GAP 4, To West Newton

September 14, 2018

We left the Hampton Inn to ride along “The Waterfront” part of the trail exiting the Pittsburgh suburbs. On the other side of the fence the area managers were using an interesting technique to keep some of the invasive and pest species of plants (especially Japanese knot weed, fallopia japonica, also called “donkey rhubarb”—a perennial shrub related to buckwheat, but considered an invasive in much of the US) that grow along the steep banks of the Monongahela in check.

Once we left The Waterfront, however, we rode through heavy industry, both current and of times past, and it was difficult to ignore how much work the Pittsburgh area still has to do to clean up its coal and steel past. 

At one bridge overpass into an enormous lot filled with steel and concrete construction pieces (T- and I-beams, road safety walling, poles and pipes, as well as a lot of trash) someone had erected a tall metal tower upon which was a visible platform and an osprey nest. The residents, however, had all moved on by September, so we didn’t see any osprey.

Just after I rode off from the bridge near the nest, however, the rest of the gang saw what Jack believes was a peregrine falcon, zipping through the area chasing a pigeon. He said it was a spectacular display, even though the pigeon finally found cover and eluded the talons of death.

As we moved farther from the city, we saw additional evidence of the flooding from storm Gordon, including several serious mudslides, and places where large trees had been removed from the trail.

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We passed many waterfalls, including one that had washed the rocks nearly white with some kind of icky deposit; and later the marginally “famous” Red Waterfall, which had been awarded its own reader board.

The water here is acid and iron-rich, coming up to the surface from underground mines, staining the rocks rust red. Acid mine drainage (AMD) is a major source of water pollution and the cause of extensive stream degradation and environmental damage.

The Ocean Coal Company, a subsidiary of Berwind-White Coal Company of Philadelphia, PA, established several mines in this region including (in 1900) Ocean No. 2. It is purported that drainage from Ocean No. 2 is the chief cause of the Red Waterfall.

Hundreds of millions of years ago, the massive Pittsburgh Coal Seam formed underneath parts of PA, WVA, and OH, from ancient swamp plants. Sand, silts, shells, and other matter were deposited and made a rock seal over the carbon-rich vegetation. This rock contained the mineral pyrite, made of iron and sulfur.

Coal mining exposes pyrite to oxygen and ground water, causing the formation of sulfuric acid and a number of red, orange, and yellow compounds. AMD occurs when this mine water seeps, or in this case, bursts out, into streams. The yellow sulfur can be seen in the shale near coal seams.

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We saw an old bicycle wheel in the overgrowth right next to the Red Waterfall, and imagined that a hapless cyclist might have ignored the sign we conjured that would have read “Don’t drink the water,” and the cyclist subsequently died then was consumed with his bike by the nearby weeds.

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We rode through McKeesport (MP 132), where the town is mostly dead or dying, with nothing we could see to recommended it. Yet it is the place where the Monongahela meets the Youghiogheny, which is the river GAP riders follow from here eastward. We went through a nice city park by the river, but then had to wend our way through more industrial sections to regain the rail-trail on the other side.

Next we arrived in Boston (MP 128), a pretty little section of the GAP ride which is beginning the process of re-inventing itself for tourism, but still has closed mills and warehouses reminding one of better times. Below the trail in a park near the water we saw more evidence of the flooding of Gordon. Above the trail are a couple of interesting little businesses setting up shop in existing buildings. One of these is The Betsy Shop, where we paused to have “finger sandwiches and tea,” said Allen. 

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He reminded us that our lunch stop was in West Newton at a place tantalizingly called “The Gingerbread Bakery,” so he encouraged us to eat light.

But what a spread! The place was quaint, with an enormous variety of purchase-ables within, from kitchen aprons to halloween decorations; from funny cards and magnets to antiques.

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And we didn’t hold back on the eating front because it was more than “finger sandwiches” and totally delicious.

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Lovely scones with an orange curd dip topped the offering tray; croissants filled with cucumber salad; and at the bottom, open-faced chicken salad sandwiches served with a thin layer of apricot jelly between the bread and the chicken salad. Some folks had coffee and tea, but I just drank water, and the whole shebang was delightful.

