Sunday, December 29, 2013

North Carolina's Outer Banks

Heading south into North Carolina and warmth and sun seemed like a fine idea, and one that proved to be true! There are many long bridges across the many waterways and wetlands of this state and we crossed one of them and found ourselves on the famed Outer Banks, or OBX, as many signs indicate. OBX is a long chain of narrow islands of sand that protect the mainland from storm surges and big water erosion. On one side is the Atlantic Ocean and on the other is Currituck Sound to the north, and Albermarle and Pamlico Sounds in the middle and southern stretches. The chain runs for about 200 miles, which is most of North Carolina's coast. Our main stop was the Wright Brothers National Memorial near the tourist town of Kill Devil Hills. Kitty Hawk is the name of the area on the edge of town where the Wrights flew their amazing machines.
Flyers Hall of Fame

Horseshoe crab

In the early 1900's there was fierce competition to be the first to build a machine that could carry a person, take off, be steered safely, and land, entirely under it's own power. The French had made some headway with the problem of lifting the thing, working on wing design and gliders, everyone thought they were the experts. Orville and Wilbur Wright, without a diploma between them, studied the problems and scientifically solved them, using the skills they had gained building and operating a printing press and running their own bicycle shop. First, they found that the French wings were not expertly designed at all, they didn't provide the required or expected amount of lift. They invented their  own wind tunnel to test and study different wing shapes quickly and efficiently. The work they did in their primitive wind tunnel is still very close to what modern day engineers use for wing designs. Using this information they were able to build gliders that they tested and flew more than 2000 times from the top of the sand dunes at Kitty Hawk. With the problem of lift solved they tackled the remaining issues of steering and power. A fellow who worked in their shop designed and built a small 4 cylinder engine that would run long enough to make the first short flights and that was all. The next big problem was steering the craft, the major issues being roll, yaw, and pitch, the 3 dimensions that had to be mastered for safe steering. They came up with revolutionary mechanics that twisted the two wings(called wing warping) and operated the tail for right and left turning. This mechanism was operated by the pilot shifting his hips in a cradle attached to wires controlling the wings and tail. Another smaller wing was in front of the pilot, trimmed using a handle, that controlled the elevation, up or down(pitch.) 
Steel Flyer sculpture

Cheering helpers
 On Dec. 17, 1903, in the privacy of Kitty Hawk, they made 4 historic flights that demonstrated their progress toward solving most of the big problems of manned flight. They continued tweaking their designs, filing for patents and improving the performance of their airplanes. They were very smart, they kept things quiet, did not share their progress until they had their patents in place. They mistakenly thought the US government would be interested in financing their work and offered to show them their planes, if they had a contract. The government refused, financing Samuel Langley instead. Langley was not even close to powered flight and had some disastrous outcomes. The Wright Bros. took their machine to Europe and showed their stuff. They were declared the winner in the race to flight but it took some time in the States to have that status. Finally they received the financing and acclaim they deserved and became very successful. As with many inventors of the era, they had to fight to protect and profit from their patented ideas. 
Not so famous 5th flight
Nice Job Orville!

We learned much about the brothers both here and the Museum of Air and Space in DC. At the visitor's center they have a replica of the first craft, a wind tunnel and a few other artifacts. (The Smithsonian got the original Flyer.) They also have a large sand dune with a massive stone memorial, the field marked with stones showing the exact location of the first 4 flights, and replicas of the two hangers the brothers lived in and used for their planes. There is a steel sculpture of the plane out in the field surrounded with the figures that were present on that historic day. Another large exhibit area was closed the days we were there in preparation for a big celebration on Dec. 17 commemorating 110 years of flight. Every few years they induct someone into their Flying Hall of Fame and this year the inductee is William Boeing, who started his company in 1916. Well, we all know how that worked out! 
First flight monument
Plaque for first four flights

We stayed several nights in Kill Devil Hills, enjoying the beach one morning and then moving southward. We could not continue to Cape Hatteras because the bridge to that island has been deemed unsafe at any speed and closed. They had a ferry service up and running but we decided it was too complicated. We continued on to Roanoke Is. and the historic town of Manteo. In 1585, the Roanoke Colony was the first to be established by Britain in the New World but it disappeared without a trace, so Jamestown got the honor of being the first successful colony. Manteo was establishing in 1870. We toured the visitor's center and focused on the building of a replica of the Queen Elizabeth II, one of the ships that carried early settlers. They built it in the old ways just a few years ago. That night we sat in our little home while the rain pounded down for several hours, we are so happy with our rig. A little further south in Beaufort there was a tornado that pulled the roof off of an elderly hardware store.
Queen Elizabeth II
Pirates booty

