Bicycling and More

April 19

The plan for the three nights/two days we had left in our trip was to share some of the cycling opportunities in the area with Mark and Angie; they, too, were just starting the cycling season and wanted to take it a bit easy on some flat terrain. Two notable rails-to-trails conversions relatively nearby are the Tobacco Heritage Trail (Boydton) and the Highbridge Trail (Farmville).

Still, our first cycle jaunt was Jack’s and my usual tour of the North Bend campground. Our “game” is to take every paved left-hand turn we can make throughout the campground (even around the barriers to un-opened areas), hitting each campsite loop, boat launch, group-camp loop, picnic area, etc., and eventually ending up back at our campsite.

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The last time Jack and I did this at North Bend, we clocked just over 10 miles. On this adventure, we added a crossing to the other side of the major hydro-electric dam, and got in nearly 13 miles all told (my average speed was 9.5MPH). We were all hungry, so we decided to skip going downhill (and then back up—a serious chug) to the picnic and launch area “beneath” the hydro-plant itself, and instead decided to head back out again, aimed at the Tobacco Heritage Trail, after a good nosh.

The day was splendid, although the wind seemed to never die, as was the case at First Landing. At lunch Jack and I decided the wind was strong enough that we rolled up the awning, leaving it attached to Roomba by the Kieder Rail, and secured the poles and guy lines so they would not blow into the lake.

We loaded the bikes on Mark’s four-bike hitch rack, piled into his van and headed to Boydton to find a trail head for the Tobacco Heritage Trail. As it turned out, the parking area we were looking for wasn’t in Boydton at all, but rather LaCrosse, a small burb just east of Boydton.

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We got started around 2:45, and the beginning part of the trail at this section is paved, which is very nice for riding. But the wind was wicked (again), and we didn’t know exactly how far to go nor how long it would take us. Angie wanted to get back to camp (about a half-hour drive) in time to do some prep work for the dinner they wanted to host for us. So we decided we’d ride for an hour, turn around, and head back. 

Once we started peddling on the cinder/sand surface of the trail, things got more difficult because the footing didn’t seem to be packed as hard as some other cinder trails we’d ridden in the past. But the Tobacco Heritage Trail is a relatively new effort, and has been completed in sections only, so this was not surprising. The last time Jack and I had ridden this trail, we went all the way to Lawrenceville. On this day, we went about 14 miles (7 out and back). The return was a challenge since the wind was in our face the entire time, and still rising with significant gusts. We were all glad we’d decided to roll up our awnings before leaving camp.

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Once we got back to camp, Mark and Angie beavered around getting our dinner together, and insisted we bring nothing but ourselves. The effort was made to sit outside while we enjoyed starters, but the final decision was to make the room inside their 1743 for all four of us to sit down because it was so cold and windy. We had a wonderful meal of “chicken pouches” done on the grill. All the veggies, potatoes, and meat for each person—in other words, each meal—was combined and secured in a foil pouch and roasted on the grill until done. It was quite yummy, with Cole slaw on the side, and ice cream and strawberries for dessert. 

April 20

On the final full day of our trip, we had an appointment to show our Alto to some folks who live nearby. While in Virginia Beach, a newcomer to the Alto-interest group on Facebook (to which we have belonged for years) asked if there were any owners in the vicinity of Boydton. Since we were going to be there, Jack invited Scott and Myra to come by North Bend. We spoke to them for about an hour, and they had really done their research—had even tried a friend’s longer American-made trailer—and asked really good questions. 

After Scott and Myra hopped over to briefly see Mark and Angie’s fixed-roof setup, we used Mark’s bike rack in our hitch (to share the driving) and headed to one of our favorite rail-trails, Highbridge Trail in Farmville. It was about an hour’s drive and we decided that we’d eat lunch in town before setting off on the ride. Scott had recommended a place on the river called Charlie’s and we found it and ate quite a good meal of soup and sandwiches (the full name might be Charlie’s Riverside Cafe or some such).

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Farmville sits at the approximate middle of the entire rail-to-trail conversion. We headed toward the High Bridge itself, which is East of Farmville (we’ve ridden the trail west out of Farmville, but there is nothing to see and it’s an obvious, steady, significant uphill crank going that direction—truly exhausting outbound, but somewhat of a thrill coming back to town on the downhill).

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The High Bridge itself has lots of history both before and during the American Civil War. Just beyond the bridge is a stop with reader boards discussing the Confederates’ attempts to protect the bridge, and the structure’s importance during Lee’s retreat to nearby Appomattox, where the war ended with his surrender.

With Farmville being a college town, there were many young adults using the trail on the day we rode. The infrastructure for this trail is excellent so we did not want for pit stops, and the cinder footing is well-packed and tire-friendly. Also, the wind had finally decided to give us a break, which was a good thing, since the High Bridge is indeed, quite high.

We started the ride at about 2PM and peddled for about 1.5 hrs. covering a total of ~17 miles. My average speed was 11MPH, while Jack’s was up to 12.5MPH because he “found his zone” on the return from the bridge, and smoked the rest of us back to the car.

