Saving the Best For Last

And, all of the sudden, we were back in our own driveway. Can’t believe six weeks slipped away already.

But, it appears that we might have saved the best for last, as our Southeast Tour finished with a bang. The last week (plus the Hatteras days) was probably our favorite of the entire trip. Here’s why…

So….onward we go to Portsmouth, Virginia where we camped at the home of our T@DA friends Gail and Sid. Perhaps the Campsh@ck has never had a more lovely site to rest her wheels.20171028_1718081398289939.jpg On the way there, we stopped at the Wright Brothers National Monument in Kill Devil Hills, NC. 20171028_123114324045352.jpgAlthough the Visitor Center is undergoing restoration, a fantastic Ranger brought the Wright Brothers Kitty Hawk experience to life. Markers chart the distance of the first four flights on December 17, 1903. Flight one was 120 feet. The fourth flight was over 800 feet. That’s a pretty impressive improvement for a single day. One the edge of the area is a series of full-sized bronze statues of Wilbur, Orville, the plane, the photographer, and a few other spectators of that historic day. It’s an inspirational place to visit.

OK, back to our visit to Portsmouth. The nearby town of Newport News is the home of The Mariner’s Museum, which is where we decided to spend a cool, rainy afternoon. 20171029_130658894841538.jpgDesignated by Congress as the National Maritime Museum, there are exhibits to capture the imagination of anyone – young or old, landlubbers or sailors. If you’re of a ‘certain age’ like me, you learned about the battle of the Union’s Monitor and the Confederate States’ Merrimack (actually the CSS Virginia) in the Civil War. (I swear that I learned the Monitor had won this battle. Not true, says the Museum – they battled to a draw.) The Mariner’s Museum is the home of the USS Monitor – pieces that have been raised from the spot where it sank off the Hatteras Coast have been restored onsite, and are displayed here. The history of these two ships, the story of their construction, and the battle are brought to life here in a variety of media, artifacts, and exhibits.20171029_143132984290267.jpg 20171029_140318419007988.jpgImagine these two ironclad ships pounding each other with cannons from a distance of a mere 100 yards. The unique revolving turret of the Monitor provided a difficult target for the Merrimack to hit, and the lighter artillery of the Monitor was unable to land disabling blows to the Merrimack.

Anyway….the Monitor sank while being towed on December 31, 1862. It took until 1973 for the wreck to be located, and it has been partially salvaged. That’s what’s in this Museum, and it’s incredible. (The rest is a protected underwater sanctuary where it went down). The anchor, ship’s wheel, the entire revolving turret with its two cannons, a lantern, and other artifacts are here.20171029_1318141907314660.jpg20171029_150637166493276.jpg20171029_1455351612396724.jpg20171030_09203843795966.jpgAbove is a full-scale model of the turret (complete with the guns inside) exactly as it looked when brought up from the bottom of the sea. Restoration is being done onsite at the Museum, and some pieces and parts are still submerged in a series of baths in order to stabilize the metal. Here’s a shot of the cannon in the above photo in its tank where it’s being rehabbed.20171029_151520787025923.jpg It’s thrilling and chilling to see all of this. The photos don’t do it justice. There’s also a full-size model of the Monitor outside, which I visited briefly in the pouring rain (everyone else stayed inside).

But, there’s more. The Museum also is home to the hull of the Oracle Team USA wing-sail catamaran, which won the America’s Cup in 2013 by defeating New Zealand in an unprecedented seven races after being one race from elimination. It is HUGE! It’s hanging from the ceiling, and the the size is just jaw-dropping.20171029_1546231371569811.jpgFilms from these races are thrilling. 20171029_1547491912918346.jpgYou can test your own power output on a winch (a professional World Cup participant can generate 500+ watts of power.) I managed about 90 for a very short period of time.

There are dozens of amazing models of nearly every kind of ship. Some are gigantic. All are precise and handmade.20171029_154314680577239.jpgIf you get a chance, go to The Mariner’s Museum. Plan to spend a whole day, then go back the next day to see everything you missed. It’s fantastic.

