Sunday, May 31, 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 someplace that I'd comment more on the Kentucky State Horse Park where we camped the last few days. This 1200 acre facility is, like Kentucky as a whole, all about the horse. In fact, there's a tremendous amount of construction going on right now to prepare for the FEI World Equestrian Games in 2010. My sources tell me this is the first time ever this event is being held outside Europe -- a real feather in somebody's riding crop here in the State of Kentucky. These games are held every four years, timed to occur two years before the Olympic Games. Apparently stuff that happens at the WEG helps determine who goes to the Olympics. It's a really big deal to horse people.

What I can report is that the preparations here at Kentucky State Horse Park are large-scale and top-notch. There's a ton of money being poured into large buildings and arenas all around the property. It was a pleasure to see and we'll be waiting for next year to hear more about this event.

While camped there it wasn't uncommon at all to see horses pulling carts or wagons or buggies passing by on the campground roads. Dar caught a number of them on photos she quickly snapped as they clip-clop'd by. Not something we normally see in the places we stay.

Our drive today went very well and we decided to stop in Celina, OH. We found a place to camp in the Mercer County Fairgrounds -- they have 250 campsites and we could have chosen any from the 248 that were open and available for the night. With the help of Butch, the campground host, we found a perfect spot in the shade of a big hickory tree.

For dinner tonight we picked up a couple steaks at the local grocery, some corn on the cob, carrots, onions, potatoes... and I pulled out the grill to do it all up. It turned out great.

So that's the report from the road for tonight.

T

Saturday, May 30, 2009

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 together like flies on road-kill scheming/dreaming an escape to a golf course or fishing hole. And now get this... they drag all this stuff here, set it up, enjoy it for two days, before having to tear it all down, load it up, and take it home by Sunday night. Man-o-man... that's some kind of living.

Here's the "before" photo:



Here's the "after" photo:



On Friday, yesterday, we drove about 7 miles north to the Toyota plant. This is the largest Toyota plant outside of Japan. It's simply mind-boglingly huge at 176 acres of floor space. In contrast to most American manufacturing practices, this plant does almost everything needed to make a car. They do outsource things like fasteners, glass, and seats, but the vast majority is done in-house. They have their own tool and die shop. They do their own metal stampings (over 200 stampings that make up the car body including fenders, roof, quarter panels, etc). They have their own engine and drive-line plant right here, making both 4 cylinder and 6 cylinder engines, and the transmissions and axles that drive the car down the road. They have their own plastics shop, where they produce the dash-board, bumpers, and other key plastic components. They bring it all together with welding, assembly, and all the way out the door to the truck or train waiting to take the finished vehicle off to a dealer somewhere. It's amazing.

There are 10,000 people that work in the plant on a typical day. 7,000 of those Toyota employees, the rest are contractors or on-site vendors employees. You can imagine how important an economic engine this is to the local economy of an area like this.

Since producing it's first cars for the 1989 model year they have produced more than 10 million cars. The very first Camry, an '89 model, that rolled off the line is still in the lobby -- a museum piece that can never be sold. It doesn't even have a VIN number.

I picked up most of that information from a video "virtual tour" of the plant since we were not able to go on the tour. The plant tours are very popular and are booked weeks and months in advance. "Hey kids, do you want to go to the movies or to the Toyota plant?" Wow.

We were put on the waiting list for the noon tour -- we were 7 and 8 on the list -- and could go if there were some no-shows. Unfortunately, it didn't work out. (Waiting list spots 1 - 6 did make it. Aw, shucks!)

Since we were skunked on the tour business we found a Ruby Tuesday to have lunch. Sitting outside, we enjoyed the view of I-75 and the lawn maintenance guys doing the yard work while having a big salad and a designer quiche. It was all good.

This morning Dar worked on the photo albums and I updated the front page and wrote a journal entry. We did get out for a little excursion around the horse park where we're staying and I may have more on that later. A quick passing thunderstorm dumped a bunch of rain at the campground but it quickly gave-way to a bright setting sun.

Tomorrow we're planning to move north again. Our objective is to arrive in Charlotte, MI. on Monday afternoon and we're breaking the drive into two days. We'll find some place to stop about half-way tomorrow night.

Till then...

T

Friday, May 29, 2009

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 the building must park around back because there were no parking lots in sight on the front side. A wide street, Capital Avenue, lined with mature stately red oak trees provided a welcoming feeling as we approached. The neighborhood around the place was a bit of a surprise as it was just a normal-feeling residential area -- some nice homes, some run-down, just an ordinary neighborhood.

Frankfort has a population of about 30,000 and is the 5th least populated State Capital in the USA. It's nestled in the wooded folds of a narrow valley created by the Kentucky River. In 1792 Frankfort was selected as the State Capital by a legislative committee, probably as a compromise (there's that word again) between factions from Louisville and Lexington who both also wanted the honor and the development that followed.

