We’re beginning a big adventure and we hope you will travel with us. Mostly I expect I will be writing, but I hope Jim will chime in from time to time with his own very special point of view.
Our last stop on our five month walkabout was the same as our first had been. We were back at Colonial Airstream in Lakewood, New Jersey. We had a laundry list of repairs and fine tuning to take care of. One downside of never having a practice trip to break in the Airstream, but simply heading out, was we had no shakedown trip. We discovered issues as we traveled and slowly assembled a prodigious list of things to address. We would spend two nights and the intervening day waiting to become ship-shape.
This is in no way a negative about Airstreams, Colonial or the Airstream manufacturer. Even in a travel trailer with no engine to worry about, things are bound to break or go wrong and need attention. The issues we faced were far fewer than those potentially faced by Fifth Wheels with lots of pull outs and moving parts or even the giant Class A’s with their amazing amenities. Our trailer is a simpler creature. It has fewer bells and whistles and, therefore, fewer things to need repair. But there is inevitable wear and tear.
Our home base was a pet-friendly Comfort Inn. We had stayed there before. It was clean and the staff was very nice. Located about 20 minutes from Colonial Airstream, it is the only pet-friendly motel in the area.
We dropped the Airstream at Colonial on Tuesday evening. The drive from Jersey Shore had been wet and grey and the parking lot at Colonial was a succession of small lakes. We were feeling sad and bereft at leaving our comfy trailer. Those feelings were somewhat balanced by the thought of a long hot shower in a private bathroom. Ah, that would be nice.
We got ourselves checked in to the Comfort Inn. There was plentiful Wi-Fi signal and Dakota seemed pleased when we brought his bed in from the truck and, of course, his yellow duck and his water and food bowls. All the furnishings that a furry dog could need or want.
With no kitchen at hand, we were forced to go out to dinner. I had been hankering to go to a Longhorn Steakhouse for weeks and there was one nearby. We loaded Dakota and his bed back into the truck and headed over through the rain. Dinner out in a restaurant, how exciting!! A steak, a little red wine and all was fine.
For the next two days we would need to entertain ourselves. The next morning was grey and rainy and we hung out in our room. Then we made a stop at Petco. Dakota was properly satisfied with the 35 lb. bag of kibble we picked up. We have a storage container in the back of the truck. Periodically, we refill the container of kibble in the trailer. We had pretty much run through our inventory so it was good to top that off. We enjoyed a lunch at Ruby Tuesday’s. We hadn’t been to one in years. As Peter put it once so nicely, we don’t eat out often, but we tend to patronize restaurants owned by sole proprietors.
The day stretched before us. We still had a whole afternoon to kill. I was secretly hoping they would call from Colonial and say, “Surprise, we’re all done…” But that call never came. We thought about going to a movie, but didn’t want to leave Dakota in the truck for such a long time. We ended up driving around looking at public libraries. We thought we could go in one and catch some Wi-Fi. Sadly, the local libraries all looked terribly uninviting. We finally went back to the room and hung out. We were so stuffed from lunch, we ended up skipping dinner and eating unhealthy munchies in the room.
It was still grey and rainy the next morning. This was getting ridiculous. Once again we hung in the room until checkout time. We drove over to the shore. Jim’s longest term friend, Bruce, had a family place in Mantoloking so we drove from the south to the north checking out the beach towns along the way. It looked like things had been pretty well cleaned up after Superstorm Sandy.
Jim had located a state park not too distant from us and we thought a hike might let us stretch our legs. I was still secretly wishing the folks from Colonial would call to say we were all done. This waiting was really getting on our nerves. We were both anxious that we get under way heading home as early as possible. Neither of us wanted to get caught in the traffic around the Garden State Parkway and the city.
The Double Trouble State Park was billed as an outstanding example of the pine barrens ecosystem. Despite its frolicsome name, they were clear online that they had a lot of ticks. Nevertheless, it was the only game in town. This park is a restored village. Originally, they harvested and shipped cranberries. They did claim to still have a cranberry bog and I had always wanted to see one. We wandered around the park looking for a map and the bog. If I had only wandered over to the little white house which said ”Restroom”, all would have been clear. Unfortunately, I only did that after we tried unsuccessfully to locate the cranberry bog. And there were the trail maps… And speaking of locating, I picked three ticks off Dakota’s paws. Yuck.
Next we stopped by Colonial just to let them know we were there. They said we might be done about 2. That was excellent news. We were hopeful. A delivery man wandered by with a stack of pizzas. We asked him where the restaurant was and we headed there for some comfort food.
