September 2014 – Elizabeth City, North Carolina

WOW! What a campground!  After a long 4.5 hour pull of the RV from Asheboro, it was sure nice to finally pull into the North River Campground.  We did stop for a late lunch at a Walmart parking lot which had a small strip mall including a Mexican restaurant and store.  Everything we needed at one stop, except Diesel fuel.  We kept a close eye on the estimated miles to empty and tried to find a gas station we could pull this huge RV into.  Unfortunately, there were no truck stops along US Highway 64 although it is a very nice 4 lane highway all the way. When we pulled into the Campground we were down to an estimated 20 miles to empty, if the fuel gauge is accurate.  We backed the RV into the site (I am just beginning to get more confident and the sites are wide with plenty of room) and unhooked it at a beautiful location.  All of the sites are positioned around a large pond that has a fountain in the middle.  Each site has a concrete porch with picnic table and chairs and a backyard extending to the pond that provided a great view out the living room window.  The only problem with the campground is the distance to any gas stations or grocery stores.  We asked the staff where the closest Diesel fuel was and they directed us to a gas station about 10 miles away.  This will give you some idea how far into the countryside we were.  It was 6 miles just to the closest highway!  We drove to the gas station they told us about, but it did not even look open, so we continued to the outskirts of Elizabeth City.  I was getting very concerned, but we made it fine and the miles to empty still said we had 5 miles.  We then went looking for a store and the closest Food Lion was essentially downtown Elizabeth City, another 6 miles away.


Thursday, September 17, was a sunny and windy day.  I don’t suppose it is always windy, but since this was a main reason the Wright brothers chose Kitty Hawk for their historic flight, I suspect the wind is not uncommon.  We proceeded to the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kill Devil Hills.  In 1903, when the Wilbur and Orville Wright made their historic flight the whole area was known as Kitty Hawk and the hill they tested the gliders was known as Kill Devil Hill.  Now this is the name of the town where the site is located and the city of Kitty Hawk is to the north.  I was surprised by the number of visitors to the historic site on a Thursday morning, the parking lot was almost full!  It is certainly a popular place and for good reason.  They have an excellent museum that makes the challenges facing the Wright brothers very clear, as well as, their experiments to find solutions.  After finding a location that was remote (they did not want publicity) with consistent winds, they spent two years testing out gliders by launching them off of Kill Devil Hill.  In 1903 they added an engine to the glider and returned to Kitty Hawk to make an attempt to be the first to successfully complete powered flight.  On December 17, Orville successfully flew the plane for the 12 seconds that changed history.  They made 3 more flights that day and Wilbur set the record at 852 feet for a flight that lasted 59 seconds.  The museum includes a full scale reproduction of their glider and airplane that was demonstrated as part of the Ranger talk.  Watching the wings warp when the pilot shifted his hips was amazing.  Outside the museum are monuments at the launching point where the plane started on the rails that are still there.  There are also monuments showing the distance of each of the four flights.  Finally, there is also a large monument to the Wright Brothers at the top of Kill Devil Hill where they used to launch their gliders and a bronze reproduction of the momentous event.

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After lunch we traveled on down the Outer Banks to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore starting with the Bodie Island Visitor Center.  Unless you want to pay to walk up the lighthouse there is not much to see at the Visitor Center.  There is a short boardwalk that extends out into the salt water marsh to a nice platform overlooking the marsh.  We also pulled across the highway to a small parking area where we could access the ocean.  It was very windy and cool, but there were a few people wind surfing the waves.  We watched some small birds that feed as the waves recede and quickly run away each time a new wave comes in.  Watching them chase the receding waves to catch something in the surf only to run away again was quite entertaining, especially watching one of the birds trying to defend its selected location in front of us from 5 other birds.  He spent more time chasing the other birds away then he spent feeding himself!!


The was not much else to do along the National Seashore as there were no marked trails or nature hikes.  We crossed the bridge to Pea Island and entered the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, which has a Visitor Center.  Unfortunately the Visitor Center closes at 4 pm, and it was now past 4:30.  However, they have a nice path between two man made ponds on the side away from the ocean and we enjoyed a leisurely stroll looking at the ducks and other birds as the sun went down.

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You might be wondering why we spent so much time at the seashore and refuge, since we had over an hours drive back to the campgrounds.  The reason was our plan to visit Gigi Grill and Lynn Lockrow to watch Auburn’s football game against Kansas State and spend the night.  Gigi and Lynn are old friends from Auburn that we got to know during basketball games over the years.  They have a beautiful home in Manteo on Roanoke Island.  We enjoyed the evening with them and two friends watching the football game, even though Auburn did not look as impressive as they should have, making the game interesting to the end.  After the game we stayed up talking until after 1:00, which is much later then we are used to being up.


After the late night we slept in  and was still out the door before Lynn made it out of bed.  We did not have far to go since Fort Raleigh National Historic Site was only a couple of miles from their home.  Fort Raleigh is the location of the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island, which was the first English settlement in the New World in 1587.  Sometime between 1587 and 1590 the colony disappeared without a trace when the supply ships did not arrive.  The colonists vanished without a trace and remains one of the great mysteries.  Most of the original fort is believed to be lost in Albermarle Sound.  All they have found are earthworks with evidence of a small palisade, much to small to be the fort itself.  Based on artifacts found in the site, it is believed to be protection for a metallurgy laboratory outside the fort.  The Historic Site is also the location of a Freedman’s Colony during the Civil War after Roanoke Island was taken by the Union in 1863.  Although they built homes, schools, and churches, the Freedman Colony only lasted until 1867 following President Johnson’s ordered all property seized by during the war to be returned to their owners in 1865.  Located within the Historic Site is also the Elizabethan Gardens administered by the Garden Club of North Carolina, which we decided not to visit since we were still tired from the late night.  Finally, the Historic Site includes Paul Green’s outdoor symphonic drama, The Lost Colony.  They have a great location for this long running play (since 1937) with the Sound as a beautiful backdrop.  We were too late in the season to take in the play, which only runs in the summer.  This was also the reason Gigi and Lynn moved here after Lynn retired from Auburn, since he been the Technical Director for the play over the summer for many years.


After eating lunch at a picnic table at Fort Raleigh, we continued our trip down Cape Hatteras National Seashore.  Again there was not much opportunity along the road to view the ocean and we were too tired to make any long hikes.  We drove on down to the Hatteras Island Visitor Center and Lighthouse where we found another Visitor Center that was more interested in selling tickets to climb the lighthouse then providing information to the visitors.  We spent some time watching the waves and visitors to the beach and headed back to the campground.


We rested up on Saturday, spending the day watching football on television and working on my blog.  I mentioned how much we liked North River Campground.  Even on the weekend the campground was peaceful and was a relaxing way to spend the day.  On Sunday we again stayed in the campground doing laundry and other things around the RV.  We met Gigi and Lynn for dinner at Carrituck BBQ, that specializes in Carolina barbeque and is one of their favorite places.  I had the pork plate and Kal had the brisket plate.  Both were pulled meat with no barbeque sauce on them, but they had an assortment of sauces you could apply yourself.  We had a nice dinner with Gigi and Lynn talking about other barbeque restaurants around the country.  It seems they frequent barbeque restaurants like we frequent mexican restaurants.  Monday was again spent in the campgrounds since all the state parks are closed on Mondays and we did not want to drive all the way to the ocean again.  We did spend an enjoyable hour attempting to assist location of a bass in the pond that had broken a fishing line over the weekend and was still trailing a bobber that intermittently broke the surface.  We watched a member of the staff attempting to snag the bobber when it surfaced from a paddleboat on the pond.  It would show for a couple of minutes and then disappear only to show up again twenty feet or more from its previous location.  As far as we know he was never able to catch the fish.

On Tuesday we took a chance and traveled to Edenton, North Carolina.  Edenton is an old harbor town from the time of the Revolutionary War.  In fact, it first permanent English colony in North Carolina and served as the capital of the North Carolina colony from 1722-1743.  It was a major harbor up through the early 1800s.  Today it is a small town on the Albermarle Sound with a picturesque waterfront.  There has been a recent town wide effort in the town to preserve the historical homes and buildings making it a great place to visit and explore.  Although the weather was cool, cloudy, and windy all day, we spent the early afternoon walking the residential streets looking at the homes from the 1700s, 1800, and 1900s.  As you would expect they are all mixed in together so you are able to compare the architecture and style from the different periods side by side.  They have also moved an 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse that originally was stationed out in the Roanoke River at its mouth on Albermarle Sound to assist in navigation and rescue.  The most noteworthy historical note was their version of the Edenton Tea Party”, in protest of the Stamp Act.  In 1774, 51 women signed a petition agreeing to boycott English tea and other products.  This action created quite a stir in England and is identified as the first political action taken by women in the British colonies.

