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Where in North America is Uncle Rod? Day 23

Bloged in worship by rod Monday July 6, 2009

July 7, 2009
Marion, VA
212 miles (5,125)

I was thinking today as I rode a 5 hour, 212 miles, that these miles are not like the miles out west that I rode last year. In fact, all the miles I rode this year are quite different than those I rode last year. Here, on the east coast, there are no wide open spaces. If it is not towns and people, like Connecticut last week, it is mountains and switchbacks. Curves that are 20 mph, even on a motorcycle. Last year’s 400-mile day of straight desert riding, is this years 200-mile day of straight up and low-gear downhills. Of Grouse, and Deer, and Wild Turkeys.
I rode from my parents’ house, straight into the country. For 200 miles, I rode narrow 2-lane country roads. Sometimes one lane got lost, and I squeezed through, narrower still.
Across the mountains of Southern West Virginia, I always feel like someone, years ago, drilled holes, from the top, down into the mountains, and planted little towns. There are no places for towns at all, and yet, one descends a steep mountainside, and there is a town. There are always sides of hills missing to make room for Mainstreet. Houses are stuck into hillsides like arrows shot from across the river. One side of each house is one storey tall, the other side is often 3 storeys high, just to find the foundation. Thus, it seems like a huge drill bit, from above just dropped down and drilled out a hole for these towns. Were it not for the fact that this is a coal-rich land, no one could possibly have ever lived here. There had to be a financial gain for carving out communities in places where only birds could reach easily.
Today, I saw no rain. First ride, since I rode from Cape Breton, to the Bay of Fundy, that I didn’t get rain. Today, the temperature was perfect too. I rode into town after I set up camp, and it was quite cool, but all day, the ride was quite comfortable.
For some reason, I expected the up and down, and switchbacks to stop after I crossed in to Virginia. Who knew they would intensifiy?
I’ve never been to Boone, NC, so I was headed in that direction. Nearby, is the tallest point in Virginia, so I thought I might camp there. I made it as far as Marion, VA, where I have actually been, and tomorrow, I will ride into Boone, begin to make my way home.
I had no idea, how many slices of mountains, and long valleys lie in this narrow portion of Southwest Virginia between West Virginia and North Carolina, but I climbed up and back down, several times, with rolling valleys between, before I happened upon this State Park. Only about 10 miles to the south is I-81, but you’d never know there was civilization nearby.
As I mentioned, Southern West Virginia, is tight. Extremely steep mountains, and very very deep valleys. One rides along rivers here, upon roads that are actually hewn from the sides of the mountains. Even the river bottoms aren’t wide enough to accommodate the river and a road, so extra width is extracted by excavation. At 4pm on a July afternoon, the sun doesn’t reach over the mountains, and so it is evening down between the hills. One meanders through mountain shadows for hours before the sun actually sets somewhere behind those hills.
The last couple of hours of incredible motorcycle roads were so freshly paved that they had not yet been painted. Smooth, without gravel, NO traffic, intensely curvy, and up and down. Who could ask for anything more?
I had so wished to get at least a day or two of what I’d planned to get for 21days. Even if it rains all the way home tomorrow, I’ll have today to count for exactly what I needed.
So here, I am, knowing I’ll see Al and kids tomorrow, sitting by a fire, merely 250 miles from home, depending on the route, and enjoying a fire and night sounds of Whip-poor-wills, and frogs. It is a fitting last night of the Windhorse trip.
The Windhorse, by the way, ran beautifully today after having been cleaned a bit, and is resting beside me enjoying the cool mountain, night air.

Where in North America is Uncle Rod? Day 22

Bloged in worship by rod Sunday July 5, 2009

July 5, 2009
Milton, WV
194 miles (4,883)

Rolled into my parents’ at about 2:00pm. Dinner had just been placed on the table. Grilled Salmon, wilted lettuce, and pasta salad. Yum.
I had planned to take an all day ride to get here, heading south from Parsons and then east to get more fun mountain back roads, but alas, it was raining when I packed the bike, so I decided to ride straight home along with my brother. The scenery is exquisite either way, but the riding is less fun on 4 lanes.
It was nice to be here for longer though. I sat around, took a nap, and watched a couple Andy Griffith re-runs with dad.

Where in North America is Uncle Rod? Day 21

Bloged in worship by rod Saturday July 4, 2009

July 4, 2009
99 miles (4,689)

Still in Parsons, but today, I got back on the bike for the first time since Wednesday. My brother and I rode over to Seneca Rocks, and took a tiny mountain road home. Over in Seneca, there were dozens of Harleys parked in front of Yokum’s Store, but standing out like a jewel, was an ’04 BMW R1200 GS. Turns out that about half the bikes there, all black Harleys, were ridden by Germans who’d apparently rented matching bikes for the ride, but the Beemer was ridden by a guy from Eastern Ohio.
We rode rt. 72 back to Parsons, which is about 20 miles of one-lane switchbacks and gravely, steep downhills until it finally descends along the river and comes out at the edge town.
It was raining again this evening, though we had absolutely no rain for our entire ride.
Cindy had taken a canoe ride down the Cheat, so after we returned, Scott and I went over to the river to take the canoe out and tie it on top of the truck.
Before Cindy and Carleigh left to drive back home, Scott and I took a little picnic with them and I played on the slide with Carleigh while Scott and Cindy visited at a picnic table. That was the first time Carleigh decided I was ok, and we had a really good time.
What a wonderful couple of days this has been. It has been a couple decades since Mom and Dad and all three of us young’ins have been assembled in one place without our daily schedules to contend with. Just hours of talking and laughing and no one having to run off to work, or jump up and tend to something. It was really wonderful.

