Test-Ride of new Ducati Diavel motorcycle - 8.25.12
I posed for a photo, in the rain, immediately after Sat's (Aug. 25, 2012) two-hr test ride at the Fredericksburg (Virginia) Expo Center of this new, extremely powerful Ducati Diavel (devil), a 1,200 cc monster that, in the right hands, can go from 0 to 60 in 2.6 seconds (my arthritic hands are much more moderate when it comes to acceleration, fortunately for me). You could not detect that I was totally soaked to the bone. But the background parking lot, a layer of water with raindrops on the surface, conveyed the message.

"Cycle World" magazine named the Ducati Diavel at the "Cruiser of the year for 2011," a somewhat controversial choice in the biking world, as this hot bike would commonly be placed into the "racing/sports" category. So, the two joined forces and took the show on the road. Actually, I could envision this bike as a really good cruiser if it had a windshield and some other minor tweaking.

It is a wonderful machine. It weighs a mere 463 lbs, thanks to the plastic parts and carbon fiber. It is a hot, hot engine on two wheels. It's not a bike for the squeamish -- or the unskilled.

My traveling buddy -- a Jamestown NC, coworker -- and I did the 560-mil round trip starting at 7am, up Hwy 29 via Danville (Va), Lynchburg, and Charlottesville,
up to Fredericksburg, Virginia, pretty near the coast. We passed a lot of "steamed crabs" roadside stands. Five hours each way. He drove in his vehicle, so I footed the gas money.

We had an appt for a 1:30pm, one-hour group ride on Sat.in Fredericksburg, on I-95. But we got there early, a few min before noon and checked in, just to get a lay of the land.
It was sprinkling already, with more showers predicted, so they were starting to get cancellations. Ms. Tonia T, the event coordinator
for co-sponsor "Cycle World," (LA), invited us to join the noon group. We jumped at that chance, as we had a five-hour return trip to deal with, and got our duds on. Me: mesh riding jacket with armor, riding pants with protection, mesh/leather gloves, ankle boots and full-face Bell helmet. My pal: leather jacket (no armor), regular jeans, gloves, full-face helmet. He had much more experience at riding in general and on the larger, more powerful, bikes. This was my largest ever.

After a brief orientation by a male Ducati rep (he used to fly F-16s and is now based in Denver), a brief video and explanation about the new Diavel and its somewhat complex dashboard functions, we climbed aboard our ponies (kind of like climbing atop a rocket ship) and headed out of town -- as the rains really started coming down.

I would say -- post-ride -- that we could have used better training in the reading and interpretation of the dashboard (as I call it). I would learn later that the numbers I thought were the RPMs while on the road were actually the odometer numbers, indicating the miles (3,962) -- "Well, they said the bike operates best in the 4,000 RPM range, so I'm doing okay," was my thinking until I wised up and worked the engine by feel. I never did figure out how to read the Tach until I read the brochure this morning.

I don't like riding a motorcycle in the rain, partly because my right ankle is already a hardware store. Wet, potentially slick roads, low visibility of me, the rider, dressed in grays and blacks, by inattentive, cell-phone-talking car drivers, water on my plastic face mask, etc. Throw
in the fact that I"m on a bike I don't own, one that I'm not familiar with at all, riding in a group of 10 riders I don't know, and a new bike which is well over twice as powerful as anything I've ever ridden -- needless to say, I was cautious. It was fortunate that I had chosen to be a back-of-the pack rider with one other older gentleman and the "sweeper," Don Canet, the Road Test Editor of "Cycle World," who has ridden everything under the sun. He was a good "round-up" guy, keeping us in a relatively tight pack.

The bike has three power settings on the dash: Urban (100 hp), Touring (162 hp) and, but a more leisurely setting, Sports (162 hp and some other hopped-up racing features that kick in for extreme leans and fast maneuvering). It shifts to the next power setting by squeezing the button that normally turns off the manual turn signal. We kept it on the tame "Urban" getting out of town (for insurance reasons) and then some of the guys opted to experiment with the other settings when on the twisty side roads.

I did run through all three settings briefly but did not test the waters, so to speak, and pretty much kept it at a manageable "Urban" setting, never getting over 4th gear. Actually, I did that power-mode shifting accidentally. I was leery of keeping my turn signal blinking, as some riders ahead of me were doing, so I was periodically hit the cancel-turn-signal button as a precaution. It turned out I was constantly going back and forth between Urban, Touring and Sports -- telling the computer "this guy wants the bike to be at a hot 162 hp in 'rocket to the Moon' mode." Honestly, twisting the throttle a little too much could have sent me off into the woods easily.
This is a $20,000 machine -- and I had signed a waiver agreeing to pay for damages I caused (!)

By this time, in the backwoods twisties, we were in a torrential downpour. I was careful to avoid the paint (the painted lines and arrows on the road that are slick as glass when wet). The planned one-hour ride seemed to be taking longer than I thought it would.

As it would turn out later, it had been a two-hour ride, as our leader, a Ducati mechanic/engineer/skilled rider, decided to keep the speeds down --- wisely.
The hqs even sent out the cavalry: a rescue vehicle to find out what the heck was going on and where we were. The 1:30pm riding group was waiting --
and we rolled into the parking lot, finally, at around 2:45pm. A lot of the signs were down. They had been blown down by high winds and driving rain that came through while we were on the road.

I did notice those winds. I was periodically, suddenly, dealing with strong cross winds that were adversely affecting my ability to stay in my lane. My buddy explained later that he actually got blown over the yellow divider line into potential oncoming traffic.

After it was over, I was really thankful that I had brought a change of clothing: shirt, comfortable cord cotton jeans, socks, sandals. My riding gear was totally soaked. The mesh jacket was -- well -- mesh, resulting in a wet shirt and a saturated pocket Moleskine notebook. Wallet and dollar bills in my jacket pocket --- soaked. I changed in the outhouse (port o' potty at the staging area).

After my second high-octane espresso and a couple of biscotti treats, my buddy and I headed back home, stopping at a Sheetz for a sandwich-to-go. He was nice enough to do the driving, in his car, so I took care of the two fill-ups.

We passed through some big-money horse farm estates east of Charlottesville (south of Orange). I know actors Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek and rocker Dave Matthews live around Charlottesville. I could imagine them with spreads along this road.

We got home around 8 p.m. His wife and kids were happy to see him. Me, I zonked out later that evening and slept like a log.


Loss of Riley, orange cat
I had to have Riley, my orange cat, euthanized earlier today (Thurs, 2.9.12) at the Gboro animal shelter (off Wendover, near Target). As I had mentioned, over the past three weeks, he had been gradually losing weight, shedding abnormal amts of fur, limping badly, losing control of his walking and losing his appetite. His weight went from 16 lbs, about a month ago, to about 6 lbs this morning. His Oct his weight was an excessive 21 lbs. (I wonder if my feeding habits brought this on). His demeanor got even more painful to watch in the short period between Sat, when you were here, to today. He seemed to start "shutting down," not moving from his crouched position for long periods.

The two vets at Banfield could not figure out what was wrong, despite several hundred dollars worth of tests and medications. At first, we thought it was a gastroenteritis problem, then debilitating arthritis and then a dermatological problem. And it may well have been all three. As you know, he was a rescued cat and was probably going to be 10 in April, as near as I can figure.

At any rate, he was in real discomfort and maybe pain, and I could not take it anymore. Yesterday morning (Wed), I left for work with Riley sitting on the sofa. When I returned, he had not moved. He stopped eating three days ago. I was actually preparing him a little buffet each day, lining up various types and flavors of food in a row. But he would eat nothing. The only reason he drank water was because I put a bowl of water in front of him and tempted him by splashing the water with my finger and putting some water on his lips. Even then, I could tell he was having trouble lapping it up. I don't know if it was painful to swallow or just difficult to use his tongue. But he did drink a lot of water towards the end. Attempts to give him the prescribed pills were futile as his mouth was so dry and clamped shut.

Tues night he woke me up at 12:30pm with a long, wailing meow, trying to tell me something. I comforted him the best I could. That went on a couple more times that night.

A few nights ago, I found him huddled up in a bush in the backyard, where he stayed for hours, despite the cold.

Maybe I should have tried another vet, as I had lined up a specialist at Carolina Vet Services (?) on Guilford College Rd in Gboro for this morning. But I cancelled it Wed night, just deciding if the two vets could not figure it out, whatever the specialist found would probably still mean a much lower quality of life for Riley and a lot of med bills (I'm about at the $1,000 mark on this already).

Last night and this morning, I noticed that he could barely walk. Either his joints were painful or he was losing motor control. He kept shaking his rear legs and extending them, making walking difficult.

I have to feel that Riley is in a happier place, considering what he went through. I wish I could figure out what happened. He just started shutting down. I wish I had put him to sleep sooner, to minimize the suffering. All of this happened so fast, and it seemed even faster this past few days.

I've been on the Web a lot this afternoon, reading web sites devoted to euthanizing cats, aging cats and dealing with pet loss.

Ripley, my other cat, is still going strong. I wonder if her behavior will change, now that Riley is not on the scene, e.g., being more of an inside cat.

Milton Glaser documentary
Tonight's interesting documentary was "Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight." MG(b. 1929) is a noted artist, designer, illustrator, famous for "I (heart) NY," "Fortune 5 Hundred," tons of museum and art show posters, the 1967 Bob Dylan silhouette with psychedelic hair (from the "Dylan's Greatest Hits" album; when I bought the album in 1967, I threw the poster away, feeling it smacked of crass commercialism. Now it is probably worth a lot), designer of restaurants and concepts, supermarkets (e.g. Grand Union). Pretty amazing. NYer all the way. Check out "www.miltonglaserworks.com" for his signed things. I bought a signed copy of "Art is Work." If I had $600, I'd get a print of "Annie," their cat. The docu title is a ref to philosopher Horace, who said "The purpose of art is to inform and delight."

Karl's Wis Trip (Oct 2011)
I completed a 2,400-mile round trip from High Point, NC, to Madison, Wis. (Wed, 10.5.11 – returning late Thurs., 10.13.11) to see girlfriend Gail.

I enjoyed unusually nice Indian Summer weather – clear and warm all but the last day when it rained periodically. Even the Wisconsin people were thrown off, having to unpack their summer togs and put away the cool-weather clothing for a while.

I drove up one route (Charleston W.Va., Cincinnati Ohio, Indianapolis, Chicago, Madison) and returned another (Madison, Chicago, Dexter Mich, Toledo, Canton Ohio, Charleston, High Point) partly for the sake of change of scenery and also to visit with old buddy John in Dexter.

On I-77 north, I stopped at the Tamarack art/crafts center south of Beckley, W.Va., for a to-go coffee from the Greenbrier Resort concession and to pick up a W.Va. postcard for coworker Joy, a native of W.Va. Shortly after, I started hitting toll booths and spent about $6 total getting out of W.Va. The roads were not good, so I hope they actually spend my money on improvements.

I used MapQuest for some of the route to Cincinnati, Ohio, but diverged a bit. I don’t think I’ll go that route again. The roadmap showed roads that looked like a straight shot from W.Va. to Cincy, but I ended up on a scenic byway along the Ohio River, with Ky on the other side. It was scenic, but it was also twisty two-lane much of the way, taking me through every little town.

