Leaving First Landing

April 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Site 117 in Area B

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

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From the road.
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From the beach.

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

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

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

Shopping and Eating

April 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we were warm.

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

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

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

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

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

Bicycling and Eating

Saturday, April 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 16

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

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

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

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

Have I mentioned the pollen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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First Landing Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April Birthdays

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

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

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

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Look who was there at North Bend to greet us!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Selfie with Canada Friends and Snail

Journey’s End

Thursday, January 11, 2018 •

Jack spotted a Cooper’s hawk perched near our site as we drank our morning beverages. There are tons of owls we heard talking to one another last night and this AM—Jack is pretty sure they’re barred owls, as the hoots are not quite deep enough to be great horned owls.

The warm morning (high 40s) has caused a thick blanket of fog over all at dawn. The moon was bright and clear, but all around the ground is fog. At the dock, once the fog lifted (a little wind and a little sunshine) “our” swans were heading in small groups over to the feeding grounds.

We had a leisurely beverage time followed by oatmeal for breakfast, not being in any great hurry to leave, even if we are in a parking lot. When Barbara and Mike were nearly ready to hitch, Barbara gave me a bit of a tutorial on the caravan mover from Safari Condo, and I made their Moon Shadow trailer dance around the parking lot.

We got away in the 11 range again, looking forward to a nice shower at North Bend. With an uneventful drive (saw various raptors) we arrived at North Bend around 2 and Mike and Barbara, who had stopped for fuel, were shortly behind us. We set up in site 51 again, with them next door, in 53. It was really nice to set up our awning, but we did not unhitch nor do a full set-up inside. Rain was imminent, so the awning was nice, and then we had our lovely showers.

B&M had a look around at the varied sites in this open section, showered, and then joined us for a glass of adult beverage and some cheese and crackers. I fixed a “taco pie” recipe (I’d found it on the back of a cheese package) that called for crescent roll dough in a tube for the crust. I fixed it in the Omnia according to the directions, and then (because I used the silicon liner) dumped it on a plate on its head to serve, but it is not a recipe I’d repeat. Camping with a taco salad on the menu, having pre-mixed the taco meat (as I’d done this time) would be far easier and much more tasty. I definitely missed what the recipe for the pie left out (lettuce, tomato, salsa) and I found the crescent roll crust to be too sweet (and it got kind of hard on the bottom).

Anyway, it was a good experiment, and we’re not throwing the leftovers away, but it will be challenging to get back home. Jack figures it would be good sliced while cold and re-heated in a frying pan, accompanied by eggs for an “upside down day” type of dinner.

Read for a while after dinner and hit the hay early, with the rain fully in gear, pounding against the roof, blowing through the trees and a little under the awning. But that’s camping!

Friday, January 12, 2018

The rain kept us awake off and on during the night, but we never had to crank any of the heaters. Early, we decided against the propane furnace (and piled some stuff in front of the exhaust ports outside under the awning) and figured if needed, the electric heater would do (and we have a remote control for it).

But the sleeping was mostly warm, with both of us kicking off our sleeping bags during the night. When we arose around 7A, to a gray foggy day, the temps were 65 inside and 58 outside. Don’t need to bundle up to go for the morning ablutions.

Honda and Roomba are filthy with road grime, even after the rains, so Jack wants to mount an expedition to find a drive through, self-serve car wash en route. The forecast is for very cold nights again in Meadows of Dan starting tonight, and we didn’t see any options for car washes on our way. So we thought we would just re-hitch and take Roomba into Floyd when the weather eases and wash up there.

Got home and our house sitters were still there, so we moved my car and parked Roomba in front of the garage, intending to back it up to the house for unloading (and if the weather cooperated, maybe a hand-wash?). We chatted with our helpers until the rain began again (among the discussion topics was the death of the “box” that runs our internet and TV) and backed Roomba up the drive when they’d gone. I managed to get everything that would freeze out of the camper and the truck, and we left everything else for a dryer day. The house was plenty hot and the rain came down in earnest, but we called to see if a service worker might be in the neighborhood to replace our internet box.

Happily, 20 minutes later, Rocky showed up and he efficiently replaced the old with a new one, and set us all up for weekend entertainment. While he was moving in and out to fetch stuff from his truck, we just left the front door open, it was so warm.

But not for long. By dark, the temperature was plummeting (although the rain had stopped) and we knew that by the morning, we’d have to build a small fire in the kitchen for extra warmth.

It was great to snuggle with the dogs and settle back into the good old home routine. But the birds will be memorable forever. Maybe we’ll go back next year? Maybe we’ll find migrating birds elsewhere. Who knows what next January will bring?

Next up: a trip in April to eastern Virginia, to camp with Alto friends at First Landing State Park near Virginia Beach. At least we won’t have to think about packing for freezing weather.

