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June 11, 2006

The past two days have been amazing. On June 9, after we finished looking at the last apartment, we had dinner at Ruby Tuesday. Following that we ventured into the basement of Michelle's apartment complex. It's quite an interesting place - the building that she lives in used to be an upscale hotel. It looks like a basement out of a horror movie. Needless to say, being the curious individual that I am, we did a little exploring. Though first she showed me the rec room - which had two pianos (we played around on one for a while) - as well as the laundry room, which would be used in the near future.

Anyway, the first order of business was to locate the nuclear fallout shelter. That was done with minimal effort, though sadly the doors were locked. At that point we walked past a door which said something to the effect of "Never Open This Door." Well, it was unlocked and in my mind that negated the previous sign. I opened it and there was a reasonably loud roaring sound that immediately emanated from the other side of the building. So I shut the door, and it stopped. Michelle indicated that it sounded like a washer. I, hoping it was something more indicative of the supernatural, said that I didn't think so. Regardless, we wandered a bit longer and then both decided that I should repeat the experiment - opening the door and seeing if the noise returns. The second time around no such luck. However, we did look around in the room. It was interesting, a dilapidated shower with a large boiler room and subbasement off to the left. Sadly, that part was locked. After additional exploration we determined that the noise from earlier had, as Michelle correctly pointed out, in fact been a washing machine. Unfortunate, as it would have been the first shred of evidence that I've seen of something initially unexplainable by science.


At some point somewhere in there we visited the Johns Hopkins' undergrad campus so Michelle could use the library. It's actually a pretty nice campus - an island of sanity in an otherwise very chaotic city. I of course snapped a few photos.

Finally, the day coming to an end, we sat out on the roof for a bit as we had done a night previous. Her room is on the second floor right above the overhang to the lobby, which makes for a very interesting location. After incessantly talking, probably to Michelle's annoyance, for a while I went down to get my laundry (now dry). Following that I packed everything up and headed to bed. The plan was to leave at 9am the next morning.

That following morning I awoke and did the morning routine, then packed up what I had used over the night and in the morning. At that point I determined that my wallet was missing. After looking around for a bit, I thought perhaps I'd left it in the basement of the building when I did laundry. As it turns out, I had. I spoke to the kind lady in the lobby and she indicated that the doorman had found it. To both of them I am very, very grateful. She had called the credit card companies and placed all the accounts on hold, in the event that someone had managed to already do something mischievous with my information. Upon returning to Michelle's apartment I called and reactivated all of them. Hopefully nobody actually got the numbers. I'll be watching my statement as closely as possible over the next week or so. Anyway, that disaster averted I loaded up my motorcycle, called my parents, and then said goodbye to Michelle. It was without question a great couple of days. I have no doubt that it will turn out to be one of the, if not the, highlight(s) of my trip.


After that I was off. I drove to Shenandoah National Park that day - it wasn't a terribly long drive (about three and a half hours) and the scenery was outstanding. I-95/I-495 is surprisingly nice into Virginia for an interstate. Upon arrival at Shenandoah I checked into Matthew's Arm campground (only $13 - almost reasonable!) and returned down to the town to find a place to wash my motorcycle (at this point it was pretty ugly looking), get gas, and get some food. That accomplished I returned to my campsite. I was pretty tired from the past couple of days so instead of exploring I decided to build a fire and relax. I was able to gather random bits of wood from nearby (unoccupied) campsites as well as the woods. Fire built, I relaxed the rest of the evening and finally went to bed.


I woke up the next day (today) at 6:30am, but realized that was way too early to be awake. So, I went to the bathroom and went back to sleep. It was, incidentally, rather cold this morning. I then woke back up at 9:30am and at that point decided I should do stuff. So, I went back to the campground registration area (I'd decided since it was a nice day and there was no sign of rain that I should stay another day - I'm slightly ahead of schedule anyway) and paid for another day. I also asked for suggestions of things to see and got a map. That done I decided on a rather ambitious task.


Matthew's Arm is located around mile 20 of the Skyline Road (the main road running through Shenandoah National Park and along the top of the Appalachian Mountains). I decided I would ride it all the way to the south (mile 105) as well as hike any trails that had waterfalls as well as a couple more. And so I set off. It was a long, long day but it was amazing. I drove the entire length of the parkway (starting around mile 20) and hiked quite a few trails. I saw five waterfalls and made my way up to the peak of Bearfence Mountain. On the way to the top, being the intelligent person that I am, I had been carrying my camera in the front pouch of my sweatshirt. Well at that point the camera had decided it was sick of living there. So, it evacuated - or jumped, to be more accurate. At that point apparently the battery decided it didn't like the idea of being along for that ride so it popped out of the camera and fell on a rock next to me. The camera, however, took off straight over the ledge. And so I watched it bounce off rocks for a little bit before it disappeared beneath the treetops. Though, I could still hear it bouncing. It stopped prematurely, so I was pretty sure it hadn't made it that far. I grabbed the battery, and started rock climbing down the side of a cliff. Probably one of the less intelligent things I've done, but it was actually pretty fun. I'm also relatively sure most sane people have ropes tied to them when they do that stuff, but oh well. I made it halfway down to the Appalachian Trail, realized that I was in fact not suicidal, and climbed back to the top. Though before I climbed back up I saw three people walking on the Appalachian Trail below. I yelled down to them asking if they saw a camera down there. The initial response was no, but after they looked around a bit more they actually found it. I was very, very surprised and very, very happy. I didn't expect the camera to still work, but I was pretty sure the memory card would still be intact and that was really the important thing at this point - I'd taken a lot of pictures during the past day and a half.

So, I made my way down to the trail the sane way and met up with the people who'd found my camera. Miraculously it looked to be in pretty good shape. I put the battery in, started it up and to my surprise it actually still worked. Nikon rules! I thanked the hikers profusely and continued on my way.


Later that day I decided to take another trail that led to a waterfall. It actually led to three if you take it even farther (about 6.5mi). Initially I was only going to see the first waterfall, but I foolishly decided to see the other two as well. The map estimated the travel time to be about 6.25 hours. I did it in about 3.5 - and at that point I was done hiking for the day. I hopped on my bike (I was now around mile marker 84) and continued the last 21 miles. After that I left the park, hopped on an interstate back up to the northern part, stopped for dinner, and returned to my campsite. And so here I am, sitting in front of another fire typing away on my laptop. Shenandoah National Park is an amazing place. Many of the places that I was able to see today weren't in that great of shape a couple of decades ago, but thanks to the National Parks Service and friends the area is on its way to a (at least nearly) complete recovery. It is interesting though - if you look at the pictures you may think that the sky is pretty foggy most of the time. It's true - but the reasons are hardly close to natural. Over two thirds of the visibility problem is a direct result from pollution. Go humans. Heh. Did I ever mention that humans, collectively, are pretty damn stupid? I'm sure I have to most of you... And yet on an individual basis most people are pretty nice. I've met quite a few people on this trip already, and I have yet to meet someone that strikes me as mean or uncaring. Ah well, I'll save the rant for some other time. Tomorrow I'm off to Williamsburg - it's only a couple of hours away, so I have no intention of setting my alarm and waking up tomorrow.

Oh, I forgot to mention, there are deer all over the place in Shenandoah. It's actually pretty neat. I'm hoping to see a bear before I leave - those are also apparently pretty common.