Kentucky is one of a few of these United States that is officially a "commonwealth", not a "state". For all intents and purposes it's the same thing, but the different wording assures people know it's purpose... for the common good... or for the good of all.

Kentucky is also third in the USA in the number of Counties at 120. Behind only Texas and Georgia, the idea of the founders in the time of 3 mph travel was that everyone should be able to travel to the seat of county government, and back home again, in a single day.

Another thing Kentucky has going for it is the sense of limited government. The legislature, by constitution, is to meet for only 60 days in the even numbered years, and for only 30 days in the odd years. The Governor can call special sessions as necessary. With limited legislative time they're bound to focus on the larger problems instead of looking under rocks for things to fix. You gotta' like that.

From Bourbon & Capitol

The building itself is very nice, fitting of the term Capitol... something the residents of Kentucky can be proud of. While somewhat understated and modestly adorned, there were elements that referenced it's history, it's early pioneers, the philosophies of the early settlers, and the tracing of those early ingredients on up to current time.

From Bourbon & Capitol

The basic design is common: a large domed rotunda, the cathedral-like halls stretching outward from the rotunda toward the two houses of the legislative branch on opposite ends of the building, an area for the Supreme Court, and an area for the executive branch, the Governor, and his minions.

From Bourbon & Capitol

I particularly liked the setting of the building on a high spot in this narrow river valley. It looks fitting, stately yet limited, formal but comfortable.

After a walk around the Capitol grounds and the surrounding neighborhood, we headed off toward home. But as we drove up a street on our way out of town we found a cemetery, a very old Frankfort Cemetery, that has the purported gravesite of Daniel Boone. A quick U-turn and sharp left turn got us in the gate... and almost into the funeral procession of someone who clearly had a lot of family and friends. There must have been 100 cars... I don't know who died. It was a good thing ol' Danl's grave was in a different area than today's honored deceased as we were able to jog around and find it easily.

From Bourbon & Capitol

They planted Daniel in a wonderful setting on a high bluff overlooking the valley below and the Capitol Building on the other side. He died in Missouri and was buried near Marthasville, MO. in 1820. In 1845, he and his wife Rebecca were disinterred and brought back to Kentucky, to this spot. Controversy remains about this, however, as some say the wrong remains were dug-up and Daniel and Rebecca are actually still in Missouri. Both States claim to have his grave to this day.

So what I can say with certainty is that we may have seen Daniel Boone's gravesite.

T

Thursday, May 28, 2009

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 shoulder and hoping that an unknowing or unseeing driver doesn't plow into us from behind.

I wanted to top off our diesel tank before leaving Kentucky and heading into the higher fuel-taxed Midwest States, and found a Loves Truckstop just on the way into Lexington where we paid $2.28/gallon. It wasn't as cheap as I was hoping but how can I complain when it was twice that last year.

Regardless, we made Lexington in good time and pulled into the Kentucky State Horse Park Campground about 2pm. After finding a sight we liked and paying for 4 nights it was time to relax and plan explorations for the next couple days. I also spent some time on the computer to update web pages and a couple files I keep on campsites, fuel usage, and budget-tracking. On moving days, I like to update the map page on the TDHoch website as well as the front page for the next morning.

From Travel to KY

After a positively GREAT night's sleep last night... for both of us... we were finally up and moving by 9am. By 10am we were out the door and I treated Dar to her first... that's right, her "first"... breakfast experience at the local Waffle House, where I thought the breakfast I ordered was done just about the way I like it. No complaints from me on this one. Dar felt the same way. Way to go Waffle House. Waffle House Restaurants, for those who don't know, are ubiquitous small restaurants throughout the South, always near highways, that serve breakfast and lunch all day long. They're working-class places and often the butt of jokes. But today we thought they did a good job.

Our first exploration today was the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, KY. With it's 200 year old roots planted firmly in the soil along the Kentucky River, this is one of the oldest and largest producers of Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey in the country. They produce almost a dozen brands, the most common being Ancient Age.

From Bourbon & Capitol

Walking from the visitor parking area we joined a tour that was just getting underway... it was the tour-guide and just one couple, so between us and a single that joined a bit later, we got the tour up to 5. The smell of aging whiskey was in the air as we walked past a hundred year old barrel house, an unmistakable odor that's called "the angel's share". You see, all that whiskey... as it ages in those charred oak barrels, well, some of it is making it's way out of the barrel through the cracks and imperfections in the wooden barrels, and is being liberated into the air -- "for the angel's" as it's said. Besides the unmistakable odor in the air, tour-guide Becky pointed out a black coating on parts of buildings, tree trunks, and almost everywhere if you look for it. It's actually a mold that grows as a result of being near the odors and natural compounds being released into the air near any distillery. She said it was one of the signs "revenuers" would look for when hunting down illegal stills in the hills of Appalachia.

