Friday, December 15, 2006

Branson for Christmas

Why would anyone leave the warmth of Florida in December? For the Christmas shows in Branson, MO, of course. This was an organized tour put together by the Good Sam Club. The package included our RV site, seven shows, three tours and all but one dinner. It was an opportunity we simply couldn’t pass up.

We left home on November 30, and drove as far as Ozark, AL. We had planned to stop in the panhandle of Florida, but with the time change in our favor and good timing we decided to just keep going. That night, the cold front came through. We only had a little rain and the temps got cooler, but it wasn’t too bad. Yet.

The next day took us as far as Tupelo, MS, the birthplace of Elvis Presley. We talked about seeing the house, but in the end decided it was just a house and we really didn’t care to go on a tour. So we leisurely packed up the coach and headed on down the road.

Our next stop was in Tunica, MS. Yes, you guessed it, we wanted a little gambling time. We stayed at the Hollywood Casino’s RV Park which was really very nice. And the price was right: free! We stayed 2 nights and it was nice to be stationary for a little while. We played at three different casinos and had fun, but little good luck. And did I mention it was COLD! We were wearing our sweatshirts and coats by now. We drove around to the casinos even though they were all in walking distance for us. Just too cold and windy!

From Tunica, we went to Morrilton, AR. We were in a little RV park that was right on the Arkansas River. It wasn’t much at this time of year, but we could see that it would be beautiful in the summer. Just one night there and then back on the road again.

On Tuesday, December 5, we drove the last 150 miles into Branson. But not before we had a flat tire fixed. What a pain in the butt! That cost us a couple hours, but we still got to America’s Best Campground by a little after 4pm.

After our welcome dinner we had a Christmas party which included a gift exchange. We did one of those where you can steal any previously unwrapped gift. The John Deer pocket knife had several owners, as did the Santa Shelf-Sitter and a Branson T-shirt. Our good stuff got stolen and we wound up with a very nice umbrella and a cute little Christmas ornament.

Wednesday morning was a shopping trip that Julian and I opted out of. We had plenty of ways to spend money, and we didn’t seem to need this one. We kinda felt like we needed to get our feet on the ground anyway. We did a little grocery shopping and so on.

At 3:45 we left the campground on 2 buses for the Dixie Stampede. We had seen this show in Orlando a couple years ago, but enjoyed it just as much. It was a nice start to the trip.

After that show, we drove about 45 minutes to see the Port of Lights in Kimberling City. This was well worth the drive! It is set up in a marina area of a park. Many businesses pay for a small area in which to place their display. I took several pictures, but without a tripod, they didn’t come out very well. This one is the best of the bunch and can give you a small idea of what it was like.

There were such beautiful displays. There was a tunnel of holly wreaths, angels, Santas, snowmen and women, a fisherman whose fish was actually out in the water. I only wish I could have captured more of it.

Thursday morning was open as far as the package was concerned. So we had pre-booked tickets to see Yakov Smirnov on our own. What a great show that was! He is such a funny guy and very patriotic. We enjoyed his show tremendously. And during the intermission we were fortunate enough to be among the few who got his autograph on a photo taken when we entered the theater. (They are big on that in Branson.) And then he was gracious enough to allow me to get this great photo of Julian with him.

Then it was back to the campground for a quick lunch before leaving with the group for the Dutton Family show. One of the sons came onto our bus when we arrived to welcome us to the show and then escort us to our seats. The members of this family do it all. They were in the shops, they were ushers, they were everywhere and looked like they enjoyed every second of every thing that they were doing. And wow! Could they play and sing! Here’s the whole family.

They even got the grandkids involved. And they played those violins pretty well.

When we were all back on the bus, one of the sons came out again to make sure we enjoyed the show and that all the DVDs were delivered of the show we had just seen. Talk about service! They were great people.

From there we all went to dinner at the Grand Palace Hotel. The food was really good and there was live entertainment there as well. And then it was on to “Broadway’s Spirit of Christmas” show. This was another terrific variety show which included the Osmonds. Yes, four of the older brothers performed during about half of the show. I didn’t get any photos of them, and I can’t explain why. They were great as was the entire show.

Whew, three shows in one day! It was too much. Great entertainment, but too many places to be in one short day.

