Bicycling and More

April 19

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

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


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

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

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


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

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



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

April 20

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

High Bridge Trail State Park

April 28 High Bridge Trail State Park

Not wanting to rush things overmuch, we had a leisurely morning at camp, then loaded the bikes on the car-carrier, and headed to Farmville to pick up the High Bridge Trail. You might remember my travels on this Rails-to-Trails conversion and state park back in March 22, 2016, when we had tackled on the Eastern half, where the High Bridge itself is located, and where a traveler finds historic markers and other points of interest in addition to the amazing High Bridge itself, along the way.

Last year, we had been warned off the western half, due to the reports that it’s a climb the whole way out, which is often true of R2T conversions since they follow old rail beds where there is usually a small but steady incline headed one direction and a small but steady decline headed the opposite direction. Then, as now, we shrugged our shoulders and asked, “So what?”

It was unexplored territory, so we undertook the “dreaded” westward side, beginning around 11:30A on a very hot and humid day.


I remember that the fellow at the outfitters, when we stopped in last year to chat about the Trail, reported that it was a 6 percent grade all the way up the western-headed direction, and almost a coast back down.

Six percent is actually significant for a rail line.

I had hoped for a bit of distraction along the way west — in the form of historic markers or nice views. But not only did we find exactly 4 other peeps using the entire 15+ miles of the western side of the trail, but a straight-as-a-blade path without much shade and basically zero to recommend it.


I figure that engineers driving the trains of the Richmond and Danville Railroad, back in the day, set aside this length of their drive for a nap. With hardly a curve, and nothing to see, few road crossings and only a possible halfway stop at “Prospect” Virginia (which was not, in fact, much of a prospect at all) to drop and pick up mail, the drive would be deadly boring. As was our ride.


After passing through the burgh of Prospect, the Trail parallels Rt. 460 and there is quite a lot of traffic noise. Oddly, there’s a long stretch, maybe 4 miles of the entirety, that is washboarded. We first thought it might be from the rain, but it was so evenly wrinkled over such a long stretch that we hypothesized the cause to be the trail-builders did not remove the dirt to grade when converting; only removed the rail ties and filled in the gravel underbed. Thus, settling happened between where the ties used to be, and not where the ties themselves had packed the ground beneath them hard, resulting in the very evenly spaced washboarding on the top. Boy, was that annoying and we spent some miles cursing the sloth of the trail construction company.

The single item of interest we saw along the way was a small (probably corn) snake that Jack tried to kill, to keep the landscape evenly boring and without interest. Just kidding — Jack would never intentionally kill a snake, not even a venomous one, unless it was threatening hearth and home. But he did hit this little corn snake, believing it to be merely another stick across the path.

The impact did not, apparently, hurt it overmuch. I tried to grab a photo of the only thing along the way that was of any interest at all, but it skidded into the verge so quickly I was unable to catch its image.

There used to be a snake in here somewhere . . . 

Even at the end of our 15 mile (actually it worked out to be closer to 17 miles from the parking lot) ride out, there was a pile of gravel and an abandoned parking lot to greet our effort. No picnic table, shelter, or privy. And no shade.


We returned to the last privy stop we’d passed and ate some trail mix, drank some water, and cooled off a bit. It had, indeed, been a strenuous uphill slog into the wind the entire way. After my “climbing training” from the day before, my legs were very, very tired. Both of us had emptied our water bottles en route.

There had been one small item of interest that appeared when we were about 2 miles from Farmville proper: a hen turkey came out of the woods at our left, ran down the “runway” of the trail until it could get some flight height, pumped its ungainly self up into the air high enough to glide back down straight along the trail in front of us, landing on the right side and skittering into the woods to disappear by the time we caught up with it.

It was, indeed, much easier pedaling back, though it certainly wasn’t any kind of an easy downhill glide. It must have been in the 90s by the time we arrived back in Farmville.


Cycling stats: 3 hours of ride time, 32.88 miles, average speed 10.8MPH (it was a mere 9MPH on the outbound lap); and here’s the kick-butt statistic: 405 ft of ascent. Remember, when riding the “climbing training” canoe launch hills in camp, I logged 500 ft. of ascent. Rough dayn.

Our first stop was a dive of a convenience store where we picked up some Gatorade and salty snacks (the trail mix had been mostly dried fruit so we didn’t want anything additional sweet, although the Snickers bars in the store did call out to me).

We also searched for and finally found Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery, a very strange place at the end of a difficult-to-find gravel lane. We even had some trouble figuring out where to get into the building, once we found it.


But they apparently were set up to receive guests on a Friday night, and people were around to draw draughts or sell quart bottles or fill growlers. We tasted a couple of their IPA-style offerings and decided on their Nuclear Nugget IPA, about 8% alcohol (if I recall correctly their reader board). It (of course) wasn’t one of those on offer among the bottled beers for sale, so we had to fill a growler of the stuff. We were most definitely not in shape to be enjoying a pint on their sunny patio — not if we intended to drive back to camp, that is.


So we partook of their less-than beer in an expensive purchase that will be difficult to store properly in camp — but hey. It’s the experience, no?


Back at camp and after a much-needed and enjoyed shower, we were frankly, too tired to do much more than fix sandwiches for dinner, and it was far too late to build a campfire, so we postponed the hoped-for “birthday grilled steak” dinner until Sunday night, when it can also serve as a “final dinner of the trip” celebration event.

Tomorrow, we head to Williamsburg to the Boyle Society luncheon and our exclusive tour of the Integrated Science Center on the campus — newly-completed and full of interesting scientific research and teaching/learning.

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.