Posts Tagged With: camping

Salem Harbor to Shenandoah Valley and Home

Another episode in our continuing adventure to see the fall colors in New England (and sample plenty of craft beer along the way).  Yes, our wonderful site on the Salem harbor waterfront was really windy last night, so much so that we pulled in the slides to keep from rocking around.  But not much rain and it was clear and chilly in the morning. Did the whole disconnect, hitch-up and head out routine on our way back through Salem and off to Rhode Island.  

We made it around Boston and then Providence to mid-state to connect with an old friend.  It took a little maneuvering to get the motorhome in and around the stone walls to the farm, but with some help we settled in next to the horse paddock at Laurie and Brian’s place.  Actually worked out great – a good long walk around the farm with the dogs, delicious dinner and conversation to catch up and back to our own place on a darn chilly night.

Woke to another sunny, chilly morning and it was time for a repeat of the hitch-up, head out routine.  This was going to be a pretty long haul to get us into Pennsylvania and close to another brewery on the list: Yuengling Brewing.  Lots of historic rivers and bridges to cross on this drive from Connecticut to New York and Pennsylvania: Connecticut River, Hudson River (impressive), Delaware River.  Quite a few hills and mountains and very scenic, but not much of the fall color yet. As we headed to Scranton, Jackie checked on her phone to confirm the details of Yuengling in Pottsville, just a little further on.  Well, it looks like we were gonna cut it close if we wanted to make it there by closing time at 5 – but then Jackie said it looked like winter hours meant it closed at 3. So we were out of luck and out of time for that brewery.  

I was impressed with the mountains around Scranton and how cool the landscape was as we drove through the Poconos and closer to Harrisburg.  We decided to stop for the night at a KOA – pull-through site with full hookups. Very nice spot that was only 2 miles from the AT, not that we were planning to hike it, but it must have been close to where our nephew Adam made it (so proud).


I have to take a moment to say that this, like all our adventures, is a true partnership.  Yes, I do the driving, but Jackie is busy navigating, checking ahead for the best gas prices, calling ahead to some of the breweries to ask about parking, and being an extra set of eyes when we get into tight situations (including the very tricky gas stations).  We each have our set-up and pack-up routines, which helps us remember everything and we aren’t afraid to double-check each other. Anyway, it does take two when you drive a rig like this. And then there is the whole hitch/unhitch the car routine.

So that brings us to another day on this series of travel days.  Not too many pictures to share, as it doesn’t work to shoot while moving along and besides, who wants to see an interstate highway?  It was a good start leaving the KOA, sunny and in the low 40’s. We did not stop in Hershey to see chocolate world (another time perhaps), nor did we stop at the Lindor chocolate factory that we saw at the last moment, but we did have a nice drive.  Southern Pennsylvania heading toward Harrisburg was filled with small farms, the barns and silos dotting the landscape. Green fields were sprinkled between brown cornfields, most in mid-harvest. As we slipped into Maryland and West Virginia, the traffic increased and the hills were a bit more rolling.  We crossed yet another important river: the Potomac.

Into Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley was just amazing.  Blue skies, green pastures, old homes and farms all with a dark green backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Very cool, but no hint of fall color here. Jackie got back on the navigation and located our next destination: Devil’s Backbone Basecamp and Meadows.  We first learned of the DB Vienna Lager while pouring at one of our beer festivals back home and knew we wanted to stop here. Plus, Adam stopped here on his AT hike and said it was great.  Up and over the ridge from Staunton, I think it was Rooster Gap, we found our country road and wound our way along. Wow, there is a winery, wait slow down, there is a cidery. A distillery, a brewery …. Gosh the choices.  But we kept on until we found basecamp and checked in.

This is a pretty new operation, the campground just opened this year.  But is has generous room for rigs, full hookups and dump station, and lots of tent sites for AT hikers and others.  The grounds have a bandshell, outdoor bar, lots of outdoor seating, a distillery, breakfast spot and of course their tap room and brewpub.  So we walked around with Kodi, who met lots of folks, had ourselves a beer and relaxed a bit in the sunshine. We both liked Gold Leaf Lager, I enjoyed the Cran Gose, a cranberry sour and we made plans to come back for dinner.  Dog back in camper, cat fed and we went back for a flight each and a delicious meal. I mean great!

The only moose we saw on this trip:

Jackie ordered nachos with smoked chicken, I ordered a smoked top round (shaved) on Cibatta au jus.  Both were amazingly flavorful. On the flights we sampled Trail Angel Weiss (was best with the nachos), UK Lager and Vienna Lager (good with the beef) and a Brut Lager that was very dry, light and crisp.  Saving it for last, we tried their Hibiscus Hard Lemonade (6.3%) which was really quite nice. A stop in the gift shop and then a welcome walk back to the camper in the dark. We really like where this spot is going.  Definitely worth a stop if you are driving nearby.  We learned that the next day the campground was booked with vintage VW Campers … now that would have been fun to see.

Merlin is getting anxious to be home — and we have one more stop before home, somewhere near Bristol, Tennessee.  Might not be blog-worthy, we shall see.

As we left the valley at the DB Basecamp it was one wild ride.  The hairpin turns and switchbacks on the road up the mountains, and then back down again were a thrill (Jackie disagrees).  Crossed under Skyline Drive on the Blue Ridge Mountains and the AT again. The mountains were green, the sky blue and just a bit of mist was rising from the James River as we followed along.  What a gorgeous day, but no hint of fall color here.

As we get closer to closing the loop on this trip approaching Knoxville, we end where we began, with a home Tennessee football game causing traffic and trouble.  No campsites between Bristol and almost Chattanooga were available. We didn’t make advance reservations for this last part of the trip, since we weren’t sure how far we would drive.  So, as we sat in some nasty traffic in Knoxville, we made the decision to push on to home. It made it an 11 hour driving day, but when we pulled in (at our non-moving house), it felt good.

