Wednesday, November 28, 2007

An Idyllic Day

Wednesday, November 28, 2007 -- Trace State Park near Tupelo, MS

The State Parks in the Southeast, based on our experience, are just tremendous, especially at this time of the year. The campsites have been upgraded and are big rig friendly. The RV parking pads are usually level, paved, and free off branches and other obstructions that give campers headaches, not to mention scratches in the paint job. The sites are in the woods, well separated, and very clean. There's a camp host that lives on site to assure some basic rules are followed. This time of the year there are very few campers and we often have the place to ourselves. The experience has been similar in Georgia, Alabama, and now Mississippi.

We found another gem with Trace State Park. We selected a site that's actually on it's own peninsula that juts out into the lake so we have water on three sides (Duh, Thom, that's the definition of a peninsula!). It's very secluded and quiet. Wildlife abound... deer are all over (we actually saw about a dozen just driving in to our site), herons, ducks, and much more. Another bonus: this time of the year the cool weather puts cold-blooded animals into a stupor or dormancy, including all the nasty snakes that live in the south. We hike around without worrying that a big black mamba will attack and carry Dar off when I'm not looking -- they always go for the cute ones I've heard. Combine all that with some remaining autumn color and bright blue skies like we have today, and it's just the best!

I've always wanted to drive the Natchez Trace and was able to do so yesterday on our drive down from Alabama. Actually, the Trace is the theme of our adventure for the next few days while we travel about half of it's 444 mile length. The plan is to do a little over 200 miles in three easy daily segments as we work our way south to Jackson or possibly all the way to Natchez. All along the way there are historic sites, battlefields, and other natural wonders like Elvis' birthplace, to stop and learn.

The modern Natchez Trace is a National Parkway administered by the National Parks Service. It's a long skinny national park, really, stretching from Natchez Mississippi at the southern end to Nashville at the northern end. It parallels an historic natural trail that was used by animals and early peoples as they sought easy pathways through this naturally rugged terrain. Portions of the original trace exist along the way and you can walk these primeval trails just as early Indians did thousands of years ago. The road itself is a very smooth two-lane asphalt roadway with grass shoulders. There's a 50mph speed limit and no commercial traffic is allowed, so no trucks to deal with. The road is consistently and gently winding -- there are no sharp curves or steep hills. During the week the traffic is so light, the sun so warm, the road so hypnotic, that it'd be easy to fall asleep if it weren't for your co-pilot. I'd highly recommend it to anyone. You can learn more about it at the National Parks Service website.

T

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Move to Mississippi today

I'm up early this morning and find the internet connection, which was weak and intermittent yesterday, is much improved. I'm learning that poor weather can knock the signal down dramatically, especially in fringe areas where the signal is weak to start with. Dar's still sawing logs and I get a few minutes to sip my coffee and knock out a post. This will be a short one today because we're getting ready to move and I don't have much to say anyway.

Our slow trek west resumes today. It'll be a short drive of only a little over a hundred miles to the Tupelo, MS area. There's a State Park there that sounds good to us and should make a good home base for a day or so as we check out the area around Elvis' hometown. This week we'll be moving more than sitting and I don't see us spending more than a day or two in any one place. We really don't have a specific destination this week other than "west" and "south" and "warmer". It'll be interesting to see where the wind blows us.

The day before we move there are some chores that should be done. Yesterday, mine were to wash the windshield (about a half-acre), the outside mirrors, and shine up the wheels. I've always felt that shiny-clean wheels make the whole vehicle look better by drawing attention away from a little dirt and dust on the rest of the vehicle. We're lookin' pretty good today.

Well I hear someone stirring in the back. Better run and get some breakfast going.

T

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Easy Days

Sunday, November 25, 2007 -- Joe Wheeler State Park near Rogersville, AL

Still here, and probably will be until Tuesday. One of the great things about our life right now is that we can adapt and adjust to our environment... so when they call for rain in the next day or so, we can simply stay an extra day and wait for better weather.

The last couple days have been slow and easy for us. We like the park and our site, so it really becomes "home" for a few days. Dar's been working on a project and I've been reading and writing. Doesn't sound real exciting but we're enjoying it.

We did visit Wheeler Dam, another TVA dam on the Tennessee River. Completed in 1936, it's over a mile long and the difference between the upstream pool and the downstream pool is as much as 50 feet. The upstream pool, or lake, created by the dam is 67,000 acres and has over 1,000 miles of shoreline. Our campsite is on this lake.

We had a nice visit with our neighbors around their campfire last night. He's a long-haul truck driver and we got the lowdown on some of the routes we've been planning to take. For example, "stay off I-55 between Jackson and New Orleans because the road's falling apart and it's extremely rough." He suggested a better and less congested route to get down to I-10.

