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.

 

GAP 1, Lake Anna State Park

This begins the chronicle of our Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) Cycling Adventure. Having few opportunities for wifi connectivity—either through no service or no time—I’m playing catch-up, here at the tail end of the trip (September 22 – Happy Autumn!). 

Apologies for getting this out piecemeal—and you’ll notice there are a few times when I predict the future and refer readers to things that chronologically haven’t happened yet. Still, you’ll get most of the photos, and as much of the trip details as I can remember. There’s a lot to relate.

We’ll begin with Sept. 9 – 11

Rain and more rain caught us as we arrived at Lake Anna State Park (Virginia) on September 9 AND it was a slightly longer drive than we’d anticipated. Hadn’t left home until noon-ish, and as it turned out, rolled into our site #39 (with electric and water) around 5. It was nice to find excellent cell service at the campsite, and very very very few other peeps camping.

Much of our packing for this stage was sparse, as we needed to be completely out of food so we could turn off and leave empty our refrigerator prior to leaving Roomba at a friend’s house while we took our GAP ride. This stay at Lake Anna SP was merely the first stage of a longer bicycling ride package with Virginia Odysseys, the tour group with whom we often travel. We’d see Roomba again for some camping at the end of our travels.

ANYWAY, our dinner was sparse and all cooked inside since we also didn’t want to bring out the grill: re-heated pork loin, rice, and a simple can of green beans. It was warm, despite the wet, so we took our dinner outside, and heard an extremely strange call, nearby and quite loud. At first, we pegged it as a possible owl, but when I searched the darkening tree line for confirmation, we saw not an owl but an adult bald eagle. It was sitting in a high, thin tree across the roadway from us, preening on the tippy-topmost branch, which was bowed under its weight. It preened and watched us for a long time, as we watched it, and then it flew silently away. 

This will have to be a great trip with a kickstart like that, huh?

Fog and rain stuck with us through the next day, so we didn’t pull the bikes off the rack to explore what looked like extensive roadways and interesting trails designated for bicycles. I did, however, head off to actually find the lake and took a very nice hike. Unfortunately, the lake itself was quite foggy—but I could easily see a large-ish heron sitting just off the beach area, on a thick pylon, preening and just hanging out. Heron and I spent a long time together, and it didn’t seem to mind my taking pictures of it in the least.

There were also some vultures sitting around trying to get dry in the wet. Good luck to you all!

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I also took a wander through the woods around a peninsula, along a trail called the Railroad Ford trail (about 1.5 miles). Got a view of the lake a few times, with some fisher people silently trying to catch their dinners.

Also saw some bone yards — one fish and one mammal — along the path.

By the time I’d gotten back to camp, Jack had been using his robust cell service to find that Hurricane Florence was bearing down on the coast of North Carolina and Virginia, and we began to worry about our niece being at hour house, minding the shop, and enduring the worries of heavy weather while we were gone. 

We were also somewhat concerned about Roomba’s weathering the storm in NoVA, in our friends’ yard with tall trees all around.

We discussed what it might take for us to either return Roomba home to his garage while we gave our niece a crash course on operating the generator and then joining the group on our northern journey slightly late; OR canceling the cycling adventure altogether so we all could return to deal with Florence as a family.

We talked to Allen about options; we talked to housesitting niece and Meadows of Dan neighbor John about the home front. We talked amongst ourselves about what seemed practical and what might be over-caution.

In the end we decided, with our niece’s assurances and great promises of help and assistance from neighbors; plus a check on the NoVA forecast from the perspective of our Roomba-sitter, that we would carry on and let the chips fall where they may. Our niece is a tremendously resourceful person, and the clincher was that she did not feel anxious or out of her depth, and so we thought we’d stick to our schedule.

Virginia State Parks, however, had a different idea altogether.

In anticipation of the slow-moving and huge (geographically) category 4 storm that could cause heavy flooding and high winds in the Commonwealth, the powers that be closed the majority (all?) of the state and federal campgrounds in Virginia. We had to leave early.

