September 19, 2018

Natural Bridge Road Trip

Back before we got married, we talked about taking a road trip for our honeymoon, thinking it would be less expensive and possibly less stressful than getting on a plane. We ended up changing our minds though, and deciding we just wanted to relax on a beach somewhere. So this year, for our anniversary, we decided we would go on that road trip!
And up until the day before we left that’s about all we had decided on. We decided we would be gone for 5 nights, but we had no idea where we would be for those nights. My wife put together a list of points of interest, and I was suppose to find us places to stay, but I was stressed from starting on a new project at work, and kind of put it off. Mistake number one. If you want to take advantage of AirBnB on a trip, it’s really best to plan a week or two ahead of time. If you try to plan the night before, you probably can only do instant book which is about 20% of all listings and, in my opinion, not the ones you usually want.So we ended up staying in a non-air BnB in West Virginia our first two nights, booked at about 11pm the previous night.

This first booking actually worked out really great. The place had three rooms, but we were the only ones there, so we basically had the whole house to ourselves. The innkeeper had only been working there for a week, but he was great and made amazing food. The property itself was pretty interesting. The owner had built a small bunker in the back, and was building a much larger one with financial support from like-minded people that need somewhere to go when society inevitably collapses.
During the day we left to go up to a spring/spa/resort called Capon. We got a soaking bath which was enjoyable, and refreshing, but not something I would pay for if my wife didn’t love natural springs so much. We also picked up a few gallons of water to take home with us. Then we stopped in a small town to see a movie before heading back to the inn for a delicious dinner.

After two nights there we decided to move on. So, an hour before checkout, I booked us a hotel near the Natural Bridge in southern Virginia. On our way down, we stopped at Charlottesville for lunch, and went to a chocolate and wine shop, and did a tasting/pairing. Then we continued down to the Natural Bridge Inn. This wasn’t quite as nice as our private BnB from the previous two nights. And I prepaid for three nights, non-refundable. Mistake number two. It was loud, did not appear to have been cleaned, and did not look like the room on the website. But it was a bed and it sufficed.
The Natural Bridge itself is quite impressive. It’s $8 a person to see it, which seems a bit steep to see a rock, but it was worth it. Beyond the bridge is a one mile hiking trail with a Monacan Native American village recreation, a spring, a small cave, and a waterfall along it.
Our favorite attraction, however, was the nearby drive-through zoo. It was ridiculously expensive, but amazing. They gave you a bucket of food (well you paid for it), and then you drove through being approached by ostriches, lama, deer, buffalo, and more animals wanting to eat your food. It was a bit scary to be honest, the animals are not gentle, do not stop eating willingly, and will happily stick their whole head in your car. We lost one bucket to a hungry llama. But it was a very cool experience.
We also spent a lot of time while we were there walking around Lexington, Va, a vibrant historic town that’s home to two very different colleges; Washington and Lee University is a private liberal arts school with a beautiful campus filled with green fields, red bricks, and white columns, while Virginia Military Institute is, as the name implies, a military college and looks a bit like a prison. We also visited some friends who had just finished building a house to retire in outside of Lexington. They were able to tell us a bit more about the town and VMI; they adopted freshman or “rats” each year and let them stay in the house to get a break from their new spartan lifestyle.
One of the last things we did was go on a hike, specifically the Devil’s Marble Yard. It was a fun hike, but required creativity to get past the several stream crossings. Eventually we got to the marble yard itself, a huge open slope of rocks about the size of a car with a good view of the surrounding mountains. There was suppose to be a view at the top, but we weren’t sure when we had started, or how far we had walked, or if we had even stayed on the right path, so we eventually turned back.
After three tolerable nights at the Natural Bridge Inn, we headed back to the opposite corner of Virginia and home.

Thoughts
When we went into our trip without a solid plan, we had a romantic idea of making things up on the go. This turned out to be more stressful than anticipated, and led to spending three of the five nights in a sub-par historic hotel. Maybe planning a trip as you go can be done well, but to really enjoy it I think you would need to have lower expectations or plenty of money to burn.