October, 2016 – Scottsboro, Alabama

Although sooner in the year then I had originally planned, we were once again in Alabama and the weather made us pay for the timing.  Temperatures were still in the upper 80s and 90s and northeastern Alabama was under a severe drought.  They had not seen significant rain since June and the land was certainly suffering.  The trip south from Tennessee was relatively easy, although it was mostly along county and state highways.  Still, without any significant hills to climb it went very smoothly and it was certainly nice not to have the check engine light lit in the truck.  The truck was certainly running smoother as well.  Our destination for the week was Parnell Creek RV Park along US 72 between Scottsboro and Huntsville.  Unfortunately, it was RIGHT alongside US-72 which meant we had to listen to all the traffic on the highway all week.  The trip was less than 2 hours, so we pulled into the park before 1:00.  The office was closed and we assumed they were out to lunch, only to find out after a 30 minute wait that the couple that owned the RV park also were managing a convenience store/gas station just up the highway.  This meant the office was only open in the afternoon, but this did not pose any problem for us.  We got checked in and pulled into our pull-through site without a problem, although we had to use the boards I had made at my sister’s in order to level the RV.  The boards worked GREAT and are much better then the plastic “bricks” we had used in the past.  While adequate, we had already broken two of the bricks with the weight of the RV.  These boards was a much better solution.

campsite

We also had the pleasure of my sister joining us for most of the week while her school was on their fall break.  We did find a Mexican restaurant in Scottsboro for dinner as none of us wanted to cook.  As we had already checked out most of the area over the past couple of years, we really did not have much we wanted to do during the week.  In addition, to Kal still having problems with her allergies (and probably a cold) that kept her from getting a full night sleep, we were content with spending most of the week in the campground.  Tuesday was laundry day, so while Kal was sitting in their nice laundry room and lounge area, Suzy and I cleaned the RV.  With her help, it took only about an hour to completely clean the RV, which meant we were able to assist Kal with the folding of the laundry.  We spent the rest of the day relaxing in the RV.

Wednesday was another fine day, which meant hot and dry.  Since my sister had never been to Little River Canyon, we decided to take in the scenic drive along the rim of the canyon.  Kal and I had been to the Little River Canyon National Preserve two years ago in the spring.  At the beginning of the week we were there, they had a 5 inch rain that flooded some of Birmingham and Little River was running at near peak levels.  The Little River falls was spectacular and all of the falls along the canyon were running full.  This made for some rare shots of falls at unexpected places along the drive and a lot of views of the river.  This trip was certainly different and provided a good contrast with our previous experience.  With the severe drought in the area, Little River was DRY.  There was NO water flowing over the falls and of course none flowing down the canyon.  It was a remarkable contrast.  At the Visitor Center they have pictures of the extreme conditions and we have been lucky enough to see it at both extremes.  We had a good day and the short hikes to and around the overlooks was all either Kal or I wanted to do.

We spent Thursday in the campgrounds enjoying the company of my sister and just relaxing and talking.  This has been our first opportunity in a lot of years to just sit and talk with my sister without children and grandchildren around.  We also watched some television and played games on our devices.  Kal also made some terrific meals of steak and pot-roast that we all really enjoyed.

Suzy left to head back home on Friday, so after saying goodbye early in the morning we tried to decide what to do with ourselves.  Once again neither of us had a good night sleep, so by default we ended up just staying in the campgrounds.  We both felt better on Saturday, but with decided to give it another day and just stayed in the campground watching college football.  I am really missing our hikes, but with the hot weather and our nightly allergy attacks, we are just taking it easy.  However, it has now been nearly a month without any hikes of note.

