Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Great Smoky Mountains

I drove about 150 miles today and took close to 200 pictures. The views were overwhelming.  Between the views, hills, creeks and curves, I'm sort of on sensory overload. I think I'll just mainly post some of the pictures and let them stand on their own. Just a few facts: the maximum elevation was about 6,000 feet and the temperature was 30 degrees cooler at the top compared to the bottom.
Here are some of the pictures. I wish they were better. (Remember you should be able to click them to enlarge them.)

I'll try to write some stuff tomorrow. Till then, I hope you enjoy the pics.

It was a very good day.

Ya'll take care of each other. Cya.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Travel Day (Hixson, TN to Cherokee, NC)

The thunderstorms arrived at Hixson with a vengeance last night around 10:00 p.m. They hung around until about 4:30 in the morning. The wind and rain was relentless and came in waves. Liberty was rocking and rolling most of the night. I believe I was lucky in the choice of my campsite. To the west of me was a 150 foot high ridge located about 50 feet away. The ridge acted as a shield and forced a lot of the wind to go over me instead of hitting me broadside. During the night, when the storm was the strongest, I would look out the windows to see trees almost bend in half but Liberty just barely rocking.
I took the picture above from the ridge looking down at the campsite. The park is almost empty now but the park was slap full on the weekend with kids, pets and people everywhere. They all bailed out Sunday afternoon. Hamilton County has done a great job with building and funding the Chester Frost Park. I really enjoyed the stay.

I planned to pack up, dump tanks and be on the road by 10:00 a.m. I was keeping an eye on the thunderstorms after they had past over my location because they were heading in the same direction as I planned to travel and I sure didn't want to catch up to them. It seemed as though they slowed down a little after hitting the mountains to the east so I just slowly dumped tanks and topped of the gas tank to give the storms time to move on.
I found this gas station with easy in and out access using Google Earth. Notice the barricades in the background. They did a good job of handling traffic, even RV's.

Of the three choices I had on the directions of travel; I chose heading into the Smoky Mountains. It was an easy drive on roads that were well-maintained. Some places were very narrow and I had to keep bringing my side mirrors in to avoid the possibility of another side mirror hitting mine. I'm glad I got the  option on Freedom that allows remote controlled folding side mirrors. I couldn't get any pictures of the narrow road but did get one on a straight stretch of 4 lane with the mountains rising in the background. It was a pretty day after the storms and we were heading up to the Smoky's.

Traffic was light and the temperature was in the low 70's.

I found a very nice park on the side of the road for a rest stop. It was completely empty today, but I would imagine it is packed with people on the weekends.

I pulled into the Flaming Arrow Campground near Cherokee, North Carolina around 2:00 p.m. I was assigned a pull through site on the upper level in the woods.
I plan to stay here for at least 3 days. The entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is only 5 miles down the road. There is also and entrance point to the Blue Ridge Parkway nearby. There will definitely be day trips to both areas. Hopefully I'll get lucky and run into some good photo ops. Before it got too late I drove into Cherokee and was disappointed in the commercialization of the place. The town could almost pass as Disneyland. It doesn't matter because I came here to see the mountains and they remain mostly untouched since they are a protected national park.

It was a good day.

Ya'll take care of each other. Cya.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Pre-travel Day

No adventures today. It was a day spent watching the weather, doing laundry, servicing the fifth wheel hitch and planning the trip for tomorrow, if the weather cooperates.

I am still a little undecided as to which direction to take when I leave here.

One way is to head towards Bristol, Tenn which is right on the Virginia border. The next stop from there would be Roanoke, Virginia. This direction would put me in Washington D.C. within 7 to 10 days. The weather in D.C. should stay cool enough for an old, fat man for at least the next 3 to 4 weeks. The other advantage to this route is it will be along the interstate which would be safer if some of this unpredictable weather would change. From Bristol, I could explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from the north.

The other direction would take me to Nashville to see the Grand Ole Opry. From there I would swing through Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland to get to D.C.  That way would take about 3 weeks to get to D.C. which would risk arriving in hot weather. This route is still a possibility, but 3rd on the list.

The last direction would be to head directly into the Smoky Mountains, roughly towards Asheville, North Carolina. This would be on some two lane roads that follow the rivers through the valleys. It would be an increase in elevation of 1,300 feet from here. If the storms hit while on this two lane road pulling the RV, it may be exciting. This would be the prettier of the rides. Once in a campground, I could explore parts of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park from the south.

