Dan and Hannah Bike the Confederation Trail on Prince Edward Island on Day 1 of 3

You might be wondering who this Prince Edward was.  In 1799 the Island was named in honor of Edward, the father of Queen Victoria.

Bill and Buggie and Dan

Bill Buggie and Dan

Each day we will dedicate our ride across PEI to one person.   Today’s comes from the Great White North, Bill Buggie, my University of New Hampshire and our family friend of 30 years.  Without Bill, our trip doesn’t happen.  He spent ten hours yesterday in the car with us so we could have a car waiting when we finish our bike ride across Prince Edward Island.

Dan and Hannah ready to ride

Dan and Hannah ready to ride

Given our innkeeper’s Debbie Downer forecast of morning rain when we checked in last night, Hannah and I wonder when our biking day will begin.  Usually up first, I peer out on the deck of our two bedroom cottage and notice the temperature is 62F, partly cloudy skies, a slight wind.  Sweet Georgia Brown!   We’ll be biking right after breakfast this morning with cool temps and plenty of sunshine.

The deck at our Murphy's Cottage

The deck at our Murphy’s Cottage

Slipping into my biking shorts, I then must do the indelicate Bag Balming of my thighs and butt for today’s 70 miles.  Waiting for the others to shower, I watch Sports Centre.  Sports Centre with an –re!   That can only mean trouble for Americanos like me!  Hockey – morning, noon, and night.  Last night LeBron James and the Miami Heat won and I get nothing of the game this morning.  Sacre bleu.

Our morning B and B breakfast fuels our double piston engines (i.e., our legs) for our seven to eight hours in the bike saddle.  Here at Murphy’s, I begin with Corn Flakes while Hannah has yogurt.  A cheesy omelet with peppers and a side of ham follows.  Homemade toast, blueberry banana muffins, orange juice, and decaf coffee!  Yet it’s the forecast of no rain that gives me the most energy.

D and H closeup

Laden with full panniers for the first time, we pedal a quarter mile through town to the start of the Confederation Trail.

PEI map

First of 273 kilometres

First of 273 kilometres

One down, 272 to go

One down, 272 to go

As a one-time railroad bed, the trail is as level as an honest roulette table in Vegas.  Over the first three hours we never need to get up off our bike seats to pedal an uphill as the trail meanders past fields and through forests.  It will be the third day before we bike along coastal waters.

Red dirt trail heading south from Tignish

Red dirt trail heading south from Tignish

The red crushed gravel gives us a smooth ride without mushiness.  Pedaling more forcefully than we would on pavement, we still fall into easy conversation.  Throughout the morning, we do not see another bicyclist and just the occasional walker on this first Tuesday in June.  Only occasionally do we hear a car’s engine, for we are well away from the island’s highways and have the morning for each other.

1 D on trail (2)

Due to my years of meteorological training (i.e., watching the Weather Channel), I am well aware that the prevailing winds in the northern hemisphere flow from west to east.  As such, we chose to start our ride in Tignish in the west to gain the advantage of a tailwind.  Already this morning we feel the zephyr’s push at our backs.  With temperatures in the low 60s, we’ll use our energy to push forward, rather than sweat to cool our bodies.

1 H on trail (3)

Getting one hour, then two hours behind us fills our emotional tank and makes the 70 miles seem very doable.  With picture taking and gabbing as we ride side by side, we average 8 to 9 miles per hour.  Riding beside Hannah, I am reminded of the poster of 20 ways to be happy that I once stared up at on the ceiling as I reclined in our dental hygienist’s chair.  It said: #1 – Marry well.  95% of your happiness is based on that one decision.

1 Han on trail (5)

Funny how time on the trail goes so quickly with Hannah.

Gates on trail to slow us prior to roads or driveways

Gates on trail to slow us prior to roads or driveways

A little before noon after three plus hours of biking, we arrive in O’Leary, home to 860 people and whose economy is tied to potato farming.  We have biked 45 kilometres of our 110 today; we are on target for a late afternoon arrival in Summerside, PEI.   Finding a picnic table, I feast on two blueberry banana muffins from breakfast and some salty gorp.  While I look for any shade, Hannah lies out in the sun.  Fully extended legs recharge her body for the afternoon of riding.

Hannah on trail by potato fields

Hannah on the trail by potato fields

Lunch break after 45 kilometres

Lunch break after 45 kilometres

Cognizant of the stories that our butts and thighs will be what will ache the most, a kilometre down the trail I apply extra Bag Balm.  Love the Bag Balm.