So on September 11, we dropped Roomba off for his “summer camp” sleepover adventure, and headed to the start point of our ride in Cumberland, MD early. 

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Due to the storm, about half of our expected number canceled, primarily due to the fact that so many of the group live near the coastlines. So there was no problem getting a room at the Cumberland Fairfield Inn for us at the last minute. By the time we got to Maryland, Florence was still appearing vicious, but was tipping its trajectory slightly away from Virginia. We were relieved to see that, but still concerned for all our NC and SC friends and family.

But we joined our group: 3 couples, plus one single and the tour leader couple. Nine adventurers, one van with Minnesota license plates (dubbed “Minni”), and 8 bicycles (one was a tandem). Let the GAP Odyssey begin!

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Happy 20th Anniversary

July 12

Before we depart from La Jolie Rochelle, our breakfast on July 12 was enhanced by an unexpected visitor. No one knew exactly where our feline friend came from nor who might be its humans. But it wandered through and around the trailer for a good while before disappearing as mysteriously as it had appeared.

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Janet also wandered into the river to take a photo of her Alto on site. I wish I’d done that, too. Nothing is so unfortunate as an opportunity not taken.

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Just to have some fun, as we were leaving we saw Jim with a cartop carrier packed with “noodles” of all colors. He and Jack have a running joke about how much Jim loves noodles—he’s the one that gave us the idea to use them to keep folks from tripping on awning guy lines. We felt that Jim needn’t purchase any additional noodles (no matter the use to which he put them) if he used the space in an entire cartop carrier to haul them everywhere.

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From La Jolie Rochelle, our group departed in a scattered way aiming at an interim “rally point” that was close to the 20th Anniversary Celebration in Sainte-Marie, outside of Quebec City and near the new Safari Condo factory in Staint-Frederick. Individual owners collected ourselves—after breaking camp and, for those who needed to, visiting the campground’s dump station—in a neighborhood in the small village of Scott, that our guide Jim had selected—a place where 16 Alto trailers with their tow vehicles could assemble to await a 1PM sharp en masse departure to the Celebration site.

This was important because if a group of friends wanted to all camp together, all had to arrive at the parking lot-cum-campsite at the same time. That was what we wanted, so we parked for a while along a crescent road in a quiet neighborhood until all had arrived, and then we began our short trek to the Celebration site (the Caztel Center ice hockey rink [among other uses]) in Ste.-Marie.

As luck would have it, while we lined up on the crescent road, Jack and I met new friends, who had been unable to join us at La Jolie Rochelle. But since they were going to attend the Celebration, and because they’re from Ottawa and are friends of Jim, he included them in the “arrive with this group” gathering. I say lucky because they parked on the crescent directly behind us, and we kept that configuration along the way—we called it a Conga of Snails—to the parking lot. Alex and Christine shared our “open space” as our trailers were arranged door-to-door with one parking space between us. 

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Snail Conga
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Group Arrival
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Door-to-door

As it happens, they had one of the “old style” awnings and paired theirs with ours. Using a small grass embankment behind the trailers, and with some additional poles and guy lines, WE HAD SHADE!! Which was a good thing as the lot temps reached the high 80s that day, and rose to the 90s the next day.

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SHADE!!
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Roomba and Tow Vehicle
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Augie also enjoys our shade

So the single factor about this entire adventure we were dreading the most was completely removed from the equation. What tremendous luck. And they are delightful folks who share many of our own interests, as do many Alto owners, we have found.

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Friends to the right
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Friends to the left
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View from our Big Front Window
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Roomba

After registration and continuing to set up our site, we all went back downhill to the Caztel Center for the evening’s kickoff events, and on display was the very first Alto trailer ever built by Safari Condo. They discontinued the “signature” yellow several years ago, and you can see the plastic windows have since been replaced with glass. And today’s Altos are significantly larger than #1.

