It was wet and chilly when we left Ohiopyle for Sherando Lake in Virginia (near Stuart’s Draft) on August 5. And we were staring into the teeth of a long, 5.5 hour drive, but we (including Mary and John) made it by about 5:30pm.
The campground is in the George Washington & Jefferson National Forest, thus the “recreation area” designation (see Ntl. Forest Map above). We were in the Meadow Loop, with electric but no water. Ours was site C-13 and John & Mary were in site C-14. The sites were incredibly level and raked clean when we arrived. Packed, coarse-grain sand was the surface, which became rather a mess when it got wet, and we ended up tracking it all over the place. But it was easy to sweep away when it was dry. Also, it is good to note that, having been spoiled at Ohiopyle with decent cell service, we were completely flatlined at Sherando (and at Douthat, our next/final stop, too).
During the Time of Plague, the other RV camping loop, River Bend, was closed. The tent/unserviced loop (White Oak) was open except for the smaller, uphill section. The lake itself is pretty, with hiking trails around it—and closer to us is the “Upper Lake” which is for fishing only, and that only from the shores.
What caught our notice straight away were the site-specific bear boxes provided for lockup of anything that either has food in it, or in the past might have had food in it (or on it—like camp chairs). A sheet included in the registration packet warns of fines and expulsion if campers don’t follow the rules and inadvertently feed the bears. “The intentional or unintentional feeding of bears is prohibited by LAW. You must secure the following items or you will be ticketed . . .”
The weirdest items on the list, to my mind, were “hand sanitizer,” and “bug spray.” So every night “BEFORE SUNSET” we put the cooler and other miscellaneous items into the “bear box” and locked chairs and tables in the car. Never heard tell of any bear activity while we were there, but they take the potential quite seriously. And with threatened penalties of a $125 fine or eviction from the campground without refund, we did, too.
Our stay at Sherando was a gathering of folks from home: Brad & Ellen and Beth & Dan, and fellow Altoistes from Bedford, Dayna and John. We SWVA folks gathered for a catch-up after our separate dinners. Dan and Beth would have had their new Alto by this time, had it not been for Covid. Instead, and to get some “practice” in with “wheel camping,” they rented this VW “hippy” van knockoff (its actually a trailer) for the weekend, just to get out after their quarantine and to link up safely with friends.
The following day, Thursday, August 6, was also overcast—it was sprinkling off and on all day, and there were several outright downpours. We noticed an unusual visitor on the netting of our Clam—a “walking stick” insect stayed with us for a few days.
I worked to catch up on my blog posts, and everyone else went to play at the Lake with kayaks and paddle boards.
Jack and I headed to Stuart’s Draft (~10 miles) to get the small grill propane bottle filled at Ace hardware, and to find a properly sized bolt with which to fix Jack’s chair (it had broken at Ohiopyle). When we got back, it was still humid and wet, but not steamy at a tolerable 75 degrees.
Brad and Ellen hosted the whole gang down at their site by the creek (C-8?) for a Solo Stove fire, s’mores, and single malt. Everyone was bundled against the cold, because with so many of us, we had to distance from the bonfire so we could distance from one another. Many stories were told. Unfortunately, we all heard the pour of rain coming our way at once, and we all scattered to our various RV shelters.
Friday, August 7: Hashbrowns and patty sausages accompanied a beautiful morning, but unfortunately, Brad and Ellen had to leave us—they tried to find a way to register for one of the empty sites, but had to drive out to get cell service, and never got through before they had to vacate their spot at 11.
We tried to ride the paved roads around the recreation area, but Jack again had issues with his derailleur, and he pulled up. I wanted the exercise, so kept going—and got thoroughly soaked in the rains that came and settled in for the day. I got 8 miles by riding all the paved roads including the camping loops and parking lots. It is a long climb from the entry gate, but is a fun downhill slide.
Right above the CG (at the “group camping” end of the CG Map image) is the small fishing-only “Upper Sherando Lake” and on my ride I climbed the (slippery) steps up to the dam and took a photo of the small lake as well as the view of the campground from the top.
At the dam end of the big lake I could see this strange “rock slide” site across the way, in the face of a nearby mountain. Unsure what it was or how it got there, but since it was strange, I took a photo.
Beth reported that she’d been caught by the rain on her paddleboard, and had tried to seek shelter on an island in the big lake (thank goodness there wasn’t any lightening). But she’d still gotten as soaked as I had. It was a fine ride in the kind of rain that gets you as wet as your going to be all day within the first 40 seconds. But figuring out how to dry my clothes was a challenge. It was warm enough that I could, for the most part, wear my clothes dry.
Jack grilled a Cornish hen for us to split, and the hoped-for group campfire did not happen due to the continuing dicey weather.
Saturday, August 8 dawned damp and cool (65 degrees). We hopped back on our bikes, and Jack continued to figure out what the issue was. When he pulled up to do some diagnostics, I carried on and did the same ~8 mile circuit I’d done in the rain yesterday, but left off a few of the more boring parking lots.
When I finished the first circuit and stopped to see how Jack was doing, he reported possible success—a thick, hard collection of “gunk” was keeping the chain from seating on the two “jockey wheels” of the derailleur. He scraped that stuff off, and we tested the “fix” and he found the bike would stay in the gears he selected, so he joined me for another circuit. So I got nearly 15 miles, and he got the ~8 miles of the one circuit. Afterwards, we racked the bikes and put away the Clam in prep for departure tomorrow.
Dan, Beth, John, Mary, Jack, and I ate our dinners together around our Solo stove, and all agreed that Sherando would be a spot we’d return to after The Time of Plague.
Crooked Creek Lake is a recreation area with a couple of public/state roads passing through it. Operated by the Army Corps of Engineers, it offers no services except toilets and sinks. So we set up our Clam to be our shower stall, because the site is near a great rail-trail called the Armstrong Rail-Trail, and knowing we’d be cycling a lot, showers were going to be imperative.
We arrived Wednesday, July 22 via backroads, and there was only one camper and (apparently) no staff around anywhere. As we arrived at the Park Office, an official-looking guy parked (among many other vehicles in the lot) and strode with purpose up to the doors, but they were closed tight. He banged on them a bit and explained to Jack (who was trying to check in) that he was a natural resources biologist and just wanted to charge his laptop.
So we drove to the small campground (~45 sites) with the map Jack had picked up at the kiosk and noted that there were no drinking water spigots on the grounds.
We went out again in search of THE potable water source, indicated on the map to be at the dump station. The equipment and services at the dump station, however, were all locked with padlocks.
So we meandered around some of the pavilions and other recreational areas in search of water. As we were contemplating driving Roomba across the lawn to a water spigot off a toilet house with a closed water fountain, a Ranger drove up and asked if we were seeking the campground. After explaining we knew where our site was but couldn’t find any available water, he gave us the combination to the padlocks at the dump station, and we returned and filled our tank with water.
As we were setting up (site #12) a 1960s-era hearse drove through, checking things out. A strange sight, but hardly prophetic. After setup, we napped in our chairs in the lovely breeze and enjoyed the quiet.
The sole site with electric (for folks needing a C-Pap machine or O2 or suchlike) was occupied by a small trailer. Our quiet idyll was broken by that family returning to their camp, among whom there was always yelling and crying. Luckily, they were away most of the days and left early. The Ranger reported that the weekend would nearly fill the place up as he had 25 new reservations. As it turned out, neither of the sites directly adjacent to us were used by anyone else.
After enjoying another lovely sunset, we threw open the Big Front Window (BFW) and the back window, as our site arrangement caught the wind from the rear (even without a caravan mover, we were able to arrange our awning to face the woods above Crooked Creek Lake, with a fence to keep anyone from accessing the steep sides of the lake from above) and had a lovely sleep—until a raccoon came to visit, trying to push its way through the BFW screen while standing on the bike rack. We chased it away and closed the BFW, but a pelting rain followed the raccoon, and both of us had trouble getting back to sleep.
Thursday, July 23: We rode the grounds on Thursday, which took about an hour to cover the 7.5-ish miles of our short tour (tootling along at an average of 8MPH. There was quite a lot of up and down, however, as we rolled down into the Outflow Recreation Area, a popular fishing/picnicking spot below the dam, and then had to climb back up to the dam; then we rolled down to the beach (which was really a sandy beach with several families spread out and swimming in the lake) and again had to climb back up. Good stretching ride after not much cycling or hiking back at Lake Erie SP.
