Gulf Shores, AL – Month 2 (December 1 – 31, 2022)

With our friends leaving at the end of November, our social activities slowed down considerably in early December.  However, we were blessed with daytime highs in the 70s for most of these days.  This allowed us to get outside more, to enjoy bike rides, walks on the beach, and outdoor pickleball.  Phil found time to wash our rig and perform other maintenance.  We had hoped to make a trip to Dauphin Island but thick fog every morning kept the ferry shut down until later in the day.

We were entertained for several days by a cardinal who visited the tree behind us regularly.  It seemed confused by the reflections off our back windows and flew into the glass over and over again.  We would chase it off, only to have it return a short time later.  We tried hanging things outside on our windows, but this had no effect.

On Saturday, December 10th, we visited the Christmas festival at The Wharf.  We visited the vendor booths and listened to live Christmas music.  We then made our first trip of the year to Flora-Bama, where we had lunch and listened to live music.

On Monday, six weeks after submitting our septic system permit application, we got a response from Natalie Lankford, Environmental Consultant for the Chattanooga office of the TN Division of Water Resources.  She wrote, “On paper, there appears to be sufficient space for a 3 bedroom Modified Low Pressure Pipe system, but I will know more once I flag out the LPP laterals on contour.”  Although we’re not exactly sure what that means, it seemed encouraging enough for us to schedule a meeting with an architect in early January. 

On Thursday, December 15th, we drove 475 miles to Nashville to attend Lizzi’s graduation from Belmont University.  Although she had earned her Bachelor’s degree from Belmont in 2015, she returned two and a half years ago to earn a Master of Science in Strategic Communication and Leadership from the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.  We left the campground at 8:07 am and arrived at Belmont just a few minutes before the hooding ceremony began at 5 pm.  Fortunately, there were only six students receiving their Masters from this college so the hooding ceremony was quite short.  After a brief reception, we headed to our hotel for some much-needed sleep.

On Friday evening, we attended the graduation ceremony in Belmont’s Curb Event Center.  This time, there were about 1,000 students receiving degrees so the ceremony lasted quite a while.  Afterward, it was too dark and cold to take pictures outside the arena, so we all headed back to our hotel.  After taking lots of pictures, we headed to Darfons Restaurant, where we had a delicious meal, with very large portions.

On Saturday, we drove to Camden, TN for a get-together with Jan’s relatives at the Country & Western Steakhouse.

On Sunday morning, we picked up Jason at 9 am and began the long drive back to Gulf Shores, AL.  We got back home at 6:30 pm and were ready for an early bedtime.

The following week brought unseasonably cool weather to Gulf Shores.  Daytime highs never got out of the 50s and, by the end of the week, we were having lows below freezing.  Although we were spared the artic weather experienced by much of the rest of the country, it largely kept us indoors.  Jason did manage to get out for some running, walking, and bicycling, but he had to really bundle up to do so. 

On Thursday, December 22nd, we received approval from Natalie Lankford on our septic system application, enabling us to continue with plans for our 3-bedroom house. 

On Saturday, Christmas Eve, we enjoyed an early dinner at the Shrimp Basket restaurant.  We also picked up individual cheesecake slices at Hope’s Cheesecake for later.  That evening, we attended the Christmas Eve service at Central Church, in the Orange Beach Community Center.

On Christmas Day, we attended a potluck Christmas feast in the campground’s activity center.  We shared a table with a couple from Pensacola and enjoyed getting to know them.

Jason’s flight back to Nashville was originally scheduled to depart from Pensacola on Christmas day at 6:40 pm.  However, as the day progressed, his flight on Southwest became increasingly delayed.  By the time we dropped Jason off at the airport, the flight was already delayed by two hours.  When we were halfway back to the campground, Jason learned that his flight had been cancelled.  He was rebooked for Tuesday at 7:30 am and, fortunately, was able to retrieve his luggage.

On Tuesday, we all woke up at 4 am, with the intention of taking Jason to the Pensacola airport.  However, we quickly learned that that flight had also been cancelled.  To make matters worse, his return wasn’t rescheduled until Saturday morning, New Year’s Eve Day. Over the next few days, we learned the extent of Southwest Airlines’ problems and that many Southwest customers had experienced even greater hardships than Jason’s.