I will make up my mind in the morning with the weather playing a part in the decision. I may not decide until I get to the intersection and have to turn left or right. Everything happens for a reason, so no matter which direction I turn, it will be the correct one.

I'm beginning the 3rd week of retirement. It sure seems longer. One of the things that I've noticed is that time has changed for me. I'm losing track of the day of the week and have to look at my cell phone to be sure. I quit wearing a watch so now the time of day is not noted nor is it important. I wake up when I'm rested and go to bed when I'm tired. I eat when I'm hungry and take a nap when I feel like it. Time is more in terms of "morning" and "evening" now. The only important times are check-out times from the campgrounds which are usually much later than I need, so it's not a problem. I do take my pills approximately when I'm suppose to take them, plus or minus an hour or two. I am staying aware of the weather so I don't get caught towing in high winds or thunderstorms. I also am trying to keep close to that 72 degree line. It has been getting up to the mid 80's around here the last day or so, so I either have to go up in elevation or north to get to cooler temperatures. Oh well, I've rambled enough. More on this in the next Random Thoughts and Things.

It was a good day.

Ya'll take care of each other. Cya

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Hixson, Tenn (day 2) (good day)

(click pics to enlarge)

I road another train today. This one is associated with the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum. In addition to the museum you can ride the train for a few miles to an engine turntable. The trip goes through a mountain tunnel that was hand dug prior to the Civil War. 
The place was especially crowded because they had some event going on for the kids. Something about Thomas the Train. Pre-schoolers everywhere and parents showing their different parental skills. It was enjoyable to sit on a bench and watch how the different parents handled their children. Some were very stern, others very caring and everything in between.

It was "all-aboard" and the train was off. The next stop was to be East Chattanooga.

After we looked around the museum area for a while it was time to turn the engine around and head back to the main depot.

Train on the turntable.

The second part of the day was visiting the Congressional Medal of Honor Museum. It isn't the official one, but it was very good (the official one is located on the flight deck of the U.S.S. Yorktown in Charleston S.C). Pictures inside were difficult due to the way it was set up. It was probably better that way because pictures could not do justice to the sacrifice that these men and women made to us and the country. 
Just a few stats:
There have been nearly 3,500 medals awarded.
The first medal was awarded in March of 1863
The last one in March 2014.
There are only 77 living recipients.

On a happier note. The Mallard came back. Today he brought a date/mate. They left the water and walked up the bank while I was sitting outside. I gave them some bread which they really enjoyed. After they ate, they hit the water and went home.
I overheard the Mallard telling her what a great dinner date it had been as he raised his head with pride. She mumbled something that I couldn't hear very good, it sounded something like "whatever".......

It was a good day.

Ya'll take care of each other. Cya

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Random Thoughts and Things No. 2

(you should be able to click the pics to enlarge them)

1) I have a decision to make. I'm paid up through Monday at this great park and had planned to move on down the road Tuesday morning. Tuesday was decided as moving day because that should be about the time my tanks will need to be emptied unless I start using the bath-house showers. To empty them, I have to break camp and go to the dump site about a mile away. My thought was since I would have to break camp to empty tanks, might as well just hit the road after that. Well, now the dilemma, thunderstorms and strong winds are due in here Monday evening through noon Wednesday. My choices are: a) Leave one day early and pull out Monday morning ahead of the storm and hope it doesn't hit early. I would also need to find a park down the road and be prepared to stay there for a couple days as the storm will be passing to the east OR b) extend my stay here and pull out Thursday morning. This means I'll have to break camp to empty my tanks then set up again, unless I do the bath-house thing,,, probably in the rain. Stopping at a campground on Thursday usually means staying until at least through Saturday due to the weekend visitors to most RV parks making it hard to find a vacancy except during the week. 

2) Jasmine incense does not smell as good at age 58 as it did when you were 18.

3) GPS rocks!!!!

4) I went back and took a picture of that "south" road so I could remember it.
Note the ditch and the oncoming truck.
Lucky I didn't have a trailer behind me today.
5) The Mallard came back today. I got a good picture of him as his bill was just coming out of the water. Notice the water dripping off his bill and the reflection in the water. I got lucky.

5) Someone asked about the jet-pack I mentioned in one of the posts. It is a portable Wi-Fi hot spot. As long as I can get a Verizon signal I can access the internet. I can have up to 10 machines connected to the jet-pack at the same time. So far I've only had 3 connected (phone, laptop and tablet). It is very portable. I can take it in the truck so when I'm using my GPS on my phone, it will connect and use the data from the hot-spot instead of the phone. I got it from Millenicom and get 20 gigs of data per month for 89.00. Not bad for the versatility of moving around the country with it. I've been able to pick up a 4g signal everywhere except for sporadic coverage at Jennings Ferry (in the woods). The company buys Verizon data in bulk and re-sells it at a cheaper price than Verizon sell it.

