Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Hungry Mother Spring Break 2017

April 2 - April 6, 2017
For spring break this year we went to a really great part of the Commonwealth - the very western part where the ridge and valley soon give way to the Appalachian plateau. It's where Tennessee is to the south and Kentucky is to the north and West Virginia is to the northeast! We were far from our coastal Virginia habitat.

With all of the places in the world and in our nation that we have yet to visit, it's amazing to think that we still haven't seen all that Virginia has to offer! We drove up I-64, to I-81 and zoomed down to little Marion Virginia, the town just outside of Hungry Mother State Park.

We reserved a lovely cabin in the park which was our base of operations for this adventure. Many of the Virginia State parks have cabins that are fully furnished with linens and a kitchen with all of the gear needed to cook your own meals, including the towels and dish soap. All you have to bring is your food, clothes, and any toys but that's about it. The 2 bedroom cabin had plenty of room for our little family of 3. The master room had a queen-sized bed and the other room had 2 bunk beds.

Sunday, April 2
Our primary activity while on this trip was hiking. There was some pretty good hiking right in the park. Since check-in time was 3pm and we arrived at 11, we hiked the 6 mile loop that goes around the reservoir on the park property. It's an easy up and down trail that would have also been nice if we had our bicycles. But, we left those at home since we had our dog, Hampton, who needs the exercise as badly as we need it!

Monday, April 3
On the second day of our trip we hiked to the top of Molly's Knob. Molly is the hungry mother from which the legend came and you can read the summary of the story here.  It's a pretty vigorous walk straight up and you can see Mt. Rogers from the top. It was overcast but we enjoyed the walk and the views nonetheless.

This tough boy scout hiked up Molly's knob with all of the materials to build several benches for hikers to rest on. That had to be one heck of a job! If done correctly, he actually would have delegated most of it in a display of service leadership of his peers. In any event, it gives me some perspective as an assistant scoutmaster as to what a good eagle project should entail. This one was impressive.

After our walk up Molly's knob in the morning it rained monsoon style all afternoon. For that we took a drive on the back of the dragon which is an exciting drive on state route 16 over three mountains for 33 miles from Hungry Mother to Tazewell, VA. If you can take this ride and not get carsick, then you can't get carsick! It's a crazy, constant serpentine little two lane highway with few guardrails and breathtaking views. We even saw a pair of wild turkeys. From what I hear this route is a favorite of motorcyclists, however, we didn't see one due to the rain.

Tuesday, April 4
The third day of our adventure was my favorite. For that we went to Grayson Highlands State Park. From Hungry Mother we had to take route 16 in the opposite direction of the dragon, south for 37 miles. When we got into the park we went to Massey Gap where we parked our car. The wind was howling and the air was brisk. The park was open to visitors but all of the visitor centers, stores, campsites and ammeneties of any type were closed. The only thing open were some open pit latrines.

Along with the cold wind it all seemed a bit foreboding, but, we pressed on.

From Massey Gap we began our hike up the Rhododendron Trail. This trail went through a large open area that was fenced off but there were herds of wild ponies. I was a little unsure how this would go since we have a large goofy dog. There were signs that said something like, "these ponies are wild. They kick and they bite."

Okay, cool, so the next thing I know, several ponies came right up to my goofy dog. He was loosing it. I seriously feared that he would break his collar as hard as he pulled and jerked. I'm not sure what would have happened under that scenario. My guess is we'd be minus one golden retriever. I finally got him to sit and he got some French kisses from the ponies. Meanwhile they even let us pet them. they didn't seem that wild to me. Some of the other folks that we passed said that they will definitely steal your lunch, given the chance. We ate our lunch later in the day when we were out of range of ponies!

 After we passed through the land of the ponies we transferred from the Rhododendron Trail to the Appalachian Trail on our way to Mt. Rogers, the highest point above sea-level in Virginia. It's literally alpine and it truly has the feel of being out west (Rockies style). There are awesome views along this trail all the way until you reach the spur trail that goes to the peak of Mt. Rogers. The funny thing about that spur trail is that once you're there, there's no vista, no overlook. It's never been logged. It's covered trees and it's wet. One person described it as being like a rain forest, and I agree. It reminded me of the Oregon coast forest but with smaller trees.

 We made it. Despite the lack of a view at the top, it was totally worth the walk!

