Maine 2020 – Part 1 (July 14 – August 16, 2020)

On Tuesday, July 14th, we drove 307 miles from Middle Grove, NY to Biddeford, ME where we spent two nights at Homestead by the River RV Park.  The drive was almost entirely on interstate highways (mostly toll roads) and was largely uneventful, other than numerous work areas and service plazas in Massachusetts that were not big-rig friendly.  When we arrived at the campground, we learned that they had had three inches of rain that morning and our reserved pull-through site was a swamp.  So, rather than risk getting stuck in the muck, we were offered a back-in site.  Phil was not excited about the prospect of doing a blind-side back-in around a tree so the owner arranged for an experienced semi driver to back our rig into the site.

On Wednesday, we picked up a lobster roll at Pool Street Market in Biddeford and drove to Biddeford Pool.  After consuming our lobster roll, we hiked the 1.5-mile East Point Audubon Sanctuary Trail that took us along the rocky coast and provided us with a view of a lighthouse.

On Thursday, we drove 180 miles on the Maine Turnpike to Trenton, ME where we will spend 64 days at Timberland Acres RV Park.  This is the same campground where we spent a month in 2019.

The weather on Friday was cool and overcast so we just drove the Park Loop through Acadia National Park, including a brief stop at the Jordan Pond House.  We also drove through Bar Harbor, where we noted that several of the businesses we had frequented in 2019 had closed for 2020.

On Saturday, we stayed closer to home and hiked the 2.8-mile Trenton Community Trail.  Although the trail didn’t include much scenery, it was a pleasant walk through the forest and included a short boardwalk over the bog.  On Sunday, we sought to escape the heat by driving to Seal Cove, where we sat by the water and read our books.

On Monday, we returned to Acadia NP and hiked 6 miles on the Eagle Lake Carriage Road.

On Tuesday, we returned to Jordan Pond and hiked the 3.5-mile full loop around the lake.

On Wednesday, July 22nd, we returned to Acadia NP and hiked the Ocean Path from Sand Beach to Otter Cliff and back again, nearly 5 miles in total.  We timed our stop at Thunder Hole to be exactly two hours before high tide.  This is supposed to be the time when the waves at Thunder Hole are the loudest but it was somewhat disappointing.

On Friday, we hiked the 2-mile loop at Lower Hadlock Pond.  Then, on Saturday, we drove to Surry, ME and hiked another 2-mile loop at the Carter Nature Preserve.  We arrived at the coastal part of the hike exactly at low tide and were able to walk along the rocks.

Timberland Acres campground has special activities on the weekends during the summer.  Our first weekend had a Hawaiian theme, with a luau that included a pig roast.  Although we did check out the pig on the spit, the $15 per plate for dinner was a little too pricey for us.  Our second weekend was Christmas in July and offered prizes for the most impressive Christmas decorations.  Some people went all out and had some very elaborate displays.  Jan got in the spirit of the season and decorated our picnic table with the few Christmas items we carry with us.

On Monday, July 27th, we did a 7.3-mile hike on the Witch Hole Pond Carriage Trail.  Although the carriage trails make for rather smooth walking, this was the longest distance we had hiked this year.  We spotted several large birds of prey sitting on branches along the trail but we were unable to identify them.

On Tuesday, we hiked the 3-mile out-and-back Big Wood and Shore Trails. After walking through the forest, the Shore Trail brought us out to the coast. We found two Adirondack chairs conveniently placed above the shoreline of Western Bay.  It was a warm, sunny day but the chairs were in the shade and there was a cool breeze coming off the water.  We watched a couple of seals and some kayakers pass by.  If we had brought books with us, we would likely have stayed there a long time.

Phil had researched pickleball venues in the area and, on Tuesday, headed out to play.  His first stop was at the Ellsworth Tennis Club where they have four indoor courts.  However, he learned that Mainers apparently don’t play pickleball indoors when it is warm outdoors.  The clerk at the tennis club recommended Phil try the outdoor courts at the YMCA.  This worked out well and he found a nice group to play with several afternoons each week.  Making matters even better, there is no charge to play at the YMCA, unlike the Tennis Club.

Wednesday’s hike was back in Acadia National Park.  We did the 2.4-mile Great Head Trail that begins with a walk across Sand Beach and then continues in a loop around the cliffs overlooking Fisherman’s Bay and the beach.

On Thursday, we hiked another Acadia NP carriage trail, the 6-mile Aunt Betty Loop.  This trail included two long, steep ascents and two long, steep descents.

Friday’s hike was a combination of three trails near Southwest Harbor; the Flying Mountain, Valley Peak and St. Sauveur Peak trails.  These three trails made two loops totaling over 4 miles, with an elevation rise of 931’.  The Alltrails app mistakenly had these trails listed as ‘easy’ but they were definitely not easy.  In addition to the usual tree roots and rocks on the trails, we had to scramble over lots of large boulders while we climbed up steep paths.  The scenery was worth the effort, though.  We rewarded ourselves by picking up a lobster roll on the way home.

On Saturday evening, we went to Bar Harbor for dinner at Jalapeños.  Downtown Bar Harbor was quite active and everyone was wearing masks.  After dinner, we strolled around town and along the waterfront.

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Panorama of the harbor at Bar Harbor

On Sunday, we hiked the 2.5-mile Branch Lake Public Forest Loop.  Our initial challenge was in reaching the trailhead.  The GPS coordinates stopped on a busy highway and didn’t show how to reach the trail.  By using Google Earth, we could see some sort of road to the trailhead but we couldn’t understand why the GPS wouldn’t take us there.  We finally found a sign for the forest.  The parking area was a mile down a single-lane gravel road with deep ruts.  It was slow-going but, fortunately, we had no oncoming traffic.  Once we reached the forest, the hike was enjoyable and took us to the edge of beautiful Branch Lake.  We snacked on whoopie pies we had purchased Saturday night; Jan had Classic Chocolate and Phil had Blueberry Lemon.

On Monday, August 3rd, we drove to meet Jason at the Bangor airport.  On Tuesday, we began our re-introduction of Jason to the challenges of hiking in Acadia.  We hiked the Champlain North Ridge Trail, an up-and-back trail to the summit of Champlain Mountain.  Although it is only a little more than a mile to the summit, the route has an 833-foot elevation gain and mostly involves climbing on granite boulders.  That evening, we went into Bar Harbor and had dinner at Route 66.  We all had hot lobster rolls with melted butter.  After dinner, we visited some shops in Bar Harbor and, since it was near low tide, we were able to hike across the sand to Bar Island.

Overnight, the effects of tropical storm Isaias reached Maine and we had heavy rain and strong winds.  Because of the rain, we decided to avoid hikes that would require climbing up the rocks.  Instead, we hiked a couple of out-and-back trails with very little elevation gains, the Jesup Trail and the Kane Trail.  The Jesup Trail was quite easy, with much of it on a boardwalk.  However, the Kane Trail mostly consisted on walking on boulders along the edge of The Tarn, a large pond.  After our hike, we drove to the Schooner Head Overlook and hiked down to the rocks overlooking Frenchman’s Bay.

On Thursday, we returned to Jordan Pond.  Jason and Phil hiked a strenuous 5-mile loop consisting of the Spring, Penobscot, Deer Brook and Jordan Pond trails.  Jan opted for a easier hike by doing the full Jordan Pond Loop again.  That afternoon, Phil took Jason to the YMCA for a couple of hours of pickleball.

Friday’s adventure took us to the more remote part of Acadia National Park, the Schoodic Peninsula.  After stops at Frazer Point and Schoodic Point to enjoy the views, we continued to Blueberry Hill.  We hiked the Anvil Trail to the summit of Schoodic Head and ate our breakfast there.  We then returned down the Alder Trail.  A short distance further down the park loop road, we came to the trailhead for the East Trail.  Phil and Jason hiked this strenuous 1.4-mile out-and-back trail that involved a lot of climbing up the rocks.  Jan decided to stay behind and enjoy the views from the shoreline.

On Saturday, August 8th, we drove to Sand Beach.  We all hiked the Ocean Path together until we reached the Gorham Mountain trailhead.  Jan continued down the Ocean Path to Otter Point, then returned to Sand Beach.  Phil and Jason hiked the Gorham Mountain and Bowl trails, which brought them back to Sand Beach where they met up again with Jan.  We sat on the beach for a while and cooled our feet in the bay.

We took a day off from hiking on Sunday.  Instead, we did a road trip down the coast of Maine and drove through many harbor towns.  Phil had found an article on the Internet titled the “Top 10 Places to Retire in Maine” and we decided to visit two of these towns, Belfast and Rockland.  We reached Belfast first and spent some time walking along the harbor, visiting the downtown shopping district and driving past a few houses listed for sale.  Our next stop was Camden where we visited several shops.  We then continued on to Rockland where we ate lunch at The Brass Compass, strolled down to the harbor where we could see a lighthouse and drove by a few houses for sale.  On our return trip, we drove to see a house that we had seen listed on the window of a Rockland realtor.  It had a Lincolnville address but was actually located over a mile down an unpaved road along Coleman Pond.

The Road to Maine (June 21 – July 14, 2020)

We left Kerrville, TX on Sunday, June 21st, and retraced the path we had taken when heading south in December. We drove 220 miles to Elm Mott, TX and spent one night at the I-35 RV Park. On Monday, we drove 264 miles to Texarkana, TX where we spent two nights at our usual campground, Shady Pines RV Park. On Wednesday, we drove 235 miles to Forrest City, AR where we spent the night at Delta Ridge RV Park.

The COVID-19 pandemic continued to impact our planning for our summer travels. We were already aware that Maine had implemented a requirement for a 14-day quarantine upon arriving in the state. However, this requirement was modified somewhat by allowing visitors to forego the quarantine if they can prove that they have gotten a negative COVID test within 72 hours of arriving in Maine. We hope to get tested while in New York, immediately before leaving for Maine.

Massachusetts also implemented a 14-day quarantine. We had planned to spend five nights in Massachusetts on our way to Maine but, for now, we have rescheduled this stop until our return trip in late September. We are hoping the quarantine requirements will have been lessened by then.

On June 24th, the governors of New York, Connecticut and New Jersey implemented a requirement for a 14-day quarantine upon arriving in their states for travelers coming from any of seven states with a spike in COVID cases, including Texas and Arkansas. We had booked reservations for four nights in Byron, NY, beginning July 5th. Since this would have been only 10 days after leaving Arkansas, we would have had to quarantine the entire time so, instead, we rerouted through Pennsylvania for the four nights. We will then head to Autumn Moon Campground in Middle Grove, NY on July 9th since, by then, 14 days will have passed since we left Arkansas.

On Thursday, June 25th, we drove 271 miles to Goodlettsville, TN where we spent a week at the Grand Ole RV Park. Our activities were limited due to COVID. Jason joined us the first morning for breakfast at Cracker Barrell. It was a different dining experience, due to the social distancing and sanitation requirements. Jason also came over for dinner several nights and we sat outside afterwards listening to live music. He picked up a pizza from Gino’s East one night on his way home from work. Jason’s roommate, Steve, joined us for spaghetti, salad and Butterfinger cake another night. We also were able to celebrate an early birthday with Lizzi at a Mexican restaurant near her house.

