A New Sound of Spring

Spring is definitely trying to beat back Winter around here. We have daffodils galore in our yard.

Out in the meadows, you can see new cows, of the youthful variety. (They are precious!) The flowering trees are flowering, and my runny nose will back that up.

But yesterday, the temperature climbed above 70 for the first time in quite awhile. I went for a walk in our neighborhood and was startled to hear a loud engine passing me. Two of my neighbors had dusted off their cycles, and their his-n-hers Harleys roared off down the road.

They weren’t alone. All day yesterday, all along BT Washington Highway, you could see and hear motorcyclists alone or in groups, out enjoying the blue sky and warm air.

But my favorite part of this spring awakening happened this morning. I commented on all the bikes during weights class at the gym, and Denise spoke up (she is the new lady in our class who who wears well-coordinated workout gear and a Yankees ball cap over her long blonde ponytail. Slender and well, elegant, even at 6:30 am, she looks like she would be at home in any gym in the Washington, DC — or any similarly urban — area). “Yeah,” Denise agreed. “I took my bike out yesterday.”

Spring at the lake is going to be pretty cool.

You Can Hike (Up a Mountain) in the City!

I’ve got a friend coming to visit in a couple of weeks who has told me that she would enjoy some of the hiking around here. So this week, I tested out a trail in Roanoke to see if it might be a possibility.

If you drive up Mill Mountain to the Roanoke Star, you can park and walk down the old road, which is now closed to traffic. It offers great views of the city, but the mountain is also home to a whole network of trails, so I thought it was time to check one of them out.

I decided on the Star Trail, which is about 1.5 miles up, then 1.5 miles back. It starts on the outskirts of the city in a pretty industrial area.

But you’re quickly in the woods.

Enjoying a climb.

And also enjoying the fact that there aren’t too many people out there. I saw three other hikers during the duration of my hike. After about half an hour, I could see my destination through the trees.

And was rewarded with this crazy beautiful view (and a clean public bathroom).

The Star Trail comments on the AllTrails app were not terribly effusive but I’m going to ignore the haters. This trail made for a beautiful walk in the woods and will offer my friend and me a nice option for a great walk — all with proximity to Roanoke’s quality coffee establishments afterwards.

Bear Season Gets Real

Appropriate for the vernal equinox today, I saw a sleepy bear this morning.

Near our house is a bridge that crosses Gills Creek. One of the homes along the road is also situated right on the creek, with a path that leads up a steep hill from the dock to the house.

It was on this path that I saw what appeared to be a very large black dog. Here’s my thought process:

  • Aw, look at that dog.
  • That’s a big dog.
  • A really big dog.
  • Maybe it’s a wolf?
  • No, would a wolf be that color?
  • Hey, wait. THAT’S A REALLY SKINNY BEAR!

I came home, did some research on bear skinniness, and came up with an article from Adventure Journal in which the author explained that not only do bears burn up to 4000 kcal a day while hibernating, using fat stores to stay alive, but they also mosey around in a “walking hibernation” for the first few weeks after they awaken as their metabolisms and body functions get rolling again. A skinny bear is entirely plausible.

So I’m 97% sure I saw a bear. And 99% sure he was looking for a picnic basket.

(And 100% sure you won’t be seeing me on any early morning walks anytime soon.)

Five Intentional Travel Tips (with Pictures!)

I don’t do a whole lot of traveling, and maybe I should, because I just got back from a great trip with our eldest child. Here’s the experience boiled down to a couple of quick thoughts:

Keep open to new ideas

For her last spring break of college, our daughter suggested that the two of us take a trip to Sedona, Arizona. I didn’t know much about the destination but we got started researching and it turns out that it’s a phenomenal place. If you can imagine the nicest person you know, and then imagine that person is a place, that’s Sedona.

Keep up the best you can

My girl is 22. She’s a fit little mountain goat when it comes to climbing around on trails. Me, not so much. But I jumped in on those hikes and was rewarded by beautiful scenery and very fine company.

I did not, however, even try to keep up with a 22-year-old when it came to prickly pear margaritas. I did the driving.

Keep an eye on the weather

We went to the Grand Canyon. It was cold. Like, slushy roads and snowballs cold. Boy, I know those tourists at the canyon were surprised because we sure were, too. And by the way, this challenged my expectations of what “Arizona weather” was all about. I was grateful for the hat I’d popped into my bag at the last minute.

Serendipity is everywhere

As I was flying through Charlotte, NC, on the way out to the Phoenix SkyPort, our son happened to be flying through on his way home to Roanoke. We caught up for just a minute right there at the airport. (Okay, I stalked him a little.) But to have a day where one runs into both of one’s kids in airports thousands of miles apart? Magic.