Tipper and Patty
Beaufort, NC

Back on the mainland we headed toward a Boondocker opportunity in another historic town, the above mentioned Beaufort, NC. We met Tipper, our host, got the tour of his jealousy inducing wood shop and saw pictures of the fine boat he built as a young man and sailed around on for 30 years. Tipper is a master craftsman and woodworker, working on many restorations, most notably Mount Vernon and some New England Grist Mills. He also puts in many hours for the local Historical Center and we really enjoyed the several hours he spent with us touring the town. He had the keys to some of the historic buildings he has worked on so we were treated to a private showing of some wonderful old buildings. He is trying to be retired but keeps getting lured back to interesting projects, good pay and appreciation of his skills. It is the best fun to be escorted around an interesting place like this with someone who is very involved with the community. We heard some great stories. His wife, Patty, has a shop full of nice things to buy in town. Tipper and Patty left us in charge while they visited Tipper's mom in DC, pretty dang trusting! We had a huge party and almost burned the place down, but I think it will pass inspection upon their return. 
Wild pony of Carrot Is.
 I've had a hankering to see some of the wild horses that inhabit many of the Outer Banks islands. I had no idea there were so many! Right across the channel from Beaufort is a little island named Carrot Is. It is also the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge and is the home of about 30 wild horses. I rode the water taxi across the channel where I could see 3 horses browsing along the shore. These hardy little horses seem to thrive on the coarse grass that grows in the tidelands, most of them are fat and healthy looking. They don't seem to have a distinctive background, someone just turned some horses loose here in the early 1900's. To keep them from overpopulating the island many of the mares are issued birth control on a yearly basis. Fresh water is not plentiful, and when there isn't much on the surface from rain, they have to paw out a hole and drink the brackish ground water. I followed the first 3 I spotted up and over the island to a large tidal grassland where I was able to sit and watch about 20 horses grazing and drinking from a big rain puddle. They didn't mind me much at all, just watched when I moved around taking pictures. I sat in the sun and read my book for a while and just enjoyed having all of this to myself. I only saw 2 other people later in the day. 
Heading for the water hole

Raccoons and pony tracks
 We spent an afternoon at the very excellent NC Maritime Museum. Archeologists have been excavating Blackbeard's ship Queen Anne's Revenge since it was discovered in 1994 very near Beaufort. They had a great exhibit with a lot of information about pirates, their ships and their exciting lives. Most of them came to a very bad end, Blackbeard was killed by the British and his head hung from the bowsprit when they came into port. The display about the wreck, it's excavation, and the recovery of artifacts was very interesting. The museum also featured the forerunner of the Coast Guard, those heroic men of the US Life-saving Service. These fellows watched the dangerous shores of the east, even at night they patrolled the beaches, constantly on the alert for a ship run aground. When a ship struck the surfmen leaped into action with canon, lines, buckets, life boats and if the boat was lucky enough to be within about 400 yards of shore they had a shot at survival. It was all very interesting! Thayer got sucked into the library and I'm sure he would still be there if I didn't drag him out. We also really enjoyed the many sailing ship models they had, there has been a long line of working ships, all with features making them ideal for their purpose and beautiful as well. 
A short trip to Cape Lookout Visitor Center and the Core Sound Museum on a beautiful, sunny day allowed us a nice nature walk and a fine lookout over the inland waters of the Inter-coastal Waterway.  Fort Macon was right on the way so we stopped for a short visit, it is really a lovely place. All of the Atlantic forts are being to muddle together for me, there is a common theme among them all. Within the last 200 years they have all undergone the same transformations due to the changing weaponry they expected to be used against them. They are all located in prime locations for long views and lovely scenery. Someday maybe I'll count how many we have visited.
We then started our way 400 miles across the state to Andrew and Teresa Thompson's beautiful home near Hendersonville, NC. Andrew and I sailed on the UW Racing team many years ago and had many memories to rehash. It had been about 25 years since we'd seen each other so we were definitely due for a reunion. He lives in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Historic Triangle

