Back to Rocky Top (April 2 – May 9, 2019)

On Tuesday, April 2nd, we began our trek back to Tennessee. While Jan went to a 9 am doctor’s appointment, Phil got on the road by 8:30 am and completed the 360 mile trip to Livingston, TX by 3:30 pm. Although he had intended to completely miss Houston, the GPS took him over a portion of the dreaded tollway around the northwest corner of the city. Fortunately it was about 2 pm when he hit the tollway and traffic was fairly light. The tollbooths were rather narrow but Phil managed to get through them without incident. Since Phil drove around 62 mph on I-10 and Jan was able to drive closer to the 75 mph speed limit, Jan was able to arrive only about 30 minutes later than Phil despite leaving Kerrville quite a bit later. We spent the night at the Escapee’s Rainbow’s End campground, which is where our mail forwarding service is based. Phil arrived early enough to be able to pick up our mail in person.

On Wednesday morning, we headed out for our 257 mile drive to Vidalia. LA where we spent the night at the River View RV Park and Resort. The campground is on the edge of the Mississippi River, directly across the river from Natchez, MS. Our site was in the northern part of the campground and was quite nice. We were able to watch barge traffic on the river. Unfortunately, the southern portion of the campground had suffered flooding and this eliminated the use of the sewer at our site.

On Thursday, we drove 258 miles across Mississippi to Eutaw, AL where we spent two nights at the Jennings Ferry Corp of Engineers campground. Although we had stayed at numerous COE campgrounds previously, this one was unusually big rig-friendly as it had numerous long pull-through sites.

On Saturday, we drove 183 miles to Fort Payne, AL where we spent the night at Wills Creek RV Park. Although we had counted on a fairly short drive, we ran into a traffic mess in Birmingham. Although Jan’s GPS was telling her to take the Hwy 459 bypass, Phil’s GPS told him to stay on I-20 through the city. When Phil saw the electronic signs saying that through traffic should take 459, he was already in the I-20 lane and was unable to take the bypass. We soon discovered that I-20 was closed due to road construction and we were forced to exit onto downtown streets. With the GPS now useless, we drove around a while before we found a detour sign. We then got behind some semis and followed a circuitous route through the city that eventually led us back to the interstate. When we arrived at the campground, the owner met Phil and told him to drive around and pick out whatever open site he wanted. We managed to get set up before the rain started but, once it started, it rained pretty much non-stop all night.

On Sunday morning, the rain had stopped and we managed to make the 175-mile drive to Heiskell, TN with only a few drizzles. We spent two nights at the Escapee’s Raccoon Valley Campground. We always stay at this campground the night before getting service work done at our dealer’s facility. We had originally planned to only spend Sunday night there. When we then heard from the dealer that they wouldn’t be able to work on our rig until Tuesday, we extended our stay for a second night. Our son Jarrod and his fiancé, Jess, were traveling through the area and joined us for Monday night. We were all awoken rudely by the LP alarm that went off twice in the middle of the night.

We arose early on Tuesday morning and had blueberry pancakes to celebrate Jess’ birthday. After breakfast, we drove to RVs for Less for our service work. The biggest part of the work involved getting portions of the rig repainted and the dealer doesn’t have an indoor paint booth, so the length of our stay was largely dependent on how many dry days we would have.

We ended up spending six nights on the lot at RVs for Less. Fortunately the weekdays remained rain-free so the paint work was able to be completed without interruption. Since we had to answer the service techs’ occasional questions related to our other issues, we stayed close to home for most of the entire week. Friday, April 12th, was our 16th anniversary and we celebrated with dinner at the Copper Cellar restaurant in Knoxville.

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The work on our rig was largely complete by Friday afternoon but, since the bill wasn’t finalized until Monday morning, we ended up staying a couple of additional nights for free. One of our service issues related to very weak water flow through our kitchen faucet. After much testing, we were advised to buy a new faucet so, on Sunday, we went to Lowes and purchased one. Unfortunately, we discovered that the hole for the sprayer was 1/8” too small. We had to wait until Monday morning to have a service tech expand the hole so Phil could finalize the installation.

Since we hadn’t known how long we would be at the dealer, we had to wait until the weekend to make reservations for our next stay. After striking out at a couple of campgrounds, we made reservations for four nights at Duvall in the Smokies in Sevierville, TN. Since it was only a 31 mile drive from the dealer, we waited to leave until almost noon on Monday.

Duvall in the Smokies is a small, but very nice, family-run campground that runs along the Little Pigeon River. We had an adequately long, paved pull-through site. The campground was very well maintained and there was bluegrass music piped through speakers planted throughout the campground. After getting set up, we made a shopping trip to the Tanger Outlet Center.

After dinner, we headed to Dairy Queen for dessert. We arrived at 7:58 pm but saw that they had a special on two medium-sized dipped cones and/or sundaes for $4 after 8 pm. We waited until after 8:00 to place our order. In addition to enjoying this bargain, we did an online survey that earned us a free dilly bar. This was such a great deal that we repeated the experience on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Then, on Thursday, we collected our three free dilly bars.

