Fall in TN and GA (Sept. 18 – October 31, 2022)

On Sunday, September 18th, we drove 200 miles to Rossville, GA, where we spent three weeks at the Holiday Travel Chattanooga RV Park.  Although the park has a Georgia address, it is less than a mile from the Tennessee border. We had stayed at this campground four months earlier, when we came to look at property in Jasper Highlands.  We have now returned to begin the long process of design and build of our new home. 

On Monday morning, we drove to our lot in Jasper Highlands.  We used our 100-foot tape measure to get a better sense for where on the lot we might want to build.  We then met with Grant Moore, the Project Manager for Fredonia Builders.  Fredonia’s claim to fame is their Amish carpenters who do the framing.  Phil had previously had a phone conversation with Grant, who is also a Jasper Highlands resident.  Since Grant owns a Fredonia-built house, we began by touring his home and discussing Fredonia’s process for design and build.  Grant took us to two Fredonia construction sites so we could see some of their work.  We then met Lisa Boyle, owner of Fredonia Builders, and drove back out to our lot.  Grant and Lisa gave us their opinions on where we might build.  Unfortunately, due to Lisa’s sensitivity to poison ivy, she was limited to assessing our heavily-wooded property from the road.  They advised us to stake the perimeter of the house we’d like to build and apply for the septic system permit, before spending any money on architects or builders.

On Tuesday, we met with Hunter Godfrey, the Project Manager: Draftsman for Goodman Creations, to discuss the process and cost for architectural design of our house.  We liked what we heard but let them know we were planning to apply for the septic permit first.

Wednesday morning, we headed back to our lot.  We first stopped at Lowes to pick up some landscaping stakes, mason line and various tools for clearing brush.  We then spent several hours chopping down branches and thorns.  After this effort, we were able to run a string line along one border of our property.  Being too worn out to fix dinner, we ordered catfish plates from Champy’s which were delicious and very filling.

On Saturday, we attended the Chattanooga Home & Garden show at the convention center.  We enjoyed chatting with many of the vendors, although it would have been premature to ask for estimates.  We spent about an hour talking with LaNita Cates, the New Client Liaison for Cole Construction, despite already having scheduled a meeting with her on Monday.  We got home in time to watch the Tennessee Vols beat the Florida Gators in an exciting game.

On Monday, September 26th, we went to the Chattanooga office of Cole Construction and met with LaNita Cates again and Matt Cole, one of the owners.  They are the only custom builder working in Jasper Highlands that offers a fixed cost contract.

We spent many hours on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday back on our lot, clearing lots of brush and running string lines along the boundary of our desired house plan.  There are many mature trees that will need to be cleared prior to construction but, for now, we just had to work around them.  The final touch involved running yellow caution tape along the string to keep people from tripping over it.

On Saturday, Jason came to visit us and spend the night.  We drove him out to Jasper Highlands to see our property.  After walking our lot, we drove around so Jason could see many of the beautiful homes in the development.  We also stopped to explore Raulston Falls Park and the Pat’s Summitt pavilion.

On Monday, October 3rd, we drove to Cloudland Canyon State Park for a hike.  This state park is located on the western edge of Lookout Mountain in the northwest corner of Georgia.  We hiked the 1.8-mile out-and-back Waterfalls Trail to see Cherokee Falls and Hemlock Falls, as well as an unnamed falls on Sitton’s Gulch Trail.  Although fairly short, the hike was rated as strenuous due to 600 stairsteps each way.  As usual, the stairs going down weren’t too bad; going back up was another story.  Due to the lack of rainfall, the falls were not as impressive as they would have been otherwise.

