A Different Flock

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.

Birds of a Feather

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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.

IMG_2288When 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.

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Our host reflected in mirror

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.

No, Not That Atlanta, The Other Atlanta

We arrived at Atlanta State Park the Saturday before Easter Sunday. The park was alive with families enjoying the special weekend. The Easter Bunny had just presided over an Easter egg hunt and the excitement level was unparalleled. We saw the Easter Bunny zip by in the ranger’s golf cart. It was also quite warm, nay hot, and sunny.

The site we were assigned was very short. Short and uneven. In order to get the Airstream intothe site, we had to hang out in the campground road blocking traffic. This is precisely the kind of situation which Jim finds intolerable. He hates to be in the way or inconveniencing anyone. Of course, this meant we were trying to rush and that only prolonged the process. We needed to deploy the Andersons to level the trailer side to side. We got our signals crossed and had to rework the process. I thought Jim’s head might explode. He was quite literally a very unhappy camper. Finally, we were able to unhitch and get out of everyone’s way.

We were dead tired and hot and unhappy. To re-spark the magic, we got out all of Jim’s Airstream toys. We deployed the awnings and got out the palm tree. From the awnings we hung the strings of lights shaped like flamingos and flip flops. This was their maiden appearance as I had brought them back from my visit east. Of course, the flamingo from the Quilt Museum was on display. Smokey took a bow as did Jim’s replacement balloon from Ruidoso. We were the most festive and happening trailer in the park!

We sat in our chairs under the awning to enjoy the late afternoon and dusk. Jim sipped his beer. I drank my wine. A large red wasp began buzzing around us. Soon swarms of gnats were flying in our faces. We got out the citronella candles and remained steadfast. Just as darkness fell an enormous black beetle crashed into my head with his hard shell. My shriek rang out though the campground. I bounded inside the trailer. That was just one bug too many for me. I hate, hate, hate insects. I hate bugs. I really hate big red wasps and black, hard-shelled beetles that fly. I began to pine for west Texas and its bug-free environment in earnest.

Atlanta State Park has two campground loops. We were on the lake loop. The other loop was deeper into the woods. Rather than place the campsites right next to the lake as is most common, the sites were lined along both sides of the road leading through the campground to the picnic area. This picnic area was a peninsula which jutted out into the lake. The loop was ringed with tables. It was quite lovely. We pondered the democratic choice which had been made to leave the campsites in the woods and the public access picnic area on the prime spot.

 

The next morning we walked the picnic loop and admired Lake Wright Patman. It was a little rainy and the sky was cloudy, but all in all a pretty day. We spent some time cleaning the trailer. Living in a small space, there isn’t much to clean, but it does need fairly frequent attention. Cleaning is also a good way to exert control over one’s environment. It serves dual purposes.

Atlanta park was unusual in its lack of hiking trails. There was one trail which connected the two campgrounds, but it was uninspiring. We were still a little tick-shocked from Mission Tejas. Rather than explore the trail, we decided to see if the ranger had wood for a fire and head in to town.

The ranger actually gifted us with some firewood someone had left behind. We headed to WalMart for some firestarter sticks. When we got out of WalMart, Jim suggested we go to Sonic for burgers. It was already 3 pm and it seemed a little late for a heavy fast food meal. As Jim likes to say, I crushed his soul once again. We returned to the park. All was not harmony and happiness. We hunkered down for another evening dodging bugs.

The next day was humid and somewhat cloudy. At this point we were both ready to leave Atlanta. We were trying hard to be happy and content, but it wasn’t happening. It was time for some serious intervention. In the pantheon of tools to engender happiness on the road, doing laundry ranks at the top—even ahead of trailer cleaning. It was time to do the laundry. We were seriously intent on getting happy.

