Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Croft State Park, Spartanburg, SC
Not that some people go overboard for Halloween, but this was just part of one display at the Croft State Park in South Carolina where I landed after the October storm that hit the east coast managed to also hit Asheville, NC, where I'd planned to spend a few days after getting chased off the Blue Ridge Parkway by the same storm.  Got all that?

I've been spoiled by the series of almost-empty campgrounds I've found on my trip thus far, and when pulling in, didn't figure this small state campground would be any different.  What I didn't know was that Saturday night was the annual park Halloween party - and if it weren't for a couple of late cancellations, I'd have not gotten a spot at all.  (I found out later that people reserve the spots for this night eleven months in advance.)

I was amazed and amused by the amount of work people put into decorating their campsites - for just one night!  The photo above wasn't even the winning entry in the site-decoration contest; that was reserved for the people who brought in a load of sand to create a tableau of skeletons sunning on the beach, complete with swimsuits, sunscreen, umbrellas and camp chairs.  It was great fun for all involved.

Except for yours truly.  I didn't have any candy with me, and the first couple of people I talked to weren't too friendly, so I spent the evening with the front curtains drawn and the lights dimmed, so I wouldn't be disappointing any children.  I felt like a real Halloween Scrooge; alone, very alone.  (Though I did keep the back curtains open so I could admire the costumes on young and old from afar.  It was quite a parade.)

I had to do laundry and run some errands on Sunday, so I stayed at the park a second night.  It was a whole new scene.  We were back to the 1/3 full conditions I've become used to, quiet reigned, the weather was late-fall perfection.  When I heard someone playing bluegrass down the road, I wandered by for a listen, and got invited to stay for dinner.  Thus assured my social cooties from the previous evening had worn off, I stayed for a spell, and had a great time.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Fog, Ugh!

Mabry Mill, Blue Ridge Parkway, NC
Winter has won.

The forecast is for snow and freezing temperatures, and it has swept me off the Parkway a day or two early.  I am now headed for regions south.

Yesterday's drive didn't start too badly.  It was cool and rainy but as I've found in the past, the gray skies intensified the colors of fall, and I enjoyed the first part of the drive immensely.

Blue Ridge Parkway, NC
But then the fog rolled in - at first, it was beautiful.  As I drove along, visibility was still around 1/4 mile, and the trees and curves would loom out of the mist like the spooks in a good Halloween movie.

But then, as the fog lowered, the drive became an exercise in concentration.  I thought about bailing from the Parkway, but the surrounding roads are just as winding, and have a lot more traffic and stops on them, so I stayed put to reach my original goal of Asheville, NC, before nightfall.  (There was snow forecast for the higher elevations - and I don't think I want to try the camper van on ice!)  It was an intense couple of hours; not fun at all.  I was not feeling kindly toward those who forgot to turn on their headlights.  They'd pop out of nowhere in the murk, and startle the heck out of me!   The fog was thick enough to completely obscure the views - which made the occasional spots where the fog lifted seem extra beautiful; the lower part of the parkway was showing some wonderful color, where it could be seen.

It took an extra hour or so, but I made it safely through the mist.  My shower felt wonderful.  I fell into bed exhausted, but still a little jittery from the drive.  I'd stay here another day, to enjoy the town as I'd originally planned, but the forecast is for freezing temperatures here tonight; I need to get to a lower elevation to avoid them.  (The camper van doesn't do freezing temps well...)

Not looking forward to driving today. I had my fill of behind-the-wheel time yesterday, but I'm sure I'll be fine.  I only need to drive for an hour or two to get ahead of the cold.  On the road I go! 

Peaks of Otter

Peaks of Otter, Blue Ridge Parkway, VA
I could get into this concept of choosing campsites by the number of deer calmly grazing as one pulls into the campground.

I had interrupted my journey down the parkway for a night; I needed to have my cell phone working because there was a family emergency.

