Matthew DiBiase's Trip 4/24/02 Report

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      [Ed: Imported from Americas Roof ‘Summit Trip Reports’ forum]
      [By: Matt on August 8 2002 at 12:38 PM]

      APRIL 25, 2002

      When a member completes their 50th highpoint, the person is always asked what their least favorite high point was. More often than not the response is Kentucky.
      Considering that my highpointing career is still active, I refuse to pass judgment at this stage of the journey.
      I had bagged Mount Rogers in Virginia the day before. This day I was going to do the easier of the two. I woke up to a cold, early morning drizzle.
      I left Marion at 9:00AM and drove south on I-81 from Exit 45 to Exit 17 (which is Alternate Route 58 in Abingdon).
      I took Alt. Route 58 into downtown Abingdon. You go west, then (making a left turn) south briefly, before turning right and westerly again. I stayed on Alt. Route 58 west for fifty-two miles before I reach Norton, Virginia.
      My drive was uneventful. The countryside is rural. The road meanders through cattle and horse-breeding country. The pastures are steep and studded with boulders. Occasionally the road sliced through mountain passes but, on the whole, the drive went smoothly. It is very pretty countryside. I had never visited this area of Virginia before and I was enjoying the scenery thoroughly. The drizzle had died down to an intermittent mist.
      I was listening to Bob Dylan performing his famous 1966 “Albert Hall” concert in the Free Trade Center in Manchester, England. Somehow the revolutionary electronic vanguard folk-rock sound of Bob Dylan and the Hawks lent a bright counterpoint to the dreary weather outside my car.
      It was in Norton that I had a momentary flutter. I was looking for Business Route 23, which would take me to the town of Appalachia, and the road, which would lead me to the Kentucky border and the summit of Black Mountain.
      I made a wrong turn onto Route 23 and instinctively realized my mistake. I turned off and went back into town and found a convenience store named Glen’s Friendly Market. I was hoping to acquire some friendly directions in the process.
      I was not disappointed. I encountered a kindly gentleman (who didn’t give me his name). It’s not often that a man from New Jersey comes into Norton, Virginia looking for an obscure road to the Kentucky border.
      Despite the oddness of my request, he give me first class directions on how to get there. He told me to stay on the road I was travelling which would take me to Business 23 and downtown Norton. I would turn right onto Business 23 stay on it for about twelve miles until I reached Appalachia. Once I reached Appalachia, I would turn right at the second street light in the town (Appalachia only has two). Once I made the right turn, I would see 168 West and that would take me to Kentucky.
      I thanked the man and was on my way. Everything he said was spot-on the money.
      I got on Business 23 and never looked back. The road takes you through downtown Norton.
      It is after Norton that you enter coal country. Whereas before the road was lined with farms and private homes, this time it was coal yards, slag heaps, coal shovels, and drilling installations.
      Coal mining is not a pretty sight to see. I was constantly passing trucks laden with coal heading southbound on Business 23.
      Appalachia lived up to its name. It is depressed and has seen better times. I gassed up my car there but didn’t indulge in any conversation. I was too close to my objective now.
      The gas station where I got gas was right at the intersection where I needed to head west on county road 168. You make a right at the light and make another right and you are right on the road.
      County Route 168 serpentines through a pretty development called Inman (which is part of Appalachia). They are building new homes there.
      Soon after I passed the community the road got steep very quickly. You can’t go faster than 35 M.P.H. in this section. One is literally climbing the Appalachian Mountains. There are some sections where one can stop and enjoy the scenery but I decided to do that on the way down.
      The switchbacks are very narrow and I would never want to drive this road during a rainstorm or snowstorm. I could see scars from mudslides.
      I don’t know how long it took me but after a time, I came to the Virginia-Kentucky border.
      The road that takes you to Black Mountain is to the left of a sharp right-hand turn around a bend.
      I came to a stop at the entrance and oriented myself to the FAA Facility road. The sign for the FAA facility is light blue in color with black letters. The sign is slightly obscured by the tree shadows but you can see it from the road if you’re alert.