There was a long table set up in the restaurant and shortly after we sat down about 20 older gentlemen trooped in. This was clearly a fairly regular gathering and all were in fine spirits. We entertained ourselves eavesdropping on their lively conversations and jokes. They had known each other for a long time and it seemed like a really good group of fellows. The pizza was excellent.
Still no call. It was after 2:30. We had no motel. We had nowhere to go. It was still raining. We couldn’t eat another bite. We were out of entertainment ideas. About half a mile from Colonial was a bowling alley. We toyed with the idea of going in to bowl a game or two, but we had no heart for it. In a pathetic display of lack of imagination, we parked in their large parking lot and Jim snoozed while I knitted. We weren’t the only ones. There was another truck parked in the lot just whiling away time for some reason as well.
Finally we headed back to Colonial to see what was happening. It was 4:30 and we thought they would be closing for the night at 5:00. We were completely impatient to be under way and secretly concerned that they wouldn’t finish and we would need to stay another night.
Happily, they were almost done. They had ticked off every item on the to-do list except for one. They had determined that our antenna had failed. That explained why halfway through our sojourn we were no longer able to get television reception. They didn’t have a new antenna on hand so we would need to deal with replacement at another time. Amazingly, we were charged not one thin dime for the two days of labor and parts. It was all covered under the warranty. That was a very happy surprise. Life doesn’t usually work that way.
We hitched up and headed out of the Colonial parking lot for the last push homeward. Very clear in both of our minds was the memory of leaving that same parking lot at the beginning of our trip. So much had happened. So many miles had been traveled and we were now so much more confident and seasoned as Airstreamers. It was a very satisfying moment.
The rain continued off and on as we drove northward on the Garden State Parkway and then picked up 87/287 and crossed into New York. As we passed our former home town of Rye Brook, we mused that we would be home now if we still lived there. But, no, we had another hour and a half of driving ahead of us.
It was well after dark and 10 p.m. when we made the turn on to Grantville Road. We were bone tired and anxious about the final hurdle. While we were on the road, a parking pad had been built for the Airstream next to our house. We would be backing our trailer into an unfamiliar pad in the pitch dark. Ironically, this was perhaps the most difficult maneuver we had faced since way back in January when we needed to extract the frozen Airstream from the snow and ice in our yard. After over 8,700 miles, here we were back wrangling the trailer in the yard.
After two hair-raising attempts at backing in, Jim almost gave up. I was shining a tiny flashlight to help illuminate the target. The pad wasn’t quite wide enough where we needed some extra room and the ground beside it was very soft. We were falling down tired and had begun to try to think where we could hang up the trailer for the night when Jim gave it one last try. He gunned the engine and forced the trailer back on to the pad. Thank heavens. We locked the truck, left the trailer hitched and headed directly to bed. We were home. Our trip was now officially done.
In the time since we arrived back home, I have thought about an appropriate coda. What insights would I share as a conclusion to our voyage? How would I sum up what this trip meant to us?
We had a dream about venturing around our country with an Airstream. We were so incredibly fortunate, and determined, that we were able to live out this dream. We learned so much. We got to know a pretty good swathe of the south and west of our country. We feel a connection to this land we could never otherwise have felt. Florence, Tupelo, Lost Maples, Pedernales Falls, Ochlockonee; these places and memories will live in us as long as we breathe.
We met so many people who were living their lives in other places, under other circumstances. These people may well have held different beliefs than we and, yet, we could share the experience of travel and discovery. On a macro level we may have felt very differently about our respective worlds, but on a micro level, we could and did share much. We are, after all, humans with hearts and souls and dreams and disappointments. Ultimately, we all want the same things in life.
Being on the road together brought us closer than ever. We were a team. We were a team of three in many ways, but certainly Jim and I were more reliant upon each other than we had ever been before. We needed each other for companionship and for the daily tasks at hand. I think we learned to be kinder and more accepting of each other. We were traveling through a great land in a very small space. There was so much to share and everything meant more to us because it was shared.
Being home was an effortless transition. We were happy to be back in our familiar setting. We were also very happy to have our Airstream just outside the door. Being home coexists with the promise of future travel and adventure.
Sometimes we just go out and spend time in the trailer. It is so familiar and comfortable. Dakota grabs his yellow duck and curls up on his bed. He often smiles and it is easy to see he is relaxed and happy to be in the trailer. So are we, we are happy to be in the trailer.
There will be future adventures. We will head out again. We saw much, but we left even more to be discovered. We have a short trip already planned for the near future and the glimmer of a grander undertaking farther into the future.