Virginia certainly has a rich history. By visiting the Historic Triangle, we were able to retrace the British presence in North America from their first successful colony in Jamestown (1607), through the colonial period and revolution in Williamsburg and their surrender to George Washington in Yorktown in 1782. Each of these places has a different character and focus. The Jamestown area is a very active archeological site. For many, many years the opinion was that most of Jamestown had gone into the river and was lost. Then someone did some good research and independent thinking, using the known location of the church to figure out the location of the rest of the fort. The actual site of Jamestown was just determined in 1994 when they found where the logs making up the walls of the fort had been dug into the ground. They have just recently found other buildings and many graves. One woman's skull shows clear signs of having been carved and butchered during the "Starving Time" of 1609-10. Garbage heaps have been unearthed giving much information about those difficult days in the new land. They have a very impressive Archeology Museum and at least 4 active digs going on around the fort. We listened to an excellent ranger presentation about the new discoveries and learning that is going on. We walked around the fort, toured the museum, and walked the New Town area where townspeople built their homes and business eventually. They also have a glass works on the site of the original, one of their early money making ideas. Jamestown was a bustling town once they got through the rough early years and was the first capital of Virginia. It eventually moved to Williamsburg and then Richmond.

New Town
Jamestown glassworks
First housing

Williamsburg has been preserved for many years, many blocks of the old town are right out of the 1700's. This enormous undertaking was begun in 1926, financed mostly by John D. and Abby Rockefeller. They quietly bought up the land and made their plans to preserve and rebuild the town. Of the nearly 500 buildings on the grounds 88 are original. The rest have been built in the period style. The Governor's Palace and the Capitol were reconstructed from the original plans. Every building not only looks totally authentic but they have been built authentically using the tools and methods from the 16-1700's. There is a combination of homes and museums, intermixed. The homes are used by employees of CW with many regulations: no electrical or modern devices can be visible or heard through windows, all decor must fit in with the museum buildings. The tourist trinket shops follow the same rules. The museum buildings are staffed with knowledgable and passionate people who visit with you and share their expertise for the trade or business they are in. For the most part they stay in character, using the vocabulary and language of the times. Some of the most interesting conversations happened when they stepped out of character. There were very few tourists so we were able to learn about each trade and activity by engaging the staff, they are really fantastic in their authentic clothing and using all traditional tools and skills. On each day a historical personage came to the stage to give a speech and answer questions. We heard George Washington and Thomas Jefferson chat away about their beliefs, background and activities. These guys did not break out of character! I loved it when Jefferson lambasted a fellow who obviously had an issue with the Koran and Muslims. 
George Washington
Thomas Jefferson

Weaver and cat
Cocoa at the Coffeehouse
Add caption
We were there for 3 cold, rainy days and were able to visit almost every museum and store. Thayer was disappointed by some of the changes he noticed from the last time he visited, 40+ years ago. It doesn't seem like a lot to ask to have a working bakery, cranking out hot cookies and goodies on a cold rainy day. But no-oooo, plastic wrapped cookies and coolers full of bottled drinks were offered in the bakery. The town was dressed up in it's Christmas finery and the Great Illumination was on, unfortunately even the festive lights could hardly penetrate the rain and early darkness. We passed on the fireworks display. Despite the gloomy weather I enjoyed Williamsburg immensely and would recommend it highly to anyone visiting Virginia.
Governor's kitchen
The last point of the Historic Triangle is Yorktown, a National Historic Site. It has a small visitor center and is mostly forests and a battlefield with lots of earthenworks where two wars were fought. It is the site of the surrender of the British to the Americans. One fact I found interesting was that Cornwallis did not surrender his sword to Washington, he was such a sore loser. He assigned the duty to his second-in-command. When Washington found out who was presenting the sword he sent his own second-in-command to receive it. Ah, gamesmanship! We got there late in the day and I didn't get any photos...

Grandparent's home, Hampton
It was another trip down memory lane for Thayer when we visited the old home that his grandfather built 50 years ago in Hampton, VA. The nice young couple who lives there now was gracious enough to show us the inside. Thayer was disappointed to see the bright paint covering the wood panelling he loved. It is a sturdy house, well situated on the shore of the James River. With 3 children the family doesn't have much time (or maybe the inclination) for yardwork and the grounds are a bit unkept but you could imagine it's former glory.