It was our turn to do dinner, so we put together some Brunswick stew (the area is famous for its Brunswick stew), grilled some bratwursts, and accompanied the whole with some fresh-baked rolls (in the Omnia oven).

During this entire trip, we did not have one campfire, due to the winds and rains. So on our last night, the air wasn’t exactly still, but it was still enough that we did not fear setting ourselves or our surroundings alight, so we enjoyed our dessert of Trader Joe’s chocolate-filled crepes (heated in the Omnia) by the fire until about 9 or so, and called it a night. 

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Mark and Angie wanted to be off early the next morning toward their next destination (Savannah). On our minds was the fact that our house sitter told us he needed to vacate by noon. Even though it’s just a 3-hour drive, we didn’t want the doggies to be left inside the house terribly long. So our goal was to be on the road no later than noon.

Thus ended the April Birthday and Bicycling trip. We hope to do a similar early-cycling adventure next spring.

PS – When we got home, the first thing we saw was our screened-in porch punched in on one panel, with muddy BEAR PAW prints on the outside of the screening. Interesting visitor in our absence, which the house sitter had heard during the 3AM incursion, and yelled at to chase it away. No damage done except the screen.

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Difficult to see in the pic, but the muddy paw prints around and below the tear in the screen indicate the bear was probably not an adult, but certainly (by any measure) big enough. From the ground (my flowers!) it was standing on, it’s about 4 feet up to the tear.

Chippokes Plantation State Park

Day One of our Eastern Shore bicycling vacation was mostly driving, and as I write this note, we’re set up at our campsite (#07). One of the first things we did was get out of our jeans and into shorts. We left Meadows of Dan at about 9:30A with temps in the mid-fifties, and arrived at Chippokes Plantation SP around 3:30 to 86 degrees. Inside Roomba it was a toasty 94.

We’d left home with a vat of chili in the Billy Boil (Yeah, yeah. The ingredients were handy, easy to prepare, and chili in the Billy travels well – so what that it’s really a “winter” dish? We’re cooling down under the awning, enjoying a nice breeze, while it’s still 82 degrees, but there’s no humidity [thank goodness]). We also left home with frozen dinner rolls in the Omnia oven (dressed up in its new silicone liner) and rolled into camp with them ready to bake.

I cranked up the Omnia and its thermometer, and the rolls were done in about 20 minutes. I’ve done rolls like this in the Omnia before, and the bottoms often get more “done” than the tops – okay, they get overdone. But with the silicone liner, the bottoms are nicely browned without that “charred” look (and taste) about them. Looking forward to continuing to learn stovetop oven management.


Roomba’s in a nice site, but the leaves are still emerging so the sun is pretty serious at this time of year. While it’s still light at this point in the evening—mind you, with the setting sun things might change—we are not bothered by mosquitoes.

En route, once we were near enough the James River, we saw two adult bald eagles fighting or courting in the sky above. As we set up camp, a fox sparrow graced us with its presence. I love the birdwatching prospects along waterways.

We’re just relaxing now, after being interrupted by someone wanting an Alto Tour once we arrived, and taking our time to set up for our brief, 2-night stay here, without unhitching from the car. Looking forward to a nice bike ride around the campground and plantation area tomorrow (although they’re calling for rain).

Douthat State Park, Virginia

Most of us did a lot of lazing around on Wednesday, October 5. JB and Martha got into camp from their adventures in RV Repairland at about 11:30A. Ken and Diane wanted to spend a lot of time with Barley hiking some of the many, many trails around the park, and I think in the end they made some 6 miles.

They highly recommended a portion of their hike that went past a waterfall and up a ridge to the Tuscarora Overlook. They said the best way to get there was to traverse Blue Suck Falls Trail, and some of it is challenging and steep, but well worth the effort, they said. There’s a shelter and bench and resting/picnicking area at the overlook, and if you start at the dam end of Douthat Lake, it would be somewhere in the 4 mile range. We might think about carrying a few snacks when we go up there. Next Time.

We did hop in the car and run up to the park store and restaurant to grab some ice, and at the same time, we got a trail map. There’s apparently another waterfall to see along a different trail, and the waterfall is maybe a mile and three-quarters before the path begins climbing and switch-backing. The trail is called Stony Run, and there’s a parking area at the trailhead near the road. Jack and I wanted to do some biking this time (we hadn’t even brought our cycles last year when we made this trip) and we noticed another trail, part of the Allegheny Highlands Multiuse Equestrian State Trail. Its trailhead is tucked in the woods right at the very beginning of the Whispering Pines campground loop, near the (narrow) main road. We were lamenting the fact that the main road carries big rigs, and is actually a commuter road through the middle of the park, even though the speed limits are quite low (35 and 25 MPH). It has zero shoulder, and so we were worried about riding along it for 3 miles just to get to the Park Office, not to mention adding another half-mile of curvy uphill to get up to the restaurant and lakeside.

So we asked the person in the Office if the Equestrian trail (called Flat Run Trail, sounding more positive for us) was appropriate for bicycles, and she said sure. It ends at the day-use Horse Trailer parking area, but that’s only a few hundred yards from the Office. Sounded good to us for an exploration next day.