Confederation Trail

Confederation Trail

1 Trail (8)

Shortly after lunch, Hannah comments on how slow going things seem to be as she struggles to keep up.  At kilometre 56 (about 35 miles in), she pulls over with a back tire which is as flat as Parisian crepe.  Really!  We haven’t had a flat in ten years of biking at home; fact is, biking in York we never rode with a spare tube or had a bike pump.  The girl and boy scout in us would not let us be so cavalier on this trip.  Mama didn’t raise no fool.  I jump into action, becoming the knight for my damsel in tire distress.

Truth be told, I really didn’t believe we’d get a flat, but a flat we have.  Those of you who have changed tires know the back one is a greasy mess with a grimy chain and oily back gears.  Flipping her bike upside down, I pry off the tire and pull out the tube to replace it with a new one.  Checking the tire itself to see if anything sharp is still within it, we find nothing and pedal for Ellerslie (pronounced El-er-schlee) 15 kilometres away.

Handy dandy bicycle pump

Handy dandy bicycle pump

Finishing touches on Hannah's flat tire

Finishing touches on Hannah’s flat tire

But now there is an edge to our ride.  Hannah has no spare tube.  We are still 54 kilometres from our paid-for reservations at the Willow Green Farm B and B in Summerside.  We have no safety net; our Hyundai is in Elmira at the other end of the island, 217 kilometres away.  My sense of urgency starts to mess with our ride as I push the pace; and after five “never quite keeping up” kilometres Hannah speaks up and says it feels like a sprint.  Her eyes say, Slow down big fella.  I slow down and stop acting like a douche bag.

As we pedal to Ellerslie (population 470), Hannah’s thighs become tender to the touch, but her left tibia (fractured ten months ago while water skiing) is as solid as Gibraltar.  For me, years of exercising are catching up with my right knee.  It creaks and quietly complains; but biking 70 miles is not for sissies.

We’ll take a break at Ellerslie and then push on for our last 38 kilometres.  But…

…at the Ellerslie crossing, Hannah’s tire is flat again.  Clearly, we had not removed the sharp object from her tire that had caused the first tube to deflate.  With 25 miles before we sleep and no spare tube to replace this flat one, we check our guide book to see that the entire island has three bike shops.  There are none between here and Summerside.

Rite Aid in Ellerslie, PEI

Rite Aid in Ellerslie, PEI

While Hannah refuels with gorp for our final push, I wonder if we can just pump her tire up every few kilometres to make it to Summerside for the night.  I walk across the road to the Rite Stop, a convenience store.  I ask a question I already know the answer to, Is there a bike shop in town?  He says no, but in typical Canadian fashion he cheerfully offers to fill my water bottles; he runs the water for sixty seconds to get the water cold for us.

We shoot the breeze and I consider our options 38 kilometres from our B and B in Summerside.  What do we do with two punctured tubes?  Hitchhike?

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Dan and Hannah: Days before Biking the Confederation Trail in PEI (part 2 of 2)

 

Three Days before We Bike the Confederation Trail and One Day Before We Leave for Canada

It’s packing day.  Typical of Dan and Hannah, we pack at the last minute.

For starters, we’ll wear biking shorts, light weight socks, comfortable Merrill sandals, and a dry-fit (like Under Armour) shirt.  Our son Will has made us fluorescent yellow “Paquette” shirts to highlight the fundraising nature of our ride.  Given temperatures near 60F, Hannah will likely wear gloves. Bike helmets are required by law in PEI.

Hannah and Dan with our  son Will and our "Paquette" shirts

Hannah and Dan with our son Will and our “Paquette” shirts

We then need only two more days of gear.  In our panniers we’ll have two extra riding shirts and extra socks.  We have some toiletries, especially Bag Balm for our baggie butts.  A long sleeve tee shirt, a sweatshirt, and biking tights in case of cold weather; ponchos for rain.  For the evening after our shower, I’ll pack light shorts, a golfing shirt, and open toed sandals.  I will wear a fluorescent yellow vest just because it ramps up my cool factor from 1 to 3 on a scale of 1o.

Fluorescent yellow makes the man

Fluorescent yellow makes the man

Two Days before We Bike and Our Leaving for Canada Day 

Another sultry night for sleeping with what passes for air conditioning in our house: open windows.  A final check of the weather has none of our three biking days with greater than a 30% chance of rain.

