Dan and Hannah Experience Richmond at its Fall Best

V richmond mapTo many New Englanders (well, really just me), Richmond is known for two things: Coach Shaka Smart of VCU basketball and Civil War history.  Now that our son Will and his fiancée Laurel live in nearby Bon Air and work at Virginia Commonwealth University, we can easily fly from Boston to the River City on Delta or JetBlue to experience the South and its warmth.

Retirement is great if…

if  you have your good health and if you have enough money.  Currently we can check off yes and yes, so we are on the move.

Stuart Siegel Center with its 2M big screen TV

Stuart Siegel Center with its 2M big screen TV

Flying Tuesday afternoon from Logan Airport, we arrive two hours later at Richmond International Airport. Curbside, Will whisks us off to the Stuart Siegel Center for tonight’s 6P game, VCU v Toledo University.

Tommy J West Club at the Stuart Siegel Center

Tommy J West Club at the Stuart Siegel Center

Arriving a little after five, Will arranges for us to dine at the buffet for the big shots at the Tommy J West club high above the hardwood. Overlooking the court, we feast on sweet potatoes, green beans in mushroom sauce, and tossed salad; honey baked ham is there for the taking for the meat eaters. As we sit in luxury, we think how this club would be a fantastic venue for a rockin’ family party.

Will, Laurel, and her future in-laws

Will, Laurel, and her future in-laws

Kenyon College grad, Shaka Smart

Kenyon College grad, Shaka Smart

Shaka Smart has made VCU basketball the “what’s happening” place to be in Richmond on game nights.  Tonight will be the 51st straight sell out in this nearly 8000 fan arena.  A graduate of Kenyon College in Ohio like my Brother Richard and Uncle Bill, Shaka is named after a Zulu warrior.  Always entertaining, his team’s style is to press for 40 minutes and fast break on every possession.

Tip off of VCU v Toledo

Tip off of VCU v Toledo

With not a bad seat in the house, we sit 15 rows up from the foul line for the tonight’s game televised by ESPN against Toledo, a team that won 27 games last year and returns 7 of its 8 top players.  The crowd is electric and plugs into the high paced offense and defense of the VCU Rams.  Smart has branded their style of play as “Havoc,” which when rocking, truly befuddles opposing teams.

VCU's Melvin Johnson driving to the basket

VCU’s Melvin Johnson driving to the basket

Early on, the game is tight and tense.  Last year VCU went undefeated on its home court, but tonight they are meeting their match as the Rockets shoot well and break the press without much trouble.

Last year's NCAA leader in steals, Briante Weber, floating one above the Toledo defender

Last year’s NCAA leader in steals, Briante Weber, floating one above the Toledo defender

At halftime VCU is lucky to be down only three points, as Toledo shoots 90% from the foul line. “Havoc” defense is meant to eventually wear teams down; and on schedule in the second half, it starts to take its toll on the Rockets. They turn the ball over for an easy two at the rim and three more from downtown.

Victoire!

Victoire!

The 87-78 VCU victory reflects the team’s #15 ranking in the country. This close game is all a fan could want: fast-paced action, drama, and ultimately a W.

After a 430A wakeup call this morning in Maine, we sleep well in Virginia after a VCU victory.

The All Access Man with his Sweet Mama

The All Access Man with his Sweet Mama

With a layover day Wednesday before another VCU game Thursday night, Hannah and I plan to take in the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond. Dropped off in the downtown by Laurel, we easily find it and talk to the museum guide about what lies within.  At $13 for seniors, we want multi-media and interactive exhibits. We get neither and decide to invest our $26 of disposable income in another way.

Let’s be fair. The museum didn’t really have much of a chance. You wouldn’t call us museum people. We like doing rather than looking.  It’s just in our DNA.  But not going to the museum today is win/win. The museum is not subjected to our feigned interest and we can walk and hike in Richmond this mid-November day.

Along the Canal Walk in Richmond, Virginia

Along the Canal Walk in Richmond, Virginia

Just down the hill to the James River, Richmond’s Canal Walk meanders along the shoreline for a mile and a quarter. It’s a winter coat and mittens day here in the South, but our steady pace keeps us warm. Normally in warmer weather the bistros and restaurants along the canal are buzzing while the park on Brown’s Island is filled with families, joggers, and Frisbee players.

The walking suspension bridge beneath the Robert E Lee Highway into Richmond

The walking suspension bridge beneath the Robert E Lee Highway into Richmond

Soon finding our way to the suspension bridge across the James River to Belle Isle, we enter a network of trails. Belle Isle was first explored by the Captain John Smith in 1607.  Later the island served as a prison for 30,000 Union soldiers during the American Civil War.

Bundled up for Belle Isle hiking

Bundled up for Belle Isle hiking

In warmer weather, Belle Isle is a great place for trail walking, swimming and kayaking in the James River, rock jumping, sunbathing, and boulder-top picnicking, just feet away from white water rapids.

Another victory for the Rams!

Another victory for the Rams!

Exercise-satisfied, we await Thursday’s VCU game at the Siegel Center.

Thursday, the Rams hit their first 8 shots and lead 18-0 over University of Maryland Eastern Shore. With the game well in hand from the outset, Shaka substitutes liberally and gets his freshman some valuable collegiate playing time.

Richmond in November is just the antidote for the coming deep freeze in New England.

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Dan and Hannah Hike the Appalachian Trail near Smithsburg, Maryland

The crash has nothing to do with the Appalachian Trail

The crash has nothing to do with the Appalachian Trail

We love hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) in Maryland.  When here in the Oyster State, we have had sublime ridgeline hiking; those easy going trails that make the day feel like a walk in the park.  As we wrap up our week of AT hiking in the South, we come to Smithsburg in northern Maryland in mid-October. During the Civil War, Smithsburg was a hospital town, treating soldiers from the nearby Battle of Antietam.

We’ve come north from Richmond, VA through the I-95 logjam of northern Virginia, west on the I-495 beltway to I-270 to Frederick, MD. Lunching on Subway subs at a local park, we know we have just three hours and change to hike before our dinner plans. We, who think happy hour nachos and margaritas at Ruby’s are a big deal, have dinner plans.

Wolfsville Road in October

Wolfsville Road in October

Turning east towards the mountains from Smithsburg, we head up Wolfsville Road to trailhead parking for 12 cars. A blue blaze trail to the AT takes us into the Maryland woods on this October day at 60 degrees (blue blaze trails are side trails leading to the white blaze main trail).

