June 2004

Be Careful what You Wish For

Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont

Nashville to Asheville to Appomattox to the Adirondacks and … on to Canada.

Or...  Be careful what you wish for!

You see, we were headed to Nashville for a couple of days to have a little work done on the coach.  Right?  And I said, oh cool, we’ll be in Nashville for a couple of days finally and I can go see The Hermitage, and maybe go to a few baseball games, and maybe poke around The Grand Ole Opry.  Right?  Yeah, right.  Didn’t happen.  ‘Course not.  We were there a week.  Didn’t see much of anything.  It rained.  It rained.  And did I tell you it rained?  The joys of Camping World (well known if you have done any RVing over the years).  We were stuck in the parking lot most of the time.  “Should be done soon.”  “The part is coming.”  “Oh, well they screwed that up; we’ll have to send it back.  But we’re right on it.”  Nothing new here.  Two nights in motels because the drive shaft was out of the coach and they couldn’t move it out of the garage area.  But in the middle was a weekend when we did have the drive shaft, and we spent it at a beautiful campground near Nashville, on a lake; one of the loveliest spots we’ve visited anywhere.  And we did get to have Mellow Mushroom pizza in Nashville.  Rick feels the need to add that this experience involved a failed attempt at adding a fairly major accessory item to the Trek – an auxiliary transmission – and not a breakdown.  We don’t want anyone feeling that our little home is causing us problems, ‘cause it’s not.

Some day we will get back to Nashville and really do the sights.  Zipping around town on the bike between drops, we sensed the vibrancy of the town; it’s very alive, with music everywhere and recording studios on every corner.  Vanderbilt University is downtown, and it’s a beautiful old campus.   We did get to one ball game, a real stitch; we saw the Nashville Sounds (AAA affiliate of the Pirates) play the Tacoma Mariners.  Minor league ball is a different horse race, that’s for sure, and we enjoy it a lot.  

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We were in Nashville during the time Condaleeza Rice was speaking on campus during commencement week, with tons of hullabaloo in the papers.  The liberals and the conservatives were mixing it up, including a petition signed by many on campus against her appearance.  The chancellor’s wife (a professor) signed the petition, even.  The chancellor is said to have applauded her independent spirit.

Forgot to tell you – on our way into Nashville we stopped in Murfreesboro at the Stones River Battlefield.  Civil War, of course.  We didn’t spend a lot of time; everyone was in a tizzy because they were just about finished with the total re-do of the visitor’s center and everything was a mess in the temporary quarters currently being used.  We’ll come back when they are back in and set up properly.  Looks like a good spot in an important place.

Oh, yeah, and for all our motorcycle friends who are saying, “Wait a minute; this was the weekend of the bike races in Birmingham.  Didn’t they have tickets?”  Yeah, right on all counts.  The perils of making arrangements ahead of time (and paying for them), including a campground for the weekend.  Missed the whole thing.  NO MORE ADVANCE ARRANGEMENTS; NEVER NEVER NEVER.

Sign on back of teenager’s shirt:  “You know how to keep an idiot busy?  See front of shirt.”  (Same thing on front except for one different word.)

Finally left Nashville on a Tuesday afternoon, with medical appointments scheduled for Raleigh, North Carolina on Wednesday morning.  Only problem – Raleigh is over 600 miles away.  We spent the night in Asheville, then got up and beat feet across North Carolina.  We only missed one appointment, which we were able to reschedule, and arrived in town at 1:20 pm for a 1:20 appointment.  Piece of cake!  Pant, pant.  The drive across on the interstate was delightful, because nobody does freeway flowers like North Carolina.  They are everywhere, and the anemones, sweet peas, blue lupine-like flowers, etc. were all in bloom.  In spades.  ‘Twas lovely.  And after we caught our breath, we had a delightful visit with our friends John and Beth in Raleigh, midst seeing all the medical folks.  Got a clean bill of health and were on our way again.

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The mid-South is deep into spring, alternately hot and rainy, but that’s what keeps it beautiful.  We left Raleigh on Saturday morning, heading up into Virginia.  It was hot and muggy, but lovely.  We passed through Virgilina (yep, right on the border) full of magnolia trees in bloom and into Brookneal.  Brookneal was founded in 1802 and is the final dwelling place of Patrick Henry.  We wouldn’t have known that except for the signs, not being very tuned into the Revolutionary War yet.  (The Civil War is easier; then we figure the War of 1812 will be a piece of cake, and then on to George and the boys.)  

Virginia seems generally greener than North Carolina; in fact, as we moved further north it stayed that way.  North Carolina and certain other parts of the south have been in drought in recent times and were somewhat dry.  Hot and muggy, but dry.  Damn.  Just our luck.  

