Bicycling and More

April 19

The plan for the three nights/two days we had left in our trip was to share some of the cycling opportunities in the area with Mark and Angie; they, too, were just starting the cycling season and wanted to take it a bit easy on some flat terrain. Two notable rails-to-trails conversions relatively nearby are the Tobacco Heritage Trail (Boydton) and the Highbridge Trail (Farmville).

Still, our first cycle jaunt was Jack’s and my usual tour of the North Bend campground. Our “game” is to take every paved left-hand turn we can make throughout the campground (even around the barriers to un-opened areas), hitting each campsite loop, boat launch, group-camp loop, picnic area, etc., and eventually ending up back at our campsite.

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The last time Jack and I did this at North Bend, we clocked just over 10 miles. On this adventure, we added a crossing to the other side of the major hydro-electric dam, and got in nearly 13 miles all told (my average speed was 9.5MPH). We were all hungry, so we decided to skip going downhill (and then back up—a serious chug) to the picnic and launch area “beneath” the hydro-plant itself, and instead decided to head back out again, aimed at the Tobacco Heritage Trail, after a good nosh.

The day was splendid, although the wind seemed to never die, as was the case at First Landing. At lunch Jack and I decided the wind was strong enough that we rolled up the awning, leaving it attached to Roomba by the Kieder Rail, and secured the poles and guy lines so they would not blow into the lake.

We loaded the bikes on Mark’s four-bike hitch rack, piled into his van and headed to Boydton to find a trail head for the Tobacco Heritage Trail. As it turned out, the parking area we were looking for wasn’t in Boydton at all, but rather LaCrosse, a small burb just east of Boydton.

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We got started around 2:45, and the beginning part of the trail at this section is paved, which is very nice for riding. But the wind was wicked (again), and we didn’t know exactly how far to go nor how long it would take us. Angie wanted to get back to camp (about a half-hour drive) in time to do some prep work for the dinner they wanted to host for us. So we decided we’d ride for an hour, turn around, and head back. 

Once we started peddling on the cinder/sand surface of the trail, things got more difficult because the footing didn’t seem to be packed as hard as some other cinder trails we’d ridden in the past. But the Tobacco Heritage Trail is a relatively new effort, and has been completed in sections only, so this was not surprising. The last time Jack and I had ridden this trail, we went all the way to Lawrenceville. On this day, we went about 14 miles (7 out and back). The return was a challenge since the wind was in our face the entire time, and still rising with significant gusts. We were all glad we’d decided to roll up our awnings before leaving camp.

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Once we got back to camp, Mark and Angie beavered around getting our dinner together, and insisted we bring nothing but ourselves. The effort was made to sit outside while we enjoyed starters, but the final decision was to make the room inside their 1743 for all four of us to sit down because it was so cold and windy. We had a wonderful meal of “chicken pouches” done on the grill. All the veggies, potatoes, and meat for each person—in other words, each meal—was combined and secured in a foil pouch and roasted on the grill until done. It was quite yummy, with Cole slaw on the side, and ice cream and strawberries for dessert. 

April 20

On the final full day of our trip, we had an appointment to show our Alto to some folks who live nearby. While in Virginia Beach, a newcomer to the Alto-interest group on Facebook (to which we have belonged for years) asked if there were any owners in the vicinity of Boydton. Since we were going to be there, Jack invited Scott and Myra to come by North Bend. We spoke to them for about an hour, and they had really done their research—had even tried a friend’s longer American-made trailer—and asked really good questions. 

After Scott and Myra hopped over to briefly see Mark and Angie’s fixed-roof setup, we used Mark’s bike rack in our hitch (to share the driving) and headed to one of our favorite rail-trails, Highbridge Trail in Farmville. It was about an hour’s drive and we decided that we’d eat lunch in town before setting off on the ride. Scott had recommended a place on the river called Charlie’s and we found it and ate quite a good meal of soup and sandwiches (the full name might be Charlie’s Riverside Cafe or some such).

