October 6 - 21, 2008

Greenbrier River Trail, WV

Virginia Creeper Trail, VA

Blue Ridge Parkway, NC&VA

Shenandoah NP, VA

Amanda & Calvin's Wedding, MD

Pine Creek Trail, PA

 

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Trip Log ...

Monday 10/6/08 … Naweedna to Savage River SF MD …

We were up early – already a day late. Why, you might ask. Well, one of us – I won’t name names – wanted to see if the Bills could start the season 5-0, so we stayed home Sunday to watch them get their collective butts handed to ‘em by the Cardinals. So be it. At least they are 4-1 going into the bye week ;-)

 

RVan pulled onto Crossett around 8:30 and headed to … Letchworth. Why not start a trip with a leisurely drive though the park? Why not, indeed? We were greeted by a small herd of deer soon after entering the park. A bit farther down the road we saw a fine Red Fox cross in front of us, pausing just long enough to look at us as if to say “Can’t catch me” before taking himself and his bushy tail into the understory.

 

It was a fine fall day. The trees were showing color and some had already lost many of their leaves. As we drove along, we drove over layers of fresh leaf falls. I frequently looked in the rear-view mirror to see them swirling around in our wake. Such scenes always remind me of fall car-commercials from the fifties and sixties. They’d show the new model swishing down a leaf-littered highway leaving clouds of swirling leaves in its wake. Don’t remember the car being advertised, but do certainly remember the scene. By the way, do you recall a commercial showing an elderly couple sitting at a table – she said, “As soon as the lights go out, you go to sleep” at which point the lights went out and you could hear him falling face-first into his soup? What was that commercial advertising? Dunno, do you?

 

It was a pleasant drive down through the Genesee Valley and points south. We made it all the way through PA and found ourselves winding around the mountainous streets of Frostburg MD by late afternoon. Janie attended Frostburg State for one semester before transferring to the UofMD, but she didn’t seem interested in visiting any of her old campus haunts – if there were any. Damned “A” students ;-)

 

As we drove the back roads, I started taking note of the political signs. We saw 10 to 20 McCain-Palin signs and only, count ‘em, ONE Obama-Biden. There were many more signs supporting local politicians – I guess what they say about all politics being local is true. The lack of Obama signs is a bit troubling, however. Our local news media have reported several complaints about Obama signs being defaced or stolen. What’s up with that? I would hope that a fine country such as this could muster the courage to withstand a divergence of opinion.

 

I have another theory about the missing Obama signs: the Democrats are not pushing the traditional campaigning methodology. You know, putting a sign in your yard is rather 20th century. I’ve heard that they are very active on the Internet and cell phones, so maybe they just don’t push yard signs like the Republicans. Then again, maybe the Social Conservatives are mounting an active anti-Obama-sign campaign. Whatever …

 

We had planned to put up in the New Germany SP, just south of Frostburg. However, when we arrived, we discovered it was CLOSED. Never mind what the AAA book says. Never mind what their web page says. Never mind what the sign on the office bulletin board said “Camping now available at the overflow picnic area”. The overflow picnic area was gated and locked with a big sign saying Do not block gate. They are closed and left no forwarding address. Fortunately, there is a state forest with camping just down the road, and that’s where we ended up. Savage River SF is really very nice. There are about 130 campsites strung along the road to the reservoir. We figured if there were other campers, they would be near the reservoir, so we ended up in #120 – nice and isolated. After my Old Guy discount, the whole thing cost us all of $5. Now that’s a fee that reminds me of my youth when NF campsites were $2 – or free, in some cases.

 

Tuesday 10/7/08 Savage River SF MD to Seneca SF WV …

Brrrr … it was chilly this morning. We brought along our in/out temperature thingy, so we hung one sensor out the window and put the other back by our bed. The temps at 7 AM were 50 & 34 degrees. After running the furnace a bit to take off the chill, we turned on the stove to heat a pot of water for morning beverage. It got toasty warm in short order.

 

On to WV … wild, wonderful, wooly WV. Corect me if I’m wrong, but I believe this is a dissected plateau. Not having been influenced by direct glaciation, the terrain has been formed solely by stream erosion. That manifests itself in lots of narrow valleys that wind hither and yon. Roads follow the valleys until they get to the headwaters and then it is up and over the drainage divide and down into the next valley. And so it goes an endless slalom punctuated by mountain climbing.

 

At one point, we crossed a narrow ridge populated with wind turbines. That was an eerie sight. We didn’t know the turbines were there until we saw the shadows strobing through the trees. When I looked up, I could see a giant white thing moving over our heads. At first I thought it might be large bird’s wing, but it was way too big – unless they have Pterodactyls down here – white ones. When we got to the summit we could see several wind turbines going north and south from the pass. Neat. They were facing south and rotating, so we pulled over one to see if we could hear any whooshing. Nothing but silence. What is the problem with these things? We’ve never heard them making noise. They are graceful – almost beautiful. How can people think of them as a nuisance – and eye-sore? Have you seen an active oil field? Now that’s ugly - and smelly. How about a strip mine? Wind turbines are a godsend – unless you are a migrating bird. Again, I end with … whatever …

 

Eventually, we found ourselves on US-219. Although it is a full-fledged US highway, it is not immune to the terrain, and it is just as torturous as the smaller roads – and as an added bonus: US-219 has way more truck traffic. However, US-219 goes directly to our destination: the Greenbrier River Rail Trail. Oddly, it starts (or ends) in Buffalo before disappearing somewhere in southern WV. If it weren’t for the curves and trucks, we’d have a nice direct route.

 

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The weather was wonderful – we should be biking. Guess what? We found ourselves in Cass WV around noon . Cass just happens to be at the north end of the Greenbrier Trail. We had a bit of lunch and got the bikes and us ready to hit the trail. Check out the map; zoom out a click or two, switch to Terrain and follow the Greenbrier River. The Greenbrier meanders N-S and we were riding downstream. The trail is remarkably remote with only a few small roads crossing it. Thus, you are left with a tree lined trail bordering a mountain stream and littered with leaves of various sizes, shapes, and colors. There was a gentle breeze in our face and occasionally a puff of wind would blow a flotilla of leaves from a tree. We would ride though the rain of leaves and see if any fell into our bike baskets. During the entire 25 hours we spent on the trail we only caught one leaf (Janie) and a small cluster of pine needles (me) in our baskets. What are the odds?

 

Right off the bat, we encountered a Pileated. It hop scotched from tree to tree in front of us as we rode down the trail. It’d land on the trunk, hop around to the opposite side, and then stick its big, red-topped head around to see if we were still coming. This scene was repeated several times before it finally flew across the stream and disappeared into the trees on the opposite bank.

 

Riding on crushed stone is fairly noisy, but we’ve gotten used to it. However, we were not used to the sound of dry leaves crunching under our tires. It was disconcerting for a while, but we eventually got used to that as well. When we stopped to look at a natural wonder such as a fern or showy patch of moss, we were amazed by the noise of the falling leaves. The large, dry oak leaves really make a loud clunk when the strike the ground. Of course, the noise was accentuated by the peaceful quiet of the surroundings. Like I said, this is a very remote trail – for the most part.

 

I was surprised to see so many birds flitting around the under story – it is October, you know. I would have thought they would be gone and/or more secretive. We saw Phoebes – so there must still be plenty of bugs to pluck from the air – and we saw a Solitary Vireo (aka blue-headed vireo) – an uncommon bird for us. There were the expected Towhees and lots of Carolina Wrens – more heard than seen. Farther down the trail, Janie saw a large bird flying along over the stream bed. We expected it to be a Great Blue Heron (GBH) but it turned out to be … an immature Bald Eagle. We chased it down the stream for a while, although not as long as the Pileated. Okay, this is turning into a very nice experience. Almost perfect weather, a great trail, and interesting wildlife – and we just starting. Yay!

 

We had planned to turn around at Sharp’s Tunnel, but didn’t quite get that far (zoom in on the trail map and you will see the tunnel and the picnic table just north of it). It was getting late and our concern about the growing darkness was accentuated by the fact that we were on the dark side of the valley – don’t need to be biking on an unfamiliar trail in the dark. We stopped at a small shelter, had a snack, and headed back to RVan. On the way back we got a great view of a Pipe-Stem Butterfly, and we watched Kingfishers winging up and down stream. Then, in the growing darkness, I noticed a little, dark bird cross the trail and perch momentarily in a bush before flitting to another bush then another and yet another. In all the flitting I managed to get one good view of an upturned tail. It’s a Wren, but what kind? Not a Carolina; not a House. The size, behavior and darkness all pointed toward it being a Winter Wren. That’s what I’m saying: it was a Winter Wren – prove me wrong. We haven’t seen one of them since we left OH. Yay, another rare-for-us bird.

 

Bike Data: 26.69 miles, 3:20 hours bike time, 4 hours total time

 

After racking the bikes, we headed on down the road to Seneca SF where we secured a campsite. The camping fee is $11 but there is a 10% discount for Old Guys. That means the actual fee is $9.90, so we naturally put $10 in the envelope and were done with it – or so we thought. We’ve camped here before and the fee structure was exactly the same. That time we were greeted by a friendly Ranger Guy early the next morning. He bid us good morning and informed us that we’d overpaid by 10 cents after which he promptly handed Janie a shiny dime. Well, the exact same thing happened this time. The only difference was this dime was in a sealed envelope. Those Ranger dudes are noble citizens for sure.

 

Wednesday 10/8/08 Seneca SF WV to Watoga SP WV …

We got up at our usual 7:30-ish to 60/49 degrees and overcast skies. After finishing our morning beverages, we drove down to Marlinton, which is just about in the middle of the Greenbrier Trail. Marlinton is by far the largest town on the trail. Unfortunately, the people that live there seem to have a problem with fire. The very nice RR Station that served as the HQ for the trail burnt down recently and now there are just two chimneys and an outbuilding standing. As we biked north out of town, we passed two more houses burnt to the ground. What is it with these people?

 

We were heading north to the place we stopped yesterday. After that, we would return to RVan for some lunch and then go south in the afternoon. We were accompanied by several Towhees and White Throat Sparrows that flitted off the trail in front of us and almost totally disappeared in the side brush. At one point we stopped to listen to a Pileated and were rewarded by the drumming of a Ruffed Grouse. Every time I hear Grouse drumming, I’m reminded of my youth when I thought it was someone trying to start a reluctant motorcycle. How silly was that? Eventually, I realized it was the Grouse and that made me feel even more naïve than usual.

 

We saw a button buck standing along the trail; the mother was probably lurking in the under-brush nearby. As we biked along, we were struck by how the Greenbrier reminded us of parts of other trails we’ve done in the east: Pine Creek, Lehigh Gorge, Youghiogheny, even parts of the Lehigh Valley. The Greenbrier Trail faithfully follows the Greenbrier River and, other than Marlinton, passes through very few towns – and those that are on the trail consist of a handful of buildings at most. The civilized aspects are separated by long stretches of remote trail – so much so that the occasional vacation cottage is more interesting than obnoxious. The trail is almost entirely tree lined – some parts are covered by such a dense forest canopy that they are actually quite dark at midday . The river valley is cut into the plateau just west of the boundary with the Valley and Ridge Province . Check out the map; if you turn on Terrain and zoom out a couple clicks you will see that the Greenbrier River follows the boundary between the two provenances. The stream has preserved its meanders as it cut down into the plateau, so the trail is constantly turning this way and that. This sinuosity eliminates one of the most annoying aspects of rail trails: long, straight stretches. The constant and gentle curves keep you guessing about where the trail leads and offer changing visual perspectives. If you relish an 80-mile ride down what is essentially a curvy country lane that is level and smooth, shady and cool, quiet and serene and just happens to border a gurgling stream, the Greenbrier Trail is for you. Although there aren’t a lot of spectacular scenes like you see on some other trails, the Greenbrier is uniformly pleasant. The only bad thing about the Greenbrier is the getting to it.

