As we headed south out of Illinois and through western Kentucky, our travels into new territory for the year was over. For the remainder of the fall and winter we will be visiting areas we have been before as we head once more to Auburn and our winter location near Foley. However, this will still take us 1.5 months to make the journey as we were still not in any hurry. Our first stop was along the western shores of Kentucky Lake at Paris Landing State Park. Over the last couple of years we have stayed at a number of locations around the Land Between the Lakes, but this was the first time on the western shore. About 75% of the trip was along Interstate 24 as we traveled through the western tip of Kentucky into Tennessee so the trip was not too bad except for the cool rain/drizzle most of the day. As the name implies, Paris Landing was the location of a important landing on the Tennessee River before the construction of Kentucky Lake and the state park dates from that time period. It is an old state park and the campground is in bad shape. On top of that our GPS decided to save us a few hundred feet and had us turn off US 79 before the main entrance to the park. From here we crossed over US 79 on a bridge directly into the campground. What we thought was the building to check in stated it was open only from Wednesday-Sunday, so we were on our own to find our campsite. I left Kal at the truck and walked into the campground to check it out first. It was a good thing I did, since the campsite I had reserved was too short and had a large tree in the way of using our slideout!! I walked back to the truck to give Kal the bad news and she went in search of a camphost. After checking the other 3-4 rigs in the campground, none of which were the camphost, she was directed to the Park Offices at the main entrance. She walked over there and found out that this is where we should have come in the first place, however, if we had done that I would not have known the site was going to be impossible. She also found out that the other building was a small campstore/laundry that was not going to do us any good anyways. She got us moved to a larger site that would hold our big RV, although it was not going to be an easy place to back the RV into. There was a drainage ditch going under the road right at the spot across the road that I needed to turn the truck into. It took a couple of attempts to get the RV lined up with the deteriorating paved pad while keeping the truck out of the ditch, before I could back it in. Thankfully we were able to level the RV using both planks under the wheels, as I was not sure this would be possible. Although these were supposed to be electric/water sites, the water hookups were actually shared between two sites. It took both hoses to reach the spigot and we located our splitter in case we had a neighbor later in the week or weekend. I suppose you can tell from this that I was not happy with this campground. Of course the weather did not help as it was still cold and wet. When Kal found out that the only TV station we could get was PBS, she was not happy either. To top it all off we there was an electrical smell when we opened up the boot under the RV. We were not able to determine the source and everything seemed to be working, so we spent a few uncomfortable days and nights worrying about it. By Tuesday both of us also smelled a “funky” odor that was hard to identify. It was an astringent smell that did not quite smell like something was burning. You would notice it when you stepped out of the RV and sometimes in the bathroom. However, there was no smell in the storage area under the RV. It was not until later in the week that we found out the cause.
We spent Tuesday in the campground since the weather was still cold and wet all day. However, on Wednesday the weather improved significantly and we had wonderful sunshine and warmer temperatures. Since we would only have a couple of days of this nice weather we went out to explore the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge. This is a very large refuge stretching 65 miles along the Tennessee River and is divided into three units. The Visitor Center is located north of Big Sandy, Tennessee in the Big Sandy Unit of the refuge. It is a very nice Visitor Center with a nice video and exhibits. While most of the refuge is accessible only by boat, there are a couple of hiking trails, however, the main trail was questionable due to downed trees. Since it was nearly 8 miles long, we decided against it. Instead we took advantage of a 0.5 mile trail at the Visitor Center that they use for presentations and school trips. There were a number of cute stops along the trail for children to imitate different animals. The trail ends at a nice overview of Kentucky Lake and we decided to make a loop of the trail by walking back along the shore line. Since they had already lowered the lake levels for the winter, there was a broad area of small stones to walk along the lake. This may not have been such a good idea as the rocks made for a challenging hike, but we got to see more of the lake along this path.
Since we were not interested in hiking the longer trail, the only other option we had was to drive over to the Big Sandy Peninsula where there was a driving tour. This meant we had to circle around south to go through Big Sandy to get over the Big Sandy River and then back north into the peninsula. This trip took 45 minutes. Once there we obtained the brochure for the auto tour titled “Back to the Old 23rd.” The people that lived on this peninsula before the construction of Kentucky Lake did not have any towns and the area was known as the 23rd Voting District. In 1938, the TVA began the construction of the dams on the Tennessee River and the government bought everyone’s property as they did throughout the Lands Between the Lakes area. In addition, the families had to either move their homes or the federal government demolished them. Thus there are no longer any physical evidence and the only remaining structure is the Fairview Church of Christ and cemetery that are still used annually for a rememberance in July. In addition, the Friends of Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge have created this brochure along with numbered posts along the drive. Unlike other auto tours we have taken in other Wildlife Refuges, this tour was not about the refuge and wildlife. Instead it was about the families that lived here prior to 1938. Except for pictures of most of the homes included in the brochure there is nothing left, except for some of the fields that are still used today for agriculture crops to provide feed for the migrating birds. In addition to the auto tour, we took a side trip up to Pace Point where we had a nice lunch overlooking Kentucky Lake. After lunch we continued to the end of the driving tour learning something about the people and their lives prior to being forced from their land by the TVA.
