After having the house on the market for 6 months and showing the house 7 times with no offers, we decided in July to not renew our contract and take the house off the market until spring, 2014. Neither Kal nor I felt we were desperate enough to drop the price sufficiently to sell the house. We had figured what we wanted to get out of the house to buy the new fifth wheel we both wanted (a 35′ Excel Winslow) and a used Ford F350 (or Dodge 3500). So we decided it was time to consider a Plan B. Namely to purchase a pop-up camper that we could pull with our Mercury Mariner, a small SUV. The Mariner can tow up to 3500 pounds, so this severely limited the size of trailer we could buy. We searched on-line and considered quite a few models, from a traditional pop-up with canvas fold outs to tear drop trailers that were little more than a bed. Kal saw a post from Tim Bottenfield on Facebook about their new A-Liner trailer, which can be towed with a small SUV. She thought it might be a solution for us as it had the additional advantage of being a hard-body pop-up which means it has two solid panels that fold up instead of the canvas fold outs. We looked at the A-liner at a dealership in Montgomery and were impressed by what they could squeeze into a very small unit. However, we also went to Atlanta to look at Forest River’s model, the Flagstaff and we even more impressed with the features and price. In a 12′ foot unit they manage to squeeze a lot of useful features, all weighing less than 2000 pounds. It comes with the obvious features of a full size bed in the back end, table for 4 that makes into a second bed in the front end, a 3 burner propane stove, a sink, and a small refrigerator. The refrigerator can be run off of the 12 volt battery, a land line electrical hookup, or the propane. In addition to these standard features, the unit also comes with a lot of other extras. An air conditioner/heat pump that can heat down to about 40 degrees and a microwave, both of which would require an electrical land line to use. There is also a propane furnace that can heat the unit down to about 10 degrees. The mattress also has an electric heater that functions similar to a heating blanket to warm up the bed. A radio that also doubles as an MP3 player with inside and outside speakers and exterior hookups for cable. A ceiling fan to vent the unit especially when you are using propane and windows that can be opened on either side. There is also a 26 gallon fresh water tank and a water pump when you are not hooked up to land line water supply and a hot water heater that runs on propane. Finally, the unit comes with an outside shower (although you would need to have an enclosure that does not come with the unit) and a propane grill that hangs on the side of the unit. Storage is limited to under the bed (which can be accessed inside or outside the unit) and one of the seats of the table. However, with the entire back end of the SUV for storage this should not be a problem. With this unit we would be able to take advantage of full hookups, including sewer for the sink, to dry camping with no hookups. Of course, we would have to stay in camp grounds with bathrooms and showers as the port-a-potty that comes with the unit is going to stay at home. For anyone interested in more details about the unit here is a link to the Forest Rivers website. You will notice there are two models listed, Flagstaff and Rockwood. These models are identical to each other. This is a marketing tool so more than one dealership can carry them without seeming to be in competition with each other.
We weighed the advantages and disadvantages of investing some of our savings into a pop-up camper over the next month. It would be great to set out for at least a week or two at a time throughout the southeast at least. Getting some familiarity with towing and parking would also be an advantage, since neither of us have ever done this before and the thought of towing a 35 foot fifth wheel is a little frightening. The biggest advantage would be an introduction into the life style of full-time RVing to be certain that it is what we really want to do. Once we sell the house we will be committed to the life style for the next 5-10 years. The major disadvantage, of course, will be the expense. We would purchase the RV by financing it with the equity line of credit on the house, so it would be paid off when we sell the house. Figuring a reasonable trade-in value it would end up costing us about $3000. So we figured we would pay more on the second mortgage to cover this cost. Along with the additional cost in gas, camping fees, and entertainment fees it was going to create a $200-$300 negative cash flow every month from savings. We would need to limit ourselves to no more than 2 weeks a month which is much better than nothing and is certainly a lot cheaper than trying to do the same thing staying in motels and eating in restaurants.
After considering the option for a month, we decided that it was either Plan B or I was going to end up driving Kal up the wall with living in a house with no furniture and no prospects for selling the home. So, in August, we went back to Peco Campers in Atlanta and bought our Flagstaff hard body pop-up. For those interested here is a link to their website:
We were excited to take the camper out as soon as possible, but also concerned about having everything we needed. So we started our adventure by staying a week at Chewacla State Park, which is just outside of Auburn. Kal got to tow the camper for the first time, since she had me bring the camper from Atlanta. The SUV did a good job of pulling the camper and once we got the electric break adjusted properly, you could not really tell you were pulling anything. Of course, you could not accelerate as quickly and you have to take wider turns. We also found out that we needed to get extended side mirrors as the mirrors on the car could show me little more than the trailer itself. In any case, it was a good idea that we stayed close to home for the first trip, as we visited the house and/or Lowes or Walmart every day to pick up more things we needed. For example, we had to return to the house the first day as we had forgotten to take pillows with us. It was also a good thing we had this to keep us somewhat busy, since it rained every day that week after the first day. While this kept the temperatures cool for August, the 5 inch rain we received overnight made for a very loud night with the ceiling of the camper about 6 inches above my head. However, we stayed dry the entire week and Kal had the opportunity to try out her Dutch oven baking chicken, cobbler, and biscuits. It was also good that we had purchased an E-Z up awning to put over the picnic table to give us room outside the camper. As you would expect, this is where we spent the majority of our time staying out of the rain. We also had movie CD’s that we watched on the computer for our evening entertainment.
