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).

Bald eagle
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.


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.

Selfie with Canada Friends and Snail

Douthat State Park, Virginia

Most of us did a lot of lazing around on Wednesday, October 5. JB and Martha got into camp from their adventures in RV Repairland at about 11:30A. Ken and Diane wanted to spend a lot of time with Barley hiking some of the many, many trails around the park, and I think in the end they made some 6 miles.

They highly recommended a portion of their hike that went past a waterfall and up a ridge to the Tuscarora Overlook. They said the best way to get there was to traverse Blue Suck Falls Trail, and some of it is challenging and steep, but well worth the effort, they said. There’s a shelter and bench and resting/picnicking area at the overlook, and if you start at the dam end of Douthat Lake, it would be somewhere in the 4 mile range. We might think about carrying a few snacks when we go up there. Next Time.

We did hop in the car and run up to the park store and restaurant to grab some ice, and at the same time, we got a trail map. There’s apparently another waterfall to see along a different trail, and the waterfall is maybe a mile and three-quarters before the path begins climbing and switch-backing. The trail is called Stony Run, and there’s a parking area at the trailhead near the road. Jack and I wanted to do some biking this time (we hadn’t even brought our cycles last year when we made this trip) and we noticed another trail, part of the Allegheny Highlands Multiuse Equestrian State Trail. Its trailhead is tucked in the woods right at the very beginning of the Whispering Pines campground loop, near the (narrow) main road. We were lamenting the fact that the main road carries big rigs, and is actually a commuter road through the middle of the park, even though the speed limits are quite low (35 and 25 MPH). It has zero shoulder, and so we were worried about riding along it for 3 miles just to get to the Park Office, not to mention adding another half-mile of curvy uphill to get up to the restaurant and lakeside.

So we asked the person in the Office if the Equestrian trail (called Flat Run Trail, sounding more positive for us) was appropriate for bicycles, and she said sure. It ends at the day-use Horse Trailer parking area, but that’s only a few hundred yards from the Office. Sounded good to us for an exploration next day.

Wednesday evening, we wanted to grill a pork roast for everyone, and each couple volunteered to bring a go-with. I’d thought I’d boil up some potatoes to accompany the meal, but a pasta/pesto side, a salad, a sweet potato casserole, and some fresh tomatoes all ended up being tossed into the hopper, so I didn’t have to do anything except start and mind the fire.

We had a lovely meal that night around a beautiful fire (even if I do say so myself). The wind was still, and the temps mild, so it was simply a perfect evening with friends.

We began our last full day of this camping adventure (Thursday, October 6) by saying an early goodbye to Ken and Diane. They live in eastern North Carolina, and with hurricane Matthew bearing down on FL and SC, they felt that it might be wise to get home and see if they can batten down any hatches. Frankly, they might have to turn right around and meet Kerry & Gloria back up in VA, to seek refuge from the storm.

The day dawned with a blue sky, and Jack reported that he’d seen the constellation Orion when he got up in the night. It was, however, 44 degrees inside and 43 outside at our site, so we had to run the heat pump for a little just to get the chill off.

With our coffee and tea, we heated some frozen spanakopita (spinach and cheese) filo dough triangles, and I must say, they turned out pretty darn good in the Omnia oven. I used the rack, could get only 7 in the one layer, and heated them up on medium-low for 15 minutes, and at medium for another 15; then I turned them back down to medium-low for the third 15 (in my experience, nothing cooks quickly in the Omnia, which is fine with us). Yum.

The temperature was still in the mid-50s when we hopped on our bikes, and I elected to leave my jacket behind, so I had to ride a fast loop around the paved campground to warm up. Then we headed to the Flat Run Trail origin.

We were fine for the first section – rocky but pretty manageable. Then we got to a deep ditch that we had to walk through, and things went quickly pear-shaped from there. Jack let some air out of his tires so he could keep the fillings in his teeth. I soldiered on, but it was tricky going. The path more-or-less paralleled the road, so all of the drainage culverts carrying water off and under the road intersected the trail, and dried debris carried by the stormwater made parts of the trail unnavigable.

As a trail, it’s a great horse path. I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone on a bike without fat tires and some suspension on their machines.

There are, however, two excellent bridges. One is a suspension bridge that I would not have touched with a ten-foot pole (vertigo), but I asked Jack to give it a walk so I could take some photos. This one is in place to cross a shallow but wide creek to carry hikers along an intersecting trail.

The other is a part of the Flat Run Trail itself, and is sturdy and an interesting color blue. We crossed it and soldiered on, though the trail’s footing was quickly deteriorating even more. Large stones, both well-set but sticking above the trail surface; and those kicked loose by hooves and feet made the cycling very unsteady. Several additional ditches were not ride-able with our cycles, so we had to watch the path carefully and dismount on many occasions.

At last we made it the 2.58 miles to the parking area for the horse trailers, and we scurried onto the main road for the last bit to the Park Office. We really didn’t need to stop there for anything, so we carried on along the road to the Lakeside Restaurant (open only weekends this time of year).

Jack felt his tires might be rolling on their rims (well, not really, but they were very soft) so we stopped and he got out a cartridge to refill to something nearer pavement PSI (80 for his tires). We went on to the end of the park where the horse camping is (Beaver Dam Campground), and took our Site Tour Boogie through there; then headed back toward home with a long stop at our fave camping area discovered last year, which is the Lakeside Campground, a no-hookups area that is quiet, beautiful, and as the name implies, right beside the Lake. While the sites are not reservable, they do allow pets, so Next Time, we will check them out to see if we might boondock there.

