After a day of planned delay, my “best half” and I headed out on what has the potential for being the longest vacation we’ve had in 8 years. Various responsibilities that need not be addressed here have kept our sojourns away from home and work to no more than 7 calendar days and most often only 4 to 5 days.
While our initial travel plans underwent some significant change, our revised plans kept us closer to home geographically and slowed the pace of travel considerably. Our original trip called for a cross country loop in 16 days. The revised plans keep us within about a 400 mile radius of home with today most likely being our longest travel day of the period.
The past week has been hectic taking care of all the regular job chores plus prepping for being away from work for 2 work weeks. In addition, it was planting time and the fertilizer that I threw out on several yards really kicked into gear resulting in a need for frequent mowing. Thanks to Capt’n Nick, staff photog of the recent “Jim Artis Experience”, our yards won’t be knee high to a giraffe when we return. Capt’n Nick is going on tour with Big Red and keeping our yards under control during our absence.
The prep for the trip also required taking the camper, a 2007 Keystone Hobbi, out of storage and getting it ready for travel. This included a pull down to Walker Service to have the wheel bearings and axels checked for safety and the tires evaluated. In doing so, a repeating nagging problem with the electric jack was found to still be an issue despite having had it fixed in November just before going into hibernation.
Originally, we planned to leave home on Saturday, May 15th but realized an extra day of prep was needed. Given that we no longer needed to be on the West Coast on the 20th, we took much needed advantage of the shortened trip in order to finalize getting the dogs to the kennel, planting, mowing, and packing.
( Zeke, Cuzzin Mattie Ann, and Orla)
This will be the longest we’ve been away from our favorite 4 legged “buds” in their lifetimes. I already miss having Zeke and Orla along on this trip as they are campers supreme!
The Trip Begins…
(Zeke “locked and loaded” for travel)
I sent out the final email at approximately 10:15 a.m. announcing that trip control was being handed over to the Blackberry Storm and SPOT was on-line. Under sunny skies and warm temperatures, Navigator Kathy and I hit the road and headed northeast to Tennessee along I-26 W, which oddly really runs north and south. The ride up I-26 from Asheville to Johnson City was gorgeous as we climbed the mountain and crossed over Sam’s Gap.
As we had not stopped to eat this morning nor had any of the required coffee that I usually need to get going, we pulled into a Cracker Barrel Restaurant in Johnson City to calm our grumbling stomachs. We followed the signs to the RV/Bus parking but could not locate it as we circumnavigated the building. Finally, I spotted the lanes reserved for RVs and busses. They were packed with cars parked tail to head and there was no “room in the Barrel” for us. That was o.k. because a Waffle House was within shouting distance and they had the welcome mat out. I heard a blueberry-pecan waffle calling my name…
Good Travel Weather Bids Adieu…
We had about 100 miles of continued good weather on our run north on I-81. Once you get past Bristol, Tn, I-81 could almost qualify as a scenic highway. We traversed some very pretty country along the Virginia corridor.
“Milli”, our Garmin Nuvi 260 as we’ve name her, eventually directed us up I-77 toward Bluefield, West Virginia. The end of our good traveling weather was upon us. As we climbed a serious grade of highway, light rain began to fall and the road turned wet quickly. We came to the first tunnel that cuts directly through the mountain in Jefferson National Park. As we approached the northern exit of the tunnel, we could tell that the weather was changed dramatically and for the worse.
Heavy rains were on the other side of the mountain. Between the road spray, fog, and torrential rain, seeing the lane of travel was difficult. We enjoyed a shorter tunnel experience as we crossed out of Virginia and into West Virginia. The heavy rains continued unabated.
I Went To Princeton…
That would NOT be Princeton University but rather Princeton, West Virginia. “Milli” was calling for us to continue another 38 miles on I-77 and then to backtrack approximately 45 miles on I-64 to get to our eventual cutoff at Lewisberg, West VA. Navigator Kathy correctly pointed out that we were taking 2 sides of the triangle and could simply get on highway 219 at Princeton. We decided to get off the interstate, look it over, and make a decision. With Princeton being our first exit, we pulled off and discovered the West Virginia Visitors Center immediately on our right. Being the seasoned travelers that we are, we decided to get an opinion from the locals!
