Wednesday, November 27, 2013

New Hampshire to Virginia

view from Hogback Mountain
Completely satiated with breakfast served up by Carol and Larry, we set our GPS for New Milford, PA, some 350 miles away. Our route took us back through some familiar country which included Bennington, VT and across Hogback Mountain where we caught the very beginnings of some Fall color. Avoiding I-95 was paramount. Doing so meant we would miss the opportunity to mark our "states we've driven through with our RV" U.S. map with MA, NJ, CT, RI, MD, and DC. But instead of a missed opportunity, we preferred to think of our route showing we possessed common sense by avoiding all the congestion associated with these states.

Flying J in New Milford, PA

Our round-about route also meant that we wouldn't be off the road by early afternoon. That in turn meant we would be best served to use another free overnight stop like the Flying J truck stop in New Milford, PA. Handy for us since there was a Denny’s Restaurant and although this Denny’s did not offer free WI-FI like the one in Ontario, Canada, on the plus side, our RV door opened onto a strip of green grass giving us the brief illusion that we were not sitting in a vast parking lot.
Our next day’s route necessitated one more long day. But as with most of our driving days, be they long or short, time passes by listening to one of our digital books. A late breakfast at a Cracker Barrel, which almost always can accommodate large RV’s, didn't hurt either.
We had looked for an RV park that would allow reasonable access to the Sky Line Parkway, a scenic road along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains through the Shenandoah National Park. But there wasn't much in the way of parks on the route we had in mind. The most reasonable RV park we could come up with was the NASCAR RV Resort near New Market, VA. NASCAR?

site at NASCAR RV (Endless Caverns)
We envisioned all manner of huge tractor trailers with exotic NASCAR team graphics parked all over the grounds. Instead, we found an RV park with narrow roads and sites that were pretty uneven (let alone large enough to accommodate a tractor trailer). Surprisingly, there was not one NASCAR team trailer in sight because apparently, the park wasn’t designed to house the race teams. Instead, corporate management (rarely grounded in the real world) had envisioned a chain of RV parks where NASCAR fans would gather to watch live race coverage on huge jumbotrons with special access content. Clearly, that idea was a bust. Which was fine with us because the park wound up being very quiet. And the park staff were incredibly friendly and helpful.

Skyline Drive
As we had hoped for, the park’s location put us within fairly easy driving distance to several access points onto the Skyline Parkway. So. After two long days of driving what did we do? The entire next day we spend driving 75 miles of the Skyline plus another 40 or so miles going to and from the park.
We began at the north end of Shenandoah NP (the Front Royal entrance) and drove southward along a section of the Skyline Drive. Had we driven the entire Drive, we would have eventually met up 105 miles later with the Blue Ridge Parkway. Tom had driven sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway (1969) but we both had never been on the Skyline Drive before so this was new for both of us.
We had packed a picnic lunch which we ate along the way. Beside countless stops at various overlooks, we managed a short hike on a trail near the Byrd Visitor Center at The Big Meadows.  For the most part, the weather on the day was mainly overcast. Plus it was windy with an occasional sprinkle of rain. Still, it was worth our time and it was interesting to compare the Skyline Drive with what Tom recalled from the Blue Ridge Parkway which he had driven on in 1969. To his memory, the Blue Ridge Parkway seemed more “commercial” with many small shops along the way. The Skyline, since it was a National Park, offered a lot more in undeveloped scenery.

caverns below our RV
We originally had planned on staying just two nights at NASCAR RV but after two long days of driving (and another day sightseeing), it felt so good to be parked that we extended a third day. On the third day Carol caught up on a little laundry, while Tom played hooky. The RV park, we discovered, had a second name: Endless Caverns. The park sat atop a vast cave system which could be accessed via a tour run by RV park staff. When Tom asked about when the next tour was to occur, it would only be a half hour wait. Doubly lucky, when he arrived, he was the only one on the next scheduled tour. The young man who lead the tour was clearly excited about the caves as he lead Tom from room to room explaining many of the formations and history about how the caves were discovered. A one hour tour wound up lasting nearly two hours. If you’re ever in the area, be sure to visit the Endless Caves.
Tuesday the 26th we headed out with an eye to getting closer to the coast now that we had pretty much skirted many of the congested areas. Our next destination? Norfolk, VA. This would set us up nicely for our goal of reaching the Outer Banks. But, Norfolk also held the promise of catching up with a couple we had met a few years earlier.
On a particularly hot day in August 2010 at the Barstow Calico KOA in Yerba, CA, a car pulling a tiny RV, followed by a second car, setup camp in an adjoining site. While we watched from the comfort of our air conditioned travel trailer, a couple took turns sitting in one of the vehicles to run the air conditioner. It turned out it wasn’t so much for themselves as it was for Joey, their Maine Coon cat. Joey, normally a calm traveler, had become pretty stressed by the heat.

