Happy November. We’ve been very busy over the last several days while staying in MD at Little Bennett county park campground – visiting family and friends in Virginia and Maryland and the DC metro area where we used to live. We also were able to add some enhancements to our truck including step up/running boards and a retractable bed cover.
Snazzy new step-ups and truck-bed cover
We stayed overnight at a friend’s house in Fredericksburg, VA. My friend Wendy moved there from Long Island in 2016 with her husband Matt, who recently passed away. She lives in a beautiful new house and we had a wonderful time hiking to the nearby Rappahannock River —————-
Wendy, Susan, and the historic Rappahannock river
and out to happy hour in downtown Fredericksburg——————–
Wendy and I have known each other for many years. We started out as colleagues in vocational rehabilitation and became close friends. I also worked for Matt when he was the Director of Phoenix Houses of Long Island.
The next day, we met Claude, a very old friend from our Virginia/DC days. Claude was John’s roommate in Oklahoma City when he was in training to be a Washington Center air traffic controller. We were very good friends with Claude and his wife Noy (from Laos) during the years we lived in Northern Virginia, and of course knew their now adult children – Cressida, Nicholas, and Bobby. Our son Michael was also born during those years (5 weeks premature and 4 1/2 lbs. – now 6’2″ with size 12 shoes) – in DC’s Columbia Hospital for Women. We had seen each other sporadically over the years but it had been a long time since we got together.
Today, we moved out of Little Bennett and are headed to our first National Park camping experience. We are driving on the incredible Skyline Drive heading to Big Meadows Campground in the park.
Skyline Drive the next day
The 20 mile drive up Skyline Drive was interesting, to say the least. It started pouring (what else is new?) around 1/2 mile up and never stopped. At times, it was so foggy, you could only see a few feet ahead and the road curves all the time.
I’ve never seen a road curve so much, so often. There are numerous overlooks along the way because the scenery is breathtaking but we didn’t dare stop to look. It poured like nobody’s business all night long. We were soaked through and through by the time we leveled our RV and unhitched.
John had to get the generator running during the downpour, which he managed to do without electrocuting himself. The weather was so awful, we didn’t even go out to the Big Meadows Lodge for dinner, as we had planned. I made a pot of beef stew instead and it was very cozy.
Rain & fog at Big Meadows campground, Shenandoah National Park
Today, the sun is out, there is a very brisk breeze and we should be able to enjoy the beauty of this national park. Interesting factoid about Shenandoah National Park — they have the largest population of black bears in the nation, and they are very diligent about warning campers how to stay safe – particularly concerning the handling of food and cooking. The ranger told us that in the late summer they had to hike the campground’s perimeter blowing fog horns to move them away – we are ready with our bear spray, just in case.
View at Big Meadows Lodge
We learned a very important lesson this morning– don’t turn off the generator before unplugging it from the RV’s AC power cord. Unfortunately RV’ers tend to learn lessons like these the hard way. As soon as the generator was switched off, we lost all power to the RV – AC and DC. Normally, the fully charged RV battery takes over and you can run your refrigerator, furnace, lights, etc. Well – we were dead in the water and couldn’t figure out why. When we turned the generator back on, everything worked, but generator hours were now over and it was to be the coldest night we have experienced thus far. We were perched atop a beautiful mountain where the temperature drops to the freezing point and the winds relentlessly scare the living crap out of you. A Class C RV parked nearby lost their awning in a wind gust. With no furnace, we had to sleep in multiple layers with three blankets til early AM generator hours resumed. It’s a blessing that Baker is a husky mix. We couldn’t feel too sorry for ourselves though, since there were multiple hardy souls staying the night in just tents!
So instead of enjoying the splendor of the park, we spent the next day out in search of a solution to our problem. We had joined FMCA (Family Motor Coach Association) and subscribed to emergency roadside assistance. They have mobile tech support and helped diagnose our problem, though we had to drive miles on Skyline Drive just to get cell coverage. He thought it was most likely a certain unique circuit breaker near the battery but behind a screwed panel – and totally hidden from view, of course. For $4.99 and a 45 min drive to a town with an auto parts store (thankfully they had one left) we were back in business.
That day wasn’t a total loss as we drove into Charlottesville, VA and tooled around the town. We toured the pedestrian mall and walked up the street recently named for Heather Heyer – the woman killed during the infamous Charlottesville protests.
Charlottesville’s pedestrian mall
We returned to our campsite after dark, fixed the circuit breaker and extended our stay for one more night.
Everything is working in the RV so today we plan to hike a bit, but first, more shopping. We now know the importance of having a reliable battery back up, so we spent several hours visiting auto parts stores. It took several hours because nothing is really close by. Every trip we make requires a lengthy ride around the mountain. We had breakfast at a little local diner called C&S in a very small rural town, Elkton, VA. The food was great but it sure was different from a NY diner. There were biblical passages throughout the menu and a daily prayer book on the tank of the toilet in the restroom. Interesting mix of food and religion to digest.
