A thoroughly enjoyable early September week in London, Kent and Surrey
meeting Jim, Hester,
Damian, Pam, John, Kate, Bill, Brian, Ann (and new daughter Ruth),
Maeve........ -
good friends from sailing, Shell and EY, and including the first real
'shopping experience' I have had - in Harrods, only the 2nd time I had been
there - it  was like shopping in a museum or art gallery. The best was
the food hall where we bought very fairly priced scrumptious fresh food
for a BBQ for Iain and Mairead Adamsons (our kind hosts for the long
weekend). Then back
to Somerset to see our niece Tara and her fast growing 6 week old twins
Aiden and Harvey;
my Mum who at 85 is managing well in her own home (with a few changes), in
spite of  mini strokes which affect her memory. We also met up with the
Macdonalds (who in 'Helice' were net controllers with us crossing the
Atlantic in Nov 2003), they have set up a business - Mactra
shop - providing advice and buying and selling new
and 2nd hand equipment
for all long distance
cruisers. Their 2 daughters seemed to have gained from crossing the Atlantic
twice, instead of a year's school. From them we heard that about 6 of the
boats that crossed the Atlantic with us in 2003 and had left their boats in
Granada, had all been badly damaged by Ivan. Bill Southgate our RYA
insurance agent from Bishop Skinner (who is sailing the Atlantic himself
this year and is very good, says that he is dealing with at least 4 damage
claims already from Ivan). We felt for them, including
Noss of Dart who sent a moving email, but also
worried about Intrepid as Ivan was heading north....

Then with James back to USA. We hired a car for 3 weeks, drove the 3.5 hours
down to Deltaville Virginia and there was Intrepid, on stilts looking fine.
confirmed all the work to be done with the yard in preparation for the
Pacific (almost all just checking work - in both senses of the word), and
headed off to Richmond, Norfolk and west. In Norfolk, James and I did a 3
hour pistol course including 25 rounds live firing that entitled us to carry
a loaded concealed pistol if we cared to. The instructor reckoned that crime
in states that allow this has decreased - nothing about accidental deaths
though. One of the participants was a recruiter for the US army - he works
largely from home, and has to contact 250 people/month to see/interview 30
to recruit 3/month (his target). Its tougher now, but in Norfolk which is
one of the largest naval bases in the world and base for the Atlantic fleet,
military is a way of life. We toured the base, the 6 big aircraft carriers
were at sea, but we saw
about 6 amphibious (marine landing and helicopter) ships, plus lots of
others including the Cole that was attacked by Al Qaeda in Yemen.

But the real aim of the next 2 weeks was to do something of the Appalachian
Trail. I am afraid we knew little of it other than its name, but we learned
a bit more: It started with an article 'An Appalachian Trail - a project in
Regional Planning' in the 1921 Journal of Architecture (!) by Benton
This caught the public's imagination, and clubs were started and trails laid
over Federal land. Myron Avery continued the work and by 1937 the entire
trail from Maine to Georgia, 2100 miles along the ridge of the Appalachians
had been marked, using public roads where permission from landowners could
not be gained. But concerns remained about the lack of ownership. In 1979
Jimmy Carter's Assistant Secretary of Interior Robert Herbst appropriated
$90m to purchase land, states contributed more, and between then and 1996 ,
2338 individual purchases of land were made to safeguard the Appalachian
Trail in perpetuity. 69 people hiked the 2000 mile length 1935-1970, and a
total of 7000 to date have done it. (There is also a Pacific Rim Trail and a
proposed North/South Rockies Trail).

