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- A Visit to Portland, Oregon
Friday afternoon, November, 24 we landed at PDX (Portland International Airport) to spend an extended weekend with our daughter Elisa, son-in-law Aaron, and granddaughters Diana (18), Macy and Zoe (15). We last visited with them back in summer of 2022 on our return trip from Washington so we had a lot of catching up to do. We were picked up by the hotel shuttle and spent our first night at a Best Western near the airport. Elisa came to pick us up for dinner at their house and we hung out for the evening. The next day she picked us up at 11:00 AM and we moved to an AirBnB in their neighborhood. The "Casita" is a converted single garage with all the comforts of home. It has a wonderful fenced in patio area with a hot tub we looked forward to using. The Casita is beautifully appointed and cozy. We will spend the next three days here within walking distance to Elisa and Aaron's home around the corner. Saturday we visited Aaron's business, Black Wolf Protection Group. Black Wolf is an elite-tier private security provider located in Portland, OR. They're proudly veteran & minority owned and operated. Our son-in law, Aaron is the one on the left side of the photo. He and his partner Nate started the company in 2017. Their mission is to provide the purest, most comprehensive security services while creating and maintaining a true career pathway for those who share a passion for protecting the community. They're promoting a new standard for experience and capability in the private security industry. Dedication to service, ingrained in them by the military, is their guiding principle. Saturday evening we got up to date on all the Edgington family news. Elisa is getting ready to start a new job managing two Veterinarian offices. Diana is working at a bowling alley in town when not at her high school senior year studies. She is interested in forensic anthropology but thinking about taking off the year after high school to work and enjoy a break from studies. The twins are sophomores at the same STEM high school with their older sister. Macy is leaning towards studying dental hygiene and Zoe is interested in the mortuary sciences. All of them are out of school right now because of a Portland teachers strike...which means more time to spend with the whole family while we're here. Sunday morning we all relaxed. I made coffee and then enjoyed the hot tub with my wife. It's chilly outside but the hot tub was 101ºF so we just soaked and read for about an hour. We walked over to Elisa and Aaron's later to run some errands together, hang out with the family and later all seven of us went out to a restaurant called Stanford's for a wonderful dinner. The evening ended with Mimi and the twins enjoying the hot tub at our AirBnB while Elisa and I "binged" watched three episodes of Reacher, season 1. We had a great time just hanging out and sharing life with Edgingtons and their three dogs. All in all, it was a low key visit with no sightseeing or busy activities; it was very laid back and relaxing.
- Thanksgiving with the Teague's in Denver
The weather in Denver has been fairly mild but chilly during the week. There is a forecast for snow on Thanksgiving as well as Friday when we depart for Portland, Oregon. We're getting plenty of time with all three of the grandchildren watching TV, building projects, playing games and just hanging out together. Sometimes it gets loud and I need a respite so I head downstairs to read or nap. Tori and Erik do a great job of balancing life with these three energetic personalities.The kids have plenty to keep themselves busy outside the house with the trampoline in the backyard and bikes or scooters in the garage. Arley loves to talk to "Alexa" to ask for musical requests and build his towers with magnet squares. Mattis is a real artist and can spend hours drawing super hero cartoons. He watches cartoonist instructions on his computer and draws the same figure free hand as the illustrator gives the lesson. Emery loves to read and is known to stay up late reading after bedtime. Thanksgiving rolled around and we had a wonderful feast of turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, string bean casserole, sweet potatoes with apples. Oh my goodness, what a treat to have a great meal and spend it with part of our family. We even took some family photos for posterity! I started making turkey soup by boiling the turkey carcass in the largest stock pot they had in the kitchen. With the drippings from the pan, I added carrots, celery, onions, mushrooms and sweet peppers to the brew and boiled until bedtime. I took the pot out to the patio to cool until morning. We woke up to snow on Friday morning, November 24 when Erik got home from work. Karen had prepared a breakfast of "Thanksgiving French Toast" to make it easier on Tori and Erik the morning of our departure. After a hearty breakfast and saying our goodbyes, we left the house in Thornton at 8:15 AM and got to Denver International Airport by 9:00 AM for our 11:00 AM flight. The airport was busy but not nearly as busy as we expected. We checked our bags and got through the TSA screening with enough time to get coffee at Starbucks then relax before boarding was to begin. Next stop on our journey is Portland, Oregon to visit our daughter Elisa's family for the next five days.
- Holiday Travels...
