It was raining when we woke in the morning. We put our watches forward another hour yesterday but Pip’s body clock was still on the previous time zone. This meant that we didn’t get away until 10.00am - our latest start yet. Not that it really mattered because it was overcast and raining quite heavily. In fact, this was the first time we drove in rain on the Interstate and it was quite daunting. Huge trucks passed us at 70 mph, throwing up spray, which made it almost impossible to see ahead as we drove along in the right hand lane at our sedate 60 mph.
At Roanoke we turned off and headed onto the Blue Ridge Parkway again. Dick particularly wanted to follow this route because when he flew his helicopter around the world in 1982, he experienced very bad weather at Roanoke. When he was at Glasgow he could see a railway line going through the Appalachian Mountains so he followed it through to Lynchburg where he found a railway bridge and called up the Air Traffic Control Tower at Lynchburg to ask if the railway line would head to Washington. The controller came back and said “no” but if Dick flew to the north-east he would come across a highway that would lead to Washington. This is what Dick did. Another aircraft piped up and said “is that guy in a plane or in a car?”
We drove back on to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Unfortunately it was very bad weather so we couldn’t see anything other than the trees beside the road but no views. The Parkway was similar to driving through a very wet botanical gardens. We were now at 1,200 ft altitude. We knew our altitude from the information in the GPS.
We passed the 104 mile post on the Parkway but the weather had become so foggy and dangerous that we decided to turn off the Parkway at Buchanan and drop back down into the valley and onto Interstate 81.
We later turned off the highway at Natural Bridge. The people at Natural Bridge really build up their area. There were signs everywhere saying that Natural Bridge is “Higher than Niagara - old as the dawn”. It reminded us a bit of Jenolan Caves except the bridge’s natural arch is higher and wider.
The actual highway that we came in on, which is Route 11, came over the actual Natural Bridge itself. We only realised this after we bought our tickets and walked down the track descending 215 ft into the gorge. It was limestone country and the arch had been carved out of the limestone in a very similar way to the grand arch at Jenolan.
We paid $11 each for the entrance fee and walked along the Cedar Creek Trail in light rain wearing our parkas. About two thirds of the way along there was a re-created Monocan Indian village which was very well done. The highlight was two descendants of the Monocans - older people, probably in their 70s, explaining the daily tasks of basket making, harvesting , building shelters, preparing meals, tool making, and more. The elder man told us that in the Monocan society it was basically women in charge of decision making and the men went out and fought the battles - as long as this had been previously approved of by the women. After explanations by the elders, we moved further up the Trail to the beautiful Lace Veil Falls. We were delighted to see tiny squirrels but we noticed that most Americans hardly looked at them, obviously they see them all the time.
It’s interesting that this beautiful natural area has, at the entrance, a huge hotel called “The Natural Bridge Inn and Conference Centre”. It also has a wax museum and a toy museum. There weren’t many people visiting when we were there but it looks as if, in the peak season, it’s absolutely packed. It seems such a pity that such a beautiful, natural environment has to have extraordinary extras such as toy and wax museums to operate.
We then headed towards Glasgow on Highway 130. There were beautiful, neat houses that reminded us of Scotland. We tracked down beside the railway line through the gap made by the river in the mountains following the exact route that Dick flew at about 300ft in his Jetranger. It was quite incredible, just as we came across the gap, Dick said that the weather was almost identical to what it was 24 years ago.
We were driving beside the James River and we then turned off the road and made our own way using the GPS and dead reckoning and found the railway bridge that Dick had circled. We stopped waiting for a train - we could hear one in the distance - but we then saw it tracking up the James River rather than coming across the bridge. Dick just couldn’t believe that we were at the same location in similar weather to where he was temporarily misplaced so many years before.
We then drove north on Highway 29 attempting to find the location of a photo that Dick had taken in the bad weather on his world flight. Marilyn had emailed us a colour scan of the photo so we looked for the direction the highway turned and the various buildings but unfortunately we couldn’t find the location. The highway seemed to have changed greatly as far as Dick was concerned - then again, why wouldn’t it in 24 years?
At Charlottesville we skirted around the town and then followed some minor roads towards Fredericksburg. We drove on highway 64 for a short distance and then towards Keswick on Highway 22. We then got onto Highway 231 to Gordonsville. This was a very wealthy area - it looked like hobby farms but everything was immaculate with beautifully painted white picket fences.
We headed through Orange where the wealth of the residents had dropped a bit. Then through Wilderness where we noticed there were a number of Civil War Battlefields in the area.
At 7.00 pm, still in light rain, we reached the outskirts of Fredericksburg. We used the trusty GPS to find the nearest Wal-Mart and parked in their parking area. Pip bought some groceries and cooked a meal in the Earthroamer. It’s fascinating - once you close the shutters you could be anywhere. You have no idea what’s going on outside, and the people outside who are happily shopping at Wal-Mart, have no idea of our presence inside. We spent the evening watching the satellite TV.
447kms Today 11962kms Total