October 2003

We’re Everywhere!

New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts,

Connecticut, Washington DC, Delaware, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee… whew

Or …… Woodstock, thy name is legion.

Well, dear readers, since we last spoke we’ve been in 13 states and the District of Columbia.  As of this writing we’re in northern Georgia, and we started out in New York.  Whew!  That’s a lot of moving around.  Easy, you say; they’re all so small.  Baloney; it still takes tons of driving, and a lot of it sure is on crummy roads.  One thing you can say for the North East – the roads aren’t so good.  And in the metropolitan areas they drive soooooo fast.  Wow!  But, as always, we’re having a great time and again, as always, we’d love to have any and all of you join us for a visit.  

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We began this sojourn with a trip from Rochester, NY to the West Coast to see my son Jason be married in Reno.  It was a delightful visit with family and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.  Kathy takes to air travel better than Rick, so I had more fun than he did.  We had no trouble with our flights, even though we were leaving the morning after Hurricane Isabel was hitting the eastern seaboard.  A little rain, a little wind, not much else; we felt lucky.  We returned to find out the cats had been better cared for than at any other time in their lives, and were quite disdainful of our mediocre ministrations.  But we loaded up and headed out, moving ever eastward.  

As you’ve heard us say before, New York State is a lovely place.  We followed the path of the Erie Canal, catching glimpses along the way; it’s a pretty route, and the canal is a quiet, deep channel lined with trees rapidly turning colors with the passing days.  One day we will travel the length of the canal and stop in the little towns; many are still as they were so long ago, and quite picturesque.  There’s a canal museum we want to investigate, and walk/bicycle along a tow path.  So much to see, so much to do.  This is the historic Mohawk Valley, and it deserves a week or so all by itself.  It was the path of early settlement, and it’s easy to see why:  a wide, lovely inviting valley with a sweeping river.  

It’s definitely fall; the roadside stands have some peaches still, but mostly pumpkins and apples.  And it’s only the third week of September.  The houses are already decorated for Hallowe’en, with cornstalks, pumpkins and scarecrows around and about.  There is still some corn in the fields, but it, too, is almost gone.  The peaches are very local, and excellent, when available.  I’m not in the market for pumpkins, but there are many opportunities to purchase them.  We were (and continued to be) ahead of the fall color at this time, but some trees are showing change, and the leaves are beginning to fall.  It wouldn’t be until we were in northern Georgia a month later that the full thrust of fall would be upon us.

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We headed through eastern upstate New York, passing through Saratoga Springs and the upper Hudson River area.  We crossed into Vermont south of Lake Champlain.  We were headed to see some friends who were volunteering with the Forest Service outside Woodstock.  Bonehead time, big time:  I thought it was Woodstock, VT, which was a nice day’s drive for us;  WRONG WRONG WRONG.  They were in Woodstock, NH, several hours further away and up over windy grumpy roads.  Lovely countryside, perfect for a motorcycle, but not so much fun in a motorhome.  But we made it.  Through the Green Mountains (Vermont) and into the White Mountains (New Hampshire).  It’s very rural and mountainous (duh!).  We passed “ponds” everywhere, small bodies of water that we would call “lakes.”  They are lined with trees turning color and summer cottages.  This is stunning country; some day we plan to hang out here for a month or so.  This time, however, we were on a mission.  We wanted to see our friends and we had a very small window in which to accomplish this.  They were leaving their post and heading south, having finished their season, and we were heading further east to Maine and the Fryeburg Fair.  But we had a great visit with our buddies, found time for a swell breakfast at the Littleton Diner (tied with Sparks Restaurant in Michigan and the Otis Café in Oregon for best breakfast anywhere) and a great bike ride through the White Mountains (this is where the Old Man of the Mountain just recently fell apart, home of the Franconia Notch, etc.), and parted company.  They were headed to visit a sick friend in Alabama and then to New Mexico for the balloon festival.  I tell you this so you won’t think it’s all fun and games, all sitting and reading, all free and easy.  We have goals; we have commitments; we have places to be; we have schedules! (sounds of laughter off stage...)