      The FAA road is a very narrow paved road. You go up, hoping that you don’t meet anyone on the way down because there is no real room to move aside if that happens. Luckily for me I didn’t.
      Once you reach the FAA facility the pavement gives way to gravel and after a couple hundred yards, I parked my car at the spur road. The spur road is even narrower and is made of gravel. It was pretty muddy and I didn’t want to take the chance of getting stuck. I parked my car in such a way that I wasn’t blocking anyone and decided to walk the rest of the way.
      The summit has two communications buildings and the decrepit observation tower. There were three vehicles at the summit. Some employees were in one of the buildings doing some work: one male and one female. They both saw me but paid me no mind at all. (Apparently they are used to this kind of thing).
      The ground below the observation tower was pretty messy. The survey marker shrouded by weeds. Broken glass, beer cans, and the detritus of romantic passion were everywhere.
      I watched my step for fear of stepping into something I couldn’t explain later on. The views from the summit are negligible. The summit is tree-lined and has power lines.
      Considering the presence of the communications towers, Black Mountain reminded me of an uglier version of Cheaha Mountain. (Cheaha Mountain is well maintained and is very clean).
      I took still pictures and videotaped myself but I didn’t stay long at the summit because I didn’t want to make the employees working there nervous.
      The weather had improved markedly. The sun was out and white clouds dotted the sky. A cool breeze was blowing over the summit.
      I had reached the summit at 11:40AM and by 12:12PM I decided to walk back to my car to take notes, munch on my cousin Ruth Anne’s biscotti and take stock of my situation.
      At 12:36PM, I left the mountain and never looked back. Twice I stopped on the way back east on 168 to videotape the scenery. When I returned to Norton, I had a hankering for a cone of custard so I stopped at the Dairy Queen and had myself a delicious cone of vanilla custard.
      The train tracks run close by so I had the childlike pleasure of watching the trains roll through town. (One of my favorite pastimes when I was spending summer’s at my grandparent’s home in Altavista).
      Once I was done I hit the road. All in all my drive back to Marion was quiet and uneventful. I was playing The Basement Tapes by Bob Dylan and the Band and enjoying every absurd mythological elemental moment of the album. Where else could such luminaries such as Tiny Montgomery, Mrs. Henry, and Ruben Remus meet? What other artist could provide such profundities like Lo and Behold, Million Dollar Bash, Yeah! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread?
      The song Clothes Line Saga captures the atmosphere of Altavista, Virginia perfectly. The song reminds me of those long, hot, lazy summer days at my grandparents, listening to the cicadas and smelling the honeysuckle trees.
      When I got back to Abingdon, I decided to take Route 11 back to Marion. Route 11 is the old Valley Turnpike, which was the main road in the Shenandoah Valley before I-81 was built.
      Abingdon, Virginia is a pleasant old community. I was impressed with the old brick homes and the historical markers lining the main drag.
      John Steinbeck in his famous travelogue Travels With Charley mentions Abingdon. He wrote that after he reached Abingdon, his mind switched off and that he spent the rest of his return journey back to Sag Harbor, Long Island in a sort of a daze. He had no recollections of what he saw on the road after all he had seen during the previous weeks of his journey.
      For me it was the opposite. I followed a school bus discharging its youthful passengers. I passed by brick ranch houses, a multitude of Baptist churches, banks, antique shops, and an assortment of stores. It was all rural America and I much preferred old Route 11 to the Pamplona-like madness of I-81. I-81 is an ordeal. You can’t drive in the slow lane because the trucks run you off the road. If you switch lanes to avoid the trucks then you get the speedsters running up your tailpipe. I-81 should be six lanes instead of four. It’s one of my least favorite highways. (It’s a pity too. The scenery surrounding I-81 is stunning, brilliant, and splendid but you cannot enjoy it very long because of the nature of the road).
      In due time the Valley Turnpike took me to Marion, my hotel, and some badly needed rest.
      And that, my friends was how I bagged my 15th high point. My next highpointing journey will be in the autumn when I journey to New Hampshire in the hopes of bagging Mount Washington. I know I’m going to be in for a rough haul but I know that the journey will be worth it.
      See you at the high points!

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