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I'm Gonna Make It Rain!

Proctor, WV (July 11, 2008) - One of my favorite lines from the movies was uttered by Burt Lancaster, "I’m gonna make it rain!" Lancaster’s character was a huckster, making his living as a ‘rainmaker’ in drought stricken areas of the USA in the early 20th century. He would travel around with lots of equipment and give his pitch about his talents to every rube possible that had a wilting crop in the fields. Ultimately he would either be run out of town for being the huckster or feted as a hero for bringing the needed water from the dry skies.

I have the Lancaster character beaten. All I have to do to get a downpour in the forecast is to make plans to be in the area. Frankly, this is getting very old. I started out on a loop through West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New Jersey on Monday morning. The overcast skies guaranteed I would get wet, but the forecast was that it would be scattered so there was some possibility any precipitation would miss me.

I spent Monday night at the Pipestem State Park campground in West Virginia. Thunder and lightning threatened all night long and at 7 AM Tuesday the clouds opened in one of the heaviest downpours I’ve encountered in the last three months. Packing the tent was a chore and everything that could get wet was. Even the liner of my helmet was soaked. For the next three hours the bike and I were stuffed into a snack vending machine shelter trying to escape the storm. The day was nearly half over when the rain lightened to the point I felt it was okay to ride.

The hills had become saturated with water and large rocks, even boulders, were falling into the road. After dodging a few of these I easily convinced myself that being macho about the rain and continuing to ride was dangerous. I stopped at the little town of Hinton on the New River and waited another hour for the rain to pass. During the last few weeks I’ve learned that mountain roads are tricky when dry and downright dangerous when wet and littered with storm debris.

Rain continued to pound the area in lines and I was forced to rent a motel room Tuesday evening. Wednesday morning I knew I had to do something about the waterlogged tent or the stitching in the seams would rot and leave me without reliable shelter. The solution? Well, the bathroom was equipped with a small Conair hair dryer. . .

It took over an hour but I managed to completely dry out the tent by soaking up the pooled water with a hand towel and completing the process of drying with the small Conair. I’m not sure the owner of the motel would have been happy to know what I had done, but that’s an issue I’ll deal with another day. At least I was able to repack the bike without a life jacket wrapped around my body.


Is The ENTIRE USA Populated By The Clueless (US-52)

I stopped at Mt Airy, NC, to snap a few photos of the local memorial in their uptown area. This was another situation where I dropped into the local visitors bureau and asked directions. A map was shoved into my hands with a barrage of directions; turn left, left again, and two miles town the road. Okay! Then I mounted up and went down the street to the first turn. As I waited for the light to go green I glanced half a block away and there is a beautiful memorial. What gives?

I’m amazed at the percentage of people in our society that have NO clue about their surroundings. They go blissfully through life ignoring Memorial Day and Veterans Day celebrations. That fact that a few dozen people in legion hats gathered at a particular spot in town and left floral arrangements doesn’t give them any hint about the significance of the location. These are the people that give me directions to the American Legion ball field. Or they tell me there is no memorial in town. In order to avoid the misdirection I’ve begun to ask for directions to the county courthouse if they don’t know about the veterans memorial. Everybody knows where the courthouse is, "Go across the bridge, take the fork to the left, turn right when the road tees and go down about three blocks. You can’t miss it, it has a big cannon in the yard." Hello, first clue might be the cannon.


Lunatic Asylum B & B? (US-119)

The second largest hand cut sandstone brick structure in the world is at Weston, West Virginia. It began construction in 1858 as the West Virginia State Hospital, an insane asylum. It is nearly 300,000 square feet and four stories of residential wards, treatment rooms, faculty offices, and chambers of who knows what. Several years ago it ceased operation. The building and grounds are now in private hands and operating as a tourist attraction. For $10 visitors can take a guided tour of the building. The guide is full of stories about the place, the people, and the spirits that still inhabit the old hospital.

The new owners have re-named the place as the ‘Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum' TALA for short. Their intent is to repair enough of the old facility to make it habitable as a bed and breakfast, or even a true resort hotel. Who in their right might would want to stay in an old mental hospital? That question may have its own answer. The producers of the cable TV show ‘Ghost Hunters’ have figured out how to get 200 people at a time to pay up to $265 each for a two night stay. The guests spend their nights searching for inexplicable electro-magnetic fields, strange noises, and cold spots that indicate ‘ghosts.’ If you are in the area I recommend the $10 tour as one of those oddball experiences that makes for a great motorcycle trip story. If you elect to pay for a ghostly night's tour you are nuts - in which case your visit is completely appropriate.


