still settling in; a second visitor

Well, I lied when I said there would be just one more post. There will be a couple, it seems.

My dad came to visit immediately upon Liz’s departure, and we have continued the projects that Liz started/helped conceive. We put my mattress up on a platform of plywood and milk crates. We repaired the screen door. We’ve been documenting a few maintenance requests. And walking the neighborhood, and exploring the town (a local Italian place turned out excellent! craft beer here is more expensive than I’ve seen it, ever!), and exploring a little further away as well. We spent a day in the mountains and today we’ll spend another. I’ve had a few more bike rides with new friends! It’s all very exciting.

We also celebrated Hops’s 11th birthday at a brewery after a good day of hikes – he napped well.

I am still touristing, a little, in my new town. As soon as Pops flies out, though, it’s back to work: I’ll have less than a week til orientation starts at the new job, and my syllabi need work. Busy busy…

moving in

The move began with a desk in the van, on loan from my buddy Doug for the duration of the time I’ll be living here in Buckhannon, WV.

Foxy as moving van
priorities

The next few days were a delightful whirlwind. My buddy Liz came to visit and help out. We moved in a bunch of free/gifted furniture, she helped me get set up; we enjoyed some local food & drink, and walked around the neighborhood.

I didn’t take many pictures, and none (sorry to say) with Liz.

It was a delight to have her here, and it was the end of an era. The next weeks involve a visit from my dad that I’m really looking forward to, and prep for the beginning of the semester and the start of my new teaching gig. Foxy has been emptied out, down to her frame and cabinetry. I’ve brought the mattress in to sleep on it indoors, which will make it a little harder to use her for weekend trips – I’d need help to reload the mattress, and back and forth. Well, we’ll see. There is a lot to be seen about my new life.

The end of the Foxy travels era also means the end of this as an active blog. I expect I’ll be wildly busy with the new job, and integrating into a new community. I figure I’ll post once more here, after several weeks, to let you know how the settling is going; but the next post is likely to be the last, at least for a while. The plan as of now is to hit the road again next May, when my nine-month contract with the college ends. At that point, I expect, I’ll restart this blog when I restart the travels. But the future is never known for sure, is it.

Thanks for being with me during these weird and wonderful months. Here’s a picture of Hops at our little house. Cheers and hugs, friends.

winding down

Well, friends, we’re nearing the final hours of Foxy livin’. I’ll try and review a few things for you here, but it’s busy times (when I’m within cell range in these lovely mountains).

Since I last wrote to you, I headed into the town of Elkins for a day and a night, to see some friends and do some conferencing about my upcoming new JOB (eek). From there, we drove up to Spruce Knob, the highest point in the state of West Virginia.

We had a couple of nice nights of camping, with weather cool enough that we had a fire one night, and hiked a bit up in the hills.

I’ve been reading & writing furiously, and doing some planning for the move coming up, and a couple of visitors right out of the gate. I know I keep using this word, bittersweet, but truly… I’m excited for all the change, and I’m going to miss this here.

on a Wednesday

I woke up on a beautiful cool morning (cool! for a change!) in the Monongahela National Forest and took Hops for a couple of miles on gravel roads and soggy trails. While we were out on the trail, an email came in from an author I greatly admire who very generously had offered, some weeks back, to read my thesis. She said she loved what she was reading. My heart was in a bit of a flurry from the high compliment from such a highly regarded source, but I left the email to answer later, from a proper screen with a proper connection to the internet. Back in camp, I cooked some eggs, washed dishes, and packed up for the day.

I drove into town and parked, made some phone calls, and answered the lovely email from the author. I bought groceries–and just to be able to park, leave Hops, and buy groceries midday was such a change and a beauty, this milder, more forgiving weather. I parked us for several hours at a state park’s picnic area, where the signal was a little stronger, and I got a little more work done, including prepping for another author interview that evening. I drove back into town for a burrito in the late afternoon, and parked at a trailhead to eat and read a book in peace.

Backing out of my parking space, I made a mistake. I didn’t see the ditch behind me, and Foxy’s rear wheels just slid in. I was in this trouble by a margin of less than a foot, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades; the van was going nowhere. I checked it out: the wheels weren’t dug in; there was matted grass, and not mud, under her tires. It all boded well, but still I was going nowhere. I dragged some rocks over and packed them beneath & behind the tires. I got a little traction, but still no progress. A nice man on a bicycle stopped and apologized for being unable to help. He consulted; we agreed on the prognosis. He advised I walk across a nearby bridge, over the Blackwater River, to a nearby grocery store (the same we’d already visited that day) for help. That had been my next plan anyway, so off Hops and I went.

