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

Real Camping Life

Since leaving StinkBugLand, aka Ohio, our camping fortunes have greatly improved. We wandered across the border into Virginia, and holed up for three nights at Stony Fork Campground in the Jefferson National Forest. A green shady (mostly) quiet oasis. After just a few days on the road, we were already mighty tired of peering through the windshield. A few days in the woods were exactly what we needed.

Sadly, I don’t have photos of this campsite, due to my own incompetence and lack of understanding between the relationship of my Android photos, Google photos, WordPress, and (perhaps) Windows 10. Stuff I thought was uploaded has disappeared. Oh well. Wait, John had one – here it is.IMG_0887We strapped on our hiking boots and hit the Seven Sisters Trail for some much needed exercise. Although big panoramic views were blocked by the trees, we enjoyed the ascent and stroll along a winding ridge, up to an elevation of just over 3300′. Happy feet!wp-image-1867635873Some of you readers may have seen a Facebook post from this location, where I mentioned my displeasure with one aspect of this campsite. In a National Forest campground, the policy apparently is that camp hosts MUST blow leaves from the streets using. While this was roundly discussed on the FB pages, I still am amazed at this policy. To blow leaves off the streets in the forest seems stupid and needlessly disrespectful of the quiet nature of camping in the woods. The arguments about safety, potential lawsuits, and the beauty of a pristine setting unsullied by leaves on the street just don’t cut it with me. It’s a Forest! Leaves fall. Let the wind push them around, but leave the gas-powered blowers off.

After two days of sitting in the woods, we decided to venture into the nearest town for a meander, and to gather a few supplies.First, we headed to the Walker Mountain Lookout, where we paid $6 to climb a tower a few hundred feet up into the wind. wp-image-2003259020The views up there were incredible, although the wind velocity made me a bit uneasy. I could imagine myself sailing over the fence like a Yugo over the Mackinac Bridge.wp-image-1063929515On into the town of Wytheville (pronounced Withville), we went. Of course, that meant a stop for a hotdog at historic Skeeter’s (over 9 million hotdogs sold!).wp-image-110177072 While perched at the lunchcounter enjoying our hotdogs, we learned that the Skeeter’s building was the childhood home of Edith Wilson, the second wife of President Woodrow Wilson. In fact, next door was the Edith Wilson Museum. Of course, we had to go in, where we were greeted by one of the most enthusiastic, theatrical volunteer docents we have ever met. We watched the ten minute film, explored the artifacts, and learned a bit about the only First Lady ever to come from Appalachia. It was a quality afternoon.

Next up is Jordan Lake Recreation Area in Pittsboro NC, where we once again joined up with a gang of folks with T@DAs and T@Bs for a few nights. We were impressed with the quality of the campground at Jordan Lake, a State Park. We had a huge site with our own private little water’s edge sitting area.wp-image-1592096609 Most of our friends were all in the electric/water sites, while we chose a site in the rustic area, relying on our solar panels to keep the lights on and refrigerator running. With just a few tent campers for neighbors, it was calm and beautiful.wp-image-2044354567We did the usual catching up with old friends – sharing potluck breakfasts and happy hours. Here’s a photo of our hostess Jen with her ‘Easy Bake Oven’ – a propane campstove/oven combination.wp-image-470438259 John and I laughed about how shiny and undented it was, knowing that if it were ours, it surely wouldn’t be so pristine! A few other folks brought bikes, so we wandered off on Saturday morning for a 30-mile roll. Perfect weather and a lively pace made it a great ride. We met lots new friends, and picked up info on a few promising-sounding campgrounds for future visits. We find that folks camping in small trailers like us are an agreeable and friendly group, and we’ve made many real friends among them.

Now it’s Sunday afternoon, and nearly all the other campers have left, headed toward home and Monday workdays. We’re here for one more night, then we’re going to move on to nearby Raleigh to explore the state Capitol, and nose around a city that’s new to both of us. After that, we’re pointed to Asheville, southern NC, then on toward Atlanta.

Hoping for better luck with photos and technology!

 

Rolling Again!

Fwaaap! Thwack! BANG! This must be how you say ‘Welcome to Ohio’ at Kiser State Park. As we rolled into the campground to begin a six week trip around the coastal southeast, all we could hear were the bangbang sounds of black walnuts crunching beneath our tires. Already, Jezzy was not a happy camper. On a sultry day with late afternoon temps in the mid-90s, we had a choice of a campsite with electric service and no shade, or a shady site with no electric (meaning we couldn’t run our a/c). We debated, and chose the shade, so we could at least sit outside. Oh man, it was HOT! We were lucky to have one of the few sites shaded by towering maples, instead of black walnut trees.20170924_161705 We could hear the walnuts bouncing off cars and RVs all over the campground. We escaped that, and were fortunate that the temps dropped into the comfortable 60s for the night. We’re back on the road! It’s been a long summer, spent mostly in our own back yard

Our plan for this trip is to wander south toward Atlanta (Jimmy Carter Presidential Museum!), then over to Savannah. From there, we’ll hug the coast as we wander north, getting as far as Norfolk before turning west and heading home. Since we made our plans, Hurricane Irma slammed into the coast, closing Huntington Island State Park (SC) until the end of the year. We’re hoping Maria, Nate, Ophelia, Phillipe, etc. leave us (and everyone else) alone.

