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18 September 2005 @ 08:07 pm
2005: The Biker Babes Cruise the Mid-Atlantic, Part Two  
 Sunday, 11 September 2005: Asheville, NC to Virginia Beach, VA

 

There’s not much to say for today: it was our one pounding day on the highway. We got a late start at around 9:00 because we hadn’t really gotten to bed the night before until 23:00, due to laundry issues. That meant that we didn’t reach our hotel today until 19:30. The day was perfect for driving, but a thick haze on the mountains demonstrated that we had done things in the right order: we had the clearest days of the trip when we were coming through the mountains on the scenic drives.

 

Most of the scenery today was pretty boring – divided highway lined with trees – but as we got close to the Tidewater area, we saw lots of cotton fields dotted white with cotton bolls.

 

Monday, 12 September 2005: Norfolk, VA

 

We embarked on our tour of the Hampton Roads area of Virginia by spending the day in Norfolk, one of the busiest harbors in the country. “Roads,” by the way, is a nautical term for safe intracoastal places for ships, so the name describes the cluster of harbors and rights-of-way around and including Norfolk. We found out a little late that Nauticus, the maritime museum, was closed on Mondays after Labor Day, but we wouldn’t have had much time to tour there today anyway, because we booked two cruises in the harbor. We had to do two to experience everything we wanted, because the tall ship cruise in the fall doesn’t go down to the naval base, which we definitely wanted to see.

It was perfect weather for cruising, bright and sunny with a nice breeze. The first cruise, a two-hour tour of the harbor and the naval station aboard the motor cruiser Victory Rover, was educational, relaxed, and very enjoyable. We got the three seats right in the bow: the best view aboard. The civilian and military harbors in Norfolk were both amazingly busy. One Aegis cruiser was in the Speede dry dock on the civilian side, while another massive floating dry dock, appropriately named Titan, stood empty, allowing us to compare them and see their structure. At the naval station, there were a lot of Aegis cruisers in port, as well as several little frigates, four Los Angeles-class fast attack nuclear submarines, and three aircraft carriers, two of them nuclear-powered and the third the John F. Kennedy, eponymous flagship of the last non-nuclear design. We saw two massive separate container docks – one of them with eight cranes! – and a third dock under construction. Each container crane can load a container onto a ship every 90 seconds. Container ships haul the bulk of freight these days, and their numbers are growing with the world economy. Did you know that 100 freight-truck-size containers are lost overboard in rough seas every year?

 

In the afternoon, we took a second two-hour cruise of the civilian harbor only, this one on the wooden tall ship schooner American Rover. We were truly under sail for this cruise! We picked up some sailing tips from the senior hands instructing the junior crew. Crew consisted of four sailhands and the captain, and they were fun to watch. At this season, the Rover does only the civilian harbor cruise, but in the summer and on weekends, they do a three-hour version that goes down to the naval station as well. The deck is covered with chairs, and there are also beautifully appointed cabins fore and aft below, with a little souvenir shop amidships.

 

Being on the schooner led to a bit of unscheduled excitement, because on both our way out and our way back, while at the mercy of the wind during raising or luffing sails, we stayed on a heading that brought us too close to the drydocked Aegis cruiser, triggering the alarms and an automated warning that proclaimed, “Alter course immediately. You are entering restricted space. Alter course, or we will fire on you.” An Aegis against a schooner would be a bit of overkill ... The crew didn’t seem too concerned about actually being shot at, although they did ensure that we put about as soon as possible!

 

When we arrived in Norfolk, we learned that there had been a huge boat expo over the weekend. All the boats were still parked on trailers on the grass or moored in slips and in one inlet that had been created by anchoring a barge across the mouth of a recessed berthing area. While we were waiting for our morning cruise to depart, we saw the crane on board the barge raising the two massive anchor pilings that had locked the barge in place: they had to have been over twenty feet long, coming to a point on the bottom, with the diameter of big telephone poles. Wow! We didn’t see the prices on most of the boats for sale, but we did see tags on two pretty small motor launches: one was $135,000 and the other was $179,000, and the only apparent difference between them was that the pricier one had a permanent hard roof over the pilot house. I shudder to think what the cruisers and yachts were going for!

