Thursday, April 17, 2014

Virginia Creeper Trail

When we got back from Marion last night it was still almost 50* in my RV so I just crawled into bed and didn’t turn on the furnace or anything.  I was rewarded with a quiet night, no alarms!  I was paranoid the whole night though and kept thinking it was going to go off!  I even attempted to disable the alarm by pulling the battery disconnect, however since I was plugged into shore power the alarm remained on. 

It was a cold morning, however, not as cold as yesterday! I had both the furnace and the ceramic heater going and it was quite toasty and nice!  Until the LP/CO2 alarm went off.  Again.  Hmmmm… Maybe this isn’t the malfunction that I thought it was.  I sat down and tried to remember all the times that it’s gone off…I could come up with 6 times it’s gone off and 4 of those the furnace had been running.  The RV is easy to get fresh air into so I’m not genuinely worried, just not gonna run the furnace in the evenings (when CO2/propane whatever can build up before bed) and planning to make an appointment ASAP to get it looked at.

Today we were planning to ride the Virginia Creeper Trail! The Creeper Trail is a Rails to Trails Trail and I do believe it’s one of the best! In August of 2004 we were in Damascus and “discovered” the trail.  At that time my Dad, my Uncle and I got a shuttle to the top and rode down.  It was the best bike ride ever because it was all downhill!  We saw folks riding up, and at the time I thought they were crazy!  When I was driving home from Colorado last summer and thinking about getting a bike I started planning to ride my bike (that I didn’t own yet) up , and then down, The Creeper Trail in Damascus, VA!  The trail is 34 miles from Whitetop Station to Abingdon, with Damascus in the middle.  It’s 17 miles (and 1700 ft of elevation change) between Whitetop Station and Damascus, while the other 17 miles to Abingdon is more rolling.

Since it was cold and predicted to warm up Dad and I hung out at the campground until mid-morning before we headed into Damascus to get started!  The biggest question was what to wear?  It was already warming up in Damascus, and were about to ride 17 miles UP hill, we knew we’d get warm.  However, it was going to be cold at the top and then the trip down was going to be cold!  We ended up taking a ton of clothes and headed out. 

Our first stop was Blue Blaze Bicycle and Shuttle Service because Dad needed some chain lube.  The guy in the store was quite helpful!  Told Dad all about the chain lube he was going to buy, then popped Dad’s bike on the rack, cleaned his chain and put some chain lube on it! 

It was 11:30 before we headed up the trail!  The trail is crushed cinders and gravel, and rocks.  It’s mostly smooth, but it’s not “street” smooth.  At first I really felt like I was working hard to pedal because of the surface of the path, but I got used to it!  I was "very glad I’d purchased a more rugged bike as opposed to a road bike! 


One of the best parts of the Creeper Trail is the that it follows a river and has more than 20 trestles to cross which give you excellent views of the water, small cascades, rhodendron, and rocks!


P1080772The advantage of riding up is that you are going slower and can enjoy the scenery more!  I didn’t stop and take my pictures though!

As you get further up the trail it moves away from the creek and the scenery is more farm land.


The first 11 miles up weren’t so bad.  The trail is an old railroad, that means the grade wasn’t too bad, however, the last 7 miles were a bit steeper than the first part.  This was hard because we’d already ridden up 11 mile and we were getting tired.  We stopped for lunch about five miles from Whitetop Station, then we rode two more miles and got to Green Cove and we both ate another snack.  Then the final push, the last 3 miles to Whitetop Station.  That was the hardest and longest 3 miles ever.  My thighs were burning.  My butt hurt.  I was still hungry.  And the trail would not end.  

Finally however…



P1080778You could see the summit of Whitetop Mountain from Whitetop Station

P1080777  The trip down was fast, and chilly, and painful!   The top part was steeper and I didn’t enjoy it as much, I was paranoid about going to fast & hitting a rock or something.  My legs hurt when I was coasting, but I couldn’t pedal because I’d go too fast.  We stopped at Green Cove again to use the pit toilet and put on more layers.  Not only was it cold, it was getting late in the day and the sun was sinking behind the mountains. 

After the first seven miles down the trail leveled out a bit, it was still downhill but I was pedaling and going fast!  By this time I’d gotten used to the rocks and uneven terrain was putting my basic mountain biking skills I’d learned in Keystone to good use!  The scenery was flying by and I’m glad I’d had the time to enjoy it on the way up! 

