Appalachia and Coal

After completing our exploration of the New River Gorge National River area we headed southwest on a driving segment loosely following the National Coal Heritage Trail. The route took us deep into the Appalachian Mountains and through the coalfields that are so much a part of this state’s history, culture and economy. The National Coal Heritage Trail website provides a good overview of the history of coal in West Virginia.

Bluestone Coal Mine, Norfolk, West Virginia, (Pop. 429)

Since 2008, the number of active coal mines in the United States has dropped from 1435 to 671 and the number continues to decline (13 more coal-fired power plant closures have been announced during 2020). The majority of the mine closures are in the Appalachian Basin of West Virginia. Despite this massive contraction of the coal industry, West Virginia is still the second largest producer of coal in the country (Wyoming is the largest producer). Direct mine employment has decreased from 100,000 to approximately 30,000.

Starting in 2016 President Trump attempted to re-invigorate the coal industry through regulatory change. However, the combination of inexpensive natural gas, increased regulation of coal-fired plants, environmental campaigns and mandated use of renewables (at the state level) during the prior eight years almost certainly put the coal industry on a downward trajectory that will eliminate it as a fuel source for energy creation. Aside from the environmental concerns about fossil fuel, the reality today is that coal cannot compete from a cost standpoint with natural gas and government subsidized renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

Sealed Coal Mine, Keystone, West Virginia (Pop. 232)

The demise of coal-fired electricity plants as a major source of power is certainly going to help improve the environment. Coal-fired plants are the largest emitters of carbon dioxide within the energy sector.

The human side of the equation is less promising at least for the short term. Coal mining was a well paying occupation and a multi-generational way of life here in the Appalachian Basin. Perhaps this statistic makes the point regarding the economic and cultural disruption that the decline of the coal industry has had on the people of West Virginia – Walmart is now the largest private employer in the state.

Below is an article regarding the town of Keystone, which we visited, that provides insight into what the demise of coal has meant for the coal towns scattered through Appalachia.

Rail Crossing, Slab Fork, West Virginia (Pop. 202)

The photographs below are from towns we visited on our tour through the coalfields of southwestern West Virginia. These towns were once thriving communities when coal was king. Many of the towns started as coal camps or coal towns where miners lived after being evicted from company housing. Some of the towns started as company towns. Today these communities are struggling to survive. Many towns have not – we drove through numerous abandoned towns.

Princewick, West Virginia (Pop. 171)

Mullens, West Virginia (Pop. 1559)

Corinne, West Virginia (Pop. 289)

You may notice that there are several churches included in the photographs. This part of Appalachia is fervently religous (See article below). It is common to drive through a town with a population of 250 people and count 10 or more churches. These churches most often have unpaid “god-called” pastors that have no formal training (see article below).

Amigo, West Virginia (Pop. 123)

Welch, West Virginia (Pop. 1715)

The dialect in Appalachia is unique. While we did not have significant exposure to the local “mountain speech” we heard a number of words and phrases during our conversations and interactions: holler (hollow), sody-pop (soda), poke (bag), buggy (shopping cart), y’all (all of you), you’ns (plural form of you). We have included below an excellent article on Appalachian English.

Millionaire’s Row, Bramwell, West Virginia (Pop. 342)

Bramwell is without a doubt the most picturesque town we visited as part of our trip through coal country. Bramwell’s proximity to the Pocohantas Coal Fields and attractive setting lured many wealthy coal mine owners and financiers to the town. These millionaires built beautiful homes along the brick streets that border the Bluestone River.

Today, the town benefits from its proximity to the trailhead of the Pocahontas Trail System which is part of the larger Hatfield McCoy Trail. This trail system provides hundreds of miles of Off Road Vehicle riding on ATVs and OHVs and draws off road enthusiasts from all over the country.

Another distressing side of life for coal miners and their families during the early 20th century relates to their struggle to obtain better wages, safer working conditions and to be paid in U.S. currency as opposed to company script.

These efforts led to violent and deadly confrontations between the miners and private security agents hired by the mining companies. The West Virginia Coal Wars, a series of labor actions and strikes went on for over nine years (1912-1921). The Mine Wars culminated with the Battle of Blair Mountain. Approximately 10,000 armed miners battled 3000 law officers and hired stike breakers. The battle went on sporadically for a week until United States Army forces arrived and put an end to the conflict.

Almost 1000 miners were tried for murder, conspiracy to commit murder, accessory to commit murder and treason. The Battle of Blair Mountain broke the back of the United Mine Workers for years to come. Union membership declined by 80% and did not recover until the 1930s.

Final Thoughts

We are glad that we took this tour through West Virginia’s southwestern coal fields. We really did not know what to expect but we felt we should see this part of America. Appalachia and coal mining are a major part of the history of our country.

