2018 Fall NY to TX
Pictures can be found here
It was getting to be mid-September, and time to head south. Our first stop on the way south was in Fairfax, VA where we met old boat cruising friend Don from Liquid Courage. Don has also sold his boat and returned to land life. We found RV parking at a nice county park not too far from Donís house. The evening we got there, Don and his girlfriend came to the RV to visit. The next day, we did a little exploring around Fairfax and Reston, and then went to Donís house for dinner. The next day, we moved to Virginia Beach to visit Barbís brother. Hurricane Florence had impacted the mid-Atlantic area recently, and we were calling ahead to make sure the facilities were not damaged. Fortunately, we were not impacted. We got to the Virginia Beach KOA and then drove to Jimmyís house. It was not too far between the campground and Jimmyís house, but it was all local streets that were very busy during rush hour. It took us about an hour to go about ten miles. We enjoyed a nice dinner with Jimmy and his family, and got to meet his sonís wife and children for the first time. The next day Jimmy and his wife came to us, and we went to the beach. We had lunch at a nice beachfront restaurant, and then hit a couple of beach stores looking for a new pair of Reef sandals for Barb. Since it is past Labor Day, the beach world has pretty much shut down. The stores all had 50% off sales, and a few were already closed for the season. We also drove out to the Cape Henry Lighthouse at Fort Story. The lighthouse itself was closed for renovation, but it was cool, and we walked out to the observation deck on the point.
From Virginia Beach we travelled to a KOA near Charlotte, NC. For those of you not familiar with Carolina geography, Charlotte is on the southern border of North Carolina. Right across the border is Fort Mill, South Carolina. My son lives and works in Fort Mill. And, there is a NASCAR race in Charlotte. See the connection? The Charlotte/Fort Mill KOA is just a few minutes from my sonís house. We have stayed here before, and while it is kind of funky by KOA standards, it is very convenient for us. The trip was a bit long, and several construction zones made it a bit more stressful than usual. We arrived at the KOA on Thursday. My son works for Shutterfly and travels often between their plants in Minnesota, Phoenix, and here. He was traveling home from Minnesota on Friday, so we just relaxed once we got to the KOA. Friday, my daughter-in-law picked us up at the KOA, and we went to the airport to pick my son up. We went from there to dinner at a BBQ place that my son says is the most like TX BBQ that they have. (Carolina BBQ is generally much different than TX BBQ.) Saturday, my son and his wife picked us up and we headed west to the Ashville area. We first met old boat cruising friend Roxanne at the Sierra Nevada brewery in Hendersonville for lunch. We spent a couple hours there and then went to our hotel in Asheville. In the morning we went to a great Sunday brunch at the Biltmore Estate. After eating we headed to Grandfather Mountain. One thing Grandfather Mountain is known for is that part of Forest Gumpís running scene was filmed here. We saw the famous curve in the road, and continued to the top where we walked across the Mile High Swinging Bridge. Lots of the people there were freaking out about crossing the bridge, but none of us found it particularly scary. Maybe back in its original state is was not as secure looking. Another thing to see at Grandfather is a small Nature Museum and an animal preserve. There are bears, cougars, elk, otters, and an eagle, all in large natural settings. After a couple hours touring Grandfather, it was back to Fort Mill.