So at the conclusion of this 28-day “Big Loop” to see fall colors, we will have driven through 16 states, two countries, a total of over 3,800 mile (not counting the car excursions) and sampled oodles of craft beer and ate great regional food.  It was definitely worth it – all the driving, all the gasoline, the cold nights and the rainy mornings. We caught up with old family friends, did a few hikes, had our share of pumpkins, apples, fall festivals and scary Halloween decorations, saw some new wildlife and definitely got to see all the beautiful colors of fall.  Phew! Now one week to do the laundry and pack swimwear, shorts and t-shirts for a cruise to the Bahamas with Dad and John. I guess we are just a bit crazy. Thanks for reading along.

Until the next adventure …

Oh yeah, there are just a few photos that didn’t make the blog the first time around that I thought I would share:

Walking and picture-taking in Acadia:

The rungs, iron rails and walkways of the treacherous Precipice Trail:

The vintage campers from Salisbury Beach State Park:

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Kodi’s First Camp

Jackie and I were just itching to get out on our first adventure of 2017, so we finished up the de-winterization of the motorhome and packed for a trip to the Georgia Blue Ridge mountains before Spring Break hit the area schools. Plus, we wanted to introduce Kodi to our camping adventures and be sure we had the camper truly ready for the season.

Getting the van all set for camping meant adding water and bleach to the main water tank, running it through the lines and letting it sit overnight, then flushing and filling again for a final rinse. Our leveling jack is repaired and a double-check of everything showed we were ready to roll. What we love is how easy it is to pack the fridge, stock the pantry, load the bedroom closets and drawers with clothes and fill the bathroom with essentials and BAM! we are set to go.

Since we were headed for Helen, Georgia, specifically Unicoi State Park, we opted not to hitch the car but have Jackie drive it with Kodi as passenger. Not his first trip in the car, but first time with a seat harness. He has a nervous stomach, so he and Merlin had to go without breakfast (oh… the pain and agony of the starving cat!), but the little puppy still was drooling for much of the trip. We are taking to calling this his “flip and spit’ behavior – and if you were in the car with him you would understand. Poor guy, but we all arrived safely at camp ready for adventure.

Unicoi campsite

We chose a full-hookup site that was an easy back-in and connection to electric, water and sewer. Our initial frustration was the lack of any information on the Unicoi State Park website about the available campsites, options, fees or even the choice of registering online. A couple of unanswered phone calls later and I finally reached someone to book a site, but it was first-pick of what was available once you got to the campground. That’s not too unusual for some state parks and Corps of Engineers campgrounds, but the lack of information online was disappointing.

Hmm, think we like camping?

Always at home …

Set camp and walked Kodi around to get his bearings, check out the lake, camp store and some of the trails. A dinner of grilled salmon was a nice finish to the day. Boom! Crack! and we had a good ol’ thunderstorm on our hands overnight. We were plenty high and dry and everything was out of harm’s way, but if you have camped in the rain, you know how noisy the raindrops can be – like lots of snare drums tapping. Not a peep out of Kodi, however. Oh, except a waaaaay early morning call of nature, once the storm had passed.

I hate plumbing . . .

Did I tell you how much I hate plumbing… toilets… water lines… all that? Oh, I manage to handle it just fine eventually, but water is such a pain when things go wrong. I mention this now because as I am having my coffee in the camper I hear Jackie remark that there is water on the bathroom floor. Not good. Something in the supply line for the toilet is dripping and of course the only option is to shut off the water. Hmm, maybe if I tighten the cap underneath? Nope, made it worse.  Well, shut off the water and tackle it later, maybe.  “Let’s go wander around Helen,” Jackie suggested, so I was all in.

It was a short drive into ‘Alpine Helen’ as it bills itself. and we went to take in the atmosphere of a German alpine community. Eh, maybe not so much, but it was kind of pre-season, so that may be why about half the shops and restaurants were closed. If you have been to Gatlinburg, TN, you just have to scale it back a little, add some German names and gingerbread to the buildings instead of logs and cabins and … well, you get the idea. But we had some bratwurst, kraut, corned beef and craft beer along the Chattahoochee River on a nice sunny day, so it all worked out just fine. Picked up some hearty bread and Danish at a local bakery and we headed back to camp.

The afternoon hike around Unicoi Lake was an easy trek for Kodi, but Doug didn’t find many blooming flowers or local wildlife to capture with camera, to his disappointment, but we did see the newest section of zip lines that were almost ready to use. Some pretty long runs across the lake. The course that was already in use looked challenging enough, so we decided we would try it tomorrow. Oh, and all that hiking let Kodi sleep through until 8:30!  Yay, that’s a lot better than his usual 6:15 am.

Hmm… water problem was still not fixed.  I turned off water, took the cap off, decided it must be a worn “O” ring and off I went in search of the nearest Wal-Mart (Cleveland, not too far really). No “O” rings, but Teflon thread tape and special rubber leak-stop tape might work. Nope, in fact even more dripping. So the solution was to put a pan under the leak and only pressurize with the water pump as we needed water, then letting off the pressure. Staying hooked up to the city water was just too much pressure (oh, yeah, wasn’t that the whole idea of full hookups though?). This fix will have to wait until we are back home.

Hiking to Anna Ruby Falls.

Our last full day was a beautiful, sunny and warm day, perfect for a hike up to Anna Ruby Falls. The senior pass came in handy once again, as we didn’t have to pay parking/admission. What a great easy hike up along the creek to the double falls. Wildflowers were blooming and kept Doug busy snapping pictures, while Kodi met lots of kids along the trail with no fear.

We grabbed a quick lunch back at camp, then signed up for our zip line adventure. The course was 11 zips and 7 cable bridges and as we suited up in our harnesses, we were reminded of our favorite TV show “The Amazing Race.” With Jackie in the lead, off we went with our two guides. Just the four of us, so it was a very personalized tour. What fun!   Here is a short video of Jackie on the zip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OR5Eobzro-s&feature=youtu.be

Navigating one of the 3-cable bridges.

 

Hanging on at one of the zip line high posts.

 

Stepping across one of the cable bridges.

Climbing up and across and zipping along the cables at treetop level was very cool. Our only other zip line experience was through a jungle in Guatemala, but that involved a lot more hiking up the mountain. Ahhh, back to camp for an adult beverage and a couple of strip steaks on the grill. Gosh, camping is tough work.