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September 2014 – Asheboro, North Carolina

Everyone has been asking us where are we going to go first on our adventure.  Up to this point, we have been spending time getting to know our truck and RV.  The pulls have been relatively short, along the Interstate, and visiting relatives.  Now was the time to really start the adventure, which we decided would be along the North Carolina coast, as we don’t have time left in the fall to head any further north.  Our objective was Kitty Hawk where the Wright brothers made their historic flight.  However, the distance to the coast was too far to go in a single pull, so we would first stop at Asheboro, North Carolina for 3 nights to break up the trip.  There was also the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park just 30 miles away at Greensboro.  The trip was mostly on Interstate 40 and US Highway 64, our first experience with two lane highways.  There were a number of overpasses on the highway, all of which made me very nervous as signs stated the clearance was just over 13 feet.  Our GPS is set with a height of 12.5 feet so we should be alright, but I was still nervous.  Once we got to the campground I measured the height with the truck hooked up and it comes to 11.5 feet.  This gave us about 2 feet of clearance under those bridges, so I will continue to be nervous, but we should be alright if the GPS knows what it is doing and the stated clearances are correct!  We pulled into Zooland Family Campground early in the afternoon and had no problem setting it up.  We are starting to get used to setting it up.


We were only going to be in Asheboro for two days and one of those days we planned to go to Guilford Courthouse, so I took a look at the State Parks in the area.  There are a number of interesting State Parks within an hour of Asheboro, but they were all closed on Mondays.  We are learning that Mondays are good days to be traveling since the stores are all open, but many tourists attractions like state parks, national parks, and museums are closed.  So we thought about visiting the North Carolina Zoological Park, which is only 8 miles from the campgrounds (hence the name of the campground), which is open every day of the week, including Monday.  It was a great decision!!  The NC Zoological Park is a must see for anyone who enjoys large zoos.  It is supposed to be the largest zoo in the United States since they devote a lot of acres to natural habitats for the animals.  The Park is divided into two sections, one for North America and the other for Africa with a separate parking lot for each end of the park.  We found out that the total distance by their trails is five miles from one end to the other and we walked the entire distance!  The weather had now cooled off into only the 70s with bright sunshine all day, so it was actually very pleasant and enjoyable.  They do have trams to speed you along, but you would miss a good part of the park by riding them.  We did time our walk perfectly managing to see the training and feeding of the seals in North America.  They have a viewing area both above and below the water line so you could see the seals turning and spinning at full speed around the rocks


We also go to see them feeding the baboons.  It was fun watching them chase the carrots as they bounced down the hillside in the enclosure.  One smart baboon grabbed a number of them and set off by herself eating them in between grabbing her horde and running away when a male approached.


They had a male and two female elephants that were mother and daughter in a large area.  We stayed around and watched them throw carrots and sweet potatoes to them.  If was interesting to see them beg by bending their trucks up in front of their faces.


We just missed seeing them feed the lions, however, we did get to see their 7 week old cubs with their mother on the first day they were out to be seen by the public.  There were a number of park workers there watching to make sure the cubs didn’t freak out, but they seemed quite comfortable sunning close to their mother.


During the evening there were thunderstorms in the area, so we payed close attention to the weather and at about sundown we were under a severe thunderstorm warning with a possibility of 60 mph wind gusts and quarter size hail.  After our experience in Tennessee, we decided not to take a chance and went to shelter in their concrete block bathrooms.  Seeing us over there our neighbor brought over his Sirus radio so we could have some music to help past the time.  After standing in the doorway for just over an hour watching the terrific light show from the storm we called it night and went to bed.  The wind never gusted over a strong breeze and we only got a little rain.  We were certainly not disappointed as I am not looking forward to living through any serious weather, although it is just a matter of time…

On Tuesday we headed up to Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, which is the location of a major battle near the end of the Revolutionary War.  In March 1781, the British were desperate for a major victory against the Patriots since public sentiment in England was turning against the war especially since the French had entered the war on the side of the Patriots making it a global conflict.  Before the battle the English had made major advances in the south taking Georgia and South Carolina along with strong Loyalist troops.  They looked to finish off the Patriots in the South if they could only catch Major General Greene. The decisive battle took place at the county seat, which at that time was Guilford Courthouse.  Major General Greene had managed to obtain local militia and new green troops from Virginia and set up a defensive position against the veteran British troops.  They out numbered the British with 4500 men versus 1900 for the British, however, most of his force had never seen battle.  He set up three separate lines of defense across the Great Salisbury Wagon Road.  The local North Carolina militia and green South Carolina militia formed the first line.  The were told to make three volleys and then retreat to the second line.  Most of them fired only a single shot before fleeing back to the second line and many of them disappeared from the battlefield.  The second line of defense was the Virginia militia, which was again meant to slow the British advance causing as much damage as possible in the process.  The heavy woods on both sides of the road made it difficult for the British to keep their lines while advancing leading to many small skirmishes, which was also part of Greene’s plan.  His seasoned regulars of the Continental Army made up the third line of defense, who inflicted heavy casualties on the British who were largely disorganized by this point.  The battle lasted 1.5 hours of intense fighting before the Patriots withdrew north.  The British won the battle, but lost over 25% of their troops while the Patriot losses were light.  Many more militia fled the battlefield then were killed in the battle (885 missing and 22 killed).  The British might have one the battle, but it led to them losing the war since they were too far away from Wilmington to obtain supplies or reinforcements.  General Cornwallis retreated to Hillsborough and eventually to Wilmington.  He then led his forces to subdue Virginia by moving north to Yorktown the following spring.  This left Greene open to dismantling the British hold on the Carolinas.  The Military Park consists of most of the battlefield that spans across the Great Salisbury Wagon Road, now the New Garden Road.  Following watching a very informative movie about the battle and taking in the small museum at the Visitor Center, we drove around the battlefield on their driving tour.  It was a beautiful late summer day with full sunlight and we had a nice picnic lunch on the battlefield.  The battlefield today is surrounded by the urban sprawl of Greensboro and early in the morning there were a lot of unbanites jogging and walking the trails in the park.  According to the Park Rangers, few of these visitors had any idea of the historical significance of the Park, only that it was a wooded area with nice paved trails to run or walk on.   By mid-morning most of these walkers were gone and we had no problem with parking around the driving tour.  Now all we have to see are Cowpens and Kings Mountain National Military Park, as well as, Charleston, to complete the picture of the Revolutionary War in the south.  We plan on visiting all of these sites next month while living in South Carolina.

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September 2014 – Asheville, North Carolina

Our main purpose in stopping in Asheville, North Carolina was to visit with Bryna (Nikki) and Chris.  We did have a couple of secondary reasons, first it was on the way to the coast of North Carolina where we were going to start our way south to Florida for the winter and second, to purchase another case of beer since we had given away (and drank) nearly all of the case we had.  This was going to be Kal’s first experience with driving the truck and pulling our RV in mountain roads.  The climb on I-26 from Bristol to Asheville is not as severe as I-40 from Knoxville to Asheville, but it was still going to be an education.  The truck worked hard to pull the RV up the 6% grade to the top of the pass, although we are still not sure if we were overtaxing the engine.  It was able to maintain about 50 mph which was not bad.  The drop down from the pass was even more interesting since the truck will use the engine to help with the braking when you have it in towing mode.  This is great, since Kal did not have to use the brake itself very often, however, it meant the engine was turning over 3000 rpm on the way down.  About 2/3 the way down from the pass is a rest stop, which we took advantage of to give the truck and Kal a break.  From there we made it into Asheville with no problem and found our campsite.

It was just over 2 hours to Asheville, so we got in before 12 at Mama Gerti’s Campground east of Asheville.  Previously we had stayed at the KOA at the same exit from I-40, but we decided to try someplace new since it was about the same cost.  WOW, what a great decision this was.  I would certainly stay at Mama Gerti’s anytime we visit Asheville in the future as it was a beautiful location.  The campground is built into the side of the hill north of the Interstate and consequently the site we used was up above the main campground with a spectacular view out the back of the RV.  The sites are a little close to each other, but that was our only complaint.  They are in the process of completing some new sites further up the hill with pull-throughs and patios that overhang the side of the mountain, giving even better views.  Here is a picture of our campsite from these new (not yet finished) sites further up.


