Showing posts from May, 2009

Across 40 North

Sunday, May 31, 2009 Celina, OH We surprised ourselves to find we were on the road this morning by 9:15. Kentucky Horse Park is right along I-75, our chosen path northbound for most of the day today, so we started making northerly progress right away. Traffic was surprisingly heavy for a Sunday morning, especially when we bisected both Cincinnati and Dayton. I know I probably shouldn't be shocked by this... these are big towns... lots of people... and people have places to go... people to see... important things to do. I've griped before about the poor condition of roads in the USA -- especially the main arteries in our large and medium sized cities. Neither Cincinnati nor Dayton let me down on this issue either -- they both had horrible roads, bridges and approaches with pot-holes and drop-offs that would almost bottom-out the suspension of the bus-house. You'd expect something would break... but (knock on wood) so far the Newmar has suffered this abuse quietly. I wrote

A Circus, A Plant, A Salad

Saturday, May 30, 2009 Lexington, KY The campground here at Kentucky State Horse Park really filled up this weekend. As you might expect, the circus started arriving Friday afternoon and that nice quiet secluded corner of the park where we're camped is now packed. I don't want to generalize... but I will. Here's a typical campsite: one travel trailer or fifth wheel, at least two cars and a diesel pickup truck, a golf cart, quads and ATVs running up and down the road, kids on bikes, more kids on scooters, motor scooters, multiples of kids, multiples of dogs, tents, sun shelters, bug shelters, fake grass rolled out over the real grass, the requisite sign-post announcing to anyone who comes by whose house is empty and unguarded back home, cute colored lights hung from the awning, rope lighting strung along the ground, lawn chairs, hammocks, more kids, haggard-looking mom's walking around with a glass of something and a dazed look in their eyes, and Dad's all bunched t

A Capitol Idea

Friday, May 29, 2009 Lexington, OH Our Thursday explorations provided so much to write about I decided to split them into two entries. Yesterday I wrote about Buffalo Chase Distillery. This entry will cover the rest of our day in Frankfort on Thursday. After our experience at Buffalo Chase we headed downtown and found the Capitol Building. I believe this will be our 8th Capitol we've visited since embarking on this lifestyle two years ago. One of the difficulties in getting to Capitol Buildings is that they're usually located in congested larger towns... places that violate our prime directive. So I'm often not real excited to drive very far to explore them. But life is a series of compromises and this is one that I can put up with as long as there's a rest period between visits. That said, congestion isn't a problem here in Frankfort. In fact it almost looked like a holiday near the Capitol. Most street parking (no meters, no fees) was open. People that work in

Buffalo Chase

Thursday, May 28, 2009 Lexington, KY The drive up to Lexington from the Knoxville area Wednesday, yesterday, was a bit more interesting for us than a normal days drive of only 168 miles. First, we had low clouds that covered mountain tops and hung into the valleys of the Cumberland Mountains as we made our way along I-75 north near the TN-KY border. It provided some interesting mountain photos to contrast with those we took on sunny days the past week or two. Then we had the long down-hill grade coming out of the Cumberlands -- a 6% grade for a few miles... just enough to keep your attention. And finally, a number of heavy rain showers that caused traffic to slow and the road to load up with water. I considered pulling over to wait it out but between the Rain-X treated windshield and our higher position over the road I felt we had adequate visibility of the road ahead. As long as traffic is slowing down in general I feel safer moving at the slower pace than being parked on the shoulde

Jello Plans

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 Heiskell, TN Well, some things came together today, and our plans for the next week or so are beginning to firm-up. Nick Russel, the editor of the Gypsy Journal on-the-road Newspaper, likes to say his plans are set in Jello. The process we went through today was a lot like that... like watching Jello cool and firm up. As we move north we wanted to explore the Capitol of Kentucky in Frankfort. (Com'on... how many of you knew the Capital of Kentucky was Frankfort?... well it is!) So our first stop when we leave here tomorrow morning, Wednesday, will be just down the road from Frankfort near Lexington. There's a real shortage of campgrounds and RV parks in that area... not much to choose from. But we found one that we believe will work for a few nights. Then, we were able to register for an event being offered by Spartan Chassis -- our bus-house chassis manufacturer. It's called Service Week and will be held in Charlotte, MI on June 2 - 4th. We'll


