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 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.



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!


Arizona, Ammo, Axle

Like a big sodden blanket, inertia has settled in at Camp Fireball. Seems like we barely move some days – gotta shake this off!

Leaving Joshua Tree NP, we headed to Lake Pleasant Regional Park near Phoenix for a rally with a bunch of T@Bs and T@DAs.20160122_173957 It’s always great to meet folks with like-style campers. We never fail to pick up tips for storage, cool spots to camp, and new gadgets to jazz up our camp. A cool little swivel table we saw here will be our next Fireball addition. But, we’re still not ready for exterior customization like the T@DA Goldie.20160123_104759 Outrageous graphics +glued-on jewels set Goldie out in any crowd.

Jezzy HATED Lake Pleasant. Our campsite was perched on a ridge at the far edge of the campground.20160122_174514 Sounds from a shooting range five miles away had her quivering and scared 18 hours a day. We probably wouldn’t go back here – the lake is the big attraction, and we’re not watersport people. There really wasn’t much else in the area that appealed to us.

We did venture into Phoenix one day to visit the Capitol.20160125_125752 The original Capitol building is now a museum, flanked on both sides by more modern buildings where government building is conducted. “East Germanesque” is how one website described these facilities. Here’s the photo – you decide. 20160125_130422The inside of the Capitol/museum is very plain. There’s a dome, but it’s painted pure white inside – no Greek goddesses holding scrolls of wisdom here! My favorite exhibit was the Arizona Lego Flag. It’s constructed of 114,000 Lego blocks, one for each of Arizona’s square miles.20160125_121307One whole room of the museum was dedicated to the USS Arizona, which was sunk at Pearl Harbor. I was astounded to learn that the Arizona had a custom-designed Reed & Barton silver service, which had not been onboard at the time of its sinking (it had been removed for refurbishment). These ornate pieces are displayed here, and they are gorgeous.20160125_12541520160125_125220A huge memorial plaza surrounds the government buildings. Here are memorials to soldiers fallen in each of the conflicts since Arizona became a state in 1912. In addition, there are memorials dedicated to the WWII Navaho Code-Talkers,20160125_130709 fallen firefighters and police officers, police service dogs, and 9-11. Remember the 19 Prescott firefighters killed in 2014? It was startling to see such a large group of names engraved on the memorial. The mast of the Arizona, as well as a 16″ gun are also installed in the Park. The entire area is beautifully executed with life-sized bronze figures, sculptures, and signage. The sheer size of the monuments and the bright sunshine made photos difficult.

We were happy to move on to Gilbert Ray Campground in Tucson. 20160129_150605Set in the Tucson Mountains near the Desert Museum, this huge county park offers a great selection of trails for hiking and biking. We’ve got a great site, although once again a nearby shooting range has Jezzy cowering. What is it with Arizonians and their guns, anyway? (OK, let’s NOT get into that!)

We hiked up Brown Mountain and enjoyed views of the Tucson Valley, even though it’s shrouded in smog-like dust. 20160129_13020620160130_10463820160130_11584520160130_103323 We cycled around Saguaro National Park West. 20160129_130250At Signal Hill, ancient petroglyphs still adorn the rocks here, created by the Hohokam hundreds of years ago.20160129_13350920160129_133439One bad thing? It seems as though the Saga of the Fireball Axle has at least one more chapter to be written. John has been watching our tire wear – we replaced one tire on our trip last fall. That tire is already showing signs of wear, and the tire on the opposite side with about 12,000 miles is nearly shot. He called the shop in Grand Rapids where we had the axle installed. Whoops – they no longer have a service department. So, we got a recommendation for a frame/axle shop in Tucson, and rolled in for a consultation. The guy took one look at things and said “I can see right away that this isn’t right”. He’s going to contact Alko, the axle manufacturer, and attempt to get a replacement under warranty. (We just had it installed in May 2014). If not, we’re going to have to get another new axle. Apparently, there’s a camber problem that cannot be repaired. Incredible.

Monday, we move on to Green Valley for a month. This will be a different kind of camping for us, as we’ll be installed in an RV park with nearby neighbors. A social experiment?





Are we having fun yet?  You betcha (how Midwestern is that?) Each stop in the past few weeks has been different, interesting, and exciting. We hope our string of successes doesn’t let up.

