DAMASCUS -TWO RIVERS RUN THROUGH IT

river trail cabin drivewayOur Summer Vacation – Night 2

Less than 24 hours after our arrival, I was in love with Damascus, Va.  Know what pops up if you Google “Friendliest Town on the Appalachian Trail”?

That’s right.  Damascus, Virginia.

About the only thing I did NOT love about Damascus was our AT&T phone service.  There was none.  That made reestablishing contact with my wife after my bike ride a challenge.   Our only method of contact was for me to find wi-fi, send her a text, and hope she also was someplace with wifi.

Off I walked to the Food Town grocery store, a known wi-fi hot spot.  That’s where my wife, my brother and I had an economical  and tasty breakfast that morning.  In Damascus, virtually everything is within walking distance.  Even Mt. Katahdin, Maine – some 1500 miles to the north – is within walking distance for determined northbound thru-hikers passing me on the sidewalk.

From a rocking chair in front of Food Town I reestablished contact with my wife. She was miffed because she had driven back to the bike shop where she THOUGHT I would be, unaware that I had actually switched to another bike shop with an earlier shuttle to Mt. Rogers.

Did I mention the phone service sucks?

It was now time to check in to our home for night 2, described as a “secluded cabin next to a rushing mountain stream.”  We had booked it on Airbnb, our very first time using that service.

My wife was a little grumpy as she pulled up to the curb in front of my Food Town rocking chair to pick me up, but that would soon change.  Our “secluded cabin” turned out to be right next door to Food Town and it improved her attitude considerably.  It was hidden down a driveway in a grove of trees overlooking the Virginia Creeper Trail and Laurel Creek, the same creek I had followed down from Mt. Rogers on my bike.

The interior of our cabin was beautiful, but the deck was magnificent.  Hidden in the treetops, the deck overlooked the Virginia Creeper Trail and the swift, noisy, much bigger Laurel Creek just after its confluence with Beaver Dam Creek.  I could, and did, sit there every idle minute soaking up the “sounds of silence, Mother Nature-style

Look & Listen for yourself.  We had TV, but who needed it?  Bravo, Airbnb!

For dinner, we picked up Jed, Orlando, & Free Bird and headed to the Old Mill Inn a few blocks from our cabin.  On the way we made stops for our passengers at the drug store & post office.  They could have walked, but “riding in a car is a bit of a novelty for us now” observed Free Bird.

Our table for dinner was, by choice, very noisy.

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Free Bird & Orlando at our dinner table
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The View of Laurel Creek from my  dinner chair at the Old Mill Inn, Damascus,Va.

Too soon the evening came to an end.  After dinner we dropped Jed, Orlando and Free Bird off at the Appalachian Trail Town Inn, and headed to our Cabin.  9 pm is jokingly referred to by weary hikers as “hiker midnight”.  It’s might also be called, not so jokingly, “Baby Boomer” midnight.

Back to our Cabin beside the Laurel River, we were quickly awash in sensory delights. From our comfortable perch on our deck, a stone’s throw from the water, we relaxed to the soothing sound of water rushing over and around the rock-strewn creek bed.  As the air cooled and the evening light slowly faded to darkness, the words of a country song came to mind:

If heaven was an hour, it would be twilight.

No argument here.

KATY VS. THE CREEPER

Our Summer Vacation – Day 2

People come from all over the world to bike the KATY Trail, Missouri’s 237 mile long State Park that was once the MKT rail line. It is described as “flat & scenic”.  About half of it follows the path of the Lewis & Clark Expedition.  We are blessed that the Katy Trail is just across the Missouri River from our home.  I’ve enjoyed it hundreds of times, including 21 miles just this morning.

Damascus, Va. is doubly blessed.  The Appalachian Trail goes right down the main drag.

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A.T. hikers passing thru Damascus

AND – the Virginia Creeper bike trail ALSO passes right thru Damascus.  Like the KATY Trail, it is very scenic.  Unlike the KATY Trail, the 17 mile stretch I rode was definitely NOT flat.