As I wrote earlier, we'll be here until Tuesday. We're planning a short drive that day, first getting over to the Natchez Trace and then south to the Tupelo area where there's a state park we'd like to try. The Natchez Trace is a 444 mile parkway that follows an old historic trail and connects Natchez, Mississippi with Nashville, Tennessee. It's administered by the National Parks Service. There is no commercial traffic and the highest speed limit is 50 mph... it's essentially a very long and narrow park. I'd like to drive the portion between Cherokee, Alabama and Jackson, Mississippi -- a distance of about 200 miles. Because the road is narrow and we'd like to just meander and enjoy the drive, we'd like to take two or three days to drive the 200 miles.

T

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Modern-Day Ghost Town

Saturday, November 24, 2007 -- Joe Wheeler State Park near Rogersville, AL

Retrospective comments about Crawfordville, GA.

The traditional heart of the ideal small town has been a lively and energetic central business district, an area where people congregate, socialize, shop, and just hang out. Driven by businesses and shop owners, these areas are kept clean and friendly, often decorated for holidays, so as to be an inviting place for people to go, spend a little money for various needs and wants, and make it possible for these businesses and shops to make a profit -- which allows the cycle starts again. In the best places there are enough people who can spend enough money to allow this cycle to spiral upward -- additional new shops or businesses open, stores are remodeled or new ones built, perhaps the town develops a unique flavor that's enticing and causes more people to come, maybe even from nearby towns, to take part in the experience. There's a sense of energy and a sense of excitement that's palpable, that people feel. They want to be there.

By now you may have seen the pictures in our online photo collection of Crawfordville Georgia. They are pictures of a town that's only a few years from becoming a modern-day ghost town. The heart of this town stopped beating years ago. The central business district, made up of about 3 city blocks, has but 3 or 4 meager businesses still operating, including a branch bank, a cafe, and a very small clothing and shoe repair shop. If the town didn't also have the county courthouse (Crawfordville is the county seat of Taliaferro County), I wonder if any of these businesses could exist either.



It wasn't always this way. The 1920 census counted almost 9,000 people living in this county. Of these, about 5,000 called Crawfordville home. Transportation was more difficult in those days and those that lived in town probably spent their money in town. The businesses and shops were probably busy and making a go of it. The dry goods store had the shelves and display tables full of merchandise. The pharmacy, with it's requisite soda fountain, was a place to find a cool refreshing soda or ice cream treat on a hot Georgia day. The grocery store provided the needs of a well stocked kitchen.

The business of the county was primarily cotton farming. In addition, Crawfordville straddles the historic Georgia Railroad that connects Atlanta with Augusta and Charleston, and anything coming in or going out by rail came through Crawfordville. There were also dairies and logging in the area that kept people employed.

In the early 1920's the boll weevil turned up and, at the time, there was no way of controlling it. Cotton yields dropped. Profits dropped. Employment dropped. Shipments dropped. Money was scarce. People started moving to other places where they could find employment and opportunity. Those with any "get up and go" got up and went. By 1930, the population of the county had dropped to about 6000 people. From that time forward nothing has ever replaced the importance of cotton to Taliaferro county's economy. From that time forward the town struggled, people ebbed away, businesses failed or moved away -- it's been a downward spiral.

Already suffering economically and as if it needed it, the town of Crawfordville somehow became a focal point of the civil rights movement in 1965. A search of the New York Times archives found over 20 articles from that year and the subject of all of them was civil rights activity. Martin Luther King was here, the KKK was here, protests and marches were organized, and politicians wrung their hands knowing what was right but trying to pander to the segregationist element that was the largest voting bloc at the time. As things settled down, even more people left town -- mostly whites.

That was over 40 years ago and today the area has less than half the population it had then. The 2000 census counted less than 2,000 people in the county and has estimated the population in 2007 to be just 1,700 people. Of that, only about 500 live in Crawfordville. According to the census there are only about 100 people in the entire county that are employed and receiving a paycheck. It's kinda hard to keep a town vibrant when there are no resources or energy to fuel the community.

As we walked the main street looking into the windows of closed businesses, evidence of the better days was still present. The shelves and display tables of the dry good store were still in place, but empty, dirty, and forlorn. Fixtures, glasses, and mixers were still on the soda fountain counters as if someone left one night and just never returned. The roof and floor of the grocery store were missing -- gone, only the exterior walls of the building adorned with painted signage still exist. A number of buildings were missing their roofs.


