We finally got a break in the weather, but most of the Alto crowd had left. Jack and I headed to South Hill for foodstuffs enough to fix dinner for John (arriving without Mary, who has fallen under the weather, or possibly the pollen) and additional Floyd friends, Brad and Ellen.
Because we’re settled and they’re arriving in the afternoon and likely won’t be set up before dinner time, we texted with them to let everyone know we’d handle dinner for all of us. We found the fixins for the fennel chicken dish we like to cook in the Dutch oven, and we also got some pork loins to grill for Mary and Allen who were coming to the campsite on Monday.
I began cooking circa 5:30, completing it by around 6:30, and served directly from the Dutch oven, with Omnia heat-and-serve rolls and roasted potatoes. Afterwards, we cranked the Solo fire, and the Karl & Hari crowd came over from loop C to share.
It was another glorious sunset, with the sun peeking below the clouds and shining brightly on the end of our peninsula, making the trees look like they were about to combust.
No good sunset is complete without a good reflection photo off Roomba (it’s a thing with the Alto models that have lots of windows).
Here’s a gallery of photos I’m calling “Sunset After the Storms”
Monday, Apr. 22
First thing in the morning, I watched an adult bald eagle fly over. The day dawned cold (47 degrees) but I was outside watching for birds and enjoying the clear morning by about 7. I wasn’t the only early bird, as a couple of fishermen were plying the waters near our site also.
Before lunch, we took a bike ride with Brad and Ellen while John took a kayak paddle-about. We toured around the campground, and across the hydro dam, where we stopped both coming and going to watch bald eagles and osprey and enormous fish near the dam. I could have watched the birds all day.
Instead of going back to the campground, we turned right at Rt. 4 and headed to the tailwaters of the dam, where there were tons and tons of birds all doing wondrous things, just carrying on with their birdy lives. We got off our bikes again to watch eagles and osprey and herons and cormorants and so many more. Saw this heron trying to hide while roosting in a tree.
Returned to eat a late lunch and enjoyed the sun. Even though the breeze picked up as we ate, the sky was incredibly blue-blue, and the sun was toasty hot.
Allen and Mary came for dinner around 6, and we grilled a pork loin. John, Brad, and Ellen brought their own dinners and we all ate together. Everyone enjoyed another campfire, topped off with a celebratory dram to mark the end of our trip, as well as Brad’s (Apr. 24) and Jack’s (Apr. 26) birthdays.
Tuesday, Apr. 23
Naturally, on the day we must leave, the temp soared to 52 degrees and the wind stayed dead calm. Heard several lonely loon calls in the early AM.
We enjoyed a leisurely morning and said goodbye to Brad and Ellen around 8:30. Watched a contest between a lone loon with a fish, versus an entire gaggle of cormorants. The cormorants were doing a tag-team “harass the loon so it drops its fish” game, with much of the action happening under water. The loon would dip below, with 2 or 3 of the cormorants flying over to where it dove and diving after it. The loon would pop up again and other cormorants would fly over to it and dive after it when it dove for cover again.
Finally, the loon surfaced and up-ended the fish so it would go down its gullet, and suddenly, all the cormorants looked like they were bored, as if they’d had nothing to do with the loon at all. They all went different directions after the game was won by the loon.
Once the water warmed up a bit, John took a final kayak tour before he began to load up for departure. We ate an early lunch and began breaking camp in earnest around noon.
Just as we were nearing our own departure time, we saw a Canada goose family swimming by. The water was a bit choppy by then, but the little goslings were pretty easy to see. The hard part was getting the youngsters and both parents in my camera’s frame at the same time. But I finally managed.
It was an uneventful drive back home, and we parked Roomba in the driveway near his garage overnight. All was well with the house and critters and we were thankful for Surya, our house sitter. Naturally, the first thing Mischief wanted to do was play ball.
I grabbed some meat and went out to see how Beebs (redtailed hawk) was doing, and she seemed quite keen on the food, but not so sure about me.
Thus the 2019 Spring Trip comes to a close. It was wonderful and fun and so very exciting to share with so many of our friends and to meet new friends along the way.
More adventures to come—watch this space for the next peregrinations we undertake with our Alto camper.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Tootled down the Southern Tip Bikeway (old Cape Charles Railway bed) to the beautiful and enormous wildlife refuge, which once was an Army base (see reader board text below). Rode down to the old gun emplacement and around some of the trails, over to the boat launch, and the marsh observation deck. Saw a juvie baldie and lots of other neat birds.
Reader board: Cape Charles Railroad
The Cape Charles Railroad once ran along this bike path, connecting lower Northhampton County to the town of Cape Charles. From there the New York, Philadelphia, and Norfolk Railroad carried produce from the Eastern Shore to northern cities.
