Monday 28 July 2008

Climbing WV

Last week we headed west to Franklin, West Virginia to climb. We encountered this sign along the way, and I thought it was funny enough to jump out and take a photo.

The best climbing in the immediate area is at Seneca Rocks, which is all trad. Apart from me there was no-one else with much trad experience so we hooked up with some self-proclaimed bolt monkeys and hit Franklin Gorge.

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The monkeys knew their stuff, and after a 5.9 warm-up lead for me (bit more than a warm up), I got up a variety of 5.10a's and 10b's on top rope. We stayed the night at a nearby 4-H camp, which had the worst bathrooms I've seen outside Asia, but was otherwise really nice. I later found out that 4-H (Head, Heart, Hands, and Health) is sort of like the scouts, and WV is home to the first 4-H camp. Back to the rock the next day for more climbing. Em did some walking at Seneca Rocks and Blackwater Falls which looked really nice.

Assateague and ocean city

A couple of weeks ago we headed to the beach for Em's birthday. We camped at the Assateague Island National Seashore, which is the narrow strip of sand extending down the coast of Maryland and Virginia.

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It is best known for its "wild" horses, which are pretty used to people. We had them wandering through our campsite and hanging out on the beach - I'm used to dodging jellyfish on the beach but piles of horse poo was a new one.
We hung out on the beach, did some swimming - the water was *seriously* cold, and drenched ourselves in 40% DEET to keep the mozzies at bay, which were bad everywhere except on the beach. We also drove into nearby Ocean City, which is kind of like the Gold Coast. The beach there is nice, really long, with lots of volleyball courts. The boardwalk along the shore is huge (3 miles long!) but unfortunately is chock full of tourist trash shops - cheap T-shirt stores, henna tatoos etc. There weren't even that many bars, and basically no nice restaurants, although some of the hotels might have had some nice places to eat. Made us glad we were camping in the national park!

Biking the northern central rail trail

A couple of weekends ago Em and I joined some fellow aussies to ride a few miles of the northern central rail trail. This is part of a network of trails built on abandoned railway lines (minus tracks and sleepers) that runs a continuous 330 miles from DC to Pittsburgh! The scenery was nice, the trail amazingly flat, and a whole lot of people were floating down the river on inner-tubes since it was a stinking hot day. Think we will have to give that a go before we leave!

Wednesday 9 July 2008


A few months ago I was reading one of those "things to see before you die" lists in a magazine, and was astounded to find that there was some house in Pennsylvania (of all places) that made it into the top 20, alongside others entries like the Grand Canyon and the Pyramids!

Turns out this is no ordinary house, it is Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece plonked on top of a beautiful waterfall in Bear Run, Pennsylvania. It was completed in 1939, and is composed of a number of cantilevered concrete slabs that hang out over the waterfall, held in place by piles of local rough-cut stone, all perched on top of a waterfall with no foundations. As our guide said, there will never be another house built like this in the US because there is no way you could get the planning permissions!

The tour was excellent, and we learned of many FLW innovations that put him ahead of his time. My favourite feature was how he built around a number of large boulders, incorporating one as the floor of the fireplace, and another that has hillside water seeping over it and into a hidden drain that passes under the house. Definitely worth the trip!

Tuesday 8 July 2008

Confederates and the Union battle it out at Gettysburg 145 years on

Ever since I saw a civil war re-enactment on the Amazing Race it has been in my top 5 list of things to do in the US. So we went to the big one. Gettysburg on the 145th anniversary of the Confederates' defeat at the hands of the Union. The re-enactment went for three days, with 12,000 armed re-enactors, 200 cannons and artillery pieces, and 400 horses. We went for the 5th of July after watching the fireworks in Baltimore on the 4th.

The spectacle was amazing. The first battle at 11am was "Polished Sabers Dazzling in the Sun" – Cavalry Engagement Hanover Road with an impressive number of mounted troops fighting with sabers and pistols, as well as artillery and dismounted skirmishers pitching in. Of course this had nothing on the 5pm battle "Hold the Line" – Gallant Rally at the Klingle Farm where the field in front of us filled with infantry, cannons, and mortars all letting loose simultaneously with a deafening din of gunpowder.

I took some movies with the camera, but none of them do it justice. The cannons exploding produced massive bass booms that you could feel as physical thumps and the rifle fire was a constant series of loud whip cracks, all of which sounds like a bit of gentle popping on the video! Check out the videos below, the first is the cavalry battle and the others are the bigger 5pm battle.

All in all it was an awesome day. I'd highly recommend it, and I would definitely recommend the grandstand seats we had for a brilliant view.