With bikes on the rack on the rear of our Hyundai Elantra, we leave by 815A for Fredericton, Canada some 360 miles away for the home of my classmate at University of New Hampshire, Bill Buggie.

Heading to Prince Edward Island

Heading to Prince Edward Island

Though it’s 300 miles to the Canadian border at Houlton, Maine, the GPS says it only 4+ hours there.  This could be why.

Pre Han at 75 mph

With hours side by side in the car, I bring up a quote I recently saw online from Meister Eckhart, a 13th century Catholic theologian.  You may call God love.  You may call God goodness.  But the best name for God is compassion.

God as an action verb.  Hmmmm.  God is doing good, being loving and compassionate, and, let me add, forgiving.  I take another step on my spiritual journey.

Though we wait 25 minutes at customs, it’s basically a six hour trip to Fredericton, Canada, almost entirely on four lane I-95 or Trans-Canada Highway 2.

Canadian customs near Houlton, Maine

Canadian customs near Houlton, Maine

In the car we talk about a lot of things.  I bring up that we’ll be biking for 170 miles.  Hannah looks away and says, It’s not helpful talking about the distance.  With the ride all too real, we settle into our own thoughts; it does seem like a daunting distance riding on crushed gravel.

Once at Buggie’s by late afternoon, we relax with old friends by their pool with recreational beverages, nicely distracted from what lies ahead.  Threatening clouds cluster as the evening ends.

Driving to Prince Edward Island, the Day Before We Bike the Confederation Trail

It’s going to be a long day in Hyundais.  We need Bill to follow us in his Hyundai Elantra because Hannah and I are going to park our car at the east end of the Confederation Trail near Elmira, PEI.  Then we will load our bikes onto Bill’s car for the 3 to 4 hour ride to the west end of the island at Tignish.

Confederation Trail on Prince Edward Island

Confederation Trail on Prince Edward Island

The forecasters have reneged on their promise of fair skies.  There’s now a 50% chance of rain for the first morning (Tuesday).  0% for Wednesday.  20% for Thursday.

Along the way Bill and I talk teaching.  Bill is a college prof in the Education Department at the University of New Brunswick and has been a teacher, principal, and central administrator throughout his career.  I open that I think teachers, not the right test, not the latest technology, are THE crucial element in the success of students.  From my vantage point, I don’t feel there are enough good teachers in our public schools.  Bill chimes in that mediocre teachers all think they are good.

How do we get exceptional people to teach in the public schools?  Decent salaries sure.  But I think it is improving the day-to-day working conditions that must change.  Meeting the needs of a variety of kids all day is physically and mentally exhausting, especially over the course of a school year.  As a teacher, I needed to collaborate with colleagues more; I needed more coaching and training; I needed more of a voice in my school day and conversations with teachers about what was important for students to learn.  I needed time to reflect on my craft.  For me, teaching was a 180 day headlong sprint of meeting students’ needs with little time to think about what I was doing.  Ultimately, we need teachers who spark students to wonder and be curious, not merely pass standardized tests.

After three hours of driving in New Brunswick, we cross the Confederation Bridge into PEI.

Confederation Bridge map

Eight mile Confederation Bridge across the Northumberland Strait

Eight mile Confederation Bridge across the Northumberland Strait

Ninety minutes later we take a lunch break near the Confederation Trail in Morell, PEI.

Bill and Hannah after our lunch break

Bill and Hannah after our lunch break

Around three we arrive at the Points East Beach Motel where we will spend the night after completing the trail.  A stone’s throw from our lodging is the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Pre D and H at East Point beach

Though we have been in the car for nearly six hours, we have three and a half hours more from Elmira to Tignish.  Along the way we learn that we should have informed our Visa card company that we were leaving the country.  Trying to use our credit card for gas, we find it rejected in Kensington, PEI that afternoon.  Again Bill comes to our rescue.

Throughout the drive across PEI, rain falls intermittently but enough to put some doubt over tomorrow’s opening day ride.   Overcast skies with fog dominate the view through the front windshield.  It’s just a raw day; if we were biking today, we would be enduring, not celebrating the trail.

Pulling in after more than ten hours of driving, we settle into our room at the Murphy Cottages in Tignish.  It’s takeout Paninis on the deck for dinner, but first cheese doodles to the rescue.

