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.