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  • Chris B

2015 ATC Biennial Conference Shenandoah University Winchester, Va. July 17 – 24

We arrived on the campus of Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia just before noon after a four and half hur drive up from home. It was slightly overcast nearly all the way thus allowing for our unair conditioned truck to be comfortable. We made it on slightly less than a tank of gas pulling the camper.

For the next week, we would be attending the 40th biennial conference of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. There were only four members of our club attending the conference. Rhonda and myself, Tom Dillon (and his wife) and a member giving a presentation as a part of the “A trail in every classroom” program. This would be our seventh consecutive one since 2003. The next one will be in Waterville, Maine.

Rhonda had loaded a book on her Kindle e-reader written by a man who walked the trail in 2004 after reading a book ( a Walk in the Woods) by Bill Bryson a guy that started the trail with absolutely no experience. The author Bill Walker (trail name Skywalker) started the same way. When he started his trek, he had not spent a single night out alone, except on his mother's lawn a few days before leaving for the trip. Later, at the conference, we would see a movie clip and the trailer from the movie “A Walk in the Woods”, starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte'. (Sept. '15). She read for almost half the trip. It was a good thing to do to set the mood for the conference, not that I needed to.

Shenandoah University is a small campus and it was rather new in its current location. It is Methodist affiliated and was founded in 1875 as a seminary in Dayton, Virginia and move to Winchester in 1974. It gained university status in 1991 and has an average enrollment of 4,000 students. The campus grounds were beautifully landscaped and well laid out.

The designated RV camping was along the edge of a small parking lot next to a public park with a creek in between. The setting was better than the previous year, in that we had great late afternoon shade. We were the second RVer to arrive out of eight. I wanted to get there early in case there was limited shade. Of course, being in a campus parking lot, there would be no water or electrical hookups. I had to park the truck in a parking garage next to the lot. This was a good thing; for it would be in the shade all day unless we had to run an errand (ice mainly).

While I was starting to park and set up the camper, Rhonda went inside to pick up our registration packets. When she returned, we had a salad lunch which she had made the day before. Until the sun move west enough to allow the trees to provide shade, the camper's awning did the job.

After lunch, we walked around the exhibits that were set up in the gym and relaxed by the camper. Marian Jordan was volunteering at the tee shirt table. We met her at the 2011 conference when she volunteered at the conference our club (PATH) was involve with at Emory and Henry College. She also had worked with the Konarock Trail Crew (a summer program through ATC, where individuals can volunteer for a week or more to do trail work) the summer before our conference and knew some of our club's members. She lives and is a teacher in Slidel, Louisiana. We visited her when we were biking the Tammany Trace Trail north of Lake Pontchartrain in early March of 2012. That evening there was a meet and greet reception with refreshments and a showing of an AT documentary.

The daytime temperature had been around ninety degrees so at bed time I had to run the generator for an hour or so we could try to cool the camper down a little with a fan. Unfortunately, my generator is not big enough to allow for the operation of the air conditioner.

Saturday morning, as we were eating breakfast, a thunderstorm moved in and gave the area a good dowsing. We had scheduled workshops and seminars all day Saturday and Sunday. This was good since the weekend was also the hottest days with the temperature over 90 degrees. Saturday evening was the general business meeting with reports, award presentations, and resolutions. Two members of our club got the twenty-five year service award and there was a ninety something year old man that was the first receiptant of the 75 year service award.

On Sunday, during our almost two hour lunch break between the morning and afternoon sessions, we drove down to the historic downtown area. It had been turned into a pedestrian mall and ran several blocks down Loundon Street. Most of the businesses were closed, except for a few restaurants, a gift shop and a book store. I'm sure it was a great place to visit and socialize in the evenings and during festivals.

Sunday evening the entertainment back on campus was a George Burns impersonator that was very good. He basically, told George Burn's (Nathan Birnbaum) life story with the typical humor of Burns thrown in.

Monday was our first scheduled hike. At each of the conferences, the host club or clubs plan a dozen hikes each day. Each hike is rated as to distance and difficulty and has two leaders. Some hikes are as far away as an hour's drive. Not all, but most are on the AT. Our hike was relatively short with only a moderate change in elevation (1000 ft total). It was on the AT off Skyline Drive in the SNP. It was to Compton Rocks and a rock outcropping called Fort Windham. There was 15 of us on the hike. The youngest was three years old and the oldest was 86. The three year old started fretting just before lunch and had to be carried as we returned to the parking lot after lunch. The hike was lead by a park ranger named Sally who had worked at the park for eighteen years. Geology was her specialty.

