On Sunday, June 12th, we drove 61 miles to Gordonville, PA, where we spent six nights at Country Acres Campground. We had been looking forward to exploring the Amish communities in Lancaster County and visiting some of the many restaurants, shops and bakeries. Gordonville was located between the towns of Paradise and Bird-in-Hand.
On Monday, we drove into Lancaster. We had lunch at Cava, a Mediterranean fast-casual restaurant. Jan had the Crispy Falafel and Phil had the Spicy Lamb Meatball Pita. We then located Wheatland, the home of President James Buchanan, but opted not to do the tour. Instead, we visited Gish’s Furniture and spent an hour looking at high-quality Amish furniture. All the furniture was solidly constructed, using only hardwoods. There were many beautiful pieces, but the prices were quite high. After doing our grocery shopping, we returned to the campground and spotted two of our friends from our 2018 Alaskan caravan, Ken and Cathy Bentz, arriving. After they got set up, Ken and Cathy dropped by and we had a nice time getting caught up on each other’s lives.
On Tuesday, we drove with the Bentz’s to the Sight & Sound Theater in nearby Ronks, PA for a musical stage production, telling the Biblical story of David. Upon our arrival, we met up with Tom and Trish Lehr, also from the Alaskan trip. The Sight & Sound Theater was unlike any we had ever seen. The center stage itself was enormous, with sets towering up to 40 feet high (including a 22’ Goliath), but, in addition, stages on both sides made us feel like we were in the middle of the action. Adding to this feeling were the many live animals (goats, sheep, horses, camels and birds) who raced down the aisles during the show. The production also made extensive use of special effects to add to the performance by the 50-person cast.
After the show, we drove to the Fireside Tavern, where we had dinner with the Bentz’s and Lehrs and celebrated Phil’s 68th birthday. After dinner, we returned to our rig and enjoyed some birthday blueberry pie and ice cream.
Unfortunately, later Tuesday evening, Phil developed a high fever and various other symptoms. When the fever continued through the night, we headed to Urgent Care on Wednesday morning. It was quickly confirmed that Phil tested positive for Covid. The Urgent Care was unable to prescribe anything and advised Phil to contact his PCP. Phil’s doctor was unavailable on Wednesday but Phil was able to set up a telemedicine appointment for Thursday at noon. Following the Thursday appointment, Phil’s PCP issued a prescription for Paxlovid. However, due to communication issues between the doctor’s office and the Walgreen’s in Lancaster, it took several phone calls and four hours to get the prescription filled.
In the meantime, Jan became very ill. After testing positive, using at-home test kits, for both Covid and a UTI, Jan headed to Urgent Care on Friday. Once again, Urgent Care could not prescribe anything for Covid but Jan was able to get an antibiotic for the UTI. Unfortunately, Jan’s PCP was unavailable so she was never able to get anything prescribed for Covid.
On Saturday, June 18th, it was time was us to leave Lancaster County and drive to our new location. Since neither of us were really feeling well, Phil tried to extend our stay. However, given that it was a Saturday at a popular location, we were not surprised that no extension was available. We were very disappointed to leave the area, having only experienced trips to Urgent Care and Walgreens over the previous three days. We had scheduled a Amish farmland tour for Thursday but had to miss that.
We managed to make the 216-mile drive to New Stanton, PA (35 miles SW of Pittsburgh) without incident. We checked-in at Fox Den Acres Campground for our weeklong stay. We were glad we wouldn’t have to go anywhere for a while. Our site was a 120’-long pull-through site so we had plenty of room.
We didn’t do much for the rest of the weekend, other than watching the US Open golf tournament. By Monday morning, we had both gone 24 hours fever-free, making us no longer contagious for Covid. However, still feeling fatigued from the ordeal, we continued to take it easy.
On Tuesday, we felt well enough to drive to Pittsburgh’s PNC Park to watch the Chicago Cubs take on the Pittsburgh Pirates. We had great seats, about 14 rows away from the field. Phil wore his Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series Championship t-shirt but, alas, these are not the 2016 Cubs. The Cubs were losing 5-0 after three innings and ended up losing 7-1.
On Thursday, we returned to PNC Park for an afternoon game. We had great seats, directly behind home plate. However, after sitting in the hot sun for a couple of innings, we moved back to find some shade. Unlike games at Wrigley Field, there were plenty of empty seats, so that was no problem. After giving up two homeruns, committing four errors and stranding four runners at third base, the Cubs were losing 6-2 at the end of the 7th inning. However, the Cubs then scored five runs in the 8th to take the lead. Unfortunately, the Pirates’ next batter hit the first pitch over the centerfield wall to tie the game. After the Cubs’ runner was thrown out at the plate in the top of the 10th, the Pirates scored to win, 8-7.
Over the next 13 days, we camped in four of the Middle Atlantic states. Our first stop was in Rockwood, PA, where we spent six nights at Hickory Hollow Campground. The drive to Rockwood on Memorial Day, May 30th, was supposed to be 206 miles but, due to a couple of wrong turns which necessitated a couple of challenging u-turns, we added an additional 40 miles. Phil purchased $100 of diesel at the Pennsylvania Turnpike service plaza at $6.18 per gallon. Given that we only get about 9 mpg when towing, this is ridiculously expensive.
On Tuesday, we toured Fallingwater in Mill Run, PA, designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The house was built partly over a waterfall as a vacation home for the Edgar J. Kaufmann family, owners of Pittsburgh’s largest department store. Fallingwater exemplifies Wright’s philosophy of organic architecture: the harmonious union of art and nature. In addition to the house, Wright designed 90% of the furniture. The main house was built mostly by local craftspeople in 1936-1938, followed by the guest house construction in 1939. It is listed among Smithsonian’s Life’s list of 28 places “to visit before you die.” In 1991, members of the American Institute of Architects named the house the “best all-time work of American architecture.”
On our drive home, we visited two of the ten remaining covered bridges in Somerset County: King’s and Barronvale.
On Wednesday, we visited the Flight 93 National Memorial. This memorial honors the courage of the 40 passengers and crew members on United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001. Four al Qaeda terrorists had hijacked this flight, headed from Boston to San Francisco, and had turned the plane back toward their target in Washington, DC, either the Capitol or the White House. Passengers and crew began phoning family, friends and authorities to report the hijacking and learned of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. Realizing that their plane was part of a planned attack, the passengers and crew made a collective decision, by vote, to rush the terrorists and try to retake the plane. The terrorists ended up crashing the plane, inverted and at 565 mph with 5,500 gallons of jet fuel still on board, into an open field several miles from Shanksville, PA, 18 minutes flying time short of Washington, DC.
Our first stop was at the Visitor Center, where they have outstanding displays detailing, event-by-event, the happenings of that day, including a lot of broadcast videos. One of the more emotional displays enabled us to listen to three messages passengers had left on answering machines. Another display had pictures of the 40 passengers and crew members and contained each person’s profile, family pictures and mementoes from their life.
We then walked the trail through the 40 Memorial Groves to the impact site (marked by a boulder) and debris field. We viewed the Wall of Names at Memorial Plaza, where the names of the passengers and crew members are engraved on a white marble wall.
Our final stop at the memorial was the 93-foot-tall Tower of Voices, which contains 40 large wind chimes. On our drive home, we stopped at the Trostletown Covered Bridge.
On Friday, we drove to Johnstown, PA and visited the Johnstown Flood Museum. We learned a great deal about the May 31, 1889 flood that left 2,206 people dead after the catastrophic failure of the South Fork Dam, 14 miles upstream from Johnstown.
The huge, earthen South Fork Dam, once part of the state’s canal system, had suffered from decades of neglect. In 1879, a group of wealthy Pittsburgh industrialists and businessmen bought the dam and the surrounding land and created a resort where its members could hunt and fish on weekends and summers. By 1889, the club had 66 members (including Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon), 16 private summer homes and a large clubhouse. The new owners not only failed to make adequate repairs to the dam, but seriously compromised safety features from the original design. Downstream, the town of Johnstown was an industrial hub and had a population of 30,000, largely Welsh and German immigrants. Cambria Iron Works employed 7,000.
On May 31, 1889, heavy rains led to the dam holding back 20 million gallons of water before it collapsed. This is equivalent to the volume of water that goes over Niagara Falls in 36 minutes. Within 10 minutes, four square miles of downtown Johnstown were completely destroyed and 1 out of every 10 people living in the affected areas were killed.
The museum is located in the former Cambria Library, built after the flood to replace the original library on the site, using funds donated by Andrew Carnegie. This library was one of the first of more than 2,500 Carnegie-funded libraries in the world. The first floor holds exhibits about the flood and its aftermath, including a relief map that illustrates the path of the flood down the narrow valley, using light and sound effects. The second floor holds a theater showing a 26-minute Academy Award-winning documentary about the flood. The third floor features an elegant gymnasium and running track, which we were told is common in many Carnegie libraries. The museum also has a replica of an Oklahoma house, one of the 310 prefab houses created to shelter people left homeless by the flood.
After leaving the museum, we strolled through the Downtown Johnstown Historic District. Although the district includes ten buildings that survived the flood (including the Methodist church), the majority date from 1890 – 1930.
As we drove out of town, we passed the Johnstown Inclined Plane. This plane was built in 1891 as an evacuation route in the event of another flood. There have been five more major floods in Johnstown since 1889, including one in 1977 which claimed 88 lives. Initially, it was used to transport people, horses and wagons up Yoder Hill, which has a steep 70.9% grade. It is now used to transport cars and motorcycles, and their passengers, up the hill. Unfortunately, it is currently being refurbished, so we didn’t get to experience the ride.
On Sunday, June 5th, we drove 115 miles to Williamsport, MD where we spent two nights at the Hagerstown / Antietam Battlefield KOA. The roads to the campground were quite narrow and tree-lined but, fortunately, there was no opposing traffic so Phil was able to straddle the middle line for most of the 2-mile drive.
