Cycling the Shenandoah Valley
Cycle-buddy Dave gave me a nudge in the corridor one day to catch my attention. He then proceeded to 'wax lyrical' about the beauty of the Shenandoah Valley in the Fall - the clear sky, the crisp air, the golds and reds of the trees as they go through their Autumn colour changes. I knew what was coming. 'By chance there happens to be a bike ride planned in the valley - are you interested?'
'Bingo' (or 'House' if that is what you played as a kid.)
My first Fall in the US - how could I pass this up? So I got onto the Bike Virginia people and registered my interest, Dave booked us into a motel in the area and rather late one Friday we took off into the gathering gloom. Four hours later we arrived at Staunton (Stan-ton) in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, went up the road a few miles to our motel and turned in for the night.
The following morning was true to prediction - crisp, clear and a lone maple on an otherwise bare ridge glowing scarlet in the first rays of the sun. Having fed and watered we jumped in the car and navigated the back roads to Gypsy Hill Park, the Start/Stop point for the weekend activities. We quickly registered, collected our ID wrist-bands and route (r-ow-t, not r-oo-t) maps and pedaled off to find some Fall Foliage to admire. Which did not take long!
The approach to this church was quite unusual. From a distance we could see there were many cars parked beside the road and could hear a voice talking so fast it was not understandable. When the penny finally dropped I realised that the guy was an auctioneer and from the sound of it he was auctioning the church jumble sale items. That accounted for most of the cars, however there was another group by themselves at the bottom of the small hill. As we shifted into granny-gear to attack the hill we saw they were fishermen, all geared up in chest-high waders and carrying fly rods. I admit the little creek looked very clean and likely to produce a fine trout or two, but the waders were probably overkill - the stream could probably have been waded in gumboots!
I have three reasons for including my pose below. First, I hardly ever get into my own picture album, so Dave took this for me. Second, the hills are showing their range of tree colours - copper brown for the oaks, yellows and golds for willows and some of the maples and bright red for the sugar maple (more commonly associated with Canada.) Third is the missile silos. Now that is not what the locals call them, but nudge, nudge, wink, wink say no more. I know what they are! Some farmers even paint 'Grain Silo' on them to fool the gullible folk.
Further on I came to a wooden rail fence of the type the original colonists had made, which had a large sign draped over it - 'Jousting for America' it said - yeah right! On with the brakes and into detour mode.
Some distance down the driveway I came across a Ranger Station which I duly entered. 'Free entry to the park for cyclists' I was told, 'and you can watch the jousting for free too.' Hmmm.
The park was called the Natural Chimneys Reserve, because of its natural chimneys (naturally.)
Near the base of the chimneys (which were impressive rock spires) a horsey event was taking place - jousting was probably happening a bit later in the day. Folks had on uniforms and period costumes, and a small horse parade was about to take place. I had a slightly convoluted conversation with a deaf man to find out what was happening - he was more interested in collecting wind-fall walnuts.
I enjoyed the countryside here - we were cycling through rolling foothills that reminded me of the cycling I had done at home - without the colours of course.
At the end of the day Dave and I went back to the motel, cleaned up, then returned to have a look at the town and to find somewhere to eat. We timed things just right for photo-ops of trees glowing in the rays of the setting sun.
Staunton seems to have adopted two General's from the Civil War period. We walked past the 'Stonewall Jackson' hotel (which looks as if it has seen better days) and in Gypsy Park the local footy team was called the 'Lee Men'.
A characteristic of Virginia seems to be abandoned or collapsing sheds. Very picture-squew, but perhaps indicative that it is one of the poorer states - it has fewer people and therefore a lower income tax take than that of its neighbours.
This house really impressed me - board cladding, wooden shingle tiles and a driveway of trees all going through their colour changes.
I returned the favour for Dave and took his piccy too. You can tell which of us does the most puffing on the hills.
After our Sunday cycle tour we traveled back home by going north up the motorway for a while, then cut off into the back-blocks to see the last of the Fall colours. We re-joined the motorway further up, then followed it as it took us towards Harpers Ferry which is an access point through the Shenandoah Mountains. Unfortunately, the weekend had been a beautiful one for driving in the mountains and half the people of Maryland were also trying to get home this way. This line of traffic took us about 45 minutes to get through and I found out why. Apart from the great pile of cars, the four lane highway we were on became two lanes for about three miles, and had a lot of traffic merging into it. A right shambles! The rule is, try and avoid going through Harpers Ferry at Fall colour times.