Returning home was not a conclusion, it was simply the next beginning.
As always, it was tough to say goodbye to Alex. We had a great time all weekend, but this was our last hurrah. We had only one more stop to make before we would be home. As we hitched up Monday morning, it felt like our thinking had shifted. We were no longer deeply immersed in the journey. We were itchy and restless.
In four short days, we would wake up in our house in Connecticut. We wouldn’t wake up in our bed in the Airstream, but in our house. We had not yet voiced it, but we had both been feeling and thinking the exact same thing. It was an odd feeling of going through the motions. Before we were completely engaged. The good and the bad moments were deeply felt. Now that feeling of glorious freedom, of unlimited horizons was slowly dissipating. We were no longer the bird on wing floating through the air, we were coming to ground. We talked about this as we drove. I expect this shift in thinking did not happen in one moment. It had been coming on slowly.
Our penultimate stop was another Airstream-only park. The Jersey Shore Haven was a stone’s throw from the ocean near Cape May. Like Highland Haven, this park is a cooperative. However, it was quite different from Highland Haven in many ways. Highland Haven is known for having fairly stringent guidelines and rules. Airstreams are not allowed to remain on site during the winter months. There are guidelines about site maintenance. This may feel constraining, but it does promote a neat and tidy campground.
Jersey Shore Haven on the other hand, had no such regulations. While it had certain amenities, such as a large swimming pool and bathhouse, some of the Airstreams had been in place for an extended length of time. In fact, some of the Airstreams looked downright abandoned. Jersey Shore was very family oriented. In speaking with two of the shareholders, they explained that the haven was 40 years old and many of the current shareholders were third generation. It did very much have the feel of a family retreat.
We had hit another rainy period and the skies were grey and leaden. We were only staying the night at Jersey Shore so we stayed hitched. The rhododendrons were in full bloom. Between rain showers, we walked the roads in the campground and enjoyed looking at the various vintages of Airstreams. We saw models which we had never seen before including a most un-Airstream like Fifth Wheel.
After this brief interlude, we hit the Garden State Parkway again on our northward progression to our final stop.
Cherry Hill RV Resort is quite an extraordinary place. First off, it is enormous. There are literally hundreds of camp sites. It has two swimming pools, a water park, a restaurant, miniature golf and a store with rv supplies, food and all sorts of things. Busses run guests to nearby mass transit and into DC proper. They even host nighttime tours of DC.
The resort is a sea of Class A’s and Fifth Wheels. During our perambulations around the resorts’ streets, we saw only one other Airstream. When we checked in, the man at the desk asked if we would prefer to be near the bath house or somewhere else. I asked for a quiet spot and we got a lovely site surrounded by trees. It was hard to believe we were in a major urban area. It felt like we were at a secluded state park.
Our weekend at Cherry Hill was a very social one. If we had been on our own since early March when we visited Jim’s brother, Jack, and his wife, Phyllis, in Pearland, Texas, we were now in for a full dose of family and friends.
Columbia is the town in which Alex, our first-born and family Marine, lives. He works at Fort Meade, but lives with a friend. Alex joined us Friday night and we had a treat-your-child-special dinner in the Airstream. My goal was to make his favorite things which I know perfectly well, he doesn’t usually get to eat. We had steak, sautéed mushrooms and baked potatoes.
With some not-so-gentle maternal urging, Alex slept over with us in the Airstream. Saturday we lounged in the trailer in the morning and then headed to see his house in Columbia. It was very good to get a sense of our firstborn’s daily life. We met his room-mate, Rose, the actual homeowner, and Rose’s dog, Archer. Rose is a fellow Marine and seems to be a good friend and landlord. Rose is his last name. I don’t even know his first. I am not sure Alex knows his first name.
We were happy to see Alex living in an actual house—much better quarters than the barracks. The house had apparently been cleaned before our visit. It was, nevertheless, a bit of a bachelor pad. Both Alex and Rose are into video games and much more had been invested in monitors and CPU’s than sofas and chairs.
Saturday night we traveled down to DC to have dinner at our friends’ house. Hannelore and Didier live in the NW part of DC. I have known them both for decades—Hannelore since I lived in Vienna after college. Visiting with them is always a treat. They live in a lovely house with a back garden that is truly an oasis. Alex, their son, was home. A rising senior in high school now, we have watched him grow up and mature. Charlotte, their daughter, is almost always off on an adventure. They all tend to roam the world from France to Austria and back again.