Somehow, Gail and Sid fell for our plea to join us at Shenandoah National Park for a few days of camping. 20171101_1059431509727254.jpgThey quickly packed up, and we all headed out to this amazing National Park in NW Virginia, along the Skyline Parkway. The Appalachian Trail runs through here, as well as many other trails. 20171031_1216431243448137.jpg20171031_1456211242352886.jpg20171031_1456561230823211.jpgWe watched a fantastic demonstration/concert of a hammered dulcimer.

The day after Gail and Sid headed home, we wandered a short section of the Appalachian Trail. What spectacular views! 20171101_1329001086048871.jpg20171101_134518305485962.jpgWe braved howling winds and the only really cold temps we had in our six weeks of camping to hike to a stunning waterfall. I can’t wait to go back – we hope to be able to camp at all of the Shenandoah campgrounds next year (four?) It looks like an intriguing place to explore.

One more spot – I’ll try to be brief. Hocking Hills State Park had been on our radar for a few years – fantastic photos have been posted by folks in our camping group. Travel and Leisure Magazine rated it the #1 spot to camp in Ohio. It was a dreary late afternoon when we rolled into the campground, expecting to have our choice of dozens of sites since it was mid-week/early November. Not so fast….apparently Ohioans love this park. It was booked full for the weekend, but we did find a promising site among the 20 or so non-reservable sites. 20171102_172201866132385.jpg20171103_10294839296417.jpgOur first impressions were not too positive. Hard rain the day before had left standing water everywhere. The entire campground is in need a several hundred trucks of fill to level out the low spots. The paved pads at each campsite were a few inches higher than the surrounding ground (at least on one side), leaving a mess of slick mud. Attemps had been made to cover up some of the low spots with bales of hay – we gathered up some excess hay from surrounding sites to try to keep us above the mess, with mixed results.

But what the campground lacks in charm, the surrounding area makes up for a hundredfold. We wandered around Old Man’s Cave, a spectacular limestone overhang which was inhabited in the 1800s by (of course) an old man and his two dogs.

Trickling water, waterfalls, weeping hemlocks and splashes of fall color made for spectacular viewing as we hiked about eight miles along the river from the campground to Old Man’s Cave, to Cedar Falls and around.20171103_1138161124243528.jpg20171103_1142282183531.jpg20171103_1142451265623605.jpg20171103_1201331507912173.jpg20171103_1204561752362669.jpg20171103_1216451342265296.jpg20171103_1229591570857113.jpg20171103_1308501422250300.jpg Wow. The scale of these limestone caves is so impressive – for once, I was happy there were other people in the photos to get a size perspective. We were just sorry that we hadn’t been there a week or so earlier, because the best fall color seemed to have already passed. Sorry if I bombed you with photos, but I couldn’t decide which to post.

Not surprisingly, it rained all the way home, and the sun hasn’t peeked out in two days since. The lawn’s a mess, and garden and perennials all need work. So, why can I only think of planning our next escape?

 

 

 

Going Coastal

Usually, at the end of a six-week trip, I’m ready to head home. This time? Not so much. Traveling to so many brand new places has been a wonderful adventure. We’ve already made notations for places to visit next time. It’s been an extraordinary exploration.

At the end of the last post, we were about to get bounced out of our one-night stand at Santee State Park. Hope nobody lost any sleep worrying about us – we simply got a much better site the next morning, proving (to us, anyway) that sometimes it’s better to fly by the seat of your pants. There weren’t any ‘big’ things to do at Santee – it was a busy, chaotic park. The main attraction were a couple of sink holes locates a few miles from our campsite, so we jumped on our bikes to check them out.20171023_134924767348998.jpgMy first sink holes! I was excited. Perhaps there were visions of the famous Florida sinkholes with houses cascading into the depths. I was not prepared for the underwhelming sight of a ten foot  depression with a bunch of weeds and scruffy shrubs growing out of the bottom – with a fence around it, of course, to keep us all from harm. Needless to say, disappointment reigned. I couldn’t even get a decent photo.