On Tuesday, we drove to Helen, GA and spent the day and night with Bruce and Lori Davis.  Bruce’s family has owned a time-share unit there since 1985 and have a tradition of visiting during Oktoberfest.  Helen is Bavarian-themed village in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northern Georgia.  We spent the afternoon exploring Helen with Bruce and Lori, strolling the cobblestone streets and visiting a number of shops, including Betty’s Country Store, Helen Hat Company and Hansel & Gretel Candy Kitchen.  We stopped to listen to music and enjoy some liquid refreshments at King Ludwig’s Biergarten.  We had German food for dinner, naturally.  The food was delicious, and the portions were very large.  After a quick breakfast on Wednesday morning, we headed for home, first making a stop to check out the campground at Unicoi State Park.

During our brush clearing efforts the previous week, Jan had discovered what appeared to be a survey marker buried in the ground.  That was concerning since this marker was several feet away from where the surveyor’s stake was stuck in the ground.  We decided we should get the line re-surveyed before applying for our septic permit.  On Thursday, we learned that the marker Jan had found buried in the ground was the correct boundary.  This meant that the string line we had run for our proposed single-level house footprint was actually seven feet inside the required setback area.  This was enough for us to abandon our thoughts of a single-level house and, instead, to consider other options with a smaller footprint.

On Friday, we worked to clear the space needed for a two-story house, located on the left side of the lot.  We still had thoughts of possibly building a house with a walkout basement, so Jan invited Grant Moore, of Fredonia Builders, to return to our lot and give us some more advice.  Grant came out on Saturday morning and confirmed that the two-story was our better option.  However, after Grant left, we started to consider placing the two-story house on the right side of our lot and began to clear the necessary area.  By the end of the day on Saturday, we were torn between the two options and could find pros and cons with each.  Since we were scheduled to return in two weeks, we decided to use that time to make our decision.

On Sunday, October 9th, we drove 156 miles to Goodlettsville, TN, where we would spend eight nights at Grand Ole RV Resort.  We arrived in time to watch the second half of the Titan’s win.  Jason dropped by for dinner.  Monday was a more relaxing day, although we did head out to Moss-Wright Park in the afternoon for a long walk.

On Tuesday, we drove to Lebanon, TN and met Philip and Brenda Dunlap for lunch at Los Compadres.  Jan spent Wednesday with Sheila, Ashley and Laura at Cheekwood Estate & Gardens.  After waiting out a tornado warning at Ashley’s apartment afterward, Jan’s drive home through the rain and rush hour traffic was extremely slow.  After visiting our storage unit on Thursday afternoon, we attempted to explore downtown Nashville for a couple of hours.  We abandoned the plan when we could only find full-day parking for $26, and it was getting close to rush hour.  On Friday, Jan spent the afternoon with Sheila and Rita shopping and dining at Opry Mills.

On Saturday morning, we drove to the West End of Nashville and found free parking on the campus of Vanderbilt University.  We then visited the Graduate Nashville hotel and enjoyed some fresh oysters at White Limozeen, the rooftop restaurant and bar.  The pink-themed restaurant was packed with bachelorette parties.  It was drizzling as we left the hotel, so we decided to just drive back down Broadway.  The streets and rooftops were packed with people.  We made it home in time to watch the Tennessee Vols beat Alabama 52-49 on a last-second field goal, ending a 15-year losing streak.  It was a super exciting game!

On Sunday evening, October 16th, we met Jason and headed downtown for a Jason Isbell concert at the Ryman Auditorium.  Before the show, we had dinner at the Assembly Food Hall, across the street from the Ryman.  To describe the Assembly Food Hall as a food court would be to do it a great disservice.  The hall features 24 eateries, nine full-service bars, one full-service restaurant, and three performance stages.  The hall’s 100,000-square-foot includes an open-air rooftop concert venue and over 25,000 square feet of outdoor patio and terrace space.  The place was very crowded.  Jason found us a table and, as we each headed out to order food from different vendors, we were joined at the table by a couple from California.  We had quite a good conversation with them, on a wide range of topics.