Sunday night we had reservations with Bryna and Chris for one of Asheville’s comedy bus tours.  This tour was a special one that they perform only sporadically, however, it decided to rain.  After sitting on the bus for about 45 minutes drinking a couple of free beers, they decided to cancel the show, so we took a rain check and booked the regular comedy bus tour for Tuesday night.  From our point of view this was great, for a gave us a good excuse to have a leisurely dinner and a couple of hours to talk with both Bryna and Chris.  With their busy schedules we have found it difficult to get more than an hour with either of them in the past and this was a great opportunity.  After dinner we retired to a local “hooka” store where we shared a smoke of some kind of weird blends of tobacco.  I couldn’t begin to tell you what the flavors were.  We had a great time exchanging stories of our college days and some of the wild things we did!!  All told, it was a better evening then riding around on a bus playing some kind of comical detective story.

We really did not have anything in the area to visit, since we had already done this in the past (you can see these are some of my earliest posts), therefore, we decided on Monday to gather information about bicycles which we would like to buy.  We figured Asheville would be a good place to find a range of bicycles that would fit our needs and we were right.  We spent all morning visiting four different bike shops (it would have been five except we could not find parking on the narrow Asheville streets).  We certainly want to buy a “hybrid” bicycle that is between a street bike and a dirt bike, sometimes called a “crossover”.  Bikes that would fit our needs start at $600 each and up to whatever you want to pay.  The ones we really liked were between $600 and $700.  However, we are getting close to spending out our “transition” funds and we are not sure what our budget is going to look like, so we decided to put off the purchase for a while.

Tuesday we spent in the RV park doing laundry (Kal did the laundry while I caught up with the blog). Tuesday night we met Bryna and Chris for the Haunted Comedy Tour presented by LaZoom.  It is, sort of, an historical tour of Asheville, except you have a ghoul as a guide and you meet all kinds of freaks along the way, from a girl friend who is a ghost (with a beard) to a homicidal nut-job that has been riding on the bus the entire time.  All of the “sights” pointed out by our guide have a macabre tale to be told, even if they have to make it up (which they did on purpose at one point).  It is a lot of fun and very enjoyable.  I would certainly recommend the bus tour on any dark and scary night (or even during the late afternoon).

Wednesday started off with a quick trip to the bank to find out about a strange withdrawal from our bank account.  The only on-line information was that it was a withdrawal, although the amount was in the hundreds of dollars it was not a round number of dollars.  Neither of us could think of what we had spent the money on and we were afraid someone had stolen our identity.  At the bank they were able to pull up an image of the transaction and as soon as we saw that it was a cashier’s check in Florida we knew exactly what it was.  Jenny needed a cashier’s check to pay her first month’s rent at her new apartment in Florida.  We were certainly relieved!!  From the bank we went onto the Blue Ridge Parkway to visit the Folk Arts Center, which is just a couple of miles from Asheville.  We did not know what to expect, but what we found was very interesting.  The Folk Arts Center is a central location to display and sell the arts and crafts produced by members of the Southern Highland Craft Guild.   The Guild have very high standards for admission and the pieces on display (all of which are for sale, some at mind blowing cost) were impressive.  You can see art and crafts made of wood, ceramics, metal, natural materials such as corn husks, cloth, and paint.  They range from huge tables and desks to quilts to very small figurines.   Many of the pieces are historical in nature, but all of the pieces demonstrate Appalachian skills.  That evening we met up with Bryna to watch her intramural soccer game.  While they didn’t win the game, they did manage to score a goal and keep the other team at only two goals.  We got some great pictures of Bryna showing off her soccer prowess 🙂 .  She did look like she was having a lot of fun.

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We spent the day on Thursday driving the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We have been on some of the sections of the Parkway around Asheville in the past, but we had never made it to the southern terminus at the Great Smoky Mountains, so we started early in the morning at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center and headed south.  We didn’t spend any time in the Visitor Center except to get my pin and a map since we were told it would take 3.5 hours to get to the southern entrance.  Knowing how we travel, we immediately doubled this and knew we had better get started.  At first we stopped at each of the overlooks and Kal got some terrific pictures, but after an hour it was obvious we would never get to the end if we continued stopping at each one.  We mad it to Mt. Pisgah by around noon and took a short hike to the overlook only to find out it was the location of Vanderbilt’s Hunting Lodge back in the day of Biltmore Estates.  Nothing is left of the lodge since the NPS removed them, but the stone overlook gave a good view of the valley.  We decided to stop for lunch just beyond Graveyard Fields, which is a popular hiking spot to a couple of waterfalls.  We decided not to take the hikes as the weather was closing in and it looked like it was going to rain.  I don’t want to believe it was because the over 2 mile hike would be over steep terrain, although it was a factor.  We thought we had found a good place for lunch since it was actually up off the road, but it was currently in use by some motorcyclists. We didn’t have any problems with them, however, it would have been nice if they could agree on the music they wanted to blast out for everyone.  One was playing rap and another was playing country rock.  They sounds did not mix well and was not the entertainment we had hoped for.  However, we proceeded enjoying the views from the Parkway until we neared the highest point of the Parkway at 6047 feet, which was completely enclosed by fog and light rain.  While the fog was in itself interesting, it made the views from the overlooks impossible.  Most of the rest of the trip to the southern terminus was in and out of the fog and the NPS Ranger at the Waterrock Knob Visitor Center had a lonely job since we were just about the only visitors that afternoon due to the fog.  In any case, we made it to the southern terminus in just over 6 hours and were back in the campsite before dark.

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Friday we drove back down US 74 to Cherokee where the Blue Ridge Parkway ends, to spend the day at Harrah’s Casino.  I don’t know if I have ever mentioned our enjoyment of casinos.  All we play are penny slot machines, never betting more than $.40 at a time.  If we are going to spend more than a couple of hours we limit ourselves to $40 each and take a break for lunch.  As is generally the case, I started out pretty good getting up about $10 while Kal lost her $20 and we ate lunch at the buffet in the casino (which was a great meal!).  After lunch we went back to the slot machines and found a couple of old games that we both have enjoyed in the past.  I set down, inserted my $20 to start the afternoon and immediately lost $14!! They were dollar machines and I had bet the entire $20 on one game.  I was not quick enough to stop Kal, who lost her whole $20 in a single game.  That really destroyed my afternoon and I didn’t have any luck managing to lose another $20 over the next hour.  Kal, however, found a hot machine and managed to come out ahead by $30, so in total we spent only a total of $30 for the day in the slot machines.  While certainly not one of our better days in a casino, we would have come out slightly ahead if we had not misread those dollar machines!

Saturday we spent the morning watching EPL soccer at the Brewery and eating an “English” breakfast they have cooked for the occasion.  We then went back to the campsite and cleaned all the woodwork in the RV.  This took a couple of hours as there is a lot of wood in this RV!!  It is beautiful, but I don’t think we will be trying to clean it all very often.  Sweeping the floors does not take long since there is not a lot of square feet of floor.  I also checked the air in all the tires and serviced the truck for our journey out of the mountains the next day.

August 2014 – Kingsport, Tennessee

On Tuesday, August 26, 2014 we parked the RV at our first real stop on our Journey at the Brisol/Kingsport KOA.  Since we were a little late to be booking a site for the upcoming Labor Day weekend, all they had available for two weeks was one of their premium sites.  This meant it was a pull-through site, which was great.  Even Kal was able to park the camper.  The site also had a “porch” with homemade table and chairs, supposedly.  The porch was a wood deck on the ground (which was nice when it rained) and the table and chairs were certainly not homemade, but still functional metal pieces, which kept us from having to take our folding chairs in and out due to the weather.  We ran into one problem with our sewer hose, which turned out not to be long enough to reach the sewer hookup if we positioned the RV centered on the porch.  Since we did not discover this until after we had unhooked and leveled the RV, we had to hook back up to the truck and move the RV back so the hose would reach.  It gave us another chance to practice hooking up, which is still a bit of a challenge.  I also found out the small levels I had installed on the outside of the RV are not sensitive enough as it was obvious it needed to be more level than these small levels would indicate.