Having the good sense to get out before we were thrown out of Sandi and John’s welcoming arms, we headed into the Berkshire Mountains (NW Massachusetts) for a rally with other like-minded campers in T@Bs and T@DAs. There’s a great affinity among those of us with these unique campers – whether we share like political views, or have similar family situations – it doesn’t matter. There’s a kinship there that’s wonderful. Hard to explain because it sounds silly. It’s not. We had about 18 campsites occupied, with singles, couples, old and young, plus bunches of dogs. All good.

Our rally HQ for a long weekend was Historic Valley Campground in North Adams, MA. 20150926_181840Driving there on Thursday was uneventful, until we hit some steep hills. Not long, but steep, and we knew we were close to our destination. The autumn color we had expected was non-existent. Apparently, this area has experienced very dry conditions for the last many weeks.  Trees were greenish/gray and tired-looking. More ready to drop their leaves from exhaustion than from having spent their energy with color. The only fallen leaves we see are dead ones – no paths strewn with color.

Friday seems like a beautiful day to stretch our legs with a hike. Yay! The Appalachian Trail runs very close to camp, including a stretch up and over Mt. Greylock, the highest spot in Massachusetts. How could we not hike this stretch? Even better, there’s no dog restriction as long as they are leashed (Jezzy NEVER is allowed off her leash. Ever.) We make a pack lunch, grab a couple liters of water, and jump into the truck to find the Trailhead. Yikes! These roads are not for cowards. We pass a few signs that say 17% grade, and suddenly the nose of the Firetruck is pointed into the sky, or down below our windshield view. So glad I’m not driving – I can put my head down and mutter little grunts of fear or relief. 17% might not sound like much, but that is Steep!

The AT at this point is pretty interesting. We’ve got a 3.6 mile uphill to the summit at Mt. Greylock and a return down the same path.20150925_142848 Climb up, scamper down. The Trail surface is uneven rock – not difficult to maneuver, but tiring, because footfalls are never level – we were constantly teetering off pointy little rocks. But, this was oh so worthwhile……when we finally crested Mt. Greylock, there was a contingent of hang-gliders leaping off the peak into the breezy void. What a treat to watch. A big crowd had gathered – thru-hikers who were taking a breather, a few day hikers like us, and many who had driven to the peak to see the view. It was hot and still – perhaps not an ideal day for the kites, but pleasant nonetheless.20150925_14072920150925_141028 We ate our sandwiches, and gave our leftover snacks to a hungry-looking thru hiker. Many of these guys are living on ramen noodles and raisins, so he was surprised and happy to receive crackers/cheese and chocolate.20150925_14164120150925_14214820150925_142439Our legs took a pounding that day, and we were happy when we arrived back at the Firetruck. Jezzy was a trouper to hang in there, but we could tell that she was exhausted as well.

The next day, John hung around camp and washed the Fireball. Three weeks on the road take a toll, and she was looking pretty shabby. The Firetruck was taken into town and treated to a real car wash.  We feel better when are gear isn’t looking quite so sad. I decided to cycle into North Adams to find the farmers’ market. I got to ride down one of those 17% grades. Yikes!  Thanks again, John, for putting new hydraulic brakes on my mountain bike.  That was a nail-biter of a descent to a stop sign at the bottom of a very steep road.

Loved the small, but colorful farmers’ market. This duo performing Sylvia, won me over. Found all the stuff I needed for a great grilled vegetable dish for the rally potluck Saturday night. I wandered around a bit, taking a few photos of the extravagant New England views. The small towns here are all so picturesque – it’s what you imagine New England to look like in your dreams.20150926_12235420150926_122450Can you believe that this building is the town library?20150926_12262920150926_122934We spent the rest of the day chatting with our fellow campers, checking out their trailers, having our checked out as well, and exchanging tips on campsites, storage, maintenance, and camping philosophies. We’ve learned lots from our fellow campers at these rallies.

T@B trailers were first produced in 2004, discontinued by the original manufacturer in 2009. T@DAs followed in 2008, discontinued in 2010. About 1500 T@DAs were produced in all, the majority titled as 2008. Ours is a 2009. We suspect they were all manufactured at the same time, and simply titled out as the manufacturer sold them thru their dealer network. Little Guy Trailers has been making the T@Bs since 2010, keeping the original shape and feel, but improving many features and construction issues. Our rally was a great combo of new/old T@Bs, plus one other T@DA.

