Friday, May 5, 2017

Damascus VA to Roanoke VA

What a difference a day makes! We went to bed on a chilly rainy night and awoke to crystal clear skies and bright sun shining over the mountains creating a blinding glare off Laurel Creek behind our inn. Creeks seem to define Damascus, the heart of which is wrapped on three sides by two of them, Laurel and Beaverdam. Apparently the fishing is good in these creeks. We saw lots of people trying their luck and one guy hunting live bait with a cast net.

Friday morning, we had tentative plans to hike some of the AT and Virginia Creeper Trail before leaving Damascus and setting out in the direction of Roanoke, but I could tell that Ann's bum leg was really bothering her. Not to mention that she crashed at 8:30 the night before and was still asleep at 7:30. It seemed a no-brainer that we should take a zero today.

Because we weren't hiking, we could take our time; our only real commitment was a 7:30 dinner in Roanoke, so we set off on foot for breakfast, forgoing the complimentary breakfast at the inn, in favor of dining at trail favorite Mojo's Trailside Café. Damascus is tiny and easily walkable. We walked from the inn to and along the main drag, Laurel St, home to several outfitters and which also doubles as the AT, to Mojo's. It's kind of bizarre seeing AT blazes on the sidewalks and buildings. As you might imagine, just two weeks before Trail Days starts, thru hikers were pouring out of hostels and rooms all along our walk.

Mojo's: A Favorite AT Dining Stop
Mojo's is a pretty relaxed little café right at the junction of the Appalachian Trail and the Virginia Creeper Trail and a trail favorite, as evidenced by the packs leaning against the front of the building as we arrived. First order of business was to get a cup of coffee and kick back in some arm chairs while waiting for breakfast. When our breakfast was ready, we moved to a table. The tables have glass tops covering topo maps of trail sections, as you can see in the photos below. The walls are decorated with black and white photos of nearby sights on the trail, including some of the ponies at Grayson Highlands.

I got huevos rancheros, two over easy eggs sitting on top of corn muffins. Ann got an everything bagel with bacon, eggs, and cheese. This and two cups of coffee was plenty for breakfast, way more than I would usually eat. We lingered over our second cup of coffee before heading out for the walk back to our car.

"Huevos Rancheros," Eggs on Cornbread Muffins

"Everything-Everything" Bagel Sandwich
During breakfast, Ann dropped a bomb on me, stating "I think we should thru hike the AT." She mentioned it a couple times in passing the day before while we were hiking Grayson Highlands and I kind of deflected it. But there it was again at breakfast this morning and there was no escaping it. Thru hiking the AT is on her radar. In Ann-speak, "I think we should" means "We are going to."  OK, so twist my arm. My only concern is my right knee, which is going to do what it's going to do, but with the timely application of zero days to let it rest, should go the distance. I'm not sure she knows exactly what she's asking to get into, but in this case, maybe ignorance is bliss.

We had walked a few yards back towards the inn and the Jeep when we walked back by Crazy Larry's Hostel. There were several hikers outside and we got to chewing the fat with a half a dozen of them, talking about what hikers talk about, weather, shelter, mileage, food, beer, and so forth. In particular, a couple of them were really excited about the ponies up at Grayson and how long on the trail to get there (2 days).

As we were chatting, a couple of Northern Orioles were serenading us from the maple tree not a dozen feet away from us. At one point, I asked the hikers to talk Ann out of through hiking the AT. There's no way that they would have tried to talk her out of it and once she gets an idea in her head, there is no dissuading her. The whole issue became moot when Larry popped out of the house bearing a platter of bacon pancakes for everyone. We declined because we had just stuffed our faces, but I noticed that none of the thru hikers refused second breakfast!

Crazy Larry Offering Bacon Pancakes
All the thru hikers we interacted with on this trip were really nice people and polite almost to a fault. I noticed that the guys would "Yes ma'am" Ann and I recall one waiting to hold a gate for us when he could have been on his way for several seconds. The trail finds good people.