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Farmville sits at the approximate middle of the entire rail-to-trail conversion. We headed toward the High Bridge itself, which is East of Farmville (we’ve ridden the trail west out of Farmville, but there is nothing to see and it’s an obvious, steady, significant uphill crank going that direction—truly exhausting outbound, but somewhat of a thrill coming back to town on the downhill).

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The High Bridge itself has lots of history both before and during the American Civil War. Just beyond the bridge is a stop with reader boards discussing the Confederates’ attempts to protect the bridge, and the structure’s importance during Lee’s retreat to nearby Appomattox, where the war ended with his surrender.

With Farmville being a college town, there were many young adults using the trail on the day we rode. The infrastructure for this trail is excellent so we did not want for pit stops, and the cinder footing is well-packed and tire-friendly. Also, the wind had finally decided to give us a break, which was a good thing, since the High Bridge is indeed, quite high.

We started the ride at about 2PM and peddled for about 1.5 hrs. covering a total of ~17 miles. My average speed was 11MPH, while Jack’s was up to 12.5MPH because he “found his zone” on the return from the bridge, and smoked the rest of us back to the car.

It was our turn to do dinner, so we put together some Brunswick stew (the area is famous for its Brunswick stew), grilled some bratwursts, and accompanied the whole with some fresh-baked rolls (in the Omnia oven).

During this entire trip, we did not have one campfire, due to the winds and rains. So on our last night, the air wasn’t exactly still, but it was still enough that we did not fear setting ourselves or our surroundings alight, so we enjoyed our dessert of Trader Joe’s chocolate-filled crepes (heated in the Omnia) by the fire until about 9 or so, and called it a night. 

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Mark and Angie wanted to be off early the next morning toward their next destination (Savannah). On our minds was the fact that our house sitter told us he needed to vacate by noon. Even though it’s just a 3-hour drive, we didn’t want the doggies to be left inside the house terribly long. So our goal was to be on the road no later than noon.

Thus ended the April Birthday and Bicycling trip. We hope to do a similar early-cycling adventure next spring.

PS – When we got home, the first thing we saw was our screened-in porch punched in on one panel, with muddy BEAR PAW prints on the outside of the screening. Interesting visitor in our absence, which the house sitter had heard during the 3AM incursion, and yelled at to chase it away. No damage done except the screen.

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Difficult to see in the pic, but the muddy paw prints around and below the tear in the screen indicate the bear was probably not an adult, but certainly (by any measure) big enough. From the ground (my flowers!) it was standing on, it’s about 4 feet up to the tear.

Leaving First Landing

April 18

Our final day at First Landing State Park began early, and I took a couple of pix of a newcomer to the neighborhood, a (presumably) hand-made wooden teardrop that came in right across the way from us. It was a neat little thing, and later, we saw two adults and at least one child tumble out of that small space.

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The day truly began, however, with breakfast in the company of Annie, John, and Mary at a place Annie’s friend had steered her to earlier: Simple Eats. 

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Quirky, artsy, fun, and delicious. The owner reported they’d been open since June of last year, so Simple Eats was about to have an anniversary. What a great find. I had their breakfast burrito, but everything everyone ate was delicious (naturally, Jack’s brekkie included sausage gravy, and it was full of good drippings, so was a comforting shade of light brown rather than the white-white we get at breakfast stops in Meadows of Dan). The conversation was varied and quite fun, and we all had a great time together.

Mary and John got back to the campground and began stowing things away for a noon-to-one departure (as did we), but their activities revealed that their battery was as dead as the proverbial doornail. Even an attempted jump from the Park Ranger didn’t give it enough juice to turn over the engine. So their departure was somewhat delayed, as they called AAA and the nice fella tested their depleted battery and suggested replacing it. Which they did. They began their 6-ish hour journey home in the 1:30 to 2 range.

Our day’s destination was merely 3 hours away, back at North Bend Campground again for the return, so we weren’t so concerned about our departure time. But staying nearly a week in a single spot revealed how scattered and disoriented our gear could get in that amount of time. So it took a while for everything to get back where it was supposed to be stowed.

An uneventful drive east got us to North Bend around 5 or 6PM. While we were filling our fresh water tank, Mark and Angie arrived with their Alto 1743 (fixed roof) and they not only wanted to fresh-water shower their bikes, trailer, and car to get the road salt off (they’d come from the frozen north) but also to de-winterize for the season. So they spent more time at the dump station than we.