Onward to Carolina Beach State Park, where we had a rustic campsite reserved for two nights. Score! This gorgeous park is perched alongside the Intercoastal Waterway on Snow’s Cut. Our site was within 100 yards of the waterway, lined by a three-mile trail.20171022_1430381275632085.jpg 20171023_1713261059568019.jpgCamping perfection. Have to admit that we got really lucky in reserving this site – there were plenty that were not so roomy, nor so scenic.

Carolina Beach is located just on the edge of Wilmington NC. Just down the road is Fort Fisher, one of the last coastal forts to fall in the Civil War. All that’s left of the Fort are some grassy embankments. 20171023_1346221468247690.jpg20171023_134723331651457.jpgThere are no buildings still standing, and the Visitor Center was closed the day we were there, so much of this remains a mystery. But, it’s a spectacularly beautiful site – home to five battles with Union forces. The first was a disaster, and the last resulted in the fall of the last big Confederate seaport.

The surrounding area is magnificent. Cypress trees lean shoreward from years of offshore winds.20171023_133958-11243828454.jpg A bike/walk path, void of any visitors with the exception of John and me was perfect for us to enjoy the wild and beautiful shoreline.20171023_121946-11738925648.jpg We stopped in to the delightful Good Hops Brewery – a wonderfully dog-friendly pub, where the owner’s pup came out to greet us. I’m sure there was much more in this area to explore, but we were content to hang out and enjoy our coastal camp.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore was a spot on our radar for many years. Although the Michigan coast is magnificent, it’s just different than the ocean. Can’t quite put my finger on it, but we sure don’t have long lines of surf fishers in the Great Lakes. 20171026_1303512085939482.jpgThese guys (yes, they are almost exclusively men) drive out on to the beach in their trucks equipped with front mounted racks for fishing rods and coolers. The atmosphere is casual – it’s all about the fishing, not the actual catching of fish. Most seemed to be fishing for Black Drum, but most catches seemed to be tossed back into the sea – too big, too small, whatever….we saw fishermen lined up on every beach.

Reservations here (Frisco campground) are not site specific – we were allowed to choose our own space upon arrival. The wind was shrieking when we pulled in, and big rain was predicted, so we opted for a site in this magnificent campground that offered a bit of shelter. 20171027_1111291969407008.jpgThe dunes and stunted cypress provide plenty of little coves and hidey places for camping. Protected from the wind, but with a view of the ocean (if we peek around the corner), we grabbed a great spot, and hunkered down. Wow – it howled! We are about 500 yards from the ocean, and hearing it roar every day is wonderful. But, on sunny days, it’s been great for John to harvest from his solar farm (which we needed in a big way, after days of rustic camping).20171027_1110271001074699.jpgToday, our last day, it was not windy. The silence this morning was deafening. This big, yet vacant campground has one big drawback for us, however. The seemingly innocent, grassy areas everywhere are actually carpeted with sand burrs. Even in the middle of the road, the burrs attack and stick. Walking Jezzy is an ordeal (mainly for her) because every few hundred yards we have to stop and pull burrs out from between her toes. Check out this photo of my shoe after taking the trash down the road (about 100 yards).20171027_1122421154430523.jpg Camping here is challenging, but oh so beautiful.IMG_0959One of the main scenic attractions here is the magnificent 1870 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, a towering 198.5 feet high (second highest in the world). I was unprepared for how majestic this would be – it is absolutely astounding.

IMG_0966We’re lighthouse veterans and nothing compares to this. How horrible was it to find out that it was closed to climbing as of October 14? Devastating. We could only lust from the outside. The crazy story of the lighthouse makes it even more appealing. In 1999, it was moved over 1/2 miles from its original site to the current location. 20171027_111844291983141.jpgWhat an engineering feat! Take a look at this photo from a beach poster.20171026_1322471980651941.jpg The lighthouse originally stood between the sign, and the water’s edge, not more than a few hundred yards from where I stood. If you look closely, you can see the changing shoreline, and how it endangered the lighthouse. All this great history made its closure even tougher to swallow – it is staffed with National Park Service volunteers, and their season runs from April to Columbus Day. Had we known that, we would have planned differently. Sigh. Move on.

