Black and Blue Ridge Parkway

Katie, one of my best friends from my college days, recently moved to a small, middle-of-nowhere town called Cumberland on the north side of Maryland. Cumberland was a good stopping point for us and I hadn’t seen Katie in a long time, so we headed out from D.C. to pay her a visit. There are several cool things about visiting Katie. First and foremost: she lives in an old church. I’m serious! There is even a green strip of carpet in the middle of her house, stained glass windows, and yes, a bell that you can ring by tugging on a rope. Andrew liked that bit a lot. She is also an optometrist, which blows my mind. We walked past her office and saw her name on the outside, complete with the prefix Doctor. Several of my college friends now have illustrious careers as doctors, lawyers, politicians, etc. I’m always so impressed by people who knew what they wanted to be in life, did the requisite work to get there, and then voila! Optometrist. Maybe that will happen to me some day, after I’m done being a traveling hobo. Although there is something quite addicting about this lifestyle I’m leading. Maybe this is my calling after all. Success!

We explored Cumberland via a picturesque walking path that connects Washington D.C. to Pittsburgh, and admired the old dilapidated buildings and remnants of industry that gave Cumberland its start. While much of the town seems downtrodden, we did have a delicious breakfast at a cute and crowded café in the downtown district, and there are several fun shops in the area. Apparently not all of Cumberland is struggling. This café even had soy milk (score!) so I think Katie is in good hands.

After we took our leave of Cumberland we headed south to Shenandoah National Park in West Virginia. Shenandoah is very different from the National Parks in the West. It was primarily set up so that people in the East could get out and enjoy nature. The history of the park is pretty cool; during the Great Depression the CCC was set to work building stone guardrails on the side of the road, which are still standing and are quite beautiful. The road throughout the park winds along the ridge of the mountains, and we had some cold wintry weather as hail and even snow fell at various elevations. We spent a cold wet night in a nearby National Forest and the next day we jumped onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, which we drove through Virginia, North Carolina, and the corner of Tennessee.

We spent another night in the National Forest somewhere, driving through dense fog and rain to find a spot we could camp for the night. Andrew cooked pork chops in the freezing rain, (which made them extra delicious!), and then we took cover in the teardrop for the night. The next morning we got an early start back on the Blue Ridge Parkway, driving for an hour or so before stopping at an overlook to make breakfast. As we climbed out of the truck Andrew asked, “Where’s Gertie?” I looked up and lo and behold, we were missing a bicycle. My bicycle! We muttered a few indecencies and backtracked for an hour, looking along the sides of the road for a mangled bike. We went all the way back to our campsite and finally saw her laying in the middle of the dirt road, bent up and bruised. Poor Gertie! She must have caught on a tree as we pulled out and then we probably drove over her with the trailer thinking it was just a big pothole. Andrew reattached Gertie to the roof rack and we went on our way, albeit with less enthusiasm.

In Roanoke, North Carolina we stopped at a local health food store to load up on groceries, and just outside the city limits we found a nice campground for the night. It was one of the rare times we arrived to a campground early in the day, so Andrew worked on putting Gertie back together again and then took a hammock nap while I made a miniature painting of said hammock nap. We enjoyed a relaxed evening by the fire roasting marshmallows, (I have eaten a lot of marshmallows on this trip!), and then crawled into bed, confident that Gertie would make a full recovery.

The next day we turned back onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and continued our trip southward, enjoying the local flavor of a bluegrass radio station. The music was interrupted only for the “condensed” obituaries, which included name, age, address, date of funeral, address of funeral, minister present for funeral, where to send condolences, etc. etc. I can only imagine what the full obituaries contain, but I wasn’t willing to listen to the thrice-daily news hour to find out. It’s true what they say: life really is slower down South!