Saturday, September 14, 2013

Horseback Riding in Shenandoah National Park


I always get a bit giddy when I drive out to Shenandoah National Park, and it always happens at the same place. When I come down that hill by Joe Bowman Auto Plaza, the road opens up to landscape of mountains, and at that moment I am both mesmerized and, well, giddy. I'm on my way to play!

Shenandoah National Park is a playground for adventure, and it's not only a place to hike or camp either. You can horseback ride too. I adore the team at Skyland Resort Stables, and this past weekend, I went on my second 1-hour ride. What a neat experience. I'll definitely be going again, but I'm going to wake up extra early and go on the 2.5-hour ride, which starts at 8:45AM.

Matt, the Stable Manager, takes careful consideration of your background and personality before he places you with a horse. I rode Whiskey, and my friend rode Sunshine. Matt matched us perfectly because we thoroughly enjoyed our ride. All of the horses, though, are friendly, so that's never a worry!!

We were lucky. Matt, the manager, led the tour, and what's absolutely great about Matt is he's a SINGING COWBOY!!!! He sang us several songs along the ride including "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay" and "Happy Trails." Next time I go, I need to get a video of him singing. I tried, but holding onto reins, taking video, and having said video in focus (and not shaky) is quite difficult. Same thing with pictures! My pictures are awful.

The ride is an out-and-back on the Old Rag fire road and Limberlost Trail. Matt said that often riders see wildlife, but we didn't spot anything on our ride. I'm hopeful, though, that next time I'll see a bear like many others have!

So, if you need something to do this fall, plan a trip to Skyland Resort Stables. Matt's great, and so are Anthony and Mark! If you go, tell them Aimee sent you and said Matt would sing you a song. Happy Trails!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Rockytop Photos with Sassy Comments

"I'm tired. Are we there yet? Seriously, this shit is exhausting." A glimpse of The Poops as we near the summit of Rockytop. 

It'll help to know this hike was 3 weeks ago. Brad says, "I swear, I'll never spit out your dry chicken ever again, let me live, let. me. live!" Yet...the little turd spit out chicken I made just this past week. Shoulda pushed 'em when I had the chance. In all seriousness, a unique opportunity for a very safe "cliff." shot. He was safe the whole time...he thinks.

Mother Nature, what a bitch. She always looks great. I think this was taken from a South District Overlook, or maybe it was a clear spot from the hike. Note to self, don't wait so long to post pics from hikes. You'll forget where you took them, kinda like the time you "forgot" to throw away the marinara bottle and left it on top of the flour.

"This lady is absolutely ridiculous. I am not taking another damn picture." The Poops towards the end of our 10-mile trek. We did it, though, in 4-or-so hours.

Another great adventure in Mother Nature's hazy playground.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Five-Star Flora

At times, Mother Nature doesn't cooperate. Having hiked in downpours, severe thunderstorms, and ice, I know this pretty well. But there is no such thing as a hike without views.

On Saturday, Brad and I laced up our hiking boots for a much-needed trip to Shenandoah National Park with our favorite four-legged hiking buddy, The Poops. 

We saw a bear cub run across the road soon after we made the turn for Skyline Drive. We kept our eyes peeled for momma or another cub during our 30-mile trip up Shenandoah National Park to the Buck Hollow/Buck Ridge parking area. 

It was raining when we started, and it rained until we finished, but the smell of real meadow showers greatly surpasses the Yankee Candle scent by far. The Shenandoah National Park flora on the trail we chose? Stunning. And it was made all the more beautiful with the rain droplets that sat delicately on the surface of the flowers, plants, and leaves. 

So many people (especially tourists) hike for the view at the summit or the view of the waterfall deep down in the holler, but they miss the beauty of the journey. Don't miss the beauty of the journey. Yes, the destination is sweet but getting there is sweet, too.

We were going to go hiking again today; however, we decided to give our body's a break. The hike was great but strenuous, and the 300-some log steps we had to climb from holler to ridge kicked our butts. 

Until next time!