On June 30, the governors of New York, Connecticut and New Jersey doubled the number of states requiring quarantine, now 16. The new list included Tennessee so our five-day stay at Autumn Moon campground will be spent in quarantine. Had we known we would have to quarantine the entire stay, we would have just skipped New York and done our quarantine in Massachusetts instead. Unfortunately, it was now too late to cancel our New York reservation without a penalty.

On Thursday, July 2nd, we drove 275 miles to North Bend, OH (bordering Cincinnati) where we spent two nights at Indian Springs Campground. We had overnighted at this campground twice before but, because it was considered part of the July 4th weekend, we were required to stay for a two-night minimum. This turned out to be fortuitous since Jarrod and Jess flew in to Cincinnati that day to visit Jess’ family. They dropped by to visit on Friday morning and then we joined them for lunch at the home of Jess’ father and stepmother, Henry and Sandy Mollman. We enjoyed sitting outside and had a very filling meal, topped off with homemade ice cream.

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Lunch with the Mollmans

On Saturday, July 4th, we drove 267 miles to Streetsboro, OH where we overnighted at the Streetsboro / SE Cleveland KOA. The campground was in full swing when we arrived and there was little evidence of social distancing going on. The pool was crowded and many large groups were gathered.

On Sunday, July 5th, we drove 270 miles to New Columbia, PA where we spent four nights at the Williamsport South / Nittany Mountain KOA. It is one of the upscale Holiday KOAs and we had a large pull-through site with no neighbors nearby. One of the popular activities was the twice-daily feeding time at the petting zoo. We joined the youngsters in the pen (masks were required) where we fed and played with the goats.

We had planned to hike in the area but torrential rain overnight forced us to scrap that idea. Instead, we attempted to hike the nature trail connected to the campground but had to turn around when we encountered No Trespassing signs.

On Monday, we drove to Lewisburg. Our first stop was at the Street of Shops. Located completely indoors in a restored historic woolen mill, this large building contains 375 shops selling a wide variety of merchandise (mostly antiques and collectibles). We spent about two hours strolling through room after room.

Later, we visited downtown Lewisburg and had lunch at a local pizzeria where Phil had a cheesesteak and Jan had an eggplant parm sub. Both were delicious.  After lunch, we drove through the largely-empty campus of Bucknell University and visited Soldier’s Memorial Park.

On Tuesday, we drove to Williamsport, PA. Our first stop was at Original Field, the baseball field where the Little League World Series was held for the first 12 years. There wasn’t much to see at this complex, which is now used by the local softball league. We next drove along Millionaire’s Row, where lumber barons had built huge Victorian homes at the turn of the century. Williamsport once had more millionaires per-capital than anywhere else in the world, but this area was definitely showing its age. Our final stop was at the current home of the Little League World Series. With the World Series cancelled for 2020, we were free to roam around the two stadiums and visited the Casey at the Bat sculpture.

Since Maine would allow us to avoid the 14-day quarantine if we could get a COVID test done within 72 hours of entering the state, we had been exploring options for testing while in New York. Most were limited to New York residents or required a doctor’s referral.  On Tuesday, Phil was able to get us signed up for free COVID tests at RiteAid in Colonie, NY on Saturday, July 11th. The test results are normally available in 2-7 days but, due to the demand, it may take longer so we may still have to quarantine for some period in Maine.

On Wednesday, we returned to Lewisburg and visited the Farmers Market. This was one of the nicest and largest farmers market we have visited. They had a huge variety of local specialties, vegetables, fruits, baked goods and crafts. Many of the vendors were Amish. There was even a Schlegel Farms, Jan’s maiden name, so we had to buy from them. Since we knew it would take a long time to see everything, Phil left Jan at the farmers market and headed to Walmart to buy enough food to last us through the full quarantine periods. Jan also loaded herself down with fresh meats and vegetables, as well as a lemon meringue pie and fresh bagels.

On Thursday, we drove 300 miles to Middle Grove, NY (near Saratoga Springs) where we had made reservations for five nights at Autumn Moon Campground. The first 270 miles were on interstates but the travel was slower than hoped due to lots of road work zones. The final 30 miles were quite challenging as they involved many turns on small country roads. When we approached the final turn, Phil’s GPS chimed as he neared a couple of gravel roads. Since this is the indication that he is at the turning point, Phil pulled up the first gravel road and drove up to the road to what he hoped was the campground office. Jan’s GPS showed that the correct turn was 400 feet farther but she couldn’t call Phil before he made the turn. As it turned out, Phil had pulled into a farmer’s driveway. We spent most of the next hour trying to get the fifth wheel turned around. It would have been easier if not for a BMW that was parked next to the house. Jan knocked on the door of the house but no one answered. After multiple attempts, we got turned around and made our way to the campground.

The owners of the Autumn Moon Campground were quite friendly but the campground was less impressive than where we’d normally stay. Since we only had 30 amps available, we were limited to using one air conditioner. Even at that, the circuit breaker on the pedestal kept flipping every few minutes. Phil finally solved that problem by turning off the charger to our batteries. It was 82 degrees in our living room and it took a couple of hours before we got the temperature down to a pleasant 72 degrees.

The requirements for quarantine vary by state and, even for a given state, are quite fluid. Phil discovered, after we arrived in New York, that Pennsylvania had implemented a quarantine on July 1st for travelers from 15 states, including Tennessee. Oops!

On Saturday, we drove 30 miles to Colonie, NY to get our COVID tests. The process was somewhat different than in the YouTube we had watched. We pulled up to the drive-through window at the RiteAid and the pharmacist gave us our test kits. He explained the procedure, which consisted of inserting the test swab one inch into one nostril, rotating it twice, holding it in place for 15 seconds and then repeating in the other nostril. It wasn’t too unpleasant, although both of us had watery eyes and Phil sneezed twice. The test results were supposed to arrive via email in 2-7 days but we were pleasantly surprised when we both received negative test results on Monday afternoon. That will eliminate any need to quarantine when we arrive in Maine on Tuesday.

Kerrville, Again (April 14 – June 21, 2020)

On Tuesday, April 14th, we made the 350-mile drive from Brownsville to Kerrville. Although the drive was uneventful, we had not driven much in the previous three months so it was quite tiring. We arrived at 4 pm and set up on our new site. We got the end pull-thorough site in the Executive section. In addition to a larger concrete patio, the end site provided us with a large grassy area next to us.

Beth and Todd Ehlenfeldt, who were also staying at Buckhorn, dropped by to visit and, since we had not been able to see them for the last few weeks in Brownsville, it was good to catch up again. We learned that, in addition to the office being closed due to COVID, the pools, fitness center and social room were also closed.

On Wednesday morning, Phil rode his bike over to the pickleball courts but there was nobody playing. Later that morning, we drove the Willow City loop to see the wildflowers. We had driven the Willow City loop years ago but the flowers had not been in bloom then. This time, the bluebonnets were in full bloom and were quite beautiful.

As we passed through Fredericksburg, we couldn’t help but notice all the empty stores. However, Jan noticed that the door to our favorite shop, Russlin’ Rob’s Texas Gourmet, was open but the store was dark inside. Jan checked their website and learned that, although the food sampling stations were closed, the store was being manned for drop-in customers. She called and ordered some of our favorite sauces. When we returned, Phil knocked on the door and the store manager already had the sauces wrapped up for us.

Our activities over the next few weeks continued to be limited due to COVID-19. Phil managed to find enough pickleball players to fill one court most days. Jan walked the campground most mornings and we generally got out for a stroll each evening. Trips to the grocery stores and Walgreens involved wearing face masks.

On April 16th, we drove to Ingram and visited Stonehenge II. It is 90% as wide and 60% as tall as the original Stonehenge in England. Jan had hoped to get pictures of the sunset but it was too cloudy.

Fortunately, we were able to get together with Beth and Todd most afternoons for Happy Hour. We hosted a farewell brunch with the Ehlenfeldts on April 20th. Jan made cinnamon rolls and Beth brought seafood quiche. After saying our goodbyes the following morning, we drove to San Antonio to get the Mazda serviced at our dealer. We also stopped at Sam’s Club and Whole Foods to load up on groceries. Masks were worn at all stops.

We drove to Louise Mays Park in Kerrville on April 18 and 22 and enjoyed long strolls along the Guadalupe River.

On April 23, we drove to the Coming King Sculpture Prayer Garden to see if Jan could get pictures of the sunset. She had better luck than she had at Stonehenge II.

On April 24, we did a long scenic drive through nearby Mason County to see the wildflowers. We had directions for three different routes. The first route we took involved driving on a unpaved road that crosses several spots with the potential for high water. When we came to the first one, we turned back rather than trying to cross the river. Although the water wasn’t overly deep, the current was quite fast. The remainder of our drive was beautiful and, although there were quite a few low spots, none were underwater.

Our laptop, which we had purchased in 2015, had been experiencing problems with the DC power port and finally died in late April. Jan contacted Dell support and they identified a refurbished replacement part. However, since we were uncomfortable with the thought of disassembling the laptop ourselves, we took it to a local PC repair shop. After examining our laptop, the owner decided it couldn’t be repaired. We decided to purchase a new laptop. However, since the old laptop was now deemed worthless and the replacement part was only $15, we decided to see if we could fix it. In our enthusiasm to see what was involved in dissecting a laptop, we removed a seemingly endless number of screws and Jan disconnected numerous cables and parts. Then, when the replacement cable arrived a week later, our challenge was in remembering how to put the pieces back together again. Fortunately, Jan’s prior life in PC support paid off and the reassembly went fairly easily and we got the old laptop running again. That bought us some time in getting files and applications transferred to the new laptop but we’re still glad we invested in the new laptop.

Mother’s Day, May 10th, was the most active day we’d had in a long time. We started with a trip to Luckenbach, TX. We sat outside and enjoyed some live music. Jan bought a new hat. Next, we visited Wildseed Farms and walked through the gardens. For dinner, we went to the West End Pizza Company in Fredericksburg. We dined on the shaded patio, where the tables were spread out for social distancing. This was our first restaurant meal, inside or takeout, since the start of the COVID-19 crisis and it was quite enjoyable.

Later, we went for our usual evening stroll. Near the end of our walk, we met a man walking his three dalmatians. He let up on the leashes so they could come over to sniff Phil. Since they were acting friendly, Phil bent down to pet the dogs. As Phil was petting the second dog, the third dog lunged at him and bit him hard on his forearm. When Phil pulled his arm back, the dog lunged again and bit him on the thigh, ripping a hole in Phil’s favorite shorts. Blood was running down Phil’s arm so we hurried home to treat it, without finding out if the dog had had its vaccinations. We just had to assume that they had.  Phil reported the bites to the office the next day and we never saw the dogs again.


