Camping Lessons

After months of camping by ourselves, mostly in quiet campgrounds, the five days of our Blue Ridge Rally for T@DAs and T@Bs (and friends) was an explosion of laughter and conversation. My face hurts.20140501_13433420140502_09464520140501_133341

Those of us with these unique campers are an active family.  We share a Yahoo group and a couple of Facebook pages.  Problems are solved, and camping experiences are shared. 20140502_094543 The pioneer T@B owners have had their campers now for 10 years, and are generous with their knowledge.  T@DA owners, like us, are far fewer.  They were made for just three years between 2008 and 2010, and in much smaller numbers. 20140502_094514Many T@B owners graduated to the slightly larger T@DAs, and several T@DA owners are now Airstream owners, leaving some of us (?) with a case of aluminum envy.

Getting together lets us all peek – inside cupboards for storage ideas, under the frame for structural issues, and around the outside to see the dozens of different awnings we all utilize. 20140503_101254 This one is called the T@BMahal.  Little crystal chandelier and beautiful table.20140501_134600 These folks have really gone small with a Little Guy camper.20140504_081034It’s amazing to see how everyone has customized their camper to suit their needs. Our T@DA is a camping machine – we’ve got our storage issues figured out and working great for us.  Camping long term is easy, even with a big dog and a small space.  But, our interior is definitely Plain Jane.  I’m excited now to pretty things up a bit – add a bit of color, and replace the crappy flooring that I’ve disliked since Day 1.  John’s also considering adding another small ceiling vent that we saw in an Airstream.  That would be deluxe!

John and I also spent a bit of cycling time riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  20140502_105134The beautiful, smooth surface is a pleasure, but there was not ten feet of flat pavement in the 30 miles or so that we cycled. 20140503_13495320140502_10574920140502_10555220140502_10465120140502_10342020140502_102112 20140503_122839We were either grinding uphill, or flying down.  Makes for a great workout, but we sure missed our road bikes.  It’s a LOT more work on a mountain bike.

Sunday was rollout day, and the parade of cars and trucks towing campers was nonstop.  We finally got packed up, said our goodbyes and thankyous, and headed for Natural Bridge Resort State Park in Slade, KY.  We’re back to camping on a quiet little stream, an explosion of singing birds outside the wide-open windows. 20140504_175116 Ahhhh, this is good.


Space and Green Space

20140426_121713Zooming along the expressway approaching Huntsville (AL), we suddenly see a very odd sight – a rocketship pointing up into the sky.  How could we not know that there’s a NASA Visitor Center here?  Pulling in to investigate, we see a space shuttle, and the Space Camp logo. 20140426_11582720140426_12032020140426_121418 It’s already mid-afternoon, and we know that this will be a full day’s stop.  We’ll have to make this happen next year.  It looks like a fabulous spot to visit.

For the first time, we snuck into Georgia (the very NW corner) to a state park called Cloudland Canyon. Here’s my interpretation of the name….

Georgia = The South = Hot
Cloud = Water = Humid

Get it? We steamed ourselves for two days in a beautiful setting, after pitching down a steep state road, then climbing back out the other side to the State Park near the top. Arriving on Saturday afternoon, the campground was packed. Our reservation guaranteed us a campsite, but not any particular one, so we had to choose from the three that were available (out of about 100 sites). We lucked out, and got a great campsite – one without neighbors right on top of us, and a bit of extra space on each side, and our own sculpture park.20140426_180508 Whew! We hiked with Jezzy on the West Rim Trail, which gave us great views of the canyon and a few waterfalls.20140427_10472020140427_10495220140427_11255920140427_114602 Wish we would have had an extra day or two to spend here, so that we could explore some of the other trails. Although this park is old, and the facilities are a bit dated, it was clean and beautiful. We would come back here again in a minute.

