All Around Tennessee (April 19 – May 24, 2022)

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.          

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