The Learning Curve is Gradual

An unusual looking wasp (?) tries to carry off a hapless little caterpillar

An unusual looking wasp (?) tries to carry off a hapless little caterpillar

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.

Dad's new chair

Dad’s new chair

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.

Moonlight sonata at Lake Powhatan

Moonlight sonata at Lake Powhatan

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.

Mountain laurel at Craggy Pinnacle

Mountain laurel at Craggy Pinnacle

Looking back on the Blue Ridge Parkway from Craggy Pinnacle

Looking back on the Blue Ridge Parkway from Craggy Pinnacle

Wildflowers at Craggy Pinnacle

Wildflowers at Craggy Pinnacle


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.
A craggy gargoyle

A craggy gargoyle

Stonecrop at Craggy Pinnacle

Stonecrop at Craggy Pinnacle

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.

The totally awesome Pahaque screen room was pressed into service

The totally awesome Pahaque screen room was pressed into service

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.

Instead of a measured stroll amidst the stalls of the farmers' market, we got this. . .and it was HOT!

Instead of a measured stroll amidst the stalls of the farmers’ market, we got this. . .and it was HOT!

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.
The view from the screen room.

The view from the screen room.

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.

The New River, up close and personal. Next time I'm bringing a tube.

The New River, up close and personal. Next time I’m bringing a tube.

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.)

Everything was going great until the artillery fire started.

Everything was going great until the artillery fire started.

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).

Happy trails!

Scariest Halloween Ever

Happy Meow-LO-Ween!

Happy Meow-LO-Ween!

Camping season is winding down. We’ve still got a couple of trips on the books but, for all intents and purposes, it’s about time to throw in the towel. Our annual trip to Boone for the Boonetown Throwdown Cyclocross Extravaganza always marks the turning point of the season. Daylight savings time comes into effect. (“Only the government would think that you could cut a foot off one end of a blanket, sew it to the other end, and get a longer blanket.” anonymous.) It’s usually cold and windy–last year it even snowed.
It’s bittersweet, because everything says “tha-tha-that’s all, folks!”

Not this year. Last year we rolled into the former Watauga County Fairgrounds in blowing snow, with water pouring from the back of the trailer after our cutting board had jumped up, turned on the pump and turned on the cold water faucet in our sink. This year we pulled in under skies threatening rain and were immediately accosted by the Zombie patrol, a somewhat sketchy couple who chased us down in their decrepit Honda to tell us that we couldn’t park in our usual spot. “We’ve got ScareGrounds tonight,” declared the decidedly unfriendly woman in the passenger seat. “We’re going to have people running all through here all night long.”

Well, that explained why the outbuilding we normally parked next to had lots of extension cords plugged into the outlets and a sign on a makeshift door reading, “Welcome to Camp Crystal Lake.” Then I realized that there hadn’t been a graveyard in the outfield last year, either. As our racing colleagues began to arrive in their campers, we decided to circle the wagons for safety.

We wisely decided to hunker down between two big rigs to confuse the zombies.

We wisely decided to hunker down between two big rigs to confuse the zombies.

Once we were set up, I thought I’d wander over to the sound booth to have a friendly little confab with the woman in the Honda. “So, what’s up tonight?” I asked. “Is this for trick or treaters?” The woman gave me a baleful look. “No, this is an ADULT thing, for people who like to be SCARED.” In a very small voice I replied. “oh.”

Ms. Malevolent went on to inform me that we couldn’t show ANY lights, because part of the magic of the event was that people ran around in the pitch black getting the bejesus scared out of them. We couldn’t make ANY noise, or otherwise make our presence known. So, no campfire. No glowing pumpkin. No sitting outside, drinking beer, and making snide remarks about the goings-on. Instead we pulled our shades, broke out the sandwiches and beer, turned on the radio, and settled down. Suddenly, the sound system–part of which was directly behind our trailer–sprang to life with a loud and spooky owl call. Followed by rattling chains, ghostly moans, howling wolves, etc. etc.

As soon as it got dark, I sneaked out and set up our spooky eyes as protection against the zombie hoardes.