Near “Little Boston” is the location of an historic meeting between Queen Aliquippa and the-Major George Washington, sometime before 1754. The area is the summer home of Queen Aliquippa’s people (some historians believe she was the leader of a group of Mingo Seneca; others believe it could have been an Iroquois tribe). About 30 families used the region starting about 1730, and Queen Aliquippa became their leader, having inherited the position after the death of her husband.

As the story goes (recorded in Washington’s journal of his travels) Washington came to the area to request that the French leave, as he and Braddock were claiming the territory for the British. On that trip, he failed to stop and visit/acknowledge the queen of the Native American residents. After several close calls with the French (who did not want to leave the territory), Washington stopped by John Frasier’s Trading Post in what is now Braddock, where he heard of Queen Aliquippa’s displeasure. He tried to make up for his lack of courtesy by bringing gifts, and the meeting became immortalized in song*. Later, Washington honored the Queen’s son, Kanuksusy, by giving him the title of Colonel Fairfax. Queen Aliquippa became a key ally of the British in the time leading up to the French and Indian War. She and her son, plus warriors from her band traveled to Ft. Necessity to assist Washington, but did not take an active part in the Battle of the Great Meadows (July 3-4, 1754), where the British were defeated by the French, causing the evacuation of Ft. Necessity. Queen Aliquippa moved her band to the Aughwick Valley of Pennsylvania for safety, and she died there on December 23, 1754.

*The “immortalized in song” part of the story amounts to one verse of a Robert Schmertz song, “The Forks of the Ohio:” 

Now, Queen Aliquippa (sic) was the Indian skipper of a tribe down Logstown way

And George said, “I better win this lady Indian, and without delay.”

So he took her a coat and a jug of whisky, and stayed a day or so

And he came back a ridin’ and a lookin’ and a walkin’ to the forks of the O-Hi-O.

http://www.robertschmertz.com/v-forks-of.asp

We pushed on to West Newton (MP 114). As we approached the town, stark evidence of Gordon’s destruction was on every side. People were piling the ruined things from their homes onto the street corners and curbs; the canoe and kayak livery had every one of its boats strung together with cable, high above the riverbanks, and it was obviously closed; tree roots were visible in pulled-up lawns, and debris was everywhere. A mother and daughter were covered with mud, carrying wet junk out of their basement to deposit for trash pickup. It was quite sad.

On our schedule was a canoe/kayak float, but not only was the business closed, the put-in upriver from which we’d float back to West Newton was closed due to the amount of mud blocking the drive and parking area.

West Newton was once a river boating town. Abundant timber allowed for pioneers to build their own flatboats and barges that would float downriver to McKeesport, Pittsburgh, and finally to the Ohio River and south.

We rode past our lodging spot and into the town, and found the Gingerbread Bakery, conveniently located adjacent to a BBQ place, so the variety of food available was excellent. They took very good care of us there, but the flooding evidence was throughout the town. In talking about the storm to the Bakery folks, we learned that most of the flooding was in folks’ basements, including that of the senior home down the road. Not every structure was affected, but most people in the community were.

Back to the Bright Morning Bed and Breakfast — a series of four Victorian homes (circa 1864) refurbished for lodgers, where we also had dinner on their back patio. It was quite a nice evening.

The next morning, we got a tour of the Ruritans’ “museum” in a reclaimed rail car the volunteers had fixed up, which conveniently sat nearly across the trail from the B&B. They had some fun displays about what we would see going southeast on the trail, and one of the most interesting displays was the rail car itself. Our guides explained that this and other cars like it were sent to Ellis Island in New York to offer immigrants “a job and a house” if they’d come west to work in the mines and factories. They’d pick up three or four families in each car with each run to the east, and thus were able to populate these western towns with people from the old country.

There was a display depicting a school bus, and our curators were proud to say that West Newton is the place where the national law requiring all school busses to stop and open their doors before crossing railroad tracks was enacted—unfortunately, due to a school bus-related accident with a train when the driver did not hear the whistle blowing.

