Thursday, September 21, 2006

Watoga State Park, West Virginia

"Gearl" drives the tractor as his crew loads up the tobacco harvest. Gearl (pronounced Jer'-all) says they grow "Burley tobacco", which is air-cured. Down south, they grow "flue-cured" tobacco, dried using petroleum-fueled heating systems.

(First day of Autumn?)

Discovered too late that I camped in a handicapped spot.

Tara had suggested I check out "The Old Clark Inn" in Marlinton, West Virginia, just northwest of here, but when I stopped by, the proprietors were away, and a customer said he thought the room rates were $70-80 per night. Under normal circumstances, I'm sure it is worth it, but arriving at this late hour (about 7:00 p.m.), I felt I wouldn't be getting my money's worth. It’s a quaint bed and breakfast in a small, welcoming resort town which in winter caters to skiers.

I didn’t really want to come to this particular campground, but it looked like the nearest one. In the fading light, however, it turned into an aggravating 15-mile back-country ramble over roads strewn with gravel.

It's cold!


Back at Panther Creek State Park this morning:

This park featured a "soundscape" of planes, trains, automobiles, garbage trucks and even a nearby sheet metal manufacturing plant! Ah, the peace and solitude of nature.

Brewed a cup of coffee at my picnic table, then found myself collecting beer bottles that had been scattered in the woods surrounding the site.

Emerged from the campground to the "civilization" that is Morristown, Tennessee. This place really "rubbed me the wrong way". I tried to follow the signs to Interstate 81, which is 5 miles from town. As if a conspiracy, the signs led me 5 miles north, the entire stretch lined with fast-food, big-box and other chain stores, then to the right a few blocks, then 5 miles south again, where I finally was able to access I-81. Once on the interstate, I had to go 5 miles north to basically get back to where I had started.

In a two-mile stretch of U.S. 11E in Morristown, I didn’t count them, but there must have been 50 fast food restaurants. Obesity in America? Is it any wonder? This is corporate capitalist morality manifest. Which is to say there is none. "Sell them the rope to hang themselves." It’s a sale. That’s all that counts.

It’s the American nightmare. The dining experience has been reduced to a formula hatched in some boardroom by MBA marketeers. Dehumanized by business pros with their carefully engineered business models and formulated "products". It's little different than the Western Kansas feed lots. Fatten them up on this side of the system and pass them on through to the other side: managed health care, convalescence, and finally, the funeral goods and services industry.

Stopped at a Cracker Barrel near Kingsport, Tennessee. Christmas music playing in the gift shop, and holiday decorations already displayed for sale. The restaurant, with about 40 tables, was full. It's amazing how popular these restaurants are! I should invest. (After writing the previous paragraph, isn't this a bit hypocritical?)

Cold. Tomorrow I’ll need the electric vest, which is odd, since a few days ago I was "dying" from the heat.

Maybe it's obvious, but gas stations along interstates are often priced significantly higher than in nearby communities. Why? Are they merely taking advantage of motorists' laziness? Are costs to lease this land higher? Are there additional taxes they pay for this proximity?

Today, I've been following roads north, many of which Tara pointed out in my road atlas. (She had researched routes to and from Deal's Gap on In Bristol, a crazy town straddling the Tennessee-Virginia border, the highway is routed around downtown, wandering residential neighborhoods. Left town on U.S. 421, which leads into a few miles of nice twisty road over a mountain, then down into the beautiful Shady Valley to route 91. 91 carried me north, following a river through forested valleys and parklands.

Turned east on U.S. 58, the “Daniel Boone Heritage Trail” then, at Volney, north on route 16, connecting with the Mt. Rogers Scenic Byway (which passes the 5,729-foot peak.) A most convoluted path! And, it seems the day was spent constantly climbing up and over ridges, descending into valleys, then repeating. Along the winding mountain roads, there was frequently gravel scattered in the curves. I've begun to anticipate it in all right-hand curves. Add to this, some slippery hot patch and I remained alert as possible. And there were lots of nice, tight turns, making it anything but boring.

North of Volney, Virginia mountains are cleared for Christmas tree farms. Millions of these little trees are being grown on numerous farms in the area.

Lots of Christmas tree farms out here! Wandered some dirt roads, trying to get a better vantage point. North of Volney, at the intersection of state highway 16 and route 658, near the "Hoffman's Store", I saw tobacco being harvested. I drove back and forth on the highway several times before turning into the farm to have a closer look and take some pictures. Holding up my camera, I asked the tractor operator "is it okay to take some pictures?"

This is "Dave". He and Gearl (his brother, I think) farm parcels that they lease. They sell to Phillip Morris and R.J. Reynolds. Yes, the tobacco they farm is for "cancer sticks" he jokes and, without a hint of irony, says "it's a dying business". Prices are falling, and the government has eliminated controls on how much is planted.

"Is this used for cigarettes and cigars?”

“Cancer sticks” Dave laughed.

“This here’s a dying business,” he said. Prices are falling and the government has removed limits on growth. They rent properties to grow the tobacco and sell to Phillip Morris and R.J. Reynolds.

The harvesters are all from south of the border. As so many employers admit "they're good workers."

Surprisingly heavy truck traffic as I continued north on 16 until I once again intercepted Interstate 81. Continued north on the "two-lanes", making my way to Princeton, West Virginia. From there, I picked up state route 20 north, which soon paralleled the New River, then route 39 toward Marlinton. At Richwood, the "Highland Scenic Highway" begins. It's a 43-mile stretch of beautifully-maintained highway that cuts through the Monongahela National Forest, reaching about 4,500 feet in the Allegheny Highlands.

Usually I don't even remark about route numbers, but traveling in the East is such a different experience than what I'm accustomed to. There are just SO many towns here, and so many roads to connect them to one another. The density of cities, towns and villages here is much more reminiscent of Europe. I commented elsewhere that I suspect that towns in the east grew up at intervals that a person might have walked (or casually ridden on horseback or in a wagon) between meals: breakfast at one town, lunch at the next and dinner at the third.

Trailer homes are a very common sight in West Virginia, though they're often on beautiful acreage - not your imaginary picture of trailer park home.

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