 

There is a bridge over the river just before you get to Sharp’s Tunnel – only about twenty yards separate the end of the bridge and the beginning of the tunnel. We’d stopped in the gap so I could pee. As I did so, Janie walked into the tunnel to see if it was too dark to ride the bikes through. As I stood there doing my thing with my thing, I heard some voices on the bridge. Another couple about our age had caught up to us. I quickly made myself presentable and greeted them. They are from Hershey PA and normally bike roads, but with age have come to appreciate the greater safety of rail trails. They do B&Bs near trails and had spent last night in Marlinton. They were riding the Greenbrier from S to N and expected to finish the trail today.

 

As we were exchanging these tidbits of personal information, another couple came across the bridge. It turns out they are from TN and had stayed in the same B&B as the PA couple. The TN couple had brought headlamps, so the four of us followed them through the tunnel. Once we were on the other side, we continued to visit and learned the PA couple had been to Niagara Falls and biked Letchworth. They even knew about Geneseo because they’d stayed at the Big Tree. Far out, eh? In short order, the PA husband said, “Ready to book it, Ann?”. I said, “Go ahead; we’ll bring up your rear.” We only had a short distance to go before we came to our turnaround point from yesterday. When we got there, we met up with yet another couple like us; they were from FL. The woman allowed as how she “hates” hills, so the Greenbrier must not have many for her to be doing it. So there you have it. When you travel at this time of year, you are traveling with the newlyweds and the nearly deads. Guess which category we and the PA, TN, and FL couples fit into?

 

When we got back to the bridge, we were entertained by a Kingfisher that was flying down stream. It few under the bridge and started to perch on a snag caught in midstream but then decided it would be too close to us, so it swooped over the dead tree on the west bank. It was still in easy viewing distance, so we got a good long look.

 

We got back to RVan around 1:30 . The threatening skies had finally started to give way to rain. I dug out the bike ponchos and tried to weatherproof our bike baskets and rack packs while Janie fixed us salami on pumpernickel for lunch. It turns out a plastic grocery bag fits nicely over the baskets. I bungied some other bits of plastic over the rack packs. They are supposed to be waterproof, but we’ve learned that they get wet in a prolonged exposure … and once wet they take a very long time to dry out. It really wasn’t raining much at all, but it had the look of one of those steady drizzles. We didn’t much want to eat our lunch at the burned out station, so we packed it up and headed to the Marlinton Community Park south of town where we’d had lunch three years ago. There is a nice gazebo down by the river and that’s where we chowed down. The other time we lunched here we’d seen an Eagle eating a freshly caught fish – no such luck today.

 

After lunch, it started to rain a bit more steadily. Fortunately, it wasn’t windy, so the bike ponchos worked very nicely. In a wind, they act like sails, so they are more of a nuisance than a help. We crossed the Watoga Bridge and stopped just short of Seebert, which is at the entrance to Watoga SP – the place we intended to stay that night. As we headed back to Marlinton, the rain let up and finally stopped all together. We pulled off at one of the on-trail campsites for a snack. It was then that we looked at each other and said, “Should we tempt fate?” We removed all our rain protection, ate a couple granola bars and, just as we were getting ready to mount up again, you guessed it, it started raining. You can’t fool with Mother Nature, just with her supposed likeness.

 

On the way back we saw three, fully-antlered bucks standing in the trail. They quickly ran off and joined a few more over on the edge of a hay field. These boys looked like they’d already rubbed off their velvet. It seems a little early for that, but then this is a bit farther south than we are used to.

 

Bike data: 41.79 miles 5 hours bike time, 7 hours total time

 

After racking the bikes, we drove through Marlinton – about four blocks of seedy downtown – and pulled into a filling station to top up our gas. Then it was on down US-219 to the little road that leads to Watoga SP. The total distance is something like ten miles. It took the better part of an hour to negotiate that short distance. There were no fewer than four hairpin turns and several steep climbs – and equally steep descents – before we even got to the small road leading over to Seebert and the state park. The small road had one of those turn-back-on-yourself hairpins. The road was essentially one lane and, when it wasn’t doubling back, it was extremely twisty. Good thing there wasn’t any oncoming traffic. Ah, but the quiet grandeur of Watoga SP made it all worth while. However, I can’t say anything good about the phone service.

 

We have had NO cell coverage since we got into WV (zoom in and move the map to SE WV – you will see the very large white – no coverage – blotch right where we are). The good news is that you don’t see people trying to negotiate those tight turns while talking on a cell phone. The bad news is I can’t call my aged Mother to assure her that we haven’t become roadkill or abducted by degenerate WV hillbillies. I resorted to the pay phone at the entrance station. We’d stayed here before and I’d had trouble with this very phone. We didn’t have a bucket full of quarters, so I’d have to make a collect call. There are instructions right on the phone – along with the words Frontier and Verizon. Our land line at home is Frontier and our cell phone is Verizon. You’d think we’d be able to charge it to one of our accounts. Nooooo. The world doesn’t seem to work that way.

 

I dialed according to the printed instructions. That’s when I hear the mechanical voice say, “Hang up the phone, wait a moment, insert a coin, and dial your number.” Okay, I did that and … got the same damned message … five times. What now? I dialed “O” and got to talk to an actual person. That rather bored sounding lady asked me for the number I was calling. When I gave it to her, there was a pause, and then she said, “That’s long distance.” Yeah, I know that. What makes the difference? Well, it turns out she can’t do long distance. She told me I’d have to dial “OO” and that will connect me to the long distance operator. Okay, fine. I hung up, cursed for a few minutes and dialed “OO”. I got the “Hang up the phone, wait a moment, insert a coin, and dial your number” message again. I slammed the phone down. Waited a few moments. Picked it up. Inserted my coin – a now well-worn quarter – and dialed “OO”. Did I get the long distance operator? Nooooo, I got the samed damned message – all four times I tried. That’s it. I need a beer. Mom will just have to wait.

 

Thursday 10/9/08 Watoga SP WV (day 2) …

We were snuggled up in campsite #48 until we roused ourselves at 7:30 ; 66/54 degrees. Had our normal morning beverages, but we didn’t have to drive anywhere today because it is just 1.5 miles down the SP road to the trail. We had our granola and started out around ten. We were going to be away from RVan all day, so we packed some sandwiches and a few granola bars and headed south toward Renick.

 

Heard at least two Cuckoos cuckooing in syncopation off in the woods. That was weird. This was a day to see deer; they popped up several times both going and coming. Some of them were nibbling grass in vacation cabin yards. Two were lying snuggled up against an out building. One was grazing between us and a porch full of people. The people were watching us watch the deer. I guess the locals feed the deer; they certainly do seem tame and spend a lot of time around the houses.

 

The trail has several sites where station houses formally stood. They are all gone now, and in their stead are signs with some local history. Beard is one such former station site. Now there are just two old houses where a small road crosses the trail. There is also a parking area for trail access, and, for our future reference, I want to say that it is a really nice, isolated, and shady parking area. We may want to make use of it in the future.

 

This was not only a day for deer; it was also a day for GBHs and Kingfishers. We saw several of each. We also came around a gentle bend and were greeted by four Turkey just standing in the middle of the trail. They seemed more startled than we were; they ran down the trail a bit and then flew off into the trees – never to be seen again by us. We also saw a female Towhee. We’d seen several males, but this was the first female. I actually prefer the chocolate brown of the females.

 

I noticed a good-sized branch in the trail ahead. When I got to it, I discovered that it was a Beaver chew. Apparently, the old boy had gnawed it off but dropped part in the trail while dragging the rest down to the water. After I tossed the branch to the side of the trail, I noticed the Beaver shavings. One was huge. It was curled like wood shavings, at least six inches long and an inch wide. It must take some strong jaw muscles to gnaw a piece of wood that size. We were so fascinated that we both stood there looking at it for a considerable time.

 

The weather was steadily improving. Yesterday’s rain was remembered by overcast skies and cool air. The clouds continued to thin as the morning wore on until about noontime you could see patches of blue. The early afternoon was mostly sunny and warm, but by the time we got back to RVan it was overcast and significantly more humid. But no rain.

 

As we were biking along on toward five-ish, we saw what looked like a large rock in the trail. Strange, neither of us remembered seeing a rock in the trail on the way out. When we got closer, we discovered this rock had four legs, a head, and a tail. It was a full-grown Snapping Turtle. We stopped to have a close look. The close look revealed that this particular turtle may have been run over sometime in the past. It had what looked like a crease down the middle of his shell. Whatever, it was perfectly healthy now and didn’t much care for us getting that close. I tell you, these guys are Ug-ly. Only a mother Snapper could think otherwise.

 

This portion of the trail passes by a medium-security prison facility. They have a fairly large pond that lets the treated sewage naturalize on its way back into the hydrologic cycle. The pond had at least ten Wood Duck on it. They were a mixture of mature males and females with a bunch of immatures mixed in. We flushed them from the pond, but they landed on the opposite bank so we got to have a good look at ‘em. Male Wood Ducks are rare in the duck world in that they retain most of their breeding plumage year-round. And what plumage it is …

 

We got back to the campsite around 5:30 , hit the showers, and were having a celebratory adult beverage by a little after sex … er, I mean six. When got to the CG entrance, there was an attendant in the little building where the #@$%^&*! pay phone is. I just HAD to call Mom. So I tried all the things I tried yesterday … with only one difference. This time when I dialed “O” and got a real person, I related the tale of woe about the “OO” fiasco yesterday. This time she said she could dial the number for me. Okay, I gave her my name and Mom’s number. She then asked me what carrier I wanted to use and she proceeded to recite a long list of phone companies. I said, “Why should I care? All I want to do is make this call.” She replied: “Some services may be cheaper.” I said: “But if I don’t know the cost, how can I make an informed decision?” She said: “I don’t know, sir.” Clearly, she was no more pleased with the situation that I was. She said I could just pick the first one. Okay. She dialed the number and then I got a message: “All our lines are currently busy.” Shit. I dialed “O” again, went through my story. The operator asked what carrier I wanted. I said anything but the first one on the list. Okay, she tried the second one. I got the same “All lines are busy” message. Shit, shit, shit. By this time it was clear to everyone within earshot that I was about to destroy the damned phone. The attendant asked me what I was trying to do. I told him and he came out and punched in 1-800-callATT. Why he would do that on a Frontier/Verizon phone, I’ll never know. What I do know is that it worked. After listening to a bunch of options and punching “5” three times – and standing on my head and whistling Dixie through my butt – I was eventually connected to a male operator. He then took my name, Mom’s number, and the connection was made. OMG what an ordeal just to learn about the weather at home.

 

Bike data: 44.11 miles, 5 hours bike time, 7 hours total time

 

Friday 10/10/08 Watoga SP WV to Greenbrier SF WV …

Up at 7:30 again; it was 62/49 degrees. We broke camp today and drove down to Renick where we ended yesterday’s ride. There is a parking area that is intended for people who are launching boats and fishing on the river. However, we’ve been on the trail a couple days now and have not seen a single boat or fisherperson. In fact, the river is so low I don’t think even Pogo’s little boat could float on it. To hell with the regulations, we are parking here. While I was getting the bikes ready, I noticed a large, dead tree on the mountain slope just behind us. It was chucky-jammed full of vultures. There must have been fifty of ‘em. It was a mix of Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures. We don’t get Black Vultures up north, so it was a treat to see ‘em. During the hour we spent getting ready and eating our granola, all but two of the vultures took to the air. They formed big kettles as they circled looking for thermals to carry them away. By around ten, they had all dispersed and so did we.