I've been divorced for years, but that was long ago and far away and I bear no hard feelings towards my ex-husband.  The emergency was his - he landed in the hospital with an aoritic dissection and was undergoing emergency open-heart surgery. (Apparently the aorta has several layers - his had broken through the first one; he felt the classic chest pain that signals a heart attack and they were able to catch and fix it before it broke completely apart.)    For my kids, I wanted to be there in case I was needed.  Fortunately, the surgery went well, and I was able to head back up into the hills knowing he was on the mend.

SharpTop Mountain, Blue Ridge Parkway, VA
He and his journey were understandably on my mind as I went hiking up the mountain the next afternoon.  Our paths have diverged greatly in the almost two decades since we split up.

As I huffed and puffed my way up the hill, more in tune with my pounding heartbeat than I would otherwise have been, I pondered the forces that lead us to the paths we take.

My choices led me to a mountaintop that afternoon; his to the recovery room.  But I was not gloating, rather wondering about the whys.  Why do we make the choices we do?  In matters of exercise and heart strength, I have kept in mind my family history of heart disease, and have done what I could to lessen my chances of it hitting me at a young age.  But there are plenty of other areas where my choices have not been so wise; where I have taken the road that seemed easier at the time, rather than the one that challenged my limits - but probably would have led to a better life.

With any luck, this trip will clear my mind enough so I can figure out which choices will lead to beauty in my after-camper-van life.

Skyline Drive

Skyline Drive, Virginia
It's a twisty and winding road; much of the time the speed limit is 35 MPH - but since I wasn't in any hurry and had time to stop and enjoy the views, I was in my element.

Rain threatened, but held off, and the views were spectacular.

Finally, I found that fall foliage I'd been either just ahead of or behind since I left Wisconsin.  Ahhh....

Loft Mountain Campground, Skyline Drive, VA
I stopped for the night at the Loft Mountain campground on the Drive.  The campground was almost empty.  The deer were a bit perturbed by my intrusion into their space, but not enough to run off; they finished dinner before moving on a few minutes after I pulled in.

Dawn, Loft Mountain, VA
I woke up in time to catch the dawn - it was spectacular.
Cold - but fortunately for me, I could prop my head up on an extra pillow and enjoy it from the comfort of my cozy warm bed!

Sunday, October 23, 2011


Jamestown Map
Jamestown Fort Reconstruction
Jamestown Island Swamp
Jamestown, Virginia

I dimly recall the history classes of my youth; trying to memorize the names of colony leaders and the locations of the early colonies.

Dry, dull, boring stuff.

As I walked through the bones of the reconstructed Jamestown settlement, I found myself rethinking the history I'd learned.

I knew 104 men had settled the original colony.  What I had no foundation to try to picture before walking the grounds was the close quarters in which they had to live, or the flimsiness of the rough palisade surrounding their small camp.

That first fence they built encircled little more than an acre - call it a good city block.  Outside the fence were enemies - on two legs and four.  Ordered to choose a defensible site, they'd not chosen a good location to feed themselves; the surrounding land is swampy, there is little fresh water available.  Available game on the small island was quickly hunted to extinction.

Most of the original settlers quickly died from famine or disease - a mixture of 'gentlemen', boys and laborers, they were not equipped to fend for themselves in the wilderness.

One of the graves they've uncovered at the site contains the bones of a fourteen year-old boy, who died from complications of an arrow wound.  As one trying a bit of adventure myself, he caught my heart. I have a mental picture of him boarding the ship back in England.  In my mind, he is a bit cocky, as are most young men of that age.  He is thrilled to be getting on the ship, ready to see new places, eager for the journey ahead.  Fast forward a few months - he is hungry, tired, scared, wounded, disillusioned.  He misses his mother.  And shortly after that, he dies, far from his family and home; his name never made it into the history books.  May he rest in Peace.

Friday, October 21, 2011


Rehoboth Bay, Delaware Seashore State Park, DE

Some days, I think I could sit by the side of the water forever, and be perfectly content.