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There was a craft beer tasting event and welcome that evening, with the “grand illumination” following at around 10:30P. The beer, from a regional craft brewery called Frampton Brasse, was quite good. And while the presentations were mostly in French with some translations, and while they made the Nadeau family happy, some of us were left in the dark about what was going on. But our Australian friends who stayed with the group at La Jolie were publicly honored and thanked for not only coming from the farthest distance, but also because they have been great helpers to the company in selling and answering questions about the trailers from some of the potential buyers down under.

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The pre-gathering materials encouraged all trailer and conversion van owners to “light up their Safari Condo” in whatever way they chose. We had our “blue moon” lights charged and ready to go, plus pulled out the “disco light” and we had a big gathering in the parking lot—sharing drinks, nibbles, and stories until midnight.

The evening turned cool, thank goodness, and the sleeping was fine after a big day.

July 13

The Caztel Center’s facilities (and charging stations, and air conditioning) didn’t open until 7A, so we started our morning sipping our beverages in our chairs outdoors, watching the “camp” awaken.

At some point Mark and Angela came by and expressed an interest in taking a bike ride, so we began setting up for that after a quick brekkie. We got away around 9:45, and another Alto owner and rider who’d made his own recumbent electric bicycle joined us. After filling our water bottles at the Center, we headed steeply downhill to the route. On the map (apologies for the poor quality of the pic) and apparently close to the Rivière Chaudière is the paved bike path indicated in green (opposite side of the river from Sainte-Marie). We headed northerly from Sainte-Marie back toward Scott, because Mark had heard that there was a beautiful, very French patisserie with excellent coffee in Scott. Of course, we went.

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First, we headed past Scott to get about 10 miles in before heading back. The path was a bit confusing because there was some construction and we were worried because we could not read the signs very well. But it was all paved and we only had to creep past a couple of vehicles along the way, until we began down the shoulder of a busy road headed toward a couple of interchanges with the very big #73 highway. At the second interchange we returned to Scott and paused briefly at a pretty church with a lovely steeple and very unusual wrought iron steps.

At last we found the pastry shop and stopped there for a long time to enjoy not only the delicious eclairs, cake and coffee, but also the lovely setting.

We rode back toward the Caztel Center feeling somewhat heavy, but energized. It was around 2PM when we finally got back, after getting slightly lost along the very busy road directly below the Caztel Center (we over-shot our turn uphill). It was in the 90s by then, and if we had not had shade to sit in I might have returned to Scott to sit by the river on the lawn under the trees again.

Bike stats: 

  • Ride time = 1:43
  • Stopped time = 1:47
  • Miles = 22.3
  • Average speed = 13MPH

We rested and then spent the evening entertaining friends and being entertained by friends, sitting in the middle of the parking lot once the sun set. Michele and Claudette came by with nibbles and wine and whiskey, and that became our dinner. 

The Celebration activities include a Beatles show and lots of our group was assigned to the Friday night show, while we head to it on Saturday night after the group dinner. I guess the auditorium where the show was to be held would hold only half of our group of 700+ individuals (in 350 Safari Condo products Altos and conversion vans [condos] together).

I shall report on those final activities (and a Sunday breakfast for all) in the next post.

La Jolie Rochelle

Arrived Tuesday, July 10 after about a 3-hour drive to Saint-Raphël de Bellechasse, easterly from Quebec City. There (with a bit of hunting) we found Camping La Jolie Rochelle, a simply wonderful private campground along a beautiful babbling river. 

It was hot by the time we were able to get in and, with tremendous help from our host—he actually backed Roomba into the tight spot opposite a serious stone wall—we set up our Alto in site #13 of a long string of Altos of all stripes, model numbers, colors, and ages. We joined a mini-rally. I was seriously relieved that I did not have to back Roomba into that spot.

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Our grassy site was simply excellent, right on the river embankment, even sandwiched among everyone else, some of whom we knew from the rally we attended last year, some from shared Alto travels, and some only virtually, via Facebook. So it was really fun to put some faces with names we knew from the Altoistes FB group.