I rolled into the very high-traffic Cincy area in time for early dinner. I was determined to have Cincinnati Chili at either one of the Skyline or Gold Star chains. They are all over the place, like McDonald’s. Cincy chili is simple and tasty: spaghetti pasta, chili sauce (with a hint of cinnamon), shredded cheddar cheese, and, if desired, kidney beans and chopped onions. A “three-way” is the first three ingredients; a “five-way” is all of those ingredients. I had a five-way and also bought a few microwavable meals for my hand/finger therapist (a Cincy native) and family.

I headed north to Indianapolis, bypassing it, and finding a Motel 6 in Lebanon, Indiana. Motel 6 is good for me: bare-bones with the amenities I need (bed, TV, shower) but safe, inexpensive ($40) and easy to get in and out of. I can park right in front of the room and take my belongings inside in one minute.

Thurs morning (10.6.11)

I arrived in Lafayette, Ind., home of Purdue Univ and the Tippecanoe battlefield. I grabbed a cup of very good coffee at drive-in “Cap and Gino’s” and sought to drive through the Purdue campus. The roadwork was horrendous and would have delayed me too long, though. So I headed north to Tippecanoe.

This battle between Gen. William Harrison and The Prophet (bro of Tecumseh) in 1811 was caused by the U.S. Govt’s plan to remove the Indians from Indiana to Kansas and The Prophet’s attempt to stop this migration and invasion by the U.S. This Nov 7 will be the 200th anniversary of the battle, won by the U.S. The battleground is nicely maintained. The railroad tracks, parallel to the road, operated back then and today. The visitors center was still closed at 8 a.m., when I was there, so I missed that part. Later, in Fall, 1838, this same site was where 850 Indians (kids and women, mostly) stopped on their involuntary relocation march from Indiana to Kansas. 40 of them died en route.

Traveling north on I-65, still in Indiana, I was surprised to see well over 100 towering, white, three-blade wind turbines stretching across the flat farmlands. Each was easily 100-feet high or more. Generating electricity this way must be economically feasible, because this was a serious effort.

I arrived in Chicago mid-afternoon. I decided to drive downtown, searching for glimpses of Al Capone’s Chicago or architecture of that era, an interest spurred by the recent Ken Burns documentary “Prohibition.” I was looking for the part of town that would have been there circa 1930 but I got turned around and didn’t see it. Next trip, I’ll either study the area first or take the guided “Untouchables Tour” where they point out the site of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and other criminal landmarks of that era of lawlessness.

I did drive by the multi-story University Club on Michigan Ave and E. Monroe (I think), across from Grant Park. In the mid to late 1980s, my employer was a member, so I was able to stay there back then on business and have dinner occasionally at the famous Miller’s Pub a block away.

In Des Plaines, a northwest suburb, I stopped at a hot dog joint for a grilled Chicago Dog. This dog was brightly colored, with sliced tomatoes and a bright green relish that I’m sure does not exist in nature. But it was quite tasty.

More toll roads between Ill. And Wis.

I arrived in Madison later afternoon, and Gail and I visited a swimming club to watch her two grandchildren, ages 5 and 2, take swimming lessons with the parents.

Friday, 10.7.11

Gail had compiled a good list of possible things to do. One was “Ten Chimneys,” the Genesee Depot, Wis, estate of yesteryear Broadway star couple, “The Lunts,” about 50 miles east of Madison, 30 miles west of Milwaukee. The Lunts – Alfred Lunt (a Milwaukee native) and English-born wife Lynn Fontanne – were big in the 1920s-1950s on the stage and even won an Emmy for a Hallmark Hall of Fame episode shown on TV. This really nice estate, now a National Historic Landmark, had been scheduled to be turned into a condo complex in the early 1990s until the owner of Madison’s Quivey’s Cove historic restaurant launched a successful drive to buy it and preserve it.

I phoned to reserve two places on one of the daily full-estate tours, two hours, (held all day in groups of eight; $35/each/estate; $28/house only), not expecting a problem on a Friday. I was surprised to hear that they were booked up for the next several days, due to the nice weather and the upcoming Columbus Day (Mon) holiday. They were able to squeeze us in, though --- on the following Tuesday!

We decided to drive over to that part of the state, anyway, and stopped in at the Ten Chimneys visitors center and gift shop, so we would know where it was. That was a wise move. The center had a wide array of hands-on exhibits that occupied our time for well over an hour and gave us a better idea of who this couple was. They even have a mock stage set up in which visitors can don costumes and go “on stage.” Five video screens were set up so visitors could watch clips of the Lunts perform.

One interesting prop on the mock stage was an open, green umbrella. It was explained that when Alfred Lunt was researching his stage role of Henry Higgins in “Pygmalion,” he could not get his hands around it. He left in disgust to walk it off and seek inspiration. He stumbled across a green umbrella, which illuminated his character. Thereafter, whenever he was having a mental block with a character, he would say, “I’m looking for my green umbrella.”

Actually, I had never heard of the Lunts until, as a 16-yr-old, I read a brief reference to them by Holden Caulfield in “Catcher in the Rye” in which he mentions seeing them. After that, I never heard a word about them until now. I guess they were too pre-TV and had only done one movie: “The Guardsman,” circa 1931. (www.tenchimneys.org)

For Friday lunch, we drove to Genesee Depot, a lovely dot on the map a half mile from the estate. We had a leisurely lunch, al fresco, at the Cornerstone eatery: butternut squash soup and a baked cod sandwich and, as always for me, a mug of coffee.

After lunch, we drove to nearby Eagle, Wis., with the intent of touring Old World Wisconsin, a sprawling rural complex of 65 buildings, working demonstration and exhibits and gardens depicting the early eras of Wisconsin farming and living. Being Friday, though, the place was due to close at 3 p.m., not giving us nearly enough time to get our $16 (each) worth. They recommended six hours. (www.oldworldwisconsin.org). That place will be for another time.

Saturday (10.8.11)

We did some work around the house. I mowed the lawn and helped scrape away some window caulking. For early dinner we met with Gail’s daughter Andrea and her family at the Avenue Bar, a sports bar downtown that is kid-friendly and offers good meals. The place was packed, unusually so. We later discovered it was because of a live broadcast of a Milwaukee Brewers (baseball) playoff game. Everyone was wearing Brewers gear but us.

The large turnout slowed down our getting our food. We were pressed for time. Getting to a church across town for a big Sat evening children’s and parents event was difficult, but we got there only about 20 min late.

Sunday (10.9.11)

We started the day off at the Blackhawk Church (www.blackhawkchurch.org) near Madison, where Gail attends each week. This church is involved in many community projects and has a slogan of “Building a Community to Reach a Community.”

This is a huge church using video screens and multiple services throughout the day, depending on whether the parishioner is interested in traditional, contemporary or youth-oriented services. I enjoyed the sermon by Chris Dolson, senior pastor, with the subject of “Family and Friends” (Mark 3:20-35). The above website allows a person to watch recordings of the services after they have ended. Volunteer traffic directors help people leave the parking lot.

We then headed north for scenic Door County. This is a fingerlike peninsula that juts out into Lake Michigan. It would be similar to NC’s Outer Banks as a good, coastline weekend vacation site.

On the drive up, we drove through Oshkosh, famous for their clothes (Oshkosh by Gosh) and the annual Oshkosh Air Show. Further north, at the base of the peninsula, was Green Bay, which we would hit on the way back.

We found a quaint mom-and-pop motel in Ephraim called the Trollhaugen Lodge, decorated with little troll statues. Unfortunately, it is now only a “mom” motel, as the husband had passed away the previous year. The woman, who has family in Florida, wants to sell the motel and move south. A “For Sale – Owner Retiring” sign was out front. I had to respectfully decline her offer.

The evening dinner at nearby White Gull Inn (www.whitegullinn.com) in Fish Creek, right near Lake Michigan, was a real hit. We attended a “fish boil,” a group-prepared meal that is much tastier than it sounds. In a large fire pit outside, a chef/cook boils salted water (one lb of salt per gallon) in a huge cast iron pot. The salt raises the boiling point of the water to 225F. He puts in a lot of redskin potatoes and then adds about 45 lbs of cut-up white fish that have been caught in the lake. This preparation would feed about 25 people for this 7:30pm seating.

To get the water really hot at the end, he threw a quart of kerosene into the fire (not the pot) and that flame-up generated enough heat to cause the pot to boil over, removing all of the fish fat and oil at the top. None of the meal was fishy at all. It reminded me of lobster, actually, complete with little pitchers of melted butter.

The cook, about 63, explained all of this to the diners, step by step. He said the origin of this fish boil concept goes back at least 135 years. He belongs to a Scandinavian church in that town that old and the church had done fish boil fundraisers for that long. We ate inside the century-old inn, having cherry pie and vanilla ice cream for dessert. My mug of coffee, red and white, had been made by Syracuse (NY) China, where I had spent 4th grade. The White Gull In was named winner of “Good Morning America’s” Best Breakfast Challenge one year.

Monday, 10.10.11

Still on the Door County peninsula, with the weather a pleasant Indian Summer-like, we started the day off with a nice breakfast in the neighboring coastal village of Ephraim. We ate at the Old Post Office Restaurant, est. 1874, overlooking the water. In the late 1800s, the only way to reach this village was by boat, so the Anderson Dock there was a vital lifeline. The key building in the village was Peter Peterson’s General Store; the Post Office was located in the back of the building. The current owners, descendents of the original settlers, restored the building and named the building in honor of the post office.

The region is known for its cherries. Gail had cherry pancakes, which I tried; very good! I had a heavier meal: corned beef hash, scrambled eggs and light rye toast and some really good coffee. On our way out, I noticed a really nice chocolate-colored Bentley with Illinois plates in the parking lot. We spotted so many Illinois plates that if I didn’t know better, I would have thought we were in Illinois. We saw very few Wisconsin plates. A Wis friend would later tell me that Illinois people really take over Door County and many of the state camping grounds. He recommends either taxing out-of-staters via the toll roads or letting Wisconsin residents have first crack at the state campground reservation system a couple of days before opening it to the out-of-staters.

I was pleased to see that the coastal villages – Eagle, Ephraim, Fish Creek and several others – did not contain a single fast-food chain or motel chain. If there were, I didn’t see any signage. I’m sure those were the result of local or county ordinances of some sort. Either way, the ambience was a lot nicer and more of the money generated by the tourists probably stayed in the locals’ pockets.

We spent the morning at the Cana Island lighthouse, an 1895-era structure that sent its light out to ships on Lake Michigan. It is one of two existing lighthouses on the peninsula available to tourists. If I were to travel straight east from there, over the water, I would hit Traverse City, Michigan.

This lighthouse exploration was a good visit. The lighthouse is 97 steps to the top, to give you an idea of the height. Due to my healing ankle I did not go up. But I did learn a lot about the life of a lighthouse keeper and his family during the early 20th century and explored the exhibits of life in those days, e.g. kitchen, bedrooms.

They call this little patch of land an island because sometimes the walkable causeway, a few hundred feet, is submerged. This lighthouse was one of the first to use the Fresnell Lens, focusing a sharper light out onto the stormy lake. The complex still has a six-sided oil house, separate from the actual lighthouse, which housed petro fuel, i.e., kerosene, pre-electricity.

