GAP 1, Lake Anna State Park

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!

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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. 

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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!

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Madison, Wisconsin

July 29, 30 & 31

Said goodbye to Lake Winnebago and hello to Babcock County Park Campground, confusingly, part of the Dane County Park system.

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At first impression, the Babcock campground was unimpressive. We missed it on the first pass, and it’s right next to a heavily-travelled road, so we saw what we might be in store for as we passed: big rigs chock-a-bock in a small, woody park.

But when we pulled in and saw our site (#5), on the opposite side of the total 25 site options from those next to the road, we were more pleased. The hosts, Tom and Mary Lou, are very welcoming and helpful and we’re on the side of the small grounds nearest the Yahara River, with a large lawn behind our trailer, and lovely sugar maples keeping things shady everywhere. The fire ring is out in the lawn, and there’s no problem setting up the screen house behind Roomba on the expansive lawn.

There are no gates, although a sign says “no visitors after 10P” which is also quiet hours. So we were a little apprehensive about security. But with the hosts knowing us and our neighbors knowing us (a couple who share long-distance trucking duties when they’re working) we felt easier after we’d all spoken after the first day.

After taking some time with the setup (we also had to fill our water tank on board, as there’s water, but not at the sites, which are all electric), we asked Tom about reaching a cycling path from the campground, and he directed us to a neighborhood nearby. We decided to walk up there a ways to see what we could see after our dinner, and we caught the sun setting over Lake Waubesa, which the Yahara River flows into, and on which we are situated to the east. I had to stand in someone’s driveway to get the shot, as the whole lakefront is “owned,” but it was a nice walk with not only the pretty sunset to see, but really nicely-done homes with flowers in the yards, and a mix of contemporary and more traditional architectures.

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July 30

Took our bikes into the neighborhood we’d walked last night, but down along the neighborhoods along the lake front, headed north toward the dedicated bike trail that winds up in downtown Madison.

It was a really fun ride, and we passed over what Tom reported is the longest boardwalk in the US, across one of the Lake’s bays. We saw some sand cranes after we moved away from Lake W and toward the urban areas of Madison’s suburbs, but still had a nice dedicated, paved path. Saw a couple of neighbors along the way.

Shortly thereafter, we found the Capital Trail closed for re-paving. A local rode up and offered some work-arounds, and suggested that some folks are still using the leg we needed to get into town, because he’d heard that they hadn’t begun the construction there. So we took a chance, and appreciated his advice, which included how to re-locate the Capital Trail on the other side of the construction.

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With a bit of jiggering, we made it into downtown, and found our way to the “Lake Loop” which was not marked on our map, but had indicators painted on the path and sidewalks. One of the primary problems with the map we had was that it did not include any crossing street names, which left us somewhat asea as we negotiated the more urban parts of our ride.

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Downtown Madison from the bike path.

We saw one part of the trials or the warmups for the CrossFit competition that is going to consume Madison over the weekend: One of the city’s boat ramps to Lake Monona was closed for folks to swim out to a float where (presumably) their efforts would be timed. We also saw lots of signage and other types of infrastructure for the event being installed by work crews. Our hosts had previously mentioned the CrossFit competition, and said that by Thursday and Friday, the campground would be full of young folks with chiseled bodies either competing in or watching the series of events. 

On our ride, we got a bit off kilter when we decided that a real circumnavigation of Lake Monona would take us back where we started, or nearly so—and we thought there were at least segments of bike path to take us there. But as the clouds darkened and we heard thunder in the distance, we had to rely on Jack’s “spidey sense” to figure out general direction, and our positioning without any references to cross streets. We ended up with a pretty nice round path with a small “tail” on it to get up and back to Babcock Park.

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BikeStats

  • Ride time = 1:53
  • Stopped time = 56:40
  • Distance = 22.85 mi
  • Average speed = 12MPH

I had some fun taking pictures of a heron that landed on the little river near us (the rain did not hit locally), and we grilled some bratwurst, grilled some veggies and corn, and had rice for dinner.

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July 31

We’d arranged (before we left home) with my college roommate and W&M Women’s rugby teammate, Val, to meet her and Jody halfway between their home and our campsite, in Delaplane, WI. About an hour’s drive for each of us, we chose the Waterstreet Brewery’s “Lake District” location (they’re a Milwaukee brewery) for lunch.

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It was a wonderful reunion, although something came up and Jody was unable to join us. The last time we were in Wisconsin, we had linked up with them at their lovely home in Racine, and since then, Val has retired and she showed us photos of her garden, which has matured and possibly doubled in size since we saw it in person.

We had a decent meal, but it was the catching up talk that was the main dish. We had a truly wonderful time.

After our meal, we returned to camp and I began to get myself ready for starting work on the morrow, at the NABA Convention, held at the Madison Crown Plaza in town.