This is not a place where you will find upscale eateries or four star hotels. The millionaires from Bramwell took their money and left when the coal industry began its long decline. The local folks got left behind with few options and a scarred and polluted landscape.

As we have gained perspective from our travels we have come to realize that if we only visit the beautiful and popular tourist destinations we will not have the opportunity to experience a significant part of America’s culture and history.

Be seeing you!


A Miner’s Religion

Mountain Speech

Welch, West Virginia

God and Coal

Harpers Ferry National Historic Park

Lower Town, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Most of us probably learned about John Brown’s raid on the United States Armory in a history class. After visiting Harpers Ferry we are confident that what we read in our history text books only scratched the surface in regard to John Brown’s personal history and also to the significance of the town itself.

Shenandoah Street
Confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers

Harpers Ferry was an important town long before John Brown’s raid. Robert Harper purchased the land from Lord Fairfax. He knew that the property would be valuable for transportation purposes because of the confluence of the two rivers and the natural passage that the Potomac cut through the Blue Ridge. Additionally, the two rivers would provide considerable hydropower for manufacturing.

CSX Freight Train

Today, almost 200 years after the first trains traveled through the “hole”, the CSX Railroad is operating the freight line with 40-50 trains per day carrying coal and other commodities from West Virginia to market. Additionally, Amtrak utilizes this line for the thrice weekly Cardinal train which makes a leisurely and scenic 28 hour journey from New York City to Chicago.

George Washington was familiar with the Harpers Ferry area and chose this location as the site for the United States Armory (circa 1799) which would later become the target of Brown’s raid. By the time of Brown’s raid in 1859, Harpers Ferry was a thriving industrial center utilizing the river’s power to manufacture rifles, muskets and pistols for the United States Army. Harpers Ferry was one of only two such facilities in the country – the other being located in Springfield, Massachusetts.

John Brown’s Fort

John Brown was born in Torrington, Connecticut in 1800. His family moved soon afterwards and he spent most of his childhood in Ohio where his father had established a tannery.

Brown’s father, Owen, was an extremely strict Calvinist and was very overt in his oppostion to slavery – slavery being a “sin against God”. Owen Brown provided a safe house for Underground Railroad fugitives at their home in Hudson, Ohio. Not surprisingly, Brown was imbued deeply with his father’s belief that slavery was a sin against God.

John Brown was married twice and fathered 21 children. Brown owned several different businesses including a tannery but the financial crisis of 1839 precipitated a string of unsuccessful efforts to get out of debt. As a result, he and his family moved frequently in pursuit of business opportunities – none of which were particularly successful.

While always vehemently opposed to slavery, the murder of Presbyterian minister E.P. Lovejoy by a pro-slavery mob became the catlyst that moved him from abolitionist to guerilla fighter.

Brown and five of his sons left their home and traveled to Kansas to join the fight against slavery. “Free Soilers” and “Slavers” were engaged in a violent conflict over whether Kansas would be admitted to the Union as a free or slave state. This “civil war “ raged on from 1854 to 1860 as was known as Bleeding Kansas.

Brown was a well-known and feared figure in this war after he and a group of abolitionists (including two of his sons) murdered five pro-slavery settlers by hacking them to death with swords. This event became known as the Pottawatomie Massacre.

By 1859, John Brown was convinced that the only way slavery would be abolished was through a large scale rebellion. Brown hoped the raid of the armoury at Harpers Ferry would convince escaped slaves to join his small force and that they would become the Army of Emancipation.

Unfortunately for Brown and his group it did not play out in that manner. Brown and his band of 21 men fought fiercely for nearly two days against the local militia until they were overpowered by Colonel Robert E. Lee and a force of Marines. About half of Brown’s men (including two of his sons) were killed. Brown was wounded.

Virginia moved quickly to to try Brown – he was convicted of murder, treason and inciting slave insurrection – and hanged immediately thereafter.

Today, Harpers Ferry is part town (Pop. 281) and part National Historic Park. We found the history of the town quite fascinating. In addition to John Brown’s raid, the town was a major chess piece for the Union and Cofederate forces during the ensuing Civil War. The town changed hands 14 times between 1861 and 1865.

Saint Peter’s Catholic Church

We definitely recommend Harpers Ferry for anyone interested in American history. Additionally, there are a significant number of hiking trails in and around Harpers Ferry which provide wonderful views of the town and the confluence of the rivers. Lastly, there are several cozy inns and restaurants in town.

Be seeing you!

P.S. Don’t forget you can travel to Harpers Ferry via the Amtrak Cardinal train.


John Brown: A Biography by W.E.B Du Bois

Harpers Ferry: Images of America, West Virginia, West Virginia by Dolly Nasby

Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horwitz

Street Art Tourist: Street Art from the Road: Richmond

Artist: ARYZ, Spain

We made two passes through Richmond as we criss-crossed Virginia. So while we were there just a couple of days, the sheer number of works clustered in various neighborhoods allowed us to take in an amazing sample of great murals (although we have hardly scratched the surface).

