Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Jeopardy question: What is 11.9?

Answer: The average distance in miles between Dollar General stores located on Highway 65 between Conway, AR and Harrison, AR.  I’m sure we can all rest easier now, knowing that on this particular stretch of highway, given an average driving speed of 55 miles per hour, one is never more than (an average of) 12.6 minutes away from a Dollar General store.

Walking cross-country

Katie and I are doing a virtual “Walk Across (the Eastern Half of) America.” We both walk nearly every day, and we’re both quite fond of planning, organizing, and details, so together we created a nifty online spreadsheet to keep up with our mileage and keep us motivated. She’s walking west from her workplace at Monticello, and I’m walking east from our home in Walnut Shade, and we’ll see where we meet. I’m figuring it’ll be well east of the halfway point because my walk’s basically flat, which she has to cross the Appalachians.  = )

As of today, I’m 45.73 miles east of Strafford, I’ve covered 8.11 % of the total distance between our starting points, and I’m exactly 911.4 miles away from Katie.

I’m going to keep walking!

We are in an elite group

Every time Katie and I get together, we always have an adventure. My trip to visit her this weekend and witness her graduation from the College of William and Mary with a Master’s Degree in History was no exception.

For one thing I got to see my sister-in-law, fondly referred to by Katie, who shares her aunt’s initials, as A.K. It’s been two years since we were in the same place at the same time, and Kristy is just one very remarkable woman, whom I greatly respect. She’s now eating a “whole foods, plant-based diet,” which was interesting to learn about, and the fact that she drove about five hours to spend several days with Katie makes her extra-special.

But I digress. After exploring James City County’s Freedom Park near Centerville, Virginia, where we greatly enjoyed both the botanical garden and a refreshing walk on a subset of the miles and miles and miles of lovely wooded (massively huge tulip trees!) hiking and mountain biking trails, we decided to go exploring. Katie and I – and for that matter, Jessica, too – really like to explore back roads, and we went first along Highway 5 in search of Charles City, which is the county seat of Charles City County. And by the way, only in Tidewater Virginia do they give counties superfluous names like “Charles City County” and “James City County,” of which Williamsburg is the county seat. I collect county seats, or more specifically, town squares, so any time our family happens upon a town square, we rejoice greatly and drive – or sometimes walk – around it.

Charles City, being an unincorporated area with a population of 133, sadly has no town square. In fact, there is nothing at Charles City except the courthouse, which is, depending on the source, either the second, third, or fourth oldest courthouse in the United States. A new courthouse has been built beside it, and that facility seems also to house the police station, post office, and public library. We explored all there was to see of Charles City, but the main event turned out to be what we had passed on the way there and again on the way home.

The Virginia state highway map indicated that we were in the area of “James River Plantations.” I didn’t know what that meant, but it turns out that as we tooled along Highway 5, there were signs for numerous plantations. One was called Sherwood Forest Plantation, and it turns out that this parcel of some 1600 acres was the home of our tenth president, John Tyler. So, as we left Charles City, we decided to stop and check it out.

We pulled into the dirt parking lot, in the midst of which stood a single very unique tree. It was definitely a curiosity, what with twisty trunk, its large smooth heart-shaped leaves, and its clusters of popped-open “nut” shells. My research consultant and I are still trying to figure out what it was. Nearby was a pay box stating that for $10 per person one could use one of the provided brochures and take a walking tour around the grounds. How fun! We were definitely game, but alas, all we had with us was plastic, so, although initially discouraged, we made plans to come back the following morning on our way to the airport and bring cash.

Which we did, and not only that; we did it in steady rain! I daresay there are only a handful of folks who can say that about their hike around Sherwood Forest Plantation.

Yes, it was a steady rain which grew heavier as we walked, but Katie had a small umbrella, and we had stopped at the Rite-Aid pharmacy in Williamsburg and purchased a $1.99 “Emergency Poncho” for me. Much could be said about my emergency poncho. In fact, let me check my camera. Katie may have taken a shot of me by that tree in the parking lot. . . Ah, yes.  Here it is.

Emergency poncho

As you can see, this fashion statement is about the consistency of Saran Wrap, but to its credit, the emergency poncho did keep me dry from shoulders to knees in a fairly steady rain for about an hour. Not too shabby! It came in a zip-loc pouch the size of a cell phone, but I explained to Katie before even removing it that I was NOT planning to fold it up and try to get it back into that bag. In fact, I peeled it off, dripping, inside out, and threw it away.