The concert began at 8 pm with the special guest, Vagabon, a female vocalist originally from Cameroon.  Things got much more lively when Jason Isbell took the stage.  Isbell grew up in North Alabama and started playing as a teenager in a garage band, with a friend.  They played at the Grand Ole Opry when he was 16.  At age 22, he joined the band, Drive-By Truckers, and was with them for six years, until 2007, before beginning a solo career.  Isbell’s band, The 400 Unit, is primarily made up of musicians from the Muscle Shoals, Alabama area and were very talented.

After a late night, we had to get going early on Monday morning to begin our 206-mile drive to Heiskel, TN, where we spent the night at the Escapee’s Raccoon Valley RV Park.  On Tuesday morning, as we prepared to drive to our dealer, RVs for Less, for service, we were unable to get the two hydraulic living room slides to retract.  This wasn’t a total surprise since a hydraulic fluid leak was on our list of service issues.  Phil added a quart of transmission fluid, and we were able to get the slides closed.  When we got to RVs for Less, they quickly determined that the leak was due to a broken O-ring, and it was fixed quickly.

The remainder of our stay was spent addressing an issue referred to as “butt wiggle,” where the rear cap begins to separate from the frame.  The mechanic said that, on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being the least serious), ours was a 1.  However, once he had done enough work to make the diagnosis, it only made sense for him to finish the job of adding braces to hold the end cap in place.  The total job took eight hours of labor.

Since we never know how long our service appointments will last, we had booked our next campground reservation for Friday.  When we were done early, we had to scramble to find a spot for Thursday night.  Since October is a very popular time in the Smokies, we were fortunate to find an overnight spot at Riverside RV Park in Sevierville, TN, about 25 miles from our dealer.  After getting set up there early Thursday afternoon, we headed off to spend the rest of the day in Gatlinburg.  We strolled the main strip from one end to the other, and then returned down the other side of the street.  We stopped for dinner at an Italian restaurant.

On Friday morning, we checked out of Riverside RV Park.  Phil drove our rig 45 miles to Heiskel, where we spent the weekend at Raccoon Valley again.  Since we had nothing planned for Friday, Jan stayed behind and spent the day shopping at the Tanger Outlet Mall in Pigeon Forge. 

We had chosen to spend the weekend in the Knoxville area so we could attend a Tennessee Vols game, since Phil had never been to Neyland Stadium. We had pretty much abandoned that plan since ticket prices were initially too high, for what was expected to be a blowout game against Tennessee Martin, a FCS football program. However, by Friday night, ticket prices on StubHub had gotten considerably cheaper so we bought some. We parked about 1.4 miles from the stadium and followed the orange-clad crowd. Our seats, in the corner of the end zone, were better than we had expected, and we saw a lot of game action in front of us. The temperature was cool to start the day but, with bright sun, it warmed up quickly. The game turned out to be as one-sided as expected, with the #3-ranked Vols rolling up a halftime score of 52-7, despite pulling many of the starters. The backups played the entire second half and we left with seven minutes remaining. The final score was 65-24.

On Monday morning, October 24th, we left early to meet a Progressive claims adjuster at a truck/RV body shop near Knoxville.  We have experienced hairline fractures to the paint job on our front cap from an incident quite a while ago.  We had filed the claim in Spring 2021 and had received a check from Progressive, based on photos Phil had sent them.  Due to our travel itinerary, we weren’t able to get an actual estimate from the body shop until Spring 2022.  Due to a large difference from their initial estimate, Progressive decided they wanted to schedule a meeting at the body shop, where they could inspect the damage in person and discuss it with the body shop owner.  Again, due to our travel, we weren’t able to schedule that meeting until now.  After that fairly quick meeting, we drove 120 miles back to Rossville, GA, where we spent the next week at Holiday Travel Park Chattanooga. 

On Tuesday, we were back out at our lot in Jasper Highlands, clearing brush and deciding where to situate our house.  Matt Cole, owner of Cole Construction, dropped by at 10 am and provided his opinion.  He recommended we move the house about 35’ farther back than we had previously intended, now starting 75’ from the road.  We spent the rest of the day clearing brush from the paths we would need for staking the new house location, farther back and on the left side of the lot. 

