Friday, October 12, 2012

A road trip to the boat show ...

Two days after my birthday, Penelope and I drove north out of Florida on a road trip through West Virginia and Ohio and finally to the U.S. National Sailboat Show in Annapolis.  Our first stop was just north of Charlotte, North Carolina, for no other particular reason than to get a good night's sleep and have a good meal, which we did at the Outback next to our motel.  The next morning really marked the beginning of our sight-seeing.  We spent the day driving up the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopping a overlooks, peeping at the turning leaves, and taking the required photos.

We broke for lunch at a restaurant located adjacent to Mabry Mill.  The local food was great, and we were entertained by our waitress with riddle after riddle.  After lunch we explored the mill, which is run by the park system. It is a water-powered overshot-wheel saw and grist mill, and flumes bring water to the mill race from two different streams so as to ensure a steady supply to turn the wheel.  Although they don't saw timber anymore, they still run the grist mill and producing "stone" ground flour three times a week.  You can buy a bit of the flour, should you wish ... we passed on the opportunity.  On the grounds there are several other sites, including an abandoned whiskey still, a blacksmith shop, and a demonstration of traditional crafts - this day it was building a chair from red oak.  I'm a sucker for old mills and all that goes with it.

At the end of our trek along the parkway, we stayed the night at the historic Roanoke Hotel, which I had stayed at for a history of technology conference some thirty years earlier.  It was an expensive night, but a fun reminiscence for me.

Next day we headed into the Appalachians and West Virginia.  This is Penelope's world and that of her late husband Bill Garnette; he was born in Huntington and had family in various West Virginia communities, and Penelope's family visited the state often.  Among the spots she wanted me to see was the coal mining town of Thurmond.  Built in the canyon created by the New River (the second oldest river in the world, behind the Nile), Thurmond was a railroad/mining town, accessible only by rail for most of its lifetime.  It was the site of chosen to film the 1987 movie Matewan, about the Matewan, West Virginia coal miners strike in the 1920s. We drove the narrow road that goes around the town in drizzling conditions, of which Penelope had only walked on a previous visit some years ago.  Glad we didn't have to walk it.

We spent a night in the town of Beckley, and the next morning, with rain clouds just starting to give way to sun, we visited Tamarack, a large arts and crafts facility run as an economic development project of the West Virginia Parkways Authority.  (This is really worth a stop if you are ever driving through West Virginia on Interstate 77.)

From Tamarack, with the sun shining, we drove over the New River Gorge Bridge, a steel arch bridge 3,030 feet long over the New River Gorge. With an arch 1,700 feet long, the New River Gorge Bridge was  the world's longest steel single-span arch bridge for many years, and is now the third longest.  We stopped at the visitor center, and then drove down to the bottom of the gorge, crossed back over the river on a smaller bridge and then up the other side.  At the second bridge, we met two biker couples, and one agreed to take our photos on the bridge with the big arch bridge behind us.  We got the impression that he had studied photography in college, and he took four photos ... alas, he did not depress the shutter button sufficiently, and none were actually taken.  We decided not to embarrass him and point it out, so we just took a photo of the arch bridge ourselves.

Our next stop was Hawk's Nest State Park, where we took a tram down to the river and had lunch.  Next,  we stopped by Bill Garnette's family farm and the small family cemetery where he is buried, and then drove on to Gallipolis, Ohio.  Known to fans of Bob Evans restaurants as the home of the chain's founder, Gallipolis was was settled in 1790 by French aristocrats escaping the guillotine in their homeland.  It is said the men wanted to push on further down the Ohio, but their wives insisted on going no further.  What is seems to be true is that the Scioto Company, owned by American speculators, swindled the French, who in the end appealed for aid to President Washington.  Whether or not it was Washington's doing, the company ultimately sent woodsmen to build a log-cabin settlement for the hapless French on the riverfront land that today boasts the town's park and gazebo. 

