I’ve been off the grid for the past few days. Literally.
Tuesday, after a trial in Circuit Court, I loaded the kids in the minivan, headed west out of Fairfax on I-66, and then south down I-81. Six hours later, we were pulling into Hungry Mother Park in Marion, Virginia.
We travel regularly to Hungry Mother, which is one of Virginia’s originial state parks dating back to 1935. Three days of swimming, hiking and fishing in the mountain air of Hungry Mother is a perfect re-introduction to the great outdoors. (It wasn’t all roughing it — we also headed into Marion to play mini-golf and see a drive-in movie).
Our cabin sat across the lake from Molly’s Knob, which stands over the Park and gives its name. I ran twice up Molly’s, which I can faithfully report is a hell of a workout.
On Friday, we continued down I-81 to Abingdon, where we spent the day at the Virginia Highlands Festival and saw a fantastic production (“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”) at the historic Barter Theater. Founded during the Great Depression, “the Barter” has always been the people’s theater. After the show, the actors mingled outside and took photos with the audience.
From Abingdon, we turned back east on Rte. 58 — “the Crooked Road” — which twists and turns over the highest points in Virginia, namely Mt. Rogers.
Along the way, we drove through Damascus, Virginia, the jumping-off point for the Virginia Creeper Trail. I counted five bike rental shops in Damascus, a funky oasis in the heart of the Blue Ridge. That’s definitely a future trip.
We took the Crooked Road through Independence, Galax and Hillsville, spending the night in rural Carroll County. The next morning it was up I-77 to visit the New River Trail State Park at Foster’s Falls.
The New River Trail is a 56-mile course through the heart of Soutwest Virginia. You can hike, bike or kayak along it — thanks to our state park system. The River itself starts in the mountains of North Carolina and flows north, all the way to the Ohio. Along the way is some of the best white-water rafting in America.
We’ve done the rafting several times, so this time we rented mountain bikes in Foster’s Falls and spent two hours biking the Trail through Wythe County. It was a cool overcast morning, and I had my baby daughter Ida in the seat behind me. Great memories.
Of course, the real purpose of our western jaunt was “The Old Fiddler’s Convention” which we attended Saturday night at Felts Park in Galax.
Our bus pulled into Felts Park around 6 pm. (Thank you Norfolk Southern!) The Park was already overflowing with RV’s and spectators in the field below.
The Twin Counties Chamber of Commerce (that’s Grayson and Carroll, of course) sponsored the “Poor Man’s Dinner” of barbecue and cole slaw for visiting legislators and local leaders. Shout out to some great friends of campaigns past: Tom Brewster of Tazewell, Jon McGrady of Carroll and Brandon Davis of Grayson.
In the spirit of Soutwestern hospitality, the visiting politicians (including me) were allowed to speak. Statewide candidates were everywhere. (Hey, that’s John Frey!) Tim Kaine was the only one to bring a harmonica.
From the Dinner, we walked down the hill into the Old Fiddler’s Convention. It’s not easy to describe; you have to be there. Imagine a Grateful Dead concert with fiddles and banjos. The tailgate scene is as much fun as the show.
During the show, we sat up on the hill at Felts Park and watched musical groups with colorful names such as “Seldom Sober” and “The Barnyard Pimps.” (ok, they’re not all that irreverent). Each group gets one song to perform. They wait in line behind the stage and then — show time!
I bought my wife Sharon a present: a hand-carved “Woodrow” which is a four-stringed instrument which resembles a balalaika and has a beautiful haunting sound. A momento from the Fiddlers.
Today we make the long drive back home. I say this every year but it’s worth repeating again — we have more to see (and more to do) in Virginia than you can imagine. Thanks to our state parks you can see the beauty of the Commonwealth, exercise your body and mind, and enjoy memorable times with children and grand-children.
We’ll see you next year.