After visiting the last camping area (White Oak), we returned to Whispering Pines along the road, and made one stop to see the trail head for the Stony Run Trail, and our intention was to have lunch, then drive back with appropriate foot gear and hike up to the waterfall.

Our cyclometers indicated it had been a 13 miler, and we raced back along the road to beat the traffic (not one vehicle came up behind us), and Jack’s computer said his top speed along the road was 29 MPH.

Leftovers for lunch, and we got sleepy in the sun. Jack wanted to do some packing that afternoon, so we decided to ditch the hike and take our showers and tidy the campsite. Next Time.

As the afternoon segued into evening, JB built a fire at his site, and we all gathered there for the cocktail hour.

Still emptying out the refrigerator and cupboards, we had leftovers again and I got to make the potatoes I’d intended to make the night before, and we used up the fresh veggies in a big salad. The evening was clear and relatively warm, but the forecast was for rain beginning overnight, and everyone said they were going to try to beat the damp by breaking camp early the next AM.

Jack and I finally pulled out around 10A, and had a totally uneventful but quite wet drive home; about 3 hours, plus a stop for lunch and fuel along the way. We followed a full dump truck the entire length of Rt. 8 from Christiansburg’s Floyd exit off I-81, so the speed along there was only about 45 MPH.

In the pouring rain, we off-loaded most of the stuff in the car and in Roomba, then (after the Subie engine had cooled down) backed Roomba to stand the week in front of the garage.
Next adventure is the one we’ll take right before winterizing everything for a winter’s sleep.

Let falconry season begin!

Family Reflections

We checked my brother in for his flight back to Berlin, Germany on Saturday, September 24. We’d not seen him for a few years, and it had been 5 years since he’d seen our mom and been in Virginia. Jack, Page and I concocted a proper send-off the night before with grilled tuna steaks (from Indigo Farms Seafood), a beet, grapefruit, and arugula salad, and rice pilaf. Page had brought some Proseco and lovely Cusina Macoul Cabernet Sauvignon to accompany our celebratory dinner. And Jack resurrected an ancient bottle of vintage port we had acquired back in the 1980s, saved for a special occasion. We finished the night with some strong French cheese and that port, almost as old as Page (my brother is 1959 vintage, where the port was 1963).

He felt as though he’d accomplished a lot during his short stay, sorting through old items he’d left in Mom’s attic; helping her sort the good from the “ready to go” down in her basement; and touching base with a couple US friends. Mostly, he had to make some tough decisions about the remarkable catalogue of Kodachrome and Ektachrome slides from his photojournalist/nature photographer career that began before digital photography supplanted the more expensive films he cut his teeth on. I felt his pain and loss, but as he aptly pointed out, “If any publisher had wanted to use the original African elephant or American wolf images I took back in the 90s, he or she would have contacted me by now, I’d have thought.”

Among my fondest memories of time spent with my brother in our young adulthood was a January trip we took the the Florida Everglades, for him to photograph the wintering birds and wildlife for the magazine he worked for at the time. I acted as his “bearer” slinging cases and bags of lenses and film across my shoulders, freeing up his hands to actually take the photos. We saw many wonders during the trip, including a hawk stealing a water snake from the beak of an egret or a heron (I have forgotten which) just before the water bird swallowed its meal. We took a slough slog, or a walk into the chilly freshwater river with a group led by a wildlife biologist. We managed to get a speeding ticket as we arose from our tent later than we’d intended, and raced to the south to catch the sunrise. 

It was a wonderful trip and resulted in some truly spectacular photos. My shoulders were tired, but watching him work was a tutoring experience in itself.

Chatting with a friend at Dogtown Roadhouse.

If there had been more time available to him during this 2016 trip, my personal hope was that he’d have been able to sort those slides stored in Mom’s attic, not by which to pitch and which he just could not let go. Rather I wished he could determine which to have digitized and which to pitch, even if the digitizations had to await his next visit to the US, since I could hold them in my basement. But that, of course, is a much more involved decision-tree than what he actually had time for. So he ended up breaking his own heart by throwing away pounds and pounds worth of original images we can see in several of his books. 
I guess the saddest part is that the images represent a past life and many extraordinary journeys and have bits of memories attached to them. Of course, he’ll always have his memories, but those pieces of film carried with them slices of those memories. When we clear the items from our histories by tossing and sorting, I believe that we all fear those slices of memory might be gone forever.
Now we both have an idea what our mother is going through, emptying out her home in prep for a move to Assisted Living.

The family, including eldest Richard and in-law Jack.

August Trip Final (Belated)

I never quite finished the series about our August trip back from by business engagement in Carmel, IN. When I left off, we were ready to move from Breaks Interstate Park to Grindstone, a federal camping ground near Damascus, Virginia. So I’ll do a quick catch-up here (on September 23) before I begin to relate our freshest upcoming adventure, Cooperstown v. 2, starting September 25, 2016.

So, we began our drive from Breaks Interstate with Kerry & Gloria in their Class C; and Jim in his car, trundling our way across the mountains toward Damascus, on August 11 via Route 80. If anyone reading this and dragging a trailer or driving an RV considers using Rt. 80, all I have to say is that the road is fine until right after it diverges from Rt. 19, headed toward Clinch Mountain. My advice is to use Rt. 19 NOT to stay on Rt. 80, but find any other way you can manage OTHER than Rt. 80 to continue heading southeast.

