Douthat State Park, VA

On Sunday August 9, everyone scattered to the four winds. Most of our group went home, but Jack and I headed to our final encampment for this Travel in the Time of Plague adventure: Douthat State Park near Clifton Forge, VA (actual address = Millboro, VA).

We’ve been to Douthat many times in the past (click HERE for a bit about our fall 2016 stay), but never stayed at this particular campground (they have 3 for RVs and one for horse campers: Whispering Pines, Lakeside—currently under construction/renovation—and White Oak; and the equestrian one is called Beaver Dam).

SinceDouthat is not far from Sherando Lake, we took a leisurely pace and arrived at 1PM, which is the time park officials expect the departures to be accomplished. This is good news, because our loop, White Oak, is reservable but unassigned. So we had leisure to drive around and look at the options, which at that time, were many.

We liked the looks of both #19 and #12. Nineteen was high on the hillside and closer to the bath house, but 12 was deep and had a great “back yard” off the bumper-end of the trailer, with lots of hammock trees and shade. When we began the “move-in” there was “closed” tape across the two sites “below” us, and signs on the posts that said they were not available.

In general, there is little visual separation between the camping pads, and leveling is a variable challenge. But the physical spacing between sites is decent, and since it’s on a wooded mountainside, it is a very nice campground, indeed. There is a dishwashing station and a large, well-maintained bath house, and everyone was wearing masks when inside.

We scootched Roomba toward the front to ease the leveling challenge, and it would have been a perfect spot to erect a “utility side” awning if we’d been able to get the keder rail attached to our off-side roofline, had we been able to get to Safari Condo for our service appointment in Canada earlier this trip. Two awnings on our trailer would give us what I call, “The Flying Nun Effect.” Maybe next year.

Before we’d finished set-up, however, a Ranger came by and removed the tape from #11. When Jack asked what was up, he noted a dead tree between the two “closed” sites, and lamented they’d been intending to cut it down for months, but when they had the weather they didn’t have the staff, but when they had the staff, the weather was bad. He went on to say that demand dictated they open both sites back up, since the “danger” the tree posed was slim, and they needed the spaces.

So we lost one of the great features for which we’d chosen #12, but it wasn’t too bad as the “beige box” that moved in was an elderly couple with their daughter and granddaughter. They spent most of their time over at the park’s beach. Still, with our trailer at the “front” of the site, we didn’t spend much time lounging under our awning due to the other trailer’s proximity. Which was fine, because we spend a lot of time in our shady “back yard.”

I set up the Dutch oven cooking paraphernalia in prep for another zucchini & tomato bake, and Jack grilled a slab of salmon on a plank we’d picked up before leaving Stuart’s Draft en route. GnTs accompanied our meal prep, even though the day’s been cool—in the low 70s mostly.

Monday, August 10: The cool temps departed early as the sun rose. Of course, we hit the road to head to Covington to take a bike ride. This time, we hit the Jackson River Rail Trail, a fairly new RR bed conversion running a bit over 13.5 miles.

We’d last ridden this trail last fall with Roanoke cycling friends, Bill and Ann. Even though most rail-trail conversions slope gently higher as you head upriver (and of course, the opposite heading downriver) the Jackson River Tr. has about as much up and down no matter which way you head.

While there are several trail head/parking areas (including one called “Petticoat Junction” quaintly enough), we recommend beginning not in Covington proper, but at the Intervale Park trail head, where there is a water fountain, comfort station, and sometimes (depending on the weather and Covid) a healthy snack kiosk/food truck. Our understanding is that the part of the trail accessed from town includes some unpleasant urban riding.

While there are other parking/starting points that will lessen the total ride length, there is none at the end of the trail. The end, however, is quite nice with a couple of picnic tables—a great place to have a snack or lunch.

Here’s some info about the river, and for photos & maps of the scenic multi-use trail itself, visit HERE.

The Jackson River is a major tributary of the James River in Virginia, covering a total of 96.4 miles.The James River is formed by the confluence of the Jackson River and the Cowpasture River.