Hannelore is the Washington Bureau Chief for the ORF (Austrian Broadcasting Corporation, the public service television channel). Didier is now retired but was a journalist for Agence Presse for many years. They have lived all over the world. In their home english, french and german intermingle from sentence to sentence. Hannelore is also an excellent cook. Every time we visit she cooks something marvelous which I happily take home to add to my own repertoire. Happily, the weather was delightful and we dined al fresco as we caught up on our respective lives.
As you can imagine, life has been pretty crazy for Hannelore for quite some time now. During our visit, President Trump was in Saudi Arabia and Hannelore looked very happy to have a brief respite. She has certainly been getting more than her fair share of air time.
Sunday was another quiet day. Alex is a very easy guest. He is happy to sit quietly and read. Actually, that isn’t quite true. It is somewhat difficult to get him to stop sitting quietly reading. He asserts, with some validity, that he should be able to do what he wants when he is not at work. Okay, so we sat quietly and read for much of Sunday.
Sunday night my step-sister, Kathi, and her wife, Kim, joined us at the Airstream for a barbecue. We cooked burgers, beans and slaw—perfect cookout food. We sat out under the awning. Despite Cherry Hill’s proximity to the urban sprawl of DC and I-495, our site was wooded and private. It almost felt like we were in the great outdoors. We cooked s’mores for desert and enjoyed a last campfire for this journey.
We drove east and northward through Virginia to our next destination. Virginia flattened out a bit as we headed east. We drove through Lynchburg and gazed upon the sprawling campus of Liberty University. It lined each side of the interstate. The President had just spoken there so I, at least, was more aware of this place of Christian education. It was indeed an enormous campus. I had to wonder how the students negotiated such distances especially with a big highway running through the middle.
Next we passed the Jerry Falwell Memorial Highway. We were certainly in the white-hot center of things Christian.
We arrived at Holliday Lake State Park on a beastly hot afternoon. A heat wave had engulfed half the country so we weren’t alone in the sweltering heat. We un-hitched at our camp site. Halfway through the process we were both dripping with sweat. There was a little breeze so it was cooler sitting in the shade outside.
We needed to do some planning. We had reserved two nights at Holliday Lake. Our next stop was in College Park, MD and that was quite a distance from our current location. All told it was a 220 mile drive, but much of it was in urban traffic which would make the drive more taxing and certainly longer.
Sitting at our camp site, we were becoming convinced that we should only stay one night at Holliday Lake and then push on. We were also feeling oddly detached from this park. Perhaps it was the heat or the concern about the drive in two days. Maybe it was the fact that this was the last state park scheduled for us to stay in. In any case, we decided that we would leave the next morning and find an intermediate stop before heading to the DC metropolis.
However, the camp ground was deep inside this state park and any whiff of a cell signal had long since faded. We identified two potential places to stay, but with no signal, we wouldn’t know which path we would take until we were under way. This was all somewhat out of character behavior for us.
Our site was next to the Campground Host’s site. We met them coming out of their Fifth Wheel. They were off duty and it looked like they were heading to town. Reluctantly, we closed up the trailer for the night. It was just too hot inside and there wasn’t much of a breeze. We had a somewhat desultory dinner. We listened to some music and then turned in.
The next morning was cool and lovely. The campground at Holliday Lake was so deep into the forest, there was only the sound of birds singing. We had driven close to five miles from the highway through the forest to get to the campground. We hitched up in the cool air knowing the heat would soon come.
There was one particularly enormous bumble bee hanging around the campsite. He had been there when we arrived and Dakota had barked angrily at him as if he were a small dog. That is how big he was. Now, as we put away the awnings and prepared to hitch, he buzzed around us like a small aircraft. He was an interested bystander and seemed to be watching everything we were doing. He was a benign and friendly presence.
The Camp Hosts had told us this was their favorite park. They loved being here. We tried to see what they saw. It was pretty. Mountain Laurel was in bloom and there was a bush just inside the trees. We had driven past the lake for which the park was named when we arrived. It had a wide beach and was undoubtedly popular on the weekends. There were trails all through the park, but in the heat we had no desire to hike them.
We set the GPS for one of our two proposed destinations. We drove for miles through rural countryside before there was enough signal for me to call to see if they could accommodate us. The woman on the phone at the campground paused when I asked if they had availability. Whether it was because she was checking or hadn’t been asked that question in a while was an open question. Once we got to Shenandoah Hills Campground, it seemed like the latter was the stronger possibility.