We cycled south the next day, intending to hop the (free) ferry to Ocracoke Island for a bit of exploration. The sea was pretty flat, so I was kinda willing to attempt the ferry ride – I’m a notorious weak-stomached sailor. But, but the time we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, toured the Graveyard of the Atlantic museum, there didn’t seem to be enough time left to take the one hour trip over, cycle around a bit, and then ferry back. Plus, I have to admit, I was leery of a possible rocky boat ride. So, we passed…

For me, the highlight of the Museum was the portion dedicated to the USS Monitor, the ironclad which sank off the Hatteras coast on New Year’s Eve 1862. A few artifacts, and video of the raising of some of the pieces of the Monitor are thrilling to see. Sorry, no photos allowed.

We spent much of our time wandering the beach, enjoying magnificent views. Every day brought different sights – cloudy skies are much different than sunny ones.20171025_1330521434042014.jpg20171025_1328102080419288.jpg20171027_125853101484049.jpgTomorrow, we’re heading to camp in the driveway of T@DA pals Gail and Sid in Portsmouth, VA. They stayed with us for a few days a year ago, and we’re anxious to explore their hometown with them. It will be our first driveway camp, and we’re looking to the comforts of friends and a home for a few days.

Home in a week – hard to believe we’re winding this fantastic trip down already.

Down South

What a pleasure to visit to these two scenic antebellum (pre-Civil War) cities – Savanah and Charleston. Nothing in my experience compares to these graceful places, full of beauty, and dark history. We loved the lessons here.

Our headquarters for Savannah was Skidaway Island State Park, a gorgeous campground that just whispers Old South. Heavy tree limbs drip with moss and a mixture of pines and live oaks add a sense of mystery.20171014_125041549243403.jpg Super camping. A bonus was meeting another T@DA camper for the first time in five years. We loved meeting Laurie with her socutecamper.com 20171021_065211465471828.jpgTo explore Savannah, we opted to drive a few miles from the campground through narrow causeways and lowland highways to a spot where we could comfortably cycle into the City. It was a perfect combination of low-stress touring for us. Old historic Savannah is crammed with (other) camera-toting tourists, horse drawn carriages, pedicabs, and open-air trolleys – each vying for the best view of the myriad city squares and historic sites. 20171014_124939757713312.jpgThere are so many beautiful sights.20171014_122649-2439994220.jpg20171014_1408181776209822.jpgAt Skidaway, we also enjoyed a hike through the steamy low country. 20171015_120205781837956.jpgThe Park trail took us past the remains of an old still (with axe marks where the US Agents chopped it up!) and some beautiful coastal views.

We also saw trenches, hand-dug by slaves, which were built to shelter the Confederate troops who were guarding the coastal waterways. What a difficult life this must have been – even the task of supplying fresh water to these areas must have been monumental, not to mention food and shelter.

Tybee Island was a nearby beach-y town recommended by a few friends. Beautiful beach and lighthouse, but the heat and humidity were still killing us. 20171016_1152571044692995.jpg 20171021_064814788401094.jpgIt’s HARD to enjoy a calm ocean when there’s no breeze, and the sweat is ruining your eyesight. It was still nearly 90 degrees and a dew point in the mid-70s. Plus, the beach just isn’t my idea of fun. But, still a pretty wonderful view, isn’t it? (Temps finally returned to a more normal mid-70s on our last night in Savannah, and have been perfect since. Whew!)

We decided to visit Fort Pulaski National Monument on the way back to camp, not knowing what to expect. Named after Revolutionary War hero Casmir Pulaski, the moated Civil War-era fort is a thoughtful history lesson. 20171016_1330531126798860.jpgOver 20 years in construction, it surrendered in its first fight with Union forces in 1962, and then became a prison for Confederate soldiers. Its demise? It was armored with cannons which had a 1/2 mile range. 20171016_135142268435691.jpgBut, by the time the War began, the Union forces had rifled cannons which could reach 1-1/2 miles. After just two hours, the fort’s interior walls were breached with cannonfire, and the Fort surrendered. It was converted into a prison for the remainder of the War.