The roof is gone.
The sun shines in all day and the moon beams in all night.
Nothing good happens to vacant buildings that are neglected.
The roof starts to leak and no one notices -- no one's there much anymore.
When someone does notice, they don't care -- there's nothing inside to protect from leaking rain.
When a trickle becomes a torrent, they can't afford to get it fixed -- there's no income or rent to offset the cost.
Eventually, the water seepage rots the roof timbers, they crumble, fail, fall, and the roof comes down with them.
But the walls still stand strong... the ruins a reminder of a previous, more hopeful and energetic time.
The building is now a total wreck... but there's still no money to tear it down and haul it away.
Besides, what's the difference between a broken down building and a junk filled empty lot?
Neither are worth anything.

Ultimately this is a story about lack of resources. And it's a story that has been re-told many, many times since the dawn of civilization and during the growth and development of the U.S. A small town in the wild west is established along a railroad line and then dies when the railroad was later re-routed. A community in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is established to service the needs of miners during the copper rush of the late 1800's and later is totally abandoned when the copper is gone. When key resources are suddenly exhausted, people are no longer able to survive the way they had. If they can, they seek resources and opportunity elsewhere.

Are we, as a civilization, so advanced that we don't have to be concerned about one of our key resources drying up? Can science and innovation solve any problem nature throws at us? Is there enough fresh water on the planet for billions of new people in the next few years? Can we grow enough food? Is there enough oil for millions and millions more cars in China and India? Could there be a "boll weevil" in our future?

It might be wise to stay adaptable and keep an eye on world events.

T

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Reflection and Thanks

Thursday, November 22, 2007 -- Joe Wheeler State Park near Rogersville, AL

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

A cold front passed through last night bringing rain, a little wind, and chillier temps by this morning. It was 42f when we got up this morning.

Yesterday we didn't do much. It rained almost all day. Since Dar needed a few supplies for a project she's working on, and we needed a few groceries, we drove to Florence, a good sized town about 20 miles west of us.

During our foray into Florence we stopped at a Ruby Tuesday restaurant to have some lunch. We were seated just a little way from a large table of extended family members... father, mother, their adult children, and their children's families. I'm only guessing. One of the adult children, a guy, who for the purposes of this post we'll name "Bob", had a voice that easily projected all around the dining room we were in and dominated his other family members. In other words, all diners in the restaurant knew what Bob was thinking.

Shortly after we sat down, Bob and the rest of his family members got their food order delivered. Within a minute or two Bob was telling everyone at his table (and everyone in the restaurant) that he'd ordered his steak medium rare, and that he wasn't sure what he'd gotten, but it most certainly wasn't medium rare. In a few minutes their server was back checking on the table and Bob boldly brought her up to date with what everyone else in the restaurant already knew... his steak wasn't done to his liking. She apologized, removed his plate, and said she'd have another out in a jiffy.

After some minutes, the server was back with another steak. This time, she didn't have a chance to escape back to the kitchen before Bob complained that the plate the steak was served on wasn't hot enough... he likes his steaks served on a very hot plate. She again apologizes, takes the plate, and says she'll be right back.

A few more minutes pass. The rest of the family is nearly done eating. The server reappears with yet another steak. Bob once again starts in on his steak. For a few moments I honestly thought that he'd finally found the right degree of steak done-ness and plate hot-ness. But I was wrong. There's no pleasing Bob. He started telling everyone that his steak was now rare, not medium rare. And after a few more minutes he announces to the room that "now we've gone from rare to raw!" Their server returns and gets another ear-full. She takes the plate and scurries off. A little while later she returns, apologizes, and says she'll deduct the cost of his meal from the check, and if he'd like he can take the uneaten steak home and re-cook it to his satisfaction. He said he'd take the steak, but he wasn't going to eat it. It was going to become dog food.

Dar and I handle these situations differently. I realize that you can't remove the ass from a jackass. There is nothing I can do to change people like this. I see these events as, a) studies in human interaction, and b) entertainment. They become fodder for my blog. They remind me that not all people are reasonable -- as if I need reminding on this point.

Dar, on the other hand, must do or say something to right the wrong. She gets that look in her eyes... righteousness will prevail. I know this and told her, as we were leaving, that I was going to follow her and physically muzzle her if she said something to Bob as we passed by their table. What I didn't count on was her unloading on the manager of the restaurant who saw us to the door and thanked us for stopping in. He had more than one story about his customers that day.

But back to Bob. I'm convinced some people get some kind of pleasure or sense off self-worth out of not being happy and make a lifestyle out of complaining. I hope he never finds himself in a truly challenging and dire situation someday. On second thought, maybe I do. No, on third thought, I certainly do.

On this day of reflection and thanksgiving, I'm especially thankful for our two great kids, our wonderful grandson, and for our parents and the great job they did raising us. I'm also thankful that we're able to do this sabbatical and see America like we've never seen it before.

Oh, and I'm especially thankful that I'm not like Bob.