Artist: ARYZ, Spain

One of the driving forces behind all of the fantastic street art in town is the Richmond Mural Project. The RMP is an annual event which brings internationally recognized artists to Richmond with the goal of having 100 murals created over five years. Richmond is comprised of 11 primary neighborhoods and murals are planned for all of them.

Artist: Pixel Pancho, Italy

Additionally, the non-profit organization, RVA Street Art Festival, sponsored its fifth three day festival in 2020. The RVA focuses on painting in a different area of the city at each event. The festival provides opportunities for local artists and students to work together to create art and add color to the city. The Festival donates proceeds to local charities including the Richmond Public School system arts program.

Between these two organizations and a number of privately commissioned murals it seems as if around every corner in every neighborhood there is another terrific mural to behold.

Artist, Ed Trask, Virginia

Right: Artists: ASVP, New York City and Switzerland

Artist: Onur Dinc, Switzerland

Bottom Left: Artists: INKTEN + CLOGTWO, Singapore

Richmond also has a robust specialty coffee and tea culture, and we are confident that when pandemic conditions improve we will return to Richmond to explore many more of the neighborhoods in search of great street art and cafes.

Be seeing you!

Cape Hatteras National Seashore (CHNS)

After completing the Virginia Capital Bike Trail and with a week of excellent weather ahead we decided to head south to the Outer Banks of North Carolina to enjoy some time at the shore. CHNS has almost 70 miles of pristine beach open for many recreational opportunities. We were able to camp south of Nags Head at Oregon Inlet Campground which was just a five minute walk through the dunes to the beach.

One of the many fun things do to at CHNS is driving on the beach. You do, of course, need a 4WD vehicle and you must also purchase an Off Road Vehicle (ORV) Permit. Once you air down your tires you are good to go. At certain times of the year some portions of the beach may be closed to vehicles due to turtle and water fowl migration.

Driving the Beach at Oregon Inlet, Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Scallop Boat Ocean Pursuit, Came Aground March, 2020

In addition to driving on the beach we were able to bike on the beach when the tide was out far enough to ride on the wet packed sand. When the tide is out you can bike from Corolla all the way to the Virginia border! We did not have the tide timing in our favor but we were able to ride several miles before the beach became impassable on our bikes.

Biking on Wildhorse Beach, Corolla, North Carolina

Biking on Roanoke Island

We really enjoyed our four days at CHNS. In addition to the beautiful beach, starry night sky and recreational activities there is also a significant amount of early American history here to be explored if you are so inclined (Roanoke Island was the first English settlement in North America -1585).

From here we are heading to Virginia (again) to bicycle the Washington & Old Dominion Trail.

Be seeing you!

Rails to Trails: West Virginia

We spent several weeks in West Virginia hiking and biking as well as driving a number of backways. In this post we are primarily focusing on our Rails to Trails rides. In an upcoming post we will share our experience of spending several days deep in coal country – which is not the West Virginia that you see in the tourism marketing materials.

Also, just a clarification for the record – chronologically we visited West Virginia before Virginia so the trail rides we are highlighting in this post occured prior to the Virginia rides.

Mon river trail

The Mon (Monongahela River) River Trail was our first Rails to Trails ride of this journey. As you may recall from an earlier post OTR 5.2 got off to an inauspicious start ultimately requiring a 1200 mile round trip detour to Indiana for repairs to the Beast.

As a result our first round of planned rides in Pennsylvania and Maryland were postponed. If the weather co-operates we may have an opportunity to ride some of the trails as we return to Connecticut.

The Mon River trail is a 48 mile trail that sits on the right of way of the former Fairmont, Morgantown and Pittsburgh Railway. This railway began operations in 1886 and was a bulk carrier of coal, limestone, coke and sand which were and still are major sources of trade in West Virginia. The rail line was abandoned by CSX in the 1990s after a rock slide caused significant damage and CSX opted to shift coal traffic to a different route.

The trail provides a beautiful setting for biking and walking. The trail hugs the river for its full length providing great views and vistas as you follow the many curves of this meandering river.

The Mon River runs 130 miles northeasterly towards Pittsburgh where it meets the Allegheny River. The entire length of the Mon River is navigable due to a series of nine locks and dams. This engineering feat has made the river commercially viable for transporting coal by barge.

While riding we saw many coal barges being pushed up and down the river and being loaded and unloaded. The coal fired electric plant pictured above is the Fort Martin Station which is located on the west side of the river north of Morgantown. This power plant burns 2.8 million tons per year – hence the steady traffic of coal barges.