We arrived in Appomattox late in the afternoon.  Have you been there?  If not, please do visit.  It’s a lovely, quiet spot in the Virginia countryside. The town is quite small, with lovely, unpretentious homes and a quaint depot which housed the welcome center and a lot of historic information.  We spent the night in Appomattox, in the high school parking lot, before visiting the national historic site.  In the morning, while we were gathering ourselves, an elderly gentleman paid us a visit; he was out for his daily stroll.  He was quite a charmer.  He asked if we were heading out to the “surrender ground,” and when we said yes, gave us excellent directions.  He said he’d lived about 40 miles away most of his life, but a few years back had married a lady from here, and had moved here to be with her.  He must have been in his early 80’s.  he said he’d stopped by because he wanted to check out our “vomits.”  I finally figured out he meant “varmints,” and was talking about our cats!  Virginians have splendid accents…  The “surrender ground,” when we visited, was a real treat.  Isolated from any nearby development (and there isn’t much in this part of Virginia), it appears just as it did in 1865.  it’s very low-key, but full of history; you really feel as if Lee and Grant are right around the corner.  You can go through the McLean house, where the generals met, and walk the grounds.  We really enjoyed ourselves, despite the heat.

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Leaving Appomattox, we traveled up through central Virginia towards Lake Anna, our next destination.  We passed the Dunkum Funeral Home in Dilwyn, went through Cuckoo and Mineral but not Bumpass, zipping up the Zachary Taylor Highway.  The first hay crop is drying in the fields, the roses are in full bloom:  it’s summer in Virginia.  We bypassed Montpelier, James Madison’s home outside Orange, saving it for our Revolutionary War period.  

At Lake Anna, a lovely area created back in the 70’s as the cooling reservoir for a nuclear power generation plant (you know all about those), we joined a bunch of other Treks and had ourselves a bang-up little rally for several days.  It’s always such fun to get together with some of the “groupies”.  We hang out, compare bragging rights on mileage we get, distance traveled, stuff like that; we eat yummy food, hang out some more, share ideas, and wave good-by at the end.  A good time was had by all.  We even got a pontoon boat ride on the lake.  Oh, yes, and each evening we were treated to huge thunder and lightening storms, followed by rain which cooled things off so we could sleep.

During one discussion, we were talking to a woman who was quite astounded by our decision to sell our home and live in our RV permanently.  She had lived in her house for over 40 years, the kids would kill her if she decided to sell it, and besides, she said, “My lawnmower cost more than the house did.  How can I leave that?!”  full-timing isn’t for everyone.

Lake Anna is close enough to Richmond that we took a day’s ride down.  The goal was a museum that had an exhibit Kathy wanted to see.  The museum happened to be closed that day, go figure.  But just down the street, just past the National Headquarters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (!), is the State Historical Society; it was suggested to us that it would make a good substitute.  And it was wonderful.  This is a beautiful building, and it houses great “stuff.”  It reminded us of several “state” museums we have seen.  There were wonderful, recently done exhibits on the history of Virginia; a very good discussion of civil rights issues, including the obligatory section of lunch counter every state seems to consider essential; and a comparatively frank display on recent “challenges” the state has faced.  This included whether or not to erect a statue to Arthur Ashe and where to put it, and the recent fight over whether or not to allow Disney to built a huge theme park next to the Manassas battlefield.  All in a lovely building whose new section looked like it might have been built by Frank Lloyd Wright.  We enjoyed ourselves a lot.

Well, as you can see, we’re moving north, slowly but steadily.  When the rally ended, we headed on into northern Virginia, and into West Virginia.  We were approaching the Memorial Day weekend, and wanted to be settled somewhere.  Holidays are no time to be wandering about.  We needed to get some distance away from Washington, DC; the WWII veterans memorial was to be dedicated that weekend and the crowds would be horrendous.  Otherwise we would have loved a few days in the District.  So we journeyed up through Front Royal and Winchester, crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway into the Shenandoah Valley.  This is some of the prettiest country anywhere and an area where George Washington got his surveying experience as a young man; lucky him.  

On to West Virginia, where the countryside quickly gets more rugged; the towns seem a little poorer, an overgeneralization, but pretty true.  We were heading for a very remote, quiet corner of West Virginia along the South Fork of the Potomac River.  We were not disappointed.  It was beautiful; we camped on the edge of an open grassy field full of birds and insects, under a shady tree (weather still very hot).  River nearby.  To get there you go up “Old Furnace Road” and “Fergus Mill Road.”  This is old mining country, now used for cattle, horses, hay, the usuals.  Very green; lots of water in the river.  We hoped for a quiet three days, but the campground had a band in for the evenings; we were far enough away that it was just somewhat irritating and didn’t ruin our experience.  But next time we’ll ask before we make the reservation!