With our Lake Swan Camp RVICS project completed on Thursday, November 16 we began the process of getting the rig ready for its extended stay in Florida while we packed for our upcoming trip to the west. Karen actually started packing almost a week earlier, after returning from her visit to Nancy's home in Tampa with an extra borrowed suitcase. Our planned itinerary will take us first to Denver, Colorado for Thanksgiving with our son Erik's family until Friday, November 24. Then, it's off to Portland, Oregon for five days with our daughter Elisa's family before heading south to California. We arrive in Oakland on Tuesday, November 28 and travel north to Sonoma County to visit with friends and get a bunch of doctor appointments out of the way. On December 7 we will fly to Fiji in the Pacific with our dive buddies, the "Fiji Fanatics" to spend 10 days scuba diving. Returning to California on December 19 we finish up spending another week, including Christmas with our son Nick's family in Sacramento before flying back to Jacksonville on December 27. I'm sure that many of you might think this a whirlwind schedule, but fortunately it is working out manageable within the 6 week time frame we've allowed. The biggest hassle has been the amount of luggage for dressing in multiple weather conditions and our dive gear. With four suitcases and two backpacks in the truck, we left Trinity (our fifth wheel) all buttoned up for the next six weeks on Friday, November 17 at noon. Lake Swan Camp has graciously allowed us to leave the rig on the camp property at no charge for the duration of our holiday vacation. This is a huge savings and in a safe location where other members of our team will still be around the trailer most of the time we're gone. This first travel day on the itinerary we drove from Lake Swan Camp in Melrose, Florida to the Jacksonville International Airport (JAX) where we parked in an off-site long-term parking facility and then arrived at the terminal for our flight to Denver. The weather in Florida the past three days has been rainy so we were looking forward to new surroundings and maybe even snow. Thank goodness that 2 bags fly for free on Southwest Airlines! The flight departed at 4:34 PM and arrived in Denver at 6:30 PM their time. Erik picked us up and drove us to their home before leaving for work that evening. We got to see the grandkids and Tori before bedtime rolled around. We surprised them all with the disguises Karen bought. We can't discuss does details in the blog yet, you'll just have to wait until after the trip. Monday, November 20 we took the grandkids to the Denver Aquarium for the day. Arley made sure he would fit in and wore his shark sweatshirt. The aquarium was impressive and the grandkids had a great time running from one tank viewing area to the next. We ended the visit with a late lunch in the aquarium dining room and a trip to Freddy's frozen custard before driving back to Thornton.
- Initial Project Report from Lake Swan Camp
After our morning devotions on Monday, October 30 all eight of us drove over to the Lake Swan Camp (LSC) Anniversary Lodge to get started. All the ladies in our group, Rhonda, Marlis,Joyce and Karen were painting the "accent" wall in the eight rooms of the lodge. Some of them were cutting in paint on the T-111 interior siding panels with others rolling the paint on. Karen worked with Marlis painting the bathroom ceilings with a special mold inhibiting formula later in the first week Robert and I were paired up to install the condensation drain hose plumbing for the new air conditioners in all eight rooms . We had to add a dishwasher drain fitting between the room sink and the P-trap. We then installed a flexible hose through the back of the sink counter and wall partition in a storage closet up to the previously installed A/C unit drain. We worked well together and got all of the installs completed before lunch. Dan and Steve were busy removing the old A/C units under the windows next to each doorway and framing in the opening. After lunch Robert and I moved over to the Block House complex to fill the old A/C unit holes with cinder blocks. We removed the wooden covers over the holes then measured, cut and mortared the blocks into the opening. I had never done this kind of work before so I was very interested in how it would work. Robert had a portable electric disk saw he used to score the block to the right shape before using a hammer and chisel to break the blocks on the scored line. It only took one block to get the technique down but worked every time after the first attempt. One of the openings needed to have an electrical box installed in the block wall, rewiring and a new exterior switch plate. I took this on because I knew how to rewire and proceeded to install the metal box with the connections. Again, we worked together with one guy on the inside wall and the other on the outside wall positioning the blocks in place with mortar to hold the assembly together. By quitting time at 3:45 PM we had three old A/C openings completed. The next day, Robert and I returned to the Anniversary Lodge to finish the old A/C openings with insulation, replacement T-111 panel on the interior and Hardie board shiplap planks on the exterior. By Thursday, all the men moved over to the next project site on the property which is a two-story dormitory building near Lake Rosa. We began .removing old A/C wall units then patched the old holes with block & mortar on the first floor and T-111 on the second floor Week two we started replacing 32 double hung windows in the same two-story building. It is an ambitious assignment that took us a few windows to get up to speed. We started on the bottom floor to see how complicated removing the old windows would be before starting the installation of the new windows. We eventually developed an efficient process and rhythm we can use as we continue into next week. We successfully complete all 32 windows by Thursday, November 9. I'm really glad to be doing some building construction and not painting for three weeks. I have learned how to cut, fit and mortar concrete cement blocks along with the process of removing old aluminum windows, installing new PVC windows and finishing them in the original openings. These are all new skills and increase my comfort level addressing these kind of challenges. These first two work weeks at the camp have been very efficient and have gone by quickly. After working all day Monday through Thursday we're all pretty much wiped out. However, we did find enough energy for Wednesday night socials at 6:30 PM. We got together and played a few rounds of various card games: 4 up/4 down, Pyramid and Seven but we ended the evenings early by 8:00PM. On Friday, November 3 our team met up with our old RVICS team leaders, Frank and Melissa and a couple from their team for a brunch at the Orange Blossom restaurant. The restaurant is part of a RV park which includes a mini golf course attraction. After brunch we all played a round and followed up with ice cream, of course, at a locally owned shop. It was great seeing Frank and Melissa and catching up. Their team is working another RVICS camp project in Keystone Heights, FL a few miles up the road from where we are working. Front row (L to R): Joyce Parlette, Marlis Williams, Rhonda Mazzanti, Karen Teague, with other team members, Mary and Melissa. Back row (L to R) Steve Parlette, Dan Williams, Robert Mazzanti, John Teague, with other team members Mike and Frank.