On May 12th, Phil visited his doctor to get x-rays of his pinky finger he had injured a week earlier while playing pickleball. The x-rays showed no sign of any broken bones. The doctor also examined the dog bites and prescribed some antibiotics. The governor of Texas had authorized the reopening of barber shops and hair salons a few days earlier and we were both overdue. We both went in for haircuts that afternoon. Phil had not had a haircut in over four months and the barber told him he had the start of a mullet. The difference was significant.

Before

After

We decided to extend our stay in Kerrville for another month, until June 21st, to see what direction the COVID-19 infections go. After initially being told the campground was full over Memorial Day weekend, there was a cancellation that enabled us to stay in our same site. Phil spent the next two days reworking our travel schedule for the summer and hoping that it holds up.

On Saturday, May 23rd, we rented kayaks at Louise Mays Park and paddled up and down the Guadalupe River for two hours. We encountered lots of turtles sunning themselves on rocks and logs, as well as flocks of ducks floating down the river. Unfortunately, the lack of recent rain had left the river quite shallow as we got upstream and we had to turn around before we would have liked.

On Wednesday, May 27th, we drove to Austin for one of Jan’s doctor appointments. The appointment was in the morning so we got on the road early for the two-hour drive. After the appointment, we spent a relaxing afternoon in Austin. We enjoyed sitting in the shade and people-watching at Zilker Metropolitan Park, then made some shopping stops at TJ Maxx and Whole Foods. That evening, we had dinner and socialized with Caleb and Brittany Dickerson, Katie Schlegel and, Katie’s friend, Michael at the Dickerson’s new condo. The weather forecast had called for severe storms that evening but we missed most of it on the drive back to Kerrville. However, we decided to stop at Walgreens upon our arrival back in Kerrville and discovered that the streets were flooded and the power was out. As we drove back to the campground on I-10, we saw piles of hailstones along the interstate. We later learned that they had experienced quite a severe storm in our absence, with lots of trees down and hail damage. We were glad to have missed the excitement and were relieved to not see any damage to our vehicles.


Our remaining time at Buckhorn was rather quiet, largely due to daily high temperatures in the 90’s. Phil continued playing pickleball six mornings a week, but the starting time was moved up to 7:30 am to lessen the heat. We visited the pool several days and enjoyed the cool water. Mostly, we stayed indoors and took advantage of our air conditioners. Phil ordered DVDs of all eight seasons of ‘24’ and Jan ordered four seasons of ‘Outlander.’ These will provide us with plenty of entertainment throughout the summer, assuming we can resist the urge to binge watch.


We celebrated Phil’s 66th birthday on June 14th with an afternoon at Luckenbach, TX. Upon our arrival, we discovered that we were attending the Waylon Jennings Birthday Bash. There were about 30 musicians who, one after another, got on stage and performed non-stop Waylon Jennings songs. Each hour, they held a sing-along to the song ‘Luckenbach, Texas.” We stuck around for three hours of the four-hour event. Phil grilled steelhead trout for dinner and dessert consisted of Jan’s blueberry pie.


Phil’s body had taken a beating during our time at Buckhorn, between dog bites and three falls on the pickleball courts resulting in bloody body parts. However, the main event came on Monday night, June 15th. Phil heard the rain starting and raced out the door to move our lawn chairs under cover. He slipped on the wet step cover and, while falling down on the steps, managed to slice open the bottom of his right foot. This excitement happened after the Urgent Care centers had closed for the evening so, as Jan raced off to WalMart for bandages, Phil kept pressure on the wound until the bleeding had slowed. Upon Jan’s return, she administered first aid to get Phil through the night. The following morning, we were off to the doctor’s office. Although the nurse was quite impressed with Jan’s bandaging efforts, the doctor decided to suture up the cut. It took nine sutures to close the wound. The most painful part of the procedure were the many shots needed to numb Phil’s foot, as he gained an appreciation for how many nerve endings one has in the bottom of one’s foot. Phil spent the next few days hobbling around the RV but quickly learned to get around while avoiding putting weight on the site of the cut.


One of Phil’s regrets was that the injury eliminated any chance for him to play pickleball over our final five days. On our final Friday afternoon at Buckhorn, Cindy Welch invited us over for a happy hour with several of Phil’s fellow pickleball players.

Brownsville – Month 3 (March 12 – April 14, 2020)

On Thursday, March 12th, we began our final month at Tropical Trails with a boat outing. A group of eleven from Tropical Trails met at the Dishmans’ condo on South Padre Island. Hill Dishman had his own boat and had borrowed one from a neighbor. Although windy, it was a beautiful day for a boat ride. The activity for the afternoon included a poker crawl in which we picked up a paying card at each stop and the person ending up with the best poker hand would win the pot. Our stops were at Parrot Eyes Restaurant and Bar, Longboard Bar & Grill, Driftwood Landing and Laguna Bob’s. Phil had the best hand through the first three stops, then fell into third place on the fourth card drawn. Fortunately, the ‘4’ he was dealt as his fifth card gave him two pairs and he ended up with the best hand, earning $40 from the pot.

On Friday a large group from Tropical Trails took a 2 ½-hour tram tour at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. The park, which encompasses over 97,000 acres, was established in 1946 to provide habitat for wintering waterfowl and other migratory birds. We had visited the park a couple of years before but had not taken the tram tour. The tram ride enabled us to see much more of the refuge than we had seen before. Unfortunately the speakers in our car were not working so we were unable to hear much of what the tour guide was saying. One of the highlights was seeing a small rattlesnake slithering next to our stopped tram.

That evening we had an ice cream social, followed by two games of LCR. Phil won one of the games, earning $4.50 in winnings.  A lucky couple of days!

On Sunday afternoon, Jan participated in the beanbag toss tournament.  We later met the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts at Longboard Bar & Grill and listened to Shake & Bake perform. We then headed to Pier 19 for dinner.

Tuesday, March 17th, was St. Patrick’s Day. We celebrated with a Happy Hour on the patio at Tropical Trails. The Rykals and Ehlenfeldts joined us for the get-together.

On Wednesday evening, we had a fish fry at Tropical Trails. Hill Dishman fried up a lot of trout that he had caught on his boat. Everyone else brought a side dish.

On Thursday we headed over to Winter Haven and had a belated St. Patrick’s Day feast with the Rykals, Ehlenfeldts and some of their neighbors. We enjoyed lots of corned beef and cabbage. With the current shortage of toilet paper, Tom and Roxi should have thought twice before letting Beth use their bathroom.

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Beth trying to make off with the Rykal’s TP

By Friday, the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic really began to impact our activities. The city of Brownsville closed the schools and imposed a curfew between midnight and 5 a.m. (not that that affected us). Restaurants were restricted to take-out. South Padre Island implemented restrictions on gatherings and closed restaurants and bars.  Phil went to H-E-B for groceries and had to stand in a long line to get in the store. Once inside, he found many of the shelves were empty. Toilet paper, paper towels, disinfectants, eggs and canned goods were unavailable, both in the stores and online.

At Tropical Trails, life was getting increasingly boring. In addition to many of the campers having already departed, some of the remaining campers decided they would self-isolate. This left the campground, which had already been fairly vacant all winter, seem almost like a ghost town. Even when we did see other people, there was very little interaction. There were only four people playing pickleball on Friday and, by Saturday, this had dropped to just Phil and Beth Petruska.

On Saturday afternoon, we finally got around to flying the kite we had purchased when Jason was visiting. Since the kite was only rated for up to 18 mph winds, we had not had many opportunities to fly it earlier. It was quite easy to assemble and flew quite well. The wind was somewhat stronger on Sunday and we flew the kite again. This time Phil relaxed in one of our lawn chairs while the kite soared very high. He may have been testing the limits of the string as the kite was really pulling very hard.

The boredom continued the following week as the pandemic’s spread and resulting stock market drop dominated the news. In addition to the usual strong winds, we had several days with highs in the 90s. Our only interaction with our fellow campers came from a distance. Beth decided not to play pickleball anymore due to COVID-19 concerns, but Phil did manage to arrange to play singles with Hill Dishman a couple of days. Jan made several trips to the fitness center to run on the treadmill. We managed to ride our bikes on occasions when the wind died down somewhat.  On two evenings, we ventured up to the Amenity Center to play shuffleboard and dip our feet in the spa. One night we actually went swimming in the pool for the first time this winter, but spent most of our time relaxing in the spa.

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Jan relaxing by the spa

Hill came by on Monday and gave us some of the fish he had caught. We grilled Cajun red fish on the half shell for dinner on Tuesday.

We rarely left the campground, except for occasional trips to the grocery stores. Phil got up early on Tuesday and went to Wal-Mart for their once-a-week Senior Hour at 6 a.m. He got in line at 5:30 and was glad he had arrived early. By 6 a.m. the line was quite long. Although he was able to buy eggs, paper towels and disinfectants (which are in short supply), many of the shelves were empty. We received notice from the campground office that the H-E-B in Port Isabel had been well-stocked and without lines on Thursday. With nothing else to do, we headed there on Friday to see if we could find the things that had been unavailable at Wal-Mart. We did have to stay in line outside for about 10 minutes but, once inside, we were able to find most of our desired groceries.

One of the greatest shortages during the pandemic was toilet paper, with people hoarding it as panic set in. After checking the Sam’s Club website repeatedly for several days, Phil was able to order toilet paper. His only option was to get a 36-roll pack, which should last us a long time. When it arrived on March 31st, it was such a big deal that we had to post it on Facebook. The post resulted in 69 likes and 45 comments. Facebook became a popular means for people to try to find humor in the face of the pandemic. Leslie, one of our Tropical Trails friends, posted a video showing how to make a mask out of boxer shorts and, of course, Phil had to try it. The things people do when they have too much spare time on their hands!

During the remaining two weeks at Tropical Trails, our days largely fell into a routine. Although Phil played pickleball with Hill several mornings each week and we rode our bikes when the wind permitted, most of our days were spent sitting in our trailer. We both killed a lot of time playing on our phones, Phil did a lot of reading, and Jan worked on Diamond Dots and cleaning house. We did visit the pool several evenings, where we largely had the place to ourselves. About the only times we left the campground were for trips to the grocery store. While it was not the camping experience we had hoped for, we were very grateful to have a place where it was so easy to self-quarantine. In a campground with over 300 sites, we were down to 14 RVs on the property by the final two weeks (even at the peak this winter, there had never been more than about 35). We were also grateful that none of our friends and family contracted the coronavirus during these weeks.

We had planned to leave Tropical Trails on April 12th, Easter Sunday. In anticipation of the trip, Phil checked the truck’s tire pressures two days before. After being unable to get any pressure reading on one of the dually tires, he discovered that the tire had a huge tear in the belts. He was able to order a new tire but it wouldn’t arrive until Monday. This caused us to delay our departure for two days. This was actually fortuitous since the weather on Easter was terrible. The temperature hit a high of 103 degrees (blowing away the previous record of 95) and the winds were very strong, with gusts exceeding 40 mph. In addition, since April 12th was our 17th wedding anniversary, we were able to enjoy a relaxing day. Phil grilled some T-bones for dinner and then we headed to the pool.