As soon as it got dark, I sneaked out and set up our spooky eyes as protection against the zombie hoardes.

As darkness settled in, we recognized the all-too familiar patter of rain on the roof. It was a couple of hours before we heard any people who wanted to be scared pulling in. We turned in early, to the sound of a few distant human screams. At about 1 am, I woke. The sound system was still pumping. . .hold on. . .as my head cleared, I realized that we’d once again fallen asleep listening to NPR. They were broadcasting the War of the Worlds. The zombie crew was long gone.

We woke the next morning to a soft rain, which turned the cyclocross course to a mud bath. From our excellent trackside vantage point, we watched cyclists churn, slip, and slide through mud the consistency and color of brownie mix. I learned new vocabulary: “greasy,” for the slick corners that sent riders and bikes flying sideways, and “grippy,” for the hard-to-come by grassy strips that were easier to ride on. As is frequently the case in the mountains, the rain held off despite the prediction for an 80% chance of precipitation. Chuck rode the course and, though he wasn’t that happy with his results, he didn’t fall. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for one of our fellow camping compatriots, who had to withdraw from his race due to broken equipment and a painful looking limp. On the plus side, there were no serious injuries other than to equipment and pride.

Kate and Sid in the Halloween spirit

Kate and Sid in the Halloween spirit

As the afternoon wore on I was finally able to let a little Halloween light shine on the proceedings.

As the afternoon wore on I was finally able to let a little Halloween light shine on the proceedings.

Chuck, aka the Manther, gives his equipment a bath post race.

Chuck, aka the Manther, gives his equipment a bath post race.

We’d survived the zombie apocalypse, the War of the Worlds, and the muddy race course. Stay tuned for Babe’s pre-Christmas campout in Hendersonville, NC.

Badge of honor: muddy numbers.

Badge of honor: muddy numbers.

Babe Goes to Summer Camp

View of the Blue Ridge from the Parkway near Glendale Springs, NC

View of the Blue Ridge from the Parkway near Glendale Springs, NC

Chuck and I decided to rent a spot at Raccoon Holler campground for the month of July so that Babe could experience sleep-away camp. We rolled into camp on July 2 in dry weather, if you can believe that, so we were easily able to set up, position all our stuff, and install the awning. Our goal for the weekend was to get better acquainted with the area, since we are ostensibly investigating likely spots for our retirement home in the next couple of years.

On July 3, we drove part of the Blood, Sweat, and Gears route onto Rte. 194 and happened on Todd, NC, a tiny hamlet located on the New River. At the Todd Mercantile (and Bakery!) we chatted with a lovely person who invited us back for Todd’s Fourth of July Parade. We also hiked the summit trail at Mt.Jefferson, which was beautiful despite the thick fog that prevented us from seeing more than a few feet in front of us. We enjoyed a relatively quiet evening back at the campsite but for a few exploratory fireworks, which luckily were cut short by rain.

In spitting rain we returned to Todd the next morning for the most amazing Independence Day parade I’ve ever witnessed. Sponsored by the Elkland Art Center (www.elklandartcenter.org for more parade photos and info), the parade was a spectacle that combined outlandish costumes, amazing banners, thought-provoking signage, and celebrated the theme “Justice for Everyone.” The parade was kicked off by the four pillars of Justice: Compassion, Communication, Equality, and Gratitude. We followed the procession into a small park by the river, where a band cranked the jams and the parade participants and observers alike boogied in a whirl of colors and fabrics. I hadn’t been that happy since 1968.

Some of the outlandish creations that partied in the park

Some of the outlandish creations that partied in the park

When kids tired of the spectacle they retreated to the banks of the New River for some quality wading.

When kids tired of the spectacle they retreated to the banks of the New River for some quality wading.

One of my favorite parade sights was the moment this hapless cyclist sheepishly threaded his way through the procession on his way out of town.

One of my favorite parade sights was the moment this hapless cyclist sheepishly threaded his way through the procession on his way out of town.