The River rises in Highland Co., near the border of West Virginia, and flows south between Back Creek Mountain and Jack Mountain. It is impounded by Gathright Dam in Alleghany Co. to create Lake Moomaw. Above the lake, the Jackson is an excellent smallmouth bass, rock bass, rainbow trout, and brown trout fishery. Below Gathright Dam, six public areas provide access to 18 miles of legally navigable water to Covington. Wild rainbow trout, wild brown trout, smallmouth bass, rock bass (redeye), and redbreast sunfish populate the tailwater below the dam. Both areas are popular with fly fisherpeople.

Below the dam, Jackson River flows south and then east through Alleghany Co., and then through the city of Covington and the town of Clifton Forge before it joins the Cowpasture to create the James.

It was a hot day, but a very nice ride. Below you’ll see a combination of photos from our fall ride back in September, as well as pix from this ride. One notable photo that I’d hoped to recapture this time was a fence line sporting bicycles (first photo below). Behind the fence was an army of yapping terriers, who created quite a din when I stopped to take the original photo in September. This time, all the decorative bikes were gone—very likely due to the probable fact that, when riders stopped (as I had) to photograph the fence, the dogs made it unbearable for the house’s occupants. 

Jack really cranked the pedals on the return while I stopped to take a few photos along the way. His average MPH reading was very very close to 13 for the 27-ish miles—mine was closer to 12.

Bike Stats: 27.8 miles; 2:10 ride time; 26 minutes stopped time; 12.7 average MPH.

We ate a very “meh” lunch at Taco Bell in Covington and headed back to futz and lounge in hammocks at camp. At dinner time, I re-heated the zucchini bake & leftover rice, and Jack grilled a tasty pork loin with Cajun seasonings. Yum.

Tuesday, August 11 dawned even hotter than the previous day (mid-80s by mid-morning—we ended up running the AC the entire time we were at Douthat). Because the ‘morrow was forecast to be overcast, humid, and rainy, we planned a return to the Jackson River Trail, since we had discussed heading to the Greenbriar Trail in West Virginia, but decided it was really too far to go for a bike ride.

With every intention of riding, we got side-tracked when we saw the signs to Lake Moomaw Recreation Area—we thought there might be some cycling to be done up there (see Jackson River Trail Map above).

Moomaw is a very LONG lake, dammed by the Gathright Dam, run by the Corps of Engineers. The land originally belonged to Thomas Gathright, a conservationist. He stocked his land with grouse, bear, deer, turkey, and fish, having acquired land for a game preserve stretching over 17 miles along the Jackson River, which he liked to call, “The most beautiful river in the world.”

Lake Moomaw was named after Benjamin Moomaw, another conservationist who played a large role in the Virginia Community College system, and was known for his interest in local folklore. With the efforts of Gathright and Moomaw, the lake was completed in the early 1980s.

We (of course) were most interested in the camping opportunities noted on the map, so we drove around to check them out. Our first drive-through was to the McClintic Point campground, which was decrepit and dicey, and the only 2 groups we saw there appeared sketchy. We guessed this camping area was mostly used by hunters with permission to hunt the National Forest in season.

But the other 5 we saw had real possibilities for future get-aways—they all had bath houses, dump stations, and if not on-site water, had spigots appropriately placed throughout the camping area. All had a mix of electric and non-electric sites. In the Bolar Mountain Rec. Area (see map detail below) the Sugar Ridge CG looked to be the most promising, with nice separation between sites. It was quite full, in the height of water-sports season. Campgrounds 1, 2, and 3 are all worth a look, and some of the sites are marked “premium” because they are waterfront.

The lake is substantial with miles of shoreline, at least one boat marina, several boat ramps & canoe/kayak inputs, and a couple of swimming beaches. Picnic areas accompany all of the beaches, and we ate our packed lunch at a table under trees near a beach with a comfort station. There is plenty of water for separation between the motorized craft and the paddle/oar craft, with lots of calm fingers of water reaching into the solid, mountainous geography surrounding the lake.

We found Gathright Dam (where the sheer amount of concrete made it VERY HOT), which is impressively high, with lovely downstream tailwaters, in which we could see several fly fishermen plying their skills.

The dam is 1,310 feet long and rises 257 ft. above Jackson River’s bed. One of the primary reasons for its construction was to protect Covington and downstream communities along the Jackson and the James from flooding. But in addition, the dam helps with water quality control and offers many recreational opportunities for residents and visitors.