On Monday, we drove to Sharpsburg, MD and visited the site of the Civil War Battle of Antietam, which remains the bloodiest day in American history. Twelve hours of fighting on September 17, 1862 left nearly 23,000 soldiers dead, wounded or missing. This is four times as many American casualties as suffered on D-Day. 7,650 American soldiers were killed. The battle was between Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Union Gen. George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. It was the first battle in the Eastern Theater of the Civil War to take place on Union soil. Although most historians consider the battle to be a stalemate, the Union claimed it a victory. Abraham Lincoln, who had delayed issuing the Emancipation Proclamation during a series of Union defeats, seized on this battle to issue the proclamation shortly thereafter. Interestingly, the Emancipation Proclamation did not free slaves held in Maryland, since Maryland had remained in the Union. The perception of a Union victory and Lincoln’s proclamation dissuaded the governments of France and Britain from recognizing the Confederacy.
Upon arriving at the Visitors Center, we watched a 30-minute video detailing the fighting at Antietam. It was very disconcerting to watch numerous lines of soldiers charging at each other, despite being under heavy gunfire, and seeing soldiers dropping like flies.
After leaving the Visitor Center, we did the 11-stop driving tour of the battlefield. We got out and explored several of the stops. We climbed the steep steps of the Observation Tower, built by the War Department in 1896.
Our final stop was at the Antietam National Cemetery, where 4,776 Union soldiers (more than one-third of them unknown) and 261 veterans of later wars are buried. Although both Union and Confederate soldiers had originally been buried in mass graves where they had fallen, only Union soldiers were reinterred in the National Cemetery. Confederate soldiers were reinterred elsewhere in MD and WV.
On Tuesday, we drove 205 miles to Rehoboth Beach, DE where we spent three nights at the Delaware Seashore State Park. The drive was much slower than usual, as it took us across the Bay Bridge and through a lot of small towns in Maryland and Delaware. The last 10 miles toward Rehoboth Beach had a seemingly endless number of traffic lights. Our campsite was barely large enough to hold all our vehicles, but we can’t complain when we are within a short walk of the Atlantic Ocean. Delaware is the 47th state in which we’ve camped over the past seven years.
On Wednesday, we walked to the beach and strolled up and down the shore. It was a beautiful day. The beach was fairly empty, probably not surprising for mid-week in early June.
On Friday, we drove 129 miles to Clarksboro, NJ, where we spent two nights at the Clarksboro / Philadelphia South KOA.
On Saturday, we drove to Haddon Heights, NJ and attended Phil’s 50th high school reunion. We arrived in Haddon Heights early, so Phil gave Jan a quick tour around the town. The reunion was held at the Sons of Italy lodge and was catered by Anthony’s Restaurant. There were about 60 attendees, including quite a few of Phil’s close friends, most of whom he hadn’t seen in over 45 years. Phil was surprised to see Gene Piontkowski, his college roommate for 3 ½ years, and his wife, Beth. Phil had located Gene and let him know about the reunion but hadn’t thought he would be attending. Phil’s childhood best friend, Bill Loder, and his wife, Cindy, were also there. Phil was the best man in their wedding but hadn’t seen the Loders in over 35 years.
On Tuesday, May 24th, we began our 206-mile drive to Wytheville, VA (pronounced WITH-ville), where we would spend three nights at the Wytheville KOA.
About 80 miles into the drive, Phil received a phone call from the title company in Jasper, TN. He learned that the teller who had prepared the cashier’s check for our closing on Friday had failed to sign the check. No one had noticed this omission until the title company’s bank was unable to process the check. It took us several phone calls to get this handled but, eventually, a banker at the Knoxville, TN office of US Bank (other than the one who prepared the check) arranged to have a manager from a branch about 25 miles from Jasper drive to the title company and sign the check. It took several hours to get this done but we were very relieved to hear that this crisis had been resolved.
Upon our arrival at the Wytheville KOA, Jan remembered that we had stayed there before. Our visit to downtown Wytheville on Wednesday brought back memories of the Zombie Bash we had stumbled across when visiting there in October 2016. After stopping at the Visitor’s Center and picking up the 65-page booklet, Wytheville’s Historic Walking Tour, we walked one of the seven designated walking loops, along West Main Street. The town was created in 1790 and has done a good job of maintaining its historical heritage. We ate lunch at the 7Dogs Brewpub.
On Friday, May 27th, we drove 187 miles to New Market, VA where we spent the Memorial Day weekend at the Endless Caverns RV Campground. We had overnighted at this campground in October 2020 but had not had time to visit the caves.
We toured the Endless Caverns on Saturday afternoon. These caverns were discovered by two boys in 1879 while hunting rabbits. Tours began shortly thereafter. Our tour lasted 75 minutes and covered nearly a mile, Virginia’s longest commercial cave tour. Endless Caverns is a limestone solution mine. Water has slowly washed away the softer minerals, leaving passages and rooms behind. Endless Caverns is more cave-like than other show caves we have visited, with narrow crevices instead of wide walkways. The walkways were quite slick and steep in many areas, often requiring us to hold onto the handrails. The cave system still has areas that have not yet been explored. The furthest exploration, done in the 1960s, went 6.5 miles and the explorers turned back due to lack of food, rather than running out of cave.
On Sunday, we visited the Virginia Museum of the Civil War. This is the only state-owned Civil War museum in Virginia and is administered by the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). The site consists of three elements: the Civil War museum, the New Market battlefield and the historic Bushong farm. The museum focuses on the whole war in Virginia, with special attention paid to the Battle of New Market on May 15, 1864 and the role played by the Corp of Cadets from VMI.
In the Spring of 1864, General U.S. Grant sent Gen. Franz Sigel south in the Shenandoah Valley with 6,000 troops to cut off the railroad which was supplying Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army. The Confederate Commander in western Virginia was General John C. Breckinridge, who had served as Vice President from 1857-1861 and had come in second in the Electoral College to Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Gen. Breckinridge was hard pressed to find sufficient troops to meet the threat from Gen. Sigel’s advance, so he called on the untested Corp of Cadets from VMI. Half of these cadets were 18 years of age or younger; some as young as 15. The cadets marched 84 miles from Lexington in four days to join the fight. Gen. Breckinridge had not intended to use the cadets in actual battle. However, in the course of heavy fighting in the afternoon, the cadets were moved to the front line and heavily engaged. As the Union army retreated north, the cadets overran an artillery battery, capturing one cannon and many prisoners. Of the 247 cadets engaged, 57 were wounded, ten fatally.
After exploring the museum, we walked across the battlefield. Using a guide we obtained with our tickets, we gained an understanding as to what transpired at various points during the battle on the Bushong family’s farm and orchard. We were able to enter the Bushong’s farmhouse, where the family had sheltered in the basement while the battle raged around them. This house had also served as a hospital following the battle.
When we had arrived at our campground in Fletcher, NC on April 16th, Phil had heard a thud when he extended our bedroom slide. Further inspection failed to locate the source of the noise. However, as we prepared to leave NC on Tuesday, April 19th, the bedroom slide initially would only move a few inches. We checked to make sure there were no obstructions but found none. After several attempts to move the slide in and out, we were finally able to get the slide to fully retract, albeit with a horrendous banging sound each time the cable rotated. We had booked reservations for that night at Raccoon Valley RV Park in Heiskel, TN and had a service appointment at our dealer, RVs for Less, in Knoxville scheduled for Wednesday. Rather than risk not being able to open or close the slide at Raccoon Valley, Phil called our dealer and got the okay to go there directly. We drove the 133 miles from Fletcher, NC to Knoxville, TN and arrived in the early afternoon. Although they weren’t able to work on our issues that afternoon, we were able to get hooked up and extended our bedroom slide just far enough to squeeze down the hallway to the bedroom and bathroom.
On Wednesday, the service technicians were able to resolve most of our original issues but the bedroom slide issue proved to be a challenge. They determined that we needed a new gearbox and it had to be ordered. Although the part arrived late on Thursday afternoon, it was not installed until Friday morning. We were very relieved when we heard the sound of the slide moving in and out smoothly.
Since we had no way to predict how long the repairs would take, we had not booked our next campground. When our bill was ready by midday on Friday, we were faced with having to find an open spot on short notice. With campgrounds being extremely crowded these days, especially on the weekends, we struggled to find a vacancy. Fortunately, Ken Rife, the General Manager, offered us the opportunity to spend another night on their lot. Although most of the campgrounds we tried had no space available for Saturday night, we were able to book a site at Ballyhoo Family Campground in Crossville, TN.
On Saturday morning, we drove 89 miles to the campground. With the change to the Central time zone, we arrived at noon and got to relax all afternoon. The campground is in a nice setting, although the sites are rather tight. We had barely enough room to park our rig and the car on our site; the truck had to be parked in the overflow parking area. Being on the end site gave us a slightly larger than average yard, but it also put our picnic table only a few feet from the dump station. Fortunately, the campground was largely empty and there was no one using the dump station.
On Sunday, we took a drive around Crossville and the surrounding area. We had last stayed in Crossville in 2018 and things have grown up since then. We drove through The Gardens, a beautiful housing development where all the houses have garages large enough to hold the owners’ RVs, as well as their cars. We also drove through Fairfield Glade, a lovely community a few miles north of Crossville. Our friends, Cathy and Phil Schirtzinger, who we had met at Buckhorn Lake Resort in Kerrville, TX during the winters of 2016 and 2017, live in Fairfield Glade. On Monday afternoon, Phil played pickleball on the three indoor courts at the Central Baptist Church.
On Tuesday, we drove 100 miles to Lebanon, TN where we would spend a week at the Nashville East / Lebanon KOA. The first 65 miles went smoothly but then we hit bumper-to-bumper traffic. It took us nearly two hours to cover the next ten miles, all the result of having one lane closed for repaving. We were very fortunate to have stopped at the rest area just before hitting the congestion.
When we were setting up at the campground, we had a recurrence of the issue with our bedroom slide. It extended about one foot before stopping with a thud. Upon examination, we could see that the cables had gotten twisted tightly around each other. We retracted the slide a bit and were able to pry the cables apart using a ruler. After that, we were able to extend the slide with Jan keeping the cables properly aligned. Hopefully, we can baby this situation until we return to the dealer on May 17th.