5217 342Jim had researched and there seemed to be just one laundromat in Atlanta. If it didn’t really exist (not an unusual occurrence) or was awful, we would have to go to Texarkana which was quite a ways away. We drove the twenty minutes back to town. With 34 years of happy matrimony under my belt, I suggested we try Sonic before the laundromat. This girl didn’t survive this long without knowing when to uncrush a soul. We don’t eat fast food very often at all. But Jim had this bee in his bonnet and it seemed the best course of action. It was okay. I don’t think I ever need to eat at Sonic again.

After Sonic, we found the Washateria. It wasn’t the cleanest place, but it had the necessary appliances. Jim and Dakota stayed in the truck and I headed in to get the job done. Doing laundry, even in a less than spotless environment, is good for the soul.

The next morning we were ready to hitch up and get underway. Our next door neighbor wandered by on his way from the bathhouse to his trailer. He was friendly and very interested in our hitch. We have a Pro Pride hitch which has tremendous stabilizing strength. It resists the gusts from wind and passing semi trucks and makes hauling a trailer much safer and easier. Lots of people haul with a simple ball hitch as did our neighbor.

Over time Jim and I have worked out a good process for hitching and un-hitching. By now we had done it many times. We barely need to speak as we work through each step. We each have our own self-assigned tasks. Despite this familiarity, having an audience threw us each into silent performance anxiety. As our neighbor peppered Jim with hitch questions, we performed each task, but without our usual level of concentration.

Once early on in our journey, we had had a near disaster in hitching. We could have totally crashed the Airstream and, even all these months later, we remained battle scarred. After that near disaster, I developed the oft-recommended hitching up checklist. Ever since we were religious in running through the checklist each time we hooked up no matter how confident we felt. Like a pilot preparing to take off down the runway, the checklist was our salvation.

The hitching in front of our kindly observer went well. Jim nailed putting the stinger in the hitch. He hooked his over center, I took the tool and hooked mine. My favorite job is to cross and hook the tow chains, hook the emergency brake release cable and seat the seven pin plug which makes the brake lights work on the trailer. All of that took place. Our satisfied guest wandered off pondering the joys of our Pro-pride Trailer hitch. Jim and I both breathed sighs of deep relief. We went through the hitching up checklist with the fervor of were newly ordained priests performing our first Eucharist.

Eastward Ho!!

The drive from Pedernales Falls to our next stop at Mission Tejas State Park was tougher than we expected. The mileage wasn’t that far outside our normal range, but the drive seemed to take forever. We stopped for diesel once and then again for lunch.

We were hungry and I had just remarked that the Texas highway department would do us all a favor if they put more rest stops along the highway when a blue rest stop sign appeared. I guess they heard me. It was a little late for lunch, but the rest stop looked green and serene. We pulled into a nice long spot by a picnic table and opened up the trailer. I was in the midst of making sandwiches when another Airstream pulled in to the rest stop! It was very exciting and seconds later our new neighbors were knocking at the door.IMG_2288

Susan and Bob live in east Texas and had bought their Airstream in 2008. They actually bought their Airstream at Colonial from Patrick! (Patrick Botticelli is a legend in Airstream circles for his videos available on YouTube). That makes us sort of related. Cousins in Airstream ownership. We had two good chats. They were very friendly and enthusiastic. That is how Airstreamers tend to be especially with each other. It is a special society.

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Buoyed by our close encounter with another Airstream, we pulled back onto the highway right behind our fellow Airstreamers. We followed them through mile after mile and town after town until a construction stop light divided us. “Goodbye Airstream Buddy!”

It was after 5 when we reached our destination. Mission Tejas State Park is an old CCC camp and was founded and built in 1934. Not a big park, it has only 14 camp sites about half of which are for tent camping. It looked like they were in the midst of building a new park entrance when we were there. We never really did ask about that.

The site the ranger assigned to us was one of the worst we have ever had. It was narrow. It spanned a rise with trees on the street side and behind. The pavement was laughably uneven. It was supposed to be a full hookup, but we could see no evidence of a sewer connection.

