Robert Moses SP, NY, Pt. 1

Arrived late Monday the 29 after a lovely drive along back roads west and north, north, north. We could see Canada during much of the end of our drive, but no way to get there. Saw the bridge across the border and waved goodbye for at least another year. 

We were in a relaxing, shady spot (site 72) with our utility side to the road and our “front yard” being very pretty woods. We set up the Clam for our toy barn and storage shed. Although the site was far away from the bathhouse and offered no services, it was a nice and secluded spot near the end of the sites along Road A. In this site, however, spiders abound and we were constantly running into and through webs—even 5 minutes after we’d passed the same way. Also, the underside of the awning became gradually covered with the long-legged insects I’ve always called “mosquito hawks,” or “mosquito eaters” (actually a type of crane fly) all paired in reproductive bliss. It was a very creepy sight, but they’re good insects, so we left them to their six-legged-sex.

The BH is nice and clean and offers one single toilet/shower room (primarily) for the nearby handicapped site. In addition, the gang facilities reside on each side: women’s has 3 toilets (with the handicapped one having its own sink inside the stall) and two sinks; and a separated shower/dressing area with two showers. Water is hot, but delivered with a push-button system that offers merely a short burst of water for each push.

On Tuesday, June 30 we rode around all the park’s paved roads, ~21 miles, at a (mostly) gentle pace. Since the day was totally overcast, we took raincoats on the ride but it never rained. The wind off the water (St. Lawrence River or St. Lawrence Seaway—can’t learn the difference, if there is a difference, because all the visitor centers are closed) was significant, making for a good, strenuous pedal when we headed toward the water out Barnhart Island Road toward the Frank S. McCullough Jr. and Hawkins Point Visitors Center and Boat Launch (open). We rode further down the road to Hawkins “point” hoping to see water, but the end is taken up with un-accessible government property.

One possible theory about the Seaway vs. River breakpoint is that there is a lock system that converts the water levels from low (maybe the River side?) to high (maybe the Seaway side, dammed by the Long Sault Dam and part of the FDR Hydro project system?). More on the lock system later. Of course, the main visitor center for the Long Sault Dam is also closed.

The nature center we rode past (Eugene L. Nicandri Nature Ctr.) on Robinson Bay Rd. was closed, and while the hiking/footpaths to overviews, observation areas, and storyboards are open, they looked to be swarming with mosquitoes and well protected from any cooling wind.

As we checked out the northern-most picnic grounds (close to a CA/US border crossing checkpoint marked “road closed” with a tent in the middle of the road) we noted that the picnic area had an enormous pile of firewood cut, split, and piled randomly. There was no personnel around, and many newly-built picnic tables, so we thought it odd that the gate was open.

During our return to the Barnhart Island bridge at about 2 PM, we watched a UPS truck cross the border from Canada, and pass us headed toward the office/beach road. Even though it was a day early for our bike rack part to be delivered, we hoped the UPS guy was going to drop it off at the office as the tracking info had predicted for tomorrow. 

The UPS truck passed us again as we took photos on the Barnhart Island Bridge, so presumably, it had made a stop somewhere behind us. Sure enough, Jack checked the tracking info, and it was marked as “delivered at 2:02 PM.”

Once back at camp, Jack hopped into the truck and drove back to get the package, some firewood, and ice, and returned ready to roll on fixing the bike rack. As a further omen of good luck, he saw a bald eagle flying over the water near the bridge.

Our celebratory dinner was foil-wrapped pork chops with potato, onion, carrots, and celery cooked to perfection on the grill, with GnTs and a lovely fire to accompany—that is, until about 9 when the mosquitoes chased us inside.

Wednesday, July 1 (Happy Canada Day)

We enjoyed watching a resident turkey hen with poults hanging around. I saw her and the brood two times on Wednesday, and several additional times during our stay, including deep in our “front yard” woods. Also, there are multitudes of black squirrels (as well as chipmunks and small, quick red squirrels) all over the place—including one black squirrel with a blonde/red tail whom I was unable to photograph despite many efforts to do so.

We didn’t take a ride on Wednesday but went instead to Massena for a laundromat, groceries, and fuel for the generator. Generator hours at Rbt Moses are from 9 to 11 AM and 5 to 9 PM, and we’ve been taking full advantage since our site is very shady and we are enjoying little solar gain on the panels. Which, of course, is just as well since it’s been so hot.

We asked the nice laundromat lady if there was a local library with wifi—btw, it’s a beautiful, clean laundromat, with fans blowing, doors open for air, 24/7 opening hours, and offers good machines that run well and get things clean—so it was well worth the effort. But she reported the library is closed. 