From Gallipolis, we drove north and east into Ohio, destination Penelope's home town, Mount Vernon.  Just short of Mount Vernon, we stopped at a little breakfast restaurant for one of the best meals we had anywhere.  We literally just squeaked in before the door was shut a noon, but we along with all the other customers were treated as best friends and family by everybody working there.  This little place knew their business, and if we were better travel guides, we'd remember the name.  Alas, we don't.

We arrived in Mount Vernon shortly after one in the afternoon.  Penelope slowly drove us around her neighborhood, which was a working class community in which most of the residents worked at Pittsburgh Glass Company, within walking distance.  After the windshield tour, we went to Penelope's aunt's home, which is still right there in the neighborhood.  Edna, or Nanny as her family calls her, is 94 years old and full of energy.  She's a bit slow and relies on a walker, but she is a pistol.  We spent the afternoon talking, we got her email working again and downloaded her a word game she likes to play on the computer, we puzzled over the jigsaw puzzle she had spread out on a living room table (she always has one going), and she asked me to play the piano for her, which I did for at least an hour and a half.  Then we took her out to dinner, and she showed us up with her appetite.  This was truly a highlight for our trip!

After we took Nanny home, we checked into our motel for the night, and turned our eyes toward the remainder of our trip.  Although rainy weather was threatening, we decided to continue on our plan to drive south to Franklin, West Virginia.  We had a reservation in the Silver Maple Hubbard Inn, a bed and breakfast, and we hoped we could reach Spruce Knob before the rains came.  Spruce Knob is the highest peak in West Virginia, and in 1946, when Bill was a naval aviator, he caught a ride with another aviator to fly from Virginia to somewhere in West Virginia.  They became socked in by clouds just as they were going over the mountains and crashed on the top of Spruce Knob.  Bill survived, barely, and was found the next day by a couple of locals who were clearing a fire break.  The pilot did not.  Penelope had told me the story, of course, and Bill had written it up for the West Virginia Historical Society's magazine, which I'd read, but one really had to see the spot to get the enormity of the story.  Although we did not get to the top, we both saw the problem of the clouds, for as we drove up the mountain the clouds settled right on us and we became quite socked in ourselves.

The Silver Maple Inn awaited us, and we drove down to it through some of the most beautiful changing leaves ever.  Our host met us at the Inn and we discovered that we had the place to ourselves, the only guests and even our host lived elsewhere.  It was a lovely spot, and after slipping out to the only decent restaurant in town, we spent a really relaxing night.

A drizzle met us again the next day, and we set out for Baltimore, driving over to Harrisonburg, Virginia, thence up the Shenandoah Valley, skirting around D.C., and on to Baltimore.  We spent the night in a downtown hotel, just a little way from Baltimore's famous inner harbor.  Rather than take our car from the hotel to dinner, we caught a taxi to go to Bertha's Mussels in Fells Point, old Baltimore.  I first went there when at history of technology conference in the 1990s, and the dinghy for our cutter Alizee sports a Bertha's Mussels bumper sticker as a nameplate.  Since the nameplate is peeling off, we simply had to go to Bertha's to get a replacement (we got several).  The mussels were good, though not as spectacular as I recall, but that may be because I've learned to do the most amazing mussel dishes.

The next day we checked out or our hotel around ten o'clock, drove through the inner harbor area, parked and went to the National Aquarium.  If you like aquariums, Baltimore's really is about the best in the country, even better than the Monterey Bay Aquarium, in my humble opinion.  Anyway, we spent a good two hours there, ending with a dolphin show, to which we arrived just as it started.  Our good luck. ... After lunch we hit the road to Annapolis, where we checked into the Maryland Inn, one of the historic inns of the city, for a three-night stay and the boat show (our next post).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the kind mention of the Aquarium in your recent post! We're glad you both enjoyed your visit and we hope to see you again soon!

12:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The young pilot killed that day on Spruce Knob in 1946 was Lt. Reginald Floyd Parsons USN, from Huntington WV. 1918-1946

3:16 PM  

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