 

We had just started the trail when we came upon a pair of deer. They were sorta trapped what with the stream on one side of the trail and a 60 degree slope on the other. Of course, they took off up the slope with the same ease they traverse an open field. How can these delicate-looking animals RUN up a steep slope like that? Wish I was in that good shape.

 

What’s that in the trail ahead? It looks like a stump. There shouldn’t be a stump in the middle of the trail. Oh, wait, it moved. Ah, yes, it’s a damned Groundhog (Woodchuck, Whistle Pig). There he goes waddle-galloping away from us with his loose skin a-jiggling. Cute. Perhaps he would have stood his ground had he had a machine gun and plenty of ammunition. If you followed the link, you’d know what I mean.

 

Next thing we saw was a little Ring-Necked Snake slithering off the trial. They are really very attractive. Our book says they get up to 18 inches. This one was only about a foot at best, so it was either a male or an immature. Whatever, it was fun to watch slithering off the trail.

 

We went all the way to the end of the trail just outside of North Caldwell. Oddly, the trail ends at milepost 3. That’s because there’s another 3 miles of track & ties before you get to North Caldwell proper. The last couple miles of trail were not the best because they were littered with other bikers, hikers, and joggers. We’ve gotten used to having these trails pretty much to ourselves. Normally, we would see at most a handful of other bikers. Nope, don’t like dodging people, kids, and their damned snarling dogs – and dog doo. Time to turn around and get back to the more remote parts of the trail.

 

Well now, what did we see in the outback? We saw a pair of good ol’ boys riding their mules. As trail curtsey dictates, we stopped and cleared off the trail for the equestrians (are mules considered equestrians?). This apparently is an uncommon occurrence because the lead guy thanked me for pulling off the trail. I replied, “I get to rest at bit.” He smiled broadly and showed a big gap where one of his front teeth should be. Okay, these guys are riding mules and they look exactly like you’d expect a WV mule rider to look – complete with the bad teeth. The image is firmly stamped in my memory – and now it is in yours, I hope.

 

Bike data: 44.26 miles, 5 hours bike time, 7 hours total time

 

While I was putting the bikes away, a middle-aged man and woman biked in and tossed their bikes in the back of their pickup. The guy was burly and fairly hairy and certainly a local product. He started walking over toward me and asked in a rather accusatory tone: “Did yew jist git off the trail?” Yep, we did. Just a few minutes ago. “How’d we miss yew?” That line was delivered with a very direct tone and a sort of screw-up-your-face quizzical look. He was getting closer and looking bigger all the time. I suggested that we may have been pulled off at one of the campsites when they went by. He then asked how far we’d gone. I said all the way to the end. “Yew mean yew biked from Renick to Caldwell?” Yep. I got out my map to show him. “Where’d yew git that map?” I said they are in those little black mailboxes at the parking areas along the trail – like that one over there. His gaze followed my pointing finger over to the mailbox across the road. “Yew mean they got them maps in that little box over thar?” Yep. “Well, I’m gonna git me one of them maps. But how’d we miss yew on the trial? We went down to the bridge …” Which bridge? Oh, the bridge at Anthony? “Yeah, that’s the one. How’d we miss yew?”

 

It was about then that I remembered seeing the bikes parked in the trail and the woman sitting on a rock watching a man – this hairy beast – fishing. I said, “I remember, you were fishing when we biked by.” “Oh, yeah …” He was happy to have the problem solved – I was afraid he’d hug me – but then he remembered … “but she (the wife) said there was just a man with a beard. How’d we miss her (Janie)?” Dunno, but you did, so get over it. Eventually, he did and ambled over to get a map. It’s refreshing to know that the locals are embracing the trail experience – and not me.

 

We drove down to Lewisburg where we picked up I-64. It’s time to bid adieu to the Greenbrier and head over to the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP). Janie had found a state forest campground just off I-64, so we headed that way. We arrived at Greenbrier SF in short order settled in to #12, had dinner, and went to bed with images of the Greenbrier Trail still dancing through our minds.

 

Saturday 10/11/08 Greenbrier SF WV to … Peaks Of Otter, BRP , VA

Got up around eight; it was 60/46 degrees. The ranger never showed up last night to collect our camping fee, so we drove down to the little building where we found the showers and a convenient water spigot. I got us 4 gallons of water while Janie headed to the shower. I then joined her, literally, because it was a unisex shower. Hey, she left the door unlocked. By the time we were done, the ranger was in his little building, so Janie paid him $9.90+tax. We finally got on the road around ten – good thing we didn’t have anyplace in particular to get to.

 

By road I mean I-64, which took us over to Buena Vista VA and then a five mile climb up to the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP). We finally got cell coverage along the Interstate, so we were able to download some emails and read the news headlines – guess the loud noise we heard yesterday was the market crashing. Clearly the world hadn’t come to an end because there was still plenty of traffic and lots of people out and about and looking very normal.

 

We found a Food Lion just outside of Buena Vista , so we pulled in to stock up on some perishables. Ah, they had Black Forest ham – we got a slug of that. We also got a loaf of bread, some more granola, a couple of juicy tomatoes, and … a little tub of red-skin potato salad – with lots of onion pieces in it. It was pretty good … and didn’t last the day … at least not in that form.

 

Once on the BRP, we pulled into the second overlook we found – House Mountain – so Janie could make us some ham sandwiches with some of the tomato and here special sauce … and the potato salad. We had just started eating when a woman pulled up in a Prius. She proceeded to eat some fruit and chew on the nub of a very large carrot while she carried around a sketch pad and looked for an inspirational view to sketch. The way she walked right past us without saying a word – as though we weren’t there – made me think she might be from NY or some such. When we checked her license plate we learned she was from VA and there was a sticker of a crab and the words Northern Neck. Janie’s sister and her husband, Dan, have a house in Northern Neck. We’ve stayed in the house and biked around the very rural roads in the area. They also had a little nick-knack shop run by a guy they called Uncle Dude – he died, the shop closed, end of that story.

 

Eventually, the woman disappeared into the bushes. A short time later, she came out, looked up at me standing there eating my sandwich, and said, “Nothing to see down there.” Then she started talking – we learned a lot about her in those few minutes. She’s an Environmental Scientist, currently between jobs, divorced, no children, she gets nearly 50 mpg, originally from Northern Neck, never heard of the Dellingers (Margaret & Dan), didn’t know any Uncle Dude but would like to, currently lives in Lynchburg, and heading north on the BRP for what purpose we didn’t learn. Finally, she shook our hands, wished us a good trip, and poof she was gone.

 

We headed out shortly thereafter, onward to one of our favorite campgrounds: Otter Creek. Ah, but when we got there, it was too early to stop, so we motored on another twenty or so miles to Peaks of Otter CG. The next campground was Roanoke Mountain , which is on the outskirts of … you guessed it … Roanoke . We don’t like staying that close to a major metropolitan area if we don’t have to so we opted to hole up at Peaks of Otter.

 

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It has been a Chamber of Commerce day. I’m guessing a big ol’ high pressure area moved in, cleared out the sky, and gave us wall-to-wall sunshine and clear blue skies. The leaves were beautiful – bursts of red on the adjoining mountain slopes. The BRP is just a fantastic concept. It is nearly 600 miles long – if you include the northern extension of Skyline Drive in Shenandoah NP – of beautifully landscaped highway without a billboard and very few concessions. Commercial vehicles are not allowed, so there are no trucks to deal with. There are pullouts and vistas every few miles – and the views are spectacular. All this grandeur is a little sullied by having to share it with … people … especially people on motorcycles. Apparently, the BRP has become a favorite destination for motorcyclists and this Columbus Day weekend is certainly no exception. When our fellow travelers finally got up and out on the road – a little before noon – the traffic became barely tolerable and the motorcycles became annoying – like so many gnats buzzing around your head. Nonetheless, driving the BRP is still a pleasant experience. Just not quite as pleasurable as it used to be back in the 70s and 80s. Progress.

 

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We found ourselves encamped in #T40 at Peaks of Otter CG by a little after three. It cost us a total of $8 after my Golden Age discount. You know, this getting old actually has some advantages. I used the time to transfer some of our RO drinking water from the 3 gallon bags we haul in the rear storage area to 64 oz bottles we store inside RVan and use to fill drinking bottles and the tea kettle. That done, I spent the rest of the evening getting Saturday AM together and typing in the notes I had been jotting down in a little notebook. Clever to use a notebook for notes, eh? From my notes I learned that it took us 2 hours to drive 40 miles on the BRP. That included our lunch stop and the conversation with … never got her name … Northern Neck woman. Yeah, we had motorcycles backed up behind us. Hey, the speed limit is 45 – and that’s an upper limit, not a lower limit. Slow down; enjoy the scenery – or get your ass down on I-81 where you can do 65 legally.

 

Sunday 10/12/08 Peaks Of Otter, BRP, VA to Julian Price, BRP, NC …

Janie had read that the hawks use the Blue Ridge to catch thermals on their migration and one of the hot spots for watching them is the Purgatory Mountain overlook. Hey, that’s just a couple miles down the road. Okay, we got up real early – the actual crack of dawn – and headed for the lookout where we had our morning beverage and watched for hawks. Did we see any? Nope. Nary a one. It was really cold. I actually put on my fleece long-johns, fleece jacket, and fleece hat. I was almost totally fleeced out. There was no way there would be any useful thermals until midmorning. But we did get to see the ground fog down in the valley below. It looked like a vast inland ocean lapping up into and outlining drowned estuaries. We stayed long enough to see it start lifting and, as it did, various houses and barns gradually came into view. It was pretty neat.

 

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It was Sunday morning, and, as is our tradition, we had a special Sunday brunch: French toast. While Janie was busy getting our morning beverages and brunch ready, I sent off Saturday AM, I also read some more headlines and the sports news. We are getting excellent cell connections up here on the BRP. We can see the big cell towers on the mountain peaks dotting the valley below. Hope you all enjoyed Mikey’s latest letter from India . The dear boy does get around.

 

The traffic started to pick up by mid morning and got worse steadily. When we pulled into Chateau Morrissette – a winery along the BRP – the parking lot was nearly full. Chateau Morrissette used to be a struggling winery but then they put a picture of their black lab on the label and started marketing their wine as Black Dog Red. It’s amazing what a label can do. Their sales picked up several fold, they built a big ol’ chateau thing, added food and music, and bottled a whole bunch more specialty wines like Parkway Sunrise and Parkway Sunset. They seem to be doing well. We stopped to get a bottle of Black Dog for Alice and Hughie. They used to have a black lab called Mo – short for Motown.

 

The afternoon was a motorcycle nightmare; there easily more motorcycles than all other vehicles combined. Some of them were big, roaring Harleys others were Japanese models that sound more like sewing machines than macho machines. Whenever you encounter a mixed group, the Hogs are in the lead and the Hondas and Yamahas bring up the rear. I’ve never driven a motorcycle and only rode on one once. I can understand the trill, but one fact has evaded me over the years. Why, when you have an entire lane all to yourself, do they tend to hug the centerline? If I were on a motorcycle, you can bet I’d be ridding along the outer edge of my lane – right where you’ll find me when I’m forced to bike on roads. After all, there are much larger hunks of metal motoring along toward you. Why do they all seem to want to hug the centerline? Another macho thing or just a death wish?

