GAP 2, Cumberland, Maryland

Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018

Before jumping into the shuttle service van that was scheduled to drive us, our bikes, and all our gear (in Minnie-Van) to a ‘burb of Pittsburgh (West Homestead, PA), we had time to take a quick walking tour of Cumberland, mostly along the waterfront GAP trail, and up Washington St. to the famous Episcopal Church on the hill, in which Tiffany windows glow even with the dull, cloudy day on which we started our adventure. But more of that in a bit.

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There’s a lot of history in Cumberland, where a very young George Washington surveyed the area, and where Wills Creek (channeled with concrete in the photo to mitigate flooding in the downtown historic district) meets the Potomac River. Historically, Cumberland was first a Fort, then a transportation hub; today, it is a hub for recreation, where the C&O Canal towpath trail meets the Great Allegheny Passage rail-to-trail conversion: Mile 0 of the GAP trail. The terminus of the C&O Canal, in the ebb of its heyday, became the beginning of the first US National Road.

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As a National Historic Place registrant, Cumberland has a lovely pedestrian area where old building facades have been preserved and are in use as boutiques, restaurants, businesses, and shops, accessible from the GAP trail. Much artwork adorns the Wills Creek area.

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This is just a small section of an enormous mural adorning two complete building walls framing the corner of the pedestrian mall area.

As we walked across Wills Creek and up Washington Street toward two amazing tours Allen had arranged for our group (one was a Historic Society preserved Victorian home with most of the period furnishings and structure intact), we saw many homes and churches in the oldest, highest-above-the-river part of town. Among the prettiest is the one at the top of this blog post. 

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Some of the homes need a bit of TLC.

The original Fort Cumberland, a colonial-era stronghold, was built atop the high ridge, with a protective (and controlling) view of the mighty Potomac River.

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Artist’s interpretation of what Fort Cumberland might have looked like when it was used in the 1700s. This image shows the Potomac River in the foreground, with Wills Creek joining it near the lower right—that is not a turn in the Potomac, but rather the two flowing together, then meandering off to the right, out of the picture and toward the Atlantic.
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View of Cumberland today from the old fort site.

At the time, much more of the municipality was on high ground. The earth has been removed for building and roadways over the long years since it was just a fort. Now Cumberland occasionally floods. This knowledge and seeing where our cars would be parked for the trip left the three couples who had vehicles in the Canal St. long-term parking area slightly concerned about local flooding with Florence’s potential trajectory. What we hadn’t counted on was the pigeons—more on that in the final installment of the cycling part of this trip.

Upon the site of the old fort was built, in the 1800s, the Episcopal Church with the Tiffany windows.

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The neatest aspect of this building, in my opinion, is the way in which they preserved some of the abandoned fort infrastructure, and used the old fort’s tunnels upon which the church sat as a stop along the Underground Railroad. For many, many years the pastors of the church hid, nurtured, and transferred escaping slaves to the next stage of safety along their road to freedom. 

Our guide began our tour with a digital “playing” of the old organ (complete with a heraldic horn section). The congregation’s organist is also an organ tuner and builder, and he’s adjusted the equipment so it can be played digitally or manually; from the back of the room or from the front (during special musical events). It was pretty awesome.

Louis Comfort Tiffany was the talented son of Charles Tiffany, the jewelry store owner. L.C. Tiffany was an interior designer in the mid-1800s, when his interest turned toward the creation of stained glass. He opened his own studio and glass foundry because he was unable to find the types of glass that he desired in interior decoration. He wanted the glass itself to transmit texture and rich colors, and he developed a type of glass he called “Favrile,” which he patented in 1892. Favrile glass has a superficial iridescence, which causes the surface to appear to shimmer, and “collects” light from that which surrounds it. “It is distinguished by brilliant or deeply toned colors . . . iridescent like the wings of certain American butterflies, the neck [feathers] of pigeons and peacocks, and the wing covers of various beetles” — according to Tiffany himself.

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While this image appears blurry (and it was, in fact, taken from a long distance, but with the camera solidly on a firm surface) I think it is a technique used by Tiffany to affect a “painting” or brush stroke with the glass. I may be wrong, but I think it’s made of streamer glass. The phrase “streamer glass” refers to a pattern of glass strings affixed to the glass surface, to represent twigs, branches, and structures like feathers. Streamers are made from molten glass that is vigorously swung back and forth to stretch into long, thin strings which rapidly cool and harden. These are pressed onto the molten surface of sheet glass during the rolling process and become permanently fused.
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This Tiffany triptych is not backlit. Instead, it’s made using many, many layers of glass, to “shadow” areas, and to leave other areas able to capture the ambient light and direct it—as with using lighter-colored paints—to illuminate the areas in the scene that either show light or reflect it. Here the light comes off the actual torch raised above the saint’s head, and the glass gathers light where the torchlight hits the martyrs bodies in the scene.
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Another Tiffany window one might think is backlit, but it is not. There are many layers of glass in the darker portions to create the many, many shades of blue throughout. It is an incredibly heavy window.

One of the stories told by our guide involved the integration of the church, just after the American Civil War. Some of the former slaves had been “raised” to be Catholic, but when they got to the north (Maryland was actually a slave state prior to the ACW) they were not welcomed to attend the Catholic Church’s services. One of the white friends of the Catholic congregation asked the Episcopal priest if the former slaves could attend his church (same fellow who ran the underground railroad stop) and he said, of course. There was an upper concourse set aside for the black folks—but even then, some of the Catholic blacks would not attend a non-Catholic service.