Sunny, cloudy; doesn't matter.  Sunset, however, does get bonus points.
Atlantic Ocean, Hattaras Island, NC

The past few days have found me wandering down the east coast shoreline.
Chesapeake Bay, Kiptopeke State Park, VA
From Delaware, I bipped through Maryland - never even saw the signs for the state lines - to Virginia, then down the coast to the outer banks in North Carolina.

I loved the boats in Virginia; ships made of concrete, built in WWII, sunk in the bay to create a breakwater.  Silent sentinels, they guard the beach, keeping the water calm and the sand in place.

As seems to be a trend on this jaunt of mine, yesterday's drive was as much about the journey as it was the destination.  There are places along the outer banks where the land is no wider than a football field; the bay and the ocean both easily visible from the car.  Back to trusting - it seems a bit audacious that we trust the land will stay put long enough for us to build roads upon it.  Such a narrow strip; surely the ocean could swallow it without notice.  But there the road was, and I was only to happy to be able to follow it along.

The above picture of the Atlantic is deceptively serene.  There was a 25 mph wind blowing as I sat on the beach; strong enough that I quickly had my hood up to prevent my upwind ear from completely filling with sand.  The sand had the power to sting and blew in waves of its own down the beachfront.  (Not surprisingly, I pretty much had the beach to myself.)  Yet, I sat there for some time; the power and rhythm of the waves compelling me to stay.

Stop.  Breathe.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ferry Rides

Delaware Bay
New Jersey / Delaware

So far on this trip, I've taken three ferry rides, and LOVED them.

Born and raised in the Midwest, I never knew what I was missing.  If we need to get across the water in those parts, we build a bridge.  Ferries aren't needed; the waters just aren't big enough.
While I'm glad I don't have to pay the price for my daily commute, there's something really fun about driving onto a big boat, and then letting someone else do the driving for a while.

The weather for yesterday's trip across the bay on the Cape May - Lewes ferry was just about perfect, in the lower 60's.  The water was calm, the sun was shining.

About half the passengers were out and about on the deck; the remainder either stayed in their cars or sat inside the snack bar.

I'm sure some of them were working as we went, but as for the others: I hope I never get so jaded as to sit inside and ignore the beauty waiting just outside the door.

I wanted to go in and grab them.  Look!  See!  It's beautiful, and it's free!  All you have to do is open your eyes, stop for a moment, and breathe!  Not wanting to finish the trip inside myself, explaining to the nice people in blue why I thought I needed neither to spend a night in custody, nor extensive psychiatric treatment, I restrained myself.  Impulse control can be a good thing...

Monday, October 17, 2011

Jersey Shore

Ocean Grove
New Jersey
New Jersey isn’t all traffic on 287 and the New Jersey Turnpike.

There’s also the Jersey shore.  I’d heard about it, never seen it.  Thanks to one of my former co-workers, that gap in my experience has been corrected.
Old Victorian houses, ocean views, boardwalk, cute shops, good coffee – what more can you ask?

I was told the area had gone downhill sometime in the 60’s; the houses split into low-rent apartments, crime rising.  But it’s hard to keep a good beachfront community down.  Ocean front real estate is valuable; barring a major hurricane out there rearranging the coastline, the supply is more-or-less fixed.  So it’s not surprising that the community turned itself back around in the late 70’s.  
One of the great features about the main boulevard is the way the houses are laid out down the street.  You don’t notice unless you look, but the houses are slightly staggered.  The ones near the water are set back slightly further than the ones on the far end of the block, thus ensuring everyone a good view of the beach.  
Given the value of the real estate, it’s not surprising that the houses are built smack-dab up next to one another.  With the overhangs on the upper stories, some of the houses were less than three feet apart.  I was trying to picture how you get the darn things painted – narrow scaffolding, or hanging seats suspended over the roofline was my best guess.  The arrangement is also a real fire hazard.  One of the houses caught fire in a storm last year, and took seven of its neighbors with it.  Yeouch.

