Thursday, October 30, 2014

Flying Fast through Forest Trees

Two months ago Janice and I booked up for a zip lining trip and have been counting down the days since we each parted with our $84. We were going locally to Andy Guest State Park, one of the most beautiful parks in Virginia , and were very excited when we met there on Sunday.
It was a little chilly and a brisk breeze was blustering through the shelter as we signed waiver forms and while Janice got fitted for her GoPro camera. She'd had to shell out $35 and would get the card to take home. I had my trusty G15 with me and because it has a neck strap I was allowed to use it. Cell phones weren't allowed although the others in our group used theirs, so I guess that rule went out the window.
Our harnesses and straps with hooks and clips that would keep us safe were laid out on the floor, and it took surprisingly little time to get the gear on.
A helmet and gloves, (we couldn't use our own leather ones), were donned and we were off! After a couple of pose shots as we thought we looked pretty natty.
Our small group of 8 was driven up into the forest in a couple of UTV vehicles and the ride was great fun. We were bounced and thrown about as we careered along narrow, dusty, rocky tracks, suddenly veering round sharp corners. I'm sure our guides did this on purpose but I loved it!
We had a little training class where were were taught to use our brakes, (our gloved hands), and how to sit. This took very little time and then we were off on to our adventure proper. We walked, our harnesses jingling and jangling through the trees and came across our first platform. I was rather intrigued as to why there were doors across the steps leading up to the platform, and was told it was to stop the bears zooming down the lines. I loved that mental picture!
Our first line didn't look too scary and all our clips secured safely to the tree was reassuring. Nobody balked at their turn and I actually thought it was a lot easier than I had imagined. We were expected to use our hand to slow ourselves down but it was apparent that there was also a safety brake in use too.
Janice and I soon got the hang of it, and I took a couple of videos but quickly thought that I'd really rather enjoy the experience than concentrate on videoing it and I was glad I made that decision as I found a YouTube clip later that the company had posted which covered everything pretty well. It's at the end of this blog.
The lines looked a little longer and higher up as we progressed but it was fun. I loved the noise that the harness made zinging down the line, and it really was a wonderful and unique way to enjoy the fall foliage.
Our guide, Matt, showing off. Matt and Tabby were superb guides. They were in a relationship together and made a great team, balancing comedy and safety perfectly. Matt led for 3 of the lines and then Tabby took the lead, explaining that Matt's arms got tired quickly so he wanted to rest them longer by going last. He never knew that Tabby was telling us this!
On one of the longer lines we were told we could pose towards the end as a photographer was on the ground capturing us as we sped past. Because of this we all paid little attention to our braking needs and were all very grateful for the emergency brake and padding on the tree as we slammed onto the platform.The emergency brake for some reason had a big frayed rope knot on it which to me kept looking like a stuffed monkey. Janice told me later that, "On one landing I made I got that frayed rope that helps them brake us before landing on the platform in my mouth and was spitting that out as I landed, Matt laughed & said ah we have no dog toys up here! I laughed afterwards."
This was one of the bridges we had to cross. The video at the end shows this bridge but the crossing featured was very lame. Matt led our crossing and I was right behind him. no sooner had I got both feet on the logs than he started jumping heavily up and down and then slamming himself against each side so that we all had a very hard time trying just to stay upright, let alone cross the bridge. It was hilarious, and one of the highlights of the adventure for me.
We all made it safely across and one of our group took this awesome shot of Janice and I.
This bridge was easy to cross and we tried to rock it and jump up and down but it wasn't as pliable as the previous one.
The last zip line was 1039ft long and one where Matt said if we tucked up we could travel at 40mph. No need to say more, I was the first to go and I scrunched myself up as small as possible, barreled down the line, slamming into the tree and then bouncing back out onto the line again. Awesome! I had to pull myself back in to the platform and so finished my last zip literally going out with a bang!
The others started down the line and I looked over the platform down to the ground where we would rappel down to the ground.
I was the first to go down again and looked up to see lots of supportive smiles.
 We all watched each other come down and then it was a small hike back to base. We had had a superb group, everyone had been so friendly and our guides had been wonderful. The whole time we had felt safe, secure and free to enjoy the experience without the slightest worry. Janice and I loved it so much that we're already looking at other zip line operators in the area. We'll be raring to go again in the spring.
This link goes to a video showing the zip lines and the bridges, but I have to say our adventure was a little wilder than shown here!
Janice purchased the group photo on line and was very sweet in sending me a copy so I could post it here. A fun time!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Chocolate and Oyster Day

During Friday evening and Saturday morning, I met with Maggi at the bakery and we worked on photographing a lot of her products for the new web site. It all took a lot of arranging and scouting of the bakery as well as our homes for props, even using foliage from the trees and meadows.
 Maggi brought out sheets of chocolate which we artfully broke up and placed in front of boxes, even setting up a couple of photos ready for Christmas customer blasts.