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Along this wall above the main floor was once the “blacks only” balcony. In the mid-twentieth century, it was reserved for the choir. And finally, it was removed and renovated as it appears today.

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Later in the tour, we saw the original drawings for a cross and candelabra, also designed and made by Tiffany for the church. None of the pix I took of the golden items nor the drawings turned out, I’m afraid.

As we entered and exited, I was interested in the patterns of the limestone slabs in the walkways, after years and years of erosion. They looked a bit like those relief maps of the ocean floor.

After admiring the “above ground” amenities of the structure, our guide took us downstairs, into the tunnels. There were rooms, narrow stairs, thin “runways” and low-hanging structural elements everywhere. It was frightening to think of a live person with black skin coming here for refuge and respite after a long, dangerous trip from Georgia or Virginia. Afraid every second that he or she would be betrayed. Near starvation or looking over the edge toward starvation at every moment. Too tired to sleep—too afraid or hungry or sick or injured to rest.

The fort’s ammo magazine and all the protective below-ground structures were made by erecting wooden forms and filling behind them with clay and rocks from the river. Those hardened and, with the exception of a few river rocks that have come loose over the centuries, the walls have held up to this day.

Our guide told us that, while the fort used long, underground tunnels to access water for the fort’s uses from Wills Creek and the Potomac, by the time of the underground railroad, the same tunnels were used to get human cargo from the “bad part of town” (the red light district, near the waterfronts) up to safety, nourishment, and rest under the church, and then off to the north and across the Mason-Dixon Line, a mere 10-ish miles by crow flight from Cumberland; Milepost 20.5 along the actual rail line that is now the GAP trail; and freedom for the escaped slaves.

There was much more to Cumberland that we did not see, including the structure out of which George Washington worked, and the Visitor Center. But we had a shuttle to catch at 2PM.

And we were off to West Homestead, a suburb of Pittsburgh. 

It was every bit of a 2-hour drive up interstates and toll roads, but we made it without too much problem, except for missing a turn during Pittsburgh rush hour.

But the hotel we occupied, Hampton Inn, was right on the trail and the Monongahela River (the GAP trail heading east follows the Monongahela until McKeesport, where it turns to follow the Youghiogheny River (pronounced Yawk-a-gain-ee, or the Yawk for short). Milepost 150 of the GAP trail is at what the city calls “The Point” where the Monongahela and the Allegheny rivers come together to create the Ohio River. 

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Homestead was once known as the Steel Capital of the World, symbolizing Pittsburgh’s dominance in the industry. Our city guide (tomorrow) reminded us that, at its peak of production, Pittsburgh was commonly known as “Hell with the lid off.”

Homestead’s flagship complex of US Steel was shut down in 1986. At that time, it had 450 buildings on 430 acres, and employed 200,000 workers throughout its years of making unprecedented amounts of steel.

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West Homestead is a mere 10 miles from Pittsburgh’s Point, and along with other suburbs of the city, is re-making itself as a shopping and recreation/tourism draw. Bravo to Pittsburgh and environs for making progress cleaning up and re-focusing the city.

We took a quick shake-down ride to assure our bikes made the trip in good shape (about five miles) and then got cleaned up to walk across the road to an enormous shopping area, with beautiful plantings and flowers everywhere, and more shops and restaurants than you can imagine, including Rockbottom Brewery.

Our group dinner was at Bravo Cucina Italiana, and it was excellent and fun.

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As we walked back to the hotel, we noticed a poster, but couldn’t quite get the idea of Indoor Axe Throwing into our heads.

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Tomorrow, Pittsburgh and a grand bicycle tour of the city!

 

April 19 & 20 – Smith Island & Depart Janes Island State Park

April 19 & 20, 2017

We awoke on Wednesday, April 19, to 48 degree weather, with a serious overcast. The weather apps, however, said that there was no chance of rain.

Jack had investigated the options for a ferry ride to Smith Island, just off the tip of Crisfield, along the Chesapeake Bay a ways. We’d heard that there were no cars and only golf carts on the island, and folks reported that it was a good place for cycling.

Evidently, one family owns most of the concessions involving Smith Island, and Jack happened to talk to Captain Terry when he called. Bikes are allowed, and it’s $25 apiece round-trip, and he left the Crisfield harbor at 12:30 sharp. Jack asked if there was anything open on the island where we might be able to grab a bite, and he said sure (turns out it also is a family business).

Anyway, we rode to Crisfield, bundled up with our rain jackets and with our long pants stuffed into our socks to keep them out of the chain, and when we arrived about 3 miles later, we were confused because there were 3 boats that had “Captain Jason” in their names, and we were unsure which one we might board.

All 3 Jasons were headed to Smith Island, and one larger boat, that took aboard lots and lots of freight and mail and FedEx/UPS packages while we watched, was headed to Tangier Island.

The front-most Jason was being loaded with construction materials by a man and a woman, and we finally spoke to them and discovered their boat was going to the part of the island (actually, there are several) that had a town called Tylerton, where they lived (and obviously were building). They said we wanted either of the brothers, captain Larry or Terry, depending whether we were headed to Rhodes Point or Ewell. Clueless, we wandered through some of the options with her, and she decided we wanted Ewell, where there is a restaurant and a museum, and therefore we wanted Captn’ Terry. She pointed him out sitting in a pickup and he waved at us. And she said we were wanting the red Jason.