On a more positive note, the weather for Jason’s second week in Gulf Shores, although windy, was much warmer than it had been for his first week.  We were all able to spend considerable amounts of time outdoors.

On Saturday morning, we all got up at 4 am and drove Jason to the Pensacola airport.  This time, his flight departed on time.  After napping upon our return home, we went out for an early New Year’s Eve dinner at Doc’s Seafood Shack.  Since New Year’s Day was a travel day, we didn’t attempt to stay awake long enough to ring in 2023.

Gulf Shores, AL – Month 1 (November 1 – 30, 2022)

On  Tuesday, November 1st, we drove 166 miles to the campground at Gulf State Park for our two-month stay.  With Todd Ehlenfeldt’s assistance, Phil got us backed into our spot in site #12 fairly easily.  After getting set up, we attended a happy hour at the campsite of Scott and Gail Wahls, friends we had met here last year.  We were joined by longtime friends, Todd and Beth Ehlenfeldt, Tom and Roxi Rykal, and Dave and Jo Peterson.

On Wednesday, the same group gathered for another happy hour, this time at Rykal’s site.  We then headed to Doc’s Seafood Shack for dinner, where we shared a bowl of gumbo and split the seafood combo.

On Thursday morning, Jan went for a walk on the beach. 

That afternoon, we drove to Pensacola, FL and caught a nonstop flight to Nashville so we could attend Jan’s 45th high school reunion.  We spent the night at the Club Hotel near the airport.  On Friday, we drove to the reunion venue at The Lodge at Paris Landing State Park, after making brief stops in Camden and having an early dinner in Paris.  Our room at The Lodge was very nice and overlooked the Tennessee River. That evening, we met around the firepit with many of the early-arriving attendees.

On Saturday, after lunch in the lodge’s restaurant, many of the group gathered around the big screen TV to watch the Tennessee – Georgia football game.  Unfortunately, the game did not go as well as hoped and the crowd dwindled after halftime.

The main event began at 6 pm, with socializing and dining on a wide array of finger foods.  At 7 pm, the music began and was provided by a one-man band who was quite good.  There was a large turnout from the Class of 1977 and the attendees enjoyed reconnecting.  The fun continued until after 11 pm.

On Sunday, after saying goodbyes, we headed back to the Nashville airport.  Before catching our afternoon flight, we stopped for an early dinner at Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen at Opry Mills and consumed catfish, spare ribs, four sides and peach cobbler.  Our nonstop flight back to Pensacola was on-time and we got back to our campsite by 6:30 pm. 

On Monday, November 7th, we celebrated Scott’s birthday with the Ehlenfeldts, Petersons and Wahls with dinner at DeSoto’s Seafood Kitchen.  This was the first of three birthdays our group will celebrate in November.

Tuesday morning, Phil went to the Orange Beach Rec Center and played pickleball for nearly three hours.  Since he hadn’t played in about two months, he was rather stiff afterward.  That afternoon, we hosted a gathering of the five couples at our site and played numerous games of LCR.

On Wednesday, we headed to Walgreens and both got our flu shots and COVID boosters.  Thursday afternoon, we met the whole group at the Big Beach Brewing Company for an offsite happy hour. 

Afterward, we sat outside and enjoyed the heat from our fire ring.  We had purchased the fire ring and propane tank in the Spring but this was the first time we had tried it out.

On Friday and Saturday mornings, Phil played pickleball at Gulf State Park.  Although the concrete courts contain a lot of cracks, there were some very good players there and it was free (unlike the Rec Center).

On Friday evening, we went to Papa Rocco’s for dinner with Tom, Roxi, Beth and Gail.  Our primary reason for this outing was to see Bo Grant, formerly of The Platters.  We have seen him perform at least once each of the past three winters.  In 2019, Jan had asked him to change the lyrics of Sixteen Candles to Sixty Candles in honor of her 60th birthday, but he had forgotten to do it.  Jan reminded him that he had let her down and, this time, he obliged her request, albeit three years late.