In a comedy of errors we hadn’t dumped because we thought we would have a full hookup. When we saw no evidence of a sewer connection, we pulled off the site to head back to the dump station. We were so tired we were almost staggering as we returned to the site and worked with the Andersons to level the side to side of the trailer. We finally got it level. As we finished connecting shore power and water, we found the tiny little opening which was the sewer connection. We never did bother hooking up the sewer, we had already dumped. The site was so uneven we decided not to un-hitch. We would just stay put in the park for two days.

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Despite these rather sad beginnings, we liked our site. The trees surrounded us. It was green and leafy. The first day there were few campers. On the second day several families arrived and the forest rang with the kids’ excited voices and happy laughter and the deeper voices of parents chatting and catching up.

 

The park didn’t have a lot of trails, but there were enough. We hit them first thing the next morning. There was almost no cell signal at our site and we figured we would follow the trails and end up out at ranger headquarters where we could hopefully catch some signal.

Heading out to hike the first thing we did was to walk up the hill behind our site to check out the bathhouse as well as the Commemorative Mission building next to it. The bathhouse looked perfectly fine. It was a study building and clean. It is always reassuring to know a hot shower is attainable.

Next we headed to the Commemorative Mission. This was a replica mission building was erected by the CCC when they built the park.

It was a beautifully crafted replica of an old log building. Mission Tejas got its name from the Spanish who tried valiantly to settle the area and convert the local Caddo tribes. Tejas means “friend.” The Caddos were farmers. Ultimately, the Spanish attempt to convert the Caddo and other local tribes was a failure. Disease decimated the local tribes who attributed their illness to baptism.

The park is heavily forested with pine, oak and maple. We first walked a nature trail around a pond which let to yet another trail called the Cemetery Hill Trail.

We took a brief detour onto the Lightning Trail. This trail zigzagged through the woods, hence its name, and met back up with the Cemetery Trail which led, as one might suppose, through the woods to a cemetery. This was the local cemetery and still very much in use. The oldest graves, dating back to the 1800’s, intermingled with the newer graves charting generations of local inhabitants. We spent some time assimilating a bit of family history based on the names and dates on graves.

One of the highlight historical sights in this park are the CCC baths. The park literature and signage on the trails exhort the visitor to see the CCC baths. In my mind I was picturing some good-sized bubbling springs which one could paddle around in to get clean and cool. I idly imagines if it was warm enough I could give them a try. Nothing could be further from the truth. When we got to the springs, we saw three holes which punctuated the earth. They were glorified puddles. There were the initial spring, the soaping and cleaning hole and the rinse hole. Imagine scores of sweaty, dirty men bathing in succession in the tiny, mud-lined holes.

The men on the CCC crews lived in primitive conditions and worked really hard. They earned $30 per month, $25 of which was sent home to their families. Most of the men came from poor homes and in the depths of the Depression, these jobs saved their families from starvation and gave them skills and a sense of purpose. They built roads, bridges, parks like this, strung telephone and electrical wire and planted quite literally a billion trees. These CCC camps were stationed all over the country and did so much to build the park system which Jim and I have been so thoroughly enjoying. I give FDR full props for this. The CCC saved lives and constructively employed what would otherwise be lost resources.

After viewing the CCC baths, we headed along the Big Pine Trail to ranger headquarters. We sat on the old buggy seat on the front porch and Jim downloaded the paper (sadly only part of it came through) and I tried to send a couple emails with little luck. Oh well, the hiking was good enough even without a digital payoff.

Another major sight at the park is the Joseph Rice Log Home. This cabin was originally erected in another location along El Camino Real (the King’s Highway). Joseph Rice and his wife added to the cabin as they added to their family. It became a stopping off point for travelers. Eventually the cabin was no longer inhabited and was used for storage until it was donated to the park by the family.

