Stargazing

If you know about my affinity for Los Angeles/Beverly Hills, you probably think I’m going to write about famous people. Nope. I’m actually talking about stargazing of the astronomical kind, not the Hollywood kind.

Last year, my friend, Mary Ann, and I went to Damascus, Virginia, with five kids: her three, my daughter, and a friend of my daughter. Damascus, Virginia, is the home of the Virginia Creeper Trail, a 34-mile bicycle trail that starts at the top of Whitetop Mountain. For info about the trail, click here. We went to ride half the trail…the first 17 miles from the top of the mountain to the town of Damascus.

Before we went, I called ahead to the bike shop and let them know we would be coming. The bike shop I like to use, Creeper Trail Bike Rental (see website here), has a large assortment of rental bicycles for adults and children. I spoke with Craig, one of the owners of the shop with whom I had dealt before. Next, I set up a rental for the night before our ride. We opted to rent a local four-bedroom apartment for the night, so we would have plenty of room for the seven of us.

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We left Charlotte in the afternoon and arrived in Damascus a couple of hours later. It was late afternoon, and we went straight to our rental apartment. After everyone picked a room, we decided to go out to dinner. Damascus is a small town, and a lot of places close early, but fortunately, we ran into some locals who told us about a locally-owned pizza place, which turned out to be fun and delicious. It was located near a grocery store, so right after dinner, we went to the grocery store to get milk and cereal for breakfast and a few other snacks to take out on the trail with us the next day.

Once we were back at the apartment, some of the kids went inside, and a few of us stayed outside. We had noticed how clear the skies were, and thanks to Mary Ann’s oldest son, I had a new app on my phone that would help me see constellations, satellites, and stars. Mary Ann and I sat out on the picnic table in the backyard chatting for a while before lying back to see the stars. Where I live in Charlotte, there is so much city light that it’s difficult to see any stars. Add in the fact that my husband lights up the exterior of our house like an airport, and there’s not much chance of seeing anything in the sky. Using the app Mary Ann’s son had told me about, Sky Guide, I knew which satellites would be coming over the horizon, and I found constellations I wouldn’t have been able to find otherwise. I don’t know if there was a meteor shower that night, but we saw lots of meteorites, or as I like to call them, shooting stars. The term, shooting stars, just sounds more exciting. Two of the kids came out to join us as we were stargazing, and we all were amazed at the sky above us. I had never realized just how much fun it is to stare at the sky. I could have stayed there all night.

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We were relaxed and enjoying the sky show when suddenly, we heard a loud BANG! I don’t know what we thought it was, but it scared us. Well, it scared three of us, anyway. Three of us were off that picnic table in a split second and fighting our way up the porch steps and through the back door of the apartment. Mary Ann never made it inside. She was too busy laughing at us from the picnic table. As it turns out, the sound was a truck backfiring on the road in front of the apartment, so nothing to fear, but it took a few minutes for my pulse rate to come back down. I still wonder why Mary Ann didn’t run…was it a set up? Couldn’t have been, though, because no videos of the three of us running scared have surfaced…yet. Actually, I wish we did have a video, because it had to be hilarious. We did go back to stargazing afterward, but we couldn’t stop giggling about the backfire.

The next morning, we all got up, packed up our belongings, and went to the bike shop at about 9am. Craig loaded our rented bikes onto a trailer and drove us up the mountain in his van. On the way up, we told him about our stargazing the night before, and he suggested that net time we are in the area, we should go up to the top of Whitetop Mountain and do some stargazing from there. He said it’s beautiful on a clear night. I’m hoping I can get Mary Ann to go with me again in a few weeks, but frankly, I’m a little afraid of going to Whitetop…what about bears? Or Bigfoot? Maybe we will go in my car and watch the skies through the sunroof…at least then, we could make a fast getaway if necessary. I’m not usually a wimp, but I’m a wimp about bears and Bigfoot…and mountain lions…and snakes…and spiders.

So, Mary Ann, get your shorts and sneakers, and let’s hit the trail…The Virginia Creeper Trail! Looking forward to some pizza and stargazing!

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