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Site 117 in Area B

We were in site 117 in Area B, and decided to perform the minimum set up. While it was warmer there than at First Landing, the wind was still up, it was late, and we were tired after a late night with friends and beverages. 

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From the road.
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From the beach.

We had chosen an unserviced site at the end of a lovely peninsula, with no one on the south side of us, and the sunset was lovely. Mark and Angie had gotten to their site next door (116) in time to get their setup done before the sun set, so they joined us for a late cocktail. We talked so long that 9PM crept up on us before we’d even thought about dinner.

Happily, we saw the bald eagle we’d seen at the point across the water last time we’d been here, and also the Canada goose pair whose nest was tucked into the bank opposite our beach. Mr. Goose kept patrol through the night while Mrs. sat the nest, patiently incubating their eggs. Wish I could have seen the goslings follow Mom down their handy ramp to the water, but we were too early for that Big Day.

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This looks like a double exposure, but it’s from the outside, through Roomba to the opposite side facing the water. Strange effect . . . 
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The crescent moon appeared as the sun was sinking, above us and Mr. Goose (tiny black blob with a neck in the deep right corner on the water), vigilantly keeping watch over his family.

Shopping and Eating

April 16

After spending time cleaning up from the Deluge, and with the wind helping to dry out most of our gear, we merely hung around Roomba on Monday morning. It was cold and windy, and kept threatening rain (but restrained itself) and so John and Mary decided to accompany us to do some shopping. We all wanted to go to Trader Joe’s and REI, and I was still looking for a place that would sell me the right sized battery for my elderly camera, so it would continue to “hold” the proper date stamp on my newly-captured photos. 

On our January trip, I had discovered that my non-iPhone camera would not allow me to set the time/date. I had thought it was a function controlled by the other batteries (double-A’s), which I regularly change, although by the January trip time, I had let those run down. So I had re-charged and replaced the AA batteries, but had not fixed the problem. 

The end result was that, every time I turned on the camera, the “screen” would ask for the date and time. A couple of times, I re-set them, but the date/time would go away by the time I turned the camera on again. So every time I wanted to take a pic, I had to get rid of the date/time screen just to capture an image. I thought the camera’s “mother board” was kaput or something, and began thinking about having to buy a new camera.

Who knew that the darn thing had a very small, obscure round battery, like a watch battery but bigger, that I had NEVER replaced in all the many many years I’ve had the camera? Well, I learned this by (A-HA!) reading the manual the day before we left for this trip. 

We looked at drug stores and grocery stores for the replacement (CR1220). Heck, I can get replacements for my birds’ transmitters easier than this little gem. No place had the right one.

So we mapped our way to a Batteries Plus and LO! They had what I needed. 

Unfortunately, the CR1220 came packaged with two of them, and I gotta tell ya—since I have had that camera for at least 7 years and had not the first clue that this battery or its function separate from the other batteries even existed—I don’t think I’ll need a second one in the lifetime of this camera. Or I’m quite likely to lose the little disc long before I need one again. 

But for the foreseeable future, I won’t have to re-set the date/time on my photos, and then keep losing them in the morass of my photos when I transfer them to permanent, off-camera storage because their default date was 1985 or something. So: SUCCESS!! (Yay)

Then we went to Trader Joe’s and got mostly baked goods and cookies. John and we treated Mary to birthday sweeties like cupcakes and cookies, since she’d missed having a cake on Saturday. It was fun.

After a nice lunch at Panera’s, we hit REI—a very dangerous store for us to visit when we have dividends to spend. We all had a grand time looking around, and we came away with stuff for camping and bicycling and traveling.

The evening was a very fun gathering in our screen house (with the panels down for wind block and to keep the warmth) with the folks from Quebec Province who drive a Safari Condo conversion van, who had the site across the road; and Annie, Steve, Karen, John, and Mary. With me and Jack, there were 9 folks sitting around in camp chairs and on the picnic table, sharing beverages, guacamole dip, hummus, chips, and various nuts inside the Clam. We had fun discussions sharing our traveling adventures with Claude and Joanne from Quebec. It was a fun evening, and J n M and we decided to postpone our meal of leftovers until tomorrow night.