After connecting with “Bob” (not her real name), we were advised that on a sunny day 219 was a lovely ride but that in this terrible weather, it would be basically “nuts” to take it. “Bob” assured us the drive time would be similar even if we appeared to be going out of our way.
So, we took “Bob’s” advice and headed back to I-77 where we promptly saw what looked to be a very bad automobile wreck. The first responders were just appearing on the scene. The car was upside down and looking pretty well crushed. It appeared to be a one car accident so I’m not sure exactly what happened. I’m certain the weather played some part in the event.
I couldn’t believe it was possible but it began raining harder! Cars were pulled off on both sides of the interstate waiting out the heavy weather cell. There were numerous motorcycles under bridges and other places where some meager shelter gave a modicum of comfort. We kept plugging along at a sedate 55 mph and staying in the slow lane with the big trucks.
I’ll Bet It Is Beautiful Country…
On any other non-rain day, I’ll be this would be a gorgeous ride. We went over bridges that appeared to span valleys a thousand feet below us. The mountains held the highway in tight embrace in other places and I was reminded of the Cumberland Plateau in Kentucky in yet other segments of this trip. This area, known as the “Middle Appalachians”, appeared to be every bit as pretty as my home area in the “Southern Appalachians”. I’ll hope for better weather when we depart this section of America so that we can enjoy the vistas more.
Lewisberg At Last…
Our time on the interstate finally ended at Lewisberg, West Va. as did gas prices below $2.90 a gallon. While stopping to fill up at a local convenience store, we asked for a suggestion of a good grocery store nearby. We were greeted by just about everyone in line giving us different options and directions. One fellow even opined, “Well,the whole town’s only 5 miles long so just drive in the direction your going and you’ll see one (grocery store).” We took him at his word and sure enough found a very nice Krogers where we laid in supplies for the next few days.
Returning to Highway 219, “Milli” informed us we were within 34 miles of our destination and that it would only take another 56 minutes. Uh? That works out to about 30 mph for speed. Turns out “Milli” was right. Highway 219 is one seriously narrow 2 lane mountain road with grades of 7% and 9% for 3.5 miles at a whack. Going up was slow as my F150 pulled our 26’ Hobbi up the ascents and going down was slow as I kept it geared down to keep the camper from fishtailing around us in the many, many hairpin turns that we encountered.
Friendly Folk Abound…
We passed through small unincorporated communities (Droop, West Va. for one) and were pleased to see folks throwing up their hands in greeting as they stood on their porches. One particularly energetic greeting was at the Copper Penny Cafe. We may have to make a stop there in the next day or so. We passed by the birthplace of Pearl Buck, which now looks to be a museum.
Finally, Day 1 Travel Ends…
After what seemed like an eternity, we finally arrived at our destination of Watoga State Park. Dusk was rapidly departing and night time setting in when we located a likeable campsite along the Greenbrier River. We had long since passed out of Verizon cell service. Of course, it was still raining when it came time to setup the camper. We decided to wait until the light of day and hope for better weather in which to get level and stationary.
Day 2’s Agenda…
Unfortunately, work calls in the morning so we must depart Watoga for nearby Marlinton, West Va. where I can get a WiFi signal so that I can do my duty. The good news is that will also give us the opportunity to stop at a local outfitter we spotted upon our arrival and can check into the rental of a couple of fat tire bikes. The riding begins tomorrow! We are sitting on the Greenbrier Rails-to-Trails path and we intend to make the most of it while here. The path runs 76 miles from end to end and has a 1% grade! I’ve also perused the map of the park itself and it appears I can get in many miles of road bike riding within the border of this 10,000 acre State Park.
The rain has stopped now and the chirping of the night bugs and croaking of the frogs can clearly be discerned amongst the occasional drop of rain from the overhanging trees. I think I hear a peaceful night’s sleep calling…