In the early 1900s, local farmers carried their produce to Cape Charles by boat. During potato season, boats filled with produce clogged the town’s harbor. Building the Cape Charles Railroad solved this problem and for years daily trains ran between Kiptopeke (south end) and Cape Charles.
In 1941 the rail line was extended south to supply the 5000 troops housed in the new Army base, today turned into a wildlife refuge (but still features two of the gun turrets and one of the guns used in WWII to protect the Chesapeake Bay). After WWII, improved highways and the growing trucking industry led to the slow decline of the railroad, which closed in 1972.
Today, the bike trail is all that remains of the Cape Charles Railroad, and the path runs from the Wildlife Refuge and its exceptional Visitor Center (open only Thurs/Fri/Sat at this time of the year) adjacent to Route 13, ending at a 700-numbered road called Capeville Rd (near a truck stop and seafood restaurant called Sparky’s). But the effort continues to extend the bike path all the way to Cape Charles when possible. For now, intrepid cyclists must leave the protected path and use the wide shoulder of Rt. 13 (or a maze of back roads) to cycle into Cape Charles proper (which Jack & I did on April 17, but more of that later).
It was during this ride, especially on our return to camp, when we took some back roads instead of staying on the bike path, that we encountered a very gusty, strong wind that alternated between being a headwind and a crosswind. We were literally threatened with being knocked off our bikes by oversteering the cross-gusts. We also (Mary especially) discovered the thick, dense pollen that was blowing and collecting everywhere and on everything. Note the yellow tinge of the Big Front Window on our Alto in the below photo.
For John and Mary’s last night camping, we had a celebratory “weenie roast” (using bratwurst) over a Solo stove fire, even though it was pretty darn chilly.
Mary even cooked a s’more for herself and John (Jack and I don’t do s’mores). When it was full dark, Mary cranked up her “disco light” and we placed it around the two sites to see what it looked like. The best photo I was able to get was when it was sitting on J n M’s teardrop, Little Debbie’s doorstep. Pretty cool.
The next day, John and Mary got away about 10:30 (April 16). Jack and I sat around to let the sun warm us up a bit and then headed out for a long bike ride after lunch. Again, pollen counts must have been off the charts, and the wind had not abated by any measurable margin.
As we set off we stopped at an active osprey nest midway up the main road into Kiptopeke (we’d noticed it yesterday, but I couldn’t get any pix). The parents were around, and Mr. delivered a fish, but I wasn’t able to capture the carry or drop.
Taking the Bikeway as far as we could, we decided to head toward the Bay along the Custis Tomb road, west of Rt. 13. We rode down to the tombs themselves, on what was once the Custis Arlington Plantation, now a tony housing development. A short history of Arlington: Early in the 1670s John 2 built a three-story brick mansion on the south bank of Old Plantation Creek, in southwestern Northampton County, naming the house Arlington after the Custis family’s ancestral village in Gloucestershire, England.
The name of the mansion inspired Custis’s descendant, George Washington Parke Custis (adopted grandson of George Washington) early in the nineteenth century, to give the same name to his estate outside Washington, D.C.
There’s not much left except an open grassland where the grand home once stood, with some reader boards, and the view of Old Plantation Creek.
And of course, the tombs themselves, which bear mention. Both John Custis II and his grandson John Custis IV are buried there, within a brick-walled enclosure with a small wooden gate. The inscription on John 4’s marker is significant and rather funny. Both original inscriptions are unintelligible on the stones, but the preservation folks have reprinted them for posterity.
John Custis II’s inscription:
The one for John 4 (above) is notable on several counts, not the least of which is that he threatened to cut his son, Daniel Parke Custis, out of his inheritance if he would not place his requested wording on the marker. While John 4 had moved to Williamsburg in 1717, he specifically wanted to be buried on the Eastern Shore, under these exact words:
“Aged 71 Years and Yet lived but Seven years which was the Space of time he kept a Bachelors House at Arlington on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. This Inscription put on this Tomb by his own positive Order.” It was chiseled there by William Coley, Mason in Fenn Church Street, London.
Now, if several of these references (Governor Berkeley, Bacon’s Rebellion) have stirred your memories of Virginia history or snagged your “bells” on the names themselves (Custis being a part of Martha Washington’s as well as Mrs. Robert E. Lee’s names) you can click here for a somewhat cobbled-together history of those periods and people in Colonial Virginia’s history, up to (nearly) America’s Civil War.
Back at the long-gone estate, we pedaled into and out of the Arlington development, and then, turning randomly on the country roads to see waterfront where we could and stay off Rt. 13, we made our way back to Kiptopeke. We hadn’t ridden around the park itself yet (something we nearly always do, taking every left turn so you cover it all without getting lost, since you end up where you began eventually) and we learned some things and saw things missed the first time through, two years prior (for more, check the link here).