Climbing out of Outflow Rec Area
Crooked Creek Lake
Outflow Area from dam
Outflow area from parking lot
After cleaning up and driving into a town called Apollo for groceries (Naser’s Foods—with an excellent butcher) I worked on the blog for a while, and we had hamburgers, sweet corn, and baked potatoes for dinner. Around 6:30-7 we watched an ambulance and a police/sherriff’s dpt. car roll into the campground—lights going but no sirens—and stop at “kuncklehead’s” electric site. We thought maybe he’d be taken in cuffs when the “mom” was loaded into the ambulance, but when she was taken away, “dad” and the two boys left in the car, presumably to the hospital. So he hadn’t decked her, despite all the yelling. All were back on site the next AM so it was some other issue.
The rains returned overnight, as did the ‘coon, who shredded the paper towels under the grill we use to catch the grease drips. With the rains came not a cleansing freshness, but very high humidity.
On Friday, July 24 we were riding the Armstrong Trail by 10:30. Beginning at the southern terminus (Rosston Boat Ramp) we headed north, planning to turn around at about the halfway point (Templeton Boat Ramp) and doing the rest of the 36-ish mile Rail-to-Trail conversion on Saturday, starting at Templeton. Our go-to guide for PA Rail-Trails is the Official Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Guidebook for the state (we have several such books) and it is full of great information and recommendations.
Here’s a brief of their overview of the Armstrong Trail: Connecting riverfront towns along the east and of the Allegheny River, it winds through the lush Allegheny Plateau. The flat trail, currently 35.5 miles (in 2019) follows the river uphill from Rosston to Upper Hillville (with a significant break of urban riding through East Brady, since the R2T Conservancy or the RR had not re-opened the Brady’s Bend Tunnel, which the RR carved as a shortcut across a tight river bend, and thus orphaned 4.5 miles of the trail upriver, from East Brady to Upper Hillville).
The Allegheny Valley RR began laying tracks in 1853, and by 1870 the RR ran between Pittsburgh and Oil City. In 1992, the Allegheny Valley Land Trust acquired it, and land disputes delayed construction of some segments, resulting in a mix of surfaces. But the trail is all off-road, mostly cinder/crushed gravel, a very low grade, and not terribly populated with users.
We began the uphill stretch after speaking to a local at the Rosston Boat Launch, who recommended a short spur trail to take (the Cowanshannock Tr.) to see a lovely waterfall area called Buttermilk Falls.
We began our ride going through Ford City, whose garden club takes good care of the trail section (separate from any vehicular traffic, and nicely paved).
Next came Kittanning, a major urban outpost along the route, with a significant bit of architecture in the middle of town.
Many sights along the trail were interesting, including Lock & Dam #8 (we saw #9 upriver on our next day’s ride). Here’s what the reader board said about the Lock & Dam system:
Following the American Revolution, the Allegheny River carried an extensive downriver trade including lumber, iron, oil, and passengers. Much of this river traffic ended after the building of the railroad along the river corridor in the 1860s. Yet the river nevertheless needed to be navigable.
Lock & Dam #8 was constructed between 1928 and 1931 as part of the Allegheny River Navigation System. Several navigational locks on the river consist of single lock chambers and a “fixed crest” dam. This type of dam is a concrete wall across the river, creating a pool of water above the dam at lest 9 feet deep for navigation.
Prior to the construction of the locks and dams, some river depths could be less than 12 inches at certain times of the year, making the river non-navigable. Water that flows over these dams, however, cannot be regulated. Therefore the dams do not provide flood protection. Lock chambers are used to transition boats from and to the different levels of the water along the river.
Another sight is the remains of the Monticello Furnace (whose stack was demolished):
The Monticello Furnace was built by Robert E. Brown in 1859 to extract iron from iron ore. Originally the furnace was heated with charcoal but was later converted to a coke hot blast furnace. Iron ore and limestone were placed in the top of the furnace stack together with coke, which heated the furnace to produce pig iron.
The furnace provided employment for as many as 200 people and produced 60,000 tons of pig iron, which supplied markets in Pittsburgh and Kittanning. The Allegheny Valley RR was extended to the Monticello Furnace in 1865 to deliver ore to the furnace. From 1866 to 1874, 20,000 tons of Lake Superior iron ore were mixed with local carbonate ore to produce a superior quality of pig iron. This was then used to make nails, steel tools, and other products of high quality. The furnace was in almost constant operation from its completion until it went out of blast in 1875. Near this site were 68 houses for workers and a PO, which operated in the company store. The Cowanshannock Train Station was established nearby. Later RR extension work covered the furnace’s stack, but you can still see the retaining wall near where the furnace stood. A large slag pile remains between the trail and the river.
We missed the Cowanshannock spur on the outbound run, but caught it on the return, and it was a fun short ride to the rocky section of the Cowashannock Creek where the water begins to tumble over large boulders, earning the name “Buttermilk Falls.”
Hungry and hot by the time we got back to Kittanning, we stopped at a place called Jim Fox’s Pizza and sat outside to eat a small pepperoni and inhale some sugary drinks and water.
Back at home base, our shower set-up worked great, although when the sun was on the Clam, it was terribly hot inside. Because we didn’t bother to crank the water heater for hot water, the cold water shower offset the discomfort and made for an excellent post-ride shower experience.
I put together some leftovers, added some of the remains of our earlier meal of pesto, and used that to top some pasta for dinner for a much-needed carb load.
Bike Stats: 32.64 miles; 2:50 ride time; 1:44 stopped time; 11.47 average MPH (84 feet of ascent—nice, flat trail).
On Saturday, July 25, we drove to Templeton Boat Launch to begin what turned out to be a much hotter ride, even though we started at about the same time of the day.
As we left Templeton we saw this monster chimney, which we dubbed “HellaChimney” attached to an electric plant of some sort. Our guess: it was a typical Appalachian coal-fired energy plant. But man. That chimney.
The Guidebook recommended taking a different trail off the Armstrong to see two significant tunnels, for which riders must have headlamps to get through.
But first, we stopped at the Redbank Coaling Tower. A very impressive piece of construction:
During the era of steam-powered locomotives, trains traveling this RR corridor stopped at this coaling tower to fill their tenders with fuel coal. The PA RR Co. began construction here in 1928, and the coaling tower was placed into service in Feb. of 1930. It was used until 1957 when diesel engines replaced the last of the steam engines on this rail line.
Constructed of concrete poured into wooden forms made from locally-harvested timber, the lines from the wooden forms are still visible on the concrete. Coal from nearby mines was delivered to the tower in hopper cars and dropped into the pit (at the right of the photo below) then carried by conveyors (the slanted section) into the reservoir above the tracks (the round barrel). It was released into chutes, which directed the coal down into the tenders of the trains waiting beneath.
Excerpt from the Guidebook:
The Allegheny Valley RR developed the Redbank Valley corridor in the late 1800s to carry passengers, coal, and lumber to Pittsburgh and beyond. While passenger service along the line stopped in the 1940s, freight continued to be carried until the rails were removed in 2007.
Trail users can enjoy Redbank Creek’s waters along the corridor for 41 miles from the Allegheny River to Brookville.
We enjoyed the 8 miles of the trail we rode, as we rose higher and higher above Redbank Creek’s waters—deep enough at the mouth for boaters to enjoy, but rippling and shallow by the time we turned around.
Right about at the point where Redbank Creek’s boating depth was lost, was a nice little “covered bridge” across a significant feeder creek, and beside the remains of the trestle that used to carry the trains along Redbank’s corridor.
There’s even a perpendicular spur line that goes 9 miles up to Sligo, PA. That spur sports a 3% grade—a challenge not only for cyclists but also for trains as noted on the reader board below.
While the guidebook reports Redbank’s grade to be about 1%, we guessed it to be slightly more significant than that—maybe 2%. It was definitely a chug to get to the first (southernmost) tunnel, called Long Point Tunnel.
We stopped for a snack on the north side of the tunnel, at a camping shelter dubbed “Ray’s Place” in honor of one of the trail’s dedicated volunteers.
Electing to return to Templeton instead of seeing the second (north-most) tunnel (Climax Tunnel) we linked back up to the Armstrong trail and rode without much incident (except catching sight of this extraordinary sculpture, below) back to Templeton Boat Ramp.
Bike Stats: 36.6 miles; 3 hours ride time; an hour stopped time; 12.46 average speed.
We celebrated our stay and rides with a ribeye steak dinner, accompanied by steamed-then-sauteed broccoli, and rice. An excellent end to an overall lovely stay with easy access to a great Rail-to-Trail conversion. Highly recommended.