Interestingly, this plant is not a major source of air or water pollution. The scrubber systems at this plant remove over 98% of the sulpher-dioxide emissions. The river itself is very polluted – the culprits being steel and iron mills located in Pennsylvania

We stayed in Morgantown while riding the trail. Morgantown is home to West Virginia University with the campus being just up the hill from the downtown area. While the students were back on campus we did not see many college age folks in town which was surprising (perhaps Covid-19 related).

So, while Morgantown was not very lively, the trail itself warrants a couple of days in the area. Also, absent Covid-19 restrictions, WVU provides a number of attractions including a recognized art museum and a first rate arboretum.

The Beautiful, Loyal and Fierce Cardinal, West Virginia’s State Bird

North Bend trail

Tunnel #2, Brandy Gap Tunnel

After completing the Mon Trail we traveled south to Clarksburg to ride the North Bend Trail. The trail is a 72 miler running west from Clarksburg to the Ohio River at Parkersburg. This trail is one of the segments of the American Discovery Trail. The ADT runs from Delaware to California creating a 6000 mile non-motorized trail.

We began our ride at the eastern trail head in Clarksburg to bike west to Parkersburg. What we did not know at the time was that the eastern end of the trail has not been completed (not mentioned in any of the literature). In fact it took us a while to realize we were at the trail head because there was just a sign and a grass path. Nonetheless, we pushed off to the west assuming the trail would become a more developed trail as we went along. We were wrong!

As we realized the eastern portion of the trail was still a work in progress we made a decision to ride to Tunnel #2 at Brandy Gap. This tunnel is 1086 feet long! The tunnel is dark, wet and cold. At a certain point in the tunnel you can’t actually see light at the other end which was disorienting.

Having said all that – riding through the tunnel was a hoot! So we went through the tunnel pedaled on for a while (until we had another crash) and then turned around and rode back through the tunnel for a second time.

At some point we will return to this trail and having learned our lesson will start at the west end. The full trail ride takes you over 36 trestles and 10 tunnels including a tunnel twice the length of Tunnel #2.

While we have been heavily focused on bicycling the Rails to Trails bike paths we have been making sure to take some days off from cycling – and hiking instead. The views above are from Raven Rock in the Coopers Rock State Forest looking to the northwest at the Cheat River Canyon.

Greenbrier river Trail (GRT)

Greenbrier River

The Greenbrier River Trail was our final rail trail ride in West Virginia. This trail runs 77 miles along the 173 mile long river. The GRT is the longest trail in West Virginia and is one of fifty Millennium Legacy Trails ( ) in the United States. The Greenbrier River Valley is a beautiful valley tucked in the shadow of the western approaches to the Allegheny Mountains. The river is the longest untamed river (no dams or locks) in the eastern United States and is only utilized for recreational purposes (fishing, boating, rafting).

The trail was originally a freight and passenger branch line of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad. The primary freight hauled in this part of West Virginia was timber. This line was abandoned during the Great Depression and never used as a railway again. The trail is currently operated and maintained by the state as a linear state park.

We started our ride at the southern trail head in Lewisburg. Lewisburg is a great town to utilize as a base for riding this trail. It is a picturesque, small town with a number of fine dining restaurants as well as art and historic homes.

We had a great day riding north under the colorful autumnal canopy before retracing our ride back to Lewisburg. This trail also provides many opportunities to camp along the trail in the adjacent Jefferson and Washington National Forest as well as several state forests.

We would be remiss if we did not mention our three favorite coffee cafes in West Virginia: Mea Cuppa Coffee Lounge in Charleston, Range Finder Coffee in Fayetteville and Koin Coffee in Bridgeport.

Next stop: Virginia as we cross over the Allegheny Mountains and the Blue Ridge Trail to begin our next set of adventures.

Be seeing you!

New River Gorge National River (NRGNR)

New River Gorge Bridge photographed from Long Point Trail
New River Gorge Bridge photographed from Fayetteville Station Road
New River Gorge Bridge photographed from Fayetteville Station Bridge

The New River Bridge is quite a sight to see and truely an engineering marvel. It is the fourth longest single arch bridge in the United States and sits at a jaw dropping 876 feet above the floor of the gorge.

But for our money, the real attractions of the NRGNR are the history and artifacts of a way of life that existed down in the gorge for more than eighty years. The gorge was scarcely inhabited until surveyors discovered coal, and not just any coal. The coal in the gorge was high quality “smoke less” coal – highly prized for its high carbon content with minimal waste.

Within the gorge the remains of the Nuttallburg Mine provide insight into the workings of a coal mine and the life of the miners and their families. It is considered one of the best preserved mining complexes in West Virginia.

Visiting the site is a commitment in and of itself. The mining complex sits deep in the gorge at river level and requires driving down a windy, narrow and sometimes steep one lane road.

Keeney’s Creek Road (CR 85/2)
Drive to Nuttallburg Mine Site

The Nuttallburg Mine began operations in 1873 after the completion of the Chesapeake & Ohio railine through the gorge was completed. The rail line enabled the shipping of large quantities of coal as the river was not navigable and getting coal up out of the gorge by road was not feasible.