 

My personal favorite of those was the private yacht Nice and Easy, out of Georgetown in the Cayman Islands. She was fully as long as the American Rover, with a grand staircase leading down from her upper cabin to her bow. I’d love to know who owns her. The crew was madly scrambling to clean and polish. Terry settled for trying to heft the massive anchor from the WWII battleship U.S. Antietam.

Oh – and Norfolk has mermaids! As Chicago had Cows on Parade and DC had Party Animals, Norfolk had mermaids, who showed up on pedestals all along the waterfront.

 

Tuesday, 13 September 2005: Portsmouth

 

Today was our first really cloudy day, with the weather news full of threats about approaching hurricane Ophelia, and we took the bike in for its 55,000 mile service at Bayside Harley-Davidson in Portsmouth, VA, across the Elizabeth River from Norfolk. Because they had two police bikes in with priority, they said that we probably wouldn’t be able to get the bike back until about 15:00. The dealership was on High Street and the Hampton Roads Transit bus route 47 ran right past, so we called HRT to check on how to get into downtown Portsmouth. Turns out that the 47 is the bus to downtown, so we took about a three-mile bus ride into the heart of town. Portsmouth has two visitor centers and the bus dropped us near one, so we picked up the little tourist book and a walking tour map of the Olde Towne Historic District, and stepped outside to orient ourselves. We encountered a very pleasant man on the sidewalk who asked us where we wanted to go, and said that he lived in Olde Towne and would enjoy walking with us and showing us some of the sights. Turns out that he used to be the director of the public library system, and he knew his town’s history and loved sharing it. He gave us more information than was in the walking tour guide book. For example, he told us the story that the first man whom Lafayette embraced when he reached Portsmouth in 1824 was a slave who had volunteered during the Revolution to spy on the British forces. He had worked in Benedict Arnold’s headquarters in Portsmouth, and later for Cornwallis. When he reported the decrease in British forces in Portsmouth and the absence of key senior officers, that was the clue for Lafayette to realize that the British were clustering their forces at Yorktown, where they could be cut off. The slave took Lafayette’s surname for his own, and Lafayette wrote him a letter setting out what he had done. The state legislature, reviewing the letter, granted the slave his freedom.

 

Our former librarian also described the interior of what are called “English basement” style homes, which are common in Olde Towne. In these house, the family rooms are accessed by a door at the ground floor, but the grand entry to the public areas of the house where guests would be received is a stairway leading up to a porch on the second floor. Someone who wanted to avoid guests could sneak out below while they waited above! He was a delightful guide, and left us at his own historic house.

 

We continued our walking tour with the printed guide. For the first time on this trip, we were gently asperged with occasional sprinkles of rain, but they weren’t even enough to get us wet. We stopped for lunch at a place recommended by someone at the Harley dealership, a European bistro named Brutti’s. The food was delicious, and we would recommend it in turn. When we left the restaurant, it was raining in earnest, so we simply sheltered under a handy awning while I read aloud from the tour book on Portsmouth’s history and architecture. By the time I finished, the brief rain had stopped, and we walked down to the waterfront in search of the only first order Fresnel lens displayed outside a museum or functioning lighthouse (cool!), as well as the Portsmouth Shipbuilding Museum and the Lightship Museum.


Before we got there, though, we got an eyeful from the harbor. A massive cruise ship, the Fantasy, had been ensconced in Titan, the floating drydock that had been empty yesterday, and was gradually being lifted out of the water by the drydock. All of the ship’s lifeboats had been taken off and were parked in the water all around the drydock, like an escort. At the same time, Speede, the other floating commercial drydock that had contained the Aegis cruiser that threatened to fire on us yesterday, was nearly entirely submerged in order to refloat the cruiser, which was steaming gently out of the dock. An unexpected treat – drydocks in full operation!

 

The Lightship Museum, a permanently moored lightship now renamed Portsmouth (by tradition, lightships were given the name of their station, painted in huge white letters along the hull), was unfortunately not open, but the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum was receiving visitors. It’s a small museum, but includes some magnificent models and a diorama of the original town. It also had a very nice film on the lightship, so we got to see it even without being able to see it, so to speak. Lightships were basically portable lighthouses that could be moored wherever needed to provide warning or control water traffic, and the men who crewed them lived onboard for weeks at a time.

