Sunday, May 31, 2009

Learning Curve...

I can still count with single digits the number of nights I have spent in my new hovel. It’s only been a month since I left Gainesville. Sometimes it seems like ages, but I haven’t accomplished many of the things I need to accomplish, so I’m glad that time isn’t flying as fast as it sometimes feels it is. There is a huge learning curve here. At least several times a day, I find out something new, or have a completely embarrassing moment when I am left looking like a na├»ve tourist amongst a bunch of city slickers. It’s good. It’s what I wanted.

Two things I learned recently:

1) If you drive anywhere, on any day except Sunday, you need to have about ten pounds of quarters. There is no such thing as free parking. Ever.

2) During weekends, they perform maintenance on the Metro tracks. That means delays, as I discovered yesterday when “scheduled maintenance” (according to the PA announcement at the Metro Center station) meant that my Metro journey would take twice as long as usual. This caused me to miss my long-planned Potomac cruise with the DC Gators. What can you do?

I ended up exploring the departure point for the cruise, a fabulous place called Washington Harbor (Googe Map Link HERE), wandered around the streets of Georgetown (a breathtaking area of DC), and found a nice bar inside the Georgetown Inn (Link HERE) with a reasonable happy hour. Then I wandered down P Street (I will shoot a brief video of this one day soon, and post it on my blog), crossed the bridge over the Rock Creek Parkway, and climbed on a bar stool at the Brickskellar (Link HERE). From there, I wandered up to the Dupont Circle Metro station and rode home.

I wonder what it takes to make the city feel like home? A job would help, I’m sure! In the meantime, it amazes me constantly. Today, I drove down 16th Street into the city, and took a right on P Street to Dupont Circle. There are people everywhere – riding, jogging, walking, sitting, standing – just enjoying the day. An impromptu gathering of musicians is jamming in the park. There are so many different kinds of people. I went to the ATM, and, when it asks you to select your preferred language, there are SEVEN options: English, Spanish, Portugese, German, French, Polish and Italian.

Even if it gets to feel like home, I hope I never get used to it.

History and Mystery...

Friday, I needed to go into the city for a few reasons. I am trying to establish a routine that allows me to do the things I need to do to survive here – look for a permanent job, stay in touch with my advertising clients back in Gainesville, and get some work done for Push Button Productions. I had only been in my hovel for five days when I packed up last Thursday to spend a week in Atlanta, so everything is still new to me. And, yes, I got lost again Thursday night when I drove downtown to watch the Gator girls in the first round of the College World Series, and then tried to find my way back. In the dark. In the rain. Again. It didn’t take nearly as long to get unlost as it did last time, so I guess that’s a good sign. The cable is out at our house for some reason (lightning/storm), so I needed to go somewhere to get online, and I want to get in the habit of getting out even when my goal is to sit somewhere and work. You never know who you’ll bump into on the Metro or in Starbucks or on the street. Even though it’s more distracting, it’s far more pleasant and interesting than sitting in my room. And I learn something every minute that I’m out and about.

Every city has its share of history and mystery, I suppose, but Washington DC is different. As you walk or drive around, it is difficult to not be overcome by a feeling of fascination and awe. Everywhere I go, I want to stop and look and ask questions. The familiar landmarks are there, of course; the monuments, museums and government buildings that we all recognize. But you can’t help wondering if every building has a story. Many of them do. Even if it’s a story that can’t be found in history books, I wonder about the people that built the place. Was it a family of immigrants? Freed slaves? Diplomats? Congressmen? Criminals? (I know, I repeat myself). I wonder who has been there and what has happened there. Who knows?

Let me give you a couple of examples…

1) I have discovered that 16th Street is the best way for me to go straight into the city if I am driving. Click on the link and bear in mind that I live at the very top of the map off of Layhill at Georgia Ave (Route 97). Follow Georgia Ave down through Silver Spring, under the beltway (I-495), and you’ll see (where the “A” is) that I can turn on to 16th Street near the place labeled Colonial Village. Double click there to zoom in, and you notice that 16th Street goes straight into the city from there, and ends at Lafayette Square, literally a block behind the White House.

Map Link --> HERE <--

I was driving this route yesterday – down 16th Street - and suddenly saw a building feature that looked familiar to me. A distinctive wall. Then I looked up at the building. The Washington DC Hilton. Not ringing a bell?
Watch the video below (you don’t have to watch the whole thing)...



Yes. It was THAT wall. The one you see as they pin John Hinckley against it and wrench the gun from his hand. It was strange that I recognized it instantly, but how many times have you seen that video and not really thought about the location? The Washington DC Hilton. I drove right by it. Who knew?