Next stop: Raccoon Creek Lake State Park, PA—where Jack would have been staying (mostly) alone while I attended my job’s convention gathering in Pittsburgh, had it not been canceled due to Covid 19. So we will have 7 nights and many opportunities to cycle and cook. Our “new” Motto: We Travel to Cycle, and we Cycle to Eat.
We finally got a break in the weather, but most of the Alto crowd had left. Jack and I headed to South Hill for foodstuffs enough to fix dinner for John (arriving without Mary, who has fallen under the weather, or possibly the pollen) and additional Floyd friends, Brad and Ellen.
Because we’re settled and they’re arriving in the afternoon and likely won’t be set up before dinner time, we texted with them to let everyone know we’d handle dinner for all of us. We found the fixins for the fennel chicken dish we like to cook in the Dutch oven, and we also got some pork loins to grill for Mary and Allen who were coming to the campsite on Monday.
I began cooking circa 5:30, completing it by around 6:30, and served directly from the Dutch oven, with Omnia heat-and-serve rolls and roasted potatoes. Afterwards, we cranked the Solo fire, and the Karl & Hari crowd came over from loop C to share.
It was another glorious sunset, with the sun peeking below the clouds and shining brightly on the end of our peninsula, making the trees look like they were about to combust.
No good sunset is complete without a good reflection photo off Roomba (it’s a thing with the Alto models that have lots of windows).
Here’s a gallery of photos I’m calling “Sunset After the Storms”
Monday, Apr. 22
First thing in the morning, I watched an adult bald eagle fly over. The day dawned cold (47 degrees) but I was outside watching for birds and enjoying the clear morning by about 7. I wasn’t the only early bird, as a couple of fishermen were plying the waters near our site also.
Before lunch, we took a bike ride with Brad and Ellen while John took a kayak paddle-about. We toured around the campground, and across the hydro dam, where we stopped both coming and going to watch bald eagles and osprey and enormous fish near the dam. I could have watched the birds all day.
Instead of going back to the campground, we turned right at Rt. 4 and headed to the tailwaters of the dam, where there were tons and tons of birds all doing wondrous things, just carrying on with their birdy lives. We got off our bikes again to watch eagles and osprey and herons and cormorants and so many more. Saw this heron trying to hide while roosting in a tree.
Returned to eat a late lunch and enjoyed the sun. Even though the breeze picked up as we ate, the sky was incredibly blue-blue, and the sun was toasty hot.
Allen and Mary came for dinner around 6, and we grilled a pork loin. John, Brad, and Ellen brought their own dinners and we all ate together. Everyone enjoyed another campfire, topped off with a celebratory dram to mark the end of our trip, as well as Brad’s (Apr. 24) and Jack’s (Apr. 26) birthdays.
Tuesday, Apr. 23
Naturally, on the day we must leave, the temp soared to 52 degrees and the wind stayed dead calm. Heard several lonely loon calls in the early AM.
We enjoyed a leisurely morning and said goodbye to Brad and Ellen around 8:30. Watched a contest between a lone loon with a fish, versus an entire gaggle of cormorants. The cormorants were doing a tag-team “harass the loon so it drops its fish” game, with much of the action happening under water. The loon would dip below, with 2 or 3 of the cormorants flying over to where it dove and diving after it. The loon would pop up again and other cormorants would fly over to it and dive after it when it dove for cover again.
Finally, the loon surfaced and up-ended the fish so it would go down its gullet, and suddenly, all the cormorants looked like they were bored, as if they’d had nothing to do with the loon at all. They all went different directions after the game was won by the loon.
Once the water warmed up a bit, John took a final kayak tour before he began to load up for departure. We ate an early lunch and began breaking camp in earnest around noon.
Just as we were nearing our own departure time, we saw a Canada goose family swimming by. The water was a bit choppy by then, but the little goslings were pretty easy to see. The hard part was getting the youngsters and both parents in my camera’s frame at the same time. But I finally managed.
It was an uneventful drive back home, and we parked Roomba in the driveway near his garage overnight. All was well with the house and critters and we were thankful for Surya, our house sitter. Naturally, the first thing Mischief wanted to do was play ball.
I grabbed some meat and went out to see how Beebs (redtailed hawk) was doing, and she seemed quite keen on the food, but not so sure about me.
Thus the 2019 Spring Trip comes to a close. It was wonderful and fun and so very exciting to share with so many of our friends and to meet new friends along the way.
More adventures to come—watch this space for the next peregrinations we undertake with our Alto camper.
North Bend is among our favorite camping spots. It is enormous, and nearly everywhere there is good privacy between sites. The variety of sites available is awesome, but for this last segment of our Spring Trip we chose our “happy place,” an unserviced peninsula reaching into Kerr Lake (Buggs Island Lake) pointing to the south (North Carolina). We usually take site 117, so we face the sunset, but right across the road are excellent sites as well, which face the sunrise.
It’s a bit of a walk to the bathhouse, which is 4 private shower/toilet/sink rooms that are roomy and clean. Just as a side note, the dishwashing station is so far away that you need to drive up—and it’s not even at the newer of the biggest bathhouses serving this loop. You have to go to the old bathhouse—now closed to users except for the dishwashing station—which consists of no countertops, just a pair of deep utility sinks, set rather low (and back-achey). So it’s good to remember to take a table along for placing your dishes on.
While North Bend only offers aluminum can recycling, the tremendous upside is that one can get between 3 and 4 bars of LTE nearly everywhere.
For this trip, Jack had mentioned online that we’d be there, and a few of our Altoistes friends (fellow owners of Alto trailers) suggested they’d be interested in joining us. So, on Thursday, April 18, we arrived (after finding a self-help car wash in South Hill and hosing off all the pollen from the vehicles) to discover Mike and Barbara already arrived and getting ready to set up. Their friends who are on the waiting list for their Alto (July pickup), John and Dana, were set up in a tent next door to them; and down at the end of the spit were Hal and Dawn in their 1-year-old model 2114.
It was VERY windy when we arrived, so we decided not to erect the awning. But we did set up the Clam screen house, and Jack tied it down every way from Sunday to keep it secure. Rain was forecast for the night into Friday, so we didn’t take down or uncover the bikes.
We all agreed to meet at Hal and Dawn’s site for a Solo stove fire and dinner, but it was so windy, no one wanted to have their food get icy before they could eat it. Most ate in their trailers and joined us for the campfire afterward. Meanwhile, friends of Hal & Dawn who don’t own an Alto pulled into the site next to theirs and set up. We met John and Ginger as the fire kicked off.
We enjoyed a beautiful moon sparkling on the water, and the light lined up for me to get a great fire-and-moon shot.
Friday, Apr. 19 & Saturday, Apr. 20
Although the strong wind had kept us awake overnight, none of the called-for rain had yet arrived as I sat outside with my book and tea at 7:30 AM. I had a great time watching three bald eagles in a contest for territory. It began with the arrival of a juvenile.
There was a pack of vultures feeding at the nearby shore (a dead fish or such in the rocks?) and a juvie bald eagle flew very near to check it out. When it saw me so close, it peeled off to go across the inlet to sit in the “eagle tree” (named by us during last year’s visit when an adult frequently sat there). Shortly another slightly less mottled sub-adult came along and was either about to alight or challenge when an adult came and chased them both away, chittering and flying aggressively after the youngest. They all disappeared for a while over the trees, and then I saw two of them flying high and away to the east.
I also watched a common loon fishing along the shoreline. Checked out the list of birds one can see at Kerr Lake, and the common loon is an uncommon sighting. During our stay, we saw and heard lots of them (or maybe the same ones over and over?).
Later in the morning, I heard the peeping of an osprey, sounding distressed. I got my binoculars up in time to see an osprey with a fish being harassed by an adult bald eagle. The osprey was lithe and quick but burdened by its fish. The eagle was aggressive and determined, working very hard to get above the osprey—yet it was ponderous and clunky in flight, compared to its target.
Eventually, the osprey got high enough above the eagle to catch more of the wind and beat a very fast retreat off to the southeast. The eagle gave up and flew westward.
Not long after watching that contest, I began to feel raindrops—the rain began in earnest around 11. Jack and I pulled out the next jigsaw puzzle during the heavy rain, and the wind returned with a vengeance, rocketing the Roomba with pelting rain.
Before finishing the puzzle we headed to Clarksville to have dinner with Allen and Mary at their farm. In some places en route, the rain was so hard it was difficult to see the road, and we got quite wet racing from the car to their garage upon our arrival.
