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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Chippokes Plantation Campground, April 5 & 6

One last thing I forgot to mention as a big “pro” on the plus side of our Bike Florida Tour: Oranges.

All the rest stops had them in abundance, and they were cherry red, sweet, and O! so refreshing. So good, in fact, that we stopped at a roadside stand before leaving FL and bought a sack full. Yum.

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So we said goodbye to FL and headed to SC. Travel was unremarkable, thank goodness. But I did capture this pic of Angela and their Alto2114 traveling along ahead of us at one point.

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So Lynches River Campground was our overnight spot on Thursday, April 4, and that’s the campground that is mostly for tenters, with only 2 serviced RV sites. Mark and Angela got #2 (a pull-through) and we got #1 both with electric and water. The bathhouse was rustic to say the least, but it had exactly two private rooms, each with its own toilet, sink, and shower. For a one-night stayover, it was just perfect. Next stop: Chippokes Plantation Campground near Williamsburg, VA, April 5 and 6.

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Chippokes is actually in Surry, VA, and is a re-purposed grand farm and mansion, once an actual plantation. Today, it is quite a fine and spiffy Virginia State Park, with hiking trails, the mansion itself, equestrian trails, electric and water, and nice renovated bathhouses. Loop B has the most modernized and level campsites, where Loop A has older, less flat/improved sites.

We linked up with John and Mary at Chippokes, so we had three side-by-side sites with Mark and Angela. Roomba was in the middle, on site #2.

Mark and Angela’s son, Brent, linked up with them (and us), coming down from New York to see his parents while they were relatively close. He spent some of our arrival/set up day in Williamsburg and he and Mary and John all arrived around 5PM.

We all went out to dinner, hoping to catch the pub in Smithfield, but there was a minimum of an hour’s wait there, so off we went to Smithfield Landing where we had a delightful dinner, and all got to know one another a bit better. The walk through Smithfield from the pub to the Landing and then back to our cars after dinner was fun times together also.

The next day, Mark, Angela, and Brent headed to Jamestown, while Mary, John, Jack, and I headed across the ferry into Williamsburg. But first, we went to the Edwards Ham store and picked up some good old fashioned Virginia Ham products. Yum.

We rode the Pocahontas ferry and saw a smaller ferry passing across the river. It was overcast the day we headed into Billsburg, but it never rained despite the look of the sky.

We had a bit of a drive around the campus, telling J&M tales of our college days, and had a quite nice sandwich from Colonial Williamsburg’s famous Cheese Shop.

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That night, we all fixed our own dinners but joined up to eat at our site. We had shared appetizers and a fire to cozy up to as our final night together after our fun travels with Mark and Angela. Brent also was headed back north the next day, while John, Mary, Jack, and I were headed to Janes Island, MD for our next, longest stop of our Spring Trip.

Before everyone broke apart, I set up the timer on my camera to get a group shot. And Riley also had to have some fun before we bundled off to Maryland.

 

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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Fresh Adventures Afoot

As we get ready to leave on our next set of adventures, I thought I’d post a few pix from home, to remind us of what we’re leaving behind in July. Among the things I think we’ll miss greatly (besides our dogs) is the elevation’s temperatures that have not matched the heat wave crushing the rest of the country. Our highs over the past few days have been in the high 80s. Like much of the country, we’ve had high humidity due to afternoon thunderstorms, but we’re certainly not suffering like we might be suffering in a couple of days.

So here’s a pictorial Ode to Home.

And some shots from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Bicycling and More

April 19

The plan for the three nights/two days we had left in our trip was to share some of the cycling opportunities in the area with Mark and Angie; they, too, were just starting the cycling season and wanted to take it a bit easy on some flat terrain. Two notable rails-to-trails conversions relatively nearby are the Tobacco Heritage Trail (Boydton) and the Highbridge Trail (Farmville).

Still, our first cycle jaunt was Jack’s and my usual tour of the North Bend campground. Our “game” is to take every paved left-hand turn we can make throughout the campground (even around the barriers to un-opened areas), hitting each campsite loop, boat launch, group-camp loop, picnic area, etc., and eventually ending up back at our campsite.

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The last time Jack and I did this at North Bend, we clocked just over 10 miles. On this adventure, we added a crossing to the other side of the major hydro-electric dam, and got in nearly 13 miles all told (my average speed was 9.5MPH). We were all hungry, so we decided to skip going downhill (and then back up—a serious chug) to the picnic and launch area “beneath” the hydro-plant itself, and instead decided to head back out again, aimed at the Tobacco Heritage Trail, after a good nosh.

The day was splendid, although the wind seemed to never die, as was the case at First Landing. At lunch Jack and I decided the wind was strong enough that we rolled up the awning, leaving it attached to Roomba by the Kieder Rail, and secured the poles and guy lines so they would not blow into the lake.