- Our 2nd RVICS Project
We are in Melrose, Florida, about 30 minute drive from Gainesville, Florida for our second Roving Volunteers in Christ's Service assignment at Lake Swan Camp. Our team is made up of three other couples; the Parlettes (Steve and Joyce) our RVICS team leaders, the Williams (Dan and Marlis), the Mazzantis (Robert and Rhonda). We were the last couple to arrive on Friday, October 27 as we traveled from Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville, FL. Lake Swan Camp has some significant history in the area and was especially important to the ministry development of a famous Christian Evangelist. Established in 1927, Dr. John Minder was the founder of Lake Swan Bible Conference & Camp as well as the professor and mentor to Billy Graham. Billy Graham's biography describes his experiences at Lake Swan Camp as a dishwasher, janitor, lifeguard and eventually a speaker. including Dr. Graham’s first sermon preached in 1937. This is an excerpt from page 31 of the book: "Reverend John Minder, a red-haired giant of a man from Switzerland, was dean of men. He was an inspiration to Graham. Minder saw Billy as a spindly farm boy with lots of nail-biting energy, a mediocre academic record, and a zeal to serve Christ that exceeded his knowledge and skill. Over the Easter weekend of 1937, Dr. Minder invited Billy to go with him to his summer conference ground at Lake Swan in northern Florida. On a blustery, cold Saturday they met Cecil Underwood, a lay preacher who was pastoring the nearby Peniel Baptist Church. Mr. Underwood invited Dr. Minder to preach the following evening at a small Baptist church in Bostwick. “No,” he answered frankly, “Billy is going to preach.” Billy was stunned at the response of his professor. At the time he had four borrowed sermons that he had adapted and practiced but never preached to an audience. In the trailer parks or the Fellowship Club meetings in Charlotte, Graham simply ad-libbed. He knew it would be different preaching a real sermon at a Baptist church. What will I do? he thought to himself. “Sir,” Billy protested, “I’ve never preached a formal sermon in front of a church audience.” The two men laughed. “We’ll pray for you,” Mr. Underwood said, “and God will help you.” Reluctantly Graham agreed. There was little else to do when the dean of his school offered his services. Billy was so frightened he spent almost the entire night studying and praying instead of sleeping. The next day he practiced the sermons out loud, and by evening he felt that at least one of the four should be at least twenty or thirty minutes in length. A potbellied iron stove near the front of the tiny Bostwick Baptist Church took the chill off the room on the cold, windy night. The song leader, who was chewing tobacco, every so often walked to the door to spit. About forty ranchers and cowboys and their wives were crowded into the room. Finally the moment arrived for Graham to step up to the pulpit. His knees were shaking, and perspiration glistened on his hands as he launched into his first sermon. In his mind, the first sermon finished almost as soon as it started, so he carried right on into the second sermon, then the third, and then the fourth. Finally he sat down. Only eight minutes had passed! When Billy returned to campus, he felt he had grown spiritually from the experience. At the same time, he felt a nagging tug on his heart. Was God calling him to preach the Gospel?" On Saturday, we met Perry Rollins, the Executive Director of Lake Swan Camp and he gave us all the overview of our upcoming assignments. The ladies will be working on interior painting of some of the rooms in the lodges and cabins. The guys will be doing some construction, plumbing and electrical projects around the camp facility. Monday morning, October 30 we get to start working together.