2) I have been reading a great book called The Day of Battle by Rick Atkinson. It’s the second installment of a planned trilogy about World War II. This one focuses on the Allied campaigns in Sicily and Italy. It’s a fantastic book. As I was reading the latter section of the book, I noticed a paragraph describing a high level meeting during the war. Here is the description from the book:

Before returning to Italy, Clark (General Mark Clark, commander of the Fifth Army) was whisked one evening from the basement garage of Renie’s (his wife) apartment on Connecticut Avenue to the private entrance of a nineteenth-century town house at 1806 I Street in downtown Washington. Here in the Alibi Club, the well-heeled and well-connected of Washington’s elite gathered to “cook oysters, lobsters and duck to suit themselves, play poker, and put away a lethal sort of drink based on Medford rum,” as Marshall’s (General George C. Marshall, Army Chief of Staff) biographer wrote. To hear Clark’s progress report on the war in Italy, Marshall had assembled a dozen powerful figures, including Vice President Henry A. Wallace and Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn. For more than an hour, while his auditors slurped oysters around the table and tossed the shells into a bowl, Clark in his deep, mellifluous voice described campaigns past and future; the desperate fight at Salerno, the struggle at the Winter Line, the Anzio gamble, and, now, soon, the great thrust that would carry Fifth Army into Rome. None of these men, Clark concluded, had any inkling of what it was like to wage war in mountainous Italy.

I searched the location on Google maps, and the street view showed that the building is still there. --> Google Map Link HERE <--

So, when I took the Metro downtown, I decided to head there just to take a peek, and then look for a good place to sit and get some work done. Farragut West is the nearest Metro stop, and, as soon as I got off the train and rode the ascending escalator, I saw this:

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The Google Map street view is accurate. It is an old-looking, but fairly nondescript building, appropriately “sandwiched” between a Subway and a copy shop with office space on the floors above. If I hadn’t read the passage in my book, I’d have no idea that this was the site of the Alibi, and a semi-clandestine gathering place for highly-placed citizens and government officials back in the day. How many of these plain old buildings have secrets like this one? Who knew?

Conveniently, there was a Starbucks almost directly across the street. I got a cup of coffee and sat down with my laptop to get some work done. A couple of hours later, I looked up and saw this:

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A gigantic limo. Could it be? Is it STILL a semi-clandestine gathering place for highly-placed citizens and government officials? I Googled “the Alibi, Washington DC, “and look what I found. Wikipedia Link HERE Who knew?

How many secret meeting places are there that nobody knows about? Many buildings in Washington DC have a story to tell. I want to know them all!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

An International City...

I went to get a haircut Thursday. The couple on the sidewalk was speaking Portugese (I am assuming. It was Hispanic, but I have heard enough straight-up Spanish to know it wasn’t that). The lady that cut my hair was a lovely Italian lady named Maria (“You wanta da haircut? Sitta downa. Alla be right dare.”). Afterward, I got a sandwich from the Subway nearby. The lady behind the counter was Indian. The guy behind me in line was black. The guy behind him had an English accent. The guy talking on the phone in the corner was speaking some kind of Arabic. There was a Mexican restaurant next door with some very Mexican looking people standing in front of it. The bitch that cut me off in traffic on the way home was Asian, driving a Toyota. It’s awesome.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Back in the South... (temporarily)

After finally getting (somewhat) settled in my hovel, I rode the Metro to the airport, and hopped a flight to Atlanta to enjoy my niece's high school graduation and visit with family.

It will be interesting to see if my "home" feels like home when I get back!

In our downtime here, I have been reading about the history of Washington, DC, and I think I have found a couple of new and interesting ways to continue to explore the city:

Boundary Markers - The original legislation creating the nation's capital (in 1790) called for an area "not exceeding ten miles square." When the boundaries of the new capital city were surveyed and marked, sandstone monuments were placed "at each mile of the original diamond shape." Surprisingly, almost all of the markers are still there. With help from this website --> www.boundarystones.org/ <-- I think it might be fun to track down each of the markers, and, thus, eventually work my way around the entire original boundary of the city (the boundary changed in 1846, when the portion that had originally been part of Virginia was "retroceded" to the state).

The Capital Crescent Trail - This is a terrific walking/running/biking trail that follows the old railbed of the Georgetown branch of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad. The trail is scenic, and provides a great way to combine exercise and exploration.

Expect progress reports on these two projects.

Also, I just ordered an Annual Pass from the National Park Service. It's $80, but I'd expect to spend at least that much in park entrance fees over the next year - it's $15 just to get on to Skyline Drive, so just a few visits there in the next year, and the pass will have paid for itself.

Cheers...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My Hovel (Part 2, 3 and 4)...

Yesterday, with my fantastic cinematography, I brought you into the neighborhood where I am now living. Today I will bring you in the front door and into My Hovel! It's been a LONG time since I lived in a place with a handful of roommates, and it takes some getting used to, but it's not bad. Again, you get back to the very basics; what do I really need to be safe and comfortable?

