September/October 2002

Almost Heaven

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John Denver had it right: West Virginia IS almost heaven.  As expected, we had a terrific time in the Maritime Provinces, and hope to come back again next summer.  As Labor Day passed us by, and the weather beginning to look a little bit Fall-ish, we decided it was time to gently start moving further south.  The Appalachian range was our goal for October, and by design it took us over a month of travel to get there.  We had lots of adventures along the way.

We came back across into the United States through a small, remote crossing spot in northern Maine.  Earlier in the summer, when we crossed into New Brunswick from Maine, it was at the Calais-St. Andrew border, extremely hectic and horribly backed up.  UGLY!!!!!  We didn’t want to repeat that going the other way, as we had been told the crossing often took several hours.  So we found an itty-bitty little crossing into the north part of the state, and it must have taken us all of 6-7 minutes.  We were the only ones there; the guard was kind of bored and came inside to look around for something to do.  Well, of course he asked us if we had any citrus, and of course I said we did, so I lost all the oranges and grapefruit I’d been saving for a special occasion.  Frump!  But he didn’t want the potatoes:  “they were on last year’s list, but not this year”; you figure it out!

That far north in Maine is almost in Quebec, and most of the locals are bi-lingual.  The towns have French names, and it seems it would be so easy to turn right and head into Quebec, instead of down the Maine coast.  But we had plans that took us south, so south we went.  Northern Maine is exactly as you would expect:  full of trees, lousy roads, few people, and very quiet.  We headed down Highway One (the Eastern Seaboard’s equivalent of our Pacific Coast Highway), which runs all the way down the Eastern coastline.  The Maine coast is just as lovely as advertised.  Our first couple of days were very foggy and misty; made me think of Morro Bay in California.  We stopped in Lubec, the easternmost point in the continental United States; a small fishing village except when it’s over-run by tourists, it was quaint and nice. 

Further down the coast we spent a few hours in Rockland, at the Farnsworth Museum (lots of  paintings by the Wyeth family).   Owl’s Head, a nearby town, is home to an excellent collection of antique cars and airplanes and we enjoyed that very much as well.  Maine is super.  We felt very much at home along the coast, and after the obligatory stop at LL Bean in Freeport, we headed inland, toward New Hampshire and Vermont.  Oddly, we went past the towns of Poland, Norway, and Paris, all within an hour; and Mexico was only a fur piece up the road – world travel on the cheap! 

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Before leaving Maine, we spent the night in the parking lot of the maritime museum in Bath and then spent several hours visiting the museum the following morning.  The site is located on the grounds of a shipyard that was active up into the 1920s building wooden ships.  It was a very nice museum including both indoor exhibit areas and a walking tour of the actual working buildings of the former shipyard.  All very interesting, especially the fact that the largest, and one of the last, ships to be built there was a six-masted wooden sailing ship, a freighter, that was 450 feet long.

New Hampshire and Vermont are beautiful, full of grand roads and pretty scenes right out of New England magazines.  Vermont remains the most classically perfect state we’re yet seen.  Even the cows all match each other:  they are all Ben-and-Jerry black and white; narry a brown cow to be seen.

Oh yes, and Jeremy has now had his first (and last, if he has anything to say about it) ride on the motorcycle.  He needed to be seen by the vet because of a minor problem, and we didn’t want to move the motorhome.  So we put him in the saddlebag of the bike.  Boy, did he howl!  I kept it partly open as we rode the 10 miles to get to the doc, so he wouldn’t suffocate, and each time I looked back a paw would be sticking out, trying to pry open the top.  It was a very long 10 miles, I’ll tell you!  And then of course we had to turn around and ride back.  Fortunately, J is a big loving lump of a cat and is blessed with a short memory.  The thought of repeating the experience with Agnes is enough to make the blood run cold.  We’ll keep our fingers crossed.

While in Vermont we spent several days in the Champlain Islands area.  They are in Lake Champlain (duh!), which is on the Canadian border.  A really pretty area, we were gathering with about 35 other Trek owners for a weekend of fun.  It’s great to get together in a group and swap stories of where you’ve been, what you’ve done to your coach, and eat s’mores around the campfire at night.  We’ve made good friends in this group, and hope to see them often over the years.  If you’re looking for a quiet, out of the way, lovely spot, the Champlain Islands might just be the ticket.  It’s a remote area, and you have to drive to Burlington for decent groceries, but the countryside is great.  Lots of boating and fishing and just being peaceful.  We expect to visit again.

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Moving on, we traveled into New York and down the Hudson River as far as West Point, an interesting experience.  Security is tight there, and you no longer can just wander at will, but the museum is excellent and you do go away a believer.  We got lost and went in the wrong entrance; the guards were well armed, but incredibly polite --- and incredibly firm about turning us around.

We were only in New York for a few days, on our way to Ohio.  We passed through Pennsylvania again (we seem to be spending a lot of time here, and that’s just fine with us; Pennsylvania is very pretty and the people are nice; we like the atmosphere here).  Strange sign: “Emlenton, Pennsylvania, home of America’s worst apple pie.” Clever marketing, don’t you think?

The rally in Van Wert, Ohio was lots of fun.  We belong to a group called Escapees, which is a support organization for people who are full-time RVers or spend a lot of time in their coaches and trailers.  The rally offered a zillion seminars on technical coach stuff, household hints, travel suggestions, insurance information, etc. etc.  We had a great time; well worth the trek across several states to get there.  While at the rally, we ran into some buddies from a campground we had stayed at in Florida last winter.  They live in Indiana, just south of Fort Wayne, and not far from Van Wert.  We accepted their invitation and traveled across the state line to spend a couple of days with them.

