Robert Moses SP, NY, Pt. 2

Friday, July 3

I prepped for the first of two private Independence Day celebrations (both, naturally having to do with good food)—my famous breakfast casserole in the Omnia oven, which usually “rests” overnight after assembly. Then we headed out for our bike ride, early-ish again (but after running the generator for an hour or so) to beat the heat, and managed to put in close to 16.5 miles. This time, the picnic area was closed, and we didn’t do every camping loop, shearing off ~ 3.5 miles from the total possible. Our plan is to stay off the roads tomorrow when we imagine there will be plenty of traffic, boats and lake craft (being trailered to put-ins) and campers all over the place.

We took it easy all day, and for lunch, re-heated some previous dinner leftovers paired with crackers, helping to empty the fridge—we’re challenged between keeping the fridge nice and full so it won’t work so hard off the battery, and having room for juice, leftovers, and other necessaries. But the trailer’s battery level indicator hasn’t read below 3 bars, with the help of the generator, which is so beautifully quiet, even some neighbors commented on the whispering noise level.

Once again Jack headed in to Massena because we had a tonic emergency—not enough to see us through July Fourth. I put on my hiking boots and explored beyond our “front yard” woods, where I thought I could see blue water between the tree trunks. Beyond our forest patch is a giant dam holding in an expanse of the St. Lawrence Seaway? River? at the top of the Eisenhower Lock (indicated by those things resembling low-riding, brown boats in a chain along the waterline). 

DamBehindTrees0814Web

On one side of the dam, the ground fell to a mown area with a gate, beyond which was the end of a road; on the other, a small rocky beach could be accessed. A couple of the camper kids were fishing in a nearby cove along the shore, and a farther cove had a bunch of kayaks, floats, etc. ready to launch—I figured they belonged to the folks in one of the sites ‘round the curve toward the BH, as I’d seen many of their toys in and around their big RVs.

CovesBehindTrees0818Web

I walked off the dam the opposite direction (with lots of poison oak growing in the mown hay) toward the gate I guessed led to the extension of the connector road to our site’s Road A. Sure enough, off the road to the left, I was able to walk back to our site.

As it cooled off a bit, we set up our chairs and watched the people flow into the campground, including a corn-hole-playing group of young men with a boat across from us.

By the end of the day, we were surrounded and the place was packed full. I wouldn’t trade any space nearer the BH or the water for our relative privacy on site 78.

For dinner, Jack grilled half of a chicken treated with a dry rub, and I made a salad and some rice, and we had our GnTs and enjoyed a campfire until the mosquitoes came out in greater numbers (around dusk) and we once again retreated indoors.

Saturday, July 4 (Happy Independence Day)

The breakfast casserole was excellent for our brunch and did nicely as leftovers for dinner on our final night at Robert Moses SP (Sunday, July 5). We had run the generator a lot yesterday, so needed fuel, and Jack (bless his little bald head) drove back in for more firewood, ice, and fuel. We laid low all day while those around us partied, shot off crackers and poppers and smoke things (despite the rules saying these were not allowed) until time for our special holiday dinner: filet mignon steaks with a zucchini bake in the Dutch Oven, and the final bit of potato salad. 

After savoring our celebratory meal, we sat outside watching the fire and being astonished that we could see the rising of this 2020 July 4th Full Moon through the trees. That’s all the fireworks we are interested in, quite frankly.

It was a nice lounge-ish day for the holiday, and we had only to hope no one would set the campground on fire with the signs (and loud noises) of the season. Many of the rules at this SP are blatantly ignored (too many tents and/or vehicles on a site, laundry and hammocks stretched between trees, generator times, quiet times) because they’re not enforced. But hey. It’s a big holiday for some folks, so I guess enforcement isn’t worth the effort.

Sunday, July 5 was departure day for most folks. We stayed indoors behind our tinted windows most of the morning, watching everyone drive out or pack up their sites. At times the departures were like a parade. We didn’t see the dump station line-up, but bet it was significant.

By about noon, the place was nearly empty—although there were still many sites in use. When the roads seemed safer (around noon-thirty) we headed out for a final bike ride, replicating the #1 bike ride, for about 20 miles again (skipped the cabin area). The day was very humid and somewhat overcast, but no threat of rain this time.

When we pedaled past the Long Sault dam there was no outflow hitting the river side this time. Also, when we rode down the boat launch slope at the Hawkins Pt. VC, we met a goose family at the bottom, browsing near the parking lot. Otherwise, it was pretty much the same ride.

Also, when stopped for a water break at the Hawkins Point VC under a picnic shelter, we noticed some swifts? swallows? flying into their mud nests and I caught one going in to feed the young:

Also, we had missed this interesting sign on our former journeys:

FortyFifthParallel0807Web

We returned for showers in some seriously overwhelmed bathhouses, badly in need of mops and refreshed supplies. It appeared that summer interns of about high school age were on cleanup duty, and they were doing it like interns mostly do—half-assed. But the showers felt good and no one was waiting and that was great.

Jack built a fire and I built a “dump cake” in the Dutch Oven, which we ate after dinner when it had cooled a bit. It was okay, but I think I can improve on the theme. For dinner, I re-heated the zucchini bake and the breakfast casserole in the Omnia and we ate in front of the fire. 

July5Jack0835Web

As we were watching, something bright/neon orange shone through the woods and we figured it was some sort of freighter in the lock. So we walked along the campground loop to the waterfront (primo) sites and saw a long, low-slung ship emerge from the lock system. It looked like a giant Jelly Belly, it was so orange.

By the way—Jack and I have been testing our blood-oxygen levels (with a pulse oximeter) and our temperatures weekly since before we left home. Both have been staying normal for us each, and we are feeling fine. The good news is that, since our bicycling activities have begun, each of our pulse rates has slowed, as expected with good exercise.

Since we didn’t quite make it through all of our firewood (before the mosquitoes chased us indoors again) and since we were leaving next day, we gave our extra wood to the neighbors.

Next stop—back to Vermont to visit another private campground: a place called “Waterhouse” on Lake Dunmore, where we have a riverside (not lakeside) site. 

If you missed Part 1 of this two-part post, click here and catch up.

LastDayShrooms0840Web
These little guys surprised us by popping up inside the Clam screen house the morning we departed.

 

Robert Moses SP, NY, Pt. 1

Arrived late Monday the 29 after a lovely drive along back roads west and north, north, north. We could see Canada during much of the end of our drive, but no way to get there. Saw the bridge across the border and waved goodbye for at least another year. 

We were in a relaxing, shady spot (site 72) with our utility side to the road and our “front yard” being very pretty woods. We set up the Clam for our toy barn and storage shed. Although the site was far away from the bathhouse and offered no services, it was a nice and secluded spot near the end of the sites along Road A. In this site, however, spiders abound and we were constantly running into and through webs—even 5 minutes after we’d passed the same way. Also, the underside of the awning became gradually covered with the long-legged insects I’ve always called “mosquito hawks,” or “mosquito eaters” (actually a type of crane fly) all paired in reproductive bliss. It was a very creepy sight, but they’re good insects, so we left them to their six-legged-sex.

The BH is nice and clean and offers one single toilet/shower room (primarily) for the nearby handicapped site. In addition, the gang facilities reside on each side: women’s has 3 toilets (with the handicapped one having its own sink inside the stall) and two sinks; and a separated shower/dressing area with two showers. Water is hot, but delivered with a push-button system that offers merely a short burst of water for each push.

On Tuesday, June 30 we rode around all the park’s paved roads, ~21 miles, at a (mostly) gentle pace. Since the day was totally overcast, we took raincoats on the ride but it never rained. The wind off the water (St. Lawrence River or St. Lawrence Seaway—can’t learn the difference, if there is a difference, because all the visitor centers are closed) was significant, making for a good, strenuous pedal when we headed toward the water out Barnhart Island Road toward the Frank S. McCullough Jr. and Hawkins Point Visitors Center and Boat Launch (open). We rode further down the road to Hawkins “point” hoping to see water, but the end is taken up with un-accessible government property.