Where in North America is Uncle Rod? Day 20

Bloged in worship by rod Friday July 3, 2009

July 3, 2009
0 miles (4,590)

Mom and Dad drove up this morning to hang with us. Close behind were Cindy and Carleigh in the Jeep, and Scott on his bike. We visited all afternoon, and then went out to dinner before heading to the fireworks in Thomas at the top of the mountain. The fireworks were spectacular. Who knew that such a tiny town could put on such a show?
I’ve driven through Thomas dozens of times in my life, but I’ve never seen a living soul moving there. I honestly thought it was a Ghost Town. But tonight the streets were packed, motorcycles everywhere, live music, and thick excitement. The dark storm clouds did nothing to discourage the gathering, and though some of the fireworks were actually shrouded by clouds, they were incredibly beautiful.

Where in North America is Uncle Rod? Day 19

Bloged in worship by rod Thursday July 2, 2009

July 2, 2009
0 miles (4,590)

Still raining. After a leisurely, lazy morning, Jodi took me sightseeing. She took me to see Parsons’ swinging bridge, and then up to Olsen’s tower, an old fire tower, high up the mountain toward Thomas. We climbed to the top and shivered from cold winds and rain, and dizzying heights. Despite the heavy fog, we could see forever.

While we were exploring the area near the tower, Jodi saw goofy tree that she wanted to check out. We walked back in the woods through a complete undergrowth cover of ferns to check out the tree. I was taking pictures of various and sundry beauty when I very nearly stepped on a tiny fawn whose mother had hid her among the ferns under a fallen tree. She was doing as she was told and lying completely still until I nearly put my foot down on her, at which point she jumped and ran. I know she would have been obedient and laid there among the ferns for photos had I been clever enough to see a deer within 4 inches of my leg.

I showed her some tricks with the settings on her camera, so we drove over to Blackwater Falls so she could try them out. Ironically, the falls were quite different than they were last night. Apparently, I’d brought the rain with me, as I tend to do, so it had not been raining long when I arrived. Today though, there was a lot more water. Water was spilling over places on the ledge that had been dry last night. A different presentation.

Back at the house, we discussed religion and politics and weather, and the relationship of all three. Originally, the thought that ran as a thread through our conversation, regardless of what we were talking about, was inspired by my commentary on riding in the rain for 3 weeks. I’d followed up a comment with, “well you know what the Norwegians say – ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.’” The more I thought about that statement, the more I realized how selfish I am in my expectations, even my prayers. I don’t often pray to be prepared for what challenges might come along, but rather, that challenges won’t come along. On this trip, nothing has turned out the way I expected. I’ve been mostly physically prepared for what I’ve experienced, but not at all emotionally prepared. Not at all.
It took me a lot of rainy riding days to realize that I was the one who was going to have to give. I could find a dry place and wait it out, but for how long? It has been raining for 3 weeks. Or I could change my expectations to match with reality, and accept that I’m going to keep experiencing something completely different than I’d planned. I realized that in the back of my mind, what I’d been praying for was not weather through which one could ride when properly prepared. I didn’t want to prepare. What I wanted was weather through which I could ride with a single pair of pants and a T-shirt. I wanted the weather to match my choice of clothing. I had no desire to match the weather with raingear.
“Here’s what I want to wear, God. Provide me with weather to make my choice of apparel appropriate.”
I think I’ll spare you the connection that this realization about myself made with the economy and politics. But it occurs to me that there may be much contentment to be found in what is, rather than constantly longing for what is not, or what is not yet. There will definitely be a sunny day – some day.

Where in North America is Uncle Rod? Day 18

Bloged in worship by rod Wednesday July 1, 2009

July 1, 2009
Parsons WV
180 miles (4,590)

From Greencastle I headed west into the mountains, and then south through the country and some of the most beautiful riding so far.
Cloud showers all along the way until the last 60 miles or so during which I rode, once again, through relentless terrible rain and thick fog.
The rain did relent within an hour after my arrival, and then just drizzled and misted. I borrowed Jodi’s car and drove back over the mountain to Black Water Falls to try to get some good photos of the falls in the misty evening.

