Saturday, August 29, 2009

Spending the Weekend in Roanoke area

Yesterday afternoon I arrived at the host hotel for the RSBS Annual and before I even dumped my stuff off in my room I stopped into the hospitality suite just a couple of doors down to say hi to the "sisters" who'd already arrived. It was so great to see a couple of them that I already knew, and to meet for the first time those women who I'd been chatting with on the RSBS forum for 5 years but had not yet met in person. Wow!

I gathered up my pile of stuff, went to my room, and changed out of my riding gear and into some comfortable shorts and sandals, before returning back to the suite, where our hosts Carla and Don had set out cold cuts, fruit, chips, and cold drinks. That was a really nice touch, and we greatly appreciated it. Later that evening we moved down to the hotel bar where we socialized and some of us ordered a light dinner. By about 8:00 PM, though, I was ready to call it quits for the night. It had been a long hard week of pushing the miles: 500-600 mile days including sightseeing stops along the way each day at various national parks. I knew that leaving the bar would mean leaving behind some of the best 'sister' antics of the evening but I was ready to crash.

During dinner that night I shared my plans to ride north for a bit on the Blue Ridge Parkway and had a couple of takers, so we agreed to meet the next morning around 11:00 AM to head out. The next morning I went downstairs to the restaurant to have a light breakfast and discovered that the only choice was the fixed price buffet. Now, I don't eat eggs and other "heavy" breakfast foods, so I never get my money's worth out of a buffet. So I paid $8.00 for a small plate of cut-up canteloupe and pineapple. Ouch!!

Out in the parking lot a couple of other women agreed to join us and so, by 11:15 AM, we were leaving the parking lot and heading toward US-220. We stopped for gas just before the entrance ramp and, mis-hearing the GPS instructions, I got us onto 220 heading north, instead of south. So, our first U-turn of the day! LOL! Heading back south, in the correct direction now, we caught the BRP entrance and headed north, the Peaks of Otter visitor center and lodge our destination.

This is a very sedate section of BRP, with gentle curves, very little elevation change and rather mild views over low hills and suburbs. Within 30 minutes or so, we were at the visitor center where some of our little group bought some souvenirs. The original plan was to have lunch at the lodge, but I wasn't hungry so soon after eating breakfast, and so departed the group and continued north on my own.

North of Peaks of Otter to James River, the BRP changes dramatically. It gains nearly 1,000 feet in elevation and the gentle curves earlier become sharper and tighter turns with a couple of switchbacks thrown in for excitement. At one point, about 3-4 miles north of the Peaks of Otter visitor center, a bobcat darted across the road just in front of me. It was so close I had to momentarily pull on my front brake. I got a good look at it: larger and taller than a house cat, a short tail and large head. It was deeply shaded in that area so I was unable to see its markings, only that it was a darker color.

I arrived at the James River visitor center which is just north of the bridge over the James River with terrific views on either side. I parked, grabbed my camera and headed to the visitor center, where a ranger had a display set up outside of replicas of wooden Appalachian toys. I recognized every one of them, being similar to the toys we had as children. He demonstrated each of them for me, including one unique and intriguing toy called a Gee Haw Whimmy Diddle. I video'd him demonstrating this very clever yet simple toy (the video is immediately following this paragraph). He explained that it was usually made out of rhododendron wood and consisted of a stick to which a small propeller-shaped stick was attached by a small nail into the end of the stick. Rubbing the stick with a smaller stick a certain way would make the propeller spin. Rubbing the stick slightly differently would cause the propeller to spin in the opposite direction. How simple! How fascinating!

When I walked inside the visitor center to get my stamp, another ranger came over to me and said, "You have a hitchhiker." I had no idea what he was talking about until my hitchiker flew in front of my face. A butterfly had lighted onto my cap and gone for a little ride with me. There were dozens of butterflies flitting about just outside and one of them apparently wanted to go inside. We struggled for a bit to catch the little guy and carry her back outside.

This was a very enjoyable stop along the BRP! I walked down toward the river to get a view of the lock and dam on the other side. Very peaceful and quiet, no traffic, just the sounds of nature - cicadas buzzing all around me, the river sounds of moving water. I could have stayed here the rest of the day but really wanted to get to Appomattox, so I reluctantly returned to my bike , backtracked across the river bridge, and picked up US-501, a delightful surprise of a road, toward Lynchburg.

US-501 is clearly a local favorite of motorcycle riders as a way to get to the BRP, as I saw dozens of them coming the other way. Heading south, it was all up-hill switchbacks for me and I had no traffic in front of me so I could take these turns at a decent speed. And Honeysuckle! Heady fragrance stayed with me for miles and miles all afternoon on this road, and then later in the day on my return to the hotel.

I have always wanted to visit Appomattox Court House, and this trip was the perfect opportunity to do so. I've visited so many Civil War battlefields in my multiple National Park Tours, and have read dozens of books on specific topics related to this war, books that I've purchased on park ranger recommendations. All have been excellent books and the more parks I visit, the more the pieces of this war come together for me. It is only natural, then, that Appomattox would be a required stop.

I wished that I had left a pair of shoes - my sandals or running shoes - on the bike when I arrived in Roanoke, because this would have been the place to remove the riding pants and boots and put on some comfortable walking shoes. The site is a good 100-150 yard walk uphill from the parking lot, and the buildings cover a several acre area. I spent a fair amount of time here, visiting each of the buildings that were open to visitors, and reading the signage and plaques. Some of the buildings have been rebuilt to original plan, while others are the original buildings. Beyond the main park are several pull-out areas with overlooks onto battle sites and the two armies' headquarters: Lee and Grant. I must definitely return to this park to spend more time.

My route was to also include a stop at Booker T. Washington national park, as it was sort of on the way back to Roanoke, but by the time I got the turn-off to the road that would take me there, it was already about 4:30. Unsure of how late the park would be open, and with another 22 miles to go to get there, I opted to skip it and return back to the hotel in Roanoke.

In the hospitality suite after returning from my ride, I learned that the group would be eating at 6:00 PM in the hotel restaurant. This was fine with me. I had a chance to sit with a couple of 'sisters' I had not had a chance to talk with before and, afterward, we all went outside for a group photo before it got too dark to do so. While many of the others then spent the rest of the evening in the bar, it was already 8:30 PM and I had to get my route planned for my return ride back to Houston, so I skipped out on the rest of the group.

Tomorrow: heading south on I-81 but not before getting off the interstate and riding up to Cumberland Gap, then to Murfreesboro TN to the Stones River National Battlefield park.

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