One possible theory about the Seaway vs. River breakpoint is that there is a lock system that converts the water levels from low (maybe the River side?) to high (maybe the Seaway side, dammed by the Long Sault Dam and part of the FDR Hydro project system?). More on the lock system later. Of course, the main visitor center for the Long Sault Dam is also closed.

The nature center we rode past (Eugene L. Nicandri Nature Ctr.) on Robinson Bay Rd. was closed, and while the hiking/footpaths to overviews, observation areas, and storyboards are open, they looked to be swarming with mosquitoes and well protected from any cooling wind.

As we checked out the northern-most picnic grounds (close to a CA/US border crossing checkpoint marked “road closed” with a tent in the middle of the road) we noted that the picnic area had an enormous pile of firewood cut, split, and piled randomly. There was no personnel around, and many newly-built picnic tables, so we thought it odd that the gate was open.

During our return to the Barnhart Island bridge at about 2 PM, we watched a UPS truck cross the border from Canada, and pass us headed toward the office/beach road. Even though it was a day early for our bike rack part to be delivered, we hoped the UPS guy was going to drop it off at the office as the tracking info had predicted for tomorrow. 

The UPS truck passed us again as we took photos on the Barnhart Island Bridge, so presumably, it had made a stop somewhere behind us. Sure enough, Jack checked the tracking info, and it was marked as “delivered at 2:02 PM.”

Once back at camp, Jack hopped into the truck and drove back to get the package, some firewood, and ice, and returned ready to roll on fixing the bike rack. As a further omen of good luck, he saw a bald eagle flying over the water near the bridge.

Our celebratory dinner was foil-wrapped pork chops with potato, onion, carrots, and celery cooked to perfection on the grill, with GnTs and a lovely fire to accompany—that is, until about 9 when the mosquitoes chased us inside.

Wednesday, July 1 (Happy Canada Day)

We enjoyed watching a resident turkey hen with poults hanging around. I saw her and the brood two times on Wednesday, and several additional times during our stay, including deep in our “front yard” woods. Also, there are multitudes of black squirrels (as well as chipmunks and small, quick red squirrels) all over the place—including one black squirrel with a blonde/red tail whom I was unable to photograph despite many efforts to do so.

We didn’t take a ride on Wednesday but went instead to Massena for a laundromat, groceries, and fuel for the generator. Generator hours at Rbt Moses are from 9 to 11 AM and 5 to 9 PM, and we’ve been taking full advantage since our site is very shady and we are enjoying little solar gain on the panels. Which, of course, is just as well since it’s been so hot.

We asked the nice laundromat lady if there was a local library with wifi—btw, it’s a beautiful, clean laundromat, with fans blowing, doors open for air, 24/7 opening hours, and offers good machines that run well and get things clean—so it was well worth the effort. But she reported the library is closed. 

She suggested a nearby Tim Hortons and so we went there for a bite to eat and the upload of my Sugar Ridge blog post. Unfortunately, we had a marginal meal and a long, tedious, frustrating blog upload. 

Back at camp, Jack worked on rebuilding the bike rack and I started readying the groceries for staged storage and a Dutch Oven fennel and chicken thighs dinner—one of our favorite camping creations. We took notice as people began to fill the empty spaces in the campground, preparatory to the holiday weekend.

Thursday, July 2 was forecast to be in the low 90s, so we rode early after a light breakfast to get a hoped-for 20 miles in before the swelter began. Got waylaid on the ride as we watched a small tug-like boat go through the Eisenhower Lock headed south (low water/river direction). It was so small we were unable to even see it for the majority of the water-lowering process while it was in the lock itself, and only knew it was done when it left the lock.

We began to ride out toward Hawkins Point again to (possibly) see some good birds (we din’t). Not even halfway there, I caught sight of the tugboat motoring along the nearby river headed southwest. Motoring upriver was an enormous freighter that appeared to be carrying aluminum slabs from the Alcoa plant down the way, and we figured it was headed for the lock. (When we were able to see it more closely, those long lumps of aluminum turned out to be huge wind turbine propellers.)

So we turned around and rode back to the large parking lot for the public to view the workings of the lock, and dismounted the bikes to watch the long process of the ship—entering the low end of the lock (as below);

. . . rising as the water was introduced to the lock (as below);

. . . and exit again at the high water side, headed north to Canada. 

The ship was called the Volga, run by BBC Chartering, flying the US flag, a Canadian flag, and one additional we couldn’t see nor identify. It blew its deep-throated horn as it left the lock, and the kids watching with us waved.

While we missed it when watching the tugboat’s traverse of the lock, we noticed a newly-erected (thin) osprey nest atop a tower across the way from the lock infrastructure. The resident osprey atop (I managed to forget my binoculars this ride) made some typical osprey noises, and took off when the big ship entered the lock, but we were unable to see if there was anything additional in the nest. 

As we watched, the sky began to darken significantly. Since we’d left Roomba open due to the prediction of no rain and high temps, we hastened back to button up our site. By then it was lunchtime, really hot (although not the 90+ predicted degrees) and terribly humid, so we called off the remainder of our ride, logging almost 9 miles. Instead, I lubed the bike chains and then made some potato salad out of leftovers, while Jack got more ice, and we read and lazed about for the rest of the day, eating the potato salad with the leftover chicken and fennel for dinner. During the day, we also watched lots and lots more people arrive.

This travelogue has been broken into two parts for upload ease. Please click here to see Part 2.

Sugar Ridge CG, Vermont

June 25-28

This private campground, run by Kirk and his family (who are very nice people) is madly overpopulated. We’d been here before, however, and knew what to expect—Sugar Ridge was one of the stops we made on that same maiden voyage coming back from Canada and our trailer pickup in the spring of 2015. It was chosen this year because we were unable to book any stays in Maine due to Covid19.

Many of the Sugar Ridge sites are for seasonal folks who leave their rigs in place, with built-out platform/patios, fences, etc. The noise level is significant as there are many children on bikes screaming around the hills, and dogs who don’t like the looks of each other.

Our site (MO489—MO for Mohawk, the road we’re on) however, is nicely tucked away, although (oddly) the fire ring and the electric/water pedestal are on the ‘wrong’ sides of the site for normal backing-in. For the way we wanted Roomba to be situated near the back, we barely had enough electric cabling to go across the living space to hook up, and there was no possible way for the water hose to reach. Our left (driver’s side) trailer tire was right next to the fire ring.

SiteMO489-0684Web

SiteMO489-0680Web

Happily, we have a Solo stove and ended up being just fine. We set up the Clam (screen house) behind the trailer, and that left a nice secluded, circular fire area. During the first day, we were heartily impressed with the small, quick red squirrels in the woods, who set up a call-and-response series that sounded like the percussion of a rap song when they got into sync. It was kind of amazing.

A huge maple, along with truly excellent water are easily the highlights of our site. The uphill couple are one of the seasonals, and sit a good 10-15 yards away, well-separated from us by trees. Downhill, however, is a narrow tent site (could conceivably be for an RV but for the incredibly steep grade down from the paved road) which is only thinly separated from us by greenery, including the magnificent maple.

Maple0682Web

Maple0683Web

A significant downside of our site was the “bathhouse,” a VERY SMALL, old wooden structure that was not tidied very often. It had one toilet, one shower stall, and two sinks. A bathhouse we visited on our way out of the campground was significantly more modern, clean, and capacious. Also, hardly anyone anywhere on the grounds wore face masks, although we nearly always did so, especially when heading to the bathhouse.

We had to pay for wifi to be able to check for messages from the folks at Arvika about the bike rack part (cell service was marginal in camp). It was incredibly fiddly to switch devices without buying a second subscription, however, so Jack mostly had wifi and I mostly didn’t.

In any event, we finally reached the Arvika guy, and he reported that he had found the part in stock and had gotten it painted. He reminded us of their troubles with UPS crossing the border, but assured us he’d do his best to get it to our next stop in New York. Jack called Robert Moses State Park to get the address and see if they would accept the delivery, and when we got the “thumbs up” from them, he relayed the info to Arvika.

On our first full day, we rode the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail down to St. Johnsbury. Unusual for a rail bed, the trail was significantly downhill—perhaps a 3% grade—for the 8.5 miles between Sugar Ridge and StJ. 

