Max Out

One of these days, I’ll surely grow up. But as I drag my feet in that process, my good friend KB’s son Max seems to be accelerating. Max is nine years old now, and he’s a budding explorer with the perfect attitude for adventure. So KB and I decided to add Max to the mix for our annual winter trip. It was a new experience for him—and for us—and he upped the fun factor quite a bit! He also upped the sophistication level on most of our conversations (remind me to tell you the knock-knock joke about the banana).

We headed out on Friday night to Conley Cabin, one of the PATC cabins in the Blue Ridge near Stanardsville. Conley is in the “Vining Tract” adjacent to Shenandoah National Park and it overlooks a beautiful valley. The cabin itself is a simple one-room structure with a wood stove, but no electricity, no water, no nothing…in other words, just perfect.


We arrived well after dark and made the 20 minute hike in on the fire road, with Max keeping our cart of gear and food upright any time it started to spill. It was enough of a walk to feel like we were out there, but not too far. We (over)packed a full week’s worth of food for a two day weekend, of course, and we were thankful later that we had left all of our lycra behind.


On the drive up, I had asked Max what he was most excited about, imagining an answer that featured s’mores by the campfire, that sort of thing. Instead, he said he’d never used an outhouse and that he couldn’t wait. Hmm…my answer would have been different. It was obvious that I was about to have an opportunity to look at the world through a new lens. 🙂

We woke up on Saturday to cold rain, but that didn’t stop Max from leading us on a hike up to a place called The Cliffs. The Vining Tract features a great trail system with beautiful scenery as well as a lot of human history—old chimneys, foundations, and historic cabins. Then, despite the rain, we had a fabulous lunch at a spot called Andy’s Overlook. From there, it was back to the cabin to dry out, get water from a nearby spring, chop some wood, and get dinner going.

On the menu were some old favorites: beef tenderloin, casserole-style macaroni and cheese, fresh green beans, and cheesecake and apple dumplings for dessert. We cooked the tenderloin over a spit on the outdoor fire, refining the technique a bit since last time. It took about 45 minutes and was smoked to perfection (along with Max, who apparently chose the wrong place to sit around the fire).

Max announced on Sunday morning that he wished we were staying another night, although he conceded that he “sort of liked electricity, and a shower would be good.” We talked a bit about Elijah Conley (1904-1992), who built the cabin in the 1940s and lived in it year round, and we guessed that he may not have shared Max’s enthusiasm for the outhouse (although it was a nice outhouse).

KB and I have been sharing fabulous adventures for nearly 30 years now, but this trip is one of my favorites. It was great to share in Max’s enthusiasm, curiosity, and outdoor skills, if not his knock-knock jokes and his love of the privy. Sure, it was humbling to be out-hiked by a nine-year-old, but that’ll never happen again. Max turns ten in just a few weeks.



Leave a Reply