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Captn’ Terry in the Pilot seat of Red Jason.

Shortly, a gaggle of women approached and spoke with Captn’ Larry for a while, and then the first mate showed up for the red Jason, and we later learned his name was Hoss, and he’s a fine artist working in acrylics, does water analysis for NOAA, and digs graves on Smith Island when he’s not helping brother Terry out on the ferry line. Hoss could fast a boat quicker than I’d ever seen before.

The ladies were part of a book club, and they all lived in DC, on capital hill, specifically. Their group had read a series of essays on the Eastern Shore, and Smith Island figured prominently in those writings, so the four of them decided to take a day trip to experience it for themselves.

Hoss was a fine gentleman who knew quite a lot about the life and times of Smith Island, being as he lives there. The gaggle of book clubbers (who were all intending to participate in the March for Science on Saturday, April 22; and who had all been at the Women’s March on January 21) asked Hoss a lot of questions and we all received the benefit of his lore.

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Hoss offloading my bike at the Smith Island Dock.

12:30 sharp we set out for the island, passing a few (but not many) points of interest. It also appeared to me that the three Jasons plus the boat going to Tangier were all racing to see which might arrive first, with the construction materials boat leaving the dock considerably after the rest of us. The Tangier boat peeled off pretty quickly, but Captains Larry and Terry vied for the channel to their respective parts of Smith Island for a while, with Larry usurping our lead.

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Leaving Crisfield Dock. You can just see the hull of Captn’ Larry’s Jason to the left of the photo, and the huge Tangier Island freight-boat at the right as we all left the dock area together. The white “Third Jason” with the construction materials is off-photo at left, and departed later than we.
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Tangier Island boat peels off from the herd.

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In the photo above, White Jason is far left with the Tangier boat and Larry’s Jason to the right as we left Crisfield.

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The Race Begins.

There are various small islands out in the bay, including a sand bar with a lone chimney on it that Hoss said had been a seafood processing plant back in its day, but the water came along and cut it off from the mainland of Crisfield, so it was abandoned and all blown out into the bay, with only the chimney remaining.

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Random Island.
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The Chimney Island.

Next we saw a tumble-down wreck of a structure that Hoss said had been a gun emplacement during WWII, when folks thought the Bay needed protecting from invasion.

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As we approached the Ewell dock, our pace slowed and Hoss pointed out a flock of wild goats that occupy one finger (or one separate island?) of the Smith Island complex. He explained that they went feral many years ago, and the human population just lets them be.

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We docked and disembarked to a place that looked like it was in dire need of a little TLC.

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Hoss is at the left with Captn’ Terry at the right when we disembarked in Ewell.
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Passengers at the Ewell dock.

Here’s what the historic marker about Smith Island said:

Maryland’s only remaining inhabited offshore island group, named for early land owner Henry Smith. Charted by Captain John Smith in 1608 as “The Russell Isles,” English farmers John Evans and John Tyler came via Accomack County Virginia to become the first permanent settlers in 1686. During the Revolutionary War, the British used the island as a base of operations. Once the home of Joshua Thomas, famed Methodist evangelist who held the first camp meeting on the island.

The “museum” was closed and an obvious restaurant right on the “harbor” was closed, but Captn’ Terry pointed out a place along the waterway with a brown roof where we could get a bite.

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As you can see, the village of Ewell is not particularly large.

After finding the place (we rode around a while and ran into a mallard duck family along a ditch as we sought the building with the brown roof), which was called the Harborside Restaurant (no harbor per se, and not much of a restaurant, but more of a convenience store with very few items on the shelves in any case) we enjoyed a totally “meh” seafood sandwich apiece, tastes but greasy onion rings, and signed up for their famous Smith Island Cake, at $4.50 each (small) slice. Not sure why they’re so famous, but they claim that theirs is the “national cake of Maryland.” It has many, many very thin yellow cake layers, with also very thin separations among the layers of chocolate icing. The pieces we had were good, but I found the icing to be sugar-grainy and just so-so overall. Definitely not a great buy at $4.50 a slice (and $40 a cake, as we noted because our book clubbers were each taking a couple whole cakes home with them). Most troublesome of all is that, like the ferry tickets themselves, this was a cash-only establishment. Our cash was running low after giving Captn’ Terry $60 ($5 extra for each bike).

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We rode our bikes out to Rhodes Point, passing an open dump that had been set alight, and more dilapidated houses and cars. And certainly, while there are folks on the island who get about in golf carts, there are also a significant number of cars per capita, and the roads can barely hold two vehicles passing one another.

Here’s what the informational marker for Rhodes Point says:

During the Revolutionary War, one of the three Smith Island villages was known as Rogues Point, because it was a hiding place for unscrupulous bandits known as “Picaroons.” The Picaroons used shallow drafted barge to roam the lower Chesapeake to raid many mainland settlements, and quickly return to their island marshland hideout at Rogues Point.

They sold their stolen loot to a Smith Island “fence, Marmaduke Mister, who resold his ill-gotten booty to anyone willing to buy it, including the British Navy who sometimes even bought stolen American sailing schooners, which they used to help patrol the lower Chesapeake Bay during the Revolutionary War.