Finally, after 30 miles of hiking, on our last day, we decided to take a load off and so we headed to Damascus. We checked into Sun Dog bicycle rentals and for $26 each we rented a bicycle and then our guide, James, loaded them onto a trailer pulled behind a 12 passenger van. He took us up the road to a place called White Top. From there back to Damascus is a 17 and 1/2 mile bike ride - all down hill! It's part of the rails to trails program, where old railroads are converted to trails. This one is called the Virginia Creeper Trail. It's a very nice ride down. You basically have to apply the break every now and then but there's not much peddling. James said that sometimes he has a van load of very senior citizens, sometimes in their 90s, and they all loved it, according to James.

Well, we enjoyed it too! Over the course of the trip we crossed at least 20 trestles, some of them quite high. There were springs of water coming out of the rocks, and the whole thing followed the Holston River. Apparently, this particular railroad was used to move the logs out of the area. Originally they used the river itself but I imagine the railroad would be a bit easier.

After this, the next day, we hightailed it back to the coastal plain. All tolled, we walked over 30 miles and I drove almost exactly 1000! I would do it again. We enjoyed the relative solitude of the cold water season. Hungry Mother park has a very nice beach that seems like it gets very popular in the summertime.

This post hits on some of the highlights of our trip. I didn't go into the time we spent in Marion where we ate a nice meal and drank some fine brews at a neat little restaurant called 27 Lions. We enjoyed that town, Damascus, and the whole area in general.

Oh, and here's my obligatory picture of what a flat-lands golden retriever looks like in a state park cabin after a 10 mile walk in the mountains. Ciao!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

My Great Uncle's Chesapeake Bay Model Boats

UPDATE 2: March 27, 2017, Dr. Richard Rodgers (veterinarian) on the museum's board picked up my uncle's boats today. I look forward to visiting the museum and the town of Deltaville, VA this summer. I'll post on it when it happens.

UPDATE: As of March 22, 2017, the Deltaville Maritime Museum has enthusiastically agreed to accept Mr. Massenburg's collection of indigenous Chesapeake Bay work boats! This is to be celebrated. I am certain that Unk would be thrilled.
I didn't mention this in the original post, but Unk actually had the goal to build each one in a evolutionary progression, from the log canoe up to the deadrise. I should have arranged the pictures in order...alas, that's why I'm donating them to a responsible museum!

As part of our project to downsize, I need to part ways with my treasured collection of model workboats that I inherited from my great uncle, George R. Massenburg Jr. (Unk).  This blog post is a brief summary of how Unk cultivated a passion for the Chesapeake Bay and boat building, and how I inherited his boats. It is my sincerest hope that I can find a safe home for these treasures of the Chesapeake region.

Unk, who was born in the 1920s, lived in Hampton, Virginia almost his entire life.  As a child he spent most of his days on the waters of the Hampton Roads and the Chesapeake Bay where he crabbed, fished, and raced log canoes.  Unk was a true waterman from a very young age.

Once he graduated from Newport News High School, he attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VA Tech), after which Unk came home to attend the Newport News Shipyard Apprentice School where he was trained as a hull draftsman.  Unk worked at the shipyard until he joined my grandfather, John L. Richardson to open Dy-Dee-Service Inc. in the 1950s.  Unk retired from Dy-Dee-Service in the 1980s.  

During his retirement, Unk spent much time building balsa wood model workboats of the Chesapeake Bay.  He built a few from kits but most he built from pictures.  I always admired the patient detailed work that he invested and we would often discuss the real versions of his models and what their jobs were on the Chesapeake. I will always treasure the memories of these times and our conversations about these fascinating boats

After Unk passed away in 2010, he left the boats to me.  They have had a rough time in our home with dogs, kids and too much traffic.  It is my sincerest hope that I can find a museum willing to accept Unk’s boats and a picture or two of him.  I also hope, that in the process of going through things, that I eventually will find his shipyard apprentice school completion certificate.  I can also refine and expand upon this story for a prospective exhibit.

The boats will need a few repairs from bumps and moves, but I personally feel that it would be a worthy investment for these treasured works of art. Thank you for your consideration.

Unk and me in the spring of 2003. He lived almost his entire life in Wythe of Hampton, Virginia.

This is the Chesapeake Bugeye, which was a predecessor to the Skipjack. It was bigger than the skipjack and was used to harvest oysters before oyster numbers dropped.

