The three-day grey tour of Southwest Virginia included four runs – in the city of Waynesboro and the counties of Wythe, Bland and Pulaski. It was the grey tour not because of any reference to confederate troops or the color of my hair, but because the sun rarely peaked through the heavy cloud cover.
Rather than covering the Appalachian Mountains with vibrant hues, the wet weather meant that many of the fall leaves simply turned brown and dropped to the ground. The locals seeking tourist dollars also had to deal with national parks being closed due to the government shutdown.
Some of the highlights:
- After slogging through the Fall Foliage 5K in Waynesboro, I stopped by the small farmer’s market across the street. Most of the activity was at the Boy Scout apple dumpling sale, where people were buying the treats by the dozens. I went around to the back of the stand to get a better view and snap some photos. A scout master quickly came over, treating me as if I was from a rival troop trying to steal the dumpling secret formula. I think my lack of a Southern accent made it clear that I wasn’t an area spy. He was glad when I bought one and went out of his way to get me a spoon. Definitely yummy.
- While I couldn’t find a place to run at the Fort Chiswell Animal Park in Wythe County, I did get to meet some exotic animals close up. Perhaps a bit too close up for my comfort level. They load you up in a windowless school bus and drive you around the farm. Animals stick their heads through the openings seeking food. Camels. Aren’t they mean and often spit at people? Ostriches. Aren’t they really, really dumb? An American Buffalo. Do I really want to get inches away from a 2,000-pound animal with sharp horns and the power to turn over the bus if one of the kids on the tour does something that pisses him off? The place seemed to be a liability lawyer’s worst nightmare. But I did get some good photos.
- In Wytheville (pronounced “with” ville), I ran from the Ramada to the gigantic pencil that dominates downtown. The other town landmark is Skeeter’s “World Famous” Hotdogs. They were closed by the time I ran by, so I shall never know why they are world famous.
- That night, I stopped by the hotel bar. Apparently, some of the locals often hang out there after their food chain shifts. They sat around the bar and told dirty stories. The punch lines: “the soiled rubber was still stuck to the window of the 1971 Ford Pinto when ma went to drive grandma to church the next morning” and “she wasn’t as excited as I thought she was. She just had a really bad leg cramp.”
- I originally planned run up to the biggest falls in the state. But Cascade Falls was closed because of the government shutdown. The steep, slippery trail might not have been the best choice anyway, given that I was coming off of a shoulder injury. So I drove to the Wolf Creek Indian Village and Museum in Bland County. But it was also closed. I settled on nearby Wolf Creek Trail, which was “technically” closed because of the government shutdown. But can you really close a wilderness trail? While the slick leaves, uneven rocky path and steep inclines made for a hazardous jaunt, it wasn’t nearly as dangerous as my final mile. I ran along a narrow twisty country road where pick-up trucks zoomed through every three minutes or so.
- I couldn’t help making a stop in Rural Retreat. It claims to be connected to Dr. Pepper, although the historical record might be a bit cooked up. The place where the concoction was first developed? Probably not. The place where the person the soft drink was named after lived? Perhaps. When the pharmacy originally owned by a Dr. Pepper closed in 1994, it was worthy of a N.Y. Times article, although much of the focus was on the death of small-town pharmacies. The town’s other claim to fame? In the early 1900s, it was known as the cabbage center of the world.
- Monday morning, I got up before the crack of dawn thinking I would get two counties in even though I was sore from the hilly run the day before. My plan was to run on the nice, flat New River State Park Trail in Carroll and then in Polaski County. But when I went to my first stop, I realized I hadn’t gone past the all-important “Leaving Wythe County. Entering Carroll County” sign. I double checked my map, and it was clear I was still in Wythe County. I drove to another spot, but I feared I was still in Wythe. So I gave up. Carroll County will have to wait for another trip. I did successfully find the trail in Polaski.
59 runs down, 75 to go.