Lexington is in the heart of Rockbridge County, halfway between Harrisonburg and Roanoke. Thanks to its colleges — Washington and Lee University and the Virginia Military Institute — the town’s economy seems robust. Restaurants are full, Main Street is lively and there are enough culture and adventure enthusiasts to support stores dedicated to the performing arts and outdoor recreation.
The morning after I arrived, I walked into town and shopped at both the indy bookstores — the Bookery and Books & Co. I stopped in the 2nd Hand Shop, where owner Freddie Goodhart welcomed me with a gravelly drawl. “Look around,” he said. “You’ll see a lot of stuff you don’t need.” He was right: golf clubs, old rearview mirrors, Coke bottles, vinyl LPs, eyeglasses, Civil War bullets, belt buckles, license plates and fiddles.
Freddie loaded firewood into his wood-burning stove, lit a cigarette and began telling stories. “A woman once brought in two live, caged white ducks on a Friday,” he told me. After some haggling, he bought them for $5 and sold them on Saturday for $8.
I took a walking tour of downtown, which finished just in time for the 5 o’clock cannon at VMI — the hour when the flags are lowered and the military duty day officially ends. Then I walked over to Blue Lab Brewing Co., a year-old microbrewery in an old feed supply store. I talked to the owners, who both have day jobs at Washington and Lee (one is a biology professor). As I stood in the small tasting room sampling ale, stout and porter, locals came in to fill up their growlers for the weekend.
The next day I awoke with anticipation. Despite the fact that everyone seemed perplexed (why are you going on a hike with llamas?) I was excited about acquainting myself with a somewhat exotic animal and the humans who own nine of them.
Chris Best, who owns the Applewood Inn with his artist wife, Linda, is a wiry man who takes stairs two at a time and delivers bad puns like nobody’s business. The llamas are fluffy and finicky and can carry 20 percent of their body weight. The Bests ended up with two llamas at their Berkshires inn in the 1980s, and they’ve been smitten ever since.
Chris walked toward the llama pen with what looked like dog harnesses and offered our small group an orientation. “Use two hands on the rope,” he said. “When we’re on a trek, they’re in a giant salad bar.” The herbivore llamas will eat frequently on the hike, he told us, but don’t be afraid to pull them along. “They will not try to hurt you, and they don’t bite, but they do have a kick. And they have three stomachs, so when they want to give you a nasty spit, it comes from stomach three. It’s like projectile vomit.”