6) The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was one of the few very successful programs that came out of the New Deal. It would take too long to describe it's successes but just know that it be self-financing in 1959 and has not received any federal aid since then. It also brought a good life to a lot of people. The federal government should look to it as an example of good government at work.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Chattanooga/Hixson (Day 1) (good day)

I had a good night's sleep and awoke around 7:00 a.m. central or eastern time, I wasn't sure. I made some Community Club coffee and stepped outside to see the day. A big Blue Heron was fishing for his/her breakfast not more than 30 feet from me. He/she ignored me but I enjoyed watching until I finished my coffee. It was then time to head out and see what Chattanooga had to offer in terms of sight-seeing. Top on my list was Lookout Mountain. I had heard about it all the way back to Grade School when we learned about the Battles of Chattanooga and Chickamauga. The pamphlets from the Welcome Center said the best way up the mountain was by way of the Inclined Railway. So I planned to head there first.

I grabbed my pen and paper to begin my navigation notes when I remembered the adventure from yesterday when I accidentally took the road whose street sign was poorly worded (whoever heard of putting "south" at the back end of the street name.) Today I would be taking a lot of turns through the heart of downtown Chattanooga so I would need a lot of paper. Oh well, time to bite the bullet. I picked up my phone and clicked the Here Drive + application (techies call them apps). It came up quick and asked my destination. I entered "Inclined Railway" and the location came right up. The screen asked if I wanted to have the voice commands activated. It would have been better had it asked if I wanted voice suggestions instead of commands because I had a flashback to boot camp and my company commander issuing his voice commands. Hmmm,,,, maybe a female voice would be better. So I chose a female voice that I'm pretty sure belonged to one of the members of the Female Swedish Ski Team from a long time ago. I decided quickly that I could follow her commands anywhere. I haven't given her a name yet, but I'm sure one will come to me eventually or you readers can make a suggestion too.

Trains passing
With phone, camera and jet-pack in hand, I clicked "start" on the phone GPS app (techie now) and away we went. She immediately started telling me what turns were coming up and when to turn and which lane to get in, etc.

She did a pretty good job of getting me there. It saved me several sheets of paper so I guess it was worth-while. I'm kidding, it was great. It led me right there and gave me plenty of notice about turns and everything. I'll be using her a lot more in the future.

The Inclined Railway was built about 120 years ago as a quick and cheap means of reaching the top of Lookout Mountain. The final grade towards the top is almost 73 degrees. Very steep. It is about a 1 mile trip and takes about 10 to 15 minutes. Once you get to the top you're rewarded with this view of the valley below. That is the Tennessee River with Interstate 24 running along it's banks until it curves away. Beautiful view. My camera couldn't capture the beauty of it all.
View from Lookout Mountain down into the
Tennessee River Valley
After you get to the top, you can walk around as much as you want before going back down. Being an old fat man, I wasn't sure how much walking around I wanted to do. But I figured I could blame any out of breath condition on being 2,000 feet higher in elevation than I was back in Bossier City. I took a chance and started walking towards Point Park. It is a National Park commemorating the two Civil War battles.

Entrance to Point Park
I wondered why the entrance looked like a castle but couldn't find anyone to ask. Later I googled it and found out it was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers back in 1905 and it is one of the reasons why their logo is a castle. There are automated money machines past the gate where you pay the $3.00 entrance fee. Once inside you can walk around and see the sights.
You can see from the cannon picture above why Lookout Mountain was so important. With only a few cannons, you could control most of the valley and river below.
In the center of the park is a tall column with a statue of a Yankee and Rebel shaking hands.

