WE WERE ATTACKED BY A FREAKING BEAR!!! There. I wanted to not bury the lead with this one, and make sure to open with the bit that is probably the first and only thing I will be talking about after this coast-to-coast trip. I will elaborate later, but wanted to get you really excited, right from the get go. Do not worry, because we were oblivious to the attack until the next morning. But someone needs to make a thriller out of this story. It is that exciting. Recounting the stay chronologically is, sadly for you, how I need to write these blog posts. So you will have to endure some blah blah blah before the FREAKING BEAR story.
How this blog keeps going….
We had a short travel day from Stone Mountain to get to the home of two of the absolute coolest people I know. Richard wanted to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway, and I had two blog posts to catch up on. So this is the normal level of excitement for me: parked at an overlook where there is service so I can do a high speed keyboarded dump of whatever still remains in my brain from our last stay(s). If I let this go for more than two stops, I will have utterly no idea where I was, what I did, or how I even got there. Once I was caught up and ready to roll, it had been at least two hours and Richard was en route to beat me to our friends’ house. This was a thirty mile ride, mind you, so he goes fast.
Our friends, Jack and Lee, are like real country mice, while we just pretend to be. They do things like literally chop wood to stoke the furnace that heats their house. They themselves built their home, while we wither and die under the stress of paying someone to add onto ours. They live off spring water from actual natural springs, which tastes worlds better than the water we double filter. They manage 70 acres of land, while I can’t keep a potted succulent alive. I get exhausted just listening to the things they do on a regular basis. But they are also the nicest people anywhere, and Jack’s sense of humor is as relentlessly adorable as the energy of their Springerdoodle. So they offered their homestead to us as a place to stay before we all head up to Quebec together. They are very close to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the directions seemed pretty simple. But then Richard arrived at what Google was telling him was their driveway before I did, and he had to peek inside the mailbox and confirm the name on an envelope, before deciding the gravel driveway leading into the woods and toward no visible house, was really theirs. He sent me his location, and when I arrived, my first thought was, “Are you suuuuuure?” But actually, it looked longer than it was, with everything just hidden by the dense forest. There was Jack waiting for us at “site 1” where we got to set up with electricity and everything.
A really beautiful place
After we got set up, they showed us around their incredible property. There are ponds, and apple trees, and blueberry bushes, and acres and acres of gorgeously peaceful forest, as far as you can see. I couldn’t get my head around what it must have taken to build their house, but you can tell from the millions of little cuts in the giant beams, that this was as close as you get to the way things got done in the old days. It’s all very impressive and just beautiful to gape at. For us, if the AC stops working, we are in mortal peril. At night, there are so many fireflies, I don’t really believe they are real. I’m pretty sure they string blinking lights all around, and Jack did not deny it. So I call bullshit on that.
One of the many “Rock Churches” of Floyd County
They showed us a fascinating PBS movie about the history of their area, specifically about the Rock Castle Gorge, located in a valley nearby. Learning some of the background helped me understand the dynamics of how a tree blight, the Great Depression, and the development of the Blue Ridge Parkway all intermingled, and ultimately led to the disappearance of a once thriving mountain community. We saw lots of little hints of old structures and walked some beautiful trails while we were there, but that PBS documentary, “Rock Castle Home,” is well worth a watch to give you a taste for the feeling of this area.
Can fix anything, and also not laugh at you, in front of you
For our first day in town, Jack brought us to his good friend (though I must point out that everyone in this area seems to be his good friend), who runs T&E Small Engine. He seems kind of like a Randy, but with land management equipment. We dropped off our non functioning generator to see if it could be saved. We then got a quick tour of nearby Floyd, VA, and then went on a hike. Some day we need to do the Rock Castle Gorge Loop, but at 10 miles and a lot of elevation change, we opted to do the overlook loop instead. It’s a shame there was so much smoke in the air (you doing ok up there, Canada? These Californians are feeling you). I’m sure the views normally go on for states and states. It was still a lovely view, with an abundance of flora, and some fauna (but not as much fauna as at Jack and Lee’s house). I will note here that Lee is a very fast hiker. I consider Richard to be fast, but he was panting to keep up with her.
Way out ahead
After the hike, we chilled at their house a bit. Jack showed me the gigantic water boiler system (but don’t boil it, he notes), where he regularly stokes the fire twice a day in the winter. As he was talking about fire stoking, like, you know, a totally normal thing to do, a large black snake slithered out. He’s all, “Oh that’s a friend. He keeps the mice in check.” At the end of the day, we zipped into Floyd and picked up the now working generator. Apparently you need to do things to fuel, like add stabilizer stuff, and not let gas just sit around for a year in an unused motor. Go figure. (Can you see how we are not the kind of people who could survive a lifestyle like theirs?) After picking up the generator, we went out for a fantastic dinner with another Alto couple at a place called Mickey G’s. We had a grand time and loved chatting with new Alto friends.