April 17

The clouds finally let loose with the threatened rain sometime in the night. But it wasn’t bucketing or blowing, so we were able to sleep through it. The temps dropped significantly, however, just before dawn, so I got up and turned on the heat pump so we could get up in a moderately warm Roomba. Outside when we arose, it was 41 degrees outside, and 65 in.

The beautiful blue skies of the morning were accompanied by rising wind that became increasingly gusty. So again, no bicycling for the day, although we were hopeful at first that we’d be riding in the warmer afternoon (NOT!).

Mary came by after her shower, around 10A to see if we wanted to go to one of her fave breakfast spots, down just off the boardwalk, and we had not gotten started yet, so we said, “Sure!” We piled into the Honda and headed south.

The Belvedere Hotel is one of the old-time places that’s been around since Mary was a child. Sandwiched between more modern and taller hotels, we fear that the Belvedere won’t be around too much longer, although it appears nice, clean, and well-managed. 

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But the highlight of the hotel is the 29-seat Diner attached. This is where the locals and the construction crews eat, and while tiny, it was fun and delicious food, with excellent diner-like service, and we had a wonderful time. I had the Belvedere omelet: like a Western omelet, but with Belvedere sauce, which is cucumber and parmesan dressing and it was delicious.

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The short-order cooking area is right behind the counter, where singles sit (the booths are reserved for two or more – but they cannot seat any more than 4). We were able to watch the Atlantic Ocean and the cooks and the waitresses and the people all at once, because one wall is a mirror (helps make the place look larger) and everyone was quite friendly.

Since we were there kind of between breakfast and lunch, we didn’t have to rush out to make room for folks waiting — so we chatted over coffee/tea after our meal, and had a fun time without making the waitresses crazy. In fact, ours invited us to hang out a while. As we were leaving I got a kick out of the “closed” sign:

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We walked a little on the boardwalk, heading north a short way to a Navy Seal memorial, where we saw and read some really interesting information about the group that became the “Seals” we know today — once they were Underwater Demolition Crews (UDC) and were the most decorated group of soldiers in WWII. I really liked their symbol or logo, on a large block on the ground in front of the memorial.

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At this point, the sun was still bright, but the wind off the ocean was tearing our hoods off our heads, and Mary was freezing, so we turned around and walked back to the car. Mary wanted to see if another seafood restaurant that she remembers fondly was still extant down at the Rudy Inlet end of the beach, and with some driving and reminiscing, we did manage to find it: The Rockefeller Restaurant. Next time we’ll have to see if it’s still as good as she remembers.

We drove back by going through some of the old neighborhoods, which all look different from the way both Jack and Mary remember them (of course—after all, it was only 40-50 years ago they were kids down here). But the azaleas and dogwoods, camellias and redbuds were all blooming and the yards were quite pretty, even where they fronted another “MacMansion” or other enormous dwelling.

And we were warm.

J n M had a lunch date with Mary’s friends Gin and Joan, so they scooted on by the time we got back, and Jack and I just lounged around, watching the sky go completely gloomy and the temperatures fall outside. Before they left, we resolved tonight to eat our leftovers from birthday night no matter what!

No bike riding today. But the good news is that, since the bikes are already on the rack and covered, the camp break-down tomorrow for our departure to North Bend for a couple of nights will be that much easier.

When J n M came back, John and I played on his new iPad with the Apple Pencil for a while. It was fun, and made me want the upgraded iPad even more than I did before. Patience, Grasshopper.

We did, indeed have our leftovers meal, this time over at J n M’s in their cozy tent. Jack re-heated the game hen quarters and potatoes on the grill, and we combined that with a salad Mary put together, and had a dandy time. Around 9PM we called it a night.

We’re not in a hurry to leave tomorrow, and some talk has been generated about another breakfast out with Annie at least, at another of the nostalgic breakfast-placres Mary knows and loves. The night is cold (48 degrees) and we’re hopeful to have some nicer weather at North Bend. Among the topics discussed at dinner was how tired we are of this endless winter. Fingers crossed for better.