She suggested a nearby Tim Hortons and so we went there for a bite to eat and the upload of my Sugar Ridge blog post. Unfortunately, we had a marginal meal and a long, tedious, frustrating blog upload. 

Back at camp, Jack worked on rebuilding the bike rack and I started readying the groceries for staged storage and a Dutch Oven fennel and chicken thighs dinner—one of our favorite camping creations. We took notice as people began to fill the empty spaces in the campground, preparatory to the holiday weekend.

Thursday, July 2 was forecast to be in the low 90s, so we rode early after a light breakfast to get a hoped-for 20 miles in before the swelter began. Got waylaid on the ride as we watched a small tug-like boat go through the Eisenhower Lock headed south (low water/river direction). It was so small we were unable to even see it for the majority of the water-lowering process while it was in the lock itself, and only knew it was done when it left the lock.

We began to ride out toward Hawkins Point again to (possibly) see some good birds (we din’t). Not even halfway there, I caught sight of the tugboat motoring along the nearby river headed southwest. Motoring upriver was an enormous freighter that appeared to be carrying aluminum slabs from the Alcoa plant down the way, and we figured it was headed for the lock. (When we were able to see it more closely, those long lumps of aluminum turned out to be huge wind turbine propellers.)

So we turned around and rode back to the large parking lot for the public to view the workings of the lock, and dismounted the bikes to watch the long process of the ship—entering the low end of the lock (as below);

. . . rising as the water was introduced to the lock (as below);

. . . and exit again at the high water side, headed north to Canada. 

The ship was called the Volga, run by BBC Chartering, flying the US flag, a Canadian flag, and one additional we couldn’t see nor identify. It blew its deep-throated horn as it left the lock, and the kids watching with us waved.

While we missed it when watching the tugboat’s traverse of the lock, we noticed a newly-erected (thin) osprey nest atop a tower across the way from the lock infrastructure. The resident osprey atop (I managed to forget my binoculars this ride) made some typical osprey noises, and took off when the big ship entered the lock, but we were unable to see if there was anything additional in the nest. 

As we watched, the sky began to darken significantly. Since we’d left Roomba open due to the prediction of no rain and high temps, we hastened back to button up our site. By then it was lunchtime, really hot (although not the 90+ predicted degrees) and terribly humid, so we called off the remainder of our ride, logging almost 9 miles. Instead, I lubed the bike chains and then made some potato salad out of leftovers, while Jack got more ice, and we read and lazed about for the rest of the day, eating the potato salad with the leftover chicken and fennel for dinner. During the day, we also watched lots and lots more people arrive.

This travelogue has been broken into two parts for upload ease. Please click here to see Part 2.

Trip’s End

Sunday, Apr. 21

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. 

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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 Federal Campground, VA

North Bend is among our favorite camping spots. It is enormous, and nearly everywhere there is good privacy between sites. The variety of sites available is awesome, but for this last segment of our Spring Trip we chose our “happy place,” an unserviced peninsula reaching into Kerr Lake (Buggs Island Lake) pointing to the south (North Carolina). We usually take site 117, so we face the sunset, but right across the road are excellent sites as well, which face the sunrise. 

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It’s a bit of a walk to the bathhouse, which is 4 private shower/toilet/sink rooms that are roomy and clean. Just as a side note, the dishwashing station is so far away that you need to drive up—and it’s not even at the newer of the biggest bathhouses serving this loop. You have to go to the old bathhouse—now closed to users except for the dishwashing station—which consists of no countertops, just a pair of deep utility sinks, set rather low (and back-achey). So it’s good to remember to take a table along for placing your dishes on.

While North Bend only offers aluminum can recycling, the tremendous upside is that one can get between 3 and 4 bars of LTE nearly everywhere. 

For this trip, Jack had mentioned online that we’d be there, and a few of our Altoistes friends (fellow owners of Alto trailers) suggested they’d be interested in joining us. So, on Thursday, April 18, we arrived (after finding a self-help car wash in South Hill and hosing off all the pollen from the vehicles) to discover Mike and Barbara already arrived and getting ready to set up. Their friends who are on the waiting list for their Alto (July pickup), John and Dana, were set up in a tent next door to them; and down at the end of the spit were Hal and Dawn in their 1-year-old model 2114.

It was VERY windy when we arrived, so we decided not to erect the awning. But we did set up the Clam screen house, and Jack tied it down every way from Sunday to keep it secure. Rain was forecast for the night into Friday, so we didn’t take down or uncover the bikes.

