North Bend Federal Campground, VA

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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Biscuits in the pan before dropping the lid

 

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).

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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.

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Kickapoo/Paint Creek

August 6-8

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.

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Camping area map: detail from a larger, elderly map. That’s I-74 west and east on the right.

As is usual when we have stayed at Kickapoo in times past, an individual of the local deer population greeted us.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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The park stretches on both sides of the I-74 corridor, with roadways going over and under the highway.

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I thought it odd that there was no safety structure along this overpass, keeping folks from pitching themselves or objects off the bridge . . . 

Here is a map of the whole shebang, that I’ve cut into two halves so it’s not so huge:

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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.

Bike Stats:

  • 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.

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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.

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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.