a journey, especially a long or meandering one.
That’s our intent, a return to the kind of pre-COVID19 camping. Back then we’d have a general idea of where we were headed but no specific plan about where we’d stay or exactly when we’d return. Arrangements were made on the fly as we traveled and we almost never had advance reservations.
COVID changed that because everyone wanted to be outdoors. So they went out, bought RVs and made tons of reservations filling all the campgrounds. That’s now eased a bit and campgrounds are a bit less crowded. There will probably be a sea of lightly used RVs for sale in the coming years as many people figure out that camping wasn’t really for them.
Oct 8, 2023 – Home to Middletown, VA
It was a production getting underway. We made the seven-plus hour drive home on Friday from the Boston area; four nights in Marblehead helping Sandy’s cousin with her affairs and a two-night visit with Bill’s sister and her husband in Hingham. Saturday was a feverish blur of finalizing arrangements related to the Boston trip, finishing final projects on the camper and getting the house ready for us to leave. We packed our clothes, food and miscellaneous on Sunday morning and were on the road by 2:00. Whew!
Our initial travel plan was an ambitious, five-plus hour drive to Peaks of Otter Campground on the Blue Ridge Parkway. But we just weren’t up for an after-dark arrival in a fairly primitive campground after another long drive. We settled, instead, on a Harvest Host in Middletown, VA, just a 2½ hour drive via I-81.
The Backroom Brewery began as an herb farm that grew culinary and medicinal herbs for the garden center trade. Then, in 2012 they started growing hops and, “inevitably”, turned to brewing beer that they could flavor with those hops. Two large, Class A campers were already parked in their lot but there was still plenty of room for us. We went into their tasting room and Bill ordered what turned out to be a pretty nice IPA. We returned to the camper for a dinner of chili and Sandy’s homemade applesauce. Perfect for a chilly evening.
Kind of a Down Home Place
Backroom Brewery’s Hops Field After Harvest
Backroom’s Origins was Growing Herbs
There was no WiFi but the area had good 5G cell phone coverage so we were able to participate in our weekly Zoom session with Bill’s family.
Oct 9, 2023 – Middletown to Peaks of Otter Campground, VA
We headed south from the Backroom Brewery about 9:00. After a stop at the local WalMart for a few supplies and at a local post office we got back on I-81 to Staunton and then a few miles east on I-64 to the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. We then followed the Parkway for 86 miles south to Peaks of Otter Campground where we’d spend the night.
The drive along this beautiful, quiet ridge road was lovely. Commercial trucks are prohibited on the road and, people mostly adhere to the 45 mph speed limit. We stopped at a number of the overlooks to view the mountains to the east and the Shenandoah Valley to the west. Otter Creek follows the road for quite a few miles and feeds Otter Creek Lake where we stopped to take a few pictures of the dam that forms the lake. Soon, the partly cloudy sky thickened and finally turned into a gentle and then not-so-gentle rain.
View of Rockfish Valley from Blue Ridge Parkway
20 Minute Cliff Named because Sunlight Strikes Rockface 20 Minutes Before Dusk
Otter Creek Lake Spillway
By the time we pulled into the campground it was raining pretty hard. We selected a nice, level site, paid the $10 fee (Golden Passports get you half-price) and settled in. This was one of those times when we really like the fact that there is no set-up required with this camper!
We turned on the heat and settled in to read and do some paperwork. Sadly, there’s no phone service in the area so Sandy missed Wordle … it’s a tough life! Approaching dinner time, Bill extended the awning partway, pulled out his built-in, outdoor induction cooking plate drawer and whipped up a ham stir fry. More reading and then beddy bye.
Oct 10, 2023 – Peaks of Otter Campground, VA, to Boone, NC
We woke to a sunny morning after yesterday’s rain. We cleaned up, made coffee and headed out early. Heading south on the Parkway we left that road at Bearwallow Gap. Ignoring the “Not recommended for RVs” sign, we headed east onto VA-695 with the idea of avoiding some of I-81. It was like a return to western West Virginia with steep downhills and very tight turns. But it was lovely and fun. We finally emerged into a bucolic valley and headed south on US-221.
Porter Mountain View with Valley Fog
At Bonsack we stopped at a Chick-fil-A for breakfast. Then at Lowes made an unsuccessful attempt to purchase a replacement for a taillight on the bike rack that Bill damaged while backing up. It was another bust at a local CVS to have a prescription refilled on the spot.
Yeah, well … back to heading south via I-81. Our destination was the Blue Ridge Music Center back on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There, besides the well done display explaining the origins of the region’s traditional music and instruments, they present free, daily music concerts from noon until 4:00. You can read “traditional”, in this case, as in bluegrass which we love.
The venue is a breezeway that looks out over a mountainside. On that intimate stage that day were Jackson Cunningham and Trevor McKenzie. They were both excellent musicians and both full of stories about the history of the area and the music it produced. Cunningham played a mean mandolin, excellent clawhammer banjo and guitar. McKenzie played first class fiddle as well as guitar. Both sing and they share an amazing repertoire of music from the area where they live.
Jackson Cunningham Plays Mandolin in Blue Ridge Music Center Breezeway
Fiddler Trevor McKenzie Plays One of Cunningham’s Guitars
Cunningham’s day job is as a luthier, building fine guitars, violins, banjos and mandolins under the name “Cunningham Handmade Instruments”. His work is truly beautiful and well reviewed.
McKenzie works as an archivist at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. He wrote a book, “Otto Wood, The Bandit”. Fans of bluegrass may know the ballad about Wood made famous by Doc Watson. Well, Otto Wood was a real person who lived a short but a very colorful life before he was killed, shot by a sheriff. McKenzie’s book is a detailed biography of Otto as best can be pieced together from historical records and interviews with people who knew him.
Leaving that fascinating pair we headed south on the Parkway, bound for Doughton Park Campground. Surprise! There is construction going on in that area of the Parkway and a very long detour was required to reach it. We headed to Boone instead. Along the way we were impressed by the many large Christmas tree growing operations.
Sandy Patiently Waits for Bill to Take the Darn Picture
But the Wait was Worth the View
Tiny Sample of Christmas Tree Farm Groves
Arriving in Boone, we chose to stay in the parking lot of the Cracker Barrel in town. We paid for our parking spot by having dinner there which turned out to be pretty tasty!