On to Charleston, where we scored a site at the very busy county park at James Island where we met up with a bunch of T@B campers, at the beginning of their 12-day Coastal Caravan Tour. We didn’t spend a lot of time together, having our own plans set to explore this new (to us) city, but we did have a very memorable dinner together at Home Team BBQ. We actually had rolled in for lunch there one day, and went back for dinner with the group the next. You know it was GOOD!20171018_141530115475423.jpg Great food, Motown, Aretha, and other awesome R & B. And a fabulous selection of whiskey (of which we did NOT partake).

Charleston blew me away. The Battery section of the city along the waterfront is an amazing collection of gigantic, gracious antebellum homes. 20171021_065419567180488.jpgThere are beautiful architectural details everywhere. I’ve got dozens of photos I’d like to share, but am limited by bandwidth restrictions to upload. 20171018_132846512663229.jpg20171021_065627257959914.jpg20171018_133233198544850.jpgAs in Savannah, we drove into a City park, then unloaded our bikes and pedaled from there on. The very first unexpected sight we stumbled on was The Citadel.20171018_1040291868736530.jpg This gorgeous military academy campus was curiously quiet. We cycled around the perimeter, but most of the buildings were off-limits (including this one).20171021_065331950025628.jpgWe had earmarked a possible tour of Fort Sumter, which we ultimately decided not to take. It involved a boat ride across some fairly choppy waters (I’m not a fan). The Fort Sumter Visitor Center was informative, and clinched our decision not to visit the actual Fort.

The Charleston Slave Mart was another site we earmarked for a visit. 20171018_1248251436511372.jpgWe were surprised to find it on an historic cobblestone street, which was tortuous to ride on our bikes (so happy we had our mountain bikes, not our skinny-tire road bikes!!). The surface of this street, probably restored many times, is likely 200 years old. 20171018_1207161900907274.jpgThe Slave Mart operated as an actual auction house for slaves. South Carolina had a big stake in slavery – it was the first State to secede from the US. Of the 15 plantations in the US with more than 500 slaves, 7 were in South Carolina. No photos are allowed inside the site, but there are so many shameful artifacts of slavery, I was glad not to take any photos.

Churches, homes, parks – there are plenty of amazing sights to feast upon in this beautiful, graceful old city.20171018_142800565955746.jpg20171014_1334041264106961.jpg20171018_1726591009986668.jpgTwo other brief Charleston expeditions – by bike to the Angel Oak Tree, which is probably the largest living organism east of the Mississippi. This enormous live oak tree has a branch which extends 187 feet from the center.20171019_11312458226141.jpg20171019_1132041048024302.jpg It’s amazing to see, on a par with the giant Sequoias and Redwoods of California. With a lifespan of 900 years, the Angel Oak is in mid-life. Heavily damaged in the 1990s by Hurricane Hugo(?), it still thrives, although most of the limbs on one side are missing.

Our other outing in Charleston was another beach visit to Folly Beach. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset and a stroll through the beach town. 20171019_183402459638010.jpgIt was the perfect way to end our stay in Charleston.

Now it’s Friday night (10/19). We had reservations at nearby Givhans Ferry State Park, a short drive from Charleston. We arrived, set up, and proceeded to enjoy a beautiful afternoon in a quiet park. Around 5pm, a Ranger drove up and said we were occupying a site reserved by another camper. What??!! I had the site reserved (or so I thought). Apparently, my reservation was not confirmed. My first Reservation Screwup in five years! No other sites were available at this small park, nor at any of the other parks within 30 miles of here. We finally secured a site for one night (the last one of 150 campsites) at Santee State Park. What a circus this campground is! We checked in and set up in the dark. (First time for that, and I hope it’s the last!). Tomorrow we will be homeless (no sites available) and will have to search out a new spot. Oh well, lots of time to work that out.

 

 

HOTlanta

Atlanta has been on our ‘short list for several years now, primarily because it’s home to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Museum. In the five years we’ve been wandering, this is the only Presidential Museum we haven’t visited. It’s a checkmark we’ve been anxious to score.