Monday afternoon, driving back towards Madison, we hit Green Bay and the famous Lambeau Field, home of the Super Bowl-winning Green Bay Packers. We toured the Green Bay Hall of Fame, which included a temporary, non-football-related exhibit of Bob Hope memorabilia, and then went on a fascinating one-hour guided tour of behind-the-scenes Lambeau Field.

Our guide, Lee, about 66, was a trip, a real blast! Talkative and lively and full of stories. He had grown up in Green Bay and attended the games as a youth, getting thrown in the paddy wagon periodically for sneaking in. He is one of the owners of the team --- him and about 100,000 others, each of whom paid $200 for a non-voting share to help ensure that the team did not move. This team is in the smallest market of any of the other NFL teams.

He also spent a few thousand (about $7,000, I think; a one-time payment) for a permanent license to guarantee him the right buy five end-zone tickets to each game each season ($69/per ticket; probably $200 or so when sold to scalpers or on e-Bay).

He said the biggest question mark people have is why the Packers even bother to have a Ticket Office --- since they don’t even sell tickets! In excess of 88,000 people are on the waiting list for tickets. One reason the team is so popular, I feel, is because it truly is a “people’s team.” The citizens own it, and it cannot be moved by a capricious billionaire owner keeping the team only as a cash cow and looking for greener pastures, as so many other teams have moved (e.g. the football Cardinals from St. Louis to Phoenix; the Rams from LA to St. Louis; the Colts from Baltimore to Indianapolis).

The Packers, known as the Acme Packers circa 1920, are celebrating their 92nd birthday this season. I really enjoyed the tour. We, about 30 of us, were led through the big tunnel (to the chilling, deafening recorded roar of the crowd) onto the field area. We couldn’t actually walk on the hallowed field, of course. But I did pick up some grass clippings after it was mowed and mailed some to my grateful Packer friends.

Being an outside stadium in a northern state on the bay with brutal winter weather (remember the Ice Bowl !), they hired a Dutch turf company, DD Grass Master, to reconstruct the field -- and under the field – for a suitable playing surface. Below ground is 43 miles of tubing with anti-freeze to keep the surface a certain temperature. The grass is natural. But it grows with a combination of natural dirt and a type of synthetic material in which the grass roots literally entwine themselves throughout it, keeping it secure. This synthetic material is buried into the earth with foot-long needles penetrating the surface every inch or so on this 100-yard-plus field.

Those upper-tier enclosed boxes cost $19,000 - $150,000 per season.

Famous Packer coach Vince Lombardi wrote a book that Lee recommended: “Pride Still Matters.”

At the end of the tour, 5 p.m., the guide reminded us that a popular, local, Packers-theme TV show, “Larry McCarren’s Locker Room,” would be taping a show at about 6:30 p.m. I had never heard of the show or Larry McCarren, but I decided attending this would be a good idea. Gail, being a good sport, went along with it.

After I bought my “Lambeau Field” t-shirt at the Pro Shop, we got in line – and stayed in line for more than an hour. I think we were about the only people not wearing green-and-yellow jerseys, shirts, jackets, hats, etc. Two elderly women in front of me were wearing distinctive earrings: one with little brown footballs and one with team-colored logo “G” letter earrings.

I discovered (the following day) that Larry McCarren had been a starting Center (the guys who hikes the ball) for the Packers (1973-84). Following that career, he stayed in Green Bay and became a sportscaster and now has this interesting half-hour show in which he interviews a player or one of the coaches and holds a drawing in which several attendees can win an autographed pix of that day’s guest or some Packer merchandise. McCarren was tall (maybe 6’4”) but fairly thin. I’m sure he had been heavier in his playing days. I did not notice his little finger at the time, but his right (?) little finger had been mangled at some point and now sticks out at a 90-degree, unusual angle. Locally, the condition is called “Larry McCarren pinky.”

This evening’s guest would be Offensive Guard Josh Sitton (6’3-1/2”; 318 lbs), one of the younger players, who recently signed a long-term deal with the Pack for about $7 million a year. I was not familiar with him. But, at the time, I was not familiar with any of the other players either, except Quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Sitton normally wears shoulder-length long, flowing, blond hair under his helmet on game day (the new, warrior look). This evening he had it bundled up short and was wearing a dark blue Milwaukee Brewers baseball cap backwards. He was wearing a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops and an ankle brace. He wasn’t the most talkative guy, but he did okay. He did conduct a brief blocking lesson for one of the 12-yr-old audience members.

After the show ended, we still had a three-hour-plus drive back to Madison. We got back at 11 p.m. The show would air locally (or maybe through the state) the following evening, but we would not see it.

Tuesday, 10.11.11

This would be my last full day in Wisconsin, and we would spend most of the day at or near the Ten Chimneys estate 30 miles west of Milwaukee. Our reservation for that day’s tour was 2:15 p.m. I had paid in advance with no refund arrangement, so I didn’t want to get there late.

Due to the continuing, unusually nice, sunny Indian Summer, Gail and I decided to start the day off with nine holes of golf at a course near Ten Chimneys, so we could get there quickly.

I called around and found a public course, Naga-Wauki War Memorial Golf Course, I believe. We played a little fewer than nine holes, using a gas golf cart, and getting teamed up with two other men. We would have preferred being a twosome on a deserted course with no one breathing down our necks, as we are not so great. But the warm weather caused golfers to resuscitate their clubs and get in one more round. We ran out of time after six holes, dropped the cart off at the pro shop and drove to Ten Chimneys, estate of the Lunts, the stage couple I mentioned earlier. The estate name came from the 10 chimneys located on the site.

This place was easily one of the highlights of my trip. The house and other buildings were small by today’s standards, so each group was kept to about eight people. The winding, tight staircases and small bedrooms sometimes made for tight maneuvering.

The estate organizers tried hard to maintain each room as the Lunts had designed and decorated them: as a stage set. Even the books on the shelves and stacked on tables have been kept in the same place as they were found. The Lunts might have been more known to today’s audiences if they had gotten into movies, in addition to their theater work. But following the 1931 “The Guardsman,” their well-received sole movie, they decided movie-making was boring, doing take after take, even after being offered $1 million for a good contract, a lot during those days.

Lynn Fontanne said, “We can be bought, but we can’t be bored.”

I have tried to rent or check out a copy of “The Guardsman,” but I cannot find one.

Being invited to Ten Chimneys was a great honor for any stage actor of that era. It meant they had “arrived.” Two regulars were Helen Hayes and Noel Coward. In fact, each was provided with a room of their own. I believe Lawrence Olivier, a.k.a., “Larry,” also had a room.

Olivier once commented, “Everything I learned about acting, I learned from Alfred Lunt.” This is high praise, indeed.

I was impressed with how frozen in time the estate had been kept. For example, each desk had on it some light blue stationery with the envelopes and sheets personalized in gold print with “Ten Chimneys” and the Genesee Depot, Wis., address.

Alfred Lunt was no stranger to the kitchen. He did much of the cooking himself or educated the local high school boys to do some cooking. Lunt himself was a graduate of the Cordon Bleu Institute in Paris. The diploma was on the kitchen wall.

I noticed a couple of books in the kitchen: “The Blender Cookbook,” “The Master in the Kitchen” by Donn Pierce (?) and “Scandinavian Cooking for Americans” by Florence Brobert.

A young Carol Channing, a favorite of the Lunts, was given a big career opportunity to appear in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” after they suggested her for the part.

Our bus driver explained that the Lunts were very generous with the local residents. One winter, Alfred lent an expensive toboggan to some of the local boys, including his paper boy. When they accidentally broke it, running into a tree, he immediately asked if they were okay and ordered his assistant to purchase another toboggan for their use. That story was directly told to the driver by the same paper boy much later in his life.

At the gift shop, I did buy some packaged coffee that had been a blend preferred by Alfred Lunt, a mix of French roast and a “Full City” roast. I’ll try it soon. It originated from Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co. (?) (www. Anodynecoffee.com). His complicated recipe, according to the bag, mentions mixing coffee grounds with an egg (shell and all) and “enough cold water to make a paste in the pot. Add boiling water (one cup for each spoon of coffee). Let come to a full boil; remove from flame and stir down. Repeat this twice more for three times in all. Then let boil steadily for three full minutes. Pull to one side. Add a half cup cold water and let stand three minutes before using. Never let pot become cold and never try to reheat it.”

I think that recipe is a little more involved than I can handle. I’ll ground the beans and put in my espresso pot !!

Wednesday, 10.12.11

Today was travel day, heading back to High Point; about 940 miles; I would travel to Chicago, Dexter Mich (near Ann Arbor), Toledo, Cleveland, Canton Ohio and then Charleston and High Point. My day-one goal was Canton, a little more than halfway.

I left very early to try to avoid rush hour in Chicago, two hours south, but I hit it anyway. I tried to find the Custer National Cemetary in Battle Creek, where Gail’s father is buried, but I could not find it. I did a side tour of Albion College in Albion and saw that the campus was looking vibrant, healthy and growing.

I arrived in Dexter at about 2:30 p.m., in time to have lunch with old buddy John S. I had brought him a bag of local NC items as a gift, like barbecue sauce, a can of collard greens, a can of blackeyed peas and other things. We met at his place of business: Designers Cove Interiors, a family business. My first freelance article in 1984 involved his hiring his first employee and all of the factors involved in taking that leap.

He treated me to a pleasant pizza buffet lunch with salad and hummus at a local eatery within walking distance (something like “Artimus”). John would leave later in the day to coach a softball team game. Back at the shop, we had a photo taken of us by his younger sister and then I headed out.

I probably could have taken a side trip south to Tecumseh, my studio apt during the 1970s, but I decided I needed to get some miles in before the end of the day and bypassed it for Toledo, heading straight east along I-80/90 (the Ohio Turnpike).

An amazing coincidence during my eastward trek across northern Ohio: I had been listening to the “Books on CD” version of Jack Kerouac’s famous roadtrip novel, “On the Road” (1957) during this portion of the trip. As I was driving along that stretch, I listened to the narrator mention that they were driving along “old Ohio” from Detroit and Toledo towards Cleveland and then Pennsylvania. Really strange. Kerouac’s actual traveling would have been pre-Interstate. But still, he would have been in that same geographical area on one of those eastward roads. I feel I experienced the same flat, rural, farmland setting with miles of crops and fields extending in all directions as had inspired him in the late 1940s.

I made it to North Canton, Ohio, that evening and checked into a trusty Motel 6.

The following morning, I was first in line at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton – only $17 versus the normal $21 – one good thing about being a senior !!

The Hall of Fame is in the midst of a major expansion, with construction going on everywhere. It is currently 82,000 square feet and being expanded to 124,000 square feet. The guide said they have many exhibits they would like to show but which are in storage due to lack of space.

I continued south into West Virginia on I-77. The entire stretch of West Va. and northwest Va. was tough driving. The up-and-down Interstate was heavily trafficked with 18-wheelers, resulting in truck speeds ranging from 50 mph uphill and 85 mph downhill that I had to deal with, passing on the uphills and being passed on the downhills. The road crews were doing repairs, resulting in numerous bumper-to-bumper bottlenecks. Drivers in all sorts of vehicles were testy and driving aggressively, tailgating me. It was raining heavily much of the time. On the plus side, the leaves were turning, and I enjoyed some nice fall colors in the mountains.

