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March 2013

Appalachia

by Richie
Appalachia
Renfro Valley, KY

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When we are way up in the mountains, in high altitude and thin air, our GPS decides to set itself on Sherpa Mode. It carefully maps a route that is Longest, Obscure, and Steep Terrain (L.O.S.T.)

Such as today, leaving camp in NC, when a simple turn to the right would have led to the highway in a couple of easy miles, but instead the GPS sent us to the left. So we traversed the Appalachian Mountains on the backroads for two hours, though hill and holler, over dale and dell, around switchbacks and hairpin turns. All in the motorhome.

 

 

We crossed into Tennessee in this fashion, only to come to an abrupt halt at a washed out bridge. I parked the coach next to the barricades and we both sat there in stunned silence, thinking we would have to backtrack to Asheville. A construction manager came toddling over with advice. He pointed to a sliver of asphalt that disappeared over an embankment. I thought it was a boat launch.

“That’s the detour,” he said. “It’s one lane, and you gotta watch out for oncoming traffic.”

Possibly the longest six miles of my life. The “detour” was the service path for the railroad, squeezed between the tracks and desperately eroded banks of an angry-looking river.

We made it through. And I refused to drive for the rest of the day.

We’ve stopped for the evening in Renfro Valley, which is a music venue and historic pioneer village. Think Branson crossed with Dukes of Hazard.

I took a long scooter ride through the valley, and then we toured around the village. There were two musical shows tonight, but we skipped them both in favor of a quieter evening at the campground.

 

Tomorrow will be an easy ride home. This has been a great spring break, and we’ll be planning our next outing soon. Stay tuned for more adventures to come!

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Strolling & Shopping

by Richie
Strolling & Shopping

Asheville, NC
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Each morning, as the frost still lies on the fence posts, I have seen a family of Giant Pileated Woodpeckers begin their day. These are large birds, and they glide effortlessly among the branches, greeting the day with a low, throaty call.
The dog & I took a stroll through the woods following an old logging road. The slope was so gentle that I didn’t realize that we were heading downhill until we reached the paved road at the foot of our mountain. It’s a long climb back up the gravel road to the campground, and the owners have thoughtfully provided a series of encouraging signs.

 

We spent the day in downtown Asheville, poking about the shops and enjoying the surprisingly hip atmosphere. A splendid blend of eclectic architecture, galleries and boutiques, street musicians, and superb restaurants. Someone said Asheville is “the new Austin, only with a better view.”

 

Tim found a guitar-like instrument called a Woodrow, a cross between a banjo and a dulcimer. He entertained us later in the coach as we said our goodbyes.

 

 

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Recreation of the Mind

by Richie
Recreation of the Mind
Asheville, NC

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A clear and cold morning broke today – 22 degrees on the top of the mountain where we are parked. This is pushing the camping season a bit early, but we stayed warm and toasty inside with the furnace running.

We returned to the Biltmore Estate, this time for an outside tour of the grounds. Originally the property was 185,000 acres, but during the Depression the Vanderbilts sold the facing mountains to the US Government, under the stipulation the property would remain undeveloped. That land became the first National Forest east of the Mississippi.

 

The Legacy of the Land bus tour was about two hours, and fascinating all the way. Our guide focused on Frederick Olmstead’s vision for the property which, 100 years later, is just now coming to fruition as the trees and landscape have finally matured.

In the late 1800’s, when Vanderbilt purchased the land, it had been stripped bare for farming. Olmstead was contracted to develop the property, and he envisioned a bucolic setting with a variety of trees and shrubs, babbling brooks and ponds. He collected specimens from all over the world and workers replanted most of the 8000 acres we see on the estate today.

Olmstead designed parks all over the US, including Central Park in New York and Louisville’s series of urban parks. He considered himself a naturalist, and believed in the “unconscious recreation of the mind,” meaning that humans need to encounter nature to release the stress of working in an industrial world, else we are in peril of becoming beasts. And if we examine the ghettos and slums of our own day, we can see Olmstead was indeed right.

So the three mile entrance to the Biltmore was designed to immerse you in a natural setting, especially when traveled by horse and carriage which took about an hour. Then, around a tight corner, the estate home is revealed, with its expansive groomed grounds, fountains, and flower beds. Wow!