Carbo loading

Carbo loading

Murphy's Cottage #5

Murphy’s Cottage #5

The grounds at Murphy's Guest Home and Cottages in Tignish, PEI

The grounds at Murphy’s Guest Home and Cottages in Tignish, PEI

The innkeeper tells us it’s to rain til early afternoon tomorrow.  Throw us a bone, sweetheart.  You could have said the forecast is iffy.  We head to bed wondering if and when we will hit the Confederation Trail manana.  70 miles in some form of precipitation is a long 70 miles.

The red dirt of the Confederation Trail

The red dirt of the Confederation Trail

Dan and Hannah: Days before Biking the Confederation Trail in PEI (part 1 of 2)

Just a year after visiting Prince Edward Island, Canada, Hannah and I have decided we would return to bike the 273 kilometre (169 mile) island-long Confederation Trail over the course of three days.  This onetime former railroad track of crushed gravel goes from Tignish in the west to Elmira in the east.  We’ll stop at Summerside the first night and Mt. Stewart the second.

PEI mapWe are making it a fund raiser for our friend, Amy Paquette and her family.  Once a student of mine in teacher education at the University of New England, she is currently recovering from a brain aneurysm.  

Our dreaminess of biking the trail for the past year is now coming face-to-face with the reality of actually biking those many miles.  We can talk a big game.  Can we deliver?

Confederation Trail

Confederation Trail

Nine Days Before We Bike the Confederation Trail and Seven Days Before We Leave for Canada:

I check the weather all the time on our laptop.  Many times per day in fact.  The Weather Channel forecasts ten days out and today it is not making me a happy camper.  You see, it predicts a 60% chance of rain with a high of 62F for the first day of our ride across PEI.  The temperature is fine; cool but not cold will conserve our energy over the 6 to 9 hours of biking we’ll do each day.  It’s the H2O from above that’s not good news; but really, predictions of rain nine days away are so unreliable.  Still I am bummed.

Here in Maine heavy rain has fallen over the last few days; and there is no way on God’s good green earth that we will ride in such weather.  We have emotionally (in theory) accepted that our ride could take four days, even five.  We do have ponchos.

Bring on the rain!

Bring on the rain!

Interesting, as D-Day (departure) approaches, I am more and more certain will do what it takes to make this trek (trek is a bit of hyperbole since we are staying in B and Bs each night).  Until the ride becomes real by putting feet to pedal and hands to handlebars, it all seems so hypothetical.  I’m looking forward to seeing if we are up for it.

Eight Days Before: First thing in the morning, I turn on the computer to get the early June PEI forecast.  My spirits soar when I see that forecast for rain on Day 1 of our trip has gone down from 60 to 30% chance of rain.  (I am so easily manipulated.)  And now Day 2 has zero per cent chance of rain.  These little numbers lift my spirits.  Though quite confident on the outside, we wonder if we can really do this?

Hannah and I went out on our final training ride of 24 miles.  Listen to the names of the country roads we bike on: Chases Pond, Greenleaf Parsons, Josiah Norton, Ogunquit, and Emery Bridge.   On this Memorial Day in the States these backroads are quiet; Hannah and I can ride side by side as we will eight days hence on the Confederation Trail.

weather channel logo

Seven Days Before:  My morning 5A weather check is not good news.  A week from today, rain is now forecasted with 60% certainty.  Day 2 at 30% and Day 1 at 10% are just fine.  I’ll not fill Hannah in on these numbers as we still have 168 hours before we pedal our 21 speeds on the Confederation Trail.  She does not need to bear the brunt of my weather forecast obsessiveness.  Fact is, if I told her, she’d scoff and dismiss it is as so far away as to be meaningless information.  I hang on the Weather Channel’s every word while she pooh poohs it.  Clearly one of us has our act together.

Let’s get real about these hocus pocus weather numbers.  In fact, 60% precipitation means rain showers.  If they meant rain rain, they’d say 90 to 100%.  30% means clouds.  Why do they bother saying 10% chance of rain?  That just covers the back sides of meteorologists if they screw up.

Truth be told, we haven’t packed for the trip.  Like the ride itself, packing is still theoretical and sometime in the future.  Though we must squeeze everything into panniers, we remain confident it will all fit.  It’s not blind faith at all.  It’s an intuitive sense it will all work out based on…well, not experience…just a gut feeling.

And I’ll live with my gut instincts any day of the week.

