It’s been an uphill climb with Babe but, unlike this wasp–who eventually dropped the caterpillar and flew off in disgust–we’ve hung in and learned a lot despite a few stumbles. This season’s upgrades, accomplished despite a nearly two-month residence at the mechanic’s, included a new Dexter axle and brakes, two golf-cart batteries with a battery shut-off switch, a rear-mounted spare tire carrier (more about that later), and a new diamond plate box on the tongue. Oh, and the addition of a 12 x 12 Pahaque screen room to our arsenal of camping crap.
We were hard pressed to get Babe to the Blue Ridge Rally because the mechanic didn’t finish the work until the Saturday before we were supposed to set off for Maggie Valley. My heart was in my throat the entire trip because we’d never had the opportunity for a shake-down cruise. However, everything behaved as promised and Chuck declared the new Dexter axle a huge improvement. Chuck did get some good-natured ribbing about not knowing whether we were coming or going at the BRR due to our mechanic’s–and Chuck’s–ingenious plan to move the original T@da tongue box to the rear of the trailer for use as a storage compartment.
There was a long dry spell between the BRR and Babe’s next trip, which was to Lake Powhatan in June. What a place! You couldn’t ask for a more conveniently located camping spot, as this Park is right outside the city and almost ON the Blue Ridge Parkway. Heck, you couldn’t ask for a nicer campground period. The sites are all very private and wooded, with full hook ups (and there’s an entire loop for tents–or T@bs; there was at least one) and nicer bathrooms than I’ve seen in some private campgrounds. On top of that, we had somehow managed to appease the weather gods and enjoyed three days of spectacular clear, dry, sunny weather. We celebrated Fathers’ Day there and Chuck got a super new zero-gravity chair from Katie and Sid, who were not in attendance.More about said chair later!
Lake Powhatan is a relatively quiet park–there are lots of families, animals, and kids there but perhaps due to the distance between campsites you don’t hear a lot of noise. So we had our minds blown when, one evening after dinner, Chuck heard some Cardinals frantically making alarm calls next to our site. He whispered to me that something was up, and since one of the camp hosts had warned us about bears when we checked in, I prepared myself to see one step into the little clearing that was behind our site. What appeared was not a bear, but a bobcat! It was fascinating. It looked like an overfed house cat. It ambled into the clearing, sat down, and began cleaning itself just like a house cat. We were transfixed. I wish we had a picture to show for this thrilling encounter, but literally the minute I moved a muscle, it turned tail and ran into the underbrush. It was almost the full moon, so instead of a blurry photo of a blob that’s supposed to be a bobcat you will have to settle for a blurry photo of a gorgeous night sky.
We took advantage of the brilliant weather to climb Craggy Pinnacle, a short trail that was reported to feature some of the best vistas along the Blue Ridge. And we weren’t disappointed. The trail climbs upward through tunnels of rhododendron and mountain laurel to outcroppings from which you can see for miles. Whether due to the unusually dry weather or just the fact that we were too late, the rhododendrons were mostly pooped out. The mountain laurel, on the other hand, was spectacular.
Once we reached the top, the views were amazing. It was a very social scene with people hanging out, sharing stories, and celebrating the beautiful day.
On our next outing over the fourth of July, we reacquainted ourselves with modified dry camping. We went to New River State Park in Laurel Springs, North Carolina, which is on the border between Ashe and Allegheny Counties. The tent sites at this campground made me wish our old Eureka tent hadn’t rotted away: they are right on the shore of the river. New River State Park is a relatively new park with excellent facilities, including two very nice places to put in a canoe, kayak, or good old inner tube. The tent sites are wooded and fairly private, with access to a modern bath house. The “drive-to campground,” as the RV section is known, is a little less appealing. It appears to have been placed in a former meadow, so there’s little tree coverage. The sites are randomly spaced and even more randomly laid out; in theory we got the last available site, which had a spectacular view onto the back of our neighbor’s trailer. Some sites had full hookups and others, like ours, only had electricity. Despite one of our usual water mishaps (the stopper came out of a two-gallon jug of water while I was holding it over the stove, once again wetting an area that definitely does NOT need any more moisture), we reconfirmed how quickly we seem to go through water and fill up our external gray water tank, despite the fact that we don’t take showers in the trailer. Oh, and we also remembered how loud the water pump is. And so did our neighbors.
One of our favorite outings in Ashe County is the Saturday morning Farmers’ Market in West Jefferson. But as we approached town, traffic was at a stand-still. Although we were several blocks from the farmers’ market, there was no place to park. And then I realized: it was Christmas in July, possibly the biggest event in the town of West Jefferson.We beat a hasty retreat back to the campsite where, much to Chuck’s dismay, his BRAND NEW FATHER’S DAY CHAIR PROMPTLY FELL APART!! Damn you, Costco! Once again, though, the camping gods were with us and after discovering that a specific bolt had fallen out of the chair, Chuck found it in the bed of the truck. The chair was fixed, the weekend was saved, and a good time in the Pahaque screen room was had by all–and especially Katie.
We drove to the King’s Road access to the NRSP on Saturday afternoon and saw bazillions of people enjoying the river in tubes, canoes, kayaks and just wading around. The park owes its existence to the fact that people resisted an attempt in the late sixties/early seventies to dam that section of the river, which would have made money for someone but would have flooded many hundreds of acres and forced lots of folks from their homes. That particular section of the river, which flows northward into Virginia, was designated a federal heritage site and the state was required to provide public access to the river in the form of a park. It’s well worth a visit if you ever have the chance. But back to the river. The sight of so many people drifting along in the shallows made me determined to get some quality wading time in. So, after dinner, I went down to the landing, put on my wading shoes, greeted our next-door neighbors who were taking in the cool evening air by the river, eased into the gently moving water, stepped right, stepped left, stepped right again onto a large, flat, unbelievably slippery and mossy rock and WHAM! I was up to my neck in the river! How did that happen? And holy sh*t! My cell phone is in my pants pocket! I jumped up with alacrity and this is the view, taken with my phone (miraculously unharmed) by a shaking, dripping wet hand. And then sheepishly and gingerly sloshed out of the river, past the next door neighbors, who were trying to look anywhere but at me, and squished over to the truck. I’m going to spare you the description of trying to dry my undies in a hurry.
On Sunday night we settled into the trailer, secure in the knowledge that a) New River State Park is out in the middle of nowhere, b) NRSP does not allow fireworks of any kind, and c) NRSP has a camp host that spends more time patrolling the grounds than any other place I’ve ever stayed. There was no WAY our evening was going to be disrupted by loud noises of the explosive kind. Ha! As soon as it got dark, someone evidently pulled up right outside the park and began firing what sounded like mortar rounds from their vehicle right over our heads. You could hear the little “fwwp” as the round was fired and then literally FEEL (as well as hear) the unbelievably loud report a few seconds later. BOOM!! In seconds, Katie was inconsolable. Drugs were administered. Blankets were applied. We could hear the whine of the camp host’s golf cart as he whizzed about the campground looking for the perpetrators. Chuck was finally able to coax Katie up onto the bed, where she took “his” spot and ultimately collapsed in a Xanax-induced stupor. Chuck took my spot on the bed, and I retreated to the couch, where I spent the night realizing just how big the bruise on my backside actually was and trying to determine which hip would hurt less when I lay on it. (Note to self: upgrade the egg crate foam under the cushions.)
And so we keep on learning. And adding to our collection of camping gear and camping lore.
Stay tuned for our next installment, when we return to Rocky Knob campground near Floyd, VA, and Babe runs silent and deep (aka no water, no sewer, no electricity).