It was a winter wonderland. A cruel winter wonderland. The day before, a storm had dumped nearly four inches of snow on the Washington area. Now the thermometer hovered at 15 degrees and giddy TV weathermen were predicting gusts up to 45 mph, resulting in a wind chill, judging by the joy with which they reported it, of several hundred degrees below zero. And we had booked a getaway to snow country.
Back in the balmy days of early January, a trip to Savage River Lodge in Western Maryland sounded like a swell lark: playing in a harmless dusting of snow, cuddling by the fire, sipping a nice pinot noir. Today, as I watched a guy trudge up Fairfax Drive lugging cross-country skis, I wondered if we'd be able to mush our way out of Arlington.
In snow, it can take four-wheel drive to reach Maryland's Savage River Lodge (or they can pick you up at the bottom of the hill).
(R. Paul Herman)
ESCAPE KEYS (The Washington Post, Feb 9, 2005)
I phoned the lodge, where folks seemed even giddier than the meteorologist over their seven-inch snowfall. They said I'd definitely need four-wheel-drive to make it up the steep gravel road to their property near Frostburg (I did not make that up). So, my husband and I rented a hulking SUV.
Since this adventure was starting to seem like "Survivor: Arctic Lapland," I thought it might be fun if we each brought along a few "luxury items," just like participants in the TV reality show. If we ended up spinning into a snowy ditch, at least we'd have a bottle of champagne and some French chocolates (my top picks to combat hypothermia).
As we exited Interstate 68, our monster truck chewed through the snow-packed side roads and, 15 minutes later, we pulled up to the lodge. It felt as if we'd skidded into Colorado. The main building is a soaring log structure fringed by a porch and pierced with a massive free-standing stone fireplace. The grounds are surrounded by forests of hemlock and spruce, a private doughnut hole ringed by 750 acres of state land.
At the entrance is a chainsaw-carved bear and a collection of assorted antiques -- wagon wheels, old tools, harness gear. Most likely, you'll be welcomed by Bodhi, whose business cards read "Lodge Dog." Yellow lab Bodhi is not only friendly, he's a great marketer: Bodhi calendars, cookies, dog biscuits, even Bodhi Beer are for sale inside.
The building houses a two-story great room, where a few guests gather by the fireplace, piece together jigsaw puzzles or just kick back after cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on some 15 miles of trails that crisscross lodge and park lands. Old snowshoes and skates and a graceful wood canoe decorate hand-hewed walls. It's Eddie Bauer-cozy. If you were seduced into whiling away an afternoon before the fire, you'd be abetted by a collection of clocks, each stopped haphazardly at a different hour.
The office, bar and restaurant complete the rambling ground floor. More stairs lead to a lower level, where the chimney sprouts a second hearth and the ski shop rents cross-country and snowshoeing gear.
Guest lodging is a five-minute walk down the road, in 18 identical log cabins. But since we arrived a couple of hours before the 3 o'clock check-in, we opted for Sunday brunch at the lodge restaurant, fueling up on four-star meatloaf (more about that later) and average eggs Benedict, redeemed by a biscuit slathered with intense berry jam.
Since the sun had poked out and the thermometer hit double digits (from 8 degrees at our arrival), we decided to try skiing. Jody, who was manning the office under Bodhi's supervision, fixed us up with gear and a trail map. Like every employee we encountered at the lodge, he was that startling kind of nice you discover away from big cities.