On Monday, Phil took the truck to Discount Tire to get the new tire installed. Due to short staffing caused by COVID-19, he had to sit in the parking lot for two hours before getting to pull the truck into the service bay. We got up early on Tuesday and we thought we were ready to leave at 8:30 am. One of the last duties is to fold up the steps but, this time, one of the steps would not budge. We tried dousing it with WD-40 but that had no effect. Hill drove by and offered us some help. He had a couple of his guys work on the step and, after much effort, they managed to get it to fold up so we could depart. Our departure was delayed by an hour but we were just happy to be able to go.

Brownsville – Month 2 (February 12 – March 11, 2020)

On Thursday, February 13th, we attended a happy hour on the patio outside the Amenity Center. A two-man band called Shake & Bake performed for two hours. We were surprised when Hill Dishman, the campground owner, joined the band to sing a couple of songs. Hill has a very good voice and did an outstanding imitation of Willie Nelson.

Friday was Valentine’s Day and we celebrated by heading over to South Padre Island. We first stopped at Tequila Sunset where we sat outside overlooking Laguna Bay and listened to live music. When it started to get too cool for sitting outside, we walked up the street to Louie’s Backyard. At Louie’s, we were able to sit inside and listen to live music. We also visited the nearby sand castle displays.

Jason arrived on Saturday, February 15th, for a week-long visit. After picking him up at the airport in Harlingen, we went to Texas Roadhouse for a very filling dinner.

On Sunday we headed to the Los Fresnos Rodeo. Prior to the start of the rodeo we watched a performer demonstrate his skills with a lasso and bullwhip. We also watched the Banana Derby where dogs raced with small monkeys as riders. Our seats for the rodeo were very good and provided us with great views of the many events. The contestants were all professional rodeo cowboys and quite a few were former world champions.

On Monday Phil and Jason played pickleball in the morning. They were able to play pickleball four mornings that week. Monday afternoon we headed to South Padre Island. Our first stop was Isla Blanca Park. We walked along the beach, visited the monument to lost sailors and strolled out on the jetty. It was a windy day and there were lots of kiteboarders in the bay. We later had dinner at Pier 19.

On Tuesday we returned to South Padre Island for an afternoon fishing boat excursion. Jason quickly caught two sheepshead (one of legal size) before succumbing to seasickness. Phil then caught a sheepshead. Unfortunately, someone else’s line had gotten tangled with Phil’s line. After he was able to remove the hook from the fish, he started to untangle the other line. Once he had untangled the two weights, the other person jerked their line and Phil’s hook became imbedded in his finger. Fortunately the fishing boat had a person on staff who was trained in first aid. The captain took the boat into smoother waters and the assistant snipped the barb off the hook before pulling the hook out of Phil’s finger. Jan did catch the most interesting-looking fish. It was some sort of flying fish but was too small to keep. One we returned to port, the captain filleted our sheepshead. We had them for dinner on Thursday and they were very delicious.

On Wednesday we started the day at the Don-Wes Flea market. We then crossed the border to visit Nuevo Progresso. After eating lunch at the Red Snapper Restaurant, we headed to the beauty salon where we all had pedicures.

Thursday afternoon Jan and Jason headed to Mercedes and did some shopping at the outlet mall. The weather on Friday was quite cool so we decided to go see a movie. We picked up Beth and headed to the Sunrise Mall and watched “Call of the Wild.” After the movie, we met up with Todd.

On Saturday we awoke at 4 am to take Jason back to Harlingen for his 6:10 am flight. We returned home and went back to bed. By the time Phil woke up at 10 am, Jason was already back in Nashville. We participated in a Tropical Trails shuffleboard tournament that afternoon. Although Phil had a fairly low score, he ended up winning $2 for coming closest to the targeted score. The group then headed to Los Fresnos for dinner at Arnie’s. After dinner, we joined the group for a campfire back at Tropical Trails.

On Sunday afternoon we joined a group from Tropical Trails at Harley’s Beer Garden in Los Fresnos. The Rykals and Ehlenfeldts also joined us. We sat outside and listened to music. A potluck dinner with BBQ was available but we chose not to stick around for it.

On Monday evening, February 24th, Phil finally got his crown installed on the implant he had done a year ago. Jan went to play Mexican train. On Tuesday evening we both played LCR.

Strong winds started blowing Tuesday evening, with gusts in excess of 40 mpg, and continued all day Wednesday. We got going early Wednesday morning and drove to Nuevo Progresso to get our teeth cleaned by one of the many dentists. The service seemed quite professional. Although the equipment was not state-of-the-art, everything appeared very sanitary. The cost of $25 per person for the cleaning was considerably less than the $85 the Brownsville dentist would have charged. In the afternoon we played cards at the Amenity Center.

Over the next few weeks we largely fell into a routine, with fewer notable activities. Phil played pickleball six mornings and Jan exercised, either on her bicycle or the treadmill in the fitness room. We played games (Mexican train dominoes, LRC or Golf) a couple of evenings each week.

On Thursday, February 27th, we had another shrimp boil at the Amenity Center, with musical entertainment again provided by Shake and Bake. Later that evening we had a bonfire for several couples who would be leaving in the next few days.

On Saturday morning Jan attended a class on making tamales while Phil played pickleball. That afternoon we participated in a shuffleboard tournament. Later we had dinner at Russo’s NY Pizzeria.

On Tuesday, March 3rd, we joined the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts at Winter Haven RV Park for a game of Mexican Train that lasted several hours. We had to move several times to stay dry when the drizzles started but they never lasted very long. After the game Roxi served us tacos for dinner.

On Wednesday Phil visited a new orthopedic surgeon regarding his shoulder that has been hurting since September. He got a shot of cortisone and was sent home with a list of exercises designed to strengthen his shoulder muscles.

On Thursday the group from Tropical Trails headed to South Padre Island for Happy Hour. We sat outside overlooking the bay at Longboard Bar & Grill and enjoyed the musical entertainment. We then drove half a mile to The Meatball Café where we had dinner. Phil ordered eggplant parmigiana and Jan had cannelloni. Both were very good.

On Friday we returned to South Padre Island. We started at Clayton’s and enjoyed an order of nachos. It was apparent that Clayton’s was starting to gear up for the Spring Break crowd. Gone was the old people music and, in its place, they had a deejay playing hip hop. We decided to move on to Longboard where we sat on the deck and enjoyed music that was more to our taste.

On Saturday, March 7th, we met the Rykals and the Ehlenfeldts in Harlingen and attended the Jackson Street Market. This event occurs on the first Saturday of each month. There were vendors set up on both sides of the street for about six city blocks. We examined the wares at lots of booths but ended up only buying three pounds of red licorice. For lunch we headed to Carlito’s Wine House where we enjoyed the music and the food.

On Sunday we met the Ehlenfeldts at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville. It was a beautiful day so the zoo was quite popular. We drove around for about 15 minutes before finding a parking spot. We had planned to arrive in time for a 2:30 presentation on ocelots. However, when we arrived, we learned that the time had been changed to 2 pm. We were still able to see the end of the presentation and see the ocelot. After that, we strolled the entire loop around the zoo for a couple of hours. We managed to see all the exhibits except the reptiles and fish, which we skipped due to both tired feet and lack of interest. We then all headed to Cobblehead’s Bar & Grill where we dined outside and listened to music. Three members of the band were the same musicians we had listened to at Longboard on Friday.

On Tuesday, March 10th, we had a farewell bonfire for Joanne and Dave who were leaving on Saturday. We toasted marshmallows and ate s’mores.

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On Wednesday we participated in a bean bag tossing competition, followed by shuffleboard.

 

Brownsville – Month 1 (January 12 – February 12, 2020)

On Sunday, January 12th, we left Fredericksburg and drove 349 miles to Brownsville where we will spend three months at a new campground, Tropical Trails RV Resort. Jan had learned about this campground online and we booked our reservation last summer. Originally, we believed it was going to open in October 2019. However, over the following months, the opening date kept getting delayed. Each time, Jan would call Bonnie, the General Manager, to seek assurance that the park would be open by mid-January. It did finally open on January 1, 2020. When we arrived, we noted that there were only about 30 rigs parked in the 165-acre campground. We quickly discovered that the campground was clearly still a work in progress. We took one of the sites with some grass growing on the door side. In the days to come, Phil watered the grass most mornings. We hope to have an established lawn by the time we leave in April. Although it felt like we were camping in a construction site, the owner was wise enough not to park campers next to each other. As a result, we had plenty of privacy and were able to park our truck on an empty site nearby.

One of the advantages to being in a nearly-empty campground was that we were able to meet a lot of the other campers at the many organized activities. On Monday morning Phil joined about 10 other campers on the four new pickleball courts. He was one of the few who had played the game before and was disappointed that the group disbanded after playing only two games. On Monday night we joined a number of fellow campers to watch the NCAA football championship game and, for non-football fans, a game of Mexican train. While Phil watched football, Jan was quite successful playing Mexican train.

On Tuesday we went to our dentist appointment. After sitting in the lobby for an hour, we learned that they had been unable to confirm our dental insurance. So rather than wait any longer, we rescheduled for Wednesday. We then dropped by to visit the Rykals and the Ehlenfeldts who are camping at the nearby Winter Haven campground.  On Wednesday we met at the amenity center and learned to play shuffleboard. Although we had a large crowd, no one really knew the rules so we had to rely on the few who had watched YouTube videos beforehand. In the afternoon, we returned to the dentist. Although we were able to get x-rays and an examination, the cleanings were delayed until mid-February.

On Thursday we joined a group at the amenity center for a shrimp boil. In addition to shrimp, there was more than enough sausage, potatoes, corn and bread so no one walked away hungry.

On Friday we joined a caravan to Nuevo Progresso, Mexico. Since we had been there several times before, we explored on our own but we did join the group for lunch at Arturo’s. After lunch, we headed to our usual beauty salon and both got $10 pedicures. When we returned to the campground, we attended a presentation by a local travel agency that included a Mexican dance team and free margaritas.

On Saturday evening, Jan’s friend, Sheila Gaskin, arrived for a weeklong visit. We attempted to eat dinner at the Texas Roadhouse in Harlingen but the line was too long. We left and headed to the Texas Roadhouse in Brownsville. Although we still had a 40-minute wait, the meal was very good.

On Sunday, January 19th, Jan and Sheila spent the afternoon at South Padre Island. Phil stayed at home to watch the Tennessee Titans lose to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game. That evening, we met the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts at The Lucky Barrel to watch the Green Bay Packers play for the NFC championship. Unfortunately for our friends from Wisconsin, the Packers lost to the San Francisco 49ers.

On Monday, after Phil played pickleball, we headed back to Nuevo Progresso. This was Sheila’s first visit to a Mexican border town.

On Tuesday we attended the campground’s ribbon-cutting ceremony with the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce. We then headed to South Padre Island and visited the Sea Turtle, Inc. rescue facility. Later we had an early dinner at Pier 19.

