Bicycling and Eating

Saturday, April 14

Mary’s Birthday dawned cool and breezy (no surprise there). We had our beverages under the awning, did our breakfast thing, and then talked with J n M about plans. We sat with them at their set-up until the shade in which we were sitting disappeared, and chatted. While there, a couple of brazen crows came down right next to us, and picked at stuff on the ground. Also, a brown skink-type critter with darker and lighter stripes along its side came to visit, and cavorted around the base of a live oak trunk. 

Rain is forecast for the overnight and into Sunday, so Jack and I thought we’d want to head over to the Dismal Swamp Canal trail, which was reclaimed from an old roadbed (Rt. 17, which is now a major north/south artery through Chesapeake). Rt. 17 was made from the old towpath that was the canal’s “engine” and there are reader boards at various points along the straight-as-an-arrow road.

So J n M figured they’d get in a walk along the beach and maybe ride their bikes along a few more of the bike-friendly trails across the highway, in the rest of the State Park. 

We made up some lunch sandwiches, loaded the bikes on the hitch rack of the truck and set out. Traffic was hideous as everyone was trying to get into the beaches on such a fine Saturday. Although the distance to the trail was not reported to be extreme, the traffic made it quite a haul. Maybe plan in the future to head down there during the week day, but not during rush hour?

Finding the trail head was not an easy task. We tried to use the address on the website print-out we had downloaded, but ended up in the municipal parking lot for the local offices of Chesapeake’s government. Still we found a nice shady area to eat our lunch, and while there, Jack’s friend Harry called and they talked camping for a while.

At last we found the trail head, and there was even a bathroom available that wasn’t a port-a-loo. A crew was taking down the structures for some sort of event they’d had recently (we discovered later it was the “Swamp Stomp” and it had happened that very morning, closing off much of the park’s trail). Because everything was so obviously over, we were glad we had not gotten an earlier start, because we would not have been able to ride the whole length of the trail. And there would have been a bunch more people hanging out.

But starting the ride at the heat of the day was not ideal. Still, we had lots of water with us, and began at the Old Rt. 17 northern trail head around 2:00P. The part of the park/trail that was reclaimed from Rt. 17 was about 8.5 miles. There was about a 2.5 mile add-on you could ride along actual Rt. 17 (very busy and narrow at this section, but paved) to get to a big rec area with soccer fields, tons of parking, and, apparently, they were putting up a fair or a carnival or something. We did not investigate, but turned around and finished our 21-ish total miles, riding the whole length and back to the start point. 

We did observe, however, that a kayak or canoe row along the canal would probably be a great adventure, and there were several put-in spots to launch (plus a canoe rental place along the portion of the way between the northern trail head and the rec area).

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The wind was wicked, especially on the way out and especially-especially at the end of the road, where the corridor of greenery we’d been surrounded by the entire time opened up to a series of very long, flat, plowed fields across which the wind hit no barriers until us. Ugh.

Happily, it was “mostly” at our backs on the return. But overall, I was disappointed in the trail. There was little variation along the way, and the “promised” wildlife the literature had touted was all hidden by the thick corridor of scrappy, brushy greenery that tunneled us down the road. So it was kind of boring. 

But the surface was paved and the grade was mostly flat, and it was an excellent workout for all points that meet the bicycle. In the end, we did our 21.31 miles at an average speed of 13MPH (Jack had found his own “zone” along this trail, and had a higher average speed than mine); highest speed of 18MPH, over a 73 ft. total ascent. It took us about an hour and a half of ride time to complete.

We collaborated with J n M again on a birthday dinner for Mary, and experimented with a dutch oven Mary had brought — which they subsequently gave to us for our birthdays! She had a recipe book and roasted some potatoes in it at our site (so we could watch the pot—being clueless about dutch oven outdoor cooking—while Jack roasted some little game hens and grilled some zucchini. Another lovely meal was enjoyed on a quite mild night inside the screen house once again. Mary’s potatoes turned out excellent, and we have lots of leftovers to enjoy again later.

Sunday, April 16

While the expected rain did not come in the night, it was nevertheless forecast to roll in sometime Sunday, so we kept the bikes on the Roomba rack, under their waterproof cover. The weather was cool and truly lovely (the wind having abated considerably) so we spent the morning watching all the weekenders pack up and leave. Over the weekend, the park had become quite busy, with an enormous extended family taking up several sites across from us; and a couple of busses full of girl scouts in the tent-only area. None were too obnoxious, even though the big family seemed to be swarming everywhere, and the scouts were shrieking as they played some after-dark game. But all was quiet by bedtime.

