Cameron Shook

Backwoods Virginia

Cameron Shook
Backwoods Virginia

As another summer goes by, along comes another long vacation with the Shook clan in a quiet cabin somewhere in the mountains to recover from that ailment known as a “job”. Typically, we retreat to the cabin that I’ve written about before: the Blue Springs Gap cabin near Wytheville VA. This year, in part because we decided we needed a bit more room and running water sounded like a bonus, we decided to stay at the Sunrise Cabin which is near the town of Ivanhoe. Only 20 minutes of I77, Google Maps optimistically estimates a travel time of 2 hours and 37 minutes which is about the same time it would take you to get to Asheville.

Google, smart as it is, can’t predict the idiocy of government though. Deciding that the best time for roadwork on a major interstate was the 4th of July weekend, our 2 ½ hour trip quickly turned into a 4 ½ stop-and-go parking lot complete with a motorcycle accident, a closed bridge, and rather tense stretch of no-mans land that didn’t have an available bathroom for 15 miles. As we neared our departure from I-77, the rain that has made this summer a-typical started falling heavily. Moving from a wide 6 lane to a narrow, twisting, flooded 2 lane road in 0 visibility conditions is intimidating to say the least. Even the guy in the Jeep ahead of me was being slow and cautious. Finally though, we found the gravel road that had a veritable river running down the center and unlocked the gate leading to the cabin.

Sunrise cabin was originally a private residence which was donated to the park service; whoever did that, was a far more generous person than I’ll ever be. 4 bedrooms (which sleeps 8), 2 bathrooms, and a front porch that looks across the valley to the mountains on the other side make this a great place to take a group of people. Once the rest of the Shooks arrived later that afternoon, it was a full house but it seated us all comfortably and that says something.

Monday was spent very leisurely which set the theme of the trip. We gathered around for coffee and a small breakfast at 9am and then usually spent an hour reading books on the front porch enjoying the breeze and cool temperatures. My brother, not as content to be leisurely, decided to hike some of the trails that stretched out around the cabin. After 30 minutes or so, he returned and told us there was a car graveyard at the bottom of a short trail. I went back with him and found that the cars were actually in a farmers cow pasture and other than a Pinto, there wasn’t anything really interesting. On the hike back, I happened to look over my left shoulder and saw a grey handle sticking out of a pile of leaves. I went over and pulled a new set of handtrucks out of the mud and dirt, and other than low air pressure it was in perfect condition. Afraid I’d find a body nearby, I grabbed the hand trucks and hightailed it back to the cabin so I wouldn’t have to turn them in as evidence.

That evening the realization we had somehow gone on vacation without ice-cream was unthinkable so the Shook men jumped in the car and plugged in the nearest destination that would have ice-cream: the Galax Walmart. As we went through the town of Fries on the New River, we saw the results of the torrential rain the day before as the dam had nearly 4’ of water spilling over the top. The Walmart was filled with your standard Walmart oddities: people who could tell you “weren’t from around these parts”, a sporting goods section that featured the largest caliber weapons I’ve ever seen in any gun store (.500 S&W Magnum?! There’s raging water buffalo around here?!), and numerous people who walked up to my brother and started talking to them as if they’d known each other for years. Quickly making our escape, we drove back to the cabin.

Tuesday started the same as Monday, with a quiet breakfast and a lot of page turning before we loaded up the car to go trout fishing at a trout farm in Wytheville. Typically, trout farms aren’t much of a challenge but the previous year this pond had skunked all but one of us so we felt like we weren’t setting the bar low by returning to try again. The trout farm is actually the oldest state hatchery in Virginia, surrounded by giant stone buildings and plantation style homes from the late 1800s. When we pulled up though, we couldn’t find the manager. Figuring we’d just pay him after catching our fish, we headed to the ponds which were actually set above the parking lot. I reached the top of the hill first and stopped dead, “Uh….guys?”. Below me wasn’t so much a pond as a very grassy bowl; apparently, they had drained all of their ponds this year and wouldn’t be reopen till 2014. With our fishing plans scrapped, we decided to split up with the guys heading out to a local rifle range and the girls going antique shopping. We had a good time at the range, especially watching the people who were there when we started who decided that before throwing away an armchair that was in tatters, they would shoot it to pieces first. We met up with the girls for a little antique shopping and then went back to the cabin. I hiked up an old horse trail for a while and explored some of the blackberry patches all around us but only found 4 or 5 berries that were ripe. In the fall though, I have a feeling you’d see bears every day munching down on the acres of blackberries that surround the cabin.

Wednesday was my final day at the cabin due to that ailment I discussed at the beginning, so I decided to stop being lazy and go look through an abandoned cabin not too far away. The cabin by my guess was probably 150 years old just because of how low the ceilings were and it’s always interesting what you find when nosing around abandoned places. There were 4 mattresses spread through the cabin and hadn’t been used in years but the fear you were walking through somebody’s “home” never quite left you. The cardboard insulation had peeled away from the wall, showing all of the old brands and logos that were originally used. The old stove oil stove even sat in there, rusted entirely except for a single enamel door that somehow escaped almost unscathed. As I finished taking all of the pictures that I wanted, I walked away thinking of all the abandoned cabins I’ve heard about buried in the Smokies and figuring out when I could spend a weekend tracking them down.

The rest of the day was rather uneventful, and I began the trip home around 8pm that night. 10 minutes from the cabin, I saw something that I’ve somehow avoided all my years camping: a female black bear and her two cubs crossing the road. That, coupled with no traffic on the drive home, ended this trip on a very good note. 


Amish in the sense that, at one point, my family helped others raise barns.
Now I build websites to help others build their businesses.