StJonsburyDepot0689Web

CautionSign0688Web

TrailMap0686Web

TrailMapInset0687Web

In StJ, we tootled around a while and found a tavern (Kingdom Taproom & Table) and got an excellent IPA and an enormous southwestern style salad—mine with chicken and Jack’s with beef; both delicious.

KingdomSign0693Web

LunchSpot0692Web

Specials0694Web

StJ-WhirligigBrewing0695Web

It was while we were eating our lunch outside on Main Street in St. Johnsbury that Arvika called with the price and shipping details for the bike rack part. Jack gave him a credit card number, and he promised we’d get a tracking number when it was shipped.

Any thought that we’d do the entire Lamoille Valley Trail’s 32-ish round trip miles (with the Sugar Ridge accessway being kinda sorta midway) from StJ to West Danville and back evaporated after lunch. Despite the temps climbing into the high 80s, we killed it back to Sugar Ridge, totaling circa 18.75 miles including our in-town riding.

By the time we’d returned from our ride, a young family with a controlling dad, cowed kids, and overweight mom—with both adults being heavy smokers—were in the process of moving in, trying to set up an enormous tent they’d never erected before. Next door to them an RV arrived, and it became obvious they were all family or close friends. As their stay wore on, the smoking couple and their kids didn’t actually spend much time next door, thank goodness—just enough to make our air space unpleasant with second-hand smoke in the mornings and evenings—because there were several sites that all had some linkage, and most of our neighbors’ time was spent elsewhere.

We showered and left the campground to go visit the memorable gas-and-gourmet shop we had ridden our bikes to years ago: Marty’s First Stop. We fueled the truck and checked out the butcher shop and the vegetables, and came home with some delicious salmon, asparagus, and tabouli, prepared to a T and enjoyed around our fire with adult beverages.

Martys0696Web

We got onto the trail early the next day and headed the opposite (uphill) direction, toward West Danville. When we’d gone to Marty’s First Stop back in 2015, we’d exited the campground onto the highway and pedaled down a huge hill, then carried our “take” in a backpack up the hill in a long, slow, hot slog up to the campground. 

Well, guess what we discovered 5 years later? There’s an easy access point to Marty’s off the West Danville end of the Lamoille Valley Trail. We also passed a notably vast area of mown lawn, on both sides of the trail, without a house in sight. It was like a state park’s picnic grounds with the trimmed lawn around stately old trees, but not a picnic table or charcoal grill in sight. 

Eventually, we came upon a huge yellow estate home with nearly as much mown lawn in front of it as that which we’d passed already. It must take “the help” 4 days to mow it all, and by the time they finish, they would have to begin all over again. It was an amazing sight.

We also spooked a Cooper’s hawk off the ground (possibly off a kill?) along the trail.

A couple of miles before the end of the trail, we saw a dam, a covered footbridge, and lots of blooming lilies in a pond identified as “Joe’s Pond.” Joe, evidently, was a native American (called “Indian Joe”) who lived 1745?-1819, but there was little more information to be found about him or the pond named in his memory. We crossed the road and the remainder of the ride was along one side of an enormous lake, which we were surprised to discover was also Joe’s Pond. It was a pretty setting at the end of the improved trail.

JoesPond0697Web

JoesPond0699Web

JoesPond0701Web

JoesPond0703Web

The rail bed continues beyond the end we found, and there are plans to connect “our” part of the trail with another already-developed part, but we’ll have to return in a few more years to discover if the plan for the full Lamoille Valley Rail Trail has come to fruition. Happily, the return trip was all downhill, so we clocked an easy 17.5 miles for the day, with an average speed of nearly 12 MPH.

DanvilleDepot0704Web

We hadn’t been back and showered long when the first rains hit. So we prepared a quick dinner of Jon Beegle’s pulled pork heated with part of a can of mushroom soup, baked potatoes, and the last of zucchini grilled after the potatoes came off.

On our final whole day at Sugar Ridge, we decided to ride the entirety of the Lamoille Valley Trail, stem to stern. The question was whether to end the day easy or hard—we chose easy and went to the St. Johnsbury end first, clocking an amazing average speed of 16.75 MPH. We had a drink of water, then turned around and headed uphill for the entire 16-ish miles to West Danbury. It was Sunday and we’d gotten an early start (9am) so we didn’t share the trail with many folks.

MossyGrotto0685Web

We had another encounter with the same? Cooper’s hawk. This time, after scaring it up off the ground, it did not completely leave the territory. Instead, it followed us. And I would swear that it was chasing me (being slower) along the path. It didn’t, however, vocalize at all, which I would have expected from a Cooper’s that was protecting its nest. Anyway, we saw it (or a pair of them?) at least 4 times along the short distance I would have expected to be a nest territory.

Just past the Joe’s Pond memorial footbridge (at the West Danville end) I wasn’t paying attention and hit a ridge of packed sand that turned my front wheel and I went down in the gravelly sand. I wasn’t going fast, and there wasn’t much gravel, but I still banged my knee and cut it open slightly, and landed pretty hard on my left side. 

But no irretrievable harm was done, and I got back on and we carried on to the end of the trail. We drank some more water and headed the opposite direction.

Shortly along our way back, we arrived at a food truck called Sambro’s, and we were glad they were serving on a Sunday because it was lunchtime and we were hungry. All of their service was to-go, so we got burgers, potato chips, and drinks and we carried our meals to a shady table in the little park at the swimming hole end of the pond, where there was a pavilion and parking, and where, yesterday, we’d seen a couple of kayaks launching. The burgers were enormous and juicy and messy and delicious. The meal went a long way to healing my scraped knee and bruised ego after the fall.

Then we rode back to the access point to Sugar Ridge, climbed the steep, loose gravel-and-sand roadway to the paved road to camp, and were delighted to see our Smoker family was gone.

Another group, however, was beginning to get into place next door. What at first appeared to be a group of about 3 or 4 20-something guys in three cars, offloaded a 10 x 10, some firewood, and an enormous tent. And then the rains began. We got the Clam closed up and under shelter just in time for the heavens to open up like we hadn’t seen to date on this trip. It was a true gully-washer—and we looked next door and realized that it was just one guy trying to put up the huge tent in the rain by himself. Everyone else had disappeared. 

Frankly, it was kind of like watching a car wreck as you pass by—we could barely take our eyes off him trying to get these long hoop-poles erected and set, only to have the hoop collapse when he went to another corner to get a pole to bend properly. Meanwhile, the bathtub style bottom of the tent was rapidly filling with water. And a gust of wind would come along and nearly knock down the 10 x 10, or alternately, its canopy would fill with a pool of water and pull it off the frame. 

If it weren’t for Covid19, we’d have gone over to help the poor guy out, even in the deluge.

Eventually, the downpour abated and we went off to take our showers—I had so much sand and grit on my left side from my spill, I was hard-pressed to find a way to sit that didn’t leave a filth smear behind. We had packed up much of the outdoors gear before the downpour, so we kept dinner simple and used leftovers for a pasta.

Next day, we left Vermont for New York, heading way north in the state and over to the St. Lawrence for seven nights (that would have been spent in Canada, if we’d been able to get there) at Robert Moses State Park—where we hoped to link up with the fix for our bike rack so we would not have to dis-assemble the bikes to pack them into the camper a third time. At least we have 5 good days in which we might take delivery.

Jack0691Web

Lee0853Web

Ashuelot River Campground, NH

June 22-24

The first thing I don’t want to forget to report is that we saw a low-flying, close-our-overpass bald eagle en route from Gilbert Lake to Swanzey, New Hampshire. Of course, I didn’t get a photo of it, but it was very cool to see so close.

We arrived later than we expected to Ashuelot River Campground—a private campground we’d visited driving home from picking up our trailer from Safari Condo during the spring of 2015. You can read more about our first stay at Ashuelot and the Swanzey/Keen area at my blog post here.

But en route, our path was blocked by an unknown emergency and we detoured along a rutted, mostly-dirt road over a mountain and through the streams.