Parking Lot to the Front Door


This is a bit unusual because it is, literally, like being a long-term guest in some one's home. So you do, to a large degree, live amongst their furniture and clutter, but, at the same time you aren't moving into a sterile, white-walled apartment. The place has character, and immediately seems a bit like home. This is a big place. I rarely see the people who live upstairs. There is one girl I've never seen at all.

Upstairs


My room is small, and enclosed, but, for right now, I like it that way. Every time I leave the neighborhood I have only a vague idea where I am. Most of the time I am lost. That is by design. I love the challenge. But, after a day of disorientation, it's nice to be able to crawl into my cave and feel secure.

My Hovel

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

My Hovel...

Tuesday, May 19th – I have to admit, when I began this whole Enterprise, I wondered if I would end up living in some kind of miserable hovel. That still may be the case, eventually, but, for right now, I think I did reasonably well – especially when you consider that this is a short-term, no lease kind of arrangement.

When I first started sharing my moving plans with friends, that was always the strangest look I got – when people asked me where I was going to live, and I would say, “Oh, I don’t know…” I think the fact that I was so casual about it alarmed people, and caused them to wonder if I might, indeed, be an idiot. I often wondered that myself. In moments of panic or insecurity, I would jump on my computer and scour Craigslist to verify that there were, in fact, bunches of short term rental options in the DC area. Upon my arrival here, it didn’t take me too long to find one.

So, for now, I live in the downstairs area of a large townhouse in a neighborhood called Middlebridge Village. I decided I would add a couple of video clips for those of you who have a hard time picturing my living situation (or think I am full of crap!). I spent the afternoon in downtown Silver Spring – mostly re-working a Push Button Productions proposal at a Starbucks there. It was early evening by the time I returned home, but I think the light was sufficient. At the risk of sounding like Mr. Rogers… welcome to my neighborhood...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Camping Joke...

As one who has been camping for 12 out of the last 15 nights, this joke struck me as funny. This was forwarded to Kami by her dad. She forwarded it to me...


Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson went on a camping trip. After a good meal and a bottle of wine, they were exhausted and went to sleep.

Some hours later, Holmes awoke and nudged his faithful friend.

"Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see."

Watson replied, "I see millions and millions of stars."

"What does that tell you?" Holmes said

Watson pondered for a minute.

"Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Timewise, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, I can see that The Lord is all powerful and that we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have, a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you?"

Holmes was silent for a minute, then spoke.

"Watson, you idiot, some asshole has stolen our tent."

No Longer Homeless...

Yesterday, I moved into a downstairs room in a large townhouse in Silver Spring --> HERE <--. The neighborhood is called Middlebridge Village. It will be my home base, at least for a couple of months, while I try to do some work for my friends at PushButton, and try to find a permanent job up here. It’s in a quiet neighborhood – the entire neighborhood is a cul-de-sac, and the street itself is a cul-de-sac within that neighborhood. It is almost exactly a mile from the Glenmont Metro station. It is a short distance from good shopping (not just one, but TWO Trader Joe’s). I think it’s a good situation.

There will be four other people living there. Three upstairs and two downstairs. There is a woman named Leslie living downstairs. I haven’t yet met her. There are two females and a male living upstairs. They all seem pleasant, quiet, and busy with their own lives.

I am still in the process of putting things away and arranging.

Last night, after packing up my campsite at Greenbelt Park (after a week of camping there), and moving into the townhouse, I went to a place just a mile down the road called the Stained Glass Pub. I had a meatball sub, and a couple of beers. By the time I got out, it was dark and raining. After one turn out of the parking lot, I had no idea where I was! It’s exactly what I wanted. Everywhere I go, I have no idea where I am. I must constantly process new places and street names. It is just as much of a challenge as I had hoped it would be. Especially in the dark. And the rain.

For those of you who are wondering, I did make it home. Although today it took me forty minutes to find the Starbucks where I currently sit, even though it is just 7 miles from my new home. Shortly, I’m going to be really brave and attempt to go grocery shopping. I may end up in Virginia…

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Fire...

(written during the evening of Wednesday, May 13th)

For those of you - maybe random people - who stumble across this blog and wonder what it is, I can only say that this is a document that describes my attempt to create a new me. If you know me, then I suppose you already understand. I have left the only place I have called home during my adult life, left family and friends and career, and decided to see if I can conquer the unknown. I am not ascending Everest or dog-sledding to the North Pole. This unknown resides within me. What will become of me if I strip down to the bare essentials and start again? It is a New Clothing Enterprise that may result in a new me on the outside, but will surely result in a new me on the inside (visit the Thoreau quote in the header of this blog).