Kodi made it through his first camping trip just fine, adapting to the motorhome, the camping routine, up and down the steps and leash-walking around camp to meet kids and other dogs. He’s going to be a great adventure companion (we really think Benji is giving him some advice).

Back home I tackled the toilet water supply problem. Took the supply diverter off the toilet, unhooked the hoses and will run to Camping World for a replacement. That should do it for now. (Did I tell you how much I hate plumbing?)

Hey, thanks for reading about our adventures. Be sure to “follow” us so you get updates as they happen.

Here are some quick stats on how our blog has been received:

We have readers in 7 countries!
2015 we had 6,220 views and 503 visitors
2016 we had 5,712 views and 584 visitors
And so far in 2017 we have 508 views and 141 visitors
The most popular pages are: Zion “Straight Up Land”, Hike Inn, Hard Knock Life, Caribbean Adventure and Memories of Benji.

How cool is that?

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Not So Smoky Mountains

Finally another posting and story to tell.

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Vogel State Park

Since returning from the Florida Keys we have been busy with family and friends this fall, including volunteering at the Acworth Craft Beer Festival (check out Happenings page).  But we did want to fit in one last trip before we winterized the RV, so we plotted an adventure to the Georgia mountains.  Trouble is, as you know we are in the midst of a drought and there are several big wildfires in the mountains of Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina.  So the smoke haze that has been felt in Atlanta and the stories of evacuations in the mountains made us rather skeptical we should be heading into trouble.

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Smoky view of Vogel St. Park

But it seemed that our destination, Vogel State Park, was in-between the major fires and might be worth a visit.  Off to the mountains we went and what fun it was to drive the many switchbacks of the curving ascent to Neels Gap and Vogel State Park, the oldest of Georgia’s state parks.  There were maybe only a dozen campers in a gorgeous rhododendron-filled glen, but we definitely did see the haze of smoke as we walked around Lake Trahlyta and the campground to get our bearings.  Staff at the camp store warned us about the resident bear, so we were hopeful for a late-night sighting.

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Smoky view from the lake at Vogel St. Park

Next day’s challenge was to hike the 4.2 mile Bear Hair Gap trail between the campground and the base of Blood Mountain.  Parts of this loop were on the much longer (12.9 mile) Coosa Backcountry Trail, so we tried our best to watch the trail blazes to stay on the right trail, with a few head-scratching moments at the intersections.  We took the steeper route up and around, preferring to get the tough part over with first.  More than half the leaves were down so visibility was good but there was still a lot of golden brown color, with pops of yellow and red.

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Ohhhh Noooo, not Blood Mountain!

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The Vogel Overlook was a good spot to take a break and admire the view.  We passed several hikers on the loop, compared experiences and confirmed directions.  A quiet hike, with no wildlife spotting at all (unlike our crazy backyard refuge). Maybe tomorrow.

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View from Vogel Overlook

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Made it to the overlook!

Rested and refreshed after a good steak dinner in camp, we set out the next day to hike part of the Appalachian Trail from Neels Gap to Blood Mountain.  In our day packs we had water, light lunch, fruit and snacks.  What we forgot were our hiking sticks (argh!).

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Tree of hiking shoes at the hostel.

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Walasi-yi hostel

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Walasi-yi Interpretive Center

We drove up the road to Neels Gap and the Walasi-yi Hostel and Interpretive Center – a great old stone building constructed in 1937 and now an outfitter post with plenty of hiking supplies.  We spoke with the staff of Mountain Crossings about the hike:

  • 4.3 mile out and back trail
  • 1,471 feet elevation change (gain and loss of 3,000 feet elevation)
  • “You should be fine”

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Off we went to hike a section of the AT on a cool fall day.  With a shift in wind direction, the air was surprisingly clear and free of smoke haze.  The trail starts as a moderate slope upward around the mountain, but soon becomes a series of switchbacks and stone stairways that head up the slope at a steeper angle.  Lots of pauses later the trail seemed to level out a bit and even head downhill just a bit until we reached a section of boulder-climbing and more rocky ascent.

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Once past that section we were sure the summit was near, as the trees were more compressed and windswept and there were more patches of bald rock.  Passing several other hikers heading down we were told “it’s just 10 minutes more” or “just ahead.”  Yet the trail kept heading uphill.  Well, we did eventually make it to the rock shelter at the summit (a CCC construction that sadly had trash littered about) and looked for a spot to rest.

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The view at lunch

Facing west, we sat on a rock ledge to have lunch and enjoy the fantastic view.  Here we were on the highest point of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. It gave us that sense of wonder that helps put all things in perspective.  In the distance we could see smoke from fires in the Cohutta Wilderness and drifting further south.

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In other views we saw smoke to the east, but where we were was rather clear that day. Spoke with several others on the trail: a pair of college guys headed another 6 miles to Slaughter Mountain; another young man headed for the final 30 miles to Springer Mountain (he started at Mt. Katahdin in Maine); and a few young couples just hiking a version of what we did.  In all, we probably passed about three dozen hikers.  We recalled our own spring hike on the AT approach trail from Amicalola Falls to the Hike Inn lodge (and that’s a story worth reading if you missed it!).

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Summit of Blood Mountain

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The view southeast

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Panorama of Blood Mountain view

Well, on this hike up 1,500 feet, you also have to hike back down again, so down we went.  This part was where we really missed those hiking sticks, since they are a big help in keeping your balance on the rocky and root-filled trail.  But we made it back to Neels Gap just before the center closed for the evening and got ourselves some shirts and drinks.  There was a good crowd outside the hostel sharing stories about their adventures and demonstrating far more energy than they should have (ah, youth!).

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Lake Trahlyta at Vogel State Park

Back in camp we had a few adult beverages and took a hot shower, feeling much better and grateful that we had such comfy accommodations.  A six hour hike, not exactly a record-setting pace, but a personal accomplishment for us both.  Jackie felt that this one was a tougher climb that the ones we did out west last year, but it was cooler weather and not quite the altitude. (4,459 for Blood Mountain, 6,000 to 13,000 in the Rockies).  Another great adventure (but the bear was a no-show).

Notes about our motorhome for RV’ers:

You might be interested in our experiences with our motorhome, one that we feel has served us well.  Last time we reported from our Keys trip that we lost the foot and springs from one of the leveling jacks.  In the weeks since that trip we ordered a replacement foot and springs to install.