But back to Sherwood Forest, and specifically, what is creatively named “The Big House.” This house was built in stages, well before John Tyler bought the place, and he also made significant additions to it. Under the umbrella, Katie read me the blurb as we stopped at each of the nearly twenty marked locations, and we learned a lot. This house is the largest frame house in the United States! And to think that we would never have even known about it had we not taken a drive to Charles City. I tried to get a picture of The Big House, but that’s just not possible. Here’s its center portion with a Southern belle on the porch, but this is only about the middle third of the house.

Sherwood Forest with Katie 05-17-16

We traipsed all over the grounds and had a grand time looking, analyzing, and commentating. About halfway around the house, and having hiked through some relatively tall grass, I began to sense that my socks were possibly getting damp. Tennis shoes are only partially waterproof in pouring rain. I looked down and saw that my jeans were soaked – as in I could have wrung them out – from the knees down. Katie’s weren’t so wet, but my emergency poncho just didn’t provide as wide a range of coverage as her umbrella did. But not to worry; by the time I got to Chicago, they were dry.  = )

We have now toured together portions of three presidents’ homes in Virginia: Mount Vernon, Monticello, and Sherwood Forest. Like all explorations with Katie, this one was totally fun.



“I saw three ships coming sailing in. . .”

Well, that’s not really true. We didn’t actually see them come sailing in, but we did see them in all their glory.  Jamestown Settlement has a re-created version of the three ships in which a total of 104 passengers arrived there from England in 1607.  Katie and I found our exploration of the largest ship, the Susan Constant, to be fascinating.  I was too busy being amazed and learning all kinds of interesting knowledge to take very many pictures of my own, but here’s a picture of the trio, lifted from the Jamestown Settlement website.


The ship we examined exhaustively (the Susan Constant, in the foreground above) looks pretty big there, but she was VERY small, only 82 feet long by 24 feet wide.  Everything was meticulously arranged, from the captain’s cabin on the main deck, the pegboard system for determining speed and direction (this was long before Harrison’s marine chronometer!), and the sleeping berths below decks, to the system for raising and lowering sails, the armament, the rudder control, and the bilge pump.

We had a dandy time thoroughly investigating the Susan Constant; which time was greatly enhanced by the detailed explanations offered by her excellent, extremely intelligent, and politely flirtatious “costumed historical interpreter,” pictured here.


This charming fellow knew the answers to every question I could think to ask (and I do ask a LOT of questions, being intensely curious and loving to learn), and he explained each piece of information in a delightful British accent and with a level of grace, etiquette, and think-on-your-feet quick wit that is rarely seen in folks today.  In fact, as I was thanking him for making our time on board so interesting, I thought to myself that he is one of the few people I’ve ever met whose acting and comedy skills put him in the same league with Terry the Tour Guide.  = )

I only took a few pictures of the ship(s), but those vessels were definitely a high point of our time together.  Here’s the Susan Constant,


a shot of her crow’s nest,


and Katie manning the tiller on the Godspeed.


Yes, she’s standing in the middle of (the width of) the ship, so you can see how tiny it is, and 52 men lived on it for 144 days!  In fact, considering all that those intrepid adventurers faced during their trans-Atlantic passage and then upon arrival in the New World, “Godspeed” was probably a vital key to their survival!

And with that, I officially wrap up my documentation of our four days of discovery together in the Tidewater region of Virginia.

Specially collected

Over the weekend, while we watched the Cardinals lose twice, Katie was working on a proposal for her research project that had to be submitted by midnight Sunday.  (I think that was the deadline. . . )  This was a tough assignment, mainly because when she had met with her professor about the project, he had changed the focus of her research.  The new direction seemed (to me) more obscure and difficult to research – even for a bona fide Research Consultant – and it was a topic about which she was somewhat less passionate.  In any case, she busted it till the wee hours to re-write her first draft and get it done on time.  She did tell me a few days later that it was received favorably (Whew!), and I can vouch for the fact that her bookshelves contain DOZENS of weighty tomes about the Battle of St. Louis and the culture and thoughts of those involved in and impacted by it.

Our first order of business on Monday was to head back to the college library, not to pick up more books, but to very gently pick up and leaf through one specific book.