- Exploring the Area around Mayport
With Karen in California I used this time to do some solo E-biking on and off the naval station. I put a few miles riding around the airfield to Gate 5 which borders the intercoastal waterway to the St. John River. This commercial gate was closed over the weekend but just beyond it I could clearly see where the USCG Station Jacksonville Annex is located and also where the St. John River Ferry crosses. After the ride around the base I came back to Osprey Cove for a much needed nap and did some reading outside in the recliners I've set out. Later that evening I splurged and went off base to Bono's Pit Bar-B-Q on Atlantic Avenue near the town of Atlantic Beach for a barbecue rib dinner. Sunday, October 22 was my most ambitious day on the calendar. I found a bike route off Mayport Road onto Plaza Road that provided me backroad access to the beaches along the Atlantic waterfront. The locals use it to access the beaches with their golf carts, bikes and scooters. I left for the beach around one in the afternoon. The Blue Angels were scheduled to fly around 3 PM so I had time to explore and get a bite of lunch. After the initial 7 miles into Atlantic Beach I stopped at Joseph's Pizza for a slice and a salad. Located on Ocean Blvd. near Neptune Beach I was able to get a table outside the restaurant to do some people watching while I enjoyed the meal. This is a tourist area but not too congested like other beach towns. With the Blue Angels performance I expected a crowd, but it wasn't so bad. I was still glad to be on my E-bike for the added mobility and to eliminate the parking issue. After lunch I headed for the beach to find a spot to watch the show. Once again I expected large crowds but they were spread out over the massive expanse of the beautiful sandy beach. I wish I had brought my beach chair. I found some wooden stairs from the beach up to the Lemon Bar, located on the Atlantic Ocean in Neptune Beach in the Seahorse Oceanfront Inn courtyard which offered amazing oceanfront view and some back support. True to form, the Blue Angels did their thing with show center at JAX Pier about 2 miles south. I decided to explore the area after the show and rode up Seminole Drive parallel to the oceanfront. The road leads all the way to the south end of Kathryn Hannah Abbey City Park but there is no walkway or bike path through the fence, so it was all the way back to Plaza Street to get back to the main gate for Mayport. I traveled a total of over 20 miles by the end of that day. Even with my new seat cushion, my bottom was still pretty sore. I spent the remainder of the time, both Monday and Tuesday, just chilling, reading my Jack Reacher novel, napping and occasional walking around the lake near the RV park. The lake has alligators in it and occasionally they come on shore to get warm. They look slow but I give them a wide berth when I encounter them. On a night walk I came across an armadillo in the RV complex digging for his meal. I approached it slowly and got amazingly close to watch it doing it's thing; truly a wild looking creature to see in person. Karen's flight arrived close to midnight on Tuesday, so I used the late afternoon to explore the areas north of the naval station. Fernandina Beach is a city in northeastern Florida and the county seat of Nassau County, Florida.. It is the northernmost city on Florida's Atlantic coast, situated on Amelia Island, and is one of the principal municipalities comprising Greater Jacksonville. The area has some great bike trails and parks to explore. When Karen returns, it's worth a trip back for a longer visit via the St. Johns River Ferry to see Fort Clinch State Park and the town of Fernandina. On Wednesday, Karen and I took a road trip north. We took the St. Johns River ferry across to Fanning Island which took all of 5 minutes. We then drove north along the Atlantic shoreline through several small islands until we got to Amelia Island. There are upscale resort areas with large homes, golf clubs and restaurants and beautiful beaches. We also saw many "middle class" neighborhoods on the beach. We stopped along the way for a short walk on the beach and a snack at Sliders Seaside Cafe, where we sat outside with our toes in the sand. The historic town of Fernandina on the Amelia River has period homes that have been well maintained and a quaint section with many ethnic restaurants and shops. Fort Clinch is a 19th-century masonry coastal fortification, built as part of the Third System of seacoast defense conceived by the United States. It is located on a peninsula near the northernmost point of Amelia Island in Nassau County, Florida. The fort lies to the northeast of Fernandina Beach at the entrance to the Cumberland Sound, in the northeast part of the state. Today it is included within the boundaries of Fort Clinch State Park. The fortified compound is pentagonal in shape, with both inner and outer walls, and consists of almost five million bricks. There are corner bastions and embrasures in the outer walls and several structures in the interior courtyards, including a two-story barracks. The fort was named in honor of General Duncan Lamont Clinch after his death in 1849. General Clinch fought in the War of 1812 and was an important figure in the First and Second Seminole Wars. Confederate forces seized the fort in early 1861. It was used as a safe haven for Confederate blockade runners during the first year of the Civil War. However, changes in technology, specifically the development of rifled cannon, had improved weaponry to the point that the fort's brick walls were vulnerable to attacks and thus obsolete. In March 1862 General Robert E. Lee ordered abandonment of the fort in order to use scarce troops in other areas. Afterwards Federal troops re-occupied the fort, taking control of the adjacent Georgia and Florida coasts. They used the fort as the base of Union operations in the area throughout the Civil War.