' Chocolate &' products' ready to be photographed and the molds for the horseshoe chocolates. The whole bakery smells of chocolate and the building is airtight with a constant temperature so the goodies are kept in peak condition. Windows and doors also have to remain tightly closed at all times as there have been a couple of break ins by the locals. The local black bears that is. They have smelled the chocolate from miles away, a tantalizing perfume drawing them to the bakery, and once managed to rip the screens from one of the windows before being chased away. So now, all those succulent sniffs have to be kept secured indoors, especially as the bears are seen a few times each year.
Maggi knew I was heading down to DC at noon for a friend's Oyster Fest and packed up a box full of chocolate, hoping that I might be able to snaffle a few fresh oysters for her as trade. I promised to see what I could do and set off down town.
I picked up Barb on route and some local beer and we couldn't believe our luck when we actually found a free parking spot right outside the marina. The marina is going through a dramatic change, buildings being knocked down, new ones going up and berths shunted down so the boats were feeling a little crowded. None of the residents were welcoming the new look marina. About 70 people have left already with others also considering a move soon. I really feel bad for them all as it used to be such a pleasant little community, a hidden treasure of DC, but soon restaurants and shops and bars will be towering down over the water, bringing more people and noise to the area.
But today was a party day, thanks to Tim, his 4th Annual Oyster Fest. with 1500 oysters harvested from his own Walnut Point Oyster Company in the Chesapeake Bay.
 Deborah and her friend, were superstars this afternoon, shucking the oysters for everyone. I for one was extremely grateful since I have no skill in this department, but Deborah is in a league of her own in this department, having been the USA Champion on more than one occasion, article here, and also here
 This wonderful lady brought the ingredients necessary to make Rockefeller Oysters, spinach soaked in garlic, parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs which were laid over the top of the oysters.. Eugene then cooked these to perfection on the grill and then placed them on a tray which was continuously emptied within a few seconds. I was honored, Eugene actually went down on one knee to present me with the tray as I sat in my chair so I could select what I considered the tastiest morsel. These were delectable and everyone had one eye on the grill during conversations, watching and waiting impatiently for the next freshly cooked batch. But we ate them in other ways, raw, steamed, with beer poured over, hot sauce, they were just delicious however they passed over the lips.
Tim's little woofer, Lola, begged for morsels but only got a small piece of cheese from me. Later on in the afternoon, she suddenly leaped on to my lap, seeking refuge from 2 kids whose attention she obviously didn't want. A friendly cuddle and an arm round her calmed her down and after a bit she had recovered enough to continue her scrounging in more successful corners.
The kids loved playing with the oysters. Tim warned the parents of their sharp shells but they played on, undaunted. and luckily without sustaining any cuts.
The tools of the trade and some fine beers. The hours passed far too quickly, probably for me because I wasn't feeling cold. Previous events have been held in November and December where we all had to dress up in huge coats with gloves and scarves to keep out the blustery breezes that pummeled us from the water. But today was balmy and sunny, a beautiful day. Many oysters were consumed and most of Maggi's chocolate disappeared too. Tim very kindly let me take a few oysters home for Maggi, which I packed in ice before leaving. Next year, I really have to make the effort to visit Tim and see his oyster farm firsthand, it will be a must once Christmas is over.
It was nearly dark when I drove up the steep hill to home, pulling into Maggi's driveway first to deliver her treat. Her front door was open before I'd climbed the few steps and she greeted me with a huge smile. My offers of help with shucking the oysters were waved off and she almost snatched them from me. I fancied I saw a glimmer of drool at the corner of her lips as she hurriedly shut the door but I'm sure it was the light. I laughed as I left her to her treat and drove home to the other side of the hill.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Rustic Fall Colors and a Bike Ride

Saturday was a wondrous day to be out enjoying the fall foliage and today it was at its peak. It was a joy to drive along the country lanes with the leaves swirling around in front of me, blue skies with dark heavy clouds skimming past on a blustery breeze. and everything was looking so vibrant through my polarized sunglasses.
I stopped to get gas at a 7/11 that was filled with tourists heading to the Skyline Drive. The lines inside were long and a local in front of me made me chuckle by muttering rather loudly, "Ain't you got trees where you live?" Evidently not because there were hoards of people here. And they would act like lemmings and follow each other up the mountain and down the Skyline Drive in single file. But I wasn't going there, I was taking the low road and it was evident as I drove that none of the city dwellers or tourists had done any research because I was the only one enjoying my scenery. The fall colors were beautiful down here with a crystal clear creek bubbling and tumbling over roads, following me alongside the road as I drove by.
