Saturday, October 31, 2015

Final PoG Paddle

Tall Tom, Me, Larry, Susan, Whit, Deke, Alan, and Rob

Halloween Day marked the final Pirates of Georgetown paddle for the season. Our usual paddling night is Thursday, but since the club subsidizes an end-of-year event we decided to do an extra Saturday paddle and brunch. The day started grey but turned quite lovely and warm. A great outing with friends. Only Larry and I wore costumes :)

After paddling about 10 miles we went to Sine at Pentagon Row where we all enjoyed brunch drink specials and some yummy food.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Purcellville with Friends

About three quarters of the way through the ride I was composing a dour lead for this post as follows: "Well, you can add bicycling to the list of sports I can't ever do with other people." But, truth be told, I had a good time and the post really deserves a more positive start.

Kayaker Rob has been organizing Tuesday night bike rides this season. Every week I want to go and every week something comes up which prevents my participation. Well, since it's now getting dark early he decided to switch to organizing weekend rides instead, which works out better for me. I'm generally leery of cycling with other people since I'm still quite the slow cyclist, but Rob assured me that it was a leisurely ride and so I signed on.
My Glow in the Dark Friends

The group was Rob, Nelson, Nelson's twin brother HalfNelson (OK, his name is really Norm) and me. We met at the western end of the W&OD Trail in Purcelleville, VA. Our goal was to ride to Ashburn and back, a total of a about 35 miles. We hung together at first, which gave me the illusion that maybe my riding had advanced to the point where I could keep up with other people. Occasionally Rob would sprint out ahead, as did the Labbe twins. I later learned that HalfNelson was a strong cyclist and had recently ridden a metric century (about 62 miles). Even Nelson, on his relatively old, low tech bike, was clearly able to pedal faster than I could. Still, the group kept a mellow pace and stopped here and there and as a result we generally kept together. At the very end of the outbound portion Rob, Nelson and HalfNelson all took off out of sight. It was only then, as they disappeared into the distance, that I realized just how much they had been slowing down for my benefit.

I caught up with them about a half mile later at Carolina Brothers Barbeque, which sits alongside the trail at Ashburn Road. It's a down home kind of place, which is a surprise in the generally nouveau riche plastic suburbia world of "Cashburn". The day had started out grey and drizzly but by the time we got to Ashburn the skies had cleared so we ate outside at the restaurant's picnic tables.

You think I was slow before? Well, the ride back was mostly uphill and I had a belly full of BBQ. I was pretty much riding by myself way behind the pack all the way back - hence my headline for this entry. But I made it, and without any pain. When I first started riding, my knees would give out at around 25 miles - so there's hope for me yet.

Cyndi had recommended that we stop by Catoctin Creek Distillery in Purcelleville at the end of our ride. We locked up at their bikes at their convenient bike rack and headed into the tasting room, which is in a building which started life in the 1920's as a Buick dealership. Catoctin Creek's main products are rye whiskey, gin, some brandies, and "white whiskey", which is, well, moonshine.  Given that we live in the hipster era, this was not just any moonshine but organic craft moonshine made in a solar-powered distillery. Oh, and it's kosher, too (is there a big demand for kosher unaged whiskey?)! You could order a flight of three of their products to try, straight up or as three mini-cocktails. I went for the latter, choosing the Bloody Mosby (a very horseradishy Bloody Mary made with their moonshine, which is called "Mosby's Spirit" - after the Confederate cavalry leader, of course), a warm spiced apple cider spiked with rye, and a "Practical Magic", which is Mosby's Spirit, Green Apple KoolAid, pineapple juice and ginger ale garnished with a gummy worm. It was actually pretty tasty. The tasting room itself is a pleasant environment and we unwound and let the Mosby's spirit relax our tired muscles.
Flight of Cocktails
After we finished up we went our separate ways. Nelson, HalfNelson and I had parked in the high school parking lot and rode the half mile or so back to our cars. Rob had parked in town, saying he had been assured that the "2 hour parking" signs were just for show. Hopefully he didn't get a ticket.