The weather forecast for Wednesday had called for rain all day. Although the rain ended early, we opted to spend the day indoors so we headed to the Sunrise Mall. Phil went to see the movie ‘1917‘ while Jan and Sheila went shopping. We then went to Russo’s NY Pizzeria for dinner.

On Thursday we went to South Padre Island (SPI) and headed to Clayton’s for music and cheap wings and beer. Although the temperature in Brownsville reached 81 degrees, it only reached 68 degrees at SPI and was quite windy. We moved our seats four times to stay in the sun. Beth and Todd Ehlenfeldt joined us for the last hour.

On Friday, Jan and Sheila picked up Roxi and Beth and headed back to Nuevo Progresso for the day. Phil met up with Tom and Todd at C & C Wings.

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Jan, Beth, Roxi and Sheila at lunch in Nuevo Progresso

Saturday morning we woke up at 4 am to take Sheila back to the Harlingen airport for her flight home. We got back home shortly before 6 am and had no trouble falling back asleep for several more hours.

On Sunday we went to the SPI Convention Center to do some shopping at the Marketplace. We met the Rykals, the Ehlenfeldts and some friends of the Ehlenfeldts (Ed and Teresa) there. After having explored all the booths at the Marketplace, we all headed to Louie’s Backyard for lunch. We then headed to LongBoard Bar & Grill where sat and enjoyed music by a husband and wife band.

Phil played pickleball on Monday morning. In the afternoon we headed to Boca Chica Beach and spent an hour walking up and down the beach. We were able to see the expansion to the SpaceX facility that has happened since we were in Brownsville last winter.

Phil spent most of Tuesday dealing with various medical and dental issues. We both played shuffleboard on Wednesday morning.

On Thursday, January 30th, the owners of Tropical Trails RV Park, Hill and Donelle Dishman, hosted a happy hour at their condo at the Boardwalk Yacht Club on South Padre Island. Their home was beautifully decorated and included a tiki bar in the lower level. After the happy hour, we all headed across the road to Gabriella’s Italian Restaurant. The food was very good and we had a good time getting to know some more of our neighbors.

We participated in a shuffleboard tournament on Friday afternoon. We played four games but, unfortunately, did not come away with any of the prize money.

On Saturday we drove to Donna, TX and strolled through the Don-Wes Flea Market and made a few purchases. We then headed across the border to Nuevo Progresso for a late lunch.

Phil spent the following Monday and Tuesday prepping for his colonoscopy. The combination of prepping for the procedure and needing to be at the surgical center at 6:15 am Wednesday kept Phil up all Tuesday night watching five episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger. The procedure went smoothly. As usual, the prep was worse than the actual exam. Upon returning home, we both slept a long time.

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All ready to go

The high winds kept us from doing much over the next few days.   On Thursday afternoon we drove to downtown Brownsville with the intention of having dinner at the Made in Mexico Festival.  Unfortunately the neighborhood was quite seedy and didn’t appear to be where we’d want to be after dark.  We wandered around the block but decided it wasn’t worth paying the $5 admission.  Instead, we headed back to Russo’s Pizzeria for dinner.

On Friday afternoon we went over to Winter Haven RV Park and had dinner with the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts.

Sunday was Leslie Verhaeghe’s birthday and her husband, Jim, had planned a surprise campfire for her. Unfortunately, the strong winds made a campfire a no-go so, instead, we all met in the Amenity Center and ate birthday cake and played games. We learned a couple of new games: Golf and Zonk. Golf is a 9-round card game and Zonk is a variation of Farkle, played with six dice.

The wind on Monday was so strong that Phil could barely manage to get our door open. We are really getting tired of the wind and are already thinking of spending next winter elsewhere. The one excitement for the day came when a herd of goats found their way into the campground. Jim Verhaeghe and his dog, Vader, responded quickly and shepherded them back to where they belonged.

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On Tuesday, February 11th, we joined a group from Tropical Trails for a trip to the Heritage Museum in downtown Brownsville. We attended a lecture by a history professor from UTRGV. The lecture covered Mexican history from their independence from Spain in 1821 until the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848. The professor discussed the factors that kept Mexico from evolving as successfully as the US after obtaining their independence. We learned a lot about Santa Anna who served as president or military-backed dictator 11 times from 1833-1855. Apparently Santa Anna quickly grew bored of being president and would frequently relinquish power to his vice-president, only to change his mind shortly thereafter.

Short Stop in the Texas Hill Country (Dec. 28, 2019 – Jan. 12, 2020)

On Saturday, December 28th, we left Goodlettsville, TN and drove 270 miles to Forrest City, AR where we spent the night at Delta Ridge RV Park. Heavy rain had been forecast for the entire day but, fortunately, we only got light drizzle until we were set up at the campground. Then the skies opened up and we had torrential rain all evening.

On Sunday, we drove 235 miles to Texarkana, TX where we spent two nights at Shady Pines RV Park. This was our fifth stay at Shady Pines and, as usual, we used this layover to get our annual vehicle inspections on the truck and trailer.

On Tuesday, New Year’s Eve, we drove about 285 miles to Elm Mott, TX (outside of Waco) where we spent the night at I-35 RV Park. We had hoped that our route would bypass Dallas but our GPS took us all the way to the edge of downtown Dallas. Then, due to new highway construction, the GPS had Phil in the wrong lane to make the turn to head south. We continued on on I-30 until we found a different highway to the south. It was quite stressful and an experience we will try to avoid in the future. This was our first stay at I-35 RV Park and it was quite nice for an overnight stay. They provide free made-to-order breakfasts that were quite good, albeit a little slow.

On Wednesday, we drove 215 miles to Kerrville where we spent nine nights at Buckhorn Lake Resort. The weather during our stay was surprising nice for January. Although the nighttime temps dropped slightly below freezing a few times, the daytime highs were mostly in the 60s.

Our sole reason for this visit to Kerrville was so Jan could see her HMO doctor and Phil could get his dentist’s final signoff on the implant he got last February. We took care of both of these appointments on Monday, January 6th. Other than Phil playing pickleball every morning, we really didn’t do much else during our stay. We did a 80-mile scenic drive through the Hill Country one day and visited Enchanted Rock State Natural Area another day. When we arrived at Enchanted Rock, we expected to hike the Summit Trail but encountered a sign that said the trail was closed. It appeared that we would be limited to hiking the loop trail around the perimeter of the rock. However, as we began our hike, we could see other people at the summit so, after almost circling the rock, we hiked up the side of the rock to the summit. We descended along the Summit Trail and never did see any reason why the trail would have been closed.

Our original travel plans had called for us to spend the weekend of January 10-12 in Austin, visiting Jan’s nieces, Brittany and Katie, and Brittany’s husband, Caleb. However, when the girls expressed an interest in spending the day in Fredericksburg, we cancelled our Austin reservation and booked a campsite at The Vineyards of Fredericksburg for the weekend. On Friday, January 10th, we made the 35-mile move from Kerrville. Although the winds were gusting during our move, the storm held off until we were settled into our new site and had lunch at West End Pizza Company. However, when the storm did arrive later that afternoon, it was quite intense. The winds were fierce and there was plenty of thunder and lightning. We watched out our living room window as a 15-minute hailstorm pounded Jan’s car but, fortunately, the hailstones never got big enough to do any body damage.

The weather was better on Saturday. Brittany, Katie and Caleb arrived from Austin shortly after noon and we had lunch at the Rathskellar Restaurant where we all had German food. Then, the girls went off to explore the many shops along Fredericksburg’s Main Street and the guys headed to National Museum of the Pacific War. This museum, the only one of its kind in the Continental U.S., is centered on World War II’s Pacific campaign. The tickets are valid for 48 hours and one could easily spend two full days exploring all the many exhibits and media presentations. Unfortunately, Phil and Caleb only had three hours available until the museum closed so they had to move along fairly quickly. They both learned a great deal about the many battles to capture remote islands throughout the Pacific. When the museum closed, the guys met up with the girls again at the Auslander Restaurant and Biergarten where we relaxed and enjoyed drinks and snacks.

 

Christmas in Tennessee (December 11 – 28, 2019)

We had intended to leave Gulf Shores on December 9th but, when we couldn’t find reservations in the Huntsville, AL area, we decided to stay two more days. On Wednesday, the 11th, we drove 150 miles and spent two nights at Sherling Lake Campground in Greenville, AL. This was the same campground we had stayed at on our trip to Gulf Shores in late October. We got the same pull-through site as before (#40). It had rained for all of our previous stay so we hoped for better weather this time. Unfortunately that was not the case, so we spent most of our stay indoors.

On Friday, we drove 340 miles to Goodlettsville, TN where we spent 15 nights at Grand Ole RV Resort, our go-to private campground in the Nashville area where we had stayed numerous times before. We left Greenville early in the morning so we could reach Nashville before rush hour. Although we reached Nashville at 2 pm, the traffic was already bad but we managed to get through it. Jason came over in the evening and brought us lots of mail and packages that we had had delivered to his house.

On Saturday morning, we drove to Montgomery Bell State Park and watched Jason, Jarrod, Jess, and their friend Matt and his girlfriend run in the Bell Ringer 15K race. After the race, we had burgers for lunch at M.L. Rose in Nashville.

On Sunday, Jason, Jarrod and Jess came over for spaghetti dinner.

We had received notice from La-Z-Boy that the two recliners we had ordered in October were available for delivery. However, since the delivery people were not allowed to take away old furniture, we had to find a place to dispose of our old recliners. Fortunately we were able to fit the recliners in the back of Jan’s SUV and we dropped them off on Monday, one at a time, at Goodwill. We spent the next two days cleaning the living room carpet in anticipation of the delivery of the new furniture on Thursday.

On Friday, December 20th, we went to Extra Space Storage in Nashville and rented a 5’ x 5’ storage unit. We had been sharing a 5’ x 10’ unit with Jarrod and Jess for the past two years but, with them moving to Denver after Christmas and taking most of their stuff, we were able to downsize to a smaller unit that we will continue to share.

On Saturday, Jan had a get-together with many of her high school friends at Cracker Barrel in Dickson, TN.

On Sunday, we met Brenda and Philip Dunlap and Jason in downtown Nashville and had dinner at Woolworth on 5th. After dinner, we and the Dunlaps went to the Ryman Auditorium for a Christmas concert by Amy Grant and Vince Gill.

On Christmas morning, we met Jason at Jarrod and Jess’ apartment and had a delicious breakfast, then opened presents. We all then went to Beaman Park Nature Center and hiked a 3-mile loop. After the hike, we drove to our campground and enjoyed sitting outside in the beautiful weather. For dinner, we had our traditional Honeybaked ham and our favorite side dishes. There were plenty of leftovers for everyone.

On Friday, December 27th, we drove to Camden, TN for the annual Madden family lunch at Country & Western Steak House. There was quite a large turnout, including infant Elena Fuentes who drew a lot of attention. After lunch, we stopped by the courthouse to drop off Sheila’s present.