Near the dam is Cole’s Point, with two campgrounds, called Morris Hill.

At one of these, we were driving through a loop and saw a baby bear snuffling around the fire pit in a camping family’s site (while they were away at the beach, presumably). It was quite small, so I’m certain it’s momma was nearby, but we did not see her. It thought to flee when we stopped for pictures, but changed its mind and kept testing the air for delicious things. We feared it would begin to ransack the family’s carefully-stowed belongings, but its interest was primarily in the aromas it discovered at the fire pit. We watched it for quite a while.

Run away or stay?
Yummmmm. . .
Nom, nom, nom . . .
Sniff, sniff?
Sniff, sniff, sniff . . . naw.

When we got back to Douthat, we drove around the campground trying to find a good viewing point from which to see the Persied Meteor Shower, which was predicted (as usual) to be “the best in years—hundreds of meteors per minute.” The best viewing was forecast to be between 2 and 4 AM, and we scoped out a dock on the shore of Douthat Lake, or possibly the dam of the lake for viewing, and we dutifully set an alarm for the show.

On Wednesday, August 12 we slept in—when the alarm went off in the wee hours, we dressed and went outside only to find thick, high overcast. The moon was visible as a diffuse glow and I could see one star at first, but then it disappeared. So instead of mounting a watch expedition, we hit the sheets again. But neither of us could really get back to sleep.

When we finally arose, we had cinnamon buns to kickstart our last day on the road. The day was again humid but not quite so hot—we decided to drive into Clifton Forge with the hope of a cell signal to chat with our house sitters about our arrival. We only left a message, however, as they were likely out enjoying their final day of mountain golf at one of the local courses.

Via prior arrangements, we knew they’d be gone by the time we arrived home. And when we heard from them during our homeward drive, they promised a casserole we could re-heat for our dinner, and assured us that all was well with dogs, falcon, and house.

We took our time during the day to pack and stow what could be accomplished early, and had a “last supper” of grilled hamburgers & zucchini, and hashbrowns. 

I added up the mileage we’d cycled during this trip and the sum was an impressive 630 miles.

We got away the next morning around 9:30, and it was an uneventful drive, landing us at home midday. Mischief and Chase were very happy to see us. Flash the falcon—not so much. We would have thrown the ball for Mischief, but every single one we’d left for her had disappeared in the terribly high grass (or maybe she’d buried them—who could say?).

Got the majority of the trailer emptied before it began raining, and just left it hooked up at the top of the driveway for the night.

Thus ended our Trip in the Time of Plague. We both still felt healthy and fit, and of two minds about being home—the grass and other chores we faced on the downside, but the familiarity and comfort of being in our own personal space on the upside. 

Here’s to our next adventure, with hope that Covid-19 might have abated significantly by then. Until then, keep safe and smart.

Sugar Ridge CG, Vermont

June 25-28

This private campground, run by Kirk and his family (who are very nice people) is madly overpopulated. We’d been here before, however, and knew what to expect—Sugar Ridge was one of the stops we made on that same maiden voyage coming back from Canada and our trailer pickup in the spring of 2015. It was chosen this year because we were unable to book any stays in Maine due to Covid19.

Many of the Sugar Ridge sites are for seasonal folks who leave their rigs in place, with built-out platform/patios, fences, etc. The noise level is significant as there are many children on bikes screaming around the hills, and dogs who don’t like the looks of each other.

Our site (MO489—MO for Mohawk, the road we’re on) however, is nicely tucked away, although (oddly) the fire ring and the electric/water pedestal are on the ‘wrong’ sides of the site for normal backing-in. For the way we wanted Roomba to be situated near the back, we barely had enough electric cabling to go across the living space to hook up, and there was no possible way for the water hose to reach. Our left (driver’s side) trailer tire was right next to the fire ring.

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Happily, we have a Solo stove and ended up being just fine. We set up the Clam (screen house) behind the trailer, and that left a nice secluded, circular fire area. During the first day, we were heartily impressed with the small, quick red squirrels in the woods, who set up a call-and-response series that sounded like the percussion of a rap song when they got into sync. It was kind of amazing.