We left our little hideaway on Monday, Memorial Day, because we had an appointment in central Pennsylvania on Tuesday morning for some more work to be done on the coach – scheduled maintenance this time.  Traveling on Monday was a concern, because of all the folks heading home, but we did pretty well.  We came up over the ridge into Cumberland, Maryland on a misty, rainy morning.  It was a beautiful ride through beautiful mountains.  We’ll come back here another time and stay longer.  The eastern edge of Western Virginia and the western edge of Maryland dance along the Potomac River as it wanders toward the eastern seaboard; both states wanted a little piece of the action, as the river and railroads were very important through there in times past.  So you bounce around between the states for a bit; it’s kind of fun and VERY pretty.  Maryland gets very skinny in through here; then you make a left turn and you are in ….. Pennsylvania.  Immediately the landscape becomes bucolic farming country – silos, cows, corn, green; repeat three times.

We were going to Jonestown, a small town with a Chevrolet dealership Rick likes very much.  He tries to have them do our service on the coach whenever it’s a reasonable distance; the same technician each time, and he’s a good one.  This is Pennsylvania Dutch country, so it’s not too shabby a place to hang out for awhile.  The countryside is so neat and tidy; nothing left to straighten up!  Great for bike rides.  We took one down to Lebanon to pick up some very, very special cat food for a very special (damned) cat, Mr. Jeremy.  Won’t go into the details.  But more fun, we took a day trip over to Harrisburg, the capital.  We’d been there before, of course, but this time we wanted to see the National Civil War Museum.  And it’s a doozy.  Maybe the best civil war presentation we’ve seen.  Very evenhanded in its discussions (although it did give over a huge area to the Gettysburg battle, but hey, this was in Pennsylvania, after all, so who’s to gripe), it included an interesting exhibit on the various roles women took during the war, as well as insets discussing things that happened for the first time ever during the civil war.  This is a new museum, on top of a big hill overlooking the capital and the Susquehanna River.  If you get to Pennsylvania and want to go to a very good civil war museum, this is your baby.  For us, one of the nicest things was a statue out in front of a confederate soldier helping a wounded union soldier, giving him water and comfort.  It was quite moving.

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We landed in Jonestown Monday evening, and left Thursday evening.  Why does work always take at least one day longer than it should?  Anyway, we were off, finally, and our next goal was Lake George by Sunday afternoon.  So we had a little time, and chose to head into New York and visit the Adirondacks.  Have you ever been there?  Home of Lake Placid, among other choice pieces of real estate, the Adirondacks is a huge park administered by the state of New York, with strict development guidelines (there is almost none), strict recycling requirements, a real attempt to maintain the standards of the early 1900’s, and a splendid place to visit.  And Adirondack chairs are soooo cool!  

We headed into New York through eastern Pennsylvania, an area of increasingly higher hills, Wilkes-Barre, Scranton and other mining areas.  Boom areas at their peak maybe 1880-1930???  Still there, still with slag heaps, although now they are covered with trees and grass.  Not as pretty as the Dutch country further south.  The coach is working harder and harder getting over all these big hills.  And then we popped over the ridge into New York and it flattened out again, bucolic to the max.  We stopped for maple syrup, of course, at the first possibility, not being able to wait to get into Vermont later in the month.  South-central New York is lovely right now; we really like the Mohawk Valley, where we stayed the night.  We were in Rome, near Utica and Syracuse, names that I will always associate with the Erie Canal, which runs right up the valley.  I keep threatening to go for a ride on the Canal, and now I’ve learned about a ride you can take on a barge boat pulled by a mule; I’m holding out for that.  But it’s further west, nearer Buffalo, so maybe another time.

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In Rome, we spent the night at a Wal-Mart that had a large pond beside the parking lot.  The pond was full of geese and goslings; we counted six families and at least 35-40 babies.  It was quite a sight.  Those geese had no trouble adapting to the realities of the world!

By the way, you can get ice cream on every street corner in rural New York.  It’s great!

Then we went up into the mountains, which was also great.  Adirondack Park covers much of northern New York, so there’s plenty of room for everyone.  We camped overnight in a rugged, rustic park that was on a lake; too cool.  There were several groups of Boy Scouts there that had been out canoeing all day.  We visited the Adirondack Museum, which is on the edge of Blue Mountain Lake, a truly lovely spot.  This is a museum we had visited about ten years ago, and it was great to be back.  It has been enlarged in the meantime, naturally, and has many new exhibits.  We spent parts of two days there.  They have buildings devoted to mining and logging and one just for the boats that plied the waters of the lakes, special boats built just for that area.  There were exhibits on the special breed of guides that were there for the tourists and the canoes they used to take people around, birch bark canoes that were really beautiful, and all other kinds of canoes.  And lots of Adirondack chairs to sit in and look at the lake, and a pond in the middle of the museum grounds.  This is a special spot. We’ve marked our calendars for June 2014 (’94, ’04... ’14 in case the reference isn’t clear).

