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.

Tennessee, Briefly

What a week! After our last night underwater in Arkansas,20170503_173005 we charted a course to Memphis, and headed out. Oops…after a couple of hours on the road, we hit an Arkansas State Highway which was closed by flooding. Detour. Oops…this other State Highway is also closed. To make a long story short, our 4-1/2 hour trip to Memphis turned into an eight hour ordeal.

First impressions of  T.O. Fuller State Park (12 miles from downtown Memphis) weren’t encouraging, but that was quickly overcome. The thick brush alongside the campsites was overgrown, and the campground had kind of a forlorn look to it. But we were won over by an onsite washer/dryer (only $1.00/ea), and a free ice machine! Not to mention sparkling clean, if aging, bathrooms. Fuller SP was the first State Park east of the Mississippi River to admit blacks. And, this was in the 1930s! It seems incredible to me.

The National Civil Rights Museum was our target for our first cycling trip into town. It was a long, crazy ride through some rather sketchy areas, punctuated with 20 minute wait for a freight train. The Museum is located at the old Lorraine Motel, site of Martin Luther King Jr’s. assassination.20170506_140122 The Museum is a testament to the everyday struggles non-white Americans have shared over the years to be granted equal rights. Why should that ever have been an issue? The bus on which Rosa Parks staged her quiet protest is there. 20170506_131845Remember the lunch-counter sit-ins?20170506_132258 Bus bombings? 20170506_132842One of the most moving areas (for me) was the section devoted to James Meredith’s struggle to gain admittance to Old Miss. The film clips are devastating to watch. So many reminders to all the shameful eras of US race relations. The lines to get into the Museum stretched way down the street – blacks and white, old and young. There are lessons to be learned here.20170506_134609Next stop was David Crockett State Park, where we had another history lesson. Near US64, the park encompasses portions of the original Trail of Tears, the route taken by the Cherokees (and some other Native American tribes as well), when they were forcibly relocated from their homelands in NC, GA, VA, and SC to new reservations west of the Mississippi. The sections here were along the route taken by 650 Cherokees led by Captain Bell. 20170508_112759Nearly four percent of the group died on this three-month trip. Lots of history to be absorbed here.20170511_113416 Jezzy was tuckered out after all the learning.20170508_135739 Camping at Crockett SP was great. 20170510_142613We had a huge campsite, and met our Canadian neighbors in their brand-spankin’ new Alto trailer. What a gem. It’s a step up we could seriously see ourselves making.

Onward to Tims Ford State Park in Lynchburg. The only game in town there is the Jack Daniel Distillery, so we took the tasting tour. 20170510_12321020170510_121339If you’ve been reading this blog for long, you’ll know that the word ‘whiskey’ has probably never been seen in print here. We’re beer drinkers! But, when in Lynchburg… And, we are happy we did take the tour – there’s much to appreciate here. Let me give you a few fun facts.

  1. Jack Daniel owned his first distillery when he was about 14, through an odd combination of circumstances. He was a small man – only 5’2″ (with a size 4 boot!). In a fit of rage, he kicked the safe in his office one day, and broke his foot, which never healed properly. After several successively more aggressive amputations, he eventually died of gangrene, after having the rest of his leg removed at the hip. This statue is entitled “Jack on the Rocks”.20170510_122214
  2. They make all their own barrels onsite, and also produce all their own charcoal, which is used to filter the whiskey. All the water used comes from a spring on the property.
  3. All the Jack Daniel’s whiskey sold in the world are produced in Lynchburg. Even more crazy is the fact that Lynchburg is located in a dry county in TN – the only place to get a drink in the county is on a paid tour of the distillery.
  4. During many sections of the hour-long tour, photos are off-limits. But we got to sniff and look at all areas, and watched a portion of the specialty bottling line.

Then is was time for our tasting. 20170510_130737To my surprise, I really enjoyed four of the five selections (the exception being Tennessee Fire, which is JD + cinnamon liquor).

Southern Tennessee is beautiful, rolling country. 20170510_16223220170510_105856Our travels from camp to camp were enjoyable as our eyes feasted on lush green forests and barns of every shape and age.

Crossing back into the Eastern Time Zone for the first time this year, we’re now camped at Thunder Rock Campground, along the Ocoee River. 20170512_151356This is the site of the whitewater course in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and our campsite is right on the river. We’re so fortunate to be here on this day (Saturday), as the dams have been opened for the day, and water is rushing along at 1400 cubic feet per second. Daredevil kayaks, river rafts of all sizes and careening downsream, with sometimes unexpected results.20170513_11590920170513_12013320170513_111738 It’s thrilling even to watch.

We cycled down to the area near the National Whitewater Center, and parked ourselves along the rocks to watch. It brought back memories of my rafting down the Gauley (WV) River two times many years ago. What a thrill. Our National Forest Service Campground is fabulous as well, with the only drawback being its proximity to US64. Lots of car and truck traffic. There are dozens of  hiking and mountain bike trails here. An adventurer’s paradise.