And we were off to the fair, the Fryeburg, Maine fair to be exact.  And what a hoot!  This fair has been going on for 153 years now, and shows no sign of fading.  It’s put on by a group of towns and encompasses 6 counties. It’s very agricultural and old fashioned:  harness racing; oxen pulls (and exhibitions of oxen plowing fields); a new taste treat, fried dough (actually pretty boring); logging contests; a women’s (only) skillet toss that attracted a huge number of contestants, some of them with shoulders like a lineman’s; small men with huge beards; several varieties of draft and carriage horses, their stalls decorated to within an inch of lovely; you get the picture.  We saw Nordic horses, which were new to us, and Belted Calloways, cattle that are black with a broad white stripe around their middles.  We saw pigs and chickens and goats and rabbits; you get the picture.  And maple sugar to buy.  Anything and everything.  The folks were delightful and friendly, very willing to explain the intricacies of the competitions and what to look for at judging events.  One thing we did notice was the poor condition of the locals’ teeth.  Maine is economically poor, and medical attention can often be a judgment call.  We heard someone say “Her teeth were so bad she could eat corn through a picket fence.”  Just a bad joke, of course, but based in truth.  We like Maine, and hope things get better for them; they have a splendid agricultural heritage and need a good economy to support it.  We had a delightful time, staying most of a week.  We met up with two sets of old friends, catching up on the news and making plans for when we could meet again.  

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We had our first cold weather while here.  It got down into the mid-30s at night.  We have started walking in the mornings, and it was a bit hard to get ourselves going at that temperature.  The locals really thought we were crazy, tromping around out there at the crack of 9:30 … or so.  But on we went.  

We like Maine, but in a comparison with the rest of New England, it seems rough and a little unkempt.  But that’s okay.  By the way, Maine has a Woodstock, too.  So do Connecticut and New York and just about every other cotton-pickin’ state you can name.  Illinois, too.  Damn!  We saw a sign in one of them which said:  “Woodstock:  Caution Senior Pedestrians Crossing.”  Better slow down!

All good things must come to an end, and we left Fryeburg.  Having gotten rain a day or so before we left, on going back through New Hampshire we saw snow on Mt. Washington, the highest peak in the state, or the whole eastern seaboard for that matter.  Time to be heading south!  But first into Massachusetts.  We spent two days in the Berkshire Hills in the western part of the state, in lovely country crawling with leaf peepers.  The season was heading toward its apex (apogee?), as it was now about the first of October.  We, unfortunately, arrived after dark and ran into rain the rest of our visit, so we didn’t see much, but we liked what we did see, and will return another season.  We left there and headed into Connecticut, where we visited with my cousin in Willimantic, near Storrs and UConn, where my cousin’s husband is just retiring from the faculty.  UConn is a driving force in this part of the state (and country); we didn’t visit the campus, but I would like to another time.  This, again, is lovely country.  As they say, New England in the fall is incredible.  Even if you are ahead of the fall color (which we still continue to be), it’s lush, green, tree-filled, with lots of open spaces.  This is something that surprises me; we hear that the East is so crowded (which it is), but large tracts of land remain undeveloped (or maybe protected?) and very rural.  It’s refreshing, after you spend a couple of hours scrambling to keep up with the traffic on their convoluted freeways and follow the road signs that were designed by someone who already knew where they were going.  Oh, yes, Willimantic is the home of the Frog Bridge.  This was so named because during revolutionary times the frogs in the area made so much noise at night that the British sentries thought there was an army coming and left the bridge unguarded.  There are huge, green frog sculptures on all four corners of the bridge, a lovely modern affair.  Had the weather been better we would have taken a picture for you.

Connecticut has a great carpooling motto that, given their traffic conditions, is probably quite apt:  “Don’t Go it Alone.”  Oh, and we passed through a town with a sign at the entrance that said “Incorporated in 1693”; are we on ancient ground or what!  We had a great visit with Cousin Susie.  She’s really cool, a rabid Red Sox fan, and great fun.  Rick was a bit concerned about missing the Red Sox and Yankees game, but we walked in and she said she hoped we wouldn’t mind, but she was watching the game!  We were sorry to move on the next day, but hope to be back for a longer visit next year.  Susie is holding down the fort all alone right now; her husband the professor is collaborating on a book with a fellow engineer.  Unfortunately, the other guy lives and teaches in Israel and that’s where Mike is right now.  Nasty time to be in the Middle East, don’t you think?  He’ll be gone for 3 weeks; my heart goes out to her.

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In moving on, we knew we were ultimately heading for Washington DC, where we had reservations starting in about a week.  But we didn’t want to go through New York City, or Philadelphia, or Baltimore.  And we sure didn’t want to retrace our steps out into the middle of Pennsylvania.  So what’s a person to do?  Duck and run!  We wiggled across the Hudson River quite aways upstream from NYC, hippety-hopped down into New Jersey (passed Piscataway, Parsippany and Whippany), squirmed to the west just outside the Philadelphia beltway, and slipped into Delaware by way of Wilmington.  There we came to an abrupt halt for a couple of days, to catch our breath.  