We enjoyed a lovely dinner of crab cakes and conversation, followed by a quick song or two around the piano. They have a lovely room with excellent acoustics where Mary plays the piano and Allen listens to his robust music collection with a high-tech sound system. A very comfortable spot—and Allen was also working a jigsaw puzzle—a beach scene in the dark blue of late evening. The rain had stopped and the wind calmed by the time we left.
Breakfast in the very windy and sometimes rainy Saturday AM (April 20) was drop biscuits in the Omnia oven, with the last of the Edwards ham we’d gotten in Smithfield.
Because the weather was still dicey, we stayed indoors and worked at finishing that diabolical jigsaw puzzle. Its theme was National Parks, and it was a “poster” of a bunch of our parks’ postcards—so every park was represented at least twice in the picture. It was 1000 pieces, which nominally would fit on our nook table, but 1000 is too many to fit unassembled and still be able to work on the puzzle. So we had to bring in our smallest camp table, cover it with a towel and place a whole bunch of pieces there. It was quite a bear and a gift from a friend we might not be able to forgive (just kidding).
As the weekend drew to a close, our Alto friends were leaving, and some Floyd friends were scheduled to arrive. Hari & Karl had come to join us in their Cassita, but the wind was so bad still, they didn’t want to try to get the tent for their kids set up. So they moved over to the C loop, where it was sheltered from the wind and decidedly warmer than at our site. They texted us this information and invited us over for a campfire. Before we headed to Hari and Karl’s after our cold dinner, I took a shot of the choppy water and clearing sky as the sun was setting. We enjoyed their Solo stove fire for a while, along with a few adult beverages, and closed out the evening with a forecast for better weather during our final days of vacation.
Tootled down the Southern Tip Bikeway (old Cape Charles Railway bed) to the beautiful and enormous wildlife refuge, which once was an Army base (see reader board text below). Rode down to the old gun emplacement and around some of the trails, over to the boat launch, and the marsh observation deck. Saw a juvie baldie and lots of other neat birds.
Reader board: Cape Charles Railroad
The Cape Charles Railroad once ran along this bike path, connecting lower Northhampton County to the town of Cape Charles. From there the New York, Philadelphia, and Norfolk Railroad carried produce from the Eastern Shore to northern cities.
In the early 1900s, local farmers carried their produce to Cape Charles by boat. During potato season, boats filled with produce clogged the town’s harbor. Building the Cape Charles Railroad solved this problem and for years daily trains ran between Kiptopeke (south end) and Cape Charles.
In 1941 the rail line was extended south to supply the 5000 troops housed in the new Army base, today turned into a wildlife refuge (but still features two of the gun turrets and one of the guns used in WWII to protect the Chesapeake Bay). After WWII, improved highways and the growing trucking industry led to the slow decline of the railroad, which closed in 1972.
Today, the bike trail is all that remains of the Cape Charles Railroad, and the path runs from the Wildlife Refuge and its exceptional Visitor Center (open only Thurs/Fri/Sat at this time of the year) adjacent to Route 13, ending at a 700-numbered road called Capeville Rd (near a truck stop and seafood restaurant called Sparky’s). But the effort continues to extend the bike path all the way to Cape Charles when possible. For now, intrepid cyclists must leave the protected path and use the wide shoulder of Rt. 13 (or a maze of back roads) to cycle into Cape Charles proper (which Jack & I did on April 17, but more of that later).
It was during this ride, especially on our return to camp, when we took some back roads instead of staying on the bike path, that we encountered a very gusty, strong wind that alternated between being a headwind and a crosswind. We were literally threatened with being knocked off our bikes by oversteering the cross-gusts. We also (Mary especially) discovered the thick, dense pollen that was blowing and collecting everywhere and on everything. Note the yellow tinge of the Big Front Window on our Alto in the below photo.
For John and Mary’s last night camping, we had a celebratory “weenie roast” (using bratwurst) over a Solo stove fire, even though it was pretty darn chilly.
Mary even cooked a s’more for herself and John (Jack and I don’t do s’mores). When it was full dark, Mary cranked up her “disco light” and we placed it around the two sites to see what it looked like. The best photo I was able to get was when it was sitting on J n M’s teardrop, Little Debbie’s doorstep. Pretty cool.
The next day, John and Mary got away about 10:30 (April 16). Jack and I sat around to let the sun warm us up a bit and then headed out for a long bike ride after lunch. Again, pollen counts must have been off the charts, and the wind had not abated by any measurable margin.
As we set off we stopped at an active osprey nest midway up the main road into Kiptopeke (we’d noticed it yesterday, but I couldn’t get any pix). The parents were around, and Mr. delivered a fish, but I wasn’t able to capture the carry or drop.
Taking the Bikeway as far as we could, we decided to head toward the Bay along the Custis Tomb road, west of Rt. 13. We rode down to the tombs themselves, on what was once the Custis Arlington Plantation, now a tony housing development. A short history of Arlington: Early in the 1670s John 2 built a three-story brick mansion on the south bank of Old Plantation Creek, in southwestern Northampton County, naming the house Arlington after the Custis family’s ancestral village in Gloucestershire, England.
The name of the mansion inspired Custis’s descendant, George Washington Parke Custis (adopted grandson of George Washington) early in the nineteenth century, to give the same name to his estate outside Washington, D.C.
There’s not much left except an open grassland where the grand home once stood, with some reader boards, and the view of Old Plantation Creek.
And of course, the tombs themselves, which bear mention. Both John Custis II and his grandson John Custis IV are buried there, within a brick-walled enclosure with a small wooden gate. The inscription on John 4’s marker is significant and rather funny. Both original inscriptions are unintelligible on the stones, but the preservation folks have reprinted them for posterity.
John Custis II’s inscription:
The one for John 4 (above) is notable on several counts, not the least of which is that he threatened to cut his son, Daniel Parke Custis, out of his inheritance if he would not place his requested wording on the marker. While John 4 had moved to Williamsburg in 1717, he specifically wanted to be buried on the Eastern Shore, under these exact words:
“Aged 71 Years and Yet lived but Seven years which was the Space of time he kept a Bachelors House at Arlington on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. This Inscription put on this Tomb by his own positive Order.” It was chiseled there by William Coley, Mason in Fenn Church Street, London.
Now, if several of these references (Governor Berkeley, Bacon’s Rebellion) have stirred your memories of Virginia history or snagged your “bells” on the names themselves (Custis being a part of Martha Washington’s as well as Mrs. Robert E. Lee’s names) you can click here for a somewhat cobbled-together history of those periods and people in Colonial Virginia’s history, up to (nearly) America’s Civil War.
Back at the long-gone estate, we pedaled into and out of the Arlington development, and then, turning randomly on the country roads to see waterfront where we could and stay off Rt. 13, we made our way back to Kiptopeke. We hadn’t ridden around the park itself yet (something we nearly always do, taking every left turn so you cover it all without getting lost, since you end up where you began eventually) and we learned some things and saw things missed the first time through, two years prior (for more, check the link here).
We went down to a boat launch, beach, and fishing area, adjacent to the “cement ships” used during WWII as cargo vessels so that the metal ships could be used in the war effort. They have been beached off the shore of Kiptopeke, as a breakwater. The 9 ships that comprise the breakwater now serve as structure for fish habitat.
Cement ships grounded as a breakwater and habitat area
Many fisher-people were enjoying the day
Pelican flies over an osprey nest on a cement ship
This area was also the northern landing site for the once-busy Kiptopeke Ferry, which carried passengers from Norfolk to the roads accessing Cape Charles between 1949 and 1964.
It is obvious this was a passenger throughway if you catch this sign buried in the woods near the Ferry Road, and adjacent to the Kiptopeke Hawk Watch area (where the country’s highest counts of migratory peregrine falcons have been documented).
Ride time = 2 hours
Stopped time = 1 hour
Distance = 21 miles
Average speed = 11 mph
Fastest speed = 17 mph
Not to belabor this entry overmuch, on Wed., April 17, we rode into Cape Charles for lunch at Tim’s Family Restaurant (good food) in the shopping district and pedaled around the neighborhoods for much of the day.
Before leaving camp, we noticed a family of squirrels living nearly above our heads in our major shade tree. The strangeness of the black plastic trash bag caught my eye at first, and then we watched the mama exit and leave the kids behind. There were at least two of them and they were stretching their legs a bit before they disappeared back inside (went down for a nap?).
