Friday, April 6, 2012

Appalachian Trail

It is famous for requiring huge sacrifices from humans who imagine they can walk 2200 miles in a summer.

A colleague of mine aspires to be a through hiker on the AT as it is known. My idea of a hike is an hour spent ambling along the crest of the mountain, watching my elderly yellow Labrador get her day's fun from unfamiliar woods and smells.

We stopped by at dawn, fifteen minutes from the urban chaos of Roanoke, Virginia, and we watched the sun come up in a blaze of 50 degree glory.

Hikers routinely leave their cars here in the huge graveled lot. I felt rather a fraud stopping off to simply let Cheyenne pee and sniff.

There are the usual information boards and...

...useful signs.

The famous AT is nothing more than a rather long and frequently strenuous walk in the woods. It's not a yellow brick road nor a path to Shangri-La. It's just a trail, marked rather idiotically by excessively frequent white paint blazes as though it could possibly be something other than what it is.

Cheyenne was in no hurry.

And as it turned out, neither was I.

I never thought I would find myself on top of a place called Catawba Mountain but here I was quite enjoying the cold Spring morning.

If I have to be honest it is rather more impressive a place than your average, common-or-garden mangrove swamp.

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Downtown Roanoke

Plenty of flags in downtown Roanoke which lend color but is it any surprise the heart of the city is dominated by all the antennae that make a television station work?

As much as it is despised, the mainstream press is what the mainstream depends on for a daily reality check. When I let strangers know I have no TV reception, more do I want any they tend to get either thunderstruck or angry.

The big banks have twisted the press around their collective little finger and we are all suffering for those shortcomings.

Roanoke did better no doubt in the boom years before the crash like everywhere else. There are plenty of empty storefronts to attest to that downtown.

But Roanoke has a vibrant core that avoids box stores and debates about sustainability by sustaining local artisans and growers in the Roanoke River Valley.

Go by in the afternoon and the city market is wrapped for the day. No preservatives is a policy that requires early sales. Go by in the morning and finds meat fruits and vegetables coming to your table direct from the growers. Local food for local people, and demand is so high for space there is a waiting list to become a vendor.

Go downtown on a motorcycle and don't expect to find dedicated parking. However the cute local trolleys are part of the regular metro system and do more than clog streets with slow moving traffic as they do in Key West. These trolleys function as cute buses.

Key West's Havana One Cuban restaurant on Truman Avenue used to operate around here. Their move south has not removed the last trace of Cuban cuisine from Roanoke.

Cheyenne liked the sights and smells of the City Market even though I had forgotten her collar and had to improvise with a loop in her extend-a-leash.

Traffic was light, trees were in evidence all to the carbon dioxide good.

As was Roanoke's finest in evidence but I forgot to bring a patch to swap as police departments have a habit of doing. The patch is the log worn on the shoulder of the uniform and swapping these symbols is a widespread hobby among law enforcement.

The founding family of the Advance Auto Parts chain lives around here and donated something like 76 million bucks to locate a misplaced flying saucer here. It's actually a performing arts center and quite controversial in shape they say though it works beautifully.

More traditional is the Hotel Roanoke dominating it's own piece of Elizabethan skyline.

On one side of the market is old time Roanoke's old fashioned barber shop, while on the other side, seen in the reflection is the new and gentrified renovation, still not completely accepted despite the deplorable condition of the original building.

The Cornerstone was our stop for beer and cold water. Beer above the table and cold water below.

Cheyenne was supplied under the table by the friendly bartender because Roanoke unlike Key West allows dogs outdoors in bars without elaborate and silly health and insecurity regulations such as are the fashion in the Sunshine State.

It was a good moment to stop and measure the head on a draft beer, or the silly signs in the bar.

Roanoke has miles of bicycle trails and sells itself as an outdoor city in the Blue Ridge mountains. Never mind the trails and the hiking and the paddling, I like that it has benches in it's parks and no snowbirds and no traffic jams.

It has unobtrusive bums not panhandling as though they were on Duval but they do have to pray for their supper at the massive Christian Mission nearby.

And no matter how far one gets from the Southernmost Point one finds reminders everywhere. I thought for a moment the city was coming up to meet me and save me a long drive home.

Key West in this context is I am told a band not unlike the locally grown Latitude 24 of Keys fame. Key West really is everywhere.

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