Some Thoughts about “The Driving”

Our plan called for us to drive about 270 miles today to move from Savannah to Titusville, FL. On paper, and from a distance, a drive of 270 miles seems trivial. It is much less than a full day of driving. It is our third day on this journey in which we covered a similar number of miles. In practice, it turns out to require pretty much an entire day. Here’s why:

  • When you get up in the morning, you know you’re in no rush, so you take your time with breakfast and clean-up.
  • Since you know you have plenty of margin, you work at a leisurely pace getting the trailer ready for travel.
  • By the time you leave, the morning is virtually gone. (It’s nearly 11:00 AM).
  • Since there is no pressure to cover as many miles as possible in as short a time as is possible, you’re relaxed about stops along the way. On a more pressured day you’ll be sure to make efficient use of all stops. For example, when you must stop for the bathroom, you’re sure to also fill up with gas. On a more relaxed day, you’ll make a bathroom stop and a gas stop (and a pick-up-brochures-at-the-state-welcome-center stop.)
  • With all those stops, your average speed drops below 50MPH, and what was going to be a 5 and a half hour drive becomes a 6 hour drive.
  • You arrive at 5:00PM, which is pretty much dinnertime, and the day is over.

 

I’ve begun to think that this idea of having shorter driving days is a deception. A planned day in which we covered 400 miles in 8 hours is probably a better strategy than a lot of “shorter” days. Three of those 400-mile days would get us as far as four 300-mile days, and those 300-mile days would be just as used up as the 400-mile days. This may be something to learn from and to think about for future travels.

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Heading South!

We’ve been planning this for weeks. It’s our first opportunity to explore what it’s like to live for a fairly long period (nearly 6 weeks) in an RV. This is the sort of thing most people can only do in retirement, so we’re also exploring what it’s like to actually be retired.

 

Our first plan was to leave on Sunday, March 25, head southwest, see the Natchez Trace, make our way over to Florida, explore some of Florida and visit some family members there, and then make our way up the eastern seaboard on our way back home.

 

But the weather up here in the northeast, and really the whole eastern part of the country, has been spectacularly winterlike in recent weeks. We’ve been buried in snow for almost the entire month of March, and several nor’easters have pummeled the east coast. Looking at 10-day forecasts it appeared that our entire time exploring the Natchez Trace would have taken place in cool, rainy conditions. About a week ago we decided to reverse the order of our sojourn. We would begin with a trek down the east coast and get to the really warm weather of southern Georgia and Florida relatively quickly. We would spend time in Florida, and then make our way over to Natchez and travel the Trace in the direction it was traveled historically: south to north. This plan would get us to the warmer weather more quickly, and it would give provide a couple more weeks for Alabama and Tennessee to warm into the heart of springtime.

 

But still – a day’s drive south didn’t get us to much warmer weather. We decided to delay our departure for a few days to see if things would improve. Instead of leaving on March 25, we proposed leaving on March 28 or 29. It seemed like this might work. We began to prepare. Having pinned ourselves to this timeframe, we more-or-less had to stick with it. But the weather forecasts just would not cooperate. No matter what, we were going to be facing temperatures in the 40’s with rain for the first couple of days. There was nothing to be done. We just had to deal with it.

 

So today we headed out. We left home at 10:45 AM in a chill rain. We drove for about 5 and a half hours through Pennsylvania in temperatures in the low 40’s with frequent showers. As I sit here in the trailer at 6:30PM, near Gettysburg, PA, it is raining and 45 degrees. It’s a good thing we have a furnace, plenty of propane, and plenty of electricity.

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We are at a Harvest Host location. The setting is lovely, with a concrete pad to park on and a frog pond next to us. After our time of sampling their products and making a purchase, we retreated from the cold and wet, and made ourselves cozy in our home away from home. Tonight will be a little bit experimental to see how our battery and propane can handle a chilly night. I’ve promised E that we will do whatever is necessary to stay warm. Tomorrow our goal is to reach Raleigh, NC and spend a couple of nights of free “driveway camping” with E and N while we enjoy a day with the grandchildren.

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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.

RoadTrip

RoadTrip

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.

Hillside

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.

Berries

Foliage

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.

Doorway

Barrel

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

Trailer

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 Search for the Perfect Jam

Our strategic location of Claytor Lake State Park not only allowed us to enjoy the facilities of the park, but it also put us within reasonable reach of two different events listed in the Mts. of Music Homecoming booklet. There was an Appalachian farm market with music in the nearby town of Pulaski, and there was a traditional “old time” jam at a Mexican grill in the not-too-nearby town of Pearisburg.

 

I was able to spend about an hour kayaking around on Claytor Lake in the morning, before the thunderstorms moved in. I loved it.

 

We headed off toward the town of Pulaski to experience that Appalachian farm market with music. When we got there we found that it was … meh. There wasn’t much on offer from the farmers’ market, and the band was nothing to write home about. It was not something we wanted to spend our whole evening on. So, we did what we could. We headed for the “old time jam” at that Mexican grill in Pearisburg. Our GPS led us to … the Walmart!

 

We were a bit mystified. There was supposed to be a Mexican grill here, with jamming, but we didn’t see one. I drove around the parking lot, and lo and behold – a Mexican grill. We entered with some trepidation, because there were only a few cars in the parking lot, and we couldn’t hear any music. But when we got inside we found three gentlemen and a lady off to one side singing and playing instruments. They welcomed us warmly, and immediately asked if I had an instrument. When they heard that I had a guitar they enthusiastically encouraged me to bring it in and join the fun.

 

The songs they were doing were all over the map. Some folk music, some country music, some bluegrass, an occasional gospel song, and some originals that one of the fellows had written. These folks were salt-of-the earth people who were simply gathered together for a fun night of making music together. I contributed quite a few songs, which is really not what I usually do. I just felt comfortable doing so, and it was easy to do. They brought us right into the circle. During the course of the evening I got them to introduce themselves and tell me a bit about who they were. Here are two of them: T-Baby Reed – the guitar man and Earl Thornton with the baritone uke:

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And here is Addison Dobbs with his mandolin (He’s really the only one who consistently lead bluegrass tunes):

 

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And here I am joining in:

 

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It was a really unusual evening, and much different than I had anticipated. But it was a great, authentic, Appalachian music experience. This is what we came here to find.

I Finally Learn (Some) Flatfooting!

The Mts. of Music Homecoming event that was close to us today was a flatfooting workshop at the Blue Ridge Music Center. Even though we have been to this location a few times now, the prospect of learning flatfooting was an irresistible draw. I’ve been watching people dance for the past couple of weeks, and I really want the mystery of what they are doing to be removed. (I tried a flatfooting workshop at a festival a couple years ago and got absolutely nothing out of it. But hope springs eternal, and I once again thought it would be worth trying.) So we headed out to the Blue Ridge Music Center again, prepared to learn dancing, and prepared to enjoy music by the Buck Mountain Band.

 

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The teacher of the workshop, Mary Ann Kovach, was excellent. She convinced us that we couldn’t do it wrong, and she broke down several of the steps into their essential elements so that we could imitate her. The band provided great music, and I managed to “get” a couple of the steps. I also took notes on the steps that were a bit beyond me, and maybe I will be able to figure them out on my own.

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We also did some square dancing, and we thoroughly enjoyed having a couple of pre-adolescent girls as our square partners.

After the dancing lesson we headed north to camp at Claytor Lake State Park. This park is in the vicinity of several Mts. of Music Homecoming events, and we thought it would be a good place to locate ourselves for a couple of days.