We drove slowly, primarily because we had not the first clue where we were going—but also to keep the jostling of the trailer to a minimum. Eventually, we made it back to the road blocked by the emergency and carried on our merry way (after letting the oh-so-patient drivers behind get past the slow-moving snail of a blue blockade we fondly call “Roomba”).

The campground, still managed by Chuck and Laura, has been considerably expanded. Many more sites with electric and water line the banks of the river, and many folks were floating, swimming, kayaking, canoeing, and fishing along the river.

Our campsite is perfect (#35) because there was hardly anyone nearby, and we made it into a pull-through so our “view” was of the river and Roomba was parallel to the shore. It was a nice, flat site.

In our planning for Camping in the Time of Plague, we had been informed that Ashuelot was accepting only guests who were “self-contained.” Although we do have an on-board toilet, we use the “closet” as a pantry. It would be difficult to either convert it to its intended use (unnecessary to date) or to use it for both functions.

Knowing this, we purchased a portable camp or boat toilet, and we figured out how to fit up our screen house, with its drop-down rain curtains, as our privacy area that would include use as a private shower.

By the time of our arrival, however, Chuck and Laura had built small toilet houses with running water and porcelain fixtures—and had hired someone to come in every 4 hours between 8AM and 8PM to disinfect them. There was no hot water, but what delightful news, and right across the road fro our site, too. There was even a roomy dishwashing station on the structure.

Relieved that the only use we had to make of the screen house was for showers (using the shower port already on the utility side of the trailer), we also were gratified that there was plenty of room for the screen house to be properly set up. The utility side also turned out to be the sunny side, so we got the extra boost of having the screen house shade the trailer.

It was plenty hot in NH, so we ran our AC almost constantly. Next to the river, there were also plenty of mosquitoes. 

Despite asking everyone to self-check-in, Chuck and Laura had opened the office to a limited number of people at one time, so it was easy to access the campground’s free wifi around the office. The wifi was robust, so it was easy to get a good signal by sitting outside in Adirondack chairs or along the porch.

Our first full day there, we planned to return to the Ashuelot River Rail Trail that connects Keen to Swanzey. Upon uncovering the bikes, however, we found there had been a major failure of our bike rack. 

The problem could have been so much worse—but it was bad enough. One vertical side of the aluminum tube (in the shape of an upside-down “U”) that actually holds the rack onto the front of the Alto had snapped in two right at the fitting that secures it to the trailer. The opposite vertical part of the tube was bent at the same spot. If it also had broken, who knows what would have happened to the bikes and the trailer. (In the pic on the right, I tried to remove or at least lessen the distracting effect of the background. Hope I didn’t make it even more “noisy” for you by mistake.)

So instead of riding the trail before the heat and humidity set in, we called the bike rack manufacturer (Arvika), to see what might be done. Our goal was to get them to overnight the part to us, but the timing was tricky—located in Canada, Arvkia would be celebrating a Quebec holiday the next day, making it impossible for it to reach us before we left Ashuelot.

While the guy on the other end of the line (who happened to be the owner) promised to see if he had the part in stock, and if he did, whether or not it had been painted—we gave him our schedule and discussed shipping to our next destination campground in VT (whom we’d already called to see if they could accept such a shipment).

There was nothing to do but carry on until we heard back from him. So we rode our bikes. As before, we rode from Swanzey to Keen on the Ashuelot River Rail Trail (about 6 miles).

Riding0675Web

We got to Keen before lunchtime, so we had a snack sitting in the shade outside the pub we’d visited 5 years ago. Then we checked our map (a more thorough one than what we’d had before) to find out how to continue north from Keen. The updated map was excellent, with many cycling trails outlined on the Monadnock Region Bicycle Routes map.

Wending our way through town on the Industrial Heritage trail in Keen, we saw these cool bike rack-cum-park bench structures.

They marked the beginning of the rail trail to Walpole—another 7 miles one-way—on the Cheshire Rail Trail, which was excellent up until we climbed quite steeply uphill (wondering how a train might have managed the grade) to a road crossing called Aldrich Road. Although we did cross Aldrich and go another 2 miles to a capped landfill, the footing from the north side of Aldrich until we gave up was terrible. Enormous rocks proud of the surface, deep sand, and tough gravel made those 2 miles of the ride not any fun at all. If you head north out of Keen toward Walpole on the Cheshire, take our advice and turn around at Aldrich Road.

Back at camp, we’d logged ~25 miles at an average speed of 10 MPH. It was in the mid-80s by then, and we’d had a couple of snacks along the way, but we’d missed lunch. Happily, we had taken some lamb chops out of the freezer and accompanied them with baked potatoes (grown by John and Mary) and grilled baby zucchini. It was an excellent endpoint for a strange and vigorous day.

After our ride and before it was cool enough to get into the screen house to shower, I lounged beside the river while Jack went to the office area to get wifi and see if Arvika might have found the part we needed. Once the site was shaded, we discovered our shower house rig worked out great. We didn’t even need to heat the water—between the hose baking in the sun and the ambient heat of the day, it was an excellent, private, roomy, and wonderful shower.

Not having been able to reach Arvika, we realized there was no option but to figure out how to pack the bikes into the trailer to transport them. So we spent our last day engineering the fit, and how the rest of the pack would work when the bikes took up space we usually use for other gear.

We did a “dry run” by taking the front wheels off the bikes and wrapping them (to keep grease from painting a new color scheme inside the trailer) in enormous leaf bags we obtained from the local grocery store despite Chuck’s warning that the locals didn’t really appreciate interactions with visitors from other states during Covid-19. Once we figured out how to do it and where everything would go, we settled down to an easy pasta dinner while the bagged bikes cooled their heels outside.

The pack up morning was stressful as we tried to keep the bikes safe and the interior of Roomba from getting ripped, punctured, greased, or dented. We had most of our bedding packed around the bikes to keep them from bouncing around. For my part, being in charge of the interior stowage process, I had to remember an entirely new procedure to be sure this or that would go there before we cut off access to that or the other.

Lesson One for Camping in the Time of Plague: ADAPT. Think smart, stay safe, consider options, and adapt to whatever arises.

All things considered, we did a pretty good job of adapting to not having a bike rack. The bikes (and Roomba) made it without incident to our next destination, Sugar Ridge Campground near Danville, Vermont.

ADDENDUM: I forgot to note that we’d discovered President Trudeau had extended the closure of the Canadian border, making it impossible for us to keep our service appointment at Safari Condo—the stay afterward at the Canadian campground we’d reserved was likewise, toast. Instead, we’ll “drop back and punt” and stay at Robert Moses State Park in New York for those 7 days. In addition, the group for whom I edit and layout their quarterly magazine officially canceled their annual meeting (which I’m expected to attend) due to Covid-19. This year, it was to be held in Pittsburgh, one of my favorite cities. While we will stay at the campground we’d originally reserved near the site of the convention, and while we will ride the Great Allegheny Passage as we’d planned, I won’t need to pull out any of the “nice” clothes I brought along to wear as an employee of that group during their big annual meeting.

Again: Watchword = adapt.

BridgeBikes0678Web

Gilbert Lake State Park, NY

Among our favorite campgrounds is Glimmerglass State Park, at the end of Otsego Lake opposite where Cooperstown resides. But when we made our reservations, the pandemic had not hit the US, yet Glimmerglass was already booked solid for this week in June.

What a fortuitous bump! We discovered Lake Gilbert State Park, slightly farther from Cooperstown than Glimmerglass, to the south and west. Gilbert is much smaller than Otsego but still lovely and popular. 

GilbertLake0632Web

 Our site, #2, gets quite a lot of morning and early afternoon sun, necessitating some AC, but it is elevated and relatively private. John, Mary, and Riley are next door in site 3. The only disadvantage of the two sites was that J&M were next to a dusty grail trail going right beside them up to a ball field (not marked on the maps) that no one appears to ever use. The staff, however, would drive up there occasionally, casting dust in J&M’s living space.

The camp area we chose is one of 2 in the campground (called Hilltop) and is grassy and open, with stately trees scattered around the middle and a large bathhouse with 4 private toilet/showers and the usual men’s and women’s group areas. There is also a dishwashing station, and a washer and dryer, but we had some reservations about the clothes washing area, as it’s outside with the dishwashing area.