 

As we were finishing the museum, my cell phone rang: the bike was finished. We hopped back on the bus to return to the H-D dealer and reclaim the bike. It was close to 15:00 when we were on the road again, so we just took a three-wheeled cruise over to the beach part of Virginia Beach to see the sights. It looked just as tacky as every other beach town we’ve seen, and nothing called to us to dismount from the bike and walk around. The sky was totally overcast, the wind was up, and the surf showed whitecaps, but it was still hot.

 

Before we actually reached the beach area, we passed Oceania Naval Air Station, which was invisible in the local fog. As we passed, we were saluted by a pair of what looked like F-15’s that took off and disappeared into the solid low overcast too fast for me to be entirely certain that they weren’t F-22 Raptors instead. Visibility was nonexistent above about 1,500 feet.

 

We returned to the hotel and went for a swim in the very chilly pool, which actually felt quite good in contrast to the 80 degree air and 80% humidity. While we were in the pool, we met Rick Davis, the new manager of our hotel, who gave us recommendations for eating when we hopefully go to Chincoteague tomorrow, hurricane Ophelia willing. Then we finished off our 10,000 steps by walking to Ruby Tuesday’s for dinner.

 

Wednesday, 14 September 2005: Chincoteague and Assateague

Our luck with the weather held: hurricane Ophelia stayed far enough south that we had no rain at all during the day. We pulled out after breakfast to drive the 105 miles to Chincoteague. Passing the Navy’s amphibious base on the way, we took Highway 13 over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, one of the seven structural engineering wonders of the world. This structure consists of man-made islands linked by long bridges, with two long tunnels under the bay to allow major shipping traffic to cross above. This thing is so long that you can’t see one end from the other. I don’t think we ever managed to see more than two islands ahead, and while the haze was part of that – yesterday and today were both very humid – I don’t think we’d have done much better on a clear day, assuming that there ever are any here ... From one of the islands housing a tunnel entrance, we saw a coal collier on the way out, and a container ship on the way back, sailing through the open shipping channel above the tunnel.

 

The Eastern Shore of Virginia is incredibly flat, even flatter than Illinois, and not far above the water level. I don’t think I’d been expecting quite as much farm land as we saw, and we certainly weren’t expecting all the big trucks as we found on the bridge and the road north. The route was busier than we’d anticipated.

 

Just before reaching Chincoteague, we passed the NASA Wallops Flight Facility. Wallops is a favorite home of model rocketry, and the Flight Facility had major radar and radio telescope facilities visible from the road, as well as runways. NOAA shares one corner of the NASA facility, and we saw an airplane both coming in and going out. It didn’t occur to me until later, but the aircraft looked like a P-3 Orion, and I’m wondering if it might have been a NOAA hurricane hunter, staging out of Wallops instead of Florida to investigate hurricane Ophelia on its way north.

 

Chincoteague proved to be less tacky-beachy than Virginia Beach, coming off as quaint instead. We had a delicious lunch at Bill’s, one of the restaurants recommended to us by our hotel manager, and then walked around a bit. Our waitress told us how to find the local Department of Commerce, where we drove to pick up maps. From there, we drove across onto the neighboring island of Assateague, and used Mom’s Golden Passport to gain admission to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The visitor center was lovely, with nifty displays not only on the local flora and fauna, but on how the center itself was constructed to be ecologically sound, using geothermal heating and a/c, and being surrounded by its own wetlands to process the center’s water waste.

 

We cruised the driving trail around the refuge, looking for wildlife. Because the weather was so hot and humid and the speed limit on the circular drive was so low, we rode without jackets for once. We saw a lot of birds, including egrets, ducks, and hawks. Alas, we didn’t see any ponies – they were doubtless being intelligent and staying in the shade of the trees, instead of being out in the hot sun grazing on the marsh grass. From the photos in the center, many of the ponies look bloated, and we learned that it’s because they eat grass with a high salt content and then drink a lot of water; they retain it just as we do!