- USCGC Valiant Tour
This return to Jacksonville, Florida for nine days is another opportunity to experience a different time of year in this location. After packing her carry-on for the trip to California, Karen and I retired on Wednesday evening and got a good nights sleep. Thursday morning, October 19 I drove Karen to JAX (Jacksonville International Airport) for her flight. On the return trip to Mayport, I stopped by the USCG Sector Jacksonville office to get some local information on Auxiliary contacts and activities in the area. I also stopped by Coast Guard Station Mayport Annex to see if I could volunteer. I was surprised that there was no real activity for the Auxiliary even with the Blue Angels being in town. Our Petaluma, CA flotilla is usually quite busy during "fleet week" and I expected I might get in some hours, but alas no flotilla activity was requested by the "gold side". I have been riding my bike around the base and hanging around the RV park resting, reading and watching old movies. On Saturday morning, after riding my bike I stopped by the USCGC Valiant and requested permission to board her for a tour. The Quarterdeck watch stander requested the Officer of the Deck (OOD), a young ensign named John. He appeared on scene and was happy to show me around the cutter. USCGC Valiant (WMEC-621) is a United States Coast Guard multi-mission medium endurance cutter in service since 1967. John told me she is one of the oldest cutters (56 years of age) in the Coast Guard still in active service. They had just returned from a 50 day operational patrol in the Caribbean. John is a newly minted Coastie ensign, a graduated of the USCG Academy in New London, Connecticut, on his first deployment. He is the division officer for the armory and the cutter firepower. Valiant normally carries 12 officers and 63 crew members. An important aspect of Valiant's design is the attention given to habitability. The ship has its own galley, sickbay; laundry, sewage treatment system, televisions, radios, and digital satellite television. John even showed me his berthing space in "officer's country" which he shares with another ensign. Not the nicest quarters but functional...rank does have its privileges. Valiant is home ported in Jacksonville, Florida and operates in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico for the Commander, Coast Guard Atlantic Area. Missions include search and rescue, maritime law enforcement, marine environmental protection, and national defense operations. He showed me the engine room aft where the old girl is powered by two V16 2,550 hp (1,902 kW) ALCO diesel engines, Valiant is capable of a maximum sustained speed of 18 knots (33 km/h). Valiant is equipped with two controllable-pitch propellers, which makes her highly maneuverable. Valiant has a 25 mm machine cannon mounted on the bow and is capable of firing high-explosive projectiles at a rate of 180 rounds per minute. In addition, the vessel mounts two .50 caliber heavy machine guns. The 24-foot "Cutter Boat Large" (CBL) and the 23 foot "Over The Horizon" (OTH) are used to visit and board other vessels at sea. The special towing bitt on the fantail allows Valiant to tow vessels up to 10 times her size. Another feature of Valiant is her ability to carry a Coast Guard HH-65 Dolphin helicopter. The helicopter extends the ship's surveillance range for law enforcement and reduces response time for search and rescue missions. Valiant's mission capabilities are greatly enhanced by sophisticated electronic equipment such as: a Global Positioning System, surface search radar with a computerized collision avoidance system, radio direction finders, fathometers, and different types of radios. I got to meet a number of her officer and enlisted crew and we shared a few sea stories. My tour was quite comprehensive covering the cutter from stem to stern, up and down three deck levels including the bridge. She is showing her age but still can do the job, so the Coast Guard hopes to get a few more years of service. I appreciated the time that Ensign John spent showing me around his cutter. Happy cruising and Semper Paratus!
- New Running Shoes for Trinity
Tuesday morning we departed Lake Oconee for Macon, Georgia and our trailer tire appointment. We arrived at 11:00 in the morning and left the trailer with the crew at Discount Tires. We have been very happy with this company in the past, so it was a no brainer to use them again. The service technician told us to go get some lunch and they would have it done no later than 1 PM. We walked across the street to a Firehouse Sub restaurant to eat, then walked through the shopping center. True to form, the trailer was ready on time. We paid and were on the road again heading south on Interstate 75. Our original plan was to spend the night in Valdosta, GA but we changed course when we got to Tifton, GA onto Highway 1 and chose a less traveled route going southeast to the town of Waycross, GA. There we found a Cracker Barrel with a large parking lot off the main highway. Easy access back on the road next to a large shopping center with a Walmart if we needed it. The parking spot we selected was almost perfectly level with the truck still attached and our trailer stairs lowered onto a grassy feature next to the curb. We had to use ear plugs to sleep but the overall experience was fine. The next morning, while Karen stayed in the trailer for some quiet time, I went to have breakfast in the Cracker Barrel restaurant They make an egg casserole with bacon and hash browns that I often order with a side of country gravy for the biscuits. It is a very filling meal to start the day. When I got back to the rig Karen was finishing her exercises. She's not much of a breakfast eater and prefers her smoothie with protein powder in the morning. We finished getting the trailer ready for traveling and hit the road around 10 AM for the short trip to Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville, Florida. As we crossed the Florida border I felt strangely like we were home again. We parked Trinity outside the entrance gate to the base and walked to the Pass and ID office to get Karen her visitor's pass. Once that was completed we drove onto the base and straight to the Osprey Cove RV Park for our nine day visit. Osprey Cove Park is also on the base but different than Pelican Roost RV Park. Pelican Roost is on the water by the St. John River where Osprey Cove is in the base housing complex on the Naval Station perimeter next to Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park. We stayed at these other venues earlier in the year and enjoyed them both. Pelican Roost has a great view but can be quite windy and Hanna Park has tight roads and sites. Here at Osprey Cove we are in a large, spacious site #7 among the oak and palm trees with shade, no wind to speak of, and have a concrete patio with our picnic table. We have the bathhouse, clubhouse and laundry across the road. No negatives to address. We got Trinity all tricked out and ready for an extended stay here in Jacksonville....at least for me. Karen is flying to Sacramento, CA for a five day visit with Nick, Lindsey and the girls on Thursday, October 19 until next Tuesday, October 23. We miss our family! Lindsey recently lost her mother to cancer and Karen simply wants to be with the family as they adjust to this new stage of life. Karen lost her mother two years ago and can relate to the grieving process.. The main purpose for the visit is to catch up with and love on the members of the family. I will hold down the fort here in Florida while she is gone..
