For me, and I suspect for others, mornings are a time of transition. Moving from a dreamworld to the realm of reality takes a little time. It was not always that way. When I was younger, that transition was easy. I could spring out of bed and immediately start my day. I could function without a morning cup of caffeine. As a firefighter, I could answer the call when aroused in the middle of the night without hesitation. Now that I am older, I find it more difficult to get going in the morning.
To help myself through that discombobulated feeling, I have established a morning routine. The routine sets my brain on autopilot so I don’t have to think. It includes washing Mr. Sandman from my eyes, taking my medicine, and stretching to see if I have any new aches or pains; then I sit down to drink a cup of hot tea while I open my iPad to check my calendar, read my emails, catch up on the news, check the weather, and peruse my favorite social media; followed by breakfast, blogging, and what my father referred to as the three S’s. Although, I no longer shave.
It was the morning of a travel day. We were going to move from Little Beaver State Park to Misty Mountain Camp Resort in Virginia. I was well into my morning routine. I felt no rush. With only 165-miles to travel, we had plenty of time to pack up and get to the new location by check-in time. When I got to that point in my routine where I looked at the weather, I sprung up and said, Holy cow! “What’s wrong”, Grammi asked? “There is a storm coming and it looks to be close”. The words no sooner left my lips when we heard the first clap of thunder.
You may find this hard to believe. You might even call us lucky. But with all our years of experience moving around the country, we have never had to pack up and hitch the camper in the pouring rain. Maybe I vaguely remember doing it once during a light drizzle, but nothing like the gully-washer that is upon us now.
I looked at the radar again hoping for a reprieve. It was not to be. The storm was not going to let up anytime soon. The sound of the rain against the camper was deafening. I put on my raincoat and opened the door. My grandmother would have said it was raining cats and dogs. I never quite understood the meaning of that phrase other than it meant it was raining very hard. I took off my glasses and handed them to Grammi. “Here”, I said, “those will be of no use out there.”
A river had formed under the camper and was flowing around the power pedestal. I worried I would be electrocuted when I disconnected the cord. I rolled up the water hose and threw it and the power cord in the storage compartment, not bothering to put them properly where they belong. I raised the stabilizer jacks and backed the truck to the trailer. The rain obscured the backup camera causing me to jump in and out of the truck a few times. I was thoroughly wet. Now the truck’s seat was wet too.
The storm was on an eastward march across the country. Once we were on the road, it took about an hour to drive ahead of it. We wanted to get to Misty Mountain Camp Resort before it caught up to us again. We hoped not to repeat the morning’s drenching. Happily, we made it in time. We got set up and plugged in. Then we took a quick look around the campground.
Misty Mountain Camp Resort was not the typical kind of campground where we like to stay. We chose it for its convenient location between Shenandoah and Charlottesville. We didn’t like that the campsites were aligned trailer park style. They were too close together and without much shade. The place was bustling, even during the week. There were golf carts everywhere creating traffic jams. If you didn’t bring your own golf cart you could rent one at the camp store. We also thought it was expensive at $60.00 per night.
Despite the downfalls, there was much we did like. It was a nice family campground with a lot of amenities and activities. There was a swimming pool, game room, fishing pond, playground, and giant bounce house big enough to hold a hundred kids at once. There was movie nights, hayrides, and a nightly fire around a community fire pit. On the weekend, there was live entertainment where folks brought their chairs to sit on the lawn and watch the show. There was a food truck that always seemed to have a line at the window. I would say the resort went above and beyond to provide a fun atmosphere for families.
We made our way back to our campsite just as the rain arrived. It was less intense than we saw that morning, but it continued steady through the night. We fell asleep with the sound of raindrops pitter-pattering on the roof.
We awoke the next morning to clear skies and sunshine. There was a hint of cool refreshing air. Ah…this is why I left Florida and came north to the mountains. The first thing on today’s itinerary was to hike the Blue Ridge Tunnel Trail.
Spanning 2.3 miles from one end to the other, the Blue Ridge Tunnel Trail passes through a 4,273-foot long abandoned railroad tunnel that goes under the Appalachian Trail, Interstate 64, and the famous Skyline Drive. Built in the 1850‘s, it was the longest tunnel in the county at that time. Having enjoyed hiking an old railroad tunnel at Donner Pass Summit Tunnels in Truckee, California a couple of years ago, we were eager to check this one out.
