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Is 29 Days Enough?

Wed 21

Ken convinced me to stay in Marlinton another day. Tonight, a local restaurant would have a great group of musicians that played olde tyme music.

Before Ken went to work, he said I should treat the place like my own. After he left, I decided I needed a bath. It would be my first opportunity to go skinny-dipping as an adult. I headed for the fishing hole. It was only about three feet deep, but I was able to get my shoulders wet and enjoy the coolness.

As the silt on the bottom cleared, my attention was directed to my big toe. There were a couple dozen small fish taking turns nibbling on it. Imagine that! Fish in a fishing hole.

I rode the trail back into Marlinton and had lunch at the library with Ken. He wanted to ride my Tour Easy. After a couple times around a parking lot, he disappeared four or five blocks down towards the court house. Although he is too short for the bike, he still enjoyed riding it.

Marlinton's museum focuses on local history. The first inhabitants built a cabin. One day they argued about religion, and Mr. Marlin kicked the other guy out. Undaunted, the other guy went to live in a nearby hollow Sycamore tree.

This is not as odd as it may seem. Sycamores have a large heart which rots quickly, leaving the tree hollow. Some interiors are 16 feet across.

Beyond the museum was a large hill I would climb fully-loaded the next day on the way to the Cranberry Glades. I decided to try the 3/4-mile hill today. It twisted and turned along the edge of hills laid open by dynamite. Much of it was a 10% grade. My Michigan legs and I made it to the top with just one rest stop, then realized that I had lacked tomorrow's load.

Near the top of the hill a man sat in front of a shed selling dog food. He was a bear hunter. I told him my impression of bear hunters was pretty bad, due to their disrespect of private property in pursuit of bears. He said every group has bad examples, but most behave properly. I asked if there was any money in bear hunting, or if he just did it for sport. He said it was just for sport. (I later found out a bear gall bladder could be worth between $20,000 and $25,000 in Asia. Kill a dozen bears and you can buy a lot of dog food.)

Olde Tyme Band

At the River Place Restaurant, the band members arrived individually. There was a mandolin player, two guitarists, and a bass player. The banjo player couldn't make it. In spite of that, they were great. They sat on chairs where a table used to be, and played and sang for a couple hours. Ken and I were in a booth close enough to touch the mandolin player. I was glad I had stayed.

Thu 22

Today, Ken's "Honey" would arrive. This is a gal that Ken was good friends with over 20 years ago, but they parted when she went to college to study law. Several years ago, Ken looked her up, and they have been close friends since. She works for the government as a well-paid legal advisor and when Ken bought his 6 acres, she bought the rest of his side of the mountain.

Ken lives in a tent almost large enough for me to stand in. His bed is two full-size air mattresses, one on top of the other. He has a large oil lantern for light, and some heat, and a two-burner propane stove, both in the tent. Several large plastic containers store stuff.

A power line runs right above his tent but he won't tap into it. He doesn't like the policies of the power company. Instead, he uses a solar panel to charge batteries to run his radio/CD player - gotta hear Garrison Keillor.

John Wayne

A week ago, he got a kitten. It's a tabby with Siamese ears. As the biggest and strongest of the litter, he got named "John Wayne". John has been quick to learn not to get into people food, and only once deflated Ken's air mattress.

By noon, I had packed and driven back into Marlinton. I stopped at the library to share one more lunch with him on the front porch. The chairs were empty. Could he be with his "Honey"?

I went into the library to thank the librarian for all her help. There at one of the internet computers was Ken, trying to look up Easy Racers, maker of the Tour Easy. He wanted to tell his "Honey" all about it tonight.

I had looked at the map in the area west of Marlinton. It looked like I would have a steep climb up to the area, then a long decent at the end. I decided to avoid both by driving to the high ground, then biking around. The plateau never materialized. I considered the 25-mile rail trail in the area as "more of the same" and decided not to ride it.

It was then I realized that my vacation was over. I'd had enough of pushing Sarah up hills. I'd been on a good variety of rail trails. And after meeting Ken, the chances of meeting others as interesting seemed remote. Ironically, I'd had all of these feelings, but to a lesser degree, before the tour of the lumber mill and before meeting Ken.

I decided that it was time to go home, but I would detour a bit south to see the dam at Summersville, and to Fayetteville to see the New River Gorge Bridge.

The Summersville Dam and Reservoir was created for flood control on the Gauley River. When the Army Corp of Engineers names a dam, they often use the name of a nearby town, perhaps even one that became flooded when the dam was placed into service. The prime town in the area would be below the waterline. It was named "Gad", but they didn't call the new structure the "Gad Dam", for some reason.