I arrived home at about 10:30 p.m. after putting 2,400 miles on my car.

As I opened the door, my two cats looked at me, wondering who I was.


Mayberry Days 2011
Saturday, 9.24.11

22nd Annual Mayberry Days – Mount Airy, North Carolina

As many times over the years as I’ve visited Mount Airy, NC, a bit south of Fancy Gap, Va., I’ve never had a chance to attend the annual Mayberry Days, a popular early fall event. That’s the time this little town with an active (for the most part) Main Street business district turns into the mythical town of Mayberry, a sort of theme park with accurate, costumed look-alikes from the “Andy Griffith Show” series that ran from 1960 to 1969 (also as “Mayberry RFD”). I decided I was missing out on something.

Thanks to syndication, cable TV and videotape/DVD, the series has never gone away and remains as popular as ever.

This year the fest started Thurs, 9.22.11 and wrapped up Saturday evening, 9.24.11, with some of the special guests flying out on Sunday morning, although a couple of small events were slated for Sunday (a good-bye lunch at the Sagebrush).

I drove the 60-mile route that morning in a heavy rain, but the skies miraculously clearly as I approached downtown, and I never did need the umbrella I carried all day. And I’m sure the morning parade participants and spectators enjoyed the clear skies, too.

It was a good day for the event, as the whole downtown area, including the Andy Griffith Playhouse and the Andy Griffith Museum, was heavily populated with people wearing theme t-shirts (this year’s t-shirt had a “Mayberry Rocks” theme with a guy in a rocking chair; others had pix of Barney Fife with his bullet, Pink Floyd (pink image of Floyd the Barber), etc.

I arrived in time to see the 9 a.m. parade get underway. I must say, it was real hoot, lasting over an hour. The participants were largely guest stars from past episodes of the show, costumed re-enactors who were quite entertaining and funny (my favorite was “the Fun Girls,” although the portrayals of Otis, Barney Fife, Goober, Aunt Bee and others were great, too; cutest was a 6-yr-old boy dressed as a little Barney Fife and showing off his bullet to the crowds), children of some of the actors and then, of course, some high school marching bands.

I should note that, although some people will scoff at some of these not-well-known guest stars, most of them actually had very satisfying, full careers as character actors in the entertainment world, a notoriously unstable, capricious industry. If you do some web searching of these names, you’ll be surprised at the wide range of shows and movies they have been in.

The parade was a vintage auto lovers’ delight. Most of the parade participants sat in or on cars of the 1960 era. All of the Mayberry police cars, for example, were Ford Galaxy 500 black-and-whites with a cherry on top, and they had a lot of those (Ford Motor Co. was a sponsor of the original show, so you’ll never see a Chevy squad car in that series). And they had some really old pickup trucks, flatbeds and even a giant Ronald McDonald red shoe float (?!).

The Barney look-alike is well-known David Browning who promotes himself as “The Mayberry Deputy,” but not “Barney Fife,” I guess for legal reasons (www.DavidBrowningProductions.com). He and “Floyd the Barber” scooted back and forth along the parade route on a golf cart doing little skits and providing a lot of laughs. Later in the day I spotted “The Mayberry Deputy” and got an autographed picture. I was wearing my Dutch boy cap at the time, and his comment to me was, “Oh, I didn’t know Seals and Croft were here today!” He was a lot of fun and kept up the excitement all day.

Floyd the Barber, a pretty good approximation, with glasses, mustache, white jacket, comb in pocket, mannerisms and voice, is actually Allan Newsome, a longtime member of the Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club who has a podcast of Mayberry-type things (www.imayberry.com). (Yes, Virginia, such a club does exist – and it has been around for 20 years).
I think he has a “Two Chairs, No Waiting” column or something like that.

“Thelma Lou,” played by actress Betty Lynn was one of the more well-known cast members (several have passed away or are just too old for this grind) in the parade. She moved to Mount Airy not many years ago from LA, needing a more sedate place to live. She has donated many of her Andy-era mementoes to the Andy museum.

Actress Margaret Kerry, about 75, had been in a couple of episodes, but I’m not sure what her character was. She is also well-known for being the actual model for Walt Disney’s Tinkerbell animated character. She still looks pretty good --- as does Tinkerbell, of course.

Charlene Darling, the young woman who developed a serious crush on Andy, was played by Maggie Peterson. She was quite a favorite. Also in the parade was a young, blonde re-enactor who did a great job and had a dead-on costume, including a plaid dress and ankle socks. It must have been weird for Ms. Peterson to see this young woman, her doppelganger, prancing around and flirting with the parade spectators.

One convertible contained about three boistrous reenactors (I say three because one kept hopping in and out of the car to party-down with the spectators) portraying “The Fun Girls from Mount Pilot.” They were dressed to the nines in the finest garish plastic beads and leopard-print tights, had beehive hairdos and looked like they were ready for a high-energy fun time.

Actress Morgan Brittany (formerly Suzanne Cupito), who portrayed “Opie’s First Love” (1967) was quite interesting. I’ve written about her later in this journal. She had been a solid child actress who figured out how to survive a career that has a short shelf life.

James Best, about 75, had been in two episodes (e.g. “The Guitar Player”) playing a hometown boy who made good and returned to Mayberry for a visit. But it turned out he wasn’t doing all that well. Best, who currently lives in Hickory, NC, has had a solid career in TV going back to the ‘50s cowboy shows like “Wanted: Dead or Alive.” I first saw him in a Twilight Zone episode and viewed him as a creepy-looking guy. He is probably best known as Sheriff Roscoe Coltrane in “Dukes of Hazzard”, but he is certainly not limited to that series. If you go to his web site www.jamesbestart.com, you’ll also see that he is an accomplished artist/painter. Trivia: a cousin to the Everly Brothers; an Army MP in Germany post-WW II; has a film production co of some sort. I am sorry I missed his Thursday lecture and slide show of his career, but I wasn’t there that day and honestly didn’t even know he was until I started reading up on these people last night.

A real-life string band, The Dillards, often made an appearance on the show as the Darling family, complete with jug-blowing and washtub but also with some seriously good guitar and banjo picking. Playing here the other night was the Doug Dillard Band ($25). Doug was in the parade but not playing on his flatbed.

One person in the parade I would have enjoyed meeting or listening to was Karen Knotts, the daughter of Don Knotts. She performed a one-woman play, “Tied Up in Knotts,” on Friday at 12:30pm but I was at work. The play was a comedy about her growing up with this well-known comedian and actor. I did see her later that afternoon attending the Morgan Brittany Q&A, but she was a spectator there.

Bruce Bilson was the assistant director of the show during the first two seasons. I write about him later.

Elizabeth MacRae, a guest star, 75, currently lives in Fayetteville, NC, and has an interesting resume.

George Spence – older gentleman appearing in one episode.

Following this entertaining parade, I decided to take a $5 tour of the town on “The Little Blue Choo,” a highly maneuverable kiddie-type train with an entertaining and talkative train engineer who was an excellent guide. I wanted a more personal look at the town. We had a wide mix of people on this 25-min tour: retired people, young parents with kids and couples of all ages. Each seat-for-two had one large seatbelt to strap-in two people. I’m not sure when these seats were made or for which demographic, like maybe a parent and one child. But they were not designed to handle the “beefier” dimensions of today’s typical American. Snapping that seatbelt was very difficult for many people – but the engineer couldn’t leave the station until everyone was buckled in. We whipped around a lot, so buckling up was a good idea.

Andy’s boyhood school was located where the Andy Griffith Playhouse is now located. We went down Market Street, parallel to Main Street, where the Saturday farmers’ market was held each week when Andy was growing up. He would peddle his bike about a mile from his house (711 E. Haymore St) with 50 cents and buy enough groceries for his family for the week. Today, along Market Street, they are trying to cultivate and attract some small businesses in some of the vacant store fronts that were once busy. One brand-new one is “Otis. T’s,” a hot dog eatery (at least it isn’t a bar; Otis T, the town drunk in the series, wouldn’t have been the best mascot). I hope they do well, as they probably need drop-by, impulse purchasers and/or people that know it is located there, being off the beaten path. I’ve noticed that several eateries there are named after characters from the series: there’s a Barney’s eatery on Main St. and an Aunt Bea’s on 52 and probably more.

Mount Airy isn’t all fried pies and breaded porkchop sandwiches from Snappy Lunch. A young married couple has opened a gelato, Italian ice and ice cream shop. I had three scoops of different flavors – raspberry, Almond Joy and something else.

While I waited for the 2 p.m. lecture at the theater to start seating, I ducked into a souvenir shop and saw that author Betty Lyerly was selling “The Best of Mayberry” spiral-bound cookbook and autographing them. If it had not been $25 (normally $29.95), I would have bought one. (What is going on with these book prices nowadays?)

I saw an Elvis impersonator on the street, hustling up some people for his show that evening. I guess it stands to reason that an Andy crowd would attract an Elvis crowd.

The 2pm lecture was at the Earle Theatre on Main Street. The theater name changed recently from the Downtown Cinema Theatre. Really, though, the owner, Surry Arts Council, is changing the name back to its roots. The theater had been built in 1938 by Earl Q. Benbow. It gained national recognition when it was the site of the world premiere of Shirley Temple’s “Just Around the Corner” in 1938 and the southern premiere of “Gone with the Wind.” Andy Griffith’s first film, “A Face in the Crowd,” had its world premiere there, too. In that one, he played a duplicitous preacher. For many years, the theater has been the site of a Saturday morning music jam broadcast live by WPAQ (WPAQ’s Merry-Go-Round, the second-longest running live radio broadcast in America. I think they are trying to fix up the theater, as they recently moved exhibits and posters from the Old-Time Music Heritage Hall at the Andy Griffith Museum to the theater. It should be a better place for concerts and lectures.

The lecture I attended was a Q&A and slide show with Bruce Bilson, 83, assistant director for the first two seasons. He included some clips from episodes, explaining what was happening and who was whom. The host was Prof. Neal Brower, an Asheboro, NC, minister who authored “Mayberry 101,” a highly regarded guide and history of the show. Sponsor of the event was the “Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club.” (www.imayberry.com)

Bruce was an excellent source for providing behind-the-scenes info about the filming of the show, preparation, cast, crew, everything. One of his duties was to choose the extras and stand-ins, so he had some input into the mood of the show. The show was produced by the Desilu outfit (Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez) at the Warner Bros. Studio. Bruce’s life prior to the Andy show included Groucho Marx’s “You Bet Your Life,” “Wyatt Earp” and “Route 66” (which as largely shot on location, so he traveled all over the country on that series) and later, as director, “MASH,” “Get Smart” and “Hogan’s Heroes.”

Next up on stage was the annual meeting of the Rerun Watchers Club; mainly they presented some awards. Club members came in from all over the country for this weekend, so this wasn’t a solely regional affair.

Next up was Prof. Brower interviewing actress Morgan Brittany. To familiarize attendees with Morgan (I had never heard of her), they showed an entire episode in which she, as Mary, the guest star: “Opie’s First Love,” (1967). This one was in color, and Opie was about 15 or so. She played a classmate that he had an eye on. He invited her to a friend’s birthday party; she accepted but changed her mind when Mister Self-Absorbed, Handsome student, with whom she had a crush, asked her (while combing his hair) and lied to Opie about the reason for bailing on him. In the end, Opie and Mary decide they are better suited for each other and keep dating.