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Leveling jack mid-repair

The tricky part of the install was stretching the springs long enough to be able to place the foot over the bottom pin of the hydraulic cylinder.  I read that by inserting wooden wedges along the spring it can be expanded enough to do the trick (and then when the cylinder and foot are extended the wedges will pop out of the spring as it extends).  Our latest discovery, however, is that the cylinder is not extending at all, so the wedges remain for now and we ponder how to finish the fix on this jack.  Either we lost hydraulic fluid, blew a fuse for that jack or the cylinder is simply stuck in place.  We have been able to level the wheels and the recent site was very level to begin with, but it needs to be resolved.  Hmm, this one may need some professional help.  So it goes.

Next Adventure?  Well, the Winnebago is getting winterized (freeze warnings for the weekend already), so it may not be until March or April before we head out in it again.  But there are always plenty of other adventures that await (some of them covered on our Foodie and Happenings pages).  Stay tuned – and thanks for being a faithful reader.

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Beach Tales 2

Jackie reading

Good beach read

Heck, who doesn’t like a good sequel, right?  Well this is the rest of the story of our camping adventure along the Emerald Coast of Florida.

Sandy feet to remember later

Sandy feet to remember later

It continued to be great weather for us: hot, sunny and bright with water temps reaching the mid 80’s.  While most folks probably think that is a great temperature for swimming and bobbing in the waves, it turns out that summer water temperatures have a dark side.  What the travel brochures don’t tell you is that warm water usually means more marine life.

Marine life warning

Marine life warning

I recall spending summers at the Jersey Shore and late August usually meant warmer water and jellyfish.  And if you stayed at the beach during the hot summer, you probably know this.  Just the same here in the Gulf of Mexico – the purple warning flags went up and we spotted more and more moon jellies and felt bits and pieces of them zapping us once in a while.  That tapered off after a few days, but what also appeared in the beautiful, clear water was Junegrass (that is the local name for a green algae bloom).

Good day at the beach

Good day at the beach

This band of green hugged the shoreline most days and we found ourselves moving along the beach to find a relatively clear spot of water to splash around in.  It was really more a nuisance really, and maybe it would not bother you if you didn’t mind swimming in a soupy broth, but it did put a damper on the experience.  Chatting with locals we learned that it is something that stays all summer once the water gets warmer.  Sun + nutrients + warm water = algae bloom.  Just something to keep in mind.

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Nice lunch at World of Beer

Our last day in Topsail Hill Preserve State Park was not a good beach day, so we drove to Destin Commons and had lunch at World of Beer.  While it looks like we sample a lot of beer these days, the important word here is sample.  Then of course I have to do it for my readers, you understand.  Love their flatbreads paired with some beer from Apalaciacola’s Oyster City Brewing (loved First Light of Day blonde summer ale) and Atlanta’s SweetWater (Jackie likes their Bourbon barrel aged Imperial stout – Cork N’ Cage series).

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World of Beer, Destin

Not All Who Wander Are Lost - our new mantra.

Not All Who Wander Are Lost – our new mantra.

While the beaches we visited were great, getting there can be a good bit of exercise.  We are almost thinking of them in terms of beer calories now.  “That was at least a two-beer trek.”  This campground is said to be a half-mile to the beach access, but by our estimates it must be twice that.  You can take the tram, but that means waiting for the twice-hourly pickup and that’s not always what you want at the end of the day.

Tram to the beach

Tram to the beach

Option 2 is walking the paved road with chairs, towels, umbrella, cooler and beach toys (not recommended for families) or Option 3 is riding your bike.  We managed to hitch up the trusty Tommy Bahama beach cart to Doug’s bike and rode our way to the beach access — which worked out fine.  Oh, but you aren’t toes-in-the-water yet.  You still have the long boardwalk to traverse and then the soft sandy dunes to drag your cart across.  Set up umbrella and chairs, relax, swim and then repeat the trip back across the sand and back to camp.  So yeah, probably worked off at least a beer or two there…

The long walk across the dunes

The long walk across the dunes

Last night in camp we were prepared for thunderstorms and were not disappointed.  We had packed up everything, so it didn’t cause us any problems, but I couldn’t help but think about those folks in tents and tent-campers who would be watching the canvas all night for drips and leaks.  Our only leak came on the road, as a crack in the upper part of the windshield appeared and started leaking when we hit some intense rain in Alabama.  Another call to GEICO for windshield repair when we get home.  I think this might have been from one of the stone pings we got while on the fall trip out West that eluded the crack repair in the fall.

Heading home at last!

Heading home at last!

So off we go, back home for now to enjoy the 4th of July and hopefully some time with the grandchildren.  Not sure about the next summer camping adventure just yet, so stay tuned.

Be sure to check the updates in the Mews, Places and Foodie pages.

 

 

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Beach Tales

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A month in Florida is hard to beat: a perfect mix of sunny weather, sparkling clear water, a white sandy beach and plenty of little fish to chase around the water.  That’s been our June so far, with a few stories to share.  We don’t have wifi here in St. Andrews State Park so it has been a convenient excuse to postpone updating the blog and just enjoy the sand and surf.  But a trip to Starbucks will give me time to share what’s been happening:

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We love Panama City Beach and St. Andrews State Park.  For us it is a very casual, friendly and laid-back vacation spot.  Can’t beat the campsite, with a view of the Lower Lagoon, a nice breeze and lots of kids on bikes and golf carts zipping around.  We arrived just as the rain stopped from tropical storm Colin and many of the sites were underwater.  A high tide surge added a little more waterfront to many sites, too.

Nice (?) waterfront site

Nice (?) waterfront site

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High and dry at St. Andrews

The storm cut into the dunes along the Gulf beach, creating a cliff of sand.  You know how kids always want to get buried in the sand at the beach?  It usually means someone gets totally covered in sand and has to rinse off.  Well, sadly, a teenager who had been digging tunnels and caves in this particular sand wall was trapped when the sand collapsed on him.  We were watching the boys dig the tunnels, but minutes after we left the beach emergency crews arrived to dig him out and administer CPR.  Unfortunately he died the next day.  Kind of a rough start to the week.