 

After making the full circuit, we drove back to the mainland and our hotel, warily watching the foreboding skies and wondering whether we’d need to break out the rain gear. It looked dubious as we drove back into Chincoteague, but the further south we went, the less threatening it looked. By the time we reached our hotel, we actually had sunshine. We walked to our neighborhood Denny’s for dinner, and got home dry.

The forecasters were saying that the storm should blow in tonight. Hopefully most of the rain would come in the night, but in any case, we’re figuring on a largely indoor day tomorrow, visiting the Nauticus Museum and the battleship U.S.S. Wisconsin tied up beside it. Depending on time and the weather, we may also visit the Jamestown Settlement.

 

Thursday, 15 September 2005: Norfolk, VA

 

We wound up spending this still completely rain-free day entirely in Norfolk, and had a delightful time. We drove into town and parked in the same public garage on Plume Street that we’d used before (we hadn’t been able to park in the first garage we’d tried, because the bike somehow didn’t trip the weight plate to print a ticket and open the gate!) and walked right across the street to the waterfront. We saw ample evidence that many preparations had been made for Ophelia, although she had ultimately fizzled: a massive flood gate closed off street access to the inlet where the battleship U.S.S. Wisconsin is berthed, and a business office just across the street had sandbags piled two feet high in front of the door. Even as we began our walk, though, workers were preparing to open the flood gate as the concerns about Ophelia retreated with the diminishing storm, and the sandbags were absolutely dry, not even damp from rain.

 

Since we were early for the museum, we took our morning constitutional along the waterfront, admiring two lovely ships moored there from opposite eras of the age of sail. One was a gleaming modern steel, chrome, and aluminum twin-masted vessel all dressed in silver and white with mechanized sails that would go up and down at the touch of a button. The one crewman I met and complimented answered in a Kiwi accent. The other ship, equally beautiful in its own way, was the schooner Virginia, a symphony in black and polished teak.

 

A lovely and unexpected feature of the Norfolk waterfront is a green pagoda surrounded by gardens, and when we reached it, we discovered that it is the Taiwan Thanksgiving Pavilion, a gift from the container shipper Maersk. It was built in Taiwan, then disassembled and shipped Stateside, and reconstructed here. The pavilion stands in an exquisite oriental garden, and houses a teahouse and gallery that can be rented for meetings. We met the retired horticulturist who had, years ago, volunteered to build the garden and who now dedicates part of his time to assist in maintaining it, when he isn’t volunteering at the Botanical Gardens or working on the French Renaissance garden he designed for the waterfront condo where he lives. That garden was private, but we could see from the public walk four little ornamental trees pruned into mushroom-cap shapes, like things I remembered from Versailles. We also learned from him that a couple of the big private yachts we had seen tied up in the inlet (and which looked smaller than the beautiful Nice and Easy I’d admired on our first visit) were $5 million yachts from the Cayman Islands, sitting out the hurricane season in safer waters.

We went on to tour the museum Nauticus and the Ohio-class battleship U.S.S. Wisconsin, and discovered that the two of them really were an all-day event. We bought the 45-minute audio tour of the ship, which was well worth the price. It walks you all around the main deck of the ship, and describes what you’re seeing. The Wisconsin is one of only four Ohio-class battleships ever built, the biggest gun ships in the world. The massive 19-inch 50-caliber guns throw shells the weight of a Volkswagen Beetle! Parked next to the museum, the battleship forms part of the Navy’s ready reserve, and could be reactivated in jig time if the Navy felt the need of her.

 

Nauticus itself had more than we could take in. We never even got into the naval museum section, although we did cover most of the third floor. We saw the nifty (and timely!) film Stormchasers in their main theater, which was an experience in itself. When you walk into the theater, you’re looking out a huge window onto the Elizabeth River. Waiting for the movie to start is hardly boring, when you have all of the busy traffic on the river to watch! The motorized film screen moves on tracks to cover the window from left to right when it’s time for the movie to begin.