We loaded the bikes on Mark’s four-bike hitch rack, piled into his van and headed to Boydton to find a trail head for the Tobacco Heritage Trail. As it turned out, the parking area we were looking for wasn’t in Boydton at all, but rather LaCrosse, a small burb just east of Boydton.

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We got started around 2:45, and the beginning part of the trail at this section is paved, which is very nice for riding. But the wind was wicked (again), and we didn’t know exactly how far to go nor how long it would take us. Angie wanted to get back to camp (about a half-hour drive) in time to do some prep work for the dinner they wanted to host for us. So we decided we’d ride for an hour, turn around, and head back. 

Once we started peddling on the cinder/sand surface of the trail, things got more difficult because the footing didn’t seem to be packed as hard as some other cinder trails we’d ridden in the past. But the Tobacco Heritage Trail is a relatively new effort, and has been completed in sections only, so this was not surprising. The last time Jack and I had ridden this trail, we went all the way to Lawrenceville. On this day, we went about 14 miles (7 out and back). The return was a challenge since the wind was in our face the entire time, and still rising with significant gusts. We were all glad we’d decided to roll up our awnings before leaving camp.

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Once we got back to camp, Mark and Angie beavered around getting our dinner together, and insisted we bring nothing but ourselves. The effort was made to sit outside while we enjoyed starters, but the final decision was to make the room inside their 1743 for all four of us to sit down because it was so cold and windy. We had a wonderful meal of “chicken pouches” done on the grill. All the veggies, potatoes, and meat for each person—in other words, each meal—was combined and secured in a foil pouch and roasted on the grill until done. It was quite yummy, with Cole slaw on the side, and ice cream and strawberries for dessert. 

April 20

On the final full day of our trip, we had an appointment to show our Alto to some folks who live nearby. While in Virginia Beach, a newcomer to the Alto-interest group on Facebook (to which we have belonged for years) asked if there were any owners in the vicinity of Boydton. Since we were going to be there, Jack invited Scott and Myra to come by North Bend. We spoke to them for about an hour, and they had really done their research—had even tried a friend’s longer American-made trailer—and asked really good questions. 

After Scott and Myra hopped over to briefly see Mark and Angie’s fixed-roof setup, we used Mark’s bike rack in our hitch (to share the driving) and headed to one of our favorite rail-trails, Highbridge Trail in Farmville. It was about an hour’s drive and we decided that we’d eat lunch in town before setting off on the ride. Scott had recommended a place on the river called Charlie’s and we found it and ate quite a good meal of soup and sandwiches (the full name might be Charlie’s Riverside Cafe or some such).

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Farmville sits at the approximate middle of the entire rail-to-trail conversion. We headed toward the High Bridge itself, which is East of Farmville (we’ve ridden the trail west out of Farmville, but there is nothing to see and it’s an obvious, steady, significant uphill crank going that direction—truly exhausting outbound, but somewhat of a thrill coming back to town on the downhill).

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The High Bridge itself has lots of history both before and during the American Civil War. Just beyond the bridge is a stop with reader boards discussing the Confederates’ attempts to protect the bridge, and the structure’s importance during Lee’s retreat to nearby Appomattox, where the war ended with his surrender.

With Farmville being a college town, there were many young adults using the trail on the day we rode. The infrastructure for this trail is excellent so we did not want for pit stops, and the cinder footing is well-packed and tire-friendly. Also, the wind had finally decided to give us a break, which was a good thing, since the High Bridge is indeed, quite high.

We started the ride at about 2PM and peddled for about 1.5 hrs. covering a total of ~17 miles. My average speed was 11MPH, while Jack’s was up to 12.5MPH because he “found his zone” on the return from the bridge, and smoked the rest of us back to the car.

It was our turn to do dinner, so we put together some Brunswick stew (the area is famous for its Brunswick stew), grilled some bratwursts, and accompanied the whole with some fresh-baked rolls (in the Omnia oven).

During this entire trip, we did not have one campfire, due to the winds and rains. So on our last night, the air wasn’t exactly still, but it was still enough that we did not fear setting ourselves or our surroundings alight, so we enjoyed our dessert of Trader Joe’s chocolate-filled crepes (heated in the Omnia) by the fire until about 9 or so, and called it a night. 

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Mark and Angie wanted to be off early the next morning toward their next destination (Savannah). On our minds was the fact that our house sitter told us he needed to vacate by noon. Even though it’s just a 3-hour drive, we didn’t want the doggies to be left inside the house terribly long. So our goal was to be on the road no later than noon.

Thus ended the April Birthday and Bicycling trip. We hope to do a similar early-cycling adventure next spring.

