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?

 

 

 

T@B-O-Rama!

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.