This is the Pungy Schooner thought to be named for the Pongoteague region of Accomack County, Virginia. It was developed after the pilot shooner, was capable to go on the ocean and its principle use was to move freight.

The Chesapeake Bay Buy Boat is the boat that would purchase the seafood from the other fishermen's boats.

The Chesapeake Bay log canoe was originally a fishing boat but was phased out by the skipjack and the bugeye.  Mostly it was known for being a racing boat.  Unk raced log canoes as a boy.

This is an actual shot of Unk racing in his log canoe! This goes with all of the boats in the donation.


 Little sailboat.

 Crabbing skiff.

The skipjack needs help.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Less is More - The Adventures of Purging our Possessions

Purging is Peaceful

When pondering retirement, we have come to realize that it’s a good thing that we like our jobs! Given our current budget, the idea of retirement is laughable.  Our jobs are fulfilling but raises are rare, so to avoid selling our souls, we have decided to cut spending.  This requires many lifestyle changes, including; not eating out, mapping out our drives to save gas and adhering to a strict budget.  But one of the more interesting and satisfying ways to cut spending has been the purging of our material items that we don't need. We are only in the beginning of the process, but the preliminary results, so far, are liberating. The ultimate goal is to downsize our house, but for now we are downsizing our stuff.

My wife, Adrienne, is an amazing teacher. She loves what she does and she works hard to give her students the best learning experience possible.  I am a marine ecologist.  My job is awesome, but I make about as much as Adrienne.  So we are fortunate to be solidly in the middle class. We have a house and two old, but paid for, cars.  We have a dog and a kid in middle school.  By all accounts, we are living the dream.  We might save a little at the end of the month but not nearly enough to comfortably retire until we’re in our 90s.   

I have discovered an interesting blog on the topic, called Mr. Money Mustache.  MMM had a good job, lived a frugal life, and then retired at the age of 31, about the time that he and his wife started having children.  Now he has a very popular blog, with an almost cult following where he chronicles his frugal-life adventure. I think we drank the kool-aid.

MMM developed an algorithm that found that if you save 64% of your income then you can retire in 10 years.  I’m not sure if we can achieve that level of savings, considering our occupations, but we’re taking steps in that direction.

The other catalyst motivating us was a movie that we saw the other night on Netflix called The Minimalists.  It’s about these two guys, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus who traveled the nation helping folks learn to lead meaningful lives with less.  They assert that materialism is okay as long as the material items “bring joy”.  We have commenced our quest to dump everything that doesn’t bring us joy. I am now a regular at several thrift store donation centers. Our home is becoming more open and it already feels like a weight has been lifted off.  Another effect is that while clearing out, we regularly come across items that do bring joy, Things that we long ago lost track of, like a journal that Adrienne kept when Caleb was a baby.

Also, the stuff that we have donated to thrift stores can now bring someone else joy.  Additionally, the sale of these items can benefit battered women, the children's hospital, and the Goodwill charity. Finally, we can write these donations off on our taxes.  

So far the purged items have been mostly clothes, numerous nicknacks, and other chock a block chotchkies from so many Christmases past.   We have also donated 25 hats that I never wore and more than 50 books (many cookbooks) that we no longer read. We’ve bid farewell to  X-Box games, Leggos and toys, including an antique kalidascope.  My apologies to my family for the gifts that we let go, but now that they’re in the thrift stores the might become gifts again.  The quest continues.  

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Dog Walking Adventures in York County, Virginia

Most weekends, when we are in town, we take the dog on long walks. It’s the best he gets all week! There are nice parks in the region but they require longish drives on bad roads, the burning of more gas and longer times staring at the windshield.  So, we sought out a walk closer to home.  One park that I knew of is behind the York County sports complex and is called Harwood Mills.  It’s a little park, near the reservoir, the power lines and some tree farms.  Then, Adrienne mentioned a green space with power lines behind Grafton High School.  There’s also woods near a main road called Denbigh Blvd. with several access pull offs.  It’s kind of an extended part of the road, where the cars drive fast.

We went to Harwood Mills and walked those paths several times. They wind through the woods and my understanding is that they were cut by the local mountain biking association.  The woods are fine and the paths are too, although they’re very convoluted for walking.     