On Wednesday, we were both ready to get out and be a tourist, so we drove back south to Andrew Johnson National Historic Site.  This site consists of a replica of the small house he grew up in, over in North Carolina, his early home when he first moved to Greenville, Tennessee as a young man, the Visitor Center that encases his tailor shop, The Homestead, and the National Cemetery.  It took us all morning to tour the multiple buildings and museum in the Visitor Center, along with a guided tour of  The Homestead.  For those of you that don’t remember, Andrew Johnson was the first US President that did not have a background in either the military or law.  In fact, he never attended public school and made his own way in public office from major to state representative to US Representative to Tennessee Governor to Vice President with Abraham Lincoln.  When the Civil War began, he continued to remain loyal to the Union arguing against secession on Constitutional grounds and maintained the senate seat after Tennessee seceded, which was he was chosen to be Lincoln’s running mate in 1864.  Upon Lincoln’s assassination, Andrew Johnson became the 17th President and tried to carry out Lincoln’s plans for reconstruction.  Lincoln’s approach was reconciliation with the Confederate states allowing them to quickly re-establish state governments, however, the northern Republicans wanting much sterner and restrictive measures to be enacted before a state was allowed back into the Union.  President Johnson vetoed a number of bills designed to put harsh penalties on the Confederate states.  Congress passes a bill, over President Johnson’s veto, that required Congressional approval for a President to remove a cabinet member.  When President Johnson removes Edwin Stanton as Secretary of War the following year, on the basis that the Congressional bill stated that the President cannot remove a cabinet member that he appointed without Congressional approval and Lincoln had appointed Stanton, not Johnson.  On this technicality, President Johnson was trapped by Congress and impeached on February 24, 1868.  Impeachment does not mean removal from office, since the Senate has to conduct a trial and vote.  On May 26, the Senate acquitted President Johnson by one vote.  Historically this is very important, as this would have set a dangerous precedence that a President could be removed from office on purely political grounds.


I found it fascinating that in order to preserve the tailor shop, the National Park Service decided to completely encase the building in the Visitor Center, so it is really a small shop within a larger building.  It certainly works!  The Homestead also had a couple of interesting features.  During the Civil War, the house was abandoned by the Johnson family and was occupied at different times by Confederate troops, who did not look favorably on Johnson for not supporting secession.  They ransacked the house and wrote nasty graffiti on the walls.  Even though most of the walls were wall papered before President Johnson returned following his time in Washington D.C., they have uncovered one small section to show the graffiti.  In order to make room for their children and grandchildren, the original dining room had been converted to a bedroom and the kitchen was now the dining room, which made for some odd arrangements.  Another bedroom was added on to the second floor for their son, which had no interior access to the rest of the house.  Talk about a separate apartment.  All of the furnishings in The Homestead are original from the time President Johnson live there after the Civil War including an expensive collection of wax fruit under a glass jar.  For lunch, Kal and I drove up to the top of the Johnson National Cemetery where President Johnson and his family are buried along with veterans from all the wars through current crisis in the Gulf.  I can see why President Johnson choose this location as the view is spectacular.


Since Andrew Johnson National Historic park only took the morning, we continued on up the highway to Davy Crockett’s Birthplace State Park.  We found a small but interesting Visitor Center in the Park along with the reconstructed cabin Davy Crockett grew up in.  Throughout the summer, at least on the weekends, there would have been craftsmen set up around the cabin demonstrating frontier skills of the time.  However, during the week in September, there was nothing going on so it took only an hour or so to see everything.  I did learn quite a bit about Davy Crockett and how he contributed to his legend through a series of short publications and a very successful play that was loosely based on his life.


On Thursday, we continued our trips to National Parks finishing out this part of Tennessee by driving to the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park.  This National Park is actually quite large, over 25,000 acres, but most of the park is only accessible by hiking trails.  The Visitor Center is worth the time and the movie they had about Daniel Boone and establishing the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap that opened up Kentucky for settlement was very interesting.  Once again the legends of Daniel Boone are much exaggerated (not as much as Davy Crockett), as he was primarily a long hunter, which means he would leave home on extended hunting trips, often for over a year.  Although the Cumberland Gap was part of the Warrior’s Path used for hundreds of years by Indian raiding parties, it became an important pathway to continue expansion of primarily Scottish and Irish pioneers in the late 1700s.  In 1775, the Transylvania Company, a land speculation company headed by Richard Henderson, purchased over 20 million acres of land from the Cherokee Indians in the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals.  This land encompassed over half of present day Kentucky and was intended to become the fourteenth colony.  Even though the treaty was eventually ruled to be illegal, Daniel Boone was hired to blaze a trail through the Cumberland Gap, which became know as the Wilderness Trail.  While not the only gap in the Appalachian Mountains, the Wilderness Road was the main artery for migration to the west.  The Cumberland Gap was also an important strategic location to hold during the Civil War.  It changed hands multiple times during the war, but no major battles were ever fought since it was much easier to disrupt supply lines forcing the occupying army to withdraw.  The Cumberland Gap has continued to be an important pathway through the southern Appalachian Mountains.  In 1907 a major upgrade was made to the dirt highway using a combination of federal and state funds, being designated as one of the “Object Lesson” roads to provide a demonstration of more modern road building techniques of the time.  The road was straightened, widened, and filled with multiple layers of broken stone and sand-clay known as macadam, which can still be seen today.  Today the peak of the Gap is bypassed with a long tunnel cut through the mountain, leaving the Cumberland Gap to recover from the years of traffic.  Kal and I took a hike up a part of the Object Lesson roadbed and you can still see the efforts and effects it had on the local terrain.  The trail leads up to the saddle of the Gap where there is a nice monument from the DAR.  From there the road winds itself around to one of the Civil War gun emplacements (called forts) and finally to the summit where a short walk opens up some spectacular views into Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee.  Although the road has some hairpin turns almost too sharp for our monster truck, the views made the trip more than worth it.

GregAtGapDeer  View2

Friday was just a relaxing day at the KOA.

For Saturday, we decided to stay closer to home and only went into downtown Kingsport.  Some of Kal’s ancestors came from this area of Tennessee being some of the first settlers in the area during the late 1700s.  She was therefore interested in spending some time in the Genealogy section of the public library to if see could discover where they were buried and to verify some other information she already had.  I spent the morning playing disc golf at a small downtown course at Borden Park.  The course is amongst picnic tables and basketball courts, which means it was very open and flat.  There were a few challenging holes, but for the most part there were clear shots to the pins and of only moderate distance.  Consequently I did quite well getting par on nearly every hole.  I also started early enough in the morning (Kal was at the library when they opened at 9) so I was just about the only person in the park.  The rest of the morning I helped Kal enter some information into the computer on two of her ancestors and a possible third and we ate lunch at a nice downtown Mexican restaurant.  In the afternoon we traveled over to the Bristol city library to chase down a possible lead on some hand written information they supposedly had about one of her ancestors.  We were actually a couple of blocks from the Wells Fargo bank we had to visit to get a cashier’s check for the RV and we found that downtown Bristol is a funny place.  When we were there previously, they had the main street blocked off for a antique auto parade.  On this Saturday, they had another part of downtown blocked off for a two block long water slide down the street.  The Fire Department had opened up the city lines and placed a sheet of plastic down the street for kids to slide down on air mattresses!  We got a surprise when we returned to the KOA, as it turns out our site is doubled up on busy weekends, like Labor Day.  We now had a popup camper crammed in behind our RV.  It really wasn’t a problem as the site was designed with separate hookups for them and we didn’t need the room except to park our truck, which would fit in front of the RV anyway.

Sunday we spent in the RV park doing laundry in the morning.  Being able to use large washers and dryers sure makes this quicker as it took Kal only 1.5 hours to do the laundry.  It is also nice being able to do our laundry without having to take them anywhere, just stay in our campsite.  Sunday lunch was provided by KOA as their Labor Day celebration with hamburgers and hot dogs grilled at their pavilion about 10 yards from our RV.  Some of the other campers brought side dishes and KOA gave a reward of a free weekend to the best side.  There was a meat pie that was very good and Kal is going to try something similar.

Monday was Labor Day, so we decided to just stay at the KOA rather than taking on the traffic anywhere else.

On Tuesday we decided it was time to have the oil changed in the truck.  Even though we had owned the truck for just less than two months, we had already put almost 5000 miles on it!  While this may seem like a lot, it is likely to be about normal.  As you may recall, we had the BG product line put into the truck when we bought it, so it was necessary to find a local BG repair shop.  These shops are provided on BG’s website so it was no problem finding S.R.P. Auto & Truck in Piney Flats about 10 miles away.  They were able to fit us in immediately to change the oil and rotate the tires.  They also checked all the fluids and filters for us in about 2 hours.  They were great and we even had the opportunity to talk with their BG representative that was delivering some products and learn more about the BG products.  Since we still had most of the day, we ate lunch and drove to the Historical Society Library in Abingdon, Virginia to do some more genealogy on Kal’s ancestors.  We did find some additional information and had a good afternoon.

