Think of a combination gypsy camp, wagon train, and flea market. The Midwest Glampers are meeting at my old stomping grounds at Beed's Lake State Park and our loop is a colorful riot of chaos. There are campers from Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri, as well as individuals from Michigan and Illinois. Most have restored or rebuilt vintage trailers. Some even have tents that have been glamped.
The weather on Thursday was threatening and chilly with low hanging clouds. We managed to get a book discussion in after supper because this is the locale that The Lady of the Lake was based on. Friday was a great improvement with some sun and gentle breezes. Many took a trip to town for a great lunch at The Rustic Brew and some shopping.
In the evening, things got crazy. Supper was a baked potato bar and things got cleared out of the way for a "Trailer Trashion Show." The little girls even got into the act by donning mustaches to ride their bikes around the campground. Two incredibly silly games entertained the group until dark--one involving shower camps, shaving cream and cheese puffs; the other a takeoff on bag toss with rolls of toilet paper and mounted toilet seats.
At dark, after a brilliant Beed's Lake sunset, Brody from the Franklin County Conservation Commission gave a talk about the legend of the Lady of the Lake and then organized us for a night hike interspersed with holes of miniature golf. I was certainly ready for bed after that!
It all started last Tuesday or Wednesday when our oldest son called and wanted his dad to join him Saturday in a benefit golf tournament for the school music department. Since driving over for the day would mean a very early rise, we decided to take the camper and spend the weekend at Johnson Sauk Trail State Park. We like the park and the weather was supposed to be good. We planned to stay Friday to Monday. We did a minimal load, food-wise, because we would only be about five miles from Kewanee and could make a grocery run if we needed to.
About halfway there, the truck started to make noise like an old-fashioned egg beater. We had had similar issues before and it was never good or cheap. Since it's hard to pull into a dealer for diagnosis on the engine while pulling a thirty-foot trailer, we nursed it along to the campground and unhooked the trailer. By this time, it's late Friday afternoon so Butch hot-footed it into town in time for them to do a preliminary diagnosis. It was the #6 valve or cylinder or something but beyond that, they couldn't tell until they tore into it. They would start first thing Monday morning and it might be something simple that could be fixed in a couple of hours and we could head home as planned.
However, it might be something much more complicated, requiring tearing the engine apart, and taking much longer. (Translation: "Maybe you should think about getting jobs in the area.") We know the No. 1 rule of car repair is that it will never be quick or cheap. So, through the weekend, the possibility of being stranded in a campground indefinitely, as well as facing bankruptcy, loomed over our heads.
Perhaps it was the stress, but by Saturday evening, we were both struggling with the beginnings of the Mother of all Summer Colds. We could have powered our camper if we could have harnessed our sneezes.
We had reserved our site through Sunday night, but found out on Sunday morning that it was reserved for Monday and the next four nights by someone else, so if we needed to lengthen our stay, we had to move. AND if we were going to move, we needed to do it before the truck went back in Monday morning. Sunday afternoon we moved across the road to an available site. We also realized that we were running low on food and water. Fortunately, we still had ice cream.
By Sunday night, my eyelids were looking like fat little raw sausages, and I was hauling the box of Kleenex around with me. It wasn't really Kleenex but some cheaper off-brand and was like blowing your nose on crepe paper. Besides the itchy, runny eyes, earache, and runny nose, another effect of this cold is that my hair sticks up all wacko. What's with that? When is cold medicine going to address that issue?
Our son's family brought pizza out for supper--much appreciated-- and Sophie's new kayak for a maiden voyage on the lake. The weather was lovely all weekend; we just couldn't enjoy it much.
We settled in that evening with a bad movie and ice cream. But then the mouse for my laptop died. Now, the track pad is fine for browsing the Internet but very awkward for me for writing and editing. My brain wasn't working that great anyway. We doctored ourselves with some honey, cider vinegar, and cayenne pepper elixir and whined a lot.
Monday morning a couple of hours after the truck had been returned to the dealer, the news was as we expected. A major overhaul for big money, but it might be done by close of business Monday; otherwise first thing Tuesday morning. Of course it was noon on Tuesday. By the time we hooked up the camper, dumped the tanks, and stopped on the way home for cough drops, sinus medicine, Kleenex and a new mouse, we arrived home to unhook and unload in the hottest part of the day. Camping anyone?
It seems that for the past ten months or so, our camping trips have either been a result of a family event--weddings, 90th birthdays, and last week a granddaughter's graduation--or part of a longer expedition where we needed to stay on schedule to keep reservations or get mechanical issue taken care of. Not to belittle any of those trips; the reasons were exciting and the results fun.