After Lord Cornwallis surrendered to American General George Washington at Yorktown, VA, in October of 1783, new island settlers began to settle Rogues Point to farm and raise cattle. The name “Rogues Point” endured for another 102 years until 1885, when it received its first post office. It was decided by the people of Rogues Point to rid the island community of it embarrassing name. The new post office was named for a prominent English Missionary, Sir John Rhodes. Since the year of 1885, Smith Island’s smallest community has been known as Rhodes Point.

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Osprey on its nest at Rhodes Point.
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Strange Rhodes Point house.

We tried to ride into a wildlife refuge, but there was no path; and after touring a couple of the neighborhoods (if you can call them that), we stopped at the church so Jack could do some “find a grave” discoveries and photos.

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Hoss did not accompany us back to Crisfield, and the return trip was a bit rough with the wind behind the boat blowing the diesel fumes into the sitting area. I ended up standing the whole way, which wasn’t a big deal as the crossing took only about a half-hour each way. Still, it was cold and getting colder, and once we landed, we still had 3 miles to ride back to camp.

Which is also a rather amusing story. We clocked the 3 miles to Crisfield to catch the ferry, and both of us forgot to turn off our cycling distance tracking apps. So when we got to Smith Island, Lo and Behold! we had 14 miles on the odometers. So we knew that the crossing is about 11 miles. We got some “bonus” mileage on this particular trip, because the sum total of our riding on Smith Island was a whopping 7 miles.

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Jack pretty much summed up my feelings, when one of the book groupers asked what we thought. He said, “It makes me sad, to think of all those lives and all that community just lost, atrophied.” Sad indeed. But my thought was that through this entire cash economy, the islanders themselves might not mind living more than a little under the radar.

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Goodbye, Smith Island.

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A boat overtaking us en route back to Crisfield.
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Hello again Crisfield.

After stopping by the grocery store about 5:30P on our way back to camp, we got a couple of burgers and a tomato and cooked the burgers on the grill and had some tater tots warmed up in the Omnia oven with the Asian Cucumber salad I’d prepped before we left, and Jack made up some of our fast-and-easy guacamole in the Moullineux chopper, that uses no electricity and makes exactly enough for two. Yum.

April 20

Not much to say about the break down of camp and the trip to Kiptopeke State Park, 2 hours south, right at the end of the peninsula. We were sad to leave Janes Island State Park because it’s been so lovely to be there. It is definitely a place to which we shall return in the very near future.

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Kiptopeke is a nice State Park, with grassy, flat sites, but I can imagine that in the summer when scads of people are here, then the packing-in would be cheek-to-jowl. There are few trees where the RVs can go, and I would also think it would be hotter than a firecracker in high summer. But the sites all have electric, water AND sewer, and in late April, there still are many many open sites. We got site #22, in the C section, at the turn of the cul-de-sac.

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The bathhouses are very large and clean and nice, and there’s a laundry. I understand there’s a beach but we will have to explore that later. Also, they have a robust WiFi system for devices but it’s a fee-paid service. Supposedly, you ask to join and the payment “screen” automatically comes up and you can get three levels of service at an hourly, daily, or longer rate. I was unable to log in my laptop, it not being a device and not automatically generating the payment screen I needed for full access. But no matter, we have cellular data we can use, and that’s pre-paid.

We have a large box-on-wheels trailer on one side of us, and a very unusual neighbor on the other: a pair of killdeer are nesting on the site-but-one along from us, and we’ve been keeping a close eye on their process and have been rather surprised at their acceptance of us so near. The Hosts said this pair has done this for the last several years, costing them a campsite, because they have roped it off and put cones and hazard tape all around so folks making their way to the bathhouse don’t inadvertently step on the eggs.

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We’ve seen both parents minding the nest, so unsure if this is mom or dad, but it’s just below the orange tape/fence in the rightish quadrant of the photo, standing next to the nest.

We headed into Cape Charles to a restaurant down by the harbor recommended by our camp hosts, and had an early dinner. The place was called The Shanty, and it was quite the happening place I had fish and chips and Jack ate an oyster basket. The food was quite good, and the fries had been seasoned with Old Bay, which was really tasty. But the fries didn’t have a long “shelf life” and got quite stiff and chewy once they were cold.

Oddly, they sell a lot on the ambience of sitting on the deck and watching the sunset, but the view actually sucks. Adjacent to the restaurant is a — well I honestly don’t know if it’s a construction site or a freight-loading area, but either way, it’s truly ugly. You have to sort of see past all that to get to the sunset and the bay at all. But the place was full of the quirky locals of Cape Charles and the visiting tourists who’d been on the beaches or along the shopping streets. Cape Charles is definitely an interesting place worthy of discovery.

Until then, good night.

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Long Ride to Deal Island, MD (Ap. 17)

I have fallen behind in my blog posts of our Eastern Shore trip. We have had some anomalies with our connectivity here at Janes Island SP. It’s been strange enough that Jack and I have come up with some interesting “conspiracy theories” about the military base nearby reaching out to block our signal or to choke our access; or maybe it’s all those political posts I’ve been putting up on Facebook.