Finally we made it back to Damascus!  My body was sore all over!  Walking felt very nice! 

It was already 5:00 and since we had a 45 min drive back to the campground and then we’d have to make dinner and since dinner was a disaster last night, we opted to grab a pizza at The Blue Blaze Cafe.  Aside from a long wait for the pizza to arrive, it was AMAZING!  I suppose though that fresh, homemade pizza that good comes with a long wait!  We were just starving and tired!

Another neat thing about The Creeper Trail is that the AT joins up with it in several places! Now, having ridden the portion of AT that is on the C&O Canal Towpath and the section that is on the Creeper Trail, I think I’ve biked all the sections of the AT that you can bike!

I’m very glad we did the ride on a “chilly” day as it did get hot riding up!  Next time I ride up though I’m going to stop at mile 11 (just after the high trestles) since that’s where it stopped being fun going up and started being fun coming down!

We made it back to the campground in time for Jeopardy! and two Big Bang Theory Re-runs before I fell asleep! 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Grayson Highlands State Park & other Adventures

The day started early with a midnight wake up call from  my LP/CO detector! After clawing my way out of my sleeping bag and getting the lights on and determining what was going on, I got up and opened the door to get some fresh, 22*, air in and the alarm went off. I wasn’t sure why the alarm was going off – malfunction?  Actual issue? I wasn’t running any propane appliances at the time so it seemed like maybe it was a malfunction. I went out and turned off the propane just in case and even opened a window just in case (yes, it was 22* and I was sleeping with the window open! The van has no insulation so it doesn’t really matter if the window is open or not!).  I crawled back in my sleeping bag and was almost asleep when it went off again.  At this point I wasn’t sure what to do.  It was the middle of the night and it was freezing and I kept having to open the door to shut off the detector.  I packed up my sleeping bag and pillow and went up Dad’s site to sleep in his RV.

He’d left the door unlocked so I attempted to sneak in, but I failed and scared the crap out of him, but once I explained what was going on he went back to sleep and I threw my sleeping bag on the couch/bed and got a little sleep.  It was 2am before I went to sleep and I was up by 7.  I went back to my RV and got ready for the day – running every propane appliance I own, with the doors closed and the alarm did not go off.  I figured that the detector was malfunctioning.  I was a bit paranoid though because the middle of the night alarm was so random I had no idea if/when it would go off again.

It was a beautiful morning! Bright blue sky, bright sun, crisp air! Since it was so cold we decided to have a leisurely breakfast before heading out around 9:30 to Grayson Highlands State Park.  It took about 30 minutes to get around to the park and get parked at Massie Gap. 

Grayson Highlands is unique because it has an almost alpine feel with large open mountaintops and low scruffy plant growth and big rock outcroppings.  It is also unique because they have herds of wild ponies that graze openly in the high meadows. 

We started at Massie Gap and hiked up to the AT and then to the Wise Shelter and down a horse trail/fire road to the campground and back around to Massie Gap.  It was about 7-8 miles – we aren’t sure, the GPS malfunctioned.  It was a nice hike, great scenery, beautiful weather, and the trail wasn’t too strenuous.  We even followed a herd of ponies down the trail at one point!






We were at the car and getting ready to depart and a guy walked up to the pick-up truck next to us and commented about how we had “all the gear we need!”  (The jeep has 2 bikes on the back and bright yellow kayak on the top!)   We struck up  conversation with him – he was a Marine from Triangle and was doing recon for a Appalachian Trail “Relay” he was planning for the Marines in May.  They are going to run the entire AT from NC to Harper’s Ferry in 10 days.  They will have to maintain a 4.5 mph pace!  The guy we were talking to is going to drive the support van! 

We wrapped up our conversation with him and headed back to the campground.  We stopped at the overlook in the park to enjoy the view and then drove up the road to Whitetop Mountain.  Whitetop Mt is the 2nd highest in the state, and you can drive to the top and take in the view!  There were trees at the top that were still covered with ice from yesterday’s snow!  It looked like they’d been spray painted.   The view at the top was nice, but what got our attention was that we both had cell phone signal!  Dad called mom and I was texting my friend Kathy.  I didn’t have enough signal to do much else.   (Mt. Roger’s is the highest mountain in the state but there aren’t any views from the top)

While the rest of the world had warmed up, it must have stayed cold on Whitetop, the trees were still coated with snow!