When we checked in, the group bathhouse areas were closed, but the 4 private rooms were disinfected several times daily. By the time we checked out, the whole bathhouse was open.

There were 4 large RVs there when we arrived and it became obvious they were all together. None of them wore masks the whole time we were there, and they gathered at one site or another to eat and party together. This only got annoying on Friday night when “Green Shirt” had a few too many beers and began talking VERY LOUDLY and being quite obnoxious. One family among the group had mounted a large boar’s head on a step ladder at the hitch end of their rig, and upon its head was an enormous MAGA hat. ‘Nuff said.

Along with Riley, there were a number of dogs there—most were well-behaved—with whom Riley wanted to be friends. So he’d whine and bark sometimes upon seeing some of his species about, which, in some cases, set the other dogs to barking.

The days we were at Gilbert Lake were sunny and quite warm, but there was little humidity. Every afternoon gray clouds would roll in and we could hear thunder in the distance, but it only showered on us once. Riley has anxiety issues with thunder, but on only one evening did he need his “thunder jacket,” actually a dog life vest for water, to ease his discomfort.

MaryRiley0654Web
The calm after the storm

The downsides of Gilbert Lake for bicyclists are 2: First, the state of the paved roads is terrible (broken up, patched, and pitted); and second, there are no rail-to-trail conversions anywhere in the area that we could find.

On the 19th (Juneteenth) Jack and I took a short 7-mile tour of the area, sticking to the pubic roads in the campground, checking out the enormous cabin area (33 or so, some of which were built by the CCC back in the 30s or 40s), the beach and concession areas (beach open, concessions closed), and the lower, larger camping loop (called Deer Run maybe?). That camp loop was partially open with 3 RVs in sites, but the staff were doing work around the loop, probably preparing for the July 4th holiday-goers. That campground area is closer to the lake’s beach and is the home of the only dump station in the entire complex.

Saturday the 20th, Jack ran in to the nearest village (Morris) to do a reconnoiter and some laundry. Other than the laundromat, there’s nothing of significance in Morris (not even a grocery store). Meanwhile, I took a ride to check out the path circumnavigating the lake. Signs warn folks from entering, calling it a service road, and the folks at the camp store said there weren’t any bike trails on site, but I took my bike around anyway—John and Mary had walked Riley along the path and reported it to be okay for bikes, so I rode. A spot or three needed some extra care to avoid roots or rocks, but it was just fine.

I did 2 loops of the ride down the hill to the camp store and back to the point where I joined the lake road, circumnavigated the lake, and then climbed back up the steep hill to Hilltop. On one of the tours of the camp store, I saw a Cooper’s hawk lift from the ground near the road and make some effort to get airborne. My guess was that it was carrying something it had caught by the road. 

All told, my ride was about five miles each loop, with the lake path being a bit over a mile. One time I did the lake trail counter-clockwise, and the other time I did it clockwise.

Jack got back around 11:30 and John came puffing up to get the car to go back and fetch Mary & Riley. Mary had twisted her ankle and fallen down on her knee along one of the hiking paths, ending up with a significant scrape on her knee and a sore ankle. She was fine, only embarrassed, but walking was a bit of a challenge for her.

After lunch (and ministering to Mary’s wound and resting her ankle) we all set off for Cooperstown. Mary thought that a gentle walk around the town would ease some of the stiffness and swelling in her ankle, which John wrapped with an Ace bandage.

A stroll and an ice cream later, J&M drove up toward Glimmerglass, and Jack and I hit the grocery store for the goods to make a Dutch Oven dinner for us all the next day, on our final night together.

On Father’s Day Sunday, J&M headed north to link up with Mary’s brother at a half-way point for them both. Jack and I had a lazy day reading and napping. Every day of our stay we heard and saw a Cooper’s hawk circling overhead—possibly a mate to the one I saw on my solo ride on the 20th. 

I fixed the DO goulash dinner for us and we enjoyed the meal and a quiet evening around the fire, which, as usual, included some distant thunder, some gray clouds, and a sprinkle thrown into the mix. 

JohnMaryRiley0658Web

On June 22, we packed up our houses on wheels. J&M headed south, back to Pine Grove Furnace State Park in PA en route to their home and garden; and Jack and I headed north and east to New Hampshire and an old friend, Ashuelot River Campground in Swanzey, NH.

Butterfly0639Web

Pine Grove Furnace, PA

We departed for our next great travel adventure on June 14, headed to Pine Grove Furnace State Park in Pennsylvania. We waved goodbye to our housesitters, gave the pups a final scratch behind their ears, and got away around 9:30 AM. The early departure allowed us to roll into camp around 4 PM, including stops for lunch etc.

Traveling heavy, we packed some extra stuff and equipment on this trip to adapt to Camping in the Time of Pandemic—trying to minimize grocery shopping in strange towns, we carried a lot of freeze-dried “hiking” food packets. There were also campgrounds along our anticipated itinerary that only accept campers who are “self-contained,” meaning the bathhouses were closed to limit transmission of Covid-19 (and the attendant cleansing requirements that common sense and visitor safety required).

So we also carried on board a new, freestanding camping toilet (although our Alto has a toilet on board, we use that cabinet for food storage—it is what we call our “pantry”) and we experimented prior to departure with converting our screened shelter into a private bathhouse, to be set up at the utility side of our trailer where the exterior shower access is. 

We also packed in lots of hand sanitizer, extra paper goods, and disinfecting wipes for use when the campground bathhouses were actually open. And face masks, of course.

So we arrived at our good old friend, Pine Grove Furnace State Park, at which we’ve stayed several times in the past. For more about the campground and state park, see the prior post about it that you can access here.

CampMap0599Web

Our site this time at their Charcoal Hearth Campground was #48, the first in the “no dogs” section, and John and Mary—our companions from home who will be sharing this adventure for the first 10-ish days—had the last “pets allowed” site so they could accommodate the canine member of the family, Riley. All of the sites at this campground lack water, so there are potable water spigots scattered around, and we stopped at one to fill our water tank. We did have electricity, although there are some sites without, and others without that are designated tent only. Each of the two loops of the campground has its own bathhouse.

Our bathhouse there was open and very well cared for by the staff—clean and tidy, and with a scheduled “deep clean” on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, when they closed down for a few hours. Masks were required in the bathhouses, the camp store, and the ranger’s office. Although we did not get into the Appalachian Trail Museum this time (a very neat visit) they were also open on a limited schedule and face masks were required inside. They also limited visitors because it is a rather small space.

We took a bicycle ride down to the actual charcoal furnaces, and read the storyboards about the process, and the AT follows part of an old rail bed that carried the charcoal from the furnaces to points of sale in PA back in the day. Now the rail bed is a “hiker biker trail” and goes from the furnaces to the smaller of the two recreational lakes, called Fuller Lake, then along a paved road (with little vehicular traffic) to the larger of the State Park’s two lakes, Laurel Lake.

Spring0601Web

The route we took, to Laurel Lake’s dam, was about 5 miles one way, and upon our return we went to the camp store to have an ice cream. There, we were harassed a bit by a couple of yahoos sitting in their car in the parking lot, smoking stinky cigarettes. They were “talking between themselves” but loudly enough for us to hear that they were dissing us for wearing masks. They also commented on what they assumed was our political bent, our level of fear for a virus that they believed did not exist, and how their governor had spooked the residents of the Commonwealth about the danger by shutting everything down and only opening businesses back up slowly and carefully. We ignored them until they drove away, taking their cigarette smoke with them (but leaving their trash on the ground next to where they’d parked).

The next day (June 16) we trundled with our bikes out to Gettysburg, and unfortunately, found the visitor center closed. To really grasp the enormity of the Civil War battle that took place there, and to appreciate all the monuments to those involved, one really must see the diorama of the battlefield that is the center point of the visitor center experience. 