We stayed on Rt. 80 and it was the most harrowing experience I’ve had to date dragging a trailer, and I wasn’t even driving. Crossing Clinch and Poor Mountains, the road narrowed to a 6 or 7-hundred road size, and switchbacked high and long, without the merest ghost of a guardrail on the steep slope. If we had met anyone headed the opposite direction, our lead vehicle would have acted as the “airbag” for the rest of the group following behind. There would have been no where to pull over to allow another vehicle to pass; and lord help us if we’d met a logging truck or larger equipment vehicle.

So NEVER follow Rt. 80 southward all the way to Meadowview or Interstate 81.

Once we survived Rt. 80, we headed to Saltville and then south toward Chilhowie, then wound our way into the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area, and then along Rt. 603 to Grindstone.

We had a lovely site there, and zero insect disturbance, excellent weather, and a really fun time with Gary, Lorrie, Kerry, and Gloria (Jim decided to head back home instead of camping with us). Damascus was our shopping center and the beginning of the Virginia Creeper Trail, a Rails-to-Trails conversion that includes a steep ride down WhiteTop Mountain and many shuttle-your-bike-to-the-top options that make the Creeper famous among cyclists. Damascus is also famous as the entry to Virginia for the Appalachian Trail. If timed right, through-hikers can make it to Damascus by May and be feted and spoiled by the community’s Trail Days Festival, where everyone in the small city puts on the dog to celebrate the through-hikers and their journeys.

There is quite a lot more to the Creeper Trail than the thrill-ride down White Top. Lorrie, Gloria, and Kerry decided to walk the dogs around Damascus while Gary, Jack and I rode the 16 miles to Abingdon and back (total 32 miles). It was a lovely ride, although quite a hot day. We got some refreshment in Abingdon before reversing course, and then stopped at the Alvarado Station for a super delicious sandwich and homemade potato chips for lunch at the Happy Trails Cafe.


But before we leave the Creeper, here’s some history about it from the Abingdon side:

The Abingdon Branch
“The Virginia Creeper”
Norfolk & Western Railway’s Abingdon Branch began in 1887 as the Abingdon Coal & Iron Railroad (AC&IRR). The Virginia-Carolina Railroad (VCRR) bought the AC&IRR in 1900, and extended rail service to Damascus. By 1915, VCRR trains ran over the 76.5 miles of track between Abingdon and Elkland, NC. The parking lot (adjacent to the sign) was the VCRR’s Abingdon yard, where equipment was kept, and the VCRR joined the N&W main line. In 1916, the N&W bought the VCRR, and the route became The Abingdon Branch. The track from Elkland to West Jefferson was abandoned in 1933.

The popular nickname, “Virginia Creeper” fittingly describes both the steep twisting mountain route and the speed of the trains. In some places, the posted speed limit was only 5 MPH.

The Abingdon Branch crossed some of the highest and most scenic terrain of any standard gauge railroad in the US. In the 55.5 miles from Abingdon to West Jefferson, there were 108 bridges, most made with timber, and no tunnels. In a classic series of photographs entitled A Day on the Abingdon Branch, O. Winston Link captured memorable scenes along this historic route during the last days of steam operations. Some photos from this series are on display at the Historical Society of Washington County Library in the former N&W passenger station in Abingdon.

The last train between Abingdon and West Jefferson ran on March 31, 1977. The Abingdon Branch rail bed was converted to the Virginia Creeper Trail through a cooperative effort of the Town of Abingdon, Town of Damascus, and the US forest Service.

Norfolk & Western Railway
Class M Locomotive #433
American Locomotive Co., Richmond Works

The N&W owned over 100 Class M locomotives from 1906 to 1961. Today, two survive: 433 in Abingdon, and 475 operated by the Strasburg Railroad, Strasburg, PA. By the early 1920s, heavier and more powerful locomotives had replaced the Class M on mainline service. Because of their light weight and small size, the Class M had a useful life until the very end of the steam era, working in rail yards and on local freight and passenger trains where roadbed conditions prohibited using heavier locomotives.

In 1952, 433 came from Roanoke to Bristol as a backup engine on the Abingdon Branch. While in Bristol, 433 was a common sight in the railroad yard and on the many industrial tracks lacing the Bristol area. Although 433 was then equipped with a spark arrestor smoke stack, it rarely ran on The Abingdon Branch.

Steam operations ceased on The Abingdon Branch in 1957, marking the end of an era and a way of life. Except for 433, all Class M locomotives based in Bristol were immediately scrapped. Number 433 avoided the torch and moved to Radford where it worked until retired in July 1958. In October 1958, the N&W donated the engine to the Town of Abingdon, and on November 24, 1958 it was moved to its current location at the junction of the N&W main line and The Abingdon Branch. Today, 433 sits at the junction of The Abingdon Branch and the main line as a tangible reminder of the era when these small hand-fired steam engines struggled up the steep, twisting grades through remote mountain communities along the 55.5 miles between Abingdon and West Jefferson, NC.

The next day, I took the Mount Rogers Trail hike about halfway up the 7+ miles of the hike to the top of Mount Rogers, the tallest mountain in Virginia. We’d had some rain the night before, but the temperatures and humidity were just fine and I had a wonderful walk, enjoying many newly-sprung mushrooms.