I don't know what these guys are drinking, but I'm pretty sure it's not Rogaine

A good outing. I just need to get faster.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Not much to say about this one. Just really neat light as we paddled the Boundary Channel last Thursday.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Around the Block at Riley's Lock

At the Launch - Hands Not Cold Yet

The first wintry feeling day of the year - in the upper 30's when I left the house to head for Riley's Lock in Maryland. I guess I was a little bit in a hurry - I forgot a spray skirt! Still, I was otherwise properly bundled up and so didn't anticipate any problems.

Tall Tom had organized this outing. Jim G., Peter H2 and Gina rounded out the group. We headed upriver - that's the preferred direction since downriver leads you into some bumpy, rocky stuff and ultimately Great Falls.

On the River
Unfortunately, my cold hands problem acted up almost right away. The constant flow of cold water over my hands makes them go numb. Then I get nervous because I don't really feel in control of the paddle, and I fixate on the pain in my hands, which makes it seem worse. Between my numb hands and the lack of skirt I kept close to shore, which meant I was paddling by myself. I turned around before the rest of the group. On the way back, with the wind behind me, I started to feel a little better. Still, quite a pretty day on a beautiful section of the river.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Return to the Crooked Road

I was really taken by the scene in Floyd, VA when I briefly stopped here last Spring and I've wanted ever since to return for a deeper visit. I decided to plan a trip for Columbus Day weekend figuring it would be about perfect timing - cool weather and foliage - for Valerie's annual camping trip and would as well as a chance to expose my kayaking friends to this cool music scene.

Planning for the weekend got off to something of a rocky start. As is so often the case, Suzanne and I exchanged some testy email. Valerie dropped out because of back problems. Only a few kayak friends were available to come. Suzanne dropped out because her mom was sick - though she dropped back in soon thereafter. Even the people who were on board from the beginning ran into travel hiccups: Susan and Whit came down with their shiny new camping trailer but experienced some hiccups along the way - initial mechanical issues with the trailer (fixed by returning to the dealer), GPS leading them the wrong way, then they had trouble turning around because of the trailer, setting up in the wrong campsite, and so on. Suzanne and Manuel carpooled and wound up hitting terrible traffic. They were about an hour behind me at one point (I was in Harrisonburg, they were at the I66/I81 interchange) but they hit big backups on I81. GPS led them the wrong way as well (doesn't anyone check maps anymore?) and they would up not getting to the campground until three or more hours after I did. Suzanne was on the road for something like 11 hours!! I was more than a little concerned about their frame of mind, particularly given that Suzanne had been on the fence about participating at all.

Despite all the travel hassles the evening in Floyd was quite awesome. Susan, Whit and I met up at the campground and had some snacks and watched deer and wild turkeys roam the campground while we waited for Suzanne and Manuel to arrive. When it started to get towards dinner time we texted Suzanne - and found out how delayed they had gotten. Ultimately, the three of us decided to head to town after buttoning up our campsites for the expected rain. We ate Mexican food in Floyd (good veggie selections!) then roamed the Main Street a little bit, checking out the impromptu bluegrass jam sessions out on the street before finally heading into the Floyd Country Store. The first act, the Davis & Elkins Gospel ensemble, was just finishing up (it seems the first set is always gospel). The second set transitioned to dance music and as expected, flat-foot pandemonium broke loose. It's a whole lot of fun to watch these folks dance - wish I could join in! I grinned from ear to ear all evening.
Friday Night Jamboree in Floyd
Floyd is a loose and relaxed scene. We watched for a while, got ice cream and then hung out outside for a bit. Susan and Whit went for a walk. Suzanne and Manuel showed up but then went to the Mexican place to get dinner. I wandered in and out. Mid-evening the forecast rain rolled in, ending the impromptu jams - at least for the most part. While we were sitting out front of the Country Store finishing our ice cream a guy invited us in to the barbershop next door, where it turns out some of the local jammers had retreated to get out of the weather. Hangin' with a bunch of locals pickin' bluegrass in the Floyd barbershop, my friends, was a very cool experience. Susan sat down in the barber's chair and I parked myself in what I later realized was the chair for the big hair dryer - I got teased a little bit for that in a friendly way by the locals, given my lack of hair. We sat there listening to this group until 9 PM, at which point we went back next door to the Country Store to catch the last set. It turns out, not surprisingly, Floyd is not a late night scene and the place began to empty out, which allowed us to move up and get a great view of the dancing, which got more intense as the night went on. Flat-foot appears to be a mountain evolution of some kind of Scottish or English country dance. Like "Riverdance" it's all legs and no arms. Unlike Riverdance it's not a synchronized line dance - it's people doing this crazy clogging/tap kind of dance all individually. It's Appalachian St. Vitus' Dance. It's wild.
Pickin' in the barber shop