Blue blaze side trail to the Appalachian Trail

Blue blaze side trail to the Appalachian Trail

Immediately as we head north on the AT we pass the Ensign Cowell Shelter. I’d have to lose a large bet or be held at gun point to stay overnight in a shelter. Lying on a thin pad in a sleeping bag on pine floors, wedged shoulder to shoulder with another of God’s smelliest human beings?  I think not. Snoring!  NASA still hasn’t developed earplugs with enough sound-proofing to give a hiker a good night’s sleep in AT shelters; and don’t get me started on the mice that scurry over and around and, yes through, sleeping bags.  Okay, I admit it, I’m soft.

Check out the Ensign Cowell Shelter.

With an ambitious goal to hike the five miles to and from the Raven Rock Shelter in three to four hours, we have a tight window to make our dinner plans in nearby Ijamsville (the j is silent).  Today is another golden day in the South and the last one before we head home to winter in Maine. (That’s not as appealing as it sounds.) Our trail guidebook says we will be hiking between 1100’ and 1400’ to the Raven Rock Shelter.  We love our mellow Maryland hills.

Rocks aplenty on the AT in Maryland

Rocks aplenty on the AT in northern Maryland

Stepping along the AT of yellow and brown fall leaves, we find the trail well-marked with white blazes. Truth be told the leaves are hiding a rocky terrain similar to ones we found on the boot-shredding AT in Pennsylvania. Still, the trails here in the Terrapin State allow us to talk easily without the huffing and puffing that we do when climbing the mountains of the AT in North Carolina.

From forest to fields to forest

From forest to fields to forest

Soon we are crossing fields, passing other hikers with backpacks who are out for a few days on the trail before the winter snows. When hiking in the South, I travel back in my mind to Civil War times. Surveying the hills, farmland, and valleys as we hike, I wonder what it was like for soldiers as well as the townsfolk trying to survive the ravages and uncertainty of war.  What must have been the terror and hope of slaves traveling the Underground Railroad through this part of the country?

MD 3 Han on ATWondering how far it is to the shelter, we meet up with a young couple from nearby Hood College. They let on that they lost the trail and are turning back. Undeterred, we have no doubt we’ll find the trail and carry on. And we do.

MD 7 trailAfter 90 minutes of hiking and no Raven Rock Shelter in view, we wonder, considering our dinner plans, do we go on or do we turn back?   Four teenage boys out for a first time backpacking adventure, going in the opposite direction, say the shelter is 2-3 hours away. We dismiss their youthful wild guess and hike on.

MD 4 rocky trailSoon thereafter we meet up with a 40-something male hiker, who tells us we are a mile away from the shelter as he points upward to the mountain before us.  We weigh another hour of mountain climbing versus our dinner plans?  With never a doubt, we head back to the trailhead.  for out “don’t miss” dinner plans.

VCU Rams are everywhere on the AT

VCU Rams are everywhere on the AT

Hiking back to the Wolfsville Road trailhead, we meet Bubble Gum (his trail name). Wanting to get to the Raven Rock Shelter before dark, he is understandably distracted talking to day-hiking dilettantes (i.e. dabblers) like us. We do learn that his trail name comes from giving bubble gum to other hikers.  Sadly, he never offers us any.  Such can be the dismissive approach to us day hikers.

Maryland's Appalachian Trail

Maryland’s Appalachian Trail

Heading for the trailhead, we soak in every last bit of our fifth of five hikes on the AT over the last week. After thirty years of running on streets and biking country roads, we have found gold in hiking the trails of the Appalachian Mountains.

MD 5 white blaze trailHeading for dinner, we see the teenagers on the trail ahead. They hear us and pick up the pace!  Kids!  A fool’s errand. We have dinner plans, fanny packs, and years of hiking experience; they have heavy backpacks, youthful bravado, and mistaken notions of their own fitness.  It’s no contest as they finally relent, step aside, and let us pass. We smile graciously as they look beaten and stunned that we two, who are probably older than their grandparents, go sailing by.

Packing up off Wolfsville Road, we navigate the modest 5P traffic through Frederick and Ijamsville, Maryland for our dinner plans.

Wendy and Hannah, 1970 grads of the College of Wooster, Ohio

Wendy and Hannah, 1970 grads of the College of Wooster, Ohio

Arriving at the home of Hannah’s College of Wooster classmate, Wendy and her husband Bill, we are welcomed like long lost friends.  Wendy and Hannah find the forty plus years since they were last together melt away. (While they graduated from this liberal arts college in Ohio, I lasted just three years there and graduated from the Harvard of the West – Arizona State.).  Treated like old friends, we reconnect over wine and cheese, down home dinner, and a mutual interest that allows our stories and theirs to emerge in a soul-satisfying confluence.

We’ll be back again. To both the AT in Maryland and Wendy and Bill’s, you can count on that.

Dan and Hannah Walk the Slave Trail in Richmond, Virginia

The Robert E. Lee statue, one of many along Richmond's Monument Avenue

The Robert E. Lee statue, one of many along Richmond’s Monument Avenue

As another long cold, snowy winter is predicted for the eastern two-thirds of the United States, Richmond, Virginia comes into focus as a place to be.  It is a blue sweet spot in a state of red.  Once the capital of the Confederate States of America (Lincoln referred to them as the “so-called Confederacy”) during the War of Northern Aggression, Richmond is a modern day city thriving with Virginia Commonwealth University at its hub.

Overlooking the James River

Overlooking the James River

Here in Richmond, the famous words Give me Liberty or give me Death were spoken by Patrick Henry in 1775.  In 1997, the General Assembly voted to cancel the 1940 adoption of Carry Me Back to Old Virginny as the Virginia state song, in response to criticism that the words of the song “glorified” slavery.

ST 2B slave trail signThat segues to our walk along the Slave Trail on the James River in Richmond today.  It has been said that slavery was a stain on America.  Please!  That’s hardly a potent enough noun to characterize this tragedy.  Recorded in the history books that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights, phooey.  That sounds like spin to me.  It was all about enslaving fellow human beings for King Cotton.

Hannah’s College of Wooster classmate Bambi offers us the opportunity to educate ourselves further about this “peculiar institution” (an historical euphemism for slavery meant to defend its use despite the Declaration of Independence proclaiming that “all men are created equal”).

College of Wooster Women, Bambi and Hannah

College of Wooster Women, Bambi and Hannah

Having seen Bambi maybe once in the 40+ years since they graduated from college in Ohio, Hannah reconnects immediately as if they are just down the corridor at Wagner Hall. Just as active as we are, Bambi arranges a walk in Richmond to satisfy our neurotic urge to exercise any day, every day.

Winding our way by car past a recycling and waste treatment center on the James River, in shirt sleeves we pull into the parking for the Slave Trail on this mid-October day.

ST 5 Slave docksThe Slave Trail chronicles the history of the slave trade from Africa to Virginia.

