10,550 Miles Later….

Home! We’ve been home for a week and a half now, and it seems like forever already. Life has been a flurry of catching up with family and friends, and trying to whip our neglected homestead into some kind of reasonable shape. (Note to self….make some real plans for the spring yard work to get done next year!) The grass in our back yard was nearly two feet tall in places – in ten days, I’ve mowed four times already. BUT, the herb garden is planted, and I’m already dreaming of the sweet tomatoes that we’ll be harvesting later.

Before I relate stories from our last week of camping, I have to share a remarkable photo from our last stop at the Ocoee River, and the National Whitewater Center there. Here’s a photo of the whitewater section when the upstream dam is open, and the water is pouring over the rocks. A friendly raft guide told me that section is a “solid Class IV whitewater”. 20170513_112715On Sunday, the dam is closed again. This is what that same section of the river looks like.20170515_093922-3 Amazing, isn’t it? We could hardly believe our eyes.

Our last week on the road in eastern Tennessee delivered some of the most beastly camping weather we have ever encountered. Temperatures soared into the mid 90s every day. Zero wind or breeze, and humidity around 80+ percent. While we were camped in Cades Cove Campground in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, we were lucky to have a mostly shaded site. T@DA friends Gail and Sid from Virginia were camped nearby, so we had someone to share complaints with. It was truly miserable. John and I decided to do a ten-mile hike one day, intending to get an early morning start to beat the heat. Ha! We didn’t get going until 10:45am, so we hiked through the worst of the heat all day. When we neared the end, we had a cool stream to cross, and the first thing we did was soak our hats in the cool water and slip them back on our heads. We did the same thing at the next two crossings, and it saved us. Truly miserable conditions for a hike. I didn’t even take any photos!

The Cades Cove area of GSMNP has a twelve mile scenic loop, with old homesteads, churches, and other historic and scenic sights. Best of all, it’s closed to automobile traffic on Wednesday and Saturday mornings until 10am. So, of course we hauled out bikes out and did a fast spin Wednesday morning. What a pleasure to roll through the blue-green road, with no cars to dodge. The big disappointment for us was that once again, we saw no bears. We’ve been to GSMNP five times now and spent a total of at least 15 days there, and have yet to see a bear. Along the route, I stopped to take just one photo. 20170516_152137-1 (My intention was to add a link to an earlier post with photos from Cades Cove, but I couldn’t find it. My tags in earlier blogs were not very complete – I understand that now.) We were in a hurry to move on to our next spot – the long-awaited Blue Ridge Rally. Camping with about 60 of our best T@B and T@DA friends.

As you probably know, private campgrounds are not our favorite spots to stay, but Big Meadow in Townsend, TN is pretty nice. Sadly, they have a problem with some type of blight which is killing off their large shade trees. Bad news when its 95 degrees out. We had a nice view, but we baked in the heat!20170518_064754In a moment of foolishness, we had decided (weeks ago) to enter a bicycle ride called the Tour de Blount (we were in Blount County). Riders could select one of four distances – 78, 54, 42, or 25 miles. John and I decided that 42 rolling miles would be plenty for us, since we were on our mountain bikes, instead of lighter, faster road bikes. In fact, we were the only people on mountain bikes that I saw. What beautiful countryside for a bike ride! I sacrificed any thought of speed, and stopped frequently for photo ops.20170520_07185020170521_21322620170521_213144 20170519_11511520170520_080853It was still super-hot that day, and although we hit the road at 7:30am, the temperature climbed quickly. As long as we kept rolling, it was fine, but stopping was torture. Post-ride, we enjoyed beer and BBQ with the 350 other riders. I had the misfortune to miss a turn, so I tacked on about 5 ‘bonus’ miles to the 42 I had planned. Note to self:  Pay Attention!!

For four days we swapped camping stories with like-minded folks, shared meals, beers, coffee, and laughs. Some of our best camping tips have come from these groups, and getting together to hang out for a few days is always a blast.

But, we were SO ready to hit the road and get home. On Sunday May 21, we rolled out and pointed the Campsh@ck (our new name for the Fireball) directly north. Four hundred and twenty miles or so later, we rolled into Grand Lake St Marys State Park in Ohio for the night. 20170521_195933This gorgeous campground was pretty quiet on a May Sunday night, but it’s easy to imagine it being jam-packed all summer long.

Monday morning, we hit the road early and gave a little cheer when we hit the Michigan border. It wouldn’t be a complete trip without stopping at Dark Horse Brewery in Marshall MI for a pint and a sandwich before rolling into our driveway around 3pm.

148 days away from home. It feels good to be back.

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.

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

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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.

Vegas, Red Rock, and a T@Bfest

We said goodbye to Gail & Dan Thursday, and headed out of Vegas toward Pahrump for our T@B rally.  Goodbye to Vegas and all the casino riches.  We did place two $5 bets on Indiana to win the NCAA tournament – one for John’s brother Don, and another for our friend Pierre – both rabid IU fans.  Hope we get to turn these into cold hard cash!

Aliens invade.

Aliens in Las Vegas

So, we headed away from a yard with the best outdoor kitchen anywhere, blooming roses, and a strange little alien who waved goodbye with a tear in her eye.

Can’t speed past Red Rock Canyon without driving thru the impressive 15 mile scenic drive there.  More important (to me) was my chance to finally get my own National Parks Senior Pass (affectionately referred to as the Geezer Pass).  This sweet little baby will get me into National Parks free for the rest of my life, and will get me half-price camping there, as well.  Such a treasure, and now I have my own!  The past several times we’ve been to Red Rock have been on bicycles, so it was a different experience to do a quick drive-through in the truck.  The brilliant red mountains were gorgeous, and we were sad not to be able to take the entire day to hike and explore.

The wind erosion is very dramatic.

The wind erosion is very dramatic.

Another side of Red Rock Canyon

Another side of Red Rock Canyon

Next year, for sure.  Leaving the Canyon, stopped in the small town of Blue Diamond, in hopes of catching a glimpse of one of the wild burros who hang out there.  Three years ago, we nearly collided with one while on our bicycles.  None in sight today, so we rolled on toward Terrible’s Lakeshore RV in Pahrump, a small town near the California border, and our destination for the next two nights.

We’ve been looking forward to these two days for months now, as it’s another chance to get together with T@B owners.  T@Bs are a slightly smaller (perhaps slightly cooler) version of our T@DA trailer.  People with tiny campers are the most fun, innovative folks to be around.  So many creative ideas have added function and created space where no space existed in these little gems.  We spent several hours this afternoon, crawling around each others’ trailers, showing off our improvements, and taking notes of ideas we want to try.  Everyone is so generous with their time and information.  Four T@Bs were here….from San Diego, Huntington Beach, Seattle, and Portland.  We had the only T@DA, and were the least experienced of the group.  The evening was capped off with a great potluck, combined with lots of wild stories about camping escapades and laughter.  Our evening came to an abrupt end around 8:30 when the sprinkler system in the park came on full force.  The photos below really don’t do justice to these crazy little campers.

Tomorrow morning, we’re headed to Bakersfield (CA) for one night, then on to Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Sequoia, Joshua Tree, and Grand Canyon, with a few other stops along the way.  We’re excited to see these great Parks for the first time.  California, here we come….