On Wednesday, we did some exploring. After lunch at Bangkok Pad Thai, we drove to historic downtown Lebanon. We then drove through nearby Cedars of Lebanon State Park. Although about 20% of the campsites were occupied, the state park was quite dead and most of the facilities were closed. That evening, we drove to Nashville and took Jason and his housemate, Steve, out for dinner.
On Thursday evening, we toured the model homes at Southern Springs, a 55+ Del Webb community in Spring Hill, TN. If there is a polar opposite of a hard-sell, this was it. They only offer self-guided tours, which can only be scheduled in the early morning or after 6 pm, when the sales office is closed. We arrived shortly before our 7 pm appointment and drove through the development. We had first visited Southern Springs several years ago and the growth since then is amazing. They are currently finishing their seventh phase and are about to begin phase eight. The tour of the model homes was truly self-guided. We received a code via text message that got us in the houses and we never saw another soul. There was no information about pricing or availability. We attempted to visit the community center but entry required a pass card. After the tour, we received an email with a phone number to call for additional information but, other than that, there was no follow-up. Very strange!
Jason stayed with us on Friday and Saturday night. On Sunday afternoon, we drove to Murfreesboro to visit with Jan’s cousin, Lori Davis, and her husband, Bruce. That evening, we had dinner at the Cheesecake Factory in Nashville with Lizzi and her roommate, Amanda.
On Tuesday, May 3rd, we drove 139 miles to Rossville, GA (a suburb of Chattanooga, TN) where we spent four nights at Holiday Travel Park of Chattanooga. This campground is on the site of a Civil War battlefield. The North-South streets are named for Civil War officers. The streets at the North end are named for Union Commanders; the streets at the South end are named for Confederate Generals. The other streets are named for Civil War battles. Our site, #145, was a pull-through between Braxton Bragg Rd. and Nathan Bedford Forrest Dr.
We spent the next three days exploring the Jasper Highlands development we’d been following for a couple of years. It is located 25 miles west of downtown Chattanooga along I-24 and 1.5 hours from Nashville. The development consists of 9,000 acres of mountain on the Cumberland Plateau, with less than 3,000 acres planned for development. They have sold almost all the 1,200 lots, although a lot of them have not yet been built upon. The homes that are currently in place are mostly custom-built on large lots, taking advantage of the views and contours of the lots. This is definitely not a cookie-cutter type community. There are many amenities, including two pools, pickleball and tennis courts, many miles of hiking trails, a fishing pond, waterfall, and much more. They also have a restaurant, pizzeria, bank and wellness center right outside the gates.
We had scheduled an appointment to tour Jasper Highlands on Wednesday afternoon. However, we arrived early and took time to visit the Lodge Factory Store in nearby South Pittsburg, where we found an almost unlimited number of types of cast iron cookware.
We spent the rest of the afternoon with Patti Boland, one of the VPs of Sales for TN Land. The drive up the steep mountain road to the Jasper Highland entry gate took five minutes. Patti drove us around the development and showed us several lots. Since most of the lots at Jasper Highlands have already been sold over the past seven years, there actually weren’t too many options. We found two lots that we really liked and were leaning toward buying one of them. Patti also drove us to their new development project, River Gorge Ranch, on a mountain about ten minutes closer to Chattanooga. Although the roads of the first phase of this development aren’t likely to be finished for another year and a half, they have already sold 120 lots in the first three weeks. Since this is the same developer as Jasper Highlands, we can imagine it will also be beautiful but it would require a lot of vision and faith to buy a lot on property only currently accessible by jeep. We decided we didn’t really have that much vision.
Patti had given us a $50 gift certificate for dinner at the Top of the Rock so we took advantage of it as we relaxed from our strenuous afternoon.
When we got home that evening, we started looking through a real estate brochure we had picked up the Lodge Factory Store and found that there were a number of lots in Jasper Highlands being listed by realtors for resale. On Thursday morning, we contacted Melissa Hubbard at RE/MAX Realty South. She sent us ten MLS listings and we selected six we wanted to see. We met Melissa at 1:30 and toured the lots, along with a couple more she knew were going to be listed soon. Although we rejected most of them, we did find two we liked more than the two finalists from Tuesday.
We also drove by a finished home that Melissa knew was scheduled to come on the market after Memorial Day. Since the large backlog of homes needing to be built in the development means a wait of possibly up to two years to have a new home built on your lot, we wanted to see if buying one of the rare resale homes would be an option.
After another tiring afternoon of traipsing through large undeveloped lots, we decided to have dinner at Top of the Rock again. Unfortunately, we had to pay for this meal ourselves.
Melissa contacted us that evening to say that she had arranged for a showing of the completed home, so Friday morning had us returning to Jasper Highlands for the third time. We did the walk-through and quickly concluded that we would rather have a new house, even if we have to wait. After the tour, we went back and looked at two of the sites we had visited on Thursday, including our favorite. After walking our favorite lot for now the third time, we decided to make an offer. The lot is just shy of an acre and is heavily wooded with hardwood trees. The view is incredible, with a big vista of the surrounding mountains and valley.
We drove to Melissa’s office and wrote up the paperwork. We had hoped to hear within 24 hours and fully expected to receive a counteroffer. However, we were very pleasantly surprised to hear back from Melissa a couple of hours later that the seller had accepted our offer. Our closing is scheduled in two weeks, on May 20th.
Although selecting the lot was an important first step, there will be many more decisions to be made during the design and construction phases. When we are ready to move forward with construction, we will work with an architect to design a house that will optimize the available space and give us the best views, while keeping many of the mature trees. We aren’t certain as to the timing of these next steps so, in the meantime, we will continue to enjoy our life on the road.
On Saturday, May 7th, we drove 79 miles to Manchester, TN where we spent four nights at the Manchester KOA. Jason joined us that afternoon and spent Mother’s Day weekend with us.
On Sunday morning, we drove to Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park and hiked the 4.7-mile Old Stone Fort Loop Trail. This state park is on the site of the former Manchester Powder Mill. With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the Confederacy quickly established gunpowder mills to support the Southern war effort. The combination of abundant water power from the Duck River and access to the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad made this an ideal powder mill site. However, the Union army arrived in March 1862 and burnt it to the ground. The hike took us along the banks of the Duck River and provided views of numerous waterfalls. That afternoon, we went to O’Charley’s for dinner, as part of Jan’s Mother’s Day present from Jason and Jarrod.
On Wednesday, May 11th, we drove 65 miles to Nashville, where we parked for five nights at Nashville RV Resort (formerly Jellystone). We were unable to reserve a full-hookup site but, given that we would be away for much of the time, we were able to manage without a sewer. Shortly after we arrived, Jan left to have dinner with two of her childhood friends, Linda and Pam. Jason came over for dinner and hung out with Phil until Jan returned.
Due to being Texas residents, Jan’s only medical insurance options under Obamacare are HMO’s. As a result, she needed to return to Kerrville, Texas for a doctor’s appointment on Friday morning. We flew to Texas, via Austin, on Thursday afternoon and spent the evening at the Inn of the Hills in Kerrville. Following Jan’s appointment on Friday, we spent some time in Fredericksburg before returning to Austin. After we dropped off our rental car at 7 pm, Katie and her boyfriend, Michael, picked us up at the airport and took us to dinner. We were back at the airport by 9 pm but our 10 pm flight was delayed by 30 minutes. By the time we got back to our campground and got ready for bed, it was 2:25 am.
On Sunday morning, we got up early, picked up Jason, and drove to Camden, TN where we attended homecoming at Liberty Methodist Church. Several of Jan’s relatives were in attendance, as well as many people Jan had not seen in many years. After the service, we stuck around for a potluck meal that got us all plenty full. We then stopped by for a brief visit with Sheila and David Gaskin, before returning to Nashville.
On Monday, May 16th, we drove 202 miles to Kodak, TN (just past Knoxville) and spent the night at Dumplin’ Valley Farm RV Park. On Tuesday, we returned to our dealer, RVs for Less, in Knoxville for some service items that were not completed when we had visited three weeks earlier. The service work was completed on Wednesday and, late that afternoon, we drove 28 miles to Clinton, TN where we spent six nights at the Clinton / Knoxville North KOA Journey.
Following our May 6th signing of the agreement to purchase a lot at Jasper Highlands, our lives had become rather stressful. Phil immediately began moving funds into our US Bank account for the May 20th closing. Two-thirds of the money was successfully transferred via ACH into the account by May 11th. However, the final ACH transfer, coming from Synchrony Bank, was rejected by US bank and our US Bank account was suspended. Phil called US Bank and, although they couldn’t explain their action, the account was re-opened fairly easily. However, the missing funds floated around in the banking system for six days before finally reappearing in our Synchrony Bank account. The more challenging issue was that, when US Bank suspended our account, Synchrony Bank restricted our account so we couldn’t transfer any money out of it. We made numerous calls to Synchrony Bank and, after spending much time on hold, each time we were told it would take days to get the restriction lifted. Finally, on May 19th, we got the restriction lifted and were able to get the funds wired that afternoon.
On Friday, May 20th, we drove to the main US Bank office in Knoxville to get a cashier’s check. Having not been inside a bank in two years, we were surprised to find the huge office occupied by only two bankers. Our banker was wearing a tie-dyed Pink Floyd t-shirt. My, how our world has changed due to COVID! After getting the check, we drove 130 miles to Jasper, TN for the closing. We were then given the access code to the Jasper Highlands gate and drove out to visit our lot again. We enjoyed traipsing around our lot and through the woods, although we later discovered several small ticks crawling on us. Phil had downloaded an app called LandGlide to his phone. Using the GPS in this app, we discovered that our back property line extends way down the mountainside. Given the steepness of the drop-off, we may never actually visit the end of our property. After leaving our lot, we drove around Jasper Highlands and checked out the variety of home styles. We stopped in at the Top of the Rock restaurant for a celebration before making the long drive back to our campsite in Clinton.