Whatever it is, we found that we might get good cell signal for a minute or two, and then for no apparent reason, it falls into the pits, and one cannot even download email. At first this did not happen, but the longer we were at the camp, the less we were able to use our cell service. And the variations seemed to have absolutely nothing to do with how many people were in the campground with us (who might have been clogging the channel with their own data downloads). We kept asking ourselves, “Did they (THEY) find us again?”

Maybe it was construction-related. There was a broken water main while we were there, so maybe they cut a fiber or cable link in addition. Who knows? Anyway, I’m back and since I’ve been actually writing the blogs without uploading them, here they are, late but full of what I know you are looking forward to in terms of each and every tiny detail <grin>.

April 17, 2017

Even though the forecast was for showers all day, we set out to do a longer training-style ride (as opposed to a neighborhood dawdle), after being fortified with cinnamon rolls baked in the Omnia oven.

Once we’d loaded the bikes on the hitch-rack, we set off for a ride marked on a bicycling route map that we now know to be completely inadequate and inaccurate. The Big Idea was to ride from Princess Anne out to a peninsula that included a small spot called Mount Vernon and its harbor where the water meets the land. Those 8 miles (according to the map) would be repeated back to PAnne, grab some lunch, and we’d head land-ward (the opposite direction from PA) for another 8 or 10-mile spur out and back, pick up our car and drive back to camp. We thought that perhaps we’d log 30 miles or thereabouts.

Arriving in Princess Anne, we found few “municipal” parking areas near the start point for our route. And PA is just “meh” in terms of meal options, so we revised as we drove.

I had been perusing a more robust map (including smaller street indications WITH NAMES!) and, discovering that the ride to/from PA is a long, straight, flat, rather boring, heavily-trafficked artery to the Mount Vernon harbor, I thought we might do better to stay closer to the water, despite the ever-present wind and offshore storm clouds.

So we parked at Mt. Vernon harbor (which, to be honest, was at least 2-3 miles longer than the map’s reported 8 miles), and set out on an exploration of the district.

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Mt. Vernon derelict.

We rode into a wildlife management area off Mt. Vernon’s “point” with a few homes along a dead end road. The ditches and waterways were full of life, including a raccoon wading along fishing, I suppose, and some turtle action in an area that was too muddy to see much of what the pair were doing. Upon reaching the end, we reversed back around to the main church, which serenaded us with a long, long bell chime for the mid-day hour. As we rode away from Mt. Vernon, we were still hearing the song at 3 and 4 minutes past noon.

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Our route did go up the long, boring road toward PA for a while, but turned off on Black Rd, which would hook up with another long, straight, flat road headed out to a peninsula called Deal Island, and beyond that, a harbor town called Wenona. In the map included, I marked our route out and back in black pen.

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Xs mark the beginning, turn-around, and end of the route, marked in black pen. The return took an extra road called Fitzgerald to cut some of our time on #363.

Boring down through the headwind along that road (363 or Deal Island Rd) was a slog. There were lots and lots of birds, though, including nesting Osprey, egrets, and blue herons. Most of the area toward the end was wildlife management preserve. We crossed a high bridge onto Deal Island proper, and I began looking for the “cottage” we spent a lot of time at in Deal when I was young. It was a family time of crabbing off the dock and swimming (while avoiding jellyfish),  swinging in the group hammock, and getting browned cedar thorns and sand burrs in our feet.

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Didn’t see a thing that was familiar, but then again, that was about 50 years ago now.

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We left Deal proper and crossed another waterway into Wenona where we rode down to the harbor, hoping against hope that there was any place we could get food, because we were both quite hungry (and had even shared one of the granola bars I had brought for emergencies).

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By 2PM and with 26 miles under our butts, we found a splendid eatery called Arby’s Dockside Bar and Grill. It was a local place, so open, and had all the local personality one might want to find. AND good eats.

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We were greeted by a vivacious (very loud) young lady of about 8 years. Later we heard that she is the youngest of 3 generations of women running the joint. She promptly got us some menus and a couple of bottles of water from the convenience store attached, and we settled in, overhearing conversations around us, among the locals and the staff/owners (not sure the waitress/cook/mother to our greeter’s status).

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Young Greeter is foreground right, her mother is cooking in the background behind a counter.

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Mike is the local barfly, having a Bud Lite and moving outside (upwind and not very far away) to smoke the occasional cigarette. There was another woman of undetermined connection jawboning with him, and once Greeter’s mom took our orders and began cooking, the volume amongst the group increased by a considerable number of decibels.

Greeter had a younger (much!) brother toddling about whom she bossed more than she bossed us, and rather than speak to one another when a phone rang or a dog wandered in or a question was raised, they simply shouted across the buildings for answers or demands.

We learned that everyone was quite weary of Greeter’s “underfoot” presence due to the fact that her Spring Break was one day from ending. She was interested in everything about our bicycles and gear, while the adults were interested in our trip (where and when we started the ride, where we were staying while visiting, etc.). Their questions and interpretations of our answers might have been one clue about why they always shout at one another: we had to raise our voices to let them know the correct answers to our questions.

“You’re staying in Rumbley?”

“No, Janes Island.”

“You started your ride to here from Rumbley?”

“No, Mount Vernon Harbor.”

“Where’d they say they are staying?” one asked of another.

“We live right next door to Janes Island,” a third shouted over someone else.

It was all very amusing and good fun, even though it sounds frustrating. Maybe we have good feelings about the chaos because we were so very hungry and the food was better than good. It was excellent. And we made it disappear in short order.