Anyway, forgot to take my camera along on the ride, so not much more to report. After getting back to camp and before the teensy Cape Charles library closed, I drove back into town to upload the Janes Island Pt. 2 post. We tried to fix pizza for dinner, but it was too windy to cook properly on the grill (with our grill-sized pizza stone). Decent, but sort of like eating a big pizza cracker: crispy on the bottom and barely melted on top. We’ll try that dinner again sometime, without the wind.
This begins the chronicle of our Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) Cycling Adventure. Having few opportunities for wifi connectivity—either through no service or no time—I’m playing catch-up, here at the tail end of the trip (September 22 – Happy Autumn!).
Apologies for getting this out piecemeal—and you’ll notice there are a few times when I predict the future and refer readers to things that chronologically haven’t happened yet. Still, you’ll get most of the photos, and as much of the trip details as I can remember. There’s a lot to relate.
We’ll begin with Sept. 9 – 11
Rain and more rain caught us as we arrived at Lake Anna State Park (Virginia) on September 9 AND it was a slightly longer drive than we’d anticipated. Hadn’t left home until noon-ish, and as it turned out, rolled into our site #39 (with electric and water) around 5. It was nice to find excellent cell service at the campsite, and very very very few other peeps camping.
Much of our packing for this stage was sparse, as we needed to be completely out of food so we could turn off and leave empty our refrigerator prior to leaving Roomba at a friend’s house while we took our GAP ride. This stay at Lake Anna SP was merely the first stage of a longer bicycling ride package with Virginia Odysseys, the tour group with whom we often travel. We’d see Roomba again for some camping at the end of our travels.
ANYWAY, our dinner was sparse and all cooked inside since we also didn’t want to bring out the grill: re-heated pork loin, rice, and a simple can of green beans. It was warm, despite the wet, so we took our dinner outside, and heard an extremely strange call, nearby and quite loud. At first, we pegged it as a possible owl, but when I searched the darkening tree line for confirmation, we saw not an owl but an adult bald eagle. It was sitting in a high, thin tree across the roadway from us, preening on the tippy-topmost branch, which was bowed under its weight. It preened and watched us for a long time, as we watched it, and then it flew silently away.
This will have to be a great trip with a kickstart like that, huh?
Fog and rain stuck with us through the next day, so we didn’t pull the bikes off the rack to explore what looked like extensive roadways and interesting trails designated for bicycles. I did, however, head off to actually find the lake and took a very nice hike. Unfortunately, the lake itself was quite foggy—but I could easily see a large-ish heron sitting just off the beach area, on a thick pylon, preening and just hanging out. Heron and I spent a long time together, and it didn’t seem to mind my taking pictures of it in the least.
There were also some vultures sitting around trying to get dry in the wet. Good luck to you all!
I also took a wander through the woods around a peninsula, along a trail called the Railroad Ford trail (about 1.5 miles). Got a view of the lake a few times, with some fisher people silently trying to catch their dinners.
Also saw some bone yards — one fish and one mammal — along the path.
By the time I’d gotten back to camp, Jack had been using his robust cell service to find that Hurricane Florence was bearing down on the coast of North Carolina and Virginia, and we began to worry about our niece being at hour house, minding the shop, and enduring the worries of heavy weather while we were gone.
We were also somewhat concerned about Roomba’s weathering the storm in NoVA, in our friends’ yard with tall trees all around.
We discussed what it might take for us to either return Roomba home to his garage while we gave our niece a crash course on operating the generator and then joining the group on our northern journey slightly late; OR canceling the cycling adventure altogether so we all could return to deal with Florence as a family.
We talked to Allen about options; we talked to housesitting niece and Meadows of Dan neighbor John about the home front. We talked amongst ourselves about what seemed practical and what might be over-caution.
In the end we decided, with our niece’s assurances and great promises of help and assistance from neighbors; plus a check on the NoVA forecast from the perspective of our Roomba-sitter, that we would carry on and let the chips fall where they may. Our niece is a tremendously resourceful person, and the clincher was that she did not feel anxious or out of her depth, and so we thought we’d stick to our schedule.
Virginia State Parks, however, had a different idea altogether.
In anticipation of the slow-moving and huge (geographically) category 4 storm that could cause heavy flooding and high winds in the Commonwealth, the powers that be closed the majority (all?) of the state and federal campgrounds in Virginia. We had to leave early.
So on September 11, we dropped Roomba off for his “summer camp” sleepover adventure, and headed to the start point of our ride in Cumberland, MD early.
Due to the storm, about half of our expected number canceled, primarily due to the fact that so many of the group live near the coastlines. So there was no problem getting a room at the Cumberland Fairfield Inn for us at the last minute. By the time we got to Maryland, Florence was still appearing vicious, but was tipping its trajectory slightly away from Virginia. We were relieved to see that, but still concerned for all our NC and SC friends and family.
But we joined our group: 3 couples, plus one single and the tour leader couple. Nine adventurers, one van with Minnesota license plates (dubbed “Minni”), and 8 bicycles (one was a tandem). Let the GAP Odyssey begin!
We checked into site #75, in the Illini loop of Kickapoo State Recreation Area (SRA) in Illinois, after stopping at a really nice grocery store en route to pick up some dinner entrees. Possibly due to the difficulty of keeping the water pipes from freezing in winter, none of the sites have water, although many have electricity. There are also sections where tent camping and/or unserviced RV camping is the norm. Cell service at the site is okay—we had two bars of Verizon LTE. The bath houses are clean and sufficient.
#75 toward road
#75 from road
As is usual when we have stayed at Kickapoo in times past, an individual of the local deer population greeted us.
We enjoyed the company of this very interesting tree in our site, too. If we’d been staying longer, we probably would have used it to hang a hammock to lounge about some.
Instead of lounging, however, we set off on our bicycles to explore more of the park area than we’d ever had time to do in the past. This is a really huge recreational area, with hiking and mountain biking trails, and so many ponds and lakes I think one might get lost.
At the turn of the century, the area was a surface mining operation. We tried to ride to a mine “shaft” designated on the map, but it was gated—even though we rode around the gate, we stopped at a dilapidated old wooden bridge that had way too many saplings growing on it for comfortable crossing. The entire SRA is 2,842 acres, with 22 deep water ponds (221 acres of water) along the Vermillion River. The state purchased nearly 1,300 acres of the mining operation in 1939 from United Electric Coal Co. Most of the purchase price was raised from Danville, IL residents at the time. So if you’re a water or fishing enthusiast, it’s a great place to visit. Check it out here.
This view is the left of a map we found at the southernmost end of the SRA.
This view is the right of a map we found at the southernmost end of the SRA.
There is a ton of infrastructure around, but on a Monday, we encountered only enough vehicles to count on two hands; and we saw only a few individuals and families taking advantage of the vast amounts of fishing and paddling (most of the waterways are designated electric motors only) opportunities available. Maybe things are different on the weekends, but overall we found the place quiet and sedate. Surprisingly, there were very few printed materials available to folks who might want to know more about the trails, the history, or the amenities. Without actually riding on any of the “trails,” most of them appeared to be rugged, mountain-bike-only trails.
The park stretches on both sides of the I-74 corridor, with roadways going over and under the highway.
Here is a map of the whole shebang, that I’ve cut into two halves so it’s not so huge:
Our ride took us over all of the roadways designated in white, plus a few that don’t seem to be on any maps at all. The roadways and some of the put-in areas for boats and fishing were somewhat unkempt and in need of some TLC, but its an old park, after all. We took our time and tootled about for a couple of hours. It was pretty hot and muggy.
Ride time = 1:25
Stopped time = 1 hour
Distance = 12.3 miles
After our exertions, we treated ourselves to another grilled salmon dinner—this time eating delicious wild sockeye, with grilled squash and Uncle Ben’s Wild Rice. Yum.
We headed to Ohio the next morning, to Paint Creek State Park (near Bainbridge, OH), where it began to rain and refused to stop the entire time we were there. We also moved from central time to eastern time, and started the adjustment to misplacing an hour somewhere along the way.
Our site (#125) was the same one we’ve stayed at before, because so many of the sites are elevated (nice and level) parking areas where both sides of the “lawn” areas fall off sharply from the site, making erecting an awning difficult if not impossible. While #125 is rather sandwiched among other sites, the one to our “face” was empty this time, and with the rain keeping us indoors anyway, it was not a problem.
The bath house is fine, but augmented with a couple of toilet-only structures, and there’s a laundry, but no dish washing station. And the sites are all either unserviced or electric-only.
Since it was raining steadily, and since we stayed indoors the whole time, the lack of tremendous amenities was not a problem (check the link above to our prior, 2017 stop here to see more of the lay of the land). We have, however, thoroughly enjoyed a long bit of in-campground cycling in the past.