Friday morning, the group went to the College of the Ozarks. We passed on this trip, too. Julian read the brochure and pretty much figured it wasn’t our kind of trip. Staying home turned out to be a very good thing as some of the plumbing froze overnight. Yes, it was about 12° when we got out of bed that morning. Brrrrr! But with the help of the sun and a hair dryer Julian got the pipes cleared out and working fine. He bought a drop light to keep in that bay for the remaining nights that were also below freezing.

The afternoon show was The Brashler Music Show. This was yet another family of talented performers. They have one of the longest running shows in Branson. They do a pure gospel show every Thursday, but we saw their Christmas show. Wonderful songs that we hadn’t heard as often, if at all, during other performances.

And get a load of their dachshund, Katie. She was on stage for most of the second portion of the show. At one point, she was left alone on the chair. She got up and took a drink out of the cup left close by the chair she was on. What a great little pup she was.

The son-in-law came out to the bus after the show. He told us that he and his wife (the woman in the picture) raise dachshunds. Katie was four and had been in the Christmas show since the start this season. During one of the early shows, she got up for a drink and discovered that the crowd loved it. She has been doing it every performance since. What a little show-stopper!

We were bused back to the campground for a quick dinner on our own. Then we went off to the Moon River Theater to see Andy Williams. Pulling up to the theater was a treat all by itself. The grounds were covered in trees and every tree was covered in white Christmas lights. At their base was a pale blue-green spotlight which made the whole picture just gorgeous – like a winter wonderland.

I thought we might be in for a long show when they brought Andy Williams on stage in a sleigh. Was he that old? We’d been told of suspicions of lip-syncing – could that be true? No way! He got out of that sleigh and looked and sounded great. He put on a terrific show and even danced a little on a couple of occasions. And though we weren’t up close to the stage, we could see nothing to make us think he wasn’t singing every word live. It was a great show – not to be missed. At the end he sang his "favorite Christmas song" – Moon River! It was great!

The next morning we were off again, this time to see the Lowe Family. Yet another very talented family. They all played all kinds of different instruments and could all sing, too. They put on another great show.

We had the afternoon off. This was a good thing. We’d been running like crazy and it was nice to relax a bit before the last show. But first we had a farewell dinner at the campground. The food was very good. After eating there was a prize give-away. One of the tour directors had been shopping in every location, show, etc. She had CDs and DVDs from the shows, jams and bread from the university tour, lots of great things. As luck would have it, Julian and I got a 2-disk set of Andy Williams from the 60s and 70s. We’ve already listened to it and have really enjoyed it.

Our last show was Shoji Tabuchi. We hadn’t heard of him, but he sure can play the violin. He’s got a pretty good singing voice too, but still has a heavy Japanese accent. He did “The Wabash Cannonball” better and faster than I think I’ve ever heard it done. Wow! His daughter performed as well. She does not have an accent and is also very talented, not to mention beautiful (as Julian pointed out). It was another great show.

Something about Branson in general: God and Country are alive and well in that town! Nearly every show we went to took a moment to ask all veterans to stand while their branch of the service was honored. I haven’t seen that many flags nor heard that many patriotic songs in a long time. We heard not one cuss word, nor any off-color jokes. Every single show made a point of keeping Christ in Christmas. It was uplifting, to say the least.

There was a continental breakfast for the group on Sunday morning. It was time to say good-bye and head on down the trail for most of us. Frankly, Julian and I were ready to find warmer locations! We got a fairly early start and made it to Lake Village, in south-east Arkansas, by late afternoon. It was a nice park, and the weather was already getting warmer!

Then we decided to change course slightly and go to Biloxi, MS, for one night. Yeah, we love to gamble. But it’s also where Julian had spent his first year in the service and it’s always fun to visit. We came into town on US-90, right on the coastline. Wow! What a difference Hurricane Katrina had made. It was very sad. We had been through Biloxi in July, 2005, and enjoyed the Treasure Bay casino. It was a huge boat shaped structure out in the water. It is one of the few casinos that has been rebuilt today, so that’s where we decided to play and have dinner. It is still under construction/renovation. They had a long enclosed walkway from the parking area into the casino with lots of photos of the original Treasure Bay… and how it looked after Katrina. This huge structure had literally been ripped in two. The larger portion was shoved quite a distance from its original location. The smaller section was washed up on shore. Now, there is nothing at all. I’m serious – nothing!

