A week at Hungry Mother State Park

It’s a rainy, rainy day here in Richmond, Virginia. The rain shows no sign of stopping. And we’re still in the midst of a pandemic, so it’s not like we can entertain ourselves by going to a movie or bowling or something. I could clean my house (it needs it!) but I don’t feel like it. I feel like writing a post for my travelogue, which hasn’t been updated since December 31. So here I go. I’ll share with you our recent trip to Hungry Mother State Park. 

But let me backtrack a little bit. For the last few summers, we’ve done a northeastern tour, playing gigs in an assortment of places between Virginia and Maine. Those tours have been a ton of fun. We’ve enjoyed spending time with so many friends and family members along the way, while playing at venues outside our normal range, and doing lots of hiking and biking and swimming as well. The downside, though, is that those tours can be exhausting, moving place to place every few days. They also take a lot of time away from my work, and since I used up every second of my annual leave last year, something had to change this year. 

So, for this year, we had decided to rent a cabin at Hungry Mother State Park for an entire week, and play several gigs out that way, in lieu of our typical summer tour. The anchor was their “Music in the Park” concert series, which we had played a few times already and were booked to play again. John managed to also book a gig on the way there, and another on the way back. Earlier this year, he was starting to work on more bookings, but then the pandemic hit, and he didn’t try to book anymore. Those en-route gigs ended up getting cancelled, but Music in the Park was still on. We had already decided to keep our cabin reservation regardless of what happened with gigs, but we were happy to still have this one opportunity to play. 

Saturday 

We departed Richmond for Hungry Mother State Park on Saturday, Aug. 1. We took the slightly longer way, which takes over 4.5 hours. 

We stopped for a takeout lunch at Angelo’s Sub Cafe in Amelia. We should have walked right back out when we saw that no one, including staff making food, was wearing a mask, except for us and one other customer. But we didn’t. We stood around awkwardly in our masks, trying not to think of the covid particles seeping around the edges, while we waited for our sandwiches. We ate in the van in a parking lot down the road. I will say that the sandwiches were truly delicious, but we will not be visiting that establishment again, at least while the pandemic continues. 

I think it was about 5/5:30 when we arrived at the park. We headed straight for our cabin and got settled in, had drinks, then went in to Marion and got takeout dinner from the Wooden Pickle. We had tried to call in the order but no one answered the phone,  so we ordered at the bar and sipped a beer outside while we waited. Mask protocol in there was much better than Angelo's, but not perfect.  

Low key evening after dinner. We went for a walk around the cabin loop, and although the moon was big and bright, we could barely see due to the tree canopy. (We resolved to carry flashlights the next time.) After the walk, it wasn't long before I fell asleep reading in bed. Lovely to have windows open and a crossbreeze rather than AC, after the oppressive heat and humidity in Richmond. 

Sunday 

Got out of bed around 9, surprised it was that late because it was still a bit dark and dreary. We went for a run/walk, through the campgrounds and back. I made French toast from the last of my homemade bread, with bacon John had bought at Belmont Butchery in Richmond.  

We sat on the porch for a while after breakfast, sipping coffee and enjoying the cool breeze, then headed out on a hike. We did a figure-eight loop consisting of the Raiders Run and Old Shawnee trails, about 2 miles total. Got a great look at a young buck who was very much aware of us, but not scared. Also saw a pileated woodpecker low to the ground. Saw loads of diverse mushrooms, and took photos of many of them. You couldn’t walk more than a foot without seeing another shroom! 

Foraged lunch at the cabin. Did a drive through downtown Marion, then went grocery shopping. The slowest, surliest employee EVER was working the deli counter, so that took about 5 hours. They didn't have the dish towels and the bathmat we needed, so then we had to go to Walmart. The horror.  

As we were entering Walmart, there was a poor young man whose job it was to ensure that customers had masks. He talked with two women who were about to enter without face coverings. They proclaimed loudly,  "We'll take 'em, but we ain't wearin' 'em." I said loudly, as we walked by them into the store,  "That isn't cool." One of the women said, "You can wear your mask; it shouldn't bother you if I don't wear mine." "It DOES bother me", I said. Now John and I were both pissed off, and the Walmart shopping experience was that much worse. 