A huge maple, along with truly excellent water are easily the highlights of our site. The uphill couple are one of the seasonals, and sit a good 10-15 yards away, well-separated from us by trees. Downhill, however, is a narrow tent site (could conceivably be for an RV but for the incredibly steep grade down from the paved road) which is only thinly separated from us by greenery, including the magnificent maple.

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A significant downside of our site was the “bathhouse,” a VERY SMALL, old wooden structure that was not tidied very often. It had one toilet, one shower stall, and two sinks. A bathhouse we visited on our way out of the campground was significantly more modern, clean, and capacious. Also, hardly anyone anywhere on the grounds wore face masks, although we nearly always did so, especially when heading to the bathhouse.

We had to pay for wifi to be able to check for messages from the folks at Arvika about the bike rack part (cell service was marginal in camp). It was incredibly fiddly to switch devices without buying a second subscription, however, so Jack mostly had wifi and I mostly didn’t.

In any event, we finally reached the Arvika guy, and he reported that he had found the part in stock and had gotten it painted. He reminded us of their troubles with UPS crossing the border, but assured us he’d do his best to get it to our next stop in New York. Jack called Robert Moses State Park to get the address and see if they would accept the delivery, and when we got the “thumbs up” from them, he relayed the info to Arvika.

On our first full day, we rode the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail down to St. Johnsbury. Unusual for a rail bed, the trail was significantly downhill—perhaps a 3% grade—for the 8.5 miles between Sugar Ridge and StJ. 

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In StJ, we tootled around a while and found a tavern (Kingdom Taproom & Table) and got an excellent IPA and an enormous southwestern style salad—mine with chicken and Jack’s with beef; both delicious.

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It was while we were eating our lunch outside on Main Street in St. Johnsbury that Arvika called with the price and shipping details for the bike rack part. Jack gave him a credit card number, and he promised we’d get a tracking number when it was shipped.

Any thought that we’d do the entire Lamoille Valley Trail’s 32-ish round trip miles (with the Sugar Ridge accessway being kinda sorta midway) from StJ to West Danville and back evaporated after lunch. Despite the temps climbing into the high 80s, we killed it back to Sugar Ridge, totaling circa 18.75 miles including our in-town riding.

By the time we’d returned from our ride, a young family with a controlling dad, cowed kids, and overweight mom—with both adults being heavy smokers—were in the process of moving in, trying to set up an enormous tent they’d never erected before. Next door to them an RV arrived, and it became obvious they were all family or close friends. As their stay wore on, the smoking couple and their kids didn’t actually spend much time next door, thank goodness—just enough to make our air space unpleasant with second-hand smoke in the mornings and evenings—because there were several sites that all had some linkage, and most of our neighbors’ time was spent elsewhere.

We showered and left the campground to go visit the memorable gas-and-gourmet shop we had ridden our bikes to years ago: Marty’s First Stop. We fueled the truck and checked out the butcher shop and the vegetables, and came home with some delicious salmon, asparagus, and tabouli, prepared to a T and enjoyed around our fire with adult beverages.

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We got onto the trail early the next day and headed the opposite (uphill) direction, toward West Danville. When we’d gone to Marty’s First Stop back in 2015, we’d exited the campground onto the highway and pedaled down a huge hill, then carried our “take” in a backpack up the hill in a long, slow, hot slog up to the campground. 

Well, guess what we discovered 5 years later? There’s an easy access point to Marty’s off the West Danville end of the Lamoille Valley Trail. We also passed a notably vast area of mown lawn, on both sides of the trail, without a house in sight. It was like a state park’s picnic grounds with the trimmed lawn around stately old trees, but not a picnic table or charcoal grill in sight. 

Eventually, we came upon a huge yellow estate home with nearly as much mown lawn in front of it as that which we’d passed already. It must take “the help” 4 days to mow it all, and by the time they finish, they would have to begin all over again. It was an amazing sight.

We also spooked a Cooper’s hawk off the ground (possibly off a kill?) along the trail.

A couple of miles before the end of the trail, we saw a dam, a covered footbridge, and lots of blooming lilies in a pond identified as “Joe’s Pond.” Joe, evidently, was a native American (called “Indian Joe”) who lived 1745?-1819, but there was little more information to be found about him or the pond named in his memory. We crossed the road and the remainder of the ride was along one side of an enormous lake, which we were surprised to discover was also Joe’s Pond. It was a pretty setting at the end of the improved trail.