 

We stopped at the NW Trading Post to inventory their wares. It was way too busy to do any serious shopping. Actually, there was very little we would be interested in anyway. However, it would be nice to pick up a couple gifts for Mom and friends. Not today. Too busy. Maybe on the way back.

 

We had planned to check out Moses Cone craft shop, but we too late. It seems there was a bridge out, so we had to detour off the BRP, through the outskirts of Boone NC, and then back on the BRP just a bit north of Cone – but they were closed by the time we got there. No nevermind as Orelena Puckett is know to say – according to our BRP Guide (get one of these before doin’ the BRP).

 

We got to Julian Price CG around five thirty, set ourselves up in #F42 (one we’d done before), and paid $8 for the pleasure.

 

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Monday 10/13/08 Julian Price, BRP , NC to Beartree CG, Mount Rogers NRA, VA …

We got up early, around six; it was 63/48 degrees. We did our morning beverages in a bit of a hurry so we could try to avoid the morning rush through Boone NC – didn’t work too well, but we made it without incident. The road took us to Mountain City TN – great name for a village in the valley – and then to Damascus VA, which is just about smack dab in the middle of the Virginia Creeper Trail. We parked in the long-term parking, under a big ol’ tree, and got read to ride. It was 9:45 by the time the bikes were ready and we finished our granola. It was another beautiful fall day; we’ve been very fortunate with the weather.

 

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We opted to do the western half of the trail today – this being the actually Columbus Day holiday. We’ll do the other, more picturesque (and popular) part tomorrow and hope at least some of the people will have to go back to w-w-w-work. The western half of the trail covers the 16 miles from Damascus to Abingdon. It has the unfortunate distinction of beginning in downtown Damascus. Although Damascus isn’t large, it is located in a narrow valley, so it is strung out along the main roads in and out of town. Thus, we had to bike through a couple miles of houses, out buildings, warehouses, and such. Remember, these trails are on old RR tracks and RR never go through the best parts of town – well, almost never.

 

Once you get out of the populated part, you pass through some pastures and hay fields before entering into a fairly narrow stream valley. The stream is Laurel Creek, which we will bike up tomorrow. Today we are going downstream to where Laurel Creek merges with the South Fork of the Holston River. We followed that to the juncture with the Middle Fork of the Holston River . The river is dammed just down stream and there is a big, long, curved trestle over the northern end of the lake. However, this time of year, we found the water level very low, so the trestle vaults over a lot of barren rock surrounding a shallow, gurgling stream.

 

When we biked the Creeper in ’05, there was much more water in the lake. In fact, we watched a tour boat going up the then swollen Holston . We also watched a mass of Carp churning away in the water under the trestle. This time, there was much less water, but the Carp were still there. We could see their hulking bodies languidly swimming around beneath us. I like to refer to them as garbage trucks with scales. We also saw a passel of Bluegill working the current. Some of them were pretty good size. The book says they get up to 12”; some of these were nearly that big. Then again, maybe they looked so big because we were watching them with our binos. How many people do you suppose watch fish with binos. I know of at least TWO.

 

While we were watching the fish, a pair of GBHs came gliding in. They did a graceful 180 and glided to a landing at the stream’s edge. We watched them for a bit, and then one of ‘em took off, flew under the trestle, and swooped up into a big pine tree where it perched – and remained until we left. I just love watching these large birds glide along; it looks like fun.

 

We also got a glimpse of a Red Tail soaring on thermals up and over the bounding ridge. Haven’t seen many birds of prey on this trip. In fact, we haven’t seen a lot of birds. It is between seasons for them, so we are just getting glimpses of a few now and then. Even without birds, we thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful day with wall-to-wall sunshine, vibrant fall color, falling and swirling leaves. It was cool in the forenoon – we had to wear our windbreakers, but it warmed up to the low 80s in the afternoon. It actually got a little hotter than we’d have liked. Ah, but there are showers at tonight’s campsite.

 

We didn’t get all the way to Abingdon. We did that before and decided it wasn’t worth it – too many people and too many backyards with yapping dogs. Instead, we turned around in the median strip of I-81. Yep, the trail crosses I-81 just outside Abington proper. The Interstate roared by some 50 to 100 feet overhead. They have placed an information sign between the two lanes but down on the trail. We learned that the last train passed over these tracks in 1977. We turned around and headed back to Damascus .

 

The Glenrochie Country Club and golf course is on the outskirts of Abingdon. Of course, it is surrounded by a bunch of new McMansions with all the trappings of our formerly strong economy. They’ve installed a crosswalk and head-high traffic-light where the trail crosses a road going back to the McMansions. When you get to the intersection, there is a big sign saying, “All Creeper Traffic MUST Obey Signal.” When you stop, there is a button to push to make the light change – or you can just wait a bit for it to change on its own. We think the light is more for golf carts than for bikes on the Creeper. Whatever, it all seems a little pretentious and/or unnecessary – we have yet to see any traffic other than bikers/hikers at the intersection.

 

Aside from the McMansions we could see, there was one, fairly well-hidden, old, original mansion a few hundred yards off the trail. I expect the original gentleman-farmer sold the land for the Glenrochie Country Club, golf course, and McMansions – but retained a nice pasture to buffer them from the suburban sprawl. There was a cute little cottage near the country mansion and right on the trail. It was obviously inhabited by artistic types. They had a little display set up between the cottage and the trail. There were copper/glass/driftwood sun catchers ($10), hen & eggs in pots ($2) and in cowboy boots ($5), assorted pieces driftwood ($2 each), 3 large coolers ($10 each), and one antique table ($45) – all for sale with prices and a glass jar for money. I have no idea how you might get some of the larger items out if you were on your bike. I was actually tempted by the sun catchers (as gifts), but they were too awkward to carry the fifteen miles back to RVan.

 

We stopped for a late lunch at a little covered picnic table between trail and river. We were joined by a juvenile Bluebird, Blue Jays, Phoebe, and some Goldfinches. It was really very pleasant.

 

Bike Data: 30.15 miles, 3:50 bike time, 5:30 total time

 

It was only a little after three when we got back, so I took the opportunity to lube the chains and do a little general bike-maintenance. Then we drove 8 miles up to Mount Rogers NRA and setup camp in #16. We took a shower, had a beer, typed up some notes, had dinner and watched the nearly full Hunter Moon rise. Ah, does it get any better?

 

Tuesday 10/14/08 Beartree CG, Mount Rogers NRA, VA (Day 2) …

Up at seven; 51/34 degrees – Brrrrr. We bundled up and headed back toward Damascus . Yesterday, we discovered a nice trail head and parking area just a couple miles outside of town: Straight Branch parking area. That’s were we parked RVan for the day – under a big White Pine tree that was shedding needles like a middle-aged, testosterone-deprived man. They’ll blow off when we go careening down some of those steep grades tomorrow.

 

We were on the trail by 9:15 . This is a very popular trail, so we where hoping an early start would avoid some of the traffic. Why is it so popular? Well, it isn’t called the Virginia Creeper for nothing. The trail follows Laurel Creek up to what’s called Creek Junction where it then follows Green Cove Creek. These are both small, mountain streams. That means they have a fairly steep gradient. That means the trail has a steep gradient. It goes from a little over 2% at the bottom to as much as 6% at the top. Now you’d think this would make the trail less popular but oh no. You see some of the locals make a living by providing a shuttle service. You can hire them to ferry your bike or a bike you rent from them up to the top, and then you can coast all the way back down. Thus, by about noontime there are a bunch young bucks going hell-bent down the slope and they are followed by a steady stream of older people who haven’t been on a bike in thirty years. Now that’s a scary sight – seeing an overweight, matronly woman or man with a beer belly hanging over the handle bars coming at you at 15-20 mph – careening from one side of the trail to the other – and yelling “Yippee”. The women leave a trail of perfume you can smell for a mile.

 

The trail itself is marvelous. Most of this portion of the trail is in the NF, so there are only a few touches of civilization. The stream is just as you’d expect a mountain stream to be: lined with Rhododendrons. There are large Hemlocks arching overhead mixed with the usually assortment of mid-south, mountain hardwoods. It is the exact habitat you’d expect to see lots of birds flitting to and fro. However, being between seasons, the bird population was fairly thin. We did see a Junco and a Towhee – not two birds you’d expect to see in close proximity. The AT crosses and shares a portion of the trail. We saw several backpackers – all heading south – working their way to Damascus where the AT goes right down Main Street and over toward the area we parked RVan yesterday. Whenever I see the AT, I think of our friend Jerry who hiked it back in the 70s. I always stop and think, “Jerry walked through here.” Jerry was a great adventurer and, as happens with many great adventures, he’s dead now. We miss Jerry and think of him often.

 

The Virginia Creeper RR was used primarily to haul logs out from the surrounding mountain slopes. The abundance of wood meant that it was cheaper to build trestles over ravines than to grade them out with fill. Thus, there were over a hundred trestles and bridges along the Creeper in its heyday. Now there are only 47. We did 15 of them yesterday and the rest today. Some of these trestles/bridges are curved, which makes them all the more visually interesting. The ones we crossed today were anchored to the rock wall on the upstream side by large steel cables. I expect these mountain streams can get pretty active during spring storms.

 

On the way up, we passed a fisherman biking up to a favorite fishing site. He was rather portly and wore a brace on his right knee. His bike was full suspension and he was using it all. Every time he peddled, he would compress and extend his rear suspension. Thus, he went bobbing along in front of us until we got a chance to pass him. When we did, I offered: “Aren’t any fish safe out there today, eh?” We passed him again on the way back. He said he caught five: one big and four little. The big one was 14”. He said he left some for the next time, though.

 

Also on the way back, we stopped on one of the longer, curved trestles and scanned the tree tops below for birds. Sure enough we saw a Yellow-Rump Warbler and Yellow-Crowned Kinglet flitting around. Yellow-Rumps are fairly common, but Yellow-Crowns are something else again. It was especially rewarding to be looking down on them. They are a nervous bird that works the upper portions of trees. This vantage point offered us a good view of their normally hidden yellow crown. Yay, us!

 

On the way up, we notices a side trail that followed the stream while the Creeper climbed upward and crossed over the stream. This was at the Creek Junction where the Creeper switched from following Laurel Creek to Green Cove Creek. The trail along Laurel creek is for fisherman and is studded with fishing piers that stick out over the stream. Let me set this image in your mind. The stream is less than ten yards wide and a foot or so deep in the quiet pools. The piers are 8x8 decks with rails and have been provided to keep fisherman increasing bank erosion. In addition to the nice piers there are several wooden benches – I suppose they are for fishermen’s wives – a totally sexist thought, I admit.

 

We looked down at the fishing piers as we coasted back down the Creeper. They were still unoccupied, so we decided to take a detour out along the creek-side trail. We biked out to the parking area just under the trestle where had seen the warblers and kinglets. Then we came back, picked a nice pier, and stopped for a look. What did we see? We saw a whole bunch of Rainbow Trout swimming around in the deeper pools just under the pier. Holy crap, I’d never expected to be able to see trout. I knew they were in the stream, but I was having difficulty understanding how a sizable fish like a mature trout would be able to make a living in such a small body of water. After all, most of the stream is nothing more that a series of rapids with a few quiet pools interspersed. I guess that’s all they need – just a foot or so of cool, clear water. We stood there watching them schooling around in the shallows – with our binoculars. You know what happens when you stop someplace and other people see you there? They stop too. That’s exactly what happened. When we arrived, we were the only ones there. By the time we left, there had been maybe ten people come by. Trend setters – that’s us.