Ready for the beach

Ready for the beach

Jackie’s sister Judy and family came down to PC Beach mid-week and we spent time at the beach together, snorkeling along the rock jetty and splashing around in the surf.  Just had to snap a shot of us all getting slathered with sunscreen!  We joked about the long trek to the water with all the gear and laughed about the big deck umbrella they brought along.  One afternoon a dark line of thunderstorms moved along the coast as we watched and debated when to pack up.  That decision was made quickly when the wind rack kicked up and umbrellas started to go inside-out.  Jackie grabbed and shut ours down just as we watched Judy’s umbrella go airborne in a slow-motion tumble that pierced itself on a pole, then lifted and tumbled further over the dune.  Ok, time to go.

Tut, tut looks like rain!

Tut, tut looks like rain!

Back at camp we got a phone call that our niece lost her glasses in the scramble.  Could we come help look for them?  Tracing our steps back from the parking lot, down the long boardwalk, up and over the sand dunes and down the beach to the scene of the crime, we looked earnestly for the purple frames.  Not much luck, but I brought a small fan rake and began to skim the area where we were sitting.  Probably useless, but just maybe … wait, what’s that?  Something popped up out of the sand as I scraped along and Presto! there were the glasses.  Great save.

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Another vacation goal was to seek out local craft breweries and compare the samplings.  We found Nivol Brewery in a strip shopping center and were pleasantly surprised by their operation.  Had some samples of wheat, porter and red ales – they have only been open a month, but have a good selection of local beers on tap.  With their full license pending, we had to buy a souvenir pint glass but could then have a fill of our choice of beer.  We chatted up the brewmaster, who already knew about and carried Burnt Hickory brand and had been visited by Dry County (they have the same tank system), but of course we talked up Southern Sky Brewing, too.

Maybe the strangest craft beer sampling came the next day.  An internet search listed “Screw and Brew” locally, so I just HAD to see what that was all about.  A definite pint glass purchase, I figured.  Jackie helped navigate the location, “wait, you just passed it” … well, according to the online maps, but we didn’t see anything.  U-turn and try again.  “Turn here,” as we drove past a small hardware store and through their side parking lot into a pretty gnarly back lot.  Hmm, that wasn’t right.  Back out front we noticed a small sign in the window “home brewing supplies” and thought what-the-heck.  I left Jackie in the car (this was doubtful) and I ventured in.

Hmm, inside it was pretty much a hardware store, with a wall of home-brew supplies.  “Can I help you?”  Uhh, well, I guess I got the wrong spot.  We are on a hunt for local craft breweries.  A smiling clerk said he could recommend several spots (Fishale, Nivol) and I said those were already on our list.  “Ok, well thanks, I guess I got the information wrong.”

“Hang on, I do have some wheat beer if you’d like a sample” he said, and I cautiously nodded okay. “Just follow me out back.”  Ok, this was speakeasy creepy and I was wondering if I would have to know a secret password or handshake.  Out through the stockroom to that gnarly section of the back room and garage … a rusty fridge had a tap installed and an off-kilter kegerator was nearby.  “Don’t have any fancy glassware, (oh darn, the whole point of the visit), but if you are ok with Styrofoam…”  Next thing I know I have a cup of foamy beer in my hand.  “What do you think?  It’s better this week.”  Well, here goes nothing – lot of head but it’s actually not bad.  We walk back into the store and he says he just can’t keep the beer cold enough in the kegerator, it keeps tripping the circuit breaker…

I thank him for the beer, wish him well, take the rest of the cup back out to the car for Jackie to finish (I mean, seriously, am I supposed to just drive off with this beer?  No DUI for me, thank you).  So chalk that one up to the weirdest sampling ever.

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Local samplings at Fishale

Just down the road we stopped in at Fishale, which was a real pub that featured a lot of real craft brews on tap.  Spent time sampling all sorts of Florida brews and decided to visit Grayton Beer on our way west later in the month, since we liked their 30A Beach Blonde.

Best Grouper Sandwich!

Best Grouper Sandwich!

Caught up with one of our fellow teachers from school when we learned she was staying in PC Beach with a friend, too.  Our suggestion was to meet up for the best grouper sandwich in town at Sharky’s on the beach – which lived up to expectations.  Still the best sandwich in town!  We shared stories and encouraged her to join the ranks of the retired (just maybe one more year of teaching she thinks!).  Good fun all around.

Good Friends

Good Friends

So as I wrap up this posting, I should probably share one last story that just goes to prove that you really do need to check and double check your vacation plans no matter how careful a person you are.  We came back from the beach on our last day in camp and sat out to enjoy an adult beverage and the nice breeze.  We had been talking about what we needed to pack up so we could roll out easily the next day, Monday.  Our plans from 11 months ago were to stay Monday to Monday (2 weeks) and then move to Topsail Hill State Park for 10 days.

A golf cart with two park rangers pulls up … “You know that checkout is 1:00 pm.”  Yes we do, we plan to be out tomorrow by noon for sure.  “You were supposed to be out TODAY by 1:00 (it was now about 6:00).  Yikes, no way, we had a Monday check out.  We scrambled to pull up the reservation info on our phone as he explained that they found another site for the folks who DID have the next reservation and we didn’t have to leave until the morning.  But would we please settle up with the Camp Office in the morning?

So what was the story?  Turns out we had a Sunday to Sunday reservation but put it into our Google calendar as Monday to Monday. The reservation at Topsail Hill was fine, but we got the one at St. Andrews goofed up by one day.  Kept wanting to say, “that’s not us, we aren’t those kind of people… we are rule followers and are well-planned… we are retired teachers (and are always right) …we went out West for 6 weeks… “

Ah well, (sigh), honest mistake.

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Happy Birthday drink for Jackie!

 

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Jackie’s birthday celebration at Dewey Destin’s Harborfront restaurant.

Next stop is Topsail Hill Preserve State Park.  Probably won’t get to post until we are back home.

Check out lots of great photos of the parks here.

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We’re Back!

Yes indeed, it has been a while since I have posted a new and exciting hiking or camping adventure.  Not that we haven’t been busy the past few months.  It has just been a lot of solid family time — helping paint and update our daughter’s new home; decking and bathroom projects at our son’s home; some granddaughter birthdays; decking projects at our house and welcoming a new grandson into the family!