I'll try not to get to complicated or long-winded here. Kentucky is the home of Bourbon Whiskey and about 98% of it is produced right here. By law all Bourbon must be produced in the USA, it must be made from at least 51% corn, and it must be aged in new charred white oak barrels. It's a uniquely American product that began by joining the knowledge of distillation that came from Europe with abundant American corn.

Those early Americans that made their way to Kentucky found a climate perfect for the growing of corn but with a limited market for the using of corn. It was impractical to haul harvested corn grain back over the mountains to the populous eastern seaboard and it was a long, expensive ordeal to ship it down the river to New Orleans. In addition, any grain spoils if stored for any period of time in less than ideal conditions. So the perfect solution was to convert all that corn into concentrated whiskey which could be easily stored and shipped. Of course, it didn't hurt that the resulting product was sort-of fun to drink too.

During Prohibition this was one of four distilleries in the USA that remained in production. The four were licensed by the Government during those 13 dark years to produce alcohol for "medicinal purposes". Apparently, a trip to the right doctor with a cough, fever, headache, a case of nerves... whatever, could yield a prescription for a single pint of "medicinal whiskey" every 10 days. The story goes that some families had a rash of illness during that time... often rolling through the entire extended family... affecting a different family member every few days. Millions of prescriptions of this sort were written during those years.

From Bourbon & Capitol

We also went through a barrel aging warehouse and a small hand bottling line where the higher-quality smaller-runs are packaged. The tour ended with a sampling of up to three of the distillery's brands. Dar, as usual, showed off her more discriminating nose. She could pick out subtle tastes of this or that. I just thought it was all good.

There are 7 other distillers on the Kentucky Bourbon Tour. Exploring the others may have to wait for another time.

T

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

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 arrive in Charlotte on Monday, the first.

Attending this function will allow us to have the bus-house's annual maintenance items taken care of all at one time. Oil and filter change, two fuel filters changed, hydraulic system oil and filters replaced, rear differential oil replaced, chassis lubed, and a few more I'm not thinking of right now. It's all stuff I won't have to deal with for another year. They're also offering a number of seminars of which we'll attend two or three.

After that we'll spend a few days near Kalamazoo so we can visit Dar's sister and brother-in-law. Dar also wants to visit her "stuff" that she has in storage in her sister's basement. Ah, STUFF... what would be without our STUFF.

And then it'll be on to Wisconsin.

T

Stowaways

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 full of nooks and crannies and little spaces that could harbor a furry fugitive... and most of these spaces are not only inaccessible, it's almost impossible to even see into them. With a good flashlight and a small mirror to see around corners and behind things, we searched and looked in every space we could. Under counters, behind cabinets, into spaces where pipes and wires run... we looked everywhere. We found some, shall we say, physical evidence of a stowaway. But no stowaway.

We took everything out of the basement storage bays, searched in spaces I've never looked before, and all we found was a little evidence, here and there, but no big mess or nest or anything else. Hmmm. But there are so many places that we can't see or check.

The next step was off to the store where I bought a pack of the old reliable Victor spring-type mouse traps. (For the record, these simple but effective devices are still made in the USA -- I was shocked! The Woodstream Company of Lititz, PA should be given an award as far as I'm concerned.) Anyway, I got the traps home and proceeded to set them up in spots were we saw evidence... two upstairs in our living quarters, and two down in the basement storage bays.

The next morning, after coffee, I checked and am happy to report we had some success. Not just one, but two little field mice. But it was a good news/bad news thing... the good news is we got two, the bad news was we got two, and where there's two there are probably more. Hmmm.

I also plugged up a likely area of access adjacent to the point the sewer hose exits from the camper. And I re-loaded the traps for the next night. But nothing. Not another mouse. We've had two mouse-free nights now and hope is building that, just maybe, we only had two and we got 'em before they were able to reproduce. Maybe.

We'll keep a watchful eye, and ear, for a while. We've also decided on some ongoing things we'll do to deter the little buggers from entering in the first place... to prevent the problem instead of having to fix the problem. It's amazing how many home-remedies we've heard from people in the Park... steel wool, dryer sheets, aluminum foil, get a cat, moth balls, and many more. We picked one or two and we'll see how it goes.

Hopefully, this problem is solved.

As an aside: And if you really want to help the US economy, buy a bag of Victor mouse traps. A pack of 4 are less than $2 and ALL the dollars will stay right here in the good old USA. You never know when you'll need one.

T

Saturday, May 23, 2009

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.

Friday, May 22, 2009

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, although there are numerous pull-offs to allow faster traffic to pass. No commercial traffic is allowed on this road, so the tree and brush trimming effect of passing 18 wheelers isn't a factor and we know we'll be making plenty of foliage contact along the way.