It begins at Manchester Docks, a major port in the massive downriver Slave Trade that made Richmond the largest source of enslaved Africans on the east coast of America from 1830 to 1860.

The trail begins with the James River in the distance

The trail begins with the James River in the distance

Parking for what seems to be for 50 cars leads us to this river front trail. Along the trail are 17 explanation markers about this despicable time in American history.  From my brief exposure to the trail, it seems like these trail signs are not sanitized to absolve the white Southerners of the 18th and 19th centuries or demonize them.

ST map 2

From Explanation Three.

We were handcuffed in pairs, with iron staples and bolts, with a short chain about a foot long uniting the handcuffs and their wearers in pairs.  In this manner we were chained alternately by the right and left hand; and the poor man to whom I was ironed wept like an infant. Charles Bell, 1854.

Hannah and Bambi along the trail

Hannah and Bambi along the trail

Across the river from Richmond, we three spend the time catching up. Bambi was a sociology major in a time when a liberal arts education was held in high esteem (At Wooster, I majored in political science and Hannah in physical education.)  Service was at the center of the lives for many of us Flower Children of the Sixties.

ST 2F D on ST

A VCU Ram in Richmond, the home of the Rams

Winding along the James River, we are in a rural setting in the Richmond metropolitan area where 1.3 million people live and work.  As you would expect, the three mile river trail is level and tree covered; accessible to all ages, shapes, and sizes.  The dirt trail gives way to concrete sidewalks in front of massive flood walls along the James. Here the trail is wide enough for the three of us to walk side by side.

Along the concrete trail in front the flood walls

Along the concrete trail in front the flood walls

Built in the late 18th century, the Mayo Bridge was the access over the James for slaves and slave traders. Today, we cross on a crumbling sidewalk to the side of its four lane highway into the heart of Richmond.  In the past, the James River was an industrial river that no one loved. Why in the mid-20th century, public access to the river was prohibited given its status as an open sewer. Today Richmond area residents are rightfully proud of the area and take full advantage of its multi-use trails and recreation opportunities.

VCU banner at the Irish Pub

VCU banner at the Irish Pub

The climate in Richmond begs New Englanders to head south.  Average highs are in the mid-40s in January and by April highs are in the low 70s.  Snow?  Even a snowy first winter by local standards for our son Will and his fiancee Laurel still meant that Will never shoveled once!  It snows, it melts, and it’s gone.  Sounds like a dream world.

The temperature does rise inside VCU’s Siegel Center where Coach Shaka Smart has led the Rams to the NCAA basketball tournament each of the last four years. Fifty-two straight sell outs are testament to the appeal of VCU’s fast break offense and swarming “HAVOC” defense.

Al fresco

Al fresco

Being close to three in the afternoon, we lunch al fresco at the Sine Irish Pub in the Shackoe Bottom section of bustling downtown Richmond. With no one about, we have a private “room” watching the world go by. Forty years of lives unfold as we share our journeys and Bambi shares hers.

Heading home

Heading home

It’s a delightfully warm three mile walk back to the trailhead as we enjoy the sunshine, the exercise, and especially reconnecting with a new “old friend.”

Dan and Hannah Hike the Appalachian Trail near Erwin, Tennessee

Appalachian Trail MapAfter days of rain in the forecast, the rain gods finally have their way.  Tuesday le deluge comes to western North Carolina.  After John Denver hiking (i.e., that’s right – sunshine on our shoulders) near Hot Springs, we have rain and more rain on this our zero day (no hiking).  Stepping in and out of drenching downpours, we hit Asheville hot spots: Lunch at O’Charley’s with Hannah’s sister Bettsy, then later dinner at Chorizo (Mexican) with Jeff, my College of Wooster tennis teammate.

map of erwin tnNo matter the weather, there is no doubt we are going to hike in Tennessee this mid-October Wednesday. Only 45 minutes from the AT in Tennessee, we won’t miss this chance as tomorrow we head for home some 1000 miles away.

Parking by the Nolichucky River in Erwin, TN

Parking by the Nolichucky River in Erwin, TN

Waking in the Mars Hill, NC Comfort Inn, we can’t even see across the parking lot. The fog is Great Smoky Mountain thick. After a motel breakfast that includes biscuits and gravy for Hannah, we drive west on I-26 to Erwin, Tennessee, a mere 45 miles away, through fog, then into sunlight. The AT passes through Erwin a mere 340 miles from the AT’s origin at Springer Mountain, Georgia. The hiking gods have smiled upon us as we will be hiking precipitation-free today.

Nolichucky River at flood stage

Nolichucky River at flood stage

Driving along the Nolichucky River, we are winding our way deeper into the rural South. Visions of Deliverance come to mind. Deliverance (1972) scared the bejesus out of me.  All the worst stereotypes of hillbilly mountain folk are shown in terrifying detail.  It’s a disturbing movie along the lines of Fargo (1996) in that it’s all too real and frightening.  Even so, we are fearless today.

ET 1C Unaka Springs FBChurchPassing the Nolichucky Hostel and Outfitters on River Road, we park roadside. After yesterday’s heavy rains, the Nolichucky is at flood stage.  Crossing the bridge, we see another of the many small churches in town. Erwin has 6000 people.  YP.com lists 254 churches in Erwin!  You do the math.

ET 1 hanging elephantOnce home to Cherokee Indians, Erwin earned some notoriety in 1916 by holding a public execution of an elephant. Who knew? Mary, the elephant, had killed her handler, Walter Eldridge, in nearby Kingsport.

Mountainside above the Nolichucky River

Mountainside above the Nolichucky River

Crossing a railroad, we climb mountainside above the Nolichucky River on this 50F degree morning. With the heavy wind and rains of the past 24 hours, the trail is leaf covered; our goal is to hike four miles to the Curley Map Gap Shelter. Starting at 1700 feet here in the valley, we will climb 1400 feet more.

Trail of rhododendrons

Trail of rhododendrons

Along the mountainside through a thick forest above the river, we have the beauty of lush rhododendrons each step of the way. The trail is foot-pleasing dirt with enough rocks to keep our attention. We are walking in a forest treasureland far beyond the routines and “to-dos” of daily life.  Again, we are blessed.

Lush rhododendrons along the Appalachian Trail

Lush rhododendrons along the Appalachian Trail

After two miles of hiking we have a steady climb with switchbacks through the deciduous forest. As our sweatshirts come off, shorts and tee shirts feel just right. October is just a fantastic, invigorating month to hike in the South. (Two weeks later on November first, this area gets seven inches of snow!)