In September, it was time to go a little further from home, so our second trip with the camper was to Wind Creek State Park which is only about 40 minutes from home. We now had everything we needed and managed not having to come back to the house to get anything. The weather was certainly nicer so we spent time doing a bit of sightseeing and hiking in the state park. We spent one morning visiting the Kymulga Gristmill outside of Childersburg and a couple of long hikes in the park. This is also where Jana and Jep, a family friend of Jenny’s, live and work, so we got to spend an enjoyable evening with Jana and her two young boys.
Also in September we went a little further, up to Oak Mountain State Park in Birmingham. While being another hour away from home, it was also an opportunity for Kal’s relatives to come and see the unit. Unfortunately, they were not able to come by for some unknown reason, but we had a good time hiking in the park and seeing a few sites around and in Birmingham. These included the Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark and the Ruffner Mountain Nature Center. We also went to Camping World in Calera to buy a few things and to drop off one of the propane tanks that I had determined had a bad valve. While this was covered by the warranty, they had to have a new tank sent from the manufacturers and we were hoping to be able to pick up the new tank before we left the camp site. However, it took over 3 weeks to get the tank and while it did not cost us anything it did mean an additional trip up to Birmingham before we could leave again in October.
In October we got real adventurous and took the camper on a two week trip to visit our daughter in Asheville, North Carolina and my sister in Maryville, Tennessee. The timing was to be in Asheville for Bryna’s birthday and then to visit my sister during her fall break from teaching. The trip began with the better part of a day in Atalanta, Georgia at Peco campers having them replace the mother board in the air conditioner/heat pump unit. While the air conditioner worked fine, it had gotten cold enough at Oak Mountain to use the heat pump. While it would work, it would click on and off multiple times before finally coming on. This was certainly not good for the heat pump and the service department at Peco was pretty certain it was a problem with the programming, meaning a new mother board. They took a couple of hours to trade it out and check out the system, but we were back on the road by early afternoon. Having enough of Atlanta traffic getting to Peco, Kal wanted to stop at the nearest state park along our route which turned out to Victoria Bryant State Park. We only stayed over night, but for a small camp ground it was very nice. We then proceeded to Asheville using our new Rand McNally GPS unit for RVs to find us a good route off the interstates. Kal certainly preferred this over interstate travel with the trailer and it only added about 30 minutes to the trip. In Asheville, we stayed at the Asheville East KOA for a week. During that week we spent the first night drinking at their bar, Hi-wire brewing and the next day we played disc golf with Bryna at a local course. In the afternoon, Kal baked a chicken casserole in her Dutch oven and we had Bryna and Chris out for dinner. It was strange going to visit relatives and yet cooking supper for them to come to us instead of the other way around. We had an enjoyable evening with dinner, beers, and a small fire in the fire pit at the KOA. On Thursday, Kal and I spent the day at Old Salem which is the historical district of Winston-Salem. Old Salem is a bit like Williamsburg, Virginia, in the sense that they are old restored buildings from the Colonial through Civil War period. Some of the buildings have small tours including the two churches and tavern. There are also a few shops and bakery that still make breads and cakes in the old tradition. However, many of the homes in Old Salem are still being lived in, although the residents have to maintain the exteriors according to colonial standards. The highlight of the day was the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA), which I was not at first interested in since it cut short our time in Old Salem. However, this museum was a fantastic surprise. It consists of a guided tour through multiple galleries, each gallery representing a different period in the country from early colonial periods to the Civil War era. It contains examples of art, furniture, rugs, and architecture for the period and the guide provided insight on any number of the pieces and was willing to answer questions about anything else in the room. The tour was only an hour long and needed to be at least two hours. On Friday we visited Zebullan Vance Birthplace State Park, which is a small state park consisting of a cabin and a few outbuildings. Governor Vance came from a very political family growing up in the western Carolina mountains and became Governor of North Carolina during the Civil War. He is credited for saving North Carolina from the ravages of the post-war era. We had to share the small park with a bus load of grade school children who were on a field trip. It made for a noisy morning, but it was fun watching them run up and down the path carrying dripping candles that had just been dipped in wax. Each of them came away with a home made taper candle and we got to enjoy their antics. Friday evening we went back to Hi-Wire Brewing for a couple of beers before watching Bryna play soccer with her rec team sponsored by the brewery. Chris normally plays too, but he was nursing a leg injury. On Saturday we went to the Big Ivy Festival at Barnardsville, North Carolina. This turned out to be a very small local festival that we had learned about from the receptionist we talked with at Vance Birthplace State Park the previous day. While small, the festival did have a blacksmith, weavers, and the making of apple butter and molasses. It made for an enjoyable morning and one that we hope to repeat often in our travels. We both enjoy fall