After just one night at Kiser, we headed to the Wayne National Forest and the Iron Ridge Campground. What a gorgeous campground. Large campsites, thoughtfully laid out with flush toilets and showers. wp-image-247140785The downside? How would you feel about being invaded by about 5000 stinkbugs? It was disgusting! They got inside, outside, on everything we owned. An endless invasion. We’d roll up our shades, and five would drop out onto the bed. They collected inside our ceiling fan, clattering around when we turned the fan on for circulation. Eventually, we couldn’t stand being outside anymore, and simply holed up for the evening. Fortunately, they must be late sleepers, as we didn’t have any issues as we quickly pulled up stakes and hustled out of town after just one night. Good luck with this, Ohio. We’ve got some in Michigan, but this was beyond my worst nightmares.

So, we’re not exactly off to a rip-roaring start.

What else has happened since my last post in May? Not much, really. We spent most of the summer trying to rehab our lawn, which suffered from neglect all spring due to our late homecoming. Perhaps a better plan is needed if we want to be gone for so long every winter. We did add two new bikes to our backyard sculpture park (or bicycle garden), including this little polka-dot King of the Mountain bike which makes me smile every time I see it. 20170917_185453Thanks to my cousins Mary and Laurie for the supercute plaque. Gardening this year was a huge flop – yeah, the kale grew, but bugs got most of my herbs, and my four tomato plants produced a grand total of six cherry tomatoes.  Needless to say, I’ve gone in like Sherman into Georgia and hacked everything down. Need to rethink my gardening options for 2018

I bought a new bike! Yay!! But, then I hardly rode it. Boo. Except for a four-day camping trip with a friends from our bike club Rapid Wheelmen. They tried to kill me, making me ride up the scenic drive at Sleep Bear National Lakeshore. Worth every pedal stroke.20170721_121541-1August was our best month, headlined by the 5th Annual Night Shift (the epic 100 mile nighttime gravel road ride for which John and I provide crew services). New route this year found us camping for the first time at Yankee Springs State Park. Omg, what a nightmare. Just don’t go there. Never have we been cheek to jowl with so many campers, each site with an RV, a tent or two, two cars, bikes, wagons, kids, and flashing lights, TVs, and whatnot.20170813_082634 But, the ride was a hoot! Our T@DA pals Jen and Chuck came up from North Carolina to participate, and spent two days camped in our driveway while we explored Grand Rapids.20170809_173714 A little BBQ, a brewery or two, and a stroll around Meijer Gardens made this week the highlight of our summer. Here’s Chuck doing his best Life Imitates Art impression. 20170809_143825John has been an amateur astronomer for years, and has seen two total eclipses. We made plans to see his third in Kentucky with John’s brother and friends. Wow!! I have no photos – why bother? Every person with decent equipment and knowledge posted incredible photos of this stunning event. We spent our time in a small boat in the middle of Lake Barkley, near Hopkinsville, watching the shadows creep across the sun, until we could finally remove our paper glasses and just stare, open-mouthed at the amazing total eclipse. The surrounding air turned a dusky twilight color – like being surrounded by sunset at noon. It was eerie and amazing.20170821_132429I can’t wait until 2024 to see it again.

But, the funniest thing happened as we motored our way back to the dock in the small speedboat (fishing boat?) we were in. As we meandered back toward shore, an Asian Carp suddenly leaped out of the water and hit John right in the back of his head! It then slapped his shoulder, and dropped behind him, nearly landing in brother Don’s lap. Needless to say, pandemonium ensued. There was a mad scramble to grab this two-foot long fish and fling it overboard. I was standing in the front of the boat trying to get a photo, and laughing so hard I nearly fell overboard myself. If you live in Michigan, you probably are aware of the Asian Carp menace. If not, click on the link above and see what we’re talking about. There is genuine concern that they will decimate the salmon population in the Great Lakes if they get established here. Although I don’t have any action photos, and what I did take are cockeyed and crazy, I do have a photo of the fish imprint on John’s shirt. 20170821_140114Our only other adventure this summer was riding the Big Bear Butt Bicycle Tour. We once again camped in our favorite Michigan Campground at Lake Michigan Recreation Area. We cycled on a perfect day for about 65 miles in northern Michigan on pristine roads through woods and small towns. A piece of the ride went along the Lake Michigan shoreline near Arcadia. My Michigan pride wells up here – will happily match our shoreline against the best scenic views anywhere.20170827_122821So, that’s my summer. We’re happy to be on the road again, and will post up as time and access permits. In the meantime, we’re dusting off our hiking boots for a six-mile jaunt tomorrow into the beautiful Jefferson National Forest.

