Sept 18, 2015
I spent the day packing for my Big Road Trip West. I am about to embark on a trip I have always wanted to do and figured I had better do before I get any older! I will head west with my car packed with camping gear after visiting family in Maryland for a few days. Leaving tomorrow. I may make it as far as the Mississippi River, I don’t know. I have no planned itinerary except a northerly western route the first part of the trip and a southerly route on the way back. I will follow my nose and see what adventures unfold. I hope to post my progress and a few photos daily or near daily. I am so excited and a bit apprehensive!
Note: Some of this was posted on Facebook, hence certain comments.
September 21, 2015
My adventure has started. I took off from family leaving some tears behind in a grey desultory afternoon. Barreling through the Baltimore-Washington area had a dystopian feel to it especially passing the National Security Agency and then signs like the Cryptology Museum, Historic Savage, and Ruined Land Road. Indeed, the area had that look one sees in large metropolitan landscapes – a certain depressing film of neglect with trash and broken things on the roadside, uncut weeds, and too many people to keep up with. Following Google instead of my nose, I was reminded that Google Maps sometimes takes one down obscure secondary roads. I was on my way to a state forest I saw on a paper map to camp and soon learned that it was closed. The drive was a surprise coming out of the metropolis– I suddenly found myself in the land of multimillion-dollar mansions, huge sweeps of lawn, enormous mature trees, and beautiful winding shady lanes thick with forests. Then it blended into farms mixed with suburbs with mile after mile of dried corn stalks and rolling fields of yellowing soybeans. New houses sprouted into the midst of old farms like molars in a giant’s gums. Except for the undulating semi-housed landscape, I would have thought I was in Ohio.
Choosing a different state park, I learned that Miss Google Map is not very good at getting one to park headquarters. I secured my camp site at Little Bennett State Park in western Maryland. Just as I had a nice little fire going and happy hour under way, it started seriously raining so I am cuddled in my tent as I write this. I am taking this as an auspicious beginning for my adventure. What else could I do?
September 22, 2015
It rained all night and was still spitting from time to time in the morning. I managed to stay warm and dry enough through the night though almost everything got wet including part of my pillow and sleeping bag. By the time I crawled in my tent, my husband’s cold he no doubt acquired on the long flight he had from Alaska had hit me full on, so by this morning a box of tissue was my constant companion. After a tiny struggling fire and coffee, there was nothing to do but buck it up and throw the mess in the car and head out. I followed a byway to one of the smaller bridges across the Potomac. At a high crest early on there they were – the mountains in the distance. The pleated ribbon of a road seemed pasted down on the rollercoaster hills. I bought stamps at a tiny post office in Tuscarora, Maryland. The PO had a large poster behind glass telling about the “depredations of the Iroquois women by the colonists,” slavery, and other atrocities. Of course there are no Tuscarorans there now. Curious and oh so sad, how places and buildings are named for what was destroyed. Doug was the one that pointed this out to me years ago and now I see it everywhere. It is called Imperialist Nostalgia. It happens even in a subdivision. Hoot Owl Lane suggests there used to be hoot owls until their habitat was destroyed. Indeed, today I also saw many roads named after long ago mills.
Fredericksburg has a small museum where George Washington had his first military career office. I had not realized how brutal he was to the Indians. He ordered the Iroquois to be destroyed. Leaving there was more corn and far views of land studded with silos. I passed a curious cluster of brightly colored and oddly built houses– lavender, lime green, pink, and always crumbling abandoned buildings. I crisscrossed the Potomac several times, tiny now, and surprisingly, the land, as it became more mountainous, grew scruffy and pale-weeded. Houses were poor and trashy. Frequent laundromats I realized are a marker for poverty. I made my way well into West Virginia, still under threatening grey skies, and I’m now holed up in a warm dry motel in Petersburg as I write. I know now this will be a trip full of monuments to the destroyed Indians mixed with the rich colonial history in these parts, and my meeting of important rivers. I started to reflect on something but my cold-fuzzy head couldn’t hold the thought. Lest you think this is all fun look at the last picture!
September 23, 2015
Grey skies and gloom this morning followed me to breakfast in a funky place full of grizzled hard-bit local people (my appearance matched!) and the Seneca Rocks, an interesting out- cropping of a certain kind of sandstone. They are named for the Seneca Trail which went from New York to South Carolina (another Indian name along with the Monongahela National Forest that I drove through). I talked with a few people there and learned about the Trans-Allegeny Lunatic Asylum some miles down Rt 33 which became my afternoon adventure.
The largest hand carved sandstone block building in the western hemisphere, building the asylum began in 1861 and took 25 years to complete. The last patient left in 1994! It was known for its humane approach. Rusty swings on the grounds shadowed children once there, mixed in with adults and even mentally ill Confederate soldiers for a while. The cemetery has 2,100 graves. Talking with the woman running the little gift shop, I learned that long ago she had been a nurse there. She told me about the horrors of taking care of the lobotomy patients during that tragic era. She spoke of many other things but her heart and courage were shown by this story– a retarded man who had grown up there had always refused to wear clothing and had, thus, never been outside. She enlisted another young nurse to help her on her mission to change this. Bribery with candies finally got him to at least put on pants for a while. When secure that candies would assure that his nethers would be covered, the two waited until their supervisor was gone and led him outside. She said she will never forget his smile and squeal (he didn’t talk) when he wiggled his toes in grass for the first time in his life. After that, they took him out often and he even played some in the swimming pool.
