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Twilight Zones, a Grisly Bear, and a Beatnik with a Past

Sun 18

Yesterday's gentle downhill to Bird Run National Forest turned out to be a significant uphill. Going back, 15-20mph was easy. Being tired does that.

Continuing north on WV-92, the riding was nearly all downhill. Dunmore, about 10 miles up the road, had a convenience store that also had hot pizza. I stocked up and had a slice of pepperoni.

Fed, restocked, and rested, I was at Green Bank in no time flat. Just north of town is the site of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). For decades, they have been looking for radio waves from outer space, and have been finding things that are invisible to optical telescopes.

Largest movable structure on land in the world

Their 'telescopes' resemble huge satellite dishes. In the early '90s, their largest one collapsed from metal fatigue. Of course, they had to replace it with one that was bigger and better. Senator Robert C. Byrd obtained the millions in government funding, and it took 10 years to build. Almost large enough to host a football game, it not only tilts, but also rotates 360 degrees at the base on 'little' railroad cars. It is 480 feet high (40 stories) and at least 16,000,000 pounds (5,000 SUVs), making it the largest movable structure on land in the world.

I expected the road connecting Green Bank and Cass to be quite hilly, and that I was going to have it tough. Going back from the NRAO, I had to climb a hill on which earlier I had broken the speed limit (35) going down. Surprisingly, most of it was downhill.

Burger and Pool

Halfway to Cass, and my car, I stopped at a bar for supper. The cheeseburger was good, and I decided to shoot some pool. Although the other players were always winners, I had a good time.

When I got back to Cass, everything was closed, but there were 4 men older than I sitting on the store porch. We talked a bit, then one said another was the owner of Whittaker Campground less than 3 miles away. It had showers and electricity and 'free' firewood. At $20, it was the most I would pay for camping. I packed up the car and drove there, and thank heaven I didn't have to pedal. The mile-and-a-half road into the camp put to shame every roller coaster I'd ever been on.

As I laid out my tent, I heard a disturbing sound, like a mentally retarded person that was in great pain. I asked a nearby camper if that was going to happen all night. Another camper said it was 'only' a grisly bear. The campground owner had bought the 4-month old bear in an auction. When they cleaned its cage, it cried to get back in. What a relief.

Before I got the tent set up, I got my shower (it started raining, and hard). When I pulled the tent back under the shelter of some trees, a large rock appeared under the center of the tent. I got the tent up, and some little puddles mopped, but the rock was not moving, and it was raining too much to reset the tent.

In the next tent over, I heard a man's voice, but it sounded more like a microphone with a bad connection. And I couldn't understand a word.

I'm not sure when the rain stopped; I probably was asleep.

Mon 19

Morning came and a young girl came over to see Sarah. She and her mom had bikes, too. She noticed the young man who was making the weird sounds at the campsite next to me and thought he was "not all there". Later, I noticed the older woman with him (his mom) was signing to him and realized he was deaf. I went back to explain that to the young girl.

I got a real shower, broke camp, and drove out five minutes before checkout time at 11:55.

Share the Road?
I followed Route 1, the old mountain road, to Marlinton. This was an exhilarating one-lane, hilly, curvy road. Most of it would have been real fun on a bicycle, except of course for the occasional oncoming car, the steep hills, the loose gravel in the curves, and the distracting scenery.

In Marlinton, I washed my laundry, but couldn't get it dry. I called the 'trouble number'. The owner's wife forgot to throw the heat switch. She wanted to mail a refund, but finally told me about a competitor a couple blocks away.

I went to the library to write about this segment of the trip, but didn't get nearly half done by 7pm. I got groceries and headed to the park south of town. Yes, that is the one with the loud noise a mile away, but I needed to come back the next day, and there wasn't much choice.

Belt and suspenders protection

I set up the tent on the gazebo. With my helmet headlight on, I walked around to see how visible my location was. That's when I saw eyes in an overgrown area. Hungry raccoons? Fierce bobcats? Stray calico cats! Whew!

I used my earplugs for the first time on this trip, and that helped enough.

Tue 20

Before returning to the library, I headed for the source of the noise that went on all night. It was at Cramer Lumber, a medium-sized sawmill.

The manager gave me a guided tour. They grade the logs as they come in. Bark, the rounded slabs, and the center become landscaping chips. The rest become one of two widths of board.

Cutting Room

Planks stretch 14 feet across a conveyor. It has a large saw blade at one end, and other blades an operator can pop up at 8, 10, 12, and 14 feet. He may cut a section out to make what remains worth more. Each board is graded, the lowest grade goes to pallet manufacturers.

Much of the wood goes to the kiln for drying. Pallets of boards, separated with rows of cross slats, are built up. A few days of air drying can get the moisture down to 15%. With a kiln, they can get it down to the 6% wanted by furniture manufacturers.