festivals although they could be a little larger than the one at Big Ivy. The afternoon was back to the campsite watching college football on the 7″ digital TV that Kal had recently bought to provide cable and antenna access. On a side note the antenna has to pretty close to pick up a signal. We got no reception at Wind Creek, but got quite a bit at Oak Mountain which is just outside of Birmingham. We had cable hookup at the KOA, so this was not an issue. Sunday morning we spent at the North Carolina arboretum in Asheville, which is a beautiful place. However, I would have preferred more exhibits of native species and not as much exotic plants. In the afternoon, we decided to take a trip along the Blue Ridge parkway heading south and then we went on to the Harrah’s casino in Cherokee. When we go to a casino, we prefer to play the penny slot machines since we can generally play for a couple of hours and not lose more than $40. Generally, one of us wins a little and the other loses a little so we come out fairly even. This time it was my turn and I won enough to cover Kal’s loses and to pay for dinner at a Mexican restaurant. Monday was Bryna’s birthday and to celebrate she and Chris joined us for an adventure at the Navitat zip-lines. If you have never done a zip-line and don’t have a fear of heights, you should try this. It is a hoot! It is also no effort as you just sit back and enjoy the ride through the tree tops. Kal and I had done a zip line a few years ago in Branson, Missouri, but the course at Navitat is much better. It consists of 11 zip lines ranging up to 800 feet long. One of the longer lines extends across the cove and in the middle you are over 100 feet off the ground! This was certainly the highlight of the trip and the next day we packed up and headed over the mountains to my sister in Tennessee.
While camping out in my sister’s driveway may not be the most scenic location (although it isn’t bad with the Smoky Mountains on the horizon), it certainly was the cheapest and the meals were pretty good. Unlike the other times we came to visit, we had informed my sister that Kal and I intended to get out and see some of the sights. Convincing her to come along, she and Shannon, my niece, joined us on Wednesday while Suzy’s grandkids were in school. We went to see Fort Loudoun State Park and the Sequoyah Museum which are right next to each other about 15 minutes from the house. They had both been to Fort Loudoun numerous times, but had not seen the Sequoyah Museum. Once again we were bombarded by grade school children on a field trip to both locations, but again we took advantage of the opportunity by listening in on the presentations from local experts. By the way, this is a great way to get a better understanding of the history and meaning of what you see, since field trips always include local experts. You also get the chance to ask in-depth questions after the children run off to the next point of the trip. I would highly recommend a visit to Fort Loudoun since it is a reconstructed fort from the French and Indian war prior to our Revolutionary war when this part of Tennessee was the frontier. The Sequoyah Museum is also very well done with a self guided tour of the exhibits that commemorate the Cherokee indians and especially Sequoyah who developed the only alphabet for a spoken language that was adopted by the entire “nation” during his lifetime. On Thursday, we again traveled with Shannon to the Tellico Blockhouse State Historic Site which is technically part of Fort Loudoun, but is the site of the blockhouse constructed after the Revolutionary war to protect the Indians from the settlers. Yes, that’s right. It was built to provide a means to protect the Cherokee Indians from the invasion of settlers into the area. We also visited the Chota Memorial which commemorates that location of the largest of the Cherokee villages in the area. Unfortunately, it is not at the actual location which is at the bottom of Tellico Lake. On Friday, Kal and I took off on our own and visited the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center just outside the Great Smoky Mountain National Park boundaries. The center consists of a museum and a number of building brought to the site, mostly from the Civil War era. A couple of interesting finds include a good description of the road making equipment pulled by horses. I have seen these implements before in other places without understanding what they were used for. They also have an old sawmill that ran off of a steam engine originally and a house that the loggers an their families lived in. These homes were carried in on a flatcar and dropped off along the rail line to be used until all the wood was cut in the area and then loaded up to be carried to the next site. On Saturday we took our great nephew and niece to play a round of disc golf in a city park in Loudoun. Kal and I expected them to play only a few holes before they either got tired or frustrated with the game. The surprised us by playing the entire course and were both ready for more. They may have taken 6-8 shots to finish a hole, but it did not seem to bother them in the least. Sunday was spent visiting with the family, which included a birthday party for another grand nephew, Joey, and surprisingly for myself as well. It was appropriate as I turned 59. We had a great barbeque dinner and cherry pie with 59 candles!! I have to admit they were unable to get all the candles lit and Katlin, my grand niece, had to help me blow out those they could get lit! It was a great birthday party with party hats and noise makers for everyone. I wouldn’t say I felt like a kid again, but I certainly enjoyed the other kids whooping it up.
Well, that catches up our adventures through to the present. You can find more information about each of the locations we visited, including the campgrounds, on the accompanying pages. My plans are now to continue with posts to the blog once we get back home, so look for a new post in early December after we return from our trip to Hilton Head, South Carolina.