Another VCU Ram sighting

Another VCU Ram sighting

Once done with the steady climb, we return to our ridge line conversation.  Is it a red flag to feel sorry for anotherOn the surface, feeling sorry for another might make it seem like one cares.  Not so fast my friend.  Could something else be going on?  Say a little self-righteous judgment?  When we feel sorry for another, are we really saying that “we have decided that you have not made the right choice or, more likely, the choice we would have made?”  Projecting that their life is something less because it is not the life we would choose seems a tad arrogant. Well, a ton arrogant.

“Judgments prevent us from seeing the good that lies beyond appearances.” – Wayne Dyer

Curley Maple Gap Shelter log entries of thru-hikers

Curley Maple Gap Shelter log entries of thru-hikers

And then the Curley Maple Gap Shelter appears suddenly. What a blessing these shelters are for thru-hikers, especially in storms like last night. They are free and foster togetherness, whether one wants it or not. (Click on log entries image to read them more easily.)

Let me show you the Curley Maple Gap Shelter.

ET 5B mountain stream

Heading back down the mountain, we soon meet Loaf who is section hiking the AT. (A section hiker is one planning to hike the entire AT, but in sections of say, two weeks here, four weeks there, over the course of a number of years).

ET 3C H on trailHe did find a shelter last night from the rain, but said Monday’s 50 mph winds on Big Bald (a mountain top without trees) were the toughest.  Funny 50 miles south of Big Bald that same day, we were hiking in the 70F degree sunshine of the AT near Hot Springs. His trail name Loaf was given to him years ago, when starting off on the AT at Springer Mountain, he carried a loaf of French bread for days for a fellow female hiker.

ET 6A welcome to DamascusBack at the Nolichucky, we pack up a little after noon, set to take a 20 mile detour to see Damascus, VA, just over the Tennessee border.  Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Damascus is known as the #1 “Trail Town” along the A.T.

ET 6 trail town signIt holds Trail Days, a multi-day festival attracting thousands of hikers during mid-May each year (Mid-May is about the time that many thru-hikers who began hiking the AT at Springer Mountain, Georgia arrive in southern Virginia).

With Tennessee in the books as our 13th of 14 states of the AT, we set our sights on #14 Georgia next fall.  What an opportunity we have to combine it with some hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Appalachian Trail near Hot Springs, North Carolina

HS Map of North CarolinaToday is like a big par five.  We have one long drive from Richmond (RVA) before we hike.  Given that Virginia and North Carolina abut and given that RVA is in the center of Virginia, we still have more than 400 miles of driving to Asheville in far western North Carolina. Knowing what lies ahead, I sleep restlessly and wake Hannah early this mid-October Monday; soon we are on the road heading west on I-64 to I-81 south.

HS 1 Chick sign

Shortly after 9A, three hundred miles into the drive, we stop in the little border town of Abingdon, VA looking for a breakfast diner.  Though Denny’s or Cracker Barrel might provide a fine breakfast, we want an experience that we can’t find just anywhere and at a good price.  As we fill up for $2.92 per gallon (it’s $2.63 now), a delightful country woman explains in sweet detail how to get to Chick-N-Little at the other end of town.

Quite a breakfast for a VCU woman

Quite the breakfast for a VCU woman

Picture this: a diner with pictures from the 1960s (e.g., Dean Martin) on the wall with frames that you get at the Dollar Store.   Just men, maybe fifteen of them, are at tables and the counter in work jeans and old man khakis.  For $5.99 Hannah gets a veggie omelet, home fries, and biscuits and gravy!  Clearly the sky is not falling at Chick-N-Little.

Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine

Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine

As we drive on to Asheville, I think I am just so clever killing two hiking birds with one trail stone. Let me explain. For a good 150 miles, the Appalachian Trail (AT) straddles the North Carolina/ Tennessee border. Ergo, we have an opportunity to hike a trail that borders both states so we can bag states #12 (NC) and #13 (TN) in our quest to day-hike all 14 AT states.  Clearly, I am overly impressed with my delusional brilliance.

HS 5 HS town signFalling immediately in love with small town Hot Springs, NC, we learn that it’s named for a natural spring with 100+ degree mineral waters. The town itself is becoming a popular tourist destination for rafting and kayaking on the French Broad River as well as hiking, mountain biking, and backpacking.

HS 4 AT diamondThe AT itself goes right through the center of town on Bridge Street marked with AT diamonds in the sidewalk. To find a twofer trail (NC/TN), we enter the small library where Winnie tells us of a trailhead just north of town. But she says, The Welcome Center knows more about hiking in both states.  Babs at the Welcome Center lets us know that she doesn’t think the NC/TN border is close, but the folks down the street at the Bluff Mountain Outfitters will know more.  Whipping out a map, they tell us we are ten miles from the nearest NC/TN border.

French Broad River

French Broad River

Not having done the necessary research of the AT in NC and TN, I nod and smile and think, que sera sera.  It is what it is.  Tennessee is still in our sights and we will somehow hang that pelt on our wall in the coming days.

Hannah on the AT in North Carolina on a sun-dappled day

Hannah on the AT in North Carolina on a sun-dappled day

Now close to 130P, we choose to hike north crossing the French Broad River out of town. Our trail begins as a dirt road along the river by cabins for thru-hikers.  The weather is amazing, sunny near 70F degrees. (Two weeks later heavy snow falls.)

High above Hot Springs, NC on the French Broad River

High above Hot Springs, NC on the French Broad River

Once in the mountains of North Carolina, we are using the switchbacks to climb above the French Broad River.  With our sweatshirts tied around our waists, we are down to our tee shirts and shorts; we talk very little in such steep assents.

Hiking among the thick North Carolina rhododendrons, we are in leafy heaven.

A double white blaze means a turn in the trail.  One of the last we see.

A double white blaze means a turn in the trail. One of the last white blazes we see.

With Hannah in the lead, the trail seems obvious and well-traveled; though we no longer notice white blazes to guide us.  Just days ago on the AT in Pennsylvania, we had white blazes every 100 to 200 yards for guidance and reassurance.  But here after 15 minutes, Hannah turns to me with a “this is odd” expression and says, I haven’t seen a white blaze in quite a while.

Hannah on the trail of rhododendrons

Hannah on the trail of rhododendrons

Backtracking to the last white blaze we saw, we see no evidence that we have missed the correct trail, and now we are just pissed.  Really? You can’t mark the trail this close to town?  Bummed, our annoyance rising, we think, If you can’t mark the trail well enough, we are just not going to hike you anymoreSo there.  We know this is childish and petulant; so be it.  We are what we are.

Determined to carry a grudge and show the trail how really p.o.-ed we are, we turn to town and disparage the trail so it can hear us; we just don’t look at it as we harrumph our way out of the woods. We want no part of its empty apologies.