Jack got a fried oyster basket (with hand-cut fries) and I got a burger with fries (also hand-cut). She piled on extra oysters for Big Jack and, although they didn’t serve water or have any ice for our water bottles, we added into our tally four bottles of water from the cooler, plus a couple of Snickers bars for the return trip (jet fuel) and generously tipped our new friends.

The return was very much like the outbound, except the wind had changed direction as the storm that we were riding into, but which never rained on us before lunch, moved across the horizon so we were riding toward it again. Still, it wasn’t nearly so strong as that off-the-bay wind we endured outbound.

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Storm brewing.

We did pause along the way to rest our parts and stretch our backs; shared a Snickers bar; and stopped at a pretty little church with graves including the last name of a good friend, so we took photos.

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Having skipped the repeat tour of Mt. Vernon on the return, we carved off a couple of miles and ended up back at the car with a couple of tenths of a mile short of 50. Neither of us wanted to stay in the saddle long enough to round it out, and the storm looked like it was blowing up for sure (but it never hit us), so we loaded the bikes and drove back.

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Crisfield area map, with Crisfield circled center bottom. Toward the top you’ll see Princess Anne and the penned-in route of our ride.

A quick stop at a random grocery store for Gatorade and a salty snack, and after we fixed ourselves a quick dinner of pasta-and-pesto, we were again treated to an extraordinary sunset, which has become a looked-for routine from our tree house. I have to say, our site #23 is truly a perfect spot from which to view sunsets in April.

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As the sunset faded, we began hearing calls over on Janes Island. At first we thought it might be some of the water birds, but it was too dark for them to be anything but silent and still. We didn’t think there were many mammals at all, and likely few-to-no predators over there, but nothing but night predators would be making those noises. Sometimes they sounded like cat calls, and sometimes they sounded like foxes. I thought the latter, as unlikely as it might sound, could be the case, because I remembered seeing a low-slung critter with a long bushy tail scampering across the road in front of the state park earlier, and had guessed it was a fox.

Eerie noises from the wild-wild marshland across the way; an area that looks pristine and friendly to ground-nesting waterbirds — “sitting ducks” so to speak, for nocturnal predators. By about 9PM all was quiet again across the Creek (that we learned the locals call “Dougherty Ditch”).

Tootling About

April 16, 2017

Easter Sunday. Most folks are leaving the campground today. We thought it would be a good idea to stay close to take some small advantage of the “changing of the guard” during the day.

The neighbors on both sides are sticking, as are we.

But I walk around the place late on Sunday and find that it’s a bittersweet feeling, with everyone who was packed in here yesterday gone today. Nice to have the quiet and the extra “elbow room” but I walk by the now-empty spot where the folks were celebrating a birthday in a great gaggle of friends; I walk past the empty spot where the “base camp” for another great mass of folks distributed among 3 or 4 sites now sits forlorn at the end of the row, a large group having an absolutely splendid time, all managed by the wife of the guy who was “hale fellow well met” to everyone he saw; the big dog with the perfect manners in the spot near the bath house . . .

Still, the quiet is truly special, so I don’t dwell on the lack of bodies surrounding us today.

Did I mention the pollen? We had just enough rain last night to wash some of it off the car, and it all puddled on the road. I included my foot so you might get some perspective.

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The road shows at the top of the photo, the gravel of the campsite below, near my foot.

Earlier, while most folks were breaking camp, we took off on a dawdle around the campground, and then left via the main drag (Plantation Rd) to head toward Crisfield, for a low-key tootle. Here are some photos from the campground area, followed by pix of what we saw along the way in and around Crisfield.

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Gulls along Daugherty Creek.

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In the far reaches of the photo, you can see white-roofed condos in Crisfield from the Janes Island SP dock at Dougherty Creek.

These images are from our ride into and around Crisfield.

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Defunct crab restaurant specializing in steamed crabs, a remnant of which lay abandoned in the parking lot (below).

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Those self-same condo/apartments visible from the state park’s dock, shown from the bay side here.

No photos, however, of some interesting sights. A guy in what appeared to be a sheriff’s cruiser was feeding an enormous flock of chickens, geese, ducks, seagulls, etc. from his car, in an empty lot. I’m guessing he was throwing bread to the birds, and they were fighting, tussling, vie-ing for crumbs, and procreating all over the place.

Took some video of the turbine that I cannot upload because it was pretty loud, although in the vid, the regular wind off the bay was loud enough for the camera mic.

A sign on a paddock that read, “Please don’t feed fingers to the horses.” (I thought that was brilliant).

Lots and lots of cemeteries, large and small. The United Methodist Church seems to be the dominant group hereabouts.

New birds spotted along the route:

  • Snowy egret
  • Pelicans
  • Great blue herons
  • Laughing gulls
  • Northern harrier
  • Cormorants
  • Wood ducks

Returned for a relaxed time at camp in the quiet, and grilled brats with grilled summer squash and rice for dinner. Lovely warm night with Roomba showing off his best with the lights shining.

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Training and Rest Days

April 14 & April 15, 2017

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The campsite and park layout.

Very cool here, but the wind has at last stopped. We slept very well (and a long time) under our blanket with the ceiling vent going on low for “white noise.”