Having just hiked 700+ miles through the mountains to reach Damascus, my brother was not enthusiastic about my suggestion that we rent bikes to “get a little exercise.”  His plan was to take a “zero” day – a day to rest and recuperate and do the exciting things hikers do when they reach town.  That includes visiting a laundromat, replenishing their food supply, and repairing or replacing worn out or broken camping equipment.  And in my brother’s case, mailing his guitar via general delivery to himself at his next planned stop.

Since my wife has two titanium knees, one titanium hip, and is not too “hip” about messing them up falling off a bike, she graciously agreed to accompany my brother in our car to the laundromat and Wal-Mart in nearby Abingdon, Va.

I was on my own for three hours!

I rented a bike for 3 hours for $30.  If that price seems steep, it’s because it included shuttling me and my bike to the top of nearby Mt. Rogers and dropping me off 17 miles from the bike rental shop via the Virginia Creeper.  14 miles of that return trip was downhill.  Being in shape was not a requirement, but being able to apply the brakes and stay upright while soaking up the gorgeous scenery definitely was.

Here is a sampling of spectacular scenery awaiting visitors to the Virginia Creeper.

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The Creeper trail is narrower than the KATY, but very scenic
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The terrain ranges from mountainous to rolling countryside
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The A.T. and the Creeper are the same trail for a short stretch before the A.T. once again challenges hikers.
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Some Virginia Creeper enthusiasts have more than two legs
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Fixer-Upper along the trail
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Laurel Creek runs along side the trail much of the way. Bridges (and washouts) were frequent

The air was pleasantly cool and rain threatened.  At one point I wished I had worn a jacket instead of a t-shirt.  Other than a few sprinkles, the rain held off and I rolled into the bike rental place in Damascus relaxed and refreshed and on time.  It was a beautifully scenic, but not very aerobic workout.  For those who insist on an aerobic workout, I recommend allotting another 3 hours, declining the shuttle,  and biking to the top of Mt. Rogers and back to Damascus.  I guarantee that will get your heart-rate up.

It was time to reunite with my wife and brother and relocate for night two.  We would still be in Damascus, but before my brother had called the day before, we had rented what was described as “a secluded cabin beside a mountain stream” for night 2 via Airbnb.

What would await us?

The adventure continues . . .

 

Snuggling With My Sweetie on the Appalachian Trail

Our Summer Vacation – Night 1

First night on the road I rarely sleep well.  Our first night in Damascus, Va. was no exception.  Though the accommodations were clean & modern, my wife and I shared a three-quarter size (think “over-sized twin”) bed.  I was hemmed in against two walls and my wife.  My only avenue of escape during the night was over the metal railing at the end of the bed (risky) or over my sleeping wife (more risky).

We were gonna snuggle whether we liked it or not.

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Our special “Virginia is for Lovers – not Sleepers” Bed

Day 1 ended pleasantly with us meeting our fellow hostel mates, thru-hikers all on the Appalachian Trail.  We met Free Bird from Denver (formerly from Albuquerque), Orlando, from Orlando, and Stickum who was pretty quiet and I never found out where he was from.  To qualify as a “thru-hiker” one must be in the process of hiking the entire A.T. within 12 months.

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Thru-Hikers (l-r) Free Bird, Orlando, Jed & & my snuggle buddy Val

Almost all hikers on the A.T. go by “trail names” instead of their real name.  While most trail names are assigned by fellow hikers, my brother picked his own.  He is Jed Morgensen.  That is the name he gave the imaginary cowboy friend he played with when he was a little kid. On the trail, he is typically referred to as “Jed”.

In case you are not familiar with the Appalachian Trail, it extends 2,192 mountainous miles through 14 states.  Though Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains boasts the highest elevation on the trail at 6,643 ft, successfully hiking the entire trail is the equivalent of climbing (and descending) Mount Everest 16 times.  On average, it takes 165 days to complete the trail.  Since towns are infrequent, hikers carry everything they need to survive on their backs.  Water is filtered from streams.  The world is your toilet because actual toilets, even primitive ones, are spaced about a day’s hike apart.  If you are lucky.