On our last night together, we gathered at our Blue Roomba to share a meal, but the rain returned for some of the early evening. Thankfully, it quit by the time we were set to eat, and we didn’t have to get wet for our celebratory supper before we all headed home the next morning.


We will definitely be returning to Grindstone and are thankful that Lorrie and Gary introduced us to this beautiful campground.

Crabtree Falls/Award Event

We arrived at Crabtree Falls Campground around 3 in the afternoon, Monday, July 18. This was a quickie excursion for me to participate on behalf of Blue Ridge Heritage, Inc., in an event put on by the Virginia Chapter of the American Planning Association. BRHI’s Master Pan for our future facility won an award, and the presentation was scheduled to be during the Chapter’s annual conference in Wintergreen, VA.

Just as the road (Rt. 56) began winding and twisting uphill toward the mountain range we could see surrounding us from a decidedly and surprisingly flat section of the road, we approached a nondescript left turn with the campground sign.

Narrow gravel roads and narrow gravel sites, defined by boulders and trees pretty much describe the entire place. The owners live above the registration office. Off the primary set of sites is a lovely creek whispering over falls and around more boulders—along a very pronounced cut in the mountains—ever-falling to parts unknown. I learned later that this was, in fact, the Tye River (or Creek?). The narrow sites are separated only barely by a few trees and rocks. At the time we were there, the place was virtually empty, but I’d hate to see it if it were full. It looks like a tent camping only spot that has only partially been converted over to RVs.

We had been assigned site #14, which, by web-view looked fine. We backed in every which way from Sunday to try to get her level and maybe allow enough room for the awning to be erected.

In the end, we gave up. No amount of Anderson leveling, or pyramids made with the plastic blocks would do the job. So we moved to #16. After all, the owner had said, when I spoke to him about reserving a site, that we could pretty much choose where we wanted to be when we got here as he did not expect to be busy in the middle of the week.

In Site 16, there was no hope of getting an arrangement that might include an awning, but at least we got ‘er level. 

A close neighbor.

Shortly, we had the power and water hooked up, and especially, turned on the AC. When we were in the Lynchburg area (we drove up the BRParkway and got onto 460 at Blue Ridge, then took 29 toward Charlottesville for a while, then exited onto 151/56) it was in the mid-90s, on this, the hottest day so far this summer. By the time we turned into Crabtree Falls CG, it was 87. Not too shabby temperature-wise, but set-up had made us both steamy with the humidity. And inside Roomba, it was quite toasty from the sunny haul.

I checked the dinner rolls rising in the Omnia Oven, and found them to be too poofy to sit for another couple of hours until dinner, so I popped the air pockets so they’d collapse a little, and then let them rise another couple of hours. Our main dish was still hot in the Billy Boil: chili with beans that Jack had put together right before we left the house, and had continued cooking during the drive.

We put our feet up for the evening, and realized there was a total absence of cell service—not just a little, not a half-bar—zilch. So we read our books as the sun crept along to hide behind the western ridgeline.

Dinner was quite good, if a bit warm for the weather. The plan was to have the rolls and chili again for lunch the next day, but the rolls straight out of the Omnia were so good we almost ate them all.

Hit the hay early, and turned off the AC in favor of the vent fan and the cool air coming in through the windows and across our bed. Lovely to hear the babble of the creek nearby as we fell into slumber.

The Virginia Chapter of the American Planning Association award event was not due to begin until the evening of Tuesday, July 19. So we figured a nice morning hike up to the falls for which the campground (and possibly, state park?) was named was in order. As we were hiking across the campground to pick up the trail to Crabtree Falls, Jack checked into the office (which had been closed by the time we discovered we could not level Roomba in #14, and we moved to #16 last night) to let them know we’d chosen a different site.

Unfortunately, the owner had promised site 16 to a return user who had requested that site specifically, so we had to move. The party was due to arrive in the early afternoon, so we had to scratch our hike.

The good news in this was that we selected a site that allowed us to erect the awning (#18). The bad news is that we had to re-hitch, stow a bunch of stuff inside, lower the roof, yadda, to move two sites along, and then try to level everything again, set everything back up, get everything back out from stowage, etc. And miss our hoped-for hike. And miss our lunch, which turned into a snack of yogurt and a banana. And run the water hose and the electric cord across the opening of the site, the pedestal being on the wrong side of #18 to accommodate both 18 & 19.

Along with being able to deploy the awning, more good news resulted when we discovered a path from site 18 down to the water, where there were excellent places to sit and dangle one’s feet in the cool river, observe critters, and just become immersed in the lovely audio of the rushing water.

Another neighbor.

We left the relaxing remoteness of the spot to head into Wintergreen Resort slightly early, as our Design Team Leader, David, had said he’d send some details about the place and timing of our meet-up for the event via email. It wasn’t long down the road before we began to see cell bars lining up on our devices.

As it turned out, we were about 40 minutes early, but we found a parking place, and were ready to just sit in the car checking the news, etc., until an enormous thunderstorm threatened to dump on the area. We high-tailed it into the Mountain Inn from the parking lot, and then just had to hang around for a while until David, who was attending the larger conference of which the awards event was just a small part, got free from his schedule to meet us in the lobby.

In the lobby of the Mountain Inn at Wintergreen Resort.