Water, Water Everywhere. . .(US-19, WV-16, US-60)

Did you know that Fayetteville, West Virginia, touts itself as ‘The Coolest Small Town in America’ ? I asked at the Mayor’s office, "Why?" The answer I got came from one of the local restaurateurs. "We are a four season resort area," says Wendy of the Church Café, "we have white water rafting, ATV riding, hard rock climbing, hunting - we never run out of cool things to do!" Well, I will admit that there are some neat sights to be enjoyed here. And, thanks to Wendy and her willingness to call around - I got directions to three very nice memorials I would have otherwise missed! Maybe it really is the coolest small town . . .

Aside for many really fun roads here, there is the New River gorge bridge. It’s the largest of it’s type and over 800 feet from the bridge deck to the river below. It’s impressive. The visitor center is usually very busy and there is a wooden stairway to an observation platform about 200 feet below the level of the bridge. If you have any fear of heights this might be uncomfortable - the lower deck actually reaches out from a large rock outcropping and the impression is that you are standing just over the forest canopy.

The available views of the bridge and the river below, with all of the kayaks and rafts, is really something. Motorcycle riders should be aware that it’s possible to ride UNDER the bridge just by taking Fayette Station Road - turn right as you leave the visitor center parking lot. Really cool ride down to the riverside.

More rain, but unless it’s very heavy, with high winds and lightning, I generally press on. This results sometimes in some good photos. This particular stop was at a place called Gauley Bridge. For the moment I’m dry, but a look out toward the hills ahead shows yet another band of showers with an embedded thunderstorm.

The next stop just for fun was a mile marker 93 on ‘The Midland Trail’, as US-60 is otherwise known in West Virginia. Little Kanawha falls looks to be a drop of 20 feet and the volume of water is immense. One portion of the river here holds a very old hydroelectric station. Just below the falls is a large public park area dedicated to fishing. It’s a great place for riders to rest. There are no picnic tables, so you are left to your own in that regard. The area is low and prone to flooding, be care in very heavy rains.


The Founding Fathers Lived Well

As a veteran Coast Guardsman I’m always interested in the background stories of those that had anything to do with the Revenue Cutter Service, US Lighthouse Service, and US Lifesaving Service. Secretary Albert Gallatin was President Washington’s first Treasury Secretary and held positions in many of the next administrations. He oversaw the creation of the US Customs Service and Revenue Cutter Service. He negotiated the end of the War of 1812 with the Treaty of Ghent. Most importantly, it was Gallatin who figured out how to finance the Louisiana Purchase, which allowed the Republic to grow from a collection of eastern colonies into a great nation. Gallatin wasn’t extremely wealthy, but he did okay for himself.

His country estate in southern Pennsylvania was called Friendship Hill. The 600 acre farm is adjacent to the Monongahela River and is now a National Historic Park, open to the public at no fee. It doesn’t appear that the place is crowded at any time. Sure, I’d bet there are days when hundreds of people flow through the visitor center and into the beautiful old home, but when I went there on a Thursday afternoon it was hard to even find the Park Service Rangers.

Guests may wander about the three main parts of the house and peer into the furnished rooms. Much of the furniture is on loan from the Arlington House while that structure is being renovated. Every time I have the opportunity to look at the typical household effects of the wealthy from the 19th century I’m amazed. Yes, they did have to endure a house without running water. There was no electricity to illuminate a dark room and summers were hot and winters were cold and drafty. But the furnishings were extremely comfortable, even by 21st century standards.

But, even with the extremely high level of comfort available to the wealthy of the era I am brought back to reality when I see a simple device like the chamber pot in one of the bedroom. Sure, a servant would take care of the offal, but if the urge arrived in the middle of the night it was probably going to make its’ presence known for at least a couple of hours as a disturbing odor. Maybe that’s why most of these homes had large second floor balconies . . . If it got too much for the occupant they could always step outside for a breath of fresh air.


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