The State Park is another boating haven, with the reservoir created when Paint Creek was impounded providing power boat and jet ski entertainment, as well as more sedate fishing, canoeing/kayaking, and swimming opportunities. There are also hiking trails and a few Mountain biking trails, plus a disc golf course (and an archery range), but few cycling options other than the campground roadways. The park office offers wifi, but otherwise, cell service (Verizon) is non-existent.
We started a jigsaw puzzle we’d purchased in Michigan at the Sleeping Bear Dunes gift shop, featuring pretty Michigan rocks in the shape of the state. It was fun but very challenging.
To the patter of rain on the roof, we got about a third of it put together on our nook table before calling it a day at 12:30A in the EST, where we felt it was still 11:30 CST.
The next day, we continued putting the puzzle together through breakfast and lunch, and finished around 2 in the afternoon. We didn’t want to get it partway done and have to undo all our work before our departure on Wednesday, August 8, so we kept at it. And it kept raining.
For our evening’s entertainment, we watched the third of the three movies we’d brought along: Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, MO. We found it to be a tight, unsettling story very well told, with just enough ambiguity to provoke lots of thought. Troubling, overall—leaves you wondering what you might have done in a similar situation. Well worth the look-see.
Still damp, we left for Grindstone Federal Campground in the Mt. Rogers Recreation area, near Damascus, VA: our final stop along this odyssey, back to Virginia with friends and neighbors for the first time in nearly 6 weeks. What a fun adventure it’s been.
We arrived at Shenandoah River State Park in Virginia after a 4-ish hour drive from home, leaving there around 10A on Thursday, July 5. Since it was a one-nighter, we did not unhitch (except to level Roomba, but the hitch was hovering over the ball since we didn’t move the car) nor do our usual set-up routine inside.
The day was hotter than 40 hells outside, and inside Roomba, it was in the high 90s as we set up camp. We used the ceiling fan to vent some of the hot air, turned on the air conditioning, and hoped to have temps in the 80s by nightfall.
I’d prepped some ground lamb for a shepherd’s pie and put that together once the air was breathable inside, and heated it for a while in the Omnia. Since everything was cooked already it didn’t heat up the inside too terribly much, and we ate outside. Lordy it was hot.
The downside of Shenandoah River SP is that it’s a young campground, and there are few shady spots anywhere in the grounds. But we survived and slept okay.
Rolled out of there early Friday en route to Bald Eagle State Park (PA) for a two-night stay. Tried to find ice and a grocery store, but ended up doing without until the “Roomba Landed” at Bald Eagle. Conducted the whole set up routine, then ran out to find a cold dinner to bring back, ice for the cooler, and dinner for Saturday night also.
Found the absolute best butcher up the road (toward Lock Haven) in a burgh called Beech Creek. It was easy to miss, and even with the sign directing us, it was way way down a residential road and past an Elks Park (or some such) and we almost gave it up a second time, when we finally found Pete’s Meats.
Great stop. Got chicken salad for the night’s dinner (unfortunately, it had sweet pickles in it—not anywhere near my fave thing) but was good and edible; and a Delmonico steak for our Saturday dinner.
Watched the entire place fill up with campers into the evening. Next door at 9PM, the loop’s final slot was filled by the arrival of a pop-up. Felt sorry for those folks, just starting their setup as I waltzed off to brush my teeth, and the sun finished setting below the horizon.
Got up moderately early (after sleeping without the air conditioner, in 50-degree breezy weather under our blanket and with the ceiling vent on low) had sausage rolls for brekkie and then got on our bikes for a “reminder tour” of the entire park complex, which is rather huge. We’d done such a “take every left-hand turn” ride here a couple of years ago, but it was during the off season, and we were virtually alone. This time, everyone and his aunt with all the kids were headed to the lakefront beach, the marina, the canoe/kayak livery, the fishing spots, or the dog-walking areas.
In the end, we logged nearly sixteen and a half beautiful, cool, breezy miles by riding every paved left-hand road we met along the way, plus a few gravel parking loops as well. There might have been one or two right-hand turns in there, but that was only so we didn’t miss any lefts.
This truly is a beautiful park with tons and tons of stuff to do on the huge lake and off of it. Walking/trekking paths, bird-watching (we saw a juvenile bald eagle during our ride), shady lanes, an enormous Inn overlooking the lake, and all the water sports anyone could ask for.
Some of the scenes from our ride:
Returned to the campsite for lunch, and lounged for a while as the southwest-facing awning’s shade diminished steadily in the bright sun. Still, it stayed in the 70s to the low 80s outside, and we’d turned on the air conditioner early enough in Roomba to keep that temp in the 70s (even though the camper is not in any shade at all). There are sites that have larger trees than ours does, and all the sites are well separated from their neighbors by hedges and growth-left-tall between them. AND we had forgotten that not all the sites have water hookups (ours didn’t) and not realizing we’d be waterless, we did not fill our tank.
Still, for two nights water was not any kind of a problem because there’s a nice dish-washing station right at the bathhouse, which is near our site (Sycamore loop #87). Next time, however, we will try to get a site with more shade (although the breeze continued to be cool and refreshing).
This trip had commenced a couple of days after we picked up the “Beta Version” of the replacement awning made locally by our yurt-making friend. Many Alto owners want the older and now-discontinued version of the awning Safari Condo had offered as an option with their Altos. So we are testing a replica to see if folks like it, and if they’ll buy it from our source.
The one we’re testing has a couple of “warts” that will definitely need fixing if/when the awning goes into production. But overall we’re quite pleased with the Beta Retro-Awning. Next week, more of the folks who’d expressed early interest in our results will be able to see it “up close and personal.” So we’ll see how that goes.
We’re also testing a solar light string that we picked up to use when we won’t have power (or be able to erect an awning) at the Safari Condo Anniversary Celebration next weekend. Neat little “blue moons” charged with their dedicated solar charger. They’re kind of cool, although the blue light doesn’t provide the true lighting we like from our rope lights we normally string on the awning. But the blue moons are pretty.
Later, after showers and packing up and racking up the gear (decided against a later-evening bike ride) we re-heated some macaroni and cheese from our freezer, roasted some fresh corn purchased yesterday from an Amish family’s roadside veggie stand, and the Delmonico steak we purchased from Pete’s Meats. What a delicious meal! We even topped the perfectly-cooked meat with Jim Gauvreau’s “compound.” What a treat.
With the Solo Fireplace roaring and the sun setting, we began to enjoy the heat of the fire, and watched the birds go to roost in the “wild areas” of this marvelous park. Definitely a high recommendation to anyone passing through this part of Pennsylvania (Howard PA, near Lock Haven, PA).
Okay. I believe I have recovered enough from yesterday to actually offer a summary here.
We arose at 6A to be completely ready to ride by 9, when we were to meet Mary and Tom (from Canada) at the upper driveway of the campground, where it intersects the Cap2Cap Trail. There were several things we had to see to beyond biking gear: adjusting everything that helps keep Roomba cool during the sunny day, remembering to get some snacks (we were unsure exactly where/when we’d be fueling this ride along the way), putting on sunscreen and spraying bug dope, filling our water bottles, taking anything that might melt out of the car for the day, assuring the cooler would stay in the shade during the day, final pit stops (amongst a veritable run on the facilities, i.e, 3 toilets and 3 showers, from all the many, many peeps who’d come into the park to camp the night before), etc.
And we had to eat breakfast. Not the greatest time of my day to consume food, but I did anyway, despite it being too early for me to be hungry.
When we finally headed up to our meeting spot we realized that hundreds and hundreds of other people were gathered, parked in the day use areas, to bicycle along the trail. There were club groups, triathlon trainers, Boy Scouts, and various random riders unloading their bikes, taking exercise runs, getting instructions from ride managers and I-don’t-know-what-all. Hundreds.
When Mary and Tom arrived (they had ridden from Jamestown’s “Mile 0” having been dropped off there by Alan), Mary wanted to immerse herself into all that spandex and sprockets to use the facilities. Tom wanted to see our trailer, so we rode him back to show it off.
By the time we returned to the trail, many of the groups had already left, including the Boy Scouts. So we began around 9:15, and the first thing one does headed from here west toward Richmond is climb over the bridge spanning the Chickahominy River. Happily, there is a dedicated bike path for that, too — but it is quite narrow, and another group or two of “rabbits” (fast riders who often race—these appeared to be in training for an event of some sort) came along behind us.