One trail guide I read advised hikers to leave all toiletries except toothbrush and toothpaste at home.  Their rationale?  You’re gonna stink no matter what you do so there is no sense carrying the extra weight.

I hope I am not making this sound so exciting & adventurous that the A.T. is suddenly flooded with an influx of new hikers irresistibly drawn by my romantic description of life on the trail.  If past statistics hold up, about 1 in 4 of the 3,024 thru-hikers registered as of June 19, 2018 will complete the trail within 12 months.

There are plenty of highlights along the trail.  The views are breathtaking!  So, if you go, don’t forget to glance up once in a while from swatting mosquitos, scratching tick bites, and keeping a watchful eye out for bears and rattlesnakes to enjoy the view.  If it’s not too foggy. Or raining.

Another bright spot?   You can consume approximately 5,500 calories a day and still lose weight!

Incredibly, my brother took a guitar along.  No, he doesn’t carry it.  He mails it ahead to himself from town-to-town along the trail.  It cost’s about $40 each time but we all have things we like to splurge on that make us happy.

And the Post Office can use the money.

As hiker midnight (9 pm) came and went on our first night, the soft sounds of a guitar and my brother’s melodious voice filled the comfortable confines of the Appalachian Train Town Inn.

My brother is having the time of his life.  And so is Jed.

It was good to see him again.

I mean “them”.

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The Road to Damascus

Our Summer Vacation – Day 1

On June 5, my wife and I embarked on a two week roadtrip that would cover 3800 miles and take us through 9 states.  Our first goal was to track down my brother, Richard.  He had been hiking the Appalachian Trail since March 4.  We hoped our paths would cross in Damascus, Va.

Car loaded and 24 oz cups of coffee in hand, we headed east from Jefferson City.  In St. Louis, Google maps took us on a bit of a strange urban route, but we survived.  South on I-55 to Cape Girardeau where we turned left on a two-lane road east toward Cairo, Il..  Just across the Illinois line a passing car threw up a rock and chipped our windshield.

Welcome to Illinois!

For 20 miles we followed a woman with her left-turn blinker on. I’m sure at some point she turned left, but not before we finally got around her as we entered Whitehaven, Ky.

Our plans were to spend the night in the vicinity of Knoxville.  A phone call from my brother as we were navigating Nashville changed those plans

“You got a place to stay tonight?” he asked.

“Nope” I responded. “We booked a place on Airbnb for tomorrow night but we didn’t know how far we would make it tonight.

“Well, I’m in Damascus and I have a place in a newly-remodeled hostel.  It’s $50 and they only have one room left.  If you want it I will have them reserve it for you” my brother offered.

“Sounds good!” I said, and I heard him talking to the proprietor in the background.

“Correction: It’s $50 PER PERSON” my brother clarified.  Didn’t sound quite as good but we took it.

We got food to go at a Chick-fil-a in Nashville and got back on Interstate 40.IMG_E0451

As the trip odometer passed 700 miles we entered beautiful southern Virginia.  Before dark, we were parked in front of the Appalachian Trail Town Inn in Damascus, Va.  My brother was waiting on the front porch.

It had been over 3 months since I had seen him.  In that time he had hiked over 700 miles carrying a 30+ pound pack from Springer Mountain, Ga. to Damascus, Va.  He had lost 30 pounds, grown a beard, and had endured the coldest Spring in years on the Appalachian Trail.

My wife and I had traveled approximately that same distance since we left home at 6 am that morning – and maybe gained a pound or two on all the snacks we packed.

We were about to get up close and personal with the A.T.  It goes right down the main drag in Damascus and passed within a few dozen yards of our bedroom window.

My wife and I unpacked more luggage than everyone else in the place – combined – and set about to get acquainted with our hostel mates.