10,550 Miles Later….

Home! We’ve been home for a week and a half now, and it seems like forever already. Life has been a flurry of catching up with family and friends, and trying to whip our neglected homestead into some kind of reasonable shape. (Note to self….make some real plans for the spring yard work to get done next year!) The grass in our back yard was nearly two feet tall in places – in ten days, I’ve mowed four times already. BUT, the herb garden is planted, and I’m already dreaming of the sweet tomatoes that we’ll be harvesting later.

Before I relate stories from our last week of camping, I have to share a remarkable photo from our last stop at the Ocoee River, and the National Whitewater Center there. Here’s a photo of the whitewater section when the upstream dam is open, and the water is pouring over the rocks. A friendly raft guide told me that section is a “solid Class IV whitewater”. 20170513_112715On Sunday, the dam is closed again. This is what that same section of the river looks like.20170515_093922-3 Amazing, isn’t it? We could hardly believe our eyes.

Our last week on the road in eastern Tennessee delivered some of the most beastly camping weather we have ever encountered. Temperatures soared into the mid 90s every day. Zero wind or breeze, and humidity around 80+ percent. While we were camped in Cades Cove Campground in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, we were lucky to have a mostly shaded site. T@DA friends Gail and Sid from Virginia were camped nearby, so we had someone to share complaints with. It was truly miserable. John and I decided to do a ten-mile hike one day, intending to get an early morning start to beat the heat. Ha! We didn’t get going until 10:45am, so we hiked through the worst of the heat all day. When we neared the end, we had a cool stream to cross, and the first thing we did was soak our hats in the cool water and slip them back on our heads. We did the same thing at the next two crossings, and it saved us. Truly miserable conditions for a hike. I didn’t even take any photos!

The Cades Cove area of GSMNP has a twelve mile scenic loop, with old homesteads, churches, and other historic and scenic sights. Best of all, it’s closed to automobile traffic on Wednesday and Saturday mornings until 10am. So, of course we hauled out bikes out and did a fast spin Wednesday morning. What a pleasure to roll through the blue-green road, with no cars to dodge. The big disappointment for us was that once again, we saw no bears. We’ve been to GSMNP five times now and spent a total of at least 15 days there, and have yet to see a bear. Along the route, I stopped to take just one photo. 20170516_152137-1 (My intention was to add a link to an earlier post with photos from Cades Cove, but I couldn’t find it. My tags in earlier blogs were not very complete – I understand that now.) We were in a hurry to move on to our next spot – the long-awaited Blue Ridge Rally. Camping with about 60 of our best T@B and T@DA friends.

As you probably know, private campgrounds are not our favorite spots to stay, but Big Meadow in Townsend, TN is pretty nice. Sadly, they have a problem with some type of blight which is killing off their large shade trees. Bad news when its 95 degrees out. We had a nice view, but we baked in the heat!20170518_064754In a moment of foolishness, we had decided (weeks ago) to enter a bicycle ride called the Tour de Blount (we were in Blount County). Riders could select one of four distances – 78, 54, 42, or 25 miles. John and I decided that 42 rolling miles would be plenty for us, since we were on our mountain bikes, instead of lighter, faster road bikes. In fact, we were the only people on mountain bikes that I saw. What beautiful countryside for a bike ride! I sacrificed any thought of speed, and stopped frequently for photo ops.20170520_07185020170521_21322620170521_213144 20170519_11511520170520_080853It was still super-hot that day, and although we hit the road at 7:30am, the temperature climbed quickly. As long as we kept rolling, it was fine, but stopping was torture. Post-ride, we enjoyed beer and BBQ with the 350 other riders. I had the misfortune to miss a turn, so I tacked on about 5 ‘bonus’ miles to the 42 I had planned. Note to self:  Pay Attention!!

For four days we swapped camping stories with like-minded folks, shared meals, beers, coffee, and laughs. Some of our best camping tips have come from these groups, and getting together to hang out for a few days is always a blast.

But, we were SO ready to hit the road and get home. On Sunday May 21, we rolled out and pointed the Campsh@ck (our new name for the Fireball) directly north. Four hundred and twenty miles or so later, we rolled into Grand Lake St Marys State Park in Ohio for the night. 20170521_195933This gorgeous campground was pretty quiet on a May Sunday night, but it’s easy to imagine it being jam-packed all summer long.

Monday morning, we hit the road early and gave a little cheer when we hit the Michigan border. It wouldn’t be a complete trip without stopping at Dark Horse Brewery in Marshall MI for a pint and a sandwich before rolling into our driveway around 3pm.