At the base of the 51 steps to south on the AT

At the base of the 51 steps to south on the AT in Hot Springs

Through town and to the south, the AT climbs 51 stone steps into the forest. As with the north side of town trail, this is a relentless climb on this warm day.  It is Carolina at its finest.  Down to our tee shirts, which are soon soaked with sweat, we are getting the work out we wanted when we awoke twelve hours ago in Richmond.

Fall coming to the mountains of North Carolina

Fall coming to the mountains of North Carolina

The trail is rocky as we have come to expect from the AT. Though the forecast has gone back and forth between rain and no rain, today is picture perfect.  We do see more white blazes, and are coming down off our high horses.

Back through town before 5P so Hannah can buy post cards at the Bluff Mountain Outfitters, we have notched AT State #12 in North Carolina.

Now Tennessee!  Nearly 1000 miles from our home in Maine, we are not going to miss this opportunity to hike in the Volunteer State when we are this close!  Come hell or high water or the rain that is predicted we will hike in Tennessee.

HS 9P AT trail sign

 

Dan Hikes with Will and Laurel on the Moorman River in Virginia

Richmond Virginia image

There are so many reasons to love RVA (Richmond, Virginia):

  1. It’s a small town city with neighborhoods of homes.
  2. Mild winters; springs and falls in the 70s and 80s
  3. Virginia Commonwealth University with Shaka Smart and Will Rothermel
  4. Friendly people where “Ma’am” and “Sir” are commonplace, heartfelt, and genuine

Add to those starter set ideas a #5 – Hiking in the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge Mountains is a mere two hours away.

Laurel, Will, and Dan selfie

A Laurel, Will, and Dan selfie

While Hannah is away with girlfriends in Vermont, today I am in Virginia with Will and Laurel cruising out four lane I-64 from Richmond towards Charlottesville and points west.  Sitting shotgun, I think how sweet it is not being the one in charge or having to be the responsible adult.  I am literally and figuratively along for the ride.  For one who is a planner, organizer, and a make-things-happener, this is a relaxing and welcome change.

Past the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, we take to the country route 250 and then on to Old 3 Notch’d Road which becomes the Brown’s Gap Turnpike.  These are not turnpikes in the sense of the Massachusetts Turnpike, but rural roads that twist and turn and are hardly wide enough for two cars to pass.

MR9H curvy road sign

Our WAZE GPS says we have 10 miles to go in 31 minutes; that must mean hairpins aplenty.  It’s farmland with poor man’s horse ranches (at least compared to the affluent horse country north of here in Loudon County, Virginia).  We pass the Pony Academy advertising horse riding lessons and come to Wyant’s (General) Store which advertises PowerAde for 99 cents.  Though Virginia has not had the brutal winter of the Northeast, on this late April weekend the trees are still not fully leafed out.

Crossing a one lane wood-planked bridge, we are now on Sugar Hollow Road on the way to the Moorman River hike.  The last 9/10 of a mile is a dirt road which ends at an informal trailhead beneath the sugar maples.

Beginning the hike along the North Fork of the Moorman River, we first pass an older couple and then a father and daughter pair who both say they turned back once they hit the river crossing.  The dad talks about high water.  Hmmmm.  Last night it rained so hard in Virginia that water was flowing from Will and Laurel’s driveway through their backyard patio.

Will, Otter, and Laurel hiking the Moorman Trail

Will, Otter, and Laurel hiking the Moorman Trail

The Hiking Upward website is the go-to website when Will and Laurel want to hike in Virginia.  We learn that this five mile round-trip hike has a number of swimming holes with a fifty foot waterfall at the end.  Though it’s a toasty 80F in RVA this midday, it will be a delightful 70F hiking through the woods of western Virginia.

Laurel crossing the Moorman River

Laurel crossing the Moorman River

From start to finish the trail gently rises 460’ in elevation over the two and half miles to the falls.  At three points on this spring day, we will cross the river on rocks, stepping carefully through the snow-fed stream.  Will and Laurel have breathable mesh low-cut Merrell hiking shoes; though being a ten on the cool scale, they unfortunately let the water in when these Virginians cross the river.  My clunkier all-terrain to-the-ankle hiking boots don’t let the water seep in at all as I cross in two to four inches of water.

VCU crossing in styel

VCU crossing in style

The rounded river stones have a sheen of algae so I step cautiously from rock to rock.  As I cross tentatively, Will extends his hand to steady me and keep my picture-taking iPhone out of the drink.  Later a fisherman (the Moorman River is stocked with rainbow trout) does the same to support me as I cross the river again.   Virginians!   Got to love them.  My hiking poles in Maine would have been just the ticket to steady myself as I forded the Moorman River.

Heading to the falls

Heading to the falls

 

The Moorman River hike is the kind of hike that Will and Laurel can take their friends on, even if they aren’t hikers.  The rushing, running water provides us with soothing  background music.  Throughout our time on the trails, their Golden Shepard Otter seemingly covers fifteen miles through the forest while we hike five on the trail.  Otter does collect ticks that Laurel picks from his fur on our drive home.

Trails end at the falls

Trail’s end

Arriving at the waterfalls in just under an hour and a half, we have made it a leisurely, side-by-side walk through the Virginia woods.  Though the water is chilly, you can see that this gentle hike is one families and teenagers alike will love.  The swimming hole at the falls is fifty feet across and just perfect for cooling one’s jets for an hour or two on a steamy summer day.

King of the Mountain

King of the Mountain

Logs crisscross the trail at the falls to clearly indicate the trail has ended.  Like a young mountain lion, Will skims across the water rocks like it’s home.  Climbing the far canyon wall, he is king of the mountain at the top of the falls.

Looking downriver from the falls

Looking downriver from the falls

As we look down the Moorman River valley, we snack on apples, oranges, and trail mix and know we have hit the hiking jackpot.

I do enjoy hiking with young ‘uns like Will and Laurel for they keep up a good pace.  I have never been a stop-and-smell-the-roses kind of hiker.   A let’s-rock-and-roll kind of hiker.

Further down the trail with their hiking shoes and socks soaked, Will and Laurel say what the hell? and barefoot it across the river that is born in the mountain snows of the Shenandoah National Park.

Barefooting

Barefooting

At our final river crossing we talk with a young female teacher and her husband.  They have brought two of her school girls, one of which who has won a school auction to hike along the Moorman River with her teacher.   I am so impressed that she is taking her Saturday to make this an experience of a lifetime for these young girls.

The Virginia teacher takes our picture

The Virginia teacher takes our picture

After years of educational philanthropy and research, the billion dollar Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has concluded that it is excellent teachers in classrooms that make for successful students.  We need bright, caring teachers who want to change the world for our students.  Bravo to this young Virginia teacher!