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Adventures of Scout Brasseur-Roberts

I got out of my car to find my neighbors, Bill and Theresa, outside working on their urban garden. "Want a kitten?" Bill says, as he gestures across the parking lot. I turn around to find a tiny little ball of white fur meowing loudly from beneath a vehicle. Naturally, I chase after it, and it runs away.

All of a sudden I hear that meow again. Louder. And louder. It's almost like it wants me to catch it, but I can tell by the devious look in his or her eye that he/she isn't going to make it easy on me.  


Kitten, A Timeline


At this point, I decide to call "it" a "her." Sexist? Maybe. The kitten makes her way towards Theresa and me, her tiny white paws gliding across the hot blacktop. She has a big black spot on the back of her head, brown-orange ears, a calico tail, and muted green eyes. 


Theresa and I decide that the kitten's hungry, so she gives it some lunch meat, and I run upstairs to get a lime green cereal bowl, which I then fill with water and present to the kitten. I sit still on the opposite side of the stoop in hopes kitten will be comfortable enough to drink the water. Eventually, she is. 


The kitten drinks water and ravenously eats the pieces of ham only after deciding she can trust said ham. 


My mother and sister come over for lunch, and after we finish, we go out onto the deck, I point to the kitten and my lime green bowl. Neither were spotted when my mom and sister arrived. Kitten's now playing with rocks. It's sad but adorable. 


I decide that I'm going to catch this kitten and proceed to inform all of my neighbors that there is a kitten hiding in engines and beneath cars, and they should take a good look around before starting their vehicle. 


I try to locate a home for this kitten for the night.


I continue trying to locate a home for this kitten for the night.


Nobody will take this damn kitten for the night, so I worry, and my mom and sister decide to accompany me on my adventure.


I go out for ice cream with my family but before that, head to my parent's house to pick up a cat carrier and some cat food. 


We arrive back at the apartment, and I inform Brad, who recently got home from work, that A) I found a kitten and B) It's staying in our apartment for the night. He says, "Okay," and goes off to take a shower.


I breathe a heavy sigh of relief. 


I start panicking because I can't find Kitten.


My heart starts to race because I can't find Kitten.


I hear meows and am grateful Kitten is still alive. 


We (my mom and me) put the cat carrier on the stoop near Kitten's food and water. 


We lure Kitten into cat carrier with milk. I'm too slow to shut the door, and the kitten runs away.


Kitten comes back and proves she's a real tease. Coming close to carrier, running away, coming close to carrier, jumping in Brad's truck engine, coming close to carrier, jumping on neighbor's truck tire...etc. Repeat. 


Kitten is caught, subsequently named "Scout," and we celebrate with alcohol as she growls from inside the carrier that is now sitting in my living room. Yes, growls.  


My mom and sister go home. I put Scout in the office. She meets Rex from inside the carrier and fails at an attempt to kick his ass from inside her cage. Scout continues to growl, which scares Rex. 


That night, 7/4/2013, is one I will never forget. As I go to the store to find wet cat food and toys, Brad patiently lays on his belly and tries to coax this fearful kitten out of her cage. Don't worry, Scout's in the office away from Rex. I get home 30 minutes later, and Brad informs me that he left Scout alone so she could sleep. I, the impatient one, don't want to leave her alone and walk into the office, immediately trying to get her to play. She says, "eff that," and stays hidden in a tight spot behind our desk. Brad and I are able to lure her out with the wet cat food that I just bought, but Scout darts to another hiding place. We block the old hiding places with stacks of books and binders. Brad patiently lays on his belly again trying to coax Kitten out of her next hiding spot. 

After a while, we decide it may be best to leave her alone, so I do so for a bit, but then I decide to fall asleep to The Golden Girls on the futon in Scout's new room, a previously clean but now very messy office. I hope that Scout will learn to trust me overnight, and magically she does. When I wake up in the morning and feed her her breakfast, she climbs onto me, her paws tiny and soft. Scout starts to pur sounding like a little motor. We spend the morning together. She loves me, she trusts me, and I shove her back in that scary cage and drive off down the road with her in the passenger seat. 

The SPCA opened at 10AM, and they will definitely accept Scout because she was found in Harrisonburg or Rockingham County. All I need to bring is my driver's license. 