 

Most fascinating in looking at the cabin was the interpretive information about building techniques. Squaring off the logs, smoothing them and then maneuvering them into place was a substantial undertaking. It is hard to conceive of the painstaking labor involved and the craftsmanship required to get a roof over one’s head. It is possible to see the marks from the shaping tools on the logs. It is all beautifully preserved.

Our return hike to our site followed the Karl Lovett Trail through a pine woods. The ground was thickly carpeted with pine needles and the red earth shone through in spots. The woods we had been in before were dense and green, this section of the park was much more arid and piney. We paused to look at the signage for the old fire towers. Jim always loves a good fire tower. He climbed one once in northern Michigan and it takes little prompting to get him to reminisce about the experience.

When we had spoken to the ranger at headquarters, she warned us the ticks were bad. When we got back to the trailer, I spread the blue quilted movers blanket we keep in the truck and began a tick check. Bingo. Dakota had a pretty good crop of ticks on him. Jim grabbed the tweezers and fire stick and we removed some ticks. This was an unpleasant reminder that we were no longer in the dry country. We would need to be careful moving forward.

IMG_2304We spent the afternoon reading and knitting (I was knitting, not Jim). It was a delight to use the sturdy bathhouse with hot running water and not the CCC bathtubs.  We enjoyed the quiet and relaxing afternoon. We had a cozy dinner. Since we had not unhitched the next day’s getaway would be swift. We would head to our last park in Texas. The eastward push was really underway.

 

Our Airstream Angel

After five weeks of travel, it was time to leave Florida. Our next stop was in Mississippi and our drive would take us west through Mobile and a corner of Alabama and north through eastern Mississippi to Hattiesburg. If Florida is a state unto itself, we would now truly be in the Deep South.

It is pretty much impossible to drive through Florida and any of these southern states and not think about religion. Churches seem to outnumber other buildings and maybe even people in many places. Every road side in town and in rural areas is dotted with small buildings offering many varieties of faith: Baptist, Primitive Baptist, Missionary Baptist, Methodist and churches with colorful names and no apparent affiliation other than the belief in a god, sin and redemption.

Our own religious experience occurred on the outskirts of Mobile. We were back on Interstate 10—the major artery leading westward. Trucks, cars and rv’s streamed westward and eastward in unending lines of transit. As always Fifth Wheels and Class A’s dominated the rv traffic. Every once in a while a Class B or Class C would appear, but they were the minority. Of course, there was almost never another Airstream to be seen. In fact, in our entire trip I think we had only seen fewer than a handful. Once in Florida we passed one going the other way on a two lane highway and we both flashed our lights and waved in happy recognition.

We were motoring along feeling pretty happy and calm. The tall buildings of the city of Mobile were ahead of us. The highway was elevated at this point and we had a grand view. We anticipated the adrenalin surge of urban traffic. Our calm was shattered in an instant with a sign announcing the Bankhead Tunnel and warning any vehicles with hazardous materials to detour immediately. Frost panic ensued. Hazardous materials? That meant us, right? Those two tanks of propane in the prow of our trailer were potential explosive devices. We knew we weren’t supposed to go into the tunnel, but we hadn’t a clue what we should do as an alternative. I grabbed my phone jabbing the Google app in a furious attempt to get some direction.

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Just then our angel appeared. After thousands of miles with barely a sighting of another Airstream, merging upward on the ramp to our right was a glorious silver bullet. Her aluminum shell gleamed in the sunlight. She steamed along and smoothly entered the highway just ahead of us. “Jim, that’s our Airstream Angel and she’s come to lead us around the tunnel!”

 

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We followed our Angel as she took a right onto Route 90 paralleling the Mobile River and then left across the Cochrane–Africatown USA Bridge. Mobile sped by to our left and was soon behind us. Just as we finished crossing the bridge, the Angel took a left hand exit and headed north on Route 43. She was gone in an instant, but she had led us to salvation.

 

Road Runner Beep! Beep!

