Day 7 -- Thursday, May 7

I woke up today to a cold but sunny morning in the Bear's Den hostel outside Bluemont but as the day progressed, the weather got worse - colder, cloudier, windier, and soggier. I headed north first, as I was in Patsy Cline country and I wanted to look around

I went first to Martinsburg, West Virginia where the film, Sweet Dreams, starring Jessica Lange as Patsy, was lensed. I didn't know if there was anything to see there but it wasn't too far out of the way and it afforded me an opportunity to slide over into West Virginia.

I'm not certain I'll be back in that state on this trip so I had to, at least, set foot there. As it turns out, there was no Patsyana to be found, so it was south again to Winchester, VA, Patsy's hometown.

Winchester seems to be proud of Patsy but they don't trumpet her name everywhere one turns. In fact, one could easily drive right through the town and not pick up on its connection to the greatest female country singer of all time. However, if you stop at the Chamber of Commerce/Visitor's Center, they'll give you a map of Patsy sites, ranging from her childhood home to the neighboring house where she was married, from her high school to the drug store where she worked at the soda fountain after she dropped out of school to help support her family. The soda fountain isn't there anymore, but they've still got one of the booths. I had hoped to eat there, but instead went a block away to the Triangle Diner, a really cool old spot with a cute waitress but no particular Patsy connection (although it was open when she lived there, so she must have eaten there at one time or another). The drugstore has a tasteful little shrine to Patsy, with some sharp old photos, and the lady there was very helpful, sharing what information she had. She had gone to school with Patsy's younger sister. I also visited a music store where Patsy made some early amateur recordings. I then went to Shenandoah Memorial Park on Rt. 522 south of town, where she's interred. There's only a small little marker at her grave, nothing ostentatious. There's also a bell tower erected in her memory by her fans and friends and a plaque at the entrance gate. All in all, Winchester provides a pretty good little tour for her fans.

The next stop was Dinosaur Land, a little further south on 522. This is the kind of tourist attraction that's almost too good to be true, of the sort you figure just aren't around anymore. Nearly legitimate, almost educational even but they couldn't resist throwing in a few inexplicable offerings. Why, right in the midst of these statues of dinosaurs, each with its own sign describing the animal's characteristics and eating habits, are there a giant king cobra and an overgrown praying mantis, not to mention a King Kong statue? And next to the laughable representations of early man and woman are Frankenstein's Monster and the Mummy. There's also a giant shark. The gift shop is primo, too, with aisle after aisle of stuff nobody needs. Dinosaur Land is definitely a must-see. Cheesier fun is hard to come by. And all for $2.50 (children under 11 only $2)!

The continuing cold, damp weather has prevented me from camping out so far and, as motels exceed my modest daily budget, I have relied on youth hostels for my lodgings every night. On this day, though, I had to cover quite a bit of ground to reach the next one, near Galax in southwestern Virginia. Several people had urged me to take the Skyline Drive, known for its scenic vistas. I assumed it was a freeway like any other, only with some great views. Boy, was I wrong! The speed limit is only 35 miles an hour and once you're on it, you're not getting off for awhile. It was, indeed, a beautiful drive; I just hadn't picked the right day for it. After spending an hour to travel just over 30 winding miles, I got the heck off the Skyline Drive and started to jam on I-81. Virginia has the right idea about interstates; the one thing these super-highways have to offer is rapid travel, so the Commonwealth State does its part to make it rapid. The speed limit was a zippy 65 m.p.h. the whole way. Even so, I didn't make it to the Galax hostel until well after dark.

The next few days will be spent at a more relaxed pace, I'm pleased to report. I'll be in North Carolina for three or four days, seeing various and sundry friends and will have less ground to cover each day.

Continue on the American Odyssey.
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