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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First Landing Days

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On our first full day at First Landing State Park, Jack and I lounged a lot. We took a lovely walk on the beach, although it was seriously windy and brisk. Even the birds were hunkered down on their “condo”and I took one pic of a pelican (we saw many) because our friend Annie, who will arrive here on Sunday, just adores pelicans. I sent the pic to her to let her know she’d be able to see some once she arrives.

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Saw some interesting stuff and picked up a nice shell, that reminded me of our Safari Condo Snail that John had made for us last year.

After our beachwalk and lunch, we got the bicycles down for a “shakeout” cruise around the campground and across the road to remind ourselves of the trails that are appropriate for bikes. It was a leisurely 7-mile effort without any pain.

We found a site (175) that has potential for future camping. It’s a drive-through, slightly sandy where the truck might park, but quite nice, with lots of potential for hammock-hanging and privacy.

John and Mary arrived around 5P, to a nice site (177) — in the photo you cannot see a really nice, shady area directly adjacent to their set-up, excellent for hammocks or chairs, or more working space or a screen house. Their setup is quite fine and works well in the site.

We four went out to dinner instead of cooking, as J n M were tired after their drive, so we had excellent seafood (fast service, good beer) and could have chosen to sit outside on the deck but the wind kept us inside. The place was called Dockside (along Shore Dr. northward, on the left and tucked back from a couple of other seafood restaurants nearer the road), and they also sell fresh seafood to purchase and cook yourself.

The next day, we did some more lounging as J n M settled in. We’d been eyeing a spot above Roomba, where some live oaks cling to a dune, as a potential hammock site. The path up to the trees was covered with live oak leaves, so it was incredibly slippery. I tried to clear them off a bit so we wouldn’t break our necks.

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We hung the hammocks and had a nice lounge in the wind and shade. Jack actually fell asleep after reading a bit.

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After lunch, we all four rode across the highway to the trail heads that actually go everywhere. We were looking for a woodsy trail that would take us toward Virginia Beach proper, and found it in the Cape Henry Trail. It’s quite a nice trail, although we had to watch closely for roots and pockets of deep sand so we wouldn’t go butt-over-teakettle. There were many other users also, on a sunny Friday. There is a break in the trail that you can take either toward 64th Street off Atlantic Ave, or you can go right toward an inlet and beach/picnic/boating area. We paused there to assess our timing.

Mary wanted to visit an elderly friend, so she and John turned back at that point, where Jack and I carried on along the Cape Henry Trail toward that same inlet to which one can drive. The trail along this stretch was quite narrow and the “footing” became increasingly sandy, the closer we got to the very pretty inlet.

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But this section of the trail was a raptor area, and we saw many flying osprey and I watched one settle into a high nest in a snag, in the middle of a tidal marsh. Its mate was circling and calling, possibly announcing a hatch, or just communicating with the parent that settled into the nest. By the time I got my camera out, all you could see of the nesting parent was its head.

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We ended up having to walk our bikes through deep, deep sand at the edge of the beach area that was being extensively used by mothers and young kids as we passed. Once I emptied the dune’s worth of sand from my shoes, we carried on to the parking and boat launch area, and rode back along the road to where Mary and John had turned back. We refilled our water bottles, and rode up to 64th St., turned left to head back to camp, and ended up with a nice 14-mile day, with a decent average speed of 9.5. I got “into a zone” as we tore up Shore Drive past the army base and back to camp, and really exercised my legs into the wind all the way to our turnoff. 

While she was out, Mary stopped by Dockside (totally mobbed on a Friday night) to pick up some shrimp. The “mediums” were enormous! We collaborated for dinner: Jack marinated the shrimp for a while in some Old Bay, and then we skewered them to cook on the grill; Mary made a salad; and I cooked up some rice. We had quite a lovely dinner together under the screen tent.

