Saturday, August 27, 2016

Homeward Bound



It was cold last night. We started out with the blanket, and in the morning had to turn on the furnace. Back on the road, we were following Route 7, which parallels the interstate. We really enjoyed being off the freeway. On the side roads you get to see much more than just the scenery. We go through all the small towns and see how the people live. There are many interesting buildings to see.
The downtown of these little burgs is usually all on one street, sometimes just on one side of the street. And the old buildings are often fancy.

In Bainbridge, we spotted this colorful church. One could shoot a whole collection of small town churches, the architecture is so different and often unique.

Another thing is the local restaurants and cafes. Sometimes the food is pretty plain, but you can also find some delicious and different stuff. In Afton, NY, Gene had a steak and cheese sandwich that was very good.

Along the way, we spotted this amazing railroad bridge for the Lackawana RR. This is only part of it. To show the whole bridge would require a panorama.
Lackawana Railroad bridge

Traveling the country roads is relaxing (speed limit is usually 55). However, when they go into the larger cities it becomes difficult and stressful. We followed 11 into Scranton. We continued, looking for signs to help follow it through the city. Not seeing any, we kept going straight; we found ourselves in a residential district, then the road dead-ended in a park. The road engineers seem to think that if you are coming in on a secondary road you must have local knowledge and don’t need help.
It took us a long time, and some dubious help from a gas station attendant to find our way out. Wilkes-Barre threatened to turn in to the same situation, so we managed to bail out onto I-81until we saw an exit for 11. We still like to drive the back roads, but from now on, when we approach a large city we will jump onto the interstate until we get past it, then go back on it. We will see how that works.
After the debacle with the cities, when we got to our campground for the night, we decided we deserved Cuba Libr├ęs and a nap. Easy and convenient in a motorhome.

Wednesday:   This morning we decided to go down to the camp store for breakfast. They serve hot breakfast sandwiches but when we got there they only had one left. This at 9:00 in the morning. I knew we weren’t morning people but this was surprising. No problem, the owner quickly made a hot egg and ham on a bagel.
So we got underway by 9:45, early for us, but we knew we needed to stop early in order to do laundry. We followed our modified plan: stay on secondary roads (in this case US-11) most of the time, but jump onto the nearby interstate to get quickly around the larger towns. That way we would avoid the frustration of getting lost in poorly marked cities. We still drove through the smaller towns, because they are usually straight-forward. They also often have interesting old buildings.

Highway 11 follows right along the Susquehanna River for many miles. You don’t always see it very well most of the time because of trees and houses in the way. But every once in a while you get a good look.
Susquehanna River
The Susquehanna is a big river here in Pennsylvania. Occasionally it is also very wide, with islands scattered in the middle. This river, which has its source in upstate New York, eventually becomes Chesapeake Bay.
We slipped into the edge of Hagerstown, MD, and got a delicious lunch at Olive Garden, and then did some grocery shopping. There don’t seem to be many campgrounds in this area, but we managed to make contact with a KOA a short way out of Hagerstown. It is an older KOA, located on a creek in the back woods. We checked in about 4:30 and immediately set about doing laundry. This might seem a little odd, since we expect to be home in about two days, but we were pretty much completely out of clothes. This may be a vacation, but the chores go on


Thursday:   We woke to the sounds of birds through the open windows. There was an owl, a woodpecker of some kind (perhaps Pileated) and a couple of other birds we couldn’t identify making the woods ring. What a wonderful way to wake up!
We left the campground a little after 10:00 and continued our trip down US-11. A short way after we left the KOA we came to the C&O canal and a visitor center. We stopped and had a pleasant talk with one of the volunteers there. Then we went out and walked the tow-path the half mile to a lock. This short stretch of the canal is watered, there are even a couple of launches on it that the rangers use in their tours (which we didn’t take). The local wildlife includes several turtles. We couldn’t resist this one.

There was a lock house at the lock, but it wasn’t open.
C&O Canal lock and lock house
The other end of this stretch has a turning basin and had an aqueduct over a stream, but the aqueduct is mostly gone. It was a hot day and we hadn’t carried any water (so what’s new?) so we were sweaty and tired and glad to get back to the motorhome.
We got back on the interstate just before the Virginia border in order to stop at the Welcome Center and get a new Virginia map (we had none in the van). From there it was better to stay on the interstate for a few more miles to avoid Winchester and get on the road to Front Royal.
Today the National Park Service is celebrating it’s 100th birthday --- they had cupcakes and lemonade at the C&O welcome center. To us the good news was that the campgrounds on the Skyline Drive all had vacancies. We got on the Drive and proceeded the 58 miles to Big Meadows. There were overlooks along the way, with views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west.

We mostly didn’t stop, concentrating on getting to a campground, just enjoying the views along the way. We got to Big Meadows about 4:45 and found a level site in the woods. Time to relax and have a drink to celebrate the NPS birthday. Tomorrow we take the last leg home.

Friday:   No birds today; the campground is probably too crowded. We made a lazy morning of it. Excitement!--- when Jean went outside she spotted a monarch butterfly, only her second of the season. She worries when she doesn’t see them. We saw a couple more later in the day.

We decided to break camp and see if we could get some breakfast at the Lodge. By the time we found our way to the Lodge, they had stopped serving breakfast. So we got back on the Skyline Drive. At a shady overlook I set up a table in front of the sofa at the back of the van and we had a casual breakfast with a view toward the Shenandoah Valley.
Back on the road we spotted a pickup stopped in our lane ahead. There, two teenage girls ran across the road from the left and jumped in the truck. We looked in the direction they came from and spotted a black bear cub taking off through the woods. I managed to grab a shot of it.

So we saw bears on our first day and our last day of the trip, both in Shenandoah National Park.
After spending three-and-a-half, mostly comfortable, weeks in the north, we were heading back to the heat. At the James River, the lowest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the temperature was 93. At Peaks of Otter (not the highest point) the temperature was 81. And that is why we like to go up on the mountain in the summer time.
We got home a little after 5:00. Looking back, it was a very good trip. Other than the beginning, when we had to meet a schedule in Massachusetts, we were able to spend an absolute minimum of time on the interstate. Lots of interesting back roads. We did most of what we set out to do --- Alan convinced us to cut back on the time we had expected to spend in Canada.  That was probably good advice.
We were out for 24 days and covered 3,061 miles. Most days that we moved, we covered less than 200 miles, frequently far less. We saw a lot of interesting things, and did it in a relaxed manner. When can we head out again?

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