This is bear country!

When writing this post, the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas came to mind. In that movie Johnny Depp (Raoul Duke (Hunter S. Thompson)) and Benicio Del Toro (Dr Gonzo) are traveling to Las Vegas (or was it from…) when Depp announces “wait, we can’t stop here, this is Bat Country!”, which is a famous line from the film. Bats become a major component of the film, and are mentioned 35 times in the script. There are many strange and creepy moments in the film, and bats are a major (but perhaps the most natural) part of the experience.

Driving through Garrett County, Maryland — alone and totally sober (okay, caffeinated) — I noticed the appearance of Bears everywhere. Signs in the shape of bears, wooden bears, places with “bear” in their name. And to be clear, I’m talking about black bears aka Ursus americanus. Garrett county Maryland is clearly “bear country”.

Send More Tourists Unlike Raoul Duke, I had no fear of the dominant local mammalian fauna. Statistically speaking, only one person per year dies of a bear attack — and that’s all bears, not just black bears. You are 33,000 times more likely to to be killed by a human driving a car, than a bear. That’s 3,300,000% more likely. Here’s the source if you don’t believe me. Now, am I suggesting that if you’re on a road trip in bear country it is safe to stop in a forest, and prance off into woods covered in spoiled lard and blueberries? No! You should be weary of bears, and pay them the respect they deserve, but don’t avoid Garrett County because the dominant megafauna are bears.

If you think like I do, you’ll want some bear-themed souvenirs. Bear Creek Traders in McHenry, Maryland is a super-market sized store filled to the rafters with all manner of bear-themed bric-a-brac, tchotchkes, quelque chose. When I walked through the door, an alarm went off that announced “a rube as entered the building”. When it comes to travel situations, I have little self control, so I loaded up on $99 of tshirts, mugs, magnets, shot glasses, and stickers. I love that kind of stuff.

The most iconic manifestation of Garrett’s bear obsession are the chainsaw-carved bears that festoon nearly every business or homestead in the county. Chainsaw bears are not unique to Garrett, but they “own” the art form. If you haven’t seen them before, they’re literally bears sculpted out of wood using a chainsaw; the limited precision of a chainsaw combined with the natural grain of the wood simulate the fur of the bears.

Sell fudge and popcorn? Why not sell bears as well?
Chainsaw Bears

While mapping the outer edge of Brood V, I stopped at a chainsaw vendor in Bittinger along rt. 495. I met the proprietor, and we had a short conversation about bears, insects, religion, and life. There’s no sense in traveling unless you stop and talk to folks along the way.

Chainsaw Bear made by Bob on 495 in MD

Chainsaw Bear made by Bob on 495 in MD

Chainsaw Bear made by Bob on 495 in MD

In a “why the heck not” moment, I decided to purchase a small chainsaw bear. He now greets people who visit my apartment, and guards it from evil spirits.
My new roommate. #chainsawcarving #blackbear

Accident, Maryland

Accident, Maryland is a town created by accident. Legend has it that there was a guy, and this guy had one job to do. That job was to divide up the land in Garrett County, Maryland. But, he messed up. He done goofed. Instead of dividing the the land up evenly, he accidentally left one area unaccounted for. His accident became the town of Accident.

Hopefully not litterally

I visited Accident on purpose, but mostly to get this photo of this sign.

Sideling Hill Overlook

The Sideling Hill Overlook is at welcome center & rest stop in Maryland on i68. It’s worth stopping for the view of the massive cut through the a mountain called Sideling Hill, and the overlook of the valley to the east. Good for photographers, which is everyone these days.

Overlooking the valley below:
Sideling Hill Overlook

Mountain? No problem, just carve a wedge out of it:
Sideling Hill Overlook 2

There is a Vietnam War memorial on the premises. The rest stop facilities are clean as well.

Link:

Freddy’s Mart

I’ve discussed in previous posts how my in-dash GPS likes to take me on nail-biting, white-knuckle journeys down roads better suited for ATVs than my silver muffin low-rider. A few weeks ago the GPS decided to take me down a crooked snake of a road called Bear Creek Road in Garrett County, Maryland.

While the road was a harrowing one-lane adrenaline ride, the view was gorgeous: beautiful forest and bubbling streams. Another case of “do I enjoy the scenery, or do I focus on not dying”.

Garrett County Maryland

Along the winding way I encountered Freddy’s Mart: a ramshackle micro-village of barn-shacks encrusted and encumbered with all manners of Appalachian Plateau cultural artifacts. At the time I spotted the place I was being tailed by teens trying out for Fast n’ Furious: Appalachia Drift. With no time to slow down to allow them to pass I had to keep going, likely never to see Freddy’s Mart again.

In my mind Freddy’s Mart became a legendary place, and I began to manufacture a history for it. I cataloged in great detail its contents: logs shaped like snakes, buckets of thread spools, pots filled with old spark plugs, camping detritus abandoned by soft-handed weekend sportsmen, half used spools of Stren, roadsigns with shot holes, old glass insulators from telephone wires, one-eyed dolls that granted wishes.

By the time I shook the teens it was too far and too late to swing back for an investigation. I had to settle for my imagination. Or so I thought.

Headed back to Jersey a week later, my GPS once again took me down Bear Creek Road, providing me with a twice in a lifetime chance to see Freddy’s Mart. Fortunately this time I was able to slow down and stop, and take some photos. The place was closed, but seemingly just as interesting as I imagined.

My pictures are kind of poorly framed, but the locals started to stare me down, and I didn’t want to outstay my welcome. I can say that the property is for sale, and if anyone wants to buy it, now might be the time.

Freddy's Mart

Freddy's Mart

Freddy's Mart

I-95 is Atrocious

I-95 is atrocious — from the border of Delaware and New Jersey to about Richmond, Virginia it is possibility the worst road to travel in the U.S. due to traffic/congestion. What should take 4 hours, will often take twice that or longer. The traffic is due to the overpopulated Washington D.C. megalopolis and Virginia beach vacationers.

I-95 is filled with locals. You would think that they would learn to avoid this road, however they’re using it too, to get to the mall or to church or wherever. This amazes me. Personally, if I did not have to be on I-95, I would avoid it like toxic waste.

MD-295 is a little better. Yes, it is also a virtual parking lot, but there are more curves and trees, and you’ll get to see Washington D.C.

This photo of the Washington Monument isn’t good at all, but this is exactly how it looks from the highway: Washington Monument

Winding curves, hills, roadkill, odd/amusing garbage on the side of the road, and landmarks can make a congested road more bearable. Exits, merges and construction provide momentary distraction, but ultimately only compound the agony.

When I have to endure something miserable for a long period of time, like 4 hours of dental surgery or 9 hours on I-95, I apply a technique I call “going dead inside”. Just relax and put yourself in the mindset that you are already dead, and none of the miserable stuff matters. Works like a charm.

Last, I’ll mention what I like to call the Disneyland of Bladder Relief, which is the Maryland House Rest Area. Virtually everyone who travels between Virginia and New Jersey stops at the Maryland House, and without a doubt, it smells like it. Most people use the bathrooms at New York Penn Station or Grand Central Station, as examples of bathrooms that receive a mind-numbing amount of patrons (with poor aim), BUT they can’t hold a urinal cake, er…, candle to the Maryland House. It’s there for a reason, and it does its job well enough.

Maryland House