Gulf Shores, AL (November 1 – December 11, 2019)

On Friday, November 1st, we drove 145 miles to Gulf Shores, AL where we will spend a little more than five weeks at Gulf State Park. We had reserved site #197, a pull-through site that was just two sites down from where we parked on our previous stay. We will be there for the month of November but will have to relocate for the final eight days of our stay. Two other couples, Tom and Roxi Rykal and Todd and Beth Ehlenfeldt, who we had met last winter at Palmdale RV Park in the Rio Grande Valley, were also spending the month of November at Gulf State Park.

On Saturday morning we rode our bikes around the park and stopped at the butterfly garden. We had a trail map but it didn’t include the campground roads so it was difficult to know how to get back home. After riding around in circles for a while, Jan fortunately spotted our rig down the road.

Later that afternoon, we joined the other couples at Flora-Bama, a large, multi-stage entertainment venue on the Florida/Alabama state lines. We watched a performance by Big Earl and his band. They were very talented musicians and humorous, albeit off-color, entertainers. After listening to a couple of sets, we all headed across the road for a late dinner at the grill.

On Sunday we rode our bikes to the beach and walked along the gulf shoreline. The water was surprisingly warm and we enjoyed wading in the surf.

On Monday Phil visited Bayside Orthopedics to get treatment for his shoulder that had been hurting for about a month. He was relieved to learn that the pain is most likely the result of bursitis, rather than a rotator cuff tear. He received a cortisone shot and was referred to a physical therapist in Gulf Shores. That afternoon, Dave and Jo Peterson, another couple we had met last winter at Palmdale, arrived for three nights and dropped by our site to visit.

Tuesday morning we rode our bikes again and stopped over at Tom and Roxi’s site. The other two couples were already there so we spent about an hour socializing before resuming our ride. That afternoon we returned to Flora-Bama to play bingo. We had known Dave and Jo were planning to visit Flora-Bama but were surprised when we all arrived at the same time. The four of us spent a couple of hours playing bingo. The games were free and the number caller was quite entertaining, although somewhat hard to understand. Jan ended up winning twice and getting two half-off certificates for the restaurant where we had dined on Saturday night.

On Wednesday morning we returned to the beach and strolled up to the pier. The surf was rougher than it had been on Sunday. We had to be careful to avoid stepping on several large jellyfish washed up on the beach.

That afternoon we got together with the other three couples. The boys headed into town and visited a local microbrewery, Big Beach Brewery Co., while the girls stayed at the campground and had a wine tasting party. Upon joining up again, we all gathered around the central fire pit near the Rykals’ and Ehlenfeldts’ sites. Later, we moved to the Rykal’s picnic table for a pot luck dinner, before returning to the fire pit for more socializing.

On Saturday, November 9th, we drove to the Pensacola Naval Air Station and attended the Blue Angels Homecoming Air Show with the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts. This was the final show of the 2019 season for the Blue Angels flight demonstration team. In addition to seeing the Blue Angels , we watched demonstrations by F-16 and VFA-125 fighter jets as well as precision flying and aerobatics in vintage WWII planes and other planes. We were glad we had chosen to go on Saturday rather than Friday because the weather was perfect, whereas Friday’s weather had been cold and windy.

After the air show, we drove to the grill at Flora-Bama to watch the Wisconsin–Iowa football game, since the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts are from Wisconsin. The restaurant was packed and, although the restaurant had dozens of TVs showing college football, almost every one of them was showing the LSU-Alabama game. Fortunately the manager was from Wisconsin so he had one TV showing the game we wanted. He was very helpful in getting us a couple of tables by that TV so we were able to watch the Wisconsin victory.

We kept busy over the next few weeks, both in the state park and in the neighboring communities. The weather was quite nice most days so we were able to ride our bikes frequently. We had numerous get-togethers with the Ehlenfeldts and Rykals, including celebrating Beth’s birthday at Crab Trap. We returned twice to Flora-Bama to play Bingo and Jan won a game each time. We enjoyed ourselves so much that we went ahead and reserved a site at Gulf State Park for November 2020. A week later, we also reserved the site for December 2020.

The days around Thanksgiving brought us a lot of activity. We shared a Thanksgiving feast with the Ehlenfeldts and Rykals. Sadly, Todd’s mother had passed away a couple of days earlier so Todd and Beth had to depart immediately after our meal to head back to Wisconsin. Our sons, Jason and Jarrod, arrived that afternoon and we headed to the beach in time to see the sunset.

On Friday, November 29th, we rented a couple of additional bikes for the guys and rode all the way to Tacky Jacks in Orange Beach, where we had appetizers. Jan’s cousin, Lori Davis, and Lori’s husband, Bruce, arrived Friday afternoon and stayed until Sunday at the Hampton Inn in Orange Beach. Jan’s high school friend, Donna Ditges, and her husband, John, also arrived on Friday afternoon and stayed at Gulf State Park, two sites away from ours. The Davises and Ditgeses joined us at our campsite and we socialized until it was time for dinner. All of us, except the Ditgeses, headed to Papa Rocco’s for pizza and entertainment by Charles “Bo” Grant. Bo Grant is a former member of the 50’s and 60’s doo-wop group, the Platters. Bo was the last performer to replace an original member of the Platters and toured with the group from 1984 to 1998. We had seen him at Papa Rocco’s two weeks earlier and Jan had told him she would be back on her 60th birthday and hoped he would sing Sixty Candles (Jan’s version of the original song, Sixteen Candles). Unfortunately, Bo’s scheduled appearance on the 30th was canceled so we had to go on the 29th instead. As before, we had a great time singing the oldies along with Bo. He remembered Jan and did serenade her, albeit with the original version of Sixteen Candles.

On Saturday morning, we, and our sons, drove to the Hampton Inn and walked along the beach with Lori and Bruce. That afternoon we hosted a get-together at our site with the Davises, Ditgeses and Rykals. The men watched various college football games on the TVs, inside and out, while the women socialized. That evening, we were joined by the Davises and Ditgeses for Jan’s birthday dinner at Fin & Fork.

On Sunday morning, December 1st, we had to move to a new site for the balance of our stay, since our original site was only available for monthly stays. We met Lori and Bruce at Flora-Bama shortly before noon and discovered that the second church service was still in progress. We were surprised to see such a large congregation at what is primarily an entertainment venue. After discovering that the main building of Flora-Bama did not have the Tennessee Titans football game on TV, we walked across the street to the Ole River Grill and joined several other fans to watch the Titans beat the Colts. On Sunday evening, Donna and John invited us to their RV for lasagna.

Monday was largely spent on domestic duties but Donna and John came over in the afternoon to play games. We introduced them to Farkle and they brought Taboo.

On Thursday, December 6th, we returned to Flora-Bama for our last chance this year to play Bingo. This time, Phil won a game. Jan had been enlisted to serve as the judge but we swear that didn’t impact Phil’s win.

On Friday, three of Jan’s childhood friends, Sheila, Michelle and Helena, arrived for the weekend. It was a group birthday celebration, as all four women had turned 60 this year. They rented a condo in Gulf Shores overlooking the beach and Jan joined them for their stay. The four friends enjoyed the next three days; shopping, dining and laughing. They played Farkel every night.

Traveling to Gulf Shores, AL (October 26 – November 1, 2019)

On Saturday, October 26th, we drove 215 miles to Gadsden, AL where we spent three nights at River Country Campground. The weather forecast had called for strong rainstorms to begin around noon so we got up early and were on the road by 9 a.m. With gaining an hour crossing back into the Central time zone, we were able to arrive by noon. Fortunately, the weather forecast had improved by then and we were able to get set up before the rain arrived. The campground is on the banks of the Coosa River and we had a beautiful view of the river from our living room window.

On Sunday we visited Noccalula Falls Park and hiked five miles. We began our hike on Black Creek Trail, a wide gravel walking path that runs parallel to Black Creek but quite a distance above the creek. After a mile, we detoured down to the creek and found a more rugged trail. This trail was much more fun, as it required a lot of climbing over rocks and up hillsides. We first followed the trail to a suspension bridge over the creek.

We then continued down the trail to the falls. When we reached the falls, we were able to go part way behind the falls but the slick rocks kept us from going all the way.

The legend of Noccalula Falls, which appears to be true, originated during the period in which the white settlers in the southeastern states pushed the Cherokee Indians into northern Alabama, where they encroached on Creek Indian territory. The Cherokee chief promised his daughter, Noccalula, in marriage to a Creek sub-chief as a peace offering. However, Noccalula was in love with a Cherokee brave. Instead of being married, on her wedding day she jumped to her death on the rocks of the Black Creek falls. A statue of Noccaulua has been erected near the site where she is believed to have jumped.

On Monday afternoon we drove through “Historic Downtown Gadsden.” Although downtown Broad Street had quite a long strip of businesses, it has definitely seen better days and we didn’t see any reason to stop. Upon returning to the campground, we went for a long stroll on the riverwalk that wraps around the property along the Coosa River. We visited the boat slips and a small chapel with three rows of pews. There are many long-term residents in the campground and many of them have decorated their sites for Halloween.

On Tuesday we drove 195 miles to Greenville, AL where we spent three nights at Sherling Lake Campground. Sherling Lake is a campground owned by the town of Greenville and only costs $30 a night (tax included). It’s a small campground but one of the nicest we’ve stayed in. We had site #40, a full hookup pull-through with a concrete pad that was very level. It was raining when we arrived but stopped long enough for us to get set up. The rain started up again that evening and continued for most of the next two days so we didn’t get much opportunity to explore the park. Fortunately the rain had stopped on Friday morning when it was time for us to leave. We may return to this campground in December on our way back north.

October in Tennessee (October 11 – 26, 2019)

On Friday. October 11th, we drove to Baileyton, TN where we spent two nights at Baileyton KOA. Although the distance was only 223 miles and over interstate highways most of the way, it took us over 5.5 miles due to a GPS-caused wrong turn, a multi-vehicle accident and multiple lane closures leading to long delays.

On Saturday we celebrated four years of full-time RVing. In the past four years, we have driven over 45,000 miles and camped in 44 states and 4 Canadian provinces. Although it hasn’t always been trouble-free, the positives have greatly outweighed the negatives. We initially committed to three years but, right now, we don’t see any end in sight for this lifestyle.

We drove to nearby Greeneville, TN to visit the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site which honors the 17th president by preserving his tailor shop and homes. We began the day at the Visitor Center where we watched a video and viewed a number of exhibits. Learning about Andrew Johnson’s presidency seemed timely in light of current talk of impeaching a sitting U.S. president.

Andrew Johnson was born in 1808 in Raleigh, NC. His father died when he was 3 and left his family in poverty. Andrew’s mother apprenticed him and his brother to a tailor when he was nine. His apprenticeship contract required him to work until age 21. However, after throwing rocks at a young girl’s house to impress her and then being threatened with a lawsuit by the girl’s mother, he and his brother fled Raleigh and broke their apprenticeship contract. The tailor offered a reward but they evaded capture as they traveled through the Carolinas, Alabama and Tennessee. Andrew eventually settled in Greeneville and opened a tailor shop. This tailor shop is now preserved in a brick enclosure that is attached to the Visitor Center.