In our case, the next stop was the goal we had been pushing hard towards since we left CT on January 3rd. Our journey to date was a time of discovering how to live in the Airstream, but the major goal was to get to the Fort Pierce/Stuart area where Jim’s mother, Betty, has a condo.

Betty is 95 and in amazing shape given her age. Always a beautiful and petite woman, she still has her looks and her mind is kept sharp by doing myriad crossword puzzles daily. She can buzz through the NY Times Sunday puzzle in under an hour. While Betty usually lives in Michigan, she has had this condo in Stuart for decades. To give her the opportunity to enjoy the Florida warmth, three of her children were taking turns staying with her. Jim’s brother, Phil, and his wife, Renee, were first up. We would do our turn and then his sister, Linda, would come down for the final leg of the visit and the eventual return to northern climes.

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Jim, Betty and Phil

The wrinkle in this plan for us was, of course, the Airstream. We couldn’t very well hunker down in the parking lot at Betty’s condo. Actually, there was a further complication. Many years ago Jim’s father, Jack, as head of the condo board, had passed a rule that pickup trucks couldn’t overnight in the parking lot. Ironically, we couldn’t even park Big Blue there.

So, Dakota, the Airstream and I took up residence at the Road Runner Travel Resort and Jim headed forty minutes south in a rental car to stay with his mom in Stuart. Southern Florida is so crazy crowded with rv’s, that was the closest decent spot we could find.

The Road Runner Travel Resort was a bit of a shock at first. Having spent more than a week in state parks, we needed to adjust to the closer living quarters of a rv resort. RV resorts have a different ethos and clientele than a state park. More on that at a later time.

After checking in at the office, we headed to our camp site. Road Runner is a pretty large park—more than 400 sites. The streets all feature president’s names so we took a left on Madison. When we pulled up to our site, I got out to spot and the lady at the site next door said, “you need to come from the other direction to back in.” Oh, okay. I was willing to follow her direction and duly reported this to Jim in the cockpit. He grumbled, “who does she think she is…” I pointed out she undoubtedly knew far more than we did and he headed off to re-orient. When he got back, our new neighbor, Carol, and her husband were both on their feet and ready to help. Rick offered to back us in and we took him up on the first of many kind offers. Rick is a retired truck driver and he had our Airstream perfectly positioned in a minute and made it look incredibly easy to do so. Jim was thrilled and relieved. Backing in with a large audience is never stress-free and he learned some valuable tips in the bargain. People in rv parks are generally incredibly friendly and very willing to help—I found this out frequently over the next ten days.

Rick and Carol

Rick and Carol

I would point out two other characteristics of Road Runner and Florida rv parks in general. The first is that you very rarely see Airstreams. We are definitely a bit of an oddity. This is true in state parks as well. It will be fascinating to see if this is less true when we get west of the Mississippi. But in Florida the Class A and Fifth Wheels rule. The second observation I would make is that half of Canada is down here. There must be no one left at home in Quebec. The common areas at Road Runner rang with the sound of Canadian French. I don’t blame them because it is really cold up there, but those left behind must be feeling a bit lonely. Actually, Rick told me that last year there were far more Canadians at Road Runner. The strength of the dollar thinned the migration quite a bit this year.

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With Jim located to the south by forty minutes, Dakota and I took to life on our own. This was actually a very good development as it forced me to take charge of Airstream care and conquer my fear of lighting the grill and any number of other things. Midway through the week there was a big storm scare. I had to take in the awnings and prep for high winds and this was all good to learn. Again, Rick and Carol were very helpful with advice. They made it clear they were there to help me if I needed it and it was very comforting to know that.

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Over the course of the week, we developed a pattern. One day Dakota and I would do something on our own like go hiking and the next day we would drive down to visit Jim and Betty. This ended up working out quite well for all involved.