I have with me only what I can carry in my car. I always have just enough clothing and shelter to stay warm, and just enough food to last for a day or two. It is no coincidence that I decided to begin this journey from my old town to my new one by camping in forests and parks along the way. Primitive camping starts with the most basic question; do I have what I need to survive until tomorrow? That is exactly where I wanted to start.

I am no Daniel Boone. I don’t hunt my supplies or make them. I buy them. And the ultimate irony is that I sit here now, on a chilly night, warmed by a small fire, typing on my laptop! I guess the concept of “basic” needs has been redefined over the millennia. I can’t help thinking, every time I sit near an open fire, how much it must have changed the lives of ancient man, how much it must have redefined their idea of basic needs. Suddenly there was protection from wild animals, warmth where it had been cold, light when it had been dark.

I departed Gainesville, Florida and have arrived on the wooded fringes of Washington, DC in search of my own fire. Here I am, despite the laptop, and, yes, the cell phone, sitting near the smoky flames, wondering if my New Clothing Enterprise will be successful. The longer I stare into the fire, the more I think I can classify this Enterprise as a success simply because I have tried. Failure would have been sitting and doing what I had been doing; toiling in a joyless routine, suffering from the lack of a challenge, feeling my brain rot inside my head.

The campfire is almost out now. That I can light again tomorrow. It is time to rekindle the fire within.

Living...

Wednesday and Thursday, May 13th and 14th - I have been contacting people about short term living arrangements and just generally exploring the area. I may soon have news. I looked at one place that I liked. It is HERE. We shall see...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Symbols...

At all times I wear a necklace with two silver pendants that have symbolic meaning for me. Whenever I become aware that they are there, or see them dangling from their chain, it strengthens my resolve to follow the path I have chosen. Very few people know about these symbols that mean so much to me, so I thought this would be a good time to share…

Allez -
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I bought this in June of 2007, and then got a silver necklace to hang it on. I don’t think I’ve taken it off since. It is inspired by a necklace that Johan Bruyneel wore during the 2004 Tour de France. Loosely translated, allez (pronounced ah-LAY) means “go for it!” I try to use it as a constant reminder that reward requires risk, and that the two are often directly correlated. I never want to NOT do something, and then spend years regretting it or wondering if I should have done it.

Some book I was reading not long ago mentioned the success – in private life - of combat veterans after World War II. The nation, rightfully so, provided them with the means to achieve – the GI Bill – but the guys themselves still had to go out and do it. I recall one anecdote, specifically, in which a hearty veteran said that, after the war, he started a business, made some money, risked it, lost it, made it again, lost it again, then made it back again. All the while he was unconcerned and not afraid to continue to follow the path of his own choosing. As he said, “I woke up in the morning, I was still alive and no one was shooting at me.” Risk, it seems, is relative to those who have been exposed to the ultimate risk - in combat. The point was – they achieved, in many cases, because they were not afraid of failure. When one fails, in civilian life, they are still alive, and, in all likelihood, no one is shooting at them.

That is what “allez” means to me. Go for it. Don’t be ruled by fear of failure or the inability to take risks.

Ankh –
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This is the classic Egyptian symbol of life, sometimes thought to resemble the “key to life.” I added this to my necklace in December of 2008. By this time, I had pretty well decided that I would make the Big Move - what has become my New Clothing Enterprise – and the ankh reminded me that our needs, when it comes right down to it, are simple. I don’t need a fancy car or a big home or food from expensive restaurants. What I need is to be alive – to live. After that, everything else is a bonus. It is my way of reminding myself to focus on experiences rather than things.

I have been fascinated, for a while now, with outdoor sportsmen – specifically hikers and mountain climbers. Most of them have a hard time explaining what it is, exactly, that gives them satisfaction from weeks spent in the wild, or from ascending high mountain peaks. I often think of a quote from a mountaineer named Dick Bass, who had a very difficult time summiting Mt. Everest, but made it. “That mountain gave me peace," he said. "Not a superficial sense of well-being, but the peace that comes from going through the fiery furnace, by God, hanging in there, and coming out alive. And as long as there's life, there's hope.”

As long as there’s life, there’s hope. I can’t say it any better than that.

New Pictures...

I went back and added a few pictures, so be sure to scroll back down and enjoy.

Getting Oriented...

Sunday/Monday/Tuesday – May 10th, 11th, 12th - For the sake of convenience, I’ll lump these three days under one entry. It really has been a matter of just getting oriented. Saturday was tough – coming down from the mountains into the city, and then meeting up with people from Gainesville in the middle of DC. Talk about disorientation!

