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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April Birthdays

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

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

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

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Look who was there at North Bend to greet us!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Selfie with Canada Friends and Snail

Journey’s End

Thursday, January 11, 2018 •

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mattamuskeet Journey v. 2018

Mattamuskeet Journey to see migrating waterfowl v. 2018

In January of 2016, we headed out with a newly-acquired Alto camper trailer (we named Roomba) to accompany tent-camping friends to Mattamuskeet Wildlife Refuge, camping at Pettigrew State Park in North Carolina, just on Lake Phelps.

That was so fun we decided on a reprise of that trip with the same friends, who are now also Alto trailer owners (they named theirs Moon Shadow). Last time, the temps were quite chill, and Mike and Barbara were tenting, although we shared our camper’s propane heat on a couple of occasions. But it was bitter cold.

This time was not as gray and frosty, but still cold overnights, and — well, I’ll let you read all about it in several posts.

Sunday, January 7

Left MoD when the temp was about 10 degrees. We began prep around 8:30 – 9:00 AM and had said goodbye to the doggies and were driving down Rt. 59 by about 11.

The weird thing about the whole stowing and prepping during this type of winter camping is that nothing that would be damaged by freezing could be out in Roomba nor in the back of the truck overnight. So we could not pre-pack as we so often do to assure an early departure. We removed our bathroom kits from our clothes bags, and put all the  food (including the ‘fridge food, as nothing was going in from our home freezer) and other things that would be damaged by freezing into the truck very last before hitting the road. We put the refrigerator food into the ‘fridge without turning it on, figuring that it would not freeze solid in the 3 hours it was going to take us to get to North Bend (halfway point overnight spot). Measuring by past experience, the interior of the camper gets really cold on cold traveling days, so we couldn’t even put the dishwashing liquid into Roomba where it usually stays.

So the whole packing up thing was a challenge. We’d left our bed topper rolled and in Roomba for the entirety of this deep freeze (started about New Year’s Eve and overnight temps were in the low single digits — one AM we had zero degrees F — steadily for the whole of 2018). So the topper was stiff as a board and we probably could not have unrolled it even if we’d wanted to. Our hope was that it could ride in the back seat of the truck and thaw a bit, but it was too wide/stiff to fit into the cab, so we had to leave it in Roomba.

Once we arrived at North Bend Federal Campground (around 3P, after a stop for lunch and another for fuel) we plugged up (site 51–with between 2 and 3 bars of LTE and/or 3G cell service) and cranked the propane heater which solved the problem of the frozen bed topper nicely.

North Bend was 28 degrees, and there was still significant amounts of snow along the roads, especially at the edges. The guard said that there had been about 5 campsites used last night, but everyone had left.

They had sites 51 – 77 open, with one heated bathhouse that has maybe 8 private toilet/bath rooms. Site 51 is far from the lakefront, but pretty close to the bathhouse.

We did not unhitch, only leveled and set up, again pondering what would go where when we take off for Pettigrew State Park in NC tomorrow. We’re about 3 hours away from our next stop and, happily—although tonight will be lows in the teens again—the temps will be trending upwards for our whole stay at Pettigrew.

We have brought yeast rolls rising in Omnia, plus a lovely (but untried) chicken stew in the Billy Boil. After set up and a quick walk down to the lake (water levels are waaaaaay low—the “beach” I walked along was really the lake bottom) we are now happily ensconced in the warmth, and getting ready to continue our listen to another of the “Department Q” crime/mystery series (by Jussi Adler-Olsen) with Carl Merk: The Hanging Girl.

Last day, VA Beach; First Day, North Bend

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

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

  
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   
  

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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