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We all agreed to meet at Hal and Dawn’s site for a Solo stove fire and dinner, but it was so windy, no one wanted to have their food get icy before they could eat it. Most ate in their trailers and joined us for the campfire afterward. Meanwhile, friends of Hal & Dawn who don’t own an Alto pulled into the site next to theirs and set up. We met John and Ginger as the fire kicked off.

We enjoyed a beautiful moon sparkling on the water, and the light lined up for me to get a great fire-and-moon shot.

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Friday, Apr. 19 & Saturday, Apr. 20

Although the strong wind had kept us awake overnight, none of the called-for rain had yet arrived as I sat outside with my book and tea at 7:30 AM. I had a great time watching three bald eagles in a contest for territory. It began with the arrival of a juvenile.

There was a pack of vultures feeding at the nearby shore (a dead fish or such in the rocks?) and a juvie bald eagle flew very near to check it out. When it saw me so close, it peeled off to go across the inlet to sit in the “eagle tree” (named by us during last year’s visit when an adult frequently sat there). Shortly another slightly less mottled sub-adult came along and was either about to alight or challenge when an adult came and chased them both away, chittering and flying aggressively after the youngest. They all disappeared for a while over the trees, and then I saw two of them flying high and away to the east.

I also watched a common loon fishing along the shoreline. Checked out the list of birds one can see at Kerr Lake, and the common loon is an uncommon sighting. During our stay, we saw and heard lots of them (or maybe the same ones over and over?).

Later in the morning, I heard the peeping of an osprey, sounding distressed. I got my binoculars up in time to see an osprey with a fish being harassed by an adult bald eagle. The osprey was lithe and quick but burdened by its fish. The eagle was aggressive and determined, working very hard to get above the osprey—yet it was ponderous and clunky in flight, compared to its target. 

Eventually, the osprey got high enough above the eagle to catch more of the wind and beat a very fast retreat off to the southeast. The eagle gave up and flew westward.

Not long after watching that contest, I began to feel raindrops—the rain began in earnest around 11. Jack and I pulled out the next jigsaw puzzle during the heavy rain, and the wind returned with a vengeance, rocketing the Roomba with pelting rain.

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Before finishing the puzzle we headed to Clarksville to have dinner with Allen and Mary at their farm. In some places en route, the rain was so hard it was difficult to see the road, and we got quite wet racing from the car to their garage upon our arrival. 

We enjoyed a lovely dinner of crab cakes and conversation, followed by a quick song or two around the piano. They have a lovely room with excellent acoustics where Mary plays the piano and Allen listens to his robust music collection with a high-tech sound system. A very comfortable spot—and Allen was also working a jigsaw puzzle—a beach scene in the dark blue of late evening. The rain had stopped and the wind calmed by the time we left.

Breakfast in the very windy and sometimes rainy Saturday AM (April 20) was drop biscuits in the Omnia oven, with the last of the Edwards ham we’d gotten in Smithfield.

 

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Biscuits in the pan before dropping the lid

 

Because the weather was still dicey, we stayed indoors and worked at finishing that diabolical jigsaw puzzle. Its theme was National Parks, and it was a “poster” of a bunch of our parks’ postcards—so every park was represented at least twice in the picture. It was 1000 pieces, which nominally would fit on our nook table, but 1000 is too many to fit unassembled and still be able to work on the puzzle. So we had to bring in our smallest camp table, cover it with a towel and place a whole bunch of pieces there. It was quite a bear and a gift from a friend we might not be able to forgive (just kidding).

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As the weekend drew to a close, our Alto friends were leaving, and some Floyd friends were scheduled to arrive. Hari & Karl had come to join us in their Cassita, but the wind was so bad still, they didn’t want to try to get the tent for their kids set up. So they moved over to the C loop, where it was sheltered from the wind and decidedly warmer than at our site. They texted us this information and invited us over for a campfire. Before we headed to Hari and Karl’s after our cold dinner, I took a shot of the choppy water and clearing sky as the sun was setting. We enjoyed their Solo stove fire for a while, along with a few adult beverages, and closed out the evening with a forecast for better weather during our final days of vacation.

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Kiptopeke State Park, VA Part 2

Monday, April 15

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).

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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Oddly, John 2 neglected to mention the actual name of his granddaughter-in-law, Frances Parke Custis (seeing her father as being much more important), but she was evidently a rather difficult person, evidenced by her husband’s inscription.

 

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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).

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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.

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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).

 

Bike Stats

  • 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.

Bike stats

  • Ride time = 2.25 hours
  • Stopped time = 1.5 hours
  • Distance = 26 miles
  • Average speed = 11.5 mph
  • Fastest speed = 18 mph

 

Kiptopeke State Park, Virginia, Part 1

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.