Fixed coffee and tea, and Jack grilled some sausage patties that we enjoyed on slider rolls for breakfast. By about 11, we were cycling toward the “start point” of the mapped route Jack had gotten off the internet, called the “Crustacean Trail.” It purportedly began in Crisfield’s municipal park, which wasn’t much of a park at all, and we were to take Chesapeake Ave. to begin, the internet map said, “and follow the signs.”

No signs were visible either on posts along the way nor painted on the pavement.

We rode all the way into town, and stopped by the Visitor Info Center along the way, to get some advice and maps and recommendations from the nice lady there. Armed with all we might need to carry on, we rode down to the dock at the terminus of Main St. but still never found Chesapeake. No matter. We carried on, retraced our inbound ride, checked various maps, and at last got onto the route.

 

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Reflection selfie in Crisfield

 

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At the end of one of the residential streets in Crisfield, we saw the humongous wind turbine along the coast of the town perfectly framed by the road’s trees.

The sky was slightly overcast, the humidity was negligible, the temps were cool, and the traffic was nearly non-existent. We had a very fine day of cycling, with our ultimate destination being Westover, which looked like a pretty big “dot” on the map. We thought it wouldn’t be too difficult to find a late lunch there.

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A couple of the sad but interesting derelicts we saw along the way.

At just past one and 23 miles logged, we found Westover, and nothing but a couple of fuel stations, one with a no-name (I’m guessing a “Sheetz style”) foodery, and one with a Subway. We opted for the Subway instead of a microwaved hot dog.

Had a decent Subway sandwich, re-filled our water bottles, and headed on the return trip, but without all the gee-ing and haw-ing in Crisfield. There had been a loop we’d missed on the outbound run, that we collected during the return. Basically, the “trail” crossed Rt. 413 back and forth, and the entire route was quiet backroads on the east and west sides of 413. We certainly could have ridden 413, as there was significant shoulder and sometimes even a designated bike  lane, but that is a moderate thoroughfare and we wanted (and found) more calm and serene routes.

And, of course, the wind found us on our return. Not nearly so strong and steady as what we’d experienced the night before as we set up camp, the wind was nevertheless a significant presence along the return route. We took turns “drafting” for one another.

There were several really lovely stretches along the ride, especially one length of road that had hardwoods on one side and a tree farm of tall pines on the other, creating a tunnel effect. Many interesting homes and some derelicts that were equally interesting. I always wonder what stories derelict houses could tell, could they speak (or could I understand).

Along one stretch with a particularly deep pine farm situated next to a green-green field full of a cover crop that was about a foot tall, we heard the distinctive “bob-white” of a quail. Amazing. It echoed through the forest, and we heard it calling several times in sequence. I haven’t heard the call of a bob-white quail in years and years.

We saw some ducks and geese on a couple of inlets, and I spotted one American kestrel on a power line over a stubble field, but other than that, the birdlife we saw consisted of vultures. Lots and lots of vultures. We even saw one sitting on the top of a chimney that was still standing among the ruins of a fallen-in house. Another of his kin rose from the rubble inside what used to be the house as we passed, disturbed by our noticing and talking about its comrade on the chimney.

We also saw some lovely purple wisteria, some beyond-their-prime camellias, and all-in-all some very respectful drivers, offering us lots of room on the roads. The day was punctuated by the aromas of wisteria growing near the roads alternating with the peculiar and distinctive scent of poultry farms. And the occasional dead thing on the road or in a nearby ditch.

Despite the rather unpleasant odors mingling with the scents of spring, we had a completely delightful ride. Cycling stats: 43.5 miles; 12.6 MPH average, ride time 3 hours, 25 minutes.

Back at camp, we rested for a bit, took showers, and re-heated that leftover chili and baked dinner rolls from a couple of days ago. The sunset was just lovely over the water. After dark, we watched another pass of the International Space Station next to Daugherty Creek with the gang of next door neighbor kids and their parents and grandparents, and went to bed.

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Tomorrow, we might take our bikes across (via ferry) to Smith Island, if the ferry runs and the weather holds. We’ll just have to see how it goes.

April 15

Did I mention the pollen? It collects inside, outside, all around the town. Kind of amazing stuff. Happy, we’re not suffering too badly from breathing yellow pine pollen all the time, although a bit of extra sinus stuffiness is evident.

Our plan to take the ferry today was quashed by the rather dismal forecast. We really didn’t want to be on a ferry nor stranded on a remote island when the predicted rains rolled in.

Instead, we decided to drive (not cycle) north along 413 and 13 (the main north/south drag along this stretch of Earth) to see what Princess Anne (small, historic but apparently atrophying town) might have to offer in terms of brunch or lunch.

There were some areas of the northern outskirts of the town that had some significant renovation of the historic homes going on. And the University of MD/Eastern Shore makes up a significant portion of the area.

Still, there were no eateries beyond franchises, even around the campus area. Lots and Lots and Lots of student housing, however.

So we moved on north to Salisbury, where it wasn’t long before we found a CRAFT BREWERY!

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Yay. So we spent some time and $ at Evolution Brewery and enjoyed ourselves immensely. Jack wasn’t into drinking beer, and I couldn’t decide, so we got a flight to sample.

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Really REALLY liked their No. 3 IPA, which was notable for holding its head. I thought of it as a cross between Get Bent and Fresh Squeezed, with more body than either. I saved that for last, and we worked our way through the others during our meal. Jack had a crab cake sandwich and I had a catch of the day (mahi-mahi) sandwich, both of which were totally yum. They had hand-cut fries to go with all their sandwiches, which were also perfect.