On Saturday, we drove 311 miles to Pendleton, SC (near Greenville) where we stayed a week at the US Army Corp of Engineers’ Twin Lake Campground on Hartwell Lake. In addition to the longer-than-usual distance, we were delayed by accidents and road construction along the route. We were both exhausted when we arrived. However, our long drive was rewarded with a very nice pull-through site alongside the lake.
The temperature got down to 35 degrees overnight but got up to a sunny 71 degrees on Sunday afternoon. We went for a long walk around the campground. As we walked, we could spot Clemson University’s Memorial Stadium across the lake. Jan bought a fishing license online and broke out the poles. She tried fishing by our site, then moved on to the dock by the boat ramp. She had no nibbles but was inspired to try again.
Tuesday, April 12th, was our 19th wedding anniversary and we spent the day visiting Greenville, SC. Our first stop was in the historic West End. Finding an open parking spot was quite a challenge. After we managed to get backed into one, we discovered that it was only good for 30 minutes. That gave us only enough time for a quick stroll through Falls Park on the Reedy, a beautiful city park on the Reedy River.
Like many towns that developed in the 1800’s, Greenville relied on the river for industry and the river became polluted. When Greenville’s industry collapsed in the 1950’s, the river was largely abandoned and became overgrown with vegetation and shaded by a four-lane vehicular bridge. In the 1990s, plans to revitalize the forgotten waterfall began to take place. The vehicular bridge was torn down in 2003 and replaced with the Liberty Bridge, a 355-foot pedestrian-only suspension bridge that is supported by cables only on one side, giving an unobstructed view of the upper falls. We strolled across the Liberty Bridge and then walked through the park, enjoying the many gardens with flowers in full bloom.
After spending a couple of hours at the Mazda dealer for some routine maintenance and a quick trip through Sam’s Club, we had an early dinner at The 05 Express Kitchen. This small restaurant in the Augusta Road neighborhood offers a variety of vegan and vegetarian dishes. Jan had the vegan Brussel sprouts salad and really enjoyed the combination of flavors in the sauce. Phil passed on the vegan options and, instead, enjoyed the gourmet Keepin It Fresh Smash Burger.
On Wednesday, we drove through the campus of Clemson University. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any open parking spots so we didn’t get to walk around. We did find a local bait shop and bought some worms. On Thursday, we headed out to our park’s fishing pier with the worms. It was a nice day for sitting on the lake but, unfortunately, Jan still had no nibbles.
On Friday, we got on the road early and drove to Devils Ford State Park on Lake Jocassee. One of Phil’s childhood classmates lives in SC and had recommended we visit this lake. He claims that National Geographic included this lake in their list of “50 Places You Should Visit Before You Die” (one of only two in this hemisphere). The lake is known for the clean and cold Appalachian mountain rivers that flow into it, keeping its waters cool and clear year-round. Several waterfalls flow directly into the lake. The lake was created in 1973 by the state in partnership with Duke Power. Although most manmade structures were demolished before the lake was flooded, divers recently discovered the remains of a lodge that was left intact; now below 300 feet of water. Mount Carmel Baptist Church Cemetery was a setting for a scene in the film Deliverance (1972), starring Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight, produced before the lake was flooded. That site is now covered by 130 feet of lake water.
Lake Jocassee’s reputation is based on the clear waters and the many waterfalls that line the lake. The waterfalls are only accessible by boat or by strenuous and/or dangerous hikes. Unfortunately, the tour boats did not operate on Friday and it was our last full day in SC. We did hike the 1.5-mile Oconee Bell Loop Trail through a hardwood forest and along a babbling stream.
Another recommendation Phil had received was to visit Duke Energy’s educational facility, World of Energy, at the Oconee Nuclear Station. Although it is usually open on Fridays, upon our arrival we discovered that it was closed for Good Friday. However, they did have a long fishing pier and we spent over an hour there. Once again, Jan was unable to get any nibbles but we enjoyed the sunny day on Lake Keowee.
On Saturday, April 16th, we drove 88 miles to Fletcher, NC where we would spend three nights at Rutledge Lake RV Park. Fletcher is a short distance from Asheville.
Sunday was Easter and the weather was beautiful. We had originally planned to take a walking tour of downtown Asheville but, because of tours being unavailable on Easter and with rain forecast for most of Monday, we decided to explore on our own. With help from the Internet and an app called GPSmycity, we were able to put together a self-guided tour of ten sites in historic Asheville.
Our first stop was the Asheville city hall, completed in 1928 and designed in the Art Deco style that was popular at the time. The city hall is located on Pack Square Park, a large green space that is open to the public for relaxing, exercise and events.
We next walked to the Thomas Wolfe House. Thomas Wolfe was an American novelist of the early 20th century. He wrote four lengthy novels, as well as many shorter works. His most famous novel, Look Homeward, Angel, chronicled the childhood of a young boy who comes of age in a small mountain town in the south. Although hailed as a commercial and literary success, the novel brought anger and resentment by many in Asheville. Residents recognized not only locations, but friends and sometimes themselves as characters in the novel. Today, Look Homeward, Angel is regarded as an American classic.
The Thomas Wolfe House was built in 1883 in the Queen Anne architectural style and was operated as a boarding house, called “Old Kentucky Home.” Wolfe’s mother bought the house in 1903 and continued to operate it as a boarding house, but eventually moved in with her son.
Our next stop was at the Lexington Glassworks, a glassware and glassblowing studio. Although the studio was open, there was no glassblowing on Easter.
We then went to Woolworth Walk, a two-floor art gallery and crafts space, with stalls displaying the works of a large number of local artists. The gallery is in a former Woolworths store. The soda fountain from the original store still operates so visitors can recreate the experience of dining in a 1950s era Woolworths luncheonette.
We next walked past the Basilica of St. Lawrence, completed in 1905 in a Catalan architectural style. Our final stop on our tour was the Grove Arcade. Completed in 1929, it was created with the intent to serve as the base for a skyscraper but it was never completed. It has served many purposes over the years and, at one time, was one of the world’s first indoor shopping malls. Today, it has a combination of dining, retail and residential space.
We then returned to Pack Square Park and had lunch at Pack’s Tavern. It was built in 1907 by a local lumber supply company and remains one of the oldest buildings in Asheville. During Prohibition (1920-1933), a lucrative moonshine distribution business operated in the basement. Using the lumber supply company as a front and a tunnel under the street, business boomed.
After lunch, we drove to West Asheville and toured the brewery at the New Belgium Brewing Company. Husband, Jeff Lebesch (electrical engineer), and wife, Kim Jordan (social worker), were inspired to bring Belgian brewing tradition to their hometown of Fort Collins, CO after a bike trip through Belgium in 1988. In 1991, they installed brewing equipment in their basement and began the business. Kim became New Belgium’s jack-of-all-trades as the first bottler, sales rep, distributor, marketer, financial planner and long-time CEO. In 1995, they expanded to a new production facility in Fort Collins. In 2016, the Asheville brewery opened, bringing the New Belgium experience to the East Coast. Fat Tire, first brewed in 1991 and still the big money-maker, was named for the many comments the founders got when they rode their mountain bikes with fat tires in Europe. Employees are awarded a bicycle when they reach one year of employment. Our tour took us through the brewery and we got to watch ale being brewed in the huge vats. We were offered samples of Fat Tire and, if interested, several other brands. To get to the lower floor of the brewery, we took a steep slide down through a spiral tube. Although hesitant at first, we both made it.
After spending most of a rainy and cool Monday indoors, we headed out to the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in nearby Mills River for an early dinner. Although the company has operated in Chico, CA since the 1980s, construction of the brewery in Mills River, NC was completed in 2015. The beautiful setting for this brewery is definitely not what you would expect for an industrial business. This campus is down a long driveway and way back into the woods. They didn’t offer tours on Mondays so we headed straight to the Taproom. Before having dinner, we explored the backyard, which is set up for concerts and other events. We then returned inside for dinner. Jan ordered tempeh bahn mi and Phil ordered crispy oyster and pear salad. When you have to use your smartphone to look up the ingredients, you know it will be something unusual but both dishes were very flavorful.
We got up early on Saturday, April 2nd, and prepared for our 277-mile drive to Savannah, GA, where we would spend a week at CreekFire RV Resort. Since we had not moved in four months, we were somewhat concerned that we might forget some of our moving-day procedures but we did pretty well. We did have a bit of an issue when we couldn’t get the hitch’s arm to close completely, although the jaws were properly secured around the kingpin. To make matters worse, we couldn’t get the jaws to open back up so we could try again. We tried raising and lowering the legs, as well as moving the truck back and forth slightly, and we eventually got the hitch arm into position so we could lock it in place.
Once we got on the road, the drive was quite slow. We faced many miles of stop-and-go traffic on the interstates, due to accidents, road construction, and tons of snowbirds returning north. In addition, we dealt with rain much of the day, including some periods of torrential downpour. So, despite preparing to leave Webster, FL at 9:30 am, we didn’t reach our new campground until 4:30 pm. Fortunately, our new pull-through site was easy to access and the hitch disconnected without any further issue.
The resort has many amenities, including four pools (swimming pool, kiddie pool, splash pool, and a lazy river), a game room, tennis/pickleball court, a lake with catch-and-release fishing, and a hiking trail around the lake. Unfortunately, the weather forecast for the week calls for three days of inclement weather, including some severe storms.
On Sunday, we caught a shuttle bus at 9:30 am and were driven to the garage for the Old Town Trolley Tours in Savannah. We then transferred to a trolley and took a 90-minute ride around the entire loop. This took us past most of the 22 squares in the historic district. The trolley driver provided an overwhelming amount of details about what we were passing. After completing the full loop, we got off at the City Market stop and headed to Sorry Charlie’s Oyster Bar for a snack. We went up to the rooftop bar and shared a dozen raw oysters. We then strolled through City Market, before hopping back on the trolley. We got off at Madison Square and strolled through many of the neighborhoods and visited several of the squares. We spent a lot of time at Chippewa Square looking for the bench from the movie Forest Gump but later learned that it had been moved to a museum. We then returned to City Market and decided to have lunch at the Café at City Market. Phil’s pepperoni pizza was barely passable, but Jan’s got the real surprise. When her summer salad was placed down in front of her, a roach popped up from under the lettuce and landed on its back. When she sent the plate back, the waiter returned with a different(?) salad but, obviously, Jan refused it, having lost any appetite for another bunch of lettuce from the same kitchen. After lunch, we hopped back on the trolley and rode to Forsyth Park. Since we needed to be back at the trolley garage by 4 pm for our shuttle back to the campground, our tour around the park was a quick one.