Although he had received limited education as an apprentice, Andrew became very committed to learning. His wife Eliza taught him writing and mathematics and he joined debating clubs. By 1829 his tailor shop had become a popular gathering place for people to discuss current events and politics. Johnson’s interests turned to politics and he was elected alderman of Greeneville, then mayor. From then on, his rise was steady – to state representative, state senator and U.S. representative. In 1853 he was elected governor of Tennessee and was sent to the U.S. Senate in 1857. His political philosophy was based on a strict interpretation of the Constitution and a belief in states’ rights. This initially made him very popular with southern Democrats. However, Johnson believed that secession was unwise as well as unconstitutional.

In 1862, after Nashville was captured by Union forces, President Lincoln appointed Johnson as Tennessee’s military governor. For the general election in 1864, Republicans formed a coalition with those Democrats who supported the Civil War. They re-nominated Abraham Lincoln and chose Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, as his running mate. Johnson became president on April 15, 1885, following Lincoln’s assassination.

President Johnson clashed with the overwhelmingly Republican Congress, mostly over issues related to Reconstruction. He was opposed to Republican plans to impose military rule and black suffrage on the South, both of which he considered unconstitutional. Johnson vetoed a total of 29 bills, based on the grounds that Congress had overstepped its constitutional authority, but Congress overturned 15 of these. One of these was the Tenure of Office Act which forbade a president from removing, without consent of the Senate, federal office holders previously confirmed by the Senate. Johnson considered this a violation of the executive power bestowed on the president by the Constitution.

The radicals in Congress had long been looking for grounds to remove Johnson from office. When Johnson removed the Secretary of War in 1868, he was impeached by the House. The Senate trial lasted nearly two months. With 54 members in the Senate in 1868, 36 votes were needed to convict. Among the Republicans, the radicals had 35 sure votes. They needed just one more vote. All nine Democrats and three moderate Republicans sided with Johnson. There were seven undecided Senators who all ultimately voted “Not Guilty” and Johnson’s presidency was preserved. Johnson’s acquittal had great consequences for the future of the United States. Had Johnson been convicted, a dangerous precedent would have been set, allowing for removing a president from office for trivial reasons, such as political unpopularity. Interestingly, the Tenure of Office Act was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1926, thus vindicating Andrew Johnson.

Johnson returned to Greeneville in 1869, after Ulysses Grant was inaugurated. However, in January 1875, he was chosen to serve Tennessee in the U.S. Senate, making him the first ex-president to have done so. He died of a stroke six months later. His wife, Eliza, lived six months longer than Andrew, despite having suffered with tuberculosis for 40 years. She had passed her illness on to all five of their children, as well as the grandchildren, but Andrew never did contract the disease.

After leaving the Visitor Center, we walked to the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery. Johnson chose to be buried atop a hill which he owned. He was buried wrapped in a US flag and with a copy of the Constitution resting beneath his head. His wife, their immediate family, and many descendants are also buried in this family plot. His gravesite remains an active military National Cemetery.

We then returned for a guided tour of the Johnson homestead which they had purchased in 1851. Although Tennessee came under Union rule in 1862, east Tennessee was still occupied by Confederates. Eliza and the children escaped through the enemy lines. The Confederates confiscated the house and used it as a hospital and army headquarters. As a sign of their displeasure with Johnson’s pro-Union stance, they left the house’s plaster walls covered in graffiti. The family did not return to the house until Johnson’s presidential term ended in 1869.

Our final stop in Greeneville was at the Johnson’s first home, which they owned from the 1830s until 1851.

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The Johnson’s first home in Greeneville

After leaving Greeneville, we drove a few miles to Limestone, TN and visited David Crockett Birthplace State Park. The park housed an 18th century farmstead which featured a replica cabin of the type Davy Crockett might have lived in, animal paddocks and costumed living history interpreters. We particularly enjoyed watching the wildly-plumed fowl and the snoring hogs.

On Sunday we drove 233 miles to Nashville where we spent five nights at the Seven Points Corp of Engineers campground. Our drive was very similar to Friday’s. Although almost the entire trip was on interstate highways, the trip took 5.5 hours due to two long traffic delays.

On Tuesday we visited The Hermitage, the plantation home of Andrew Jackson, the 7th president of the United States, and his wife Rachel from 1804 until their deaths. We watched a video and then viewed exhibits dealing with his life.

Andrew Jackson was born in 1767. His father died three weeks before he was born. Jackson’s eldest brother, Hugh, died during a Revolutionary War battle in 1779. Jackson and his elder brother, Robert, began to help the local militia as couriers and they were taken as prisoners in 1780. Robert and his mother died from disease during the war, leaving Andrew an orphan at age 14 and strongly anti-British.

After unsuccessful efforts as a saddle-maker and schoolteacher, Andrew studied law under the tutelage of an attorney and was admitted to the bar in 1787. He got appointed as a prosecutor in the Western District of North Carolina, which would later become the state of Tennessee. He moved to the small frontier town of Nashville and met Rachel Donelson Robards. Rachel was in an unhappy marriage and had separated from her husband in 1790. Andrew married Rachel in 1791, although her divorce had not been finalized, thus making the marriage bigamous and invalid. Although they did remarry in 1794 when the divorce was finalized, the first marriage would be a source of controversy as Andrew began his political career.

When Tennessee achieved statehood in 1796, Jackson was elected as it’s only U.S. Representative. He was elected as U.S. Senator in 1797 but resigned the following year. He then served on the Tennessee Supreme Court until 1804.

Although he lacked military experience, Jackson had been appointed a major general of the Tennessee militia in 1802. During the War of 1812, he led U.S. troops in the defeat of British-allied Creek Indians, ultimately resulting in the addition of present-day Georgia and Alabama. Despite being outnumbered two-to-one, he led the defeat of the British at the Battle of New Orleans, the last major engagement of the War of 1812. Jackson was hailed as a national hero. He was ordered back into service in 1817 and, exceeding his orders, invaded Spanish-controlled Florida. Although criticized by many in Congress and President Monroe’s cabinet, his actions ultimately led to Florida being ceded to the U.S.

Jackson’s military exploits made him a rising political star. He was elected to the U.S. Senate again in 1823 and ran for President in 1824. Though Jackson won the popular vote, no candidate gained a majority of Electoral College vote, which threw it to the House of Representatives to select the President from among the top three electoral vote getters. Even though Henry Clay didn’t make it into the top three, as Speaker of the House he had enough influence to sway the outcome in favor of John Quincy Adams. When Adams then named Clay as Secretary of State, it appeared to Jackson and many others that these two had struck a “corrupt bargain” to defraud the American people of the president they wanted.

The 1928 election was extremely nasty. Adams’ supporters criticized Jackson’s military record as proof of his tendency to revoke people’s rights and they seized on his marriage to Rachel as proof of his immorality. Although Jackson won in a landslide, the jubilation turned to grief when Rachel died 19 days later. For the rest of his life, Jackson blamed Rachel’s death on the slanders hurled at her during the campaign. Jackson was reelected easily in 1832 over Henry Clay.

Jackson’s two terms as president were marked by both good and bad. He survived the threat of South Carolina secession over high tariffs. He dismantled the Bank of the United States, which had held all the federal funds despite being privately owned. He utilized the power of the veto more broadly than any previous president, using it to shape his policy. He became the only U.S. president to pay off the entire national debt. While Jackson championed the causes of the common man and became known as the “people’s president,” this was only true for white people. In 1830, Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act which forcibly relocated most Native American tribes in the South to Indian Territory. He opposed the abolitionist movement, which grew stronger in his second term.

In 1835, Jackson was the target of the first U.S. presidential assassination attempt. A deranged house painter pointed two pistols at him but both misfired. Interestingly, when both guns were tested later, they fired perfectly.

Following his two terms in office, Jackson returned to the Hermitage and began putting it back in order. It had been managed badly in his absence by his adopted son. He remained highly influential in national and state politics for the remainder of his life. He died in 1845, at the age of 78, and was buried next to Rachel at the Hermitage.

After viewing the exhibits, we took a guided tour of the mansion, begun in 1821 and expanded in 1831 and 1834. After Andrew Jackson’s death, his adopted son’s gambling debts forced the sale of the Hermitage to the state of Tennessee. It was opened as a museum in 1889 and 95% of the furnishings on display are originals. The interior of the mansion is quite ornate and the rooms are very large. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed inside the mansion.

After touring the mansion, we strolled the grounds and gardens of the estate. Throughout our walk, we used audio devises that provided details regarding each stop. The plantation, which eventually totaled 1,050 acres, primarily grew cotton and was worked by up to 150 slaves. We were able to see the site of the Jacksons’ simple cabin where they lived from 1804 until 1821, later converted to slave quarters. We walked through Rachel Jackson’s garden and visited the tomb where Andrew and Rachel are buried.

On Wednesday Jan went to Cheekwood Estate and Gardens with Jess, Sheila and Michelle. Cheekwood is an extraordinary 1930s estate with a Georgian mansion and 55 acres of cultivated gardens and expansive vistas. They enjoyed touring the museum and walking through the botanical gardens that were decorated for the autumnal season.

On Thursday we went to Long Hunter State Park and hiked the 4-mile Day Loop Trail. Most of the trail was within a few hundred feet of J. Percy Priest Lake. That evening, we met Jason, Jarrod and Jess in downtown Nashville and had Chicago-style deep dish pizza at Gino’s East, one of our favorite pizza restaurants when we lived in the Chicago area.

On Friday we moved 25 miles to Grand Ole RV Resort in Goodlettsville, TN where we spent two nights. Jan enjoyed the afternoon with her cousin Lori. Jason and Jarrod came by in the evening. After listening to the live entertainment at the campground, we had dinner and then introduced the guys to the game Farkle.

On Saturday we went to La-Z-Boy and ordered a couple of recliners to replace the ones we have sat in for the past four years. We will take delivery when we return to Goodlettsville in mid-December. We had been looking at recliners for almost a year but had had difficulty finding good quality furniture that would fit in our RV. Jason and Jarrod came over again for dinner and another game of Farkle.

On Sunday, October 20th, we drove 205 miles to Heiskell, TN where we overnighted at the Escapees’ Raccoon Valley campground. We have stayed at this campground numerous times when we have service appointments with our RV dealer in Knoxville.

Monday morning we drove 25 miles to RVs for Less for service. We had submitted a list of 12 issues that needed to be addressed. We never have any idea how long the repairs will take so we just plan to stay on the dealer’s lot for however long it takes. In the past we’ve had to wait for the service people to finish work for other customers but, this trip, they got right to work on our rig. We did spend Monday night on the lot but, by early Tuesday afternoon, they had finished nine of the 12 items on our list, as well as an additional item that was identified while we were there. Parts needed to be ordered for two of the remaining issues and, since the parts wouldn’t arrive until Friday, we needed to find a place to stay for the next three nights. Late October is a very popular time to visit the Smokies due to the fall foliage so, when we had to find last minute reservations in the area, it proved very challenging. We tried 12 campgrounds before we were able to find an opening at Big Meadow Family Campground in Townsend, TN. The only condition was that we had to agree to move sites after the first night. So, after spending Tuesday night in site 64, the owner brought a tractor to our site on Wednesday morning and moved our rig to site 61 for the final two nights. The move required backing out of our site and around a tree so we were glad to let him do it for us.