Tuesday, May 26, 2009 Heiskell, TN Last Thursday night, just before we left Smokemont Campground in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, in the middle of the night, Dar heard a scratching sound coming from the kitchen area of the bus-house. She got up to investigate and confirmed that the noise was real and not some mechanical anomaly or a product of her imagination. Her next step was to wake me and I happily confirmed that I heard the noise too. "Somewhere along the line it sounds like we've picked up a stowaway." I checked in the cabinet where I thought the noise was coming from... nothing. No sign of anything out of place. Hmmm. Since there really wasn't much we could do in the middle off the night, we agreed we'd deal with it the next day, after our drive to the Knoxville area. After arriving at the Escapees Racoon Valley Park near Heiskell, TN, and setting up housekeeping, we got back on the trail... "the case of the unknown stowaway." RVs are fu

Video of Newfound Gap Road

Saturday, May 23, 2009 Heiskell, TN This afternoon I put together some video clips that Dar took during our drive down Newfound Gap Road and into Tennessee with the bus-house on Friday. I thought I'd put it into the blog so you can get an idea of what it was like. This video was all taken on the downhill portion of the drive on the Tennessee side. If you have a broadband connection there should be no problem in viewing it. If your connection is a little slow, just pause the video and wait for the entire thing to load up.

Over the Hump to Tennessee

Friday, May 22, 2009 Heiskell, TN We had the wheels turning by 9:30am this morning after some difficulty in negotiating an exit from our campsite in the very tight "D" loop at Smokemont Campground. I was anxious to get underway and focus on the drive up Newfound Gap Road, over the summit, and down into Tennessee on the other side. Our "Mountain Directory East" book describes the North Carolina side of the hill as 8-1/2 miles of 7 to 8% grade. The Tennessee side, the "down" side for us, is 13 miles of grade that varies between 6 and 8%, with several 20 and 25 mph curves which are not always marked. There's an old truckers adage that says "you can go down a mountain a thousand times too slowly, but only once too fast." The idea is to take it easy, keep the speed under control, and just pay attention. We've experienced mountain driving in the West but mostly on larger, wider roads. Newfound Gap Road is narrow, with virtually no shoulder, a

Over to Gatlinburg

Wednesday, May 20, 2009 Cherokee, NC Hearing so many different reviews of Newfound Gap Road, the road through the middle of Great Smokey Mountains National Park, over the top of the Appalachian Mountains, and down into the Gatlinburg area, we decided to explore it for ourselves and determine if we feel comfortable taking it with the bus-house on Friday. We'll also have better opportunities to stop at pull-offs and overlooks along the way without having to deal with a 60 foot long bus-house + toad combination. This string of great sunny days... it's been like this since Monday... has made the vistas of the park simply incredible. And the views from Newfound Gap Road are among the best. We left Smokemont about 10am, took a right turn, and started toward the top. At lower elevations the road is engulfed in trees, a canopy of foliage that kept the GPS from receiving a good signal much of the time. The summit is on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, is at an elevation of

Exploring GSMNP

Tuesday, May 19, 2009 Cherokee, NC Great Smokey Mountains National Park straddles the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. About 50 miles long and 20 miles wide, it was developed during the 1920's and 1930's to preserve the natural diversity and beauty of one of the most spectacular areas in the Eastern USA. Here there are more tree species than in all of Europe, 1,500 flowing plants, more than 200 species of birds, and 60 species of mammals. Black bear thrive here, as do deer and elk. About 25% of the Park is original old growth forest -- saved from logging operations by the establishment of the Park. It's a hiker's paradise with 850 miles of trails that are maintained by the Park Service. The elevation of the Park ranges from 800 feet to 6,600 feet and the mountains are among the oldest in the USA at about 10 million years of age. The Park is one of the most visited National Parks in the system -- about 10 million visitors each year. On Tuesday we set out to expl

The Blue Ridge Parkway

Monday, May 18, 2009 Cherokee, NC. We were both working for an early start this morning and the wheels were turning by a little after 9am. As usually happens when we're preparing to leave, everybody who walks by has to stop and talk, and that delays things a bit. But we enjoy talking with the varied and usually interesting people we meet in the places we camp. I almost always learn something new or get a good recommendation on a place to stay, things to see, good restaurants. We drove north a few miles on I-26 to exit 37 where we slipped west a ways to NC-191, which we took north a few more miles to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The point at which we got on was mile post 393.6. The Parkway is marked in miles, starting at it's most northern point in Virginia and ending at mile post 469.1, it's southern terminus near Cherokee. All maps and guides use this mile post system to locate pull-offs, over-looks, picnic areas, trail heads, and other things of interest. Our intention, my