Morgan Brittany, born in 1951, is extremely attractive. I could not believe she was that old; no one could. She looks healthy and obviously exercises a lot and watches what she eats. She has two children (one is actress Katie Gill; the other is musician/stuntman Cody Gill). Her husband, Jack Gill, had been the stunt driver who handled the General Lee car in “The Dukes of Hazzard.” He has a thick resume of work. (I wonder if the husband knows James Best, who had acted in that series; I would assume so).

Her real name, or at least her pre-Morgan name, was Suzanne Cupito. She grew up as a child actor, getting her first role at age 6 on “Sea Hunt,” starring Lloyd Bridges. Bridges’ son, Jeff, also appeared in that show around that time; I wonder if they knew each other.

At age 9 she was a dancer, "Baby" June, in the movie “Gypsy.” Later she was in “Yours, Mine and Ours” with Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda. Other early-career guest roles were in “The Birds” (Hitchcock), “Twilight Zone,” “Rawhide,” and “Gunsmoke.” I don’t think she had much parental support. She said she never knew her father, and her mother had been a Grand Ol’ Opry singer who moved out to Hollywood, perhaps to strike it rich. But this was a girl who literally grew up in Tinseltown.

I mention early roles because when she was a kid, most child actors unfortunately had a “short shelf life,” as she put it. As they got older and weren’t as cute, they were basically tossed aside and could not make the transition into adult roles. Many of them, feeling the rug pulled out from under them, didn’t handle this change well and got into drugs and alcohol.

She said there was actually a rather small pool of these guest star child actors, and they would circulate throughout the various TV/movie studios, working a few days on the set of one show in a role (maybe a guest girlfriend or a student in a classroom shot) and then being a pioneer girl in one Wagon Train episode; then the next week on Lassie. They had tutoring classes on set. It didn’t sound like she attended traditional schools.

Only a few people she knows made the transition, including her. Kurt Russell is one; Tim Matheson (Animal House) is another. Paul Peterson of the Donna Reed Show was another (she said she had a crush on him). Some got into other professions. During the Q&A, someone mentioned one child in the Andy series who knew his child-actor gig would evaporate, so he mentally prepared for the separation, eventually going to dental school and becoming a dentist, not falling off the deep end like some others.

In the episode “Opie’s First Love,” the child actor playing Morgan’s girlfriend, real name “Joy,” eventually left acting and became a very well-respected dialect coach for movies and TV. We’ve all heard phony southern accents that make us cringe. They probably didn’t hire Joy. As a side note, Morgan’s daughter Katie, an actress, needed voice lessons to learn some particular dialect, and she employed Joy as a tutor. So, there is life after Hollywood for some of these kids.

Morgan is currently actively involved in the rights and protection of child actors to prevent their abuse, helping make sure they get a proper education.

There was one patch of rough road for her, though, maybe in her late 20s, when she was still named Cupito. She was no longer getting good roles. The roles she was being offered were not to her liking. I’m guessing these were of the R-rated variety. She said several times that she was leery of appearing in films and show that would embarrass her when she eventually had kids and they saw her body of work. Apparently, her refusal to “play ball” with liberal Hollywood branded her, and she was out.

Cupito changed her name to Morgan Brittany (she did not explain why these two names) and moved to New York City --- totally dropping out of Hollywood and away from the West Coast influence. “I felt I had to reinvent myself completely,” she said. She changed her appearance; she probably studied dance and got into theater more. There seems to be a hole in her resume in the early to mid ‘70s where she was not appearing in things.

But she came storming back, landing the role of conniving vixen Katherine in “Dallas,” appearing in that series from 1981 to 1987. She likes the villain role, saying it allows her to be more creative and imaginative, letting her tap into her darker side. But, she added, women hated her in that role. She tried to start a line of makeup, but women would not buy it because they couldn’t stand her.

Lately, Morgan has become disgusted with Hollywood and TV because of its non-family-orientation, meaningless sexual themes, foul humor and tasteless jokes. “Television isn’t what it used to be,” she said.

Morgan is trying to develop some projects on her own that are family-oriented. She has also become a big advocate for conservative values, appearing periodically on the Sean Hannity Show (I’m assuming this is a conservative TV or radio show; I’ve heard of him but don’t know much about him). She was undoubtedly the most overtly outspoken celebrity at the fest to comment on political issues and the direction this country is going or not going.

Before I left for home, early evening, I stopped by the boyhood home of Andy Griffin (1935-66), where he lived from age nine onward, at 711 E. Haymore St., about a mile from downtown. It’s a town landmark with a sign out from identifying it as such. It is well-maintained and currently owned by the Mount Airy Hampton Inn and available for $200 a night – for those who are really into the series!

Good Night!

PATH work trip 9.17.11


I arrived home last night after a busy day up in the Virginia mountains and appreciated Mom's message and update about Cousin Billy's situation (cancer; six months to live). I am
sorry to hear about that news, but it sounds like the doctors did all they could. I was thinking about sending a card or message but I
would want it to be the right tone.

PATH had its monthly work trip yesterday, and I wanted to get involved periodically, and this was a good day for it. I drove up there
yesterday morning and met up with three other guys on the Appalachian Trail and helped with briar removal and lopping away plant life that would
overgrow the trail in the spring. In the next few weeks much of the plant life will shrivel up and die. But it all comes storming back in the spring.

The three others were Bill Boudman (our trail supervisor and quite knowledgeable), Harry (a hard-working 65-yr-old) and Leo (a former US
Navy submarine crew member, not sure what rank, with a medical background). I met Leo for the first time and learned he spends part of
the year in Hillsville, Va, not far from NC, and some place in Florida. Leo would be heading down to Florida in a few days, returning in late March.

It was a good hike, about two miles in and two out, and I seemed to handle that okay. I constantly monitor how the right ankle is, as it isn't
as flexible as it used to be, and I'm walking on uneven, up-and-down terrain. The location was near the little community
of Groseclose, Virginia, right along Interstate 81, paralleling US 11 (Lee Hwy). I learned that US 11, established in 1926, is a major north-south
national highway running from the NY/Canada border down to New Orleans via Washington DC. I believe the "Lee Highway" I used to cross
when going to Tuckahoe Elem School in Arlington is the same Lee Hwy (US 11).

One of the more senior coworkers on that hike, Bill, told me US 11 actually started out as an Indian trading path and later became a dirt road.
He pointed out a brick building with a porch along US 11 that used to be a stage coach stop. I later drove along US 11 for curiosity, instead
of I-81 and noticed many many structures that would have been active motels, eateries and gas stations back in the 1940s and 1950s --

We noticed some "Russian Olive" bushes, kind of silvery-looking leaves, that really are not supposed to be along the trail. They are an
invasive species from some place crowding out native species. I'll find out more, as this might not be the official name. But I did run into
several old apple trees that might qualify as "heirloom apples," even though they were too scrawny and misshapen to make their way
into supermarkets. I tried one, and it was pretty bitter. But it might make for a good cider.

Following the work hike, I had some free time until meeting in Sugar Grove, Va., for our evening potluck dinner. I decided to drive over to
Saltville, a small town near Abingdon, west of Groseclose and Marion. Saltville is known as the "Salt Capital of the Confederacy," and was
an important resource during the Civil War by the south, as salt was the primary means for preserving food. The north tried very hard to
capture Saltville. I'll have to read up more on that period.

I did visit Saltville's museum downtown: Museum of the Middle Appalachians. It shows how the Saltville valley became a depository for
minerals over thousands of years, creating these many salt mines throughout the area. People would flood the mines, extract the salty
water, evaporate the water in large ovens and transport the cakes of salt on barges and later railroads. For many decades, Saltville was
a company town, run by Mathieson Salt Works and later merging with Olin Corp. I don't think the operation is up and running any more.

The potluck dinner that evening was small -- about 11 people -- but enjoyable. I brought some cole slaw, which I had to buy at a
supermarket. We had a very good pasta main dish with turkey meat balls and a marinara tomato source. Charlene, 70, made a very
good bundt cake and took lots of photos with her new iPad2 Apple notebook. She is still learning but handles that iPad2 very well.

I left at 7pm and arrived at home at a little before 10 pm. So, it was a busy day!


Busy Sat in Abingdon, Virginia
I had a longer, busier Saturday than I thought I would. There was a lot going on in Abingdon, Virginia, yesterday. It's about a three-hour trip for me (about 170 mi each way), but the roads aren't bad. Still, I don't have quite the driving endurance I used to, so I can't make a habit of those trips.

I got to the new Heartwood Center (culture-arts showcase for southwest Va) at 1:15pm, in time to grab a little lunch at their new cafeteria and then toured the place, waiting for the planned 3 p.m. speeches and ribbon-cutting and music events. I was impressed by the layout and the historical story of the region. I think the key will be to have a constant stream of events and items for for and/or display.

I did not see a guitar by luthier Wayne Henderson's daughter, as he had said there would be. But maybe he was referring to the photo of her in the music sections. According to that, she has done three. A guitar and mandolin on display were made by Gerald Anderson, who has been working at Wayne's Rugby, Va., shop for 30 years.

The ribbon-cutting involved many area and regional politicians and representatives (mayor of Abingdon, a state senator, etc). Sen. Warner had planned to be there but was in Washington, as a member of the "Gang of Six," hashing out the budget issue. But the Gov and his wife showed up. They were late, after attending an important-sounding event nearby regarding a recognition of some public medical care personnel who volunteer their time to the poor. The ribbon-cutting lasted until about 4:45pm, a bit long, but it was okay.

The musical fun began after that, in the center area, with the Joe Wilson Show. He is an author of the Crooked Road musical path and has assembled an excellent group of musicians to perform individually and in little jam groups on stage. A friend had seen them at the theater in Galax, Va., recently and I was kicking myself for missing it. So, this was a great opportunity for me. The people included (pardon the potential spelling errors): Wayne Henderson, Sammy Sheeler (banjo), Burl Ray (banjo), Chiehk... (from Africa), Kirk Sutphen (fiddle), Dale Jett (from Bristol, grandson of AP Carter Family Fold fame), Linda Lay (standup bass), Eddie Bonds (auto harp) and others. That lasted over an hour and was really good.

I left a little after 6pm, planning to drive into Abingdon, grab a sandwich and then hit the road for home. While driving through town, I went by the Highlands Fest and noticed that this was Day#1 of it. I had something at McDonalds on the way to I-81 and then , on impulse, doubled back, parked and decided to wander through the fest, just in case I could not get back there between now and when it closes. I had never been to it. Good arts and crafts and well laid out right down town by the tracks.

I spotted a poster, saying that the 60s group "Jay and the Americans" would be performing for free at 8 pm. By then it was 7:15pm. I decided to stick around for some of it. They really did a fine job! I stayed for 45 minutes. They are celebrating their 50th anniversary (!) as a group (two of the four vocalists are originals with the third arguably an original, too). Good backup band. Tunes included 'This Magic Moment" and "Come a Little Bit Closer." They are on their third "Jay" and have a very good chronology-theme show of the group. I wish I could have stayed for the whole show. But as it was, with the long drive back, I rolled in pretty late for me (11:30pm). I'm not a spring chicken any more.

