Monday, August 30, 2010

Eatin' at the Museum of Finger Lickin' Chicken

August 22, 2010
Cincinnati to Savannah
690 miles
We have been so busy since we arrived back home last weekend, we almost forgot to mention our brush with greatness on the way home from Cincinnati.

At about the time our stomachs started to remind us it was time for lunch, we saw a billboard on I-75 pointing the way to the Birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken—Sanders Café and Museum in Corbin, Kentucky.

We were off on a lunchtime adventure.

Harland Sanders had a lot of jobs before he settled down in Corbin in the 1920s to run a gas station along the Dixie Highway, which ran from the Midwest to Florida. An entrepreneur, he soon was selling sandwiches at the service station, then expanding his food service to include a café across the street, and later a motor court next to the café. A historical marker out front proclaims the café the birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken, and displays interspersed throughout the restaurant fill in the details of its illustrious history.

Sanders was awarded the honorary title of Kentucky Colonel shortly after he opened Sanders Café in 1935, in recognition of his gastronomic contributions to the state.

I was most impressed with his promotional genius—he recognized that women were the final arbiters in decisions about where to spend the night when families were traveling, so he created an exact replica of an immaculate room from his motor court right inside the restaurant. Women had to walk through the motel room to get to the Ladies Room. The pay phone was also on the other side of the hotel room. Brilliant!
Unfortunately, when I75 was built it bypassed Corbin in 1955, and traffic going by the café and motor court slowed to a trickle. The Colonel almost went broke before he began the next chapter in his entrepreneurial story--going on the road to sell Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant franchises. By 1960 he had sold 400 franchise units, and his days of worrying about money were far behind him.

Of course we had to dine on some of that finger lickin’ good original recipe fried chicken, since we were eating at its birthplace. Just when we thought lunch couldn’t get any better, in walked the Colonel himself, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. Turned out it was Colonel Bob Thompson, whose business card proclaims him Spokesperson for Kentucky Fried Chicken and Ambassador for the World Chicken Festival.

Tally it up: an offbeat museum, a finger lickin’ good lunch, and an opportunity to shake the hand of a real live celebrity, all in less than an hour. This was road tripping at its finest.

Who knows what further adventures we might have had if we had stayed on Dixie Highway, instead of making our way back to I75 and rushing home without further detours or dalliance.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Family Fun

August 20-21
New Castle, Indiana and Cincinnati, Ohio
We had a two day whirlwind tour of Glover family kids and grandkids before everyone went back to school and work after summer vacation.

Here are some pictures of the grandkids in their many activities.

Grandson Andrew demonstrates his skill at ambidextrous tennis ball juggling with two racquets.

Grandson Collin demonstrates his bicycling tricks.

Baby Annie captivates us with her happy disposition (and her very strong almost walking legs).

We also enjoyed games of Star Wars Monopoly and multi-player solitaire (up to six of us at once!) and a wonderful home cooked meal with the New Castle Glovers.

Granddaughter Meredith (in red) playing the first of three games in a soccer tournament against very tough competition. She is a strong player with awesome endurance, and had very little time to sit out during this game. It was already hot before 8 a.m. when we were watching this game.

Twins Natalie and Mollie demonstrate their diving board tricks at the pool. They also showed us their excellent swimming skills and flips in the air when thrown by their father. (I remember doing that fifty years ago or so.)

Grandson Harrison plays goalie in the Wyoming High School Varsity vs. Alumni soccer game. Although he is goalie for the Varsity team during the school year, he tended the Alumni goal, due to a shortage of Alumni players. Talk about a conflict of interest . . .

We also enjoyed catching up with the Apfelbecks (grandkids Kate and Patrick and their parents) and Dick's daughter Megan over dinner between swimming and the Varsity vs. Alumni game. How did we fail to get a shot of the dinner table at the bustling Gabby's restaurant? We were just too busy talking.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Literary Detour

August 19, 2010
We are on our way to New Castle, Indiana and Cincinnati to visit nine grandchildren before all but baby Annie head back to school within the next few days.

