August 3: Waynesboro, Virginia to Lynchburg to Danville to the New River Trail near Glaxa, Virginia to Mount Rogers State Park
Soundtrack: Wreck of the 97 and New River Train (in my head); Zydeco Party Band, Greatest Hits; Taj Mahal; O Brother Where Art Thou Soundtrack
They gave him his orders at Monroe, Virginia
Saying, “Steve, you’re way behind time
This is not 38, but it’s Old 97
You must put her into Spencer on time...
It’s a mighty rough road from Lynchburg to Danville
In a line on a three mile grade
It was on that grade that he lost his airbrakes
Oh you see what a jump he made
Charles Noell, Fred Lewey, Whittier/Work as recorded by Hank Snow
I woke up in Waynesboro to free granola bars and snacks and coffee in the room. After a quick swim in a cold pool, I dressed in my usual denim jacket and leggings and drove south toward the George Washington National Forest.
Passing through Lyndhurst, Virginia in the rising heat, a sign on a church challenged: “You think its hot here?” Things cooled off a bit at 4,000 foot elevations on the Appalachian Trail.
In downtown Lynchburg, Virginia I parked diagonally on an old- fashioned high curb and went looking for a pawnshop to buy an accordion. The local music store was heavy on guitars and drums, but not even the ghost of a squeezebox and no one behind the counter had any ideas. So I walked on, searching the brick storefronts (many to let) for a macy’s so I could pay my bill. Finally I asked another middle-aged lady in a respectable print dress.
“Is there a macy’s in this town?”
“I WISH!” she said simply and we both had a good laugh about it.
The quaint shops and abundant churches notwithstanding, this was a downtown in the throes of urban decay, with the wide, slow James River heading south at its edge. Before the meter could expire, I followed the signs past cemeteries and parks toward Danville and the mighty rough road I’d been hearing about since my childhood. I didn’t have a recording of the Wreck of the Old 97, but kept hearing the song in my head every time a mileage sign for one of the cities came in view. It was a song I'd learned from my mother, who was raised in the Ozarks and had brothers who played country songs on their guitars. The road was not so rough, but the train tracks paralleled it on the right and The O Brother Where Art Thou Soundtrack was appropriately tragic in places. Interstate 29 ran down to the Dan River sheet factory (largest in the world, who knew?) and from there the Crooked Trail led west in the opposite direction of Steinbeck’s route, past Lovers’ Leap where I pulled over and had a short nap. Dozens of cars pulled into the precarious parking area near the sheer drop, with its promise of almost certain death to the heartbroken who jumped, many of them star-crossed couples.
I got back on the winding road, looking for a suitable place to stop for the night. Just outside of Glaxa there was a section of the New River Trail with a parking lot and small visitor center, restrooms, and picnic tables. I had a nice dinner of granola bars, cashews, and some of the Luray Caverns wine and set off down the trail to walk it off before dark. Fireflies drifted in and out of the bushes along the river, where the cliffs often soared hundreds of feet high from the water’s edge and all the totem animals appeared one by one. There were deer foraging on the opposite bank, a blue heron wading in the pebbly shallows, and even a rooster, the symbol of my poetic alter ego, strutting by from a neighboring farm. Signs along the way stated that the narrow swath of riparian land linked private properties and farms that were united in their effort to restore the New River and complete the rustic trail along its banks. It was a magical place.
But it was not a campsite. I put the Taj Mahal CD on and started west in the last of the sunset. By the time I arrived at Grayson Highlands just east of Abingdon, it was late enough that I had missed the bluegrass concert on the park stage. Everyone had left except the ranger and a couple of die-hard talkers and I was sorry I had missed it. Under the light of a half moon I parked at the edge of a tree-lined field. The branches tossed in the light wind; I read a little Grapes of Wrath by flashlight, and settled into the comfort of the body pillows and Mexican blankets under the moonroof.