On the way up earlier in the day, I decided to swing through the Emory & Henry College campus again, just for the heck of it and to duck into the restroom at the athletic Center where the Appal Trail Conf exhibits were. I was amazed at how the character had changed. Lots of college students on campus. There was a big volley ball event going on where the exhibits had been. Our PATH table was covered over by some of the temporary spectator stands. It was fun to revisit that place. I'm a sentimentalist, I guess.

The weather was actually pretty good up there, better than down here. I think we will have another miserably hot/humid day, so I may find a good $1 movie theater to hang out.

injury to my finger
Treat your digits carefully!

I had my own little blooper a week ago, non-hiking, when I jammed my left ring finger into something. I "disrupted" a key tendon that kept me from straightening the finger. The end joint area just hung there limp and useless. Very scary and puzzling, as that had never happened to me before. It is called "mallet finger" or "baseball finger," and it does need to be treated or it will be a permanent disability. As a guy who types for a living, I can't afford that. I went to an orthopedic surgeon on Wed, who confirmed my suspicions, and suggested that he insert (i.e. drill) a long pin/wire through the tip of my finger, up into finger to keep it
straight for six weeks while the tendon regrows. That's what we have done. ..... so don't jam your finger into anything!

The July 2011 ATC biennial - Emory, Va.
The Virginia Journeys 2011 ATC Biennial: notes by Karl Kunkel
Registration figures hit 936 for the 38th Biennial of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy conference, not a bad figure considering that it was held in the midst of the 4th of July weekend when numerous other events can draw people away. The number compares with past events.

The weeklong conference (July 1-8, 2011) is still going on as I write this journal. But I departed midday Sunday, July 3, so, for the sake of simplicity, I’ll write it in past tense. The conference included numerous hikes, bicycle excursions, group sightseeing outings for non-hiking spouses, lectures, many workshops and several evenings of musical entertainment.

This event, held every two years somewhere along the 2,181-mile AT along mountain ridges between Georgia and Maine, was the fourth such event for me. Typically, five or six volunteer AT clubs in a geographic area will band together and serve as that session’s host. They will arrange for the venue to be at a small college or some easy-to-reach place that can provide temporary housing, e.g., dorm rooms, athletic fields for camping and a gym for showering, a large auditorium for group assemblies and easy access to a stretch of the AT for day hikes.

To provide geographic diversity, the association typically alternates the location of the meeting between a northern location and a southern one with others chosen for their Mid-Atlantic location. Past locales for me have been Shippensburg, Pa. (Shippensburg State Univ, near Carlisle and Gettysburg); central New Hampshire (a vacation resort w/in driving range of Mt. Washington and site of the former “Old Man of the Mountain”); Johnson City, Tenn. (Eastern Tenn State Univ).

I caught the tail-end of the 1999 event at Radford Univ in Radford, Va., but missed the most important days due to work obligations at the time. I don’t really count that one. I’m trying to get at least a slice of these events, no matter how slight, so that when I do die I’m not forced to say “I wanted to go, but I was working.”

The 33 AT volunteer clubs between Mt. Springer, Ga. (north of Atlanta) and Mt. Katahdin park in Maine, help maintain the health of the AT, the longest national scenic trail in the world, by removing limbs and trees that have fallen after storms; they stave off erosion in these wet mountains that can quickly create gullies; they work on relocations of portions of the trail; and they build and repair wooden three-sided shelters – roof-covered sleeping platforms for “thru-hikers” (this is the correct spelling, in this case) spending five-to-six months traversing the trail from one end to the other and for weekender backpackers nibbling away at the various sections, hoping to become “2,000 milers” some day.

I wasn’t able to attend the entire July 2 – 8, 2011, event. But I did want to participate for a few days and to help out when I could, as my club (PATH – Piedmont Appalachian Trail Hikers) is one of the seven clubs hosting the event.

The host clubs chose Emory & Henry College, a small, 1,100-student, private school in Emory, Virginia, in the southwestern part of the state, a mile from Interstate 81. The nearest big towns are Marion and Abingdon. The college, with a very beautiful, green campus and historic-looking brick buildings with white trim, was founded in 1836 and named after statesman Patrick Henry and John Emory, a bishop in the Methodist Church in the early 1800s.

The campus is easy to reach due to I-81, a busy corridor that intersects with other key Interstates up and down the coast and Midwest. The winding AT is just a few miles away, so visiting section hikers wanting to add additional mileage to their total can chose a number of locations and hike as part of a group during the day.
The Wilderness Trail, the winding trail and wagon path that early settlers of the 18th and 19th centuries used for travel from the East Coast down into the Appalachian mountains, is a mile away.

On the drive over, I stopped in at the town next door, Glade Spring, on I-81 and was shocked to discover how torn up the buildings and trees were near the Interstate exit, due to an April tornado. They were still cleaning up. I could hear nonstop chain saws working on fallen trees and saw a backhoe removing debris from a totally wrecked mini-storage facility. Bright blue nylon tarps covered damaged roofs of houses and businesses all over the place. I hate to think what it looked like three months ago when it first hit.

These small colleges like the arrangement of hosting these summer events because the events generate much-needed rental revenue during a time when many small colleges are struggling and during the summer, when not much teaching is going on; and the campus employees, e.g., cafeteria workers, security, student workers and maintenance people, stay employed to service these events. Plus, these events “skew old,” attracting a more mature, less rowdy attendee.

Some people camped out on one of the remote athletic fields and walked to the nearby gym to get cleaned up. Weather during the evenings is typically cool and pleasant for sleeping. Others, including me, rent a dorm room, some of which are air-conditioned; others not. I rented a single, non-AC room, bringing a fan to pump cool evening air into the room. This was a bare-bones room with a single overhead light and bathroom facilities down the hall. I felt like a freshman again!

Meals were served at the student cafeteria. The meals I had there --- breakfast and dinner – were very good! One lunch consisted of a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich with some of the PATH campers, who were preparing their own meals at their campsite, using Coleman stoves.

Typically, people signed up for meals when registering back in April and paying for them at that time. When they picked up their info packets when arriving on campus, they would receive a meal ticket for each day’s breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Breakfasts offered many options: scrambled eggs, pancakes, sausage, hash browns, toast, cold cereal, oatmeal, fresh fruit, yogurt, coffee, fruit juice.

Dinners offered some variety, too. The cafeteria had three different lines, each one with a different menu. For example, on Sunday night, line #1 served stir-fried shrimp and vegetables with rice, which they actually stir-fried for each individual. Line #2 was beef brisket with egg plant. Line #3 was the vegetarian line, but they also served pizza and hot dogs.

My first night, Friday, after checking into my dorm (I dubbed “The Ritz Hillman!”) I decided to learn more about the nearby town of Abingdon, home of the famous Barter Theatre (all sorts of pro-level plays and musicals). So I drove through town and picked a local, family-owned/run place called Alison’s on the outskirts, a former drive-in structure. I was attracted to the faded yellow, 1950s-looking sign out front. I try to eat local when I can. I had a tasty salad with grilled chicken, something of a staple for me when I’m on the road – a combo of protein and raw vegetables.

While in Abingdon, I saw that the Virginia Creeper Trail (a Rails-to-Trails project) came right into the downtown from the top of Whitetop Mountain. I’ll have to check that out. I am familiar with the Creeper Trail going down the other side of the mountain into the AT trail town of Damascus, but not this route.

Friday night (7.1.11) was the opening reception. It filled a very large auditorium. Ned Kuhns, coordinator of the entire event and member of the Tidewater AT Club, got the evening started. The Tidewater Club is based in Norfolk, Va., on the coast, a full 200 miles from the nearest stretch of the AT. The club only manages 10 miles of trail. So they drive 200 miles to look after 10 miles of Virginia trail. But it probably looks pretty good. Ned, slightly built and short, maybe 60, has the bearing of a retired military man. He was wearing a “USNA” ball cap, so I’m guessing he is an Annapolis grad. Norfolk is a Navy town, too.

David Startzell, director of the Appal Trail Conservancy, was a key person on stage. He is retiring after 34 years with the trail. He joined the ATC in 1978 and worked his way up. The ATC is based in Harpers Ferry, W Va., right on the trail. He maintains two wardrobes: an ill-fitting suit for working the corridors of power in Washington, D.C., and meeting politicians and numerous federal/state/local govt agencies; his hiking boots and outdoor gear are outfit #2, for checking out the health of the trail from Maine to Ga.

They awarded him some nice awards for his wall and a large, framed photo of a landscape of AT-connected land in which Dave was instrumental in helping raise and procure from various agencies the revenue so the ATC could purchase it. It sounded like a monster $28 million project.

That photo reminded me of the complex behind-the-scenes work that is involved in purchasing the land for the AT from farmers and real estate investors and /or trying to work out amenable land-easement arrangements, so the trail might go right through a farmer’s pasture or skirt a vacant lot.

Think for a minute about when the AT really is: a long, winding 2,181-mile, low-key, oftentimes invisible foot path in largely rural areas, constantly battling golf course developers, land speculators, condo/resort builders, multi-generational landowners with a deep wariness of anyone connected with all layers of government and red tape. So, while clearing briars and fallen limbs from the trail on a Saturday afternoon is difficult for us volunteers, the real work is in dealing with these government agencies and non-AT-oriented people.

That fact was made abundantly clear to me when an award that night went to a modest Don King, a land acquisitions specialist for the National Park Service. The AT consists largely of land owned by the NPS and the U.S. Forest Service. Over the past 30-plus years, Don helped purchase this often checkerboard patchwork of parcels of land on more than 2,000 miles of terrain.

And that’s only the AT. He has negotiated with hundreds of landowners over the years for other parks and national forests, too. That, to me, would be a mind-boggling job, to have to cultivate a relationship and trust over a number of years with an individual who owns maybe a couple of hundred feet of key property you need and gradually work out a legal contract where both parties are satisfied and feel secure with the arrangement.
My accommodations that night were, as I mentioned, a rather spartan third-floor walkup. The fan gradually drew some cool air in from the outside. My narrow mattress was placed on top of part a bunk bed frame, bringing the mattress to about stomach-high for me. It was too high to hop up on it. So I used the desk chair as the foot stool --- a rocking chair. I was careful to place my foot right in the center of the seat to prevent it from rocking on my way up – and down. The bathroom and shower were down the hall.

Did I mention the trains? A very active railroad track lay mere feet from my room. Every couple of hours I heard a rumbling in the distance and a few minutes later an express freight train came roaring past, vibrating the room, blasting its horn, screeching its brakes. And this was a long train with dozens of freight cars of all descriptions. One would think they’d give the engineers a break. But they didn’t seem to mind the 3:30 a.m. runs. A large chain-link fence had been built on each side of the tracks to prevent any further hapless pedestrians from wandering onto the tracks at the wrong time. How any pedestrian could not hear – or feel – an approaching train baffles me.

Saturday July 2, 2011– 6:30 a.m.

I woke up to slamming doors down the hall, as fellow residents with their day packs ran to the cafeteria to stoke up on grub, grab a prepared bag lunch and then meet out in the parking lot for their group hike.
I had a good breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage, a biscuit, grits (you gotta have grits, even if you’re a yankee!), coffee and orange juice.

I had targeted two lectures that morning I wanted to attend: Nature writing and reading; (8:15am); and Changing with the Times (10:15am).