We quickly beat it back to the Holler for the much-anticipated Golf Cart parade, which was every bit as entertaining (the 89 year old grandpa dressed as Uncle Sam who not only drove his golf cart full of relatives but also played “God Bless America” on his harmonica at the same time) and jaw-dropping as we had hoped it would be. We spent the rest of the evening trying to keep Katie from digging through the trailer floor as myriad fireworks were deployed nearby.That night we celebrated our nation’s independence with a few selected brews at West Jefferson’s Boondocks Brewery. We had missed that day’s famed “Christmas in July” arts festival and Confederate Army encampment, but were treated to a further jaw-dropping display of souped-up trucks speeding down the main drag, squealing their tires and ostentatiously flying Confederate flags. I started to boo and, as several heads snapped in my direction, Chuck nearly overturned his chair trying to get me to settle down.

Following a brief hike to a bluff overlook in Doughton Park on Sunday morning, Chuck returned to the flat land and I was left to my own devices with the dogs. On Monday we checked out the campgrounds at Julian Price Park near Blowing Rock. It is a federally operated campground with beautiful, private sites; however there are no showers there (and no hook ups), so it would be difficult if you weren’t fully self contained. I am a big fan of the campgrounds along the Parkway, however, because they are well laid out and very quiet. We then set off on a hike along the shore of Price Lake, also very beautiful. Unfortunately we weren’t able to complete the entire 2.4 mile trail because the human accompanying the dogs had forgotten to bring the dog water bottle and it was a very hot day.

After that first day, we fell into a routine of driving into West Jefferson each morning to spend some quality time in a shady spot at the Ashe County Public Library so I could use my phone and the Internet. Glendale Springs is beautiful, but it doesn’t play well with AT&T! After calls and e-mail checking, the dogs and I would head out for a hike or walk. The highlight of our week was discovering the beautiful New River State Park, located off of 221 N.in Laurel Springs, NC. This park features two beautiful campgrounds and public access to the New River via two very well-planned boat ramps. The so-called primitive campground has wooded sites, some right next to the river, and a killer bathhouse with flush toilets, showers, and a large tub-style sink for dishwashing or laundry. Although less lovely, the drive-in campground still boasts the best (and cleanest) bathhouse I’ve ever seen at a public campground and has campsites with full hookups for the low, low price of $25 per night ($16 if you don’t want hook ups).

A canoeist paddles down the New, which we were told was at a fairly low level. We're planning a future trip to rent canoes or kayaks and get a taste for this beautiful river, one of the longest in these parts!

A canoeist paddles down the New, which we were told was at a fairly low level. We’re planning a future trip to rent canoes or kayaks and get a taste for this beautiful river, one of the longest in these parts!

Babe still has a bit less than three weeks of her sleep-away camp stay to experience. I’ll be heading back for a couple of more extended stays before we say so long to Raccoon Holler. I confess that I am extremely attracted to Ashe County and the stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway between Blowing Rock and the Virginia border. Nothing makes me happier than to turn on to the Parkway north, headed away from flat land and hot air. We’ll see what the next few weeks bring!

A two-mile hike on a hot day at New River State Park was too much for Kate & Sid!

A two-mile hike on a hot day at New River State Park was too much for Kate & Sid!

I’ll leave you with this lovely image from the Elkland Art Center: a gypsy wagon anyone would envy! Happy and safe travels to you, wherever you are and, in the words of Jackson Browne, “let creation reveal its secrets by and by.”

This little caravan, seen at the Todd parade, serves as a stage for traveling plays and puppet shows.

This little caravan, seen at the Todd parade, serves as a stage for traveling plays and puppet shows.

Country 911

I’ve been settling in to the sad fact that we don’t have another camportunity until late June. For a retired person, I seem to have an awful lot of commitments. So, as I shuffled around the house today I was thinking that today’s big news was going to be the big shaggy blue heads on my asters–bought from the “these are about dead” rack at Lowe’s last year–or maybe the fact that one of my double hollyhocks had reseeded itself and is ready to burst into bloom.

I'm a big fan of these double hollyhocks. Why is it that these old favorites are so hard to find these days?