It was our last chance, so we forced ourselves to get on Sunday to the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge south of Huntsville.  The refuge is located along the Tennessee River which had been dammed along nearly its entire length by the TVA for flood control and power generation.  Back in 1938, President Roosevelt saw an opportunity to overlay a natural refuge over the area surrounding the Wheeler reservoir and established the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, the first of its kind.  As expected it has been widely successful covering 35,000 acres on both sides of the river.  The refuge is a mix of bottomland hardwood and upland pine forests along with many riparian habitats where they can control the water levels.  The also lease out farmland for row crops to local farmers with the understanding they leave a portion of the crop for wildlife forage.  Consequently the refuge is a critical resource both for native wildlife and birds, but also migratory birds such as the Sandhill Crane from the Great Lakes area.  On the property they have a very nice Visitor’s Center with a few exhibits.  After spending some time swapping stories of our travels with the volunteers and their experiences volunteering for many wildlife refuges around the US, we spent some time in the very nice observation building.  This building overlooks a low water pond where the visitors can observe the wildlife looking through the glass windows.  Not only does that mean you can observe the wildlife in a climate controlled (ie air conditioned) environment, you also do not interfere with the wildlife which greatly improves the chances of actually seeing something.  Unfortunately, we were too early in the fall for the migratory birds and the weather had been so dry that the pond had very little water in it.  Consequently, there was not much to see although we did use their viewers to check it out.  From there we took in three of their short trails, the first through a bald cypress swamp that had been planted long enough ago that it is now considered to be a mature stand.  This was a short (0.3 mile) loop that was very easy as every wildlife refuge we have ever visited has very level hiking trails, as you would expect in wetlands.

observationbuilding

From there we drove over to the Flint Creek Trail, which is another heavily used trail in the refuge although its 1.5 mile distance was more of a challenge.  It sure was great to be out once again hiking in the woods.  Once again the trail was very easy and well maintained all along the creek and since most of it was a loop, we enjoyed the hike.  We then pulled out our chairs from the truck, as there were no picnic tables at the trailhead, and had a nice lunch looking over the reservoir.  On the trip back through Huntsville, we stopped at one final hike, which was a 1 mile boardwalk, called Beaverdam Swamp Boardwalk, through a black tupelo swamp.  Unfortunately, this swamp was also dry, but you could easily see that it usually has a foot or so of water in it.  The boardwalk made for an easy hike, although by this point Kal had had enough and found a bench to sit down while I finished the boardwalk.  It was only another thousand yards or so to the end of the boardwalk at the stream, which still had some water in it.  In total we had done around 4 miles of walking, which was probably overdoing it a bit, but it sure felt good.

October, 2016 – Tullahoma, Tennessee

After spending over $8000 on the truck and RV, we finally got back on the road towards our winter quarters along the Alabama coast.  Our first stop, however, was still in Tennessee at Barton Springs Campground outside of Tullahoma.  For those of you following this blog you may recognize this location as we stayed here last spring.  We really liked this TVA campground on Normandy Lake with its large spacious sites along the shores of the lake.  Our site was only a couple away from where we stayed in the spring and there were a LOT more RVs in the campground.  Most of them were obviously seasonal campers that had been there all summer and even though the campground was around 75% full, there were only a few people there during the week.  It was also obvious that the area was in a drought over the summer or they had already drained the lake as the water level was very close to where it was in the spring, that is, very low.

Both Kal and I were still dealing with our allergies after the 2+ weeks at my sister’s house that has 5 too many cats.  Combined with the fact that we had already seen most of the area in the spring, we spent the week trying to recover from lack of sleep due to coughs that made it difficult to get much sleep.  The only thing we did all week was to go to Applebees on Saturday to catch the Auburn – Mississippi State football game.  Since Auburn played a good game we left at the end of the third quarter with the game well in hand.  The rest of the time was spent working on updating the pins of RV sites that I have on GoogleEarth.  Kal spent most of the week playing games, reading, and trying to sleep.  Hopefully next week will be better.

September, 2016 – Maryville, Tennessee

It is unusual for us to travel on a Thursday, but our goal for the next week and a half was to get the RV and truck serviced.  We did not have far to go on Thursday so we got a late start and pulled out just after 11:00.  Without a GPS unit, we did not know how far it was to Bulls Gap, where Tri-Am is located, but we thought it would take about an hour.  It turned out that the exit for Bulls Gap was only two exits south on the Interstate, so we were there in only 20 minutes.  They were surprised to see us before noon as I had made the appointment for around 2:00.  Since they would have the RV for at least a week, there was no problem with dropping it off so we cleaned out the refrigerator and freezer and proceeded on to my sister’s house near Maryville, Tennessee.  However, she would not be home from work until around 4:00 so we had some time to kill.  First, we dropped by Camping World and bought us a new GPS unit.  It is an upgraded version of the one that was stolen which means it is a bit smaller and more responsive, but has all of the same features.  We also dropped by Auto Physicians, where I made an appointment for the truck on Monday to make sure they knew what I wanted to have done.  From there we had little choice but to go on to my sisters and wait for her grandchildren to get home from school and Suzy and Shannon to get home from work.