Together with the old Blazer "toad", we weigh about 35,000 lbs. including Dar's pet rock collection. I was confident the turbocharged Cummins would get us up -- that part will be easy. The trick is in the techniques of downshifting, using the pac-brake (a compression brake that uses engine compression to slow things down), using the air-brakes sparingly, using good speed control, and putting it all together so it's smooth and easy on all the equipment too.

As I expected the climb up was quick -- turbochargers are wonderful things. But I found the other old truckers adage that you should go down the hill in the same gear you went up really doesn't apply with turbocharged engines. I needed to use one lower gear than used on most of the uphill side. The downside was also more twisty and turny with several tight long curves. The secret is to just find your pace, get the equipment balanced, be patient, and keep it smooth.

From Crossing to Tennessee

In retrospect it all went very well. Each additional drive like this helps the confidence of the driver in the equipment and the techniques. It also helps the confidence that the passenger (and "Safety Director") has in the driver.

After exiting GSMNP we made sure to take the bypass around Gatlinburg. Unfortunately, there is no similar road around Pigeon Forge or Sevierville, which is just another 10 miles or so of more touristy stuff... which doesn't interest us in the least.

At I-40 we found a Bass Pro Shops Outdoor Store which has a Fish Company Restaurant alongside. Since it was lunch time Dar wanted to eat there, and we had the best lunch we've had in a long time. The Blackened Salmon Linguini special was top-notch and a surprising value for only $8.00. Dar's Smoked Salmon Ceasar was of similar quality. We were back on the road by a little after 1pm for the short drive to the Escapees Racoon Valley RV Park north of Knoxville.

We'll be here through the weekend and maybe longer depending on the worsening forecast for next week.

T

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

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 5,048 feet, and is a cross-roads of sort with the popular Appalachian Trail hiking trail. Although only about 10 miles from Smokemont (at 2,200 feet elevation) we ascend almost 3,000 feet in that stretch. The little Chevy Blazer toad's tired V-6 motor struggled but didn't miss a beat.

There are a bunch of places to pull off and soak in the views. I think we stopped at most of them and took so many photos that Dar will be busy for days working on them. The problem is that you see a great view... you take a picture of it... probably two or three... then a bit later you see what might be a better view... so you take more pictures... over and over again. It was like that through the whole drive, up and down, the entire 25 miles to Gatlinburg. But I did find myself becoming less interested in picture-taking and preferred to just stand there, looking, and soaking it all in. It'd be easy to look at those views for hours and not grow tired.

From Great Smokey Mts

At the summit, the top, there's a big parking lot which was nearly full... busy, I thought, for a weekday. Great Smokey Mountain National Park is among the most visited parks in the National Park System and most of those visitors show up between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Colleges are on break, most public schools around here are done for the year, and people are starting to take vacations. This weekend is the first big weekend of the summer... and we're happy to leave and give them all more room.

At the top we stood on the monument where FDR dedicated Great Smokey Mountain National Park in 1940. We hiked a little on the Appalachian Trail... just to be able to say we did it. And we took more pictures.

From Great Smokey Mts

The drive down the western side toward Gatlinburg is more twisting and challenging than the eastern side. There are a few tunnels, a 360 degree spiraling curve, and a lot more pull-offs where one can rest and take in the view or walk down to a rushing creek along side the road for something different. Before long we found ourselves in Gatlinburg... for the first, and last time.

Gatlinburg is to the Great Smokey Mountains what the Wisconsin Dells is to the Wisconsin River. The main road through the center of town is filled with every imaginable tourist trap, chain restaurant, and amusement thing designed to separate tourists and their money. It went on for more than a mile, all of them gearing up for a big weekend ushering in a big summer. It's a stark contrast with the quiet natural peace of the Park. Gatlinburg makes Cherokee, on the other side, look like a quaint little town. We didn't stop and kept driving until we found ourselves at the doorstep of Pigeon Forge, home of Dolly Parton and the Dollywood Amusement Park.

I found the perfect one-stop place for a break where we could get a tank of gas, lunch, and free wi-fi internet access. After a quick lunch, a tank of gas, and an updated website we turned around and headed back to Smokemont. On the way back we found what I now consider the best thing about Gatlinburg -- a bypass road around it -- which is what we took back into the Park. An hour or so later, and after a few more stops along Newfound Gap Road, we were back to our camp where we enjoyed the rest of the afternoon.

T

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

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 explore some of the Park. But first, our sites were set on that portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway that we didn't see on Monday.

We started at the southern terminus of the Parkway, mile post 469.1, which is right at the entrance to the National Park, and drove northeast. At first it's a long uphill climb onto the ridge that the Parkway follows. Stopping numerous times along the way, we drove to the Parkway Visitor Center at Waterrock Knob, about mile post 450. There we climbed a short trail to a high overlook with an elevation of about 5,500 feet. The view was incredible -- I can't come up with superlatives to adequately describe it anymore. The photos we took will have to suffice until you can visit here and see for yourself.

