Sweetness from Florida Grapes

Today our agenda had us moving about 90 miles further down the coast to a Harvest Host winery in Fort Pierce. They were having their first annual “Old Florida Festival,” with live music, cowboy poetry, and cowboy demonstrations. There would be food fit for the occasion: gator, catfish, froglegs, and so on. We had invited my sister and brother-in-law to join us there, and they agreed to come. (They live about an hour and a half from Fort Pierce.)


After having us sign a bunch of papers acknowledging their (many) rules, and signing off on all sort of risks and liabilities, they had us park next to a nice little pond. We were the first of what would turn out to be three Harvest Host guests, and I think we got the nicest parking spot.


It was fun to see our relatives, and it was fun to hang out together at the festival. The music was pretty good. One of the bands was a bluegrass band (Blast of Grass), and they played a continuous set for over two hours. Those guys have stamina! No one opted for any of the unusual foods. By the time I was ready to purchase some food it was getting pretty late. All they had left was some of the different main dishes and some key lime pie. Since they were out of sides, they offered to give a double portion of meats. I chose pork and chicken ($12 total). I gave them $15 and they said they’d have to round up some change. I told them if they threw a piece of pie in ($6) they could skip the change. They went along with it. The food was excellent, and the BBQ sauce was great too.


We spent some time chatting with a Florida cowboy (known as a “cracker”) named Buddy Miles. He demonstrated for us how he fashions a bull whip out of deer hide. It was amazing to hear and watch how he does this. The finished product is pretty much a work of art.

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Buddy Miles

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We found that there were two other parties of Harvest Host “campers” in premises tonight, so we spent some time getting to know them. JJ and Robin were from West Palm Beach, and they were traveling in a motor home. They told us about their son who is is pitcher in a farm team affiliated with the Washington Nationals. We promised to look for him and to follow his career. Edith and Graham were from Nova Scotia and they were traveling in a travel trailer. We listened to the interesting stories of their travels, and they filled us in on some places we missed seeing when we did our Nova Scotia trip in 2011. We’ll have to go back!

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JJ and Robin
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Graham and Edith

The Last “Fling” of Fall?

Totally unwilling to let fall slip away without one more “camping” trip, we decided to do a quick, one-night stay at a Finger-Lakes-area Harvest Host location. We had made arrangements to spend the night at the Pleasant Valley/Great Western winery outside Hammondsport, NY. Now, normally, it’s only about an hour’s drive from our home to where this winery is located. But we didn’t want to just drive directly there. We really just wanted an excuse to get out and drive around in the hills and look for foliage and fall things. So we headed west, even though our final destination was south of us.



The foliage this year is not as brightly colored as it normally is. Even at their most colorful, the hillsides are less than spectacular. Nice; but not spectacular.


We started by visiting the Hemlock Lake Park at the north end of Hemlock Lake. The sun was shining, and the temperature was climbing out of the 40’s, so we had hopes of sitting by the lake, maybe taking a walk or a bike ride, and/or maybe dropping a fishing line. As soon as we got out of the truck we discovered that the strong south wind would put an end to all those hopes. Even the south-bound Canada geese were having a tough time of it in their migratory efforts.

Since the wind made it unpleasant to stay, we headed over to the south end of Canadice Lake to see if a hike in the woods there would be more agreeable. We found a place to pull the trailer off by the side of the road and headed out on the trail that skirts the south and west sides of the lake. This was much better. We were shielded from the wind, and the colors of the leaves were better at ground level than when looking at the hills from a distance. We found some really bright orange berries to cheer the day.



After a super-enjoyable hike, we had to find a way to get turned around and continue on our way. (We had parked heading north, on this really narrow country road, and we had to go south to get to Hammondsport. I had learned my lesson on another trip about not trying to do a 3-point turn-around, with a trailer, on a narrow road.) We headed north, went all the way to the north end of Canadice Lake, drove across the north end of the lake, and then turned to go south. It was a bit of a long way around, but we didn’t seem to have much choice. As we drove, the sky got sunnier, and the sun brought out more luminescence in the leaves. Some of the yellows seemed to be electrified. (Sorry – no pics – was driving.)

By about 2:45 we arrived at Pleasant Valley/Great Western. Tammy welcomed us and told us about the place. We were to “set up” at the edge of the parking lot. I had asked yesterday about their tour of the facility and was told that the last one would be at 3:00. We had worked out our travels to coincide with this so that we could be here for that tour. Tammy told us that they were a bit short-handed, and that the tour would be a bit delayed. It might be 3:20 or 3:30 before they were able to do it. We were OK with this, as we had no more plans for the day. But then, when 3:30 rolled around, Cory, the tour guide came by and told us that it was too late to take a tour today. Hmm. Not OK. After a bit of back-and-forth with him about who had told us what and when, he went and spoke with Tammy about it. Then he returned and apologized and offered us a complementary tour. (Normally a tour is $5 per person.) I’m really glad this worked out, because the tour was excellent. It was a history lesson and an opportunity to see and touch the tools and implements of the wine industry the way it was practiced years and years ago. Fascinating to say the least.