We also visited nearby Fort Monroe, another National Historic Site, situated at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, protecting it from invaders of several wars. Something new here is that the parks are renting out townhomes and apartments fashioned from the beautiful old housing of the fort.
Creative housing at Ft. Monroe

Casemate Museum

We had a nice stay with new boondocker friends, Pete and Phyllis, in Virginia Beach and they have given us a good contact for our Florida Keys expedition. Love the Boondockers! 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Tobacco Country

Last Virginia Hughes home


While in DC we had begun to hear a slight squealing sound in the serpentine belt area of our engine. It didn't seem to be getting any worse so we purchased a new belt along the way in anticipation of replacing it and, after a little research, also decided to repack the bearing for good measure. Heading south, we first stopped at the home Thayer's parents owned in Virginia before they moved to Washington. The current owners, who bought it from Thayer Sr. and Betty, graciously gave us a tour and proudly displayed the many updates and improvements they have made to make the house even more lovely. Then, after our brief visit, we continued on towards the Brook's Family Farm, near the tiny town of Dundas, VA., skillfully timing our arrival for the day before Thanksgiving. What perfect planning!

We had thought to spend the holiday and an additional day or so before continuing down the road, but when Thayer checked out the noise and the engine belt he discovered that the tension bearing  was completely gone, shredded beyond repair. He couldn't figure out how the belt had continued turning without the bearing, and we were VERY thankful that the engine hadn't died on us on the drive down as the weather had been horrendous and the traffic even worse. Are we just lucky or what?!! Needless to say we had to order the part, which did not arrive until the following Wednesday evening. Be wary when they promise expedited shipping over a weekend. We ordered the part Fri. morning and they didn't begin processing the order until Monday. Don't even get Thayer started on that debacle.
Weather Channel
Brooks Farm
Fortunately, thankfully, luckily we were in a great place to hang out for a week. Many years ago the Brooks' provided Thayer with a welcome haven during a trying teenage year, after his family moved here from Alaska. He can't recall his time in Virginia without mentioning his time with the Brooks. Even milking cows, picking and processing tobacco, and driving a tractor sound fun when he reminisces. Alison and Lenora were so tickled to see him, it had been 25 years at least. Their 4 children all managed to come by for a visit while we were here, two of them driving 5-6 hours to see Thayer. We ate about 5 Thanksgiving dinners, 4 pies, 2 cakes, mounds of sweet potatoes, home canned snaps and baked apples. It was non-stop eating for the first 3 days, then I think we were all worn out and toned it down a bit. We were able to help move chairs and tables around for Lenora's church group luncheon and other little projects. Lenora was pleasantly surprised and pleased that I knew how to do dishes.
Tobacco drying barn
Squirt and Bea(st)
Alison is as quiet as Lenora is chatty, and Lenora just loves to tell stories! After hearing the escapades of every family member, friend and neighbor from the last 77 years (and some of the stories several times) I felt the need to get outside and explore. With no internet and a very warm house, I looked forward to my daily walks outside. Surrounded by acres and acres of farm and forestland, I walked 4-6 miles a day. Bea, their big brown lab, and Squirt, the little spotted beagle and I rambled around each field, checking out the sheds and drying barns that we kept finding. We sat and watched the bright red cardinals flitting through the bushes and tried to sneak up on a beaver in one of the ponds.

Though the Brooks don't actively run their farm anymore, the fellow who does grows a little tobacco, soybeans and winter wheat. The wheat is already 3 inches tall. They own about 280 acres and live in the house they built 55 years ago. I learned about tobacco farming, from planting and harvesting to processing and marketing. As with our farming friends in North Dakota, we heard about the good years and the bad years, weather, crops, prices, machinery, and lack of good help. We learned about growing up poor in southern Virginia.
Alison and Lenora Brooks

Lenora's family farmed and also ran a sawmill many years ago. As a young girl she plowed fields behind the family mule, slept in a windowless upstairs attic, and has been on the back end of large equipment since an early age. It certainly wasn't an easy life! But now she and Alison have a happy, cheerful relationship and have been a hard working team for 57 years. Its very sweet the way they look at each other with such a sparkle in their eyes. They are proud, determined and opinionated folks. I feel very fortunate to have met them.

P1010369With an arctic storm looming on the horizon, we said our goodbyes and trundled down the road (without a squeaking engine) toward Historic Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg and Yorktown.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Shenadoah to Washington DC

Thayer and Boots

We found our way to Thayer's Aunt Boots' place in Stephens City, VA, eager for a shower and a home base for a few days. Boots is 85 years old and still very independent and sharp. She and Thayer had a lot to catch up on. We tried to make ourselves useful by raking leaves and climbing ladders to change lightbulbs. We then continued our sampling of country buffets by going to the Butcher Block Buffet in Winchester. Lots of good food and even better desserts than in Amish country. We rolled out of there and walked it off by visiting the Shenadoah Museum nearby. They had a special exhibit about the life and times of Patsy Cline so I felt right at home. This is really pretty country, the Shenadoah River winds through a flat valley between the Massanutten Mountains and Shenadoah National Park. It seems like it might not have changed so much in the past hundred years. There are many historical battlefields dating back to the Civil War. 