T

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

On to Alabama

Tuesday, November 20, 2007 -- Joe Wheeler State Park near Rogersville, AL

It's been a busy two days, yesterday and today, and I need to get a post done to bring y'all up to date. Monday, yesterday, we got up early at A. H. Stephens Park and had the bus on I-20 by 9:30am. We were headed west, through the heart of Atlanta, and on into Alabama. The bus ran fine, the day was warm, and we made good time... making it to the Alabama visitors center at the GA-AL state line by noon or so, central standard time. Since we were making such good time we decided to head for Joe Wheeler State Park in northern Alabama. A quick phone call confirmed that they had space and that space would be available for the entire Thanksgiving Day weekend... so off we went.

Dar drove the next leg and tackled the Birmingham traffic like a seasoned trucker. We pressed north. Along the way up I-65, there's a stark transition from wooded hillsides to open, flat, farmland -- the ancient work of the Tennessee River, I presume.

An observation and a suggestion: Alabama has more litter along its interstate highways than I've ever seen anywhere to date. We saw a team of state-owned tractors mowing the roadsides along I-20. Because of the drought the grass isn't growing, but apparently there's a secondary purpose to these rigs... chewing up all the plastic bottles, aluminum cans, cheese-doodle bags, moon-pie wrappers, and other household debris that people simply toss out and into their environment. As we were passing by, I saw one tractor/mower drive over one of those disposable bead-plastic injection-molded coolers and the mower blades converted it from one big piece of litter to about 10,000 little pieces of litter. Do the people of Alabama feel a right to discard anything they want along these roads? Does the interstate highway system replace the need for additional landfills? Is grinding it all up with mowers state policy? I don't know. But here's a suggestion... pick it up instead of chopping it up. Duh!

Joe Wheeler State Park is a much nicer place than the shoulders of their I-roads. Located along the shores of Wheeler Lake, a dammed up portion of the Tennessee River, it's considered a "resort" park, as it has a golf course, a big lodge with hundreds of hotel rooms, a marina, cabins and cottages available for rent, all in addition to the big campground. We found some great sites for the camper, very much to our liking. By the time we backed in, leveled, and put the slides out it was dark. The time changes at the GA-AL state line to Central Time, and while we gained an hour on the clock we didn't gain an hour of daylight. By 4:30 here, it's getting dark. We put on over 350 miles today and we were tired. So after a quick spaghetti dinner and a little reading, I was out.

Today, Tuesday, was supposed to be warm, mid 70's, and mostly sunny. The rest of the week is downhill, weatherwise: good chance of significant rain, much colder (lows near freezing) -- you know, "do-stuff-inside" days. So today we opted for the outdoors and hiked around the parks over 2,000 acres, had lunch at the lodge, and photographed the park and a ton of wildlife. Along our walk today, we saw at least 2 dozen whitetail deer who feared us very little. They seemed more curious than fearful. We also have some feral cats around the campground -- they don't hurt anyone and serve a purpose in keeping small rodents under control. Oh, and we have a semi-tame skunk or two that lurk around looking for food -- a little disconcerting at first, but something you learn to deal with.

We're going to spend the rest of the week here. We've got full hookups and a great site. As an additional bonus to being here, we can have Thanksgiving dinner at the lodge with about 600 of our closest friends. It's supposed to be very good and it'll be perfect for our needs.

The flip-side of early darkness on the eastern side of the central time zone is the early morning. Sun's up at 6:30am... and so am I. After getting up at dawn and hiking so much today, I'm getting sleepy and it's only 9pm.

T

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Museum Donation

Sunday, November 18, 2007 -- A. H. Stephens State Historic Park

It's hard for me to believe that Thanksgiving Day is next week and that at the end of this month we'll have been on our sabbatical for 5 months... and 5 months is almost a half year. How fast time passes!

On Friday, we drove around the area to some surrounding towns. Dar read that there are some good examples of antebellum homes and buildings scattered about, so off we went. Along the way we stopped, based on a recommendation from a local, at Holcomb BBQ for lunch. This place is open for lunch on Friday and Saturday only -- a common thing among barbecue places here in the rural south. Throughout the south, barbecue is a primary staple food and local people have strong feelings about what they consider their favorite. I get the feeling that fist-fights break out when people disagree on the subject.

Based on what I've observed, one pre-requisite for a good BBQ place is a broken-down building with a dirt parking lot. Holcomb's met that criteria. Inside, a couple thick inches of what they call sawdust -- course sawdust or wood-shavings, like from a sawmill -- covered every square inch of the floor, which apparently makes cleaning the floor unnecessary most of the time. The building was narrow with two long continuous rows of tables with benches, and a long aisle down the middle. We ordered chopped pork, what they consider their best style, and a small bowl of Brunswick stew, a spicy southern specialty made with chicken (or small game) and corn and tomatoes and lima beans and okra and onions and potatoes and whatever else they have laying around. It was all good, very good, but I'm not to the point where I'm gonna fight with someone defending my favorite food yet.

