In the Spring and Fall each year, the local ADVRider community collects at Laurel Fork Campground in a Wilderness area of the Monongahela National Forest of WV. The weather is often cold, damp and rainy but the roaring fires, stories and libations help to fend off shivers. The campground is somewhat isolated for the east coast, nearly 20 mi to the nearest fuel station and about 30 to the nearest grocery store. At nearly 3500', the campground stays much cooler with a shorter spring, summer and fall season than in VA. La Tortuga climbed steadily up Briery Gap, Moyers Gap and Snowy Mountain Road past places like Sugar Grove, Dry Creek, Pole Cat Hollow (skunk) Cherryville and Spruce Knob. The forest vegetation began to change to Rhododendron, spruce and firs as my elevation rose. The cool tea colored water of the local creeks run through grassy meadows on this rare sunny day.
Arriving at camp on a Monday was a first for me, joining the elite "die hards" that make the event a week-long escape to the wilds of WV. As it would turn out, the warmest day of my stay was the Monday I arrived. The sunny afternoon beckoned me up the Laurel River Trail to the site of the 1960 plane wreck of a US Air Force C-45. A creek flows through the wreckage which is surprisingly intact after 55 years.
The plane wreck above is completely surrounded by ramps clear up the stream. A wild leek known locally as ramps grow in early spring in wet and cool undisturbed hollows. It tastes a bit like a garlic flavored onion. Despite the abundance, this is a Wilderness area and removal of any plan is a federal offense. Fortunately, up the road some way are plenty of available patches along the roadside. The only real danger with ramps is to one's self the next morning when combined with bacon, beans, meat and beer. The smell around camp is usually quite unbearable and always worth a laugh.
The weather at Laurel Fork is typically cold and rainy. In the mornings it typically drops into the low 30's and often the 20's, coating the various motorcycles and tents in a layer of frost. The first two nights were spent strung up in my hammock along the road. It was toasty warm despite the high winds and passing snow showers which changed to sleet and then back to snow later. Around the fire, headlamps illuminated the yin and yang of rising ashes on smoke and gently falling snowflakes. I stuck out my tongue to catch one but it just melted on my nose.
I spent a good portion of my week hiking throughout the many trails networking out of camp. At one point, I stumbled out onto Middle Mountain Road and continued walking back to camp. The looks given to me by the few passing locals in pickup trucks was borderline concerned and curious. A greying man who I'd estimate to be in his 80's passed and later returned with a rolled down window. "Son, you lost?" he shouted at me over the rumble of the Dodge Ram's V8. "No sir, just out for a hike and headed back to camp." He offered me a ride down the road to the junction and I declined, then thought better of my rule of yes and jumped in the bed. The white weathered farm truck bounced along the twisty gravel road at a steady and cautious pace. I leaned against the bed and looked up at the sunlight flashing through silhouetted oaks, took a deep breath and smiled. Just another day on the road.
Life back at camp usually consisted of telling stories around the fire or working on a broken motorcycle. Steve had some issues with the EFI motors on his KTM 690 so a makeshift workshop was set up while the wind blew rain and sleet outside. Later in the week, Matt helped repair a KLR 650 carburetor on the picnic table.
Attendance was light this year due to the cold and wet weather. By Saturday night, most of the group had left with only 8 or 10 folks standing around the fire in the pouring rain. Can't say I blame most of them for staying home and warm but I'm comforted with the fact that my down bag is dry and my soundtrack is rain on the tent and burble of the creek.
The week before last was spent cruising around the Shenandoah Valley visiting friends and old places I used to frequent. The winds of time have decayed many of the old buildings I once remembered, many replaced by plastic siding apartment complexes and mixed use developments. Despite the changes in the area, it has overwhelmingly stayed the same. Familiar fields of golden flowers lend vibrancy to a cool cloudy day.
Over the last week I've had the fortune of visiting with many old friends in the Shenandoah Valley. Although the time and miles have passed, there is still much in common. Riding through the familiar valley roads named after mills, gaps and shops, I'm reminded of a Paul Simon lyric "Everything is different though nothing has changed". The journey of my mind has evolved as well, the spirit of adventure reinforced with convictions for my future materializing. Stages of spring alternate between vibrant redbuds of the warmer Piedmont and scattered daffodils on cold ridges.