When visiting any major metropolitan area, camping can be problematical. We’ve usually had to resort to private campgrounds because there oftentimes aren’t state, city, or county parks nearby. But Stone Mountain Park fit the bill nicely for us. It’s kind of like a ‘super’ state park, with a big variety of recreational attractions – watersports, a golf course, gondola rides up the Mountain, hiking, museums and theaters. The campground is old, but clean, and staffed with super friendly folks. Our reserved site (selected by them, not us) was close to the lake with a pleasant view (for the first night anyway). wp-image-301489796We were pleased to have a site with electric power, as running our CoolCat a/c was necessary. Temps every day were between 85-90, with dewpoints in the mid 70s. It was very uncomfortable. Never was there a breath of a breeze. Not sure how we would have managed without the a/c, and leaving Jezzy alone for the day in the camper without it would have been out of the question.

Atlanta has a series of pedestrian/bicycle beltways which run to the City Center from various points outside the city. Although we couldn’t bicycle all the way into the city from camp, we were able to drive to Piedmont Park (about 20 miles), then cycle into the city for exploration. 20171011_115257.jpgThe Carter Museum was right alongside the beltway. Perfect!wp-image-1866454064For all of our anticipation of this visit, both of us were disappointed. Granted, Carter was only President for one four-year term, and he had zero national political experience prior to that, so perhaps that accounted for what we considered ‘light’ content. As always, we began by watching the film, which overviewed his early life and career – US Naval Academy, submarine Executive Officer, peanut farmer, Georgia State Senator, Governor, then US President. Carter’s years in the Oval Office were marked by our first energy crisis, high inflation and recession, and the Iranian hostage crisis, which shadowed more than his last year in office.wp-image-1272462176 Yet the Museum didn’t really offer insights into Carter’s thoughts and/or options in working out these problems. One aspect of other Museums we have especially enjoyed is the exploration of the decision-making process on some of the major issued. What were the options? Where did all of Carter’s advisors stand? Other than Cyrus Vance’s resignation letter (Secretary of State) over the disastrous hostage rescue mission, we didn’t get much insight of these thoughts. Compared to other Presidential Museums, we left without much of a sense of the political man, except of course his honesty and unfaltering quest for racial equality and justice. Carter’s big international achievement was the historic peace accord between Egypt and Israel, which stands today.

On display is Carter’s Nobel Peace Prize Medallion, awarded in 2002 for his work to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, and advance democracy and human rights through the Carter Center, founded after his Presidency ended.wp-image-531713582The Nobel Peace Prize is a nifty segue for our next stop, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, located in downtown Atlanta.wp-image-193479201 Included here are MLK birth home and Ebenezer Baptist Church. Construction on the site prohibited us from visiting his grave, where he and Coretta Scott King are both interred. King was the youngest person ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. His reverence for the teachings of Gandhi and non-violence is well documented.wp-image-1080519483King’s family and supporters established the MLK Center for Nonviolent Change, which is also onsite.

Our third Atlanta quest is also one that could be accomplished on this trip – a visit to the State Capitol. Several cities, including Savannah and Augusta have been the site of the State government, but Atlanta has held the reins since 1868. The capitol building is magnificent – not overly embellished, but stately and elegant. The legislature was not in session, so we were able to wander freely about. Such a treat.wp-image-143839748wp-image-720904366wp-image-298568694Although there are probably many other spots in Atlanta that deserve a visit, we were happy with our Big 3, wanting to spend the rest of the time hiking and exploring Stone Mountain.

One of the main features of Stone Mountain Park is the huge ‘rushmore-like’ carving of Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis which is carved into the side of the mountain. Ironically, the project was actually started by Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor who later went on to create Rushmore. After disagreements on how the project was to be run, Borglum left the project, and his start was blasted off the mountain by his successor. In retrospect, it seems like Borglum might have had a better idea – this is not terribly impressive. It sure doesn’t have the impact of Mt. Rushmore.20171016_0947361898180297.jpg All the activity in front seems to be the building of some kind of giant snow slide (next to the laser light show area). Yes, this really is a super-park. It must be jammed in the summer.