Although we had planned to visit Dollywood, we decided to save the money instead and spent the next three days hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains. On Tuesday, April 16th, we hiked the Clingmans Dome trail. Clingmans Dome is the highest mountain in the Smokies and the highest point along the 2,174-mile Appalachian Trail. It is also the third highest point in mainland Eastern North America. Although the hike was only one-half mile each way, it was quite steep. There was a concrete observation deck at the end of the trail that, after climbing a circular ramp, provided a 360-degree panorama of the surrounding terrain.  We also walked a short distance off the trail to meet up with part of the Appalachian Trail.

On Wednesday, we returned to the Clingmans Dome area and hiked the Andrews Bald Trail. The hike consisted of a moderately difficult out-and-back trail, 1.8 miles each way. We had a picnic lunch at the scenic overview at the end of the trail.

On Thursday, we drove to the Great Smoky Mountains Institute in Tremont, TN and hiked the Spruce Flats Falls Trail. This was another out-and-back hike of moderate difficulty with a round-trip distance of 2 miles that led to a beautiful waterfall. On our return, we encountered a student group that had spotted a bear climbing a tree about 40 yards from the trail. We stopped and watched the bear for quite a while.

Since the weather forecast called for rain on Thursday night and all day Friday, we went ahead and hooked up on Thursday evening. The weather forecast turned out to be correct and we left Sevierville in a steady rain. It rained most of our 225-drive to Goodlettsville, TN where we had a 7 day reservation at the Nashville North KOA. About midway through our drive we encountered an accident that kept traffic on I-40 stopped for over a half-hour.

Jason stopped over on Saturday to watch the Predators playoff game but, unfortunately, they lost. On Easter Sunday morning, April 21st, we drove to Moss-Wright Park in Goodlettsville and explored the outside of historic Mansker’s Station, a reproduction of a 1779 fort, and the Bowen Plantation House, said to be the longest standing brick structure in Middle Tennessee. Then we walked over two miles on the trail. The first mile was shaded and quite pleasant but the last mile was in the sun and quite hot.

We returned home and began preparation of a huge Easter dinner. Since we had only been able to get a 30 amp pull-through site at the KOA, we had challenges in power management. With the combination of the convection oven, induction cooktop and electric frypan in use simultaneously, we frequently tripped the circuit breaker. Jason, Jarrod and Jess arrived in the early evening and Phil joined them in some competitive games of marbles while Jan finished dinner preparation. Once the sun set, the weather cooled off and we were able to eat outside at the picnic table. No one left the table hungry.

On Monday Jan met her friends, Sheila, Michelle, Ashley and Laura, for lunch in Nashville. Since Phil needed to pick up our daughter, Lizzi, from the hospital in Smyrna, TN that afternoon, he dropped Jan off at the restaurant and drove to the hospital. Unfortunately, there was delay after delay in getting Lizzi released so, at about 3:30 pm, Phil left Smyrna and returned to Nashville to get Jan. The combination of rush hour traffic, road construction and accidents turned this into a two-hour roundtrip. However, when we returned to the hospital at 5:30, Lizzi had just finished getting released so the timing worked out OK. After dropping Lizzi off at home, we returned home and snacked on Easter dinner leftovers.

On Tuesday we drove to Hendersonville to see the movie, The Best of Enemies. The movie, dealing with the integration of the Durham, NC schools in 1971, was excellent and we had the theatre almost entirely to ourselves.  On Wednesday Phil took the truck to the Dodge dealer and had them install the new wheel cover and hubcap, at no charge.

On Thursday Jan drove to Camden, TN to pick up her niece, Katie Schlegel. Then, they drove to Jackson, TN, hoping to visit Jan’s Aunt Phyllis before she went in for open heart surgery. Unfortunately, Aunt Phyllis had already been moved into pre-op before Jan and Katie arrived. However, they were able to visit with Jan’s Uncle Charles and cousin Michael. Then, Jan returned to Goodlettsville with Katie, who spent the next three nights with us.

On Friday, April 26th, we moved 30 miles from the KOA to the Seven Points COE campground on J. Percy Priest Lake. The timing of our move was complicated by an 11 am checkout time at the KOA and a strictly-enforced 3 pm check-in time at the COE campground. Phil had found an out-of-business grocery store nearby that had a large, empty parking lot and he spent an hour practicing backing the fifth wheel into parking spots. This was especially important since our first site at Seven Points was a back-in. Phil then drove to the local Walmart parking lot and parked the rig for the next few hours. Jan and Katie picked up Phil at the Walmart and, after running several errands, we all met Jarrod at the local Cracker Barrel for lunch. After lunch, Phil returned to Walmart to do some grocery shopping while Jan and Katie hit the nearby Old Navy, easily killing off the remaining time.