Trees just starting to leaf out

Trees were just starting to leaf out

Great view north

Great view north

And now, after de-winterizing the Winnebago, we headed out for a quick three days at Cloudland Canyon State Park in northwest Georgia.  Weather was sunny, temperatures in the 70’s and we were ready to do some hiking down in the canyon and around the rim.  As you can see by the pictures, the wildflowers were plentiful and the trees were just pushing out their leaves — maybe a week behind our Kennesaw neighborhood.  If you have ever hiked Cloudland Canyon, you will recognize the views and the two beautiful waterfalls.  If not, you should plan a visit to a spot that has views up along Lookout Mountain ridge toward Chattanooga and the Tennessee River.

The view North toward Chattanooga.

The view North toward Chattanooga.

What's in that cave?

What’s in that cave?

Our first day’s 3 mile hike was from the West campground (oh, we were one of maybe 6 in camp that day) over to the Waterfalls Trail and the Main Overlook.  Spectacular view of the ridges and valley below.  The hike down to Cherokee Falls and Hemlock Falls is a combination of trail and stairways.  Beware, it is 600 stairs down and the same 600 back up again!  But if there is good water flow, the falls are a beautiful sight.  And the wildflowers were amazing.  A hillside of trillium, saxifrage, Solomon’s seal, dwarf crested iris and violets was gorgeous.  Water dripped over limestone cliffs covered in moss and maidenhair ferns, with Jack-in-the-pulpit blooming.

Cherokee Falls

Cherokee Falls

Along the creek

Along the creek

Hemlock Falls

Hemlock Falls

Above Cherokee Falls

Above Cherokee Falls

Trillium

Trillium

Dwarf crested iris

Dwarf crested iris

Jack-in-the-pulpit

Jack-in-the-pulpit

Look up, Jackie!

1 Cloudland Canyon (103)

Saxifrage (foam flower)

1 Cloudland Canyon (44)

Violet wood sorrel

1 Cloudland Canyon (97)

False Solomon’s Seal

1 Cloudland Canyon (90)

1 Cloudland Canyon (52)

1 Cloudland Canyon (106)

1 Cloudland Canyon (105)

We had thought that the Sitton Gulch Trail was a choice for the next day, as it traced along the creek further down the valley, but since it also incorporated the same 600 stairs at the start, we opted for the West Rim Trail along the top of the mountain instead.  That seemed like a good 5 mile hike to prepare us for our upcoming hike in Amicalola Falls to the Len Foote Hike Inn.

Catawba rhododendron

Catawba rhododendron

Cloudland Canyon (41)

Fringe tree

1 Cloudland Canyon (32)

Blueberries

1 Cloudland Canyon (19)

Wild Indigo

Wild Indigo

Mountain laurel almost blooming

Mountain laurel almost blooming

Cloudland Canyon (3)     20160421_170335

Flame azalea

Flame azalea

Sweet shrub

Sweet shrub

Along the rim

Along the rim

The trail was a nice woodlands hike with plenty of pink native azalea in bloom.  Underfoot were bluets, star flower, violets and the lovely blue dwarf crested iris.  Doug was busy snapping away with his camera, which Jackie confessed provided some good “breather” moments.  I am pretty happy with the pictures, but I must confess the ones “in my mind” always looked better than those the camera captured.  Somehow the vividness of the colors just doesn’t come through as well, especially the blue of the iris.  Wildlife was pretty scarce, with only one vulture sailing the updrafts.  But a 3 foot green vine snake was a surprising find along the trail.  We had a good look before we sent him along.  The Catawba rhododendron were just about to bloom and the mountain laurel were maybe a week or two from full flower.

Green vine snake along the trail.

Green vine snake along the trail.

Quiet campsite

Quiet campsite

Benji loves camping

Benji loves camping

Back in camp it was quiet, with no sounds of planes overhead or highway traffic or train whistles, such as we hear at home.  Actually, no wildlife sounds either, since it is too early for crickets or katydids but no peepers chirping.  We did have a Pileated woodpecker teasing us at camp, stopping to tear up a few stumps mere feet from the campsite.  He knew I didn’t have my camera out, of course.  Jackie was heard to say “you have plenty of their pictures,” but you can always try for that one more money shot!  Food in camp was rough:  grilled strip steaks one night, maple-bourbon salmon the next.  Don’t ya love it?

Rock outcrop at the rim

Rock outcrop at the rim

After a brief overnight rain, we packed up and headed for home — only a two hour trip.  The campground was fully booked for the weekend, so lots of folks will be hiking the trails.  It was nice to have the place almost to ourselves.  We met some nice folks who will be heading to some of the Western parks we visited this past fall, so there was a chance to share ideas and experiences.

Back home we sat out on the deck and listened to the sounds of Barred Owls hooting in the woods, got buzzed by hummingbirds who wanted a feeder refill and we watched for our herd of local deer to wander through.  Cloudland Canyon was very cool, but home isn’t so bad either.

Check out all the photos in the “Places” page of this blog.

Coming up next:  weekend family cruise to Nassau and then for our anniversary a hike to the start of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia with an overnight stay at the Len Foote Hike Inn.

 

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Blowin’ Across Kansas

Now, boys and girls, today’s word is WINDY. That is why we got buffeted around as we drove across the plains. It is also why the landscape was dotted with large wind turbines. There were several very large wind farms all through the area.  And it’s why we drove 8 hours yesterday and 6 today — moving through, fast as that famed tornado to OZ.

Wind farms in Kansas

Wind farms in Kansas

Time to get caught up with the blog, now that we have wifi. We are in Goodland, Kansas tonight, just shy of the Colorado border. One cool thing is we just crossed into Mountain Time Zone, so we gained another hour. Our trip from St. Louis was a long haul, but the weather was good, the road got better and straighter as we went West, so we kept on through Missouri, then through Kansas City and into Kansas. Missed the chance to have a nice steak dinner or KC barbeque, since we hit town around noon. Did see the Royals and Chiefs stadiums right from the interstate.