After lunch we toured around Sparta, GA., checking out the old homes and buildings from before the Civil War. My observations and thoughts about the condition of small towns around this part of Georgia will be the subject of a separate post in the next few days. But, in general, I finding these towns to be lacking energy and pride. The few I've seen are really rather depressing. But more on that later.

Friday night Dar called Bill and Nancy, our next door neighbors when we stayed at Camp Soldner in Michigan's Upper Peninsula in late August. They spend summers in the UP and winters at their home near Athens, GA. We met them for breakfast on Saturday morning and had a great time catching up and planning new adventures for next summer.

We then made it to the A. H. Stephens home and museum which is in the same park we're camped in. Alexander Hamilton Stephens was a native of Crawfordville, GA., and lived here for most of his life. He was an intelligent, but frail and sickly man who never weighed more than 100 lbs. during his 71 year life. He was a lawyer and spent time in the Georgia Legislature, the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Senate, was Vice President of the Confederacy, and, near the end of his life, was the Governor of Georgia. He had a reputation for being a champion of the underprivileged, for thoughtful deliberation and clear thinking, and for good judgment. He never married (an example of his good judgment?), is not known to have fathered children, but had other family members living with him for most of his adult years.

I get a real kick out of learning about notable people who've shaped our history. Our tour interpreter has lived in the area for all her life and could add bits of background that added to our overall understanding. Stephens had a lifelong good friend by the name of Robert Toombs who lived in another nearby Georgia town. Toombs was also a lawyer, like Stephens, and they practiced law together in the Eastern Georgia Circuit. Stephens had a bedroom set aside in his house for Toombs whenever he was in town. In that room, during our tour, we found a decanter and two glasses on a small table surrounded by two comfortable chairs. Toombs, our interpreter said, was a bourbon drinker... probably to excess. She also added that during a recent renovation of the room, someone emptied old Toombs' decanter of the liquor it held. We and the interpreter chuckled about this, and one thing led to another, and before I knew it I had volunteered to re-fill old Toombs' decanter with a little of his favorite brand -- Jack Daniels. So, a little later in the day, Dar and I returned with our personal donation to the Stephens' Museum, and with some ceremony, added to the authenticity of the exhibit.

The day ended with hotdogs over a campfire. It was warmer than the previous few nights so the perfect night for a fire. We mused a little about Thanksgiving -- we still don't know where we'll be for sure. We do know we won't be with family and that's the downside of what we're doing this year. But wherever we are we'll make the best of it.

T

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Chore Day

Friday, November 16, 2007 -- A. H. Stephens State Historic Park

Woke to near freezing temps this morning, but I'm learning how to deal with them. Our little electric heater is quite useful on cold nights and it does a reasonable job at keeping the coach at a good sleeping temperature -- low to mid 60's. Didn't need the coach's LP furnace until this morning when a quick kick to 68f was desired. Dar's learning how to deal with cold too -- she stays in bed, under 12 pounds of blankets and comforters, until I get the camper up to 68f, coffee made, and the sun comes out.

I checked the government's climate prediction center website and found they're predicting warmer than normal temps for the South this winter. Hmmm. Then I checked the Original Farmers Almanac website and found they're predicting a colder than normal winter for the same area. Recent experience has me leaning toward going with the Farmers Almanac on this one. I'm keeping my eye on the extended forecast so we can move south in the event real winter shows up.

Yesterday was a chore day... laundry, grocery shopping, sweep off the camper. Sweep off the camper?? We're parked in a predominantly pine woods, a common thing in the South. This time of the year the pine trees shed needles. (It's fall, Thom! What do you expect?) OK, it's not just the fact that they're shedding needles... it's the incredible volume. The car, the bus, everything, is just covered. Especially on windy days like yesterday. From inside the bus it sounds like big raindrops hitting the roof. So, to keep the excess weight off the awnings, I climbed up and swept the top of the camper. The day was a little more blustery and cloudy than we're used to, so it was a good day to get some chores done.

Today is history day. We're going to take in the A. H. Stephens home and museum. If we have time Dar'd like to drive to some other nearby towns where she said there are some interesting pre-civil war homes and buildings. Based on what I've seen of this area so far not much has been done since Sherman left in 1864.

Late last night I had faster internet so I uploaded some new pictures to our photo collection.

That's the news for today.

T

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Extending Our Stay

Thursday, November 15, 2007 -- A. H. Stephens State Historic Park near Crawfordville, GA

We really like this place, so we extended our stay for a few more days. We'll be here through Sunday night at this point. If the weather gods cooperate next Monday we'll continue our move westward.