Back in the day, when she was maybe sixteen or so (?), Katie wrote an an as-yet-unpublished biography of Elijah P. Lovejoy, a minister, newspaper editor, and staunch abolitionist who was murdered in 1837 by a pro-slavery mob in Alton, Illinois, just across the river from St. Louis.  His printing press in the slave state of Missouri having been destroyed three times, Lovejoy had recently re-located to the free state of Illinois, where he resumed printing his abolitionist newspaper.  The locals didn’t care for what he had to say, and while they managed to permanently silence him personally, his message would not be stopped.

Katie’s been a big Lovejoy fan for many years, and she had done quite a bit of research for that book, but the Earl Gregg Swem Library at the College of William and Mary just happened to be in possession of a copy of one highly desirable primary source she’d never seen “up close and personal:”  Memoir of the Rev. Elijah P. Lovejoy; who was murdered in defence of the liberty of the press, at Alton, Illinois, Nov. 7, 1837

As mentioned in a previous post, we’d been to the library on Saturday to pick up many pounds of research project books Katie had either put on hold or located in the online catalog.  for the latter, I had called out the numbers of the books she was looking for, while she scrunched herself between the stacks to find them.


This time was different.  Katie had contacted the library’s Special Collections section and requested permission for us to view the book.  This was some kind of a big deal.  As a student, Katie had privileges, but I had to create a special collections account, give all my personal information, show my driver’s license, sign a consent form agreeing to obey all rules, and have my photo taken.  I was allowed to carry my camera into the viewing room and use it (without flash), but no purses, bags or fanny packs were allowed.  We were not allowed to take in any writing materials, but once inside the glass-enclosed room, the library would provide pencils and note cards to write on.

We jumped through all the hoops while watching a lady inside place the coveted volume on a little padded stand.  Then we were allowed to enter, walk over to the book, and actually thumb through it.  To say we were both excited would be an understatement.


Elijah Lovejoy’s brother, Owen, published the book in 1838, only a year after Elijah Lovejoy’s murder.  John Quincy Adams wrote the introduction!


It’s a compilation of Lovejoy’s collected writings, including letters to his mom.  = )


We were honored and amazed to get to see and touch the real thing.

then, having been awed and inspired intellectually indoors, it was time for some outside educational activity.  We went back to Jamestown Settlement to get an understanding of what that community was all about and to SEE THOSE SHIPS!

As a local, Katie got in free, and I did not.  I didn’t even qualify for a senior discount, and that fact made me happy enough to overlook having to pay full price.  We watched an informative movie about the whole Jamestown deal, and then wandered the grounds on our own for a little while, but at one point, we overheard an interesting lady in period garb explaining some things to a family, and when she said she’d be leading a tour starting in a few minutes, we joined her.

She knew her stuff and was a fun guide, and we were heartened to learn that several of Katie’s hypotheses about what certain items and implements had been used for were correct(!!!), but when that great guide handed our group off to another guide who was an Absolute Jerk of the Highest Degree, we left the tour and headed on our own toward our long-anticipated goal:  THE SHIPS!

Bringing home the bacon

The thing about riding over and back on a ferry is that you can’t just stay on the boat.  You have to drive your car off, so we did, and while we tooled on up the road past the long line of cars parked in the other lane, waiting to board, we talked about what (if anything) we might like to do in Surry County before we turned ourselves around and joined that homebound line.

Of course, I’d never been to Surry County, Virginia in my life, but as the chief navigatrix and commentator navigator and commentator, I did feel an obligation to figure out if there was anything at least potentially interesting to see or do on the west side of the James.  And I suddenly recalled that I had a pertinent resource in my door pocket:  the Virginia highway map we had been handed by another passenger on the ferry.  Very interesting.

(Note:  I originally typed “navigatrix and commentator” because on road trips growing up, that’s how my dad, who did virtually all of the driving, referred to my mom in the front passenger seat.  I have actually used the “navigatrix and commentator” term for many years, assuming it was legit, and it wasn’t until I saw the red squiggly line under it in the above paragraph and looked it up that I realized that “navigatrix” is another one of my dad’s made-up terms that’s not really a word!  Amazing.  Amazing that he said it repeatedly, and amazing that I still say it all the time!  Truly, I have the deepest respect for that special man who has continued to creatively enhance my vocabulary for half a century.)