Wednesday evening, we wanted to grill a pork roast for everyone, and each couple volunteered to bring a go-with. I’d thought I’d boil up some potatoes to accompany the meal, but a pasta/pesto side, a salad, a sweet potato casserole, and some fresh tomatoes all ended up being tossed into the hopper, so I didn’t have to do anything except start and mind the fire.


We had a lovely meal that night around a beautiful fire (even if I do say so myself). The wind was still, and the temps mild, so it was simply a perfect evening with friends.


We began our last full day of this camping adventure (Thursday, October 6) by saying an early goodbye to Ken and Diane. They live in eastern North Carolina, and with hurricane Matthew bearing down on FL and SC, they felt that it might be wise to get home and see if they can batten down any hatches. Frankly, they might have to turn right around and meet Kerry & Gloria back up in VA, to seek refuge from the storm.

The day dawned with a blue sky, and Jack reported that he’d seen the constellation Orion when he got up in the night. It was, however, 44 degrees inside and 43 outside at our site, so we had to run the heat pump for a little just to get the chill off.

With our coffee and tea, we heated some frozen spanakopita (spinach and cheese) filo dough triangles, and I must say, they turned out pretty darn good in the Omnia oven. I used the rack, could get only 7 in the one layer, and heated them up on medium-low for 15 minutes, and at medium for another 15; then I turned them back down to medium-low for the third 15 (in my experience, nothing cooks quickly in the Omnia, which is fine with us). Yum.


The temperature was still in the mid-50s when we hopped on our bikes, and I elected to leave my jacket behind, so I had to ride a fast loop around the paved campground to warm up. Then we headed to the Flat Run Trail origin.


We were fine for the first section – rocky but pretty manageable. Then we got to a deep ditch that we had to walk through, and things went quickly pear-shaped from there. Jack let some air out of his tires so he could keep the fillings in his teeth. I soldiered on, but it was tricky going. The path more-or-less paralleled the road, so all of the drainage culverts carrying water off and under the road intersected the trail, and dried debris carried by the stormwater made parts of the trail unnavigable.


As a trail, it’s a great horse path. I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone on a bike without fat tires and some suspension on their machines.

There are, however, two excellent bridges. One is a suspension bridge that I would not have touched with a ten-foot pole (vertigo), but I asked Jack to give it a walk so I could take some photos. This one is in place to cross a shallow but wide creek to carry hikers along an intersecting trail.


The other is a part of the Flat Run Trail itself, and is sturdy and an interesting color blue. We crossed it and soldiered on, though the trail’s footing was quickly deteriorating even more. Large stones, both well-set but sticking above the trail surface; and those kicked loose by hooves and feet made the cycling very unsteady. Several additional ditches were not ride-able with our cycles, so we had to watch the path carefully and dismount on many occasions.


At last we made it the 2.58 miles to the parking area for the horse trailers, and we scurried onto the main road for the last bit to the Park Office. We really didn’t need to stop there for anything, so we carried on along the road to the Lakeside Restaurant (open only weekends this time of year).


Jack felt his tires might be rolling on their rims (well, not really, but they were very soft) so we stopped and he got out a cartridge to refill to something nearer pavement PSI (80 for his tires). We went on to the end of the park where the horse camping is (Beaver Dam Campground), and took our Site Tour Boogie through there; then headed back toward home with a long stop at our fave camping area discovered last year, which is the Lakeside Campground, a no-hookups area that is quiet, beautiful, and as the name implies, right beside the Lake. While the sites are not reservable, they do allow pets, so Next Time, we will check them out to see if we might boondock there.

After visiting the last camping area (White Oak), we returned to Whispering Pines along the road, and made one stop to see the trail head for the Stony Run Trail, and our intention was to have lunch, then drive back with appropriate foot gear and hike up to the waterfall.

Our cyclometers indicated it had been a 13 miler, and we raced back along the road to beat the traffic (not one vehicle came up behind us), and Jack’s computer said his top speed along the road was 29 MPH.

Leftovers for lunch, and we got sleepy in the sun. Jack wanted to do some packing that afternoon, so we decided to ditch the hike and take our showers and tidy the campsite. Next Time.

As the afternoon segued into evening, JB built a fire at his site, and we all gathered there for the cocktail hour.


Still emptying out the refrigerator and cupboards, we had leftovers again and I got to make the potatoes I’d intended to make the night before, and we used up the fresh veggies in a big salad. The evening was clear and relatively warm, but the forecast was for rain beginning overnight, and everyone said they were going to try to beat the damp by breaking camp early the next AM.

Jack and I finally pulled out around 10A, and had a totally uneventful but quite wet drive home; about 3 hours, plus a stop for lunch and fuel along the way. We followed a full dump truck the entire length of Rt. 8 from Christiansburg’s Floyd exit off I-81, so the speed along there was only about 45 MPH.


In the pouring rain, we off-loaded most of the stuff in the car and in Roomba, then (after the Subie engine had cooled down) backed Roomba to stand the week in front of the garage.
Next adventure is the one we’ll take right before winterizing everything for a winter’s sleep.

Let falconry season begin!