We had so much FUN!

26 October, 2014            We had so much FUN!

If, like me, you enjoy breathing, I recommend spending an October weekend in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. I’ve breathed in many places, but I’ve rarely enjoyed it as much as I did this weekend near the town of Shenandoah, Virginia. Evelyn and my brother Shane and his wife Kristin and my nieces Aileen and Cappy got together early Friday evening at the Bear’s Den Cabin in Page County.


Forgive me for not beginning at the beginning. And for jumping back and forth in time. But. As much as I enjoy dogs and triathlons and trains and hiking and rivers and photography and chocolate and coffee and Subarus and birds and dragonflies, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I like people better. They are way more fun. There were six of us at the cabin this weekend, and the five people who joined me made it the experience it was. So, here is the last picture of the six of us together! Shane set up his camera and used the timer and took it just before we left around lunchtime today, standing in front of the cabin:

Kristin, Shane, me, Ev, Cappy, Aileen - they were the five best weekend-sharing people ever.

Kristin, Shane, me, Ev, Cappy, Aileen – they were the five best weekend-sharing people ever.

Backtracking slightly. To when Evie and I got up there Friday evening. This is so cool, although no pictures. The people who owned the cabin put me in touch with a local guy named Stacy who could drop off firewood for us. He pulled up in his incredibly cool 1972 ¾ ton 4WD Chevy stepside pickup that his granfather had bought new. With manual locking hubs. Which if you went four-wheeling in the 1970’s, the funnest thing you did before the going got really hairy was get out and “lock the hubs.” To put it in real four wheel drive. But Stacy’s truck was not a play truck. This was a serious work truck.

Stacy and I got talking about this and that, Stacy was a year older than Shane, we chatted away. We have a lot in common. We both like to shoot guns and he talked about that and about working in a small firearms retail place in the Valley years ago – and he knew my dad! Described to me how he’d learned to work on revolvers but had just gotten a new gun with a different kind of action and didn’t know how to work on it. So he asked the owner of this shop about it and the guy said “you need to talk to Mike McLaughlin.” And Stacy described dad to a T, both dad’s physical appearance and his teaching style. Which, for those of you who never had the great fortune of learning something from my dad, was the most patient and thorough process you’ve ever known. As a teacher dad never got frustrated. Or anyway if he did, you never knew it. And if he was teaching you to do something, he taught you every step with nothing missing and nothing extra. And he didn’t just teach you the steps – he taught you why you did those steps.


The cabin we rented was about 4/10 of a mile up a gravel road from the cabin we owned during some of the most formative experiences of my upbringing. Where my dad taught me so much of what makes me the person I am today. So try to feel a little bit of this experience. I’m up there in the mountains on a cool October evening, listening to this guy I’d met for the first time in my life about five minutes ago tell me stories I’d never heard about my dad. It’s cooling off and getting dark and you can smell that late-evening mountainy smell and the last crickets of the year are chirping and if you don’t think that was a moving experience, think again.


Think about this too – it just happened. Out of nowhere. A highly statistically improbable event. That was how my weekend started. And it got better. Well, not “better” precisely, but it began at that level and stayed there. And I’m reliving it here in front of my computer so it’s still at this great level. And I can tell this blog post will overflow and I’ll have to do more tomorrow because I also want to sleep tonight at some point.


A family tradition we had from when we first bought the cabin 1974 was dinner at Dan’s Steakhouse. We kept up the tradition throughout our time there, and the six of us visited this weekend. Here we are again:

Carrying on the Dan's Steakhouse tradition.

Carrying on the Dan’s Steakhouse tradition.

If you’re a Facebook person, check out the Dan’s Steakhouse Facebook page. Notice the pink ribbon in the background. The owner’s best friend died of breast cancer in April. She was younger than my sister Sheila. She had cancer for eighteen years. On Saturday nights they donate a portion of each check to a fund to help people with breast cancer. Eighteen years. Younger than my younger sister. I am so sorry. Her name was Robin.

I’ve written in earlier posts about “The Tunnel.” Leaving Richmond for the cabin or leaving DC for the cabin, you start out on large paved roads (interstates) that get progressively smaller as you near the cabin. You end up on Virginia Rte. 650, a.k.a. River Rd., the last paved road of the trip. The river (the South Fork of the Shenandoah river) is on your left (as you come from Richmond) and you turn right off 650 onto Cold Spring Drive, leading in to Shenandoah Gap. The first thing you do is pass through “The Tunnel,” under what is now the Norfolk Southern Railroad train tracks. This is what you see as you turn onto the gravel road:

This is what you see when you pull off the paved road:

This is what you see when you pull off the paved road:

If you walk through and look to your left on the other end of the tunnel, you see this block:

Check that out. 7 May, 1901. So cool.

Check that out. 7 May, 1901. So cool.

It’s a hundred thirteen years old. Showing no obvious signs of decay. Crazy.


Speaking of what that tunnel has supported for the past century-plus. Just as Ev and I were leaving this morning, we stopped for a last look around. Sure enough we heard a rumble and I got out my camera and I wasn’t quick enough for a great picture. But I got a moderately good one of three Norfolk Southern locomotives pulling a long intermodal freight train led by #9139, a C44-9W. Next time I go I’ll get a better picture:

Norfolk Southern locomotive #9139, a GE C44-9W

Norfolk Southern locomotive #9139, a GE C44-9W

Sorry for the unstructured writing. Dad would discourage this. But dad was never one to let perfection be the enemy of the good so I’ll carry on. And do another post tomorrow. The picture of the entrance to the tunnel (a  couple of pictures back) is what you see when you turn right off Rte. 650. If you turn left (or stop and park and get out, which is what Evie and I did, you see this:

The South Fork of the Shenandoah River.

The South Fork of the Shenandoah River.

That is the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.

I could stay up all night and write and put pictures together and believe me I’m tempted. But it’s late and I have to be up early. So I’m going to sign off here and put together another post tomorrow around this time, give or take an hour or three. I hope you’ve enjoyed it so far!

All best,


About Jay McLaughlin

I am a rehabilitation counselor. I have many friends with autism and traumatic brain injuries. They help me learn new things constantly. I hike with dogs at the James River in Richmond - a lot. I've completed an Iron distance triathlon a year for 11 years. My most recent was in Wilmington, NC in November, 2013. I currently compete in mid-distance triathlons. And work and hike and take pictures and write and eat.
This entry was posted in Fun, People, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Trains and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to We had so much FUN!

  1. Gilpin Brown says:

    Wow! What an interesting, exhilarating and memorable serendipity you had this past weekend. Thanks for writing. I could feel the emotion!


  2. Jenny says:

    I really enjoyed your post this morning. Looking forward to the rest of the story!

    • Hi Jenny! And thanks for the note! I’m glad you enjoyed the initial post and I hope the “rest of the story” was satisfying. There’s so much to pack in I got a little overwhelmed. I may even expand on it later. But I’m glad you enjoyed it! Have a great day,


  3. Pingback: My chauffeur really flies! // Gone to the dogs | NEWFAZE

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s