We learned when we spoke with him that another individual involved in the project for which the award was being given, Kevin, was also a participant in the conference. I was at the award event because I’ve been involved in the Blue Ridge Heritage, Inc. process of acquiring land, planning, and designing a facility that is intended to become an economic development asset to Floyd and Patrick Counties, in southwest Virginia’s Blue Ridge mountains. Here’s a link if you would like to know more: brheritage.org

We had a nice time, and there were several types of awards being given that evening, for various students, professors, regional planning groups, and projects like ours. This was somewhat of a big deal, and I was proud to be a part of the team to receive the Chapter’s 2016 Outstanding Design for a Nonprofit Organization Award.

Kevin, Lee & David accept the Award.

After the ceremony, the group held a reception with heavy appetizers and a cash bar. We met quite a few folks that David and Kevin know, and were congratulated by several of the conference participants.

The food was good, but didn’t quite fill the hole left by the light lunch we’d eaten, so when we got back to the campsite, we heated the leftover chili and ate the remaining rolls with it. While the rain had obviously hit the campground, our awning kept most of the important stuff dry, but the forest duff had splashed up on all the leveling blocks and some of it had run through the “footprint” we place on the ground to help keep the dirt out of the camper, running along the inevitable slope of the site.

It was a lovely night, although the passing thunderstorms had left things quite wet and humid. So after sitting outside for a while (and as more thunder rumbled beyond the opposite ridge), we returned to Roomba and this time, we left the AC running.

We had enjoyed a passing thought that we might hike to the falls before heading back home, but both of us felt it was simply time to go. We ate some breakfast, broke camp at a leisurely pace, and headed southwest.



Ciao, Occoneechee

We had another leisurely awakening and breakfast for our last day in camp (March 24, 2016). Noticed a lot of pollen on the car, table tops, and Roomba. From certain angles, the exterior appeared green instead of Roomba’s normal blue.

Another short bicycle “prowl” through the entire campground was on the schedule, and we visited closed-off camping areas, two marinas, and took the roller-coaster road out to and back from the equestrian camping center again. Ended up putting about 11 miles on the year’s tally.

During the ride we saw two more red-tailed hawks, and at least two red-headed woodpeckers. It is very weird to hear blue jays mimicking hawks/osprey and they had us fooled several times during our stay here.

I forgot to mention that, while in camp yesterday AM, we watched a (probably) nursing momma squirrel emerge from her cavity nest and just sun herself on the side of a tree, alternately stretching her front limbs, and taking an enormous yawn. Then she just “hung” there, plastered to the side of the tree, head-downwards, presumably warming herself for a while before returning to her hole.

It was pretty hot as we returned to camp, but the wind picked up (again), and we had lunch before beginning the stow-and-pack process. We began rolling out toward the dump station, to finalize the de-winterizing process, at about 2:30P.

Completely uneventful drive home, although we felt like it was almost entirely uphill from Danville to Meadows of Dan: about 2 hours of the drive. By the time we were trying to back Roomba up the gravel drive into the garage, the Soobie-Roo was decidedly hot. Had to take a few re-tries to get everything aligned right, and finally unhitched to let the TV (tow vehicle) rest and cool down.

We had a brief thought that we’d make Happy Hour at our local in Floyd (Dogtown Road House) but it was simply too late and frankly, we were tired. Strange, how sitting in a car for a few hours can make one feel exhausted. But, as light as an Alto is, hauling any type of trailer is just somewhat more stressful than simply driving. In addition, I always stress out trying to back Roomba into his chalet.

Saved all the unpacking until Friday, and we’re definitely getting into a “groove” on that front. It went quickly and easily, especially since we planned very well for our food needs this time, and didn’t have too much left to remove from Roomba’s ‘fridge to the house.

We’re thinking this will have to be a more frequent trip than only on our anniversary. Occoneechee State Park is truly lovely and there’s lots of cycling opportunities at and near the park.

Ciao, Occoneechee. Until next time.


Penultimate Day

As I start this blog entry (Wednesday, March 23, 2016), I’m sitting in the “screened porch” listening to the birds call one another, and to a squirrel scurrying around in the leaf litter, watching the sun get lower over the water. Even though the wind is really blowing, it is downright hot here in the “porch.” Of course, there is a fairly solid buffer of evergreen trees directly in front of me now. 


While we did see an osprey circling just off our camping site this AM, the single avian critter we’ve seen the most is the ubiquitous crow. Yesterday, we saw an American kestrel or two, and today, we heard (but did not see) a kingfisher. There was also a redtailed hawk soaring over one of the inlets of the lake.
Before we left for our short ride today, we had to roll up the awning, hoping we can re-pole it if the wind dies down during the day. But it was fiercely flapping as we finished breakfast and reading and suchlike before setting out on our ride. So we decided we didn’t want to worry about it while away, and secured it.

In about a month, we’re headed to the organized spring bicycle ride sponsored by Cycle North Carolina. Along the route back home from that ride, we’re scheduled for some Roomba camping, and the last stop before home is a federal campground called North Bend, which is a near neighbor to Occoneechee. North Bend is farther east, where the actual Kerr Reservoir hydro-electric dam is (in fact, when you cross the dam you’re in North Carolina), but it’s a very nice public area with an educational center, a visitors center, and all sorts of activities, events and special use areas. And tons of campsites. It’s the same body of water we call Bugg’s Island Lake and the North Carolinians call Kerr Lake.

Anyway, our goal today was to head over to North Bend and cycle around all of the camping areas, including the one we’ve reserved, just to check it all out. And, of course, to get a few “wind-down” miles on the bikes after our excesses of yesterday.