Another story told there (and which we’d see the site of tomorrow) was the Darr Mine Disaster, the worst mining accident in Pennsylvania history. In 1907 near the village of Van Meter (MP 106) 239 coal miners were killed in a massive underground explosion at the Darr mine; only one man escaped. National attention was brought to the conditions in the mines, due to this disaster and one a mere 2 weeks earlier (making December 1907 the deadliest mine fatality month in US history). The federal government initiated efforts to prevent mining accidents beginning in 1908 and established the US Bureau of Mines in 1910.

Tomorrow: West Newton to Connellsville.

Bike Stats:

  • Cycle time: 2:33
  • Stopped time: 3 hrs
  • Distance 30 mi
  • Average speed: 11.4MPH
  • Fastest speed: 25.5MPH
  • Ascent: 207 ft.
  • Descent: 207 ft.

First Landing Days

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On our first full day at First Landing State Park, Jack and I lounged a lot. We took a lovely walk on the beach, although it was seriously windy and brisk. Even the birds were hunkered down on their “condo”and I took one pic of a pelican (we saw many) because our friend Annie, who will arrive here on Sunday, just adores pelicans. I sent the pic to her to let her know she’d be able to see some once she arrives.

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Saw some interesting stuff and picked up a nice shell, that reminded me of our Safari Condo Snail that John had made for us last year.

After our beachwalk and lunch, we got the bicycles down for a “shakeout” cruise around the campground and across the road to remind ourselves of the trails that are appropriate for bikes. It was a leisurely 7-mile effort without any pain.

We found a site (175) that has potential for future camping. It’s a drive-through, slightly sandy where the truck might park, but quite nice, with lots of potential for hammock-hanging and privacy.

John and Mary arrived around 5P, to a nice site (177) — in the photo you cannot see a really nice, shady area directly adjacent to their set-up, excellent for hammocks or chairs, or more working space or a screen house. Their setup is quite fine and works well in the site.

We four went out to dinner instead of cooking, as J n M were tired after their drive, so we had excellent seafood (fast service, good beer) and could have chosen to sit outside on the deck but the wind kept us inside. The place was called Dockside (along Shore Dr. northward, on the left and tucked back from a couple of other seafood restaurants nearer the road), and they also sell fresh seafood to purchase and cook yourself.

The next day, we did some more lounging as J n M settled in. We’d been eyeing a spot above Roomba, where some live oaks cling to a dune, as a potential hammock site. The path up to the trees was covered with live oak leaves, so it was incredibly slippery. I tried to clear them off a bit so we wouldn’t break our necks.

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We hung the hammocks and had a nice lounge in the wind and shade. Jack actually fell asleep after reading a bit.

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After lunch, we all four rode across the highway to the trail heads that actually go everywhere. We were looking for a woodsy trail that would take us toward Virginia Beach proper, and found it in the Cape Henry Trail. It’s quite a nice trail, although we had to watch closely for roots and pockets of deep sand so we wouldn’t go butt-over-teakettle. There were many other users also, on a sunny Friday. There is a break in the trail that you can take either toward 64th Street off Atlantic Ave, or you can go right toward an inlet and beach/picnic/boating area. We paused there to assess our timing.

Mary wanted to visit an elderly friend, so she and John turned back at that point, where Jack and I carried on along the Cape Henry Trail toward that same inlet to which one can drive. The trail along this stretch was quite narrow and the “footing” became increasingly sandy, the closer we got to the very pretty inlet.

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But this section of the trail was a raptor area, and we saw many flying osprey and I watched one settle into a high nest in a snag, in the middle of a tidal marsh. Its mate was circling and calling, possibly announcing a hatch, or just communicating with the parent that settled into the nest. By the time I got my camera out, all you could see of the nesting parent was its head.