 

Another exhibit takes you aboard an Aegis cruiser, and gives you a taste of having to make judgment calls and react to potential threats to your ship by pressing the right buttons to trigger the response you think appropriate. It moves way too fast for you even to hit the buttons, once it ratchets up to combat speed, and helps to explain the level of automated computer controls that the ships rely on. Having come close enough to a docked Aegis to trigger the warning alerts, I could really appreciate this exhibit!

 

One gallery of the museum is given over to temporary exhibits, and the current one was Powers of Nature, all about weather and earthquakes and volcanoes. It was all excellent, with a lot of opportunities for hands-on experiences. And to make things amusing and educational wherever you went in the museum, there were While you’re here, did you know ...? factoid posters related to the touring exhibit in all the bathroom stalls and on the bathroom walls! I didn’t find two identical posters in the different bathrooms we stopped in. The signs were clearly designed to be replaced from time to time, so they might be different every time you visited.

 

Just outside Nauticus, on the opposite side of the museum from the inlet housing the U.S.S. Wisconsin, the city is building a new terminal for cruise ships, hoping to lure tourist traffic away from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. People will be able to walk right off a docked cruise ship into downtown Norfolk and all its attractions, starting with Nauticus. We didn’t see any pictures showing what the final structure would look like, and I’m wondering how much of the view from the museum will be blocked by the new terminal, but only time will tell.

 

At the end of the day, we stopped for dinner at Surfrider West, a seafood place not far from our hotel recommended by our hotel manager. It was good food, but Terry and I both agreed that Coastal Flats in Fairfax was better.

 

We went back to the hotel to do hand laundry on undies for tomorrow, and to pack for the run back to my house (where real laundry work is definitely in the picture – the Virginia Beach Hampton had no laundry facilities!). We plan to visit Jamestown Settlement along the way.


Friday, 16 September 2005: Jamestown to Reston, VA

 

The last day of the ride for me dawned mostly sunny again, making this trip a perfect score for rain-gear-free riding. We reached Jamestown Settlement a little before it opened, and were among the first to get tickets. The ladies welcoming us graciously let us leave our leathers and helmets in the store room behind the counter, since the bike was loaded with our luggage and had no room for our usual routine of locking our kit in the bike.

 

Something to understand, here. Jamestown Settlement and the historic site of the original Jamestown are two different things. The historic Jamestown is a national park and the site of an archaeological dig exploring the original 1607 settlement. Jamestown Settlement, just a few miles away, is a recreation of that original colony, complete with a Powhatan Indian village; the wooden palisade fort and its buildings, including the governor’s home and the church; three replica sailing ships, the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery; and fields and craft areas along the riverfront where crops are grown and tools and structures are built as they would have been back in the day. The Settlement welcomes you with a large and beautiful visitor center that includes a theater, museum display galleries about the colony, its people, and their cultures, and a cafeteria. The Settlement is in the throes of expansion in preparation for the quadricentennial celebration in 2007 of the founding of the colony. If you want information on activities at the Settlement, they have a lovely website at www.historyisfun.org/jamestown/.

 

After watching the introductory film and browsing some of the museum galleries, we embarked on a tour of the Settlement. The tours are conducted by costumed interpreters, who are dressed appropriately for each area and who hand off the tour groups from one area guide to the next. Our guide to the Powhatan Indian village was a woman in deerskin who explained the structure of the village and some of what is known about the culture, crafts, and beliefs of the Indians. Some things, the Indians themselves have never explained, including the ring of wooden plinths carved with different, distinct faces that forms a ceremonial dance circle in the village. Other interpreters were engaged in crafts, demonstrating how things were done.

 

Our guide handed us off to another woman at the docks, garbed as an English colonist, who described the four-month voyage in what seemed to us cockleshell vessels before turning us loose to explore the largest of the ships, the Susan Constant. The three ships are all seaworthy, and one was even disassembled, taken to England, reassembled, and sailed back to Virginia, recreating the original journey – although with a few safety backstops the originals didn’t have! We learned that all three of the ships were rented recently to a Hollywood film company making a movie about the Jamestown colony, called The New Land. When it comes out – sometime early in 2006, I think – we’ll have to go and see those ships under sail, and compare the fictional film version of the colony to what we learned during our visit to Jamestown.