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The rail bed continues beyond the end we found, and there are plans to connect “our” part of the trail with another already-developed part, but we’ll have to return in a few more years to discover if the plan for the full Lamoille Valley Rail Trail has come to fruition. Happily, the return trip was all downhill, so we clocked an easy 17.5 miles for the day, with an average speed of nearly 12 MPH.

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We hadn’t been back and showered long when the first rains hit. So we prepared a quick dinner of Jon Beegle’s pulled pork heated with part of a can of mushroom soup, baked potatoes, and the last of zucchini grilled after the potatoes came off.

On our final whole day at Sugar Ridge, we decided to ride the entirety of the Lamoille Valley Trail, stem to stern. The question was whether to end the day easy or hard—we chose easy and went to the St. Johnsbury end first, clocking an amazing average speed of 16.75 MPH. We had a drink of water, then turned around and headed uphill for the entire 16-ish miles to West Danbury. It was Sunday and we’d gotten an early start (9am) so we didn’t share the trail with many folks.

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We had another encounter with the same? Cooper’s hawk. This time, after scaring it up off the ground, it did not completely leave the territory. Instead, it followed us. And I would swear that it was chasing me (being slower) along the path. It didn’t, however, vocalize at all, which I would have expected from a Cooper’s that was protecting its nest. Anyway, we saw it (or a pair of them?) at least 4 times along the short distance I would have expected to be a nest territory.

Just past the Joe’s Pond memorial footbridge (at the West Danville end) I wasn’t paying attention and hit a ridge of packed sand that turned my front wheel and I went down in the gravelly sand. I wasn’t going fast, and there wasn’t much gravel, but I still banged my knee and cut it open slightly, and landed pretty hard on my left side. 

But no irretrievable harm was done, and I got back on and we carried on to the end of the trail. We drank some more water and headed the opposite direction.

Shortly along our way back, we arrived at a food truck called Sambro’s, and we were glad they were serving on a Sunday because it was lunchtime and we were hungry. All of their service was to-go, so we got burgers, potato chips, and drinks and we carried our meals to a shady table in the little park at the swimming hole end of the pond, where there was a pavilion and parking, and where, yesterday, we’d seen a couple of kayaks launching. The burgers were enormous and juicy and messy and delicious. The meal went a long way to healing my scraped knee and bruised ego after the fall.

Then we rode back to the access point to Sugar Ridge, climbed the steep, loose gravel-and-sand roadway to the paved road to camp, and were delighted to see our Smoker family was gone.

Another group, however, was beginning to get into place next door. What at first appeared to be a group of about 3 or 4 20-something guys in three cars, offloaded a 10 x 10, some firewood, and an enormous tent. And then the rains began. We got the Clam closed up and under shelter just in time for the heavens to open up like we hadn’t seen to date on this trip. It was a true gully-washer—and we looked next door and realized that it was just one guy trying to put up the huge tent in the rain by himself. Everyone else had disappeared. 

Frankly, it was kind of like watching a car wreck as you pass by—we could barely take our eyes off him trying to get these long hoop-poles erected and set, only to have the hoop collapse when he went to another corner to get a pole to bend properly. Meanwhile, the bathtub style bottom of the tent was rapidly filling with water. And a gust of wind would come along and nearly knock down the 10 x 10, or alternately, its canopy would fill with a pool of water and pull it off the frame. 

If it weren’t for Covid19, we’d have gone over to help the poor guy out, even in the deluge.

Eventually, the downpour abated and we went off to take our showers—I had so much sand and grit on my left side from my spill, I was hard-pressed to find a way to sit that didn’t leave a filth smear behind. We had packed up much of the outdoors gear before the downpour, so we kept dinner simple and used leftovers for a pasta.

Next day, we left Vermont for New York, heading way north in the state and over to the St. Lawrence for seven nights (that would have been spent in Canada, if we’d been able to get there) at Robert Moses State Park—where we hoped to link up with the fix for our bike rack so we would not have to dis-assemble the bikes to pack them into the camper a third time. At least we have 5 good days in which we might take delivery.

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