That is only one example. There were other structures that we remembered being on the beach side of the road that were also completely gone. Any of the piers that had stood were now only pylons sticking out of the water. Hotels we had even stayed at on other visits were nothing but foundations. And the homes were the saddest. Parts of buildings were ripped away. Gaping holes showed in the sides of apartments. These people were truly hit hard. In spite of having an enormous amount of work still to do, it was obvious that the human spirit has made huge strides in allowing the residents of this area to return to a new normalcy.

From there we drove to DeFuniak Springs, in the panhandle of Florida. We spent two nights there and soaked up the warmth. We drove to the coast and had lunch in Destin. We were very impressed with how blue the water was and the beautiful white sandy beaches. This picture was taken just outside the restaurant where we had lunch.

On the 14th, we drove the last 350 miles home. It was a GREAT trip -- in spite of the cold weather. We had a super time.

Merry Christmas to all!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

How We Spent Our Summer Vacation - The First Week

On July 15, 2006, we departed our home in central Florida in our 33' motor home. We headed up I-95, through Jacksonville and Georgia and into South Carolina. We were exited and happy to finally be on our way. Our first night was spent in a Wal-Mart parking lot. I know, not very exciting, but the price was right. Wal-Mart loves RVers - we buy stuff there.

On Sunday, we were up early and back on the road. We had about 260 miles to drive and the last part of it was up hill. We chose Creekwood Farm RV Park for its ambiance and location. It was in the Smoky Mountains at about 2,500'. Cooler weather than Florida was assured. Our site was right on the creek, with lots of shade from the tall trees.

This would be our home for the next month! The weather was so much cooler than we were used to and it felt great. Still shorts weather, but not stifling heat.

We soon met our neighbors who were also there for a month. In fact, Ken and Stacy are full-time RVers. We learned a lot from them. It didn't take long for a daily "cocktails at the creek" routine to set in. We may not have seen each other during the day, but come 5pm, you could usually find the four of us thoroughly enjoying our position in the world.

That is our coach in the background - our home away from home. We loved being at Creekwood Farm.

Once we were duly settled, it was time to get out and see the countryside. Our first excursion was a trip to Fontana Lake. We drove west, through Bryson City, almost into Tennessee. Near the lake, we stopped to talk to a guy at the General Store to find out where to fish on the lake. It turns out that if you don’t have a boat, there really isn’t any good place to go fishing there. We drove around the area some and then headed back home. This picture looks down on the lake from above it. It was all such beautiful country.

By that weekend, it was time to do some of the more mundane chores that had been put off while having fun. So there was laundry and other cleaning to do. Besides, we prefer to do our sight-seeing when everyone else is working.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

How We Spent Our Summer Vacation - The Second Week

Since the fishing at Creekwood wasn’t great and Fontana Lake didn’t pan out, we needed to try something else. So this time we headed north to Hot Springs, also nearly into Tennessee. We talked to the Forestry guy there and then went to the French Broad River as he suggested. We found a great place and put the lines in the water. Julian had a couple of strikes early on, but wasn’t able to cash in on them. We continued to try, but had no luck at all. Here’s proof that we did try!

We finally had to give in to the fact that the fish weren’t biting. We drove around the area for a bit and found a state park where we had our picnic lunch. It was also a great place to let Heidi roam a little bit. She’s a great little traveler and loves to come with us as often as possible.

After eating, we headed home – but by a different road. We really prefer to take one route on the way somewhere and then find a whole different way to get home. This time it really paid off. We saw some terrific scenery on the gravel roads we found ourselves on. There were times we had to take off our sunglasses because the tree canopy was so thick. Fabulous country!

OK, fishing wasn’t working out, so it was time to do something else. We decided to get onto the Blue Ridge Parkway to see what everyone is talking about. Everyone says it’s gorgeous. Everyone says it’s a “must do”. Everyone is right!

So we drove south to Balsam where we entered the Parkway. We drove the 26 miles or so to its end at Cherokee. It was every bit as beautiful as we had been told. And it was becoming quite evident why these mountains were named the Smoky Mountains.

