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.

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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
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Maria

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

 

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Planning

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?

 

A Taste of Delmarva

Our Harvest Host membership allows us overnight RV stops at member wineries, farms, and “other attractions.” We learned that one of the “other attractions” that is nearby is a recreated nineteenth-century village centered around a huge brick furnace that was used for smelting iron. We weren’t interested in staying overnight there, but the idea of visiting the place caught our curiosity. Especially since we found the day to be very cool and quite rainy. The furnace itself, along with the entire operation that was used to feed it, turned out to be incredible. The thought that so much human effort had to go into producing iron was just astounding to me. It shows how important iron was to the people of the early 19th century. To me the whole thing was a mechanical engineering and project management marvel.

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Before we left, E asked if there were some local foods that we should be sure to sample before we leave the region. We knew about blue crabs, of course, but we learned about something called Smith Island Cake. This cake is made of very thin layers, and there are nine such layers used to make up the cake. We decided that if we were driving through a town we would look for a local diner so that we could sample some.

 

Well, the location of the “Farmer’s Wife” surprised me because it was on a divided highway and we shot past it at 55 MPH. But the sign clearly indicated that they had “great soups.” We figured it was a prime candidate for carrying seafood chowder or bisque and Smith Island Cake. I managed to make a U-turn and then a second one (divided highway) in order to return to the Farmer’s Wife. Yes- they had Smith Island Cakes, and yes, they had seafood chowder. We never do this at three in the afternoon, but we both enjoyed a bowl of chowder and a slice of cake. So now we are immersed in the local culture.

 

Our destination was Layton’s Chance Vineyards near Vienna, MD – another Harvest Host winery. When we arrived at about 4:00PM we found the place to be very busy. There seemed to be a group event going on, and there was also a lively crowd of what may be the normal weekend wine-tasting visitors. In any event, we did not get to meet and talk with the owners, so I was unable to get their picture or their personal story. The label on the wine bottles states, “After three generations in farming, the Layton family took their ‘chance’ on continuing that legacy by planting vines and opening a winery.” The farm was located in a very flat, very open location.

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Here’s a note that may interest some of our fellow RV-ers. This was our sixth night of dry camping (no hookups). We have a single 100-watt solar panel. Up to now our battery has been able to keep up with our demand for electricity just fine. Each day has had enough sun to bring our battery to “full” and/or to “absorption” but not quite to “equalize” status on the solar controller panel. Today’s weather did not permit any real charging to take place, so we are down on our power supply. (Two-thirds to one-half charged, depending on which gauge you consult. I haven’t measured with my meter.) I brought along an extra deep cycle battery, fully charged, in case we need it. We have one more night, and there is supposed to be quite a bit of sun today, so perhaps we won’t need that spare battery.

 

Just Right

Having an RV opens up a whole new realm in terms of travel possibilities. We’ve never been able to start our camping season in mid-April before. Today we launched the 2017 camping and traveling season in style by heading south. One of our destination-goals is to spend some time in Assateague Island National Seashore. But first, our plan was to spend a night at one of the Harvest Host locations: Wycombe Vineyards in Furlong, PA. We left home at about 10:30 AM and arrived at Wycombe at about 4:30.

 

Rich (“my name, not my bank account”) and Deb Fraser were wonderful hosts as we visited their winery. They are not open on Mondays, but Rich gave us the opportunity to try his wines, and he told us about the vineyard. The farm has been in Deb’s family since 1925, and Rich and Deb started the vineyards in 2000. They are producing about 16,000 bottles a year from their own grapes. One of the coolest things about their product is that each bottle’s label features a photograph from the family photo album. Photos depict the history of this family farm, from the present day (9-year old granddaughter picking dandelions on the label for their dandelion wine) to Deb’s grandfather shown in a photo on another of the bottles.

 

E and I were surprised to learn that Rich has been approached by Wegmans with a request to carry one of his wines in their stores. Rich politely declined, because he knows that he wouldn’t be able to keep up with the demand. He is one of those rare individuals who is satisfied with the size of his business and who is mindful of avoiding outgrowing his comfort level.

 

They invited us to park in a grassy area near the barn, house, and winery. We enjoyed an easy dinner and then relaxed as we watched a colorful sunset. Tomorrow we will cross through or around Philadelphia on our way to Assateague. For now, we just will reflect on a man whose business is just right for him.

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Rich Fraser
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Deb Fraser

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Wycombe Vineyards Winery

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