But back to the day: we are expecting two additional Alto owners to come join us; one family of which was a co-coordinator (with Jack and one other owner) for the Stone Mountain Rally last year: Karen and Steve. 

Also, another Facebook friend whom we met for the first time last year at the rally just happened to be on the east coast, just south of us at Kitty Hawk. Annie texted Sunday AM and asked that we inform her of the departure of those folks in her site (171) so she could come in early if possible (published check-out is 1P and check-in is fairly late, at 4P). Just as the clouds began to roll in, with the rain beginning around an hour later, we texted Annie that her site was free. Mary had another friend to meet up with, so she left with their van and John in the tent. Jack spent the last bit of time before the rain came lounging in the hammock.

The first round of rain ended about 1PM, but the clouds remained with the temperatures low enough we needed to zip the “longs” back onto our pants, and put on a light jacket. Again (and thankfully) the wind was blissfully quiet—at least for a while.

Have I mentioned the pollen?

Everything that reproduces by liberally distributing pollen into the air has chosen this moment to do so: from pines to live oaks and every type of discreetly-flowering plant in between has sent gobs and gobs of pollen on the relentless wind (frankly, an excellent reproduction strategy, though tough on sinuses and eyes).

Until the rain, we were battling the pollen on every surface and even sitting down a beverage for a moment meant that there would be a skim of pale yellow atop it in no time at all. Wiping it up was only a temporary assist, and I have wiped all of our eating surfaces and food-fixing surfaces multiple times. Forget trying to keep it off your clothes.

Brilliantly, the off-and-on rains on Sunday meant much of the pollen on the solar panels, car, and screen house was washed off. Then it pooled and puddled around, appearing as though someone had spilt institutional-yellow paint everywhere.

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I took some rainy time to go up to the Visitor Center, where they freely loan their WiFi, and have a nice lounge in which to check email etc. And the access is quite robust, at that (we have plenty of Verizon cell at the campsite, but we tend toward running out of data, so grabbing some very nice, quick WiFi is a super plus). There are also clothes washing machines there, for those in need.

By the time I returned, Annie, Steve, and Karen had arrived, and some catching up was enjoyed by all. After a while, we had cocktails under Karen and Steve’s awning; and then the entire group of us went to Dockside Seafood for dinner. It was a fun evening that strangely presaged a wild night of rain and wind.

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This was the April night/morning where there was snow and hail falling in Meadows of Dan, tornadoes in Lynchburg, ice in the northeast, and many other serious weather anomalies: April 15-16. For us, it was a rollicking night of huge, battering gusts of wind and sheets and buckets and cats and dogs of rain. Impossible to sleep.

We rocked and rolled a while, and then (several times) tried to see out to assure ourselves that everything was still in one piece — all was fine until about 4:30A, when we saw that the screen house’s roof had managed to fill with water and pop inward. Jack got his jacket on and waded barefoot through about 4 inches of standing water from our door to the screen house, which had even more water in it. As he came back, he mentioned that he had no idea where our Crocks had floated or blown off to.

By dumping off the collected water, he was able to re-pop the top to its normal condition, and it stayed that way until light dawned. My guess is that the deluge stopped around 5AM, and we actually managed to nod off a bit. By the time we got up, the standing water had abated, but dampness reigned. Our awning, however, protected most of what was under it, although the blown rain had dampened most everything.

I won’t go into the details of the cleanup, but here’s a photo of how our lovely “nest” site turned into a place reminiscent of every “ugly RV-er” you’ve ever imagined.

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The clouds abated, but the wind picked up again, so we had wet gear (from inside the screen house) hanging everywhere, including our “welcome mat” rug. Happily the “porch chairs” were dry, and everything that mattered could either dry out or didn’t get wet at all. My bike helmet had been inside the screen house on the picnic table, and flew somewhere, knocking off my rear view mirror, but it was fine, although sandy, on the ground.

We found both sets of our Crocks. Mine had been stopped by the tire, and Jack’s were around the back near the driver’s side bumper of the trailer, headed for the road and freedom. 

So it was a slow and distracted start to our Monday, but all was well. J n M weathered the storm with only a few small leaks around their tent-to-car attachment, and all the Alto owners were fine, if weary from lack of sleep. While it threatened more rain all day, and was rather cooler than Saturday and Sunday had been, it did not rain again during the day on Monday.

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