IMG_0119  My brother, Richard Reece, aka Jed Morgensen

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A picture of the Appalachian Trail Town Inn taken from the Appalachian Trail

Seize the Day! (Before it seizes you)

June was a rough month for our friends and neighbors.  Of our immediate circle of 8 friends, 2 suffered a broken foot, one had a torn meniscus, one had bronchitis, one an infected heart valve, one had major bladder surgery, one a wound that wouldn’t heal on her leg,  and one had alternating pain/numbness in his feet.

Geez!  That’s a 100% casualty rate.

My wife and I got off fairly easy.  She got a case of poison ivy that was severe enough to require medical attention and earned her a new (temporary) nickname – “I.B.W.”  (Itchy, Bitchy Wife).  I am happy to say she is fully recovered and has regained her sweet disposition.

Of all our friends, I got off easiest.  I suffered only a non-life-threatening head wound when a coffee cup slipped out of my wife’s hand and glanced off my head after I announced her new nickname.

No more caffeine for her!

Though I  think most Baby Boomers still feel young mentally, our bodies are starting to sing another tune.

In about a month, I will no longer be a sexagenarian.  That always seemed like something of a misnomer to me anyway.  It was the only group I have ever been a member of that had “sex” in the name and I had to wait until I was 60 to be in it.

In lieu of being called a septuagenarian, after my birthday my age-related adjective of choice will be “superannuated”, which, like sexagenarian, sounds way better than it is.

 

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Our neighbors in healthier times the day my head suddenly burst into flames at Branson Landing

 

 When I was young I was called a rugged individualist. When I was in my fifties I was considered eccentric. Here I am doing and saying the same things I did then and I’m labeled senile.  – George Burns

 

 

 

Happy Wife, Happy Life

My wife and I will be celebrating our 46th wedding anniversary later this month.

If all goes well.

One key to a happy marriage is doing things together.  As we have aged, some things we do together have changed.  Some have not.  One thing that has not changed is that today we undressed at the same time.  One thing that HAS changed is that today we were in different rooms.

Call me a hopeless romantic, but today we went to the Dermatologist’s office together.  After filling out an abundance of paperwork – much of it legislatively mandated – and having our insurance cards and driver’s licenses scanned and getting photographed, we took our seats in the semi-crowded waiting room.  Across the room, the receptionist hollered “Oh, yeah . . . Do you want to see the Doctor together or separately?”

I sensed the ears of our fellow waiting room inhabitants perking up.

“SEPARATELY!” I hollered back.  Last thing I want when the Doctor is examining me for irregularities is for my wife to be standing there giving her tips on where to look.

Fortunately, we both checked out as fine as possible (in a dermatological respect) for aging baby boomers who have enjoyed years of outdoor activities.  All of our spots were the non-dangerous shade of brown.

Afterwards, we celebrated our good check-ups by stopping for Chinese food at the Mall.  We were undeterred by the multiple police vehicles at the entrance to the Mall, including a large van with CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION in big letters down the side.

“Do you think it’s safe to go in?” asked my wife.  I shrugged my shoulders reassuringly.

Seeing no yellow crime scene tape around the Stir Fry 88 restaurant, we decided to take our chances.  Our orders were promptly taken by a bright 10-year old kid.  We took our seats, scanned the area for a police investigation, and waited for #157 to be called.

Growing up in Springfield, Mo., the cashew chicken capital of the universe, my wife and I have shared many meals of delicious Chinese food together.  Today’s meal was no exception.

Then it was time for the opening of the fortune cookies.

My wife read hers: “Be smart, be intelligent, and be informed”.

“This should be yours” she said, handing it to me.

I then opened mine and read it aloud: “Humans invented language to satisfy the need to complain”.  Disdaining everything I have learned in 46 years of marriage, I said “This should be yours!”

“It’s not complaining if it’s true!” my wife responded, eyeing me with a steely gaze.  “It’s just pointing out a fact!”