Panniers make the Man

Panniers make the Man

Online I request a 7A breakfast time on the first morning we set out from Murphy’s Tourist Home and Cottages in Tignish, PEI.  That means we’ll be biking by 8A which gives us 13 hours to complete the first day’s 70 miles before sunset at 9P.  We can do that?

Six Days Before: It rains again in York today.  We will not bike on such a day in PEI.  Sprinkles maybe.  Rain no.  The updated three day predictions for our hike from the Weather Channel are :  Day 1 just won’t budge off 60% chance of showers.  Day 2 is 20%, which means no rain.   Day 3 is 10% which is even less.   There is plenty of time for the forecast to change.  Two out of three ain’t bad, so sayeth the Meatloaf.

rainFive Days Before:  The Weather Channel won’t budge off their 60% prediction of rain on our Day 1.  It does have five days to come to its senses.  Day 2 at 20% and Day 3 at 30% are just fine.

Four Days Before: After days predicting 60% chance of rain, the meteorologists at the Weather Channel have discounted that number to 30% for our first day on the Confederation Trail.  Days 2 and 3 are locked in at 20%.  Sweet.

With temperatures hitting 90 today in Maine, we are thankful the predicted day time highs in PEI on Day 1 and 2 are in the mid-60s and Day 3 at 59 degrees.  Ideal biking weather.

We hear from Amy Paquette wishing us well for our trip.   Will has made “Paquette” dry–fit shirts for our ride.   The planets are aligning.

Hannah, Dan, and Will

Hannah, Dan, and Will

Hannah and I continue not to be stressed with the prospect of biking such long distances.  We have been training all winter at the gym.  And by the way, we still haven’t packed.

To give you an idea of approximately 169 miles,

it is more than the 166 miles going along the coast of Maine from York to Bucksport near the entrance to Acadia National Park.

it is more than the 154 miles from our one time home in Tempe, AZ to Flagstaff, AZ.  True that is a climb of 6000 feet.  On the other hand it’s all downhill coming home.

it is more than the 151 miles of the commute from York to Willimantic, CT I made for four years while teaching at Eastern Connecticut State University.

We just have faith.

Dan and Hannah Hike Annapolis Rocks on the Appalachian Trail in Maryland

With the dreaded DC traffic coming to town, it’s another 530A morning leaving the Kyker B and B in mid-May.  Taking to the Washington Beltway west out of the city, we find traffic flowing quite nicely and in 20 minutes we are heading northwest on I-270 to Rockville, MD where we will strike breakfast gold within the hour.  Heading in the opposite direction, slogging commuter traffic rumbles and stumbles to DC.  Life is good heading out of town.

Mountain View Diner

Mountain View Diner

At in MD MVD interior

Again, I’ve found a non-franchise diner online prior to our hike.  Today it’s the Mountain View Diner on Route 40 in Rockville.  Funky, bright, gleaming fifties, the Mountain View has $7, $8, and $9 breakfasts, but we find the hike-nourishing $2.99 special of two eggs, home fries, and toast bursting at the edge of the plate.  We hit pay dirt.

$2.99 Special

$2.99 Special

From the Mountain View Diner, we tool up and down the hills of route 40 for 15 minutes while school buses pass us in the opposite direction.  Only 70 minutes from the Washington Metro area, we spot a parking area for 8 to 10 cars on our right for the Appalachian Trail.

Appalachian Trailhead off route 40 Maryland

Appalachian Trailhead off route 40 Maryland

Time is the gift retirement gives us day in and day out.  Things we want to do don’t have to be squeezed in or postponed til the weekend.

Hannah leads the way

Hannah leads the way

A hundred yards from the well-marked main trail, we begin hiking along a path where a chain-linked fence separates us from the traffic of I-70 some one hundred feet below and soon has us deep in the forest. 

AT in MD trail Han

Heading north on the Appalachian Trail in a heavy fog, the assent warms us both, especially Hannah wearing a gray sweater.  She soon looks for a place to leave behind along the trail.

Hannah's Sweater of Gray

Hannah’s Sweater of Gray

Hanging her sweater trailside, Hannah is convinced her sweater will be there when we return.  I couldn’t agree more.  We didn’t even think there will be a 90% chance it will be there.  We are all in.  100% that it will be there upon our return.  My goodness, we are among the community of hikers!  The temperatures are into the 70s.  Far too warm for a sweater!  In our certainty, Hannah hangs her sweater and we hike on.