After the Labor Day weekend, they would open up all the flood gates and lower the reservoir to its winter level. That would make the Gauley River 12 times faster and a lot deeper. In mid-September, two of my daughters and 19 of their friends would be white water rafting there, starting just below the dam.

Summersville Camp

I found the campground at the reservoir. Tent sites are large and in shady areas, unlike the places for campers and motor homes. There were lots of kids. As Sarah and I rode around, one little kid on a battery-powered car stared at Sarah and ran off the road into a rock as big as his car.

At night, bicycle riding was exciting. Only one other bike rider had any lighting. It was a blue neon light from Wal-Mart. His banana-seat bike had a 20-inch rear wheel with 72 spokes - impossible to get a finger between two spokes. It also had no brakes - he just dragged his feet.

Fri 23

After sleeping in, I drove to Fayetteville. At the New River Gorge Information Center I sat in the super-cool auditorium for the 11-minute slide presentation. It was excellent, but at the end, I realized I'd had my eyes closed for much of it, just listening to the music. I spent the next 45 minutes looking at the displays about bridge construction and local history. Then I went back to the auditorium and saw those pictures I had missed.

The ranger there told of an old town to the south that had not changed in 100 years. Thurmond had a rebuilt railroad station that actually picked up Amtrak riders three days a week. The other buildings were not in use. I would have had to cross railroad property to get there, so I didn't.

New River Camp

A National Forest Campground was just south of there, so I went to find it. If you missed the sharp turn onto the bridge over the New River, you would go down a steep road to the campground. It had pit toilets, no water, and was free.

As I was choosing a site, two rangers showed up to sign me in. The guy ranger explained that a few years ago, both sides of the river were party areas. Motorcycle gangs with alcohol and drugs would come to play, skinny-dipping in the middle of the day with young kids around.

The gangs are gone, but broken glass is hard to remove. As the ranger was about to leave, I joked with him, saying "I guess I won't be skinny-dipping here". He surprised me, saying that he didn't care one way or the other; the national forest campgrounds have no nudity laws to enforce. If I became a nuisance to my neighbors, that would be another thing, however.

After dark, wearing my sandals for protection against broken glass and sharp rocks, I slipped into the water unnoticed, and swam the New River, using the lanterns of my neighbors for orientation. On the way back, the downstream lantern was getting closer, and the other one was getting farther away. The current was faster than it looked, and I was not compensating for it.

Swimming stronger now, partly to cross the river and partly to counteract the current, I got 3/4 of the way across when I began to have doubts.

The downstream folks were fishermen. When they heard me, they thought I was a deer swimming to shore, but could see nothing. One backed a truck around and shined the headlights on me. I waved, they were disappointed, the lights went off, and the fishing resumed.

Sat 24

The Outdoors - What a Lift!

Ken had said that I could probably find some good music groups in Wheeling, so I headed there. On the way, I detoured slightly to drop off the RealLITE that Paul Satterfield had already paid for.

Arriving in Wheeling, I followed the signs to the Tourist Information Center, figuring they would lead me to the music. The place was closed. Downtown Wheeling is a ghetto. I decided there would be no music for me tonight and headed for Ohio, looking for a place to camp.

On the way out of town, I stopped at a grocery store and bought some food for supper. I sat in my car in the parking lot to eat when a pickup truck parked next to me. A teenage kid remained to tune in some rap music. He rolled down the windows and cranked up the volume. If there is anything I dislike more than someone with a loud car radio, it is that radio playing rap music.

I tuned in some bluegrass and cranked that up even louder. At first, he tried to ignore me, but when he looked, I gave him a big Cheshire cat grin. He got all nervous, then turned it down. I turned mine down and pulled out of the lot.

The Ohio map showed a campground in Cadiz, about 25 miles up US-250. It was hard to find, but huge. It must have been at least 50 acres, and had a lot of travel trailers in it. Someone directed me to the tent area "at the top of the hill behind the ball field". No other tents were there, but I found a spot under a tree and started setting up my tent.

Then it started. One at a time, several vehicles cruised slowly past. I figured them to be teens with nothing better to do, but was concerned about what might happen after I went to sleep. No one stopped to say "hi" or talk. I got paranoid. When one went buy, I clicked off a couple pictures, activating the flash in the dark. Nothing showed but tail lights, but I figured they didn't know that. The visits subsided and I went to sleep.

Sun 25

Home Sweet Home

I left early and took no side trips; I just wanted to be home. Our mail box, stolen a week earlier, was there. The lawn looked fabulous - Jenny, one of my daughters, had mowed it. And my wife Kathy greeted me with the biggest smile I'd seen in years. What a great way to end a vacation.

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