Delaware is an interesting state; we like it there.  As you might expect, it is mostly lowlands and coastal fishing areas.  Once you get south of Wilmington, much of it is rural farming country, corn and soybeans mostly. But not for long.  Rehobeth Beach, along the shore, is summertime Washington’s cooling off place (read:  Pismo Beach) and it goes crazy for about 10 weeks in the year.  And Washington has recently decided this is a great area for building summer and weekend homes.  Land is “going under” right and left, and prices are sky-rocketing.  Where have we seen this before…………..?????  But for the time being you can still find a little store advertising “Perms & Worms.”  Too cool.

We have friends in Delaware.  We met them in Mexico this last winter; we had been looking forward to a visit and weren’t disappointed.  They are retired out of real estate in Washington, and have switched to grapes and beer.  They have 14 acres, mostly wooded, and a large area planted in vines along with a huge vegetable garden.  They are making all kinds of wine and beer, including blueberry wine, pumpkin beer, you get the picture.  Having a wonderful time.  Retired real estate people have to be doing something.  We had a fine visit.  We had a “beach party” right on their property, even though they are a few miles from the Atlantic.  Over time, they had brought in zillions of truckloads of sand to create a beach area, hauled in a broken down fishing boat for atmosphere, made a large fire pit, and were ready to rock and roll.  The moon was full, it was a clear night, and we had a wonderful evening.  

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Reluctantly, we pulled out the next morning.  These are good folks and it would have been grand to hang out for awhile.  But Washington DC was calling us.  With great anticipation we approached the capital, intending to conquer it, day by day.  We had made a week’s reservation in a county park nearby in Virginia (close to Reston, if this is all quite familiar to you).  It was close to the metro, we had our walking shoes and a good guide book, and we were on our way.  (By) George, here we come!  

And getting there across Delaware and Maryland, circling around the District, was a relatively easy experience.  Leaving our friends’ home, we kept seeing signs (correct ones) for the Bay Bridge.  This confused us mightily, because to us, and particularly to Kathy, who’s from the San Francisco area, there is only one Bay Bridge in the entire world, and it was waaaaay across the country.  Who did these people think they were, dragging in an imposter! To compound our confusion, there were also signs directing us to Oakland!  But indeed, this was the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, it was exactly where it was supposed to be, and we found our way across.  And we had the good fortune to be going in the right direction, too:  it was free heading “in country.”  But our bad fortune had us crossing early in the day, in the middle of pea soup fog.  So we saw nothing of the Bay or its environs, to our great disappointment.  We know it must have been truly lovely; we’ll try again another time.  So, no pictures and no pretty memories.  

But the beltway around the capital was generally in good repair and traffic wasn’t too heavy.  A small amount of construction in Maryland, announced by “Some Growing Pains to Get More Lanes” and “Taking Strides to Better Your Ride.”  The daily commuters probably didn’t appreciate the sentiments (“Just get the work done, dammit”), but we thought they were a nice, light touch.  

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Well, a week in Washington gives you barely a start.  A combination of other chores (you still have to do laundry, even in Washington) and bad weather limited us to only four days of adventuring, but we did make a dent.  The metro is way cool, and really efficient.  You can get anywhere from here!  We spent some time on the Mall, visiting a few of the Smithsonian museums.  My favorite was definitely the Museum of American History; I managed to get through about two-thirds of what was there, but only by means of dashing through the First Ladies exhibit, which will require a return trip.  Rick enjoyed the Air and Space Museum a lot, but we both quickly realized we had seen a lot of what was there, in other parts of the country.  Not the one-of-a-kind things, of course, but the Naval Air Museum in Pensacola, for instance, is hard to beat.  We attended the first day of a new exhibit on the Wright Brothers, and it was excellent.

We spent an afternoon at Arlington, visiting the cemetery and Arlington House, the former home of Robert E. Lee.  We were appalled, in the cemetery, by many visitors’ lack of appreciation for where they were and their total ignorance of well known history.  We heard one man, normal-ordinary-white-middle class-well dressed- older than us, asking “How did Robert Kennedy die?”  And someone else referring to Robert E. Lee as President (whether he meant of the US or the Confederacy remains unclear).  But we pressed on, and enjoyed anyway.

So who is Harry Lloyd Byrd and why does he have a highway named after him?