We were somewhat aware this campground had mixed reviews when we chose it. We read online that the roads were pot-holed. The campground personnel were not very friendly or nice. More recent reviews had been positive and that had emboldened us to give it a chance.
The campground at Shenandoah Hills could have been nice. There were plenty of trees and appropriate space between the sites. One of the issues with campgrounds which we had slowly come to understand is full-timers. When a campground has a significant number of full-time tenants, things begin to deteriorate. Rigs begin to age and can become covered with moss and dirt. Since this is an inexpensive way to live, the trailers and rv’s aren’t always high-end to begin with. Camp sites become untended as they fill with accumulated possessions. The infrastructure begins to degrade. It is almost counter-intuitive, but transient guests help keep a campground looking fresh and tended. This campground was almost half filled with full-timers.
Indeed when we pulled in the potholes were terrible. The woman at check in was friendly enough. Tipped off by the reviews, I asked if there had been some fairly recent change in management at the campground. She said there hadn’t although they had been a KOA campground until five years ago. She explained that they had dropped KOA because they didn’t like paying the marketing fee. Cash flow did seem to be an issue at Shenandoah Hills.
Our next door neighbors were a friendly family who had just bought their travel trailer used. They were planning a big trip west through Texas in June. That’ll be hot all right. The man was full of questions and Jim was only too happy to share his newly gained wisdom. He was no longer a newbie, but a seasoned Airstreamer with knowledge to share.
We ran our air that night for the second night in a row. We really missed the open windows, night sounds and fresh breezes. We were up the next morning ready to hitch and go. Even though we had cut the day’s driving distance in half, we had a lot of ground to cover. But there was a big payoff. A major incentive to head to our next stop.
It is a given that our Airstream was always a bit of a lone ranger at the state parks and RV resorts we stayed in. Dwarfed by Class A’s and Fifth Wheels, our Silver Bullet gleamed in the sun and was a bird without a flock.
When we met Susan and Bob at the picnic area back in east Texas, they had asked if we had ever stayed in an Airstream-only park. The idea had floated in the backs of our minds, but their question turned the thought into action.
So, here we were traveling along the narrow highways of western Virginia. The pronounced hills and valleys lifted, twisted and dropped the road we were traveling. We knew Airstreams had mastered this obstacle course before us, but it was still a bit of a nail biter.
The Virginia Highland Haven Airstream Park sits atop one of the most gorgeous hills in the landscape. Pulling into the park is to enter another world. Spread out in all directions are views across other valleys and mountains. The wind blows through the trees and across the grass. Every sunset is different and as equally breathtaking as the last.
Like other Airsteam-only parks, Highland Haven is a cooperative. There are 46 campsites in the park and 46 shareholders. The park is open from May 1-October 15. The shareholders can stay the entire season or just drop in for a week or two. In any case, shareholders share the workload of park maintenance and all are expected to pitch in. When shareholders are not on site, guests can stay on the empty sites providing a revenue stream.
We pulled into the park and up to the Camp Host’s site. Robert was on duty this week—shareholders must act as host at least one week each season. Robert was very friendly and directed us to our site. A line of beautiful Airstreams extended the length of the road along the hilltop. The Airstreams—of all vintages—gleamed in the sun.
The sites were gravel and quite narrow. Having long since abandoned the feeling of performance anxiety at a state park or RV resort, it returned now. Somehow we felt a little intimidated at being in this society of fellow Airstreamers. Nevertheless, Jim negotiated the narrow site skillfully and we got ourselves set up.
The wind was blowing steadily and the sun was warm. We walked down to the clubhouse to poke around a bit. The club house was formerly a home and offered communal living areas, a very nice enclosed front porch, the kitchen and a laundry area. It was all comfortably worn and very neat and tidy. We talked with one of the shareholders who was preparing homemade ice cream for the evenings ice cream and brownie get together. He urged us to join them. This was a welcoming community.
Back at our site, we settled into our chairs and looked out across the landscape of mountains and valleys. We weren’t quite ready for the brownie social, but each passerby waved and we returned the greeting. We watched the sun set in a brilliant fire that burned the edges of the clouds and reflected off the shiny aluminum shells of the Airstreams standing in a row.
Somehow beyond staying in a park full of Airstreams, we had no agenda or itinerary for what we would do the three nights and two days at Highland Haven. The ice cream chef had mentioned Floyd as a possible destination. I was also very interested in retracing our steps to Christiansburg where I had seen an antiques store which called to me.
We set off across the roller coaster roads to Floyd. Floyd may have a one syllable name and only one traffic light, but it was a delightful surprise. Here in the middle of rural Virginia was a little hotbed of artisans, music and culture. We parked and wandered around the shops.