Kansas camping

Camping with a lakeside view

About 8 hours of driving and we reached Junction City and found a great campsite right on Milford Lake, the largest in Kansas. A Corps of Engineers campground, the campsite site was wonderful and we there were very few campers. Light rain as I started to grill dinner and again in the morning, but that let us wash off the windshield (see the bug splat report below).

We got an over-the-air TV station that had a news story you would only find here in Kansas. It seems that police were involved in a low speed chase of a combine. During the chase, the combine driver took out some traffic signs and smashed into a few cars with the front tines. Alcohol was suspected. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.

Kansas cornfield

Kansas cornfields

So this morning we left Junction City and drove only 6 hours to Goodland. The scenery is amazing and it is so rich in photo ops, but since I am driving, I can’t get the shots. Flat prairie and farmland as far as you can see, with horizon that is endless. Clouds cleared and we end with a beautiful sunny mid-70’s day. If you ever flew over this part of the country, you will remember seeing the circle crops. Well we passed many of them today, brown, green and in-between, with the center radius irrigation system the reason for the shape.  Or would that be crop circles?

Pet copilots

Pet copilots

I have to say that my copilot Jackie has been great as scouting out our campgrounds from the road – those that we did not reserve ahead. Once we decide, she navigates right to the spot. She also checks the gas prices ahead, using the GasBuddy app. My gas gauge tells me how many miles we have left in the tank, so we plot the best prices possible. My secondary copilot Benji lets me know if the road is getting rough and if we are taking the curves and turns too fast. Passenger Merlin mostly sleeps under the sofa, coming out every once in a while, loudly requesting cabin service. Sorry, the captain has not turned off the seat belt lights.

Bug Splat Report

Splaaat

Splaaat

Yukk – we figured it was the worst in Missouri for bugs and butterflies on the windshield, but Kansas topped that easily. Didn’t count the ‘splats per minute’ but we washed the windshield this morning and had to clean it again when we gassed up at lunchtime. But Alabama had more colorful splats.

Roadkill Report

On the way through Mississippi and Missouri it was armadillo and raccoon on the shoulder, in Kansas we passed a coyote. Heck of a way to spot wildlife.

Onward to Colorado tomorrow.

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Saddle Up and Westward Ho!

Packed and ready to roll the coach on our fall adventure out West!  If you are a motorhome traveler you know the drill.  For the rest of you, let me recap how a motorhome trip is different from packing the car for a week at the beach.  Remember, you are taking a small house with all its onboard systems, so your pre-trip checklist includes:

Plumbing and sewer

You need some fresh water in the tank, but not too much, since you don’t want to haul extra weight. Once you get to a campsite with city water you can connect with a hose and run from that. A small pressure regulator is important so you protect against high water pressure damage. You have to be sure to switch to city water service, not tank fill, otherwise you will discover (as I did in Florida) water pouring out of your overflow hose under the RV about 10 minutes later.

Greywater and blackwater tanks should be empty to start. The lowest sensors in our black tank don’t seem to register, so we are going to pour a solution of borax, water and dish soap into the toilet at the start of the trip to clean them. A bag of ice down the toilet to rattle around while traveling (as recommended) didn’t really do the trick the last trip. You should keep some water in the toilet bowl to block odors (like any p-trap at home). You need your sewer hose and connectors.

Power

You have a generator, which should be in good working order, for the times when you are boondocking. Boondocking or dry camping is when you don’t have any water or electric hookups available. Also you have two sets of batteries: house and engine. Even though they connect and can help spread the charge, you want all of them charged and ready. We have a small solar panel that adds a trickle charge. Be sure you have a surge protector for your electric cord (shoreline).

LP gas tank got filled last week. With our system, you can power your fridge with shoreline electric (when you are hooked up to electric at home or camp) or run off the LP gas, or run off house batteries (or run the generator while on the move or when boondocking). I pre-chilled the fridge in the driveway before stocking it with food.

LP gas can also be used for cooking on the stovetop and oven and it is a source of power for the heater if you can’t run the generator (campgrounds often have quiet hours after 10 pm).

Hey out there, did you pack the cat food?

Hey out there, did you pack the cat food?

Hydraulics

Our motorhome has four hydraulic leveling jacks that are used in combination with jack pads and chocks to level the motorhome. The pistons need to be clean and sprayed with a dry silicone lubricant so they will completely retract when it is time to break camp.

Tires, oil, coolant, wipers, running lights

Since you are also a motor vehicle, every part of the engine and wheels needs preventive maintenance. Tire inflation pressure is important and can vary with the amount of weight you are carrying. Tires on motorhomes wear more than the mileage would indicate, (UV damage and dry rot as I learned on our Florida trip) so you need to keep an eye on their condition.

Kitchen

And of course you need all the pots, pans, dishes, utensils, grill and pantry for your camp menu.

Linens

This motel doesn’t come with maid service, so you need sheets, blankets, pillows and towels.

Planning to add more states to our camping map.

Planning to add more states to our camping map.

But now it is all packed, the tow dolly is ready for the car to be strapped on and we’ll head out. First stop will be in Alabama just northwest of Birmingham on Smith Lake for a night. Then on to Memphis for a stopover.

If you want to follow our progress, check back often or click the “follow” link.

Hey, thanks for checking in and “Happy Trails!”

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Good Deeds of Summer

Our next big camping adventure is a few weeks away and we await a call that our body repair parts are in and ready to install (I think this one will be a while). We just spent the weekend with family in Nashville, enjoying the Tomato Arts Festival, then swimming and paddleboarding in Percy Priest Reservoir.  Our friends are all busy back at school (gosh it is nice to have morning coffee on the deck and read the paper).  Now might be a good time to tell the tale of a good deed gone slightly awry this summer, plus a few things learned along the way.

While we were camping in St. Augustine at Anastasia State Park, we spent the days on the beach or bobbing in the surf. If you have never been to that beach, let me clue you in a bit: it is wide as heck and quite the trek from car to water’s edge, “the desert.” You had to be sure you had something on your feet, because halfway to the water you would realize your feet were burning. Anyway, we would make the trek across this desert in the morning, our beach cart loaded with chairs and provisions, and set our chairs at water’s edge to relax and enjoy.