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We did a lot of walking, visiting the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and the FD Roosevelt Memorials, all during the course of a VERY VERY VERY LONG walk around the Tidal Basin (I kept looking for scantily clad young ladies, says Rick).  We sure got our exercise.  We found the FDR memorial to be both very different and especially effective.  As  it is a more modern memorial (completed in 1997) the approach is different from that for earlier presidents.  There were many quotes on the walls of the various “rooms,” each of which was devoted to a different part of his presidency.  There were small waterfalls, and a statue of the seated president.  It’s hard to describe, but we were both quite moved by the experience.  We have included a picture of one quotation which we found particularly profound and which also struck us as being so very different from the approach some of our more recent presidents have taken.

The Iwo Jima Memorial was also especially impressive; if you haven’t seen it, you don’t realize how really large and massive it is.  And as it is a tribute to all Marine involvement over the years, beginning with the Revolutionary War, the list of battles that encircles the monument is almost overwhelmingly stirring.  It was quite something for us.  

A few days after our arrival, we were joined by friends who were also in town, staying in Alexandria.  We ventured out by motorcycle to visit with them, and also joined them on the Mall for a day.  We had dinner on King Street in Alexandria, a renovated area that is full of cool things to see.  Our day on the bike was a Sunday, relatively safe to be on the roads, but I use the term “relatively” quite seriously.  The locals drive waaaay too fast, the roads are really spaghetti-like, and well, you can picture the rest.  At one point we ended up going “off” an “on” ramp, fortunately with no one coming at us.  Rather harrowing.  We’ll leave the driving to the pros and take the metro from now on!

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Our last day in the area it rained hard and we stayed home, but the next morning it was bright and pretty again, and we headed westward into Virginia, toward the Shenandoah Valley.  What a treat!  Such a pretty area, we could have stayed for days.  And as is true everywhere in Virginia, there is so much to see.  We traveled down the valley, heading for Tennessee.  We stopped at New Market, site of a Civil War battlefield which was fought in part by cadets from VMI, the Virginia Military Institute.  They had marched to the area from Lexington, over 60 miles away.  Several of the boys died in the battle; the site is quite lovely and appears as it did then, and is well documented.  At the battlefield there is a Hall of Valor, which tells a lot about Virginia’s battles.  Nothing like a museum from the southern point of view.

Moving south through Virginia, we were struck once again by how beautiful this state is; it is fall in the South, a different fall than further north.  The colors are more the colors of rust – yellows, oranges, golds – and they are everywhere.  We are in the southern Appalachians and they are magnificent.  We were traveling on I-81, which travels down through the Shenandoah Valley and the Roanoke Valley, and is called the Andrew Lewis Memorial Highway.  Then it crosses the state line into Tennessee, and becomes the Senator Albert Gore Sr. Memorial Highway.  The countryside is less “pruned” looking somehow, now, more rural.  Just as lovely.  Tennessee is a fireworks state; the billboards proclaim their wares, including FIREWORKS LIVE ON DVD.  You tell me.

We were heading into Knoxville, leaving I-81 and joining I-40; scary thought:  I-40 goes all the way to Barstow, California.  If you start, can you stop?  In Knoxville, we headed to a campground up above the city for the night.  An unanticipated treat:  bluegrass music there twice a week, and tonight was one of their nights.  It was a local group, the Brushy Valley Boys (and girls, and kids; you get the picture).  Pretty casual, but lots of fun and some genuine talent.  The campground is located very close to the Museum of Appalachia.  We were only staying the one night, but it was a reconnoiter for a future visit; we plan to spend Thanksgiving at this park, along with some visiting family.  We’ll give a more complete report on this area of the country when next we chat.  

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We only spent one night because we were hell bent for northern Georgia and Camp Cherry Log, our home for the next two weeks.  To get here, we headed south in Tennessee almost to Chattanooga, then east along the Ocoee River.  This lovely river is the site of several TVA dams, and it’s beautiful and romantic.  Some of the 1996 Olympic events were held along this river.

We have a spot at Cherry Log we like to visit about this time.  Northern Georgia, the southern end of the Appalachians, is quite lovely right now.  The fall color is splendid, and our campground is rural and quiet, tucked away in a corner of nowhere.  It is a land of woods and streams and quiet walks.  We like it here, a lot.  We’re thinking of you and hope you are also enjoying the special colors of autumn, the special soft light of the sun, and the colder nights.  Ain’t it great!

Much love,

Rick and Kathy (and Jeremy and Agnes)

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

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