After setup, I shared a beer with Alto friend Jim, and realized I needed more beer. So Jack and I headed out to scope the area for a grocery. We found a lovely place called “Marche Traditions” and it was surprisingly good for a small grocer with only two checkout lanes. Full of good veggies, cheeses, beer, wine and everything in between. We got some go-alongs so we would not starve while camped in a parking lot for the Anniversary Celebration (which begins Thursday), and of course beer and wine to share and consume.

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Roomba is at the right of the photo, with the awning that has the blue noodles on the guy lines.

The evening was a “gathered meal,” or one in which everyone brought to a central location (six picnic tables pushed together beside the pool area) whatever they were having for dinner anyway, and if one chose, bring something to share. If nothing in the cupboard to share, no worries. We all just ate together, and it was a very fun evening. We had gotten some desserts pre-made from the Traditions grocer, and they seemed to be a big hit with the group, although I did not have one.

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This is a pic from our picnic site of a few of the Altos gathered here.

Before and after we ate, we were able to tour one of the Alto model 2114s, an extra-long Alto version — the first than many of us had seen, and I think about the 11th ever sold (they had just been released earlier this year). 

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Also, another Altoiste who goes full time using a Safari Condo conversion van to pull an older yellow Alto rolled in to join us.

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A campfire was built and many gathered around it into the night, but I cocooned in Roomba to read and get my eyes closed by ten. Jack stayed with the group until about 11, but I did not wake up when he got in.

On July 11, I arose early (6:30) to find the temps had dropped to 40 degrees outside. With an extra shirt and long pants, I carried my tea outside and watched some gulls preen and dry themselves on some rocks in the river shallows. 

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I watched them for a long time before Jack got moving.The sun came over the trees and enlivened all sorts of life including a pair of kingfishers that flew above the water upstream and out of sight. 

After breakfast, we sat and read and visited and chatted with fellow Altoistes until plans began to come together for a bike ride. Mark, Richard, Jack and I ended up headed to a paved bike path that my understanding is was once a rail bed, now converted to a bike trail. In full, it is 70 km, paved the entire way.

We started by driving what seemed a long way to begin at “P7” in Armagh. This had been the rail station, and off the parking lot was a cafe/snack stand. We started at 1:30 and rode outbound about 12 miles, and turned around to come back for a total ride of 24 miles in 1:38 of ride time (we paused a few times to drink water and decide whether or not to continue).

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Along the route I saw a female pheasant, likely near her nest, just standing beside the trail. We also saw a goshawk zip past along the timber line near a gravel road, and saw many Monarch butterflies. We also heard but did not see a red-tailed hawk soaring above somewhere.

The trail was very nice, fairly straight and pretty flat, and it was a good ride. Richard is a serious cyclist so he kept our pace up, and I averaged 14.6 MPH over the duration.

Richard peeled off at Route Principale, on our return and somewhat close to the end of the ride, to take the main roads back to the campsite via a more direct route than we’d traveled to begin. Mark, Jack, and I stopped at the little cafe to grab an ice cream and some more water.

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Upon our return another 2114 had arrived. The family we have often camped with in the past “traded up” their 1723 for the larger 2114 to better accommodate their family. They came straight from the pickup at the factory to our little gathering, and moved that beast into their site with the Caravan Mover, with a little help from their Altoiste friends, since they’d never used one before.

A few of us gathered to share beverages at our campsite, and we talked to Cynthia and Gail—Alto owners from Australia here for the Celebration—for a long time, sharing stories and once again, putting faces with names we’ve corresponded with for years over the internet.

A simple meal after our showers, and more Alto friends, Michele and Claudette, whom we met for the first time in April when we were camping at Virginia Beach, arrived and we shared a glass and slapped mosquitoes together as the sun set.

Everyone is looking forward to the celebration activities tomorrow, so we (mostly) hit the beds early, although a hearty few sat by the campfire again into the evening. 