But we rode along a part of the battleground Jack and I had not seen before, with the hope of riding through the cemetery, but bicycles are not allowed in the cemetery. Also of note is that the map of the battleground used for the “auto tour” or the self-guided tour is not even remotely accurate. We got turned around a few times because the distances indicated were never to scale, and many of the roads on the map were unnamed.

ConfusingSigns0605Web

Also, a problem was the scarcity of open restrooms and comfort stops available due to the pandemic.

But it was a beautiful day and we noted that places like Gettysburg and other Civil War battlefields are the exactly appropriate spots for the statues to both northern and southern players in that long-ago conflict—as opposed to those Confederate statues of the Jim Crow era that have been erected in the public squares of 9/10ths of the southern towns in the United States. Just sayin’.

Since the battlefield is in PA; since every state involved in the battle sent monuments to their lost sons; and since PA sent 34,000+ soldiers to the battle, the PA monument is understandably impressive. Each of the brass plaques holds many, many names, and the brass plaques are everywhere in and on the monument. Jack was looking for some of his family names among those listed, but did not find any, even though he knows some of his ancestors fought in the war.

As we’d done in the past (and since the town of Gettysburg is right in the middle of the historic area) we had lunch at the Lincoln Diner, right near the rail station at which President Lincoln arrived in Gettysburg to deliver his famous address. The diner had a large back room in which we were able to be appropriately distanced from one another and others, and the wait staff were all wearing masks. 

In the end, Jack and I cycled longer than John and Mary, who wanted to stroll around the historic town a while after lunch, and we clocked almost 15 miles that day, climbing Little Round Top and Big Round Top mountains, as we’d done last time we cycled the battlefield.

On our third and final full day at Pine Grover Furnace State Park, John and Mary stayed local to hike with Riley along some of the many beautiful hiking trails at the SP, while Jack and I drove to Newville (about 15 miles away) to embark on another repeat cycling experience for us, the Cumberland Valley rail trail. 

ExplainsALot0622Web
The Durfs home, across from the  Trail Head in Newville, explains a lot.

On our last visit, the total length of the trail was in the neighborhood of 20 miles. Plans for extensions on both ends were mapped, but at the time, the plan was in its infancy.

This time, we noted both ends of the trail had been lengthened, and so we were able to cycle from the Newville Trail Head all the way south to Shippensburg proper, past Shippensburg College, to the new Trail Head and rail depot, where we took a Kind bar break and admired the sculptures and the beautiful day.

ShippensburgSculpture0624WebShippensburgSculpture0625Web

 

We really worked the pedals heading back to Newville’s Trail Head, where the newly-paved section right at the picnic area/Trail Head was still cordoned off for reasons not at all obvious to us. But as we’d done on start toward Shippensburg, we rode along the grass as instructed by the signs, and bypassed the newly-paved Trail Head section to see how far the extension to the north went. 

What we found was a shorter but still significant extension, although the scenery was not anything to shout about, as it ran along a high-tension electric wire easement, and had no shade at all. At the end, we got to a sign (see pic below) that we thought was amusing, in that the “exit ramp” was a grassy downslope.

ExitRamp0626Web

In all, we made 25+ miles at a very good pace (11.91 mph) for our third time out on the bikes since we rode our local, New River Trail on May 3—weather, Blue Ridge Parkway construction, and home-bound chores preventing any kind of a head start on the cycling season back home.

On Thursday, June 18, we packed up and drove ~6 hours (again, with stops) to Glibert Lake State Park in New York.

JackCVTrail0627Web

 

Trip’s End

Sunday, Apr. 21

We finally got a break in the weather, but most of the Alto crowd had left. Jack and I headed to South Hill for foodstuffs enough to fix dinner for John (arriving without Mary, who has fallen under the weather, or possibly the pollen) and additional Floyd friends, Brad and Ellen. 

PanoKayaks4031Web

Because we’re settled and they’re arriving in the afternoon and likely won’t be set up before dinner time, we texted with them to let everyone know we’d handle dinner for all of us. We found the fixins for the fennel chicken dish we like to cook in the Dutch oven, and we also got some pork loins to grill for Mary and Allen who were coming to the campsite on Monday. 

I began cooking circa 5:30, completing it by around 6:30, and served directly from the Dutch oven, with Omnia heat-and-serve rolls and roasted potatoes. Afterwards, we cranked the Solo fire, and the Karl & Hari crowd came over from loop C to share.

DinnerCooking4020Web

Campfire4035Web

It was another glorious sunset, with the sun peeking below the clouds and shining brightly on the end of our peninsula, making the trees look like they were about to combust.

LightOnPeninsula4026Web

No good sunset is complete without a good reflection photo off Roomba (it’s a thing with the Alto models that have lots of windows).

ReflectionPic4027Web

Here’s a gallery of photos I’m calling “Sunset After the Storms”

Monday, Apr. 22

First thing in the morning, I watched an adult bald eagle fly over. The day dawned cold (47 degrees) but I was outside watching for birds and enjoying the clear morning by about 7. I wasn’t the only early bird, as a couple of fishermen were plying the waters near our site also.

Fishing4039Web

Before lunch, we took a bike ride with Brad and Ellen while John took a kayak paddle-about. We toured around the campground, and across the hydro dam, where we stopped both coming and going to watch bald eagles and osprey and enormous fish near the dam. I could have watched the birds all day.

Osprey2731Web

Instead of going back to the campground, we turned right at Rt. 4 and headed to the tailwaters of the dam, where there were tons and tons of birds all doing wondrous things, just carrying on with their birdy lives. We got off our bikes again to watch eagles and osprey and herons and cormorants and so many more. Saw this heron trying to hide while roosting in a tree.

HeronTree2728Web

Returned to eat a late lunch and enjoyed the sun. Even though the breeze picked up as we ate, the sky was incredibly blue-blue, and the sun was toasty hot.

Allen and Mary came for dinner around 6, and we grilled a pork loin. John, Brad, and Ellen brought their own dinners and we all ate together. Everyone enjoyed another campfire, topped off with a celebratory dram to mark the end of our trip, as well as Brad’s (Apr. 24) and Jack’s (Apr. 26) birthdays.

Tuesday, Apr. 23

Naturally, on the day we must leave, the temp soared to 52 degrees and the wind stayed dead calm. Heard several lonely loon calls in the early AM.

We enjoyed a leisurely morning and said goodbye to Brad and Ellen around 8:30. Watched a contest between a lone loon with a fish, versus an entire gaggle of cormorants. The cormorants were doing a tag-team “harass the loon so it drops its fish” game, with much of the action happening under water. The loon would dip below, with 2 or 3 of the cormorants flying over to where it dove and diving after it. The loon would pop up again and other cormorants would fly over to it and dive after it when it dove for cover again.

Finally, the loon surfaced and up-ended the fish so it would go down its gullet, and suddenly, all the cormorants looked like they were bored, as if they’d had nothing to do with the loon at all. They all went different directions after the game was won by the loon.

Once the water warmed up a bit, John took a final kayak tour before he began to load up for departure. We ate an early lunch and began breaking camp in earnest around noon.

JohnKayak2735Web

Just as we were nearing our own departure time, we saw a Canada goose family swimming by. The water was a bit choppy by then, but the little goslings were pretty easy to see. The hard part was getting the youngsters and both parents in my camera’s frame at the same time. But I finally managed.

It was an uneventful drive back home, and we parked Roomba in the driveway near his garage overnight. All was well with the house and critters and we were thankful for Surya, our house sitter. Naturally, the first thing Mischief wanted to do was play ball. 

RoombaHomeWeb

PlayBallWeb

I grabbed some meat and went out to see how Beebs (redtailed hawk) was doing, and she seemed quite keen on the food, but not so sure about me.

TakeoffWeb

Thus the 2019 Spring Trip comes to a close. It was wonderful and fun and so very exciting to share with so many of our friends and to meet new friends along the way. 

More adventures to come—watch this space for the next peregrinations we undertake with our Alto camper.

 

North Bend Federal Campground, VA

North Bend is among our favorite camping spots. It is enormous, and nearly everywhere there is good privacy between sites. The variety of sites available is awesome, but for this last segment of our Spring Trip we chose our “happy place,” an unserviced peninsula reaching into Kerr Lake (Buggs Island Lake) pointing to the south (North Carolina). We usually take site 117, so we face the sunset, but right across the road are excellent sites as well, which face the sunrise. 