So, by the time I woke up Sunday morning in my tent in Greenbelt Park (Greenbelt, Md), I just needed to breathe and look around. It was a beautiful day, so I decided to drive straight down US 1 into the city – assuming that Sunday traffic in DC isn’t too bad. It was a pretty easy drive, and I ended up a few blocks east of the Capital building – looking for the place that hosts Gator gatherings up here – the Pour House. I drove around, then walked around, then drove around some more.

Drove down US 1, took a left, and this appeared in front of me:
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By Monday, I had found a Starbucks (for easy internet access), a laundrymat, a grocery store, etc, etc. I began scouring Craigslist for places to live, and got a surprise call from my former co-worker at WRUF, Mel. He was in town with his wife (who was attending a seminar)! Made plans to meet him at the Smithsonian on Tuesday.
We spent a few hours wandering around the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History, then sat and ate and caught up on developments in Gainesville. All in all, a pleasant afternoon in the city. I rode the Metro all the way from the station nearest my camp (Greenbelt), and it worked out great. I think I’m finally getting the hang of that too.

My immediate goal is to find a place to call home for a while (besides my tent!).

I must say, though, that if anyone wants to play tourist in DC, and do it cheaply, this campground is perfect. It is just a couple of miles from the Metro station, and it’s only $16 a night. Try finding a hotel in DC for that! Many of the major attractions in DC are free, so you can really do the nation’s capital on a budget if you choose.

I’m looking at three apartments between today and tomorrow. We’ll see what happens…

Monday, May 11, 2009

In the City...

Saturday, May 9th - Sat up in my tent at sun-up, and it was cold and still drizzling! I tightened the zipper on my sleeping bag, pulled up my Gator blanket and slept for two more hours! I packed up my stuff and took my first hot shower in two days (which cost $2 at the little camp store up the hill). It was time to drive down into the city.

I took my time to navigate the remaining fifty-something miles to Front Royal and the end of Skyline Drive. At that point, I had officially driven the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive, over the course of six days. With mixed feelings, I turned on to the ramp for I-66. I needed to head back to civilization, but I was finally enjoying my time in the hills. Oh well…

My path took me up the mountains, down the mountains, and, sometimes, through the mountains!:
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For some reason, the National Park Service has a campground in Greenbelt, Maryland – 12 miles outside of DC. It was only 3 miles from the Greenbelt Metro Station, and it was $16 a night. Seemed like a decent way to transition from the mountains to the city.

The campground is nothing special – it certainly didn’t offer the same kind of view that Lewis Mountain did – but it is a decent place to spend a few days at dirt cheap rates.

During the evening, I hopped the Metro to meet up with TJ and Leah and Colleen somewhere in Columbia Heights. We stopped in some little dive bar and hung out for a few hours. It was strange seeing Gainesville people here, and really strange trying to get re-oriented from the top of a mountain to the middle of a major city! I caught the last train out, and flopped in my tent at about 4:30 in the morning.

I’m finally in DC. Time to be productive…

History Lesson...

Friday, May 8th – The first white man probably saw the Shenandoah Valley in 1716. What a sight it must have been to get to the top of one of the eastern ridges and look into the spacious, fertile valley below, with the north and south branches of the Shenandoah River swirling through it. By the time of the Civil War, the area was heavily planted and farmed, and was the source of much of the beef, wheat and corn consumed by Confederate armies in the East. The valley’s importance as the “Breadbasket of the Confederacy” meant that the area was fought in and fought over many times. The town of Winchester, at the bottom (northern) end of the valley, changed hands no fewer than 70 times during the War.

I was really enjoying Lewis Mountain, and had already decided to stay another night, and spend this day driving around the site of two Shenandoah Civil War clashes – Port Republic and Cross Keys – about 30 miles to the southwest. I had a late, huge breakfast of eggs, bacon and orange juice, stopped in Elkton for coffee and a few more supplies, then rolled along.

Port Republic and Cross Keys are not state or national parks, so you have to look for information, interpretive signs and monuments on your own – or with the help of one of the many brochures published by various organizations.

When you see road signs like this, you know you're in the right area:
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A roadside interpretive sign:
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There MUST be a story here. Graves of two Confederate soldiers in a local cemetery, but those headstones are new. Bodies recently discovered? Hmmm... :
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Back at Lewis Mountain, I opted to avoid the previous night’s smoke signals, and have a giant pita stuffed with tarragon chicken salad, lettuce, diced onions, diced tomatoes and bean sprouts. It was delicious. I started a fire earlier tonight – the forecast again called for rain, and I figured I should use up the wood I had purchased upon arrival. The night was cold - colder than last night. James had departed for home in the morning, so I sat by the warm fire reading my book, probably for at least two hours.