A kiln is a concrete room with a garage door. Inside, pallets are stacked high, wide, and deep. The door is closed. Huge fans blow air around constantly for as much as a month. Heat and humidity are tightly controlled by automatic equipment. Sawdust is burned to heat water that is run into radiators in the kilns to heat the air. Noise from the sawdust burner fan is what I heard.

During the noon hour, Ken Gentil came into the library. He was interested in my recumbent bicycle. He gave me his name and P.O. Box number for when I decided to sell it. 20 minutes later he came back to say I could stay at his place anytime I wanted to. It was 5 1/2 miles away by rail trail (between mile posts 61 and 62), or 17 miles away by car.

My work at the library took longer than expected, and I really didn't want to go back to the park and listen to sawdust burn, so I decided to drive to his place.

I went to the grocery store first. The checkout gal said she had seen me over on WV-92 near Minnehaha Springs last week.

"Go east out of town on WV-92, then north on WV-28. Just after you cross the only concrete bridge on the road, turn left onto a gravel road and go over Stony Creek Mountain. Cross the rail trail and go left through the first meadow into the second meadow. There you will see my tent, and lumber for starting a pole barn."

Hills and Curves

The road over the mountain was twisty, hilly, and only one lane. On the way back out, I counted 93 turns in 4 1/2 miles, an average of one turn about every 250 feet. Add to that many hills to crest where I could suddenly meet another vehicle. Also, after my last oil change, the mechanic said I could use some brake work.

"Well, I'm glad you found the place" Ken said as I arrived. It was unlikely that I would meet anyone at all. He shared the road with just three other families, and that time of day they would probably be going the same direction.

Ken described himself as a "Bohemian Beatnik", not a "Hippie". Hippies just wanted to withdraw from the establishment so they could do whatever they wanted, often in a commune. What they did was often without any pre-thought, and their work showed it. On the other hand, a Beatnik thinks a lot about how things work together and therefore thrives on creativity, and appreciates art and beauty.

Greenbrier Downriver

Ken sold 20 acres in Florida and used the money to buy a beautiful 6 acres on the Greenbrier River in West Virginia. He works three days a week at the C. R. Richardson Hardware Store in Marlinton where, among other things, you can buy banjo strings, boots, and bicycle parts. He also carves wood spatulas he sells at craft shows. He is developing a fishing hole and has planted fruit trees, from which he will sell organic fruit to local restaurants.

Greenbrier Upriver - with fishing hole

He hasn't always been a Beatnik. When he was younger, he worked in Korea as a radio technician doing troubleshooting work. He had heard of the racing results of the Datsun 240Z before it was a production car, and had to have one.

He went to Japan and asked to talk to the Export Manager, who said there were no dealers in Korea, so he couldn't get one. Next day he got a different Export Manager with the same answer. Third day, different guy, same answer. The fourth day, the real Export Manager came out, but said the same thing. Then Ken said he had the people and tools to make any part, and would they include all the manuals with the car. Finally, he could have the car for $2600, but would have to wait six months for it. It would be the first one off the line.

The "Z" had a top speed of 131MPH. Ken commuted to work, 60 miles each way. His commute took 45 minutes because he had to slow down to 80mph as he went through downtown Seoul, Korea. The police cars were not capable of catching him, and their radios didn't work.

Four months later, after having a few dark beers, he was going home at over 100mph in a 35mph zone. There were a set of 4x4 posts in the road ahead, but he couldn't remember which way the road turned. He had been trained in handling fast cars, but not knowing which way to slide the rear end, he opted for having more control by going straight ahead.

He hit the brakes, then he blacked out. When he came to, the car was far from shore on a frozen lake. The police said they had to give him a ticket for speeding. He couldn't complain, given the length of the skid marks and his position on the lake.

The impact with a 4x4 had folded the right wheel under the car and pushed the engine back to the firewall, redesigning the frame back to the firewall. The car became airborne. The 4 x 4 was unbroken! He called a tow truck and told them to bring a really long cable.

He heard of a Korean that might be able to fix the damage, but after seeing the car, he said he couldn't. Ken then said he had all the manuals. The Korean then said he could fix it. Six months later, with $800 in labor and another $800 in parts, his car looked and functioned like new. Not even a shimmy at 131MPH. The amazing part was that the Korean had no power tools; the frame and body were straightened with hammers by hand. A few years later Ken sold the car to his boss, who knew of the damage, for almost what he had paid for it new.

At another time, Ken and three friends had been staying in the mountains. They wanted to pay their bill with several cases of alcoholic beverages, worth several times their bill. The lady manager wanted cash. Ken and his friends decided to grab their stuff and make a run for it to the car. The lady was in hot pursuit behind them.

Ken, running with his guitar in one hand and an expensive camera lens in the other, missed a turn and ran off a cliff. He guessed it was at least a 100-foot drop because he had time to think about the impact. He had tumbling experience and, as he landed he was already in a tuck. He let go with both hands and rolled over twice, coming to a stop on his feet. The guitar and lens were undamaged. Those who watched from the top of the cliff began to applaud. Then the race to the car resumed and they got away.

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