One T@B really caught my eye. A Steampunk-style T@B owned by Bridget and Ed. They’ve gone to great lengths to customize their amazing trailer. My photos don’t do it justice, but all the small details are incredible. Bridget found a custom trunk from an old 30s Hudson, which has replaced their standard propane tank holder.20150927_101508 All the trim on the T@B has been removed and painted to match, complete with brass accents and decals. It’s amazing.

20150927_10155120150927_10251720150927_102921 We find that folks with these small campers go to amazing lengths to customize their rigs to match their style and comfort levels. One couple, Bob and Carol were spending just the fourth night in their brand new 2016 clamshell T@B. Although I love the comfort of being able to get out of bed and make morning coffee inside, I love the true camping feel that a clamshell offers.20150926_160023 Maybe I’m just not tough enough. We cook everything (but coffee) outside, but love the flexibility of having a fridge inside. Maybe I’m just a big sissy, but I’m NOT going out in the rain to make morning coffee!

Sunday morning, we said our goodbyes and headed off to Newport, RI. Each of our stops in New England (so far) has been so different from the last. We’re expecting that trend to continue with millionaires and jazz in Newport.

High Times in Show Low

Before we left home in December, we hauled out our maps and plotted a general course that we wanted to follow once we hit Arizona.  We made a few reservations at campgrounds where we thought they would be critical, and left big gaps where we could fill in as the spirit moved us.  Thus, we found ourselves with only four days to fill in two spots we had targeted to see – a violation of our new (this year) 3 Night Minimum Stay rule.  But you know what they say about rules…..

So, we found ourselves heading to Fool Hollow State Park in Show Low, AZ.  Map here.  It was about the right distance from our prior stop at Roper Lake – we really don’t enjoy long days in the truck.  Laundry duties and grocery shopping always seem to take a big, unwanted bite of our time.  So, our anticipated 170 mile drive was plenty.  It’s John’s day to drive, so I set up navigation on my phone, and off we go.  Consulting my atlas (I LOVE paper maps), I see we’re going to pass through a place called Salt River Canyon, but I really don’t give it much though.  As we roll along, suddenly, the high rocky sides of the road give way, and we find ourselves in the most gorgeous canyon. 20150120_10342620150120_101134 My photos really do not do it justice.  It was spectacular!  What a surprise!20150118_13265620150120_103128Rolling into Fool Hollow, the Ranger allowed us to drive up into the campground to select our own spot.  This is my favorite time of any day – the suspense of arriving at a new, unknown campground is a great happiness to me.  We were not disappointed.  Fool Hollow SP is pristine.  Gorgeous.  Only one of their five or six camping loops is open, but there are only four other occupants.  One’s a T@B!  We are foolishly delighted to find kindred spirits, and take a spot near them. 20150118_161447 The sites here are so huge that it wasn’t like needlessly parking right on top of someone.  We walked every inch of this park in the days we were there – it must be heaven in the summer – at 6300′, it must surely be a cool haven.  Every site was raked and cleaned – I felt guilty for the footprints I left (everywhere) looking for firewood to feed our hungry firepit.  It was cold at night (high 20s), and there were bits of residual snow from the past weeks.  But, it warmed into the high 50s during the day, making it perfect for bike exploration of Show Low, the nearby town.

Why is it that the minute we get on our bikes, we are starving?  We dive for a spot to eat, finding a tiny little tortilla shop called El Milagrito.  Perhaps this is not the ideal spot for everyone, but we LOVED it.20150119_133005 We ordered a taco and a Sonoran hotdog.  omg….the warm chips and salsa we were served prompted us to order a bag of chips to go.  This was a piece of heaven.  Plus, they have the best sign – EVER!20150119_132958Show Low is named because control of the town was won in a card game between the two principal landowners in 1876.20150119_132313 Deciding that the town was not big enough to support two families, the two played poker for control.  When they decided to draw for low card to win, the first gent thought he had it made when he drew a 3.  Alas, the second card was a deuce.  Hence the town was named Show Low, and the principal street is called Deuce of Clubs, the card drawn.  We wandered around a bit, then headed back – not much happening in Show Low.20150119_131512Back at camp, we basked in the beauty of our surroundings, and endeavored to meet our T@B neighbors. 20150118_174631 After the second morning, we two were the only campers in the entire State Park.  How cool is that?  We share Happy Hour and camping stories with Loren and Deb Trout of Boulder(ish) CO.  I hope that we’ll stay in touch, or better yet, stumble across them in another campground somewhere.

Moving on…..