 

Bike data: 27.41 miles, 4 hours bike time, 5 hours total time

 

We didn’t think this outing would take very long so we didn’t pack a lunch. Well, it turns out that there was so much to see we took nearly the whole day. Thus, we were kind of glad to get back to RVan and have the Black Forest ham sandwich we should have packed with us. After a late lunch, we drove back up to Mount Rogers NRA, setup camp in #16 again, took a shower again, had another beer, had another nice dinner, and watched the full Hunter Moon rise. Still good.

 

Wednesday 10/15/08 Beartree CG, Mount Rogers NRA to Roanoke Mountain CG, BRP , VA

We got up at 6:30 to 56/46 degrees. Today we go back to the BRP and head north toward Shenandoah NP, Hagerstown, and the wedding. The trip is winding down. So far, we’ve biked six of the nine days we’ve been out and logged a little over 200 miles, all on really great trails – for the most part. One day while pondering if this trail was better than that trail, I decided the best trail is the one you are on. You know, if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with, right? Anyway, this has been one of our most successful bike outings. Both of the trails are well worth doing again – if we can just find a better way to get to them. Getting to the Creeper isn’t so bad because it is only 50 miles from the BRP. But we really do have to find a better route to the Greenbrier. Maybe I-79 …

 

Today we took US-58 to Independence which is in VA (barely). Coming down off the flanks of Mount Rogers and then up to the flanks of Whitetop – near where the Creeper Trail ends – involved a lot of twisting, turning, climbing, and descending. Is this WV or VA? Actually, part of it was NC. We are down in the place where VA, NC & TN come together. We learned from a sign on the Creeper that the little bump on the northeast border of TN is due to a survey error attributable to Thomas Jefferson’s father. Local legend says there was a still out in the woods, so they sorta migrated over that way and it took ‘em a few miles to get back on track (zoom out 3 clicks on the map). Whatever, that’s where we are. Still in VA but flirting with NC. The gas prices are significantly different – NC is about $0.50 more per gallon.

 

Speaking of gas, we found ourselves in Independence VA, which is the largest town we’d be in before going back into NC and the BRP. Thus, it would be to our advantage to replenish our food and fuel supplies. We got groceries at a place called Food City – not a real inventive or inviting name. We got gas at a Liberty station, which seemed most appropriate for a town called Independence . We paid $2.89 for real gas – not that 10% ethanol that gives us 25% lower mileage.

 

We were back on the BRP around 10:30 whereupon we pulled off at the fist nice pullout and had a late breakfast. After that, it was a leisurely drive down a much less populated parkway. There were still some motorcycles, but not nearly as many as over the weekend. As we drove along, I kept seeing these Wooly Worms on the road. You know, the fuzzy, orange & black ones sometimes called Wooly Bears. I was struck by two observations. First, they all seem to be inching their way across the road at exactly 90 degrees. None of them were going diagonally – all were perpendicular to the length of the road. Secondly, they were all going in the same direction: west. It seems I’ve noticed this before. Do you suppose there is a reason for it? Just as I was formulating a grand theory, we passed two that were going east. They were the only two ‘contrary’ wooly worms I saw all day. Damn their eyes. Hmmm, do wooly worms have eyes and if so, where are they? Anyway, I really sorta got wrapped up in the observation that wooly worms cross the road perpendicularly and most (if not all) are going in the same direction. Why do you suppose that is?

 

We stopped at the relatively new Blue Ridge Music Center. We’ve stopped here before, but the gates were always locked. This time they were open, so we went in. They have a large natural amphitheater where you can sit on the grass and watch performers performing on a very nice, modern stage in a rustic setting. No one was in the amphitheater today, but they did have a local couple playing and talking in a small out building – mostly they were hawking their CD, which the guy said they converted to gas; meaning the money they make they use to buy gas so they can come over and play. There is also a large pavilion with displays explaining the old, regional legends of country music – and one blues guy – black, of course. Brian (Sheldon) would have loved this place. The main theme was the Crooked Road that delineates the connection between hot spots of country music in southern VA. We are currently between Galax and Floyd, which are on the eastern end of the Crooked Road. There’s a lot of country music both past and present along the Crooked Road . Many of the current musicians play at the Music Center over the summer – I don’t think any of the dead ones perform there – in any season, unless, perhaps on Halloween.

 

We did the touristy thing and stopped at one of the BRP’s feature attractions: Mabry Mill. We’ve been here several times, but we were hoping the holiday crush that we saw on the way down had dissipated. We were wrong. The old, original parking lot was full, so we had to go to the overflow parking. We took the little walk around the reconstructed buildings and old-timey working areas and ended up at the mill. The first time we were here, they were actually grinding grain, but the last few times, there was nothing going on – you could walk through the old mill, look at the machinery and tools, and read the informational signs, but there was no one actually working there. Today there were two old, bib-overall clad local-boys bagging corn meal, grits, and buckwheat. The grain wasn’t ground at this mill, but they were bagging milled grain from another, more modern version. We had a pleasant exchange with the two men and ended up buying a bag of each product. We’ll give ‘em to Mom as a “gift” and steal from her later.

 

I saw a slithery black thing in the road and hoped it wasn’t a snake. Ah, but it was. It was a half-grown Blacksnake that was less than my tire separation. I centered myself on it and hoped for the best. A glance in the rearview mirror showed it slithering back off the road so I guess we missed it. A couple miles on down the road we saw a larger Blacksnake coiled up along the edge of the road. It seemed to still be intact and we hope it stayed that way. Why so many snakes? Because it is HOT today. In the low 80s. There’s a high sitting SE of us that is pulling up some Gulf air. A cool front is north of us; Mom said it was 54 degrees at eleven o’clock this morning. We took advantage of the good cell coverage up on the ridge and checked the NOAA weather. Looks like it’ll be cooling off and we’ll be missing the rain. Once again, yay, us!

 

As fate would have it, our timing worked out in such a way that we wound up in the Roanoke area in the evening. The Roanoke Valley is one of my least favorite portions of the BRP. I certainly don’t want to camp here. But, alas, that is where fate finds us. It really isn’t that bad, but we can hear the roar of the highways down in the valley. Just one night – we’ll be fine. Tomorrow we will be in Shenandoah.

 

Thursday 10/16/08 Roanoke Mountain CG, BRP, VA to Loft Mountain, Shenandoah NP VA …

It was pretty warm last night; the warmest night we’ve had (urban heat dome?). When we rousted ourselves at 7:00 the temps were 68/61 degrees. The in/out temps were nearly the same because, for the first night, we left the roof vent and bedroom window open all night. We were in no hurry today, so we didn’t get on the parkway until 8:30 . Then we just made our way up the road toward Shenandoah. Slow, did I say I was driving slowly? I’d have to back up to go any slower. Well, not really, but you get what I mean. The traffic on the parkway was very much like I remember it from years ago. That is to say, very tolerable. Every few miles a vehicle would come up behind, but they weren’t pushy, and when we came to a turnout, I pulled over and let them go on. And … there were only a few motorcycles … and … most of them were of the sewing machine variety – not the Harley hogs we encountered over the holiday weekend. Yeah, the BRP can still be an enjoyable experience on weekdays.

 

We have never done the Roanoke Mountain loop drive, so we corrected that omission this morning. It’s a four mile road up to the top and back – one way except for a little bit of two-way at the top loop. Much to our surprise, we were the only ones up there. But, not to our surprise, as soon as we got to the top a car pulled in behind us. Then, just as we started down, a guy on a bicycle came up, turned the corner and pulled in right behind us. He didn’t bike to the top for the view because he no sooner got there than he started back down. I kept looking at him through the rearview mirror and thought he looked like Lance Armstrong. He was a strong enough biker to be Lance, but I’m sure it wasn’t Lance. The road was just wide enough for RVan so he had to follow us as we crept down in 1st gear. Finally, about halfway down, there was wider patch where I could pull over and let him pass. Zoom he was gone. There you go; bicyclists go faster than us.

 

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You might recall that on the way down we stopped at Purgatory Mountain overlook to look for migrating hawks. Shortly after that, we learned the Harvey ’s Knob pullout was the hot spot to watch for hawks, so we stopped there to have our granola and see what we could see. What we saw was a guy scanning the skies and writing notes on a piece of paper held down by his windshield wipers. We pulled in behind him, got out, and asked if he was seeing anything. He said, “Not yet, but the vultures are up so the hawks should be coming through soon.” He belonged to a Hawk Migration Association. They’ve been tabulating the hawk migration from this site for over thirty years; today was his day to man the post.

 

The AT crosses the parkway at the north end of the pullout, which just happened to be where we were parked. About the time Janie had our granola ready, a backpacker doing the AT came out of the woods and came over to see what we were doing. The backpacker, the bird guy, and us were all of the same generation, so there was a kind of instant old guy’s community. The backpacker said he is doing the AT one state at a time and the other AT hikers – it’s a community in itself – call him The Statesman. He only had ten more miles to go for this segment and he said he was starting to feel homesick. I felt kind of weird eating our granola in front of him, but we’d just poured the last of the milk – and it was “blue” milk – the non-fat dehydrated stuff we learned to drink on camping trips. Oh well, sorry hiker guy.

 

When the bird guy’s wife showed up, she couldn’t park behind her husband’s car because that’s where we were parked – it offered the only shade in the parking area. After a bit, the birder guy pulled his car up so the wife could pull in behind. I said we’d be leaving soon so I’ll just back up. She said, “I just need to get the car out of the sun so my brownies don’t melt.” Once we’d made the vehicle exchange, she brought the pan of brownies over and offered us one as a reward for being so gallant. They were a little unusual because they had a layer of peanut butter in the middle. Mmmm, good stuff.

 

Oh, we did see some hawks. There were about ten Sharp-Shinned that sailed over our heads toward the south. Normally, the hawks catch the thermals rising from the base of the ridge and ride them up before gliding southward (fall) or northward (spring). Although this wasn’t a particularly good day for thermals, there was a steady breeze from the SW and the ridge was catching it and generating updrafts on the western side. It was the updrafts that the hawks were catching. They were moving pretty fast, alternately soaring and sweeping their wings back for a rapid glide – they looked like the space shuttle coming in for landing – rather, the space shuttle looks like the stooping hawks, but that’s another story. Apparently, the Sharpies are the early risers, so to speak; they are followed by their bigger cousins the Cooper’s. Still later in the day, the Broad-Winged and Red Tail hawks come through and then maybe some Eagles. The bird guy said he’d expect to see Golden Eagles this time of year. We did see several Red Tails later on when we stopped for lunch, but, alas, no Eagles.

 

[Pic]

 

We stopped at Humpback Gap around 2:30 for lunch. While we were there, I decided to see if I could discover the source of an annoying rattle we’ve been hearing on the last two trips. With all the cabinet doors, cooking paraphernalia, and such, it could have been anything. I’d been stuffing socks in cabinet doors and Janie’s been securing the cooking stuff. None of it had any effect on the rattling. One morning at Mount Rogers , I talked Janie into driving RVan while I got in the back and tried to isolate the rattle. What I discovered was that it was OUTSIDE. Holy crap, something in the undercarriage must be loose. Now what do we do?

 

The parking area at Humpback was paved and fairly clean, so I decided to crawl under RVan and have a look see in the right-rear wheel well, which is where I’d isolated the rattling. Whoa, what’s that? A bolt sticking out. I could push it in and see the shock move. It’s the bolt that mounts the top of the shock to the frame. The nut had come off and the bolt was working its way out. What would happen if it came out? The shock would fall down, hit the pavement and get ripped off along with some other stuff no doubt. Not good. Fortunately, we were just eight miles from Rockfish Gap – the little gap of civilization between the BRP and Shenandoah.