We had a very nice tootle about, and found, then scoped out, our scheduled site. We even circled through a lot of the still-closed areas where maintenance crews were working to ready the whole place for the camping/fishing/boating season.
Cycling through some of the sections with non-serviced sites, where the sites sit right next to the water, we envisioned ourselves able to get enough solar gain in some of them to manage a long time without shore power. The trick would be AC. It gets hot – really hot – down here in the Piedmont of Virginia during the summer. BUT. We also discovered that this particular federal campground does not prohibit generators. So if we returned and wanted to be right on the water near a beach in the summer, we could manage it with the screened porch and our generator that can run the AC system in the Alto. Not too shabby. 

Now maybe we have to get some kayaks. Not really – water sports just aren’t our thing.

Anyway: North Bend Campground is only 20 miles away from Occoneechee, and, by parking at the Visitor Center, we ended up cycling about 10 miles without leaving the campground. We didn’t push things, as we wanted to get back to camp to put our feet up a while, enjoy the 85-ish degree temps, and get an early start on the meal we’ve been anticipating as our “anniversary dinner.”


After showers and a bit of a laze-about, we started dinner prep. While we were having some artichoke bruschetta on some nice crackers, an adult redtailed hawk landed in the tree just above Roomba. Jack saw it land, and I saw it take off, handling the wind as it looked below for a possible meal. Red tails are the most beautiful critters on earth (but I’m biased).

Not long after that, I saw a bright flash of black and white – and there was a hint of red also. I first thought it might have been a rose-breasted grosbeak, but we looked harder, and it #1, didn’t fly or land like a grosbeak, and #2 had a LOT more red than it should.

In just a moment or two we decided it must be a red-headed woodpecker – a species I’d never seen in real life. Jack looked it up in our digital Peterson’s Guide, and yes, it WAS a red-headed! Then we saw a second one. We were so excited. 

One landed right outside the round window as we sat in our “nook” under the Big Front Window, and try as I might, I could not get a photo with my iPhone. Every now and then, I dearly wish I had a “real” camera with lenses and such (then I realize how much stuff I’d have to carry around with me if I did have one of those . . . And, well).

So, on the bird sightings front, this trip quickly moved from ho-hum to fun and exciting. I was very happy.

Dinner was Roquefort butter ribeye steak (thanks again, Jim G.), grilled asparagus, and cheese tortellini. Jack did his usual magic on the grill, with his rubs and spices, and I watched the sun set over the lake for the last time this trip. Got some photos as the day waned, but not much exciting to show (since I couldn’t get one of the woodpecker).


After our anniversary dinner, we retired to the screened porch for a final glass of wine or two and topped off the night (and the trip) with a dram of Glen Morangie single malt. Altogether a stellar trip and celebration of our 8th real anniversary. Multiply that by four for the number of years we’ve been officially married, as of Feb. 29, 1984 (then add 6 years of our “extended engagement” pre-wedded bliss).

Here’s to Sadie Hawkins Day and all the girls with the moxie to ask the boys for their hands in marriage!






High Bridge State Park

We had an absolutely splendid day yesterday (Tuesday, March 22, 2016).

After a leisurely morning (with very little wind) and grilled sausage rolls for breakfast, we mounted the car hitch bike carrier and the bikes, I made ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch, and we took off around 11 for Farmville.
On various folks’ recommendations, we wanted to check out the High Bridge Rail Trail, which is a long (30-ish miles) Rails-to-Trails conversion with Farmville, VA at its center. What we hadn’t realized is that it’s actually another of Virginia’s excellent state parks.

Farmville is straight up Route 15 from Clarksville, about 55 miles. It’s a nice drive through pretty countryside, so we were poking around the city trying to find the “trail head” and some parking at around noon. There is a free municipal parking lot right at the in-town access point, and most folks suggested we should head east, which is the direction that incorporates the High Bridge itself, significant not only for its engineering, but as a integral supply line during the Civil War (more on the history part at the end of this note). “There have been higher bridges not so long, and longer bridges not so high, but taking the height and length together, this is, perhaps, the largest bridge in the world.” –C.O. Sanford, South Side Railroad’s chief engineer, 1852.
Headed eastward, the trail simply ends just after a place called Moran—about 15 miles from Farmville. Our plan was to ride the entire eastward length and back for a 30 mile day—our longest ride so far this year.
We stopped along the High Bridge itself to eat our sandwiches. Man, it was windy up there, at the tops of the trees. I took a silly panorama that doesn’t nearly show the height of the bridge, but that was me facing north, swinging the camera from my left across the vista to my right, with both bridge railings (right and left) included. Directly below most of the bridge is wetland and drainage to the Appomattox River, which really isn’t very wide along here, but also flows under the bridge.

The day stayed warm and breezy, and we stopped at a Civil War earthwork fortification that those who manned it (for protection of the bridge itself) called “Camp Paradise.” After that pause for some edification (more on that below), we rode without much in the way of stops (other than a pit stop in Rice) until the end of the trail. We ate a NutraGrain bar and turned around.

I took a couple of snaps along the way, but there’s not much to see. It was a mostly flat, well-maintained surface, more-or-less straight shot. We were hoping for a tailwind as we made our return, but that was not to be. Both of us, however, were pleased with our performance in stretching our fitness levels to be able to manage 30 miles without falling over dead. Both of us even were able to “up the ante” by taking the last few miles at a sprint (relatively speaking) into a significant headwind.