I noticed a couple of other cars doing the same as me, driving along enjoying the leaves and occasionally stopping to get out and take a photo or just breathe in the fresh mountain air. I also spotted a lot of locals also enjoying the day,lounging comfortably on their front porches. This is something that I love about Americans, their joy of sitting on the stoop. It's not something I ever saw in England, but here, everyone does it, whether it's sitting on steps of a crumbling townhouse in the city, sprawling on an old sofa that was once dragged out from indoors to a covered porch, or sitting on a couple of lawn chairs placed under a tree at the front of the driveway, ready to greet other folks as they passed by. I waved at a few as I slowly rumbled by in Stuart and all returned my salute with a smile or a nod and a raised arm.
 I trundled up tiny roads that had no paving and barely met a soul. It was so peacefully quiet that I wanted to just drive through roads like this forever, enjoying the beauty of nature at this time of year. And then I drove over a little bridge and saw a golden woodland with a riverbed of rocks. I parked and walked back. There was a tiny creek trickling through, I had thought the river bed to be dry when I passed. This would be a perfect spot to do some rock balancing. The rocks were quite rough and angular, not the smooth rounded stones of last weekend, so I wasn't sure if I'd have any luck. But nobody was about so I climbed down and started. I got very engrossed in choosing rocks and finding ways to stack them. I was very pleased with one little group until I accidentally knocked one stone, causing all the others to tumble down. but it must have been fate because my next balance looked far better I thought. I sat down and started to photograph the rocks then suddenly became aware that I wasn't alone. I looked round to find a man watching me. I had no idea how long he'd been there but he apologized for startling me and continued his walk along the road. I finished my photos and walked back to Stuart. After a few minutes checking my GPS I looked up into my rear mirror as I pulled away, and spotted the man again crouching down by my rocks and taking a photo with his phone.
I carried on driving along rustic lanes that spidered up and down hills and then followed a valley to a main road. A camp ground was in a wooded area here and I could smell the bonfires as folks cooked late breakfasts or early lunches. I was surprised at how many tents I saw, I failed to see any enjoyment in camping so close to a road that had noisy car engines or motorbikes revving past but none the less my nose twitched at those delicious smells.
I hadn't realized that after some miles I'd been steadily driving uphill and was pretty surprised when after following 2 cars and a motorbike up a hill that had a superb hairpin bend, we drove past a vista that clearly made me realize that I was up in the mountains. The view was spectacular but instantly marred when I looked down and saw a couple of black trash bags on the ground with the remains of animals spilling out. They had been there some time and I wasn't sure whether they were deer remains or not as I suspected the remnants of dogs. A man to my left was also looking down shrewdly at them and not wanting to discuss it, I went back to the car.
I picked another rural road and slowly made my way back down the mountain to the valley and came across an abandoned farm. There weren't any really interesting buildings but there was a lovely old bus parked out the front.
And then as I walked around the back I spotted an old car in the undergrowth. I'm pretty sure it's a '55 Ford Crown Victoria.
This is what it once looked like.
There were also a couple of old trucks that had almost disappeared from view, covered in vines and brambles. I tried to get back there but thorns were digging through and getting caught on my jeans. I will have to come back once winter kills off this aggressive vegetation.
So I made do with taking photos of what I could get to without being attacked. This was a cool little find.
The door of an old garage that had close down.
And I went back over the mountains again, passing the long queues of cars still waiting to get onto the Skyline Drive.
I stopped in Sperryville to pick up some apples and eggs, loving how I just took what I wanted and then got my own change from a cash box left on a wooden table at the farm shop. The two staff were washing eggs and boxing vegetables and apart from saying hello, didn't even check that I'd paid.
And then it was back to Marshall. The skies were getting darker and the clouds were hanging lower.
I stopped to take a photo of a couple of trees, contrasting beautifully with their stormy backdrop, and then at home I had the sun setting at the back of the house seeming to turn the dogwood leaves into flames as the last rays burst brightly in through the windows.
On Sunday I met up with Nancy in Alexandria where we were going to cycle some of the Mt Vernon Trail. It was a sunny bright day but the wind was colder today and as we set off I fervently wished I'd worn gloves that covered my fingers. We both had jackets on and for once I didn't mind wearing a helmet as it kept my head a little warmer although my poor ears still suffered.
I didn't bother with too many photos as I wanted to enjoy the ride, it's been a while since I'd had a good long pedal on the bike and the scenery was pretty although I was constantly aware of the roaring traffic passing by alongside us. We never really got away from this apart from the few areas where there were boardwalks that left the road and took us closer to the water.
Nancy had mentioned that when she had previously driven past this area she had spotted a white egret that seemed to be a frequent visitor to the area. Today we found out that there were actually lots of them. I'd never seen so many in one place, it was a lovely sight, and we wondered if this was a meeting place for them before they migrated south.
We weren't sure of the total mileage that we cycled but it was in the region of around 20 miles and we were both pleased to realize when we got back to the cars that we could happily have cycled more. So we pledged to return and put in more miles as well as explore other routes in the vicinity in the future. But for now we were happy to load up the bikes and finish the weekend with a stroll into Old Town Alexandria and grab a pizza.