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 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.



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’s Day 29 of 29 Gifts – Building Strong Families

Day 29 Richmond map

Our son Will and his girlfriend Laurel have invited us some 600 miles south to Richmond, Virginia for Thanksgiving.  In their home, they make turkey day with all the usual suspects: sweet potatoes with pecans, brussel sprouts with cranberries, stuffing, both with and without sausage, tossed salad, candied carrots, corn casserole, biscuits, and one big bird.

Day 29 Rook deck

Then we bring the gift that, like Wonder Bread, builds strong families: a deck of Rook cards to play Mormon Bridge.  This easy-to-learn game combines some strategy and a decent amount of luck so that everyone has a chance to win.

Day 29 Rook hand dealt

It’s a game with whoops of surprise and groans of “oh no’s” when one trumps another’s card.  The game comes with a surprise ending that Hannah and I will show you when we next get together for Mormon Bridge.

Day 29 Will and Laurel with cards