View from Skyline Drive

Appalachian Trail

View from the top

We packed up after a few days and headed down to Skyline Drive in Shenadoah National Park. This road hugs the high ridge of the park with many pullouts for viewing to the east and the west. Most of the leaves have fallen by now but that actually improved the long views. The hiking trail along the ridge is the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine. We saw many deer and a black bear. Darkness comes early this time of year so we headed for the nearby town of Luray for the night.


Pool reflections


The next morning we started at Luray Caverns, a must see in the valley. These caverns were the first to be commercially exploited and opened to the public. The geology of the valley is very typical of cave country and there are several big cavern systems that you can visit. I was not excited about the $24 entrance fee but found that it was well worth the price. Our tour group consisted of 5 people and our guide, a young lady who spoke veerrrryyy slowly and repeated herself about 10 times to make sure all 5 of us understood. Our mile and a quarter walk through the cavern was delightful, there were many beautiful formations, quiet pools of water, and striking views through the columns and stalactites. Some creative genius even tuned up some of the stalactites to hook up to an organ and it plays a hymn, badly I might add. I'll let the pictures speak for the beauty of the caves. Also on the site was a fantastic antique automobile museum, many lovely old cars! Funny how my favorites were the Rolls Royce!

Wishing well, $1000's donated to charity

Fine old autos

With the good weather holding we drove back up into Shenadoah NP, I was determined to hike a few miles of The Trail. Thayer dropped me off at one of the trailheads and I was going to hike the 3-4 miles to another trailhead, where Thayer would meet me. Well, long story short, it was about a 5 mile hike and it was quite cold, especially on the shady side of the ridge. I came upon one of the shelters where the long hikers could stop and, sure enough, there were 3 hikers on their way down from Maine. They looked cold but determined. The shelter had 3 walls, an open fireplace, and a sleeping platform. As the sun was getting close to the horizon I called Thayer from the first spot I could and was very thankful for my cell phone. After he picked my up, I found out that shortly after I had left the trailhead a young black bear had checked out Thayer in the rig and then followed me up the trail. I'm glad I didn't know! It was a beautiful trail and something I would like to do in warmer weather with more time.

Library of Congress
Appalachian Trail view

Reading room, LOC
Before the bear


Next up was Washington, DC. Our first night was spent on a busy street in the parking lot of Mike's Carpets. We delivered a spare tire to Mike to use with his Rialta. We attempted to use the bus and subway to see DC but gave up on that right away. What really worked for us was driving into the city, parking for free at West Potomac Park, near the Jefferson monument, and riding our bikes. It was about an 8 minute ride to the Mall where we locked up the bikes and started in on museums. Having the bikes minimized the amount of walking we had to do to between venues and gave us relief from the standing and walking in the museums. We were lucky to have clear weather though it was fairly cold. When we got kicked out of the museums we biked back to the rig, loaded the bikes and drove about 7 miles to a quiet neighborhood in Arlington with easy access to a Starbucks and the internet. We were able to meet up with Thayer's cousin, Marilyn, for a few meals and some local color. She gave us a tour of her "office" in the Library of Congress. I cannot think of a greater contrast to my job in an elementary classroom. I loved the quiet and orderliness of the place! As most of you know there is nothing quite like the Museums of DC. I was able to to "do" the American Indian, Art, American History, Holocaust, Natural History and a bit of the Air and Space Museums. Thayer doesn't move as quickly as I do but he did a thorough job in the Air and Space and Natural History Museums. We also toured the Library of Congress and the US Capital, two buildings that make America look like a world class country! Our final stop on our last day we wandered through the Botanical Gardens for a warm tropical blast before heading out into the cold. After 5 days of sightseeing, we reluctantly drove on through the driving rain toward central Virginia to visit more of Thayer's people.
Add caption
Add caption
Jefferson memorial
Jefferson at night
Museum of the Am. Indian

Capitol Bldg.
Supreme Court

Smithsonian Castle

Botanical Gardens

Beautiful NA doll exhibit
Only DaVinci in North America.