We had joined the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club which runs
primitive cabins along part of the trail. But we found it difficult to speak
to them, (they only answer the phone
from 7-9pm), and we figured the rental was /person, so we rented a
in the Shenandoah National Park, which is a +/- 3 mile wide strip of land
either side of the Skyline Drive - a magnificently scenic road along the top
of the Blue Ridge Mountains about 60-100 miles west of Washington DC. Our
cabin was at Lewis Mountain, run by the Park Service concessionaires at
$90/double cabin. We later discovered that until 1965 it had been for blacks
only - whites stayed at the Big Lodge - it still amazes me how recently
segregation existed. But the cabins were great, electricity, heat, showers,
2 bedrooms with rustic charm - better in many ways than the lodge which was
a bit of a large hotel. When we finally made contact with the PATC, and
found one of their cabins and a PATC member in residence, we discovered that
their cabins were indeed primitive - no electricity, water from a spring 100
yards away, pit toilet, and home to lots of mice etc (the etc - including
snakes, bears....were a little worrying I admit). The cabins had originally
been the homes of the dirt poor early settlers who had been forced west
because the landed gentry seized the attractive land east of here. Then when
the Park was set up in the 1930's their houses were compulsorily purchased
and they were evicted. They kept returning so most of their homes were
destroyed, but a few were kept to use as a base for trail maintenance
activities - now available to rent. Rates were /cabin sleeping up to 10
people - but we also were hearing that Hurricane Ivan was on its way north
towards us, having just missed New Orleans, and we were promised 4-7 inches
of rain in 24 hours, plus tornadoes as Ivan collided with a cold front
coming south. The Park Service evacuated all campgrounds but we managed to
stay in our Lewis Mountain cabin - and James and I postponed our planned
overnight camping trip. There are some marvellous circular walks however,
and we hiked up and down increasingly spectacular waterfalls in drenching
rain before making it back to the cabin. We also visited President Hoover's
summer white house (1930) - he had 3 criteria - it had to be within 100
miles of DC, on a trout stream, and be above 2500 feet to avoid mosquitoes.
Hoover and Ramsey McDonald (British PM) discussed (re)-armaments here.

The Shenandoah River and Valley are to the west, and on Saturday we explored
this. Virginia was the capital of the confederacy and essentially the front
line state, Shenandoah Valley (about 80 miles west of Richmond) was its
basket - parts of the valley changed hands 70 times during the civil war -
we toured the New Market  site where 230 Virginia Military Academy cadets
aged 18 on average halted and then helped defeat a Federal force. James gets
reduced entry on the basis of his British Army ID, and its interesting to
see the good feeling with which he is greeted. But he was unimpressed by the
adulation accorded the cadets ('at 18 they should
have been equal to any soldier - there are and were plenty of other 18 year
olds in battle'). Then we discovered that the cadets were largely sons of
prominent confederates, probably placed in the academy to keep them away
from active service, and when they did their duty given hero status by a
state that needed heroes as a PR
exercise by proud fathers. Many British 'heroes' have similar provenance.
Still interesting, and included a good realistic
movie using people who re-enact battles to illustrate it. It still rankles
with many Virginians that they lost the Civil War, (people we talked to in
bars - including one whose forefathers came over in 1654 from Hampshire,
England -
told us at some length that Virginians never lost a battle).

Shenandoah includes a relatively small (perhaps 10 miles by 3 miles)
wilderness area. No development whatever is allowed here, you have to pack
out everything you pack in. James and I had promised ourselves at least one
backcountry wilderness camping overnight, and we set off on Monday, carrying
everything we needed, and didn't see another person for the entire 2 days.
We hiked up and down ridges, forded or waded rivers and streams, saw deer
and weird rock formations, and finally as our water was running low, found a
perfect spring, and camped above it on a 'relatively' flat piece of ridge
for the night. James had brought spare Army rations - quite good actually -
and we talked about everything under the sun (moon actually) - it was
brilliant. Then we bear proofed our packs by hanging them 15 feet up a tree
and 5 feet from it, ditto for our rubbish, and slept. We kind of half hoped
for a bear, but in the wilderness all was quiet except for insects. Morning
we hiked out (more streams to wade) and arrived at our rendezvous with Nic
and the car. A superb 2 days.

We had finally booked a PATC cabin - Doyles
River - $18/night, sleeps 10 in 5 'double' bunk beds that are very solid.
Its 0.4 miles from the road so we had to pack all our stuff in. Water from a
spring 150 yards away, pit toilet 100 yards away (in the other direction), 1
room inside about 15ft x 15 ft, with a table and cast iron wood fired
stove/oven. Balcony outside with fire grate/BBQ and superb view over the
valley from rocks which drop down 30 feet only 10 feet from the balcony. The
magnificent trees in the Shhenandoah turn to their autumn (fall) colours in
any 2 weeks in the 6 weeks October/mid November. The first hints were
there - superb red maples, but more is to come - If you are coming to US for
the autumn colours, consider the Shenandoah! There is even an ecological
drama - American chestnuts are slowly dying from a cancer introduced from
China, the oaks are dying from the Gypsy Moth buutterfly/caterpillar, and
the hemlocks are dying from the effects of another woolly caterpillar. The
Park service are using bio methods to try to stop this - a natural predator
that attacks the 2 caterpillars. Hope it works..........