Yesterday there was nothing planned, nowhere to go, no schedule... we just enjoyed the warm (upper 70's) sunny weather, took a walk, read a little, and cyber-scouted the path ahead. I worked a little on the website, but a slow-ish connection makes uploading pictures tough. I also did a little research on a couple topics for the future.

Today, Thursday, we're going to seek out a grocery store that's about 20 miles away so we have something to eat for the rest of the week. Dar may do a load or two of laundry. There's a front coming through the area today and the accompanying clouds, wind, and cooler weather make this the perfect day for chores like that.

T

Hook Day

Wednesday, November 14, 2007 -- A. H. Stephens State Historic Park near Crawfordville, Ga.

Ok, let me try this again! I lost about an hours worth of brilliant thoughts I'd written into a post on this blog this morning when something went wrong while saving it. I have a weak and variable internet connection here and it apparently became very weak and very variable just when I went to save my post. Dang. I hate when that happens.

Dar and I decided that we'd refer to yesterday as "hook day" -- the day we made the big turn toward the west, the direction we'll now be predominantly going as we work our way to the west coast by March.

After saying our good-byes with Cousin Debbie yesterday morning, we fired up the bus and headed to the bus's 7am appointment with the Cummins dealer in Columbia for an oil change, chassis lube, and generator service. While that was being done, Dar and I found a Panera and did some online research on places to stay along our way. We'd previously decided that we'd take a more northerly route through Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi -- as long as the weather cooperated -- but really hadn't decided on any particular places to stay. Dar found the Georgia State Parks website and found one she though would be nice.

The bus was done before noon, so we hooked up the toad, pointed the bus west, and took off for Crawfordville, GA. by 1pm or so. The terrain of western South Carolina and eastern Georgia is made up of big ridges that run generally north and south. We were traveling west so the bus spent the day alternating between exerting on the uphills and coasting over the speed limit on the downhills. Combined with a gusty headwind, it wasn't a day for great fuel mileage.

Another thing we decided: driving into a bright sun seems to take some of the enjoyment out of a trip. With our mostly western heading during the next few months, we're going to make an effort to get going earlier in the morning and try to make our destination by early afternoon in order to avoid the sun blasting in through the big windshield. Having flexibility like this reduces the stress of driving, whether it's the direction of the sun or just staying someplace until the weather improves.

We made Crawfordsville by 3:30pm or so. On first impression, it's a very small town that's been neglected for many years. Signs directing us to the park had us make a left turn at the town's main intersection. While making turns on small or tight streets I normally spend more time looking back with the mirrors or camera than I do looking forward -- checking that I'll make the corner without hitting anything or anyone, and that the toad is still following along as it should. This time after completing the turn and my attention was once again directed forward, I see an old rusting bridge that we've got to go under -- an old railroad trestle -- and a sign: "Low Clearance -- 12' 10". Jeeesh! Just after we bought the bus I physically measured our high point as 12' 8" -- so we had a whole 2 inches to spare -- assuming the sign was accurate.

There was no where else to go, no side street that I could take that would allow easy escape. We had only two options: go for it and run the risk that we get caught under the bridge, or stop, unhook the toad (it's not possible to back up with the car in tow), drive the car away, and back the bus back up the hill into the intersection, and go a different way.

It's amazing what you can think about in situations like this. If we did get stuck under the bridge I figured we become somewhat unwitting celebrities around this small town and would probably be front-page news in the local weekly: "Yankee Camper Hits Railroad Bridge -- embarrassed driver and angry wife extricated by Billy Bob Kirby and Bubba Larrabee from Ray's Towing -- driver charged with inattentive driving and fined"

Dar closed her eyes. I drove to the bridge and slowed to a crawl. The bus inched forward. I looked up at the bottom of the bridge, now just inches away, and could see all the dings and gouges where other tall objects have hit it. I gulped. Slowly, ever so slowly, the bus moved forward. The highest thing on top is the TV satellite dish and it's dome covering is made off a somewhat flexible plastic. I turned off the vent fan and anything else that was making noise so I could hear the first scrape. Remember, I kept telling myself, there should be two inches to spare. A few seconds later Dar opened her eyes and I was making the next turn into the park. We made it and the TV dome is still with us.

Turning into the park I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. Another first impression: heavily wooded, neat, clean, almost new asphalt road, and almost no one around. Stopping at the office I met two of the nicest rangers who told me they have 25 campsites and that maybe 3 of them are occupied. I paid for three nights and they said to just pick any site we'd like. The campground was built for RV's and every site is level, wide, and well separated from each other. As we walked around trying to decide which site to take neither of us could believe what we've stumbled on. We chose site #1, and I'll get some pictures of it online as soon as I can.

As I write this while sitting outside at our campsite, it's almost 80 degrees with clear skies and mild breezes. We have NOTHING planned for today. Maybe a little later I'll wander down to the ranger station and pay for a few more nights in heaven.