Midway Campground Resort, Cool Springs, North Carolina
We drove several hours to Cool Springs, NC – not far from Winston-Salem and Charlotte. We arrived after dark to a lovely spot. Inevitably, it started raining and we had to drive several miles in a fog advisory zone. Thank goodness, John has great eyesight.
Our spot is really lovely, with a view of the pond and our very own concrete patio. If we didn’t have the patio, we’d be encased in mud. It is very private and quiet and we have full hook-ups which is a great luxury after several days of dry camping. The weather is also 30 degrees warmer than our mountain top site.
Our view at Midway near Charlotte NC
We are still in our beautiful spot in NC. We really will be sad to leave because we don’t think we will ever have such a serene and private location with our own concrete patio and pond view. Luckily, the day after we leave, the temperature is dropping down to 29 degrees at night. It should be above freezing in SC where we head next.
Yesterday, we went to the Lazy 5 Ranch which is a drive through safari in the middle of NC. It was a blast. The very first animal that stuck his massive head in John’s window was a huge African cow. It basically rampaged our little feed bucket and was inches from John’s face. I was rolling. There were many different animals, all very used to being fed from random vehicles so not shy at all. I will let the photos speak for themselves.
Lazy 5 Ranch North Carolina
Today we will explore Charlotte and then we are meeting some NY Center air traffic controller buddies who happen to now live 30 minutes away from our campground. It has probably been a decade since I have seen them because John retired a decade ago- but here they are. We will be heading over to their house for dinner tonight.
Freedom Park in Charlotte, NC
Wonderful times with ATC buds Larry and Paula Milillo in Cornelius, NC near Charlotte
Tomorrow, we pack up and move on. We have been at this for 2 months and have been through 13 states so far. We have stayed at county, state and national parks and many different types of campgrounds. Not bad for 2 months.
Boondocker’s Welcome Boondoggle ————-Winnsboro, SC
We headed two hours south to Winnsboro, SC for our second Boondocker’s Welcome experience. Of course our moving day was again hampered by pouring rain. It was supposed to just be occasional showers, but the skies opened up early in the AM and never stopped. We were soaked through and through when we finally got on the road. We even stopped on our way down, at a Cabela’s, to open the camper and change into dry clothes.
We were hoping that the rain wouldn’t follow us down south, but it did. We arrived a little before dark to Brooks Farm to meet our host, Rene. The property consisted of several granite homes with several very long, narrow driveways. At the entrance, there was a beautiful, carefully constructed stone fence hugging the longest driveway. I walked up to find Rene to determine where we should park because it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to back up that driveway towards the 2nd granite house, where she lives.
She toured us around the beautiful property but it became very apparent that she didn’t own it- she rented. The landlord lived in the first granite house. I thought this was a bit strange, but whatever.
Rene showed us the grassy shaded area where the RVs usually park and pointed out some tire tracks left by the last “boondocker” who was driving a 48,000 lb Class A (bus). Since we are less than half that weight, we figured we could park in a similar spot, driving between those tire tracks. I was walking the property with Rene while John was trying to pull around into our spot. When he pulled up onto the grass, he immediately sunk into the muddy lawn. The more he tried to get out, the more he sunk.
Rene handled the situation with amazing calm and grace. She pulled her F250 truck around, grabbed a tow rope and pulled us off the lawn (after several attempts) and onto the driveway. John had to pull forward to straighten out which caused us to go under a low hanging pine tree that could damage our roof or AC units.
We did finally get onto the driveway so that we could get level, unhitch and get out to see my sister-in-law, Cathi who lives 30 minutes away near Columbia. Unfortunately, we left massive, muddy ruts in the lawn and we had no way to turn the RV around so we knew we would have to back down the mile long narrow driveway at some point. To top it all off, Rene pointed out the various piles of fire ants surrounding our camper along the driveway.
Rene was heading out in the morning for a weekend trip, so she wasn’t going to be around. We decided we would have dinner with Cathi and then go right to sleep and leave the next day for a campground. Of course, we had to contend with fog when we ventured out for dinner.
Sesquicentennial State Park, Columbia, SC
This morning, John spent several hours tamping down the ruts in the lawn.
Trying to fix giant ruts in the lawn
He was doing an excellent job when the landlord came over to talk to him and see what was going on. He was pleasant enough, but definitely seemed annoyed with Rene and the whole situation. We just wanted to get the hell out of there, which we managed to do successfully. John backed the RV all the way down and through that beautiful stone gate. It was amazing.
We secured a lovely spot at Sesquicentennial State Park which was much better. Cathi came over for a campfire BBQ and spent the night. The site was really uneven so we were kind of high up off the ground. I had to stand on a ladder to cook the bacon for our camping breakfast.
Sesquicentenial Park, lake. and campground near Columbia SC
John’s sister Cathi and cooking bacon on a stepladder
After breakfast, we ventured into Columbia to tool around the city and see the sites.
Columbia from the car
Tomorrow it’s off to the SC/GA border to visit my sister Ellen & husband Jules in the woods of SC, as well as jaunts to the beautiful city of Savannah. Stay tuned.