Once off the Parkway, there was more beautiful scenery at the top of the pass between Tennessee and North Carolina. We continued on to Gatlinburg, TN, where we walked around the town and did some shopping and general sight-seeing. We had a great lunch at an Italian restaurant.

As is our custom, we took a different route to get back home. We headed east out of Gatlinburg and eventually got onto the Foothills Parkway. This was only about six miles long, but was filled with marvelous views. This picture was taken as we were nearing the end of the Parkway into a town.

Creekwood Farm is located in a valley on the outer edges of the Smoky Mountains. I don’t think there was one morning while we were there that fog wasn’t present. And even though it usually lifted by 10 or so, we never saw really clear, crisp, sunny skies like we experience in Florida all the time. This is not a bad thing, just an observation.

It did, however, make it more difficult for me to jump out of bed. I tend to get up with the sun and that just wasn’t happening. We made the best of it and still found time to get in a walk of two to three miles several mornings each week. One has to keep up with one’s exercise.

Among the regular activities at the park was Bingo twice a week. The price was right, so we joined in on the Tuesday night sessions. We played each of the first two weeks there and Julian won, each time. It wasn’t a huge winning, but it paid for our entry fees. I, on the other hand, couldn’t even get close. But it was fun.

Oh, and did I mention that there is a casino in Cherokee? It was about 35 minutes from our site, so we made it over there more than once. Anyone who knows us won’t be surprised by that! We didn’t have any good luck, but we did have fun.

Friday, August 25, 2006

How We Spent Our Summer Vacation - The Third Week

In previous posts I have mentioned that Heidi is a very good traveler. She seems to be happy as long as she’s with us, so she’ll put up with a lot. Here she is in one of her favorite places.

And lest you think she isn’t getting spoiled enough, this picture will put your mind at rest. She loves being on her daddy’s lap.

This week we had live entertainment at Creekwood Farm on Saturday evening. Hobo Bill and Kristin played guitars and sang older mountain and railroad songs. I didn’t know most of what they performed, but we sure enjoyed listening to them.

We took our lawn chairs and sat outside the rec center. I was amazed at the lack of mosquitoes. I am always a target if they are in the neighborhood, but not here in North Carolina. Another cool thing was the lightning bugs. We never had them in Colorado, nor in Florida. So that was kind of a throwback to my childhood that was really cool. No, I didn’t catch any, but I must admit that I was tempted!

The next day was a fish fry. One of the campers (Bill Brown) supplied all the fish: trout and catfish. Julian and our neighbor, Ken, spent a good part of the day helping Bill make hushpuppies and fry the fish. We all ate around 3 p.m. and what a feast it was! We were so full we only needed desert later that night.

Since getting the motor home, we’ve struggled with something to take the place of a coffee table. We need all the surfaces we can find and nothing was cutting it, mostly nothing was stabile enough. Our neighbors, Ken & Stacy, had a nice wooden coffee table in their coach which they had had made for them last year in Waynesville. It was a perfect size (small) and would match our coach very nicely. So we went into the same furniture store and had them make one just like it for us. They said we’d have it in less than a week.

By Wednesday we were ready to get out and see the sights again. We went south to Balsam once more and hopped onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, heading east this time. We took it 50 miles to Asheville. Once again we were surrounded by awesome beauty. We stopped in several places, the first of which looked down on the town of Balsam.

We also passed the highest point on the Parkway at over 6,000 feet. OK, it’s not a Colorado mountain, but it was worth seeing anyway.

Here’s another view of the mountains. Fantastic scenery!

And here’s the sign that proves we were there.

Once we got through “oh-ing” and “ah-ing” over the scenery, we actually did get into the city of Asheville. We went into the downtown area and walked around Grove Arcade. It was a small shopping center with all sorts of different stores. Then we had a great lunch at a Thai restaurant there. We’ve been eating quite well, so far.

We had an RV lesson this week. We had a torrential rain around noon one day, complete with high winds. We learned that the way we had the awning secured wasn’t nearly strong enough. Both posts pulled out of the ground. We were able to get out and catch them and secure them so that no damage was done. But it was time to get a better method in place – which is how we spent the afternoon. Julian went out once the rain stopped and bought tie-downs. We wouldn’t be caught with this problem again.