Before getting into the car for the ride back to Occoneechee, we hopped into the bicycling outfitters right next to the trail head, and picked up a map of the entire trail. The map/brochure doesn’t tell much about this specific trail, but it seems that it is a little over 30 miles total of reclaimed rail bed, with Farmville being right in the middle. The person in the outfitters said that the outbound stretch headed west is a 6 percent grade upward the whole way, with an easy coast coming back downhill to Farmville. Alan had told us he thought it was mostly wooded trail going west, and of course, headed that direction, you miss the bridge itself.
We got back and re-heated our chicken stew for leave-overs, built a fire (still little wind on our peninsula, and quite a lot warmer than yesterday), and enjoyed one of those rare moments when the sun sets just as the moon rises. Got a couple of pretty images of the sunset reflecting off Roomba and the lake, and then noticed the full moon rising over the treetops opposite the sunset. Simply lovely.

We called it an early night, even though we were eating our dinner at about 8:30-9PM.

Okay, here’s the history part.

High Bridge: In 1854 the South Side Railroad was completed from Petersburg to Lynchburg. To cross the Appomattox River east of Farmville, High Bridge was constructed. The bridge, 2,400 feet in length and ranging from 60 to 125 feet in height, was built on 21 brick piers. The original wood bridge had a pedestrian walkway beside the tracks and a wagon bridge below.

On April 6 & 7, 1865, all southern bridges were of strategic importance to the armies of General Robert E. Lee and General Ulysses S. Grant as they moved westward from Richmond toward Appomattox Court House. On April 6th, following the Battle of Sailor’s Creek, a small group of Union infantry and Calvary attempted to destroy the bridge but were deterred by Confederate horsemen who arrived on the scene. On the morning of April 7, quick marching Union troops came upon High Bridge as the Confederates were setting fire to it after crossing. Using the lower wagon bridge to continue their pursuit, Grant’s men pressed on, eventually coming in contact with Lee’s army around nearby Cumberland Church.

Camp Paradise:
Veteran, war-worn, French-speaking “chic Creoles” of the Donaldsonville Artillery detachment of 43 Louisiana Creole Canonniers received orders to guard High Bridge by the Lynchburg Confederate Military District Commander, Francis T. Nichols (a native of Donaldsonville). By June 1864, a bivouac of log cabins were built across the railroad tracks from the Overton house by the Canonniers under the direction of Lieutenant Camille Mollere.
The post, commanded by Major Victor Maurin, was tasked to man the four casemated earthworks fortifications, and their 21 artillery pieces, which covered approaches to High Bridge. Having been “feasted and pampered” by local families of Prince Edward and Cumberland Counties, the post became known as “Camp Paradise” by the gunners of Donaldsonville.
The Donaldsonville Artillery detachment took part in the Battle of High Bridge on April 6, 1865, after which they joined the Army of Northern Virginia’s retreat and surrendered with General Lee at Appomattox.

African Americans at High Bridge:
Engineer Department Activities. The High Bridge fortifications were built, in part, with the help of area free men of color who were conscripted for Confederate service. The Confederate Congress authorized the draft of free men of color to support military activities. Confederate records indicate there were about 30 black Confederates supporting the Confederate Engineer Department at High Bridge in September 1864. The Bureau of conscription authorized a draft for free African-Americans from Appomattox, Prince Edward, Amelia, Buckingham and Cumberland Counties to support Captain William G. Bender, the engineer in charge of construction of the fortifications. By December 1864, there were at least 50 men engaged in such work. These men were provided Confederate uniforms and blankets due to the cold weather.
While most of the African Americans documented at the High Bridge worked for the Confederate Engineer Department, pension records document men who were servants in the various companies charged with security of the Richmond & Danville Railroad. Records suggest some “Black Confederate” soldiers performed military duties.

Bicycling & Dinner w/Friends

We slept warm under our latest addition to the Roomba bedding list: a Rumpl blanket. But we elected to go without heat overnight, and when we awakened, it was a parallel inside/outside 40 degrees.

Although we heard the rain hitting the roof several times during the night, the sun arose shining brightly, and we were hopeful for a beautiful day.

We did not count on the wind being a factor, however.

As the morning hours progressed, the wind velocity did also. We appreciated turning the heat on during breakfast. At one point, a gust off the water walked our screen room a bit, so Jack jumped up to more securely tie it down from the windward side.


Our Screened-in Porch, in the sun with the pretty little redbud beside it.

The temps climbed during the day to the high 50s, but the wind was chill and fast. We finished the de-winterizing (except for dumping the bleach water from our tanks) hooked up the shore water, and I did the dishes from last night.

Alan and Mary said they’d come by and see the Alto set-up and take a short cycling ride around the park at 2PM, so we minded some additional chores, ate lunch, and then got ready to cycle. The sun on the east (entry door) side of Roomba allowed it to get quite warm inside, so we shut off the heater, and even had to vent a little to keep it from getting too hot inside.

Found everywhere along the way to the bathhouse near our campsite.

We tootled with Alan and Mary around the paved areas of Occoneechee State Park, and took a roller-coaster of a pedal down past the Cabins section all the way to the Equestrian camping section. From there, Alan remembered a rough trail that he thought Jack’s, Mary’s, and my bikes could manage (he had the only trail bicycle among us), but we decided it was a bit too rough. Next time we’ll have to come back with our mountain bikes and do the 7.5 mile Plantation Trail loop. The return along the roller-coaster road was an excellent time to get some interval training in, so I cranked it hard and worked up my heart rate.

