August 29 – on the road

This will probably be a long post, but it’s been a long day, so here goes…

Last night, I left Twin Oaks right around 6, with the idea that I’d cover some ground and wake up in the mountains, rather then spending the first morning driving out of central Virginia.  So I drove into the night, and wound up in the George Washington National Forest, near Covington VA.  I found some out of the way spot, in a pull-off off of an old logging road, where it was flat and dark and quiet.  It rained overnight, but as I was sleeping in the back of the car, it didn’t much matter.

In the morning, I finally got a look at my ‘inspiring’ campsite.  Oh well, it did the trick.

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I took a slightly meandering route through the National Forest back to the highway, which was a bit more scenic.Image

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Now this is a sight that I haven’t seen yet this year.  I mean, ever since early July, I’ve seen a red or yellow leaf here and there, on a tree or on the ground.  But this is the first time I’ve seen an entire tree (or part of a tree I guess) lit up with autumn colors.  I guess fall comes early to this part of the mountains!Image

As I was leaving the National Forest, I came across this sublime view of early morning sun, and distant clouds and rain.  I had to stop for a bit to appreciate it.Image

The landscape in this part of Virginia reminded me a bit of northern California, with green fields in the valleys, and thickly forested hills with mist rising off of them.  A really beautiful morning!Image

Kind of randomly, I came across the “Humpback Bridge wayside,” a little park with a covered bridge (in Virginia?!), a clear mountain stream, and this awesome ‘LOVE’ sculpture.Image

Standing in the creek– off to the right, it actually gets kind of deep, but it was still early in the morning, quite cool, and I didn’t want to be wet for the rest of the day, so I satisfied myself with a ‘splash bath,’ rather than a full dip.

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Just before passing into West VA, I came across a sign for the Allagheny Trail, a 300 mile western alternative to the AT through Virginia and West Virginia.  I’d heard of this trail, but never seen it; it has always been appealing to me (in my opinion, the AT is situated too far to the east), so I couldn’t resist the opportunity to walk a little ways up it.  As I was approaching the trailhead, I came across a family of wild turkey, which ran into the woods as I got near.

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pretty jewelweed flowers right at the trailhead sign.  These plants are so common that it’s easy to overlook just how gorgeous their flowers are.Image

This spectacular purple and white wildflower was growing just s few steps down the trail, many flowers growing on each spike.Image

I only managed to get a few hundred yards down the trail, with rumbling thunder and intermittent light rain keeping me close to the car.  The woods in this area are, unsurprisingly, full of a wide variety of mushrooms, some familiar and other species that I don’t see in Louisa County.  Like this cracked-cap bolete, which I’ve read about, but this was the first one I’ve ever seen myself.  It’s not a choice edible, but it sure is a pretty mushroom.

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here’s another one

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These tiny purple mushrooms were spread all across the forest floor like little amethysts scattered on the ground.Image

Eventually, I made my way into West Virginia, eschewing the monotony of I-64 in favor of local roads.  A little ways down, I stretched my legs at a little roadside park, which had the most spectacularly moss-covered picnic shelters I’ve ever seen

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The grassy lawn was covered with red leaves recently fallen from the tree.  How can this be happening in August?!?

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My next stop was the New River Gorge, where I somehow managed to entirely miss the visitor center, and instead found myself driving on this narrow one-way road all the way down down down into the gorge.  It was quite a pretty road, and a relief to know that I wouldn’t be running into any traffic driving back up the other way!Image

The road bottomed out at a one-lane bridge with a wooden surface that crossed close to the level of the river.  It was a good vantage point to look up at the modern highway bridge passing nearly 800 feet overhead.

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From there, it was a short distance to the public river access, with a boat launch and a gravel ‘beach.’  By this point, it was a little bit after noon, and a perfect time and place for a midday swim!

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I saw this old guy fishing from the rocks, and assumed that there was a path to where he was.  Then, as I watched, I realized that the only way to get out there was to climb on the rocks.  West Virginia geezers are hardcore!

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A short distance further, I pulled over at a trailhead forto get out of the car and do a spot of hiking.  The first bit of the trail took me through this awesome rhododendron jungleImage

and crossed over the creek just below this little waterfall, framed with enormous moss-covered boulders.Image

The next section of trail followed an old railroad grade up to an abandoned coal mine.  This clear, cold waterfall plunging into a concrete trough was a scenic high point of the trail (and another opportunity to cool off)

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The day had become pretty hot and humid by this point, and the dense green vegetation felt tropical to me.  The occasional views across the gorge of thick green forest helped maintain the feeling of hiking through the jungle…

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…as did coming across this leaf dropped across the trail, one of the largest leaves I’ve ever seen!  Photographed with my foot to show just how big it was.Image

The trail passed several old ventilation shafts leading into the abandoned coal mine.  They were all blocked off with thick metal grating to stop people from exploring inside.  This one had a crystal-clear stream flowing from the innards of the mountain.  It was hard to get a good picture, this was the best I could do.Image

Standing at the mouth of the mine shafts, you could feel the tunnels ‘breathing’ cool damp air, at least 20 degrees cooler than in the sun.  This shaft, amazingly, had ghostly wisps of water vapor gently floating from its mouth, an ideal place to stop for lunch.

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afterwards, I continued up the trail, steeply up to what I thought would be more abandoned ‘ruins,’ but was actually a trailhead at the edge of a modern, very much occupied, town.  Along the edge of the road, an overhanging apple tree had dropped dozens of apples, some of which were actually quite sweet and tasty.Image

Rather than retrace my steps, I was able to figure out a way to continue on and loop back to the car, although it meant several more miles of hiking.  Going forward, the trail wound through woods whose fungal abundance made up for its lack of views.  Once again, I was surrounded by an unbelievable bounty of mushrooms, both familiar and unfamiliar.  The oddest thing I saw along the trail was this weird orange mass– I’m not even sure if it’s animal, vegetable, or fungal in origin– I don’t know what the hell it was, and I certainly didn’t want to touch it!Image

Just a photo showing off some of the amazing colors of mushrooms in the woods these days.  To the right, an inedible “Peck’s milky,”  and to the right, some sort of bright yellow bolete.Image

don’t know what these are, probably something horribly toxic, but I just thought they were quite pretty.Image

The entire loop was probably six or seven miles, and by the time I got back to the car, I was all muddy and sweaty.  Fortunately, I was parked right next to a stream with this delightful swimming hole, perfect for one last dip before getting back into the car and actually trying to cover some mileage.

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The remainder of today’s drive started out pleasant enough, driving mile after mile along the northeastern bank of the New River.Image

Further along, I passed these enormous mountains of coal, ready to be loaded onto trains.  I haven’t seen any signs of coal mining on this trip– flattened mountains, strip mines or the like.  Although I know all that environmental devastation is out there, I managed on this trip to pass all the way through West Virginia without seeing much besides farms, forests, cute little towns, and general loveliness.

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Soon afterwards, I was back on the placeless highway, spinning my wheels while the world turned beneath me.  And now I’m in a McDonalds parking lot in eastern Kentucky, grateful that they let you use their wifi without actually having to eat their disgusting food.  Tonight, I’ll find a place to stealth camp in the Daniel Boone national forest, and then I’ll be on my way once more.

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