From BRP & GSM Backroad

One of the things that has really surprised us the past few days is the incredible variation in color that's all over these mountainsides. Locals have told us there's as much, or more, color in the Spring as there is in the fall... certainly a much broader range of color. There are reds, oranges, and browns that come from young new growth on trees. There are pinks, purples, whites, and yellows from budding bushes and flowering trees. Then there's the wide range of greens, from light, almost yellow green to the very dark green of mature pines and fir trees. It's really hard to explain and photos don't do a good job of capturing it. Many say the Spring, May in particular, is the best month to visit the Park and drive the Blue Ridge Parkway.

From BRP & GSM Backroad

Then for something completely different. On the way back westward on the Parkway, there's a spur that goes off toward the north called Heintooga Ridge Road. It's paved to Balsaam Mountain Campground and Picnic area inside the border of the National Park. From that point, there's a one-way two-rut dirt and rock road called Balsaam Mountain Road that goes deep into the Park. An old logging road, it's about as primitive as you can imagine. While you don't need four wheel drive I wouldn't have felt comfortable on it with the family sedan either. Carved out of the sides of steep slopes and running along narrow ridge-lines, it gives Intrepid Explorers the opportunity to see the un-spoiled interior of the Park and experience first-hand the steep and rugged terrain.

From BRP & GSM Backroad

The road loops around, eventually becoming Straight Fork Road before dumping you out onto paved roads that lead to back to Cherokee. During this excursion of 25 miles, which took us three hours, we saw no other cars until we were almost to the end. It was a solitary and personal experience with the Park that's hard to get unless hiking or backpacking. Dar was disappointed we didn't see any bear.

After a long day of exploring we headed back to Smokemont and the bus-house.

T

Monday, May 18, 2009

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 intention, was to drive all the way to Cherokee, despite those 3 low clearance tunnels near the end. The entrance ramp onto the Parkway was my first clue that this might a bit more challenging drive than I anticipated. The road is asphalt, two lanes, narrow-ish, and in good condition. But encroaching tree growth from both the side and the top made it necessary at times to use both lanes in order to dodge and weave around tree branches. There were some we just had to hit -- there was no way to not to. I don't know if it's due to budget constraints or this is just the way the parkway is maintained, but it poses a challenge for a large vehicle.

This is one incredible road. The section we were on today has most of the tunnels, the highest point (a bit over 6,000 ft.), and follows, more or less, the top of a series of high ridges. There are many tight turns and many places where most people would say a road could never be built. The speed limit is 45 mph, but most of the time I was at less than 35. The views are breathtaking. Clear skies and dry air made visibility almost unlimited. It was possible to see as far as there was anything to see -- and that was a long way.

Today, I successfully confronted my tunnel demons. In the first 10 miles on the Parkway there are 7 tunnels. Approaching the first one I gritted my teeth, held my breath, and focused on the centerline. In we went. My first impression was, "dang, it's dark in here"... and there was no sight of the other end as the tunnel curved and the end was 770 feet away... around the bend. The further in we went the darker it got. The headlights were on and illuminating the double yellow centerline. Focus... focus... and, in seconds, we were through. Subsequent tunnels became easier. Light traffic meant we rarely shared a tunnel with someone else. It just takes practice to get the mind to believe it's possible to fit this big ol' bus-house into half of that hole in the mountain up there.

From Blue Ridge Pkwy

We stopped for early lunch at Mt. Pisgah at mile post 408. Mt. Pisgah is one of the highest peaks in this neck-of-the-woods and was once part of the Biltmore Estate. The land surrounding the mountain was sold to the Federal Government by George Vanderbilt's wife after his death and became part of the Mt. Pisgah National Forest. There's an inn and restaurant here... actually a rather good restaurant in our experience. The food was reasonably priced too. Dar's BLT and my Swiss Cheeseburger, for lunch fare, were better than we expected. Our table was at the windows with a spectacular view from 5000 feet.

From Blue Ridge Pkwy

Between the continuing problem with bus-house/tree interference and a comment we heard while talking with a local about my planned alternate route around the low clearance tunnels near the end of the drive ("I wouldn't even take my car down that road!") we made the decision to exit the Parkway at US-74/23, mile post 443.1, and followed it toward Cherokee.