From the docks we went to the riverfront crafts area, where we learned about the crops the colonists grew and could check out the dugout canoe that the Settlement is building, using the technique of burning out a tree trunk. Our guide was a young woman who had just come off a stint of picking off by hand the cutworms that like to decimate the tobacco plants. She was happy to take a break from field work to play tour guide, in company with another guide who was learning the script for this area. It’s a little ironic that the female interpreters we saw outnumbered the males, given that there were no women at all in the colony at its start.

 

We walked up from the river to the fort, and found a lot to see. A wooden palisade encircles a number of buildings, including a church, the governor’s house, the armory, the blacksmith’s shop, the guard house, and more. Periodically during the day, the interpreters – and there are more men here – demonstrate muskets and cannon, and talk about the distinctions made between the soldiers, the craftsmen, and the political leadership of the colony. Church attendance was mandatory, so it’s appropriate that they use the church as the location to provide your overview of life in the fort, before leaving you to explore on your own.

 

Jamestown Settlement was well worth seeing. The same folks behind Jamestown have a similar living history setup at Yorktown, and I will have to go back on my own sometime and visit. And when all of the expansion is completed for the big 2007 celebration of the 400th anniversary of the founding of the first permanent English colony in America, I can only imagine what the experience of a visit will be like!

 

We had lunch at the Settlement (the bread pudding was a HUGE serving!), and then hit the road to pound our way back home to Reston. That was some of the worst traffic of the trip, given that we wound up on the infamous I-95 headed toward Washington, which is notorious for bad traffic. But we eventually pulled in at my house without incident. The funny thing was, the sky was cloudy and threatening rain, but nothing happened until we were within about 10 blocks of my house, when the sky did start to fall on us. We just parked the bike and scampered into the house, and within 20 minutes, the rain had stopped. We offloaded the bike, and I did laundry so that Mom and Terry could go home clean. For me, that was the end of the ride.

Saturday and Sunday, 17-18 September 2005

 

Mom and Terry got back to Milwaukee without incident – at least, nothing they told me about! – and did our traditional end-of-ride stop at Leon’s Custard. This time, we couldn’t get a precise mileage for the trip because of the time we spent without a functioning odometer, but the ballpark estimate for the Mid-Atlantic Tour total is 3,900. The end!

 
 
 
morgansladymorganslady on July 9th, 2008 11:06 pm (UTC)
Have you thought about writing travel quides? I love how you add personal notes on to the tour locations. I want to visit the
National Air & Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, located out at Dulles airport. I've never heard of it.
I read Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods,in it he has the same impression of Pigeon Ford and Gatlinburg as you do.
bardicvoice: Rushmore Babesbardicvoice on July 10th, 2008 02:11 am (UTC)
You know, that thought never occurred to me - I should give it a think, hey?

Glad you would like to visit Udvar-Hazy: I love the place. I'm an aviation nut (as I'm certain you've figured out from these journals by this time!), and one of the things I'm most looking forward to in retirement (counting down a handful more years at least) is the thought of being able to volunteer at Air & Space, and hopefully to train as a docent. Docents are volunteers intensively trained to know and understand the entire museum collection and be able to pass that knowledge on to others by giving tours. To be accepted into docent training, you need to apply and interview and make time commitments, and there's a waiting list. But I think it would be a great joy to me, and a fun way to stay socialized when I'm no longer going to work every day. For Air & Space, to qualify as a docent, you need to learn the complete collections in both museums, the one on the Mall and Udvar-Hazy. Aha - a challenge!

Whether I make docent or not, I'd love simply to volunteer, and spend time infecting others with my enthusiasm for all things that fly. Wheee!

I really have to get around to linking some of my trip photos to these journals ... *grin* In the meantime, if you'd like an introduction to Udvar-Hazy, you can say hello here: http://www.nasm.si.edu/udvarhazy/

Welcome to one of my favorite local places!
morgansladymorganslady on July 10th, 2008 02:29 am (UTC)
Thanks for the link, I put it in my favorites folder,Tourist Attractions.
I'd love to see pics of your vacations.
Definately think about publishing travel guides.