Sunday, August 3, 2014

Sitting on Bubba

Imagine being shown up by a couple of newcomers.

Yesterday I'd decided that I was going to walk the North Bank Trail today, with a secondary goal of finding the trail to Texas Beach. If I could because I am directionally-challenged.

I know all this sounds like a modest plan, but take into account that in two decades of living here, I'd never walked either trail.

In fact, the main reason I was doing this at all was because on my way back from Belle Isle yesterday, I'd come through Oregon Hill and seen a sign pointing to the North Bank Trail.

Well, looky there!

With no idea what to expect trail-wise, I set out down the path, which soon changed from paved to gravel to dirt and rocks.

On either side was thick growth and in many spots, a living canopy overhead hemming in the air flow to almost non-existent. Places felt almost rain forest like.

The greenery eliminated any view of the river until I came up a hill and all of a sudden, I had the most sweeping view of the rapids and Belle Isle.

First thought: there ought to be a bench here.

Looking behind me, I saw why. I was at a high point directly in front of Hollywood Cemetery, one of the loveliest river views in the city.

I continued around the bend and there it was: Bubba's bench, with not one, but two plaques designating it as such.

It was a high bench - it came to my hip - so I had to hoist myself up on it like a kid, but the view (and seat) were worth it.

From there I kept going on the path, pausing to let mountain bikers, clutches of runners and and nervous-looking groups of walkers pass me on the narrow trail.

Eventually the shrubbery broke and I saw more of Hollywood Cemetery to my right and not long after another cemetery - Mount Calvary- spreading out beyond the trail.

Signs along the trail warned that parts were considered difficult, mainly due to elevation which in places reached 200' but once you're hot and sweaty, what's a few hills more?

In a couple of places I took shortcuts to avoid loops in the trail, other times I balanced on boards to cross muddy parts of the trail.

Finally I spotted the hiker's best friend, a PortaPotty, and climbed up to the parking lot for Texas Beach. Ta-da! But where was the beach?

I gravitated to the map to see if I was getting close, only to meet a couple already studying it who'd just moved to RVA two days ago.

Warning me that they'd be no help in finding Texas Beach, I nonetheless took the time to welcome them and tell them about Belle Isle, Brown's Island and the pipeline walkway.

I was terribly impressed that they'd been ambitious enough to already be out and experiencing their new city.

We parted company and it didn't take long for me to find the bridge that crosses the railroad tracks (where a coal train sat) and leads to the beach.

Best of all, when I arrived it was completely empty.

It took me no time at all to shed my shoes and socks and wade out into the river up to my shorts (on me, that's over half my body).

The view coupled with the solitude made me feel like I was far from home, a lovely, unexpected experience.

As I was wading out toward the rushing water, I heard voices and turned to see a father and son with fishing poles arriving at the beach.

They had a radio with them -the voices I'd heard- and all of a sudden, the peaceful scene had become a lively one.

Cooled to my core by then anyway, I climbed back on a rock to put my shoes and socks back on and continue my walk, passing a couple and their dog turning into the beach as I left.

Coming back over the bridge to the trail, I again ran into the newcomers and this time we stopped for a longer get-to-know-you chat on the bridge.

From Fairfax, one high school age daughter, live in Short Pump but hope to move to the city once she's off to college.

And guess what they wanted? Restaurant recommendations. Naturally I obliged.

The walk back flew by, perhaps because I recognized landmarks now, although one surprise came at the end of a small bridge where I looked down to see a broken gravestone next to the bridge.

"Katie Low," it said but the end of Katie's last name was broken off. Lowe? Lowell? Lowery? "1877-1941. Rest in peace."

Such an interesting place to be buried, so close to the river but away from the cemeteries.

It was a far quieter walk back with no hikers or bikers passing me as they had earlier. It was also hotter, sunnier and more humid if that was possible, so perhaps wiser souls had gotten their trailing done in the morning.

Not me. I'd set out at 11:00 and by the time I made it back to Jackson Ward, it was 1:30.

Of course, that allowed time for river wading, conversation with strangers, sitting on Bubba's bench twice and one pit stop.

I'd say I did pretty well for a first-timer. But, when strangers express surprise that it's your first time, you know you're way overdue.

Don't worry, I intend to make up for it with future frequency.

I can't wait to take some of my favorite walkers with me. Who'll be the expert then?


  1. I loved encountering Bubba's bench on my walk two weeks ago. I did a 6 mile loop from my house and will have to bring friends the next time and we can stop half way and have breakfast at 821 cafe.

  2. Why didn't I think of that? I love me some black bean nachos at 821!

  3. Yes, you have mentioned you like black bean nachos a time or two on here. I really enjoy reading your blog. I like to live vicariously through you. I love to walk and eat out, and would love to go out and enjoy music and art offerings, but I am a closet hermit.


  4. Melissa, I respect that, but you are missing so much! If you've been reading my blog, you know that I often go out alone and still have a great time. I have encountered nothing but friendliness everywhere I go - plays, music shows, art openings, readings, films, restaurants - alone. I'd love to run into you out some time.