Over the next two days, we met with two more prospective custom home builders: Cain Development on Wednesday and McCoy Homes on Thursday.  This brings us to a total of four possible builders, all of whom come highly recommended.  It will be difficult to make the final selection, as there are pros and cons for each. 

On Friday, we returned to our lot and proceeded to stake out the house footprint, using Matt Cole’s recommendation, but moving it to the right side of the lot.  We spent the entire day clearing brush, marking the corners and running string lines and caution tape around the perimeter.  Although we were very tired and sore, we were glad that we would not need to return on Saturday.  The next step is to apply for the septic permit and wait 4-6 weeks for a decision.  Hopefully, our proposed location will be approved, but, if not, we hope any suggested changes will be acceptable to us.  Regardless, the many days we’ve spent clearing brush from multiple areas on the lot, assisted by the falling leaves, has made the property appear much more open.

Jason came to visit us again on Saturday.  We all enjoyed watching the 3rd-ranked Tennessee Vols beat up on the 19th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats, 44-6. 

As we were leaving our dealer’s lot on October 20th, Jan had learned of a tribute for Loretta Lynn at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville on October 30th.  She logged in to claim one of the free tickets and received a QR code.  When we arrived at our campsite, she tried to get Phil a ticket but he was placed on the waiting list.  Over the next ten days, there was a lot of conflicting information as to whether or not having the QR code guaranteed a seat in the Opry.  It sounded as though the QR code holders would be given tickets on a first come, first serve basis on the day of the tribute.  On Sunday, October 30th, Jason left us early, drove back to Nashville, and got Jan a place in line at the Opry.  Jan arrived at 11 am and relieved Jason.  She was in line until 3:30 pm, when they started letting people inside for the 6 pm show.  The tribute included a large number of country music icons, both in person and by video.  Although it was an exhausting day, Jan was glad she was able to attend. Back at our campsite, Phil was able to watch the tribute on CMT from the comfort of his recliner.

On Monday, October 31st, we began our drive to Gulf Shores, AL.  Phil towed our rig 267 miles from Rossville, GA to the Miller’s Ferry Corps of Engineers campground outside of Camden, AL.  The campground was quite nice but extremely remote.  Jan drove 300+ miles from Nashville and arrived at the campground about an hour after Phil.

On the Road Again (Sept. 10-18, 2022)

After two months in Kerrville, we were ready to move on, although not necessarily looking forward to the long drive to Tennessee.  On Saturday, Sept. 10th, we hooked up and got underway.  After sitting idle for an extended period, we were concerned that something might not operate as intended, but we were pleased that there were no issues.  We drove 256 miles to Corsicana, TX, where we overnighted at the American RV Park.    

On Sunday, we drove 191 miles to Texarkana, TX, where we spent two nights at Shady Pines RV Park.  The GPS had recommended a mostly-interstate route of 234 miles, skirting around Dallas.  Phil chose to take a somewhat slower, but definitely shorter, backroads route that took us through many small towns.  This was at least our tenth stay at Shady Pines RV Park, which is affiliated with an RV dealership next door.

Although we had scheduled a mobile RV tech for Monday to address our microwave wiring issue, Phil spent Sunday night trying to fix it himself.  Replacing the plug on the power cord was fairly straightforward.  However, replacing the receptacle remained a challenge.  Having never worked with Romex wiring before and having almost no slack in the line, Phil was apprehensive about being able to connect the new 20-amp receptacle he had bought at Lowes.  On Monday morning, he drove to the RV center next door and purchased a snap-in receptacle similar to the one he was replacing.  Although this solved the issue of having enough wire, Phil couldn’t figure out how to get the wire into the slots.  He watched a YouTube video on the subject and learned that the manufacturer recommended using their specialized tool to do the installation.  Phil then returned to the RV center to see if they had the tool and if he could rent/borrow it.  They didn’t have that specific tool, but they did lend Phil a different tool and the service manager explained how they use it.  Phil returned to our rig and, using the borrowed tool, was able to connect the receptacle.  We were quite relieved when we turned the power back on, and the microwave worked again.  It had taken a fair amount of work but, having saved the cost of a service call, it was all worth it.