Even the bad stuff isn’t all that bad

On the flight home, my journey took me through Philadelphia instead of Charlotte (one does not simply fly directly to Roanoke). The plan was to fly out and land in Roanoke in time for dinner with the husband and that younger college kid mentioned above.

But then the flight crew was late.

And the weather went south.

We sat on the tarmac for 2-1/2 hours before the plane rolled back to the gate and the flight was cancelled. By the time we got off the plane and were wiggled into flights for the next morning — none of which were heading to Roanoke (one does not simply fly directly to Roanoke) — it was after midnight. I don’t know Philly. I didn’t know where to go for hotel with a shuttle that would get me back to the airport by 6:30 for my early flight to Charlottesville, VA. So I elected to stay overnight at the airport.

It’s quiet at 2:30 am outside security.
Good morning, Philadelphia!

I don’t recommend it if you can help it. But I did learn that the security screening opened up at 4:30 am (and the lines are much shorter!), which allows a bit of a nap at the gate before the breakfast spots start opening. Au Bon Pain never tasted so good.

The flight to Charlottesville’s (posh) airport was blissfully short and I was met by a husband who drove the extra hour to come pick me up. And even though they aren’t made of red rock, our mountains never looked so welcoming.

While I was away, the flowers had started blooming and I’m pretty sure there are some baby cows out there in the fields. It’s nice to come home to something that looks spring-y and new.

“Rejection is God’s Protection”

This quote was written on the chalkboard in the yoga studio here in Franklin County where I pop in from time to time.

The Centre at VitaZen has a full slate of classes and I really enjoy all of them, though I haven’t found the one that is going to be my go-to class. This week, I went to the Thursday after-work class which was so terrific that I think this might be it.

The quote was the icing on the yoga cake during a week when I heard back from an interview for a job that had looked promising but turned out to be less appealing once the potential employers and I sat down to talk. (Clearly, they felt the same way.)

Feeling thus protected, on to other things! Chief among them is a week’s vacation with someone dear in a new place. It will be scenic, I think, but it’s outside the scope of this blog (#thisisnotatravelblog). I can promise you’ll hear more about springtime in the country as soon as I get back.

After Fear, Some Cheer

A beautiful scene you might see if you’re not too scared to drive around here.

The topic of yesterday’s post came to mind a few weeks ago, when a funny thing happened.

To recap, I wrote yesterday about the country roads of Franklin County and how they have caused me a surprising amount of anxiety. For instance, driving to the pool in Rocky Mount is a half-hour trek south on the relatively roomy Booker T. Washington Highway (the BTW) , where I’ve got the route down:

  • A tailgater on Burnt Chimney Road — the major-ish road close to our house — is likely to head north once we reach the BTW, so that they can jump on the Jubal Early Highway (Rt. 116, the most direct route to Roanoke);
  • A tailgater who turns south on the BTW like me will likely turn onto Wirtz Road after a mile or so, because that’s the shortcut to Route 220, aka the Virgil Goode Highway, aka the less mountainous route into Roanoke;
  • From there, it’s smooth sailing, except for the 18-wheeler trucks that roar along Booker T. Washington as you cross the narrow bridges over the Blackwater River and Maggodee Creek.

But here’s the funny thing that happened. On my way home one day, all hyped up with swim endorphins, I found myself flying along the BTW and thought to myself, “Wheeeeeee!” It was fun. It was exciting and freeing and a hoot. Up and down the hills and around the curves, not even tapping the brakes when passing a car coming in the other direction.

Well, that’s different, I thought. And nope, I’m still no astronaut, but I feel like I’ve come a long way (you know, in a small kind of way).

Fear? What Fear?

Come on and take a ride with me.

If you’re going to drive anywhere near our house, you can expect some roads that are pretty narrow and twisty.

They can get a little scary for this suburban gal.

In fact, fear is something I really had to overcome when we moved down here. The roads are generally two lanes (or a little less) without wide shoulders to pull onto. There isn’t much traffic, allowing you to move quite quickly. For the first month or so, I was pretty convinced that there were deer just waiting to pop out in front of the car (knock on wood, I’ve only had rabbits do that so far!), so I tended to hold up whatever traffic we had.

I’ve seen a lot of Ford Super Duty f250 grilles in my rear view mirror, let’s put it that way.

One day, I was rolling up to an intersection with a four-way stop and saw that a van had turned in my direction, but had turned wide and was coming right at me in my lane.

He was right about where that minivan is. But coming towards me in my lane.