We no longer seem to be able to get from home to our destination without a stop at an unexpected point of interest along the way, and this trip is no exception.

As I was checking our progress in the road atlas, I noticed the words “Carl Sandberg Home” written in red near the tiny town of Flat Rock, North Carolina. We were ready for a break, so we detoured off the highway to check out what ended up to be a very interesting National Historic Site.

Although Carl Sandberg moved to his Flat Rock home when he was 67 years old, he still had a lot of writing left in him—over a third of his works were published during the 22 years he lived here. His wife Lilian actually found the property—a 240 acre farm called Connemara. It provided Lilian with the acreage she needed to expand her champion dairy goat breeding operation, and it provided Carl with the solitude he needed to write.

We were just in time for the last house tour of the day, at 4:30 pm. Lilian donated the house and all its contents to the National Park Service shortly after Carl died in 1967, and the Park Service kept everything intact. Carl’s 13,000 books remain in the bookshelves that line the walls of just about every room in the house, except the kitchen. Up in his garret office, Carl’s typewriter sits atop a milk crate he used as a portable desk, and a clutter of notes and books surrounds his work space. The reading light is still clipped on the headboard of Lilian’s bed, and a yellowing box of Kleenex is on her nightstand. The furniture and décor throughout the house are very simple—the Sandbergs were Socialists from way back, and they lived out their values.

We learned a lot of interesting facts about Carl Sandberg’s life, but found his spotty scholastic history the most intriguing. He dropped out of school after the eighth grade, spent some time as a hobo hopping freight trains and working fields in the Midwest, joined the army, was recommended to attend West Point, but flunked the grammar section of the entrance exam, and attended Lombard College instead, but never graduated. Nonetheless, he went on to become the “poet of the people,” to write a four volume treatise on Abraham Lincoln that earned the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for History, and later to earn a Pulitzer Prize for Literature, as well.

We visited the resident goats--descendents of Lilian’s prize winning herd, strolled the grounds, and were on our way north once again.

We had to drive until 10:30 to get to Kentucky, which is where we figured we had to be in order to get up tomorrow and drive to New Castle by 1:30 p.m. Although we really don’t like to still be on the road so late at night, it was worth our little detour back in literary history.

This is probably Carl Sandberg’s most well-know poem. Do you remember when you learned it?

The fog comes
on little cat feet

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Mermaid Makes Herself at Home

A most unlikely souvenir of our recent bicycle adventures in Virginia, this little mermaid seems to like it here.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Riding Virginia Rail Trails--Day 3

August 13, 2010
New River Trail and Galax

Our plan today was to return to the same trailhead where we began the New River Trail yesterday, but this time to head north--downstream for this most unusual river.

On the road into the park we saw an amazing sight—the sun was illuminating what looked to be thousands of spider webs covering an unmown field. We had to stop for a closer look. While we were snapping a picture, an unsuspecting grasshopper got caught in a web, a spider jumped out of hiding and hit the grasshopper with a wad of silk, then spun the grasshopper on a rotisserie of doom at dizzying speed, wrapping a skein of silk round and round him, until he was tightly enveloped in a death shroud. Over and over again the same drama unfolded all across the field of beautiful webs with a dark purpose.

Out on the trail, our ride was very similar to yesterday’s ride—comfortably shaded by the canopy of trees, we enjoyed bucolic views of the river, although most of the time today a flood plain lay between us and the river, and there were more signs of civilization along that flat land. There were fewer trestles, but more dramatically high sheer rock bluffs beside us—often over 150 feet high, by our estimate.

While we were stopped to take a picture of a once-elegant house now falling to ruin, a local came riding up on his red cruiser bike, and said, “I knew the lady who lived there.” Our simple response—“Really—when was that?”—set him to telling stories:

“That was, oh, twenty, twenty-five years ago. I’d come drink coffee with her, and we’d sit around smokin’ those Pall Mall Longs. Don’t do that no more, thank the Lord (splat).” (That was him spitting tobacco juice.) He went on to show us a line carved on the corner of the house with the year 1873 carved next to it. That was how high the flood waters came that year—30 feet or more above where the water is today, and less than a foot below the level of the rail bed. He also told us a short story of his life (“I been workin’ since I’s nine years old, with no schoolin’ or nothin’.” He’s on disability now, but “doin’ okay, thank the Lord.”)