On Wednesday we decided to take a chance and visit the Gray Fossil Site for which we saw a sign on the interstate.  It is located in Gray, Tennessee which is just outside of Johnson City.  Kal had looked it up on the internet and it appeared to be a small fossil excavation site.  Talk about a great find!!  In 2001, the local community had decided to straighten out the road by the high school in Gray, Tennessee.  Digging out the hill they hit some hard grey clay and a fossil.  They called in some experts to take a look and based on the few fossils they found they thought they may have found something significant.  Initially they assumed it was an ice-age site about 100,000 years old since there are a number of these in the Appalachian mountains.  However, when they found a crocodile skull, they knew it was much older than the ice-age.  This caused so much excitement that the governor decided to protect the site and East Tennessee State University created a Geology program and a Paleontology graduate degree program to study the site.  They have now determined the site is a Miocene site dating between 4.5-7 million years ago!  It was the location of a sink hole pool that lasted for around 5000 years and collected an amazing number of fossils.   They have excavated only about 1% of the site and have already found over 18,000 fossils.  The fossils included the largest collection of tapir in the world, as well as, crocodile, saber-toothed tiger, small elephant, rhinoceros, small faced bear, camel, and many birds, snakes, turtles, etc.  The most important find is a new species of red panda, which is the only complete skeleton in the US.  In 2007 they opened up a very nice museum to house the collection as well as the labs where you can watch volunteers working every day on the fossils.  On most days during the spring through the fall they are generally digging just outside the museum, although they were not working yet while we were there.  We were the only visitors on Wednesday morning, which meant we got a personal hour and a half tour to the facilities from a recent graduate of their Master’s program.  He was very interesting to talk with and had a couple of years of experience at the site.  It was a great morning and I strongly recommend a visit for anyone on I-81 or I-26 in Tennessee.  It is only about 5 miles off the Interstate and well worth the time.


For Thursday, we decided to continue our visit of historical sites and went to Sycamore Shoals State Park since we knew it was the staging area for the Over-Mountain Men that defeated the British at Kings Mountain in South Carolina.  We found out the Sycamore Shoals is more important than just its small role in the Revolutionary War.  Sycamore Shoals was a well known crossing of the Watauga River and was the center of the Watauga Settlement in the 1770s.  In 1775 the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals through which the Transylvania Company bought 20 million acres in Kentucky was purchased from the Cherokee Indians.  At the same time the settlers also purchased their land from the Cherokee.  During the Revolutionary War, the settlers (being Scots and Irish) aligned themselves with the Patriots and the Cherokee aligned themselves with the British.  To protect themselves, the settlers quickly constructed forts around their major settlements, one of which was Fort Watauga at Sycamore Shoals and survived a siege by the Cherokee in July, 1776.  In late 1780, Sycamore Shoals was the location where over 800 men from Virginia and Tennessee (then North Carolina) met to march against the British troops in North Carolina.  The State Park includes a very nice museum that does a great job of giving the history of the Watauga Settlement and the importance of Sycamore Shoals during the early years of our country.  They have reconstructed Fort Watauga near its original location and a nice walking trail along the river along the shoals.  When you see it, you can see why this was an important location as you could easily walk across the Watauga River at the Shoals, but it would take a boat otherwise.  We were also there as they were setting up for a Celtic Festival with competitions.  Unfortunately, it was going to begin the next day and Kal was not interested in returning.  I was kind of surprised since she has talked about wanting to see the pole toss!!


On Friday we returned to the Kingsport library for one more morning and I worked on my blog.  She found a little more information, but I think she had found the “low hanging fruit” available at the library.  Saturday we spent cleaning the RV to prepare it (and us) for leaving on Sunday.  We also watched a little football, including Auburn’s big win over San Jose State (who you say?).  War Eagle!!  Not sure how many games we will get to see, since I don’t know what kind of TV reception we will have, but as long as they continue winning AND we have a cable hookup…

August 2014 – Vonore, Tennessee

Our first stop on our journey was Toqua Campground on the shores of Tellico Lake near Vonore, Tennessee.  We had visited the campground while we were waiting for delivery of our RV and found it to be a nice campground, especially if you like living at a lake.  However, the main reason for choosing this campground was for its proximity to Suzy and the storage shed, about 10 minutes away.  Without a doubt, the trip from Tri-Am to Toqua seemed to take much longer than the couple of hours that actually passed.  We were both very focused on watching the RV following behind us and the traffic going around us, especially on the Interstate through the center of Knoxville.  When we got to Toqua, I was hoping for a pull-through site after our experience with trying to back it up earlier that day at Tri-Am.  Unfortunately, they did not have one available (they are all filled by seasonal campers so they never have any available) but they did contact a couple that were staying across from us to help us back it in.  He recommended that I pull up almost completely into the site across from us to get the RV as straight as possible.  This turned out to be good advice, as I was able to turn the RV into the site on the first try and only had to pull forward to straighten it up.  We unhooked the RV and set it up very slowly to make sure we did everything correctly the first time and we spent our first night in the camper.


On Monday, we started out getting a load out of the storage unit and proceeded to try and figure out where to store everything.  This took most of the day and it was amazing how much storage there is scattered throughout the RV.  I measured all the cabinets and drawers throughout the RV in preparation to going to Walmart the next day.  On Tuesday we got the rest of our stuff out of the storage unit and went shopping for plastic baskets of different size and stocking up on food for our new refrigerator.  We were actually able to put all of our stuff into the RV with room to spare!

LivingRoom Bedroom

Wednesday, we were off to Birmingham to get the RV titled, registered, and tagged, we hope!  We had done everything we could to verify that all we needed for this was the bill of sale, our driver license, the MOA (manufacturer’s title), and a picture of the VIN number.  We also took a copy of the insurance just in case they needed it, although the reason for the proof of insurance is for a motorized vehicle.  After spending a pleasant evening with Grandma, Grandpa, Shannon, Samantha, and Shayna (Phil worked late again) we slept the night on their couch as all the beds are now taken with Phil and Shannon having moved in with Grandma and Grandpa.  Early Thursday morning we were off to the courthouse again in Bessemer.  We were there early enough that the line was very short.  I felt sorry for the lady on the other side of the counter, because it was obvious she had no idea what a fifth wheel RV is.  After getting a description of a fifth wheel from a co-worker, she called over her supervisor to help her figure out how to fill out a title application.  Her first questions was if we had brought the RV with us for inspection, since it was purchased out of state.  OH NO, so much for our preparation!  However, after we told her that we had been told that a picture of the VIN number would be all that was required and where would she like us to pull a 35 foot trailer downtown, she and her supervisor decided it was not necessary.  Thank goodness!  Then she said that since it was a trailer, it did not need to be titled.  I disagreed with her since I was sure that a trailer worth $74,000 needed to be titled so they could collect property taxes on it.  Once again she agreed and started to try and figure out how to fill our the title application.  She then asked us how many cylinders (?) and we had to point out again that it was a trailer without a motor.  Her supervisor then pulled up a picture of a fifth-wheel on the internet and I think she finally understood what we had, but still not how to title it.  It took her 3 attempts, but I assume she got it filled out correctly.  I did have to sign a Power of Attorney authorizing them to make changes if necessary without requiring us to return, which I quickly agreed to.  We haven’t gotten the title yet, but I am not going to worry about it.  We then paid for the sales tax and registration and we had our tag for the RV!  Unfortunately, since it is not a motorhome, the only way she could figure out the tags was to call it a commercial trailer, which means our tags are renewed each year in November, instead of September when we renew the truck tags.  Since this is done on-line, we will just have to remember to do it every year.  They do send out a reminder by mail, so we should not have a problem.  It was still only 10 in the morning so we did some shopping at Camping World and went out to lunch before returning to Grandpa’s house.  After spending another night on the couch we headed back to Tennessee on Friday feeling much relieved and excited.

We took it easy in the campground on Saturday and fixed sloppy-joes for Suzy, Shannon, and the kids for dinner.  I think they were all as impressed as we are and the kids had fun figuring out how to turn all the lights on.  Let me tell you, there are more lights in this RV per square foot than you would have in a house!  It is very well designed to provide lights wherever you could possibly want it.  We prefer natural lighting whenever possible and are not staying up late at night, so we have still not figured when we are going to use all the lights.  Sunday was spent rearranging things in the RV and doing some more shopping at Target.

