The morning was dark and cold when the students arrived with their pillows and blankets to stow their gear in the charter bus. Dr. Gates said good morning to everyone with a short speech and collected all phones, then students said good-bye to their parents and grandparents. Theories about where the bus was heading had been swirling around the school for weeks—students came up with Florida, Tennessee, New York, Washington, and Virginia as possible destinations. The bus headed northwest.

We travelled through S.C. and N.C. and in the afternoon the bus stopped at a rest stop in Virginia. Students were sure they were in Virginia from the signs but were still in the dark about the final destination, wondering if this was just another rest stop and if we were doing something similar to last year’s trip. Soon we had our answer.

In the late afternoon, the bus pulled into Bear Creek Lake State Park in Cumberland County, Virginia, a well-appointed getaway spot along a road with a beautiful dam and waterfall. Students took their gear to their rooms in various cabins and a lodge, then headed out for their first activities: archery and beach volleyball and hiking. (Since Celsi’s Cuddly Coalas, Kelsi’s group, had won the first challenge, they got to try their hand at archery first). The other two teams headed down to play beach volleyball near the lake and hiked to see a beaver dam. After this, the CCC and the United Goobers, Ella’s group, switched, and Ella’s group got to try archery, while Kelsi’s group got to participate in the volleyball championship. The finale of the tournament took place between the CCC and the United Goobers, while Isaac’s group, the Sugar Mamas, got a short archery session. The CCC won the tournament, since the volleyball got hit into the lake. Students enjoyed these activities despite the cold temperatures. Gracin shot nine bullseyes on the archery course so now Dr. Simmons has to give him nine quiz passes. “Here’s a lesson on why you should never gamble,” said Dr. Simmons.

On Wednesday morning, we went to Staunton, Virginia, to see Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It, performed by the American Shakespeare Center at Blackfriars Theater. The ASC has been performing the works of Shakespeare and other playwrights for 35 years. Normally, they put on four or five simultaneous productions in a nine-month season. Until the pandemic struck, they also travelled to dozens of theaters all over the United States, including the Winyah Auditorium. They use Shakespeare’s performance conditions, including universal lighting and seating the public on the stage. This way, actors can interact with the audience. The actors put a modern twist to As You Like It, dressing in contemporary clothes and using cell phones. As always, at the beginning of the play, they sang songs and danced. Many students were pleased to see that Topher and Constance are still part of the troupe and remembered us! The ASC gave us an amazing experience and we hope to welcome them back to our school next year.

After seeing As You Like It, Kingfishers took the short walk to the restaurant, Taste of India, for lunch. Once everyone arrived, Dr. Gates encouraged students to branch out and try new foods while they were there. Most students were under the impression that the food would be spicy, and several people could be heard wondering about it. Once everyone was inside, the food was served in a buffet style. There was a small selection of food varying from tandoori chicken to a vegetable dish. “I went up there to get some more of the chicken but they were out,” Branton said. “So when they had more chicken, Mrs. Crosby sent the guy to my table with a whole tray of tandoori chicken!” Most students got to try something they wouldn’t normally try and we also got to see one of the ASC actors come in to get take-out for the cast.

After lunch, we appropriately took a tour of the University of Virginia, which Thomas Jefferson designed and which has been greatly influenced by his writings and legacy ever since. Our student guide took us around the Grounds and to the original dormitories of the Lawn and explained a lot about the history of this institution which dates back almost to the founding of our country. The students got to see a monument to all the enslaved people who built and worked at UVA, which was very moving and informative.

Thursday morning, we left our cabins at the state park and headed to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s house. We arrived, and were ushered up to the house by bus. Our tour guide, Elizabeth, first showed us Thomas Jefferson’s museum. “He wanted people to know about the history of America,” she said. “That’s why he had the museum right when you walked in.”  Then she showed us his office, which was full of bookshelves. “Thomas Jefferson liked to read,” Elizabeth shared with us. Then she showed us his bedroom with its French inspiration.“ Thomas Jefferson loved the design of the house in France he stayed in so much that he completely changed his original design plans” she told us. From there, we went into the dining room. “Thomas Jefferson brought a French chef back with him who cooked two meals a day here at Monticello, breakfast and an early dinner at four o’clock,” Elizabeth told us. “Jefferson would host many people, so the chef had to cook a lot of food.”  