I took the train back down the mountain and went back to the campground. A couple of Mallard ducks flew in to keep me company as I sat outside in the evening shade. Maybe they will come back this evening and I'll get a picture of them.
It was a good day.
Ya'll take care of each other. Cya.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Travel Day (Eutaw, AL to Hixson, TN) (bad wrong turn)

Since Jenning's Ferry Campground was an Electric/Water only site, I emptied my tanks on the way out of the campground. I filled my fresh water tank about 1/2 full just in case something happened and I wasn't able to connect to fresh water. After visiting with a few of the old men at the waste water dump site and solving most of the problems associated with the country, I pulled out around 9:00 am. I needed to get an early start because I had a long tow ahead. I planned to travel about 260 miles which meant one eating stop, one fuel stop and one Welcome Center stop. Since no one wants to travel with me to help navigate, I have to do a lot of pre-navigation before pulling out. That means I need to scout out fuel and eating places to make sure I don't pull into one with the RV and not be able to get out. I use the internet and Google Earth to do it. I then write down the Exit numbers and other information on a tablet of paper that rides on the console of the truck for ready reference. As I'm going down the road I will study, read, glance at it every now and then. I guess I was obeying the law since I was only reading a tablet of paper and not a text message. I felt safe at least. There are several good web sites which list truck stops along the roads. If I can find a good truck stop that has easy access to the pump and a good restaurant then I've bingo'ed (there you go Joy). It didn't work out this time. I could not find a good combination so I looked for a restaurant about an hour down the road. I found a good truck stop where I could park with the 18 wheelers and the restaurant was rated high on the truckers page. They were right, it was very good and the waitress said it was nutritional also and I believed her.

Breakfast of Champions

After filling my belly, I got back on the road. I was cruising pretty good until I hit the north side of Birmingham and ran into about 10 miles of the worst road I've been on this trip. It was a composite roadway, meaning it was originally a concrete road that had been overlaid with asphalt many, many years ago. This type of road must be overlaid about every 5 to 7 years or it turns real rough as the cracks and joints from the concrete road reflects through the asphalt causing it to start spalling. Once this happens, the asphalt will spall off creating a multitude of small potholes. It will be rough and get rougher until the asphalt can be removed and replaced. I hated composite roads for most of my highway career and this was a reminder and validation for my anger. During the fuel stop I debated whether to look inside Liberty to see how much damage that road had done. I lost won the debate with myself and decided to wait until I got to the campground. About 20 miles after the fuel stop my blood pressure went back down as I started seeing mountains down the road.

Yep, I still didn't text while I drove, but those are pictures taken through Freedom's dirty windshield while going down the road. After leaving Alabama and going about 25 miles through the northwest corner of Georgia, I made it to the Tennessee Welcome Center. I was glad the bathrooms were open because I was regretting all that water I had drank. I was beginning to eye that empty water bottle.
Freedom and Liberty waiting on me at the
Tennessee Welcome Center. I threw the empty
water bottle in the trash can so I wouldn't be
tempted again

 I gathered up about 2 inches of pamphlets, got my free Tennessee state map, signed their book and got back on the road. I was ready to get to the campground because the trip was getting old fast and I still had to go through most of Chattanooga before the day was done. 

My handwritten notes served me very well. I knew what turns were coming up well before I got to them and knew which direction to turn. I also knew the approximate distance between turns so I could start looking for the street signs and highway numbers. Nothing wrong with this system. That fancy Garmin GPS can stay in the box and I won't have to learn how to use that GPS thing they said was on my new phone. I think the Ford dealer said something about my truck having a GPS or something on it too. To heck with all that, just give me the old fashioned pen and paper (plus internet) and I'm good to go. Well, until the last turn.

The last turn was suppose to be on to a road called "Gold Point Circle North". I had the approximate mileage since my last turn so I began looking for it and knew it was close. I slowed down as much as I could; even though the speed limit was 55 mph. Sure enough, there on the right, the green street sign. As the words came into focus I read them off one by one,,,, "Gold",,,,,,good,,,,, "Point",,,,,,,,good,,,,,, "Circle",,,,,,,OK, this is it, start to turn, check the right mirror to make sure the RV wheel clears the curb,,,,,look back at the street sign and read,,,,,"South". South???? That can't be right. I slow to a crawl hoping there is a quick place to turn around. I spy a pretty good sized driveway but there's a sign saying "private drive, don't think about turning around". Obviously this has happened to other people before. I continue on looking for a turn-around to get the heck off this "south"??? road and hoping it doesn't dead end. The road started getting narrower and the edge lines disappeared. In Louisiana this means the lanes are less than 11 feet wide and I'm pretty sure they mean the same here in Tennessee because these felt like 10 foot lanes. I was lucky there wasn't any traffic on the road coming or going because I was going slow as the road began to get curvy. About 2 miles and 5 hours minutes later I saw a guy cutting brush on the side of his driveway. I came to a stop and hollered out if there was a good turn around ahead? He say "Nope" as he took another swing with his blade. I said does this road end up at a campground? He said "Yep, after a few kiss-your-ass curves". I was familiar with that expression but I had no choice but to continue on and hope I didn't met a truck or school bus coming the other way. Well after a 5 mile white-knuckle, butt-puckering, curvy, hilly drive, I pulled into the campground. The place looked great, the price was the cheapest I've paid so far, and it wasn't crowded. I got a nice campsite next to the water.
I couldn't decide which picture was the better at showing the campsite so I posted both of them. Ya'll can comment and let me know which one you like the best. I was ready for rest and relaxation. I went into town and got a good dinner at Ryan's. The ribeye's were cooked just right and not overly seasoned (I'll go back there before I leave the area). At $10.00, I couldn't have bought and cooked the steaks and everything else I ate. So, with my belly full again, I turned in early for a good night's sleep. Every so often during the night I thought I heard a loud engine or generator going. I thought it strange because the campground gate closes at 10:00 pm, so no one should be entering the park and no one should be using a generator since electricity is part of each campsite. When I opened my door the following morning, the mystery was solved.