Sorry I haven’t included any links to these places or any additional background information. We haven’t had any phone signal or WiFi for a few days, so I’m sitting in the truck in the parking lot at the Whitewater Center, grabbig a bit of signal. The longer I leave these posts unwritten, the worse they get.

This is our last week of camping before turning the big red truck north and scampering for home. We still have Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and our Blue Ridge Rally to finish off this long trip. Can’t say we’ve enjoyed EVERY minute, but it’s certainly been an adventure.

History Lesson and a Bicycling Lesson

Pickwick Landing State Park in Counce, TN is the perfect jumping off spot for exploration of Shiloh National Battlefield, site of one of the early big, strategic battles of the Civil War.   Pickwick is an older State Park, with odd campsites – most are not remotely level.20140424_070727 All have electric and water, but the water is all on the wrong side for an RV or trailer. Bathroom facilities are clean, but old.  The humidity level in the bathroom is killer!  Eh, so what?

We decide to spend our first whole day in the area at Shiloh.  John maps out a bike route for the 18 mile ride to the Battlefield.  Part of the road will be on a busy State Highway, filled with logging trucks (cyclist’s worst enemy) delivering huge loads of pine to the PCA plant along the way.  But, we thought we would only be on this stretch of road for a mile or so.  HA!  The road he had mapped out didn’t exist.  We were trapped on the Logging Expressway for about 6 miles.  What a horror.  The biggest laugh is that there is a big sign (familiar to all of you) along the roadside proclaiming Bicycle Route.  That sign should have said Cyclist/Organ Donor Route.  The road itself was the minimum width for a State Highway, with about a one foot, crumbling shoulder.  Most of the pavement along the shoulder was non-existent.  The lumber trucks roar past, not giving an inch of pavement, with bark, dust, and whatnot flying off the back. It was a nightmare. There are NO good roads in this area for cyclists. Not an extra inch of pavement exists for safety.

Shiloh was somber and informative, as well as very beautiful.  20140424_13530320140424_13240520140424_132242The Union Army originally hoped for a quick victory in April 1862, paving the way for a collapse of the Confederate Army.  But, an unexpected attack by General Johnston (killed at Shiloh – to date, still the highest ranking US Military Officer killed in battle) drove the Union troops back on Day 1. The tables were turned on Day 2, pushing back the Southerners, who retreated on Day 3, setting the stage for three more years of battle.  The film at the Visitor Center was amazing – personal stories of soldiers on each side, and graphic depictions of the strategy/tactics made the Battlefield site much easier to understand.  With our maps in hand, we cycled along the route, stopping at each of the points, set in chronological order. 20140424_134609 John’s great-great-great-grandfather fought at Shiloh as part of the 15th Michigan Infantry, and we saw many markers of their participation in this great battle.

The cemeteries always hold great interest for me.20140424_12531220140424_125337 This was no exception.  Sobering in the size – so many markers with numbers, yet no names.  The hardships of the Civil War are so difficult to comprehend.20140424_125759 The logistics of thousands of dead soldiers, and many, many more thousands wounded are staggering to comprehend. 20140424_130137 Memorials on the Battlefield site are abundant – many are elaborate. 20140424_141809 One of the memorials that I found particularly moving was the one dedicated to the Confederate Army. 20140424_13415120140424_134303 One side (the right) shows heads in profile held high – signifying the high spirits and hopes of the soldiers entering into the battle.  The left side has the same profiled heads bowed in defeat.  My photos don’t do justice to this memorial – it’s quite striking.

We arrived back at camp exhausted from cycling 50 miles in (mostly) awful road conditions.  Had enough time to cook a quick dinner, and bundle Jezzy into her Thundershirt before the storms rattled with windows most of the night.  When they stopped, the coyotes began.  There must be a dozen of them, and it’s amazing to hear the range of calls and sounds they make.

Thursday was camp day.  We’ve been living the high life, and not working too hard to keep our gear looking sharp.  So, we spent the day washing the truck, and meticulously scrubbing bugs from 10 states off the grille, and doing the same for the Fireball.  We’ve washed both along the way, but this was the first time we actually detailed all the tiny parts.  Windows are shined, floor mats cleaned, and all the mystery wings and legs are cleaned off the headlights.  Not a fun day, but we’re very happy to have spent the time doing it.  The inside of the Fireball got tended to as well, and it’s now ready for the BRR!

Spent the rest of the day exploring the park on foot with Jezzy, then cycling to the dam/locks to check things out. 20140425_162415We did find the dock to nowhere.20140425_152801 No big discoveries, except for the gigantic wisteria growing near the entrance.20140425_165747 It’s wrapped around a tree, and has flowers extending 30 feet into the air.  Never have I seen one so big.  20140425_165801

Saturday morning, we head off to Cloudland Canyon SP in Georgia.  Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it?