I’m a big fan of these double hollyhocks. Why is it that these old favorites are so hard to find these days?

They look purple in this photo, but these asters are a vibrant blue.

They look purple in this photo, but these asters are a vibrant blue.

Around 3, finally accepting that I’d accomplished little that was on the agenda for today, I decided to load up the dogs for a Trader Joe’s run. The dogs were poised to launch from the front steps when I spotted it: a little gray oval just to the right of the door mat. It looked almost like a remote control, but then I realized it seemed to have feet. . .or teeth. . .or something. An abandoned Beanie Baby? Another vole gift from the cat? I got the dogs to lie down and leaned in closer…and it turned out to be a tiny hummingbird.

Evidently he had flown into our front door and knocked himself out. Was he dead, or just stunned?Gently, I picked him up and he began to move his tiny feet and try to stretch his wings. I set him on the porch railing to see if he would rally.

hummer1

hummeronrailing

It looked as though he had something wrapped around his beak, so I zoomed in for a closer look.

hummer beack

I wiped his beak and he opened and closed it, then stretched his wings. I was encouraged. I quickly dialed up a hummingbird Web site and got instructions for preserving the bird. Did you know that it’s illegal to keep a hummingbird in captivity? I was a little paranoid about trying to get this guy back on his feet, er, wings. Could the neighbors see me handling this tiny pile of feathers?

The instructions were to get a shoebox, line it with a soft cloth, put the hummer in there and try to get it to drink a little nectar. We didn’t have any shoeboxes, but the empty 12-pack of Sierra Nevada made an ideal little palace. I lined it with an old cloth diaper and put in an 8 oz hummingbird feeder I just happened to have in the fridge. When I picked up the little guy to put him on the feeder, he clung to my fingers with his teeny little claws. Awwwww. . .I inserted his amazingly tiny beak into the feeder, but it was a no go.

hummer palace

Hmmm. . .I couldn’t imagine the little guy holding on to the hummingbird feeder for any length of time looking the way he did, so I decided to seek additional help. I contacted a local wildlife re-hab organization called Claws. They told me the hummingbird feeder advice was all wet. The thing to do was to put him in his box, put the box in a very dark place for two hours, and then give him another go at being outside.

Tick. . .tick. . .two hours later I brought him back to the porch and set him on the railing. With any luck he would perk up and fly off. But it was not to be. He just sat there. I returned him to his box, called the wildlife rehabber, left two very bewildered dogs in the house, and set off for the 30 minute trip to the Claws compound. My heart was pounding as I roared down twisty back roads, reminding myself that no one would be served if I had a wreck trying to deliver this little guy.

At last, I pulled into the drive and the rehabber came out to meet me, carrying a clipboard with paperwork on it. Just like a human ER! As I started the paperwork, though, she told me there was no need to complete it. I’m sorry to report that our teeny little friend didn’t make it. I am sorry that he couldn’t be saved, but it was an honor to see one of these amazing little guys at such close range. And to hold it in my hand? A miracle.

If there is a hummingbird heaven, I hope my little friend is flitting around there without a care. And if there is a human heaven (or hell), I hope handling a little hummingbird won’t count against me.

What’s Your Sign?

When our campmeister announced a sign contest for this year’s Blue Ridge Rally, I knew we were in serious trouble. There are some very creative people in the group of campers we hang out with, so I knew I couldn’t take the sign thing lightly.

Months before the event, people were dropping hints about their signs. I had more anxiety than I’d had before I retired last year. When finally I did come up with an idea, I had to give myself a little pep talk: do it for fun, do it for yourself, blah blah blah.  .  .

Oh, and did I mention there was smack talking? Yep, folks were throwing their weight around (in a totally good natured way, of course) about their fabulous signs. By the time we pulled in to the rally, I had major sign concerns. And here are some of the reasons why.

This is my friend Crystal Garman Baker's sign. She even duplicated the campground's welcome sign!

This is my friend Crystal Garman Baker’s sign. She even duplicated the campground’s welcome sign!