But it's been nice the last couple of days to just camp for the sake of camping. We decided last week to take off Sunday and try to get spots at Morgan Creek, a lovely little park near Cedar Rapids, Iowa that features the county arboretum. But it's first-come, first served and all 36 sites were taken. So we returned to an old favorite, Tailwater West on the Coralville Reservoir.
This campground has several things going for it, by our criteria. The sites are spacious and the cement pads are level. There are water hookups and the shower house is nice. There's a good walking path and wildlife to watch. All this is available to us for half-price with our senior passes.
The campground is below the dam and it's always fascinating to watch the water rushing through the overflow tube. Some sunny mornings, the neighborhood turkey vultures spread their huge wings out on the rocky side of the dam to dry them out. Yesterday was rather gloomy, with rain off and on but it cleared enough to cook salmon and asparagus in foil packets on the fire. Today Ken has plans to smoke a beef roast. This is real camping. Well, by our definition.
It occurred to me, looking over my blogs from this trip, that many readers, especially non-campers, might want to call me personally and yell "Are you crazy?" Maybe so. In a little over two weeks, we encountered paralyzing traffic jams, tornado warnings (not just watches), mechanical issues, and communication breakdowns--not to mention that we are both 75. So why do we do it?
There's no easy answer to that question unless it would be yes, we are crazy. But for us, it does balance out. There's the people. We got to spend time with my equally crazy sister and her family and our blossoming granddaughter. We got to meet our granddaughter's boyfriend and hear about their exciting plans for their lives. And the casual acquaintances in the campgrounds--the woman, who after traveling the world in her career, wanted to see our own country and decided an RV was the best way to do it. She had sold her house and just begun full-timing. The couple who had camped for years within twenty miles of their home and were trying to get up the gumption to take off on much longer trips. The young couple who had just bought a small trailer with plans to go off-roading. The hosts who were always helpful.
There were sights that you don't see touted in every travel brochure but well worth our time. The Old Stone Fort in Tennessee and the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina were both fascinating. The waterfalls in Tennessee and Georgia were beautiful. We prefer parks to private campgrounds because they were usually chosen for reasons other than proximity to an interstate. The land may have been donated simply because the owner wanted to share its beauty. Or the motive may have been to preserve a piece of history, such as Old Stone Fort or the Cherokee lands in Georgia at Vogel State Park or, as our last stop, Lincoln's New Salem Village. There were the interesting small towns, such as Blue Ridge, Georgia, who have revitalized themselves as shopping and craft centers.
And of course there's the scenery. We spent a lot of time in the mountains of Tennessee, north Georgia, and Alabama. We enjoyed the lowlands of Mississippi and the plains of Illinois. I am a sunset fanatic and those are easier to miss if you stay in a hotel. We like having the comforts of home with us and don't think its any more hassle to set up an RV than to haul luggage into a hotel and pack it back up and haul it out at the end of a stay. So call us crazy. We probably are, but don't bother us with that--we're busy making plans for the next trip.
Tuesday morning, we got our slides in without a problem--it's only the outbound gears that aren't working--and left Lake Sardis before 9:00 am for our five state journey north. That's actually pretty easy to do from northwest Mississippi. Our route took us into SW Tennessee for a bypass around Memphis, through the northeast corner of Arkansas, the southeast corner of Missouri, and back across the Mississippi into southern Illinois--just missing the western tip of Kentucky at Cairo.
Our destination was a KOA campground in Benton, Illinois just a short distance from the RV dealer who could fix the trailer on Wednesday. We arrived mid afternoon and as we expected, the large slide would not extend at all. We had moved the electronics, books, etc. into the bedroom before we left in the morning, pretty much taking up all of the narrow space around the bed.
The campground was fine with lots of amenities, but mostly unusable: the pool was empty and we couldn't get to our TV to use the cable, for example. It was not the quietest place with an interstate immediately to the east, busy two-lane on the west and small airport to the south.
When we checked in, the host told us that they were under a tornado watch until 8:00 pm--about five hours. The line of storms came through a couple of hours later but we escaped with just heavy rain. The "large hail" forecast did not materialize. The tornado siren went off and we headed to the office as instructed, but no trip to Oz this time. We found out later that tornadoes had touched down and done damage both north of us near Vandalia and in the next county south. We were lucky.
To celebrate--and because we couldn't get to the refrigerator or kitchen in our camper--we went out to eat. The seafood place we went to was fine--not spectacular--and we were the only customers. The evening was spent reading and checking email in our 8 x 8 bedroom--kind of a post-apocalyptic feel for some reason. A shortage of outlets meant that the ones we had did double duty keeping everything charged. Oh, the hardships!