The hardware store was both picturesque and bursting with anything one might possibly need. We wandered along poking into stores which seemed intriguing. The yarn shop was closed which was probably just as well. There were multiple establishments offering live music. The community park was under renovation and looked like it would be a lovely garden spot when done.
The old railroad depot had been transformed to host the weekly farmer’s market. Hanging from the raftered ceiling were banners from local establishments and craftsmen. Jim’s eye was caught by one for the Five Mile Mountain Distillery. My Google app said it was only 1.1 miles down the road.
The Five Mile Mountain Distillery perched itself over the road leading south out of town. The steep drive led to a small gravel parking lot. The building itself was a quirky blend of mill and factory. We stepped across the wooden porch and entered to be greeted by a very great Great Dane. A young man with an impressive red curly beard greeted us. He was co-owner of the distillery.
We never did get our host’s name (a holdover from the illicit past?), but we enjoyed his passionate history of the distillery and how he came to be a purveyor of moonshine whiskey. He grew up locally and the hills around Floyd were filled with stills. He learned from the old masters who had kept the country fueled during Prohibition. After years in construction, he had cast about for a next career. By chance he heard of someone else planning to open a distillery in Floyd and, figuring the town wasn’t big enough for the both of them, they joined forces. A spirit of cooperation sadly often lacking.
The tasting room was an attractive meld of wood and copper dominated by the bar and on the far wall, display shelves which featured a trio of old stills. The building had formerly been part of the water works for the town before it was abandoned. Our host related the process of renovation from a dilapidated home for black snakes to the attractive venue we were now in.
We tasted thimblefuls of the moonshine on offer. The Vanilla Plum had a warmth of plum followed by a touch of the vanilla. The Elderberry was a gorgeous deep color and much more astringent than I had expected. The Sweet Mountain Moonshine was 100 proof and exploded with warmth in our mouths. I was unable to finish even the thimbleful I had been given of the 100 proof.
One of the old stills on display had been given to our host by an old moonshiner now 93. He had walked the fields with him one day. The old guy would come to a gate, kick around in the dirt a bit and come up with a jar. After a sip, he would replace the jar and they would continue. At the next gate the ritual was repeated. During Prohibition this old fellow ran moonshine up to the mines in West Virginia. He would sell his load and head over to the company-owned store. They would load him up with sugar out the back door and he would head back to distill another load of clear thunder.
After a long and enjoyable conversation, we learned that the Tasting Room wasn’t even open that day. Our host was just so passionate, he was happy to share his enthusiasm. They were there distilling moonshine and building their business. We left with some of their inventory in hand.
The drive to Christiansburg was another half hour away. Back up and down the hills, twisting through the valleys. It was a heck of a lot easier without a trailer in tow, but tiring for Jim nonetheless. I left him dozing in the truck while I headed in to the antiques shop. I never go to antiques stores, but something about this shop called to me.
It was a large, labyrinthine affair crammed to the ceiling with antiques. I was on a special, secret mission about which I cannot write. I can only report I was very successful and left two happy proprietors in my wake.
We returned to the Haven. It was very windy and the temperature was dipping down to the 40’s. We hung out in the trailer and watched downloaded episodes of NCIS.
Our second and last full day was much warmer and the wind had dropped. We decided to test the laundry facilities. While the loads were drying we walked along the country road past the fields of timothy hay. They had just cut one of the fields and it smelled sweet in the warm air.
After lunch we headed back to Floyd. Ostensibly, we were after some groceries and diesel, but there was most likely an ulterior motive as well. A couple of shops had been closed the day before and we were interested in checking them out. Jim scored a devilishly handsome hat and I found some birthday presents for both Ellie and Peter. For once we were avoiding the monotony of the big box stores which seem to dominate our urban areas. These little shops supported local artisans. Our list of five items including groceries and diesel was soon checked off and we headed back to Highland Haven.
That evening two shareholders were hosting a chili and cornbread dinner. We had signed up before heading to town. Just before six, couples began heading down the park road to the club house and we joined them. Everyone was most welcoming. After a brief grace, Robert, the week’s host, asked the guests to introduce themselves. There were six couples visiting from Quebec, South Carolina, Texas, Massachusetts and, of course, Connecticut.