I am once again grateful for good friends.  I wouldn’t ever have found the shore without someone to guide me there; and now I’ve seen it, I’d have hated to miss it!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Gnarly Tree

Gnarly Tree (Silver Maple), Boonton, NJ

I spent a lot of years working with people in New Jersey, so, when my route took me through the state, I called a few of them up.

One guy in particular had promised me dinner multiple times over the years.  He'd call me asking a favor, and promise me dinner if I delivered.  I delivered, he didn't - but partially because we were never in the same state.

Now was my chance to collect, and he was happy to make good on at least one of the dinners I was owed.  When I met him at his house, I was struck by the tree in the front yard.
It had one of the most beautiful gnarled trunks I'd ever seen.  He told me it is a Silver Maple, is the second oldest tree in the state of New Jersey, and is registered on the list of National Champion Trees.  I had no trouble believing this story of his.  (We won't talk about some of the other stories I heard from him over the years...)

In the young, gnarled is not a good thing.  A misshapen sapling is not likely to grow strong, nor survive the storms.  Somewhere beyond middle age, this changes.  The lumps and bumps are badges; proof of trials won and storms survived.

In some ways, I find this applies to people.  Back in Kansas City, one of my favorite restaurants has a big blown-up picture on the wall of an old person.  Man or woman, I never could tell from the shot; advanced age has a way of making such distinctions almost meaningless.  But the lines in his/her face told a story of their own.  They told of a lifetime spent smiling more than frowning.  His eyes sparkled; the deep lines creasing her cheeks and eyes invited confidence.  He could be trusted.

It is one of my deepest hopes, after life has etched its lines upon my own face, that those lines will tell much the same story.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cape Cod

Cape Cod

The Cape had quite a reputation to live up to, and it succeeded admirably.

I loved the two nights I spent there.
That's an unbiased opinion, of course.
I'm sure I wasn't influenced by the weather, which was 70's and sunny.  Or by the campground, which had the cleanest showers I've seen yet on this trip, and backed up to a bike path.  Or by the bike path itself (the Cape Cod Rail Trail); about 20 miles long, almost level, nicely shaded, beaches to see along the way.

If old man winter wasn't chasing me south, I'd have stayed much longer.  But if winter weren't around the corner, the campground and bike trails would have been more crowded, the one road into the peninsula would have been backed up with traffic, and I probably wouldn't have found a place to stay without a reservation.  There ARE advantages to traveling in the fall...

While on this trip, I've found it easier to leave beautiful places than I have in the past.  I think that's because always before, I was headed back to work.  But now, when I leave I'm headed to another beautiful place.  Not every night, to be sure, but often enough that I'm as eager to see what's on the road ahead as I am sad to say good-bye to the place I just visited.  I love that part of my sabbatical!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Eat at Red's

Little did I know.  

As one is driving to the coast of central/southern Maine, you almost have to drive through the little town of Wiscasset.  Because my route hasn't been exactly linear, I ended up passing through the town twice.  Both times, I noticed, just before you cross the long bridge that spans the bay, a long line of people by an otherwise unremarkable roadside food stand.

As I was leaving Boothbay Harbor the other day, I was talking to the people camped next to me - they're the ones who told me the little shack serves the best lobster rolls (think fresh lobster with melted butter with toasted bread underneath - kind of a lobster sandwich) in Maine.  Who'd'a thunk it?  And, they told me that one can't REALLY consider oneself to have visited Maine unless one has stopped there to eat.

Who am I to argue with the experts?  As I was leaving Maine, I had to pass through the town again (third time's a charm?), and this time, I stopped.  The experts were right.  The lobster was to die for.  and now I get to say I visited Maine. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Quiet Time, Part 2

Palmyra, Maine

After the hustle and busyness of Acadia, I was ready for some quiet time, and found it the last couple of nights.