So we did about 50 miles on the Parkway. My thoughts on it are these: It's a road that everyone should experience... it's incredible. It's much tighter and close-feeling than the Natchez Trace Parkway that we did in the fall of 2007... as you'd expect considering where the road is -- on top of a mountain ridge. Since no commercial traffic is allowed, the tree-trimming effect of large truck traffic isn't happening. Instead, those few intrepid explorers who take their big RV's onto the Parkway are doing the tree-trimming job for everyone else. We saw only a few RV's along the way, and none as big as ours. The Parkway is more of a motorcyclist dream than an RV'ers. After our experience my recommendation is to drive the Parkway in a smaller vehicle... at least the section we did. While it's possible to do with a bus-house, you'll have more fun driving it by car or a smaller camper (or a motorcycle -- Oh yes!).

From Blue Ridge Pkwy

Driving through the town of Cherokee reminded me of the Wisconsin Dells. It's clear the main industry and focus of the town is separating tourists from their hard-earned money. There's supposed to be a casino here... I haven't seen it yet... and there are many tourist shops selling T-shirts, "souvenirs", curios, "art" and crafts. There are water parks and many Cherokee Indian related venues as the town is part of the Cherokee Reservation. We drove through town to Smokemont Campground about 5 miles up the road in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. We took a campsite for four nights... we'll leave on Friday, before the crush of the Memorial Day weekend crowd descends. Smokemont, like most campgrounds around here, is booked solid for the weekend.

It was one of those days I'd have preferred a smaller camper. Besides our experience on the Parkway, the roads to and through the campground were similarly untrimmed and tree branches slapped the bus-house around a bit. Current budget issues make tree trimming an item that can be deferred. And the basic design of some of these older Federal campgrounds make maneuvering a bus-house a challenge. Built in the 50's and 60's, they weren't designed with large RV's in mind. But we managed and we're settled in for a few days in a great spot.

T

Sunday, May 17, 2009

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.

"OK, that's all fine and good. But what's this tunnel anticipation thing?"

There are 26 tunnels over the entire 469 mile length of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and 17 of them are on the 75 miles we're covering tomorrow.

"OK, that's good information too. But I think there's more, isn't there?"

Oh yeah! There's more. These tunnels were built during the 1930's and 40's, some of them by the CCC during and after the depression. They're all arch shaped tunnels exactly two lanes wide and most are several hundred feet long -- the longest is almost 1500 feet long. The arch shape makes them taller in the middle and lower near the shoulder of the road.

"And..."

Well there are three tunnels toward the end of our route tomorrow that have 18 feet of clearance in the middle... but only 10-1/2 or 11 feet at the shoulder.

"So what's the problem?"

The bus-house is over 12 feet high. Do the math.

"Oh. And why are you doing this??"

The Blue Ridge Parkway is an amazing thing to experience, especially in the Spring. It's one of those things that simply must be explored. We're not going to let some tunnels get in the way of those explorations.

Besides, the official Blue Ridge Parkway Directory and Planner says that tour busses and large RV's can travel the road and can negotiate the tunnels without problems... as long as you "favor the centerline" when going through those three tunnels in question.

"Hmmm."

And, in the event we "chicken out", there is an alternate route around the tunnels and the last few miles of the parkway. The other 14 tunnels give me enough anxiety and anticipation by themselves.

"Well, good luck, and stay close to the centerline!"

As an aside, I've observed that the tallest thing on the bus-house... the thing that makes it as tall as it is... is the satellite TV dome. Considering my experience with DirecTV up to this point, having the dome forcibly removed by a tunnel might be doing me a big favor.

T

Friday, May 15, 2009

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 was a covered bridge over the Little River right at the top of the first falls on our agenda. All three of the waterfalls we'll explore today are below this bridge. The bridge appeared to be in great condition and was a surprise find.



Then down, alongside the river we followed the trail to the base of High Falls. Recent spring rains have loaded the river with water which makes the falls more dramatic than other, dryer, periods of the year. There's a short trail spur that leads to an area of large flat rocks at the base of the falls, perfect for photos and having a quick snack -- it's important for explorers to keep their energy level up.

Because river level is higher than normal water is seeping out of the hillsides around the falls, and flowing back to the river over some of the same rocks we're needing to use to get to where I wanted to rest and take a few pics. Dar's following right behind me. Rocks that are consistently wet start to become slimy and very slippery. As I gingerly worked my way over this one big wet rock, counting on my hiking boots to maintain traction, my feet went out from under me faster than you can say "saw this one coming"!

There I was, flat on a rock near Flat Rock, laying atop the rock in a shallow pool of flowing slippery slimy water, taking inventory of what I might have landed on or let go of. Let's see... head doesn't hurt, camera was in this side pocket and probably ok, ditto the cell phone in the other side pocket. I had the GPS clipped to my belt in back... all I can do is hope for the best. No other aches or pains. Now let's see if I can get back up without doing it again -- as would be pretty normal for my inadvertently-slapstick-prone self.

Standing again, I found a dry spot on the rock, took a quick second inventory of my bones, and scuffed the slime off my boots. Hmmm. And I also hear Dar inquiring about my well-being. Well, seems like everything's ok. So I tried a new route, a little dryer and less slippery, out to the rest spot. OK. But I know, deep down, Dar was laughing.