After we toured the house, we ventured out onto the lawn. We got a group picture in front of the house! We also got to go to the gift shops, which were filled with all sorts of things, like books, hats, and even a scroll of the Declaration of Independence. Our history lesson did not end with a tour of the house, however. We walked down and observed the slave quarters, which had a very informative video playing when you walked in. From there, we ended the history part of the trip by exploring the horse stables. 

After a wonderful tour of Monticello, we stopped by the gift shops scattered around the grounds. Underneath Monticello is a store selling all sorts of foods made out of ingredients grown on the property. About half of the school walked out with a bottle of root beer. Other items popular among our students were strawberry preserves, flower seeds, and maple syrup. After we finished our tour, we made our way to the front gift shop, which had an even broader selection of Jefferson-themed items. Every wall featured shirts and books with his face on it, surrounded by his famous quotes. Multiple notable purchases were made. After about an hour of imploring, Nolan and Jack were finally able to convince Kipper to loan them the money for a pocket watch. “I told that boy not to buy that pocket watch,” complained Ella. Caleb added to his notorious coin collection. The seniors even found a kingfisher plush that they excitedly bought for Dr. Gates. It is now perched on his bookshelf. Monticello was a very successful history and shopping destination for our students.

Randolph Macon College was our next destination. RMC is a small private institution with a student body of 1500 students and it was interesting to see how different UVA and RMC are from each other. “What I most enjoyed about our experience at both schools was seeing the diversity of the campuses or ‘grounds’ as UVA students would say,” Sage said, but she preferred RMC. “It was a better environment than UVA,” she said. “It was less crowded.” We got to see how both schools meet different people’s standards and needs.

After eating dinner on the RMC campus and chatting with some students, TGS went back to the hotel by bus. When we got there the students were told to dress warmly and head down to the lobby after because we were going on a walk. Students speculated about the upcoming activity. Was it ice-skating? Some other kind of physical activity? As we walked for about a mile, the students chatted and some even gave piggyback rides. After almost losing Dr. Simmons, we crossed a few more streets and found ourselves back on the RMC campus. Suddenly Dr. Gates stopped in front of Keeble Observatory with an important announcement. “We are finally going to succeed in doing an activity we have been trying to schedule for ten years,” he said. “We are finally visiting an observatory.” As we entered the building, we walked up flights of stairs, through multiple hallways, and over a bridge to get to the telescope. The room was filled with red lights to dilate the eyes before looking through the powerful instrument. Some people got to see Mars and some people got to see the Orion Nebula. Many people thought that Mars looked like a red dot and that the room was really cool. The observatory was an enjoyable experience.

The next morning we packed up for the ride home and headed over to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts with its amazing collections of art. Dr. Gates said that the American art was very impressive and that all the art was very imaginatively displayed. For example, a tribute portrait from “The New Republic” series by Kehinde Wiley was placed among the medieval icon pictures. It was hard for the groups to stay together but everyone found something interesting to look at, especially Zayne who was so interested he went super-slowly from one painting to another and almost got lost. It is nice to know that Kingfishers can appreciate art!

On the way home, we needed to stop somewhere for lunch. By far, the most requested place to eat at during the trip was Chick Fil A. We piled into the building and our line wrapped around the inside of the restaurant. A curious customer asked us what was happening. We told him that we had come from South Carolina to Virginia on a school trip to visit many different places. “Wow, I wish I went to that school!” he said, after learning what we were doing. The customer service was amazing and the line moved fairly quickly and soon we all were chowing down. After eating, we got into the bus with full stomachs and prepared to go home. 

The ride home was very fun. The back of the bus played slumber party games and got to know each other better while the front of the bus quietly conversed among themselves. Almost everyone got their hair braided and we ate many snacks. Towards the end of the bus ride, we got our phones and started to wind down. When we finally made it to the school, it was 7pm and everyone was ready to go home. Another unforgettable road trip for Kingfishers! Thank you teachers, especially Dr. Gates and Ms. Amy, for making it all possible.

By: Annika, Emily, Saylor, Isaac, Bristol, Sage, and Quin