Sharon, our campmeister, created this amazing sign. (Her camper is called Splash T@b.) How could we compete with that?

Sharon, our campmeister, created this amazing sign. (Her camper is called Splash T@b.) How could we compete with that?

Dane and Elaine Andree (Parents of Shamus the camping kitty) almost completely rebuilt their T@b from the ground up. They used a piece of their old floor for the sign backing.

Dane and Elaine Andree (Parents of Shamus the camping kitty) almost completely rebuilt their T@b from the ground up. They used a piece of their old floor for the sign backing.

My friend Denise Heffner is does amazing needlework. She created a sign from a map-patterned fabric, then created a road with little T@b trailers on it. It was so clever!

My friend Denise Heffner does amazing needlework. She created a sign from a map-patterned fabric, then created a road with little T@b trailers on it. It was so clever!

There were more clever signs than you could have ever imagined. Signs in the shape of trailers. Signs that lit up. Serious signs. Silly signs. But the winning sign was. . .

Sheila and Dave's Dr. Seuss-themed sign, with a cut out where campers could put their heads for a photo op.

Sheila and Dave’s Dr. Seuss-themed sign, with a cut out where campers could put their heads for a photo op.

There were quite a few judges for the contest, all of them staff or family members of the campground’s owners. I learned that they had a rating system based on effort, creativity, and a number of other factors. They even created a spreadsheet to record their ratings.

I never entertained any ideas that our sign would win or even garner the “bless your heart” award. I learned that we finished in the bottom third of all the entries, so I was really grateful not to have been dead last. After all this blather about signs, I’ll share our humble entry:

Somehow I didn't get the memo that the signs were supposed to accommodate a landscape formatted document. I had created a swell PORTRAIT formatted area for the document. Oh well, I had fun painting and playing with my antiquing wax. Chuck supplied day-glo paracord and a stick to support the long board. I tried to sell it at the flea market on Saturday but there were no takers.

Somehow I didn’t get the memo that the signs were supposed to accommodate a landscape formatted document. I had created a swell PORTRAIT formatted area for the document. Oh well, I had fun painting and playing with my antiquing wax. Chuck supplied day-glo paracord and a stick to support the long board. I tried to sell it at the flea market on Saturday but there were no takers.

The best thing about the sign contest was realizing how enthusiastic our group is. Throw out a challenge–especially a creative one–and they’re going to jump in with both feet. A happier, cooler group of people doesn’t exist on this planet. Just one more thing I’m thankful for: this rich, diverse, creative crew that allows me to hang out with them!

Our group: the 2015 Blue Ridge Rally campers!

Our group: the 2015 Blue Ridge Rally campers!

We’re Back in Blue!

Little darlins, it’s been a long cold lonely winter. . .but this past week we finally sprang Babe from her storage spot in preparation for our maiden voyage of 2015.

Destination for this weekend’s foray: Raccoon Holler campground in Glendale Springs, NC (site of last year’s Blue Ridge Rally). We had several objectives: to make sure everything (including us) was ready to roll to this year’s BRR next week, to find a decent campground for Blood, Sweat, and Gears (Chuck’s 100 mile ride through the Blue Ridge in late June), to cash in the growlers we got from Boondocks Brewery in West Jefferson las year, and for one of us to get in a decent ride along the Blue Ridge Parkway (guess which one of us?). Rain had been forecast for Saturday night, so we knew we had our work cut out for us.

I’m pleased to report that we accomplished all of our lofty goals. We rolled into camp shortly after 11 am on Raccoon Holler’s first day open this season. The seasonal campers were cruising around in their golf carts, refilling their propane tanks, and spiffing up their decks and porches. We got set up in a jiffy and, much to Katy and Sid’s dismay, hopped back in the truck to begin our campground quest.

Blood, Sweat, and Gears is not for the faint of heart, and it starts at 0 dark thirty in Valle Cruces, a location that was considered so remote until the late 19th century that there’s a well-known church that was built there as a mission project. Today, like most of the area around Boone and Blowing Rock, it’s more of an enclave for the well-heeled. . .thus, few campgrounds. We need to be close enough to get Chuck to the start in the morning and then schlep his exhausted hide back to the campground after he’s pedaled all over creation all day.