As I sat there, I watched other campers pull in and set up – it was a Friday night so I figured it might be a busier than the previous night. One guy pulled in two sites to my right, and unpacked a few things. He was in a tiny car, I’m not sure what kind. He pulled out something and started eating. I think he had a small cooler. And that was about it. I sat by my roaring fire, and watched as he spent an hour trying to get a fire started, and then gave up (I didn’t tell him that I had started mine with a Duraflame log – one of the miscellaneous supplies I had acquired in Elkton). He had nothing. Apparently, nobody had told him that camping does require at least a bit of planning and preparation. He sat in the front seat of his car, reading by the dome light. I guess he was planning to sleep in his car.

By about 10 PM, you could see the lightning in the distance and hear the deep, long rumble of thunder. By 11, it started to rain. I threw any loose items in my car, and ran to the tent. I had tightened down the top cover of my tent, and, once I saw it was going to hold up despite the gusting wind and rain, I relaxed and went to sleep. I woke up at about 2:30 to pee. I held my raincoat over my head and ran up the hill to the bathroom. The guy two sites down was gone. Hahaha. What a dumbass.

It rained all night, and it was COLD. I awoke at first light, sat up, and I could see my breath in the tent. No thanks. I read for a few minutes and went back to sleep. Awoke at 9, had more delicious bacon, eggs and orange juice, and started to pack. The four deer returned to their little patch of grass. I watched, and tried to be quiet while I threw things around to get them in order. They didn’t seem to care.

I snapped a photo of the first deer that wandered toward me. I think he was trying to smile. Show off:
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Breakfast of champions on top of Lewis Mountain:
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Alligators need lots of water:
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I really enjoyed my two days on Lewis Mountain. I would love to go back (I might do it next weekend). For now, I guess I have gotten close enough to DC that I need to get my ass down there.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Finally...

Thursday - May 7th -- Woke up in my comfy Fairfield Inn in Charlottesville, and looked out the window to see… rain. Still pouring outside. I was in the unusual predicament of actually having made more northward progress than I had intended while enjoying much less of the great outdoors than I had hoped. If I was going to be stuck in a hotel for yet another night, I might as well stay in Charlottesville, and maybe play tourist. I checked the radar. It looked like there were some clear skies behind the current deluge. I went downstairs and took my time with the complimentary breakfast (thanks, Marriott!). By the time I looked out my window again… sunshine! I was off. I cruised back west on I-64, and turned right on Skyline Drive.

I had gone no more than five miles on Skyline Drive when I realized why people go to the trouble of driving on this thing. On a reasonably clear day, it’s gorgeous. After two days of driving in a rainy haze, this was magnificent. This is what it’s supposed to look like!

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A green canopy punctuated with thousands of tiny white dogwood blossoms:
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Beautiful views at each turn:
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I had intended to aim for the Natural Chimneys Park, but fifteen miles on Skyline Drive convinced me I should stay in one of the primitive campgrounds there. I was prepared to go without electricity or water. No problem. I got to Lewis Mountain Campground – just under 100 miles up Skyline, and stopped to set up my tent. It was perfect. I drove down into the nearest town – Elkton, about 17 or 18 miles away – to get some ice and last minute items. I decided to celebrate with a steak.

Back up on Lewis Mountain, I cooked my steak on the grill and heated up a mixture of canned corn and peas as the sun began to get lower in the sky on the far side of the valley. I had chatted with one of the other campers who said a bear had wandered into camp just on the other side of the ridge the night before. No big deal. Then it dawned on me, as I watched my steak sizzle on the grill, that I was basically sending smoke signals to the bears for miles around. Fresh red meat, come and get it. Oh well.

From the Shenandoah National Park website: "Shenandoah National Park has one of the densest populations of black bears documented within the U.S..."

I was a little nervous:
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As I was cleaning, another camper walked up to me and said, “I saw your plates.” Gator tags. Then I looked at the hat he was wearing. Gators. Haha. We stood and talked for a while. His name was James. He had graduated from UF, was working at FAU in Delray Beach, and was an avid camper/hiker. He was solo camping too.
As we stood there, a deer walked into a nearby tent site to nibble on the green grass. Then another. Then two more. We minded our own business, and they minded theirs. James eventually wandered off, but I told him I was going to start a fire, and to come by and warm up before he hit the sack. The forecast said it would be mid-50’s, but it was windy up on the peak of the mountain.

My campsite on Lewis Mountain:
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I started a nice fire, and sat in my chair reading by the light of my battery operated lantern. I could look off across the Shenandoah Valley, beyond Massanutten, and see the Alleghany Mountains in the distance. It was perfect. James came by for a quick warm-up by the fire. I read for a while longer, and watched while a few late-arriving parties pulled in and set up. Then it was bedtime. I read in tent for a good hour, actually spending most of that time convincing myself that my steak some signals had been ineffective. When I decided that I was no longer afraid of bears, I dozed off. It took my sleeping bag and my Gator blanket to keep me warm, but I slept well, considering I was in the middle of nowhere. Finally.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

More Rain...