During our previous stay at Seven Points, Phil had identified site 34 as being relatively easy to back into. However, when he arrived this time, it looked more challenging than he remembered. Fortunately, with Phil’s backing practice earlier in the day and guidance from Jan and Katie, Phil was able to get backed into the site without too much difficulty.

Once in place, we were very pleased with the site, which had a great view of the lake across the street.  We spent the next few days walking and riding bikes around the campground.  Despite daytime highs in the mid-80s, the breeze off the lake made it feel quite pleasant.

On Saturday afternoon, Jason and Jarrod came to visit and we spent several hours visiting and playing marbles.

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On Sunday morning, we attended meditation with Jason. We then went to the condo where Jarrod and Jess are currently staying and had lunch, before driving Katie back to Camden.

On Tuesday, April 30th, Jan drove back to the hospital in Jackson, TN to visit her Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Charles. Then she joined a group of her childhood girlfriends for dinner at the Mexican restaurant in Camden.

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Dinner with Jan, Sheila, Michele, Helena, Brenda and Michelle

On Wednesday we needed to move from site 34 to site 57. Checkout time was 2 pm but we could have moved as soon as the previous occupant of site 57 had vacated. Unfortunately, it appeared that they were also waiting to change sites and they didn’t leave our new site until almost 2 pm. Although site 57 is a pull-through, the driveway is quite narrow so we had to be very careful to avoid the surrounding trees. Also, the electric and water hookups were placed on the wrong side so we had to run our power cord and hose around the back of our rig.

That evening we joined Jason, Jarrod and Jess for a Nashville Sounds baseball game. The Sounds are the Triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. It started to rain as we walked to the stadium and the start of the game was delayed from 6:30 pm to 7:45 pm. After the rain stopped, it was a lovely evening for sitting outside and we had first row seats up the first base line. Jan was somewhat concerned about being hit by foul balls but we didn’t have many come near us.  Unfortunately, the Sounds lost 4-2.

With the rain delay, it was nearly midnight before we returned to the Seven Points campground. We had been told that the gate to the campground was closed between 10 pm and 6 am so we weren’t surprised to discover that we were locked out. We were surprised, however, to find that there was no legal parking area where we leave the car. We ended up leaving it on the side of the entrance and walked in the dark to our campsite. Phil set his alarm for 5:45 am and was at the gate when the attendant opened it at 6 am. The attendant seemed puzzled as to why we had parked outside the gate and Phil was chagrined to learn that, although the gate was closed, it was not locked. Since we had been locked out previously at the COE campground in Georgetown, TX and had recently stayed at another COE campground that locked the gates at night, we had just assumed it was locked. We live and learn!

On Friday, May 3rd, we attended Lizzi’s pinning ceremony at Volunteer State Community College. Lizzi had received her BS in psychology from Belmont University four years earlier but, after a couple of jobs working in that field, she decided she’d rather work with sick animals than sick humans. She returned to school for two years and earned her certificate as a Veterinary Technician. Although she had previously avoided science classes, she worked hard in this program and graduated with honors. At the pinning ceremony, the 19 Vet Tech graduates were honored. They played a video showing the variety of animals Lizzi and her classmates had worked with in their clinics, including snakes, rabbits, cows and mice as well as dogs and cats.

The following morning we attended Lizzi’s graduation. With about 800 graduates, the program lasted nearly two hours and was as unexciting as most graduation ceremonies.

On Sunday, Jason, Jarrod and Jess came to our campsite and we spent the afternoon eating and playing games. Jan had purchased Giant Jenga and we enjoyed playing a couple of games. We managed 38 moves before the tower fell in the first game; 28 in the second. Phil then grilled pork chops and we had a large early dinner, followed by making s’mores over a roaring campfire. We ended the afternoon with a couple of games of marbles.

On Monday, April 6th, we drove 200 miles to Anchor Down RV Resort in Dandridge, TN where we attended the first three days of the DRV Owners Group (DOG) rally. There were over 100 attendees and 63 rigs. We were in site 132, a pull-through that provided panoramic views of Douglas Lake from our living room windows. It helped that three of the sites across the road from us remained vacant for most of our stay. The rally began with a meet-and-greet potluck dinner and, as usual, there was enough food to feed a small army.

On Tuesday, we took the Mazda into Knoxville for an oil change and made a Sam’s Club run. We returned for a BBQ dinner prepared by RVs for Less, our RV dealer. Every family received door prizes and we got a Cracker Barrel gift card. Again, there was too much food but it was delicious.

On Wednesday morning, Phil played pickleball for a couple of hours. We spent part of the afternoon at the Tanger Outlet Center, then joined the DOG Group at the Hatfields and McCoys Dinner Feud where we were served a family style meal of fried chicken, pulled pork and several sides. After dinner, we watched a farcical musical revue with dancing and comedy.

On Thursday, May 9th, we left Anchor Down and headed north toward Indiana. We have already booked six nights at Anchor Down (site 132) in October 2020 at another DOG rally.

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