The timing of our visit to Charlotte was partly to attend a NASCAR race. As usual, we will camp at the track for the whole week prior to race weekend. So, Monday about mid-day, we drove across town to the track. We found our spot and got set up. Our spot was on the end of a row, and adjacent to two porta-potties. This will be important later. As soon as we were set up, we drove back into Charlotte to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. We met my son and his wife there and enjoyed visiting the Hall thanks to passes a good friend gave us. The Hall was not busy at all, so we were able to drive the simulator, which was fun, and also do the pit stop challenge. We actually did the pit stop challenge four times since nobody else was waiting. After touring the Hall, we had dinner at the Buffalo Wild Wings which is attached. Tuesday, we drove down to my sonís house in Fort Mill for dinner. Wednesday, my son took the afternoon off and drove up to the track. We took a track tour together which was cool. Barb and I had done a track tour here a couple years ago, but the track has changed. This yearís race is being called a ďRovalĒ. Most NASCAR races are raced on oval tracks, with two races a year run on road courses. Charlotte has been reconfigured to be part oval and part road course through the infield. The tour took us around the whole track and explained several other facility changes because of the new use of the infield. After the track tour, we went down the road about a mile to the Hendrick Motorsports team facility. My sonís favorite driver is Jimmy Johnson, one of the Hendrick drivers, so it was fun for him to see the shops and the museum. Thursday brought the only bad weather of the week. A thunderstorm came through in the afternoon which was much stronger than expected. Our large awning was out, and it was strapped down to stakes in the ground. Also the small awning over the entry door was out. The wind was blowing from the awning side of the bus, but it has survived high winds when tied down before. Suddenly, a huge gust, which probably qualified as a microburst hit us. Both straps broke and the large awning slammed up against the side of the bus. I couldnít really see where it went and was afraid it had torn off and was on the roof. But then, the awning came back down some and looked like it was intact. I hit the button to roll it up, hoping it would roll enough to stop flapping around, even if it was damaged. It rolled up and we caught our breaths while waiting for the storm to subside. Once the heavy rain and wind were gone I went outside to survey the damage. The large awning appeared intact, so I pushed the button to unroll it. Other than having a couple gallons of water trapped in it, it seemed ok. The small awning however was slightly damaged. One of the arms was slightly bent, and the stitching where it attached to the bus was torn. So, both awnings got rolled up for now, since we are going to Fort Mill for dinner. While we were in Fort Mill, another line of severe thunderstorms came through. We waited at my sonís house until the storms passed, and then headed back to the track. We were following the storms, so we got to the bus just after the storm had stopped. Remember those porta-potties that were right next to us? They had both blown over and were lying on our bamboo mat. There was about an inch of water everywhere, partly from the rain from the storm, and partly from the porta-potties. A security guy on a golf cart stopped and asked if we were alright and if I needed help standing the porta-potties back up. We righted them and moved them back over where they belonged. The saving grace I guess was that being early in the week, the porta-potties had not been used extensively. They had been used some though, so it was still pretty disgusting. Once we were inside and cleaned up, I started our generator. We usually run it a few hours each evening when dry-camping. After an hour or so, then generator shut off by itself. That possibly means it is low on oil or overheated. Being late, I left it for morning to look at. In the morning, I found that the coolant was low, so I topped it up and started the generator. It ran for about an hour before shutting down again. When it shut down, I could hear hissing inside where steam was leaking out, but none of the hoses are accessible from the front. We canít live without the generator for three more days, so I called the KOA in Fort Mill. They had space, so we packed up and went back there for the rest of the week and weekend. Once there I refilled the generator and ran it again for a while. Since we were on blacktop now and not grass, I could clearly see that after running a few minutes it was dripping coolant. This will be a fun fix, but not now. Saturday, my son picked me up and we drove to the track for the Xfinity race. My son bought the tickets for us, and he got some sweet seats. They are high enough in the stands to see the whole track, they are covered, so we will be out of the sun, there are TVs under the cover so we can see replays, and they have bathrooms and a bar just for our relatively small area, so no waiting in lines. And, they are right at the point of the track where the cars will enter and exit the infield portion. He had also purchased a reserved VIP parking space, so the fact that we are commuting instead of camping here wonít have as much impact. Before the race started, we wanted to get something to eat. The closest food to our seats is Dale Earnhardt Jrís place called Whiskey River. From our level, we could overlook Whiskey River, and saw it appeared there was a buffet there. So, we went down there and went to the counter to order. We ordered beers and asked about the buffet. Turns out the buffet had been for a private event for season ticket holders, which had ended. The BBQ left was leftover, and they were trying to get rid of it. So we had a good full BBQ plate free. That doesnít happen at an event very often. The Saturday race was good. The drivers handled the new track configuration better than I thought they would. After the race was over, we made our way to the VIP parking and were out to the interstate in less than twenty minutes. Sunday was a repeat performance for the Cup race. The only difference was that we didnít score any free food Sunday. The Cup race was a little more exciting, with a few wrecks, one of them right in front of us.