T

Monday, November 12, 2007

An Easy Drive

November 12, 2007 -- Eastover, SC

Leaving family or friends is tough -- especially when we've been parked near them for a few weeks. We experienced that again yesterday when we left Chris and Tim to move on with our adventure. There were a few tears shed as we said "good-bye" and pointed the bus toward the south. Their companionship, hospitality, and talent with food lulled us into a state of comfort (and an expanded waistline) that wasn't easy to leave. Tim even made a batch of his world-famous cookies for us -- "comfort food for the road", he said. A huge "Thank You" to our good friends for making our visit so wonderful!

The drive to the Columbia, SC area, our next objective, was an easy one. The weather was perfect, the traffic light, only 100 miles, the bus performed flawlessly. On the way, we stopped at a Flying J truckstop for fuel and propane. South Carolina's tax on diesel fuel is very low and, thus, so is the price relative to surrounding states. We paid $3.189, after discount. It's at least a dime more in other states around here. Propane, on the other hand, has not been going up. We paid $1.98, about the same as the last time we filled a couple months ago in Wisconsin.

We're staying with my cousin Debbie at her home in Eastover. She has a few acres and offered any level spot we could find. We talked and caught-up with each other while a big prime-rib slowly cooked on her Green Egg outdoor cooker. It was so tasty and perfectly done that I couldn't stop eating and probably gained more weight -- again! It was a great evening, but I may have to re-think our strategy of seeing friends and relatives along the way or I'll have to buy bigger pants and put overload springs on the bus.

We'll be here until early Tuesday morning when we take the bus in for an oil change and lube at the local Cummins dealer. As I write this, we're not certain exactly where we're going next. Certainly, we start to make a bend toward the west, but which road to take... that may be decided by flipping a coil.

T

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Dumping with Friends

Thursday, November 8, 2007 -- Near York, SC

Chris and Tim had their first RV'ing adventure yesterday. They rode along as we took the bus to a county park campground about 10 miles away so we could dump our holding tanks. I'm sure it was an experience they'll not soon forget! The entire process, including prep'ing the bus for travel and setting up for living again when we got back took a couple hours -- but, hey, we're not in a hurry.

During the afternoon the four of us and Heidi the dog went for a walk at the Anne Springs Close Greenway, a 2000 acre nature preserve in Fort Mills, SC. There are walking trails, bridle trails, primitive camping, nature walks and more at this wonderful facility. We chose a path that circled a small lake. Once again, the day was perfect autumn weather. I have no complaints about the weather here... except for the early morning temps this week.

Did I mention that it got to 29.8 at the bus early this morning? That it was warmer in Wisconsin than it was here? Serenity now!

So what's on the docket for today? Dar and Chris are off to a Christmas event of some kind at the Merchandise Mart in Charlotte. For Tim and me, the next phase of the pond project kicks off today.

Thanks for tuning in and reading.

T

31.6 degrees this morning

Wednesday, November 7, 2007 -- Near York, SC

These days I'm keeping my behavior in check as I don't want to do anything to tick-off Dar. With the nightly low temperature getting into the lower 30s I need all the heat I can get, and that little furnace I'm married to can produce more BTU's than our camper's heater at times. So I've learned keeping her happy keeps me warm at night. I'm sure it's a survival instinct. I'll be on best behavior at least until global warming takes hold.

A common assumption we run into when staying with friends is that we'll stay in their guest room. This happens almost every time and we sincerely appreciate the offers. Not everyone understands when we decline. But we have a great Tempurpedic bed, all our clothes and toiletries, and plenty of heat (see above) right there in our camper. Staying in someone's guest room means we've got to pack a bag -- not a major thing, but a little hassle nonetheless -- and move from here to there and back again. The bus has become our home and we feel the same sense of warmth and comfort as most people do about their homes.

Yesterday, phase 1 of the "pond project" has successfully completed. I referred to this in my last post I think. Here's a little more on what this is all about: Tim and Chris's live in a very nice development in rural York County. Their property, along with about a dozen others, backs-up to an 8 acre pond that was created when the area was developed. This pond is owned by these property owners and is their responsibility. During the past year or so, Tim noticed the water level was going down. He investigated and found the pond water-level control system was deteriorating and leaking water into a downstream creek. If something wasn't done there was a real possibility they could loose the entire pond.

During the summer, Tim mustered other property owners in attempting temporary repairs. But eventually he convinced everyone that a more permanent solution was needed. He consulted with others, outlined the project, and is managing it through to completion. The first phase, the permanent de-activation of the old control system, was completed yesterday. Basically, the piping that controlled the pond's level and allowed excess water to flow through the dam to a downstream creek was filled with about 13 yards of concrete -- a big "cork" in the dam. A large boom-style concrete pump was brought in to do the job. Later in the week the new water-level control system will be installed. I'll have a few pictures in our online photo collection one of these days.