Leaving First Landing

April 18

Our final day at First Landing State Park began early, and I took a couple of pix of a newcomer to the neighborhood, a (presumably) hand-made wooden teardrop that came in right across the way from us. It was a neat little thing, and later, we saw two adults and at least one child tumble out of that small space.

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The day truly began, however, with breakfast in the company of Annie, John, and Mary at a place Annie’s friend had steered her to earlier: Simple Eats. 

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Quirky, artsy, fun, and delicious. The owner reported they’d been open since June of last year, so Simple Eats was about to have an anniversary. What a great find. I had their breakfast burrito, but everything everyone ate was delicious (naturally, Jack’s brekkie included sausage gravy, and it was full of good drippings, so was a comforting shade of light brown rather than the white-white we get at breakfast stops in Meadows of Dan). The conversation was varied and quite fun, and we all had a great time together.

Mary and John got back to the campground and began stowing things away for a noon-to-one departure (as did we), but their activities revealed that their battery was as dead as the proverbial doornail. Even an attempted jump from the Park Ranger didn’t give it enough juice to turn over the engine. So their departure was somewhat delayed, as they called AAA and the nice fella tested their depleted battery and suggested replacing it. Which they did. They began their 6-ish hour journey home in the 1:30 to 2 range.

Our day’s destination was merely 3 hours away, back at North Bend Campground again for the return, so we weren’t so concerned about our departure time. But staying nearly a week in a single spot revealed how scattered and disoriented our gear could get in that amount of time. So it took a while for everything to get back where it was supposed to be stowed.

An uneventful drive east got us to North Bend around 5 or 6PM. While we were filling our fresh water tank, Mark and Angie arrived with their Alto 1743 (fixed roof) and they not only wanted to fresh-water shower their bikes, trailer, and car to get the road salt off (they’d come from the frozen north) but also to de-winterize for the season. So they spent more time at the dump station than we.

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Site 117 in Area B

We were in site 117 in Area B, and decided to perform the minimum set up. While it was warmer there than at First Landing, the wind was still up, it was late, and we were tired after a late night with friends and beverages. 

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From the road.
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From the beach.

We had chosen an unserviced site at the end of a lovely peninsula, with no one on the south side of us, and the sunset was lovely. Mark and Angie had gotten to their site next door (116) in time to get their setup done before the sun set, so they joined us for a late cocktail. We talked so long that 9PM crept up on us before we’d even thought about dinner.

Happily, we saw the bald eagle we’d seen at the point across the water last time we’d been here, and also the Canada goose pair whose nest was tucked into the bank opposite our beach. Mr. Goose kept patrol through the night while Mrs. sat the nest, patiently incubating their eggs. Wish I could have seen the goslings follow Mom down their handy ramp to the water, but we were too early for that Big Day.

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This looks like a double exposure, but it’s from the outside, through Roomba to the opposite side facing the water. Strange effect . . . 
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The crescent moon appeared as the sun was sinking, above us and Mr. Goose (tiny black blob with a neck in the deep right corner on the water), vigilantly keeping watch over his family.

Bicycling and Eating

Saturday, April 14

Mary’s Birthday dawned cool and breezy (no surprise there). We had our beverages under the awning, did our breakfast thing, and then talked with J n M about plans. We sat with them at their set-up until the shade in which we were sitting disappeared, and chatted. While there, a couple of brazen crows came down right next to us, and picked at stuff on the ground. Also, a brown skink-type critter with darker and lighter stripes along its side came to visit, and cavorted around the base of a live oak trunk. 

Rain is forecast for the overnight and into Sunday, so Jack and I thought we’d want to head over to the Dismal Swamp Canal trail, which was reclaimed from an old roadbed (Rt. 17, which is now a major north/south artery through Chesapeake). Rt. 17 was made from the old towpath that was the canal’s “engine” and there are reader boards at various points along the straight-as-an-arrow road.

So J n M figured they’d get in a walk along the beach and maybe ride their bikes along a few more of the bike-friendly trails across the highway, in the rest of the State Park. 