Back at the campsite, we set a time for us to arrive at their house later for dinner, and parted company. I noticed that, when we got back to the peninsula on which we are camped, it is every bit of 10 degrees cooler here than anywhere else in the park. Amazing.

Still too much wind to put up the awning, so we just hung out a bit, doing this n’ that. Jack found that the screen room actually blocked a lot of the wind – or possibly, its lower situation gets it out of the wind a bit. He stretched out in the gravity chair and enjoyed the “porch” until he got too cold.


Our afternoon view from our bedroom window.

We both took showers and shortly thereafter, departed for Alan and Mary’s.
We’d been to their lovely home when they had led us on a bicycle tour exploring the Beaches to Bluegrass trail-in-progress, but I had frankly forgotten how stunning the place really is. (I cannot seem to link to prior content on this blog, but you can read all about that B2B trip in the archives). They designed it to have a vernacular, local barn appearance, with outdoor living space and plenty of room for guests.

We enjoyed a beverage and then took a hike into the woods, where they are creating paths and living areas. Our walk followed a small creek with interesting geology where the rocks are creating small, lovely, audible waterfalls.



Alan and Mary in their native habitat.


Alan and Mary are both teachers, as well as lifelong learners. They’ve been taking Master Gardener classes lately to learn about the intricacies of the ecosystems with which they are living and dealing.

This property is Mary’s family’s legacy, so there is an old cemetery they are trying to reclaim from nature’s roots and ravages, and we walked up there also to see the initial beating-back of the encroaching trees. They definitely have quite a lot of work to accomplish there, but Mary’s family isn’t the only one hereabouts that is involved, so Alan has been carefully marshaling support from neighboring individuals whose ancestors are also resting there.

The full moon had arisen over the treetops by the time we were headed back to the house, and I was surprised to have been able to capture some nice ones of the moon over their house.

Our dinner was Brunswick Stew and ham biscuits—completely evocative of the region and the way Mary had been raised. Delicious.

We indulged in a wee dram of the last of the single malt that we had bought and shared along the cycling paths of the most recent cycling trip we’d taken with Alan and Mary, to Nova Scotia. (Once again, unable to link to the blog posts about the trip we took to Nova Scotia last fall).  After which, we parted and drove the 10 minutes back to camp.

Lovely evening with excellent friends. It just doesn’t get any better than this.

Day Two on the NRT

My friend Jim noted that it was rainy the day before Napolean fought at Waterloo. I commented that I hoped Tuesday wouldn’t be Jack’s and my ‘Waterloo,’ but in fact, it was. The trail finally defeated us.

It wasn’t the weather. We had a beautiful if more than a little steamy day. There were so many critters out and about, I thought we might get run over by a bunny. Saw this deer out in the middle of the river right at the Fries Junction.


Not a great pic, but you get the idea.

We did begin our trek slightly late — around 11A. Because it was such a pretty day we were having a great ride until about 7 miles from the end. 

As things were getting hotter and more difficult, I kept thinking: “We may be going downhill (following the flow of the river north), but at least we have a serious headwind.”

Part of the trouble was mechanical: both of our bikes were suffering from the tough conditions and lack of “up-on-the-rack” maintenance.

But most of the problem was physical. We just “popped.” Pure and simple.

Even ate a pretty big lunch, including the Gatorade we packed along, an apple, and good trail mix to accompany our ham and cheese sandwiches and chips. Ate lunch at Foster Falls, as we’d done yesterday, where the heritage of the trail is celebrated in everything you see around you.


Both of us were working hard, truly making this a training ride, rather than a tour. I was hoping to maintain a 13 mph average speed, headed mostly downhill and all. And I had a solid 12.9mph right at Hiawassee. I tried really hard to bump that up to 13, but then we hit a VERY LONG uphill to Draper and I had to abandon hope. Despite the hard work, I managed to take a few pix along the way.


The New below Buck Dam

Ivanhoe shelter: the same place I took the pic of the pouring rain yesterday.
While we contemplated our sorry state of affairs at the Draper shelter, a nice fellow who lives in Pulaski rolled up and assessed our lack of determination. After a bit of a chat-up, he set off again, saying over his shoulder: “Only about a mile and a half left of the uphill, and then it’s downhill all the way to Pulaski.”

As we often say, “There was nothing left to do but to do it.”

He was true to his word and our legs felt as if they’d been reborn as we rolled at a decent (cooling) pace downhill and to the parking lot. It was really REALLY difficult to keep our concentration long enough to do all the stuff required to load the car back up. But once in the air conditioning, we headed to a grocery store for a bottle of restorative chocolate milk and felt human again by the time we reached Fries.

Thanks, Jim, for bringing up what happened to Napoleon . . . so there were three things at work here: mechanical, physical and a jinx. Ahh, Jim , we thought we knew ya . . . 

Thought I’d post this also, since it is a celebration of the Rail-to-Trail philosophy — you can’t really see the view from the “telescope” as well as in real life, so I’ve included the sculptor’s statement also.


The sculpture as it appears beside the trail
through the telescope

“Just as this trail holds traces of the former railroad and the train that once rumbled past, the red disks of this sculpture hold traces of a train. You cannot see it as you pass, but when you look through the telescope you will see it in the space between the disks. It is not solid. You cannot touch it, but it is there, like a memory.” –Harry McDaniel, sculptor.