Because mining in the early days was very labor intensive and the local population was small, the mine operators needed to import workers. Workers came from all over Europe and Canada to work at the mine in a variety of capacities. As a result, the mining workforce and their families were a very diverse population.

The mine also employed African American workers who worked side by side with the other employees. However, outside of work the black employees and their families lived in a segregated town on the opposite end of the mining complex with their own church and school.

The mining town here appears to be typical of mining towns in this era as it was self-contained with its own schools, doctors, blacksmiths, social clubs, athletic teams and company store.

Coal Conveyor, Nuttallburg Mine, NRGNR

The coal conveyor pictured above is 1385 feet in length and brought coal down from the mine 600 feet above the gorge floor. This conveyor was built in 1926 and could move 125 tons of coal per hour.

Coal Tipple, Nuttallburg Mine, NRGNR

The company store was a necessity because the employees had no means to travel from the mine complex. Therefore, the company paid the employees in a company issued scrip and most likely significantly overcharged their employees.

Henry Ford leased this mine and others during the early 1920s in order to control the coal supply that Ford needed for automobile production in the Dearborn, Michigan plant. Ford made substantial investments in the mine including the state of the art coal conveyor.

Ford ultimately sold his lease back to the Nuttall family when he found that he could not control the the railroad companies and often could not get his coal to Michigan when he needed it.

The mine continued operations under three different owners until the mid 1950s when it became abundantly clear that the mine was “played out”.

Today the National Park Service manages the mine complex and is doing a good job protecting the area and providing research and education relating to the history of the mine and the town of Nuttallburg.

Thurmond, West Virginia

After our exploration of the remains at the Nuttallburg Mine site we ventured south and then east along the Dunloup Creek on County Road 25 to the town of Thurmond. The only way to get to Thurmond was by rail until 1921 when CR 25 was built. Crossing the New River today to Thurmond entails driving across a single lane bridge shared with the railroad.

Car and Train Bridge, Thurmond Road, Thurmond, West Virginia

At one time Thurmond was a rail center where short coal trains were assembled into longer trains that hauled coal out of the gorge. It was also the only place in the gorge where steam engines could load coal and water.

While the town “thrived” (population 462 in 1930) during the early portion of the 20th century the advent of the diesel locomotive rapidly diminished the need for the fueling and servicing of steam powered locomotives. From 1930 on the population diminished steadily although passenger trains continued to bring visitors who stayed at the two hotels that had been built during the prosperous days. Unfortunately, both of the hotels burned to the ground and those events put the finishing touches on the demise of the town.

While the town essentially vanished by the 1950s, the rail lines continue to be operated by the CSX Railway- still hauling coal out of the gorge from the many active mines that remain operational today (more on that topic in a future post about coal country).

Today the population of Thurmond is four and most of the property in the town is owned and managed by the National Park Service. The former depot pictured below is now a visitor center during the summer months.

Thurmond, West Virginia,

Additionally, the Amtrak Cardinal train which runs three times a week from New York City to Chicago still stops at the Thurmond Depot. Not surprisingly, there is only one other stop in Amtrak’s entire system where fewer passengers board the train.

Main Street, Thurmond, West Virginia

An interesting feature of the town is that it never had a main street. All of the commercial buildings in town sat directly along the railroad tracks because there was no room for a street in addition to the rail line in the narrow river gorge.

The Coaling Station pictured below was built in 1922 and could hold more than 500 tons of coal for re-fueling steam locomotives.

Coaling Station, Thurmond, West Virginia
Thurmond Depot, Thurmond, West Virginia

We enjoyed exploring the New River Gorge National River and highly recommend this area for its beauty and history.

We will spend the next several days touring “coal country” in the southern part of the state before turning east and heading for Lewisburg, West Virginia for several days of bicycling the Greenbrier River Rail Trail.

Be seeing you!

Rails to Trails Adventures:Virginia

We have been keenly interested in cycling the significant network of Rails to Trails in Virginia and West Virginia for sometime. For a variety of reasons our previous plans to do so did not come to fruition.

Happily, we found while riding the trails in West Virginia and Virginia our expectations have been exceeded. The trails are well maintained and surrounded with breathtaking scenery and rich history.

In this post we are providing a brief overview of each of the trails we have completed in Virginia. We hope you enjoy it!

High bridge trail (HBT)

After riding the Greenbrier Trail in West Virginia, we journeyed east over the Allegheny Mountains and through the picturesque and pastoral Virginia Highlands to ride the High Bridge Trail.