Monday after the races, we headed south to Elgin, SC, in the center of the state near Columbia. We stopped here to visit Barbís niece Jessica and her family. The RV park we stayed at was a bit ďrusticĒ, but it was fine for our needs. Since Jessica & Eddie both work, we went to their house in the evening Monday and Tuesday, had dinner with them and visited. Wednesday, we moved on to the Myrtle Beach area. Our original reservations were at a park in Socastee, right on the Intra Coastal Waterway. We had stayed there a couple years ago and enjoyed watching boats go by where we had passed several times in our boat. But, a week ago we got a call from the park saying that they had damage from Hurricane Florence and would have to cancel our reservation. So, we have made reservations at a huge RV resort right on the beach just south of Myrtle Beach. This kind of park is usually not our first choice, but given we are outside the ďseasonĒ, it was no more expensive, and it was right on the beach. Our reason for stopping in this area was to see our friends Tom & Michelle Becker. We had seen them earlier in the summer doing their John Denver show in PA. This time it will be their ďregularĒ Trop Rock show. Their home is in Pawleyís Island near here, and during the summer they have a regular gig at a restaurant called Creek Ratz. Creek Ratz was not damaged by the flooding from Hurricane Florence (nor was Tom & Michelleís house) so the show went on as planned.
After Myrtle Beach, we moved a little further south to Savannah. We got there on Friday and my son and his wife joined us Saturday. We had never been to Savannah before, either by boat or land. My son and his wife stayed at a hotel right on the main drag of the historic district, and we were in an RV park less than ten miles away. On Saturday, went to the Riverwalk and wandered around. They were celebrating Oktoberfest, so there was music and booths with food and drink. We got a beer to enjoy as we walked around. The Savannah River is the waterway here, and it is used by large ships going to the port, just upstream of the city. While we were there, two container ships passed by, seemingly close enough to throw a rock at. In addition to the vendors there for Oktoberfest, there are numerous shops along River St. We stopped at Byrdís Famous Cookies shop and the Peanut Shop of Savannah and got some goodies at both. We then went to the Shrimp Factory for dinner, and finished the evening with a Ghost Tour. Sunday we started with breakfast at Debiís Restaurant. Debiís Restaurant is where Jenny in Forest Gump worked. The place looks just like it did in the movie, and the food was good. We then jumped on a trolley tour. The trolley tour is an on-and-off type of tour. We started at their main terminal and rode to Forsythe Park, where we got off. We strolled through the park, checked out the large fountain in the middle, and then picked up the trolley again at the other end. We rode to City Market, where we got off and toured the American Prohibition Museum. Sure glad we didnít live through that period in time. We picked the trolley back up and rode to the Ships of The Sea Maritime Museum, which was small but interesting. We hopped the trolley back to the terminal and headed off to our next adventure. The last time my son asked me to share a bucket list thing with him it was skydiving and the result was me crashing and breaking my foot. So, when he asked if I wanted to go for a helicopter ride, I said ďSure!Ē Iím happy to report that this adventure was much more successful than the previous one. We went to the Savannah Airport where we found Old City Helicopters. Only my son and I took the flight, while the ladies stayed behind. The helicopter is a small four seater and we both sat in the rear seats. We took off from the airport and flew southeast over the city. Once east of the city, we turned over the river and flew fairly low over the river past the historic district and back to the airport. It was only a ten minute ride, but it was pretty cool. That leaves a hot air balloon ride on the to-do list. Back in town, we went for an early dinner at Belfordís Steakhouse at City Market. Monday, we headed out to Tybee Island, where we toured the lighthouse property and museum. We climbed to the top of the lighthouse and enjoyed the view, although the wind was blowing extremely hard. For lunch, my son said there was a place called The Crab Shack that was well known. I asked if it was Joeís Crab Shack, which is a chain, but he said it was not Joeís. We found the restaurant on the way off the island, and no, it wasnít Joes. It was a cool place with mostly outdoor seating. We had a great meal with, of course, lots of crab and shrimp. You have to love a place with a trash bucket built into the center of the table? They also have an alligator exhibit, where we stopped on our way out and fed the alligators. Before we left the area, we went to Fort Pulaski National Monument. This was the first time I used my National Park Old Guy Pass to get extra guests in. We toured the whole fort and the visitorís center and just barely beat a short downpour as we ran back to the car. We drove back to the RV where we said our goodbyes and Chris & Monica headed back to Charlotte.
