Welcome To The (Antebellum?) South, Charlie Brown!

Trip Start Jun 19, 2010
Trip End Sep 01, 2010

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Flag of United States  , Virginia
Wednesday, August 11, 2010

             DAY FIFTY-TWO:  What's nice is that today wasn’t meant to be interesting or good, and yet it turned out to be both.            

            Surprisingly, too, was the fact that no one came to the nature preserve all night and all morning, but for one car that pulled into the lot and then back out, and in this way, Virginia > New Jersey.  We’re somewhat slow to leave this lot because we truly have no destination for today: Knoxville is too far to reach in one day, and anyway we have a bit of time before The Beard arrives, and Mr. X won’t be in Nashville until Saturday evening.  We turn our attention, then, to the Appalachian Trail, specifically in this section to the Shenandoah Pass, famous for hikes, waterfalls, and bloodshed.

            Pearl pulls up to the ranger’s station where a smiling older lady waits, and after some fishing around the bus, we produce our Annual Parks Pass that we bought eons ago, thereby saving ourselves another ten dollars.  Ahthankyou!  She warns us of very steep grades in this park, telling us to use, at any part remotely necessary, our lower gears, for many a car has driven right over a Shenandoan cliff after its brakes had gone out.  We mostly chuckle to ourselves, the guys bemusedly comparing this altitude of this "pass" to the much higher and mightier tops one finds in good old Californ-i-a.  We drive maybe fifteen miles into the park before we’re forced to turn around, as Pearl just can’t handle this paltry “pass” and is constantly on the verge of overheating.  So our one vague plan for the day is lost before it starts.

            Our next goal, as we’re hot as hot shit, and just as dirty, is to find a river in which to bathe, and so we follow the map.  The Shenandoah River snakes back and forth, only occasionally showing itself from the highway, but we finally get a vantage point and pull over at the side of a cliff.  There’s strangely the road we’re on, which twists down and out and flashes No Trespassing everywhere; there’s the train bridge, rusty and cinematic, which stretches up overhead; there’s a cross-section of highway that sits, plop, just alongside the main part as if the builders had started the project, but missed wide by a few feet.  On that part is a small headstone that dates it back to 1937, while an informational plaque informs us that we’re standing at a major battle site from the Civil War, where Stonewall Jackson’s Confederates nearly overcame the Union, razing the whole area in the process; to prove this, there are two crumbling brick abutments standing on the hill just along the railway, and instead of being shot up by bullet holes as a number of homes were in Gettysburg, these are simply scarred by fire.  A quiet little millstone from the 1790s sits propped in the grass observing the whole affair.  Anyway, since I’m slow and the other two are quick and action-oriented (not to mention – okay, I’ll mention it – that they are both continuously wearing that which they swim in, never changing), ever ready for the next adventure, they’re scaling down the cliff before I have time to put my shorts on, and once the bus is all locked up, a white truck pulls up next to me.  “Weeyoo, yous all really ferm Caleefornia?  My word!”  It’s three construction boys back from a day’s work, apparently checking out the sights, sipping from cold beers as they drive along the river.  Certainly they are the first true Southerners I’ve met on this trip, and they marvel at everything all wild-eyed and joyful.  “How’d you make it here all the way from Caleefornia?  Shoot.  Caleefornia.  These parts must b’ looking mighty different from Los Angelees, golly!”  They actually said “golly”, by the way, and when I tell them how I’m digging Virginia and the rest of our country, they nod at sonic speed, “yuh damn right,” and I head down to meet Cornbread and Shmark.  The two, however, find the river inaccessible from that point and watch these country boys, who continue to look over Pearl as if she were anything but beautiful and completely normal, suspiciously from afar, and once their suspicions take root, mine blossom, being the ordained worrier of the group, but they all get back into the truck with their beers, congenial as can be.

            We finally find a cliff that works, and negotiate the rocks thusly, using the rusted crossbeam beneath the train tracks as support, dodging rusty nails and stray fishing hooks in the process.  We’re at a bit of a confluence (love that word), and cold water is rushing in from the hill to a little collection pool in which a lawn chair is submerged to face the river.  There’s also a faded tarpaulin and a rusty barbeque, but most notable is the litter of “Private Property, No Trespassing” signs so unavoidable as to require a whopper of an excuse were we to be caught here.  Turning around seems stupid, however, so we dive right in; the water, advancing at a lazy but steady pace, is slightly heated by the sun to where it’s luke, and we’re quickly doing flips and floaties all about.  Shmark then produces a bottle of Campsuds – biodegradable soap designed to be used safely in natural bodies of water – and we start lathering ourselves, yipping and hollering; it simply could not feel better, cleaning ourselves all over until the cleanliness is so obvious and comfortable, it feels like my skin is made of velvet.  Shmark comments how he feels like Huckleberry Finn, and even if I’m not quite his Jim (is that the same book?) I do too feel like I’m leaping from the pages of Mark Twain, and wait for some bushy-haired fellow to rush forward from the bushes, firing his shotgun into the sky.  None of that happens, thankfully, but Cornbread’s phone does ring obviously from the bank, its chords bouncing up and down the river, right through the silence, and he scrambles to get it in time.  It’s our insurance broker, who is outlining the damages on the car we hit: it’s over $2,000 for a little dent on the fender, and in the state of New York, if you cause damage over one-thousand and fail to submit within ten days an official form declaring so, you face misdemeanor charges (today’s Day Ten since the accident).  Still, we’re very relieved to hear that our plan covers the damage, and we exhale deeply, understanding that insurance companies aren’t only there to rip you off.