This is Chuck and his friend Jeff after last year's BSG.

This is Chuck and his friend Jeff after last year’s BSG.

Two of the closest campgrounds, Flintlock and Grandfather, are barely tolerable. Flintlock is basically a parking lot with a stream running through it, and has a really moldy bathroom. Grandfather is a little better, but it’s very muddy and the roads are twisty (remember our bent trailer hitch? That’s because we didn’t remove our sway bar before driving through Grandfather last year.) It also has one of the nastiest bathrooms I’ve ever used. Our mission this Saturday was to check out Honey Bear campground to see how it would measure up. And the verdict is. . .it’s a campground with streams running through it, REALLY twisty roads, really tiny spaces, and a REALLY BIG kind of nasty bathroom that’s recently been remodeled. But it’s very close to Valle Cruces and we found a spot we’ll be able to squeeze into without too much trouble, so that’s where we’ll be at the end of June.

Then we were off to West Jefferson to cash in last year’s growler at Boondocks. Oh, man. . .they were having a beer tasting festival with breweries from all over the state, including my personal favorite: Mother Earth from Kinston, NC. But we stuck to our guns and beat it back to the Holler so Chuck could get on the road.

I enjoyed a blissful hour walking around the campground, reading, and meeting our next door neighbors, who had quite the menagerie.

MuMu

This is MuMu, our next door neighbors 200 pound pig, who they walked on a leash. She was adorable, if a little large for a trailering pet!

Chuck spent his blissful hour pedaling on the Parkway and recording his encounter with less domesticated large beasts.

Few sights are more evocative of Scotland than shaggy West Highland cattle in a misty pasture. We passed them again in the pouring rain on Sunday morning, but it was too miserable to stop for a picture.

Few sights are more evocative of Scotland than shaggy West Highland cattle in a misty pasture. We passed them again in the pouring rain on Sunday morning, but it was too miserable to stop for a picture.

As it got dark, Katy and Sid started lobbying to head inside, so we didn’t get to enjoy our shiny new propane campfire. As predicted, early Saturday morning it started to shower and by 8 we had a cold, steady downpour. We settled in to snooze and read, when Chuck began to sniff. He accused the dogs of polluting the atmosphere. . .but within half an hour it was evident that we were in the throes of a major sewer gas back up. The trailer filled with noxious fumes and we decided to call it a weekend. By 10 we were hitched up and ready to roll.

Maybe we should hire ourselves out as rainmakers. It seems like we inevitably attract precipitation of all kinds, sometimes even inside our trailer. After I snapped this photo Chuck strongly suggested I quit fooling around and at least hold the umbrella over him.

Maybe we should hire ourselves out as rainmakers. It seems like we inevitably attract precipitation of all kinds, sometimes even inside our trailer. After I snapped this photo Chuck strongly suggested I quit fooling around and at least hold the umbrella over him.

Let the camping fun begin. We’re ready to roll.

Fools Rush In. . .in which we learn to use the T@da’s little-known self-cleaning feature

Photograph by Chuck Gillis

Photograph of snowy mountains near Boone, NC by Chuck Gillis

We awoke late on Saturday, November 1 to a dismal weather forecast: crappy in the morning, turning briskly crappier after noon, followed by wind gusts up to 30 mph and plummeting temperatures. And that was just in the piedmont. In Boone, there was snow on the ground with more snow predicted, gusty winds, and temperatures dropping below freezing overnight. Great! Sounded like perfect camping weather and, of course, there was a cyclocross race slated for Sunday.

Off we went, once more into the breach. The rain subsided, the wind wasn’t too bad, and though it was chilly we were armed with stacks of comforters and fleece everything. Did I mention that we had previously arranged to camp in a grassy field that had once been the Watauga County Fairgrounds?
The descent into the old fairgrounds was like being in a snow globe shaken by an angry child. Winds swirled snow around the bowl-shaped terrain and the temperature hovered at 35 degrees at 3 pm. Chuck neatly pulled Babe into a tricky spot to get close to an electrical outlet on the side of an old building. She was tilting backward and, as I chocked the wheels I wondered why water would be streaming from the rear of the trailer. Simultaneously, at the tongue, Chuck was wondering what was running inside the trailer–we hadn’t bothered to turn on the fridge for this trip–and something was definitely buzzing.