We planned to stay a couple more days in Savannah and then move on to Panama City Beach, FL. Hurricane Michael had other plans for us. The hurricane was forecast to make landfall around Panama City, so we extended our stay at the park we were at through the end of the week. We know all too well how hurricane forecasts can vary, and we are taking a gamble by staying here. If the forecast is correct, Panama City will get hammered, and the storm should pass west of us as it travels inland and weakens. The potential problem would be if the storm track shifts east any, it could impact Savannah more, and we would have nowhere to run. While the forecasters seem as sure as they ever are, we were still a little nervous having our options limited. We spent a few days just hanging out and watching The Weather Channel a lot. The storm made landfall on Wednesday the 10th just where it was forecast. Good for us, bad for them. We watched as it churned well inland doing more damage in from the coast than most hurricanes do. In Savannah, we had winds around 30 mph, although in the RV park we hardly felt it because we were protected by large trees. One of those trees falling was our biggest risk, but thankfully nothing happened. Since our plan to go to Panama City was now out of the question, we needed to regroup. The Biltmore RV Park we are at is sold out over the weekend, but since weíve been here we found Red Gate Campground just a couple miles away. We made a reservation there for Friday and Saturday, which will give us a chance to plan our week that was to be in FL. Our plan after the week in Panama City was to meet up with the Karavan To The Keys in Gulf Shores, AL. Since the Florida panhandle coast is now out of the question, and a wide swath of the area between Savannah and Gulf Shores is also damaged or closed to assess the damage, we made a reservation in Gulf Shores for the week prior to the Karavan. With the storm past and our plans resolved, we enjoyed a few more notable meals in Savannah. For lunch one day, we went to Moon River Brewing. It is in the historic district, and is reputed to be haunted. We were there for a late lunch, so the place was not crowded and we sat at the bar. The beer was good, and the food was good, but the place apparently was haunted. Because after our initial interaction, the bartender became a ghost. I rarely get upset with the service in a restaurant, but this was one of those few occasions. They lost the sale of a second beer, and the bartender got a 0% tip. I was just hoping she might chase me out when she saw the lack of tip, but she didnít. On a more pleasant note, we had lunch at the Crystal Beer Parlor where the waitress was delightful and the food and beer was great. Our last lunch in town was at the Distillery Ale House. This building was a distillery back in the pre-prohibition era, and now serves craft beer and good food. We sat at the bar in the mid-afternoon, when we were the only customers and the staff was doing ďchoresĒ. One of the chores was that they were mixing up a big batch of some specialty drink that they make several gallons at a time. Since the bartender and the guy helping her were uncertain of the ďrecipeĒ, we were enlisted to taste test the product. We also had a beer named Gate City Brewing Gourd Vibrations Choco-Pumpkin Porter. With a name like that, we had to try it and it was tasty.
We finally left Savannah on Sunday, October 14th. We have a reservation in Gulf Shores, AL for the 15th, so we broke the drive up with an overnight stop at a Flying J truckstop in Tallahassee. As we came in to Tallahassee, we started to see damage from the storm, with lots of trees down and powerlines down. Our night in the truckstop was better than our last Flying J stop, because we didnít wake up to snow. We carried on in the morning to Gulf Shores, where we have a spot at Luxury RV Resort for a week. Interstate-10 for about eighty miles west of Tallahassee was a case study in hurricane damage. Being on the interstate, we didnít see many buildings, but we did see lots of tree damage. Just out of Tallahassee, the trees were fallen to the north, meaning the wind came from the south. As we went further west, the damaged changed to where the trees were felled to the south, meaning the wind was from the north. The trees here are primarily pines, being farmed for paper or lumber. So frequently we would see a large area of pines that had been planted in rows, just snapped off twenty feet off the ground like they had been mowed. The trees that had been right along the freeway and fallen into the roadway had been cleared by crews that cut them back just to the edge of the road. The interstate had been closed for several days after the storm, so we were lucky to be getting through with no issues.