These folks have a little piece of paradise.  When you think of the mid-west in the fall, you can think of them.  They live just outside the small town of Portland, Indiana, among huge trees with falling leaves, beside a small creek, in a sprawling home they’ve added onto over the years.  They even have a gazebo with a swing. Talk about a quiet, peaceful setting.  We rode past fields of corn and soybeans, broken up by clumps of trees and barns.  The crops are about to be turned under, and are all golden colored.  We saw combines and harvesters everywhere.  This area has been hit by the drought along with so many other places, and the corn is badly stunted.  It has been a bad year for so many.  But everywhere we see homes preparing for Halloween, even this early.  The cornstalks and pumpkins and Indian corn are set out in front of houses, and roadside stands are full of stuff to buy.  The only fresh fruit available is apples.  (And apple pies, and apple butter, and, and, and… yum!)  for awhile we followed signs down a country road to the “Haunted Trail of Horror” but then we lost the trail; probably just as well.

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One afternoon we went to a town (Fairmount, I think), about 40 miles away; they were having a James Dean festival.  It seems this was his home town, before he went off to Hollywood.  How strange that our friends live that close to where he was born, and our former home in Paso Robles is about that same distance away from where he died.  The festival included a classic car show, and there were lots of rods and side burns, just as you would see on the Central Coast.  We do have a love affair with that era, we baby-boomers!

The baseball playoffs have begun, leaving Rick in agony most of the time.  The Giants are still alive as of this writing, and he is chewing his nails down to the quick.  Keep your fingers crossed for us, please.  For the first time, we can now listen to the games as we drive along.  We recently installed satellite radio in the coach, and are enjoying it very much. 

Leaving our friends, we were off to explore West Virginia, another terrific state we found ourselves in!  Such rugged beauty.  We spent several days at Babcock State Park, near Clifftop, in the New River Gorge area.  We were parked in a pretty meadow, surrounded by beautiful trees in a campground mostly inhabited by ourselves and a family of six deer.  The weather was lovely, and we took advantage of it, riding beautiful country roads on the motorcycle every day, seeing incredible countryside.  West Virginia is a fine place to be this time of year, and we’re delighted to be here.  The trees are turning gold and red all around us. 

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We’ve been told it’s not a good year for fall color, but you sure couldn’t tell it by us!  Every turn in the road offers new beauty, and each day we can see more color than the last.  The best roads go through leafy glades, with lots of swoopy turns and no traffic; West Virginia has tons of them.  We cannot see them all this time through, but we’ll be back next spring.  In May, the rhododendrons are in bloom, and we must be here to see them.  As near as we can tell, the roads in West Virginia are all not only beautiful, but in wonderfully good condition.  Somehow, this small state, which can’t possibly rank high on the overall wealth chart, manages to maintain its roads better than many others. 

The New River gorge is quite amazing; it’s deep and remote, and until the bridge was constructed in 1977, life was pretty tough for the natives.  But they are a resilient bunch.  The people in this area have never been used to having much.  In talking to locals, we have learned that not until a railway was built through the gorge in the late 1800s did they have much connection to the outside world.  With the arrival of the train, coal mining became profitable and the area developed.  Then, when the coal played out during the 1920s, the area began to die back again.  Tourism is helping them now, largely due to the building of the bridge, along with high-tech industries.  They say that before the bridge it took 45 minutes to cross the gorge, and now it’s just 45 seconds. 

The old bridge at the bottom of the gorge was restored after the new one was built, and the narrow one-way road is still maintained.  It goes down to the bottom of the gorge, 876 feet below the road level of the new bridge, and then back up the other side.  We rode down to see the views and to take some pictures. There isn’t a lot of water now, but it is a beautiful river all the same. Interestingly, the New River is actually very old and no one knows how it got its name.  It also is the only river in North America that flows in a northerly direction – how about that.

Our wanderings in this area took us through Lewisburg, in the Greenbrier Valley, home of the Greenbrier Resort and Country Club in White Sulphur Springs.  This is a less interesting town.  The resort itself is world famous and impressive, but seems kind of disconnected from the surrounding town, which is rather plain and filled with empty store fronts.  Lewisburg, however, was charming.  If you’ve not been out enjoying the countryside around you, find a country road and take in fall at its finest.


It’s the end of October already; hard to imagine.  Soon we’ll be heading further south for the winter.  It’s snowing in Maine, and we’re glad we’re not there.  Today is our one-year anniversary on the road, and we’re back in Raleigh, North Carolina, spending some time with our friends there. 

This has led to an unusual experience.  Our friends are very involved in middle and eastern European activities, and from time to time have interesting people staying with them.  For Halloween evening, we were joined by two Russians, men involved in the media in their country, and we had a grand evening exchanging views on all kinds of subjects, with the aid of an interpreter, over several glasses of wine.  It was great fun and a “first” for us.  They quite enjoyed the spectacle of doorbells ringing, children demanding treats, and Beth and I fighting for who got to open the door and admire the costumes.

We hated to leave and head further south.  But the skies overhead were filled with migrating birds who clearly knew it was time to go.

Following the birds… Rick & Kathy, heading south.

 See more photos from the US & Canada in 2001 to 2003

© Rick & Kathy Howe 2001-2018