The rest of the day was sort-of ordinary after that. We continued down to the next falls, Triple Falls, which is really a series of three falls in quick succession. The area at the bottom of this one was larger and much easier to get to.

And the last falls of the day, the next one down after Triple Falls was Hooker Falls. After another pause for refreshments at the base of Hooker it was back up the hill to the car. We took a different trail back for new scenery.

Oh, the GPS survived -- takes a licking and keeps on ticking, as the old Timex ads used to say. We probably only walked about 5 miles but the grade changes made it feel like more.

We headed back to downtown Hendersonville to find an early dinner. Although it was only about 4pm we found Mezzaluna -- a very nice "Brick Oven & Tap House" -- open for business. With 50 different beers on tap, how could we fail? We chose a table outside, ordered a pizza and a beer, and, while listening to a thunderstorm in the mountains just to the west of us, talked about our day of adventure.

It was a good day.

T

Thursday, May 14, 2009

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, considered the father of landscape architecture, to do the grounds. It was a monumental undertaking that made Vanderbilt the largest employer in Asheville at the time. It took over 1,000 people working for more than 6 years to finish the house, gardens, and surrounding forest.

From Vanderbilt's Biltmore

The house is imposing -- the largest private residence ever built in the USA. More than 250 rooms, 175,000 square feet (about 4 acres) of floor space under roof... the Winter Garden, a large indoor garden that dominates the first floor main living area... the banquet hall with it's 7 story high ceilings, three huge fireplaces, walls covered with 500 year old Flemish tapestries, and a full size pipe organ... the Library with over 10,000 volumes in 8 different languages... the expansive living spaces with art, paintings, tapestries, and historic artifacts everywhere you look. At a time when few homes in the USA had an indoor bathroom this one had 43 of them. When very few homes had electricity this one had the latest innovations including the first underwater lighting in the indoor swimming pool and a four-story high electrified chandelier for illuminating the grand staircase.


And the grounds are equally impressive. Despite being on the highest hill in the immediate area the house is well hidden from surrounding buildings and roadways. Although I-40 runs through the property just a mile or so away from the house, it's not possible to see the house from the road. The forest that immediately surrounds the house looks natural but is actually carefully planned by Olmsted and planted with thousands of trees... now mature and an incredible sight. The conservatory and gardens are among the finest in the USA. A walled formal garden, 4 acres in size, is filled with blooming things including an impressive collection of roses. The estate was also a working farm, designed to be self-sufficient. Much of the food used at the house was grown on the estate. It even had it's own dairy with as many as 500 cows at one point.

From Vanderbilt's Biltmore

This place was George W. Vanderbilt's life work. He traveled the world searching for furnishings, art, books, and historic items befitting a house of this scale and quality. During one of these trips he also found a wife, Edith, whom he married in 1898.

George was a generous and benevolent person supporting a number of charitable causes around Asheville. He paid and treated his staff of 500 people very well. One of the highlights of the year was the Christmas celebration when each of the staff, and every person in their immediate families celebrated and received a gift from the Vanderbilts. In fact, the house was officially opened and dedicated at this Christmas Party in 1895.

Despite being 115 years old, the place looks as fresh and sound as it was when built. It's aging gracefully, not deteriorating, a testament to it's design and solidness of construction.

It's a tragedy that George died only 19 years after the opening of the house -- from a heart attack after undergoing an appendectomy. Edith, his wife, kept the place going after his death and continued the traditions he began. Even during his life the estate was costing more than it was earning and it's operation was eating into his wealth. In later years Edith had to sell off parts of the estate to keep it going. In accordance with his wishes, 85,000 acres of the original 125,000 were sold to the Federal Government and became the nucleus of the Pisgah National Forest.

George and Edith had one daughter, Cornelia, whose sons and grandchildren are the current owners and operators of the estate.

In an interesting side-note, George and Edith booked passage on the Titanic's maiden voyage in 1912. For some unknown reason they changed their plans at the last moment. Unfortunately, George's valet, Fred Wheeler, their luggage, and other goods they were shipping back were lost at sea.

And another interesting side-note: We happened to be at Biltmore the same day CBS was shooting some scenes for this coming Sunday's "Sunday Morning" television program. The host of the show is Charles Osgood whose voice I've heard on radio for years and who has hosted "Sunday Morning" since Charles Kuralt died some years ago. Just before going into the Biltmore House we saw him sitting in the shade between shoots and asked if he'd be so kind as to have his picture taken with us. "Sure", he said. And then chatted with us for probably 15 minutes. What a nice guy and what a neat experience.

From Vanderbilt's Biltmore

If you have the opportunity the Biltmore Estate is a "must see" as far as we're concerned.