Yesterday's campsite brought me to the Palmyra Golf and RV Resort.  I got in about mid-afternoon - it was clean and quiet, just what the doctor ordered.   (If I was a golfer, I'd have thought I'd landed in heaven - the campground sits smack-dab in the middle of the course, and they give discounts on golfing for campers.)

During the night, it was impressed upon me again that it's time to head south.  I discovered that somewhere around 35 degrees, the heat pump quits pumping warm air - but keeps blowing that nice cool stuff around.  I woke up freezing, and quickly turned the switch to the gas furnace.  Fortunately, the switch is within reach of my bed - it was mighty cold in here by the time it woke me!

Boothbay, Maine
Tonight, I headed back to the coast for my last night in Maine; I found a campground in Boothbay, right on the ocean.  I was a bit rattled when I got in; I'd spent the drive reflecting on Steve Jobs' death, and the speech he gave at Stanford back in 2005.

I listened to it twice this morning, trying to make it stick - I swear he was talking to me!  The part I want most to stay with me for a while is (paraphrased):  Live each day as if it will be your last, for one day, you will most certainly be right.  Each morning, when you get up, ask yourself, 'If I knew today would be the last day of my life, would I be happy doing what I plan to do today?'  If the answer is no too many days in a row, you need to rethink what you're doing in life.

I settled a bit by doing laundry, then wandered on down to the beach.  The ocean did it's magic - I sat there for almost two hours, just watching the waves.  I thought about life, death and the rhythm of the world.  I watched the ducks dive, the gulls soar and the tide come in.  I sat until the sun dipped below the trees, and I realized I was cold and getting hungry - and that my rattles were gone.  Stop.  Breathe.  Yes.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Just Me, the Rain and the Rocks

Acadia National Park
Bar Harbor, Maine

There's nothing like the ocean. Blue sky or gray, it's beautiful.  The Blackwoods campground, where I was staying, is just across from this vantage point.  A great place to sit for a bit, and just be.  Which is what I did for a while after getting in on Monday afternoon.

Tuesday brought more rain.  I'd done OK earlier this week, so once I pried my butt out of bed, I decided I wasn't going to let it slow me down this time either, and headed on out.  I caught the (free, thank you L.L. Bean) shuttle bus from the campground to the Sieur de Monts visitor's center.  There, one of the park rangers helped me map out a hike for the day.  It started, innocently enough, with a set of stairs.  I don't know about you, but I find something irresistible about a winding set of stairs.  Armed with a waterproof copy of the trail map, I started up the not-so-beaten path,
and was rewarded a short time later by a stunning view of the valley below, with hills stretching off to the coastline.
The rain kept coming down, but there were more steps beckoning me onward, so upward I went.  (for two miles, I wound my way up.  That's one major set of stairs.  I may never happily get on a stair-stepper machine again...)

As I continued to go up, the rain continued to come down, harder as time went on, creating a series of beautiful mini-waterfalls; some next to the trail, some cascading over the trail itself.
At the very top, for the second time this week, I found myself at the edge of the world.  I was above the cloud line; where earlier I'd seen the sweeping vistas pictured above, now I felt as if the world dropped off just a few feet from where I was standing.

The next part of the hike was to bring me across the ridge-line and down to a final part of the trail; less steep than the steps which had brought me to the top.

My problem was that the rain had made the granite trail slippery.  I wasn't in danger of falling off the edge, the trail was wide - but there was a very real danger I'd slip and turn an ankle.  Going back down the way I'd come up wasn't an option; down-stairs are much more dangerous than up, and there was a lot more water on the trail than when I'd started.

I continued on in the rain and the mist, still hyper-aware of the beauty surrounding me, but now, also aware I was very much alone on the mountain.  I hadn't seen another soul since leaving the base far below.  I was afraid, but took a deep breath, and slowly, one careful step at a time, continued on the trail.  The fog thickened around me, to the point where I could barely make out the next cairn of rocks telling me I was still on the right path.