It was time to go out and get some positive fishing results. We drove south through some beautiful countryside to Cliffside Lake near Highlands, NC. This is a gorgeous state park area as you can see from this photo.

We found this little boardwalk area where we could hang out and throw in our lines.

We spent quite some time here, but were stymied once again. Why are there no fish to be caught in this state? We bought licenses. We’re playing by the rules. What’s up with this place? Eventually we gave up the fishing and found a picnic table to have our lunch. Then we drove back home – by a different road, of course.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

How We Spent Our Summer Vacation - The Fourth Week

When we returned from our morning walk on Saturday, there was a call from the furniture store telling us our table was ready. That was fast!

We got cleaned up and then went to one of the neighboring towns for the “Mater Fest”. We didn’t buy tomatoes, though they had cases and cases to be sold. They did look pretty good, though. We bought a couple things for Heidi, most notably some treats designed to help with her bad breath. It was really fun walking through the various crafts and things.

We drove from there into Waynesville to pick up the table. It turned out great. Wanna see it?

We really just hung around the early part of the week. There was laundry. We cleaned the bird doo-doo off the awning. I made a couple greeting cards. Nothing too exciting… until Wednesday.
That was the day we went to the Biltmore Estate outside of Asheville. WOW! This is a private residence, owned by the Vanderbilts. It has 250 rooms. It’s an American castle – in fact, the largest house in the U.S. I didn’t take any photos inside, but here’s one of the outside.

Now you have to look at our mugs in front of the “little shack”.

We got the headphones with the recorded tour information and did all four stories plus the basement. We got to see about 60 of the 250 rooms. The table in the formal dining room was 40-foot long – bigger than our RV. It was such an interesting tour. We both would highly recommend it to anyone visiting that area. It’s incredible what money can buy.

After doing the inside, we had lunch in what had previously been the stables. Or at least that area. We walked though the shops and then went to the gardens. It was built to the same massive scale as the house. Here’s just one portion of it.

From there we drove to the winery and toured that area. They didn’t have a formal tour going on, but we did get a good chance to taste many of their wines. We found a couple that we liked and bought several bottles.

We got a call from some old friends from Colorado that day. They were in the area and were coming to spend a couple nights at Creekwood Farm. In fact, they got there before we got back from Asheville. They have a travel trailer and are moving from Arizona to a new location, as yet undecided.

Heidi remembered them immediately and got very excited to see them. One sniff and they were best buddies again.

We spent time with them off and on for the remainder of the week. It was really fun to catch up with what’s been going on in their lives since we saw them last. They left Saturday morning.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

How We Spent Our Summer Vacation - The Fifth Week

This week brings with it our last days at Creekwod Farm. It’s time to move on, but it’s also a little sad to be leaving. We’ve enjoyed being in this place enormously. Lots of fun stuff to do. The sights have been unbelievable. And there’s something comforting in being in one place for a long time. It’s more like home that way, I guess.

So there was laundry and shopping and packing to do before moving on. We had our neighbors, Ken and Stacy, over for dinner. Plus we four went out to dinner one night. It was a lot of fun.

On Monday evening after dinner, Ken knocked on our door and said there was an impromptu music celebration going on just a few doors down. So we grabbed our lawn chairs and headed down. It was worth it. Turns out it was someone’s birthday celebration and there was cake and ice cream. Along with the live music! It was a great evening’s entertainment.

Wednesday was moving day. We had a nice big breakfast out with Ken and Stacy and then finished all the packing, unhooking, etc. And then we were off.

It wasn’t a long drive, less than 100 miles to just north of Knoxville, TN. So we were there early in the afternoon. It turned out to be a good thing because they didn’t seem to be ready for us. There were issues of where we should park, the electrical service we needed, moving us to another space in a day or two, and on and on. It seemed a general state of confusion for the clerk who checked us in. But eventually, it all came together and we got the type of spot we needed.

Volunteer Park was a fairly nice place. It had level, concrete pads. It had nice tall pine trees and fresh gravel on the streets.

It had a nice laundry facility and served dinners every night for seven bucks apiece. (We had liver & onions there one night.) But the one thing this park lacked was quiet. Our lot backed up against a very busy street. This busy street was used heavily by very large trucks moving back and forth to the rock quary about 2 blocks up the street. It was never-ending!