We arrived at the East Trailhead parking lot and found ample parking. Not surprising for a weekday morning. We have heard the trail gets very busy on weekends. From the parking lot, we walked along a wide gravel trail with a gentle incline for about 3/4-mile to the tunnel’s entrance. We stood at the opening and peered inside. It was damp and dark. Last night’s rain was seeping through the rocks and dripping from the ceiling.
I handed Grammi a flashlight and we put on our rain jackets. We entered the darkness and started toward the small pinpoint light at the other end. I found myself wondering what we would do if the flashlights gave out. Then I remembered I have a headlamp in the side door pocket of the truck. Don’t ask me why I didn’t bring it because all you will get from me is a shrug of the shoulders, a tilt of the head, and a stupid look indicating I don’t know.
The tunnel floor was compacted gravel that sloped toward the walls for drainage. There were some trip hazard holes to be wary of giving good reason for the flashlight. The walls and ceiling were chiseled rock. The air was chilly.
I directed my light at the ceiling to look for bats. I remember seeing bats in the Donner Pass Summit Tunnels. I saw none here. Also, there was no guano odor leading me to conclude there were no bats present.
When we exited the tunnel on the west end, we paused. From there the trail continues another 3/4-mile through a thick forest and up a steep incline to the West Trailhead parking area. We opted to skip this part of the hike and turned back to retrace our steps. Back to where we started, my hiking app said we hiked 3.3 miles and gained 132-feet of elevation. It was a fun and easy hike.
Unbeknownst to us when we planned to come to this area, Virginia is a major wine producer. In the shadows of the Blue Ridge Mountains are dozens of vineyards establishing Virginia as the 5th largest producer of wines in the USA. The Monticello Wine Trail and the Appellation Wine Trail highlight some of the best wineries in the area. In addition to the wineries, the area is also home to a number of fine craft breweries and hard cideries. We plan to visit some of these establishment over the next few days. The first one was the Blue Mountain Brewery where we stopped for lunch. Seated on the veranda in this rural country setting made for an exquisite experience. The food, the service, everything was excellent.
We left Blue Mountain Brewery feeling completely sated. Our next stop was Rockfish Gap Country Store where we browsed the antiques, collectables and novelty items. The place had a lot to look at. When you think you have seen it all, then you discover a staircase leading to the second floor where there is much more to see. Grammi found a shirt she had to have. I bought something too, but I can’t remember what.
The next morning we went to Shenandoah National Park. We entered the park at the south entrance at Rockfish Gap. As we drove along, we stopped at some overlooks. It was a cloudy day, but that did not ruin the views. They were beautiful. We stopped for a short hike along Blackrock Summit Trail—a one mile loop through the trees then opening up at a mass of boulders for a stunning view of the mountains.
We drove as far as Loft Mountain where we spent about a hundred bucks on t-shirts and hats at the camp store. Then we drove around the Loft Mountain Campground to see what we missed. This is where we almost stayed. I much prefer this setting with its spacious sites in the mountain forest, but we decided it was just not centrally located and chose Misty Mountain instead.
We had a late lunch at Veritas Winery where we ordered a sample flight of wine and a charcuterie board. I say late lunch, but probably more like an early dinner. We loved the place. We hung around for a couple of hours soaking up the lovely scenery and fine wine. They had to run us out at five o’clock when they closed for the day.
Before heading back to the campground, we stopped at one more place—a farm offering u-pick blackberries. Grammi and I were handed buckets and given a choice of two different fields. One field had the typical blackberry bush with thorns and the other was a thornless variety. We went for the thornless variety. Then came the instructions from Grammi, “Don’t pick too many. I Don’t have room in the freezer, Just get enough for a cobbler.”
With too many blackberries, we headed back to the camper for some rest and an early bedtime. Tomorrow is going to be another big day. We are going to visit the home of a past U.S. president. Also, there is that promise of a cobbler. I am hoping it is a big cobbler. Anyway, I will leave all that for the next post.
So until then, Happy Days and Safe Travels.
3 thoughts on “The Virginia Foothills”
Hitching in the pouring rain is not fun, speaking from experience! Your pictures are beautiful, thank you for sharing. I’ve only walked through arches, not tunnels, so it was very interesting to read about the hike through the tunnel. Enjoy your travels!
I’ve never hiked a tunnel trail. I need to add that to my list. Enjoy Shenandoah; it’s beautiful!
Another very interesting post. I have never thought of hiking through a tunnel, so I will have to keep that one on the books. And if we do, I will be sure to bring a light. The wineries look very picturesque. In our nearly 4 years of travel, we have not had to hitch up/pack up in the pouring rain – yet. Good for you for getting it done! Safe travels, and I look forward to your next post!