In that instant, as I was trying to figure out how I was going to get out of the ditch that I was going to need to drive into to avoid that guy, the van righted itself and all worked out fine. But I was shook up enough to go home and Google “How do people live in scary circumstances?” Because I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it.

What I found was a TED talk from Col. Chris Hadfield; you should watch it if you have a minute because he describes exquisitely how it feels to blast off into space, which is undeniably dangerous. For him, though, the apprehension was worth it because by facing that danger he was achieving the goal he’d had since childhood, of becoming an astronaut.

Truly, I am not aiming so high.

But here’s the takeaway that I got. If you can separate the perceived danger (getting run off the road by a country driver) from actual danger (this most likely will not happen), you can achieve an objective that you want.

And my objective is to learn how to live here. We live here. Jim’s job is here. There are many, many cool things about our new home.

Hadfield concluded his talk by speaking about “taking that ability to adapt, and ability to understand, and the ability to take our own self perception into a new place.” That’s enough inspiration for me to keep getting out on the road.

And then he sang David Bowie’s Major Tom, which is pretty darned brave, too.

Shakespeare in the Mountains

Jim loves a William Shakespeare play and we have been hearing for years about the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia. Now that we are only two hours away, we decided to check it out.

Staunton is just north of us, and we had a beautiful trip through the woods. Jim made arrangements for us to see a matinee performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor, which allowed us a leisurely Saturday morning before heading up to see the show.

The American Shakespeare Center has been around since 1988, according to its website, and in 2001 it settled into its current theater, the world’s only recreation of Shakespeare’s Blackfriar’s Playhouse. It is beautiful!

“Sit on the stage if you can,” suggested my friend Colleen when I told her we were going. And indeed, there are ten stools lining the sides of the stage, but at our show, they were taken up by high school students (whose clear enjoyment of the show added to the general merriment of the afternoon).

Because it was amazingly fun. I have never seen a Shakespeare production where:

  • The bar selling beer and wine at the beginning of the show (and during intermission) is on the stage itself.
  • The cast begins the performance with some musical numbers: a bluegrass-sounding tune, followed by renditions of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing,” a raucous “She’s a Bad Mama Jama,” and, at intermission, J. Geils Band’s “Love Stinks.” If you haven’t seen The Merry Wives, trust me that these selections are all on point.
  • They leave the lights in the house up so the actors can see and interact with the audience.
  • The lady sitting next to you wears a “cold shoulder” top to show off her tattoo of the bard himself on her shoulder.
Just like this one I got from Wikipedia.

It was a veritable festival of Shakespeare that made me understand how people can be superfans. I was inspired to include his work into more of my reading rotation, and we will definitely be making that trip again.

Gone to the Dawgs

We have two cats, whom we feed every afternoon at 5:30. At about 4:30, they start circling around, climbing in my lap and rubbing their faces as close to mine as they can. It’s not my favorite time of the day. I like them and I’m glad they like me, but by 4:30 I’m usually trying to wrap some things up and that works better without distraction.

Current situation: I am writing the first draft of this post at 4:47 pm, in my room with the doors closed. They haven’t found me yet, but those few moments after I push the “Save draft” button and before I pull out the Friskies will be tense ones.

We are far outnumbered in the Roanoke area when it comes to pets. Dogs are definitely the preferred companion, by a long shot. You see them in the boats on the lake, walking all around the city, hanging out in cars in the Kroger parking lot (in moderate weather, of course). Indeed, a dog’s life is quite a good life here in the SWVA.

I love dogs, and what I love even more is suggesting to Jim that we should get one, because the question elicits a very predictable and passionate response (and it’s not “yes”) every single time. See how much fun pets can be?

Oh thank goodness

A Road Less Traveled

If you want to go from the Smith Mountain Lake area to anywhere north of here, you have pretty much two choices: roll west into Roanoke and take the interstate (I-81) (hello, trucks!) or head north on Route 122, east on 460, then north up 29 through Charlottesville.

But Jim, who travels north to Harrisonburg for work regularly, found a third and marvelous route. If you stay on 122 through the town of Bedford, soon you’ll arrive at the community of Big Island (population 303) and jump on Route 501.

But first, Buena Vista!

Route 501 takes you through the James River Gorge area of the Washington and Jefferson National Forests, where you meander on a twisty mountain road for about five miles past waterfalls, soaring views of the James, and some pretty nice looking cows. The photos here are from a trip where Jim drove and I rubbernecked, and even though the weather was cloudy, the views were delightful. It’s like having a personal Blue Ridge Parkwaybecause you’re the only one there.

501 is an out-of-the-way route, to be sure, certainly one of the benefits to living in an out-of-the-way place.