Thursday was another beautiful day so we took advantage of the hiking trail in the state park, Raptor Ridge. This is 2.5 mile trail through the forests up to a point on a small peninsula on Kentucky Lake. While it is a moderate trail, there were enough moderately steep ups and downs that we decided to cut the trail short by looping back on the other part trail since it does a figure eight meeting half way at a bridge over a small stream. It was a nice hike through the beginnings of the fall foliage through the bottomland hardwood forest.
Friday was spent doing laundry and cleaning the RV, so we mostly stayed in the campgrounds. By Friday evening we knew we had a problem. Kal noticed the lights in the RV appeared to be getting dim and I agreed with her, so we checked the batteries. The inside indicator showed the batteries to be empty and when we checked the water level in the batteries, they were dry. Kal headed into town to get some distilled water and we filled all the batteries, even though we found out later this was a waste of time since once they dry out they are dead. We turned off all the lights and hoped there was enough power left in them to ignite the propane heater during the night. Since the TV, refrigerator, microwave, etc all ran off the AC power, this was our only concern. This was also the cause of the funky smell all week as the batteries became more acidic as the water boiled off. However, I don’t understand why there was never any smell at the battery compartment when we checked. I had been checking the water levels once a year and they never needed water, but obviously I need to check much more often. It is recommended to check them once a month.
It was obvious Saturday morning that the propane heater did function all night, however, the batteries had not recharged. Even though it was my 64th birthday, with plans to watch the Auburn football game at an Applebees in Murray, Kentucky, we knew we had to find some new batteries before everything closed up at noon. We drove to a nearby RV service center only to find out that their technician would not be in until Monday and they did not have the heavy duty batteries we needed to replace the one we had. We drove into Paris to an Auto Zone store, but they did not carry the deep cycle 6 volt battery we needed. We got the same story at the local Advance Auto store. However, they both mentioned Mathis Battery in Camden about 20 miles away. They checked their webpage and found they were opened until noon and since it was after 10:30 we quickly got on the road. We found Mathis with no problem and they had exactly what we needed in stock!! We bought 4 new 6 volt batteries and headed back to the state park to install them. Let me tell you, these batteries are HEAVY. It was all I could do to carry them from the truck to the RV and lower them into the battery compartment. I don’t know if was the stress of the day or the exertion but I allowed one of the connectors to touch both terminals on one of the batteries which sparked like the fourth of July!! Hoping I did not ruin the battery, we got them all hooked up correctly and checked the charge. We had only 2/3 charge, which I assume was due to my mistake. By this point it was late in the afternoon, so we still had time to drive to Murray for a birthday dinner, although we had missed the Auburn game. We did get to watch Alabama beat up on Tennessee, which was not all that exiting, however, the steak was great.
Kal got up early on Sunday to take the bad batteries back to Mathis since he was kind enough to offer to meet her early to return the battery since they were closed on Sunday and we were leaving the area on Monday without plans to go through Camden. Although she had to wait over an hour for him to show up, she got our deposit back. The bad news is the batteries were still showing 2/3 full and either I had ruined one of them or the converter was not charging them. We spent an uncomfortable day in the campground minimizing our use of the batteries.
On Monday we got an early start hooking up the RV as normal, except we did not plug the refrigerator into the inverter so it would not run off the batteries. From the state park we headed to the nearby RV service center to have the converter checked out. Initially, it was going to be at least a couple of hours before the technician was available since he was out winterizing RVs in the area. Luckily, he dropped in before we finished the work order and immediately got on the job. By the time we finished the information for the work order, Kal had emptied out the storage area and he was ready to check out the converter. As we suspected it was dead and this was likely the electrical smell we arrived last Monday. It is still unclear why this would have caused the batteries to fail as well. They should have just lost their charge over the week, so it is likely we had two unrelated problems? In any case, it took him less than half an hour to install a new converter and we were on the road to our next location. Once we got there we determined that the truck had charged the batteries as we now had a full charge, so I guess I did not hurt the one battery with my mistake. All the next week we continued to check the batteries and they continued to show a full charge, so the problem is fixed with no disasters, except to the bank account.