We made up some lunch sandwiches, loaded the bikes on the hitch rack of the truck and set out. Traffic was hideous as everyone was trying to get into the beaches on such a fine Saturday. Although the distance to the trail was not reported to be extreme, the traffic made it quite a haul. Maybe plan in the future to head down there during the week day, but not during rush hour?

Finding the trail head was not an easy task. We tried to use the address on the website print-out we had downloaded, but ended up in the municipal parking lot for the local offices of Chesapeake’s government. Still we found a nice shady area to eat our lunch, and while there, Jack’s friend Harry called and they talked camping for a while.

At last we found the trail head, and there was even a bathroom available that wasn’t a port-a-loo. A crew was taking down the structures for some sort of event they’d had recently (we discovered later it was the “Swamp Stomp” and it had happened that very morning, closing off much of the park’s trail). Because everything was so obviously over, we were glad we had not gotten an earlier start, because we would not have been able to ride the whole length of the trail. And there would have been a bunch more people hanging out.

But starting the ride at the heat of the day was not ideal. Still, we had lots of water with us, and began at the Old Rt. 17 northern trail head around 2:00P. The part of the park/trail that was reclaimed from Rt. 17 was about 8.5 miles. There was about a 2.5 mile add-on you could ride along actual Rt. 17 (very busy and narrow at this section, but paved) to get to a big rec area with soccer fields, tons of parking, and, apparently, they were putting up a fair or a carnival or something. We did not investigate, but turned around and finished our 21-ish total miles, riding the whole length and back to the start point. 

We did observe, however, that a kayak or canoe row along the canal would probably be a great adventure, and there were several put-in spots to launch (plus a canoe rental place along the portion of the way between the northern trail head and the rec area).

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The wind was wicked, especially on the way out and especially-especially at the end of the road, where the corridor of greenery we’d been surrounded by the entire time opened up to a series of very long, flat, plowed fields across which the wind hit no barriers until us. Ugh.

Happily, it was “mostly” at our backs on the return. But overall, I was disappointed in the trail. There was little variation along the way, and the “promised” wildlife the literature had touted was all hidden by the thick corridor of scrappy, brushy greenery that tunneled us down the road. So it was kind of boring. 

But the surface was paved and the grade was mostly flat, and it was an excellent workout for all points that meet the bicycle. In the end, we did our 21.31 miles at an average speed of 13MPH (Jack had found his own “zone” along this trail, and had a higher average speed than mine); highest speed of 18MPH, over a 73 ft. total ascent. It took us about an hour and a half of ride time to complete.

We collaborated with J n M again on a birthday dinner for Mary, and experimented with a dutch oven Mary had brought — which they subsequently gave to us for our birthdays! She had a recipe book and roasted some potatoes in it at our site (so we could watch the pot—being clueless about dutch oven outdoor cooking—while Jack roasted some little game hens and grilled some zucchini. Another lovely meal was enjoyed on a quite mild night inside the screen house once again. Mary’s potatoes turned out excellent, and we have lots of leftovers to enjoy again later.

Sunday, April 16

While the expected rain did not come in the night, it was nevertheless forecast to roll in sometime Sunday, so we kept the bikes on the Roomba rack, under their waterproof cover. The weather was cool and truly lovely (the wind having abated considerably) so we spent the morning watching all the weekenders pack up and leave. Over the weekend, the park had become quite busy, with an enormous extended family taking up several sites across from us; and a couple of busses full of girl scouts in the tent-only area. None were too obnoxious, even though the big family seemed to be swarming everywhere, and the scouts were shrieking as they played some after-dark game. But all was quiet by bedtime.

But back to the day: we are expecting two additional Alto owners to come join us; one family of which was a co-coordinator (with Jack and one other owner) for the Stone Mountain Rally last year: Karen and Steve. 

