Cuyahoga Valley National Park
The reason for our last loop north was mostly this National Park (and of course adding the state of Ohio to our state map), which is based in a beautiful valley south of the city of Cleveland. Its infrastructure has some of the best biking we have seen in a National Park, which means we pull off our bikes and hit the trails. First stop is of course the visitor center, for some tips and tricks (as always a bit hesitant about our plans, as we plan to bike more than 10 miles) and then off we go. The valley is stretched from north to south, and in it lies the Ohio River and Ohio & Erie canal. Right across the river we have our first break with a scavenger hunt in a small old town, the prize being a stamp to put in the boys’ JR booklets.
Then on we go up the hill through a steep climb, to the ‘Hike & Bike path’ that actually follows the ridge of the valley high up and is thus a beautiful and flowy ride along a dedicated paved path. After only a mile or so we take the second detour on the mountain bike loop trail that is attached to the path, a great way to get some adrenaline pumping! Next are the Brandywine Falls, where we park our bikes and hike the loop trail down and up the falls with another scavenger hunt to go with it. Hungry from all the biking and hiking we settle into the picnic table at the falls for our packed lunch.
The Hike and Bike path continues on for miles and miles, but we roll off it into the woods again at Bedford for another mountain bike loop through the woods. With all the leaves falling it is sometimes a bit difficult to follow the trail, but the upside is that there is a softer bed on the trail that takes out some of the hardships of roots and rocks. All in all we are very entertained but the muscles start to burn so it is time to roll down the steep hill down to the canal and river to follow the flat tow path back to the RV. End game was approximately 26 mile of biking for which the boys got applauded at the Visitor Center (and rewarded some ice cream by dad), a fantastic day with lots of different activities at this beautiful NP.
First Ladies NHS
A short hop from our overnight spot, we drive into Scanton, Ohio. Here is the house of former president McKinley – well actually it was owned by his wife’s family – and because of her prominent role in his life the house is combined with a National Historic Site about the First Ladies of the US. A movie is shown about 3 of them, with a focus on first ladies that became first lady by surprise (as the previous president was either assassinated or pushed out), and how that has affected their way of being the first lady; Roosevelt, Johnson and Ford. It is a nice exhibit that sheds light on the development of the role, and of course the big question; when will there be a first ‘sir’?
After this stop we are driving south, with a slight detour west through Amish country. Absolutely fascinating to take over the horse drawn buggies, and to see how progress HAS introduced the electric bicycle to this very hilly region! A visit to Lehman’s is an absolute must, a store once started as a supplier of goods to ensure the ‘olden times’-way of doing things, now it is a massive commercial operation with bits and pieces from everything; toys, kitchenware, food, garden supplies, cleaning and personal care, etc, etc. We cave for the home made fudge and order 6 different pieces of it before driving out of the area and on to West Virginia. The long drive is wrapped up at the Walmart of Fayetteville, for a night on the parking lot.
New River Gorge National Park & Preserve
We drive to the visitor center for breakfast in their parking lot, as we have another river gorge on the plans for today, this time the New River Gorge. Combined with the Gauley River and the Bluestone River, they are 3 parks connected and filled with action. We decide it is a bit too cold already for action on the water, although we do see a group of people on sups, but opt for the mountain bike trails instead. First we drive the old Fayette station road, the zig zag down the gorge from the time before in 1977 the enormous bridge closed the gap and connected the two sides of it. From 45 minutes to 45 seconds crossing! The drive is guided by an audio tour on the NPS app that tells the story of the area and its development from coal mining to recreation.
The Arrowhead mountain bike trails in the park are actually a few loop trails that come back to the same parking lot again. This makes for some really easy trip planning as we only carry water and circle back to the RV for lunch later in the day. We first take the Adena Loop trail together, getting the hang of the trail and enjoying the beautiful autumn scenery. Then after lunch Luc and Sven take the more challenging and longer Dalton trail while Kim and Bo circle the shorter Clovis trail 4 times, alternating the direction every time we go. Even as it is a Sunday, the trails are pretty much empty, so we enjoy it to the fullest!