At the store, we had to wait a few minutes for the right opportunity to come along. A big man in work clothes approached perhaps the biggest pickup truck in the lot. “Excuse me, sir? I… got my van stuck, just right there across the bridge. I’m looking for some help. Do you maybe have a chain or a tow strap on you?” Well, he didn’t; but he consulted a few neighboring cars and trucks, and then his buddies (they turned out to be his employees, actually) came out of the store–they were driving the other giant truck in the lot, parked end-to-end–and located a short but serious cable that we agreed might work. We convoyed across the bridge in two trucks, the four of us plus Hops. “Is that your van? No wonder you got stuck! Geez.” My new friend shook his head. “Looks heavy.”

It took mere moments to hook up truck to van, everybody accelerated on schedule, and Foxy was free and shipshape again. I shook the boss man’s hand briefly; they all accelerated off in a hurry, and Hops and Foxy and I were back on the road.

We went directly to the dollar store for Oreos, and when I came back out, my friend the boss man in the big truck was parked next to Foxy. I grinned and waved. “My name’s Von,” he said, offering his hand again. I gave my name. He said he’d turned around to come back: “I have a five-bedroom house just up here”–he pointed–“and you are welcome to come and stay. You could have a room for the night. If you need a shower, do a load of laundry. I just needed to come back and see.” He’s working as an electrical engineer in the area, on the big windmills. I thanked him again and again, explained that Hops and I were actually having a great time out here–we really are, especially now it’s cooled off so nicely–and we’re moving into a place next week and have just had a shower and laundry. He said, “Oh, you’re enjoying your last days of freedom.” He called it a blessing upon him, to be able to help. And we went our separate ways again, me still thanking him. I drove back to the picnic area with the decent signal, where I’d be conducting an author interview in another hour.

I was still shaky from the stress of having Foxy out of commission, and having to approach strangers for help. But I was also glowing with the pleasure of meeting such a decent human. Von was so kind, and I really appreciated his offer for additional help. I wish I’d gotten his address so I could send him a thank-you card or something. The kindness of strangers: always a beautiful lesson. I felt well cared for. And really, this calamity was a very small one: we were just a little bit stuck (admittedly, this is like a little big pregnant), and so close to town, and I just knew the West Virginia pickup-truck-driving men would take good care of us; and they did. It was a beautiful experience, in the end.

And yet still I was shaking as I set up for my author interview – which of course went beautifully, too, a lovely chat with a talented writer and a friend. Leaving the picnic area with my interview complete, I stopped for a beer at the local brewery just before closing, and traded brewery stickers with the nice young man behind the bar, just as his boyfriend showed up with a burrito for his (the bartender’s) dinner (yes, from the same burrito place; it’s a small town). Leaving the brewery with a single beer in me, I stepped into the delightfully cool air, where Hops was safely napping in the van. We drove into the dusk, back into the national forest, where we’ve made camp again for free at a spot that has begun to feel like home.

Just next week, I’ll be moving into a “real” home, one with walls and ceiling and no engine or tires attached. I’m looking forward to that next chapter; but gosh, on a day like this, when I’ve experienced all the emotions and played in the mud and seen the sun and felt the cool air on my face, this life looks pretty good. Right now Hops is snoring next to me and I have all of the van doors open and I’m about to crawl under the blankets, because the air is cool and slightly damp and we are the two luckiest creatures alive. Viva vanlife. And thanks again to Von, my guardian angel this Wednesday.

a few more stops

Just killing time in West Virginia, before I move into a house and out of this van, for better and for worse…

I had thought I might spend a night at Tygart Lake State Park, but the camping facilities didn’t especially impress. I let a bit of Ritchey go in Tygart Lake at a deserted boat ramp, Hops had a run around, and we moved on.

Cathedral State Park is a lovely area, but no camping; we were there to see the old-growth hemlocks. It’s a very small park; we walked several trails around, apparently, the whole space, and could hear road traffic at all times. But what is there is worth saving. According to their signage, the average age of the forest is 350 years, and some trees are over 500 years old. The largest are some 90 feet tall and 21 feet in circumference. I definitely saw some in that range.

After a little hike at Cathedral, we’ve returned to the Monangahela National Forest, the same spot where we camped in late May when we first entered this state. It’s a lovely area and free! When I want a little more cell signal or a picnic table, I head a few miles downhill to Blackwater Falls State Park, where day use is free. And the town of Davis has a brewery I quite appreciate. Just hanging out, reading and writing, hiking with the dog and watching time pass by.

Here’s a little photo pack of the last few parks and hikes.

Seneca Rocks

From Blackwater, we moved into the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, which is part of (or contiguous with?) the Monongahela National Forest. We’re staying at Seneca Shadows campground, which is practically, yes, in the shadow of Seneca Rocks, a famous rock formation and rock-climbing destination.

Seneca Rocks in morning light

That’s the Rocks there in the foreground.

Hops and I did the hike up to the observation tower at the base of the rock formation proper, and it is no joke of a hike – just a mile and a half up and the same back down, but steep the whole way. These views are from the observation tower, from which one can look basically straight down at one’s car or van.

A sign there at the top of the hike/base of the rock says (I paraphrase), “go beyond this point and die.”

Camp isn’t bad, either.