Georgia On Our Minds

Yep, we saddled up and headed out of Aiken without ever seeing the charms of historic Aiken or the cottage named Joye (although Robert said you can’t see much from the road anyway). Our disappointment was greatly mitigated, however, by visions of toilet valves and having a fully working water system in the Airstream.

It took just about an hour to get repaired. Our planned trip to see Stone Mountain State Park and the Atlanta branch of the Frost clan was sadly abandoned. We’ll put that on the list for later as well. We headed south for a quick overnight at New Green Acres RV Park  (more on RV parks at a later time) and then on to Savannah and the Skidaway Island State Park.

Sometimes GPS is tremendous and sometimes GPS just doesn’t think about traffic patterns and how they might impact towing a 27 foot Airstream. In this case Francine (the GPS lady) guided us right through the middle of tourist-laden Savannah’s narrow and crowded streets, past the surprised faces of tourists from Des Moines and Muncie and right smack into a bunch of streets under construction. I know my hair was standing on end. Thank heavens Jim has steadier nerves. Next Francine wanted us to enter the Harry S. Truman Parkway where no ramp existed! All of the locals were driving past the now defunct ramp, executing a tight u-turn and entering the highway from the other direction. Airstreams don’t do tight u-turns. But fate protects fools and panic-stricken Airstreamers—right where others were making the tight u-term there was a water treatment plant with a drive through. Huge signs decorated both sides of the narrow driveway saying, “Wrong way! Do not enter!” but we recognized salvation even if it meant transgression. Meeting no irate oncoming traffic, we completed our about face and entered the parkway. A little shaken, but none the worse for wear.

Skidaway Island State Park is nestled just outside Savannah on the Skidaway Narrows and part of the intra-coastal waterway in Georgia. It is absolutely lovely. The campground is spacious and lined with live oaks and cascading Spanish moss.

Arriving at the park, campers operate on a first come basis to find a camping site. We ultimately found a lovely and level site canopied by trees and just across from the only other Airstream in the park. Setting up was a joy. We put out our awnings, our veranda mat and folding chairs.

Our Airstream neighbors across the road, Larry and Mary, were actually from just up the road. They had just got their darling  Airstream Bambi and Larry was as full of enthusiasm as he was of questions. Jim stood a little taller realizing that finally there was someone who knew even less than he did about what was going on. Larry and Mary loved to talk. Walking near their Bambi pretty much guaranteed a good 30-minute chat. But, hey, what have we got to do?

The park has lovely hiking trails which wind across marshland and give peeks to the waterway.

We hiked all the trails in the two plus days we were there. Along the trails are historic bunkers used by the Confederate soldiers to defend Savannah and its shipping from the Union forces.img_4903

One other thing we did do was take an afternoon walking tour of Savannah. With Dakota in tow, we needed a pet-friendly tour. Free Savannah Walking Tours was just what we needed. A no frills business started by two young native Savannans, we had a 90-minute guided tour of the key squares in the historic center of the city.

Savannah was as gorgeous as I thought it would be. We saw the house (above) from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and got a good sense of the historic squares and romantic buildings in the city. Walking is a great way to see things.

There was one draw back. Of course, Dakota is quite beautiful and everyone wants to pet him and he is very friendly. But let a small dog walk by and Dakota sounds like he would easily tear him to bits in seconds. He is all bark and no bite. The whole time he is barking and growling, his tail is wagging, but he does make quite a scene. Every time another dog walked by, and it was frequent, or a horse-drawn carriage clopped past, Dakota lost his mind. He doesn’t actually have that much mind to lose and by the end of the afternoon, Jim was a wreck. Dakota causes more marital stress than all three of our children ever have.

I would go back to Skidaway Island in a heartbeat. It was such a comfortable and lovely place to camp. We really enjoyed hiking the trails and the facilities were first-rate. We set up camp and could have stayed for a very long time. With a working kitchen including running water, we made a big meal of steak and all our favorites. Now this is what we signed up for! After three days we reluctantly headed south to our next destination: St. Augustine.