Monday morning, we head out. First, we decided that we had to detour to see the Chickamauga/Chattanooga Military Park. 20140428_101014

This battlefield was the site of a Confederate victory at Chickamauga, and later, a decisive defeat at Chattanooga. Of the many areas to explore, we decided to tour Missionary Hill, where an unexpected charge by Union forces overwhelmed and drove back Confederate forces, setting the stage for the victory at Chattenooga, and the ultimate defeat of the Confederate Army soon thereafter. It’s a curious drive – up a narrow, winding road past mansions, many with plaques and/or cannons in their yards. At the top is a luxury condo building, and a park with more commemorative monuments of the battle and its combatants. Very different than Shiloh, as that was a small area confined totally to the National Battlefield Park.

The rest of the drive down US 64 toward Smoky Mountain National Park is spectacular. Can’t think of a prettier stretch of highway to wander. We stopped along the Ocoee River for lunch,20140428_115729 then stopped again farther down to admire the site of the 1996 Olympic Whitewater course.20140428_12392720140428_123947 It’s gorgeous. There are several small TVA dam projects, and we stopped at every one to enjoy the scenery.20140428_12292920140428_122751 Lots of cars with kayaks, and people with wetsuits walking along the road. What a great drive.

Onward to Smoky Mountain National Park, NC. We wanted to spend a few days at Smokemont Campground, hoping that the thousands of rhododendrons in this area would be in bloom.20140429_13165120140429_13145020140429_131609 Unfortunately, we are a few weeks early – damn! I had convinced myself that this would be the time these would all be blossomed out (and there are thousands of them in the mountainside, and along the river). We were here one time before in October, so I guess this is strike two in my quest to see them all in bloom.
It’s very quiet here, and we’ve got the same campsite we scored two years ago in our first visit here. After big thunderstorms the first night, it finally clears around noon, and we wander trails along the Ocanoluftee River.

I really wanted John to haul this big boulder home for me.  Answer = NO!20140429_131527Everything here is that crazy combination of green shades, peculiar to spring. It’s that fuzzy, hazy color that makes me happy inside.20140429_132509We saw lots of butterflies on the Trail.  Question for all you readers with butterfly knowledge….why are they are clustered in the horse dung in the Trail?  That’s where there were all hanging out.

We’re so close to the end of our trip that we’re already talking of it in the past tense. In about 10 days, we’ll be home – mowing the lawn, planting the garden, trying to erase a few months of neglect from our home.  Hard to believe, so guess I’ll just ignore it for the next few days.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park

wpid-20131120_110116.jpgNational Parks are very special places.  We’re thankful that Congress in 1872 could actually agree on something and vote to make Yellowstone the first National Park.  When the Park Service was created in 1916 as a result of the National Park System Organic Act, it was defined as such, “The fundamental purpose of the parks is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”  As a kid, I remember the struggle in Michigan to establish the Sleeping Bear Dunes area as a National Park.  Such animosity and acrimony.  But, I’m thankful that Senator Phil Hart and supporters prevailed.  If this gorgeous area had not been protected as a National Park, I probably would never have been able to experience this magnificent shoreline.  It would all be held in private hands and be more playgrounds for the privileged.  If you’ve never been there, put it on your Bucket List – it’s spectacular.

OK – back away from the soapbox, Judy.  We decided to head to Great Smoky Mountain National Park upon leaving Tanglewood.  Only three campgrounds are open at this time of year, so we decided to spend two nights at Smokemont, the easternmost of the open areas, then cross to Cades Cove in TN.  That would give us the opportunity to drive through the entire park, and camp in two distinctively different areas.

After the pampering we experienced at Tanglewood, we were ready to rough it at Smokemont.  Byebye warm bathrooms and and hot water.  See ya electricity.  Say hello to campfires!  This is the kind of camping we love.  We are masterful gatherers of firewood, scrounging firepits where prior campers have left perfectly good firewood for us, and heading off into the woods for kindling.  It’s almost a sport to see who can drag the biggest, most unwieldy piece back to camp.  At Smokemont, we nabbed a spectacular site, right alongside the roaring river.wpid-20131118_161700.jpg  Only three or four other campsites were occupied, so none of us were even within shouting distance of each other.  Perfect.