We finally got a chance to talk with Suzanne and Manuel, who had been sitting a few rows back. They were understandably exhausted and frazzled. We hung out at the Country Store until after 10 PM, then headed back to the campground to turn in.

Saturday dawned cold, rainy and foggy, which led to a slow start. I didn't roll out of my sleeping bag until 7:30. This is late for me anytime, and certainly for camping. I figured everyone else would be awake and well into breakfast, but it turned out that the grey, rainy weather had put all of us into a lazy frame of mind. One good thing was I had put up my pop-up shelter over the picnic table Friday afternoon which gave us a dry place to make coffee and breakfast Saturday morning. At around 11 Susan Whit and I headed over to historic Mabry Mill; Suzanne and Manuel were at that point still only slowly moving towards getting ready. The mill is an early 20th century water-powered saw and corn mill (the ground corn being used as much for moonshine as for cooking!). Very pretty setting. The place was surprisingly crowded - I guess lots of people had planned a Columbus Day foliage get-away, and like us, were looking for a rainy day activity. The only challenge with going to the mill was fog - the whole path along the Blue Ridge Parkway was pretty socked in with fog which made the drive a little nerve-wracking. Whit was driving, and fortunately he handled it well.
Mabry Mill
After we finished touring the mill we headed back (through more fog) into town. We had arranged to meet Suzanne and Manuel at the Country Store for the Americana Afternoon music at 1 PM, but ran into them at the farmer's market across the street, where we all had crepes for lunch. The farmer's market is held in a covered pavilion, which afford us shelter from the continuing rain. Floyd is an interesting combination of redneck Virginia and upscale hippie-dippie. The two cultures seem to coexist surprisingly well (except maybe when it comes to politics). The farmer's market has crepes and kombucha and organic teas and is frequented by a pretty granola looking crowd. The Country Store crowd is predominantly small town America, guys in plaid shirts, wrangler jeans and cowboy boots. But both types show up in both places. Music unifies all, I guess.

The Americana Afternoon is a much mellower scene than the Friday Night Jamboree - solo acoustic guitar folk singers rather than high energy bluegrass. Seating is at tables rather than just rows of seats. No dancing. We all got hot drinks and settled in at a table to watch the music (and, truth be told, to use the store's Country Wifi to catch up on email). We saw two different performers. I'm usually a music guy much more than a lyrics guy but here it was a split decision. Both performers were good. Both had good voices. I liked the first guy's style and sound much better, but his lyrics were a little forced. I think the second guy was the better songwriter, but as I said, I didn't like his musical performance as much. He was a young guy but he sang with a very raspy voice - it sounded like he was working to sound old and world-weary.

The music finished up at around 3 PM. We decided we'd go back to the campground to relax for a bit. It was still drizzly and it just seemed like a good afternoon to crawl into the tents for a bit. Susan, Whit and I made a stop on our way back to the car at the completely incongruous Floyd Computer Museum. Someone has rented a storefront and filled it with old desktop computers (the case from an Apple I, an Exidy Sorcerer, TRS80's and Commodore 64's and the like). According to the kid working there the exhibited items are just a small fragment of the owner's computer collection. We suspect that the owner, one David Larsen, is an affluent local. The computer museum displays included copies of his old "Bug Book", a recipe book for building computer circuits from back in the days when computer hobbyists built their own computers. The Bug Book sounds vaguely familiar to me, and the display said that over the years he sold over a million copies of the various editions. Maybe that gave him enough money to finance his pet projects, like the computer museum and the private campground Whit and Susan stayed at Thursday night - which we suspect is owned by him as well. Anyway, it was back through the fog to the campground. I started this entry then took a little nap.