On Monday, two of our friends from our 2018 caravan to Alaska, John and Linda Baird, came to visit us. Since the Alaska trip, they have purchased a condo on Hilton Head Island, SC, about an hour from Savannah. We had a good time catching up and enjoyed lunch at the nearby Ruby Tuesday.
On Tuesday, we headed to Tybee Island. Although we discovered that the lighthouse and museum were closed on Tuesday, we did spend over an hour walking along the beach. We had last visited Tybee Island in November 2016. At that time, debris from the cleanup following Hurricane Matthew was piled in huge mounds near the beach. We were glad to see the same area now, without the mess.
Our next stop was at the Fort Pulaski National Monument. Fort Pulaski was built in the second quarter of the 19th century to guard river approaches to Savannah. The brick fortress was surrounded by a moat and access required crossing a drawbridge. Early in 1861, the Georgia militia seized the fort and, when Georgia seceded a few days later, it was transferred to the Confederate army. On April 10, 1862, the Union army fired on the fort from Tybee Island. The Confederates’ artillery consisted of smoothbore guns, with a range of only one mile. The Union had rifled artillery pieces, with a much longer range. For the next 30 hours, the fort was bombarded and huge breaches were opened up in the 7.5-foot-thick walls. When the shelling began to threaten the powder magazines in one corner of the fort, the Confederates surrendered, rather than be blown up by their own gunpowder.
Fort Pulaski was restored by the Civilian Conservation Corp in the 1930s and contains lots of artifacts and displays. We enjoyed walking through the many rooms in the fort and learning about the events that occurred there.
The weather forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday called for severe thunderstorms, large hail and possible tornados, but the timing of the storms kept changing. At 5:30 pm on Tuesday, we got a tornado warning on our phones and considered taking shelter. However, since our dinner was on the stove, we decided to take our chances. We didn’t even get many strong winds, although we did have some periods of heavy rain during the night. On Wednesday, the storms were supposed to start at 2 pm so we stayed at home. When the storms hadn’t arrived by 5 pm, we decided to visit The Lake House at Creek Fire for an afternoon snack. The timing of the supposed extreme weather continued to be pushed back and we ended up not getting anything. Although we were grateful we had not had to deal with storms, we were frustrated that we had wasted time that we could have spent exploring the area.
On Thursday, Phil decided that if he was going to float on the lazy river, it was now or never. After playing pickleball for months, he needed to work on evening out his farmer’s tan.
Later that afternoon, we returned to the Savannah historic district. We had spotted a souvenir we wanted to buy on Sunday but had decided to buy it when we returned. Unfortunately, when we returned, the store was not where we had remembered it, so we walked around many of the squares looking in vain for the store. We ended up buying something similar at another store. Then, it was time for our nighttime Ghosts and Gravestones tour. Savannah is reputed to have the most paranormal activity of any city in the U. S. The 80-minute trolley tour combined lots of ghost stories with humorous twists. We made stops at two of the city’s most haunted venues. First was a stop at the Andrew Low House. Andrew Low was the husband of Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts, but two of his previous wives had died in this mansion. There have long been reports of spirits that inhabit the mansion, tales of staff seeing apparitions dressed in old-fashioned clothes and furniture moving with no one occupying it.
Our second stop was at the Perkins and Sons Chandlery. After we had taken our seats in a warehouse filled with shipping supplies, the lights went out. When the lights returned, we discovered that we had been joined by a ghost who proceeded to tell us stories from the haunted history of River Street. The stories were campy, but fun.
On Friday, we drove to Jekyll Island and visited the historic district. Over the next few hours, we learned a lot about the history of the Jekyll Island Club. This club was founded in 1886 as a hunting and recreational club. Its membership included many of the richest and most famous families, including the Morgans, Rockefellers, and Vanderbilts. The club had only 53 members initially and membership never rose much above 100. The season lasted each year for the months of January through March. The families gathered for dinner at the clubhouse. At one point, the collected wealth of all the members at dinner represented one-sixth of the world’s wealth. It was considered unacceptable for a woman to ever wear the same dress to dinner twice in the same season. Membership in the club declined during the Great Depression. World War II was the final blow to the club, as it become difficult to find staff, and 1942 was the final season for the club. The property was purchased by the State of Georgia in 1947.
When we arrived at the museum in the historic district, we discovered that we had just missed the trolley tour so we signed up for the next one. While we waited, we decided to do visit the Faith Chapel. This small wooden church, completed in 1904, was built for interdenominational worship by the members of the Jekyll Island Club. It contains two fabulous stained windows. One was created and autographed by Louis C. Tiffany in memory of Frederick Bourne, President of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. This window was entitled “David Set Singers Before the Lord,” which the chapel’s docent suggested may have been a somewhat tongue-in-cheek reference to Mr. Bourne’s company. The other window, designed by Tiffany apprentices and father-daughter team Maitland and Helen Armstrong, was entitled “Adoration of the Christ Child.”
We returned for the 1:30 trolley tour. This hour-long tour took us past many of the cottages of the rich and famous. The driver provided lots of anecdotes about the owners of the various homes and the activities of the members while on the island. We passed the wharf where the club members arrived in magnificent yachts. The tour took us through the cottage owned by Mr. and Mrs. William Rockefeller. Although quite large and elaborately decorated, it was the smallest of the Rockefellers’ many homes.
On Tuesday, March 1st, we left our RV behind and traveled to St. Augustine for two days. Upon our arrival, we went to Aunt Kate’s Restaurant at the River and enjoyed the lovely weather while dining on the patio overlooking the Tolomato River. After lunch, we checked out Castle Ottis, a majestic stone castle built in 1984 as an expression of artistic and spiritual devotion.
After checking into our hotel, we headed out to explore the St. Augustine Historic Preservation District. We first visited the Castillo de San Marcos. This fort, built in 1672 to guard the harbor entrance to St. Augustine, is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States. Unfortunately, we arrived at closing time so we could only explore the outside. We then strolled along St. George Street, a pedestrian-only street lined with restaurants, shops, attractions and lots of historic buildings. We stopped for a drink and listened to live music at the Mill Top Tavern.
On Wednesday, we returned to the historic district. We visited the Old Jail and Fountain of Youth but opted not to pay for admission. We ate breakfast at Nero’s Waterfront Café and enjoyed our outside table. We then went for a long walk that took us past numerous historic buildings and residences, including Florida’s oldest house and the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the U.S.
We walked through the Cathedral of St. Augustine and the campus of Flagler College. The largest building on the Flagler College campus was formerly the very ornate Ponce de Leon Hotel, built by Henry Flagler in 1885 as the flagship of the Flagler hotel system. We then did a tour and wine tasting at the San Sebastian Winery. Our walk back to the parking garage took us through St. George Street again.
On Saturday, we spent the afternoon at the Petersons’ site. In addition to Dave and Jo, we were joined by the Rykals, Ehlenfeldts, Laurie Tamas, and two friends of the Rykals, Ken and Val. We had lots of delicious food. Jan brought strawberry shortcake, using some of the strawberries we had purchased at the Strawberry Festival.
On Thursday, March 10th, we rode with the Petersons to Eaton Beach in Weirsdale, FL. It started to rain as we drove there and, by the time we arrived, it had become a thunderstorm with torrential rainfall. Although this kept us from sitting outdoors, we were able to get a table on the patio with a view of Weir Lake. Fortunately, the rain had stopped by the time we were ready to leave.
On Saturday afternoon, we returned to Weirsdale and attended a Lee Greenwood concert at the Orange Blossom Opry. This 500-seat venue was sold out for both our show and the evening show. The house band, who were very talented, performed the first set. Then, Lee Greenwood took the stage and performed many of his songs from his 40-year career. We weren’t familiar with much of his earlier work but, as expected, we joined the entire audience on our feet when he ended the show with his mega-hit, “God Bless the USA.”
On Sunday, we got back from grocery shopping in time to catch the second set by Bill Forness, who performs a tribute to Johnny Cash. The clubhouse was packed for the show, but we managed to find seats with the Petersons and their neighbors.
On Monday, while Jan got her hair cut in The Villages, Phil attended “Todd Bogue’s Ridiculous Comedy & Magic Show” in the clubhouse. Todd Bogue is a very talented magician and amusing comedian. He used many participants from the audience in his show, but Phil was fortunate to avoid being selected.
On Tuesday, Donna Ditges, a friend from Jan’s hometown, and her husband, John, arrived from their home in Orlando for three nights at Oak Alley RV Resort. We spent several hours on Tuesday chatting with Donna and John. Then, on Wednesday, they returned to play a couple of games of Farkle.
On Tuesday, March 22nd, Jan drove Roxi, Beth and Laurie to Mt. Dora, FL. They spent several hours exploring the shops and having lunch.
We had ordered tickets to a Beatles Live concert at Whispering Oaks Winery for Thursday, March 24th. Unfortunately, the concert was postponed due to heavy storms. Since we weren’t going to be around for the rescheduled date, Jan negotiated for us to get three bottles of wine in exchange for the nonrefundable tickets.
On Saturday, Jan left for a four-night get-together with her cousin, Lori Davis. She drove to the Jacksonville airport to meet Lori, then continued on to Hilton Head Island, SC. On Sunday, Jan and Lori drove back to Savannah and met Lori’s daughter, Emily, who was spending a few days there with a friend. After spending the day in Savannah, Jan and Lori returned to Hilton Head Island and Emily joined them for the night. The three ladies spent Monday on the beach and, on Tuesday, Jan and Lori visited a local spa for massages and facials. On Wednesday, Jan drove Lori to the Savannah – Hilton Head airport and then continued home to Oak Alley RV Resort.