We hiked the Smokemont Trail on Tuesday, leaving Jezzy snoring on the bed, guarding the Fireball as only she can.  Our six mile stroll included about two miles of ascending up a path, two miles of descending, and a nice two-mile stroll alongside the river.wpid-20131118_170130.jpg  The abundance of rhododendron along the Trail made us want to revisit in Spring when they are in bloom.  It must be spectacular.  There was a bit of a hairy crossing of the river, so we were happy that Jezzy wasn’t with us.  Not sure if we would have been able to get her to walk the plank or not.wpid-20131119_132559.jpg

After two nights, we packed up and moved to the SW corner of the Park to Cades Cove.  Along the way, we stopped at Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the Park.

the lookout at Clingman's Dome soars over the treetops

the lookout at Clingman’s Dome soars over the treetops

The white stalks are dead Frasier Fir trees, killed by the woolly ageldid. 70% are gone.

The deserted parking lot at Clingman's Dome

The deserted parking lot at Clingman’s Dome


The Appalachian Trail crosses here, and it always provokes the discussion of elevating our hiking skills to a major trek.  Somehow, I don’t think this is going to happen though – we really don’t need to fall in love with another sport involving major cash outlays!  ;-)

Cades Cove has two campground loops.  Again, there was no competition for a prime spot.  We stayed in the B loop, along with two other campers spread out in 80+ sites.wpid-20131122_071400.jpg We did have to hike a bit for water, (to the dump station in the other campground) as they had the outside water faucets turned off, but that was hardly an inconvenience compared to the beauty (and silence) of our campsite.  We couldn’t even see other campers.  We had enough water on board to use our shower and do dishes, and fresh water from the campground for drinking and making coffee (our #1 requirement is good coffee).

Jezzy on guard at sunset

Jezzy on guard at sunset

This area of the Park features an 11 mile paved scenic drive, wide enough to accommodate bicycles, cars, and RVs.  Cycling the scenic drive was pure pleasure, as there was so little traffic that we didn’t have to put our lives in our hands to enjoy a great rolling ride.  Near the horse stables, we watched a cowboy wrangle an escapee horse back into the corral.wpid-20131121_125227.jpg Explored all the historic log houses and churches, stopped at every scenic lookout, and amazed the cars along the drive by reaching the same lookout points as they did, in roughly the same amount of time.wpid-20131121_134937.jpgwpid-20131121_134723.jpg

Cantilevered barn

Cantilevered barn


It’s sad that so many people see an eleven mile bike ride as an unattainable challenge.

Packing up to head home on Friday was sad.  We knew cold weather lay ahead, but decided the Cesar Woods SP near Dayton would be a good stopping-off point for the trek back to Michigan, with its promise of electric hookups, bathrooms and showers.  Uh, not quite. We did have electricity, so we could run our little heater. But the bathrooms were locked (there was one portajohn), and there was no water anywhere. Fortunately, we had refilled our two gallon jugs for coffee.  We were close enough to Dayton to actually get Verizon signal for the first time in five days, so we could use our phone and tablets while trying to keep warm with our little electric heater.  We like to suffer a bit, and refuse to actually make the Fireball warm inside. After all, we’re camping…..

Saturday morning, we had to winterize the Fireball before hitting the road.  Temps in the 20s, along with big winds and low windchill temps made that a necessity.  Work done, we hit the road, finding a few big snow squalls along the way, and very brisk temperatures.  Back home, we’re pleased to find that the water heater still fires right up, and the refrigerator kicks back on.  All good until next time….

T@Bs, T@DAs, and T@nglewood

When a campout is announced for T@Bs and T@DAs, we’re finding that it’s hard for us to resist making the trip.  We’ve met such great folks and garnered knowledge that makes it easier and easier for us to camp for extended periods in the Fireball.  So, when the call came for an Unrally in NC this month, we knew we had to attend.  That was the right decision.  Great weather and wonderful camping in a new location.

the campground was nearly deserted when we arrived on Wednesday.

the campground was nearly deserted when we arrived on Wednesday.