Angled log to divert running rain water into the forest rather than to let erode the trail

Angled log to divert running rain water into the forest rather than  let erode the trail

Hiking the AT in Maryland is a classic walk in the park as the canopied trees make it the proverbial “green tunnel.”  Hiking three miles per hour while talking is very doable on such level terrain.  Hannah calls our path a “red carpet” as the trail is sweetly laid out in front of us.  The trees on this ridge hike hide the views of the valley below.  At last 2.2 miles from the trailhead, we take a 300 yard side blue blaze trail to the Annapolis Rocks.

Looking west from Annapolis Rocks

Looking west from Annapolis Rocks

In another easy mile we take the short blue blaze trail to Black Rock.

Hannah surveying the Maryland countryside from Black Rock

Hannah surveying the Maryland countryside from Black Rock

After nearly two hours of ridge line hiking we take a break after what we estimate is five and a half miles of hiking from the trailhead.

The turn around point

The turn around point in paradise

As we reverse course, we know that this is the time in our hike when we might see northbound thru-hikers (those hiking 2180 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine).

White blaze that guides our way on the AT

White blaze that guides our way                  on the AT

Within a half a mile we see Smooth and Gimpy.  Smooth’s trail name comes from his smooth sailing along the trail to Mount Katahdin.  Enough said why Gimpy is Gimpy when we see a black ace bandage around his left knee.

Smooth had left Georgia in March so he is making a good progress to get to Mt. Katahdin in another two to three months.  When we ask him what surprised him about the hike, he says it was the five feet of snow in the Smokies.  Currently seated on a rock, Smooth says that his second pair of shoes is giving him trouble, not a good sign with someone who still has 1100+ miles to go.

Heading for home

Heading for home

Within minutes, we slow to talk to a young woman by the trail name of Mayonnaise.  She left in early February so it’s been slow going for her.  In nearly three and half months of hiking, she’s just about halfway to Mount Katahdin; it will be late summer for this recent college grade (a fellow UNH Wildcat) before she’ll be on our mountain in Maine.  It was the weather that surprised her.  Out of 30 days hiking in North Carolina, it snowed 26 of them.  Her AT hiking advice is the importance getting a new pair of shoes every 500 miles.  The outsides may look fine, but the interiors can be a mess.

Thru-hikers are just tough and made from a heartier stock than I.  It takes real women and real men to brave the weather and the PUDs (pointless ups and downs of mountain climbing) to keep believing day after day that they’ll make it to Maine.

Mayonnaise is sunshine.  She is one of those people who gives us energy with her smile and mutual interest.  Rarely do we find someone wondering about our story.   After talking with her (and she seemed in no hurry), we feel energized by her hopeful and happy nature and our participation in the conversation.  After nearly three hours of hiking, we feel renewed and ready to finish our four hours of hiking and talking.

With a mile to go til the trailhead we begin looking for Hannah’s sweater.  No matter how racist it sounds, many trees do look alike.  Her sweater would be on our right now, down the uphill we passed three hours ago.  Our certainty falters as we hear I-70 in the near distance.  As we get to the trail parallel to the highway, there is no gray sweater to be seen.  Hannah retraces her steps back up the hill for a good half mile or more.

She sadly returns with no sweater.

So what could have happened?  Perhaps, a “helpful” ranger took it on to some shelter for a hiker to claim in?  We’d like to think someone needed it more than Hannah.  No one would steal it.  Stuff just happens.

None of this overshadows the five star breakfast at the Mountain View Diner or that hiking the AT in Maryland is about as good as it gets.

Dan and Hannah Hike Hawksbill Gap in the Shenandoah National Park

We are in for a treat today.  The pre-treat is breakfast at a Virginia institution, the Frost Diner in Warrenton, VA on the way to the Shenandoahs.  The entre is hiking with our long time Virginia friend Marianne and her therapy dog Maggie.

Up early and out the door of the Kyker B and B (Innkeeper Amelia is the best) in Vienna, VA by 530A, we are busting away from the Washington Metropolitan area on I-66.   Normally a parking lot, I-66 is free and clear heading west this morning; coming east into DC?  Not so much.  Crawling traffic even at 6A.

Online I’ve learned that the Frost Diner has Dan and Hannah written all over it.  Small town and small time and only an hour from our hike in the Shenandoahs.