Wednesday morning, we headed over to Larry's RV to drop the trailer. These guys were fantastic. They were done in less than two hours--just long enough for us to go have lunch. By 2:00 pm, we were back on the road. It is easy to forget how looooong Illinois is, and Benton is actually south of St. Louis. So, in order to avoid setting up in the dark, we broke our journey outside of Springfield at a great campground that is part of the Lincoln New Salem restoration. We were here once twelve years ago; this time we are the only campers besides the host. It was a delight to have the use of our living space again.
Today, we expect to make it home, barring tornadoes and breakdowns. I'm not really ready for the journey to end, but it has been an eventful one.
We left Tuscaloosa on Easter morning, headed northwest to Oak Grove Campground on Lake Sardis in northern Mississippi. Easter dinner was at a KFC. We hadn't eaten at one for about thirty years and are pretty sure we consumed a weeks worth of calories. And the cookies weren't even very big. But the roads were pretty good and this is another great campground with our site being right on the water. Everything was hunky-dory until I went to put the big slide out. Deja vu all over again from four weeks ago as it bumped and jerked its way out. We're pretty sure another gear box has bit the dust.
Fast forward to this morning, after a nice supper of grilled salmon, broccoli, and coleslaw, a pretty sunset, and a good nights sleep in spite of wondering where we would spend our next night. The campground host also has an Open Range and recommended a dealer on the southside of Memphis--about 50 miles away. At 8:05 am, Butch got on the phone but of course all of their service people were busy with other 'guests' and they would call us right back. An hour later, he tried again and got a very helpful woman in the service department. After giving the make, model, year, problem, history, and the date of our smallpox vaccinations, she said she would see if they had parts and could do the work. Two hours later comes the verdict--they could not possibly do it this week.
The next closest dealer on our route north is in Cape Girardeau, Missouri and they have five locations. Surely they would have the part. Same routine with make, model, etc. They could do the work, but alas, none of their locations have the part and it would take 7-10 days to get it. By this time it's noon and we are about to give up and try and make it home. The cute fellow pictured above appeared outside our window and I found another dealer in southern Illinois. The name is Larry's RV and I was picturing a small operation in someone's vacant lot, but lo and behold--they have a gear box and can do the work Wednesday morning!
So we signed up for another night here, because we are fairly certain that once we get this slide closed, we may not be able to open it again. With that one closed, unlike the one that gave us trouble last trip, we have no access to the living area or kitchen--only the bathroom and bedroom. And of course we are not positive we can get it closed. But we will try in the morning and the host said he would help. Then about a six hour trip to Mulkeyville, Illinois (I didn't make that up), a night in a local campground, and hopefully our problem solved on Wednesday. When we get home, we will order a spare gearbox to take with us. We don't have to make the same mistake three times to learn our lesson. Meanwhile we will enjoy this spot.
We, in our society, are used to having instant communication at our fingertips at all times. Sometimes that's a bad or at least annoying thing. I interrupt a task or conversation to answer a telemarketer's call. An email notification ping disrupts my concentration on an important news article or even trying to find a murderer in my current work-in-progress. But when I want it, I don't have it. Yesterday, we traveled southwest in Alabama from Lake Guntersville to Lake Lurleen near Tuscaloosa for one reason--our twenty-year-old middle granddaughter lives and works here.
This was kind of a last minute plan so I had contacted her by phone on Thursday to confirm that she would be around this weekend. She replied that she would be, but was working until 6:00 on Friday and then in class until 8:30. She also had commitments Satuday night and Sunday morning, but would be able to join us for breakfast on Saturday. My mistake was in not finalizing that plan while we still had contact. On the way down, I tried to text her but had no service. It always surprises me how much of Alabama is forest and hills. We briefly made contact when we stopped in Tuscaloosa for groceries, but not long enough to discover the meeting place she had in mind. We got to the park and once again no cell service and no wifi connection. So after we set up, we drove back into town until we had service and were able to establish our breakfast plans. If we didn't have all of this great communication, we would have planned ahead.
Our setup here was not without some do-overs. The site they assigned us had serious leveling issues--about six inches off from side to side with some broken asphalt that made using our levelers impossible. Side note--we used to carry a couple of low-tech boards that would have worked in this case, before we got a set of devices especially for that purpose that didn't work. So back through the campground, across the bridge to the check-in to get another site. Luckily, a lakeside site had been vacated and we were able to grab it. Still leveling problems but no broken pavement.
In true all's-well-that-ends-well fashion, we were able to grill some burgers and, along with asparagus and coleslaw, enjoy a meal outside overlooking the lake in perfect weather--our first time eating outside on this trip. Early this morning, the full moon made a beautiful pattern on the lake. Today is forecast sunny and beautiful, high of 74. Of course, it would be sunny for us anyway with our special breakfast plans.