Fully satisfied with the exercise we have had we treat ourselves to a piece of Amish-fudge before rolling down the gorge towards on of the few free campsites of the park. As of 2023 these will be paid sites, but for now we find ourselves on the bank of the river in the woods in a lush secluded spot… except for a blaring train every two hours :-). The boys occupy themselves with making a campfire, and building a fort out of piles of leaves, and Bo gets a much needed haircut. Of course the day is wrapped up over Smores, the perfect ending to a great day outdoors.
On to North Carolina & HALLOWEEN!
As we roll out of the mountains of the river gorges, we make our way through Virginia and on to a next state: North Carolina. We have a few things to tick off, one being picking up an order, and the other being getting a booster vaccine for Covid-19, which after a long drive is always a fun way to end the afternoon. The main reason we end up in Greensboro NC today though is an evening of Trick or Treating! Jeanine and her family are kind enough to host us for the evening and find us a great neighborhood to do this.
Halloween is not that established in the Netherlands, so we enjoy the different approach here, where some people really go all out, while others just leave the plate of candy for the taking. Biggest difference really though is the sheer amount and/or size of the candy that is being handed out! Between Bo and Luc the bag of candy they gather in a span of less than an hour is really incredible, we will have enough to last us throughout the rest of our trip! After this we go back to Jeanine’s place for some good conversation before calling it a night, WHAT A GREAT EXPERIENCE!
Guilford Courthouse NBP & Cape Lookout NS
After a quiet night at the Walmart, we go around the corner for the Guilford Courthouse battlefield, another place where the American revolution was fought. The Visitor Center is closed, but the park is open, and with the audio tour on the app we drive around and learn about the battle and how it affected the rest of the war. It is a nice way to close off our time in Greensboro and head out towards the coast through the flat countryside of North Carolina.
After a long drive we get to the lovely town of Beaufort, the jumping off point to explore the Cape Lookout National Seashore. Mostly known for the place where the infamous pirate Blackbeard was caught and murdered, we learn about his story in the local maritime museum. We also tackle the JR work for the seashore on this side of the North Carolina barrier islands. The weather is so good we pull out the shorts again, and enjoy the late afternoon at the waterfront where we find a nice parking lot to sleep.
Hatteras National Seashore
We wake to a beautiful morning, and after an hours drive through the coastal region, we get to the ferry we have reserved to Ocracoke Island. It is actually a very affordable ferry, compared to other ferries we have taken, and gives us the opportunity to do a one-way loop over the barrier islands in front of the North Carolina coast. The ferry is very easy, we stay in the RV and entertain ourselves playing games, listening to music and having lunch as we see the waters roll by and the pelicans fish. Arriving at Ocracoke it turns out the visitor center is closed, so we do a short loop through town by the lighthouse before heading out to the beach.
The afternoon is spent in the sun on the beach, the boys digging away and creating dams and waterways. Sven takes some time to do a bike practice on the nice long straight stretch of road, while mom takes a moment to back plan the upcoming 2 months. The weather is so nice and the water surprisingly also, that the boys even strip down to their underwear and play in the ocean! At the end of that however they are of course very cold, so cold that the cold shower feels okay, and they warm up against the outside wall that has baked in the sun 😊. To wrap up the day we drive to the end of the island for another ferry towards Hatteras island, even better value as it is free! On Hatteras we find a spot for the night right by the sea, where we hear the wind blow and the rain rolling in…
The next morning the rain continues to fall, so we take our time exploring the lighthouse and museum of the sea, telling us more about this coastline and the cool exhibit about the move of the entire lighthouse! As barrier islands are continuously on the move, the ocean was getting a bit too close to the lighthouse hence they moved it a few hundred meters land inward. With the rain not seizing yet we decide to drive on to Fort Raleigh, the location of what should have been one of the first colonies in the US, but where the population in the end vanished never to be heard of again.
The location was also a place for the slave population to take refuge when escaping the south, for which there is another interesting exhibition. While we visit the site – and run into a nice big black snake while we are at it – the sun comes back in full force, which means we can go back to the beach and enjoy the sand for the rest of the afternoon! How lucky, the boys get to play again, while we relax and spend our time outdoors. For the evening we find a local park where we land, which gives us a really nice and quiet night with the waves crashing in the distance…
Next week: From East to West