Outside at the Mellow Mushroom in Charlottesville, Virginia

Outside at the Mellow Mushroom in Charlottesville, Virginia

After arriving in Charlottesville, we three, with Otter at our feet, sit outside and feast on pizza and a pitcher of beer at the Mellow Mushroom on West Main Street; we watch the cars and people pass by on this main campus drag of the University of Virginia.

With a relaxing California vacation vibe to my Virginia hiking day, I vow that next winter Hannah and I will be spending more time collecting vitamin D (the sun) traveling south and west where we can hike and sit al fresco, most appreciative of our blessings.

Dan Golfs and Grocery Shops in the Commonwealth of Virginia

Virginia map

Once Hannah scheduled a weekend to Vermont with girlfriends in late April, it got my wheels turning for some time away myself.  After this winter from Hell, I’m thinking warm.   Playing golf with our son Will in Virginia seems a natural.  Delta Airlines flies from Boston to Richmond non-stop, round-trip for a sweet $118.

Twice the space I had!

Twice the space I had on my Delta flight!

But let’s take it down a notch.  $118 on Delta doesn’t get you much more than a safe trip to and from the one-time capital of the Confederacy.  I understand that arriving safely is of paramount importance.  That said, a bit of comfort at 30,000 feet would be nice.  The plane feels like a 1930s two-seater bi-plane when in fact it has 90 sardines masquerading as adults and families packed into a space the size of a railroad car on a diet.  When I stood up, I banged my head on the aforementioned overhead compartments.

My two carry-ons

My two carry-ons

Hold on.  Do not despair.  Do I ever have a primo travel tip for you if you never check bags when you fly!   Typically, airlines allow you to carry on a small suitcase and one additional bag.  Keep the small suitcase as lean and mean as possible so it is not pulled out by the ticket agent at the jet bridge gate because she feels it won’t fit in the compartment above the seats.  In our case, we stuff our canvas bag to the gills.  The airlines will never take an open air canvas bag for checked luggage.  Brilliant Dan, I hear you thinking.

10th hole at River's Bend Golf Club

10th hole at River’s Bend Golf Club

Within thirty minutes of landing at RIC airport in Richmond, Will has us on the golf course at River’s Bend Country Club on the James River in Chester, Virginia, some 15 miles south of the airport.  Check out these prices.  Two of us played 18 holes with a golf cart for $36 total.  Only 36 simoleons!  Locally here on the Seacoast, one-of-me pays $22 to walk nine holes at Sagamore-Hampton Golf Club in New Hampshire.

With those prices the South will rise again!

Hitting out of the rough again.

Hitting out of the rough again.

Golfing?  Do you play?  I began playing golf in my twenties on the flat, palm tree-lined courses in the Phoenix, Arizona metro area summers during the years I taught elementary school kids in Tempe.  Learning the game for the first time, I got to be “okay.”   Then I took twenty plus years away from the game to focus on our family and because of the expense of golf in the Northeast.

18 hole layout at River's Bend Golf Club

18 hole layout at River’s Bend Golf Club

Since I didn’t play as a kid, I never developed golfing instincts to fall back on as an adult.  Ergo, I hit some good shots and then some rather sad and pathetic ones, too.  I can hit pin-seeking irons of 140 yards as well as top the ball so it skims the fairway into traps or the woods.

River's Bend scorecard cover

So given my modest golfing skills, how do I keep from being that guy who is  obsessed by his score?  I want to enjoy the time on golf courses, especially the few times I golf with Will, now that he lives nearly 600 miles to the south.  What sort of company or role model am I if I bitch and complain about my lousy golf score?

River's Bend scorecard by hole

And then it hit me, the worst score I will mark down on the golf card is a double bogey (two over par).  If I am destroying a hole with poor shots, I can just relax and work on my game around the green without a scoring care in the world.  Then move on to the next hole without any baggage from the last one.

Will off the tee

Will off the tee

Fact is, no one cares what score I get.  Will bombs his drives and shoots in the 70s and 80s.  I am not competing against him.  When I hit the inevitable poor shot, I’ll chalk it up to That’s just what once-a-week or once-a-month golfers do, DanGet over it.

golf ball in grass

So today I chill.  There are few on the course this mid-day Thursday so we leisurely motor around eighteen holes in a little over three hours.  Sunny and 65 degrees on this spring day in paradise, I have some pars, a few bogeys, and some really big numbers, that I never record on the score card.   I stay in the moment and focus on the father-son time with Will.

Will shopping with Dad

Will shopping with Dad

And then the second part of my win/win afternoon comes at the Kroger Grocery store near Will’s place in Bon Air, VA.  That’s right, a grocery store.   Hear me out.  One of the true joys of retirement when we visit our children is buying an overflowing cart of groceries for them.

Grocery line image  (Identify the Corona, Sam Adams, and Gluten-free beer, Redbridge, pita chips, Tostito chips and salsa, gluten-free crackers, Ritz, watermelon, Dunkin’ Donuts Decafe coffee, peanut butter, bananas, milk, Corn Flakes, Cheerios)

Including Redbridge (a gluten-free beer), pita and Tostito chips and salsa, cheese and gluten-free crackers and  Ritz, watermelon, Dunkin’ Donuts Decaf coffee, peanut butter, apples, oranges, Cheerios, and Corn Flakes)

Before we get to the house that Will and his girlfriend Laurel are renting, we stock up at Kroger’s with snacks, fruit, beer, and cereals for the coming weekend.  You might wonder where cereals have a place on this list of party foods.  Read below under Bonus.  Sharing some of our good fortune with our kids adds continued joy to our longitudinal (never-ending) parenting life.

I’ve added a bonus thought for you and a “be careful” one.

Will and Laurel's place on Buford Road

Will and Laurel’s place on Buford Road

Bonus when buying groceries on the road – As a big cereal eater, I add a gallon of 1% milk, boxes of Corn Flakes and Cheerios, and bananas to our grocery cart.  By including these items I can have cereal anytime at Will and Laurel’s place without feeling like I am depleting their supplies.  As one who thinks cereal is about as good a dessert as it gets, I am set for the next four days in Virginia.  (You got to be thinking, Dan, my man, you know how to live!)

choice privileges visa card

The “Be Careful” – When traveling long distances from home, call your credit card company before you leave and tell them about the places and dates of your travels, even if you live in Maine and are just going to Virginia.  When it comes time to pay for the $122 of groceries at Kroger’s in Midlothian, VA,  my Choice Privileges Visa card is rejected not once, not twice, but three times.  A major bummer for me, as Will then has to use his credit card to pay for the groceries.  Of course, I will write him a check for the amount, but the “treating the kids” moment is slipping away.