Unfolding, re-folding, and scanning quickly as we and the other 69 vehicles discharged from the Pocahontas meandered leisurely into Surry County, I tried to figure out exactly where we were (evidently in suburban Scotland, Virginia, population 203) and what item(s) of interest might be lurking nearby and waiting to be discovered.  Aha!  Lo, and behold, before my very eyes on our crisp new paper Virginia map, something quite close called “Bacon’s Castle.”  Really?!?  A real live castle?!?  Only ten miles away?!?  Well, we surely couldn’t pass that up!  It sounded as good as a lighthouse quest to both of us, and despite it being now 5:00 PM on a Sunday afternoon, we were on it like stink on a dog.

I did successfully navigate our pilot to the place where it was written, and off across the field we saw a large red brick building.  It didn’t look especially castle-ish, but sure enough, the sign said Bacon’s Castle, and we turned down the long gravel driveway.

IMG_0714Our first view of Bacon’s Castle

The place appeared to be closed and there was no one around, but we parked near a picnic table under some shade trees and got out to look around.  We were pleased to see signs saying that we were free to wander the grounds after hours, which we proceeded to do, and we were even more pleased to see this sign:

Bacon's Castle sign

True confession:  I did not take the above picture; I pulled it off the internet.  And since the print on it is really too small to read, I will tell you that it says, among other things, “Welcome to Bacon’s Castle.  We invite you to enjoy a complimentary [Katie and I liked that word] audio tour of the grounds, outbuildings, and garden. You may follow the tour in any order that you like, just look for [their editor evidently missed that comma splice, but oh, well] the numbered signs with the Guide By Cell logos around the property.”  That meant that if the castle was closed [and it was] and you therefore couldn’t pay the admission fee and experience the inside tour [and we couldn’t], then you could use your cell phone to do your own walk-around-the-outside tour [which we did], and really, now, how absolutely nifty is that?!?

So we wandered the grounds and took a few pictures and stopped at each little sign to enter a number into Katie’s phone and listen to some interesting blurb.


The reason Bacon’s Castle matters, or is maintained by Preservation Virginia, or has guided interior tours on the weekends, or has a complimentary exterior audio tour, or is even noted on the state highway map at all is that it is the oldest brick residence in the entire state of Virginia!!! It was built in  – are you ready? – 1665.  WOW!  And can you believe that we just happened upon it because we took a ferry and a lady handed us a map?!?  I’m telling you that these two history buffs were pretty darn excited at such a totally incredible find.

It’s a very big, very impressive, very old house with some incredibly interesting chimneys, of which I took several pictures as we strolled around.

IMG_0715These chimneys immediately caught my eye.  Not sure what’s being done with the scaffolding.

IMG_0716I liked the old bricks and the curves.

IMG_0720I’ve never seen chimneys like this!

IMG_0717Castle with large linden tree at left

You can read more about Bacon’s Castle here if you so desire.  We wandered all over the grounds and explored the garden plots and outbuildings (kind of like our own yard, but on a much larger scale!), staying nearly till dusk, when we headed back toward the ferry.  On our way there, we stopped for another photo op at the. . .

Bacon's Castle Baptist Church sign

which houses a congregation established in 1884.  Now, these folks have clearly gotten the church growth thing down pat.  It may not be obvious in these photos, but they have made at least FIVE visible additions to their church building!

IMG_0723Bacon’s Castle Baptist Church, front view

IMG_0726Bacon’s Castle Baptist Church, rear view

Very impressive.

We bought some junk food to tide us over and returned to the Scotland ferry dock, only to find that the boat we hoped to get on was just pulling away, and a significant line had already queued for the next run in 25 minutes.  However, as we looked across the water at the departing ferry, it appeared to be a lot smaller than we remembered.  And indeed, it was!  That boat was NOT the erstwhile Pocahontas, and it was NOT carrying the full complement of 70 cars.  Uh-oh.  What could this mean?  There were about 30 cars in our line.  Would we get on?

Mobile internet to the rescue.  Standing beside our car, we looked up the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry on a cell phone and learned that the fleet includes three more barges in addition to the Pocahontas.  One of those is semi-permanently docked, being 80 years old and carrying only 28 cars, but the other two – including the Surry, which was then leaving Scotland – each ferry 50 cars, so one way or the other, we’d be on the next boat.