After the tour we settled in to a quiet evening in our home away from home.


The Final Harvest Host and Homeward Bound

Today was the beginning of the two-day drive home, and our destination was a Harvest Host winery in southern Pennsylvania. The Hauser Estates winery is situated at the top of a hill, not far from Gettysburg. The drive to the location was uneventful, and we enjoyed meeting our hosts. The evening featured entertainment on the patio from a female singer/guitarist. What a nice way to end this lovely vacation trip to the Appalachians.




A Harvest Host, a Woodworking Exhibition, and an Old Time Jam at Virginia Tech

We learned of two events taking place in Blacksburg, VA today, and we had made arrangements to spend the night at a winery associated with Harvest Hosts. So, after a leisurely morning, we packed our camper and headed to the Whitebarrel Winery in Christiansburg, VA. As members of Harvest Hosts we agree to make a purchase at participating wineries, farms and museums, and in return we are welcome to spend the night parked in our camper without a fee. The people that run Whitebarrel winery were generous to us and let us do our business in the afternoon and then return well after dark to sleep. We didn’t ask for this, but Maria offered to let us unhitch the camper and just take the truck into Blacksburg. That made things much easier than they might otherwise have been. Maria was a wonderful host, explaining about each of the wines, and guiding us to a special charcouterie board and pizza that they had available. We enjoyed a quiet and sophisticated “lunch” on their patio before heading for Blacksburg.

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Whitebarrel Winery – A Harvest Host

In Blacksburg, our first interest was an artistic exhibit called “From These Woods.” It featured a number of different wood products, artistically constructed, representing everything from tables, to sculptures, to paddles, to instruments. I was very surprised to find the name Mac Traynham again after having seen him first at the Feastival on Sunday. A banjo made by Mac was featured in the exhibit. Nearby were these words about Mac: “Mac Traynham is a giant in the world of Appalachian music, a towering figure who has been plying his trade as a musician, teacher, and artisan for over 30 years. Recognized as a master banjo maker by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities in 2009, Traynham’s open-backed, custom-made banjos combine expert craftsmanship with impeccable aesthetics, with each piece resulting in a sonic whirlwind of beauty.”


Wow. Those are words of high praise. I had no idea who we were dealing with on Sunday! His banjo on display had incredibly beautiful inlays in the fretboard:

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After the exhibit closed we had a couple hours to kill, so we chilled out in the student center at Virginia Tech. I was reflecting how unique college campuses are in that you can just go and hang out in them if you know the right places to go.


The second thing we had come into town for was to be an old-time music jam in a downtown park starting at 8:00. (We grabbed a super Cajun dinner at a place called Boudreaux’s. The seafood gumbo was to die for.) We were a bit late for the jam, but we joined in anyway. It was a genuine, fiddle-and-banjo old-time jam, and the pace was blistering. I had a great time, and I am finding that I recognize more and more of the tunes. This jam was the sort of thing I love joining in on. It was not the relaxed, laid-back style that made me feel comfortable, but it was the “real deal,” and I feel that I learned a lot by participating in it. We stayed until the bitter end at 10:00, which means I was playing my guitar for a solid hour and a half at breakneck speed. Wonderful!


Then it was back down the crooked roads to our home on wheels at the Whitebarrel winery.


The Sound of Peace and Quiet


We woke to find drizzle and fog covering the vineyards.

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We also found the birds and frogs to be (finally) silent, but the farm machinery wonderfully alive and well just outside our camper. When you accept hospitality from a working farm you have to accept the fact that the work starts early. That’s good, because it helped us get a relatively early start ourselves. Today’s plan was to drive about 225 miles to Cave Mountain Lake Campground in south-central Virginia.


We arrived not long after 2:00, and we found the campground to be rustic, clean, and overflowing with nature. Site #4, which we had reserved, looked bigger in the online photos. It’s not small, by any means, but if we were pulling a much larger trailer it would have been challenging. A stream runs through our site, and that gives a constant “babbling brook” musical tone to the location.


Claudia, one of the campground hosts, met up with us shortly after our arrival, to give us our car pass and present the rules to us. She told me that she retired in November and has been working here as a volunteer host since the season began in early May. She recommended that if I ever retire I should consider doing something like this. She seemed quite happy.




There is a swimming “lake” and beach here, which I explored on my bicycle, and there are a couple of hiking trails. Mostly there is restorative peace and the beauty of nature. We had no cell service at all, so I was (sadly) unable to wish my daughter and son-in-law a happy anniversary.