How could we visit Stone Mountain without actually climbing the mountain. It’s a pleasant walk up a granite slickrock surface, with perhaps a hundred others. There’s only one really steep section, and so this is doable by people of all fitness levels. If it weren’t so damned hot! We steamed ourselves on that mountainside! But, getting to the top made it all worthwhile. 20171012_120932332599642.jpg20171012_1208071638164989.jpgThe guy in the second photo was just sitting there reading a book. Loved that!  We hung around for quite awhile, watching the skytram disgorge crowds of folks. 20171012_1216431920994185.jpg20171012_1210161791349385.jpgwp-image-761210315We spent the rest of the day in the Museum there watching a film about Stonewall Jackson, and another about the creation of the mountain sculpture.

We’ve moved on to Savannah, envisioning cool ocean breezes. Nope. Try again. But, we’re enjoying ourselves at Skidaway Island State Park, where we’ve got a fabulous campsite.20171014_125041549243403.jpg

Camping Good, Bad, Ugly

Has it been forever since I last posted, or does it just seem like it? We’ve survived torrential rainfall, a resurgence of the Ohio stinkbug menace, and all the steamy heat that North Carolina and Georgia can inflict upon us. This is the first campground in about ten days where we’ve had any cell service or internet availability. Most have been remote enough that we can’t even pull in a radio station. We have no TV. Yes, this is camping. And we are still finding stinkbugs everywhere inside the camper. It’s creepy.

We wanted to visit Raleigh NC, primarily because it’s the State Capitol, and we do love to visit these places when we can. After a very frustrating, (missing keys!) but mercifully short drive, we arrived at William B. Umstead State Park. We were the only campers in the small (25 sites) campground. And it would have been peaceful perfection if not for the fact that the campground seems to be located adjacent to the Raleigh Airport. From 5:30am to 11:30pm, jets brushed the treetops. They say that you don’t hear these things after a while, but I guess we just weren’t there long enough for that to happen. Surprisingly, jet noise is less aggravating than all of the people-generated sounds of camping, so we got along just fine. I would camp here again in a minute – the Park is cris-crossed with hike, bike, and horse trails, and was immaculately maintained. We felt privileged to have it to ourselves.

With a bit of help from The Google, John plotted a bicycle route into Raleigh. Holy shit! We found ourselves on roads where no one with any sense would ride a bike. It was a hair-raising 15 mile ride to town. On the plus side, we passed by the Raleigh Arboretum, and stopped for a quick tour. This fleece-wrapped tree was my favorite sight.wp-image-183102475With a bit more aggravating effort, we finally rolled into Raleigh and located the Capitol building, where we freely wandered around. Stately would be the word I would apply here – not overly embellished or ornate, but very historical and governmental looking, if you can relate to that. wp-image-767911402wp-image-755679812wp-image-465779001Perhaps the most surprising thing we learned is that North Carolina claims George Washington as their own – I had always assumed that he was a Virginian. This startling sculpture of GW made us both smile – crafted by the leading Italian sculptor of the day, it definitely has a Roman ‘feel’ to it. I would have passed right by if the George Washington inscription hadn’t caught my eye.wp-image-1292580731And then, there was this other wacky George Washington….wp-image-398403310.jpgAll this history and cycling made us hungry and thirsty, so we wandered into one of the most interesting brewpubs we’ve ever visited. A combination brewery, dim sum restaurant and bookstore, Bhavana Brewery was the perfect stop. Excellent beer paired well with seafood dumplings and bbq pork bao (steamed buns). If I lived near Raleigh, this would be a frequent stop – so many intriguing items on the menu.wp-image-1627542094We fortunately found a better route back to the campground, involving the Raleigh Greenbelt, and had a terrific ride home – touring through the sculpture park of the Raleigh Museum of Art. Why didn’t we find this in the morning?

Moving on, our next stop was a campground we have enjoyed in the past – Lake Powhatan in Asheville, NC. We grabbed a fantastic campsite, and eagerly awaited the arrival of the bear which had reportedly been stalking the campground. We never saw Charley (as he had been named by the camp hosts) in the three days we were there although our neighbors reported that he strolled right behind our camper shortly after we left on the first day. Bummer!