 

We lunched at the Biltmore Winery, shopped around a bit, and returned to the campground to enjoy the warm afternoon with tea and homemade chocolates complements of my Dad.

 

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Biltmore

by Richie
Biltmore

Asheville, NC
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Family joined us here in Asheville, and we toured the opulent Biltmore Estate all day.

The Biltmore is America’s largest home, with 250 rooms situated on 8000 acres nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

This enormous property was built in 1895 by George Vanderbilt, who called it his “country cottage”. The first generation of Vanderbilt’s built their wealth on railroads, and the grandson who constructed this estate not only inherited a fortune, but doubled it by his own enterprise. Thus proving a prime tenant of capitalism: Money will pool to the few.

We lunched at The Stables, where George once kept a fleet of 20 carriages and 40 horses.  

The home is furnished with European antiques of all periods, from sixteenth century tapestries to Louis XIV furniture. There are three Ming Dynasty vases in the library, each big enough to hold a grown man. Richard Morris Hunt was the architect and interior decorator, and traveled the world with Vanderbilt hunting for furnishings. Frederick Law Olmstead designed the grounds, and considered it the pinnacle of his life’s work.

We took an afternoon tour of the interior, and regrettably they have a No Photography policy. I did manage to squeeze off a few shots when the docents weren’t looking.

Dining Room
Library

The Vanderbilt’s entertained often at this home, and the house is arranged to properly keep Victorian-era guests comfortable and the genders separated. Various “healthful” activities were hosted during the day; horseback riding, outdoor games, indoor swimming, bowling, and a gymnasium. Ladies were given a maid to help them change for each activity, usually requiring 5-6 different outfits for a single day. A seven course dinner was served at 8pm, and guests were expected to be dressed in formal attire.

George Vanderbilt died in 1917 and his widow continued to use the house. Their daughter married into the Cecil family, and descendants still own the property today.


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Business & Pleasure

by Richie
Business & Pleasure

Asheville, NC
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Today was a work day for me. I set up our display booth this morning and worked the Carolina Trade Show from 10 to 2:30. Tim helped with the set-up, and brought over lunch from the coach. It has been a real treat to travel in the motorhome instead of hauling luggage around an airport, and I’ll have to plan this type of biz trip more often!

At the trade shows we always encounter a couple of kooks who want to yak your ear off. Today’s featured player was Buddy the Barking Bigot – a crusty old Tar Heel with a very strange speech tic. He would talk normally at first, then would issue a couple of alarming barks and FINISH THE SENTENCE SHOUTING.
Cornering me, Buddy launched into a series of off-color stories, for which I had no appreciation. He held up one of our novelty products and said to me, “You should take a bunch of these watermelons and…bark bark…SEND ‘EM TO THE WHITE HOUSE!”
Right. Move along now, sir.

We left the Charlotte area late afternoon, traveling under sunny skies back toward the Blue Ridge Mountains. The ever changeable weather turned cold again, sprinkled with light flurries.

Tonight we are camped high up on a mountain in Asheville at Campfire Lodgings resort. The view is spectacular from our site, perched right on the edge of the mountainside. This campground offers rental cabins and yurts, and has a ring of trails I hope to explore later.

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Up & Down

by Richie
Up & Down
Concord, NC

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Up – At the crack of daybreak to check the weather, and sure enough it was snowing pretty hard. Big fat, wet flakes that were piling up fast. Nearby Gatlinburg was scheduled to receive a heaping 8 inches of snow today, so we made a fast departure to the south.

Down – The mountain we fled hoping today wouldn’t be hours of blizzard driving.

Up – The highway, just 20 miles away, the roads improved. To our great relief it seems the snow was localized to the immediate area.

Up & Down – The mountains we went, and as we crossed into North Carolina a splendid blue sky appeared. Apropos, that was also the name of the sweet little diner where we stopped for lunch.

Down – In Hendersonville there is another Camping World. These RV stores have 20 or so service bays, with qualified mechanics at the ready. If you’re on the road and in need of repair, this is the place to go. Since we were so early in our escape from the Smoky Mountains, we stopped in for a “simple” repair, and I’ll take full responsibility here for this decision.

Up – At home, when the coach was in the driveway, the handle to our freshwater tank valve snapped off in my hand. It broke at the stem, and the valve started dripping water out onto the pavement. Since we had plenty of time today, I thought Camping World could replace the handle.