 

Rockfish Gap used to have a Howard Johnson’s, a motel, and a big gas station. All of them are closed and boarded up. It looked like a ghost town. Oh well, times are tough. Waynesboro is just a couple miles down the road and that’s where we headed. We got to the intersection of a couple of big roads; I could see downtown up ahead; not likely to be a “mechanic on duty” place downtown, so I decided to turn north on US-340 and look for some sort of garage on the other road. It quickly turned into the seedy, industrial side of town. I was looking for a place to turn around when I saw a convenience store with a dark-skinned, middle-aged man standing outside having a smoke. I pulled in, got out, walked over to him and said, “You look like the guy with information.” I was shocked when he answered, “What kind of information?” with a British accent. He was an Indian – an Indian Indian. I explained my needs, he thought a moment, looked at his watch (it was 3:15 ), and said, “I know just the guy you need. Go past that light and you’ll see a garage with lots of cars parked outside. The guy fixes my car right away.” I thanked him and did as he instructed.

 

We found a smallish, white cement block building with faded E&W Auto Sales printed along the top (can you believe E&W doesn’t have a web site?). The two garage bays were open with human legs sticking out of cars in various stages of disassembly. There was a youngish woman and a passel of kids standing around outside. They were certainly open, but they looked already occupied. At least they would know where we might go to get the repair. I stopped and asked.

 

The first guy I spoke with had his head totally immersed inside the front wheel-well of an old car. He was skinny and wearing jeans, a tee-shirt, and black ball cap – all of which were liberally smeared with grease and dirt – as was he when he emerged to listen to my tale of woe. I explained that it wasn’t a big deal; I just needed a nut and possibly a new bolt for the shock. I said, “If you can’t do it, maybe you could suggest someone who could. He pointed to a guy with his head immersed in the dashboard of another car and said, “Ask him.” I went over to what must certainly have been E or W of E&W and related the same story. After a moment’s pause, he yelled out, “Reuben.” After a second yell – and absolutely no response to my query – a younger version of himself emerged from the office – and I use the term ‘office’ loosely. E or W told Reuben to take a jack out to the van and see what the problem was. I met Reuben at RVan.

 

Reuben was different from the other two; he was wearing a white tee-shirt and it was clean. Reuben must do the books. I showed him the loose bolt, and, just like his apparent father, he started yelling for Frank without even acknowledging my existence. It turns out Frank was the first guy I talked to, so I’ve gone from Frank to E or W then to Reuben and back to Frank. Frank crawled under RVan (good thing he is thin as a reed), wiggled around a bit and came out with the loose bolt. Hell’s fire, I had to use a hammer (rock hammer at that) just to move the damned thing. He just yanked it out with his bare, greasy hands. Frank is the man.

 

Frank handed the bolt to Reuben and told him to find a nut – and washer, he shouted after Reuben left. Then Frank went back to the car he’d been working on while Janie & I stood there looking at each other. A few minutes later, Reuben emerged with a nut. He came over to RVan, stuck his head in the wheel-well and started shouting for Frank. Frank, who must have his ears plugged with grease, didn’t hear him the first three times. Finally, they connected and Frank came over. He put the bolt in and then mumbled something to Reuben who took off to the innards of the building and came back with a socket wrench and a pair of vice-grips. The two of ‘em got the bolt in and the nut on, at which point Frank went back to the original car he was working on and Reuben said, “That oughta do ‘er. Y’all have a safe trip” as he started to drag the unused jack back into the garage. I said, “How much do we owe you?” Reuben shrugged his shoulders and said, “Whatever you think.” OMG, this is like the two guys that pulled us out when we were stuck in ND. Janie said, “How about twenty?” Reuben just looked at us. I took the twenty and a ten and handed it to him. He smiles (barely) and wished us a safe trip again. I don’t know if they thought $30 was a lot or a little, but I considered it satisfactory for the 20 minutes we were there. I was expecting to pay more like $50 at a regular garage, so maybe we all made out in the end.

 

It was spitting rain by the time we left Waynesboro . When we got to the entrance gate at Shenandoah, I held out my Golden Age pass and said, “I’m an official Old Guy.” He looked at me and said, “You are?” I’ll have to see some identification. I said, “Ugh, you want to look at my picture?” He said, “No, just the signature.” Apparently, Golden Age passes are being used by unqualified people to stiff the parks on the entrance fees. What ever happened to the honest people?

 

Janie & I both agreed that Shenandoah wasn’t as nicely landscaped as the BRP. It is older but still, they are both run by the National Park System. You’d think they would be pretty indistinguishable. It was getting late, so we were now resigned to stopping at the first campground: Loft Mountain. It is only twenty miles into the park and we arrived at the appropriate time for my evening beverage: 5:20. There are an amazing number of campers here – way more than we’ve experienced at any of the BRP campgrounds. We picked out a site (A15) and set up for the night. We were both greatly relieved to get the rattle thing fixed. I had been imagining something coming loose and/or falling off for the last couple days. It probably would have been okay, but still it is a relief to get it fixed.

 

Friday 10/17/08 Loft Mountain, Shenandoah NP VA to Hagerstown MD …

We were up about six, before full light. We’ve stayed in Loft Mountain before and each time has been an interesting experience; last night was more of the same. The first time I was there I unknowingly set up the tent over a Yellow Jacket hole. When I got in, all I could hear was a steady bzzzzz. I had managed to trap a whole bunch of now angry Yellow Jackets under the tent. I got out and moved the tent – what else was one to do? Another time I camped there, a big thunderstorm hit. Loft Mountain is the tippy top of a semi-bald knob, so the winds whipped up pretty good. In order to keep the tent from collapsing, I had to sit on the windward side and keep the wall pushed out. It all reminded me of stories from the Antarctic and the huge winds they get caught in. Yet another time we awoke in the morning to a pea-soup fog. It was so thick you couldn’t see the tent even when standing next to it, but faintly, slowly, the outline of a deer came into view. It too had slept on Loft Mtn and was still lying there before starting its day.

 

Last night, accompanied by an on/off drizzle, we were entertained by the roar of a generator. We had picked campsite A15 because there was just one oldish couple in a big ol’ RV parked across the way. They were completely innocuous – until seven when he got out and turned on the generator. He left it on until nine. I suppose they were watching TV during those two hours. Around eight, someone in a campsite just down the way started strumming a guitar. A badly played guitar is not something you want to hear in an otherwise quiet campground. The bass strings just kept booming and booming. Shortly after we went to bed, we heard a guy walking by and he said very loudly, “If I wanted to hear a f***ing guitar, I’d play mine.” Shortly after that, the guitar stopped … then a little later the generator stopped … then we were asleep. Shenandoah and what we assumed would be a quiet campground were both way more crowded & noisy than the BRP was on a holiday weekend. Loft Mountain was fuller than any other campground we’d been in on this trip.

 

We didn’t want to spend any more time in campground than necessary, so we heated some water, poured it in the Thermos and headed down the road to the Ivy Creek overlook. We then spent the next hour and a half enjoying our morning beverage and watching the sun rise over surrounding mountains. As it happens, the AT passes through the parking area. I noticed a gallon of water sitting on the retaining wall and when I went over to investigate, I found it was sitting on a note. The note read: “Indian Creek water collected 10/15 – Enjoy – Mary Jane.” The trail hikers really do have their own society.

 

We drove on for a couple hours before pulling over at Dark Hollow Falls overlook. This is one of those places where you are supposed to be able to see migrating hawks. Sure enough, we no sooner got there than three Red Tails soared over our heads. We had our granola and continued to scan the sky, but, alas, we saw no more hawks.

 

Now about those Wooly Worms … I saw a few yesterday – more Millipedes than Wooly Worms actually – and a few more today. They, the Woolies and the Millipedes were all crossing perpendicular to the length of the road … and … every last one of them was heading west. I now have three days worth of data and all but two of the several dozen I saw were heading west – and always perpendicular to the road. What do you think about that?

 

The clouds gradually thinned and eventually blue sky was visible. By mid-afternoon it was nearly cloudless but still a little breezy and cool. We exited Shenandoah around one and found ourselves in the hub and bub of Front Royal. After spending several days in the solitude and grandeur of Skyline Drive and the BRP, it is always a shock to the system to find yourself in downtown Front Royal. Suddenly you have to deal with people who have to get someplace NOW, and then there is the sensory overload caused by the gazillion signs surrounding you.

 

We got gas for $2.78 (10% ethanol) on the north side of Front Royal, within sight of I-66, which we took over to I-81 and then north toward Hagerstown . Roaring along at 60-65 and still being passed by everything in sight, we managed to make it all the way to the outskirts of Hagerstown before seeking refuge on a back road. Not just any old back road; this one led to the Prime Outlets. It seems we can’t take a trip without making a stop at one of these outlet places. Not that we enjoy it. Rather, they seem to have the occasional thing that we need to actually see before buying on the Internet. We did LL Bean, Corning , Nike, and a few in between those destinations. We ended up with a baking dish for our trouble.

 

Then it was across Hagerstown to Alice and Hughie’s place on the northern fringes. Hagerstown still retains the essence of its historical heritage – complete with impossibly narrow streets with too many cars parked on them. We came to a new grocery just a short distance from their house. Not knowing the dinner plans, we thought it would be a good idea to use the spaghetti sauce Janie picked up at the winery, but we needed some Italian sausage, Italian bread, and lettuce to round out a meal. We used the do-it-yourself checkout lane for the first time. Who knew they’d get so upset when I tried to scan my butt? Reactionaries.

 

We pulled into our usual parking area in Breslin Court around 5:30. They were still at the volley ball game but we found a note with instructions for meeting them there and telling us there were dinner reservations at a high-class place over in nearby PA. Hmmm, if we’re going out, we better do something about our greasy hair. It’s okay for WV but probably not so good for a fancy restaurant. The Breslin family started arriving shortly after we’d showered and dressed. We did the usual meet and greet thing, then everyone put on proper attire before heading out to The Lodge at Blue Ridge Summit PA. We are in the big time now.

 

Before we left, we were serenaded by a couple of owls. One was in the trees across the road, and when it hooted, another one answered in the trees behind us. I gotta tell you, this sorta ticked me off. Of all the places we’ve been over the last couple weeks, we end up hearing owls in the suburbs. Why? Well, I suppose the owls are where the food is. There are several fields behind the houses built along the road. Those fields probably have lots of un-harvested grain that attracts rodents, which, in turn, attracts predators – like the owls. Whatever, it was good to hear ‘em.

 

The six of us climbed into Huey’s new, company-provided Highlander Hybrid and headed for The Lodge. When we got there, we discovered The Lodge behind not just one, but two, big iron gates. The lane was lined with stately trees and ended at the parking lot in front of The Lodge. Caitlin, Alice & Hugh’s youngest and the only child still at home, joined us, as did her boyfriend, Tyler. Apparently, Caitlin had told Tyler about her weird Aunt Jane and Uncle Bog, and she wanted him to see for himself. Okay, that makes for a little pressure. I think it turned out okay – nobody was reduced to tears anyway.

 

The physical setting at the restaurant had mixed results. The unfortunate part was that we were placed at a large table – one that could easily have accommodated twice our number. Thus, we were sitting too far apart for easy conversation. The situation was exacerbated by the group of 26 celebrating a wedding anniversary complete with a slide show and accompanying music – they were way too loud for such a sophisticated place. Fortunately, Alice and Hugh knew most of them. Hagerstown also retains the essence of a small town – everybody knows everybody, even if everybody is several miles away from Hagerstown in Blue Ridge Summit, PA. Turns out even we knew some of the everybodies there. Well, we didn’t really know them, but we had met them the last time we went out to dinner w/Breslins in Hagerstown!