At a couple of times during the weekend we chatted with the guy in the next camp site, a solo traveler camping from his motorcycle. He was recently retired and had gotten himself the bike (and learned to ride) as a retirement present and now he's spending his time cruising around on his bike. I didn't envy him on the foggy, rainy days - having to either get on the bike and ride in the rain or stay put in his tiny backpacking tent. But the idea is cool.

Anyway, after we had all rested for a bit we headed back into town (through the thickest fog yet) and ate at an Italian restaurant Susan and Whit had eaten at on Thursday. It was quite good - far above what you might expect in small-town America. Then we headed over to the Wildwood Farms Garden Center and General Store for another musical performance. What, your local garden center doesn't have a stage area where they have bluegrass and old-time music concerts on Saturday nights? I guess, then, that you don't live in Floyd.

We got there a half hour into the performance and the place was packed. We barely found parking. The woman who seated us had to go get more chairs to accommodate us. The band, Gravel Road, was a group of local teenagers ages 13-15. They were quite good. The girl who was their lead singer and mandolin player was this skinny little 13 year old, but she has a great voice and tremendous stage presence. She also had the energy, after performing as part of a clogging team in the morning and playing two sets, to get out on the dance floor and do some high energy dancing during the encore. Very impressive! Remember the name Addie Levy (Levy?!); she's going to be a bluegrass star some day,
Gravel Road at Wildwood Farm

When Gravel Road took a break the woman who had seated us, who it turns out is the sister of the store's owner, was the lead singer. She had a soulful, Loretta Lynn kind of voice. She was accompanied by two brothers, older gentlemen, one of whom played the guitar and the other mandolin. They were good, but the kids were better!

I've got to say that all in all Floyd is a friendly scene. No grumbling at the gawking tourists. People are very welcoming and seem genuinely happy that you've come to share in the music with them. Visiting this area is like finding some jungle tribe which had been untouched by Western civilization and modernity - it's like a little section of the past, not preserved in amber, but alive and well on its own terms.

At the end of the show we left the garden center and headed back to the campground. The weather was slowly starting to improve and it was less foggy at the lower elevations, though up on the the parkway was foggier than ever. We had all ridden into town together in Whit's SUV. When we got back to camp Suzanne and Manuel started to walk back to their campsite from where Whit had parked but it was so dark and foggy they couldn't find their way - they had to stop and wait for me (I was the only one who had had the foresight to bring a flashlight) because in they literally could not find their way back to their tents. I walked them to their site and then returned to mine to settle in for the night. The bad news is that the weather hadn't cleared out during the evening as forecast. The good news is that the cloud cover helped keep the temps warmer than forecast.
Scenic View of the Blu Ridge

Murphy's Law of Camping: The weather always improves on the last day. After a rainy, icky, weekend Sunday was a beautiful day. Blue skies and crisp, cool dry air. We all still got a fairly slow start, but eventually got our collective act together and went for a hike along a trail which runs right past the campground. The ranger had told us that parts of the trail were closed due to flooding, so we chose to hike just a short loop section. Great views! It was a nice way to punctuate what had been a very nice weekend. Then, it was off to the business of breaking camp and heading home. I meandered my way up I81, stopping in Staunton to browse the antique shops and then in Harrisonburg for a coffee at the Starbucks. Farther up I81 the GPS vectored me off of the highway to avoid a traffic tie-up and IU wound up on a secondary road through the towns of Woodstock, Maurertown and Tom's Brook, the last of which is barely a town at all. Cute little towns through which to drive - certainly more fun than looking at tail lights on the Interstate. Then the ride down I66, and home.

With Suzanne, Manuel and Whit