On Tuesday, November 15th, Phil got online at exactly 8 am to request reservations at Gulf State Park for November 2023.  He had pre-programed his iPad to reduce the entry time somewhat and was able to complete the forms in 86 seconds (15 seconds faster than in 2021).  However, due to the increasing popularity of this campground, his entry was #324 in the queue (60 higher than in 2021).  Fortunately, he got the callback the following afternoon and was able to reserve our same campsite (#12) for next November.

On Tuesday afternoon, Jan joined Beth, Roxi, Jo and Gail for a girl’s day out.  They went to The Wharf to see the movie Ticket to Paradise, starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts.  Afterward, they did some shopping at The Wharf and had refreshments at Tacky Jacks.

On Wednesday, we drove north to Spanish Fort and Daphne for some shopping.  We then stopped for lunch at Market by the Bay, based on a recommendation from an older gentleman who had dropped by our rig when we were in Georgia.  We both had shrimp po’boy sandwiches and agreed with the recommendation.  After lunch, we stopped in Fairhope and did some Christmas shopping.

On Friday morning, we picked up Jason at the Pensacola airport and stopped for breakfast at Brick & Spoon in Orange Beach.  Saturday was rainy so we decided to spend the afternoon at the movies.  We went to The Wharf and saw The Menu, described as a horror/comedy film.  Phil enjoyed it more than Jan.  After the movie, we headed to Doc’s Seafood Shack & Oyster Bar for Jason’s 40th birthday dinner. We returned home to watch the Tennessee Vols football game.  Unfortunately, the Vols were overrun badly by the South Carolina Gamecocks, thus ending the Vols’ hopes of a national championship run. 

After taking Jason back to the Pensacola airport for his flight home on Sunday morning, we joined the Ehlenfeldts, Petersons and Wahls that afternoon at Doc’s Seafood and Steaks restaurant to celebrate Beth’s birthday.  This Doc’s is the newer version of the restaurant where we had eaten on Saturday night.  We then returned to the Ehlenfeldt’s coach and had cake and ice cream. 

Since we were going to be in Denver on Thanksgiving Day, the group decided to celebrate the holiday on Tuesday.  We gathered at the Petersons’ site and everyone brought multiple dishes.  As usual, we ate more than we should have but it was all very good.  After dinner, we played games and then gathered around the Wahl’s fire ring to escape the dropping temperatures.

On Wednesday morning, we drove to the Pensacola airport and caught our non-stop flight on Frontier to Denver.  We arrived 1-1/2 hours before our flight but, due to the nearby parking lot being full and both baggage drop-off and TSA having long lines, our flight was already boarding when we arrived at the gate.  Upon arriving in Denver, we took a 45-minute train ride from the terminal to Union Station downtown.  Jess picked us up and took us back to her and Jarrod’s apartment.  Jason had arrived earlier in the day.  After relaxing and dining on pizza, we went upstairs to Brittany and Caleb’s apartment in the same building and got to see 5-week-old Liam for the first time in person.

We had rented a basement apartment through Airbnb that was four blocks away, in a nice residential neighborhood.  The apartment was well-furnished, with everything we needed, except a coffee maker.  Jarrod brought us a coffee press, which did the job for Jan’s morning coffee.  Although Jarrod or Jess drove us to our apartment each night, we were able to walk back to their apartment in the mornings. 

After breakfast on Thursday, we walked through the neighborhood to Cheesman Park, one of the many city parks throughout Denver.  We enjoyed seeing the huge historic houses along the way, many of which have now been subdivided into apartments.  The weather was cool, but not unpleasant, and there were many people in the park.  Upon returning to the apartment, we relaxed and watched NFL football until it was time for our Thanksgiving feast.  Caleb, Brittany and Liam joined us for the Thanksgiving festivities.  We dined on Honey Baked Ham and beef tips, as well as many delicious side dishes and desserts.  No one left the table hungry.  After dinner, Jan held Liam while the rest of us played a rousing game of Marbles.

On Friday, we drove to Roxborough State Park and hiked six miles.  Although it was breezy and there were patches of snow on the ground, we warmed up quickly in the sunshine.  We enjoyed seeing the dramatic red-rock formations and the large herds of deer.

