Friday, March 29, 2013

Day Trippin'

My Spring Break from the college where I work occurred last week, at the midpoint of the semester. My sons' vacation coincides with the religious holidays, therefore falls this week. Usually these events add up to extra hours devoted to checking big tasks off my to-do list, a bit of solo relaxing if I'm lucky, and of course some bonus family bonding opportunities. But this year I encountered an unexpected dilemma when attempting to set aside some downtime for a Photo Field Trip...I seem to be running out of historical or natural locations that are both nearby and not-yet-toured. When I paused to ponder it for a second, I realized that this actually makes sense, since I've lived in this state my entire life, and I've been dragging my camera and/or my children around for as long as I can remember. Huh. With the A List already completed...and the B List...etc....I dug reallllly deep, and decided to take a little jaunt across the Potomac to Virginia. Of course, I've had many occasions to rub elbows with our regional neighbor, but this time I would be embarking on a quest, driving into the unexplored wilds (well, for ME, anyway)...of our county, and (dah duh duh DAH) riding a ferry across the river. (The excitement just never lets up around here, I tell ya...)

And you know what? It was pretty a dorkily entertaining kind of way. (Yeah, I own it.) I'd never taken a ferry before, so driving my car onto...what really amounted to a glorified raft, as far as I could tell...was kind of thrilling. You could see the other bank from the launch point, and the entire trip lasted approximately 5 minutes, but still, I was satisfied. Then I wound my way through the businesses and neighborhoods of Leesburg until I found my destination: Ball's Bluff Battlefield. And it No cannons, no reconstructed buildings...heck, not even a Visitor's Center. I believe the ultimate lameness of the site can be summed up by one marker I read which admitted: the battle actually transpired completely by mistake. Evidently a Union captain skulking about in the twilight mistook a treeline for a row of enemy tents, and advised his commanding officer to attack the "undefended camp." Definitely D-list material. (In the unfortunate soldier's case, probably D-for-demoted, right?) But I got to stroll several different hiking trails, enjoy a nice view of the water, snap a few photos...and go home.

Then the exact same conundrum cropped up again, when I realized most of the boys' break had passed, without us arranging an Outing o' Fun--the horror! Yet again, I was flummoxed as to where we could go that offered potential to be both novel and amusing...I found myself briefly nostalgic for the good old days when all they needed was a playground, maybe a miniature train ride (and snacks, and diapers, and car toys...okay, never mind, I don't miss that period AT ALL.) Not to mention, we're now at the point where, when I asked them if they wanted to "do something or have a lounge about the house day", each of them told ask the other one. Oh-kaaay...overwhelming ambivalence, then. After some Internet research, I hit upon a nature center that we hadn't seen, which sounded at least semi-promising. I set about selling the kids on it, with the following bribes--I mean "conditions": 1) I would feed them first and 2) that the excursion would involve only "light walking, not a forced march".These were mostly for Derek's benefit; all I had to do was mention the "amphibians and reptiles" on display, and Riley immediately got all gung-ho. As it turned out, their main objection revolved around the fact that we might have to navigate the notorious Beltway, for which they harbor extreme contempt and not a little bit of fear, due to our past experiences with horrific traffic congestion and nightmarish backups. (Which incidentally happen to be the norm for this particular road...but I find it hilarious that the people who are still years away from operating a motor vehicle have developed such strong animosity toward a local byway. Not that they're channeling me, or anything...)

However, Google Maps advised us to choose a local toll route that would dump us directly onto Interstate 95, bypassing the Highway from Hades altogether--yesssss! We were cruising along, traveling smoothly, making good time...and wouldn't you know it, progress ground to a complete halt. And started! And...stopped...repeatedly...for miles and miles. Well, that'll teach us to make a break for another county, now won't it? Eventually we passed a disabled van--completely on the shoulder, mind you, not blocking the through-lanes in any way whatsoever...and a crash on the opposite side of the divided highway, that affected us not in the slightest...but that everyone seemed to feel an undeniable compulsion to slow down and ogle. Sigh. We finally did manage to reach Watkins Nature Center and commune with the frogs, toads, turtles, fish, lizards, snakes, and birds housed in the rescue facility. And we meandered our way onto a few paths, to get a dose of the Great Outdoors on a decent March afternoon. All in all, a pleasant way to spend some time together and pass a few hours.

Next we convened the crucial team meeting back at the car to discuss the vitally important question: how the HECK can we avoid getting embroiled in the same traffic mess on the way home? I proposed two scenarios: either we reverse our route, and hope that enough time has passed for the post-accident cleanup to be completed and the snarls to have cleared...or we program "Home" into my phone's GPS and let it compute a back-road, alternate option. Not to worry--after all, we are intrepid explorers, fully committed to blazing our own trail, forging our own path, overcoming all obstacles. So we boldly, fearlessly...unanimously voted to trust the Android. Brilliant of us, as a matter of fact, since we enjoyed a trouble-free trek back to the old casa and felt quite pleased with ourselves in the process for our wise decision making.

And, feeling that we deserved it after all that excitement, we spent the remainder of the day...lounging about the house!

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