The chili and cornbread were good accompanied by a tossed salad and happy chatter. By chance (I swear), I had worn my USMC t-shirt and we ended up seated with our next door neighbor, a retired Marine who fought in Viet Nam. Always happy to talk about Alex and the Marines, dinner was enjoyable. The highlight was Banana Pudding. Everyone was most amazed that these two Yankees had never had banana pudding. I will definitely add it to my new repertoire of southern cooking. I asked after the recipe and it was, of course, from that doyenne of southern cooking, Paula Deen.
That night featured another brilliant sunset. We sat under our awning, wine in hand and watched a completely different show put on by the setting sun. The bittersweet realization that we were now in our last week of the trip was tempered by the beauty of the evening.
Our drive took us from North Carolina, north through the easternmost tip of Tennessee and on to Virginia. We were headed to Hungry Mother State Park.
According to park lore, Hungry Mother got its name from a tragic story. Hostile Indians had attacked several settlements just south of what is now the park. A woman settler and her child were taken prisoner. They escaped the Indian camp and wandered through the wilderness foraging for food and looking for rescue. The mother finally collapsed, but her child was able to wander along a creek and found help. The only words the child could utter were “hungry mother.” Sadly when the rescuers came upon the mother, she was dead. The park and its man-made lake take their name from this legend.
We arrived at the park headquarters and were told we could choose any of the unreserved campsites. The road to the campground was exceedingly narrow and twisty with drop offs on each side. It was really only wide enough for one vehicle. This made it exceptionally exciting when we came upon first one and then a second car going the other way. Jim edged the truck and trailer as far to the side as possible and we squeaked past with millimeters to spare. I confess there may have been some verbal exclamations on my part.
The campground, named Creekside, featured a lovely stream running along the side. There was only one unreserved site along the creek and we struggled to back the Airstream into it. The site doglegged right. Trees and large rocks formed extra challenges and it was clear we would never make it into the site without damage to something. The Camp Host wandered over as we gave up and told us that they had just had a cancellation on site 16. It was the best site in the campground and it could be ours!
After checking with the ranger station, we backed in to the most exceptionally lovely site and un-hitched. There were ducks wandering along the creek and a momma duck and her ducklings came along to welcome us.
We opened awnings, got out our chairs, decked the awning with lights and prepared for a delightful evening. After dinner we sat out by the fire. It couldn’t have been more wonderful. With our trailer windows wide open, we slept deeply with the babbling sound of the water a natural white noise.
Rain began overnight and was expected. We knew our first full day at Hungry Mother would be a washout and planned accordingly. We hung out in the trailer listening to the intermittent stacatto bursts of rain on the trailer roof. We made a trip to town, cruised Marion’s historic downtown, bought diesel and enjoyed lunch at a local Mexican restaurant, Mi Puerto. The rain continued all afternoon and provided a perfect sound track to a long afternoon nap.
We spent the evening listening to music and watching video clips of late night comedians on YouTube. In a questionable moment of consideration, Jim logged on to Netflix and we enjoyed an hour of Slow TV: National Knitting Night—the ever popular real time program from Norway documenting spinners and knitters in a timed contest going from raw fleece to finished sweater. Perhaps not for everyone, but a total fascination to me.
Saturday dawned grey, but the rain had stopped. Our little babbling brook was now a turgid torrent. It had swollen its banks and ran brown and raw. We puttered around the trailer for a while. Just about noon the sun came out. We ate lunch and then headed out to hike the Lake Trail Loop around Hungry Mother Lake.
The park was full of people enjoying the now gorgeous day. The picnic shelters were occupied. A mountain bike and running event had taken place on the same trail we were planning to hike. A wedding was set up to take place with the white chairs in orderly rows and pretty flowers lining the aisle. We were happy to think that the wedding party would have a lovely day for the ceremony after all.
The first half of our trail followed the bank of the lake and the park road. We passed many happy fishermen standing casting their hooks into the water. We passed the dam and the trail wound into the woods. It emerged briefly at what is now the park boat launch.
This park is the oldest state park in Virginia. It, too, owes its infrastructure to the efforts of the CCC. The former CCC camp was located by the boat launch. This camp seemed a tiny bit less rustic than some. They actually had barracks rather than tents and bath facilities. We couldn’t help but remember the CCC baths at Mission Tejas.
The woods here were just lovely. The run off from the rains made streams down the mountain sides. It was cool and green in the woods. Rhododendron were in full bloom. The trail had just enough ups and downs to make it good exercise and plenty of pretty scenery to keep us occupied.
Hungry Mother was unusual compared to every other state park we had seen in that it boasted a restaurant. There was a sign right at the park entrance and we passed the building in which it was housed as we headed to the campground. I was dubious. How good could it be? The Camp Host mentioned it when we were selecting our site and urged us to try it. So, we planned a big Saturday night out.