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Well, next was Lake George, and Americade, a huge motorcycling event.  We dropped out of the mountains and joined the Hudson River.  It flows to just below Lake George, then turns south and heads down to New York City and the sea.  It’s lovely wherever you can find it, and it’s good company.  Lake George is a popular resort area on the edge of the Adirondacks, and 10,000 bikes took it over.  We stayed for a few days, and that was enough.  I think we’re finally getting out of the bike rally segment of our lives.  (Rick???)  The area is very nice, and is great for bike riding.  It’s very close to the Vermont border, and one day we rode into Vermont, through many tiny but lovely towns.  but more on Vermont in a minute.  

Americade is a place to see great vendors and find stuff to buy.  We did pretty well, keeping the buying to a minimum, and mostly watching the crowds.  A motorcycle crowd is a great place to find the totally absurd.  We saw a woman in yellow, high strappy heels; tight jeans; a yellow midriff-baring top; and, of course, a jewel in her navel; in her mid-fifties, naturally.  Eastern gatherings include more smokers, too.  

In northern New York (and Vermont, too, at least) your hamburger doesn’t come with tomato or lettuce; they cost extra; so do French fries.

We reprised our Vermont ride when we left Americade.  We now went into Vermont for real.  One of my favorite roadside stands is on the New York –Vermont border, and we stopped there.  The strawberries are in, and fresh melons; I was a happy camper.  And the state of Vermont refreshes our souls.  Every time I get unhappy about where I am, I go to Vermont and realize what I’ve been missing.  Everything here is just a little bit better (even if the hamburgers are naked – see above).  We went through lovely little towns with hook and ladder company buildings in one spot and hose company buildings down the street (why?), high-steepled churches; all the stuff you expect in rural New England is right here, and in June it is green, green, green.

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We spent four days in Bellows Falls.  Why, you say?  Oh, you’ve never heard of Bellows Falls?  Well, neither had we.  But we know this guy, his name is Fred Eaglesmith.  He’s a Canadian singer-songwriter.  He’s cool.  Fred was doing a music festival in Bellows Fall.  And we’re Fred-Heads.  So we were there.  It was a blast.  Small festival, only maybe 300 folks, very low key.  For the musicians, the most important thing was the street hockey game that was going to be held on Sunday afternoon after the last concert.  We had a wonderful time.  Reminded me of what the first annual Live Oak Festival might have been like (same weekend, too).  Good music, lots of Fred-time, sunshine, good food, what more can you want.  On Sunday, the concert was all acoustic and was held in a place called the Rockingham Meeting House, a few miles away.  This is quintessential New England.  It was constructed between 1787-1801, was gently renovated about 1907, still has no electricity or heating, and is charming.  The seats are hard, as would be expected, and we were happy to have cushions.  It was like being back in the Mission in San Luis Obispo.  There is a big old cemetery out back with cool gravestones.  You get the picture.  By this day Rick had developed a crummy cold, and we didn’t think to bring the camera, but we’ll take pictures for you another time.  We don’t know how to send sound bites along with this message, but you can go to www.fredeaglesmith.com to learn more about Fred.

If you’ve got your map out, you know we’re now pretty close to the Canadian border.  When we left Bellows Falls, we wandered up the beautiful Connecticut River valley, heading north and a little west, toward Lake Champlain.  We’re here on the lake now, visiting some good Trek buddies for a couple of days while we wait for mail, a UPS package, etc.  our friends have a “camp” (this is what New Englanders call their summer homes) on the lake, out of North Hero, only a few miles from the border.  In a day or so we will cross into Canada. 

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Once in Canada, we’ll be pretty much out of touch for the next few months.  Our plans are to head for Quebec City and then out the St. Lawrence Seaway, around the Gaspe Peninsula, and into New Brunswick.  From there Prince Edward Island calls us, across the bridge, then some time to reacquaint ourselves with Nova Scotia and beautiful Cape Breton Island.  About mid-August, if plans hold, we’ll take the ferry to Newfoundland.  We expect to be there until we get bored, or the snows start to fly, which ever comes first.  I’ve been promised we’ll take the ferry from Newfoundland to Labrador on a day’s trip, which just delights me.  

So don’t expect to hear from us, perhaps not until late October.  We’ll be checking our messages at the local libraries, just as we have done in the past, but the cell phone won’t be much use so we are counting on you to keep in touch via e-mail.  Demerits will be given out to shirkers!

If you have suggestions on places you’ve enjoyed in eastern Canada, we would love to hear about them.  Our itinerary is very general, as you can see, and we don’t want to miss anything.  We hope to see everything we can, go to lots of music festivals, and I want a sweatshirt from Labrador!  

Best wishes to all; Rick & Kathy and the cats. 

 See more photos from the US in 2004

© Rick & Kathy Howe 2001-2018