It was warm when we got back to the campground so we took advantage and put the bikes on the car and I did some other chores before we started dinner.  We were going to have stir fry so we gathered the veggies and started chopping.  Dad had chopped a few strips of red pepper and then chopped his thumb.   Oh no!!!!! 

He had a chopped off a small chunk of meat that was hanging on by a thread.  We quickly decided that we needed to see a doctor about it.  We quickly made sure the coach was secure with the heat turned off and what not, I grabbed my purse, he made sure he had his insurance cards and we headed out.   We did stop to ask the camp hosts where the best place to go was.  One of the camp hosts suggested Dad just “put a band-aid on it.”  The “in charge” gal didn’t seem to have a clue where to go.  I’d seen a hospital in Marion and I knew exactly how to get to it so she thought we should go there.  We also needed the gate code to get back in (they lock the gate after 10 pm).  She couldn’t find the lock to double check the combo so said she’d just “pretend” to lock it so we could get back in. 

So we headed off down the road back to Marion to the hospital.  It only took 30 minutes to get there and Dad was seen almost immediately.  It was probably the fastest ER visit in history!  Under two hours from arrival to departure! And they had free wifi! The doctor originally wanted to put a stitch or two in it but when she came in to do it we asked more questions about glue and other options and she said that we could “steri-strip” it, which is basically a band-aid.  That seemed like a much better option so Dad went for it and we were on our way. 

It was now almost 8:30 and neither of us had eaten since our post-hike snacks around 3pm.  This is very ironic because when Dad and I hike we carry tons of snacks and stuff, however when we ran out the door at the beginning of dinner prep, neither of us grabbed food.  The options in Marion, VA were limited, but we saw a Mexican place, El Puerto (it’s kinda the only non-fast food chain in Marion) that looked good.  We ran to Walgreens to put the RX for antibiotics the Dr had given Dad and then Dad dropped me off at the restaurant to get a table and order something while he went back to get the meds.

While I was in the restaurant I struck up a conversation with the folks at the table next to us – they had come in at the same time as us.  They were really nice!  When Dad came in, the gal said “Are you the ones with the kayak?”   Yes, yes we were!  We chatted with them about camping and Dad’s thumb and stuff.  They told us about how the Methodist Church in Sugar Grove is hiker friendly! 

Then as we were leaving the restaurant a guy came up behind us, tapped me on the shoulder and said “Small world!'”.   It was the Marine we’d met at Grayson Highlands!

Having stirred up enough trouble in Marion we headed back over the mountain to the campground, arriving back just before the 10 pm curfew.  We both went right to our RVs and crawled into bed! 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Camping in a Winter Wonderland

We had a good night in the Wal-Mart Parking lot!  Other than the parking lot “zamboni” doing an exquisite job cleaning the parking lot, making several passes near my RV (I did have the windows open, that was likely why I heard it) around 2am and my fridge losing the flame and alarming at the exact same time as the zamboni’s first pass, I slept great!  (I am quite glad that both “wake me up” events happened at exactly the same time!").   Even though I wasn’t cold, I did close the windows after the zamboni showed up to cut down on the noise. 

As predicted, we woke up to rain.  It was still warm, high 50s, but getting colder faster.  Since it was a yucky morning and we really didn’t have any place to be, Dad made oatmeal and we had a leisurely breakfast before heading to Grindstone Campground.  It was only about 20 miles and the road was very scenic. 

There is a spot about 3-4 miles from the campground where the AT crosses the road we were on.  I wasn’t sure if it was the AT or not, but I thought I saw a White Blaze on the other side of the road.  There was a large parking lot and a sign.  There was a guy standing by the sign.  He had his hammock hung between the posts of the bulletin board and looked “settled”.   I was wondering if he was a thru hiker looking to get a ride.  He saw me and I waved, he waved back, but it was more of a “hey!” than “come pick me up”, so I kept moving.  I was also past the point of being able to turn into the parking area by the time I thought the whole situation through.  I couldn’t figure out why anyone would be hanging out at a trailhead parking lot on a day like today (by now it was in the 40s and raining), but “Hike Your Own Hike".   I figured that if he was really desperate for a ride he would have waved his arms to get my attention or moved closer to the road or whatever, I’m sure he heard my Dad’s RV coming – it’s very loud you can hear it from miles away!