On Saturday, the women headed to a couple of craft fairs and then to lunch.  The guys relaxed at the apartment and mostly watched the numerous college football games.

On Sunday, we checked out of our apartment and headed across town to Cozy Cottage for breakfast.  The food was delicious and the servers were very friendly.  After returning to Jarrod and Jess’ apartment, Caleb, Brittany and Liam joined us for a walk through Denver City Park, a very large park across the street from the apartment.  It was then time for Jarrod and Jess to take us to the airport for our flight back to Pensacola.  Jason’s flight was a few hours later than ours, so he hung out with us until it was time for us to board.  The flight left a few minutes early and made good time getting back to Pensacola.  After some delay in getting our suitcase and catching the shuttle to the remote parking lot, we drove back to Gulf State Park and arrived at 9:45 pm.

As the end of November approached, we had to say goodbye to our friends until next November.  On Monday, November 28th, all five couples gathered for a late afternoon lunch at Tacky Jack’s.  Tom and Roxi Rykal departed on Tuesday morning.  On Tuesday evening, we joined the Ehlenfeldts and the Wahls for dinner at Lamberts, home of the “throwed rolls.”  Todd and Beth Ehlenfeldt left on Wednesday morning.  That evening, we hosted our final happy hour with the Petersons and Wahls, who were leaving the following day.  It was Jan’s birthday but, after over a week of big meals, she opted to celebrate it at home. 

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.

Hot Times in Kerrville, TX (July 10 – September 10, 2022)

On Sunday, July 10th, we drove 203 miles from the Waco, TX area to Kerrville, TX, where we will spend the next two months at Buckhorn Lake Resort.  We expect to suffer through 100 degree daily high temperatures for the foreseeable future.  However, after spending well over $100 on fuel every travel day, we are looking forward to being stationary for a while.

We had originally planned to spend these two months in Colorado.  However, the crazy high fuel prices convinced us to scrap those plans.  Instead, we decided to come to Kerrville, TX and take care of myriad medical, dental, vision and hearing exams.  In our first two weeks in Kerrville, at least one of us had an appointment almost every day.

We did attempt to get some exercise in the early hours of the morning.  Phil played pickleball most mornings, from 8 – 10 a.m.  Jan would often get in a walk or a trip to the fitness center during this time.  Occasionally, we would also get out for a walk in the evening.  However, most of the day was spent indoors, reading and playing on our phones, with the A/C going. 

We did catch a couple of afternoon matinees at the Kerrville cinema.  On Sunday, July 17th, we saw Where the Crawdads Sing.  Then, on Tuesday, July 19th, we saw Top Gun: Maverick.  We enjoyed both of them. 

On Thursday, July 21st, we had to drive to Austin for one of Jan’s doctor appointments.  After the doctor, we took advantage of being in a big city by hitting several big box stores.  Then, we met Jan’s niece, Katie, and went to Sour Duck Market for dinner.  Although the temperature was 100 degrees, the restaurant had fans and foggers throughout the outdoor seating area and the heat was quite bearable.  We placed our order and paid for it entirely online.  The only human interaction was when they delivered our food and cleared our dishes afterward.

On Sunday, we drove to Luckenbach and watched a performance by a husband-and-wife duo, known as Treble Soul.  Hannah Prestridge and Curt Jones had met in 2014 while performing on Broadway in Nashville, TN.  They returned to Texas in 2014 and were named the Texas Country Music Association’s Vocal Duo of the Year in 2018.  In 2020, they auditioned on American Idol and Hannah won a Golden Ticket to Hollywood.  In addition to watching the performance, Jan purchased a Willie Nelson ornament for when we have a Christmas tree.

As we moved into August, the temperature dropped a few degrees, with daytime highs averaging only around 95 degrees.  On Saturday, August 6th, we attended an End of Summer Shindig event at the Kerrville-Schreiner Park, along the banks of the Guadalupe River.  Although the crowd was surprisingly small, we enjoyed listening to the music.  The generator that was powering the band’s amplifiers failed half-way through each of the first two songs, but they finally got it working.  Then, a wind gust blew over one of the lighting stands but, fortunately, the guitarist caught it before it hit the ground.