By this point we had everything under control (to some extent) and decided to take a trip to the Civil War Battlefields at Chickamauga Creek and Chattanooga.  These battlefields are combined as a single National Park even though the battle at Chickamauga Creek was in September and Chattanooga was in November of 1863.  We spent most of Monday at the Chickamauga battle which covered three days in September and extended many miles west of Chickamauga Creek.  You can find more detailed information about each of these battles on my pages and the links, but I will give a brief explanation here.  Following the defeat of the Confederate Army of Virginia at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and the taking of Vicksburg in Mississippi were major defeats that began the decline of the Confederates in both the east and the west.  Chattanooga, being in the center of country was the major railroad connection for the South in moving supplies and troops both east and west.  By taking Chattanooga, the North severed this critical link and opened up the industrial area of the South in Georgia and Alabama.  Using Chattanooga as his base of operations, Sherman made his “March to the Sea” from Chattanooga to Suvannah in the spring of 1864.  Initially the South retreated out of Chattanooga when General Rosecrans in command of the Union Army of Tennessee threatened to cut him off from Georgia by cutting around and south of Chattanooga.  The two armies clashed along the west bank of Chickamauga Creek just a few miles south of Chattanooga with the battle lines situated north and south with the Union to the west and the Confederates to the south.  The battle lasted over 3 days in late September with the second most casualties in the War after Gettysburg.  The fighting was fierce and neither side gained a significant advantage until General Longstreet of the Confederate army hit a weak spot in the Union line and directly threatened General Rosecrans headquarters.  There was then a general retreat of the Union back to Chattanooga and the Confederates had won a major victory.  However, they had failed to retake Chattanooga which was the real prize.  General Bragg decided to lay a siege around Chattanooga by occupying the high ground of Lookout Mountain to the southwest and Missionary Ridge along the east and south. For the next two months they tried to starve out the Union forces and nearly succeeded when General Grant, who was now in command, approved of a plan to create pontoon bridges across the Tennessee River and open up a supply line to Bridgeport, Alabama, known as the Cracker Line.  This, along with reinforcements from General Hooker and Sherman, provided the opportunity to break the siege in November.  Over a three day period they drove the Confederates from the high ground and back into Georgia.  I have really enjoyed visiting all of these Civil War Battlefields over the past year, which has been quick enough that I am starting to put the whole war into focus.  Once again, I would strongly recommend taking advantage of any Ranger talks and/or the CD driving tours.  They really help in understanding how the battles progressed while you are actually looking at the location.  So much better than reading a book or the internet!!!


On Tuesday we took all of our dirty laundry to Suzy’s house.  While it took nearly all day to do the laundry in a single machine, the convenience could not be denied.  Besides, we were able to make another run to the Habitat Restore and Recycle Center for Suzy and got to get a few more hours of playing on World of Warcraft.  I don’t know if we will be able to play on-line games in RV parks as the WiFi connections are usually to limited.

Wednesday was back to Chattanooga to visit the battle sites around the city.  Point Park on top of Lookout Mountain was certainly worth it.  It is beautiful park on top of the mountain and the views down into Chattanooga are great.  The drive along Missionary Ridge was not as interesting as it is actually a residential drive with no way to park to look at any of the monuments except at a few National Park “Reserves”.  It was kind of fun to see the signs and monuments that mark the location of the different units on the day of the battle sitting along the road and in the front yards of the residents.  Especially when the monument was for an artillery unit, which meant they had cannons in their front yard.  Often times these cannons are now aimed at the house and in one case aimed directly at and 10 feet away from the front door!  While not as interesting as a “battlefield”, the siege line along Missionary Ridge is still worth seeing to get a better sense of the advantage it provided the Confederates.  We did have some excitement on the way back from Chattanooga.  Soon after we left the Interstate at Sweetwater, the ominous clouds opened up and some quarter size hail started hitting the truck.  At that point we heard a series of beeps, but the truck did not give any messages on the panel to tell us what was wrong.  We pulled into a church parking lot to look at the Owners Manual and wait for the hail to quit.  We didn’t learn anything and the truck seemed to be running fine, so we continued on.  We then stopped at a store on the way to the campgrounds and found out we were under a tornado warning!  As it was near the end of the time for the warning and the storm had obviously moved on, we went on back to the campground.  Along the way I realized that the beeping sound had been muffled and pulled out my phone.  Sure enough, I had a text message warning me of the tornado warning once we drove into the area!  This was good to know and a very useful service.

RangerTalk LookoutMountain BraggReserve

The rest of the week was an opportunity to get used to the RV and conducting a detailed inspection of all the cabinets and systems.  By the end of the week I had a fair list of warranty issues for Tri-Am to fix when we took the RV back to them on Monday.  The only excitement we had were the thunderstorms the next couple of nights.  We watched the weather closely and a couple of times turned on the weather radio for continuous updates of severe thunderstorm warnings.  When the warning included the possibility of high winds over 60 mph we debated about whether we should seek shelter in the bathrooms, as they were concrete blocks.  We have yet to decide when we should, but I can tell you that the winds we experienced were not high enough to even rock the RV.  I don’t know if it could withstand a 60 mph blast, but I am not sure I want to be in it to find out?

On Monday, August 25, we carefully hooked up the RV to the truck by ourselves for the first time and took the RV back to Tri-Am for the night.  They had identified a potential issue with one of the hydraulic lines and wanted to replace it.  I had also identified a number of minor warranty issues, such as some discoloration around some of the exterior handles and the caulking job at the kitchen sink.  We also asked them to install the antennae for the WiFi Ranger to the ladder on the back of the RV.  Although we could have stayed the night in the RV, we decided to just leave them with the RV over night and head back to Suzy’s to spend the night on her couch.  This gave us one last night to visit with everyone before we set out for out long journey.  Around noon on Tuesday we headed back to Tri-Am to pick up the RV, which had now been all fixed up and ready to go.  We did not go very far, only up the Interstate to the Bristol/Kingsport KOA for a couple of weeks over Labor Day.  The RV is finally all ours and we are on our own, fully packed and ready to go!!

July 2014 – Our new home away from home

Our old lifestyle ended with the sale of our house in Auburn, the two cars we owned, and the A-frame trailer we had been camping in for the past year. Our hopes for the new lifestyle were contingent on whether the selling of these assets along with the money from my Dad’s estate and money in savings would be sufficient to purchase a used Ford F350 or Dodge 3500, a new Excel fifth-wheel, and funds to cover the costs of the transition.  Our assumptions were as follows in round numbers:  After taking out the commission costs and paying off the mortgages we would clear about $80,000 on the house.  My Dad’s estate was about $20,000 and we had about $5,000 in savings.  The blue book values on the cars would be about $5000 and the camper was worth about $10,000 as a trade-in.  This gave us assets totaling $119,000.  We estimated the truck would cost about $35,000 leaving $85,000 for the RV.  A new Excel with the options we wanted was listed at over $100,000, but we should be able to get a deal with 15% discount or $85,000.  This was going to be tight, especially as this left nothing to fund the transition itself.  If we had figured wrong on anything then we were going to have a problem.  Something had to break our way for this to work.  For the past year, my sister Suzy had been telling me that everything would work out according to God’s time table and we just had to have faith.  Even though we still had the IRA as a back-up, we had to have faith it would all work out.