The main reason we were in Tennessee in mid-September was so Kal could meet up with her brothers in Birmingham to celebrate their parents’ 65th wedding anniversary on Sep 18th.  This would also give them a chance to talk with their dad, pick up our mail, and pay the registration fees on the truck and RV.  So Kal and I went to the airport on Saturday so she could rent a car for the trip.  I am going to let Kal add whatever she wants to about her trip.  Kal arrived in Birmingham ,on Saturday, in time to meet her brother and his wife at the hotel.  We all wanted to watch different college football games so headed over to a nearby Buffalo Wild Wings.  Pam watched her LSU Tigers, Mark watched his OU Sooners, and I watched the Auburn/Texas A&M game.  Our brother Phil, his wife Shannon and their two girls joined us for a while during the evening.  The following morning I headed off to the care facility to see my mom and dad.  Mark and Pam would following later in the morning.  Phil came by after church and we had a small 65th anniversary celebration.  My mom is doing as well as can be expected with her health issues and daddy has a bit more energy, since he is no longer her major caregiver.  I returned to Maryville on Tuesday,  It was a nice visit with my family.

In the beginning, it was nice to laze around Suzy’s house all day with everyone at work or school leaving me the run of the house.  I really did not do anything except catch up on TV and movies, play games on the computer, and read.  Tri-Am did call later on Thursday to recommend replacing the slide-out gaskets which would need to be ordered.  I guess I have not been taking good enough care of the gaskets, even though I have been applying the moisturizer every 6 months.   But since they had over a week before I wanted to pick it up, we went ahead and got them replaced.  We dropped off the truck on Sunday for its oil change and maintenance checkup.  Besides the normal maintenance of fuel and air filters, I asked them to check on the Check Engine Light which had been on for the last couple of months.  Every time in the past it was the exhaust filter causing the problem, which I intend to deal with while we are in south Alabama over Christmas.  I don’t like having the light on all the time for this problem as I would never know if something else was wrong and this turned out to be the case.  Instead of the exhaust filter the codes indicated that the thermostat was stuck and an intermittent failure of the radiator fan.  There was also a slow leak of antifreeze and the repair shop in Maryland had put the wrong antifreeze in the radiator which according to them would ruin the engine block.  None of these problems were serious and they felt we would be able to make it “home” before having them fixed.  We took the truck back to Suzy’s on Monday to consider the matter.  Kal returned from Birmingham on Wednesday and we decided to adjust our trip and get the truck fixed before we left.  I called Auto Physicians to order the parts, cancelled our reservations for the next week, and checked on the RV which was still waiting on the parts.  The parts for the truck did not come in until the next Monday and they were kind enough to give me a ride back so I could bring the truck right in.  They told me it would be at least Wednesday before they were done and could take until Friday.  This made us a bit nervous as we had to get the RV, which was done on Tuesday.  However, since the truck was by this point back in the shop, we could not pick it up.  They truck was finished on Thursday, and since they were willing to come and get me I went and picked it up.  I learned why they were so willing to transport me around when I got the bill.  I knew that working on diesel trucks was going to be expensive, but I was not ready for the $4600 price tag!!!  Along with the $600 from the previous week and the just over $1000 for the RV, this had turned into a VERY expensive two week.  We generally have budgeted $10k a year for repairs and maintenance and we have now exceeded that budget.  I will admit that the truck is definitely running better and the check engine light has not come back on.

What, you ask, did we do over this two and half week period?  The answer is nothing.  Except for Kal’s trip to Birmingham, we did nothing at all.  Kal did fix a number of dinners for the family, which helped out a lot, and I generally watched TV and played games on the computer.  Without a doubt, by the end I was ready to be back on the road again.  In addition, their five cats and dog that live in the house eventually raised havoc with our allergies.  I had a couple of sleepless nights with a tickle in my throat that the allergy pills had trouble coping with and sleeping on their couch was getting very uncomfortable.  By the time we left we were both coughing and feeling tired all day.  The only thing I accomplished over the last weekend was to cut a couple of treated boards up to make some wooden ramps to put under the wheels of the RV to help with the leveling when needed.  While I love my sister and her family, I was more than ready to move on.