We arrived at the campground a little before 11.  We are the season’s first guests!  I think we are tonight’s only guest.  There are a lot of camp hosts, but no other campers.  We got parked up and headed out to Abingdon. 

There’s not much to do around here on a rainy day so we decided to check out both Damascus & Abingdon.  It took about an hour to drive out there and we started with lunch at Wild Flour Bakery and Cafe!  Our veggie wrap & butternut squash/potato soup was yummy! I thought it was funny that it was snowing outside and one of their soups of the day was gazpacho!  We don’t have cell phone signal at the campground so we both spent lunch checking different things online and texting with Mom. 

After lunch we checked out several stores in Abingdon – two outfitters, a yarn store, a fabric store, and our favorite, The Abingdon Olive Oil Company.  The olive oil store had several varieties of basic olive oil as well as infused oil and fused oil, and every flavor imaginable of balsamic vinegar.  We were given the grand tour of the store and then armed with spoons to sample whatever we liked!  I was a big fan of the dark chocolate balsamic, the strawberry balsamic, the lavender balsamic and the garlic infused oil.    Dad bought some olive oil and some basic balsamic and some strawberry balsamic.  I opted not to get any just now, although you can order it and have it shipped! 

All day it was rainy, sleety, and snowing.  The snow wasn’t sticking, but it was coming down hard and heavy.  My Weather Channel app said that the snow would stop at 3:30…and sure enough at 3:30 on the nose we saw blue sky start to appear!  By the time we headed back to the campground the precipitation had mostly stopped and the temp was dropping further.

On our way back to the campground we stopped in Damascus at the Mount Rogers Outfitter.  It was a Thru Hiker Party!  I was surprised as it seemed a bit early for hikers, but there were lots of hikers!  They were all looking for rooms at the hostels in town and not having much luck.  It was fun listening to the discussion, but it was kinda like crashing a party.  As I was paying for my map & sticker I said something about surprised I was by how many hikers there were and how I’d thought about spending the day sitting a trail crossing waiting for hikers since the weather was so bad, but I’d figured there wouldn’t be many hikers yet.  Dad started telling about the guy we saw on the the way to the campground.  There was a guy standing by the counter who said “THAT WAS ME!!! I stood there for hours waiting for a ride!”  OH NO!  I should have turned around!  (No, I don’t normally pick up strange men, but at an AT road crossing on a rainy day, I would pick up anyone with a backpack!).  I apologized and told him my side of the story, why I didn’t get him – he seemed to understand.  He said his girl friend had been in the sleeping bag staying warm.  I told him that if when he waved at me he’d jumped around, acted like he needed help, I would have turned around.  He definitely remembered us, described both vehicles!  I felt so bad about not at least stopping to ask if he needed a ride!  But then again I’m kinda glad – there were two of them, I have only one seat in the van so some smelly thru hiker would have had to ride in my bed! LOL!  Also, it’s his choice to be out here hiking, he knew what he was getting into! 

After our visit to Mount Rogers Outfitter we headed back to the campground.  As we went up the mountain there was more and more snow stuck to the rhododendron.  The temp was also quickly falling into the 20s.  When we got back to the campground we found a winter wonderland!  Snow was stuck in all the trees and bushes!  Our RVs also had a light sprinkling of snow!  The steps for Dad’s RV had gotten coated with ice and my sliding door was frozen stuck.  

We got a quick dinner of salad with our new oils and balsamics and some soup I’d brought, and then we went for a quick walk around the campground before it got dark to take the trash out, get in some steps, and enjoy the snow! :-)





It’s going to be a cold night, but it’s going to be a chance to test some of my “how to stay warm” ideas!

Monday, April 14, 2014

McAfee Knob Hike

After a noisy night listening to the trucks engage their jake brakes and they coasted down the hill right outside my window, we were up early to head to the McAfee Knob Trailhead, trying to stay ahead of the rain and cold temperatures that were on their way.