We got outa there as fast as possible. Halfway back to the cabin, we realized we'd forgotten to hit the liquor store. I needed my Malibu! So back we went. We stopped by the camp store to get firewood, as our final stop. And then finally it was time to sip my rum drink out on the deck, and later we had a steak dinner cooked over the campfire. 

The night was beautiful. There was a screech owl calling nearby, and a gorgeous full moon. We went for a walk down to the lake and determined that cabin #2 is the primo location, right on the water. We’ll try to reserve that one in the future. We sat on a bench by the water for a bit to enjoy the moonlit view and the sound of bullfrogs croaking. 

Monday 

Woke up to thunder and rain, and it rained most of the day, promoting laziness. We didn't get up till about 9:30. I did my yoga out on the sheltered porch, then made us a late breakfast. Did a lot of reading. Took advantage of a lull in the rain to bring my piano in, and did some practicing. 

Late afternoon, we took a walk down to the lake despite the light rain, which let up before we got back. We found that we could easily walk to the Molly's Knob trailhead, and thought we would do a long hike from there the next day. Later we decided to postpone that plan in favor of biking.  

Struggled to make a fire with damp kindling and 14- year-old fire starters; it almost died a few times. But we did manage to keep it going, and cooked turkey burgers and corn on it for dinner. Sat in front of the fire quite awhile after dinner. 

Tuesday 

I had set my obnoxious rooster alarm so we could get up and out at a reasonable time. We kept breakfast simple: fruit, yogurt, granola. Then we packed lunch, loaded up the bikes, and drove to the trailhead for the Virginia Creeper Trail in Abingdon. Our goal: ride to Damascus and back. 

This was such a beautiful ride, definitely one of the best for both of us.  

We rode through shady woods and open farmland, crossed numerous trestle bridges, enjoyed views of distant mountains and a river just down the hill.  

We came across a cluster of three treehouse cabins that I'm dying to know if we can rent. It doesn’t seem that we can, but in the process of trying to find out, I came across an intriguing web site with options elsewhere.  

We saw countless grazing cows, some horses,  a group of two does with their two fawns, a fox squirrel, indigo buntings and goldfinches. The trail was relatively level, but mildly concave between Abingdon and Damascus. So as you leave one town, you're cruising slightly downhill, but then you face a slight incline toward the next town after about the halfway point. It's enough that you can definitely tell the difference in effort. The ride was about 31 miles roundtrip, farther than either of us had biked in a long while (longer for John). My legs were fine but my butt was sore and my hands a little numb. It was a good challenge.  

For dinner, we had our very first dine-in meal together since the pandemic shut things down. We got pizza and beer at Moon Dog in Marion, seated outside. 

Wednesday 

After breakfast of blueberry pancakes, we rented kayaks and spent about 2.5 hours leisurely paddling around the lake.  

We thought about going to the beach right after returning our boats,  but we were hungry so we went back to the cabin for lunch first. The weather was iffy when we did finally get to the beach, and it started sprinkling almost as soon as we got our chairs set up. Plus the lake water was not warm enough to swim without the impetus of hot sun, so we left.  

I read for much of the afternoon; John ended up taking a nap. He felt crappy for "wasting the afternoon", but I convinced him it was not too late to start a hike at 6 pm, which we did. We went up to the summit of Molly's Knob and back. It was a good challenge rewarded by a nice view at the top.  

We got back at dusk, collected some fresh kindling, and I built a roaring fire. I cooked chicken, eggplant, zucchini,  onions, and flatbread over the fire. We ended up playing music till after 1 am. 

Thursday 

Before breakfast, I went out alone to get more gallon jugs of water and some groceries. Made a late breakfast of bacon and eggs, and then we went to the beach. The water was a little cold for us so we spent more time sitting in the sun than swimming. We went back to the cabin for lunch, picked up some more firewood at the park office, then hit the Stone Lick Trail. That hike was quickly abandoned as dark clouds and rain set in. It ended up not amounting to much, as we realized back at the cabin, but we didn't attempt the trail again. John went back into town for beer while I read on the porch. 