Most lectures were held in one specific, three-story, main building: MGlothlin-Street Hall.
I was surprised at how many people attended each of the classes I attended. I had figured that with so many options of activities at any given time, some classes would have only one student and the teacher. That may have happened, but I never heard of it.

My first class, Nature Writing and Reading, filled up quickly a few minutes after I and one other person sat down. Several wandered in late. The instructor was Jim Harrison, director of the college’s Outdoor Leadership Program and an adjunct professor of creative writing. He’s about 38, I’d guess. He explained that after he graduated from college, in Memphis, 14 years ago, he and his wife drove around the country, stopping in at colleges and asking if they had any adjunct professor openings. He stopped at E&H and mentioned his love for writing and the great outdoors.

E&H said, yes, they did have an opening! Since then, he has been teaching creative writing and English and is head of the outdoor studies program. A student can earn 12 credit hours (about four classes worth, as I recall) by hiking as much of the AT as possible and writing a journal and taking photos along the way. The object is to observe, interview and chronicle these things while on the move under somewhat trying circumstances. He emphasized that the course is more than merely hiking.

Jim picked two people he knows to do the brunt of the work at the day’s session: Johnny Molloy, travel/hiker writer (www.johnnymolloy.com); and Felicia Mitchell, head of the English Dept and a poet.

I had hoped to get turned on to some nature writers and publications and titles I might not have known about. But this session seemed to be oriented to getting published in local newspapers and regional publications, like “Blue Ridge Outdoors,” founded by a former coworker of mine.

Felicia, about 50, who appears to be a cancer survivor due to her gaunt appearance and hair that seems to be growing back, talked about getting a poem published in a cancer survivor magazine. She will also get a poem immortalized soon, having it written in stone with several other poets (7 other professionals and 8 emerging poets) at the new Tyson’s Corners, Va., Metro/subway station near Washington, DC.

Johnny, about 45, started writing after college (Memphis) while earning a living as a bartender. He went on a one-day backpack trip, got hooked on the adventure, jotted down his thoughts, contacted a small publisher which was looking for a Hiking in Florida book and things took off from there. He has managed to make a living at it and has published about 40 books since then. He camps out at least 186 days a year – one day over half a year in the wild, as he likes to tell people and has done so for 12 years.

Johnny is highly computerized: simple but time-efficient. He takes notes with a digital voice recorder and downloads that info into a file in his personal computer and can call up certain sentences using a voice-recognition system (don’t ask me to explain this; I was sitting in the classroom with my always reliable, non-battery-operated, 1930s era Moleskine reporter’s notebook and a ballpoint pen!).

He has solved the “drinking from polluted streams” problem by developing a tough immune system and digestive system that can withstand all sorts of bacteria and other types of pollution. So, he does not have to mess with a water-filtration system – at least, that is what he said. He doesn’t recommend this method to others.
He had a table full of small-press paperbacks on hiking on display in the registration/exhibit area. He signed books for a day and then was gone by Saturday evening.

Between sessions, I wandered along the hallways and noticed a couple of interesting framed diplomas: “Triangular Mountain Institute,” a Mount Heron, Virginia, high school; awarded to Sherman Lee Miller on May 30, 1930. Another was awarded to Myrtle Edna Cook , May 24, 1924 – for having “completed the course of study for Intellectual Attainment and Correct Deportment.”

A glass display showed a 1915-era weight-driven telescope-tracking Right Ascension Drive, for tracking the telescope at the same rate as the Earth turning. It didn’t need batteries, and it doesn’t have any computer chips that can get burned out.

Session #2 – 10:15am. Saturday, 7.2.11

“Change with the Times: Identifying Habits and Developing Skills for Adapting to a Changing world,” conducted by John O’Ranna, a 40-ish civilian working temporarily for the US Army at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. (I’m not sure what he does there, but he was a good teacher and seminar leader).

Most of the people in the class were club officers or board members of the various AT clubs. Because these are volunteer clubs, managing the membership and other board members can be an exercise in herding cats. Ultimately, a member can get fed up and just walk out on the club and join another club. So, trying to get people working together can be a challenge. Getting the younger generation involved is a challenge, as they are more interested in computer games. Getting people of different ethnic groups and races -- beyond the existing, traditional white world – is a challenge, too. Equally challenging is the interaction – or lack thereof – between the professional federal employees in the U.S. Forest Service and the Natl Park Service and the myriad volunteer organizations that are not run as professional organizations.

John didn’t have any magic answers, but he did offer ways for people to study their respective clubs and figure out how clubs work, how the clubs don’t work, how members interact, how presidents make decisions and what steps might need to be taken to effect positive changes in the club.

John showed us the “SWOT” chart: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats – presented as a square with a letter in each quadrant. Under “offense” was S and O; under “defense” was W and T.
He mentioned that a club may be an “Adversarially” run club: top-down, with outside influences. Or “Collaborative,” creating respect, a uniform direction, but more prone to a lack of action as everyone tries to please everyone in the club.

Lunch consisted of a visit to PATH’s camping area where I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I contributed $2 to the kitty.

I then worked as a volunteer (12:50pm to 3:05pm) at PATH’s sign-up table where attendees could sign up to participate on a sample work-trip on Tues (7.5.11) and Thurs (7.7.11). I didn’t get a lot of business, as most people who were interested had already signed up and confirmed their interest. Not much “spontaneous” volunteering, except for a new PATH member, Evelyn, who is a real trouper and interested in trying different aspects of PATH, including the muddy work, as well as the more pleasant hikes. Evelyn was already working as a vol at the T-shirt table in the neighboring booth when she put her Jane Hancock on the list for the work trip. She lives in nearby Abingdon and will be a positive addition to the club.

I made a point of stopping by one display table to talk to author Leonard Adkins, a fulltime writer of hiking and nature subjects and a member of the Roanoke AT club. I wanted to get an autographed copy of “Along Virginia’s Appalachian Trail,” by Adkins and the ATC, published by Arcadia Publishing, as part of the Images of America series. The paperback is mainly b/w photos with very good captions and some introductory remarks at the start of each chapter. I noticed a couple of the photos were shot by the late Gordon Burgess, a PATH member for many years and the person from whom I had bought a light blue V W bug 10 years ago. In fact, one photo has him in it. I also bought a packet of 15 postcards of some of those b/w photos in the book.

Following this vol session, I scampered off to the classroom building again, this time to attend “History of the AT in Virginia” by Susan Gail Arey, a 1976 thru-hiker (age 23 at the time) and a member of the Tidewater club. She noted that back in those days (1976) hikers did not use trail names and were not encumbered by the “traditions” that today’s thru-hikers have to deal with. Back then, everything was still forming, with few or no rules.
This was another lecture and slide show that was filled to capacity. A full 25 percent of the AT’s length is located in Virginia. As I noted earlier, the trail has continued to “meander” over the years, as land use has changed, water sources for hikers grew scarce on certain mountains and other variables. In fact, the original southern terminus of the AT was Mt. Oglethorpe, east of Mt. Springer, the current terminus. She showed us a striking map of a section through Virginia that was totally different between 1940 and today, with the respective lines about 50 miles from each other.

Susan, who visited her grandparents in Galax, Virginia, when she was a child, learned years later that the original AT crossed the street four doors from her grandparents’ house. Back in those days (the 1930s-40s) there were few hikers, so Susan suspects the people of that neighborhood rarely, if ever, even saw any hikers. But this new information prompted her to try to reconstruct the location of this early path. She took many photos, which she shared with the group. (e.g., “The trail would have gone down this street and turned left at this intersection.”)
She noted that so-called trail guides back in those days, the mid 1930s, were quite vague and relied on landmarks that might not exist today (e.g., “the red barn at the end of the dirt road”; or “the big oak tree next to Farmer Jones’s field.”)
She sold a $2 packet of information she had gathered, along with a multi-color-highlighted map she created herself. I bought one.
She said she wants to interview as many people as possible who are familiar with the AT of the 1930s-40s in Virginia and get their memories. One audience member mentioned a Herb Carlton of Greenville, NC., who once was a Western Union courier in the Va. mountains during that period. One of his jobs was to track down young thru-hikers to give them telegrams that had been sent by their parents.
The Tobias Smyth House: down the hill from the classroom building is a large log cabin I visited following the above lecture. This is the Tobias Smyth house, built in 1770 and moved from the original location, one mile north, to the current location in 1929. Smyth and the Rev. Creed Fulton were the ones who chose the names of Emory and Henry as the college name. In the front yard of this cabin is a a monument, overlooking the golf course (I’m not sure how many holes it has, maybe nine), commemorating the course as the Charles V. Lynch (class of 1942) “Lynch Links.”
I had dinner at the cafeteria with PATH member Paul Haag. We had stir-fried shrimp and veggies and rice.
Following dinner, we arranged to meet later at the camping area, where he would drive us to Abingdon for that evening’s entertainment of guitarist Wayne Henderson and Jeff Little. Wayne, about 60, is a noted acoustic guitar picker (thumb pick and finger picks) who lives in Rugby, Va., (pop. 7 !!), near Grayson Highlands State Park. He is also noted as a fine luthier (guitar maker). His skills attracted the attention of rock guitarist Eric Clapton, who once wanted to order a guitar. Wayne said he would build him one --- in 10 years, as there was a long waiting list. A nonfiction book, “Clapton’s Guitar,” by author …St. John, chronicles the stages of this guitar with a focus on Wayne’s workmanship and life.
Jeff Little, a pianist who has played as a duo with Wayne for years, has a day job as the dean of the High Point, NC, Guilford Tech Comm College’s Larry Gatlin School of Music Technology, just a couple of miles from my house. At the school, students learn the behind-the-scenes skills of stage concert production, such as lighting and sound. He plays a pretty mean “boogie-woogie” style.
This musical pair was recommended by PATH member (Mr.) Chris Bracknell, a retired Raleigh, NC, police officer, who currently lives in the Wytheville area and has seen the two perform many times. Chris actually lined up the gig and worked out the details.

Paul and I were able to sit on the front row, right center, so we could see both performers very well. During the intermission, we spoke briefly with Wayne as he autographed CDs. He explained that following this concert (which would end around 10pm), he had a 200-mile drive that night to Charlotte to stay with friends so he could make the 9:45am flight to Washington state for a multi-day work shop.

Wayne had a pretty good sense of humor and interjected jokes between songs periodically. He would usually set them in his beloved Rugby, Va., and get a relative into the joke somehow.

Here’s one:
The circus comes to Rugby, and the elephant escapes. While the sheriff is searching for it, Wayne’s grandmother, who has never seen an elephant before, spots this creature in her cabbage patch. She phones the sheriff and explains that the creature is picking up her cabbages with its tail. When he asks what the elephant is doing with the cabbages, she replies, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you!”

Sunday, July 3, 2011

I had not been sleeping very well in that dorm room and decided it would be better to head back home later this day to get my life and sleeping routine back to normal. But first, I wanted to check out two more lectures after breakfast.

Walking to class, I spotted a bumper sticker: “Friends of Coal.” I am, I remembered, in coal country, and much of the freight on those trains was likely coal-related.

The first was “Sewing and Repairs for Adventure” by Mary Holmes, a 50-ish Delaware resident and long-distance hiker. She was quite fascinating and had a full house of about 25 people in the room. The day before, she had taught a class on “Feasting in the Wild Country,” methods for preparing meals ahead of time for hikes, such as dehydration, and ending up with a good trailside meal. I think word had gotten out about how imaginative she was, and that attracted the extra attention.