Compton Rocks was on a side trail off the AT. They were an unusual feature called columnar basalt resulting when certain types of lava from volcanic activity contract when cooling. Think of mud a puddle that dries out in the sun; leaving sections of dried clay. In the case of the basalt, they were long hexagon shaped stone columns. We were truly pleasantly surprised because we did not realize that any such formations were in the east. Rhonda and I had seen them in the Devil's Post Pile National Monument south of Yosemite National Park in California and the Devil's tower in Wyoming. The only other one east of the Mississippi is in New Hampshire (Turtle Back Mountain), There are seventeen listed all total in the US and they are found in a number of place around the world.

We stopped for lunch at a rock outcropping which overlooked a big area of the park to the west and was south of Front Royal. It was on another side trail on the opposite side of the AT. After lunch we went back down to the parking lot and headed up the AT to the north to a rock feature called Fort Windham. The ranger said she tried to do some research to see how it got its name. She was unable to find any information and did not even find any history of the name Windham. The rock weren't really all that impressive. They were large and had some significant fusions (cracks) in them, leaving a separation of a foot or two.

Back at the campus, we prepared the camper to move to a private campground on the other side of town. We were just paying fifteen dollars a night on campus for just a parking spot. At the private campground (Candy Hill), we would have a water and electric hookup. It would allow for the use of a fan or air conditioner and operation of the refrigerator. The refrigerator would operate on LP gas, but has to have a 12 volt power supply to light the burner. It appeared that our 12 volt deep cycle storage battery was no longer capable of holding a charge. The campground also had a swimming pool and sewer connections.

After supper, we headed back to the campus for the evening entertainment (The Smallwood Brothers Band). The group played popular and classic rock songs from artist such as the Beatles, Phil Collins, the Eagles, Keith Urban, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash and more. They were great and after an hour and a half, I could have stayed for more, but it was just a ninety minute show.

Tuesday we went on another hike on the AT which had a nice size cascade on the creek we crossed. We had lunch up on a cliff overlooking the valley to the east. That evening we went to the evening entertainment (bluegrass/folk).

Wednesday we slept a little later than the previous days and was at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley when it opened at 10 am. We had found out the day before that it was free on Wednesdays. It was the former farm of James Wood who donated part of his land for the town of Winchester around 1752. The central point of the property was the Glen Burnie Historical House which was built in the 1790's by his son Robert. The house passed through several generations of Wood and Glass families until Julian Wood Glass. Jr (1910 – 1992) acquired it in 1955. The house and gardens opened to the public in 1998. Being a gardening kind of guy, I found it very enjoyable. Fortunately, the humidity and temperature had moderated and it was a great day for walking the grounds.

The museum building itself was opened in 2005. It contains four main galleries: the Shenandoah Valley History, the Julian Wood Glass, Jr., the R. Lee Taylor miniatures (houses and furniture) and the changing art exhibition gallery. The exhibit on display in the art gallery for the summer was the Mort Kuntsler exhibit. It was very enjoyable and a learning experience. Kuntsler was a very diversified painter. His works were in the traditional oil and he did a lot of American history scenes. He also did commercial works, art for magazine covers, and movie posters. By the end of my walk through the exhibit I had become a fan.

We took a break for lunch and went downtown to a little diner called the Shenandoah Valley Cafe. We met a lady at the museum from Rhonda's knitting workshop that recommended it to us. We split a very delicious authentic Ruben sandwich along with some fresh cut fries.

We went back to the museum so I could take pictures around the grounds. Also, there were some yard art made from eating utensils (flatware) and rebar in the landscaping outside the museum. I wanted to make some for our yard with some tableware I bought at a thrift store using my new welder.

Back at the campground, we took it easy under a nice shade tree with a great breeze blowing from the northwest. The temperature was much better than the ninety degree days back on Saturday and Sunday. We went back to the campus for the evening's entertainment after supper. The group played mostly sixties music. The lead singer sang several songs by James Taylor and was good enough to be a JT tribute artist.

Thursday morning we packed up and hooked up with our destination being the VA hospital in Salem. I had a 2 o'clock appointment and needed to be there by 1:30. It was a follow up to my kidney stone visit about a month earlier. We wanted to leave early enough to allow for ever present possibility of a traffic back up. You never know about I-81. On the way up, saw a back up in the southbound lanes from a traffic accident north of Harrisonburg that extended for miles. One of the attendees at the conference said they got in one north bound as they were coming to the conference.

We weren't sure where we would park at the hospital with the camper attached, but as luck would have it, we discovered that there was a large gravel overflow lot only a block or so from where I needed to go. Being as we had no delays we arrived with time to spare. We ate lunch in the camper and disconnected, so we could drive down to Harbor Freight and check out another shopping center.

After the appointment, which was mainly to consult with the doctor that was going to schedule the procedure to remove the stone, we hooked up and headed home. It was another safe and successful excursion.

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