Tunnel Anticipation

Sunday, May 17, 2009 Flat Rock, NC You've probably heard of tunnel vision, but what the heck is tunnel anticipation? Well, tomorrow we're pulling up the jacks, hooking up the toad, and heading for the closest access point to get on the famous Blue Ridge Parkway. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469 mile long park that's managed by the National Park Service. Back in the Fall of 2007, we drove about half the Natchez Trace Parkway which is a similar kind of road. The Blue Ridge Parkway starts near Charlottesville, VA and runs Southwestward along the eastern flanks of the Appalachian Mountains. It's really a long, skinny park. Commercial traffic is not allowed and the speed limit is 45 mph. We're getting on the Parkway at milepost 393.6 and will drive to the end at milepost 469.1 near Cherokee, NC. and the entrance to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Our drive tomorrow will be only about 75 miles on the Parkway -- we're leaving the rest for another time. &q

Flat on a Rock near Flat Rock

Friday, May 15, 2009 Flat Rock, NC We woke to good weather this morning, especially appreciated considering the rainy forecast. So, after a bit of waking up, we made the decision to do our exploring earlier in the day today than originally planned -- while the weather might still be nice. Writing blog posts will just have to wait for rainy weather days I guess. For breakfast we shared the big and incredibly good muffin we bought at Earth Fare in Asheville yesterday on the way home from the Biltmore Estate. It was the best muffin I've had in a long time -- boy it was good! The destination today was Dupont State Forest, a little known place that's not even on some maps of the area. It's big, about 10,000 acres. The main attractions are many miles of hiking trails and a number of waterfalls along the Little River. Trails and waterfalls... a hikers paradise. We decided to hike a series of trails that would eventually take us to three of the larger waterfalls. Our first stop

Biltmore Estate

Thursday, May 14, 2009 Flat Rock, NC In the late 1880's, George W. Vanderbilt, scion of the famous Vanderbilts that accumulated incredible wealth from their interests in shipping and railroads, decided to build a house in the foothills of Western North Carolina. The youngest of 10 children he was the quiet intellectual one, able to pursue knowledge and education while his older brothers saw to the big family businesses. An inveterate reader his interest were wide-ranging, including art, forestry, philosophy, science, and zoology. As a young man he traveled to Western North Carolina one winter and fell in love with the area. Although only in his late 20's he started a project to build a Vanderbilt house, his house, on a hilltop near Asheville in 1888, which he named "Biltmore". He bought land -- as much as 125,000 acres at one point. He hired the best architect of the day, Richard Morris Hunt to design and build the house. And he hired Frederick Law Olmsted, consider

Into High Country

Wednesday, May 13, 2009 Flat Rock, NC (near Hendersonville) I hope that old Ben Franklin adage about guests being like fish (you know, "Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days") doesn't' apply to Dar and I as we spent a full 11 days with our good friends Tim & Chris near York, SC. We extended a couple days longer than originally planned due to weather. Our thoughts on the matter are "why travel on crummy days when we can just wait for good ones?" So today was the day we start moving again. We want to extend a huge THANK YOU to Tim & Chris for their hospitality, scrumptious food (Tim's an excellent and passionate chef), good times and interesting conversation, not to mention the use of "the meadow". We'll be back as soon as we can. I had some concerns about the ability of the bus-house to climb up and out of "the meadow" when the underlying red clay was wet and slick from the previous weeks rains -- especially

A Three Hour Cruise

Sunday, May 10, 2009 York, SC. During our stay with our good friends, Tim & Chris, we help out with various maintenance and upkeep projects around the house to earn our keep. This past week the big one for Tim and me was cleaning the rain gutters. They have a big house, most of it on one level. That means lots of roof, and lots of roof means lots of gutters. And then, being in the middle of a pine woods certainly adds to the problem with millions of pine needles shedding almost constantly. It all adds up to a job that Tim will ideally do twice each year. But due to an ankle injury this past year the job wasn't done for over a year. It was certainly due. A garage-full of equipment is used to do the job -- ladders, ladder stabilizers, a power washer, hoses, scrapers, bushes, buckets, and more. On one side of the house there's a walk-out basement, and that means the gutters are a full two stories above ground level. There's a lot of effort involved with moving a heavy fi

South Carolina Family and Friends

Saturday, May 2, 2009 York, SC. We left Magnolia Springs State Park yesterday morning, May Day, and had just a great calm drive to the Columbia, SC. area. From Millen we cut over to Sylvania on GA-21 where we picked up US-301 northbound into South Carolina. At Orangeburg, SC., we left US-301 for US-601 which took us up the east side of Columbia and not too far from my Cousin Deb's place. It was another easy drive of about 100 miles, and today a combination of light traffic, favorable winds, nice sunny day, and excellent roads made the drive even easier than normal. From SC Homes Despite having us stay at her place before, in the late fall of 2007, she welcomed us once again. I guess we didn't totally wear out our welcome last time. But then, what are cousin's for anyway?? Well she and Mitch, her friend, fed us and entertained us until late in the evening. Mitch, who we hadn't met before was curious about our lifestyle and that was the basis for much of the conversat