- A Quick Trip through the Deep South
Saturday October 14 was going to be a long day of driving for us. We left Waynesville, North Carolina and headed northwest for Knoxville, Tennessee on Interstate 40. We planned a stop at Walmart to do some shopping before continuing on to Chattanooga for the night at a Cracker Barrel. We were making really great time so I opted to continue driving south on Interstate 75 towards Atlanta, Georgia. This new route was in anticipation of returning to Florida earlier than planned. Karen is making a trip out to California to visit for five days and she booked her flight out of Jacksonville, Florida so I can stay at Mayport Naval Station while she is gone. This means we need to get to Jacksonville by Wednesday, October 18 and get settled in before she would leave the next day. We finally concluded the days travel at the Cracker Barrel in Kennesaw, Georgia before it got dark. We drove over 275 miles on Saturday, which at an average speed of 55 MPH is normally a 5 hour drive without stops. Add an hour plus for shopping and lunch and it kills the day. The good news is it would allow us to stop for a two day respite on Sunday. We left early that morning and drove around Atlanta via Athens, Georgia stopping at Costco there to do some more shopping. I was able to get reservations at a Georgia Power Lakes campground called Parks Ferry Recreation Area at Lake Oconee near Greensboro, GA . Because we left the Cracker Barrel early we arrived at the lake around 1 PM giving us time to set up and enjoy the rest of the day. The campground is very clean and well maintained. We have site 16 which is an interior site within the campground yet we still have a view of the lake from our windows. Paved roads and packed gravel sites makes maneuvering anything from a pop up trailer to big rigs very easy. There is a lot of space between sites so we don't feel cramped. The bathhouse facilities are cleaned daily and quite new.. The lake is easily accessed for fishing, swimming, launching jet skies, canoes and kayaks. There is also a very nice, big dock on the lake. Lastly the hosts Donny and Evelyn are very friendly and accommodating. Over all, an excellent value for $30 per night for electric and water hook ups. We are really enjoying the quiet and would love to come back again sometime. Visited the nearby town of Madison, GA while running some errands on Monday. Karen had cards to mail so we stopped at the U.S. Post Office in the town square. What a lovely and quaint historic town! We parked next to a local patisserie and purchased some delicious danish then walked to the other side of the square to get a coffee at Sinclair's. Across the street from the coffee shop was an impressive local government building that caught my eye, It was the Morgan County Court House with its stately clock tower feature. We also found evidence of some interesting trivia while on the square. Oliver Norvell Hardy, the consummate comedian of the team Laurel and Hardy, was a Madison boy – at least, for the first eight years of his life. The comedian’s given name was Norvell, the maiden name of his mother Emmie. Oliver, his father, was manager of the 1892 Turnell Butler Hotel that sat at the corner of Jefferson and Hancock Streets. There is a plaque in that location to that fact. We drove out of the historic downtown along Main Street. The route was lined with some very impressive architecture synonymous with what you might expect of the "Old South". On Tuesday we will drive to Macon, GA to the Discount Tire Dealership to get three new trailer tires. We had to replace one in Delaware earlier in our travels due to a puncture but wanted to delay doing all of them at that time...well, it's time. The tires were original purchased in Paso Robles, CA back in January of this year, so they have quite a few miles on them after ten months. Unlike the truck tires, the wear is not measured in miles however. The driving conditions, like turning corners take a toll on the tread, especially the outer tread. I called ahead so the dealer will be ready for us Tuesday afternoon. From Macon, we plan on one nights stay at the Cracker Barrel in Valdosta, GA near the border with Florida.
