.  We are back inside the Prime Minister Cabin within a minute. We don’t want Ted to change his mind!

Zippers are pulled and dinner snacks come out.  Ted stands in the doorway making conversation as we sit in three corners of the front room. Sunshine sits on a nailed down wooden chair in the middle of the room. Smiles are everywhere. Saved, we almost forget our aching legs and backs.

“I’m sorry there is not a bathroom in here,” Ted says.

“Oh, honey,” SunfloJo says. “That is the least of our worries. We’ve got shelter in this crazy storm. We will figure the rest out. Thank you so much!”

It is a party now. Sort of.

“So where are you going to be tomorrow night?” Ted asks.

“The plan is to be at Big Meadow again. In fact, we lightened our load and right now one of our tents is set up there waiting on us.  We had to make the campsite look occupied.”

Ted laughs.

“Hey,” Stalker C chimes in. I think I spotted happy tears of relief in her eyes for the last several minutes.  “Tomorrow’s Friday night. Come find us and have dinner with us at the Tap Room.”

SunFloJo is all over that! “Yes! Absolutely, Ted. Our treat. That Tap Room is so much fun. Join us for sure!”

Ted replies, “Well, I should be done with guests by the afternoon.” This makes us giggle thinking about our later than normal arrival. “I have 4 dinners worth of trash to take up and I usually do laundry up there around 6pm on Friday nights.” 

Well that settles it then. This is a perfect plan.

“I’ll see you there,” he nods.

“Perfect!  We’ll be watching for you,” SunFlo says.

I sit on the floor by the stone fireplace. Oh no. Is that pee coming out of me? Involuntary!?!

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