The day after Jan left town, Phil discovered that our truck wouldn’t start. On Monday, he called a towing and truck repair service located a mile from the campground. It took several hours for the tow truck to arrive. Fortunately, the operator was able to get the truck started using a battery pack. That wasn’t too surprising, given that the two batteries were original equipment and, thus, seven years old. Rather than have the operator load our one-ton RAM onto his flatbed, Phil mounted his bike on the back of the RAM and followed the tow truck back to the garage. He then rode his bike back to the campground and arrived in time for the last 8 of 12 games of Bingo (unfortunately, no winners!). The truck was ready on Tuesday morning so he rode his bike back to the garage to get it.
A big “End of Season” party was held on Thursday, March 31st. The poolside party was scheduled from noon until 4 pm, although some partying continued well beyond 4 pm. The campground owner splurged for free food and drinks (a beer truck and sodas). Tim Haggis, who had performed earlier in the season, provided the musical entertainment. There were raffles for quite a few items but, unfortunately, we didn’t win anything. Phil participated in a short pickleball tournament, consisting of three games. He was one of three winners, having won all three of his games.
With the start of February, we had reached the midpoint of our stay in Florida. Phil had been working on our travel plans for the rest of 2022 and was finding that some of our desired campgrounds were already either full or nearly full, six months in advance.
On Tuesday, February 1st, Jan participated in a cornhole tournament. Phil opted to remain as one of the spectators.
On Sunday, February 6th, we met Todd and Beth Ehlenfeldt at Big Bass Grill for some live music. Unfortunately, the band was cancelled, presumably due to cool and rainy weather, so we headed to Inverness to see Tom and Roxi Rykal’s new mobile home. After spending the last 6+ years in less than 400 square feet, the Rykal’s new home looked quite spacious to us. We all then headed to Coach’s Pub and Eatery in downtown Inverness for lunch and liquid refreshments.
On Monday, we drove to Mount Dora to get a tour of an upscale 55+ housing development, the Lakes of Mount Dora. It was a very nice neighborhood, with many of the houses backed up to the lake. Of course, the lakefront lots were substantially more expensive than the lots across the street. We toured two of the model homes, which were massive compared to our current living space and much more modern than our tastes. The amenities were very nice but, unfortunately, the weather was cool and wet so we weren’t able to assess how active the community would be on a normal day. Due to supply chain issues, it would take over a year to have a new home constructed. Bottom-line, we’re still not anywhere close to settling down so this was just an exploration of possibilities.
After leaving the Lakes of Mount Dora, we drove to downtown Mount Dora and spent some time exploring the many small shops. After making a few purchases, we had lunch at Las Palmas Cuban Restaurant. We each ordered Garlic Cubans and blackberry/blood orange margaritas. On the way home, we drove through Holiday RV Village in Leesburg. We got home just in time for bingo in the clubhouse. The crowd, estimated at 140, was about twice as large as the last time we played. As a result, the pot for the two cover-all games was $175 and $60 for each of the other 10 games. Most of the games had multiple winners so each of these pots needed to be split. Jan won one game, along with three other people, so she ended up winning $15.
On Thursday, we attended a presentation by the owners of Indian Summer Honey Farm. Their business, 40 years old, now operates with 4,000 hives that migrate each year between Wisconsin and Florida. The business generates hundreds of barrels of unfiltered honey during the summer months in Wisconsin and raises thousands of queens for sale in Florida during the winter months. It takes seven semis to move the hives between the two locations. They also contract out many of the hives for pollination of almond groves in California each year. Their presentation was very informative.
That evening, we attended karaoke in the clubhouse, hosted by the Rhythmic Rollers RV Club from Tennessee and Mississippi. There was a large crowd for the event. Quite a few good singers, and some not-so-good singers, got up to perform. It was a fun evening.
On Friday afternoon, we had hot dogs and brats by the pool. That evening, we gathered by the pool for a fireside chat. Although we were some of the few attendees at 5:30, several other couples arrived later. We had a nice time sharing stories with the other campers.
We spent Saturday afternoon at the Lake Pan RV Park for a potluck with the Ehlenfeldts, Rykals, Petersons, Laurie Tamas, and two friends the Ehlenfeldts and Rykals had met in Florida several years ago.
On Monday, February 14th, we attended a Valentine’s Day dinner in the clubhouse. There was a huge turnout for the meal, which included mostaccioli and Italian sausage. After dinner, we came back for bingo. Although we had some close games, we didn’t win any this time.
On Thursday afternoon, we drove to Clermont, FL and met Judy Jones Scanlon and Steve Scanlon, two of Phil’s childhood classmates from New Jersey. Phil has known Judy, formerly his neighbor, since fourth grade. Steve joined Phil’s cross country team for the last two years of high school and was a close friend throughout their college years. Phil had not seen Judy and Steve in about 24 years so we spent several hours getting caught up and discussing old times. We strolled through historic downtown Clermont and had dinner at The Southern on 8th.
On Friday, Jan attended a Ladies’ Afternoon Tea at the clubhouse. In addition to sipping tea and munching on finger sandwiches, the ladies played games. Jan wore a fascinator in her hair, as did many of the other women.
On Saturday, we drove to Tavares, FL with the Petersons and met the Elhenfeldts, Rykals and Laurie Tamas. We first ate lunch at the Kalua Hale Beach Bar. Then, we boarded the Dora Queen, a luxurious 80-foot New Orleans-style paddlewheel boat for a two-hour cruise on Lake Dora. We sat upstairs in the open-air section and enjoyed non-stop musical entertainment by Sal & Izy, a young musical duo we had first seen perform in December at a Lake Dora restaurant. The weather was ideal and the scenery was beautiful.
On Monday evening, February 21, we played Bingo in the clubhouse. There was a huge crowd. Jan won one of the cover-all games. The man sitting next to her also won that game, so they split the $82 pot.
On Wednesday, we visited historic downtown Clermont with the Petersons. Our first stop was at Lilly’s on the Lake where we sat on the deck overlooking Lake Minneola. We then walked a few blocks to the Clermont Brewing Company. We enjoyed dinner and drinks at Happy Hour prices.
On Saturday, we drove to The Villages and enjoyed the Strawberry Festival at the Brownwood Paddock Square. The event was very popular and it took us quite a while to find a parking spot. After making a couple of loops around the many booths on the square, Phil ordered a strawberry shortcake and we stopped to watch the entertainment. We then escaped the heat at World of Beer and enjoyed a giant German pretzel. On our way back to our car, we purchased half a flat of fresh strawberries.
On the drive home, we stopped at Sam’s Club. There was a bloodmobile in the parking lot so we decided to donate blood. Unfortunately, Phil’s blood pressure was too low so he wasn’t able to donate. However, Jan made up for this by donating double red cells. She was told that it is fairly rare for women to meet the three-part criteria for donating double red cells. During a double red blood donation, a machine is used to withdraw whole blood. Red cells are separated and retained, and the remainder of the blood is returned back to the donor. This donation safely removes twice as many red cells than traditional whole blood.
On Sunday, February 27th, we drove to Rick’s on the River in Tampa. We met Barbara and Bobbie Sanders, two friends from our 2018 trip to Alaska. We were joined by two of their long-time friends, Gary and Tracy. It was a beautiful day for dining outdoors. We all ordered coconut shrimp baskets.
We celebrated New Year’s Eve in our usual fashion, sound asleep before midnight. However, Phil was awakened at midnight by our partying neighbors. We met Jo and Dave Peterson that afternoon for a poolside hot dog and brat cookout.
On Sunday, January 2nd, we went to the Dade Battlefield Historic State Park in Bushnell for the 41st annual reenactment of the battle that launched the Second Seminole War. We rode with Jo and Dave Peterson, but Roxi Rykal and Laurie Tamas parked next to us. After strolling through demonstrations of period arts and trades, we joined the crowd in the bleachers for the reenactment. More than 100 soldier re-enactors and Seminoles from across the United States participated. Before the battle, one of the Seminoles and one of the soldiers explained each piece of their authentic period costumes. The battle was narrated throughout with the ghosts of Private Ransom Clark and Chief Jumper telling their own perspectives of the conflict. The battle, which started on December 28, 1835, was the result of Seminole resistance to removal to a reservation in Oklahoma. A column of 107 soldiers, led by Major Francis Dade, were marching to re-supply and reinforce troops at Fort King, now Ocala. An estimated 300 Seminoles lay in wait for them, hidden in the palmetos. A sudden volley from their rifles killed half the command. Major Dade, on horseback, was the first to die. A second attack killed most of the remaining soldiers. Only three soldiers escaped to recount the attack. Following the re-enactment, the soldiers and Seminoles lined up and fired their weapons to clear the chambers.
On Tuesday, we played bingo at the clubhouse with about 50 other campers. Unlike bingo at Flora-Bama, this was a very professional and fast-moving operation. We played 12 games in one hour and 40 minutes. Unfortunately, we didn’t win any of the games.
On Saturday afternoon, we met Jo and Dave Peterson by the pool to listen to a musician perform for a couple of hours. He was very talented and was definitely the best entertainer we’d had since arriving at Oak Alley.
On Sunday, Jan joined the other ladies for lunch at the Sunrise Asian restaurant in Wildwood, FL. Phil and Dave Peterson met Jan and Jo Peterson at the Big Bass Bar & Grill afterward. Despite Jan’s having called and gotten assurance that there would be live music, there was no music while we were there.
On Monday, January 10th, Jan made ham and potato soup using the ham bone from our Christmas dinner. Beth and Todd Ehlenfeldt, Roxi Rykal and Laurie Tamas joined us for dinner and brought an assortment of side dishes.
On Thursday, we took our bikes to the nearby General James A. Van Fleet State Trail and rode 13.2 miles. The Van Fleet State Trail is one of Florida’s most rural trails, spanning 29.2 miles through Sumter, Lake and Polk counties. This 8-foot-wide paved trail, originally a railroad corridor, runs through the Green Swamp, a system of cypress swamps, marshes, hardwood forests and flat pinewoods. The swamp is the habitat for lots of wildlife but, unfortunately, we didn’t see anything other than birds.