My stay with Don and Tracy has been unforgettable. The only easy way to pull myself from the farm is the assurance I'll be back to visit in the future. Today I begin to head north toward the Shenandoah Valley and my many friends in the region. Hope to see you all shortly!
There are certain places in the world that give you the feeling of a warm hug, This is one of them. Don and Tracy are two motorcycling friends of mine I've had the honor of getting to know better throughout the years of travel. The direction of their lives has long revolved around a close proximity to animals, hard work and the land. In years past you may have found them leading pack trips with their string of horses, travelling with animals in Oklahoma or making hay in Highland County. Here in Tazewell County, VA they live on a bucolic 80 acre farm spanning up Rich Mountain. Inside their fences dwell 7 horses and 12 longhorn except when they cattle go "walkabout" to one of the neighboring parcels through holes in the aged fence. Each year Tracy's large garden provides a crop of tomatoes, peppers, squash, lettuce, cukes and much much more. They keep over a year's worth of canned and preserved vegetables, fruits, pies and baked goods in the store room and deep freezer, all of it freshly prepared with natural methods and no "x and y" additives. I've had her jam before but there is nothing compared to a slice of her homemade pies with apples or cherries harvested on the property. The variety of whole wheat and all natural breads and crusts here is mouthwatering. I've never had a better eggplant parmesan and that is saying a lot. I've been to Queens...
Up in the mountains of VA, the growing season starts later and the first frost date is pushed back on account of the latitude and elevation around 3500 ft. Exiting the flowering and greening lowlands of NC and SC, the foliage reverted to winter until I made it here and noticed few green nubs or buds on then trees. The last week has allowed me to slowly observe the rain and sunshine required to bring about the coming spring. Daffodils, blood root, azaleas and tulips pop up in the garden and around the forest floor.
The neighboring fence line to Jason's had seen a long life with many patches and repaired sections absorbed into the aging bark of choke cherry and oaks growing through. Over Easter weekend's window of beautiful 60 degree sunny weather, Don, Tracy and I set about replacing the aging fence with new posts and fresh wire. The first step was driving in new posts with a pneumatic driver attached to a JD tractor. My main task of the day was setting the measuring stick 10ft apart and driving in 30-35 posts along the line. It was a fun task and a new tool I can use in the future if the occasion presents itself. The next day saw us removing the old fence then stringing up the new wire with a Rancher ATV. Once taut, it was stapled in by hand at each post to assure the longhorn don't trample it and get into Jason's hay field.
During the course of my short visit, the bonds of our friendship have strengthened like a wet rope left to dry. There have existed few moments of silence as each day is full of conversation about life, travel, animals, equipment and dreams. It is fun to share my stories but more valuable to collect the perspectives and lives of my close friends who have seen and done way more than I in my short time on earth. There is much more for me to learn and I consider it a true gift of the universe to call Don and Tracy my friends.
Passing the familiar towns and sights of SW VA, I felt as if I was getting closer to "home". The cold hollow's embrace my soul, ample sunlight warmed my head and chilled springs quenched my thirst. It wasn't that long until I crossed I-81 in Marion, recognizing the same work zone and roadway I had passed 11 months ago. The coincidence that I'd end up on that same road without purposefully pointing toward it on the GPS continues to surprise me.
The weather was clear and warm as I cruised east across North Carolina toward Charlotte. I spent a few days visiting with my younger brother Erik and friends John and Ellen. We ate well, visited a local brewery and played disc golf on the same Plantation Course we played nearly a year ago. Although it was a fun visit in the city, I was feeling the call of Virginia. Heading in a northward direction, I soon found myself camped up near the VA border by a beautiful mountain brook. The forecast low was wrong as temps dipped below freezing, evidenced by the frost on my hammock. Pushing the scooter over into the sunshine, I warmed myself with a cup of coffee and finally got on the road. In less than an hour, a large red heart appeared on a sign ahead. Virginia is indeed for lovers.
In May 2014 I quit my job to ride a Honda Ruckus over 59'000 mi and counting. Wild camping most nights and cooking most of my own meals, I keep the costs low and the landscape changing.