He was a pretty chatty guy, but eventually we were on our way again (shortly after he got into a monologue on politics—let’s just say his political views are quite different than ours).

When we crossed the broad river on this grand beautifully rusty railroad bridge, we were nearly fifteen miles into the ride. Thirty miles is a plenty long ride for us on a day with temperatures in the 90s, so we decided it was time to turn around. We had a picnic lunch on the bank of the river with a view of the bridge, then were on our way back to Foster’s Falls, where we began.

After we got back to our hotel, cleaned up, and rested up a bit, we decided to head over to Galax, “World Capital of Old-Time Mountain Music.” Every year during the second week in August they hold the world’s oldest and largest Fiddler’s Convention. Tonight was the first part of the Old Time Band competition. There were well over 100 competitors, and each had just two or three minutes to play a really fast tune that would show off their talents. The bands all had at least one fiddler, and usually a guitar and a standing bass fiddle, often a banjo or a dobro. Some threw in spoons or a washtub. Most didn’t sing. It was toe-tapping good, but a bit monotonous after a while. We really yearned for the kind of performances where the musicians have time to tell you a little story about themselves or their tunes.
Although the stage was the focal point of the event, there was a lot more going on offstage. Rows of venders sold carnival food (we passed up the fried Oreos, but were intrigued by the concept), and another section of venders were selling musical instruments (lots of test-playing going on there). There was a covered area right next to the porta-potties where musicians were getting together to jam and share musical techniques with each other. It made for the most enjoyable porta-potty experience we can remember.

Hundreds of RVs were tightly packed together in the parking lot, turning it into a convivial musical campground. This hand-made wooden camper and trailer duplex was for sale for $1,500.

The Convention was a feast for the senses—tasty country carnival food, mountain music everywhere we wandered, and plenty of unusual characters making for great people-watching. No doubt about it--Galax has earned the right to claim the title of World Capital of Old-Time Mountain Music on the basis of this event alone.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Riding Virginia Rail Trails--Day 2

August 12, 2010
New River Trail and Wytheville
The New River Trail runs for 57 miles along a rail bed abandoned by the Norfolk Southern Railroad after the local lead and iron ore mines closed down. Most of the trail parallels the poorly named New River, which is in reality one of the oldest rivers on our planet. Some believe that the only river older than the New is the Nile.

Our cycling group from Coastal Georgia/Carolina swelled to twenty today, and we all caravanned from our hotel to a trailhead at about the mid-point of the New River Trail. From there, although we all traveled south, the group quickly dispersed as subgroups enjoyed the trail with widely varying riding styles. Our style was slow and easy, with plenty of stops to enjoy the scenery, take photographs, and read informational signs.

Although we didn’t have the advantage of altitude or of not having to pedal today, as we did on yesterday’s downhill coast, we still had a far more pleasant ride than we expected for a day with temperatures hitting the 90s. Most of the trail was through dense woods, and the pedaling was pretty easy, because the path was well-graded hard packed fine gravel and the slope was so gradual we could hardly discern anything other than flat most of the time.

We marveled at the work it took to build this railway on such rugged terrain—varying from hillside to cliff face. It made for a fun ride—peppered with plenty of trestles and even a tunnel blasted through a rock promontory.

We rode to a spot where the river, which is wide and shallow, seemed to disappear a quarter mile from the base of a small hydro dam, behind which the rest of the river lay. Then we turned around and rode back to our car.

After cleaning up, we drove to Wytheville, where the group had dinner reservations at an historic log house. Dick and I headed to town early, to get in a little sight-seeing before dinner. Our first stop was a fabric store having a sale they called “Fabric Frenzy,” and it had the desired effect on me. I left with fifty pieces of batik fabric. Then we headed just a little further down Main Street to see our kind of road side attraction--a thirty foot long pencil that has hung in front of a local office supply store for over fifty years. Could this be the world’s biggest pencil?