McAfee Knob is an iconic spot on the Appalachian Trail. Nearly every hiker has had their picture taken on the rocks there!  The way the rocks are it looks like you are standing on a ledge out in the middle of nothing!   I wanted to see the spot and get my picture taken there!  I’m glad my dad was with me because otherwise getting the picture would have been a challenge! 

We left Gander Mountain at 7:30 and arrived at the trailhead before 8!  The trailhead parking lot was huge, next time I come down here I’m going to park there overnight rather than the Gander Mountain!

The trail up was fairly easy, some up and down but mostly up and not very steep.  There are 2 trails that go up to the knob – the AT and the fire road.  The distance is about the same, although the fire road is a bit shorter.  We went up the AT and it snaked along the side of the mountain, past 2 shelters.  It was a nice section with some views of the valley.  Luckily, the leaves were still off the trees and we could see the views. Also, luckily, it was overcast today and it wasn’t so crazy hot as yesterday!   It was a bit breezy in places, but mostly the mountain blocked the wind. 



We kept a steady 2 mph pace and made it to the Knob by 10:00!  The view was nice despite the clouds and the swarms of gnats!  The clouds were high and we could see farms in the valley & mountains in the distance!  The rock platforms stuck out the the whole way around and were able to walk around and see the view at different angles.

We of course took the requisite pictures at *the* platform that is featured in all the AT pictures:


P1080716I didn’t have the nerve to sit down on the ledge and dangle my feet over like I’ve seen in other pictures. 

Some other shots of the views:




 P1080721The view was nice and we’d beat the rain, however, the gnats were a force to contend with!  Every time you stopped the gnats would descend. They weren’t biting, just flying all around you.  Once we reached the end of the overlook we got out of gnats and started the walk back. 

On the way back we walked the fire road – neither of us were too excited about walking the fire road as they are usually boring, but we were racing the rain (the fire road route is shorter) and why walk back the same way we came?  The fire road was actually very nice!  It was along the ridge and there were views to both sides!  It was breezy and cool, but no rain!   We saw more people coming than we’d seen on the AT, but it was also mid-morning when most people get out and get moving. 

We arrived back at the car just before noon! We studied the map and noticed that the trailhead for Dragon’s Tooth, also on the AT, was only 4 miles down the road, so we went to check that out.  That hike is only 5 miles RT, but it’s a lot more rugged – you have to climb iron ladders and stuff. Next time! 

We headed back to Gander Mountain to retrieve our RVs and do some shopping. Dad needed to return his new boots and I found a performance jacket I was looking for.  It was almost 3 before hit the road to head to Wal-Mart in Marion, VA. 

Let’s talk for a moment about I-81.  I-81 is such an amazing contrast to I-95!  I-95 is the worst road ever – with minor exceptions of northern Maine and most of Florida and Georgia, the whole interstate is just a disaster of traffic, congestion and construction.  There’s no scenery, truck stops/diesel is harder to find, free overnight parking options are limited, and rest areas are few and far between.  I-81 is the exact opposite!  It cuts down the Shenandoah Valley with farms close by and mountains in the distance!  It’s only 2 lanes, but there are fewer people out here so it works.  Most of the traffic is truckers, which are much easier to drive with, I think.  Almost every exit has a big truck stop with diesel fuel! There are plenty of rest areas and lots of Wal-marts, Cracker Barrels and such to spend free nights on the road!  I’m trying to figure out how I can only travel places where I can get to via I-81. 

My dad hit a bird while he was driving!  Rather, the bird hit him.  It was a bit traumatic, for everyone involved.  I was right behind him and I saw an explosion of feathers and a bird cartwheeling through the air and saw it smack down in the middle of the left lane of traffic.  After getting over the shock of seeing the bird killed in front of me, it struck me as hilarious that Dad hit a bird while driving…that’s hard to do!  When we got to Wal-Mart I asked Dad if he knew he’d hit a bird and he said “Heck, yes!”  He’d seen the bird flying toward the window and he ducked (LOL!). The bird nailed the RV above the windshield with a huge “THUNK”.  It left a large mark on the top of the RV! 