The Pilsner, I’d order again on a hotter day (it was quite cool, overcast, and blustery outside, and inside they must have turned on the AC because we were both chilly). The Red, neither of us cared for greatly, and the special 608 that the waitress said was her fave, was totally meh unless paired with food. Then it began to be toned by what you were eating and it was tolerable.

The No. 3 IPA, however, was truly good — in fact, we found some in a sixer at the Acme (used to be Giant) Grocery store, and along with some other necessaries, brought it home to chill at camp.

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We found a seafood distribution company along the road coming back to Janes Island SP, and stopped to see if they sold retail, and they did, so we picked up two pounds of large shrimp to cook on the barbie when we got home. Fresh asparagus, rice, and grilled shrimp. It just doesn’t get any better than this. And we took our lovely meal in what Jack has come to call our “tree house,” which I hope is the new name for our screened room, where Jack has been spending a lot of time lately.

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Forgot to take a photo before we ate, so here’s the remains of the day.

Good day — and it never rained, after all, except before we got up north (could see it on the roads). By the time we got back to camp, it was in the 70s and pretty hot. After dinner we watched another pass of the ISS, among a cloudy horizon, and saw a hint or two of a coming storm.

During our drive, we also saw our first two osprey flying around en route up north since we arrived in MD.

The storm hit with thunder and lightening after we’d hit the hay, and the rain came down hard for a nanosecond — not even enough to wash off the pollen from the car. Strange stuff, this ubiquitous pollen.

Camping in style, 2017. Life is good.

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We strolled over the the Nature Center and climbed the “lookout” but not much to see, except a couple of folks kayaking along Daugherty Creek.

Janes Island State Park, Maryland

April 13, 2017

With a leisurely start, we unbuckled the campsite at Chippokes by about 11. The camp host had come back on duty (first time during our stay) so we were able to get a bag of ice for the Gatorade and other beverages that have been sitting in the ice chest. We also didn’t feel the need to dump, so we headed north straight away.

After a short bog-down in Norfolk due to being in the wrong lane and having to exit into downtown (a bit of a white-knuckle endurance test for driver Jack) we made it to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, something neither of us have experienced in a goodly number of years. At 17 miles across and two tunnels connected by 3 enormous bridges, it remains an astonishing feat of engineering. A huge freighter was heading away from the passage above the second tunnel.

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We stopped at the other side, still Virginia’s Eastern Shore, and headed for about 100 miles along Rt. 13 into Maryland. Nice drive along a straight, flat road, but little in the way of scenery. And unless you like fast food, not much in the way of charming cafés for lunch. In addition, the farther north we drove, the higher the fuel prices. C’est la vie.

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Eventually, we stopped at a market that advertised fried chicken, but we got no help at all from the staff for pumping from #6, which would not take our card, so we paid cash for the fuel and circled around back and made our own damn lunches, thank you very much. Grrrr. But our sandwiches were quite good. 😊

Got to Janes Island State Park in MD and it is a lovely pine-filled area. We found no one at check-in/registration, so we just went in and set up. The facilities are clean and modern, and although there is no water at any site, the fill-up of our onboard tank went smoothly, and we have a lovely site (#23) on Daugherty Creek. Janes Island is across the narrow creek and apparently consists of water trails but no walking trails. There is a nature center wth a raised lookout and wildlife lists and other stuff that we intend to check out while we’re here, though.

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Dougherty Creek
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Our Set-Up
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Our Site (#23)
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Our View

The wind off the bay was truly howling and we thought twice about putting up the awning, although staking the poles in two different directions seemed to have calmed our worries that it would all just blow away. There is also tons and tons of pollen all over everything. Even to the point of making the hard horizontal surfaces yellow (picnic table, roads, vehicles, Roomba!). Anywhere that one drops liquid or sprays water becomes like a thin paint smear of institutional yellow. Jack and I are both sneezing. 🤧

We set up and just as we were about done, two rigs with dogs and loud talkers on one side and a pop-up with about four kids on the other set up right next to us. All were very loud.

So we left – just kidding. But we did carry out our plan to head into town (Crisfield) for dinner and some grocery shopping, which we did.

A place in Crisfield called the Watermen’s Inn had come to us recommended from our Alto Campers Facebook site, and we found it and had a delightful and delicious meal.

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Afterwards, we strolled down to the end of Main street, which ends at a dock, and watched a two-star pass of the International Space Station across the nearly clear sky, at about ten past 8PM. Just lovely. After night fall, the temps dropped into the fifties, so we both looked forward to a cool sleep under our Rumpl Blanket.

Did our shopping, discovering that MD grocery stores don’t (or at least this Food Lion didn’t) carry wine and beer.

When we returned to the campground, however, the gates were closed and we did not have the key code. A nice gentleman helped us and another emerged from the admin building and we got our registration packet and the code for entry after 7P. And a map and other goodies.

Had a small nightcap in the screen house and enjoyed the night sounds, even though the noisy neighbors (on one side at least — the other folks were off visiting somewhere) were still active. We cocooned Roomba inside and read until snooze time and look forward to a bicycling and seafood and bird watching adventure to remember, cycling the Crustacean Trail tomorrow.