We went down to a boat launch, beach, and fishing area, adjacent to the “cement ships” used during WWII as cargo vessels so that the metal ships could be used in the war effort. They have been beached off the shore of Kiptopeke, as a breakwater. The 9 ships that comprise the breakwater now serve as structure for fish habitat.
Cement ships grounded as a breakwater and habitat area
Many fisher-people were enjoying the day
Pelican flies over an osprey nest on a cement ship
This area was also the northern landing site for the once-busy Kiptopeke Ferry, which carried passengers from Norfolk to the roads accessing Cape Charles between 1949 and 1964.
It is obvious this was a passenger throughway if you catch this sign buried in the woods near the Ferry Road, and adjacent to the Kiptopeke Hawk Watch area (where the country’s highest counts of migratory peregrine falcons have been documented).
Ride time = 2 hours
Stopped time = 1 hour
Distance = 21 miles
Average speed = 11 mph
Fastest speed = 17 mph
Not to belabor this entry overmuch, on Wed., April 17, we rode into Cape Charles for lunch at Tim’s Family Restaurant (good food) in the shopping district and pedaled around the neighborhoods for much of the day.
Before leaving camp, we noticed a family of squirrels living nearly above our heads in our major shade tree. The strangeness of the black plastic trash bag caught my eye at first, and then we watched the mama exit and leave the kids behind. There were at least two of them and they were stretching their legs a bit before they disappeared back inside (went down for a nap?).
Anyway, forgot to take my camera along on the ride, so not much more to report. After getting back to camp and before the teensy Cape Charles library closed, I drove back into town to upload the Janes Island Pt. 2 post. We tried to fix pizza for dinner, but it was too windy to cook properly on the grill (with our grill-sized pizza stone). Decent, but sort of like eating a big pizza cracker: crispy on the bottom and barely melted on top. We’ll try that dinner again sometime, without the wind.
April 14 is Mary’s birthday, as well as being our moving day from Janes Island to Kiptopeke. En route, we stopped at a little burgh called Harborton on the Bay side of the Eastern Shore, roughly midway between Janes Island and Kiptopeke. Harborton boasts 131 souls (2010 Census) one of whom is a lifetime friend of Mary’s named Liz. Their mothers were best friends, so they’ve known each other since they were 6 years old. Liz, an artist, is working to restore an old property near the water, and we had a very nice visit with her. Harborton appears to be a very nice, quiet place to live.
The largest part of Kiptopeke is primarily for tent campers, but they have set up a fairly open pasture for RV camping—both reservable and walk-up. Much of the RV area is in full, blazing sun. But if you’re lucky, you can get either reservable or walk-up sites that are sheltered by trees. Our little cul-de-sac (Loop C) offers trees along the circle at the end, and we were in site 23, with John and Mary setting up next door in site 21 (strange numbering system). Both are shady, but with rain overnight, we discovered a small lake directly outside of John and Mary’s door, partly under their awning and partly toward the hitch end of their setup. But it drained pretty quickly.
Full hookups including sewer are available at all RV sites, a quite nice bathhouse (although there was a floor drain that emanated a rather foul odor the entire time, rather like it didn’t have a “j-trap” below). We enjoyed 3 bars of LTE cell service and single stream recycling, but there was no dish washing station.
After setting up, we headed into Cape Charles for Mary’s b-day dinner at The Shanty, hidden deep within the Cape Charles Harbor area, behind the Coast Guard campus, where Jack and I had eaten last time. We sat out on the deck, with an osprey family as our dining partners on pylons out in the water (along with several human groups at the deck picnic tables).
There was (of course) a sea life themed corn hole game that patrons were taking advantage of, and some interesting waterfront-styled art that I liked.
John joined us in drinking a local draft ale from Cape Charles Brewing Company (his first beer in three years) in celebration of Mary’s birthday.
Jack and I enjoyed excellent fish ’n chips, and John and Mary both had shrimp baskets, also delicious. After dinner, we drove around Cape Charles a while, then got out at the public beach to watch an incredible sunset that went on and on and changed every moment. As most of you know, I simply adore taking sunset photos, so I’ve tried to limit my choices to present to you in a gallery I’ve set up below. It was a lovely day, even with the aforementioned hard rain in the wee hours, and we saw many, many osprey in and around nests the whole time we were at Kiptopeke.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And we didn’t hold back on the eating front because it was more than “finger sandwiches” and totally delicious.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jack walks back toward the campground across the boardwalk protecting the dunes.
This lump of metal had lots of rusty-looking stones embedded in it.
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.
We hung the hammocks and had a nice lounge in the wind and shade. Jack actually fell asleep after reading a bit.
View toward Shore Drive.
View toward Chesapeake Bay.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the photo above, White Jason is far left with the Tangier boat and Larry’s Jason to the right as we left Crisfield.
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.
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.
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.
We docked and disembarked to a place that looked like it was in dire need of a little TLC.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.