Life is so good in VA

Immediately, while still at the checkout line, I get an 800 call from fraud protection at VISA.  I appreciate the credit card company looking out for me, I do.  Thanks to the patient customer service folks at Kroger’s we clear up the confusion with Visa in 25 minutes.  I am able to get the credit back on Will’s credit card and the charge on mine.

So a first vacation day ends successfully with a win/win.  Virginia is my kind of place.

Dan and Hannah Welcome Owen’s little brother Max to the Family

Owen with his Omi and Papa

Owen with his Omi and Papa

Picture this.  Our daughter Molly is due on May 2nd, which just so happens to be my mother’s birthday.  Mom passed on this past winter knowing Molly was soon to have her third great-grandchild.  Wouldn’t it be sweet if the planets aligned and our grandchild came on Mom’s birthday?

Mom at 92

Mom at 92

Alas, that Hollywood ending did out occur.  Friday came and went and the Rawding baby had other plans.  There was no movement over the weekend so come Monday morning, Molly returned to teach at her elementary school in Fairfax County, Virginia wondering if today would be the day.

Molly and Tip are old school in that they didn’t want to know the gender of their new child until the big day.  They playfully had a “March Madness” -type pool for others to guess the gender and name that they had selected for their second child.  I bucked the odds (Tip and his sister Bev have had all boys) and I guessed a girl was coming; I was partial to the name Caroline.  Sweet name, right?

Monday passed, as did Tuesday, with no baby.   Molly knew if their baby didn’t come naturally by the end of the week she would be induced on Friday.  Wednesday and Thursday came and went by as well.  So Friday it would be.

Owen with Molly the day before Max's birth

Owen with Molly the day before Max’s birth

On Friday morning Tip and Molly took Owen to daycare, and then drove on to the Virginia Hospital in Arlington for an 830A appointment for their baby’s birth day.  Not so fast.  Inducing a baby is not that simple and it can take quite some time.

Molly getting ready for her Maximus day

Molly getting ready for her Maximus day

Throughout that Friday, we texted with Tip, and waited.  Soon Pitocin was administered to Molly to move the process along.  By the time Hannah and I were ready for bed Friday night at 9P, there was still no bambino.  Though it was not a restful night for us wondering grandparents, Molly and Tip had a long night into the dark of Saturday morning ahead.

Here I come, ready or not (at 30 minutes of age)

Here I come, ready or not (at 30 minutes of age)

And then on Saturday, May 10, 2014, at 4A Maxwell Archer Rawding trumpeted his arrival into this world.  You may not know this, but Archer was my mother’s maiden name; though Max and Mom don’t share a birthday, they are now forever linked and connected.

The Rawding boys

The Rawding boys

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And now Hannah and I have an Owen and a Max blessing our family.

 

 

 

Max at Virginia Hospital in Arlington, Virginia

Max at Virginia Hospital in Arlington, Virginia

 

Our friend Amelia with Max (She took care of Owen while the other Rawdings were doing their thing at the hospital)

Our friend Amelia with Max (She took care of Owen while the other Rawdings were doing their thing at the hospital)

 

sign of 9 pounds 3 ounces

 

Tip and Max at home

Tip and Max at home

 

Dan and Hannah Bike the National Mall

Geneseo Owen 5.12.13

With our grandson Owen a mere 75 minutes away by Jet Blue, Hannah and I love to fly to the Commonwealth of Virginia to see him and his parents.  Travelers, don’t you love Jet Blue!  Sports Center, the Weather Channel, and MSNBC are at our finger tips on the television directly in front of our seats.  With the in-flight television, time flies!  (You saw that coming, didn’t you?)

Touching down at Reagan Airport at 8A on a mid-May Thursday, we will not be picked up as we often are since both our daughter Molly and her hubby Tip are working.  We have no choice but to call for a Red Top cab.  Hold the presses!   Sixty-five years old and we two have never been in a cab.

Red Top CabAs we slip into the back seat, we come face to face with a video screen showing us exactly what the charges will be, and that they can all be paid with our Visa card.  We can see how every sixth of mile, the fare increases 35 cents.  In the final screen, there is even a place to include the percentage tip, 15, 20 or 25.   Dan and Hannah go big time and give the driver 20% for our 3.6 mile ride from the airport.

Cab chargesAmazingly, we are in Molly and Tip’s apartment at 830A and have a full day in the Washington, DC metro area ahead of us.   Though I am a road trip kind of guy, I do love to fly.  If we had driven from Maine today, at this moment we’d be stuck in some Merritt Parkway traffic in Connecticut with Big Bad New York City, the New Jersey Turnpike, the tunnels of Baltimore, and the dreaded Washington DC beltway ahead of us.

By 930A we are on bikes riding along the Potomac River to the National Mall in Washington just seven miles away.  On this Thursday midmorning we have easy biking on the meandering riverside trails.

Potomac River Bike Path

Potomac River Bike Path

Potomac Bike Path with the Washington Monument in the distance

Potomac Bike Path with the Washington Monument in the distance

Across the Memorial Bridge with the Lincoln Memorial in the foreground we have the biking trails as our oyster.  Fun fact: Today there are no direct descendants of Abraham Lincoln.

Dan at the Lincoln Memorial

Dan at the Lincoln Memorial

One hundred yards away, we stop by the Viet Nam Memorial.  In 1981, at age 21 and while still a Yale undergraduate, Maya Lin won a public design competition for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, beating out 1,441 other competition submissions

Dan at Vietnam Memorial

Close by is the World War II Memorial.   Thank you Mom and Dad for your service and to all members of the Best Generation.  Most veterans are near 90 since the war ended some 68 years ago.

Hannah at the World War II Memorial

Hannah at the World War II Memorial

Scaffolding surrounds the Washington Monument, which is now off limits to the public after the earthquake in August of 2011.  It is estimated that approximately one-third of the U.S. population felt the earthquake, more than any earthquake in U.S. history.

Dan at Washington Monument

We see the Capitol in the distance; where the dysfunctional come to play and mess with our lives.  (Oh, that’s being a little negative!)

Hannah on the National Mall with the Capitol in the distance

Hannah on the National Mall with the Capitol in the distance

Veering off the National Mall, we come to the Jefferson Memorial on the Tidal Basin. The memorial was dedicated in 1943 on the 200th anniversary of Jefferson’s birth.

Hannah at the Jefferson Memorial

Hannah at the Jefferson Memorial

And then it’s the George Mason Memorial.In two days Molly graduates in from George Mason University.  He was a mentor of George Washington and quite the ladies man as you can see.