A Step Toward The Blue Ridge Music Trail

Our 2017 mountain music quest began today. Our aim is to uncover the music of the mountains of North Carolina by sampling the Blue Ridge Music Trail. We are going to take our time getting to North Carolina, as we want to enjoy our Harvest Hosts membership and some quiet time in the mountains before we place ourselves in the presence of the musical masters. Our destination for today was a (Harvest Host) winery in southern Pennsylvania, not far from Gettysburg: the Adams County Winery.


We began the 275-mile journey at 9:30 AM, which should have given us plenty of time to arrive at the winery long before they closed at 6:00PM. Using our “normal” rate of travel, we should have been able to arrive by 3:00. However, today is Memorial Day, and I knew that there would be inevitable delays.


We managed to get out of Canandaigua shortly before the 10:00 parade was to start. We ran into a closed street, but we were easily able to work our way around the block and get quickly back on track. We were not so happy in Naples, however. We were diverted from Main Street at about 10:00, but the person diverting us did not tell us that the detour route was unmarked. I guess everyone just figures anyone in Naples at 10:00 on the morning of Memorial Day would automatically know how to avoid using Main Street. Well, I didn’t know. We got to a place where I had to make a choice: the straight-ahead choice, which looked smaller and more worn than the street we were on, or the slight right – up the hill – which looked like a more promising, more “normal” street. I chose the slight right. The only problem was, as I rounded that curve, I found the road rising up a longer hill and curving more and more to the right – exactly opposite the direction I needed to go. I realized I had made the wrong choice. This was clearly not the detour around Main Street.


I saw a place where I could pull off the road, and I thought I could attempt a turn-around before we got too far off track. The road was wider here, and there was a person’s driveway on the opposite side of the street. I noted that there was absolutely no traffic. I asked E to get out and watch the back of the trailer so I wouldn’t back into something, and I proceeded to start a turn-around attempt. Within moments, there were cars attempting to get through from both directions. But I was completely blocking the entire street. Within a few more moments it became obvious to me that I wasn’t going to be able to complete this turn-around attempt. I called to E to get back in the truck, and I quickly worked to get us out of the way and back on the road. The only problem was, now we were headed in exactly the wrong direction.


I was able to find my way back to town on back roads, and within about 20 minutes we were back where we had wanted to be all along.


The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful. The only excitement was when we heard (through text messages) that our daughter and son-in-law were on the same route through Pennsylvania on their way back home to Raleigh, NC. Soon after, they passed us, and we waved as they went by.


As we neared the Adams County Winery the countryside became more and more beautiful. This part of Pennsylvania has rolling hills, farmland, and nicely-kept homes. The last few miles were especially appealing. When we pulled in to the winery we were happy to find that we’d be parking on a concrete pad that was nearly level and easy to get into and out of.


Our hosts, the owners of the winery were not present, but we were greeted warmly by several friendly employees. Andrea answered our questions about the farm’s and the winery’s history. When I asked if there were any stories to tell about the winery or any of the wines or labels, she showed us several of the labels and told a story about the picture on the “Tears of Gettysburg” wine. It was a sad story about two dear friends who had found themselves fighting on opposing sides of the Battle of Gettysburg. One of the friends lost his life, and as he lay dying he learned that his friend was also at the battle. He requested that the friend be located and that his possessions be given to him. Tears indeed.


The winery grounds were beautiful, with gardens and flowers everywhere.



Our trailer was parked right next to a small pond, and the sound of birds and frogs filled the air.




We’re planning our next trip.

How do you plan your trips? Does it take weeks? Months? Do you get into any disagreements with your traveling partners? Is it difficult? Fun?

Our planning is all of that and more.

We’re going to visit the mountains of North Carolina, and our main interest is hand-made mountain music. Bluegrass, old-time, ballad-singing, gospel. We love it all, and we’re on a quest to find as much of it in its original location as we can. We have been using the Blue Ridge Music Trails as our go-to source for information. We’ve pored over the material on that website to find the locations that interest us the most. Also, we are RV-ers, so we are looking for nice campgrounds in which to stay while we do our explorations. We like state and national parks the best, but we are also interested in Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds and Bureau of Land Management campgrounds. We are members of Harvest Hosts, so there are some “free” camping locations available to us. On top of the layers of places of interest and camping locations, I love hiking, kayaking , and bicycling. Then we have to be aware of when events are scheduled and what days museums and so forth are closed.

The biggest challenge is to put all the places and events into a sequence that makes sense. We don’t want to end up with a route that is convoluted and wastes time. We have learned that with this type of travel it is easy to over-plan and leave ourselves too little time for kicking back and relaxing. It has been a multi-faceted, multi-layered challenge, but we are closing in on an itinerary that we think makes sense.

So – readers – do YOU have suggestions for places in the North Carolina mountains that we should visit? What are your “not-to-be-missed” suggestions for us?