(Let the record show – my wife has been “pointing out facts” about me since the Nixon administration.)

And, I admit, they are usually right on the money.

Her momma always told her she could do better than me.

After all these years I’m still glad she didn’t listen.

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Don’t Look Back. Something Might Be Gaining On You. – Leroy “Satchel” Paige

For as long as I can remember, the Baby Boom generation (those born beginning in years 1946 through 1964,  which includes me) has been the largest generation in American history.  I once heard the effect of the huge Baby Boomer generation on life in the U.S. compared to that of a pig going through a python.

But the supremacy of the Baby Boom generation in sheer numbers may be about to change.

Baby Boomer population peaked at 78.8 million in 1999.  By 2016, that number had slipped to 74.1 million.  The Census Bureau projects that millennial’s (those born from 1981 through 1996) will peak in 2036 at 76.2 million.  That seems like a long time from now.  BUT . . . if predictions hold true,  the number of Millenial’s will reach 73 million and  the number of Baby Boomers will drop to 72 million by the end of next year, according to Richard Fry of Pew Research.

The end of an era.

I can attest to the number of Baby Boomers dropping.  In June a friend of mine born in 1950 died.   Last week a friend born in 1958 passed away.  I always try to attend funerals based on the advice of Yogi Berra, who observed “If you don’t go to your friend’s funerals they won’t go to yours.”

After the shock wore off, I was left with fond memories of both friends who passed away this summer.  And that’s despite the fact that the son of one of my friends started his Dad’s eulogy with  “My dad . . .  Was he a stubborn S.O.B, or what?!”

There’s worse things to be remembered for.

Like the unfortunate guy in the cemetery I visited in Kansas City yesterday.  His grave is located way in the corner of an old cemetery near 121st and State Line on the Missouri side.  Where he lies was once the small town of New Santa Fe, a stones throw from the western border of the United States when New Santa Fe was incorporated in 1852.

His small marker says, simply, “THE HORSE THIEF”.

I’m not sure how he died, but it is probably a safe assumption that it wasn’t from natural causes.

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At Least He Got A Marker

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The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me, an early member of the Baby Boom generation.  We Boomers were born after our dads got back from World War II.  My dad was too young to serve in WWII, but he wasn’t too young chip in a couple of babies to the Baby Boom generation in the years following the war.

I was born in the forties, a kid in the fifties, graduated high school in the sixties, and juggled college & the military in the late 60’s and early 70’s.  In 1972, I graduated from college, received an honorable discharge after 6 years in the military, got married, and started a career.  Still got the same wife.  Retired in 2012 from the same company that hired me in 1972.

I’ve kept a journal since January 1, 1972.  I’ve found that the days may go slow but the years go fast.

I can sum up everything I have learned about life in three words:  It Goes On – Robert Frost

It was my 7th grade Home Room teacher, Mrs. Simmons, that introduced me to Robert Frost.

Not Literally.  Although she could have if she had had the pull.  He was still alive when I was in the 7th grade.  In fact, Robert Frost spoke at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy on January 20, 1961.  I was halfway through 7th grade.  The esteemed Mr. Frost was nearing 87 at the time.  His performance was not flawless.  As he began to read a poem, he struggled with the small typewritten print.

“I’ll just have to get through it the best I can!” he said graciously to laughter from the audience and newly-inaugurated President Kennedy.

Fifty-seven years later I have a greater appreciation for large print myself.  Thank God for iPads where I can pick my own font size when I read!

I don’t know if it was after JFK’s inauguration or some other occasion that Mr. Frost uttered what has become my favorite quote of his.   That was when he said he could sum up everything he had learned about life in three words – “It goes on!”

Thanks for joining me in this, my first post on my new blog.  I appreciate your patience as I bumble along and try to learn how to make the tools available with this blog work as intended.

As Mr. Frost said, “I’ll just have to get through this the best I can”.  

I hope you will join me.

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I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends