After months of chores and mostly hanging out at the barndominium, April finally brought our departure…well, kind of. (More on that in a bit.) We have been gearing up for a long loop west, so seeing the Boogers beforehand was an absolute must. After having Angel Booger and Missy Booger for the weekend (previous post), we headed over to Greensboro to get in a visit with Booger Butt (Brennan), Little Booger (Liam), and Cutie Booger (Cadence), well and their parents! The weather had cooled off, and to our surprise, it was snowing to beat the band when we went through Wytheville, Virginia. It went away as we came out of the mountains, however, and the weather was mild when we arrived at Hagan-Stone Park just south of Greensboro in Pleasant Garden, North Carolina.

The kids were in the process of getting their townhouse ready to sell, a Herculean effort that they did an amazing job with, so we fit visiting around the chores. In addition to hanging out, we went to a couple of awesome restaurants in Burlington. The first was Drake’s. Man, was it good! They specialize in beer, burgers, and sushi. YES, you read that right. We were prepared for the sushi offering to be a few simple rolls; maybe a California, maybe something with salmon. Boy were we surprised with the variety and quality! The burgers, and really everything else we had, were all great, too, including the beer selection. This place is definitely worth a return visit.

In looking for a little fun, we met Tina and her gang at Round 1 Bowling & Amusement at Four Seasons Mall. This is Chuck E. Cheez-Its (as Missy Booger always says) on steroids or maybe Dave & Busters, aimed at all ages. It is HUGE, occupying the former Dillards site, and the options for fun are plentiful…bowling, pool, ping-pong, a plethora of video games. They have a sit-down area to eat, food that isn’t bad, and beer. With our large crowd, lunch was several pizzas and some wings. The latter totally surprised all of us…delicious! As any parent or grandparent is well aware, these places aren’t cheap. (Really, what is when you have a crowd of kids??) But all-in-all, this is something we would do again, just not often. Next time, though, I would reserve bowling lanes or pool/ping-pong tables ahead of time. When we went to get a lane, they said they were all reserved despite the fact that only a couple were occupied. Same with the pool tables. There was some spacing out for Covid, but still plenty that were usable, but not being used. We ended up leaving a little earlier than planned, but it all worked out in the end. Later we enjoyed a delicious ham dinner that Alene put together!

After living in the Greensboro area for 16 years, it seems that there is always a lot to do when we go back to visit and never enough time to see everyone we would like. This trip we did get to hang out with Tina and her boys (Trey and AJ), which is always important for me. They are part of my tribe! I also managed to squeeze in some work meetings, catch up with my VITA pal Dave Kaehler, visit with Missy and Roger, and hang out with the Palermos, including Mama and Papa Palermo visiting from New York. That reminds me of a couple more places to talk about: First, in Kernersville, North Carolina, there is a terrific steakhouse called Out West. I’ve loved this place for YEARS, so was very happy when MW (Mr. Wonderful) suggested it for dinner! Steaks are their specialty, but they have quite a bit of other good stuff on the menu. My absolute favorite is Beef Tournedos…two nice filet mignons over homemade croutons with crabmeat, mushrooms, and scallions in a demi-glace. Seriously…scrumptious! Also, expensive, BUT…two full meals. Over the years, we’ve been there 6-8 times, and it never fails to be fabulous. If you are in the area and have a special occasion to celebrate or just want a REALLY good steak, Out West is a must!

The Palermos live quite a ways north of Greensboro in Caswell County, so we typically meet in Reidsville, North Carolina, or Danville, Virginia. This time we opted for the latter. Danville has done a terrific job of refurbishing their downtown and making it a gathering place. There are cute shops, bars, and restaurants, and nice areas to walk around. The Dan river runs right through town, where a cotton mill operated from 1882 to 2006, first as the Riverside Cotton Mill and then Dan River Mills, and became the largest textile firm in the south. One of the old buildings has been restored and houses Cotton at Riverside Mill, with a deck overlooking the river. We’ve been there several times in the past few years, and the food is always very good. It isn’t an extensive menu, but it does provide a good variety…steaks, salmon, swordfish, gnocchi, chicken, scallops, burgers, etc. Everything I’ve ever had was very good, and I also enjoy the decoration. They kept the old brick walls and high ceilings and enhanced it all with eclectic lighting. For artwork, they have giant ads from Dan River Mills that ran in all kinds of publications way back. I get a chuckle out of the copy…very outdated and sexist (and yet, I don’t feel the need to burn it in protest…hmmmm). The last interesting note about Danville: Caesars has begun the process of building a casino on another of the Dan River Mills properties. That little town is booming!

Last, but certainly not least…we worked in a visit with my sister, Kate DiAngelis, and her son Peyton (hubby Patrick was working). They live down in Indian Trail, a Charlotte suburb, so we headed to Salisbury, North Carolina, where we have met several times in the past and tried several places. This time, looking for something new, we found The Smoke Pit downtown. A small chain with other locations in Monroe, Concord, and Gastonia, their slogan is “The Best BBQ PERIOD”. They may not be wrong. My Barbeque Nachos were excellent, and MW scarfed the pulled NC Pork Sandwich. They had a really interesting Blueberry BBQ Sauce (used in their Chicken Salad and on their wings), that Peyton let me try, too. I always enjoy our visits, and they are never long enough! After a couple of hours, we had to head north so that I could get shots in my hand and shoulder from my favorite Ortho while I’m close. Not fun AT ALL, but I’ve got the “arthur” in my hands and an angry rotator cuff creating the necessity. Unfortunately, hand surgery is in my future. Ugh! (Incidentally, if you live in the Greensboro area, Dr. Daldorf at Guilford Ortho is THE MAN! Honestly, I should own some kind of stock in that place!)

Our final evening was spent with my babies. Having had new carpet installed during the day, we opted to hang out at the second cool restaurant I mentioned in Burlington…Angelina European Cafe. Upon entry, this place looked a bit like a restaurant looking for an identity. It wasn’t particularly American-, Italian- or Mediterranean-style, and the menu was all over the place, with crepes, burgers, steaks, pasta, etc. Don’t let that keep you from having a seat and loosening your belt, though. The food was delicious! We shared the Pimento Cheese and Fried Green Tomato appetizers…yum! Everything else was delicious, too. The big negative: None of us had room left to take advantage of the huge selection of amazing-looking desserts, including gelato. Next time we may have to just pop in for that! As always, we really enjoyed the evening with the kids and were sad to see it end.

Before we move on, though, here is the skinny on Hagan-Stone Park: A county park located southeast of Greensboro, this has been our go-to for visits since selling our house. With 409 acres, it packs a pretty good punch for activities. There are seven picnic shelters, a multitude of picnic tables spread around, a fishing lake, a couple of playgrounds, including one that is pretty spectacular, and a pool with a cool water slide and small child play area. Other buildings include the reproduction, one-room Oak Grove School House and the Chapel (available for ceremonies). The campground offers 16 tent sites (Section A), 29 wooded sites of variable lengths with 30/50 amp and shared water (Section B), and 41 field sites (Section C – recommended for larger rigs) with 30/50 amp and shared water. All sites have picnic tables, but no fire rings. There is a pavilion in Section C with picnic tables and a large fireplace that is available to all campers. The two bathhouses are older, but are kept clean, and there is another playground in the camping area. There is also a little vending area. We have stayed here when there were only a few other folks, and it was very peaceful. This was the first when it was full, and you do feel pretty close. Our neighbors were very nice, though, and appeared to purposely quiet down when they saw our lights go out. There was a pretty noisy group further down, but with the exception of one night when they were all drunk, they quieted down before too late. Our preference here is Section B, which is shadier and feels less stacked in. This time we stayed for 7 nights, and the total cost was $175.

Thursday found us up and headed out by 8AM. The drive was dreary and grey as we headed back across I-77 and I-81 to Abingdon, Virginia, before hitting the back roads. Lunch was a stop in the Food Country USA parking lot where we made sandwiches, then grabbed a few groceries. Back on the road, we headed north to the Kentucky line and Breaks Interstate Park.

Western Virginia is coal country, and every little holler and community along the roads less traveled reveals part of the backbone of America. Hard-working families who, as the country goes back and forth in the energy debate, are left with few options and nowhere to go. Drive through this area or eastern Kentucky or West Virginia, though, and you get the whole picture. We passed lots of abandoned mining equipment, including train yards with hundreds of CSX cars sitting empty and idle. We wondered if someone retired from their job and forgot to tell the new guy that they had all these cars parked in the middle of Virginia! At Clinchco we stopped to take a look at the Coal Miners Memorial honoring those from Dickinson County who died in the industry.

We also ran across the winter remains of the scourge of the south. If you are from anywhere else, you may not recognize the demon Kudzu. Although first introduced to the US in 1876, it was in the 1930s and 1940s that some moron decided it should be used for erosion control for farmers. They even went so far as to pay farmers to use it! What does it do? It climbs up, wraps around, or invades everything in its path. It will swallow entire houses, barns, cars…anything left standing still for a year or two. In the winter it dies back to what you see below, then roars back to life when warm weather hits. Any tree it engulfs will die from lack of sunlight, leaving behind this unsightly mess in the winter and odd mounds of green stuff in summer. Honestly, DUMBEST. IDEA. EVER! The Forestry service estimates that it takes over an additional 2,500 acres a year. Several other countries are battling this insidious weed, but surely they can’t top the American south in area covered!

By mid-afternoon we were set up and relaxing at Breaks Interstate Park. The next couple of days consisted of some nice hikes and lunch at the Rhododendron Restaurant at the Lodge in the park. The food and the view were good enough for a repeat visit on Sunday morning, after which we headed out to Grundy, Virginia, for gas, then over to Southern Gap to see if we could find some elk. Yes, you read that right! There are ELK in Virginia!!! In 2012 an effort began to reintroduce elk to Buchanan County after a 50-year absence. The original 75 have thrived, and the herd is now 300 or more who make their home at Southern Gap Outdoor Adventures on 7,900 acres that was formerly a coal and gas surface site. Now being reclaimed by Mother Nature, on a good day you can view these magnificent beasts from one of three viewing shelters. In addition to that coolness, this place offers more than 200 miles of ATV/OHV trails and ATV rentals. They also have a campground and an event center that can be rented for special occasions. Honestly, this visit made me feel like owning an ATV may now be a necessity! Best of all…we saw an ELK! And some turkeys! After that excitement, we made it back to Petunia in time to listen in on the service at Sneedville First Baptist Church, take a nice walk around the campground, and have a relaxing afternoon.

Breaks Interstate Park encompasses part of a 5-mile long, 1,650′ deep gorge that they’ve branded as the “Grand Canyon of the South” (not to be confused with the “Grand Canyon of the East” in Alabama and the “Little Grand Canyon” in Georgia). In 1767, Daniel Boone came through and finally located the only passage or break through the 125 miles of Pine Mountain giving the area its name. This park really has a LOT to do…25 miles of hiking trails with varying degrees of difficulty, mountain biking trails (and rentals), horseback riding, geocaching, a variety of boat rentals, fishing, canyon rim zipline, rock climbing, white water rafting, and a water park. There is a lodge that is spread out along the gorge, cabin rentals, and the previously mentioned restaurant. The campground has four loops with a total of 140 sites. We stayed on the lower loop of Campground A in site 56. (Be warned…that loop is not paved, is very rough, and the circle would be too tight for any fifth wheel larger than 31′ or a motorhome. In fact, anything large really needs to be limited to sites 0-17, 35-51, 63, 64 just based on road access (checking specific sites for appropriate length). Within the campground are a laundry, camp store, playground, basketball court, and three bathhouses (recently renovated). It is beautiful, wooded, and there is very little light pollution, allowing for terrific star gazing. However, in a campground with rules specifically against running generators during quiet hours, they have some type of generators running for the septic system that are pretty darned loud ALL THE TIME. That would keep us from listing it as a favorite for us. For families, though, this place is the bomb. The total cost was $115 for 4 nights with 50-amp electric and water. There were also some full-hookup sites available.

Monday found us up and on the road around 8AM with me at the wheel. I drive occasionally so that I feel comfortable towing Petunia. I never want to be stuck if something happens and MW can’t assume his normal role. Along those. same lines, I know how to do everything needed to set up and break down, too. On this day we were headed back to the barndominium. Yes, you read that right. We finally became eligible for the Covid vaccine in Tennessee a little over 3 weeks ago and got our first dose at Walgreens in town. The plan was to hit the road, then get the second dose at a Walgreens wherever we happened to be at the appropriate time. Well, like everything else Covid-related, the shot distribution was jacked up. After calling several stores and then speaking to our pharmacist, it was looking like we would only be able to get the second dose in Tennessee. So I checked stores on the Tennessee border near where we would be staying in Georgia and Alabama. NOPE! So, our only option was to go back to the barn and get the second dose with Brittany 21 days after the first. There was almost a second glitch when they were shorted on doses for our dates, but thankfully, she was able to work it out. Just for those who asked, we received the Pfizer shots. MW had no side effects from either dose. I had tight muscles in my shoulders and neck, some joint aches, and a pretty powerful headache for 3 days with the first and 1 day with the second.

Next up…We’re Outta Here! Really! See you on the path!


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