Joey chillin'
We offered the couple the opportunity to share our air conditioned travel trailer but they declined. However, they did agree to allow Joey to cool down by spending the night with us. Joey, it turned out, made himself totally at home - and we were delighted to get our cat fix! Joey’s owners, Amanda and Rob Marquis, were on their way to their next duty station in San Diego. They both play in the Navy Band and obviously were cat lovers. In fact they had two other cats and a dog with them at the time…but it was Joey who stole our hearts.
The next morning Amanda and Rob headed toward San Diego and we headed off toward Yuma on our way to South Texas. But as a result of that chance meeting, we stayed in touch via Facebook. That's where we learned that Amanda and Rob had changed duty stations again and had recently arrived at the Naval Station near Norfolk. It seemed like too good of an opportunity to pass up since we were all going to be in such close proximity again.

Amanda and Rob Marquis at Havana Nights
Along with playing for the Navy, both Rob and Amanda enjoy attending open mic performances at a local jazz club in Norfolk, Havana Nights. That’s where we agreed to meet them for dinner. A huge bonus for us was that we would finally get to hear them play! And play they did! Both are terrifically talented musicians. Rob plays a wicked guitar and Amanda can sing a mean vocal when she's not playing horn. We were thrilled to have shared an evening with them. Norfolk, it turned out, will be their last duty station as they both will be retiring from the Navy to pursue other musical opportunities. This was just one more example of how we’ve met some incredible people and managed to stay in touch as we’ve traveled across the country.

site at Davis Lakes and Campground
The RV park we stayed at in Suffolk, Davis Lakes and Campground, was practically next door to the Great Dismal Swamp NWR. Comprised of five major forest communities and three non-forest communities, it is the largest intact remnant of a vast habitat that once covered more than one million acres of southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.

Fred Wurster, USFW at Dismal Swamp
Lake Drummond
After stopping at the Visitor Center where we bumped into a young man who grew up in Appleton and knew a few of the faculty from Lawrence, we spent the better part of the day exploring what we could of the refuge which included driving a back road out to view Lake Drummond, and hiking part of the Washington Ditch Trail. Owing to its remoteness, cover, and solitude, we well understood how it had attracted and inspired people for many reasons, including Robert Frost, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Harriet Beecher Stowe, as a stage for their poetry and novels. Special designations for the refuge include both the Virginia and Globally Important Bird Area designations, and the National Parks Services National Natural Landmark and Underground Railroad Network to Freedom site.
Speaking of stages for novels, when we pulled into the RV park late in the afternoon, we found several police SWAT team members lounging around the small pavilion across from our RV site. Had some kind of training seminar taken place? Or were they just mopping up after some kind of emergency situation? It turned out that they were actors using part of the park’s property to film for a continuing series (to air on The Discovery Channel) called “Alaska: Ice Cold Killers." The filming went well into the night using one of the RV park’s rental cabins as part of the set. It seemed absurd watching actors walk around in parkas in Virginia on a warm day pretending to be in Alaska…
While we were in Suffolk we looked ahead to being on the Outer banks and possibly (finally) being able to take a pelagic trip out to the Gulf Stream through a chartered trip run by one of the best on the east Coast, Brian Patteson. We phoned and made our reservations, keeping our fingers crossed as we departed Suffolk for the Outer Banks, headed for what we hoped would be a much closer look at the Atlantic Ocean.

P.S. Not long after we met Amanda and Rob and caught their open mic performances at Havana Nights, the club was closed due to low attendance just shy of a two-year run. A real shame because on the night we were there, the place was hopping!


  1. tom, hi my name is earl mergelsberg and i'm a friend of robert marquis. we went to college together in miami. i haven't talked to him in over 15 years and i've been trying to get a hold of him and then i found your blog. could you please get me a contact email or phone # for? it would greatly be appreciated.


    1. Hi Earl,
      You can reach Rob at
      Please say hi for me when you do reach him.