Scout and I arrive at the SPCA shortly after 10:30AM, and I forget to say goodbye because I'm so distraught. A woman takes Scout back into what I imagine is a sterile room, and I try my damndest to fight back tears. My voice doesn't tremble when I give them my address or when I state the conditions I found Scout in. I remember that I named Scout and give the nice woman behind the desk Scout's name, but then the nice woman behind the desk hands me a piece of paper and says, "By signing this document you are relinquishing rights to this animal and agreeing that she may be euthanized." She says these words as compassionately as she can, and I thank her, repeatedly, through sobs. 

I know they'd only euthanize Scout if she was sick, but I still completely lose the cool I tried so hard to keep in the initial encounter. The other woman, the one who took Scout back to the sterile room, brings out an empty cat carrier with Scout's tiny little lion and cow stuffed animals still inside. 

"Can you (pause) please (pause ) give (pause)," I finally choke out the words. 

She smiles with her eyes and says, "Of course."

Whether my kitten's life lasted 10 more hours or lasts 10 more years, I set her up for a meaningful life. A name is so much more than a name. It has to carry meaning, which is why I named Kitten "Scout." 

Scout is "the narrator and protagonist of To Kill a Mockingbird. In the book, Scout lives with her father, Atticus, her brother, Jem, and their black cook, Calpurnia, in Maycomb, GA. Scout is intelligent and, by the standards of her time and place, a tomboy. Scout has a combative streak and a basic faith in the goodness of the people in her community."

Intelligent, combative streak, basic faith in the goodness of people. I definitely know I picked the right name. 

If Scout is healthy enough to be adopted, you can find her at the Harrisonburg-Rockingham SPCA. I'm not sure how long it will take them to get her up on the website. 

Here are some pictures! As you can see, she's precious and loves to talk...and is just as adorable as I go adopt her. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Ohana Means Family

The crew before our departure, photo credit - Momma Rose
After our weekend on the river, there was something almost poetic about our trip home from the Delaware Water Gap. The orange hue of the dark blue sky during lightning strikes. The Super Moon lighting up the Valley to the East, but what made it most special was having Brad in the passenger seat. 

Trust me, I don’t always like him there. He tends to passenger drive, but this time it was different.

We don’t talk about Afghanistan. It’s an unwritten rule, but I thought about Brad's deployment a lot on the ride home, especially when we got into Maryland. A song came on the radio, and I started in with the quiet sobs. Brad must not have heard me or maybe he chose to let me have my moment…I don’t know. I breathed deep breaths and decided to leave Rihanna's "Stay" on the radio.

The Poconos were my safe place during the summer of 2010. They were something familiar and fun. I felt surrounded by love and laughter, which gave me such positive energy.  A summer to remember that’s for sure, and every once in a while it creeps up on me either in the form of a reminiscent smile, misty eyes, or both. 

Brad’s deployment, Jan’s death, whatever else was going on, it inspired me to live. It was the summer of the Bucket List and the summer I gained a family.

Remember Lilo and Stitch? It’s an old Disney movie with a cute little alien and a sweet Hawaiian girl. Lilo is the pint-sized Hawaiian, and in the movie she says, “Ohana means ‘family,’ and family means nobody gets left behind.” It’s not about blood or, hell, a last name. It’s about how you take care of each other, and I owe so much to John Lohmann, Jessie Lohmann, and the Krueger family for never leaving me behind.

You may be wondering why Maryland set me off. I would communicate sporadically with Brad during the Summer of the River. Replying to an e-mail from Momma Rose Krueger’s desktop. Answering a phone call on my drive home. Brad called me one time, and I had just arrived in Maryland. I talked and drove until West Virginia, and then pulled over at the rest stop to concentrate on him and his voice. I hung up and proceeded the lonely ride home. I'm sure Mumford was playing in my CD-Player. That summer was the summer of Mumford too. 

When I arrived in Maryland on June 23, 2013, Brad was next to me, deary from the weekend of fun and the big meal we just ate at Cracker Barrel. 

At the river, we grilled out. We put on plastic horse heads and galloped around a Stroudburg yard. We canoed. We bickered about my canoeing skills. We made camp. We grilled more. We laughed. We almost capsized. It was the perfect conclusion to a vacation. Brad got to experience the river like I did that summer he was gone, and he got to know the river family that he's heard so much about. 