On Saturday, we rode with Dave and Jo Petersons to Crystal River, FL for the 35th annual Manatee Festival. We met Todd and Beth Ehlenfeldt and Laurie Tamas at the mall where we caught a shuttle bus to the festival. The festival was quite popular and there were lines for everything. Upon arrival, we wandered through block after block of vendor booths until we reached the main stage area. We managed to find seats near the stage but had to wait nearly 1 ½ hours for the Tom Petty tribute band to perform. Fortunately, the weather was very nice.
On Wednesday, January 19, we went with the Petersons to Lake Panasoftkee and did the Tom and Jerry’s Airboat Ride. Our hour-long airboat ride took us through the Florida swamp and across the lake. We spotted five alligators, numerous turtles and lots of waterfowl. The highlight of the airboat ride was a section of the swamp where the trees were loaded with well over a hundred vultures. When the ride was over, we took turns holding a four-foot-long alligator.
On Thursday, we went to the Florida RV SuperShow in Tampa. Jo and Dave Peterson rode with us. We met Beth and Todd Ehlenfeldt and Judy and Rob Crosson for lunch and, then again, before leaving. We spent most of our time in the two large expo halls visiting the many vendor booths. We did visit the DRV display and walked through a few models. It really didn’t tempt us to buy one. If anything, it made us more appreciative of the unit we already own.
On Friday, we rode with the Petersons to Lake Pan RV Park where the Rykals, Ehlenfeldts and Laurie Tamas are staying. We spent the afternoon playing Giant Jenga, then enjoyed a fish fry using the fish Tom and Todd had caught on Lake Panasoftkee.
The weather cooled down considerably over the last week of January. We had two nights with low temperatures below freezing. Although this cold weather affected our plans somewhat, our weather was much better than the winter storms that ravaged much of the country.
On Wednesday, December 1st, we left Gulf Shores, AL and drove 285 miles to Madison, FL. We spent the night at Ragans Family Campground. The campground was very nice but rather pricey for an overnight stop. Unfortunately, the much less expensive Deerfield Inn & Campground, where we had overnighted in 2020, was full.
On Thursday, we drove the remaining 170 miles to Oak Alley RV Resort in Webster, FL. This will be our home for four months. Although we had assistance from the workcamper, the lack of marked site boundaries made it challenging for Phil to get backed into our site. After numerous back and forth moves, we did get parked and were glad we won’t have to move again for a while. We had visited the campground in March 2021 when we booked our reservation but were impressed by the improvements that have been made in the past eight months.
While Jan was watering her potted plant upon our arrival, fire ants that had taken up residence in the pot while we were in Gulf Shores swarmed over her hand. She sustained numerous bites and, almost immediately, these swelled up noticeably and caused her a lot of pain. Since her reaction to these bites (as well as her previous fire ant bites) was so extreme, it is clear that she is allergic to fire ant venom. After a couple of days and nights of pain and itching, Jan called her TeleMedicine service and got a prescription for antibiotics and ointment. It took a few more days of discomfort but, eventually, the swelling and itching subsided.
On Friday, we attended a cookout lunch in the clubhouse. We arrived a few minutes late and were the end of the line. We learned later that only about 80 people had signed up but about 120 people showed up. As a result, we missed out on some of the food but still had plenty to eat.
Phil quickly got into a routine of playing pickleball each morning for a couple of hours. There are a number of very good pickleball players here but, through the first week, less than half of the 12 courts were being utilized. Hopefully, that will change as we get into the busier months.
On Monday, December 6th, we visited the Swap-O-Rama’s Webster Westside Flea Market. This flea market, which has existed for 50 years, covers 35 acres in an 80-acre compound. It is open on Mondays year-round and also on Sundays during the winter months. We only spent an hour wandering around and, although we did make several purchases, were not overly impressed.
On Wednesday, we attended a pot luck dinner in the clubhouse. Although the turnout of only about 30 people was considerably less than the cook out, it was enjoyable and the food was delicious.
On Thursday, the Rykals, Ehlenfeldts and Laurie Tamas came to visit us at Oak Alley. After showing them around our campground, we enjoyed sitting outside and having a happy hour.
On Tuesday, December 14th, Sheila Gaskins came to visit for five days. Jan picked her up at the Orlando airport and they spent the next three nights at the Hilton in Lake Buena Vista. They spent Wednesday at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.
On Thursday, they visited Epcot. That evening, they attended the Candlelight Processional, with a 50-piece orchestra and narrated by the actor, Andy Garcia.
On Saturday, we toured the Stetson Mansion in DeLand, FL. This, Florida’s first luxury estate, was built in 1886 for famed hat maker, John B. Stetson. It was the first home in Florida constructed with Edison electricity, steam heat, indoor plumbing and a call bell system. The estate has recently been rescued and restored but it is still a private estate. The mansion is lavishly decorated for Christmas each year. The tour included all the rooms on the ground floor and the three bedrooms on the second floor (including the owner’s bedroom, bathroom and closet.) Due to COVID, the tours were self-guided this year and we were sent descriptions of the contents of each room via email. Although photography was prohibited inside the mansion, we were permitted to take pictures of the outside and the grounds.
After leaving the Stetson Mansion, we visited historic downtown Mount Dora. This town celebrates Christmas in a big way, with decorations that include three million lights. We arrived around 5 pm and had to search to find one of the few available parking spots. After wandering the streets a while, we attempted to get seated at The Frog and Monkey restaurant. Our estimated 30-60 minute wait ended up being closer to two hours. However, once we got in, the food was excellent and the band, a young couple named Sal & Izy, were very good.
On Sunday, December 19th, we took Sheila to the Orlando airport and returned in time to attend the campground’s 90-minute Christmas social event. We met Jo and Dave Peterson there but, unfortunately, Jo got sick so the Petersons had to leave. That left us alone to sing “two turtle doves” eleven times during the sing-along of The Twelve Days of Christmas.
Our campground has an impressive woodshop that is available for use by the campers. Jan had a project in mind so she spent quite a few hours over several days working on it under the tutelage of Randy, one of the other campers. Unfortunately, due to waiting on a part for the laser, she’ll have to wait until the new year to complete it.
On Wednesday afternoon, we accompanied the Petersons to the Rocking Chair Bar & Grill, Webster’s dive bar. The bartender was hard of hearing so we had somewhat of a challenge to place our order but, otherwise, had a pleasant visit.
On Friday, Christmas Eve, we picked up Jason at the Tampa airport for his weeklong stay. We had planned to stop for dinner on the return trip but found that almost all the restaurants had closed for the evening. We ended up getting our dinner at the Wendy’s drive-through.
On Christmas Day, we were joined by Beth and Todd Ehlenfeldt, Laurie Tamas, and Jo and Dave Peterson for an afternoon of dining, visiting, corn hole and part of the Packers’ game. We had purchased a Honey Baked Ham and, along with all the side dishes and desserts everyone brought, we all had more than enough to eat. The weather, with a high of 75 degrees, was ideal for sitting outside and enjoying being in Florida.
We spent most of the following week close to the campground. Jan and Jason ventured out to the Flea Market and the Richloam General Store, a historic store that has been in business since 1928. On New Year’s Eve, we took Jason to Orlando for his flight back to Nashville. We stopped for lunch at Mooyah.
On Monday, November 1st, we drove 226 miles from Livingston, LA to Gulf Shores, AL where we spent a month at Gulf State Park. Our friends, Beth and Todd Ehlenfeldt and Roxi and Tom Rykal, had arrived shortly before we did. Todd and Tom helped guide Phil into our back-in site. We spent the month in site #13, the same site as last year. We had a beautiful view of the lake, although the wind off the lake sometimes made it too cool for sitting outside very long. The Rykals were our next-door neighbors and the Ehlenfeldts were in our same circle, a stone’s throw away.
This was the fourth year in which we visited Gulf State Park for at least part of November. It was also the second time we joined the Ehlenfeldts and Rykals for the full month of November. As a result, we quickly fell into a routine that, although it didn’t include a lot of new experiences, was quite enjoyable. Most mornings Jan went for long walks or bike rides, while Phil went to the Orange Beach Recreation Center to play pickleball for 2-3 hours. Phil joined Jan for bike rides on the weekends when he didn’t have pickleball. We saw lots of wildlife, including Lefty (a large gator whose nickname reflects his missing right foot), a baby bobcat and a snake.
Most afternoons, we got together for a happy hour with the Ehlenfeldts and Rykals. Our social group expanded to include Rob and Judy Crosson, who the Ehlenfeldts and Rykals had met last winter in Arizona, and Scott and Gail Wahls, Rob and Judy’s neighbors in the campground. Although most days we just sat around and chatted, we sometimes used these get-togethers to play games, such as cornhole, LCR and Chase the Ace.
We joined the Rykals one afternoon for a trip to Flora-Bama to play bingo. However, Sam, the bingo caller, spent too much time telling the same jokes we’ve heard many years before and only got through three games in 2 ½ hours. We won’t be returning any time soon.
One day, Jan drove all the ladies to Fairhope for a girls’ day out and spent the day shopping and dining. Phil got together that afternoon with Tom and Todd for a visit to the Big Beach Brewing Company.
Jan joined Beth and the Rykals one day to observe the release of a loggerhead sea turtle at the local beach. The turtle had been rescued at Gulf State Park in August and had undergone rehabilitation at the Institute of Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, MS.
Promptly at 8 a.m. on November 15th, Gulf State Park opened a link on their website to allow people to book reservations for the 2022-2023 winter months. Phil clicked on the link exactly when it opened and submitted the completed form in 101 seconds. Despite this, we were #261 in the queue and were unable to get either of our requested sites (#13 and #11) for next November and December. However, we were able to reserve site #12, where the Rykals are staying this month but had decided to change sites for next year. None of us know whether we will actually return next year but we have until August 1st to cancel our reservations.