0835-TundraSwan

Last day, VA Beach; First Day, North Bend

Finally got our lazy behinds moving enough to take a ride today (April 27). We suited up, lubed the chains, and met Kerry on the opposite side of the main highway (Rt 60 or Shore Drive) where the mainly day use areas and woodsy trails are in this enormous state park. 

  
We took a paved trail, named the Cape Henry Trail, in the direction of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, until it ran out. Saw some interesting things along the way, once we left the Park and headed through some pretty residential areas. We were also surprised to see that we passed behind the grocery store we’d been shopping – knowing we could ride our bikes easily and off-road to get provisions is a good thing for next time.

  
 

It is difficult to see here, but one sculpture id Spiderman, made of wire mesh or mesh panels
   

Reversed course to see where the pavement on the opposite side of the main park entry road would take us, and the pavement itself was terrible, with deep potholes and high ridges pushed up by roots. It circled back to the main road at another entrance to the Cape Henry trail (and several others) which were unpaved. Kerry decided he had had enough for the day, and returned to the campground.

Jack and I deliberated a while, due to the fact that we’d placed skinny tires our bikes for the Cycle NC ride just passed, but then said, “How wrong can we be?” And took off into the woods.

While there were tree roots pushed up along the path, it was wide and flat and we had no trouble avoiding the hazards, which also included deep loose sand in a spot or two. But for the most part, the trails was packed and covered with a light dusting of pine needles, so it was soft and quite lovely.

We found a map that said we could exit the trail at 64th Street in VA Beach, so we checked that out and while we didn’t find a bike lane proper, there was a parallel road that had almost zero vehicle use, bordering a residential section, which served as a lovely bike road.

A little while later, as the bigger road turned into Atlatic Ave., we found something called the Maritime Trail, and that led us right to the boardwalk. Which, by the way, isn’t made of wood any more.

   
 The wind off the Atlantic Ocean was quite strong, and the clouds were gathering for the afternoon storm that was forecast. Jack had neglected to bring along a jacket, and we had to ride pretty fast to keep him warm, so we began looking for a bike shop so he might be able to buy a coat. Cycled down to the Pier without any luck, and decided it was time for lunch.

   
  

I was glad to see that the seaside amusement park remembered from my youth was still there
 
Had an excellent pizza and a salad at a place just off Atlantic Ave., looked for where our devices directed us to a cycle shop (evidently now closed with the space a barber shop today), and decided to beat a fast path back to the campground. Again followed the parallel road until the main road made a bend and turned back into Shore Drive, where we found excellent pavement and a dedicated bike line along both edges of the four-lane. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Jack was really cranking the pedals up the road, and I just managed to keep up, and we got back to camp around 3, and took hasty showers. The rain was definitely coming, so we took down the screen house and had the greatest time watching the osprey over the bay.

They were hovering like kestrels, using the wind (blowing strongly out of the east) to just “sit” in the air. We saw many of them dive into the water, where we would lose sight of them beyond the dunes. But now and again, one would fly over the campground and our site, carrying a fish overland to their nests. This went on for ages, and we saw many, many of them score successes and carry their bounty over our heads. Total bliss.

We left with Kerry and Gloria in their car to head out to Trader Joes. What a nice store! We had a great time looking at all the fun foods and planned and provisioned for the trip to North Bend Campground, where a grocery store is not just right around the corner but rather 20-30 miles away.

Got back home and began prep-and-grill of our quit late dinner together. Pork roast, asparagus, salad, and rice. Just as we sat down to eat the skies opened up and it rained significantly on us as we sat under our awning. We stayed dry, ate well, and enjoyed the close of our last day at First Landing. This is definitely a place we’d like to return to one day.

The next morning, April 28 (Roomba’s adoption anniversary) I was up just after dawn when I saw a blue grosbeak, just foraging around the campsite. I haven’t seen one of those for years. Later, as we were nearing the completion of the pack-stow-and hitch process, I first heard, then saw a little hummingbird in one of the nearby live oaks. Such a bounty of birds!

 

Not my photo, rather, borrowed from my bird guide
 
Headed west for the final camp-stop of this adventure, and lost track of Kerry and Gloria somewhere near Portsmouth. Had a fuel stop and lunch in Emporia, Virginia. Texted with Jack and Martha (coming from Meadows of Dan to meet us), Gloria and Kerry, to locate everyone en route, and got to our site at about 3:30.

 

The setting by the lake – site C-152
  
The view from our “porch”
  
The screen house
 
It is truly a lovely campground, and quite inexpensive for senior citizens — far les expensive than my fave state park, Occoneechee, nearly next door. But since this is a federal site, also on Bugg’s Island/Kerr Lake, as is Occoneechee, it is a true asset to the citizens of America, so is available for less cost.

Anyway, we gathered not only with Jack and Martha, and Kerry and Gloria, but also Jack and Martha’s friends, John and Lisa. All of us are near one another and John and Lisa built a fire and we told stories and lies, ate dinner, and laughed tougher until about 10, when we hit the hay. Two great days.