This sunny picture shows no evidence of our dramatic arrival the day before. From our front window we enjoyed a view of the row of port-potties brought in for the bike race.

This sunny picture shows no evidence of our dramatic arrival the day before. From our front window we enjoyed a view of the row of port-potties brought in for the bike race.

Chuck opened the door to the trailer and uttered the five most dreaded words in the camping vernacular: “It’s all wet in here!” After frantic bailing and unloading our entire trailer onto the snow-dusted grass, we were able to use up all of our towels and mats to dry out the floors, lower cabinet interiors, bathroom floor. There was even water in the “basement.” I might possibly have used up my entire subscription to the f-word–at least, I am over it and will have to find a new term to better express utter rage and disgust. There’s nothing quite like standing in a snowy field surrounded by the contents of your camper, picking clumps of wet toilet paper off of a rug that you know isn’t going to dry anyway and realizing that your vocabulary of swearwords is not strong enough to express your current emotions. As we sped away to Big Lots to replenish our supply of towels, toilet paper, and a nine-volt battery (Yes, in the midst of the chaos, our smoke detector went off. . .), we tried to reconstruct the chain of events that must have created our catastrophe. Something heavy (the butcher block cover for the burners on our stove, no doubt) had slid into the cold water faucet and turned it on. That made sense. But what in the heck had bounced so high and so hard that it hit the switch for the pump, ejecting four or five gallons of water all through the trailer? We may never know, but we DID learn that you don’t travel with the butcher block on top of the stove, you don’t store your soap in the sink (at least we had CLEAN water all over the place), and possibly you should put a bungee cord around your faucets. AND, as I had just finished reading that very morning in someone else’s camping blog, you should check inside and outside your trailer each and every time you stop.

snow on cedar

snow on geraniums

photo 3

A few images from Boone, NC, at about 6 pm on Saturday night, November 2.

Despite the rough start, we had a warm and toasty night thanks to our furnace, though I did wake up every couple of hours expecting the propane tank to run out. The wind shook the trailer pretty violently from time to time and sleet pinged off the roof, but I hoped that the windy conditions might be drying out everything.

In the morning, we stepped out into a brilliant fall day punctuated by snow on mountaintops, rooftops, and in various nooks around the fairgrounds. The field began to fill up with maniacs, er, cyclocross enthusiasts, and soon the races were underway. The temperatures never climbed much above 40 degrees, and the brisk wind made temperatures feel more like the 30s.

photo 2-3

Neither sleet nor snow nor howling winds nor trailer floods could keep the intrepid manther from competing in his cyclocross series. . .or the dogs from snoozing on a comfy bed warmed by the sun streaming in the windows.

Luckily, our little spot was hard up against part of the race course, so the dogs and I were able to catch a good deal of the competition from the comfort of our dinette.

That's Chuck streaking by my afternoon beer.

That’s Chuck streaking by my afternoon beer.

After I finished my beer, I was able to devote more of my attention to Chuck's race, even opening the window to offer my encouragement.

After I finished my beer, I was able to devote more of my attention to Chuck’s race, even opening the window to offer my encouragement.

We were lucky. Hopefully, we didn’t cause any permanent damage to anything. Everything eventually dried out (although on Monday morning I did have to pour a bunch of water out of pots and pans that were in a cabinet under our stove) and, best of all, I decided that there’s no need to wet mop the floor this time, since it’s already had a bath.

As Daniel Boone himself once said, “I have never been lost, although I will admit to having been confused for several weeks.” We may be confused a lot of the time, but at least we’ve proven once again we’re not too old to respond to the call of the road.

Another parting shot taken by Chuck.

Another parting shot taken by Chuck.