- On Top of Old Smoky
Our campsite at Pride RV Resort in Waynesville, North Carolina put us close enough to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to see the fall colors changing. We left GSP RV Park in Greer, South Carolina around 9AM and drove to nearby Blue Compass RV for some service. Our RV needed the wheel bearings replaced and repacked. While waiting, we went to breakfast and did some shopping until noon. When the rig was finished we departed for our two day visit to the "Smokies" arriving on Thursday afternoon, October 12 around 4 PM. The RV parks in the area are very busy this time of year because the changing seasonal colors are a big deal here, like in New England. It's not quite as dramatic as Vermont or New Hampshire but spectacular enough to draw a large crowd here in the south. There are other attractions in the area as well. Nearby in the town of Cherokee, North Carolina is a huge Harrah's casino and Native American reservation. In Pigeon Forge, Tennessee there is what I call "Hillbilly Disneyland" and "Dollywood". So Friday morning we got started around 10:30 AM and drove southwest on US-19 from the RV park through Maggie Valley to Cherokee turning north on the Newfound Gap Highway, US-441. Our first stop on the route was the Mingus Gristmill, the largest in the Smokies. Its 200 foot-long wooden flume brings water to the mill's turbine. The gristmill's stone was turned by a water-powered, cast iron turbine. From the water pressure built up in the penstock at the flume's end, the turbine generated 11 horsepower- enough to run the mill's machinery. As early as the 1820's, more progressive millers began using turbines to power their mills rather than waterwheels. From the mill we continued on to Clingmans Dome (Kuwahi), a mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina in the Southeastern United States. Its name in Cherokee is Kuwahi or Kuwohi (ᎫᏩᎯ or ᎫᏬᎯ), meaning "mulberry place." The road in was 7 miles long and the last mile was bumper to bumper traffic but worth the wait. At an elevation of 6,643 feet, it is the highest mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the highest point in the state of Tennessee, and the highest point along the 2,192-mile Appalachian Trail. From the parking lot we walked the half mile trail uphill to the observation tower built in 195; the 45-foot concrete observation tower features a circular observation platform accessed by a spiral ramp. The ramp is 375 feet in length, and rises at a 12 percent grade, in sync with the Clingmans Dome Trail. The platform, 28 feet in diameter, allows spectators a 360-degree panorama of the surrounding terrain. Cantilevered signs point out the various peaks, ridges, cities, and other features visible in the distance. Depending on the haze, visibility ranges from 20 miles on hazy days to 100 miles on very clear days. From the Dome we detoured to walk a section of the Appalachian Trail back down the mountain hiking thru both North Carolina and Tennessee...yeah baby! The Dome took most of our day but we continued on avoiding the tourist trap of Gaitlinburg, Tennessee by way of the Gaitlinburg Parkway, US-321 and on to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. We got to Pigeon Forge and found the parkway congested with vehicle traffic. On both sides of the parkway thru the town were countless small amusement parks, Go kart tracks and mini golf courses with a variety of themes. It went on for miles with restaurants and souvenir shops interspersed along the way. This is the home of Dollywood... Dolly Parton's version of Disneyland. I didn't take any pictures; I just wanted to get out of the craziness. It seems like Heaven for kids and an expensive Hell for their parents. We braved the traffic and continued on to Sevierville, Tennessee and US-411 to Interstate 40. We had an early dinner at a roadside diner called Haywood 209 Cafe and then returned to our campground. It was a wonderful full day enjoying our Great Smoky Mountain adventure!
- Visiting Old Friends and Our Miracle
One of the great benefits of this RV lifestyle, as I have mentioned in previous blog postings, is the many opportunities to spend time with friends and family we have not seen for a very long time. Such was the case while we were staying near Greenville, South Carolina for three days. Russ and Lisa Aldrich were friends from church back in the 1980's. In 2001 they moved to Greer, South Carolina and we lost touch. Knowing we were going to be in their area we contacted Lisa's brother Joe Pere from Little Rock, Arkansa who we've kept in touch with to provide us with the Aldrich's contact information. We called Russ and although Lisa was in California, he was available and thrilled we reached out. We invited Russ over for dinner on Monday night, October 9 at our campground and we spent the evening catching up around a wonderful meal prepared by Karen. One day wasn't enough, so Wednesday, October 11, we got together again with Russ, but this time at their place. Russ and Lisa have a beautiful home they built on a little over an acre of property on Lake Apalache in Greer. Their daughter, Fiona lives on the same property with her two young sons while their adult son, Jason and his family live and work only thirty minutes away. We enjoyed another great meal, this time prepared by Russ. It was so great getting caught up on their life in South Carolina! Honestly, our only disappointment was missing Lisa, but we will definitely keep in touch and will try to get together again in the future. Joe and Ann Nunley, are relatively new to South Carolina. Before they moved to Greenville in July of 2021, Karen worked with Joe at Total Concepts. We called them and made plans to have dinner at their home on Tuesday, October 10. It's such a blessing to spend time with friends! Prior to visiting their home, we took time in the afternoon to see downtown Greenville around Falls Park. Like most cities, it is a busy environment with traffic and parking issues, but overall very picturesque with an incredible variety of food venues, coffee cafes, shops and our cultural experiences. It’s home to the Greenville County Museum of Art, with works by Southern artists spanning several centuries. Exhibits at the Upcountry History Museum tell the story of upstate South