Stay Down – Hours and hours went by. We looked at everything in the store, talked to the salesmen about RVs, paced back and forth in front of the service counter, and eventually took a nap in the lobby on pair of recliners for sale.

I snuck into the service bay- No Customers Allowed!- to check on the poor parakeet. A long black hose was strung through the inside of the coach, and little dude mechanic was underneath the chassis swearing at a stripped screw. Long story short, they ended up replacing not just the broken handle but the whole valve assembly and interior water lines. I’m going to say it needed repairing, and then we won’t ever speak of this again.

Up – And out we finally went at 4:30, having shot the whole day at the service bay. Now we’re racing to get to our destination before dark, two and a half hours away.

Down – About  dusk we were within half a block of the campground and couldn’t find the blessed place. Using all electronic devices at once, the GPS, two smartphones, and an iPad, we finally pieced together all the maps and found Apollo RV Park hidden down a side road.

Up – A short hill, we are within eyesight of the Charlotte Motor Speedway (now called the Lowes Something-or-other Speedway) which is a giant NASCAR racing complex. This area is an odd conclave of serial RV parks and double-wide homes set in residential streets.

Out – Of here tomorrow we will be!

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Smoky Mountain Knife Works

by Richie
Smoky Mountain Knife Works

Sevierville, TN
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Day broke with a steady drizzle and everyone opted to sleep in a bit, including the dog who was just too comfy to bother with a morning walk. Did I mention we’re traveling with a bird as well? Billy Boy is a very young parakeet that we’re trying to hand-tame. Good progress has been made, so we were reluctant to leave him at home.

 

Around 10:00 we decided the rain wasn’t going to quit, so taking umbrellas in hand, we walked up to the shopping area. We returned to the Coleman outlet to buy a couple of life vests for the inflatable boat we bought yesterday. Spent $50 in vests for a boat that cost only $25!
The rest of the day was devoted to Tim’s pilgrimage to Smoky Mountain Knife Works (SMKW). This enormous store is a tourist stop in its own right, and in fact we saw a couple of buses disgorging eager shoppers. SMKW is like a giant Cabella’s or Bass Pro Shop, except it’s devoted primarily to all things sharp and bladed.

Tim had a grand time poking through three floors of merchandise: Kitchen World, Knife Making Supplies, Knife Artifact Corner, Swiss Army Knife display, plus the Zombie and Stars Wars sections. The entire third floor is the National Knife Museum which includes thousands of examples arranged to tell the history of knife making from stone tools up to factory-made blades.

Tim spent all day in the store. Like 5 ½ -6 hours. I was game for a couple of hours, and then I left to find other entertainment. About the time I thought I’d have to bring him a pillow because it looked like he was going to sleep there, he came shambling down to the campground clutching an armful of goodies. Even though our trip has just started, I can tell already this day was the highlight for him!

 

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On The Road Again!

by Richie
On The Road Again!

Sevierville, TN
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Our 2013 camping season has begun with a nice long trip south, hoping to catch some warm weather. First stop is the Great Smoky Mountains. Spring is trying hard to commence, and blossoms are just beginning to show on the trees here in Tennessee.

Outside of Knoxville we made an obligatory stop at Camping World, a giant store that caters to the peculiar needs of RV’ers. We spotted a darling pop-up trailer set up in the lobby – tiniest rig I’ve ever seen!

 A bit further on we dropped off the interstate onto the clogged artery of Route 66, the only road which leads into Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. This is a two lane highway that sees as much traffic as the New Jersey Turnpike, and they are struggling to expand it to a four-laner.
 We are camped at the splendid Two Rivers Landing, located at the confluence of the French Broad and Little Pigeon Rivers. This campground is quite new, and offers deliciously level concrete parking sites, hemmed by low hedges.

 

Within walking distance is the fabled Smoky Mountain Knife Works, a Coleman outlet, Lodge Cast Iron store, and a host of other interesting looking shops. We arrived early enough today to do a quick pass around the area, lucking upon a tent sale at Coleman where Tim bought a small inflatable boat for those lake-side trips to come later in the summer.
We will loll here in Sevierville until Monday, so tomorrow will be dedicated to some serious shopping. I’ve saved a wee bit of room in the motorhome for some good finds!
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