That would be Laundry and Laziness. We are at Lake Guntersville State Park in Alabama for two nights. It was not easy getting here yesterday. The first rule to know is that there are no direct routes from North Georgia to North Alabama. Because of the mountains, everything angles. So we made a couple of wrong turns, wound up and down, and when we finally arrived, things didn't get much simpler.
The campground is huge--over 300 sites. I think it has a higher population than Blairsville, Georgia--our last stop. We had called ahead and they had plenty of space so we didn't reserve a spot. At the checkin, they assigned us a site. We missed the turn and when we finally found the spot, it was short, quite unlevel, and the fire ring would have been under our slide. In addition, there was a large transformer and no picnic table in our small space. The next one was empty and much better so we went back and asked about it. It was only available one night, but the nice lady gave us another possibility and her cell phone number if we wanted to check out any others. We finally got one, but still not very level and no fire ring. But since a monsoon is forecast for later today, that probably doesn't matter.
By the time we got set up, it was getting late. I wimped out of cooking and we went up to the Lodge WAY on top of the hill for supper. This is a resort park and the lodge is a wonderful building with pool, rooms, saunas and other facilities. The meal was excellent too. The views of the Tennessee River from the huge deck in back are great.
Today will be time to kick back, do a little laundry, and a lot of reading and writing. The campgrounds have all been pretty full with lots of kids--spring break. Because of the forecast, supper will be some soup in the crockpot. Tomorrow we will head to Tuscaloosa for a visit with granddaughter Jessi and then turn toward home.
Our four days at Vogel State Park had a dearth of internet and TV but were compensated by some excellent attractions. The John C. Campbell Folk School is just an hour north of here over the North Carolina border in a beautiful mountain setting. They offer classes year round in Appalachian crafts and music, including pottery, knitting, black smithing and even kalaidescope making. The visitor's center, dining hall and gift shop, pictured here is surrounded by native plants.
A road leading off to the west gives access to studios for woodworking, pottery, quilting and fabric arts, and black smithing among others. In the other direction are buildings for book arts, woodturning, and painting. Interspersed is housing for students in diverse styles and a campground. Cooking classes include a variety if international flavors from rustic Italian to Korean, bread making, cooking with herbs, cast iron cooking and so on. Enameling? Rug making? Nature studies? Soap making? It's all here. Rand McNally calls the school one of the top 30 destinations in the US.
We timed our visit poorly and were there over the noon meal, so work was not going on in the studios. We returned to Georgia, had coffee at the Coffee Cabin in Blairsville (right on that tricky roundabout) and were back at the campground in time to hike around the lake and view Trahlyta Waterfall.
Finally, we ended the day with a campfire and grilled turkey tenderloins, the first time on this trip that the weather has been amenable for such activities. Today we head west to Lake Guntersville in Alabama.
For the next four days, our trailer, Lucy the Gray Ghost, can take a rest from being hurtled from side to side and into the air. She has a lovely pull-through spot overlooking woods and a creek at Vogel State Park in Georgia. Vogel was one of the first two state parks in Georgia and is nestled in a long, narrow valley at the the foot of Blood Mountain in the middle of the Chattahoochee National Forest. This was Cherokee land, and legend has it that they buried their gold in a cave atop Blood Mountain before Andrew Jackson's illegal removal order in what resulted in the Trail of Tears. Of course, the treasure has been much searched for over the years.
Our campsite is large, level, and overlooks a ravine with a beautiful little creek running through it. The 'Possom Hollow Ampitheater' --an arrangement of benches sits on the bank of the creek.
Sunday, we visited my sister's recently purchased acreage atop a ridge between Blairsville and Blue Ridge just north of us. They moved in a trailer as a temporary residence and have been busy building a fence enclosing several raised garden beds and clearing brush. They plan to build a small house on the property this year. The site is beautiful and the narrow, winding, steep road leading to it means they don't have to worry about semi traffic.
Yesterday we drove to the interesting town of Blue Ridge--population about 1500, but the site of numerous shops, restaurants, and big chain stores because of the huge number of vacation cabins in the surrounding area. We had a great lunch at the Fightingtavern, and especially enjoyed The Bear Store and a shop specializing in wood and rock creations, especially furniture. The table pictured has a top made of petrified wood.
Today we will meet my sister for breakfast in the tiny town of Blairsville (population 562) eleven miles north of the park. In spite of its size, it is the county seat, and the historic courthouse is surrounded by a roundabout that has befuddled us several times. Then we will travel north just across the North Carolina border to visit the John C. Campbell Folk School situated on 300 acres. It was established in 1925, based on the Danish folk school model, and teaches classes year round in everything from broom making and blacksmithing to writing and woodworking in an effort to preserve southern Appalachian crafts and culture.
Some random thoughts about writing, camping, and eating.