On Tuesday, after returning to the RV center to get our TX annual inspection on the fifth wheel, we drove 283 miles to West Memphis, AR where we spent three nights at Tom Sawyer’s Mississippi River RV Park.  We had read very good reviews on this campground and, although it was not very fancy, it had one major thing going for it: location.  Our site was about 100 feet from the banks of the Mississippi River.  We were able to watch barges going up and down the river from our living room window.  They even had an observation tower right by our site.

We spent Wednesday in Memphis, TN visiting Graceland.  Although Phil had lived in Germantown, TN (a suburb of Memphis) for 10 months in 1988/89, he had never been to Graceland before.  We first did the tour of the Graceland Mansion, aided by an iPad and headphones that provided narratives on each room.  Since the house has remained largely as it was when Elvis died in 1977, the furnishings were a throwback to the past.  However, seeing the rooms and the grounds definitely brought to life the stories of the Graceland lifestyle of Elvis, his family and his friends.  There were plenty of home movies on display throughout the exhibits, adding to the experience. 

After touring the mansion, we began our walk through the eleven exhibitions.  We first visited the Presley Motors Automobile Museum and Presley Cycles exhibit, then had lunch at Vernon’s Smokehouse.

After lunch, we visited the rest of the exhibitions, including Private Presley: Elvis in the Army, ICONS: The Influence of Elvis Presley, and Elvis: The Entertainer Career Museum. All of the exhibits were filled with memorabilia from Elvis’ life and his career in music and movies.  Our final stop was at Elvis’ two airplanes.  After spending most of 5-1/2 hours on our feet, we were quite worn out by the time we left Graceland.

On Thursday, we drove to Germantown, TN and checked out Phil’s former home and neighborhood.  We also drove through a nearby development of newer construction.  This consisted of block after block of McMansions, with virtually no space between each house.  The houses didn’t even have driveways.  Our curiosity led us to explore how the homeowners accessed their garages.  We discovered that there was an alleyway that was shared by a large number of homeowners to reach their garages in the back of the houses, but without any driveways.  It was wild! 

Upon returning to our campsite, we spent some time watching the barges moving up the Mississippi.  Phil climbed the rather rickety stairs up to the treehouse observation deck and enjoyed sitting in one of the rocking chairs up there.  The water level of the Mississippi was quite low but, as the picture shows, this has not always been the case.

On Friday, September 16th, we drove 150 miles to Hurricane Mills, TN, where we spent two nights at the Buffalo River/I-40 KOA.  On Saturday, we drove to Eva and attended the Eva Beach Music and Folklife Festival.  We listened to some music and explored the car show and craft booths.  Eva is only a few miles from Camden, TN, where Jan lived most of her life.  As we walked around, Jan met and chatted with a few old friends, but was somewhat surprised by how few people she knew.  We visited with “Flash” Melton, Jan’s aunt’s brother, who was emceeing the event.  Two of Jan’s lifelong friends, Sheila and Michelle, arrived later and Jan toured the grounds with them while Phil enjoyed the classic rock offerings of “The Geezers.”

After leaving the festival, we stopped at Wal-Mart for fuel and groceries.  However, when we returned to our rig, we realized we had forgotten to get coffee so we headed back out to an Amish grocery we had passed.  As usual for our trips to Amish stores, we ended up buying more than just coffee.  Jason arrived later that afternoon and we had dinner at the Log Cabin Restaurant.  We all had catfish and the portions were very large.

On Sunday morning, Jason headed home to Nashville, and we took off for our 200-mile drive to Rossville, GA.