Also, another Facebook friend whom we met for the first time last year at the rally just happened to be on the east coast, just south of us at Kitty Hawk. Annie texted Sunday AM and asked that we inform her of the departure of those folks in her site (171) so she could come in early if possible (published check-out is 1P and check-in is fairly late, at 4P). Just as the clouds began to roll in, with the rain beginning around an hour later, we texted Annie that her site was free. Mary had another friend to meet up with, so she left with their van and John in the tent. Jack spent the last bit of time before the rain came lounging in the hammock.

The first round of rain ended about 1PM, but the clouds remained with the temperatures low enough we needed to zip the “longs” back onto our pants, and put on a light jacket. Again (and thankfully) the wind was blissfully quiet—at least for a while.

Have I mentioned the pollen?

Everything that reproduces by liberally distributing pollen into the air has chosen this moment to do so: from pines to live oaks and every type of discreetly-flowering plant in between has sent gobs and gobs of pollen on the relentless wind (frankly, an excellent reproduction strategy, though tough on sinuses and eyes).

Until the rain, we were battling the pollen on every surface and even sitting down a beverage for a moment meant that there would be a skim of pale yellow atop it in no time at all. Wiping it up was only a temporary assist, and I have wiped all of our eating surfaces and food-fixing surfaces multiple times. Forget trying to keep it off your clothes.

Brilliantly, the off-and-on rains on Sunday meant much of the pollen on the solar panels, car, and screen house was washed off. Then it pooled and puddled around, appearing as though someone had spilt institutional-yellow paint everywhere.

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I took some rainy time to go up to the Visitor Center, where they freely loan their WiFi, and have a nice lounge in which to check email etc. And the access is quite robust, at that (we have plenty of Verizon cell at the campsite, but we tend toward running out of data, so grabbing some very nice, quick WiFi is a super plus). There are also clothes washing machines there, for those in need.

By the time I returned, Annie, Steve, and Karen had arrived, and some catching up was enjoyed by all. After a while, we had cocktails under Karen and Steve’s awning; and then the entire group of us went to Dockside Seafood for dinner. It was a fun evening that strangely presaged a wild night of rain and wind.

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This was the April night/morning where there was snow and hail falling in Meadows of Dan, tornadoes in Lynchburg, ice in the northeast, and many other serious weather anomalies: April 15-16. For us, it was a rollicking night of huge, battering gusts of wind and sheets and buckets and cats and dogs of rain. Impossible to sleep.

We rocked and rolled a while, and then (several times) tried to see out to assure ourselves that everything was still in one piece — all was fine until about 4:30A, when we saw that the screen house’s roof had managed to fill with water and pop inward. Jack got his jacket on and waded barefoot through about 4 inches of standing water from our door to the screen house, which had even more water in it. As he came back, he mentioned that he had no idea where our Crocks had floated or blown off to.

By dumping off the collected water, he was able to re-pop the top to its normal condition, and it stayed that way until light dawned. My guess is that the deluge stopped around 5AM, and we actually managed to nod off a bit. By the time we got up, the standing water had abated, but dampness reigned. Our awning, however, protected most of what was under it, although the blown rain had dampened most everything.

I won’t go into the details of the cleanup, but here’s a photo of how our lovely “nest” site turned into a place reminiscent of every “ugly RV-er” you’ve ever imagined.

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The clouds abated, but the wind picked up again, so we had wet gear (from inside the screen house) hanging everywhere, including our “welcome mat” rug. Happily the “porch chairs” were dry, and everything that mattered could either dry out or didn’t get wet at all. My bike helmet had been inside the screen house on the picnic table, and flew somewhere, knocking off my rear view mirror, but it was fine, although sandy, on the ground.

We found both sets of our Crocks. Mine had been stopped by the tire, and Jack’s were around the back near the driver’s side bumper of the trailer, headed for the road and freedom. 

So it was a slow and distracted start to our Monday, but all was well. J n M weathered the storm with only a few small leaks around their tent-to-car attachment, and all the Alto owners were fine, if weary from lack of sleep. While it threatened more rain all day, and was rather cooler than Saturday and Sunday had been, it did not rain again during the day on Monday.