Carolina. Falls Park on the Reedy has riverside gardens, a suspension bridge and waterfall views. Greenville has been lauded as one of the best cities in the U.S. In 2022, Condé Nast Traveler readers gave it a place of honor (6th place, to be exact!) in their Readers’ Choice Awards, particularly hailing its good eats: “The food lover’s town has a farm-to-table scene that continues to rise in the ranks … and its craft beer scene is seeing a similar explosion.” And more recently it ranked in U.S. News & World Report’s 2023 list of the best places to live in the U.S., where it scored 31st place out of 150 metro areas. After walking and snacking around the downtown area for a few hours we drove to the Nunley's for our visit. Unfortunately Ann had a previous commitment for the evening but we had a great visit with Joe. He and Ann love their new home and have established themselves in their new neighborhood. Joe is busy with his contracting business and Ann at her work as well as in their church community. We enjoyed a wonderful meal and played a card game called Five Crowns. While in the Greenville area, between visiting friends, I was hoping to make some progress on securing the parts I needed to repair the RV. I had been on the phone for over a week trying to arrange the purchase and shipping of all the parts I needed from Alliance in Elkhart, Indiana. The shipping became a problem.. Because of the size of the parts, the freight was going to cost over $300, more than the value of the parts! I was looking at a cost of over $600 for everything. Okay, so I started praying for wisdom on what to do. What about stopping by an RV dealership in the area and asking them if they might have the parts I needed? So on Monday, after we arrived and finished setting up at the campsite, I drove to Blue Compass RV's parts and service facility in the town of Duncan 4 miles away. I walked in with the broken piece of black extrusion T-molding from my rig in hand and approached the counter. Mike, the parts guy, looks at me as I asked him, "Do you have any of this laying around?" His response was not encouraging, "No we have to special order that from the factory." Behind Mike was the Parts Manager half listening to the exchange. "Hey Mike, we might have a piece downstairs." Mike comes back to the counter with an eight foot section of black extrusion T-molding! Identical to what I needed to repair the trailer. He asks the Parts Manager for a price to charge me. "It's got a few scratches, $30 and it yours." So, you guessed it; I walked out with everything I needed to do the repairs and it only cost me 45 bucks! This was a real miracle and worth sharing how our God cares about the little things that happen to us and how He makes provision for our circumstances. What are the chances that this RV dealership, hundreds of miles from the manufacturer, would have the exact part and length I needed to repair my trailer? I realize many of those who read this blog will chalk it up to pure luck, but I profess to be a man of faith and trust in a God who likes to work a miracle now and then. So, thank you Heavenly Father for your provision and blessing; You are AWESOME!
- Heading to the Great Smoky Mountains
We departed Cheatham Annex on Thursday, October 5 en route to the Great Smoky Mountains. Our first stop was Rudds Creek Park, an Army Corps of Engineers Campground located on John H. Kerr Reservoir, a 50,000-acre lake that extends 39 miles up the wooded, cove-studded shoreline of the Roanoke River in Virginia and North Carolina. Rudd's Creek Campground is open April 1 - October 31. The Day Use Park, located across Hwy 58, is open year-around. Kerr Reservoir, also known as Buggs Island Lake, was created with the construction of the John H. Kerr Dam in 1952. Its 800 miles of wooded shoreline stretch across six counties in two states and offer countless recreation opportunities for visitors. The camping fee with a National Park Pass is half price and only $17 a night; an incredible deal for a water and electric site in this beautiful venue! We are spending three days here relaxing and reading. I am practicing on my new guitar and we might even try out our fly fishing gear. The lake shore is just below our campsite so it is an ideal place to practice casting. I need to do some online CE work related CFI training (fire investigation re-certification) and Coast Guard Auxiliary core training. This is a good place to get it done. There is good wifi connectivity in the complex and the campground is quiet, for the most part, with limited traffic on the road near our site. Friday evening we drove into the town of Boydton, Virginia to attend a local wine and beer social at their historic local tavern and inn. It was an opportunity to mingle with the locals and hear about their community. Karen and I did a self-guided tour of this historic facility established in 1790. This part of Virginia was apparently a big tobacco growing region back in the day and many of the exhibits reflected that fact. It is amazing to think how much our society has changed with regards to the whole subject of tobacco production and smoking tobacco in general. We sat and listened to some local music, talked with a few people and drank some wine for about an hour before heading back to the campground. Saturday was very restful and relaxing. We enjoyed sleeping in, had toasted bagels with cream cheese, smoked salmon and capers for breakfast then walked our loop to check out some options for a future return trip. We found some amazing sites right on the lake that were huge; this is a definite do-over location for sure. All in all, this was one of the best places we've stayed and we would love to come back again. It truly is a beautiful getaway location for this time of year and probably the spring time as well. Sunday was our check out day. Check out was at 2:00pm so we had a relaxing morning to break camp before getting on the road again. Our next stop would be an overnight only stop at the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store in Salisbury, North Carolina about 3 hours to the southwest. From there we head to Greer, South Carolina for a three night stay at the GSP RV Park. We are looking forward to visiting with some long-time friends from California who have moved to South Carolina.