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.

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.


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.