The HBT is operated by the state of Virginia as a linear park. The trail itself is 32 miles long. The right of way that is now the bicycle trail dates back to 1838 when a nine mile section of track was completed and the City Point Railroad began operations. As with all of these abandoned lines, the original railroad was acquired by a number of successor companies finally coming under the ownership of the Norfolk & Southern. The Norfolk & Southern ceased operations on this line in 2005 and transferred the right of way to the state of Virginina.

Appomattox River

The high point of this trail is figuratively and literally the High Bridge Trestle. The trestle is almost a half mile in length and sits 125 feet above the Appomattox River, making it an exhilarating span to cycle.

The High Bridge is an historically significant bridge – beyond the engineering feat – as it was the site of two Civil War battles. During the first battle the Union Army attempted to destroy the bridge in order to stop Confederate troops from fleeing over the Appomattox River, however the Confederate troops repelled the Union Soldiers and were able to retreat across the bridge.

The very next day, 7 April, 1865 the Confederate troops attempted to burn the bridge in order to stop the Union troops from using the bridge to pursue the Southern troops. The High Bridge was rendered unusable but unfortunately for the Confederates the Union troops were able cross downstream on a wagon bridge and caught up with them just three miles north of the Appomattox River.

The High Bridge was repaired and put back into service by the Union Army to transport supplies and troops until the end of the war soon after these two battles.


Crossing Meherrin River

The THT runs from La Crosse to Lawrenceville in Southside Virginia. This area is in the heart of what was once the “Old Belt” of Virginia tobacco country. This trail was built on the former Atlantic and Danville Railway – which was formed to haul agrarian products including tobacco to market. LaCrosse, which is the current eastern trail head for this bicycle trail, was the site of the People’s Warehouse Company which stored and sold the tobacco grown in this area. Today, LaCrosse is a tiny town with a population of 575.

Tobacco in Virginia was cultivated during the early 1600s by British settlers. Prior to the British arriving the Native Americans were already growing and utilizing tobacco.

The British tobacco growers initially utilized indentured servants from Scotland and other European countries, but by the early 1700’s the growers could not import enough laborers from Europe so they turned to Africa and began importing slaves.

Tobacco is still very much part of the economy of Virginia today. The state is the third largest tobacco grower in the United States. Most of the “Virginia Gold” is used in cigarette manufacturing, although most cigarette manufacturing plants are located outside of the United States.

The five counties that the THT runs through are part of what has been called the Southern Black Belt. The Black Belt was originally areas in the deep south where cotton was grown and in North Carolina and Virgina where tobacco was grown. These areas had large populations of blacks because of the slave labor used to support the plantation economy. Today, many of these these counties still have majority black populations and the term Black Belt is used as a political construct as blacks are seen as voting largely as a block by political analysts.

Remnants of the Community of Charlie’s Hope, Virginia

The THT is a 22 mile trail and the plan is to double it in length as more funding is available to complete work on the abandoned right of way in additional towns.

It is an enjoyable ride through forest and field but lacks the dramatic aspects of the trestles, tunnels, waterfalls, river, mountain and valley views afforded by many of the other trails. THT is a trail that is less traveled than others we have ridden on this trip and we had the trail to ourselves.

Virginia Creeper trail (VCT)

The VIrginia Creeper Trail is a 33 mile bicycle trail running from Abingdon at the western terminus to Whitetop at the eastern terminus. The trail had its origins as a Native American footpath and was later used by early Euro-American settlers including Daniel Boone.

During the early 1900s a railroad was constructed between Abingdon and Damascus and operated as the Virginia-Carolina Railroad. The railroad hauled timber, iron ore and passengers. The line was taken over by the Norfolk and Western Railroad which continued operations as a branch line until 1977. It is surprising that the line was operated through 1977 as it was never financially profitable. The Virginia Creeper moniker was the nickname of the line because the original steam locomotives had to “creep” up the steep and winding grades.

Taylors Valley
Trestle #7, Watauga Valley

The former Virginia-Carolina has 50 trestles and bridges even though it was just a 33 mile branch line. From a bicycling perspective, the variety and number of high and curved trestles across hollows, valleys and rivers really adds to the excitement and enjoyment of this ride.

Trestle #12, South Holston

As you can see from the photographs we had beautiful weather during our two days of riding this trail and lots of solitude. The VCT is one of the best trails we have ever ridden.

New River Trail State Park (NRT)

New River

The New River Trail is a 58 mile trail which follows the rail bed of the former Norfolk & Western Railway. The rail line was established primarily to haul iron ore to the railway’s main line in Pulaski. This line was in service from 1882 until 1982 when the successor company, Norfolk Southern, abandoned the line and donated the right of way to the state.

New River from the Ivanhoe Trestle

The NRT follows the the New River closely for most of the route and crosses the river several times as you travel from the terminus in Galax to the terminus in Pulaski. The trail provides wonderful views of the river and the surrounding rolling hills dotted with grazing cows.