We had planned to spend ten days here, but after one night it was evident that we just wouldn’t enjoy it. So we spent the morning changing some future reservations and then got out to see the sights. We did a little exploring and had lunch at Ruby Tuesday’s. Then it was a (relatively) quiet afternoon, reading, etc.

On Friday morning we drove north to Norris Dam and State Park. It was really beautiful country – like everywhere we’d been. This is the river, below the dam.

We saw lots of deer while roaming around. I got a couple pictures of them, but they turned out pretty lousy. We also toured the facilities at the park. They had a beautiful outdoor pool overlooking the lake. It was past the season, I guess. There were no people there at all.

We wanted to find some fishing while up here. So we stopped at a general store to inquire about the area and the license issues. It would have been about $30 each for a 3-day license for trout. We weren’t even planning to be in the state that long. So once again, no fishing! I’m seeing a trend here.

On Saturday, we got the routine work done around the coach and then headed into Knoxville to explore. What a hilly town that is! As bad as San Francisco, I think. We walked down to the river walk area and getting back up nearly wiped us out. But while there we saw some dragon boat races and really did have a nice time.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

How We Spent Our Summer Vacation – The Sixth Week

Moving day came again on Sunday. This time we are off to Meadows of Dan, Virginia. (Yes, that’s the name of the town, also the name of the campground.) It was about 240 miles from Knoxville. It rained off and on all day – pretty hard at times – but we had good roads and no problems getting there.

And what a beautiful place it was! Our site was up on a hill with great views in every direction.

It was so peaceful there. We sat outside in the evenings and enjoyed the nature around us.

This was a beautiful place to be and very quiet. We were very appreciative of these facts while staying here.

We were once again right near the Blue Ridge Parkway. So on Monday we drove a portion of it to the northeast of where we stayed. Our fist stop was at the Mabry Mill. It was built in the early 1900’s and was used to cut wood and grind corn for many years. It was very interesting to see the workings of it – inside and out.

Julian found time to do a little fishing in the pond at the campground. He even caught two pretty good sized fish. Finally, some fishing success. Unfortunately, he didn’t get any photos before releasing them back into the pond. But we believe he caught them!

Heidi got into something under the picnic table on the first night we were there. Whatever it was did not agree with her. She developed the hives and general allergic reaction that she had displayed before until we changed her diet. We got Benedryl and had her on that.

And so began Tuesday, the day from hell! We took off at a reasonable hour. We had a lot of miles to cover to get to Gasburg, VA, where we planned our next stay. We went as far as Stuart where we stopped at a vet to get meds for Heidi. We ended up spending most of the morning there before we got everything handled. It wasn’t even noon and our patience was being tested. But Heidi would be alright.

Then we drove as far as New Boston where we found a Wal-Mart, but it was way off the main highway, on the other side of town. We got all of our paper products and shopping needs handled since we knew our next park was pretty much in the boonies. We also finally ate lunch. The bad news was when we left to get back to the highway. We didn’t make the turn we should have and the one we took to get back on track turned out to be nearly a dead-end. There was a through street, just like the computer map said. However, there was also a closed gate across it. It was hot and miserable. We finally had to unhook the car and eventually got turned around and back on the way. And we still had half the drive ahead of us.

The rest of the drive proved uneventful. And at first the park didn’t look too bad. But when we tried to pick a spot and get settled the trouble began. We made the mistake of not having me outside when Julian was adjusting our setting on the site. In the end, he backed into a stump. Fortunately it was pretty rotted out and didn’t destroy the back of the coach. But the ladder was broken, the tow hitch was buried, and the bumper was scratched (but not dented). It looked like we managed to escape serious damage, but time would tell. In any case, we were leaving the next morning for sure. We got everything cleaned up and set up as minimally as possible. There was no phone coverage, no internet, no cable, no antenna TV. We didn’t want to be here under any circumstances. (We had originally planned a full week!)

We got out the books and looked and looked for an RV park to spend the next six nights. Finally, we decided on Tranter’s Creek in Washington, NC. But we’d have to wait for tomorrow to find out if they could take us. We had dinner and went to bed very early. Neither one of us slept much, though.