He learned that Jessie doesn’t like bees or Poison Ivy, and when you mix the two, it’s grounds for a possible boat rescue from the campsite. He learned that John’s limit is 5 Brad-caliber Captain and gingers because by then John's trying to capsize the tethered canoes by standing with no sense of balance. Brad learned that Bridgette and Hank are the freakin’ coolest and so are their horseheads. Momma Rose has the best damn listening ears and broccoli salad...ever. Nick likes drinking games more than campfire talk, and Mr. Krueger is a champ at navigating a pontoon boat, especially when he’s trying to spray you with water.

The pranks we pull, the jokes we make, it’s all out of love. Jessie pulls a dead fish out of the water, all of a sudden it’s in my face, and she screams “Ahhhh!!!” I scream back.

John and Brad collaborate to put a fake snake in my sleeping bag. I nearly jump out of the tent and wake everybody up.

Bucky tries to shotgun a beer for the first time. It takes him three minutes, literally...

These memories are moments now, and now Brad gets to be a part of them instead of just hearing about them from me.

Please note, don't get all pixelated and gross, but I'm too tired to keep messing with it. :( It's still cute without being huge, though!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Reddish Knob

It's beautiful even in the Blue Ridge haze...

Interested in going yourself? Click here

And the Briery Branch Dam, which we stopped by on the way back. 

Blogging Moments - Kayaking the Shenandoah

For the longest time, I figured the only way I'd ever get to see a Bald Eagle was inside a cage in a zoo or aviary. But last Wednesday, as I paddled down the Shenandoah in my kayak, one of the first sights I witnessed was a Bald Eagle diving down into the water to catch a fish.

Brad turned around in his kayak and yelled back to me, "Is that a blogging moment?" Um, yes.

When Brad exclaimed, "What the hell was that?" I considered "that" as another blogging moment. A box turtle swam past him, "Look at that!" he said. Mr. Turtle cruised through the water with only his little turtle head above the surface.

The blue heron guiding us down the Shenandoah. The cows cooling off in the water. The ducklings swimming behind Momma duck. This area, the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, is full of "blogging moments." And for those beautiful landscapes you can't capture with the right words, there's always a picture, and they say that's worth 1,000 words. Maybe more.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Free Time! What am I doing?

It's been a while since I've posted. I'd be lying if I said I didn't have enough time to post. It's just that I've been so busy writing for other blogs that I've neglected my tried and true--Off the Rails.

I was walking down to the pool with Brad yesterday, and I said, "I think I'm going to retire Off the Rails." His reaction surprised me.

"But WHY?" He seemed genuinely concerned.

"It's just that I'm so busy writing for other people..."

"But Off the Rails is your place to write about your personal adventures..."

Brad was right. I can't abandon this blog. It's the 21st century version of a journal. It's a constant reminder that I live my life to its fullest.

So what have I been up to?

Well...I GRADUATED...hallelujah

Horseback Riding

The day after graduation, I went horseback riding with Jessie-formerly-Kreuger-now-Lohmann, my mom, and my sister. We arrived at the stables and were greeted by a wonderful group of people, including a song-bird cowboy and a former-Montana-ranch-hand-TEENAGER. I blogged about the experience for Kline May Realty. Yes, I get paid to blog. You can read more about the adventure here


Brad and I went for a 12-mile paddling trip on the Shenandoah River. It was Brad's first time paddling, and it took him a while to get used to it. His kayak trajectory reminded me of a drunk person stumbling around. He couldn't keep the boat straight...whatsoever...for the first three miles. I thought I FINALLY found something he wasn't good at, but, alas, he perfected his form by the end of the trip. Damn. 