Our short list of necessary stops in Asheville included a visits to two of our favorite breweries, who have opened large-scale operations in Asheville – Sierra Nevada and New Belgium. These two breweries could not be more different in their style. I love Sierra Nevada beers. Their brewery sits outside of town in a spectacular setting. We self-toured, since all the guided tours were booked for the day. Brewing equipment is beautiful – all gleaming and sexy. It was interesting, even though we had no tour guide.wp-image-1334030335wp-image-2002578699Friends had told us that the onsite restaurant at Sierra Nevada was amazing, and they were correct. We enjoyed appetizer portions of scallops, Mongolian beef skewers, and  duck fat french fries. Happy campers rolled back home.

The vibe at New Belgium couldn’t be more different than at Sierra Nevada. It’s much smaller to begin with. Located near downtown in an old brownfield area, it’s now a very hip-looking spot, with a huge outdoor patio, filled with folks and their dogs enjoying a beer. They’re located directly alongside a bike path. wp-image-527196700Sustainability and employee-ownership are their big stories. Plus, they have a serious connection to cycling. Can you imagine getting a custom-made bicycle on your one-year anniversary? For a moment, going back to work, seemed like a good idea. I’ve got a warm spot in my heart for New Belgium, as they have contributed thousands of dollars to bicycling in Grand Rapids via their film festival which visited our town for four years. Proceeds from the festival have gone to the Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition. Although I don’t like their beer as much as Sierra Nevada, they sure have won my heart.

Wandering around town, and hiking took up most of the rest of our Asheville time. This is a very cool town, with a great bike culture. There are bikes (especially mountain bikes) everywhere. The only downside to our stay was that the heat was stifling. Our campsite did not have electric power, so we needed our solar panels to provide enough power to the battery to keep the lights on and the refrigerator running. Although there was lots of sunshine, our site was shady. After two days, we had to shut down our refrigerator and load everything into the cooler we always carry. Not a big problem, but an annoyance.

Hurricane Nate had blasted into Mississippi the day before, so we knew there would be rain problems on our next travel day, the 8th. We packed up and hit the road early, intending to be at our next stop, set up, and hunkered down by noon. Everything was fine until we arrived at Standing Indian Campground in the Nantahala National Forest. As we pulled into the immaculate campground, we were met by a ranger who informed us that the campground was being evacuated ahead of the storm. Looking back, I can see that it made sense, as the campground was located down a long winding road near the Appalachians, if not officially in them. Oh crap! Now where? Consulting our atlas, I see that there’s a Georgia State Park about 30 miles away that has a camping symbol on the map. We’ve no cell service, so we just head toward the park, hoping for the best.

What luck! We landed at Vogel Lake State Park and registered for two nights as the skies opened up. Bam! Never have we set up in such a downpour. We got the Campsh@ck leveled, and dived back into the truck for a consult about our next step. We were both drenched, soaking the interior of the truck. The decision was that we should set up our big yellow awning (you’ve seen the photos), so that we would have a spot to leave our wet clothes and towel off before going inside. If you’ve never been inside a T@DA, you might not be aware that we just a few feet of floor space, and absolutely nowhere to put wet clothes and towels. The Crankshaws rose to the occasion and put up our awning in a downpour in record time. We coaxed Jezzy out of the truck into the camper, and peeled our wet clothes off under the awning. It was ridiculous enough to be funny. (Next day, the Rangers told us we got over 7″ of rain). Once inside with dry clothes and some cold chicken we had grilled the previous day, we hunkered down with books and waited out the storm through a very long night.

Vogel is a gorgeous park. wp-image-596184130wp-image-1560159845The rain miraculously disappeared the next day, so we hiked out to view Trahlyta Falls. They were roaring! It was incredible to stand on the edge of the viewing platform so close to the foaming water.

We’re moving on to an urban adventure next as we visit Atlanta for the first time. It’s steamy hot here – with record temps of around 90, combined with a dew point in the mid 70s. More to come.