Between our time at New River Gorge and our three days cycling the NRT we have spent a fair amount of time with the river as a travel companion. The New River runs through three states and affords breathtaking scenery as it carves its way through the Appalachian Mountains.

Interestingly, the New River is claimed to be the second oldest river on the planet although there is some disagreement by the National Park Service. It is not disputed that it is among the top five oldest rivers while the Appalachian Mountains are considered by many geoligists to be the oldest mountains on earth.

Hiwassee Trestle, Hiwassee, Virginia

Alisonia, one of the tiny towns that was a stop on the former Northern & Western Railway line. The town still exists today, with a current population of 114.

In a future post we will share the highlights of our Rails to Trails cycling adventures in West Virginia.

Be seeing you!

Street Art Tourist: Street Art from the Road: Columbus

Artist Unknown, Discovery District

After departing Fort Wayne we decided to make a couple day stop in Columbus, Ohio. Columbus has three of the things we look for in a city: excellent third wave coffee cafes, a vibrant street art scene and distinctive neighborhoods.

While our stay was brief, we did quite a bit of walking through the various neighborhoods searching for murals. Of course, we fueled up at the coffee cafes that are conviently located in the various villages or districts.

Columbus has taken full advantage of the river waterfront (Scioto River) by creating many public greenspaces providing access to the riverfront for recreation and entertainment.

We will definitely weave Columbus into a future journey to get deeper into the museum and restaurant options (post pandemic) in addition to the coffee, street art and neighborhood history.

We hope you enjoy the selection of street art we have included in this post.

Onward to West Virginia…be seeing you.

Artist Unknown, Columbus – Discovery District
Untitled by Gabriela Torres @ms.torressss, Franklinton Arts District
Teenuh Stays The Same by Bill Miller, Short North District
Eternal by Natalia Sanchez @nauti.luz, Franklinton Arts District
Deeper Connection by Edmund Boateng, Short North District
Artist Unknown, Short North District
KNOW JUSTICE, KNOW PEACE Artist(s) Unknown, Franklinton Arts District
Panel from Mural of Hope by Maureen E. Clark @maureeneclark, Franklinton Arts District
Stolen Joy, Franklinton Arts District
Arist Unknown, Franklinton Arts District
Listen to the Hummingbird, Artist Unknown, Short North District
Here We Are by Alejandra Zanetta, Short North District

Street Art Tourist: Street Art from the Road: Fort Wayne

Our current trip got off to a rough start when we found ourselves in southern Pennsylvania with multiple issues with the Beast. The first issue required us to backtrack north to Wilkes-Barre to have repairs performed on the diesel exhaust fluid sensors. We were fortunate that the dealer was able to accomodate us quickly and resolved the issue.

The second issue involved our penthouse roof which malfunctioned leaving the pop top partially and unevenly deployed. Unfortunately this particular issue required us to head approximately 600 miles west to Huntington, Indiana for repairs (Sportsmobile).

The good news, besides having the Beast back in full working order, was that we found ourselves with the opportunity to spend some time in Fort Wayne as we started our journey back towards our original first stop in West Virginia.

Fort Wayne is making a major investment in beautifying the city with street murals by both local and international artists.

While you are in downtown taking in the art scene, please visit the excellent @Fortezzacoffee.

Fortezza Coffee

We hope you find these murals as interesting and beautiful as we do:

Untitled by Jaliyah Rice @artby_jaliyah
Where am EYE? by @sarah_e_costumes
NYANE by @jeffpilkinton
Untitled by 1010@1010ZZZ
Woven by Lyndy Bazile @afroplump
Through a Child’s Eyes by Jeff Pilkinton @jeffpilkinton
People Walking by Theoplis Smith, Terry Ratliff, and Alexandra Hall
Bison by Tim Parsely

Next stop Columbus. Be seeing you!

Maine: Ever So Briefly: OTR 5.1

We departed Gorham, New Hampshire driving due east on Route 2 to Bethel, Maine. In Bethel we took a break at DiCocoa’s Bakery & Cafe for coffee, tea and delicious baked goods. We highly recommend stopping here when you are in town.

From Bethel we traveled north on Route 5 where we stopped in Andover for provisions. Andover is a small town in western Maine that dates back to 1788 and its roots as a lumber town go back to those early days. Ethan Allen Furniture operated a sawmill there until 2009.

This region of Maine has seen almost no Covid-19 cases and we did not see a single local resident wearing a face mask. When we entered the local grocery we were advised that “we don’t wear masks here, when it is your time it is your time”. Good luck………

Because of it’s geographic location Andover was chosen as the site of the Andover Earth Station, one of the first satellite earth stations. This antenna installation was utilized to communicate with the Telstar 1 satellite which provided the earliest satellite television and telephone service between Europe and North America. The original antenna was dismantled in the early 1960s. Currently the site is operated by Verizon in support of their satellite communication network. Today, Andover is primarily a destination for hunters and fishing enthusiasts.