You have to leave enough wood for the next occupants to have at least one
supply - saws and axes are provided.. After spending 20 minutes cutting one
piece with what proved to be a very blunt saw, I got so excited at finding a
sharp one, that I must have cut 4 nights supply. While I hewed wood, Nicky
drew water from the spring, and we walked and BBQ'ed (food really does taste
better), and talked had a really
superb backwoods time (although the batteries on James iPod ran down - he
isnt quite ready yet for long term backwood living) - but he did see a deer
which came within 10 yards of the cabin, and a bear in the dusk. Each cabin
comes with 4 'improved' mousetraps, and having baited them with peanut
butter, one went off at 9pm. Result: a soundless, mouse free night, one dead
mouse the next morning, and no snakes (which are attracted by live mice).
how much rubbish/packaging we had to pack out to the carpark.

Then reluctantly back to DC to give James a whistle-stop tour of the capital
(Congress, White House, the new Museum of the American Indian is just
opening, Lincoln and Washington Memorials, and some superb sculptures
including Henry Moores  and a good exhibit on American Presidents in the
Museum of American History)- plus a fascinating talk by James Dyson on his
various inventions (worth it for the amazement in Nancy's voice when we
suggested it). Good deal for James first trip. We stayed with
Nancy leRoy, who is establishing another career as a film and stage actress
and writer after the State Department! Robin Berrington kindly hosted a
party for us on Saturday, where it was great to see Tom, Ellen and other
Fulbright leaders, Mark, director of the national portrait gallery and
Pamela Smith who is enjoying her teaching postgrad at
Georgetown University and World Wild Life Fund work - a change after being
an Ambassador!

Sunday we visited a corn maze with Nancy - a 'traditional'
pastime - of trampled passages in a real corn field. We took 1.5 hours to
finally conquer it, then in the evening we saw "The Subject' with Nancy in
her role as a Helen Hayes judge - this was in a small warehouse with just 2
actors and an audience only 10 times that - but it was an increasingly
intriguing new play about the interaction between artist and subject - this
was its premier production - hope it continues. Nancy was a great and
gracious host, but we had to leave, and as Hurricane Jeanne threatened
Virginia, we went to an almost deserted Virginia State Fair - perhaps
unsurprisingly lacking in crowds and spark - it was more like a fun fair
with add-ons than a show case for the country as County Fairs in England
tend to be. Nicky offered to act as consultant for next year......

In addition to the damage caused by the hurricanes themselves they also
spawn ran and thunderstorms and tornadoes (twisters) in advance of their
front part. The tornadoes stimulated by the rotating nature of the hurricane
are very powerful (100mph) but also very specific - one wiped out the left
side of a street and left the right side intact.
We are coming to the conclusion that the 3 or 4 hurricanes hitting Florida
may be the product of a serious increase in ocean temperature that will
continue to spawn more hurricanes until it cools, so are proposing to delay
launching Intrepid until mid October to give a better chance of dodging
them. In the meantime we will go further south and west by car, into West
Virginia and Tennessee............

Elections - DC is almost totally democrat (but are disenfranchised - DC
doesnt have any real representative to vote for - very strange - a product
the early fathers attempts to keep the capital area neutral).The first
Kerry/Bush debate is this Thursday - the rules cover 30 pages! The democrats
are registering 250% more new voters than the republicans in key states -
significant given the tightness of the race. Kerry needs to make up lost
ground by attacking Bush's record more effectively  (Bush is very effective
at attacking Kerry as a flip-flopper)....Bush is running on a campaign that
says America is safer under him. Will Al Qaeda try to influence this
election like they successfully did in Spain? If they want to, but can't,
then I guess Bush's case will be proven, or at least stronger.........

We hope you are all well and missing hurricanes as best can be.........

Best wishes,

Andy and Nicky Gibb.