T

(clicking on any photos in this blog will take you to a larger version in our photo gallery)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

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 with the tight 90 degree turn onto their driveway before slipping through the trees and onto the road. But my fears were probably exaggerated and the rain was less than it could have been and we popped out without spinning a wheel or digging large ruts.

With parting sadness, we said our good-byes, hugs all around. With a double blast of the air-horns the wheels were turning before 11am. Our route took us to York on SC-49 and then west on SC-5 to Blacksburg and then across the state line into North Carolina on SC-18 which becomes NC-18 to Shelby, NC. In Shelby we hopped on US-74, a four lane which joins I-26 as we make the northward bend toward Asheville. For most of the day we had that rare and precious thing called a tail-wind to help compensate for the increase in elevation as we get closer to the mountains.

From Move to NC

Along the way Dar was calling and checking various campgrounds and RV Parks. We settled on one near Hendersonville where we'd have full hookups for the first time since leaving Florida... where we could catch up on laundry and wait out the predicted rainy cloudy weather for the next few days. When we leave here the plan is to take the Blue Ridge Parkway from Asheville southwestward to Cherokee, NC. at the entrance to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. I really want a good clear day for that drive.

From Move to NC

There's lots to do around here. It's an area we've always wanted to spend some time and get to know. So far, people seem very friendly, and the cultural feel is a mix of outdoorsy, artsy, clean, and green. It feels right.

After tonight we can add North Carolina to our list of States we've been to with the bus-house. We have certain requirements that must be met in order for a State to be added to the list, and staying overnight, in the bus-house, is one of the most important. Our map page on the website has a small map near the top that shows the States we've been to. I think our count is now 27.

T

Sunday, May 10, 2009

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 fiberglass ladder every few feet when it's extended that high.

But we got the job done and that's what counts. And I got some needed exercise of rarely used muscles in the process. I enjoy helping with projects like these if for no other reason than to remind myself that keeping the bus-house in good shape isn't as big a job as it seems.

Another job we tackled yesterday, Saturday, was the annual spring clean-up of the boat. Tim keeps their big pontoon boat in a slip at a nearby marina. So with the use of a hose and bucket, some bleach, various soaps and cleaners and sealers, sponges and rags... we finished the clean-up quickly and had time to drop the boat into the water, start it up, and confirm that everything was working A-OK. He was thinking that Sunday, the next day, (today), could be a good day for the four of us to take a lake cruise.

The boat is on Lake Wylie, a dammed up portion of the Catawba River. It's one of 11 lakes in the Catawba River System and is managed by Duke Power. The purpose of the system is flood control, power generation, and fresh water reservoir. It has a surface area of more than 13,000 acres and a convoluted shoreline that measures 325 miles. The lake sits on the border between North and South Carolina.

So today, packing freshly prepared light and healthy eats and plenty of water and soda, the four of us headed out for a three hour cruise... “just a three hour cruise”. The weather was good and the winds mild. A few early clouds reduced the amount of sunscreen that was needed but by mid-day there wasn't a cloud in the sky.

From Mom's Day Boat Ride

The normal routine is to slowly cruise along the shoreline and check out the homes and other improvements that people make. Properties range from the completely unimproved and natural, to trailer camps, to old cottages and very modest seasonal houses, to very nice average or slightly above average homes, to the ostentatious mini-estates, to ridiculous mansions. Viewing how people spend their time and money on these things is fun. It also prompts me to think about what it all means.

A very enjoyable day.

T

Saturday, May 2, 2009

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 conversation. But we did get around to other subjects, some controversial, and I decided I really like this guy. He a genuine conversationalist who truly listens and knows how to ask the right question at the right time. Along with Deb, they make a great couple. Thanks you guys for a wonderful visit.

The next morning we all slept in before hanging out on the front porch, enjoying the morning. About 11am we started getting the bus-house ready for travel and by shortly after noon we were continuing on our way to the home of our friends Tim and Chris near York, SC.

The route had us continuing north on US-601 to Lugoff where we picked up SC-34 westbound to I-77. I'm less enamored all the time with Interstate Highway travel but I wanted to stop at the Flying J Truck Stop near Rock Hill and top off our tank with that cheap (relatively speaking) South Carolina fuel. I was able to cram in almost 40 gallons at just $2.01/gallon.

Not far up the road we cut over to Tim and Chris's house where we found them waiting and making final preparations for our arrival. First on the agenda was getting the big ol' bus-house into it's designated spot in a clearing in their woods affectionately called "the meadow". This involves backing a short ways down their driveway with trees fairly tight on both sides, then making a hard backing left hand turn a bit downhill and into the meadow where we end up sitting at a 90 degree angle to the driveway. After leveling and rolling the slides out we got together for happy hour and dinner.

From SC Homes

We plan to be here for about a week.

T