Tanglewood is a huge county park in Clemons, near Winston-Salem.  Its nearly 1200 acres offer something for everyone, and I’m not exaggerating.  There’s a nice campground (sorry, no tents), lots of paved trails for walking, cycling, or skating.  A dog park.  BMX park, a huge waterpark, bridal trails, mountain bike trails, stables where you can board your own horse, or go for rides or hayrideswpid-20131114_151301.jpgwpid-20131114_151513.jpg an equestrian ring complete with jumps and steeplechase-type gear, cricket and rugby fields, tennis courts, an outdoor amphitheater with a covered bandshell for concerts, and cabins to rent. wpid-20131114_151949.jpg Oh, and a golf course.  An arboretum and children’s garden.wpid-photo-21.jpgwpid-photo-26.jpg

the State Champion chestnut tree is belted together.

the State Champion chestnut tree is belted together.

pitcher plant

pitcher plant


And a B & B.  All beautifully manicured.  One has to applaud the foresight of the county planners and the taxpayers for supporting this graceful, lovely park.  An enormous holiday light show was in preparation stages – huge displays which highlight the features of the park.wpid-20131114_153111.jpg We had to laugh when we compare it to the big “million light” show in Grand Rapids, which mostly features bowling penguins and skiing reindeer in a lighted candycane archway.m

All the campers were new to us, although most of them knew each other.  There were 7 T@Bs, 2 T@DAs, one R-pod, and one 1957 DeVille (oh, it was beautiful, but I didn’t get any photos).  There were T@Bs with lots of experience, and a few which had barely hit the road.  It’s great to see how everyone adapts their own camper to suit their needs.

Friday afternoon was spent at a Foothills,a terrific brewpub in Winston Salem with Alex and Jen, the other T@DA owners.  Saturday, we drove to Pinehurst with Chuck to watch the NC State champion Cyclecross race.  This course was ridiculously difficult -deep loose sand in many places, including a steep ledge where riders had to dismount and carry their bikes.wpid-20131116_120840.jpg Of course, they also had to ride back down the same ridge, resulting in many comical unintended dismounts. wpid-20131116_120010.jpgwpid-20131116_103221.jpg Falling into the deep sand was painless (for most), and with curses, grimaces, and a few rueful grins, most hauled their bikes back up and resumed the chase.  The race was a terrific way to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon.  Chuck did himself proud, racing to 2nd place in his age group.

Saturday night’s potluck was followed by Sunday departures for everyone but us.  We spent the day on foot, covering the rest of the park that we hadn’t explored on our bikes.  A few wrong turns turned our little walk into about a 6 mile expedition.  All good.

Our original plans had been to travel to Pinehurst to see friends for a few days after Tanglewood, but plans are meant to be changed, right?  We decided to head off to Great Smoky Mountains National Park for the rest of our trip.

c-c-camping in the c-c-cold

It’s not always warmer on the other side of the hill (or beyond the Michigan borders). November can be gray and unpredictable, so we decided to hightail it to North Carolina to bask in warm sunshine for a week or two.  At least, that was the thought….

John winterized the Fireball in Michigan, knowing that we would be towing through temps in the low 30s and 20s.  Onboard were two gallons of water (no matter what, we require coffee in the morning). First destination? Lake Alma State Park in Southern Ohio somewhere.wpid-20131113_082025.jpg Over 400 miles, which is a very long day in the truck for us.  We arrived at 5ish, leaving enough time to get setup in fading light.  Electric  service – great! We can use our little electric space heater, and not have to use propane in the furnace. No water, and no hot water, since that’s all part of the winterization process.  There are some pretty rugged pit toilets in the park. Ugh, but it’s only for one night.  O.M.G. It was cold!  Any body part sticking out of the blanket was frozen (admittedly, we do keep heat at a minimum at night). Temps dipped to about 22 – by far the coldest night we’ve ever spent in the Fireball.

Icicles on the outhouse

Brrrrrr, but we’re headed to North Carolina! That’s in the South! It’s warm there, right?

So here we are at Tanglewood Park in Clemmons, still freezing. It hit 19 last night. Our water hose is hanging on a fence in the bright sunlight, as we try to thaw it. We’re hoping this is the last of the supercold. At least the bathrooms here are pristine, and the showers are hot. wpid-20131114_084131.jpg

wpid-20131114_084148.jpgWe’re being joined in the next couple of days by other campers with T@Bs and T@DAs as we toast the completion of another camping year. Always fun to meet other folks and share ideas for simple camping.

Now, if it would just warm up 20 or 30 degrees…..