ViewFrom117-4004Web

It’s a bit of a walk to the bathhouse, which is 4 private shower/toilet/sink rooms that are roomy and clean. Just as a side note, the dishwashing station is so far away that you need to drive up—and it’s not even at the newer of the biggest bathhouses serving this loop. You have to go to the old bathhouse—now closed to users except for the dishwashing station—which consists of no countertops, just a pair of deep utility sinks, set rather low (and back-achey). So it’s good to remember to take a table along for placing your dishes on.

While North Bend only offers aluminum can recycling, the tremendous upside is that one can get between 3 and 4 bars of LTE nearly everywhere. 

For this trip, Jack had mentioned online that we’d be there, and a few of our Altoistes friends (fellow owners of Alto trailers) suggested they’d be interested in joining us. So, on Thursday, April 18, we arrived (after finding a self-help car wash in South Hill and hosing off all the pollen from the vehicles) to discover Mike and Barbara already arrived and getting ready to set up. Their friends who are on the waiting list for their Alto (July pickup), John and Dana, were set up in a tent next door to them; and down at the end of the spit were Hal and Dawn in their 1-year-old model 2114.

It was VERY windy when we arrived, so we decided not to erect the awning. But we did set up the Clam screen house, and Jack tied it down every way from Sunday to keep it secure. Rain was forecast for the night into Friday, so we didn’t take down or uncover the bikes.

MoonRise4008Web

We all agreed to meet at Hal and Dawn’s site for a Solo stove fire and dinner, but it was so windy, no one wanted to have their food get icy before they could eat it. Most ate in their trailers and joined us for the campfire afterward. Meanwhile, friends of Hal & Dawn who don’t own an Alto pulled into the site next to theirs and set up. We met John and Ginger as the fire kicked off.

We enjoyed a beautiful moon sparkling on the water, and the light lined up for me to get a great fire-and-moon shot.

MoonOverSoloFire4010Web

Friday, Apr. 19 & Saturday, Apr. 20

Although the strong wind had kept us awake overnight, none of the called-for rain had yet arrived as I sat outside with my book and tea at 7:30 AM. I had a great time watching three bald eagles in a contest for territory. It began with the arrival of a juvenile.

There was a pack of vultures feeding at the nearby shore (a dead fish or such in the rocks?) and a juvie bald eagle flew very near to check it out. When it saw me so close, it peeled off to go across the inlet to sit in the “eagle tree” (named by us during last year’s visit when an adult frequently sat there). Shortly another slightly less mottled sub-adult came along and was either about to alight or challenge when an adult came and chased them both away, chittering and flying aggressively after the youngest. They all disappeared for a while over the trees, and then I saw two of them flying high and away to the east.

I also watched a common loon fishing along the shoreline. Checked out the list of birds one can see at Kerr Lake, and the common loon is an uncommon sighting. During our stay, we saw and heard lots of them (or maybe the same ones over and over?).

Later in the morning, I heard the peeping of an osprey, sounding distressed. I got my binoculars up in time to see an osprey with a fish being harassed by an adult bald eagle. The osprey was lithe and quick but burdened by its fish. The eagle was aggressive and determined, working very hard to get above the osprey—yet it was ponderous and clunky in flight, compared to its target. 

Eventually, the osprey got high enough above the eagle to catch more of the wind and beat a very fast retreat off to the southeast. The eagle gave up and flew westward.

Not long after watching that contest, I began to feel raindrops—the rain began in earnest around 11. Jack and I pulled out the next jigsaw puzzle during the heavy rain, and the wind returned with a vengeance, rocketing the Roomba with pelting rain.

RainyFriday2726Web

Before finishing the puzzle we headed to Clarksville to have dinner with Allen and Mary at their farm. In some places en route, the rain was so hard it was difficult to see the road, and we got quite wet racing from the car to their garage upon our arrival. 

We enjoyed a lovely dinner of crab cakes and conversation, followed by a quick song or two around the piano. They have a lovely room with excellent acoustics where Mary plays the piano and Allen listens to his robust music collection with a high-tech sound system. A very comfortable spot—and Allen was also working a jigsaw puzzle—a beach scene in the dark blue of late evening. The rain had stopped and the wind calmed by the time we left.

Breakfast in the very windy and sometimes rainy Saturday AM (April 20) was drop biscuits in the Omnia oven, with the last of the Edwards ham we’d gotten in Smithfield.

 

DropBiscuitsWeb
Biscuits in the pan before dropping the lid

 

Because the weather was still dicey, we stayed indoors and worked at finishing that diabolical jigsaw puzzle. Its theme was National Parks, and it was a “poster” of a bunch of our parks’ postcards—so every park was represented at least twice in the picture. It was 1000 pieces, which nominally would fit on our nook table, but 1000 is too many to fit unassembled and still be able to work on the puzzle. So we had to bring in our smallest camp table, cover it with a towel and place a whole bunch of pieces there. It was quite a bear and a gift from a friend we might not be able to forgive (just kidding).

NtlParksPuz4014Web

As the weekend drew to a close, our Alto friends were leaving, and some Floyd friends were scheduled to arrive. Hari & Karl had come to join us in their Cassita, but the wind was so bad still, they didn’t want to try to get the tent for their kids set up. So they moved over to the C loop, where it was sheltered from the wind and decidedly warmer than at our site. They texted us this information and invited us over for a campfire. Before we headed to Hari and Karl’s after our cold dinner, I took a shot of the choppy water and clearing sky as the sun was setting. We enjoyed their Solo stove fire for a while, along with a few adult beverages, and closed out the evening with a forecast for better weather during our final days of vacation.

SunsetSaturday4016Web

 

Kiptopeke State Park, VA Part 2

Monday, April 15

Tootled down the Southern Tip Bikeway (old Cape Charles Railway bed) to the beautiful and enormous wildlife refuge, which once was an Army base (see reader board text below). Rode down to the old gun emplacement and around some of the trails, over to the boat launch, and the marsh observation deck. Saw a juvie baldie and lots of other neat birds. 

Reader board: Cape Charles Railroad

The Cape Charles Railroad once ran along this bike path, connecting lower Northhampton County to the town of Cape Charles. From there the New York, Philadelphia, and Norfolk Railroad carried produce from the Eastern Shore to northern cities.

In the early 1900s, local farmers carried their produce to Cape Charles by boat. During potato season, boats filled with produce clogged the town’s harbor. Building the Cape Charles Railroad solved this problem and for years daily trains ran between Kiptopeke (south end) and Cape Charles.

In 1941 the rail line was extended south to supply the 5000 troops housed in the new Army base, today turned into a wildlife refuge (but still features two of the gun turrets and one of the guns used in WWII to protect the Chesapeake Bay). After WWII, improved highways and the growing trucking industry led to the slow decline of the railroad, which closed in 1972.

Today, the bike trail is all that remains of the Cape Charles Railroad, and the path runs from the Wildlife Refuge and its exceptional Visitor Center (open only Thurs/Fri/Sat at this time of the year) adjacent to Route 13, ending at a 700-numbered road called Capeville Rd (near a truck stop and seafood restaurant called Sparky’s). But the effort continues to extend the bike path all the way to Cape Charles when possible. For now, intrepid cyclists must leave the protected path and use the wide shoulder of Rt. 13 (or a maze of back roads) to cycle into Cape Charles proper (which Jack & I did on April 17, but more of that later).

RefugeBoatRamp2675Web

It was during this ride, especially on our return to camp, when we took some back roads instead of staying on the bike path, that we encountered a very gusty, strong wind that alternated between being a headwind and a crosswind. We were literally threatened with being knocked off our bikes by oversteering the cross-gusts. We also (Mary especially) discovered the thick, dense pollen that was blowing and collecting everywhere and on everything. Note the yellow tinge of the Big Front Window on our Alto in the below photo.

PollenCoating2676Web

For John and Mary’s last night camping, we had a celebratory “weenie roast” (using bratwurst) over a Solo stove fire, even though it was pretty darn chilly. 