Walking back, we stopped on the bridge over Laurel Creek to watch the whitewater and to admire the large stands of Dame's Rocket on the banks. We were kept company by several barn swallows sitting not four feet away on a wire, chattering away. As we got about halfway back to our inn, we passed a beauty parlor as an old woman was coming out, just having had her hair did. We both started chuckling as she crossed the street, a woman whose picture should be in the dictionary next to the definition of "blue hair." Her hair was a lavender-blue shade the likes of which I haven't seen in 30 or 40 years!

We left town due north for I-81 north to I-77 south to US 58 east to Meadows of Dan, VA where we picked up the Blue Ridge Parkway north. We did this to avoid backtracking on US-58 which is hugely winding and super slow, hence the hour and fifteen minutes from Grayson Highlands to Damascus the day before. Our plan was to see the iconic Mabry Mill then head north along the Blue Ridge Parkway to Chateau Morrissette for lunch and then continue north on the Parkway into Roanoke where we would be staying the night.

The Iconic Mabry Mill

Mill Race Trestle

Inside Out

Still Life: Shake Roof with Dogwoods

Split Rails Fronting the Parkway

Mill Pond Ducks

Chipping Sparrow, Spizella passerina, in Cherry Tree

Chervil Scented Sweet Cicely, Osmorhiza claytonia

Flame Azalea, Rhododendron calendulaceum

Red Trillium, Trillium erectum

And the White Form, Trillium erectum var. album
After spending a half an hour or so walking the grounds of the circa 1903 mill which is situated directly on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we continued north on the Parkway less than ten miles to Chateau Morrisette winery, one of the older wineries in Virginia. In the past, I have cringed when I have heard the words Chateau Morrisette because they are famous for a long line of pretty awful sweet wine that has been in part responsible for giving Virginia wine such a bad reputation.

But, we were going right by it and one of my many jobs is as a professional sommelier and so I like to taste wines when I get a chance, to know what is going on. I really must say that while they still make a lot of the sweet cashflow generating wines, their dry wines are really not bad at all. I was pleasantly surprised. We even got a bottle of Merlot to take with us to drink on Saturday night.

Chateau Morrisette

Outside the Chateau's Restaurant

Musing on the Mountains with Merlot
I wasn't sure what to expect of the restaurant, which is situated in a separate building from the winery, but I planned to come here if for no other reason than I knew that we would be tired of trail food for lunch and burgers and beer after our hikes. Don't get me wrong. We love burgers and beer as much as anyone, but sometimes we just need a glass of wine and some more creative food.

Our food was good. In fact, like the wines, it really exceeded our expectations. Our starter flatbread was the least good of our dishes. The fig jam was really seedy, the ricotta on top didn't work as well as a good goat cheese would have, and the arugula goes on the flatbread after it comes out of the oven so that it stays fresh and vibrant, not before it goes in the oven so that it comes out dried, crisp, and tasteless. My pulled pork sandwich was well made but unmemorable, but the fries were really good. Ann's catfish was beautifully done with an excellent crust.

Flatbread with Figs, Bacon, Ricotta, and Arugula

Pulled Pork Sandwich

Off the Hook Catfish
Bellies full, we continued meandering north on the Blue Ridge Parkway all the way up to US 220 where we exited to go into downtown Roanoke. This section of the Blue Ridge, which I have never visited before, is spectacular, more spectacular I think than it is even up our way in Shenandoah National Park. It certainly is quite different from back home.

Random Overlook on Parkway

Beautiful Vistas Everywhere

Spectacular Flame Azalea, About 15' Tall

Rock Castle Gorge

Buffalo Mountain

Looking East from Parkway Near Roanoke
In Roanoke, we headed to our B&B only to find our exit closed for construction. You might have thought that our B&B hosts could have mentioned that the nearest exit off the nearest major highway was closed and provided alternate routing. You might have thought. In any case, we arrived safely in the late afternoon and got ourselves ready for our dinner date at Local Roots in Roanoke. More on that in the next post.

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