Monday, 30 April 2012

Yikes...Eight Month Journey Almost Done......

Leaving Red Bay we cut east into Mississippi to pick up a southern leg of the famous Natchez Trace, a turn of the century route between Nashville and Louisiana now a smallish paved highway. We followed it north a hundred miles or so and cut east on 72. It was a gorgeous day, with a picnic in the mountains where blue and turquoise butterflies erratically fluttered along the hiking trail. Camped in the Tim's Ford State Park TN, for a few days where cardinals, mockingbirds and robins were plentiful. Hiked under some unique White Oak and Yellow Tulip Poplar trees whose fallen blossoms decorated the trails. Great wide river with cool. fossil-filled rocky beaches. Dixie enjoyed daily swims while I did some rock hunting. Where do you see cactus and iris side by side?

Toe-tapped through an evening of "Pickin n Grinnin" a fantastic bluegrass and country show at the park recreation centre. There were 26 local musicians singing and pickin' their guitars, dulcimers, mandolins, banjos and ripping out tunes on harmonica and fiddles! Fabulous and free!
April 15, we headed for Lynchburg TN for a tour of the Jack Daniels Distillery. We drove along winding roads past "hillbilly-homes" and gorgeous barns with shaggy chickens, goats and horses in the yard. Took Dixie for a stroll through the historic town of Lynchburg. The town is filled with restaurants and gift shops arranged around the old town hall. The Harley Davidson Shop seems to be a magnet for bikers on Sundays and the square was lined with an array of shiny "hogs".

Packed Dixie into the car with her water, bone and windows open and went off for our tour of the Jack Daniels Distillery. Saw the charcoal production yard, produced for filtering; the hot and musky yeast tanks where the barley, rice and corn start their transformation (with crazy humongous computer-control room) the filtration tanks room; the barrel warehouse for the important aging and the bottling area where one barrel is bottled at a time for quality control! JD actually starts out as a bourbon but the charcoal filtering changes it to a Tennessee sippin' whiskey. Back in the tasting room we enjoyed a small glass of lemonade...rats!!!!!
Lynchburg is in a dry county!

 A couple of days later, we had a wonderful camping and touring experience at Great Smoky Mountains NP. Even though the weather was overcast, foggy and often drizzling, we had a superb self guided tour of Cades Cove. It boasts a great collection of a preserved turn of the century community at the base of a mountain. Buildings such as the mill, pioneer cabins, white clapboard homes and Methodist and Baptist Churches with picturesque old cemeteries lined with  flowering dogwood. Around the buildings and barns were great pieces of farm machinery and incredible rail fences. Many deer and wild turkeys wandered through the grassy fields in the park. We enjoyed a porch- performance by a friendly musician playing the country dulcimer and banjo while his daughter tapped her boots and played tambourine.
 It's an idyllic place and easy to see why folks would settle there.

By April 18, we were heading into Virginia, enjoying the expansive views of farm country across the hills. Spring was not as far along and many trees were just beginning to leaf out. We ventured along "Skyline Drive" where we stopped at many of the overlooks of spectacular mountains in spring bloom and fresh leaf.  Set up camp in the beautiful woods of "Big Meadows Campground" Spent a couple of great days there enjoying hikes along the Appalachian Trail, some campfires and foggy walks in the woods!

Next stop Washington DC. On the way we stopped in the rain at Virginia's Manassas National Battlefield Park, also know as Bull Run, where we toured their museum and were informed by a park ranger about the details of the important first battle of the American Civil War. What staggering statistics of lives lost!

Leaving nature, we drove up to Virginia where we immersed ourselves in the Washington DC sites for a few days. Staying at Cherry Hill Park, we were close to the city where we spent our first rainy day exploring two of the incredible Smithsonian's. We were able to tackle the Air and Space and the Natural History extravaganzas, ultra awe-inspiring!

 We spent most of the following day at the incredible Arlington Cemetery. Among the remarkable number of standard white gravestones were some amazing tributes to military,civilian and political heroes. Dixie came with us and behaved with the respect we'd hoped for.

We also toured the important DC hot spots: The Washington Monument, Lincoln's Statue, The White House and The Mall (which was chewed up with construction) World War II Memorials and The Vietnam War Memorial. These sights were all very overwhelming and evocative.

Driving into Pennsylvania, we entered the agricultural rolling hills and pastures of scenic farmland and quaint practices of the Amish people. We passed a few carriages along the highway, a barn raising, a few ploughs being towed by teams of mules or horses and gardens being planted beside lines of clothes, by women decked out in long dresses and bonnets. I have a curious interest and respect for the Amish and Mennonite folks. We camped in the Cabella's parking lot aside a few other motor homes for two nights. We had a great view of the hills and handy access to all our camper needs and wants.