Hannah and George Mason

Hannah and George Mason

We never get enough of the architectural brilliance of the Martin Luther King Memorial with its visual metaphor of  Out of the Mountain of Despair, a Stone of Hope.

Hannah at the MLK jr. Memorial

Hannah at the MLK jr. Memorial

One of the 14 Martin Luther King, jr. panels highlights his words, Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.

All this majesty at our finger tips.  But we are not alone.  Hundreds and hundreds of middle schoolers in matching fluorescent orange or green or cardinal red shirts are visiting Washington, too.  They are everywhere.  Going off in random directions, flirting, bored, and often tired of walking.

Middle School kids at Jefferson Memorial

Middle School kids at Jefferson Memorial

As a former middle school teacher who took kids on field trips, I rarely remember having any follow up activities based on the field trip.  For this, I am not proud.  Today I wonder what is the purpose of bringing kids to Washington.  Tradition?  Appreciation of America’s past?  Making history tangible?  Appreciation of being an American?  Likely, maybe, maybe, and unlikely.

And if those are some of the reasons, how then do the teachers know that students have achieved those goals?  How do teachers know that their students were successful?  Projects?  Presentations?  Papers?   Tests?  It’s May.  Really?  Call me a fool, but I’d like to think a few schools determine what learning went on when they return from Washington.

Or is it just a nice time of year to get away, when students and teachers of the Northeast are weary of each other after nine months of the classroom’s four walls?  Is it just to give the parents of middle schoolers a three day break from dealing with the drama and hormones of teenagers?  If so, let’s be honest and admit it.

We see the teachers reminding, cajoling, rule explaining, and directing.  (Interestingly, we never saw one kid texting.)  It’s got to be exhausting for everyone.  We wonder if they possibly pay middle school teachers enough for what lies ahead tonight back at the motel!

I think not.

Dan and Hannah Know You Don’t Have to Make Sense with Good Friends

It’s true.  There’s a trust among good friends that goes beyond the rational, the need to explain.  There’s a faith and a belief that your instincts are worthy of their trust.  No questions, no “have you considered?”  Just faith. But let me back track a little.

Hannah is a letter writer extraordinaire.  A morning for her is not complete without a birthday note, postcard, or some writing to connect with family or friends (and we all know that friends are family you choose).  Over the forty years of our marriage, she keeps friendships alive when distances keep us, well, at a distance.  One such couple is Sue and Rick, whose kids Hannah taught to swim in her hometown of Fairport, New York one hundred years ago.

After a mid-March weekend grandparenting Owen in Arlington, VA, we drive 135 miles southeast to the Northern Neck.

Northern Neck map

I had heard about the Northern Neck from my college roommate, Big Steve; but it was all kind of foggy where the it actually was.  Situated between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers off the Chesapeake Bay in eastern Virginia, the Northern Neck was home to John Smith in the early 17th century.  It’s the birthplace of Presidents George Washington, James Madison, and James Monroe as well Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Lock stock and barrel, Sue and Rick, born-Yankees, have retired to a home on a creek in a wildlife setting in the rural south.  Within fifteen minutes of us all being together, we get the feeling that there is no place else they would rather be than with us.  They’ve no distractions, no need to check their smart phones.

As it turns out, Big Steve’s Mom, who is affectionately known as Gram to one and all, still lives in the area.  Learning that she lives thirty-five minutes away, I decide that I just want to see her place and see if she is in.  Now here’s where the faith and trust of Sue and Rick kick in.  You see, I just don’t want to call ahead to see if she is home; even so, they immediately are on board and volunteer to drive us to Gram’s.

I think, If we call, she may feel she has to “clean up” her place or prepare a snack or worry about our arrival in some way or we would be expected to stay a longer time to make the trip “worthwhile.”  I know it could be an hour plus wild goose chase, but I still just don’t want to call.  Just a gut feeling for me.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson says, Trust your instinct to the end, though you can render no reason.  And no one can forget what Kim Basinger believes, I feel there are two people inside of me – me and my intuition.  If I go against her, she’ll screw me every time, and if I follow her, we get along quite nicely.

I just want to do the Seinfeld “pop in.”  If we call, it becomes a big deal.  If we pop in, it’s spontaneous and brief.

Up for an adventure, Sue and Rick take us on winding back roads of Lancaster County where we see fields of green, southern pine forests, and churches galore, many times Baptist, including the evocatively named Queen Esther Baptist Church.

Pulling down the driveway at Gram’s, we see no car in the driveway.  There is a garage where the car could be, but I’m not sure that Gram drives anyway.  While the others sit in the car, I get out and knock on the front door, and wait.  Nothing.  From the front steps, I then call her on my cell phone in case she’s busy within and doesn’t hear my knock.  I only get the answering machine and leave a message.

Dan and Hannah

Dan and Hannah

It’s a delightful spring day in the Northern Neck, an area that gets very little snow; certainly by Maine standards.  Hoping Gram will just show up in the next few minutes, we walk her property, which includes a dock on this tidal river to the Chesapeake Bay. But no Gram.

Han with Sue and Rick

Han with Sue and Rick

We knock on the doors of neighbors to the right and left, but they, like Gram, are not home.  We check out the azaleas, hollies, and daffodils – hoping our dawdling will give her just enough time to come home.  But still no Gram.

D and H at Johnson's

Sue and Rick join me in having no regrets for having driven out and Gram not being there.  We all took a shot and it didn’t come through as we had hoped.  By definition adventure has uncertainty.  They get that finding Gram really wasn’t the goal; oh, it would have been very nice.  The goal was time together letting our relationship grow a little bit more.

Dear Readers, I wish you all marriages like Sue and Rick’s.  Married some fifty years, they still show their affection and love for each other.  It’s the look you see when the other is talking.  They pay attention and still care what each other has to say.  They can laugh at their own foibles without being defensive (one is a pokey driver, the other likes to come in under what the GPS says is the arrival time).

The pride of Fairport, NY

The pride of Fairport, NY

They have made a community in their new home of fourteen years by focusing on relationships and welcoming people into their lives.  They were not worried about chaos and disrupting their lives when for eight years they welcomed foreign exchange students into their home when their kids were of school age.

Sue and Rick have found a place on the water that is a hurricane hole (i.e., protected from the big storms).  They, like us all, have storms in their lives.  But they weather both the figurative and literal storms by focusing on relationships; being in the now with their family and friends.  In one short day, we feel like family.  Sue is a fabulous cook and Rick has problem solved to make their home most inviting.   We slept wonderfully in a comfortable bed. But it’s their genuine interest in us and sharing of themselves that make ours a relationship that will grow.

How do I know?  I just have a gut instinct.