Also: I confirmed that the mouse nest I had found earlier, in the warming bin under the oven, is in fact the home of an active mouse. I tried to catch it but didn't come close. 

We practiced some music in the afternoon, and started putting together a setlist for the next day. Late afternoon/early evening, we walked a section of the Lake Loop trail, and picked up some kindling on the way back. For dinner, we made pizza cooked over the open fire. That was a first for us, but won't be the last. Had a really good fire going, and watched it burn down to coals before going to bed. 

Friday 

Had a simple breakfast of fruit, yogurt, and granola, packed a lunch, and set off from the Stone Lick trailhead once again. This time we were committed. We did the entire Stone Lick trail, plus a loop comprised of part of the Clyburn Ridge trail using Clyburn Hollow Trail as a shortcut, for a total of about 4.5 miles. 

We had another short stint at the beach, and another short music practice, then got ready for Music in the Park which started at 7. John was being pessimistic about people showing up, but we had good turnout. People are prompt; they don't arrive until a few minutes before showtime. It took a few songs for us to get the sound balanced right and for me to shake my jitters, but overall I think we did well and people seemed to really enjoy the concert. A number of people came up to talk to us at the end, and a few bought CDs. Glen, the president of the Friends of Hungry Mother, chatted with us at length. 

Got back to the cabin and spent some minutes watching  our resident spider wrap up a beetle caught in its web. Built another roaring fire, and used it to cook sausage sandwiches for dinner. Enjoyed the stars and the owl calling. Sad that it was our last night. 

Saturday 

Had to wake up to the obnoxious rooster alarm again, because Virginia State Parks is completely inflexible about the 10 am check-out time for cabins. We toasted leftover pancakes for breakfast and frenziedly packed up a week’s worth of chaos. 

After vacating the cabin (and sadly forgetting the oreos in one of the cabinets), we drove to the opposite end of the park, and parked at a trailhead near the boat ramp. We hiked about a 3-mile loop comprised of the CCC Trail and part of the Lake Loop Trail. At one point we rounded a corner and came face to face with a doe, so close we could see her whiskers. She didn't run off, but looked straight at us. 

We had lunch outside at the Wooden Pickle before driving to Lynchburg, about 2.5 hours away. John had booked us a suite on Airbnb. There was some confusion about checking in because John's text to the host had not gone through, but we connected with him soon enough. It's a private little apartment that's part of a much bigger house, with a good sized living/dining area and full small kitchen. It's on a dead end road that ends at a cliff overlooking the James River. 

After checking in, we walked out to the main road, Rivermont, which has a lot of opulent homes. From there, we took a right and went a few more blocks to Riverside Park, wandered around a bit, then headed back. It was hot. We had gotten used to the cooler temperatures of Hungry Mother.  

We got takeout pizza and beer from a place nearby, and ate at our flat. I ate my entire pizza! And John ate all but one slice of his. Afterwards we went for a little walk around the neighborhood. Came across some friendly cats, and an old car that had been elaborately decorated as an ant invasion! We resolved to go back the next day to get pictures in the daylight. 

Sunday 

I made bacon and eggs for breakfast at our Airbnb. We got packed up and out of there by a little after 11. We went around the corner to take photos, in daylight, of the crazy ant-car we'd found the night before.  

We drove to the Awareness Garden, where we got on the James River Heritage Trail System with our bikes. We biked to Percival's Island and all the way to the very end of the trail, totaling over 13 miles round-trip. After the long ride on the Virginia Creeper Trail a few days before, this seemed like a little stroll.

On the way back, we stopped for lunch. We had been planning to go to the Depot Grille, where we've eaten a few times before, but decided to branch out and went to the Water Dog instead. We were not disappointed. They had simple picnic tables for outdoor seating, which was fine by us since we still won't dine inside anywhere. John had a burger with fries (of course I had some of those!) and a beer, and I had a fried oyster po-boy and a hard cider. 

Bellies full, we had to bike back to the car. But it was not as difficult as we thought it might be. Not difficult at all, in fact. Great trail. And then we had to drive home. The only good thing about that was our pets waiting at the other end.