April Birthdays

This trip is in honor of several April birthdays, including mine and Jack’s. We’re off to go camping with Mary and John (Mary has an April b-day, too) over to Virginia Beach, to stay at First Landing State Park. Our first stop along the total 6-ish hour drive was an overnight at our fave southern Virginia campground, North Bend (about 3 hours drive from home). Followers have heard about our excellent experiences over the years at North Bend, and this was no exception, even if it was too short (one night). We didn’t even unhitch or take the bicycles off the rack.

But we did go to have a look at the unserviced site, along the same peninsula into Kerr Lake, that we reserved for our return west again—at that point, we’ll be meeting up with Alto trailer friends, and doing a “boondock” for a 3-night stay with them. It is a lovely site, #117 at the end of the peninsula, with a nice park bench situated so a body can watch the sun set. Our friends will be across the small road on a similar but east-facing site.

We decided to try out the park bench. As we sat there, unwinding from our drive, we saw an eagle fly into a tall pine across the inlet. The Canada geese below had a bit of a heart-attack when it flew over, because one of the pair was sitting on a nest (could see all this with binoculars). The one not incubating the eggs was in the water, and it honked and splashed around, getting big and mean when the eagle flew overhead; but then it settled when the predator perched and stayed put for a while (despite being harassed by crows).

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Look who was there at North Bend to greet us!

Our outbound site, #114, has pretty robust cell service, but down at #117, it’s truly magnificent. Among the purposes for this trip is to de-winterize Roomba, so when we got to North Bend, we spent some time at the dump station. Before leaving, Jack had filled the fresh water tank, and flushed all the antifreeze into the gray waste tank. Then he refilled the fresh water tank and dosed it with some Clorox, so that would get some good sloshing around on our drive to North Bend. Then, before even seeing our campsite, we dumped the gray tank and ran the fresh water tank empty again; filled it again, and dumped everything again. It took a while, but it was the middle of the day and there weren’t too many rigs there on a Tuesday, so we didn’t create any long waiting lines.

While the site has full hookups, we opted for only the electricity, as we wanted to have one more flush of the system before we used any site’s water hookups. Around 6P, we had a dinner of pesto pasta and a salad, and listened to some more of our audiobook (the next in the “Department Q” series, called The Scarred Woman) before hitting the hay.

The next day (April 11) we set out for Virginia Beach by about 10A. Things were fine until we got close to the Suffolk/Chesapeake/VA Beach metroplex, where we found some construction that backed up one lane onto the “Outer Loop” of Interstate 64, as everyone including us tried to exit from I-64 onto I-264 East. Other than that one long crawl to the exit, it was the best way to go. I-264 ends up ending as a highway and becoming the last city street before you “T” into Pacific/Atlantic Ave. along the shoreline at VA Beach. Turn left there and First Landing is just a few miles north, around the curve into the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, and thus to our spot, #181.

We took our time nesting and setting up, figuring out how best to occupy our very small (intimate) site. But things worked out and we put the picnic table under the screen house, which is arranged at the hitch-end of the trailer. Unfortunately, there are no trees here big enough to hold our hammocks, but over the dune to the west is a flat, sandy area like a private sunning area. We’re a goodly distance from the water, and don’t want to walk over the dunes to get there anyway, but there are boardwalks arranged strategically for campers to use to get to the water.

The bath house here offers 4 private showers, but the toilets and sinks are commonly-accessed, with the men’s on one side and the women’s on the opposite. Between the two sides, where the showers are, is a generous amount of space for washing dishes—two sinks (but no drain stoppers) and a long counter for putting your dishes.

Somewhere in the midst of set-up, a couple walking a pretty dog happened by and they hailed us as fellow Alto owners. We had driven past their 1743 model without seeing it, but they’re just down the road a bit from our site.

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Michel and Claudette are from Quebec, and we’ve become familiar with their names from our Alto owners group on Facebook. Michel has some Scottish background, and he and Jack got to talking malt whiskey, so after dinner (grilled tuna steaks & zucchini, with rice) we got together in our screen house to share. It was a chilly but very fun night, and putting 3 panels on the windward side of the screen house kept things from getting too terribly cold.