After provisioning in Andover we traveled north through South Arm and into the backcountry of the Richardson Public Reserved Land Trust. There are 37 land trust areas in Maine. The land trust areas provide dispersed camping opportunities in addition to a multitude of outdoor recreation activities.

Part of our reason for heading to the Richardson Lakes area was the opportunity to put the Beast into 4wd mode on the many forest and logging roads and trails that run through the reserve. We spent a fun afternoon circling around the perimeter of the 22,000 acre preserve before heading to Worthley Lake to camp.

Lover’s Lane, Richardson Lakes, MPRL
Richardson Lakes, MPRL
Worthley Pond, Peru, Maine

After our night at Worthley Pond we made the short trip to Hallowell to spend the day poking around in this historic town situated on the Kennebec River. The town was first settled in 1762.

The town has a prosperous history which was driven by the logging, shipbuilding, granite and ice industries that benefited from access to the Atlantic Ocean via the Kennebec River. Ice from Hallowell was taken by sailing ships to Cuba and various Caribbean Islands.

Today the town is a tourist draw with its many restaurants, pubs, shops and art galleries.

As many of you know, we are coffee and tea fans and were very pleased that Hallowell is home to Traverse Coffee Co located right in the heart of town on Water Street. Highly recommended.

Water Street, Hallowell, Maine, Pop. 2381

From Hallowell we made our way to the coast and the lovely town of Boothbay Harbor. The town sits on a peninsula which extends into the Bay of Maine and as such is a popular summer vacation destination and yachting center.

Our friends Dianna and Scott were vacationing in Boothbay Harbor while we were in town and they graciously allowed us to bivouac on their property during our stay.

Our Hosts: Scott, Dianna, Joanne, Penelope Rose, Phoebe Jane
Bivouac, Boothbay Harbor, Maine

While in Boothbay Harbor we visited the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. This botanical garden is an absolute gem located on apx. 300 acres. The gardens are thoughtfully designed for touring and there are walking trails that provide access to the Back River which abuts the property.

The gallery below consists of photographs taken by the talented photographer Phoebe and feature her sister Penelope.

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

In addition to the botanical gardens we spent an afternoon in town at the harbor. Again we were blessed with an excellent coffee cafe in the heart of the shopping and restaurant district along the harbor. Highly recommended.

Portland was our destination after departing Boothbay Harbor. We had not visited Portland since 2011 so we were excited to get back to the city and see if the food, coffee and art scene is as vibrant as we remembered.

We spent our first afternoon walking around the city mural hunting and quickly found a plethora of fine works both authorized and unauthorized. We have included several works here but would refer you to our earlier post: Street Art From The Road:OTR 5.1 which includes a selection of murals from around Portland.

Portland, Maine – East Bayside

The third wave coffee scene in Portland has grown since our last visit but we continue to place Tandem Coffee at the top of our list. In addition to the great coffee the Congress Street cafe has an excellent bakery.

We made our first visit to Speckled Ax Coffee. This roaster and cafe operator opened in 2012. The coffee is excellent. Speckled Ax is unique in that they wood roast their coffee – not a common or easy way to roast coffee – but they have certainly mastered the technique.

Casco Bay, Portland, Maine

After taking in a nice sample of the street art and coffee scene we took advantage of the wonderful weather to ride the Casco Bay Ferry across the bay to Peaks Island. The island is about three miles off shore from the Portland waterfront and the ferry ride is just 20 minutes.

Peaks Island is part of the city of Portland but does have its own police station, post office and elementary school. Post elementary students ride the ferry to and from the mainland to attend school.

The full time residents of the island have a long history of trying to secede from the city – most recently in 2011 when the city reevaluated properties on the island and property taxes increased by over 200%. As with previous attempts to secede the Portland City Council Council voted no.

Ah well, a beautiful spot to visit even if you cannot afford to own a house. We took in the island scenery on a rented golf cart and dined on fresh sea food before returning to Portland

Portland happily is as handsome and interesting as we remembered. From Portland we meandered along the coastline and stopped for a hike as we made our way to Portsmouth for our final overnight before returning to Connecticut.

Susan Bartlett Rice, Biddeford, Maine

Our final day on the road required a short detour to Dover to check out locally renowned Flight Coffee and fuel up for the final leg to The Fort. A nice cafe for planning your next adventure!

We thoroughly enjoyed our brief swing through Maine as the final segment of our brief return to the road. While all aspects of travel are not back to pre-pandemic conditions we think the country has opened up enough to allow life on the road to be enjoyable and safe. To that end we plan on departing The Fort in October for a fall tour of West Virginia and Virginia.

The Grid, Worcester, Massachusetts

We could not actually make it back to Connecticut without more coffee and tea so we ventured into The Grid district of Worcester for fika and found several fantastic murals to boot. Life is good.

Be seeing you!