As I inched along, the trail became a metaphor for this trip I'm taking.  The road is beautiful, but I can't see where it leads me, and at times that leaves me afraid.  Like the trail, the way forward is hidden in the mist.  Also like the trail, trying to retrace my steps would be perilous, if not impossible.

As I was trusting in the cairns and trail blazes to lead me safely down the mountain, so must I trust in God or the Spirit or Whomever to guide me safely to... wherever the heck it is I'm going. 

As I mulled over thoughts of trust, I kept moving.  Slowly, one foot carefully placed before the other, sometimes bracing myself with one or both hands on the rocks behind me, I made my way across the hill.  Gradually, the treacherous slick rocks were replaced by smaller ones - and now I was walking in one of the streams.  Given the choice was to keep secure footing or to have dry-ish feet, I abandoned all hope of keeping my feet remotely dry.  Suddenly, it was fun again; I'd left my fears behind.  I began splishing in the water; feeling it sqoosh between my wriggling toes; embracing the wet.  (Fortunately, the water was not very cold...)  Shortly after that, the trail turned, and I found myself right where I belonged; a short distance from the bus stop.

By Wednesday, the weather had cleared.  I stopped by Sieur de Monts one more time - this time to take a picture from below. 

I'm still working on the trust thing; trying to trust the Spirit to see me safe to the end of this sabbatical - and to trust that when I get there, I will have a warm shower, hot soup, and the knowledge that I faced my fears and lived to tell the tale.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Just Me, the Mountain and the Mist

Camden Hills State Park
Camden, Maine

Rain for the last three days, rain forecast for the next three.  I decided this morning that if it's going to rain this much, I might as well make friends with it.

So, shortly after noon today, I set off, in spite of the rain, on the hiking path up Mt. Megunticook.  It was beautiful in the mist and the rain.  The rain's been falling here for a day or two, so there were little brooklets rushing down the mountain here and there.

I got to test the water resistance of my hiking boots (they passed with flying colors), and I was glad I'd indulged in a few purchases along the way that I wasn't certain at the time were really necessary.  My Tilley hat - waterproof, with just enough of brim to keep the water off my face and neck.  The
waterproof rain jacket - which worked!

And last but not least, the trekking poles.  They seemed so... trendy... when I saw them at REI.  I bought them only because I've been having trouble with a stiff hip; figured they couldn't hurt, might help.  I only brought one of the two poles with me - I don't like having both hands tied up for whatever reason - but must admit I was glad more than once I had the thing.  It provided a much-needed extra point of stability climbing up and down the slippery roots and rocks; saved me from landing on my keister at least once.

I'm sure the view from the top is spectacular if one can see anything other than mist and fog.  As it was, when I got to the lookout point, it felt like I was on the edge of the world.  Nothing beyond the rock under my feet - not that I ventured too close to the edge to see what was down there.  Have I mentioned the rocks were a bit slippery in spots?

The trek took longer than I thought it would.  According to the trail map, the Mt. Megunticook trail is a mile long, and takes an hour to hike.  (They don't mention it's all uphill, but from the name, I suppose one could infer that...)  From there, I took the Slope trail (1.5 miles / 1.5 hours), which connected me back to the Multi-Use trail - 2.1 miles from where I'd started.  Now, the first trail goes pretty much straight up the hill, the second winds back more gently back down.  Do they mean to tell me I went only .4 miles off the straight path?   I did WAY more work than that.  just ask me.  I got back shortly after four...

I only ran into two other people on the entire trek.  (surprised?  I was, a bit.  I thought these Maine people were supposed to be hardy outdoors-types.  I guess that doesn't apply to 55 degrees and raining.)  They were both women, and we chatted just a bit as we, yes, waited in line for the bathroom in the middle of the otherwise deserted woods.  There's a bit of irony here....