We drove back to the rustic, but attractive building. The structure was wood and cabin like. The interior of the restaurant was pleasantly rustic as well. The tables were actually unassuming, topped with formica. The wait staff was college age. What a super summer job to work at the park. It would be like camp all summer long. The menu was quite nice. I ordered Fried Green Tomatoes and Shrimp with Grits. Both were scrumptious. The Shrimp with Grits was clearly full of wonderfully unhealthy cheese and butter.
We eavesdropped on the couple at the table behind us with intent. They were the new Camp Hosts at the second campground at the park. A ranger was talking to them and we found out that Virginia’s state parks are pretty much self-sustaining. They are encouraged to run for profit ventures, like this restaurant, to supplement the meager budget. It made a lot of sense and, from the sound of it, worked really well.
It was heady stuff to be out on Saturday night and we really enjoyed our dining experience.
Once again we enjoyed a camp fire in the evening. The roaring river was slowly returning to its former babbling brook status. We finished off our firewood and crawled into bed confident that the next morning would be so delightful, it would break our hearts to leave Hungry Mother.
We were right.
The Blue Ridge Parkway was an incredible ride. The Parkway runs for over 460 miles and, like the Natchez Trace, is a national park for its entire length. Both of these narrow, ribbon-like parks are beautifully managed by the National Park Service. The Blue Ridge Parkway begins at the Cherokee Indian Reservation on the eastern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and runs north and east to Roanoke.
Begun in 1935 under FDR, the parkway was originally called the Appalachian Scenic Highway. Construction was begun with private contractors but in 1936 Congress declared the highway part of the National Park Service. Construction was then undertaken by various New Deal agencies including the WPA and the CCC. Construction of the entire parkway took over 50 years to complete. It is one of the most visited destinations managed by the National Park Service.
Having so enjoyed the Natchez Trace, we were excited to sample this other famous drive. Our ride began just east of Asheville and we enjoyed 91 miles of amazing scenery before we had to continue in a different direction.
The first half of our ride was easily the most dramatic. We started at mile marker 382.6. The two lane highway wound around, up and over hills. We passed the spot where we had parked to hike the Craven Gap Trail. We continually gained altitude and the views just became more and more breathtaking.
The speed limit on the parkway is 45 mph. While I am sure sports cars and motorcyclists find that speed unnecessarily turtle-like and conservative, it was hard to travel that fast with trailer in tow. Curves could be tight and with only horizon beyond them, it seemed prudent to take our time and relish the experience.
Also breathtaking was the guard rail situation. Sometimes there were guard rails along the roadside before a sharp drop off. These were often rustic wooden affairs. It was hard not to wonder if they could possibly stop the forces of gravity and trajectory involved with a 28’ Airstream and Ram 2500 Laramie with Cummins diesel engine. More often there was simply no guardrail at all. The edge of the road gave way to an amazing vista and clean mountain air.
The highest point for us on our drive was Craggy Gardens at mile marker 364. As we approached the visitor center and parking lot, we were enveloped by clouds. We had gained over 3500 feet in elevation since joining the trail.
When shopping for our hike the day before, I had toyed with hiking the Craggy Pinnacle Trail, but discarded the idea due to the trail’s short length. Now I was kind of glad. One of the things which often gets hikers in trouble is failing to take into account the impact of elevation changes. The temperature must have dropped by 20 degrees. We would have frozen up here on the trail.
The parkway is dotted with scenic overlooks and pull-offs. It was difficult to pass any of them without stopping. Each vista was breathtaking and not-to-be-missed. It was as if the planners couldn’t help themselves and needed to provide a stop for each successive vista. We stopped at many of them.
Tunnels are also frequent along the parkway and added yet another element of excitement!
The second half of our Blue Ridge Parkway drive took us to lower elevations. The scenery was still glorious, but less terrifying. The mountains gave way to hills and finally to fields and signs of civilization. Local roads intersected the parkway and houses could be glimpsed through the trees.
Lunch was quite a visual affair. We stopped at yet another amazing pull off just below Grandfather Mountain. I made sandwiches and we sat munching away as we stared up at the impressive mountain. This was close to the end of our time on the Parkway. We exited at Blowing Rock at mile marker 291.9.
Highway 321 took us in to the town of Boone and onward through more lovely rolling hills and small towns. It was almost disorienting to be back in civilization after such an engrossing and eventful drive through breathtaking scenery. It was as if we had woken from a strange and beautiful dream.