I wish now that I had taken a photo of the stump with our motor home sticking out of it. However, at the time, it didn’t seem like anything we’d ever want to see again in our lives. So there is no record, you just have to take my word for it.

Things definitely got better the next day. We were up early and got ready to go pretty quickly – though very carefully. Everything seemed OK until we tested the lights on the tow vehicle. The turn signals worked, but not the brake lights. Julian looked at lots of things. He fixed a broken wire and still had problems. He decided it was a burned out fuse, but we couldn’t find the right fuse box. So we started out and decided to stop as soon as we had cell phone coverage.

We stopped in Roanoke Rapids, NC, and started making calls. We made sure that Gasburg only charged us for one night. We made reservations in Tranter’s Creek. They even agreed to give us the 6th night for free! What a deal. Julian called an RV repair place we found in Woodall’s and he referred us to another place, closer to where we were. So we drove on to Rocky Mount. They were able to find the fuse and change it, re-attached the wires and wrapped them, all for $35. Whew! There was still a problem with the car getting the signal to brake. Julian found the switch and wrapped it so that it was working.

As we stopped to have lunch (Japanese hibachi – yum), Julian called the guy who installed the hitch and found out how to set the switch properly. He was able to do that and we were off again.

Tranter’s Creek turned out to be a wonderful place. We had a site on the end, near the creek, with lots of tall trees on the left side. We were back on track! We could stay here for the remaining six days till our next reservation. This is what it should be! We’ll have afternoon shade on the awning side and we love it. All seems to be right with the world – finally.

And here’s a picture of the actual Tranter’s Creek, just a few yards away. It looks more like a river to me, but what do I know.

We loved being there. We both slept better that first night there than we probably had since leaving home. We took our morning walks. We even played Bingo on Friday night with a bunch of folks. We both won money – more than we paid to get our cards. They also had lots of little “trinket” gifts for other wins. We got several of those too. It was really fun.

We went into the town of Washington and went through some shops and then had lunch at a place called Down on Main Street. That was some really good food.

Julian spent time polishing the coach. He’d gotten some great stuff from another camper at Creekwood Farm and took this time to put it on. It’s like a wax, but much easier to deal with. And there’s lots of area to cover on a coach, so anything to be easier is really good. He also put RainX on the windshield. That’s a huge area too, so he worked pretty hard while at Tranter’s Creek.

We groomed Heidi on Saturday morning. She didn’t like it any better outdoors than she does when we do it at home. But we got through it and she looked pretty good once it was all over.

Week Six was full of highs and lows, but we came through it all just fine. We’ll learn and get better at the RV process.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Julian and Donna and Ernesto Too

The events of the past 24 hours are just screaming to be written – even though it is out of order, chronologically speaking.

We're at Waves, a village on the NC Outer Banks. We are at Camp Hatteras RV Park. So was Ernesto!

The storm is now moving north of here but still producing occasional rain with some wind. Between the wind and the rain, it was a very noisy night.

This morning around 7:30, we were having coffee in bed when the coach started to rock. Rock not shake! Pretty scary! It lasted for 5 to 10 seconds. We weren't convinced we were going to stay upright. This was nothing like any of the wind-related movement we had felt over night. What a relief when it stopped... and we were still standing.

When it was over, we looked out the front window to find a big trailer totally destroyed. The people next door to them were helping the victims out of the coach and into theirs. All of this with the pile of rubble and the driving rain.

Two ambulances responded. We think there were 4 adults and 2 children in the home. Julian went over and it appears they all survived with cuts, bruises, sprains, etc. One or two of them were taken to the hospital. We sure do hope for the best for them.

Those folks were very lucky to survive. It was apparently a tornado. Hurricanes often spawn tornadoes. The center of it probably missed us by 30 yards, going behind us. Since there was no other damage in the park, it probably lifted at about that same time.

This is a picture taken from the door of our coach. Follow the white canisters up the center of the photo to find the demolished rig. (Click on the pictures to see them larger.)

Here’s a closer view from the other side. I feel so bad for these people.

Word had it that the tornado had touched down in another of the RV parks just south of here, lifted and jumped over the houses in between, then came down again in our park. Go figure.

The roads are closed so we're probably stranded for a day or two. No matter, we were planning to be here through Monday anyway.