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Quick Trip

At the end of March through Easter Monday, we took a quick Roomba excursion up to the Richmond area. Jack had some errands to run in the “big city,” and I partnered with other Virginia Falconers’ Association members to do an educational presentation.

On the falconry front, our sport is governed in Virginia by our Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. They asked us if we might come and teach a few of their newest Law Enforcement Officer recruits about the sport—to help them understand what they might find us doing in the fields and forests of the state, and to know a bit about the regulations they will help enforce.

Jack and I drove up in two cars (mine filled with birds and dogs) to camp for the weekend at Powhatan State Park. Friends headed back to Williamsburg from a trip they’d taken to Asheville planned to stop by and spend a night or two camping across the road from us. We were in our fave site, #5, and were glad to have the dogs with us and robust cell service. We shared a couple of meals and even more campfires with our friends, and had a very relaxing time, after my obligation for the educational event was passed.

It was hot and the wind was constant and dusty—not even remotely ideal for a hunting demonstration for these young men—and troublesome for any of our group’s birds that had to be left in the cars. The group had brought lots of different species of birds for the recruits to see up close (including a great horned owl chick), and we tried to find some rabbits or squirrels after the classroom session, flying two Harris’ hawks over their heads.

But to no avail. The birds were not “into” the experience, and the human population was uncomfortably sweating in our briar clothes. There wasn’t a squirrel nor a rabbit to be found anywhere. It was, after all, the penultimate day of the legal hunting season for us (March 30), and most of us had long since “put up” our birds for the season. My two were fat and ready for the molt—CJ had even begun shedding his down feathers.

The group seemed to have a good time, however, and left with a broader understanding of the smallest slice of their new enforcement duties for hunting oversight in the Commonwealth.

I had prepared my red-tailed hawk, Skye, for release by allowing her to have (nearly) as much as she wanted to eat during the prior couple of weeks. Once I knew of this event/trip, I decided to use the time and space away from home to return her to the wild.

On the day of release, I chose a nice spot with some thick evergreens for her to roost safely during her first night of freedom in 3 years, and our friends took some photos and video. Some of you have seen these already, since I posted them on FB last week. But here are the pix of Skye’s last up-close encounter with her business partner (me).

I let her eat a nice morsel while I used the scissors to cut off her leather anklets and bell bewit.
Nearly done with the “off side” gear, the video below takes it from the removal of the “near side” equipment, and my giving her a final large lump of food that I want her to carry with her into the woods. Which she does as she flies away from me for the last time.

Jack and I took one of the days to pull out the kite and fly it. Unfortunately, we chose the only day of this short trip during which the wind toned down significantly; so it was difficult to keep the kite up, even after we’d removed its colorful tails. It was still fun, though, and we had gone to the part of the State Park where few people were enjoying the trails, and also let the dogs off-leash for a while.

It was the weekend, if you might recall, when we had a spectacular full moon—it’s impossible to capture the magnificence of the rising globe with a phone camera, but I tried anyway. It was quite a sight, and for the rest of the evening/night, we didn’t need flashlights to navigate our way around the camping area.

The next day, we had a fun experience, listening to and watching a gang of about 12 bluebirds cavorting around our campsite. They were loud (we call it “burbling and twittering”), and feisty, and dancing in the branches of the trees around ours and a couple of other campsites. Still have no idea if they were mating or fighting, or maybe a bit of both. But it was truly magical to see so many of them so closely for so long.

Determined not to be left behind, Mischief takes up residence in the back of the truck, on top of our kit bags.

Our trip home again was cloudy and threatening, but the rain decided to hold off until after we were back and settled back into the unpacking routine. This trip was the first we’d ever taken with an additional car, so I captured this photo of Roomba from behind, just as we got close enough to the mountains to see that we were nearly home again. That moment, when we’re in the low country looking up at our home region atop the blue ridges, we both get a warm glow inside.