The plan is to leave here on Sunday and head to the Columbia, SC area for a day or two. I've got a service appointment with a Cummins dealer in Columbia for an oil change, lube, and generator service on Tuesday.

T

Monday, November 5, 2007

Battlefields and Vineyards

November 5, 2007 -- York, SC

Gosh, it's been 4 days since I posted to this blog. Better get caught up.

Last week, I think it was Thursday, the four of us, Chris, Dar, Tim, and I, drove over to Kings Mountain State Park and the Kings Mountain National Military Park. It was a bright, sunny, but cool day -- the kind of weather I'm really growing to like. When I first heard that there's an old battlefield here I assumed it was from the Civil War. But my ignorance was soon apparent as I learned it's a piece of history from the Revolutionary War. It was a small battle but it was a decisive win for the patriots, who desperately needed a win, having had a loosing streak in the south up to that point. The time was October 1780. Only about 1000 men on each side. All were Americans except for one British officer, a Major Patrick Ferguson. The loyalists, who were fighting for the British, were recruited Americans who wanted to remain loyal to the British crown. The patriots were back-woodsmen, farmers, and frontiersmen largely from the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Kentucky. For that time, the tactics used by the patriots were unconventional, but effective. Rather than standing out in the open in lines and firing salvos from wildly inaccurate flint-lock muskets as the British and loyalists did, the patriots used a run-hide-shoot style -- and had more accurate 50 caliber black-powder rifles. Despite having the high ground, the loyalists were chewed up and lost decisively. It's said that this battle pumped new life and spirit into the patriot cause, and showed the British that fighting an unconventional war in a far-off country is a very difficult enterprise.

Readers of this blog probably know that visiting small local wineries is a favorite thing to do. On Saturday all four of us mounted up and headed into the Appalachian foothills to a place near Cleveland, SC. Just miles from the border with North Carolina and at the foot of a rock outcropping called Table Rock, Victoria Vineyards was out objective. Once again the day was sunny and crisp, the air was clear, the autumn colors vibrant -- one of those days I've dreamed about on dreary cold miserable winter days in the past. Besides tasting wine we also had lunch, outside, on the veranda, making sure we had a table in the sun -- just warm enough to enjoy. The winery was happy we came as I'm sure their sales and profits had a bump that day... and we thought it was worth every penny.

Daylight saving time is history, at least for 2007. Since we've embarked on this adventure, my body-clock has synch'd up with the sun. In the evening, when the sun sets, it doesn't take too long and I'm yawning and getting that dazed look that precedes the onset of sleep. In the morning, I awaken at first light. This schedule is great during the summer... 7 or 8 hours of good sleep and plenty of time to do all the day-stuff I want. But during late fall and winter, it's a problem. I can't sleep 12 or 13 hours! So I've been staying up well past sunset, but still getting up at sunrise -- which, where we've been the past few weeks, has been about 8am... 8am for heaven's sake! By the time I get up, coffee'd up, cleaned up, and dressed up it's nearly noon. The day's half gone. I, for one, am happy to see the sun rising at a more reasonable hour.

We've got about a week left here with Tim and Chris. The big event this week is the "pond project". I'll write more about it in the next few days, but, briefly, the pond behind Tim and Chris's house has a problem. The water level control system is failing. It's leaking water. It's lost about 2 or 3 feet of water this summer. Tim is managing the project to repair and replace the system for the pond-owners association. This is the week it's supposed to get fixed. More later.

That's it for today.

T

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Time with Tim and Chris

November 1, 2007 -- York, SC

Most of our time in the past few days has been spent catching up with our friends, Tim and Chris. The four of us have gone a lot of places and done a lot of things over the past 30 years, and it's fun to reminisce. They have a year old Bernese Mountain Dog named Heidi. Bernese are considered "working" dogs and they can weigh upwards of 100 pounds or more. Their distinctive coloration is mostly black, with chest, muzzle, toes, tip of tail, and blaze between the eyes being pure white, and then some rust/brown color on the legs and face. It's a distinctive and good-looking dog.

We've also been working on a few projects around their estate. Tim and I completed an aggregate path that winds through a piece of woods from their backyard to the small lake on the back edge off their property. Dar and Chris spread a trailer-load of pine needles that's used as a mulch-like material in landscaping. The weather's been good for this kind of work, which you wouldn't want to do in the summer under high heat and humidity.

We've been living on batteries and the generator while we're here as we're parked too far from the house to get power. The cool weather diminishes the capacity of the batteries so we've had to run the generator every morning. During the summer in Michigan we could go two days between generator charges. That's life.

So that's about it for today.

T