Wednesday – May 6th – Staying in a Howard Johnson’s once a decade or so reminds me why I don’t stay in them more often.

I began the day with high hopes after a day of lots of driving in lousy weather, but today’s forecast was even worse than yesterday’s. It was a looping front – swirling from the southeast right into North Carolina and Virginia, and on up the coast into New England. This area had apparently been experiencing a drought, until I arrived and brought the monsoon. I joked, via text message, with my friend Matt that perhaps I was now the savior of the region. Maybe I could start the Church of the Everlasting Drizzle. There must be some tax advantage…

My car is loaded to the gunwales, but I make sure Albert always has an unobstructed view of the road:
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As soon as I strapped in and started driving back toward the Parkway, a funny thing happened. I had acquired a Gander Mountain (outdoor store) gift card from somewhere, and meant to use it at the store in Ocala before I left Florida - thinking I could buy some useful item(s), but I never had the chance. One exit down from HoJo's in Roanoke - haha! - a Gander Mountain. I ran in and bought two pairs of hiking shorts, and continued on to the Parkway.

But this day was worse than the day before. Have you ever heard people say that, one time, when they were driving they couldn't see 50 feet in front of them? And you thought, okay, so they're exaggerating a bit. On this day, I swear, I could not see more than 50 feet. This is not good under any circumstances. It is particularly not good on a remote, curvy, wet mountain road.

I knew people would think I was full of crap, so I gathered evidence:
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I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, I can't believe this idiot took pictures while he was driving under those conditions. My friends, these are the risks I take for you so you will never consider me an exaggerator (plus, I was only going about 10 mph).

God only knows what is in the abyss to the right:
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On Tuesday, I drove up and down through the clouds. On this day, I drove IN the clouds. The valley views were outstanding:
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So I gripped the wheel tightly, and did what any rational person would do under the circumstances. I ate a banana:
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I drove the remaining 100 miles of the Parkway at about 30 mph, and finally arrived at I-64, having already determined that I would spend the night in a warm, cozy Fairfield Inn (Marriott properties are the best) in Charlottesville, Va.

I checked in, had a quick dinner at the neighboring Applebee's (Crispy Orange Chicken bowl), and decided to look for a pub near the University of Virginia campus. The campus (what I could see thorugh the pouring rain) was beautiful: distinguished, elegant, the smell of old money. I ran into a place called "No.3" and ordered a Stella. Several people were at the bar, and as I looked to my left, and then to my right to check out my fellow patrons, I heard a girl say, "Oh my God, he's a Gator!" (I assume she had spotted my hat). Then she started doing the Seminole chop at me.

Her name is Lindsey. She is from Centreville, Virginia - between Manassas and Falls Church (HERE), not far outside DC. She had done her undergrad at FSU (education) and was in grad school at UVa. She wants to teach special ed, and live in Florida when she graduates. She loves the warmth and the beaches. She complained about how cold the winter was here (while the people with her politely rolled their eyes). We chatted for quite a while. Occasionally, she screamed madly at the TV, rooting for the Washington Capitals to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (they lost 3-2). I wondered if I could ever become a Capitals fan. I quietly watched the Celtics destroy the Magic in game 2 of their series. Lindsey was alright. For a 'Nole.

Back to the hotel. Still pouring rain. My poor bikes (trussed up on the back of my car) have been in more rain in the last two days than at any other time in their existence. I'll have to apply lots of oil when the weather finally clears.

Tomorrow, I hope to get to the Natural Chimneys Park in Mt. Solon, Va. There are two Civil War battlefields nearby: Port Republic and Cross Keys.

Rain...

Tuesday – May 5th - I awoke to the sound all campers dread – the sound of rain on the tent canopy. 7:48 AM. Packing a soggy sleeping bag and a wet, muddy tent is not fun. There was little hope of cooking the bacon and eggs I had planned to have for breakfast. I read for an hour, hoping for the rain to cease. I finally got a lull, and decided to pack up as quickly as possible, and hit the road.

The weather was lousy all around, and the Blue Ridge Parkway had several detours – three sections of the road were closed. That was annoying as hell. Squinting into a pouring rain looking for Detour signs on treacherous, wooded, back-country roads.

I began the day with no specific destination in mind, but it quickly became a matter of just trying to decide whether or not I should camp out. When I reached the peaks of the mountains the weather was decent, but down in the valleys it was solid overcast. All the campgrounds, of course, were in the valleys.

Views from the mountain tops - the valleys below were totally socked in:
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So I kept driving, trying to get accustomed to the fact that I should be in no particular hurry. The speed limit on the Parkway is 45. Much of the time I couldn’t even drive that fast because of the curves and slick roads and the fact that my old SUV is carrying the heaviest load it’s ever carried. It was strange to have the cloud cover so low. Every few minutes I would climb through the clouds into relative sunshine, then descend again into a valley and wet, chilly gloom.