 

We were seated in a large glassed-in, screened porch that overlooked the valley below. We could see the twinkle of houses and farms off in the distance. We could also see the nearly full Hunter Moon rising over the distant ridgeline. It was a perfect astronomical event; the large windows framed the glowing orb perfectly. There were some wispy cirrus clouds that added to the dramatic effect. The moon was captured by the window the whole time we were there. Just perfect.

 

What about the cuisine, you ask? Well, this is one of those Nuevo Elegant places where the entrees are divided into Appetizers, Land, Sea, and Kids (an $8 grilled cheese was the first entry in the Kids section). The Land had two varieties of steak along with Lamb Chops, Pork Chops, Game Hen, Rabbit, Duck, and Venison – all with those pretentious-sounding sauces and goos like truffle oil, sea salt and rosemary, garlic puree. I don’t remember much about the Sea part because I don’t do Sea. However, I do remember we ordered a Seafood Sauté, Salmon, and Trout from that category. We also got a couple Appetizers: Venison Kabobs and some sort of seafood salad. The entrees were served with “Starch and Vegetable”. Today’s “Starch” turned out to be mashed potatoes, Caitlin’s favorite, and the vegetable was “Fall Medley”. The food was served on oversized plates so the smallish portions looked even smaller. Furthermore, the salmon was served ON TOP OF the mashed potatoes. What is this, a treasure hunt? There was no salad (you had to order that separately), nor was there any bread. The water glasses were filled once, when we were seated. That said, the food was excellent. Everything had its own uniquely distinct flavor. Even the “Starch” was noteworthy. After dinner, some opted for dessert: Chocolate Lava, Fruit Empanadas, and Apple Cobbler. Janie’s Lava thing was the best. Dinner for six plus a bottle of wine and a few non-adult beverages for the young ones came to $223.

 

We hadn’t been sure about the directions on the way to the restaurant, so that part of the outing seemed to take a long time. Normally, Hugh has a GPS system in his company car that tells him where to go – in a female voice so he feels like his wife, mother, or mother-in-law is in the car with him. But GPS units are in high demand by thieves these days, so he was relying on a Post-It note with directions written in his own handwriting. He’s driving and it’s dark, making it tough to read anything, but he can’t read his own handwriting, so neither can any of the rest of us. However, we made it to the Lodge okay. As is usually the case, the ride home seemed amazingly short. We pulled into the Breslin driveway around eleven – bedtime for responsible adults.

 

Saturday 10/18/08 Hagerstown MD to Woodbine MD and back to Hagerstown MD

We awoke at 6:30 to 44/36 degrees and the bright, orange orb rising over the Blue Ridge to our east. The four of us sat in the sun room while enjoying our morning beverages and getting caught up on all the family news. The day dawned bright and sunny with a fall chill in the air – only in the 50s at noontime. Janie & Alice eventually headed down to the jewelry store to learn how to work the Pandora Charm Bracelet they were planning to give Margaret for her 60th birthday. Each of Margaret’s 10 siblings, her husband Dan, her daughter Annie, her step-son Scott, her goddaughter Casey and some appended members like me gave her a charm. Alice had each charm wrapped and put in its own little bag that was liberally garnished with brightly colored tissue paper. The idea was for each individual to give their bagged charm separately. Alice and Janie typed up a sheet explaining the significant of each charm. The only problem was no one knew exactly how to put the charms on the bracelet. That was the purpose of the girl’s outing this AM.

 

Hughie and I did manly things while the girls were gone. Then we sat ourselves down in front of the TV and watched the first half of the Maryland-Wake Forest game while we waited for the serving wenches to return and fix our lunch. They did that very thing without prodding. These women know how to care for their ‘hard working’ men folk. When halftime rolled around, it was time to hit the showers and dress for the wedding. We were all ready and in the car by two. Oh, I should say something about the “limo”. Hughie’s company provides him with a car – hey, he’s a big-time TV guy (station manager of the NBC affiliate in Hagerstown). This year they gave him a Toyota Highlander Hybrid. Now this is a classy automobile. There’s a display in the middle of the dash that reads out all sorts of interesting data: your current mileage, whether you are using electric or gas motor, real-time mileage, average mileage for the last several fill-ups, ambient temperature readings, status of all doors and hatches, the pressure in all your tires … and … when you back up, the display turns into a screen that shows what’s behind you. All that for between $50-60,000. We were riding in luxury.

 

The wedding was being held at Circle D Farm, Woodbine MD. We got to the wedding a little after three – it was scheduled to start at three thirty. Janie’s sisters Rose and Margaret (with husband, Dan) were already there, so we all took up positions and waited to greet the rest of the Bannigan Clannigan. The last ones arrived just in time to be seated before the start of the ceremony. The whole thing was open-air and set up in a grassy lawn overlooking the surrounding rolling hills of the Piedmont. The weather was perfect – not too hot, not too cold, not too windy – just right for the simple elegance of an outdoor wedding with a minimum of pomp and/or circumstance.

 

After the ceremony, we all gathered in the building for the reception. There were four diverse groups represented. Billy, the father of the bride, is one of eleven Bannigan siblings. Sue, mother of the bride, is one of several siblings. The father of the groom has something like 15 siblings. A large number of high school and college friends were also in attendance. The younger set got a little wild, like we older ones used to do. There were a couple of DJs spinning CDs and thoroughly filling the room with what I considered painfully loud music – even when they played stuff I liked. At one point, I could feel my shirt vibrating and eventually, I removed my hearing aids just to maintain the shred of sanity I still cling to.

 

Let me say a little bit about the music. It was loud – too loud. I’ve said that twice and won’t revisit the topic. They started out playing a bunch of stuff I didn’t recognize, but they eventually played some tracks that were very familiar – even a Nat King Cole piece: I Love You For Sentimental Reasons – most appropriate for a wedding. After dinner, it was time to dance, so the DJs started with a long line of old R’n’R tracks that were very familiar – some from the 50s, many more from the Motown era. The odd part was that, although I recognized the song, the artists didn’t seem to be the same as I remembered. Maybe it was the loudness or something, but none of the songs seemed quite right. I suppose it could have been younger artists doing the older, traditional R’n’R, but it was most likely the heavy bass and overall unrealistic loudness – oops, I said it again. You know, things like R-E-S-P-E-C-T that didn’t really sound like the original. At one point they played James Brown’s ‘I Feel Good’. That was pretty certainly James Brown, but it got me to thinking. Not many years ago, an almost entirely white gathering would never play what was then called Race Music. In fact, when I was a DG at the YMCA (yep, the DJs played that too), we were forbidden from playing Race Music. I just kept reflecting on how times had changed. Now we got a roomful of white folk suggestively gyrating around like, well, black people. It seemed kind of ironic as the old Motown hits kept coming.

 

The DJs eventually moved to more modern tracks – things that I didn’t recognize and certainly couldn’t identify with. Some at our table were trying to identify the artists and were making references to American Idol participants. Don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout no American Idol – American Bandstand, YES – American Idol, NO. Whenever a “mood” piece was needed, like the Bride & Groom’s dance or the Parent’s dance, the DJs played a slower pop-country piece. I, of course, didn’t recognize them either – not the music and not the dancers. That set the stage for a personal music revelation.

 

Alice and Hughie listen to a country FM station. It is what I’d call Pop Country. While we were driving, we must have heard dozens of tracks. The most notable thing was that almost all the tracks seemed to have the same background rhythm. The words were different, as were the artists – about five males separated by a female singer. After a while, they all seemed to blend together as though it were one two-hour-long track. Kind of weird. I got to thinking about that experience and the wedding DJ’s selections sandwiched in between and how those selections compared to what we listen to from our music library (WBOG). First of all, we sample from a wider variety of styles. Our music is more, um, what should I say, subdued … others may say mature … still others would say elevator music, but I think it is more than that. Secondly, and I think most importantly, our music has more what I would call character, more guts or depth of meaning, if you will. Of course I’m thoroughly biased, and I’m perfectly certain that anyone listening to the pop tunes would find our stuff “old” and “boring”. To each his/her own. These considerations and comparisons make it even more desirable that YOU let me know what you think of the Naweedna CDs. I seem to be operating in a bit of a vacuum, which makes selecting tracks a bit more difficult.

 

After the DJs played their last track, the younger crowd organized themselves and headed out to a party at the bar in the bride & groom’s hotel. We older-crowd members made other arrangements: we headed to Champps to watch the end of the sixth ACLS game. The complication arose when one of our group wanted to join the young ones. Alice and Hughie’s second child, Joey, had driven his car to the wedding and now wanted to go to the party. These young people are very concerned about drinking and driving, and Joe had had a couple at the reception. He opted to hop on the party bus and have his mother, Alice, drive his car over to sister Therese and her husband Bill Holtzman’s house. Then the Breslins, Holtzmans, Bogers, and Renwicks (sister Mary and husband Dan) formed a caravan heading to Champps where we all met up with nieces Jackie (and husband Kevin Campbell) and Kelly (with her beau Matt – both live in Tampa Bay and are major Rays fans). We put a couple tables together and ordered up some beer and eats – way too much fried and slathered thingys. We hung out there until around eleven when it became pretty obvious Tampa Bay was going to lose to the Red Sox and force a game seven tomorrow. Matt took it pretty well, I must say – like a seasoned Bills fan would.

 

Okay, it was now time for us to all gather and decide how we were going to get Joey’s car to his place in Baltimore . BALTIMORE, you shout. Yep, Baltimore . We started in Hagerstown , which is in the mountains of western Maryland . We attended a wedding in Woodbine, northwest of DC, and now we are going to take Joey and his car to Baltimore. This is a big adventure for the two of us country folk who think the three mile trip to Geneseo is a big deal. It was after midnight before we all got together at Holtzman’s and decided how we were going to approach the situation. Alice drove Joe in his car and Hugh, Janie, and I followed in the Highlander, then the four full-fledged adults bid goodnight to Joey and headed home to Hagerstown. Hughie had predicted we would get back at 2:15, and we pulled into their driveway just as the digital clock on the fancy instrument panel ticked from 2:14 to 2:15. I always said he was good.

 

Sunday 10/19/08 Hagerstown to Little Pine SP PA …

Up by a little after nine (it had been a late night, y’all): 44/34 degrees. Crystal clear sky and bright fall sunshine. We had our morning beverage and got on the road by ten – before Alice and Hugh emerged from their bedroom. We left them a thank you note and headed north toward PA. The great weather means we can bike Pine Creek tomorrow – rain is predicted for Tuesday – one last day of delicious fall weather. Nice easy drive most of the day – only church traffic and a few Amish buggies. Very pleasant.

 

During the drive, we had a chance to reflect on the events of the last two days. We started our trip on the 6th and spent the next ten days getting as far away from civilization as possible, and we’d spent half of that time biking in near total solitude. Then we arrived in somewhat civilized Hagerstown, had a night out at an upscale restaurant and then spent the next 24 hours in one of the most urbanized areas in the east. The rapid change was a sudden shock to our collective cultural systems. 