As the day progressed, we experienced fits and starts of rabbits passing in pace lines, or the odd racing bike coming or going, but for the most part, the rest of the individuals and groups we saw along the trail were families and leisure riders like us. The morning was splendid: sunny and cool. The four of us rode a decent but not fast pace through cornfields, oat fields, past homes large and small, and many instances of tunneling through the shady forests along Rt. 5.
Our first mission for the morning was to link up with Michael and Kathryn, who were meeting us along the way, riding (with their bikes in tow) in the van with Alan. Our first break stop was the Charles City Courthouse, where we thought we might link up with them, but when Mary called, Alan was surprised that we had gotten that far so quickly, and suggested we head on along the trail and he’d meet us a bit later.
At the courthouse, there are pretty old buildings, a visitor center, some interpretive signage, and a convenience station. We rested a bit, took advantage of the facilities, and moved on.
Because our second mission for the morning was to assure that Tom would meet Alan and the van in time for Tom to get to the Richmond airport by noon-ish, so he could catch his flight back to Calgary, we increased our pace a little. It was still a cool, easy ride at this point (about 20 or so miles for Mary and Tom, about 13 for Jack and me).
We linked up with Alan, Michael, and Kathryn slightly farther along, at a gravel road. Alan saw us pedaling along, honked, and pulled across the trail (maybe around MP 28 – since the mileposts started where Mary and Tom started, they indicate their total mileage. Subtract 7 miles to get mine and Jack’s totals, where I reference MPs) and onto this road so we could gather up Michael and Kathryn on our journey. This might have been a bit before 10A.
Alan assured Tom we could make it to a nice park about 10-15 miles ahead by or around 11:30, which would be plenty of time for him to get to the airport by noon. So we carried on.
Around MP 32, we ran into another Bike Virginia crowd, headed east, opposite from our direction. We halted to hug necks and have a visit. Rosemary warned us that ahead on our path was a lot of chaff from the storm a couple nights ago, and since it was mostly shady, that some of the footing was hazardous.
As Mary and Jack chatted with Rosemary, Nancy and Lisa (?), Kathryn realized we were still 8 miles from our destination, 4-mile Creek Park. The clock was ticking, so she took off, Tom followed, and I was not too far behind. We kept a pretty steady pace, and shortly, Jack overtook us. Later Kathryn said that Jack “saved her,” because she was wearing out, leading Tom to the park at that pace (she’s had some health issues, otherwise she’d have been easily able to go the distance).
We got there (MP 40) and I recognized the coolers Alan had had in the back of the van (noticed when we stopped to get Michael and Kathryn) arranged on a picnic table. Leave it to me to find food on a bike ride.
Alan rode through with the van, hopped out, and asked us to help ourselves to lunch while he took Tom to the airport. Before they left, there might have been a small amount of Canadian spirits in the glasses they toasted to their friendship.
After a delicious lunch Alan had gathered from The Carrot Tree (including enormous carrot cake muffins), we set off again toward Richmond. It was in the 12:30 range when we began the last 11 miles into the city.
Somewhere around MP 48 or 49, the trail paralleled a very busy road. There was some climbing to be done, and trail use increased along this stretch, so close to the city. We topped a hill and got a nice vista of the Richmond—the city of my ancestors (and living relatives), the Capitol of Virginia.
From there, it was just a few miles to the final point, although I understand that there is some urban trail-riding designated to get visitors by bike into the heart of the city. We arrived at the part of the trail running along the canal, which is bordered by some very upscale (reclaimed) housing and warehouse areas. Folks living in the “River Lofts” building had individual garden plots along the trail and it was quite lovely.
But we stopped not at the final trail head, which was busy with cars and visitors and bikes and every manner of user and equipment (Great Shiplock Park). We went on, to the actual Trail Terminus, which is a bit farther along the canal, and you ride under the elevated train tracks for a while, past the Holocost Museum, among other destinations.
The terminus itself is under both rail and interstate overpasses, and offers sculptures, a map, seating, the area where canal boats are staged for tours, and a nice place for ducks and geese (there were a lot of droppings all over everything).
Here are some of the scenes down by the canal:
At this point, we decided we felt good enough to ride back to Chickahominy Riverfront Park. Mary and Michael decided to explore further into the city.
Both of us needed water, so Jack and I rode no more than about 2 miles climbing up out of town to a 7-11 store where we shared a Gatorade on site and bought a couple big bottles of water, one to refresh our bike bottles, and one to carry. Heck, it was only another 9 miles to our earlier lunch stop at Four Mile Creek Picnic area, our next goal, and headed on.
By this hour—maybe 2-2:30PM—it was terrifically hot. We were drinking frequently, and there is not a tremendous amount of cover/shade between the city and 4-Mile Creek. When we arrived at the picnic area, there was a Eagle Scout structure with benches and a roof (shade) available and we took it with great thanks to the Scout who built it. Our computers said we were on about mile 60 for the day. We rested a long time at the park, and took advantage of the single port-a-pot within a 20-mile radius. Only about 33 to go, to get to Roomba.
Still, we were feeling pretty fit. Our big leg muscles were only beginning to notice how difficult it was to start up again after stopping.
Maybe it was the heat. Maybe we were delirious. But we calculated our position (60 miles for the day) and added the estimated miles back to camp (33-ish) and realized we’d be at 93 miles on the day! Surely we could not stop a mere 7 miles short of 100 on the day, could we?
Jack and I have never ridden “A Century” before. Where Jack has come close on several occasions, I have never tried, nor have I had any ghost of a desire to ride 100 miles in a day.
But heck. Once you’re miserable, sore, tired, and (I have to admit) delirious, there’s a point beyond which you’re not going to get any more miserable, sore, tired or delirious. So we pressed on, imagining we wouldn’t feel too awful as we pedaled past our campsite for another 3.5 miles toward Jamestown, to turn around and go back for the 7 miles that would total 100.
Okay, we were wrong on that imagining. But I digress.
By the time we arrived at our next goal—breaking up a long ride into manageable pieces helps a rider not get overwhelmed—a place where we knew we could fill our water bottles (Charles City Courthouse—about mile 80 on the day) and empty our bladders (a good sign that we were drinking enough water), it was in the 4-5 o’clock range. You might note that we were pedaling much more slowly by this point in our trek, having taken about 2 hours to go ~20 miles (10 miles/hr).
The trail’s shade improved quite a lot between 4-Mile Creek park and the Courthouse. There were some climbs, but another plus was that it was quite level for the majority of the ride along there. And when you enter Charles City County, while there are some significant climbs near the county line, again, there is a lot of shade and a lot of level trail.
We spent quite a long time sitting in the shade there. We both ate a granola bar, and drank a full bicycle bottle of water each while we sat, topping them up again before we left. About 13 miles to the Chicka. Riverfront; about 20 miles required for the 100.
Nothing to do but put one rotation of the pedals after another.
It was terribly hard to cycle past “home.” It was 6:30 by this time, and both of us were rather wobbly on the tires—not so much that we were reckless or in danger. I simply found that I lost concentration pretty easily. We were both talking less and noticing our surroundings less, concentrating on the only things we could still concentrate on: one pedal; another; repeat.
One thing we did notice, however, was a small red vehicle sitting on the grassy verge between the road and the Trail. His direction was opposite the lane closest to the trail, and we could not figure how he got in that position. As we passed, the silly driver appeared to want to get himself out of there, but he had to cross into a deep ditch that the mowers avoided—and with this small car with next to zero clearance!
He got his right front tire into the ditch when a police car that was driving past noticed his odd position and flipped on his lights and pulled over to the opposite side of the road. By then we were out of sight of the situation. We saw another police car headed toward the first as we pedaled on toward Jamestown.
I mention this only to give you the idea of my mental state. Once we got to our turn-around point (we went all the way to MP 3 so we didn’t have to guesstimate half-miles), wanting to see what the outcome of all this fuss and bother along the Trail was one of the primary things that kept me going with only 4 miles to go.
As we were headed back to camp, I was disappointed to note that everything seemed to be resolved when I made it to the spot where I THOUGHT the vehicle had been. But ahead, I saw the flashing red-and-blue lights, and I knew I had misjudged the spot. Yay! Voyeur that I am, I felt it was all worth it to see what had been going on there. As we neared the red car, I could not for the life of me understand how the vehicle got there. If it had run off the road, it had done so very gently, as there were no skid or slide marks anywhere.
I suspect the idiot turned onto the trail instead of the road for whatever reason, and got far enough from one of the “No Motorized Vehicles” signs where side roads and driveways intersect the Trail, that he decided he couldn’t back up all the way to his entry point (without risk of running over a cyclist) and was trying to cross the verge to the road.