I was convinced while riding across Rt. 9 that West Virginia truly is the most beautiful state. I was astounded by the beauty of Cape Breton, but honestly, it does not go on forever. West Virginia’s beauty just seems so much more unending, and natural. Last year, when I returned from 9,000 miles through 23 states, Allison asked me which state was most beautiful. Gee, I’ve got to say that I’ve still not seen one more beautiful than West Virginia. I realized that I could assign an awesome adjective to every state, and that adjective could probably translate to “beautiful,” but biased, or not, West Virginia is most beautiful. I decided that California was the most astounding. A completely different beauty around every turn. I also thought California had some areas that would certainly compete for most beautiful, but as far as entirety, and uninterrupted mile after mile of awesome landscape, well, you know…
One forgets though. I can say that, and still be taken aback every time I ride through the mountains of West Virginia. Rugged, steep, secluded, high. I also remembered a statement that a lady made to Molly last November when we were in Arizona. Molly told her that she was used to mountains because her family was from West Virginia, the lady smiled and said, “In Arizona, we call West Virginia “hilly.” Hilly indeed. But not much of Arizona knows the altitude differential that West Virginia is made of. It’s one thing to drive 100 miles on flat ground at 7,000ft, but quite another to go from 4,000 feet to 600 feet and back to 4,500 feet in only a couple miles – over and over and over again all afternoon. Much of this state has only been made passable by dynamite and special trains with top speeds of 4 mph, and tons and tons of torque.
The perfect heaven for a motorbiker.

Though it seemed like late evening because of the rain and thick clouds, after drying and sitting for a moment, I realized how beautiful all the misty goodness is I’d just passed within a mile of Blackwater Falls on my way in, but was unwilling to stop in the pouring rain, while already soaking wet. So I rode on down the mountain in thick fog.
By now, the rain was light, the air cool, and the foggy mist was moving around a bit.
The truck felt extremely odd to me. I’d not driven on four wheels for 3 weeks. When I climbed out of the truck there was man climbing the path down to the river. He said, “it’s worth it.” Of course I knew that, and the climb in both directions is rather easy, but I smiled and agreed, and started down.
I’ve pondered before about how our understanding of time and durability change as we age. It’s odd really. If we live to be 100, we still can only understand a tiny slice of a tiny slice of history. And yet, our ability to believe, and trust is greatly strengthened by watching faithfulness over only a short lifetime. When I was a kid, Dad used to bring us to these Falls. I say “used to bring us” as if it was a regular occurrence, which it very well may not have been. We tend to remember certain occasions as if they were regular occurrences, and sometimes remember a single instance of a regular occurrence as if it only happened once. Who knows what causes memories to be engraved in specific ways upon our psyches?
At any rate, when I was in college, I used to visit these falls often. I patrolled these hills in a little green car, armed with a tent and a fishing pole. When I visited the falls, I always remembered coming here as a kid. I was always surprised that the visitor center/tourist trap at the top of the hill was not as I remembered it, that the path and wooden stairs were more worn, or completely new, but the falls are always there, despite noticeable seasonal differences. For that matter, the rocks, by which I fished, were always there and always the same. When Allison and I were married, we drove there and spent the night in the lodge. When we walked down to view the falls, I noticed that a Hemlock tree that had always been there was gone. When we got home, I looked at photos I had taken earlier, and sure enough, there was the missing hemlock tree. The falls, though, are always there.
Things do change though. A portrait of me beside these falls does not show the same guy that scrambled around on these rocks 40 years ago. That’s why the faithfulness of the falls is so important. Most of life is about learning to deal with change. Constancy is a balm.

But even nature changes. There are other sites among my beloved locations that are not at all like they were years ago. When I was a senior in college, West Virginia experienced a serious flood. River towns all over the state were devastated, including the one where I went to school. A few months after the flood, I drove to Seneca Rocks, planning to fish in what I considered one of the most amazing trout streams in the known world. But it was no more. This stretch of the North Fork of South Branch of the Potomac, was forever changed. What had been wildly running, deep whitewater, was no longer even fishable.
Only a few years later, 1000 feet above this very same spot, the legendary rock pinnacle, known as “The Gendarme” fell during a rare quiet moment when it was not being climbed, and shattered into indistinguishable pieces below.
So, a waterfall, that accepts visitors, and their changing access; that watches trees grow and fall; that stands under the spring melt of surging, frigid water, and then trickles a slow stream under the colored spectrum of fall foliage, is a much needed symbol of constancy.
I’m not foolish enough to think that nothing is changing, that a thousand years ago, these rocks jutted out another 5 feet from where they stand now. I understand that the rocks lying in the deep water below the falls at one time provided the path over which the water ran before it plunged 57 feet. I understand that at one time the water fell further before wearing those rocks down and taking a lower path.
But these changes take place over such a long period of time that no lifetime can register them. They go on behind the scenes, until enough has changed to cause a weakened structure. Rocks topple, sands shift, and stone that has withstood flood and earthquake, crumbles under the sonic waves of an airplane 5 miles up, or a gunshot from across the gorge.
I’m reminded of my own strength and fragility. I think of the slow breaking down and weakening that don’t register in my day to day, until enough accumulation has occurred that I break down in a moment and am changed in the twinkling of an eye.

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