This is what it is all about– this crazy travelling. Driving through beautiful mountains valleys, meeting friendly and helpful people, discovery, learning your limits and capabilities, and, it took me a while to realize this, I don’t have to rush! The warmth of humankind and beauty of nature. My day is closing in a beautiful campground at Cedar Creek State Park by a nice warm fire trying out my brand new harmonica. Thanks to all there is, was, and ever will be.
Sept 24, 2015 Thursday
By noon, I had left behind my green creek-sided campground and felt spit out by the mountain curves into a hot dry hard-scrabble rolling land, brown, studded with goldenrod. Autumn yellows, early turning leaves, pumpkins beginning to be everywhere– a nice time to travel. I soon reached my only planned destination- the confluence of my beloved New River (called Kanawha here) and the Ohio River at the once thriving town called Point Pleasant. Begun in 1774 over the objections of the local Indians, the name belies the violent history of the killing of so many native people and the betrayal and brutal murder of the then Shawnee Chief Hokoleskwas, called Cornstalk by the whites. His remains, moved several times, are now on the very corner of the confluence where a fierce battle occurred over 250 years ago.
Within 5 minutes of arriving, I had made 3 friends, all with NC connections (while asking how to find the historic hotel I picked to stay in) and had a walking tour of the town from one of them. So much history here! The flood walls now are partly covered with beautifully rendered murals showing the progression of early times from the Native Americans to the white takeover. Here is a place that history will not be forgotten and remembering and honoring the native people must be felt. I didn’t know any of this when I decided to find the confluence nor that I would sit there sipping wine in the tiny Tu-Endie-Wei State Park there watching the sun go down.
The whole town is redolent with the sweet fragrance of old-fashioned petunias which spill 3 feet down huge lush hanging baskets up and down all the the blocks. The town is losing population as are so many in the Rust Belt, but those that are here are so friendly and eager to tell what they know. There is so much more, but not for now! I heard honking geese flying over as I walked back from dinner.
Sept 25, Friday
Point Pleasant to Chillichothe
First, thanks to all of you! I have not traveled with Facebook as a companion before and it makes for a fascinating and different experience. I so enjoy your ideas, comments, and feedback and am humbled and blushing at your compliments. What amazes me the most are the connections so many of you have with some of the places I am visiting, how you know about various areas, have memories evoked by my accidental touching on some place or thing, and more. Surely, we are a connected people and world. Our small network demonstrates this well and reminds me of the oft quoted “six degrees of separation.”
My thoughts have been dwelling on how different travel is in the age of internet. Except when out of signal range (which is getting less and less common) there is now instant access to routes, what to see, and to other people. Not like the pay phone days when on a trip one wouldn’t try to call but every few days, and before that, nothing but occasional letters. The solitude and real ‘not knowing’ is gone and connection is now near constant. No judging, it just is.
This morning I visited the River Museum and got a glimpse of what life was like in Point Pleasant in the heyday of the river boats. Such glory and such tragedies! I said goodbye to the confluence of the rivers seen from the tiny park and honored the dead in the 1774 fight on the very land I was standing on. About 1,000 fought on each side and each side suffered about 100 casualties. The colonists’ memorial is large and many of the names of those killed are listed. The Indians have no names listed and no memorial except a smaller one for Chief ‘Cornstalk’ only. The information on his plaque is not even correct. Still, a memorial is there.
I enjoyed the town and hotel so much. Met so many friendly people, saw artwork, met another person with my name (we bonded instantly, of course), sat in local eating places and watched the locals bantering with each other, walked all over, smelled the petunias again, absorbed the smoothness of the river waters again, saw people fishing, and so much more.
Crossing the Ohio, I went on in early afternoon to see the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park near Chillicothe. I had heard about the mounds built by these mysterious people much of my life. I learned 90% of their earthworks which had been there for 2,000 years were destroyed by farmers and the military in the last 150 years. Thanks to all those who are working to save what is left and restore some of what was destroyed. In the museum artifacts of copper, mica, clay, and black obsidian showed sophisticated artistry and reminded me a lot of Mayan art, though the rangers told me there is no known connection.
A sad day, too- word came via email that my dear friend of 55 years is dying. I have tickets to go see her on Vancouver Island in November but now it looks like that will be too late. I am grateful to be in the midst of this ancient culture as it somehow offers me strength and comport that the continuity of our lives continues and that we will not be lost.
I wanted to camp but after all this and trying to find a store to replenish my food and happy hour supplies, it was just too late so I am in an ordinary motel. But, I did get to see CNN’s Anderson Cooper covering some of the Pope’s visit. And, so, the evening ends with his message of goodness and hope and his really nice smile.