148 days away from home. It feels good to be back.

Testing Our Mettle

Anyone who’s ever been camping knows that it’s more fun to camp in great weather than it is to camp in the rain. Judging on that standard, this has been the week from hell.

We started out near Tulsa at Washington Irving Recreation Area, a Corps of Engineers campground on Keystone Lake.20170427_170244 We knew bad weather was coming – we are well armed with weather-watching tools when we have a bit of internet access. Since the shit was scheduled to hit the fan Friday night/Saturday, we decided to stay until Sunday morning, so that we weren’t trying to move down the road in severe weather. Smart Decision #1.

We never heard specific rainfall totals, but we believe we got between 6-8″ of rain from Friday night to Sunday morning. In the hopes of giving ourselves a bit of extra shelter, we deployed our large yellow awning when we setup camp on Thursday afternoon. So, at 4:30am on Saturday morning, we found ourselves outside in 60mph winds trying to wrestle the awning off the Campshack (our new name for the Fireball). It had totally pulled out of its stakes, but remained attached to the keder rail, which hooks the awning to the trailer. We got soaked, and were nearly flogged to death, trying to get a grip on the flailing awning (which miraculously was undamaged). We were absolutely pounded by rain and high winds (40-60mph). We got about four big bangs of hail, but mercifully escaped that ordeal. Here’s one telling photo.20170501_113921 The following photos tell the story of this storm. Check out the rising lake level.20170427_17033820170429_10180220170429_15563520170430_073231We escaped Sunday morning, driving through Tulsa to have breakfast with a fellow T@Bber, and headed toward Fayetteville AR to Lake Wedington, a somewhat shabby little National Forest Service campground in the Ozark National Forest. 20170430_144012Fayetteville got hammered by the storm, absorbing 10″ of rain. Fields were submerged, and ditches alongside the road were filled with rushing water. This sure doesn’t look like any river view I’m familiar with. 20170430_124435-120170430_124502-1Our campground had several sites underwater, but we grabbed a decent site, and hoped for the best. A bit of sunshine helped, and we put everything up and out to dry. Our awning and patio mat were soaked, and the inside of the Campshack had that ugly, wet feeling that comes with a perennially damp dog, and eight wet feet traipsing in and out. We were desperately seeking sunshine. While we were there, a boat drifted up and beached itself on our campsite. We immediately adopted it, and named it Plan B.20170430_180220 We were rewarded with sunshine for a day. What a lift to our spirits that was.Fayetteville is gorgeous. We drove into town to check out one of the many breweries. Good beer/marginal food at the Bricktown Brewery. It’s near the campus of University of Arkansas in a beautiful old downtown area. I was especially taken with this little garden area, and one of the sculptures there. The old lady knitting was so realistic that I could have struck up a conversation.

After lunch, we headed to the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks. It was a pleasant diversion, but small and not really notable. But it sure was a great feeling to be out and about in the sunshine.20170501_150459They either did a fantastic repair job, or had little storm damage.

Our next two choices for campgrounds moving eastward were both closed due to storm damage. We had hoped to camp alongside the Buffalo National River, but had to move east to Robinson Point, a Corps of Engineers campground near Mountain Home AR. The drive though northern Arkansas was incredible – rolling hills with every shade of green you can imagine. May must be the best month for this area – not a lot of color, but green and fresh. We passed through towns with names like Flippin and Yellville. I had thought that our route would take us right through Flippin, and was disappointed and surprised to find that we just passed closely. I really wanted a photo of the town name.

The amount of water at Robinson Point is astonishing – probably 45 of the 70 campsites are fully submerged, as well as is an entire island in the lake about 50 yards offshore.20170502_15130220170502_151442(The photo above shows an area of about 30 campsites which are wiped away.) This is primarily due to the fact that dams above this campground along the river have been opened up to release flood pressure upstream. We were told that the usual flow from the dam at Bull Shoals (the first one above us) is 20,000 gal/sec, but it was increased to 60,000 gal/sec. The lake here is the color of a latte – no resemblance to any kind of water color you’d ever want to see. We grabbed an available (high) site and set up. Jezzy and I wandered over to find the registration station to pay for our two nights. Couldn’t find it. We patrolled the entrance area – nobody home at the Camp Host site. I was heading back to camp when I spotted a Corps of Engineer truck heading my way. I flagged the driver down, and explained that I couldn’t find the registration box. The driver shrugged. “Just camp” he said. “Free?” I asked. He nodded. I remarked what a gorgeous campground this was, and said that I was sad to see such extensive damage.

He just kind of stared off ahead, nodded, and pulled away. It’s shocking to see this kind of damage. Some of these places will take weeks or even months to recover. Tomorrow (Wednesday), we’re supposed to get another 1.5″ of rain here.