It started raining a little on the way, but when we got to Marion it stopped and it hasn’t started again! Tomorrow is still looking yucky, but not as bad.  Still going to be very cold tomorrow night.   Supposed to start raining overnight, hopefully it will be heavy and loud and block out the Wal-Mart noises!  There’s been a group of 20-somethings hanging out in their cars all evening right around our RVs. They don’t seem to be up to trouble, but they have been here all night.   If I was here alone I probably wouldn’t have stayed (no idea where I would go, there aren’t many options) – there’s just something about them that makes me uneasy – although I don’t think they are causing trouble or have any interest in me, it just seems weird.   This is the 1st time that I’ve felt “iffy” about an overnight location! 

(edited: Dad and I went on a late night (9:00!) scouting mission in Roxy and when we returned I parked next to him away from the kids.  Almost as soon as we got back the rain started and the kids left!)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Front Royal and on to Roanoke

This year Spring Break was later – mid-April – so I decided to plan a trip!  I figured it would be warmer and the campgrounds would be open!  It also worked out that Dad was able to join me (Mom is in Williamsburg moving her 87-year old Mom into a Memory Unit).  We made plans to hike McAfee Knob, on the AT near Roanoke, VA and the go on to Damascus, VA where we can hike more AT and bike the VA Creeper Trail. 

I’d wanted to have time to prepare, and I didn’t want to hit McAfee Knob, which is a very popular hike, on a Spring Weekend, so I decided to leave on Sunday, after Yoga. This gave me a chance to go to the store and make food and do laundry and pack and everything without feeling rushed. 

This morning I was up early and got started packing the RV and making a curry dish that I was bringing for dad and I to eat.  Dad and I have been following the weather forecast for the week and it’s not looking so good.  Tomorrow is supposed to drizzle and rain, then Tuesday is supposed to rain & snow and go down to 28!  Wed gets better, as in no rain, but it’s still cold.  I packed all my winter gear and made the bed up for cold (fleece sheets).  

With the forecast lows going into the 20s I opted not to un-winterize just yet!  I did hit upon what I think is a genius idea for camping when the RV is winterized.  I can bathe, make coffee etc as long as I haul the water with me.  I don’t have places to put liter (or 2 liter) bottles of water in the RV so I can only bring a little.  It’s not a problem if I’m in a campground, but we are camping a Gander Mountain tonight and Wal-Mart tomorrow.  I realized that if I fill my fresh tank, I can crawl under the coach with my bottle and refill it from the drain of the fresh tank!  So today I filled the fresh tank 1/3 full (about 10 gallons, so not that big of a deal if I have to drain it out) and now I can refill as needed and drain when it’s going to get cold!  I did test the “fill the bottles” plan and it does work!  It’s not the easiest thing ever, but it works! 

The crazy thing is that today it was in the 80s with bright sun!   I was cursing the fact that we were going to be in Damascus on the crappy weather day and today I was hanging out at home taking my time packing and waiting for it to be time for yoga.  Around 11 I decided to ditch yoga and drive out to Front Royal early.   I had plans to meet my friend Kathy for an early dinner so I texted her and asked if she wanted to come walk with me in Shenandoah, and she did!  :-) 

I quickly finished off my preparations and hit the road!  I was in Front Royal picking up Kathy by 1:00! We went up to the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center and took a quick/short walk to Snead Farm.  It was out a fire road and with the leaves off the trees it was HOT HOT HOT.  Luckily it was a short walk!  We decided to drive down Skyline Drive a bit – since it was still early.  We went to Elkwallow and turned around heading back into Front Royal for an early dinner!  It was a fun afternoon! Kathy & I teach at the same school, but we now that I’m back in the classroom we  hardley ever see each other so it was a treat to get to spend the whole afternoon together Much better than yoga! :-)  After dinner I headed down the road. 

At 5pm it was 87* in Front Royal.  Almost 90* and snow was in the forecast.  Seriously?!?! 

It was about 200 miles from Front Royal to Roanoke and it was mostly uneventful.  Dad had told me the wrong exit number – I should have listened to the signs for Camping World – but it wasn’t super hard to turn around and come back to Gander Mountain!  He’d gotten here early and had gone to check out the trail head and had quite an adventure trying to help some folks who had locked their keys in the car. 

It’s almost 10:00 and it’s still 70* in my RV.  I’m going to roast tonight with all this winter gear. I have nothing “summer-y” for sleeping in! It’s only going down to 58*.  Fingers cross that the rain holds off long enough for us to get our hike to McAfee Knob in!