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We ended up having to walk our bikes through deep, deep sand at the edge of the beach area that was being extensively used by mothers and young kids as we passed. Once I emptied the dune’s worth of sand from my shoes, we carried on to the parking and boat launch area, and rode back along the road to where Mary and John had turned back. We refilled our water bottles, and rode up to 64th St., turned left to head back to camp, and ended up with a nice 14-mile day, with a decent average speed of 9.5. I got “into a zone” as we tore up Shore Drive past the army base and back to camp, and really exercised my legs into the wind all the way to our turnoff. 

While she was out, Mary stopped by Dockside (totally mobbed on a Friday night) to pick up some shrimp. The “mediums” were enormous! We collaborated for dinner: Jack marinated the shrimp for a while in some Old Bay, and then we skewered them to cook on the grill; Mary made a salad; and I cooked up some rice. We had quite a lovely dinner together under the screen tent.

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”).

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.

Capital 2 Capital Trail Day 1

So, I must apologize. Yowl identifies as female. I mis-gendered her yesterday in my post. Today, I return with apologies to Yowl.

She is ready for a bike ride!

Meanwhile, the storm that brewed and stewed last night never came. I don’t think it even rained, although it might have done so, but only a little.

We ran the AC all night on a fairly high temp (around 74 degrees) with the fan going on Auto, so that the white noise of the fan running (instead of stopping and starting) would lull us to sleep. Not that either of us needed much coaxing.

Stayed asleep until around 7 and arose to have tea and coffee – we started in our “nook” under the Big Front Window, and finished up outside in the breeze in the screen room. Although it was humid, the general feel was grand.

We heard from our fearless leader, Alan, who has been primarily responsible for putting together this informal ride, that due to forecast weather for tomorrow’s trek from Williamsburg all the way to Richmond along the trail, he thought we might postpone until Saturday. Evidently, the forecast for Sat. is much nicer. We have no set plans, so we responded to his email that a postponement would be fine with us. 

Around 10 we saw some clouds building up, and thought we might go for a bike ride. The rain came before we had set off, and we debated for some time about whether to head back to bed for a nap or hit the Capital Trail. We decided to ride.

Ride: Always a good choice.

The rain was not heavy or any problem at all – in fact, it felt great, as the temperatures had risen, even though the sun was behind the clouds. We set off toward Jamestown, approximately a 7 mile journey.

It is so totally lovely to be riding along a nicely-groomed, completely paved path. It is truly a touring bicyclist’s fondest dream to have this type of infrastructure. With the sprinkles, very few people were out using the path, so we were able to meander side-by-side for most of the way. 

Got to Jamestown (mile zero) and looked at some maps and some historic markers (you might remember that we’d done the whole tourist thing at Jamestown just a month or so ago) and turned around. We had passed a couple of side trails that looked interesting, so we decided to explore the one called the Powhatan Creek Trail, that left the Cap2Cap heading through a cornfield.

The Powhatan Creek Trail winds through deep woods.
One of several deer seen along the Powhatan Creek Trail.

It was really a neat trail, entering the woods after the cornfield, and skirting some suburbs and housing developments. We saw numerous deer, some nice cypress swamp, bridged several wetlands, and then got ourselves throughly lost. Our hope that the Powhatan Trail would circuit back to the Cap2Cap was dashed when we ran out of trail during recess at a public elementary school. 

Of course, we never retrace our route unless there’s no option, so we pressed onward and found ourselves back at Rt. 5, at the Five Forks intersection (Ironbound and Rt. 5) with no Cap2Cap in sight. 

We rode the shoulder westward along Rt. 5 (toward Richmond) until we got to Jamestown High School, which we remembered as an option along the Cap2Cap, and in pretty short order, we found ourselves on familiar ground again. As we paused to assess what the heck we thought we might have done (think a triangle’s hypotenuse), a serious raucous was happening among some blue jays just off the path ahead of us.

I think Jack might have been a bit perturbed as my attention was stolen from his hypothesis about our journey by a Cooper’s hawk emerging from the raucous area, with 4 jays following it, as it carried what I have to assume was a baby jay in its talons, across the trail and across the road. Wow.