Beginning as soon as we had a firm offer on the house, we contacted Ronnie Ware at Gentry and Ware to locate us a used Ford F350 or Dodge 3500 for less than $35,000, fully expecting to have to exceed this amount in order to get the truck we wanted.  The truck had to have a diesel engine and dual wheels along with the towing package to handle a 14,000 pound tow.  We didn’t care about the other options, the color, or the size of the cab.  After three weeks of no leads on a truck we were getting concerned whether we would have to make a trip to Auburn after selling the house to buy a truck.  However, on June 20 Ronnie called us about a 2008 Ford F350 that met our requirements that was at a dealership in Georgia.  It was a King Ranch model with just over 60,000 miles on it and he understood it was in excellent condition.  Even though we were concerned since we had been warned about problems with the diesel engine on the 2008 models, we would be interested in looking at it.  They got it to Auburn on Tuesday of the next week and we took a quick look at it, just before we were packing up the U-Haul truck to move our belongings to my sister’s storage shed in Tennessee.  We were certainly impressed with the truck.  In addition, to having a turbo diesel engine and dual wheels, the King Ranch model comes with a lot of extras including powered mirrors that extend in and out, heated leather seats, a full sized 4-door cab.  This truck also came with one of the largest and best tool-boxes in the back and was a beautiful reddish brown color that Kal and I both fell in love with.  It was certainly more truck than we had hoped for and with a price tag of just over $30,000 and low mileage we were very interested. However, we wanted to get the engine checked out along with the repair history to make sure we were not buying problems.  So we made arrangements with CT Automotive to give it a good inspection while we were gone to Tennessee.  If it all checked out then we would return to Auburn on Saturday to complete the final cleaning of the house, close on the house on Monday, deposit the money in the bank, and then buy the truck, all in one day!  Ronnie did not see a problem with this plan and from our standpoint it could not have worked out better with the timing, the price, and the quality of the truck.  If you read my previous blog you already know that the house closing was soon delayed a week, until July 7, which also worked to our advantage.  The report from CT Automotive on Friday was very positive so we had our truck.  However, they offered a service called BG.  This involved a detailed inspection of all the systems of the truck, including replacement of all the fluids along with special BG additives that are suppose to improve the efficiency and life of the truck.  This also would add a $2000 warranty on each of the systems included so long as we keep to the maintenance schedule and BG products.  The systems you could include were the engine oil, transmission, coolant, power steering, differential, and air conditioning.  We did a bit of research on the web and the results were encouraging, however the major advantage I saw was to have a qualified mechanic take a detailed look at each of these systems and get a fresh start on all the fluids.  After thinking about all weekend I decided the almost $2000 price tag for the complete service was worth it.  By delaying the closing a week, this gave CT Automotive the time to complete the work, along with rotating the tires, doing a wheel alignment, and installing two new batteries (yes this truck has 2 large batteries!) and still close on the house and buy the truck in the same day!

ProfileHeadOn Interior

We closed on the house on Monday, July 7 after a pleasant week in Tennessee and got our first pleasant surprise.  Our net on the house was $84,000, which was higher than our conservative estimate.  We deposited the check in the bank and headed directly to Gentry and Ware to buy the truck.  Gentry and Ware covered $500 of the cost to CT Automotive for the work done bringing the price down to $29,650 and gave us $6000 on the trade-ins, both of which were better than we had estimated.  Therefore, even after paying CT Automotive $2200 for the work they did we came out less than what we had estimated for the truck and trade-ins by $4000.  So far everything had worked to our satisfaction and after visiting State Farm to change the car insurance, we were off to Kal’s parents house in Birmingham to get the truck registered and tagged.  We were able to complete all these critical tasks in a single day without any problems, except Kal was having to get used to driving this monster of a truck!

We arrived at the courthouse in Bessemer, Alabama early the next morning to get tags and registration.  After standing in line for about a half hour and getting near the front of the line we were informed that we had to have proof of insurance to get it registered.  We had our old State Farm cards for the cars we traded in, but the State Farm agent did not give us any proof of insurance.  After confirming that this was not going to work, we left the line believing we had run into our first roadblock and would have to wait for the insurance cards to come by mail before making another trip to Birmingham in the next couple of weeks.  However, Kal was not going to be denied and refused to accept the situation.  We found a local State Farm agent not too far from the courthouse and went to their office in the hopes they could help us out.  Sure enough, a quick phone call to our agent in Auburn and they received a fax of our proof of insurance statement that we should have gotten in Auburn the day before (our oversight!).  So now it was back to the courthouse and to the back of the line, which had grown to over an hour, and we had our registration and tags.  The only confusion was our old tags, which we brought with us, were for Lee County instead of Jefferson County.  Once we explained we were “moving” to Birmingham, we were issued new tags for the correct county.  We then proceeded upstairs to update the address on our driver license, which did not take very long to have new temporary driver licenses.  The only problem is that they would not allow us to renew our licenses which are due to expire in February, which means we are going to have to return to Birmingham this winter.  We were planning on visiting Kal’s parents at Christmas time anyway, so assuming we can get them renewed in January (you are supposed to be able to do it up to 30 days in advance) we should be able to combine the trips.

Wednesday, it was time to head back to Tennessee with our new (used) truck and begin the process of buying a fifth-wheel RV.  The constant roar of the diesel engine, which in truth is not as bad as I expected in the cab, and the sheer size of the truck is going to take some time to get used to.  Kal is also having to learn where the dual wheels are on the road and the play in the steering wheel.  Suzy and Shannon were impressed with the truck and could not wait to put it to work on hauling stuff out of their garage, but this would have to wait until we found an RV.


On Thursday, Kal and I drove up to Bulls Gap, TN to the Tri-Am RV Center which is the closest RV dealer with Excel fifth wheels.  We had visited Tri-Am over a year ago when we started the our research into RVs.  After reading a lot of reviews and comparisons I am convinced that Peterson Industries, who makes the Excel, makes one of the best RVs you can buy for full-timers.  However, you do pay a premium and as noted before, the 34 IKE model with the options we wanted listed out at over $100,000.  We were hoping they could be willing to sell us a new Excel Winslow 34 IKE for $85,000 and give us $10,000 for the trade-in.  Upon arriving at Tri-Am we found that they had an Excel Winslow 34 IKE in stock since they had just brought it up from their dealership in Florida.  It happened to be the same unit we had seen at the Florida dealership that they had on sale for $82,000 since it is a 2014 model and the 2015 models are now available.  We were certainly interested in this price and thankfully the unit was already in Tennessee.  There wasn’t much room for negotiations on the price.  Our paperwork shows a sale price of $85,000 with a $12,000 trade-in, so the difference was $73,000.  We had estimated $85,000 with a trade-in of $10,000 for a difference of $75,000 so we came out ahead by another $2000.  We also found out it was fortunate we arrived when we did because they were getting ready to send the unit back to Excel to have some modifications made and we would not have had a chance to look at it.  In 2014, Excel tried out a new roof on their units made from the same material as the spray-on truck bed liners.  While this sounds like a great idea for a tough roof and I believe may some day be the standard for RV roofs, this first attempt was not very successful.  It not only took longer to apply, causing major delays this past year, but the units sold are already having issues with cracking and leaks.  Not good. Therefore, they were sending this unit back to the factory to replace this roof with a rubber roof that has been used for years.  They had also found out that an additional ram on the large slide-out would make a huge difference in smoothness of the slide-out, a change they had already made in their manufacturing earlier in the year.  Finally, the zebra pattern on the lounge chairs was to be switched to a white leather cover to match the couch, a change we certainly approved of.  Therefore, it was going to be about a month before the unit was ready for delivery.  Since this was much better than the 6 months minimum delay in ordering a new unit (much less the additional price for a new 2015 model!), we were more than happy to wait for a month.  Besides this gave us an opportunity to stay with my sister and help her with a number of projects and to get our ducks lined up for the transition.

Over the next three weeks we took on a number of jobs to help Suzy out before school started for her grandchildren, Elijah and Kaytlynn (Shannon’s children) and Austin, Joey, and Taylor (Sonya’s children).  This included using our truck to clear out the garage and storage unit with multiple trips to the dump, used book store, habitat restore, and recycle centers in Maryville.  We also cleaned out her gutters, painted and installed new lattice around her front porch, and made some replacement shelves for Kaytlynn’s bedroom.  Along with three of her friends, we had the unique opportunity to participating in Kaytlynn’s birthday party.  We also had time for Kal to order a WiFi Ranger that would boost wifi signals once installed on the camper, to get a quote for full-timers RV insurance through Good Sams (National Insurance), and to close out my Dad’s IRA.  For some reason it was not possible to have the money transferred to our bank account (something about it being a Beneficiary IRA) we had our friend Rick Theobald with Waddell and Reed send us checks to my sister’s address.  Somehow this was not communicated correctly with the check writing office at Waddell and Reed, since the checks showed up in a couple of days to my sister’s address, made out to Suzy Adams, my sister!  This was not going to work as it could mess up my sister’s taxes if she were to cash them and write us a check, so we had to have Waddell and Reed reissue the checks.  It also turned out that the IPad App to digitally deposit checks to our Wells Fargo Bank has a monetary limit that was less than the checks from Waddell and Reed.  Therefore, we had to physically deposit the checks at a Wells Fargo Bank.  We changed our bank accounts to Wells Fargo with the belief that they would have branches all over the United States, which I suppose is true except for eastern Tennessee at least.  The closest branch in Tennessee is Nashville and the closest branch for us was just south of Chattanooga in Georgia!  So we had to spend the better part of a day driving to and from Chattanooga to deposit our checks.  It was good that none of the individual checks from each of the funds was small enough that Wells Fargo did not have to put a hold on the money, so we were good to go.  Thank goodness we had plenty of time before we needed the money at the end of the month.  After withholding money for taxes the IRA was over $23,000 which was $3,000 more than we had estimated.  Everything was certainly breaking our way with $4000 more for the house, $4000 less for the truck, $2000 less for the RV, $3000 more from the IRA, and $5000 in savings left us roughly $18000 to make the transition!  Of course about $2500 of this would be needed for the sales tax on the RV and $2000 for the full-timer insurance but this still left us with more than we had any right to hope for.  I guess my sister was right after all and with good planning and conservative estimates, everything was going to work out without breaking the bank.