By the time we arrived back at that point, the guy and two policemen were on the Trail, and as we slowed to cycle past, I heard one of the officers say, “Okay I’m going to give the instruction again: I want you to take nine steps forward and then . . . ”
At that point, we moved out of earshot, but it was obvious they were giving an inebriation test to the driver. That might explain a lot. Awful glad no one was hurt.
We got back to Roomba around 7:30PM. Lordy what a long day.
It was all we could do to get a shower and eat something before falling into bed. Jack came back from the showers at about 9PM and asked if I had gotten thousands of sunset photos as the sun turned the sky all sorts of shades of red and purple. But no. I had noticed, but just couldn’t possibly be bothered to take even one photo. I know now why folks call it A Century: because it will only happen in my time on this spinning globe once in 100 years.
Cycle Stats June 18, 2016
Ride time: 7:25:43
Stopped time: 3:26:48
Distance 100.94 miles (Jack got 101 and change)
Average speed: 13.59 mph
Fastest speed: 27.14 (Jack got ~29 — inertial is a terrible thing)
Today, Sunday, we slept in, continued drinking a lot of water, ate a late brunch, and lounged around in the screened in porch with fans blowing on us all day. It’s hotter today than yesterday, reaching 88 degrees today. The campground is emptying out of RVs and loud people.
Still feel drained and tired. But hey—we did A Century. One more thing off the bucket list! Right? Am I right?
May 3, 2016 – we’re home and Roomba is unloaded (only just made it before the rain came), but not in his cozy home because we have to take him for an inspection this month. So the backing into the garage part will come later.
But let me back and fill a bit.
Since my last post, the keyboard for my iPad died, and I forgot to bring its charging cable. This makes typing slow and fraught with errors, as I return to learning how to type on the face of the iPad.
In addition, we got notice from our cell service that we are nearing the end of our data plan amount, so this post had to be delayed until we returned to wifi access. So it is a compendium packed full with our 3 days and 4 nights at North Bend Campground.
With a slow start to our first day in camp (Friday, April 29), and overcast but not raining weather, I decided to head out on the bike for a bit of exercise. Meanwhile Kerry and Gloria set up below our site on the beach for a bit of fishing. Jack was snoozing under the awning and I don’t know what Jack, Martha, John, and Lisa were doing.
I rode basically the same route Jack and I had ridden back in March, through all the loops of the campground, when we had come this direction and camped in Occoneechee. I was able to really gain some speed and crank-turns going across the dam toward the closed (until May 1) area D. That is truly a lovely little area with a beach and pretty sites. I ended up hitting that flat dam road and the camp loops twice during my tour, so I managed to work up 10 miles on the odometer.
A stop along the D-area dam was also a nice place for pix, and it tried to see Roomba from there, but could only see the roof of our screen house, and Kerry and Gloria fishing below.
For lunch, Jack and I cooked the truly glorious chicken, spinach, and cheese sausages we’d gotten from Trader Joe’s. On buns with a bit of mustard, it was a flavor sensation that we can repeat, as there were four in the pack and we ate only two.
Later, Jack, Martha, and my Jack took another, shorter bike tour of the area, and we saw some Canada geese with five little goslings moving along the grassy part of the shoreline. I wasn’t able to capture them very well, but some of those brown blobs in the grass are goslings.
We also rode to Area B, that Jack and I had eyeballed last month, and with more leaves on the trees now, we could readily see that we’d have plenty of sun for solar gain, but also good shade during the hottest time of the day. It’s an unserviced site, but right on the peninsula, with fresh breezes and very few neighbors.
As dinner time approached, we gathered at Jack and Martha’s site, enjoyed the stories, sunset, and watching the flora and fauna surrounding us. Martha had prepared a delicious meal we all shared and contributed to and we had a lovely time.
The plan for Saturday, April 30, was to head out with bikes on cars to Boydton and check out the Tobacco Heritage trail there. Kerry and Glo decided not to ride, but all the rest of us took advantage of the excellent weather, and we drove the route Jack and I had taken in the fall of 2014: the Beaches to Bluegrass section ride we’d ridden with Alan and Mary’s tour.
We found the rail head, and began strongly, on a pretty and nice under-tire surface, for about a mile. Then we hit the end.
Hmmm. We had thought the trail here was supposed to be about 5 miles long, but, unless we missed something (like maybe a section of the oath that was not cindered, and therefore inappropriate for Jack’s and my skinny tires), it isn’t quite there yet.
So we turned around and found lunch at a little diner called Rose’s Pizza Restaurant, right in what passes for downtown Boydton. It was an excellent meal, well-presented, quickly delivered and much appreciated even though we hadn’t really ridden enough to earn such a meal.
Since it was only about 10 miles from there back to camp, Jack especially, wanted to ride home. I was going to drive our car back while Jack rode, when Martha graciously volunteered to drive our car back so both of us could ride.
We set out and maintained a steady 16 mph pace, reversing the driving route that had taken us to Boydton. In no time, it seemed, we were back having exercised our heart rates and pedaling muscles.
Until dinner time, we hung out under the awning reading and such. I pulled out my binoculars to study the teensy birds foraging in the trees and undergrowth in front of me. I think I got a good read on three warblers, although it’s kind of difficult to tell for sure. While the black throated blue and black throated green females I’m pretty sure about, I believe I also saw a Tennessee warbler, which doesn’t nest south of the Adarondacks in NY (apparently), so this might have been a migrant. I’m quite sure that this is what I saw, but I’m always confused by warblers, so maybe not. Here are the photos I was able to find that most resembled my sightings.
Also, I didn’t actually see but heard several kingfishers plying the shallows around the cove. A while after Jack had disappeared from our lounge area, I began to get chilly. So I closed up the windows and turned on the heat pump for a bit of warmth.
I got everything ready for us to quickly grill some hamburgers to be served on pretzel buns and to heat up the mac-n-cheese with Hatch chilies we’d gotten at Trader Joe’s. After an adult beverage up at John and Lisa’s roaring camp fire, we all departed to “fix n’ fetch” our separate dinners, then re-gathered there to consume more of everything: food, drink, lies, tales, and jokes.
As the forecast had predicted, it began raining in the night, and we awakened on May 1 (happy European Labor Day, and Birthday to my niece, Lee) to gray drizzle.
To celebrate a new month and all that comes with fresh starts and birthdays (and to console ourselves for the bad weather that was forecast to stay with us all Sunday) we cooked cinnamon rolls in the Omnia oven for breakfast. I went on a cleaning spree and re-organized all our various stuff and trappings, high had gotten helter-skelter in Roomba.
Then we sat down in our nook to read and play games, write and plan our final dinner of this trip: bratwursts with grilled onions and peppers, fresh grilled asparagus, and fingerling potatoes roasted in the Omnia with rosemary and garlic. When the rain eased for a while in the afternoon (and the temps rose), we moved our lounging out to the screen house and I did a bit of digital drawing (as yet unfinished). Kerry and Gloria headed down to the beach to try another round of fishing between showers.
Jack and Martha experienced some anomalies with their RV, and the boys beavered during the day to fix or mediate the issues, which were electrical in nature. I stayed out of their way, except to find the electrical tape we’d stored in Roomba for use in the fixes.
After all was calm again, we performed another “fix & fetch” dinner to gather and eat at Jack & Martha’s site for this last night in camp. Another lovely, cloudy sunset over the water, despite the all-day rain forecast, and we enjoyed our time so much, we began planning for another gathering, possibly adding in another Meadows of Dan couple if they’d be willing, for later in the summer.
Our departure AM dawned sunny, but clouds on the horizon and the notes from folks back home indicated a swift departure might be best to beat out the rains apparently deluging Floyd County. Jack, Martha, Gloria and Kerry all broke camp and left before Jack and I had eaten breakfast. We weren’t quite as stirred up about driving in the rain or even arriving in the rain, so we took a bit more time and got away around 11:15AM. Listened to our audiobook en route and had an uneventful drive home, were greeted by our house sitters, who were packed and ready to leave for the Charlottesville area, chatted with them about this and that. We were very pleased to hear they had taken full advantage of our regional amenities, including the best restaurants in Floyd, the Old Mill Golf Course and their restaurant, hiking trails, Buffalo Mountain, and nearly everything we had suggested they might enjoy. They even straightened up and sorted out our refrigerator storage and spice/herb racks. We hope to have them back again some day.
So ends another Blue Roomba adventure. Until next time, may the road rise up to meet you and your way be safe and joyous.