The lake I'm camped next to is part of the Tennessee River which is navigable. The engines were the tugs as they were pushing their barges. Now that I know that, it is like a song. While looking outside this morning I also took the following two pictures. They made the harrowing and long trip yesterday worth-while.

Sunrise over the lake

The view out my door
The picture reminds me of a saying some of the full-time RV'ers say. It goes something like,,,, "I live in a small house but I have a BIG backyard".
Ya'll take care of each other. Cya.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Jenning's Ferry Campground (Eutaw, AL) (day 2 and final)

No exploring today. It has been raining on and off since early this morning plus there isn't much to see around here except the campground. I have used the day to plan the next leg of the journey. I'll pull out early tomorrow and head to the Chattanooga, Tennessee area. I have chosen a campground about 10 to 15 miles away from the heart of the city. For those that want to google it, the name is Chester Frost Park in Hamilton Parish County, TN. It is near the town of Hixson, TN. It looks nice online, but I'll see when I get there. They do not take reservations, strictly first come, first served. I spoke with the Ranger and he said it should be no problem getting a site tomorrow. If it is a good place I'll stay there through Saturday. There seems to be a lot to see in the area but I'll get more information at the Tennessee Welcome Center.

One picture for the day. It is a picture of one of my first vehicles for adventure. I called it home for 3 1/2 years as Uncle Sam showed me several countries around the world. We sailed in the Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, North Atlantic, North Sea and the Mediterranean Sea showing other people what FREEDOM and LIBERTY was about. Now I'm traveling around this great country in Freedom and living in Liberty.
Home from Spring of 1974 to November of 1977
Ya'll take care of each other. Cya.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Travel Day; Vicksburg, MS to Eutaw, AL

Today was a travel day and I was ready for it. I had been at Vicksburg too long. But it was a good stay and a good campground.
 So I did my laundry so I would have clean drawers in case I got in an accident. I would hope that if I got in an accident the doc's and nurse's would be talking about my drawers because that would mean it was a minor accident. I then said goodbye to Rivertown RV Park and hit the road.
Rivertown RV park
I stopped for gas and lunch at a truck stop in Mississippi around noon. The Spaceway hamburger, fries and coffee hit the spot. I had spotted the place on Google Earth and knew that I would be able to get in and out easy.
The next stop was the Alabama Welcome Center. I picked up some pamplets and a state map while Freedom and Liberty took it easy in the parking lot with a couple big boys.
Freedom and Liberty rubbing shoulders with a
couple Class A motorhomes
It wasn't long before I got to the exit for Jenning's Ferry Campground. The town was Eutaw, Alabama. It is another poor little town with a Piggly Wiggly and Dollar General. I stopped in the Dollar General to pick up some OFF because of the mosquitoes. I had heard they were big enough this year for the fishermen to use them as bait. While going in and out of Dollar General, I was panhandled by some guy who just got out of a fancy looking car. I guess I looked like an easy mark. Finally I got to the park entrance and the place looked peaceful.
Jennings Ferry Entrance
The couple that checked me in were work campers from West Virginia and were due to leave in a week. They were nice people although the computer system seemed to cause them problems. After visiting for a while I went to my assigned site.

Freedom and Liberty waiting to be
set up.
Thinking Spot

After setting up I found the "thinking spot" above. It will be peaceful here and time to reflect on things.
My internet connection through my hotspot is going in and out so I'm not sure if this will post or not. I'm not sure where my next stop will be located. I was thinking Chattanooga or maybe head towards Nashville.
Ya'll take care of each other. Cya.