Then one day, we went behind Grafton H.S. and walked the powerlines. I mentioned to Adrienne that I was pretty sure that those powerlines could take us to Harwood Mills.  We walked in that direction and sure enough, we made it to the park.  Trouble was, we walked the causeway over the reservoir and were thus on the other side of the reservoir.  We walked along the water on the other side, but the water never went away, even when my gps said that it should be gone. Instead there were wetlands and a braided stream in the woods.  It was a beautiful, warm February day, the setting was lovely, and we even saw a water snake!  Ultimately, to get back to the power lines, we had to go all the way to Denbigh Blvd to get over the water.  That ended up being a 5.1 mile walk in the woods and we were pretty thirsty by the end.

So the last two times we went to the pull-offs on Denbeigh and walked through the tree farm and back over to Harwood Mills.  That walk, at times took us close to the PHF airport depending on how we went.  There are also ways, we’re pretty sure, to connect with the National Park, and I’m pretty sure we’ve already touched on Newport News park.  We’ve definitely been to those two parks on other days entering from those areas.

Anyhow, the point is, there is a lot of really great walking and bike riding areas right here in lower York County.  My one word of caution, though, is this.  When we walked through the tree farm we did notice some smelly piles of what I thought at first, was horse dung.  It was pretty funny looking though and later, when I told my friend, Wes Hudson, who did his PhD work in local tree farms, he let me in on a little nugget of wisdom.  He said the interesting thing about that particular tree farm is that it is the place where the county sprays it’s biosolids, also known as the stuff that is at the end of the sewage treatment process.  It’s supposedly a very nutritious fertilizer, but farmers generally don’t want it.  Certainly it’s not full of pharmaceuticals or anything nasty like that, is it??  Anyhow, I guess the take home lesson is that when walking through the tree farm, keep the dog on the leash!

My only other concern is the close proximity of the biosolids tree farm to the drinking water reservoir.  I guess they’ve implemented the proper BMPs.  Who knows, maybe there's an interesting project for someone to study!

 This is actually a lie because this pic was taken at Queens Creek.  We were, however, walking the dog and it was a Saturday.

This is the first big walk (red line) where we had to go to Denbigh (top of the pic) to get around the water. Denbigh also borders the tree farm.

This is one of our other walks where we began at Denbigh and walked south towards the airport.

This is a zoom out showing a good chunk of the Peninsula and our walk in red for reference.

Ahh, the lovely tree farm...

I think this is a biosolids storage structure.

Oh yeah, and this is the dog, after a walk, of course. His name is Hampton. We call him "Ham".

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Learning to Fly!

We have been involved with the Boy Scouts of America for 6 years, ever since our son was a Cub Scout in the 1st grade.  He’s had so many cool adventures, and as an assistant scoutmaster, so have I!  Now as a First Class Scout, he is learning leadership skills, making connections and gaining amazing opportunities, one of which occurred in early February.  

One of our former scoutmasters, Mr. Joe Harvey is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and accomplished pilot.  The other day he let Caleb fly his Cessna 172, Skyhawk II.  We departed from Newport News Williamsburg International Airport (PHF) and headed north to Mathews County, specifically the New Point Lighthouse.  During the flight Mr. Harvey and Caleb performed an “engine failure” drill and a “controlled stall” at altitude.  The engine failure drill included a spiral pattern over the New Point Lighthouse.  Turns were up to 60o, which was pretty fun!

When we returned to PHF, they did two touch and go “options” before the third landing for a full stop. Mr. Harvey let Caleb set up the approach, adjust the flaps and bring the plane almost to the ground where, Just before touchdown, Mr. Harvey resumed control, touched down, and then powered back up.  By the final landing it was nighttime.

It was an amazing experience for the whole family but the best part were the views!  It could have been much more exciting but we declined. Mr. Harvey said that our flight was considered a “level 1” out of a 5 point scale.  He said that a “level 5” includes flips!  I think I need to work up to that.

Time to earn the Aviation Merit Badge!

This is the view across Newport News, VA towards the James River.

Our lives in the boys hands!

Gloucester Point, Virginia.

Mobjack Bay in the foreground, the York after that and the James way off in the distance during an epic sunset!

Another view of the sunset.

I'd guess about a 40o turn...

New Point Comfort Lighthouse in Mathews County on the Mobjack Bay.

The Coleman Bridge, Gloucester Point, and the sunset!

The first touch-and-go..

The final Landing of the evening.