As we were sitting and sipping one afternoon, we noticed a beach wheelchair in the shallow water at low tide, empty. We made a couple of snarky remarks about how strange it was that nobody seemed to be concerned about an empty wheelchair at the edge of the surf and such. Next day we noticed the same wheelchair and the picture became clearer. Grandma was sitting in a beach chair beside the wheelchair, helped there by her daughter. Nice day at the beach. At the end of the afternoon, as most everyone was packing up and heading out across the desert in search of the parking lot, I saw that grandma was in the wheelchair near the guard stand and her daughter was loaded up with chairs, umbrellas, towels and bags getting ready to make the march across the sand. “I’ll be right back for you, Mom,” she said as she set off. Grandma was faced into the sun and looked like it had indeed been a long day in the sun.

It really was a loooong walk across the sand.

It really was a loooong walk across the sand.

I felt I couldn’t just watch this play out and not do something, as grandma must have suffered a stroke recently and was so dependent on her daughter for mobility. I popped up, declared to the guards that I was not in fact stealing grandma, but helping return her to the car that lay on the other side of the Sahara there. So began my good deed, as I tried to chat up grandma and put her at ease. I shared that my mother-in-law had also suffered a stroke and it was a tough recovery. As I pushed and pushed, I heard her mumble and point to her left side and arm. I assumed she was trying to share that her left arm had been affected, as I continued to heave and push the wheelchair through the soft sand.

Yes, it is a wide beach!

Yes, it is a wide beach!

Maybe halfway across the expanse I thought that I shouldn’t complain about my Tommy Bahama beach cart, because pushing this wheelchair was a REAL effort (and why was I huffing and puffing so bad?). I mean, you have these big balloon tires and all and grandma really wasn’t that big a woman, but gosh you really had to dig down and lean into it to move across the sand. At last we made it to the boardwalk and sidewalk and we moved along to the outdoor showers.

It was about then that her daughter saw us on her way back from packing the car and saying “Oh thank you so much . . . that was so kind, it’s such a long walk.” “My pleasure,” I declared (wondering if it really was) and we had a quick chat about her mother, who has Alzheimer’s and had fallen recently, bruising her arm and hip. Not the stroke I had assumed. “Ok, Mom, let’s wash the sand off,” she announced as she stepped to the back of the wheelchair and started to push. “Oh look, the brake’s still on …”

“Arghhhh,” I growled, “no wonder it was so hard to push through the sand.” And come to think of it, grandma WAS trying to tell me something about the left side of the chair, if I had been paying attention. Ok, so we all had a good laugh and chuckled about how no good deed goes unpunished.

“But we forgot your water bottle, Mom.” Just then, as it happened, a little girl arrived from the beach with the bottle and a towel and said “I saw you left these behind so I brought them to you.” How nice, another good deed. “But that’s not our towel.” “No problem,” I chirped. “I’m headed back across the sand anyway.” So back I went across the hot sand to return the towel to the young lady by the lifeguard stand who was wondering where her towel had disappeared to. “It was nothing,” I said, and then quickly splashed my way into the waves to recover from what really WAS something. I did feel better for having helped out, tempered by the thought that I still had to pack up the Tommy Bahama beach cart for one more trudge across the desert.

Some things learned along the way this summer:

  • Unless you want to listen to the piercing, beeping reminder that your leveling jacks are not fully retracted, take time to spray and wipe them with a dry lubricant while they are extended and before you pull up stakes.
  • Chigger bites do indeed itch for about 2 weeks and there isn’t much you can do about them.
  • Charge a spare camera battery and bring it with you on a photo hike.
  • Strong sun can overheat your cell phone and make it shut down. I think that might also have been the problem with my 35mm digital camera.
  • The dry, clean camp shower stall is the one with the worst water pressure.
  • You CAN survive a tire blowout in 95 degree heat if you have good insurance.
  • A countertop ice maker really can come in handy!

Next up is our trip to Myrtle Beach just after labor day (using a time-share week) and then we begin preparations to leave for the West.

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Monday Group Therapy

It looks like there are a lot of views for the site, so now I feel an obligation to post regularly about what’s going on, even if it isn’t a camping adventure.

Had a great meet-up this Monday with friends at Kennesaw Mountain for a walk – just about 5 miles for some of us who needed to get in the steps.  Karen, Kevyn, Jennifer, Jennifer with her dog Molly, Starr, Carla, Lynzee and Anna were there for the morning walk-and-talk.  Something of a group therapy session, since we could chat about the good and bad of the recent year of teaching.  I didn’t get a picture, but I think Kevyn did, and if he wants to share one, I will post it.  Most of the conversation was about how short the summers are for teachers and how it really has become a working vacation for most of us.  For those of you who aren’t teachers and who might be saying “hey, you get the summer off, quit complaining” our answer would be “try a year of teaching and you will understand how much you need a few weeks off” (without pay, I might add) to decompress, get caught up with your normal life and just unwind from the stress.

Unfortunately, the summer weeks have become required staff development and training, often unpaid.  Several walking with us will spend the next 2 weeks in science or math training sessions to learn the updated curriculum and new ways to teach students.  Not that math is really any different or science has suddenly changed, just that there are “new” ways to present the material, new terminology and new pacing guidelines to increase the all important student achievement.  Bit of editorializing there, but it was supported by an article in the AJC this week detailing how much is expected of teachers now, with so little in return.  I could go on about all the crazy expectations of teachers, but I will save that for another day.

Back to camping and RV adventures for a moment.  I made a little “hitch helper” for the hitch end of our tow dolly this week that makes moving it around much easier.  Essentially three caster wheels on a board with a 2″ hitch ball so you can hitch the tow dolly to it and roll it around as needed.  Right now it is rolled under the back of the RV and taking up no more space in the driveway.   (After using it a bit, I would probably redesign it to include a balanced 4 casters or cut the wood as a triangle).  Also, we just booked two weeks back in St. Andrews State Park for next June at the site next to the one we had this year — Yippee!  If you are planning to be camping in the state park next year at that time, let us know — and if you aren’t, why not?

hitch dolly

Tow dolly attached to the new “hitch helper.”

Hitch dolly 2

Side view of casters and hitch ball.

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