From the school, it was just 4.5 miles back to Chickahominy Riverfront Park, and by this time the sun was shining fiercely, and all moisture on the ground was evaporating and rising into the air, which our lungs, preferring oxygen to H2O, didn’t much appreciate. It was most definitely lunch time, so we beat a quick retreat back to Roomba, and spent the afternoon fighting off squirrels and lounging in the screened-in porch. 

I have never seen such bold, brazen “wildlife” before. First, one was investigating the handlebar bag on Jack’s bike. 

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Pesky creatures.
Exhibits no fear.

That made Jack remember that he had some energy bars in his kit bag, left inside the car. No problem unless the energy bars include chocolate. So he got up to chase away the intruder, and then went to the car, opened the back gate, and took the energy bars into Roomba to stay cool. Thinking surely the squirrels would not get into our car, he left the gate open to keep the interior of the car a little cooler. 

Lo and Behold! A slight rattling noise alerted us, sitting no more than 5 feet away, that the devil in a gray suit was inside the car, escaping with a baggie of trail mix from the FRONT SEAT! Who knows how long it had been rummaging around in there . . . 

It decided to have another try, after Jack retrieved our trail mix from its grubby little paws. 





THWARTED!

You just cannot leave a thing lying around with these obnoxious squirrels as neighbors! I really REALLY want to bring my hawk up here and teach the local tree rats a quick lesson in survival. Of course, I have no doubt that many camping tourists through the years have thought how funny, cute, and special it was to get “up close and personal” with the squirrels by hand-feeding them or leaving bread or peanuts lying around so they’d come closer. I just hope they don’t chew their way through anything on the car or, goddess forbid, on Roomba.

We spent the rest of the afternoon until dinner time with fans blowing on us in the screened room, watching the osprey out over the river, reading our books and snoozing (when we were not chasing squirrels away). 

As the day cooled and the campground filled up with weekenders, we began thinking about dinner. After a nice shower, Yowl and I returned to the screen room and electric fans, and we readied for chow by having a chilled, frosty beverage as the Brie warmed and the lamb burgers rested in the spice rub Jack had coated them with, in anticipation of grilling. 


All this while a young groundhog visited – the same young groundhog, I’d guess, that Jack saw getting chased by some of these very aggressive squirrels yesterday.


Which reminds me: as Yowl and I were walking back to the screen tent earlier today, we saw a couple of adult bald eagles harassing an adult osprey carrying a fish. I have to guess that the baldies wanted to poach the fish from the osprey. But the osprey was faster and more agile than the lumbering baldies. The whole group disappeared upriver so I don’t know how the contest turned out.

These guys were hanging out at the Roomba site today, and the final photo is a neat looking river edge around a bend from us. Breezy evening with solar and LED lights in the screen tent. G’night all –


Chickahominy Riverfront Park, VA


Yowl was ready to leave by about 8 this morning.

After an uneventful drive of about six hours (with a couple bathroom stops), it was 92 inside Blue Roomba, and outside, next to the Chickahominy River, it was 89. Some breeze, but very high humidity for set up. Nearly the first thing we did was plug in and raise the roof so we could crank up the AC. 


Jack relaxes in the cool as the AC does a great job bringing the temps down to something livable.


Meanwhile, Lee takes a break from set up by sitting in the screen house with the bug repellent keeping the nasties under control. 

But still, there’s a squirrel who thinks this is HIS site, and keeps intruding on these squatter immigrants to his spot. It’s a very brazen squirrel who obviously doesn’t know I’m a falconer who most regularly has a redtailed hawk as a partner, and together we catch squirrels for the hawk’s dinner . . . 


Before set up is entirel accomplished, by about 4:30, Yowl was ready to begin thinking about grilling dinner for the evening.


As the sun sets, the osprey head to their nests, the cicadas crank up their evensong, and the awning rope lights offer a cool reflection on the side and windows of Roomba. 


Maybe Yowl will have an icy adult beverage that is so well suited to summer in the warm climes. Yum. Prequel to dinner, Indigo Girls music, and a good novel. Life is good.