At one of our happy hours, Phil mentioned that Jan makes great fried chicken and Tom said he loves fried chicken. This led to plans to have Jan fry some chicken for Tom on November 16th. As the story spread, the group for dinner grew to ten people. Tom cut up two whole chickens and Beth provided some additional pieces. Jan fried all that chicken using her cast iron skillet and two electric fry pans. The other families provided assorted side dishes and desserts. We had a delicious meal, sitting around tables set up in the Rykals’ driveway.
On Thursday, November 18th, we rode with the Elhenfeldts to Fort Morgan, where we boarded the Mobile Bay Ferry to Dauphin Island. Rob and Judy drove separately and brought their dog, Lucy. The ferry ride lasted about 35 minutes and took us past numerous oil rigs. Upon our arrival, we attempted to drive to the west end beaches but we were turned back due to continuing clean-up from Hurricane Ike that hit in early September. Instead, we drove to the public beach in the middle of the island. After walking along the beach and watching Lucy chase her ball, we headed to the Islanders Restaurant for lunch. The food was very good but the service was somewhat slow. After lunch, we rushed back to the ferry and arrived just as they were getting ready to pull out. We managed to get the last available slot on the ferry. After reaching the mainland, we stopped at Tacky Jacks Two.
On Saturday, we picked up Jason at the Pensacola airport for his weeklong stay with us. We celebrated his 39th birthday (the day before) that evening.
On Sunday, we hosted the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts, diehard Green Bay Packer fans, to watch the Vikings – Packers game on our outside TV. The game was very close. Phil was the only one happy with the outcome, with the Vikings winning by three on the final play.
Thursday, November 25th, was Thanksgiving Day. We picked up Jarrod and Jess at the Pensacola airport and returned to our campground for the holiday festivities. At 1 pm, we gathered on the field inside our circle for some games of cornhole. We then moved to the Ehlenfeldts’ site for dinner. The five couples, plus Jason, Jarrod and Jess, gave us 13 for our Thanksgiving meal. We had agreed ahead of time what each family would bring. There was plenty of food and quite a variety. After eating, Jason, Jarrod and Jess left to check in at the condo where they would be staying for three nights. When they returned, they joined us and the rest of the group around the propane firepit at the Rykals’ site.
On Friday, the kids came back over and headed off to rent some bikes for two days. They then took off for a nearly 14-mile bike ride with Jan. Phil had to stay behind to wait for the DirecTV technician to come fix a recurring problem we’d had with our satellite TV reception for nearly a year. We got a new receiver and wireless video bridge but it took the technician over 2 ½ hours to resolve his installation issues. When the riders returned, the guys helped Phil finish installing tire guards in our bike tires to provide protection from punctures. Unfortunately, one of the inner tubes on Jan’s bike sprung a leak, necessitating a trip to WalMart for a replacement.
That evening, we picked up the kids at their condo and headed to the Beach House for dinner. After dinner, we returned to the condo and played a couple of games of Farkle.
On Saturday, the kids rode their bikes over for a breakfast of blueberry pancakes. Then, Phil took the kids up to the tennis courts and taught Jarrod and Jess to play pickleball. With both being athletic, they caught on quickly. Jan joined us and we all went for a 12-mile bike ride.
We then headed to Doc’s Seafood and the kids treated Jan to an early birthday dinner. We each ordered seafood platters and all but Jan shared a tray of oysters on the half shell.
After dinner, we stopped at The Wharf for some pictures by the Christmas tree. Despite being stuffed from our meal, we stopped and picked up individual cheesecake slices at Hope’s Cheesecake for later. We dropped by the condo to play Farkle but retired early due to our busy day.
We woke to our alarm clocks at 4:40 a.m. on Sunday. We picked up Jason at 5:15 and drove him to the Pensacola airport. We got back home at 7 am but had to leave again at 10:30 to drive Jarrod and Jess to the Pensacola airport. We took it easy the rest of the day, although Tom, Roxi and Beth dropped by to watch some of the second half of the Packers game when Tom lost the TV signal at his rig.
On Monday, November 29th, we began packing up for our departure on Wednesday. We gathered at the Beach House with the four other couples for one last happy hour, since three of the couples were leaving on Tuesday morning, and also to have another early birthday celebration for Jan.
Tuesday was Jan’s birthday so, after playing pickleball in the morning, Phil took Jan to Fairhope and Foley to do some shopping. We then had Jan’s birthday dinner at Lambert’s Café, known for their “throwed rolls.” We both ordered sandwiches, which came with sides, as well as “pass arounds.” Throughout the meal, servers walked around the restaurant with these “pass arounds,” large pots of fried okra, fried potatoes, cabbage, and macaroni and tomatoes, and would give you as much as you wanted. In addition, a server would walk around with a tray of huge rolls and would throw one to you if you wanted one. The food was very good and, needless to say, we both overate.
After remaining parked in Glendale, UT for an additional day due to extremely gusty winds, we headed off to Flagstaff, AZ on Tuesday, October 19th. This was our first of nine days of driving over the next 14 days, covering the 2,100 miles necessary to reach Gulf Shores, AL, where we will spend November.
The entire 229-mile drive to Flagstaff was on US-89 and took us through mostly desolate, although scenic, country. The winds had died down considerably but we did encounter an accident with a travel trailer laying on its side, possibly due to wind.
When we arrived at the Flagstaff KOA Holiday, Phil went inside to register. The clerk, who admitted she was new, gave him a map to site 88. The drive to site 88 was somewhat harrowing. The roads were very narrow and there were trees close to the road. Getting up the road to site 88 required making a sharp left turn. When Phil got part-way through the turn, he could see that site 88 was occupied. He called the office and a different clerk told him we were supposed to be in site 166. However, completing the turn by site 88 required Jan to hold a wooden sign out of the way and Phil had to back up partially to avoid low-hanging branches. When we finally made it back to the office, we were met by a workcamper in a golf cart who led us to site 166. Although this drive was somewhat easier, it required pulling far out on the shoulders to make the turns. Needless to say, we had already concluded that this one-night stay would be our only visit to the Flagstaff KOA.
On Wednesday, we drove 268 miles to Tucson, AZ where we spent two nights at the Tucson / KOA Lazydays Resort. The drive, almost entirely on interstate highways, involved numerous long, steep descents as we went from Flagstaff (elevation 6,900’) to Tucson (elevation 2,400’). The temperature when we left Flagstaff that morning was 34 degrees, compared to 85 degrees when we arrived in Tucson.
The difference between the Tucson KOA and the Flagstaff KOA was like night and day. The roads throughout the Tucson campground were wide and the site was extremely accessible. The Tucson campground had several unique types of sites available, including covered sites and K9 sites with fenced enclosures.
On Thursday, we explored Historic Fourth Avenue in Tucson. This district, close to the campus of the University of Arizona, has seen better days. In addition to numerous unique restaurants, there were retail shops that mostly appeared to cater to alternative lifestyles. In midday, there were numerous homeless individuals outside these businesses. We spotted at least six Lock Your Love sculptures on Fourth Avenue. Sweethearts inscribe their names on a lock, place it on the sculpture, and deposit the key into the base of the sculpture as a symbol of eternal love.
After strolling the length of the district, we had lunch at Tumerico. Jan had a Sonora Dog and Phil had Al Pastor Tacos. We were surprised when we learned later that Tumerico serves fresh Latin vegan and vegetarian food. We now don’t know what we were eating but it was very tasty.
On Friday, we drove 272 miles on I-10 to Las Cruces, NM where we spent two nights at Hacienda RV Resort. The campground was very spacious and well maintained. We had a huge pull-through site. However, with no pool and few amenities, it wasn’t exactly a resort.
On Saturday, we visited Las Mesilla to do some shopping. This village has a long history. Thick-walled adobe buildings, which once protected residents against Apache attacks, now house art galleries, restaurants and gift shops. Mesilla’s most notorious resident, Billy the Kid, was sentenced to death at the country courthouse (now a gift shop) but he escaped before the sentence was carried out. Jan had purchased some jewelry at one of the many silver studios when we visited Mesilla in 2016 and she was determined to find that shop again. After visiting many of the silver shops, she finally found the right one, which had moved down the street.
On Sunday, we drove 289 miles to Fort Stockton, TX. This was the longest drive we had done in a long time and, combined with a late start and losing an hour due to crossing a time zone, had us arriving at the Fort Stockton RV Park at 6 pm. Since we were leaving early the next morning, we left the fifth wheel hitched to the truck overnight.
We got a very early start on Monday morning. Jan needed to get some lab work done in Kerrville for a doctor visit later in the week. Since she needed to be fasting, she got up early and left Fort Stockton at 7 am for her four-hour drive. Phil waited another hour, until sunrise, before beginning his 233-mile drive to Ingram, TX, where we spent four nights at Johnson Creek RV Resort & Park.
Over the next four days, we had doctor and vision appointments, along with several medical tests. Phil got the annual inspections done on the truck and trailer. We made a trip to Fredericksburg to load up on our favorite sauces. Phil also managed to drop in at Buckhorn Lake Resort a couple of days for pickleball. On Tuesday, we purchased a couple of Townie bikes at a Kerrville bicycle shop. Phil hadn’t had a bike since he abandoned his broken one on Mackinac Island in June. Jan’s old bike was badly rusted by the salt air during our stay in Brownsville, TX two years ago. Since the Townies are aluminum, rust shouldn’t be a problem.
On Friday, we drove 200 miles to Weimar, TX where we spent the night at Whispering Oaks RV Park. This was the first of four straight days of driving.
On Saturday, we drove 160 miles to Beaumont, TX and spent the night at Hidden Lake RV Park. Our drive took us through the middle of Houston on I-10 at 12:30 pm. We had made this drive in April on a Wednesday at 10:30 am and it had been very easy. We made the mistake of assuming that it would also be an easy drive on a Saturday but we were wrong. Traffic was very heavy and the challenge was compounded by lots of construction zones. We were glad it was a short drive because the Houston experience left us exhausted.
Sunday’s drive was 219 miles and took us to Livingston, LA where we spent the night at Lakeside RV Park. Nearly the entire drive was on interstate highways (I-10 and I-12) and, other than several construction zones, was rather boring. After three straight days of driving, we were now only one more day of driving away from our month-long stay at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, AL.