Over the next few weeks, we tried out several new-to-us restaurants in Kerrville, including Thai O’cha, Grape Juice and Pint & Plow Brewing Company.  On Friday, August 19th, we spent time browsing the shops in Fredericksburg and had lunch at the Fredericksburg Brewing Co., the oldest brew pub in Texas.

On Sunday, August 21st, we drove back to Austin and had brunch at Cenote with Katie and Michael, before they relocated to Baltimore.  The next couple of days were very rainy, significant because Texas had been suffering from a severe drought.  Phil took advantage of one of the rainy days by playing pickleball indoors at the Kerrville Methodist Church

Our remaining weeks continued to be uneventful.  The temperature dropped slightly, with daytime highs in the mid-80s and low-90s but the humidity kept us indoors most of the time.  We did a lot of reading and made a few trips to the pool.  We spent a lot of time exploring house plans online and scheduled meetings with an architect and two builders in late September.  We also took advantage of strong wi-fi service (unusual for a campground) by binge watching all eight seasons of Game of Thrones.

On our final full-day in Kerrville, we had an unwelcome event.  As Jan started to use the microwave/convection oven, the power went off.  We had had this issue three months earlier but, after jiggling the power cord, the oven had worked again.  This time was different.  We jiggled the power cord and, although the power blinked on for a second, the electrical outlet started making a sizzing sound.  Upon examination, we could see that both the receptacle and plug were fried.  Since we had done minor electrical repairs on the rig in the past, we imagined this repair wouldn’t be too difficult, but we were wrong.  The wiring of the original receptacle had been done at the factory, before the outside walls were installed.  It was wired using 12-gauge Romex non-metallic wire, which was quite stiff, and there was virtually no slack in the wiring.  Phil had to expand the hole in the wall, just to be able to extract the receptacle.  Fortunately, the receptacle was hidden in the cabinet above the oven, so the damage wasn’t visible.  To add to the challenge, the receptacle was a snap-in wiring type that wasn’t sold at Lowes, nor Home Depot.  We’ll save the rest of the story for our next post, but the good news is that it ended well.

Our electrical issue didn’t keep us from enjoying our final night in Kerrville.  We dined at The Boat and had a table with a view overlooking the Guadalupe River.  We shared a half-dozen oysters on the half shell, then split the seafood combo.

Heading to Kerrville, TX (June 25 – July 10, 2022)

On Saturday, June 25th, we began our long haul to Texas.  We drove 146 miles to Zanesville, OH, where we spent two nights at Wolfie’s Campground.  As Phil was pulling into our site, one of the trailer’s tires clipped a cinderblock the owner had placed on the edge of the site.  Upon examining the tire, he discovered that the outside tread had ripped apart from the tire.  Phil immediately started calling around to see if he could find a replacement tire.  Unfortunately, being Saturday afternoon, he was unable to find a tire dealer that was open and sold trailer tires.  Phil ended up installing the spare tire on our fifth wheel.  Accessing the spare tire from beneath our rig required removing the bikes and the rear license plate.

Over the weekend, Phil was able to locate a replacement tire at Discount Tire in Hamilton, OH, 47 miles from our next stop.  On Monday morning, Phil called the store and ordered the tire.  We then drove 166 miles, without a spare tire, to Richmond, IN, where we spent two nights at Deer Ridge Camping Resort.  The drive was uneventful until 13 miles from our destination, when traffic came to a complete standstill.  It took us over 30 minutes to move the next mile. 

On Tuesday, Phil drove our Mazda to Hamilton, OH and got the replacement tire.  After installing the new tire on the fifth wheel, we visited Fountain Acres Foods, an Amish store in nearby Fountain City, IN.  We loaded up on spices and fresh veggies.  Phil treated himself to a small tin of sticky buns.

On Wednesday, we drove 216 miles to Effingham, IL, where we spent two nights at Camp Lakewood RV Park. 