Heading north again, we drove into New York where we stayed at a couple of State Parks.We sat on a bright grassy hill in the setting sun, overlooking a sparkling pond and listening to spring peepers and birds bedding down for the night. Reflecting on our eight month journey,we cannot begin to to take it all in. We look forward to seeing our family and friends and begin planning for our next adventure.
We return to Canada today, April 30, 2012.  We'll camp for short time here at Albion Hills Recreation Area.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Up,Up and Away

Left Sarasota and headed north on April Fools Day towards Tampa where we camped in the parking lot of the huge "Lazy Days RV" They have quite an operation with RVs for sale, an RV camp, RV sales, rows of RV repair bays(at least 100), business offices, huge waiting rooms with TVs, Internet and Starbucks coffee and a cafeteria providing free lunch and breakfast. The grounds are lined with huge trees, grass and paved paths. The roses and white blooming hedges emitted a romantic perfume. We had some repairs completed on the slides and jacks. In the waiting room, were many dogs waiting with their owners and often vocalising in defence of their territory. There were even a couple of cats, one on a leash who walked about among the dogs as if he owned the place; perhaps he knew the superstition that was in his favour of the bad luck assiociated with a black cat crossing ones path! We stayed in the repair bay for two nights and our last evening was in the camp where we played horseshoes and enjoyed a swim after dark.
We were advised at Lazy Days that we could get in to a repair bay the next morning if we high-tailed it up to Red Bay Alabama. Chris drove fourteen hours straight and we arrived safely at ten p.m. On our drive we saw a few interesting things, some prisoners doing roadwork(quite common in the south);a farm truck hauling a load of shiny green watermelons; incredible patches of wildflowers: vivid-purple, fire-red, brilliant-orange, rich-white, bold-fuchsia and quiet pink; a wild turkey foraging; a peacock strutting; possum & armadillo roadkill. We were shocked to hear what we thought was a gunshot but turned out to be the violent explosion of a transport truck's tire directly in front of us! Luckily we were far enough back to avoid the shower of shredded tire debris that scattered into the air.
Things really got tense when our CB weather warning predicted heavy rain, wind and possible quarter-sized hail in our immediate vicinity. Chris turned us around at the first opportunity and we were able to wait it out off road. Rain and wind were crazy but luckily we didn't have hail. We drove through two smaller rainstorms and another big one with small hail. Our crazy day of driving was rewarded by our acceptance into a repair bay the next day where the roof rails were replaced(properly this time...lousy job done in California for those of you who have been following our entire trip).

The Tiffin Enterprise in Red Bay Alabama is amazing. The maintenance shops and parking rows for waiting customers is built on former airport land. The three rows of Tiffin Motorhomes span the sides of the old
runway and people refer to the ghost sounds of the old airport at seven am when the coaches turn on their engines, pull in their slides and raise their jacks to drive to one of the forty nine repair bays!
Although the Tiffin waiting game, can be stressful, it is interesting comparing features, upgrades and problems that other owners have experienced. Many people arrive with an appointment but mechanics check all problem issues and often find unexpected issuess. Many Phaeton owners were waiting for "a wet bay" (leak & rot problem) and many folks were on site for up to a month. One thing we found out was that our surge protector was outdated and they installed the proper model. Our next door neighbours had new carpeting on their stairs and a carpet inset on the dashboard to cope with dirt and slipping issues. There are a variety of entrepreneurial guys who come around to "the runway" and do custom jobs and we hired Trevor to add the carpets! Some do detailing, others add awnings, a few do custom paint and there are a variety of lighting and cabinet upgrades performed on site.

The town of Red Bay depends on Tiffin Company and customers. We had a couple of meals there, once at a 50's style drive-in and at "Swamp Johns", we had a southern catfish dinner. All Tiffin owners do the Factory Tour; some even watch their own rigs being produced! It was incredible walking through the various warehouses that build the cabinetry and counter tops and one type of chassis is constructed there but most are made at Freightliner. A huge warehouse performs the welding, another applies the paint and masks for details(other companies use decals) There are folks that work on insulation and windows while others attach exterior walls and doors to the floor, do plumbing or most amazingly; work on the electrical panels, so totally mind-blowing!!! It is a family company and as such quality control is high. As many problems as we've experienced, the customer service has always been top notch!

Surprisingly, there are number of tourist sights close to Red Bay including a Frank Lloyd Wright home and Home/Museum of Helen Keller that we will have to tour next time. One fascinating visit, was our trip to the "Coon Dog Cemetery" where only officially recognized coon dogs may be buried. The dogs have been interred there since the the 1930's and graves are marked with the pooch's name carved into wood, stone or metal. Most graves are decorated with silk flowers and there are two official monuments protected (from what?) with copious amounts of barbed and razor wire. The cemetary was well worth a visit.
Easter at Tiffin was much like any other day until Chris cut his finger while cleaning the tire rims. We spent a couple of hours at the local Red Bay Hospital where he got a couple of stitches. A few of the campers had an impromptu "Easter"sing-along with guitars, harmonica and voices of whomever was brave enough to sing.

Dixie loved her daily morning and evening walks around the grassy fields behind Tiffin where the scent of  fresh apple blossoms filled the air. We saw lots of birds in "spring-mode" along the paths and on fence posts.

A place not to be missed, came recommended by a few different campers that we met. "Rattlesnake Saloon" is a fare country drive away from Red Bay. Once at the ranch, guests either hike the pathway or jump on the 'Taxi' down a bumpy dirt road to the bar. A cement floor lies beneath a cave interior and the sound of country music reverberates back & forth from the stone walls. The setting is unique to say the least and the spot is popular with the locals who come to sing karaoke and dance. Cowboy boots are the footwear of choice. We had a fun dinner and pitcher of beer alongside the friendly "suthern folk".

After nine nights at Tiffin we were repaired and ready to get away on the road again. We had the roof rails replaced, scratches painted out, stronger jack brackets installed and a new surge protector added. Our bill for the week was only $70.00, a $10.00 per night camping fee; everything else was covered under warranty! We are heading north towards Tennessee and every day we travel now,will take us up closer to Canada.