Mary wasn’t born with these skills. She has learned through experimentation and has never taken a sewing lesson. Her background is in languages, law enforcement and teaching.

I (Karl) haven’t touched a sewing machine in about 25 years, following my upholstery training, and don’t have a machine now. But, if I tackle a project, I might be able to do most of the patterns and collect the proper materials to work with someone to make down vests, insulated stuffed wind shirts, tarps, ultra-lightweight tents, day packs, even things that are not hiking/camping-related.

One person paying particularly close attention was “Fred,” about 55, sitting next to me. He should have gotten a special award for traveling the furthest to get to the conference: Molokai, Hawaii – a tiny island with no traffic lights – 15 time zones away. He hikes on the island but wants to tackle the Appal Trail soon, after he makes his own sleeping bag, tent and pack. He brought one test pack to the class he had made himself to show the instructor. Up until two months ago, he had never sewed a stitch in his life. But he bought a little-used Singer portable machine w/instruction manual at a yard sale. I examined his work, and it was pretty decent.

She offered a reasonably priced (half price at $10 for us students) 135-page, self-published, how-to book, “Sewing for Adventure,” with pictures she created herself. It is a very well-done book. She had a food book, too, which I probably should have snagged, as I’d probably be inclined to use that one more.

Mary offered several websites and companies for procuring silicone-impregnated nylon and other materials: owfinc.com, therainshed.com, sailrite.com, campmor.com and questoutfitters.com (tent poles, shock cord, etc). She really likes “Gorilla” (brand) tape for repairing things, like torn tents. She likes Microfibre fabric for outdoor clothing.

She uses everyday items, when she can, like venetian blind cord. To get reasonably priced down feathers (hard to get) she buys a down pillow. Many of the nylon fabrics are color-defective or not quite up to the color continuity that large customers need. So, they are sold at a discount, but still structurally sound.

The book was clever, as were the slides she showed, in that she used Misty, her pet dog, as a model in the photos, resting in a tent or teepee and posing with a doggie-size sleeping bag (a quilt with a hole in it for its head) and some doggie attire with Velcro attachments.
She recommends using a soldering iron for making holes in webbing for grommets. The hot iron seals shut all the cut/frayed nylon thread. I was amazed at how versatile the hiking poles were, as she used them at the main pole and which could be adjusted for height easily.
She gave away several items of clothing she had designed and made, including a poncho or serape of Ultrex (like Gore-Tex) which can double as a protective blanket or tarp. A sturdy windblock fleece jacket she made with Velcro along the seams could be used as a stadium blanket.

Sunday, 7.3.11, 10:15am

The final lecture I attended was the introduction to the new Appalachian Trail Museum, located along I-81 in southern Pennsylvania, near the state line – Pine Grove Furnace State Park, Pa. The speaker was the museum’s director and founder, Larry Luxemborg. The museum opened a year ago: June 2010. He started the project in 1998. The AT runs right past the front door. Already about 8,300 people have visited from 47 states and a few countries. Volunteers help keep the place running.

One notable feature of interest to long-distance hikers who have had their photo taken in front of the ATC headquarters in Harpers Ferry is that the pix are now cataloged on the museum’s computer. A hiker can go to www.athikerpictures.org and track down the pix via trail name, regular name and other means.

Larry said the museum is actively looking for artifacts to fill the museum: old t-shirts, trail shelter spiral-bound registers (sign-in sheets), old signs, old packs, old boots with a story – anything.

Following that lecture (actually, I ducked out early), I hopped into my car and headed home, going north on I-81 to Wytheville, Va., and then south on I-77, stopping for a Starbucks coffee in Wytheville. I needed to celebrate.
It had been a very full 48 hours.

….Karl (no trail name) Kunkel

(completed) Doc Watson at Blue Ridge Music Center Fri, 6.17.11
I had an enjoyable night (Fri, 6.17.11) of music under the stars -- with a 20-min rain storm -- with guitarist Doc Watson & Friends and opening act Wayne Henderson & Friends. The location was the Blue Ridge Music Center outdoor amphitheater, mile marker 213, Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia, near Galax, Va. and only about two miles from the N.C. state line, near Hwy 89.

The free event was one of several evening events to be held there throughout the summer. Some performances do charge $10/$12, though, so check the center's schedule. I anticipated a large crowd, but this was bigger than I had imagined. I spoke with a local journalist doing a writeup, who said this was their largest attendance ever. They even recruited a couple of school buses to shuttle people from remote parking areas.

A few days prior, I had sent a voice-mail to a hiking bud, John L., with whom I used to go on hikes prior to my motorcycle accident, that the music center had dramatically improved its Roots of Traditional Music exhibit, unveiling it over Memorial Day. He and I had visited the complex a year or two ago to hike some of their short trails and stopped in at the center and saw a good, but bare bones, exhibit. I also visited that last time with Aubrey A., a fellow trail maintenance bud, who works at the center as a seasonal park ranger.

Early Fri afternoon, John returned the call, asking more about the exhibit and learning about the concert. We arranged for him to join me on short notice, as I was planning to leave at 3:15pm. He parked in a safe, neutral spot on I-40 and 68 and we threw his stuff in my car and headed up I-77 towards Galax, Va., the nearest "big" town in the mountains, near the Parkway.

We took US 58 into town, after missing our planned 89 turnoff due to talking. 58 has quite a bit of business activity. We spotted the traditional downtown area and headed in that direction. My plan was to grab some barbecue downtown at Galax Smokehouse, a landmark spot on Main Street I wanted to try.

We were surprised that Main Street was blocked-off. We parked a short distance away and started walking down Main Street, pleasantly surprised that the street was lined with classic cars of all decades, as they were having "Groovin' on Grayson," a reference to nearby Grayson Highlands mountain area and state park.

They will have this event on July 29 and August 26, too.

The Smokehouse was really good! I plan to return there next opportunity. John is dealing with prostate cancer, so, to keep that at bay, he must watch his diet and only has a barbecue once every five years or so. He decided this was the five-year mark. And he was not disappointed. I had a rib tips platter, rib tips being spare ribs without the bones. Side dishes were hush puppies, a very good huge cole slaw and green beans.

The eatery offers four different barbecue sauces in squeeze bottles, which are placed on the table or counter (where we ate). Basically, they offer a NC (Lexington style - tomato, vinegar, peppery), Texas (tomato and more peppery), Tennessee (my favorite, in a yellow mustard squeeze bottle), and then a Smokehouse house concoction they had stumbled upon. I kept getting confused on which was which; one has some molasses flavoring. I tried all of them at one time or other, and they were all very good.

The Smokehouse did not skimp on the servings, either. We were totally stuffed. John said it was the biggest 1/4-lb sandwich he had ever had.

Coming up soon is a big barbecue cook-off competition in Galax called Smoke on the Mountain. For info, check out www.smokeonthemountainva.com

I happened to pull out my dog-eared brochure of the Music Center to study it. Our neighbors at the counter -- two college-age guys and their father -- noticed it and asked if we were planning to attend that evening's event. They were going, too. They were from a town midway between Chicago and Milwaukee. They were in the midst of a mini vacation, coming down (about 800 miles - plus) for this concert and to see other music events for a few days.

They are big Doc Watson and Wayne Henderson fans, having seen Doc in Rockford, Ill., once and somehow hearing about Wayne. Actually, earlier that day, they had stopped by Wayne's guitar workshop in tiny Rugby, Va (population 7, on the border with NC) and had a nice chat with him (and about 30 others), something I had always wanted to do after reading "Clapton's Guitar," a book about Wayne making a guitar for British rock guitarist Eric Clapton. They were planning to attend Wayne's music fest on Sat, 6.18.11 at Grayson Highlands, a fundraiser to give students scholarships in traditional music. I had attended that fest a couple of years ago and driven by Wayne's workshop to see it but not wanting to impose after the fest, thinking it was a family post-event. I probably could have poked my head in, though, as there were a lot of cars out front.

John and I hit the Music Center at 6:30pm for the 7pm start, way too late to get seats close to the outside amphitheater stage. Fortunately, because we were so late, they directed us to a field very near the actual center. I guess they were parking the attendees from out to in. We were able to walk to the amphitheater with our folding chairs in about 10 minutes. We found a semi-level place on the hillside for the chairs. Normally it would have been fine to spread a blanket. But everyone else had chairs, which would have obstructed our view.

The weather was clear. But mountain weather changes quickly. Midway through the opening act, Wayne Henderson, the dark clouds rolled in, and it started raining hard. I ran back to the car to get umbrellas and my rain parka. But when I returned, the rain had stopped. Unfortunately, the rain was hard enough and long enough to drive off a lot of the elderly people who had come for the event.

Wayne, about 60, I'd guess, was on stage with some regulars: Jeff Little, a gifted pianist who works in High Point (where I live) as the dean of the community college's Larry Gatlin School of Music Technology (training students to operate sound systems and lighting on concert stages); Helen White on fiddle, a bass player whose name escapes me; and, for this weekend, Bobby Agano (sp?), all the way from Hawaii to play his Hawaiian steel guitar. He would play the following day at Wayne's fest, too.

It was entertaining to hear Bobby play "Sweet Georgia Brown" on his Hawaiian guitar.

One guest duo during the Wayne set was Laurie Freeman (sp?), 15, a fine singer and guitarist, with her father on mandolin. She is a recipient of some of that scholarship money. Watch for that name over the next few years; she has a lovely voice. She was even selling her first album there.

Wayne likes to tell jokes between songs. One, his "favorite," dealt with his cousin getting his tonsils out at the hospital. Since the cousin is under anesthesia, the doctor asks Wayne if they should also go ahead and circumcise the cousin. They decide to go ahead. The next day, Wayne asks the cousin how he is doing. The cousin responds, "I'm okay, I guess, but my tonsils aren't where I thought they were."

Wayne noted to the audience that he learned to play guitar (a cigar box type contraption he made himself) in the 1960s by mimicking the songs on albums of Doc Watson. So, having Doc himself backstage, tuning up, was quite an honor.

Doc's set included long-time musical companion David Holt, who has done a good job of keeping much of this type of music alive, T. Michael Coleman (I've seen him many times before with Doc; I somehow think he played in Merle Watson's band, son of Doc, Frosty Morn, prior to Merle's untimely 1985 death by tractor accident) and some others who would come out for a song or two and then go offstage, including Jeff Little.

Doc was a fine guitarist, as always, but, at age 88, he was noticeably having a hard time remembering the lyrics to certain songs, such as "Freight Train." I mention that only because he mentioned it himself, and I think it puzzled him. Even his long-time companions on stage would glance over at him periodically to see if he was okay.

At first, he attributed it to the microphone not being close enough. But later, he said, "I apologize for my memory. I guess I'm just too tired or something." The concert ended at 9:30 pm., so it probably was pretty late for him, and it had been a busy day for him, what with travel time and pre-event activities, which can be stressful.

I figure that with Doc being 88, he may start limiting his appearances more. So I'll try to see him whenever I can. I first saw him in 1999 at his annual MerleFest music event in N. Wilkesboro, NC.

The drive back was a bit slower because of the heavy traffic. But we took 89 down the mountain without trouble to Mount Airy and then to Greensboro.



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