BratRoast3990Web

SoloFireMeal3993Web

Mary even cooked a s’more for herself and John (Jack and I don’t do s’mores). When it was full dark, Mary cranked up her “disco light” and we placed it around the two sites to see what it looked like. The best photo I was able to get was when it was sitting on J n M’s teardrop, Little Debbie’s doorstep. Pretty cool.

DiscoLightLilDebbieWeb

The next day, John and Mary got away about 10:30 (April 16). Jack and I sat around to let the sun warm us up a bit and then headed out for a long bike ride after lunch. Again, pollen counts must have been off the charts, and the wind had not abated by any measurable margin.

As we set off we stopped at an active osprey nest midway up the main road into Kiptopeke (we’d noticed it yesterday, but I couldn’t get any pix). The parents were around, and Mr. delivered a fish, but I wasn’t able to capture the carry or drop.

Osprey2681Web

Taking the Bikeway as far as we could, we decided to head toward the Bay along the Custis Tomb road, west of Rt. 13. We rode down to the tombs themselves, on what was once the Custis Arlington Plantation, now a tony housing development. A short history of Arlington: Early in the 1670s John 2 built a three-story brick mansion on the south bank of Old Plantation Creek, in southwestern Northampton County, naming the house Arlington after the Custis family’s ancestral village in Gloucestershire, England. 

The name of the mansion inspired Custis’s descendant, George Washington Parke Custis (adopted grandson of George Washington) early in the nineteenth century, to give the same name to his estate outside Washington, D.C.

There’s not much left except an open grassland where the grand home once stood, with some reader boards, and the view of Old Plantation Creek.

ArlingtonView2688Web

And of course, the tombs themselves, which bear mention. Both John Custis II and his grandson John Custis IV are buried there, within a brick-walled enclosure with a small wooden gate. The inscription on John 4’s marker is significant and rather funny. Both original inscriptions are unintelligible on the stones, but the preservation folks have reprinted them for posterity.

John Custis II’s inscription:

John2Inscription2685Web
Oddly, John 2 neglected to mention the actual name of his granddaughter-in-law, Frances Parke Custis (seeing her father as being much more important), but she was evidently a rather difficult person, evidenced by her husband’s inscription.

 

John4Inscription2686Web

The one for John 4 (above) is notable on several counts, not the least of which is that he threatened to cut his son, Daniel Parke Custis, out of his inheritance if he would not place his requested wording on the marker. While John 4 had moved to Williamsburg in 1717, he specifically wanted to be buried on the Eastern Shore, under these exact words:

“Aged 71 Years and Yet lived but Seven years which was the Space of time he kept a Bachelors House at Arlington on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. This Inscription put on this Tomb by his own positive Order.” It was chiseled there by William Coley, Mason in Fenn Church Street, London.

Now, if several of these references (Governor Berkeley, Bacon’s Rebellion) have stirred your memories of Virginia history or snagged your “bells” on the names themselves (Custis being a part of Martha Washington’s as well as Mrs. Robert E. Lee’s names) you can click here for a somewhat cobbled-together history of those periods and people in Colonial Virginia’s history, up to (nearly) America’s Civil War.

Back at the long-gone estate, we pedaled into and out of the Arlington development, and then, turning randomly on the country roads to see waterfront where we could and stay off Rt. 13, we made our way back to Kiptopeke. We hadn’t ridden around the park itself yet (something we nearly always do, taking every left turn so you cover it all without getting lost, since you end up where you began eventually) and we learned some things and saw things missed the first time through, two years prior (for more, check the link here).

KiptopekeSignBoat2696Web

We went down to a boat launch, beach, and fishing area, adjacent to the “cement ships” used during WWII as cargo vessels so that the metal ships could be used in the war effort. They have been beached off the shore of Kiptopeke, as a breakwater. The 9 ships that comprise the breakwater now serve as structure for fish habitat.

JackNBike2697Web

This area was also the northern landing site for the once-busy Kiptopeke Ferry, which carried passengers from Norfolk to the roads accessing Cape Charles between 1949 and 1964.

It is obvious this was a passenger throughway if you catch this sign buried in the woods near the Ferry Road, and adjacent to the Kiptopeke Hawk Watch area (where the country’s highest counts of migratory peregrine falcons have been documented).

 

Bike Stats

  • Ride time = 2 hours
  • Stopped time = 1 hour
  • Distance = 21 miles
  • Average speed = 11 mph
  • Fastest speed = 17 mph

Not to belabor this entry overmuch, on Wed., April 17, we rode into Cape Charles for lunch at Tim’s Family Restaurant (good food) in the shopping district and pedaled around the neighborhoods for much of the day. 

Before leaving camp, we noticed a family of squirrels living nearly above our heads in our major shade tree. The strangeness of the black plastic trash bag caught my eye at first, and then we watched the mama exit and leave the kids behind. There were at least two of them and they were stretching their legs a bit before they disappeared back inside (went down for a nap?).

Anyway, forgot to take my camera along on the ride, so not much more to report. After getting back to camp and before the teensy Cape Charles library closed, I drove back into town to upload the Janes Island Pt. 2 post. We tried to fix pizza for dinner, but it was too windy to cook properly on the grill (with our grill-sized pizza stone). Decent, but sort of like eating a big pizza cracker: crispy on the bottom and barely melted on top. We’ll try that dinner again sometime, without the wind.

Bike stats

  • Ride time = 2.25 hours
  • Stopped time = 1.5 hours
  • Distance = 26 miles
  • Average speed = 11.5 mph
  • Fastest speed = 18 mph

 

Kiptopeke State Park, Virginia, Part 1

April 14 is Mary’s birthday, as well as being our moving day from Janes Island to Kiptopeke. En route, we stopped at a little burgh called Harborton on the Bay side of the Eastern Shore, roughly midway between Janes Island and Kiptopeke. Harborton boasts 131 souls (2010 Census) one of whom is a lifetime friend of Mary’s named Liz. Their mothers were best friends, so they’ve known each other since they were 6 years old. Liz, an artist, is working to restore an old property near the water, and we had a very nice visit with her. Harborton appears to be a very nice, quiet place to live.

The largest part of Kiptopeke is primarily for tent campers, but they have set up a fairly open pasture for RV camping—both reservable and walk-up. Much of the RV area is in full, blazing sun. But if you’re lucky, you can get either reservable or walk-up sites that are sheltered by trees. Our little cul-de-sac (Loop C) offers trees along the circle at the end, and we were in site 23, with John and Mary setting up next door in site 21 (strange numbering system). Both are shady, but with rain overnight, we discovered a small lake directly outside of John and Mary’s door, partly under their awning and partly toward the hitch end of their setup. But it drained pretty quickly.

Site23-2677Web

Full hookups including sewer are available at all RV sites, a quite nice bathhouse (although there was a floor drain that emanated a rather foul odor the entire time, rather like it didn’t have a “j-trap” below). We enjoyed 3 bars of LTE cell service and single stream recycling, but there was no dish washing station. 

After setting up, we headed into Cape Charles for Mary’s b-day dinner at The Shanty, hidden deep within the Cape Charles Harbor area, behind the Coast Guard campus, where Jack and I had eaten last time. We sat out on the deck, with an osprey family as our dining partners on pylons out in the water (along with several human groups at the deck picnic tables). 

There was (of course) a sea life themed corn hole game that patrons were taking advantage of, and some interesting waterfront-styled art that I liked.

ShantyArt3953Web

John joined us in drinking a local draft ale from Cape Charles Brewing Company (his first beer in three years) in celebration of Mary’s birthday.

Jack and I enjoyed excellent fish ’n chips, and John and Mary both had shrimp baskets, also delicious. After dinner, we drove around Cape Charles a while, then got out at the public beach to watch an incredible sunset that went on and on and changed every moment. As most of you know, I simply adore taking sunset photos, so I’ve tried to limit my choices to present to you in a gallery I’ve set up below. It was a lovely day, even with the aforementioned hard rain in the wee hours, and we saw many, many osprey in and around nests the whole time we were at Kiptopeke.

SunsetJohn3981Web