PorchPainting PorchLatticeKaytlynnBirthday

We also made a visit to the Toqua Campgrounds, about 10 minutes from Suzy’s and the storage unit with all of our stuff.  After explaining our situation with not knowing when we would get the RV and wanting a two week stay with only a couple of days notice to the park, they assured us there would be no problem except for Labor Day weekend when they were booked.  If it took a full month before the RV was back we would only have a few days before Labor Day and this could be a problem with accepting delivery before the holiday.  We also found out from the park manager, that they knew of a case of someone from Alabama that bought an RV locally like we are doing, and having to drive the RV to Alabama in order to get it registered.  We already knew that motor vehicles purchased from out of state had to be inspected before they could be registered.  We were not sure what this inspection included, but since our fifth wheel was not a motorized vehicle, it made no sense that they would need to inspect it for things like emission controls.  It was possible that they only verified the VIN number, but surely a picture would suffice.  I certainly did not want to have to pull the RV to Birmingham and I could not imagine where we would park a 35′ motor home at the downtown Bessemer courthouse.  The website was no help as all it recognized were motorhomes, which had to be inspected and the email I sent asking about the requirements for a fifth wheel were not answered.  We got the usual run around with finding the correct government official to talk with since very county in Alabama handles their own vehicle registration.  After more than a day of worry we finally got someone to answer the phone and verified that it was only a VIN verification and a picture of the VIN should suffice.  Feeling a little better, we were now ready to accept delivery of the RV.  Finally, Kal and I had the opportunity to play World of Warcraft again with my sister.  We had let our accounts expire over a year ago when we decided to stop on-line gaming in anticipation of selling our house and being dependent on RV park wifi connections.  It was great to be able to play the game again, even though we had to start new characters, and we can now pay for access on a month-to-month basis if we decide we can do it on the road.  If not, then it was still worth if for a couple of weeks.

By August 4 it had been 3 weeks and we had not heard anything from Tri-Am, nor did we expect to for at least another week.  Since the grandchildren had started back to school the previous week and Suzy had started her school year as an Art and Keyboarding teacher for Steekee Elementary, we decided to take Shannon on a trip to Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  Kal and I have been to the park a number of times over the years, but this would give me a chance to get the lapel pin that I am collecting and to spend a day outdoors.  We enjoyed the morning at the stops in the driving tour of Cades Cove and the Visitor Center, for which you can get more information on the attached pages.  We surprised Shannon by doing something she had never done before.  We took a one-way dirt road out of Cades Cove to US Highway 129, an 8 mile trip of very narrow roads, very tight corners, and sheer dropoffs.  I know Shannon was “thrilled” with the trip and vows she will never do it again!  I must admit there were a few places I was not sure the huge truck would make a turn without hitting a tree, make it up a steep slope, or losing sight of the road as we top a rise or exited a low water bridge.  We found out that the truck could handle this type of adventure better than the passengers.  When we got cell phone coverage back, we found out we had missed a phone call from Tri-Am.  Our RV was back from the factory and ready to be picked up!

GregAndBarn ShannonDirtRoad

On Tuesday we called Tri-Am back and set up their walk-through for Friday afternoon with plans to stay at their center Friday and Saturday nights before pulling the unit to Toqua Campgrounds.  A quick call to Toqua Campgrounds reserved us a site for two weeks starting on Sunday, August 10.  Kal also called Good Sams and started up the full-timers insurance and we were ready to go.  We packed food, clothes, and bedding for two nights and headed to Tri-Am Friday afternoon.  Our initial impression of our new Excel Winslow was breathtaking.  We began to realize what we were able to buy with the cash we got from the house and my Dad’s inheritance.  The pickup truck is a King Ranch and is a much better truck then we were hoping to get.  The RV had the options that we wanted; power jacks, fireplace, and TV in the bedroom.  It also came with a lot of other options that we would not have bought if we had order a new unit.  It has the premium carpet (which should hold up better), french doors (glazed windows in the bedroom and bathroom doors that do look nice), a pillow-top and box spring mattress (sleeps like dream), second air-conditioning unit in the bedroom (very nice on these summer nights in Tennessee), a hide-a-bed couch (instead of the standard air mattress), a convection micro-wave, a coach-wide water filtration system, a Dust Devil central vacuum system, premium tires and disc brakes (instead of smaller tires and drum brakes), a swing-out tube for the sewer hose (cleaner and easier to use), and a large residential refrigerator with large freezer and ice maker.  These options would easily increase the value of the RV by $15,000.  Let’s just say we were more than pleased with what we just purchased.  After their extensive walk-through when I asked a lot of questions, we were left to begin living in our new RV with instructions to try everything out and keep track of our questions.  After reading through the Owner’s Manual and trying out all the systems I had a number of questions for the following day.  Unfortunately, a lot of the following day was taken up with the final paperwork on the RV.  One problem was with our Flagstaff camper.  In Alabama, these size trailers are considered to be in the same category as a utility trailer and are not titled.  Therefore, we did not have a title for the camper but the original MOS, the manufacturer’s transfer of ownership.  Since we were wanting to make the trip to Birmingham as soon as possible in case we had to actually take the RV itself to get it titled, we wanted to obtain the MOS for the Winslow immediately.  This meant we had to have a cashier’s check for $73,000 which in turn meant another trip to a Wells Fargo branch, which now was closer to go to Bristol, Virginia since we were about an hour north of Knoxville.  So after they finished installing the goose neck hitch in the bed of our truck, we set out for Bristol.  We followed the GPS unit to downtown Bristol on State Street only to find the road blocked off and no direct access to the bank!  So we found a parking place and walked a couple of blocks to the bank, which thankfully was open even though there was no customers in the bank.  State street was closed off for an upcoming parade of 300 antique cars and the spectators were just beginning to show up.  It was lucky for us as it took just a few moments to get our cashier’s check and we were on our way out of town.  This side trip limited our time to spend checking out the RV, but the people at Tri-Am were all great and very helpful.  We showed them our appreciation by giving them each a bottle of Hi-Wire Bed of Nails, which I suppose was shameful advertisement of Bryna and Chris’ brewery, but it seemed to be appreciated.  While I was asking questions about how to override the hydraulics if I need to raise the jacks manually, they noticed one of the hydraulic lines was dimpled.  While this may not be a problem, it could leak in the future, but they needed to order the part to replace it.  Therefore, we adjusted our plans to return in two weeks to have this and any other warranty issue dealt with, along with installation of the antennae for the WiFi Ranger.  While Saturday was raining on and off all day, Saturday also threatened rain.  While this gave us an opportunity to inspect the RV for leaks (we did find a window that was bubbling along the seam indicating a leak) which were fixed immediately it made Kal very nervous about pulling the RV on the Interstate in a rainstorm.  We had hooked up the RV once on Saturday to see how the process worked and on Sunday we closed up the RV and hooked it to the truck in preparation for leaving.  The personnel at Tri-Am were on hand to make sure this process went smoothly and Kal drove it around the parking lot a few times to get a feel for it.  She then tried to back the RV back onto its pad and get totally frustrated with the process.  Since I had done all of the parking with the small camper, it was obviously going to fall to me to learn how to back the 35 foot RV.  Everyone said a fifth wheel is easier to back up then a trailer on a hitch, but all I can say is it is different.  You have to turn the truck a LOT more to get the fifth wheel to turn, which will be a good thing as it is easier to back it straight back.  Also the pad we were trying to back into was at right angles to the road, so the turn was extreme.  It took a couple of tries to get it turned enough, except then I could not see where I was going.  Looking backward only shows the front of the RV.  The right mirror was looking way out into a field  and the left mirror only showed the side of the RV.  There was no way to see Kal unless she wanted to stand way out in the field.  This made it difficult and I don’t know if I am going to be able to back the RV and hope we can get a pull through site.  By now it was past time for us to leave and we just had to go.  Thankfully, the rain held off and Kal did not have to drive in the rain, but having to immediately drive on the Interstate was nerve wracking.  Here we go on our Plan A!!!

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