PS – When we got home, the first thing we saw was our screened-in porch punched in on one panel, with muddy BEAR PAW prints on the outside of the screening. Interesting visitor in our absence, which the house sitter had heard during the 3AM incursion, and yelled at to chase it away. No damage done except the screen.

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Difficult to see in the pic, but the muddy paw prints around and below the tear in the screen indicate the bear was probably not an adult, but certainly (by any measure) big enough. From the ground (my flowers!) it was standing on, it’s about 4 feet up to the tear.

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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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.

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.

Journey’s End

Thursday, January 11, 2018 •

Jack spotted a Cooper’s hawk perched near our site as we drank our morning beverages. There are tons of owls we heard talking to one another last night and this AM—Jack is pretty sure they’re barred owls, as the hoots are not quite deep enough to be great horned owls.

The warm morning (high 40s) has caused a thick blanket of fog over all at dawn. The moon was bright and clear, but all around the ground is fog. At the dock, once the fog lifted (a little wind and a little sunshine) “our” swans were heading in small groups over to the feeding grounds.

We had a leisurely beverage time followed by oatmeal for breakfast, not being in any great hurry to leave, even if we are in a parking lot. When Barbara and Mike were nearly ready to hitch, Barbara gave me a bit of a tutorial on the caravan mover from Safari Condo, and I made their Moon Shadow trailer dance around the parking lot.

We got away in the 11 range again, looking forward to a nice shower at North Bend. With an uneventful drive (saw various raptors) we arrived at North Bend around 2 and Mike and Barbara, who had stopped for fuel, were shortly behind us. We set up in site 51 again, with them next door, in 53. It was really nice to set up our awning, but we did not unhitch nor do a full set-up inside. Rain was imminent, so the awning was nice, and then we had our lovely showers.

B&M had a look around at the varied sites in this open section, showered, and then joined us for a glass of adult beverage and some cheese and crackers. I fixed a “taco pie” recipe (I’d found it on the back of a cheese package) that called for crescent roll dough in a tube for the crust. I fixed it in the Omnia according to the directions, and then (because I used the silicon liner) dumped it on a plate on its head to serve, but it is not a recipe I’d repeat. Camping with a taco salad on the menu, having pre-mixed the taco meat (as I’d done this time) would be far easier and much more tasty. I definitely missed what the recipe for the pie left out (lettuce, tomato, salsa) and I found the crescent roll crust to be too sweet (and it got kind of hard on the bottom).

Anyway, it was a good experiment, and we’re not throwing the leftovers away, but it will be challenging to get back home. Jack figures it would be good sliced while cold and re-heated in a frying pan, accompanied by eggs for an “upside down day” type of dinner.

Read for a while after dinner and hit the hay early, with the rain fully in gear, pounding against the roof, blowing through the trees and a little under the awning. But that’s camping!

Friday, January 12, 2018

The rain kept us awake off and on during the night, but we never had to crank any of the heaters. Early, we decided against the propane furnace (and piled some stuff in front of the exhaust ports outside under the awning) and figured if needed, the electric heater would do (and we have a remote control for it).

But the sleeping was mostly warm, with both of us kicking off our sleeping bags during the night. When we arose around 7A, to a gray foggy day, the temps were 65 inside and 58 outside. Don’t need to bundle up to go for the morning ablutions.

Honda and Roomba are filthy with road grime, even after the rains, so Jack wants to mount an expedition to find a drive through, self-serve car wash en route. The forecast is for very cold nights again in Meadows of Dan starting tonight, and we didn’t see any options for car washes on our way. So we thought we would just re-hitch and take Roomba into Floyd when the weather eases and wash up there.

Got home and our house sitters were still there, so we moved my car and parked Roomba in front of the garage, intending to back it up to the house for unloading (and if the weather cooperated, maybe a hand-wash?). We chatted with our helpers until the rain began again (among the discussion topics was the death of the “box” that runs our internet and TV) and backed Roomba up the drive when they’d gone. I managed to get everything that would freeze out of the camper and the truck, and we left everything else for a dryer day. The house was plenty hot and the rain came down in earnest, but we called to see if a service worker might be in the neighborhood to replace our internet box.

Happily, 20 minutes later, Rocky showed up and he efficiently replaced the old with a new one, and set us all up for weekend entertainment. While he was moving in and out to fetch stuff from his truck, we just left the front door open, it was so warm.

But not for long. By dark, the temperature was plummeting (although the rain had stopped) and we knew that by the morning, we’d have to build a small fire in the kitchen for extra warmth.

It was great to snuggle with the dogs and settle back into the good old home routine. But the birds will be memorable forever. Maybe we’ll go back next year? Maybe we’ll find migrating birds elsewhere. Who knows what next January will bring?

Next up: a trip in April to eastern Virginia, to camp with Alto friends at First Landing State Park near Virginia Beach. At least we won’t have to think about packing for freezing weather.

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