Not much sense in stopping for the scenic views of the valleys below!:
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I got off the Parkway, and stopped at a campground to check it out. I didn’t like it. Meant for RV’s, it was basically a parking lot with electric poles. I also drove by two hotels, and didn’t like those either. Back to the Parkway. I kept driving, hoping to get past the weather, but it followed me! Finally, I saw a sign saying, “The Blue Ridge Parkway Enters Virginia.” Virginia? I had no idea that I had driven that far. I had a very detailed topographical map of North Carolina, but no map of Virginia at all, so I decided to give up the campground search, head for the nearest big town in Virginia and check into a hotel.

As it turned out, I crawled into a Howard Johnson's in Roanoke at about 9 PM. I sat in the room and ate sliced fruit, sliced cajun turkey and giant Snyder's pretzels - mostly because those were the only things I could reach in my car without unpacking it.

All in all, it was a lousy day.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

French Broad. River, that is...

During the late afternoon of Monday, May 4th, I arrived at the French Broad River Campground, just north of Asheville, North Carolina. It sounded like a more remote option than the KOA. I was glad I had decided to be sure there was daylight left. Setting up a new tent for the first time is always an adventure, and, of course, the “directions” were totally useless. After a few minutes of staring at it and walking around, I figured it out. It’s very light – too light for a bad storm, I think – but an ingenious design. Two sectioned graphite poles form a crossed arch beneath which the center dome of the tent is suspended. When the corners are secured by stakes, the result is a fairly comfortable shelter.

I tossed my sleeping bag inside, plugged in my extension cord and used my recently acquired hair dryer (thanks Elaine!) to blow up the air mattress, and then settled down to build a fire, eat and relax. I had decided not to grill a steak on this first night in a tent. I had no room in the car for another trip to the grocery store! So I opted for chicken salad pitas. The diced red onions I bought were potent – I’m fairly certain the smell of those alone would keep the bears away.

It had been so long since I sat by a campfire in the woods that I spent a few hours just watching and enjoying. A brief drizzle made me wonder if I was in for a miserable night (it had rained most of the day), but a few stars appeared. Then the moon broke through a hole in the clouds, and the river – just twenty feet away – was soon reflecting the narrow beam of silver light.

I had traveled 601 miles since Saturday afternoon, and I was now where I wanted to be – nowhere, for a few days, at least.

I thought I'd add a few visual aids...

My new tent on the banks of the French Broad:
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I put Albert in the Rolling Rock chair to enjoy the view:
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A video I shot that night, from my chair (it may take a minute to load):

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Departure...

So the time arrived. Saturday, May 2nd at 4:30, I departed the Good Year Service Center on Main Street. I had gone there, at the last minute, after noticing how heavy the load in my SUV was, and how crappy my front tires were. In the interest of safety, and to ease the concern of loved ones, I spent an extra hour (and $252) in Gainesville. Then I drove up 441 to Alachua, and turned right on the northbound ramp of I-75.

My first stop was my sister's house in Alpharetta, Georgia (HERE). After a long process of packing, moving and good-byes, I was exhausted. I am here now, resting, and visiting with my sister and my two nieces. Tomorrow, I will head to North Carolina and the bottom of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

To my family and friends, I want you to know that I am moving farther away, but I am not leaving you. If you know me well, you know that I check my e-mail compulsively, and I am never without my cell phone. I am only a few hours away by plane, if you need me. I will ride my goddamn bike if I have to. I hope you know that, because I’m not sure I could survive if I thought you felt otherwise. Even now, I miss the many friendly faces that I have grown accustomed to seeing so frequently. I don’t want to lose you. I just want to find me.

I am anxious to find new challenges, to use my brain until it is as tired as my liver, to process new information on an hourly basis, to walk two blocks and be hopelessly lost instead of knowing exactly where I am. I am anxious to do something that makes a difference. Somehow. I am, at the very least, anxious to try.

I have been an emotional wreck, one minute near giddy delirium at the thought of the new experiences I hope to enjoy, the next minute wanting to curl up in an infantile ball in the corner and cry until I can't anymore - wondering how I can survive outside the town that has been home for my entire adult life.

Tomorrow, I assume I will end up in a campground near Asheville (HERE). I'm not yet sure where I will stay, although I am leaning toward the Asheville West KOA. They have free WiFi, and, as much as I am looking to escape from the stress for a few days, I'm not sure I'm ready to give up my internet access. We'll see.

I expect to relax, travel slowly, enjoy my free time as much as possible, and maybe even take a few photos that I will share with you. Wish me well. I love you all.