 

Driving through rural PA on a bright fall morning brought some color and insight to the rollercoaster ride we have been on. Culture shock is the best way to describe it. The rapid change from our time spent biking to the experience of being immersed in miles of urban/industrial sprawl has left me with a case of decompression bends. I find myself questioning my values and chosen lifestyle. I enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Watching a falling leaf carve a graceful curve as it reluctantly succumbs to gravity’s law – it spent the last few months in quiet servitude to its parent tree, and now I can imagine its ‘wheee’ as it lives out its last act before joining its brethren on the ground. Simple pleasures (and a vivid imagination) fill my mind with joy.

 

My chosen lifestyle seems to be out of step with modern society where pleasures come in the form of pre-packaged, processed, and marketed entertainment. In this environment, people seem to rush from place to place looking for pleasure, and when they arrive at their themed destination, they sit and wait anxiously for joy to embrace them. It’s like waiting to be warmed by an unlit fireplace – great anticipation; marginal result. In my opinion, personal pleasure is an internal flame glowing from within and illuminating the surroundings – not the other way around. I felt like a field anthropologist while I observed my fellow patrons at Champps. The place is a cavernous structure … and … it was packed. What economic downturn? As I studied the behavior of the people populating the tables around us, I began to see a pattern. Most of them did not seem to be having a good time. They looked bored, almost zombie-like – sorta like what you’d expect to see if you were observing their day-to-day life at home. Here they sat, all decked out in the going-to-town clothes, throwing a lot of money and effort into a seemingly unsuccessful attempt to bring pleasure into their lives. Our table was one of the few that was engaged in animated conversation like you’d expect of people out having a good time. Most of the other patrons seemed to be staring into the void and thinking about where they might go next to find a burning fireplace to warm their cavernous souls.

 

The surreal aspect of my surroundings forced me to focus on the thematic concept behind a franchised sports bar. The walls were lined with big-screen TVs displaying virtually every sporting event happening at that particular moment in time. We, of course, were watching the World Series game. I turned to Hughie and rhetorically asked, “What would Abner Doubleday think; people watching his game displayed on the walls of a bar/restaurant?” Hughie couldn’t hear me due to the continuous low rumble of ambient noise. I returned to my inner thoughts about how our low-intensity, outdoor-oriented lifestyle clashes with the glitter and noise of the urban search for packaged pleasure.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not picking on our experience at Champps specifically. Rather I’m using that experience and my reaction to it to generalize about all such themed palaces of pleasure. You know the ones that are designed to pleasure your senses and leave you with the impression that you are having fun. No, going to Champps was a noble exercise; an attempt to gather disparate personalities bonded by family in an environment where they could interact … and keep up with the latest sports news. It was an altogether fine idea and appropriate for the occasion. I’m just wondering why I would never do it on my own. Am I that out of step with modern society? My chosen lifestyle serves me well, but it tends to run counter to that of others I know and love – and – I seem to be retreating more and more into hermitude – no doubt exacerbated by advancing age. Additionally, I expect those on whom I’m passing judgment would find my sources of pleasure tedious and boring. To each his/her own, eh?

 

As we passed through tiny Troxelville PA, I saw a hand-lettered sign tacked to the front porch of an old home. The words and setting brought the conflict running around in my mind to focus. You pick: packaged pleasure of urban thematic-bars or the Spit & Whittle Club of Troxelville? There’s a poem by Sidi J. Mathrow that sorta gets to the point. The perceived culture clash I’ve been musing about was further brought to focus by the juxtaposition of urban sprawl with the shocked corn and buggies of rural PA Amish. It was just a few hours ago that I was immersed in a sea of tweens and twenty-somethings and now I’m finding true happiness in following a black horse-drawn buggy over a high pass somewhere between Beaver Springs and McAlesterville. I could never live like the Amish, but I can certainly appreciate their lifestyle choices. I found the tension generated by this internal discourse further abated and essentially vanquished as I sat in campsite #56 of Little Pine SP. I found myself awash with joy while having my ritual adult beverage and looking at a naturally landscaped mountainside just a few yards away. Simple pleasures for simple folk; the life force originates from within; seeking it from without is futile – at least for me; I don’t belong in the world of the glitterati.

 

So how did we arrive in Little Pine? Let’s just say it involved lunch at Hairy John picnic area and a decision not to take the fire road over Winkelblech Mountain. Yeah, there really is a roadside rest called Hairy John, and, yes, it does have a restroom. It is located on PA-45 at the entrance to the Winkelblech Mountain Road (WMR), which is a shortcut across, well, Winkelblech Mountain, and avoids about four miles of driving. We’ve stopped at Hairy John several times before, and, yes, we’ve taken WMR on a few occasions. However, we never take it when it is wet – too muddy – or dry – too dusty. This time it was the latter. I didn’t want to expose the bikes to a coating of dust that, after being slathered with paved-road grime would cling to them like a mother to her newborn. We took the somewhat longer route around WMR, passed through Lock Haven, and eventually found ourselves in Woolrich where we stopped at the Woolrich Outlet.

 

It was around four, and, while Janie was checking out the bargains, I used the Internet connection to check on the Bills-Chargers game: Bills win 23-14 and go 5-1. Of course, we now know it was downhill from there, but we take whatever good news we can get. We headed down the road to Jersey Shore to stock up on gas and groceries before driving up Pine Creek Valley to Little Pine SP where we paid $29 for a two-night stay in site #56. Visions of spending the next day on the Pine Creek Trail filled our minds with anticipation.

 

Monday 10/20/08 Little Pine SP PA (day 2) …

We awoke a little before eight to 44/28 degrees. TWENTYEIGHT? Hope our water pipes didn’t freeze. They didn’t, nor did we. However, we were bundled up in fleece for most of the morning. Janie had picked up some Cinnamon Buns at the grocery, so we had our usual Sunday Brunch on Monday while waiting for the sun to warm it up outside. We drove over to Blackwell and parked under the bridge. This site is normally full of fisherpersons, but not today. The section of the Pine Creek Trail between Blackwell and Ansonia is the best (Map), so we were planning to do that portion while the weather held.

 

We were on the trail a little before eleven. It was a beautifully clear and cool fall day. The late start meant we didn’t need to take our bulky fleece jackets – yay, more room for lunch. Right off the bat we were greeted by a Kingfisher winging its way upstream. We saw lots and lots of Juncoes, dozens of Common Mergansers, and one Pileated. We were able to slowly approach a couple deer before they sensed us and bounded off into the surrounding underbrush. We heard a Raven croak, and, after scanning the opposite valley wall, finally saw it soaring around just under the ridgeline. Ah, Ravens, what could be better than that? How about Red Tails and Eagles?

 

It is fall migration season for birds of prey, so I kept a tally of the Red Tails we saw: 10 total unique-sightings for the day. As it warmed up, a gentle breeze started blowing up valley. The hawks were using the thermals and valley wind-currents to lift them over the surrounding ridges. One immature and what might have been its parent played tag while cutting lazy circles on the rising air. Neat.

 

It wasn’t only the soaring birds that showed the effect of the thermals. By mid-afternoon, the valley had warmed sufficiently to form updrafts that were channeled between the steep confining walls of the narrow valley. We watched as leaves were swept along, just over the stream, and then swirled upward when they reached a persistently sunny spot. They rose up and up until they reached the height of the valley walls where shearing winds dispersed them high over our heads. As we used our binos to watch soaring Red Tails, Ravens and Eagles, we could see leaves swirling around across our field of view. It was kind of weird and, dare I say, uplifting – a visual memory I’ll carry for a long time … I hope.

 

Eagles are year-round residents in the valley, and we almost always see at least one along this section of trail. This time we were biking along at a cool 5-10 mph when Janie looked up and saw an immature Bald Eagle winging right toward us. It was flying along at creek-side treetop-level and flew right over our heads. We saw it – or another one like it – on the way back as it soared along the stream hunting for its last meal of the day. Shortly after that, we saw what was probably a male mature Eagle soaring over the western ridge-line. Later, we were surprised to see it or another similar bird come stooping in from behind and swoop down to the creek … and miss its target. When we got to the place where it tried to make a strike, we saw a group of Mergansers. Were they the target or were they just in the pool with a fish target? Dunno.

 

Normally we see several GBHs on this section of trail. However, this being mid-November, there were many fewer to see. In fact, we only saw one GBH and it was all hunkered down and miserable looking. And you know what? It really wasn’t that cold, so maybe it was just trying to hide. Dunno about that either.

 

Our day’s outing was nearly over when we noticed a large, dark object crossing the trail ahead. We stopped, put the binos on it and discovered it to be a … Porcupine … a fully mature example of this prickly mass of life. Having built-in defenses means it can slowly waddle along with impunity, so we were able to bike right up to it and watch as it clambered up the steep, leaf-littered valley wall. We were no more than ten feet from it and got to watch – and listen – as it crashed through the leaf litter with the subtlety of a tank. Occasionally, it would stop to sample a raspberry leaf. This was the best look we’ve ever had at a Porcupine. Primitive is the word I’d use to describe Porcupines.

 

We got a late start on our outing and that means a late finish. It had warmed up by mid-day and we found ourselves stripping off the extra layers of clothing necessary for the beginning of the ride. However, by the end of the ride, we found ourselves bundling up again. It cools off real fast once that ol’ sun sinks behind the ridgeline. It was around 5:30 when we got back to RVan. Ah, what a great day and wonderful outing. Now we go back to Little Pine for a quick shower, celebratory beer, filling dinner, and warm bed - the end of the last full day of this trip. Bittersweet.

 

Bike Data: 36.66 miles, 4:30 hours bike time; 6:30 hours total time

 

Tuesday 10/21/2008 Little Pine SP PA to Naweedna …

We were up around seven to 47/36 degrees. While enjoying our morning beverages, we were entertained by three deer running back and forth through the heavily wooded valley wall about 50 yards in front of RVan. You could just tell they were full of youthful exuberance and probably very glad that the low temp means no, or at least fewer, annoying insects. We frequently see this kind of behavior in the meadow at Naweedna. But it was surprising to see them doing the same helter-skelter running around in the thick woods. Guess it makes no matter mind to them, eh?

 

It rained last night, and the morning dawned dark and threatening. It appears we squeezed out the last day of good weather. We’ve been very lucky with the weather, so it has worked out very well. Yay, us! As we drove north, we passed through occasional showers, increasingly stiff NW winds, and plummeting temperatures. Apparently, we were passing through a front. Speaking of passing, we passed the Welcome To New York sign with renewed interest. The last time we saw this sign we noted that Spitzer’s name had not yet been added. Now we wondered if Patterson’s name would be there. Or, maybe they would get smart and just put up a generic message: The Current Governor Welcomes You. The space for the name was blank, so I expect there will be a bunch of money wasted on adding the Current Occupant at some point in the future. Our tax dollars at work.

 

Even with the deteriorating weather, it was a very pleasant morning drive. I hesitated to comment on the lack of traffic while actively involved in the process – GPFMR you know. But after we crossed the NY line, I mustered enough courage to note out loud that we’d spent nearly the entire morning without a single vehicle in the rearview mirror. It was a very pleasant drive, although it was the last leg of our very successful trip – a trip that I found myself wishing could continue. Always leave ‘em wanting more, eh?

 

We got to Geneseo a little after one and went directly to the PO to pick up our mail. We spent the rest of the afternoon unpacking RVan, and the evening was devoted to reading mail and having a congratulatory adult beverage. We’d recorded the Presidential Debates that we’d missed, so we watched one of them after dinner. We topped that off with a couple episodes of John Stewart and Steven Colbert – have to get caught up on the political doings we’d missed so we can make intelligent voting decisions. Then it was off to bed to dream about when we might do it all again.

 

1875 miles

67 mph max

38 mph moving average

33 mph overall average

 

Total Bike Data: 251 miles, 31 hours bike time, 42 hours total time