On Friday, July 1st, we drove 123 miles to St. Peters, MO, a suburb of St. Louis, where we spent the four-day Fourth of July weekend at 370 Lakeside Park.  This was our third stay at this campground.  Our pull-through site for this stay was directly across the road from the site of one of our most embarrassing RV experiences in all our years on the road.  In October 2015, only weeks after buying our fifth wheel, we attempted to get into our first back-in site.  We attracted quite an audience that afternoon, one of whom just sat in his lawn chair to enjoy the show.  At first, Phil had thought he was going to have success but started to panic when he saw how close he was coming to hitting the tree and rig in the site where we are currently parked.  Eventually, we were joined by two of the neighbor men who moved some obstacles and provided advice that helped get us backed into the site.  In the years since that afternoon, we have mostly booked pull-through sites.

On Saturday morning, Phil’s brother and his wife, Kip and Marcia Gordon, came by to see our rig for the first time.  We then headed out for breakfast at Gingham’s Homestyle Restaurant with Kip and Marcia.  After breakfast, we escaped the heat by heading to the movie theater at Mid River Mall to see Elvis.  That evening, we met at Kip and Marcia’s house and headed out for dinner at Rich and Charlie’s Italian Restaurant. 

On Sunday afternoon, we headed back to Kip and Marcia’s house for dinner.  We were joined by a large group of the extended family, including their two daughters (Shannon Roland and Mackenzie Gordon), their son-in-law (Derek Roland), two grandchildren (Ellie and Rhys Roland), two cousins (Austin and Millie), and Marcia’s sister (Cindy Rebbe).  We dined on pork steak (a St. Louis delicacy), corn on the cob and salads.

Monday was the Fourth of July and was even hotter than the previous days.  When we returned from the grocery store at 3 pm, the temperature was 97 with a heat index of 108.  Knowing that it would be even hotter when we arrive in Texas was of little comfort.  We then headed for dinner at the Roland’s home.  Most of the clan from Sunday’s dinner was there but, unfortunately, Marcia had not felt well and was unable to attend.  After briefly sitting outside, the heat drove us indoors to the air conditioning.  However, the heat did not keep the kids from heading outside to shoot off fireworks.  Since we were traveling on Tuesday, we had to leave before it got dark enough to view the big fireworks displays in the neighborhood.  It had been a great three days and we were really grateful for this opportunity to reconnect with part of our family who we rarely get to see.

On Tuesday, July 5th, we hit the road again and drove 226 miles to Springfield, MO, where we spent two nights at the Springfield / Route 66 KOA Holiday.  Other than trains that roll nearby day and night, blowing their horns, the campground was very nice.

On Wednesday, we drove into Springfield and visited the Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World national headquarters.  The store claims to be the grandaddy of all outdoor stores.  It is certainly the biggest Bass Pro Shop we’ve ever visited.  In addition to numerous displays with stuffed animals, there are aquariums throughout the store with fish, turtles and alligators.  The store also houses the Archery Hall of Fame and Museum and the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum.  In the basement, they even have a shooting range.  After leaving the store, we had an early dinner at Bosky’s Vegan Grill.

On Thursday, we drove 226 miles to Rock Creek Road RV Park, 12 miles north of McAlester in SE Oklahoma.  The campground was nothing special, with mostly long-term residents, but our site was roomy and, at $27.50 for the night, it was our least expensive private campground in years.  By mid-afternoon, the temperature had reached 105 degrees, with a heat index of 114.  It took many hours for our two air conditioners to cool down the inside of our rig, which was 88 degrees when we arrived.

On Friday, we drove 300 miles to Lorena, TX (a few miles outside of Waco), where we spent two nights at Camp Caravan RV Park.  The truck’s GPS gave us a couple of mis-directions, including having us in the left lane, when we should have been in the right, as we tried to get to I-35E in the middle of downtown Dallas.  Fortunately, we were able to pick up the highway a short distance down the road.  The campground’s website had warned that the entrance was easy to miss and, sure enough, Phil missed it despite driving down the road very slowly.  There was a roundabout a mile farther down the road so we were able to get turned around fairly easily and found the entrance on the second attempt.

Good Times and Bad in the Keystone State (June 12 – 25, 2022)

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.

Sampling the Mid-Atlantic States (May 30 – June 12, 2022)

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.

Passing through Virginia (May 24 – 30, 2022)

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.

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.          

Spring in the Carolinas (April 9 – 19, 2022)

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.

April in Savannah (April 2 – 9, 2022)

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.