The day we paddled, it was cool May Sunday, and we welcomed the clouds and their relief from the heat. The highlight of the trip? Nope, not the riverside picnic, but a new Brad-ism. Every time we encountered a rapid (however very small it may have been) Brad exclaimed, "Let's tackle these rapids!!!" We did manage to be only a few of the people who didn't capsize in a strong Class II rapid. Strong for Class II, not that Class II is too strong. I blogged about the experience for Kline May Realty. Yes, I got paid to write this blog too. You can read more about the adventure here


Since graduation, Brad and I have gone on three hiking adventures:

1) Big Run Loop in the south district. It's a 5-mile loop through the wilderness. The best views are at the beginning and the end of the hike, and the last time we hiked this trail, Brad pissed off Momma Bear. Luckily, no Momma Bear on this hike. Only Poo Bear. 

Cute, ain't he?

2) Stony Man and Little Stony Man in the central district was the second hike we've done since I graduated. It's a very touristy hike to beautiful views. Less than 4 miles total walking for two hikes. I blogged about it for a new website that I'm helping get up and running, Shenandoah Valley Events. You can read more about the adventure here. P.S. You can tell how windy it was by my out-of-control hair. Talk about adrenaline rush sitting on that rock... 

Photo credit Brad Roberts for the picture. Wasn't going to say anything, but he's sitting next to me right now and yelled, "I TOOK THAT PICTURE." 

But I took the other two.

and most recently, 3) We hiked South River Falls in the central district. We hiked this trail yesterday in the 90-degree-ish heat. I was panting heavier than Rex at the end, and that's all I'm going to say about that. Oh, and I drove home with barefeet in a sports bra and shorts...and Brad was shirtless. Total redneck move, but we were THAT sweaty. I think we're officially Rockingham County residents now...

Rex also went swimming for the first time. He's not the biggest swimming fan despite his webbed feet. He gave Brad the cold shoulder for a good twenty minutes after he got out of the water. 

A Wedding Weekend

John and Jessie Lohmann, my brother-from-another-mother and now sister-in-law-by-another-mister-in-law, tied the knot last weekend. TALK ABOUT A FRIGGIN PARTY!!!

A river-side venue, rustic decorations, a hay-bale sectional with cloth AND pillows, two bonfires, one stacked with wood over 10 feet tall, dancing til 1AM, and the best company ever made this the wedding of the century. Yes, I realize I'm not married yet. was the wedding of the century. 

The night before the wedding, the groom, the best man, the best man's best girl, Brad, and I dined on a late-night feast of mac and cheese and weiners. It made me feel like a kid again except, I enjoyed this meal with coffee laced with chocolate vodka. Umm...yum?!

The day of the wedding, a group of us set-up for the festivities (bride and her bridesmaids excluded), making sure the table cloths were perfectly knotted, the baby's breath tied beautifully with lavender ribbon to the "alter" chairs, and that the birch tree/purple mason jar lanterns/baby's breath centerpieces looked just right. Check out the sneak peek on the DBE Photography Facebook page for an idea of the venue and the awesome people in attendance. 

The ceremony was beautiful and so personal. Jessie's cousin officiated, and humor was interspersed throughout the non-traditional vows. I laughed out loud and even teared up...a little...I guess. Fine. I teared up.

The dancing after the ceremony and awesome meal was straight awesome. I just watched a video of John and I dancing to Macklemore, video was recorded by Dan Emmerman, my like-a-father-but-not, who is owner of DBE Photography, at around 1 am. I need dance lessons...desperately. I really, really need dance lessons. 

While the dancing crowd danced, Brad and I hung with the bonfire crowd, cuddled up by one of the two bonfires that burned that night, and when the party ended, we camped out on the river. We camped out on the river the next night too...waking up to foggy river sunrises in the morning and the company of some of the people we cherish most in this world. 

Here is a pic of us from the wedding. Photo credit goes to the lovely and friggin' awesome Mary Dunkleburger. 


On our way home from the wedding, Brad and I checked out Cabela's. It was our first time there. One of my co-workers at Kline May Realty said, "It's the Disney world of Outdoors Stores." He's so right. It made me sad to see the stuffed animals, though, but that added to the Cabela's experience, I suppose.


Redbox movies, ice cream sandwiches, deck-chilling, barbecuing. Date nights, crafting, and more is what I've done since graduation. And I'm lovin' it. 

What's crazy is I have fun during the work-week too. It's like life is my playground, and I'm realizing that the hard work really did pay off. I do miss all of my friends who moved away though.