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.