Not far away, in the heart of downtown, is the birthplace of Edith Bolling, who grew up to become Mrs. Woodrow Wilson. Part of her home is now a museum which “shows how her childhood in Wytheville helped shape her future” as First Lady. Unfortunately, the museum was closed for the day by the time we got there.

This is the Log House Restaurant, which seems to have gotten addition after addition over the years, resulting in a maze of intimate dining rooms with rough log walls, wide plank floors and lots of charming atmosphere. A funky garden out back is full of vegetables, herbs, flowers, and lots of tasteful and delightful garden statuary that is for sale. Several apple trees are dropping green apples (watch your head!) near the little pen you can go in to pet the rabbits, and there is a bigger racket than you would expect from the little quails in the cage by the gazebo. The restaurant’s highly eclectic gift and antique shop offers a little diversion while waiting for a table. I couldn’t resist a four foot tall hand-carved very weathered wooden mermaid. She just fits in the back of the car.

When we all finally got together over dinner, it didn’t matter that the service was exceptionally slow—we enjoyed having plenty of time together sharing our day’s adventures and planning for our ride tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Riding Virginia Rail Trails--Day 1

August 11, 2010
Damascus--Virginia Creeper Trail
Virginia Creeper was a nickname for the early steam locomotives that huffed and puffed their way slowly up the mountains in what is now the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, hauling loads of logs along the Virginia-Carolina Railroad. Between 1914 and 1930, they hauled about 15 million board feet of lumber out of this area every year. Then, when the forest was all clear cut, there was little to attract anyone to come here, and hence little need for a railroad. The last train straggled through in 1977. By that time, the second-growth forest was maturing nicely, and it wasn’t long before locals and politicians got the idea to turn the abandoned rail bed into a rail trail.

And, what a rail trail it is. The Virginia Creeper trail runs for 34 miles from near the top of Virginia’s second highest mountain (3,576 feet) to Abingdon, Virginia. Our group of ten reserved spaces on a shuttle van that took us and our bikes from Damascus almost to the top of the mountain (road work closed the very top of the trail), and dropped us off trailside, leaving us to wend our leisurely way sixteen miles back down the mountain to Damascus.

Just as we arrived, a group of thirty or so Old Order Amish or Mennonite people were organizing to begin their bicycle ride down the mountain. We remembered the Amish we saw in Lancaster County earlier this summer—they all rode scooters with bicycle tire wheels, and were not allowed to ride bicycles. I was glad not to be trying to ride my bicycle down a mountain wearing a long dress; given the attire, a scooter might be an easier way to go.
The trail passes through dense woodlands, crosses over deep ravines on trestles, and descends the rugged rocky terrain to follow the winding path of Whitetop Laurel Creek. Wildflowers are blooming abundantly along the sunny margins of the creek, and butterflies are fluttering about nectaring. There are many spots along the way that lure you to stop and dip your feet in the rushing water, enjoy a creekside picnic, or just take pictures. The creek’s cool waters are not only refreshing to people—they also are attractive to trout, which in turn attract anglers fly fishing along the creek banks.

There are over a dozen geocaches hidden along the trail, and we found seven of them, including one hidden on the Appalachian Trail, which crosses the Virginia Creeper trail in several spots.

We lunched a little over halfway down at the Virginia Creeper Café, a bustling little trailside restaurant that boasts “World Famous Chocolate Cake.” Our shuttle driver told us the cake was a must-have experience of the ride, and we are glad he did. After sharing a slice, we concur that the cake deserves to be called world famous, and we are only sorry that we cannot justify eating it by having burned off any calories on the ride. The most exercise we got was in our hand muscles, which we clenched frequently on the brakes as we cruised down the mountain.

Both the Appalachian Trail and the Virginia Creeper Trail pass through the center of downtown Damascus, which clearly has built its economy on the two trails–there are bike rental/shuttle businesses, outdoor outfitters, and bed and breakfasts aplenty in this little town of 1,070. As a sign along the Virginia Creeper trails says, “The rail bed which was the means of removing huge amounts of wealth from the forest is now returning ecotourism dollars to the region.” It worked for us.