Frost Diner facade

Sampling small town Americana, we have a diner that looks like it’s been airlifted from my home state of New Jersey.  They don’t accept credit cards, just cash.  This Friday morning there are only men sitting on the stools at the counter or coming in in work clothes to fill a nearby booth.  We sink into the booths that haven’t been recushioned since the Eisenhower Administration.  Checking out the menu we can see that southerners love their meat: sausage, bacon, and ham.  Often it’s biscuits and sausage gravy for Hannah when we are on the road.  Today we share the two scrambled eggs, home fries and biscuit with an order of buttermilk pancakes.

Taking route 211 west to Sperryville, we come to the Thornton Gap Entrance to the Shenandoah National Park.  On this mid-May morning no one is at the gate; it must have something to do with the sequester (billions in automatic government spending cuts).

SNP Thorton Gap sign

Climbing to the ridgeline of the Shenandoah Mountains, we have hit gold on a 70 degree day with only thunder showers forecasted for late in the afternoon.

The Skyline Drive takes us south to Hawksbill Gap.

Skyline Drive at Hawksbill Gap

Skyline Drive at Hawksbill Gap

Though Marianne and Maggie are coming from the south and we all have no cell phone service, we still manage to meet on time at 830A.  Marianne was a student of mine during the second year of my two year run as a writing instructor in the Summer Writing Program at the University of New Hampshire some 16 years ago.   I think of them as the glory years.  I’m not sure the university feels the same way.

There are parking spaces for fifteen vehicles on either side of the road at the Hawksbill Gap Trailhead.  With new Timberland hiking socks, I follow the leading ladies steadily up to Hawksbill Mountain for the first mile.  

Our effort is rewarded as we have a beautiful 360° view on this Virginia is for Lovers day.  As we look about, I think that you just never know when great things may come into your life.   That summer sixteen years ago brought us a kindred spirit in Marianne.   A former first grade teacher and now a professor, she balances marriage with a grandchild in her life as well as four horses in addition to traveling nearly an hour to her full-time career at James Madison University.   She just impresses the hell out of us.

This simple 2.9 mile loop is something we finish in an hour and a quarter without pushing it.   At 3500 feet, the trees are just beginning to leaf in mid-May, similar to how they are in coastal Maine where we live.

Marianne and Hannah

Marianne and Hannah

After our Hawksbill summit, we find the Appalachian Trail through a path nicely shaded by deciduous trees, not two hundred feet from the trailhead.

White blaze indicating the AT (blue blazes are side trails)

White blaze indicating the AT (blue blazes are side trails)

Skirting the Skyline Drive to our east as we hike, we only occasionally hear the passing cars on this mostly level ridge trail.   Nicely shaded, with a level path with room for two to hike side by side, we catch up like old friends. It’s amazing how quickly three hours go with such good company.

Two flowers and flowers in the trunk

Two flowers

Thinking about our reading of Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (see blog for May 4, 2013), I ask Marianne about dealing with extroverts and taking more control in our lives.  We share stories of our introvertism and “pretend extrovertism” (being extroverted when necessary, or to address a passion in our lives).  After twenty minutes Marianne apologizes and says she has no answer and is sorry she hasn’t really helped.

Au contraire!   By listening to us, she allowed us to reveal our truth within – where the answers live.  As one who understands that letting us talk out our questions is a way to find our answers, Marianne is a godsend.

Buddies

Buddies

A thought for introverts:  Settle down.  Don’t try to change extroverts.  You can’t.  They can’t change any more than introverts can.  It’s in their DNA.  That said, both introverts and extroverts can talk too much, be it one to one or in large groups.  If an introvert, find those extroverts who energize your life with their passion as well as being ones who want to hear your story, as well as tell theirs.

PS  The reason we are in Virginia is to celebrate with our daughter Molly her completion of her doctoral requirements to earn her PhD in Mathematics Leadership from George Mason University.  Dr. Molly!

Dr. Molly

Dr. Molly

Proud Mom and Dad

Proud Mom and Dad

Molly at the center of the graduation line

Molly at the center of the graduation line

Dr. Suh, Molly's doctoral advisor

Dr. Suh, Molly’s doctoral advisor

Not everyone could make it through the two hour plus graduation

Not everyone could make it through the two hour plus graduation

Owen and his Omi

Owen and his Omi

 

Owen on the floor

Molly had the support where it counted!  Congrats to you, too, Tip

Molly had the support where it counted!                   Congrats to you, too, Tip

George Mason's Bright Light

George Mason’s Bright Light