After getting set up in our new site, we drove to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and, armed with our bear spray, hiked the 4.5-mile Walker Sisters Cabin Trail. It was a beautiful day for a hike and, although the trees were not as colorful as usual due to the dry summer, the trail was still quite scenic.  We did not see any bears but we did spot a deer.

The story of the Walker sisters’ cabin is very interesting. John Walker, a Union Army veteran, and his wife, Margaret, moved onto the homestead in 1870 and raised 11 children there. When John died in 1921, the property was deeded to six spinster sisters (one died 10 years later) who continued to live there. In 1926, Congress authorized creation of the national park, allowing North Carolina and Tennessee to buy nearly half a million acres, most of which were privately owned. Parcels of land were purchased from families and timber companies. However, the Walker sisters refused to leave their mountain home. Finally, with the dedication of the park in 1940 and facing a condemnation suit, the sisters agreed to receive $4,750 for their land and the right to live out the rest of their lives at their home. It seems like the sisters got the last laugh. In 1946 the Saturday Evening Post published a feature article about the sisters. This led to a steady stream of tourists and a source of income for the sisters. One of the sisters died in 1962, at age 92, and the last surviving sister died two years later, at age 82. The cabin, as well as a corn crib and springhouse, are still standing.

Before reaching the Walker cabin, we reached the Little Greenbrier one-room schoolhouse which John Walker helped build in 1882. The building continued to serve as the community school for over 50 years, until 1935. Because there was so much work to be done on the farms during warm months, classes were only held in the winter for 2-3 months. The building also doubled as a Primitive Baptist church until 1925, with the church’s cemetery in an adjoining lot.

After completing our hike, we drove to nearby Gatlinburg and had an early dinner and did some shopping.

On Thursday we returned to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and drove Cades Cove Loop Road. A “cove” is a relatively flat valley between mountain ridges. Native Americans had visited Cades Cove for thousands of years but Europeans first began to settle the Cove in 1818. The population reached 685 in 1850, then crashed to 275 in 1860, before growing to 708 in 1900. In 1927, the states of Tennessee and North Carolina began to buy out the farmers, either willingly or unwillingly, to provide land for the national park. For over 100 years, travelers had entered and left the Cove by five narrow unpaved roads. When the national park was formed, the 11-mile, one-way Cades Cove Loop Road was built on the general route as a formerly unpaved two-lane road. Due to the popularity of the loop road, especially during peak tourist seasons like now, traffic moved around the loop very slowly. Scattered along the loop road are three churches, a working grist mill, barns, log houses, and many other faithfully restored 18th and 19th century structures. We had driven the loop previously so we didn’t visit all the stops this time. We mostly just enjoyed the scenery and fall colors. We did spot deer, wild turkeys and a hawk but were disappointed that we did not see any bears.

The weather forecast for Friday called for rain starting at noon so we got going early and returned to RVs for Less by 10 a.m. The rain held off long enough for them to install two new ceiling fans before noon. When the rain stopped later in the afternoon, they finished the few remaining repairs. Since we knew it would be futile to try to find an open campsite on a weekend night in the area, we got permission to spend another night on the dealer’s lot.

 

Two New States – Maryland & West Virginia (September 30 – October 11, 2019)

On Monday, September 30th, we drove 110 miles to Flintstone in western Maryland. We spent four nights at Rocky Gap State Park. Our reservation was in the one loop out of 11 that has electric but it had no water, nor sewer hookup. This required us to bring a full 100-gallon tank of fresh water with us from Gettysburg, PA. The drive was uneventful until we arrived at the state park. We had both entered the address of the state park in our GPS’s. Unfortunately this led us into a newly paved parking lot by the beach. When Phil checked the park office, he found a sign that said that the office had moved. Getting out of the narrow parking lot was a challenge and one of the trailer tires sunk deep in the ground. When we finally reached the campground, the registration office was closed. Phil dialed the number posted on the office window and a park ranger arrived quickly. When we reached our pull-through site, we discovered that it had a tight curve and there were numerous low branches in our way. Phil ended up climbing on the roof with a saw and branch trimmer. He spent about 45 minutes clearing lots of the branches above us, while Jan stayed on the ground and attempted to hide the evidence of our sawed branches. After clearing the branches, we moved our rig back and forth numerous times until we could find a spot that was fairly level and close enough to reach the power receptacle. It was about 91 degrees and humid so we were rather worn out by the time we got set up. The campground only had 30 amp hookups so we were limited to running one air conditioner.

Tuesday was another hot day, with a high of 89 degrees. We attempted to escape the heat of the afternoon by driving to nearby Cumberland, MD and visiting Wal-Mart and going to the movies. We cooked our dinner in the crockpot but discovered that running the crockpot and one air conditioner exceeded our 30 amps.

Wednesday was just as hot, with another day of 89 degrees. Phil spent about an hour that morning on our ladder cutting down more branches that would have been in our way when we attempted to leave the campsite on Friday. After noon, we drove through the campground and explored the beach area. It was a beautiful beach and the views were very nice. Unfortunately the heat kept us from spending much time exploring the area.

We then drove to the neighboring Rocky Gap Casino and enjoyed the air conditioning. We picked up our new member cards, which gave us each $5 for betting and $10 in food credits. We played the slot machines and walked away with net winnings of $64 and a free meal.

On Thursday we drove to Cumberland and boarded the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad for a 3-hour train ride. The journey took us from Cumberland to Frostburg where we had the opportunity to watch the locomotive turn around on the turntable and then explore downtown Frostburg. It was another hot day but the railcars were wonderfully air-conditioned and the scenery was beautiful. The narrator did a good job of pointing out the sights along the way and explaining the history of the railway. Leaving Cumberland, the route traveled west through a breach in the Allegheny Mountains over an iron truss bridge, around Helmstetter’s Horseshoe Curve and through the 914 foot Brush Tunnel under Piney Mountain. The 16-mile trek was uphill all the way, climbing grades up to 2.8%. In fact, there is a bike path beside the tracks and several passengers chose to bring their bikes on the ride to Frostburg and then coasted back downhill to Cumberland. Upon our return to Cumberland, we strolled through the small downtown shopping district.

Friday was our day to depart Maryland and head to West Virginia. Fortunately the heat wave had broken and the temperature was back in the 60s. Despite Phil’s effort on Wednesday to clear the low-hanging branches on the way out of our campsite, we still found that we were penned in between large branches on both sides. After several failed attempts to maneuver a path between the branches, Jan called the park ranger for assistance. She was told that state law prohibited them from cutting down any live trees but they would come out to take a look. The first two rangers who arrived were unable to solve our dilemma so they called for backup. Finally they put a belt around one of the large tree branches and winched it with their pickup truck. This was enough to move the branch about a foot away from our trailer and, with the other rangers pulling on some of the smaller branches, Phil was able to get our rig out of the campsite with no damage. It had taken us over an hour to escape but we were very glad to get underway.

We drove 210 miles to the small town of Mount Nebo in south central West Virginia where we spent a week at Summersville Lake Retreat. Most of the drive was on interstate highways but involved lots of ascents and descents of the hillsides. Our campsite in West Virginia was about the polar opposite of the one we’d just left in Maryland. We had a long pull-through site that was easy to access and had no obstacles. We also were excited to have 50 amp electric again, as well as having water and sewer at our site and the ability to use our satellite TV. We had spectacular views of Summersville Lake from the front of our site and a lighthouse from our living room windows.

With our stays in Maryland and West Virginia, we reached a total of 44 states in which we have camped in the past four years. We are now only missing Hawaii, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware and New Jersey. We have no plans to visit any of these states any time soon.

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Updated map showing states in which we have camped

On Saturday we headed out to explore the campground. The map showed a trail that would have taken us to Summersville Lake but, when we reached the trailhead, we saw a sign that said the trail was temporarily closed. We later learned from the camp host that an ongoing property dispute with one of the neighbors had caused the trail closure. Fortunately the host had gone to high school in this area so she was able to recommend several other places we could explore.

Jan’s car was filthy after sitting under the trees for four days in Maryland so we first stopped at a car wash in Summersville. Then, after a visit to Wal-Mart, we headed out to check on some of the sites the host had recommended. We stopped at the Long Point Overlook which provided a great view of Summersville Lake. The water level was quite low. We attempted to climb down a hill to the water but it was quite steep and the fallen leaves made the footing rather slippery. After getting part way down the hill, we abandoned our efforts and moved on.

We next stopped at the Summersville Dam. This U.S. Army Corp of Engineers project, completed in 1966, is the 2nd highest earthen dam in the Eastern U.S. It is 390 feet high and 2,280 feet long. The Gauley River located below the dam is among the world’s best whitewater runs.  We then stopped at Battle Run State Park and explored the beach and fishing pier areas. The water level was so low that the sandy beach ended a long distance from the lake.

Our final stop for the day was at the Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park. This was the site of an important Civil War battle in September 1861. Although the Union army suffered more casualties, their victory here led to the eventual Confederate withdrawal from western Virginia and enabled the movement for West Virginia statehood to proceed. We hiked a portion of the Patterson Trail that took us through a ravine where two Union soldiers had been killed, and 30 wounded, as a result of friendly fire in the darkness of the thick woods.

Sunday’s weather forecast called for rain most of the day and, although it never did rain hard, the day was extremely overcast and kept us homebound watching football. On Monday we decided we weren’t going to let another rainy day forecast keep us inside. However, as we headed to Wal-Mart, the skies opened up and we ended up driving through torrential rains and strong winds. We only had one small umbrella in the car and it was not adequate for our needs. It rained most of the afternoon, causing us to scrap our plans for grilling our dinner.

Tuesday’s forecast called for the rain to hold off until about 2 p.m. so we thought it would be safe to venture out early. Once again, the weather forecast was unreliable and we dealt with drizzle on and off most of the day. We headed out in the morning to visit the New River Gorge National River, about 15 miles south of our campground. The New River is not new. In fact, it is one of the oldest rivers in the world, older than the Appalachian Mountains themselves. New River Gorge National River is managed by the National Park Service who protect and preserve 53 miles of the New River, as well as over 77,000 acres of the magnificent gorge this river created.

Our first stop was at the Canyon Rim Visitor Center where we watched a film on the history of the area and looked at exhibits dealing with the coal mining industry that supported the locals for many generations. In 1873, the arrival of the C&O Railway opened this wilderness area to coal mining. By 1905, thirteen towns had sprung up between Fayette Station and Thurmond, 15 miles upstream. A landowner or mining company would open a coal mine and build company-owned houses and a store, creating a company town. Decades later, when the coal seam was exhausted or the mine closed due to changes in the marketplace, people moved away and these towns were ultimately deserted. Today, the New River Gorge is known for its scenic beauty and excellent whitewater activities.