Finally Real Italian!
Now finally we come to the FREAKING BEAR story! We went to bed exhausted from a fun and full day. I had taken my hearing aides out and Richard had put his earplugs in. We were all settled in bed, ready to lie down, when we both stopped and went, “What was that?” We had both felt the trailer shake. I felt something I couldn’t understand or describe, but it was like something pulling at the bedding. Neither one of us could make meaning of what happened, and since it stopped quickly, we both just sort of shrugged our shoulders, went “oh well,” and went to sleep. In the morning, my hand reached under the privacy curtain to feel whether my window was open or shut, and I discovered the screen was hanging loose, only attached on two sides. I thought that was pretty weird and started wondering what I could have done to knock it out. As consciousness slowly increased, helped by Richard giving me coffee, I pulled the curtain back to discover a large rip in the bottom sheet, the comforter cover on the mattress topper, and in the topper itself. A big poof of wool was sticking up through the gash. Now I was really puzzled. What in the world could I have done, with any part of my body, in my sleep, to cause such damage?? Then a thought dawned on me and I went outside to look for evidence of some kind of animal intrusion. It took a minute, but I found irrefutable proof of a large, four toed paw print on the side of the Alto, just under my window.
CSI Team Confirmation
I messaged Jack to ask whether this campground had bears regularly. He took that to mean we were in the process of being eaten and appeared a minute later, carrying a stick. I imagine Jack and Lee are just totally used to bears and casually swat them away with small sticks. Lee probably just out walks them. Jack examined the print, and at first he said it looked canine. So I’m thinking now that they also deal with wolves and/or werewolves too. But then he saw the damage to the mattress topper and concluded it was a “small” “young” “stupid” bear. I guess that makes me feel better, because they are so very friend shaped, it could almost be cute.
Be afraid, bears! He has a stick!
But now I want you to imagine this scene, and what it would have been like if either of us had had the sense to look under the privacy curtain while it was happening. We later examined the back of the curtain, and I said, “Are those CLAW MARKS?!?!” They totally are. We have bear claw marks on the back of the curtain, long scratches that were being made while I was sitting in bed. If the idea of a bear arm, reaching through the window of your trailer, separated from your leg only by a thin black privacy curtain, does not give you the heebie jeebies, you are a stick swatting, fast walking, badass, like Jack and Lee. I may never sleep with the window open again. Jack joked about his campground Yelp rating being irretrievably damaged after this event, but I might have to give it five stars for this. I mean, this will be a story I tell over and over. I will probably show people the claw marks on the curtain. I may have suffered long term mental trauma, but I’m already pretty anxious. How much worse can it get?* At least I have entertainment value with this one.
I mean. Seriously. That’s legit creepy.
Anyway, with the most exciting part of the blog post over now, I will just wrap it up by saying we did get in a trip to the Mabry Mill, which is just a stone’s throw from their house. We went for the buckwheat pancakes for breakfast and that is a must do. Wow those were good! After, we walked around the historic site and read all the informational kiosks. As one of the most photographed, and misattributed, structures on the parkway, it is also a must see. We followed with some downtime so Richard could work, and I could perform surgery on the bedding.
Iconic Mabry Mill
Then, we went on another brisk hike up Buffalo Mountain with Lee (like I was sweating to sprint-hike up that thing, as though bears were coming for me). We met good friends of theirs for dinner at the Parkway Grille. After a tough day of work, Richard rode up the Blue Ridge Parkway to Wood Gap Road, into Floyd. I had Shrimp and Grits that were to die for and Richard had the surf and turf. Good wine and even better conversation was shared.
Kind of a Beale Street Vibe, with less public drinking
Before packing it in, we stopped in Floyd to witness the Friday Night Jamboree. We delighted in listening as musicians gathered together along the street, just meeting up and riffing together with guitars, banjos, and sometimes flat foot dancing.
Super fun and cute!
And lastly, On our way out of town, I was able to finally see the tiny town of Meadows of Dan, and stop in at the Old Fashioned Country Store, where you can fill up your gas tank, and take care of your grocery list at the same time.
View from Buffalo Mountain
What a magical place this is. I’m not just saying that because we know super cool residents. It’s all here, from unrealistically twinkling fireflies, to the grandeur of the Blue Ridge Parkway, to prearranged bear attacks, just so you can have a story to tell. It’s a part of the world I know little about, but feel I could not possibly have been introduced to better.
Total miles from Stone Mountain: 82.6, 16.6 mpg, 5 hours 53 min. Site 1. Electric and water hookups. 1 bar of LTE sometimes if you stand in the driveway. Wifi if you approach the house, or if you hold your phone up high in the direction of their house. No dump. No trash. Abundant and intense wildlife, including extra friendly dog, who could potentially kill you with love. *Inside joke, just for Jack and Lee.