            Once fully clean, we point ourselves to Roanoke, the nearest big city, in the interest of finding a Kinko’s from which Cornbread can print and mail that form – he doesn’t really want his license revoked – but find that the city is much bigger than expected.  We drive in circles for quite the time, going so far as to see the 100-foot star and the antique Dr. Pepper neon sign for which the town is slightly famous, but must resort to asking a spectacled man in a minivan for directions while coasting through an intersection.  His directions, through the honking of the horns behind us, are succinct and expert, but we quickly forget them in the haste and must pull over at a veterinary parking lot to get Internet access and find it on Google Maps (which deserves a devotional nod for how often it has saved us).  Finally, a few freeway stops later, we arrive at a strip mall, where Cornbread takes care of his affairs.  I, meanwhile, see a bookstore within the shopping center, and leap out of the bus without a moment’s hesitation, leaving Shmark to guard our Pearl all alone; sorry Shmark, for my selfishness.

            The bookstore, Ram’s Head, is of decent size and great taste, but it’s expensive, to the extent where the book I want is $45, so I simply patronize the shop for a time, reading up on American folklore (about which there will be a quiz at the end of this entry), before gushing to the blushing (male) proprietor of the value of his modest shop.  Cornbread, now finished with his/our business, meets me at the shop, and we play catch in the parking lot while Shmark drops a deuce. 

            There’s the Jefferson National Forest just north of town, so we struggle to find the 220 in that direction, but end up circumnavigating the entire city for an hour before finding any onramp.  We follow the signs to the 311, but when we get there, the road is barred, which the freeway wooshing past in the distance ahead.  It’s night by now, so, considering the dead end, we take advantage of it, and start setting up our cooking area before it’s really late.  Just as the stove is out, however, a squad car pulls up; Cornbread is in the forest behind him taking his own dump, and is forced to sneak up on him from behind, wisely brandishing his penlight to give the cop fair warning.  Before I can get there, the two are chatting almost colloquially, and in no time the officer is taking a tour of Pearl herself; he calls into the station and reads off all of our license numbers just to be sure we’re not on any sort of lam, and soon one of his colleagues has pulled up, ready for a tour, too.  I’m walking him through the place and he’s telling me how this is his stepfather’s dream, to convert a bus, and thereafter we’re trading barbs about his favored Pittsburgh Pirates (though we’re in Virginia, aren’t we?).   They leave, and miraculously we’re again on good terms with the police – they even give us permission to “jam”, as we’re surrounded only by woods – who go so far in coolness as to suggest that we might have the appearance to be a band like Old Crow Medicine Show.  Good, good. 

            We certainly aren’t the types to ignore the order of a policeman, and after we cook up some macaroni and cheese (packets of which were being handed out for free on the streets of Washington, D.C.), we bust out the dusty old instruments.  It’s too much fun, playing, and playing with these guys, so about twenty minutes in, I’ve snapped a string from over-zealousness.  Nevertheless, I grab another guitar while Shmark sets up his computer, Cornbread his miniature amp, and we’re soon on our first recording session.  I botch the intro to “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”, but by the chorus we’re all slightly in time; “Isolation” sounds even better with Cornbread’s solo tacked on at the end; “Time” somehow manages to be in step with itself, though by the solo, Cornbread – who’d never heard Bowie’s original version before – must be awoken and alerted to the cause, and even if he’s a moment late, it still sounds quite good.  From there, we try to make good on a promise we’d made ourselves to write a new song, and while the two are jamming on the verse Shmark already has, I’m scribbling down some lyrics, but at this point we’ve killed a few liters of really low-grade wine – American goon, we might call it – and the session comes grinding to a halt.  I douse myself in DEET, something I’m eternally covered in on this trip, something that may prove to mess me up in the long term, and climb up to the roof rack for a good night’s sleep.  Everything is covered in a layer of dew, it’s so humid here, and that dew brings to life the month of dirt and grime that had been collecting up there, so by morning I’m a darker shade of pale.  I’m woken by a geriatric biker, he all pallid and rickety but dressed all dapper and athletic, a buzzing yellow-and-black combination as if he were Lance Armstrong’s grandfather, and when I wave to him from the roof, he smiles and says, “yer all really from Californya?  Goodnessgraciouslordalmighty.”  I think he’d pedaled down to the end of the road just to say that.

            Finally, in light of the nature of our trip and with respect to the great heritage that surrounds us, we have decided, as a bus blog, to institute a trivia game, as mentioned above.  This round will be called, “Crockett or Boone?”  Your job is to correctly identify to which frontiersman the fact listed below should be correctly attributed.  Once we’ve hit at the correct response, please feel welcome to donate your own versions of this round in the comments section below:

********QUIZ TIME****************QUIZ TIME****************QUIZ TIME***********************

“I was captured, then adopted, by the Shawnee Indian Tribe in 1778, but managed to escape to help defend the settlements in Kentucky.  CROCKETT OR BOONE?”
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Jenn W on

Boone for 1000 points...double jeopardy "Yes!"

"I joined General George Rogers Clark's invasion of the Ohio country in 1780, fighting in the Battle of Piqua on August 7." CROCKETT or BOONE?

maize-o-meal on

Before their virtual 'last supper' as they began the Voyage of Discovery, Lewis and Clark visited the home of this frontiersman, Boone or Crockett.

nearhelsinki on

Damn, I have no idea on either of these...anyone else? I feel like I'm just going to have to look on wikipedia. Beat at my own game!

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