Our reverse crossing – on the Pocahontas once again – was almost entirely in the dark.  This time, we figured out how to get onto the outside walkway of the upper deck, and although it was quite cool and windy up there, it was fun to be perched so high.

All told, two 15-minute ferry rides (one in daylight and one in darkness) with a 350 year-old castle sandwiched in between made for an unforgettably exciting evening!

Tarrying and ferrying

I have learned to appreciate those life situations in which I am forced to wait in a scenic and/or interesting setting with absolutely nothing else to do.  In that case, I find it much easier than usual to give myself permission to relax without feeling guilty.  Waiting for the Jamestown-Scotland ferry was one of those situations.  There’s just something tranquil about being in a long line of parked cars, turning your engine off, getting out, and walking around, knowing that you can’t lose your place in line and you’ll get there when you get there.

Katie and I had a wonderful time walking up and down the snaking line of vehicles, all neatly queued, and I enjoyed noting what other people do while waiting in a ferry line.  Some read books.  (For our younger readers unfamiliar with that term, a book is a sheaf of bound, text-covered papers, generally larger than a cell phone and smaller than a tablet.)  Some eat and/or drink.  Some talk with others inside their vehicle.  Some nap.  Some, who evidently lack understanding of social propriety, play their music very loudly and/or stand outside their cars and speak very loudly to each other.  Some smoke.  But the vast majority ferry line people pass their waiting time focused on. . .  their cell phones.  In their defense, it’s quite possible that they ride the ferry on a regular or even daily basis and so don’t view it with the same sense of grandeur and excitement that Katie and I do, but I was almost as giddy as a kid in a candy shop.

While awaiting our transport ship, a number of sea gulls flew screaming around the dock area while one proud fellow posed for portraits,

IMG_0693and several ducks gave us a fun diving show.  Katie pointed out Jamestown beach, and we looked longingly at the three not-so-very large ships we planned to tour at Jamestown Settlement on Monday.

Eventually, the ferry arrived from across the way.  It’s quite a long jaunt because it doesn’t go straight across.  It was coming toward the Jamestown dock from a spot in the road called Scotland on the other side, and its route is kind of an elongated sweeping S with much of the traveled distance parallel to (as opposed to perpendicular to) the current.  We figured it was taking about 15 minutes to make the crossing.

IMG_0690Driving onto the ferry was super exciting to me.  I remember Anderson Ferry in Cincinnati when I was a kid, and even after all those years, I still have a sense of awe when riding in a CAR being driven onto a BOAT!  We parked and immediately got out to investigate.

As we got underway – and the ride was so smooth that we didn’t even feel like we were moving – the first amazing thing was a big flock of screaming sea gulls following our wake.  IMG_0705It seems they have learned that people tend to stand at the back gate of the boat and toss bread, popcorn, and who knows what else out for them to eat.  There must’ve been 60 of them, and not only did they nearly attack each other to get the food that fell into the water, they often caught edibles on the fly as they were thrown to them!  Very impressive.

IMG_0698Then there was the gargantuan size of the Pocahontas.  It was MUCH bigger than any ferry boat (Anderson, Peel’s, or White’s) that I’ve ever been on.  We were carrying six lanes of cars, three on each side of the three-story central “tower.”  We found and followed some steep narrow steps up to the enclosed second floor area, which featured  bathrooms, ferry schedule brochures (it runs 24/7 every day of the year, with departures varying from every hour overnight to every 25 minutes during rush hours) and benches along the windows.  There was another floor above us, but it seemed to be off-limits to passengers.  I assumed that’s where the captain does his thing.

IMG_0696Back down on the main deck, a lady passenger talked with us a bit and offered us Virginia highway map (old-fashioned paper variety) which we took gladly.  And then, being two beavs in a pod, so to speak, we decided to figure out just how many cars ye olde Pocahontas could carry.  Walking up and down one row, extrapolating and multiplying, we came up with the almost unbelievable estimate of SEVENTY cars!!!


As we approached the Scotland dock in Surry County, we stood out by the front gate and watched the docking procedure, which was very precise, very smooth, and very interesting to me.

All in all, I think it’s fair to say that we maximized our enjoyment of the whole Jamestown-Scotland Ferry experience, and to double our free fun, we knew that once we got off the ferry and turned ourselves around somewhere on the mainland, we’d get to do it all over again to go back home!

Little did we know what awaited us in Surry County that fine Sunday afternoon.