Our site was just low enough that we had a couple inches of standing water all around.

It’s hard to tell when all that water might go away, so we decided to move. We’ve just got that done and are glad to be in a drier location.

We’ve ventured out to the beach and it’s a lot different scene from two days ago when we got out in it to cool off after getting the coach set up. It’s a very mean looking sea!

If you are wondering why we stayed here, take a quick look at a North Carolina map. The Outer Banks are islands, connected by at least 3 bridges back to the mainland. When coming out here, we noticed signs on every one of them warning about the dangers of high winds. We weren’t about to take a high-profile vehicle back over them.

The other issue is: where would we go? The storm was heading right up the center of North Carolina. Heading west of here would have put us right in its direct path. There really was no choice but to ride it out. Thankfully, we were lucky enough to do that with nothing but a huge scare. We’ll get over that.

The bottom line is that we are fine. We’ve incurred no damage to the coach, no problems of any sort. We can only wish that would have been true for every one here.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

How We Spent Our Summer Vacation – The Seventh Week

Over the next days (still at Tranter’s Creek) we went for a drive around the area a couple of different times. We found a couple restaurants, but they seemed to be closed on the days we wanted to eat at them. We also found time to just hang around. Julian even gave fishing another try. Here’s proof.

Have you guessed it? No fish were caught here. But the river was gorgeous. The weather was hot, but not unbearable. We really enjoyed our time at Tranter’s Creek.

Tuesday was not only a travel day, but Julian’s birthday. Thankfully, it wasn’t a really long drive, only about 140 miles to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. What a beautiful drive! We had three or four bridges to cross to get out there. They seemed massive and really, really high in the RV. That made me nervous, but I also knew it was silly – cars and trucks and RVs crossed those bridges every day with no consequences.

We arrived at Camp Hatteras in the town of Waves by around 1:00 pm. We got set up and then took a quick dip in the Atlantic, just over the dunes from our camp site. Here’s a shot of the campground. Just over the dunes in the distance was the ocean.

We hadn’t stopped to eat any lunch. So we got cleaned up and went in search of a drink and a snack. We enjoyed the snack so much that we returned to the same restaurant for dinner. That was just a delicious.

The weather was still good the next day there. We started off with a two-mile walk on the beach. Then we got cleaned up and drove south the Cape Hatteras. Here’s the lighthouse out there.

When we got close to home, we stopped at the fishing pier. We walked out and talked to several people. But we didn’t try fishing; we hadn’t brought the gear for it. But I think this had to be the crookedest pier I have ever seen. It did seem solid, though.

On Thursday, Hurricane Ernesto was approaching the Carolinas. It was rainy off and on all day. But we didn’t stay home and wait. We drove south again and took the ferry across to Ocracoke Island. I think we were a little late in the season – several places were closed. Or maybe it was just the weather. In any case, we didn’t find much to do, nor even a good restaurant (though I’m sure they exist there).

Once we got back to the campsite, we knew wind was inevitable. So, we took in the awning and made sure everything was stowed that could have blown or floated away. We went out to dinner at a place called Down Under. We had kangaroo for an appetizer. It was good and, no, it didn’t taste like chicken.

We had cable TV here, so we were able to keep close tabs on the hurricane. We watched the Weather Channel whenever we were in the coach. We pulled in the slide-outs to make ourselves less wind resistant. We went to bed and listened to the rain off and on all night.

I’ve already written the detailed story of the tornado that hit our campground that next morning. We were extremely lucky that we were not affected by it – other than the huge scare we had.

The weather cleared slightly as the day progressed. It didn’t rain, but stayed very cloudy. Our site, however, was under water – about ankle-deep.

So we moved to a new site, just across from where we were. Not a big deal, but now we had a dry area when stepping out of the coach.

We hung around all day. Julian had heard that the roads were closed due to high water. So in the afternoon we went to the rec center and played a few games of pool. But then the kids started piling in and the noise level increased beyond our desire to stay. We had fun though and it was a good diversion for a while.

The next day was clear and warm. We walked the beach again. This is a view from the top of the dune looking south. It was nice to see the waves calmer again.

It was Saturday, so time for laundry and other mundane chores. That stuff doesn’t stop just because you are traveling.