We enjoyed talking of travels, and plans, and cultures far into the night. By the time we actually called it an evening, both Jack and I were chilled to the bone and Roomba’s insides felt even colder than outside, so we turned on the heat pump—even though the outside temps were in the 40s. We slept well at the end of a long, fun day, looking forward to bicycling and seeing John and Mary when they arrive tomorrow.

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Selfie with Canada Friends and Snail

Quick Trip

At the end of March through Easter Monday, we took a quick Roomba excursion up to the Richmond area. Jack had some errands to run in the “big city,” and I partnered with other Virginia Falconers’ Association members to do an educational presentation.

On the falconry front, our sport is governed in Virginia by our Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. They asked us if we might come and teach a few of their newest Law Enforcement Officer recruits about the sport—to help them understand what they might find us doing in the fields and forests of the state, and to know a bit about the regulations they will help enforce.

Jack and I drove up in two cars (mine filled with birds and dogs) to camp for the weekend at Powhatan State Park. Friends headed back to Williamsburg from a trip they’d taken to Asheville planned to stop by and spend a night or two camping across the road from us. We were in our fave site, #5, and were glad to have the dogs with us and robust cell service. We shared a couple of meals and even more campfires with our friends, and had a very relaxing time, after my obligation for the educational event was passed.

It was hot and the wind was constant and dusty—not even remotely ideal for a hunting demonstration for these young men—and troublesome for any of our group’s birds that had to be left in the cars. The group had brought lots of different species of birds for the recruits to see up close (including a great horned owl chick), and we tried to find some rabbits or squirrels after the classroom session, flying two Harris’ hawks over their heads.

But to no avail. The birds were not “into” the experience, and the human population was uncomfortably sweating in our briar clothes. There wasn’t a squirrel nor a rabbit to be found anywhere. It was, after all, the penultimate day of the legal hunting season for us (March 30), and most of us had long since “put up” our birds for the season. My two were fat and ready for the molt—CJ had even begun shedding his down feathers.

The group seemed to have a good time, however, and left with a broader understanding of the smallest slice of their new enforcement duties for hunting oversight in the Commonwealth.

I had prepared my red-tailed hawk, Skye, for release by allowing her to have (nearly) as much as she wanted to eat during the prior couple of weeks. Once I knew of this event/trip, I decided to use the time and space away from home to return her to the wild.

On the day of release, I chose a nice spot with some thick evergreens for her to roost safely during her first night of freedom in 3 years, and our friends took some photos and video. Some of you have seen these already, since I posted them on FB last week. But here are the pix of Skye’s last up-close encounter with her business partner (me).

I let her eat a nice morsel while I used the scissors to cut off her leather anklets and bell bewit.
Nearly done with the “off side” gear, the video below takes it from the removal of the “near side” equipment, and my giving her a final large lump of food that I want her to carry with her into the woods. Which she does as she flies away from me for the last time.

Jack and I took one of the days to pull out the kite and fly it. Unfortunately, we chose the only day of this short trip during which the wind toned down significantly; so it was difficult to keep the kite up, even after we’d removed its colorful tails. It was still fun, though, and we had gone to the part of the State Park where few people were enjoying the trails, and also let the dogs off-leash for a while.

It was the weekend, if you might recall, when we had a spectacular full moon—it’s impossible to capture the magnificence of the rising globe with a phone camera, but I tried anyway. It was quite a sight, and for the rest of the evening/night, we didn’t need flashlights to navigate our way around the camping area.

The next day, we had a fun experience, listening to and watching a gang of about 12 bluebirds cavorting around our campsite. They were loud (we call it “burbling and twittering”), and feisty, and dancing in the branches of the trees around ours and a couple of other campsites. Still have no idea if they were mating or fighting, or maybe a bit of both. But it was truly magical to see so many of them so closely for so long.

Determined not to be left behind, Mischief takes up residence in the back of the truck, on top of our kit bags.

Our trip home again was cloudy and threatening, but the rain decided to hold off until after we were back and settled back into the unpacking routine. This trip was the first we’d ever taken with an additional car, so I captured this photo of Roomba from behind, just as we got close enough to the mountains to see that we were nearly home again. That moment, when we’re in the low country looking up at our home region atop the blue ridges, we both get a warm glow inside.