Once in Gulf Shores, we pretty much goofed off for a week. We didnít have a plan, so we just hung out and checked out some places like the Pink Pony, the Flora-Bama, Luluís, and Acme Oyster House. We also went to a house concert featuring Bob Durand and Danny Rosado. After our week off, we moved a couple miles to Island Retreat RV Park, where we are meeting up with our friends from the Karavan The Keys. The Karavan is a group of Trop Rock friends, both musicians and fans, who travel from San Antonio to Key West over the course of about ten days, with the end result being attendance at Meeting Of The Minds, the national Parrothead convention. We moved to Island Retreat a day before the Karavan got there. The day the Karavan got there, we joined many of our friends for dinner at Luluís and then went to Big Beach Brewing for trivia night, where we were in the running for a prize until we blew it in the last round. The next day was a golf outing day, which we didnít participate in until the evening, where we had a show at the golf course clubhouse that featured, Brent Burns, Bill Whyte, and Eric Stone. The next day, we all packed up and headed to Gainesville, FL. We are boon docking for a night in the parking lot of a Bass Pro Shop. The weather had been iffy all day, and once we got settled in the parking lot, it was promising to rain. So, we parked opposite Donny Brewerís rig, such that our passengerís sides were facing each other. That way we could open our awnings and create a fairly large protected area. Everybody brought out their chairs, and drinks, and we ordered about 30 pizzas from Dominos. After the pizza, several guitars came out and we enjoyed a cool, damp, jam session.
The next day of travel took us to Kissimmee, FL. The Karavan is parking at the home of Bill Cockrell, another Trop Rock musician. Bill has several acres of lawn, and is at the end of a dead end road, so there is plenty of room to park about fifteen RVs. We were the trouble makers, since our generator is not usable. Bill has one 50 amp plug available, which would normally have been allocated to our Karavan organizers, but Donny & Michelle graciously allowed us to have that spot and they used their generator. Our drive from Gainesville to Kissimmee was only a couple hours, so we were there and parked pretty early. This was important because this afternoon and evening is a big house party. The party includes a pot-luck dinner for the Karavan participants before the music starts. The music included Donald James, Joel Block, Danny Rosado, Drop Dead Dangerous, Donny Brewer, Thom Shepherd & Coley McCabe, Sunny Jim, Bill Cockrell, and Kristine Jackson. Of course in addition to each artist playing their own sets, they all sat in with one another too, making the night one of those events that canít be reproduced. Saturday, we loaded up about thirty people into two rented vans, and drove to Universal Citywalk. You wouldnít know from the rural, wooded setting we are in that Disney World is only about five miles away as the crow flies. Each evening we could hear the fireworks show from Disney. Universal is a bit further north, about 20 miles from point-to-point by road, so it was about a half hour drive. The reason for renting the vans was that parking at Universal is about $30. So by sharing two vans, we will save money over parking fifteen cars. We also will have two designated drivers so that the rest of us can enjoy ourselves. The reason for the trip is to go to Margaritaville for lunch while J.D. Spradlin is doing his Radio Margaritaville live show. Margaritaville knows we are coming and have set tables up right in front of the broadcast booth for us. We all wore our Karavan t-shirts so that everybody knew we were a special group. Margaritaville had dedicated two servers to our group and they did a great job of quickly getting everybody drinks and then took our food order. Donny was in the broadcast booth with J.D., coordinating what we were going to do. A couple of times, in breaks between songs, J.D. made reference to our group, and had us all yell so we were heard on the air. Then Donny played a song live on Radio Margaritaville. It was all fun and on the way out we bought t-shirts in the gift shop because they gave us 20% off everything. We hung out at Citywalk another hour or so, with some folks going to other shops and some of us just sitting on benches and people watching. Eventually, we loaded back up and returned to Camp Cockrell, as we named Billís house. There was nothing planned for this evening and everybody just hung out. Sunday morning was bittersweet for us. We are not going all the way to Key West for Meeting of the Minds with the Karavan. We will be turning around and heading back to TX for the winter. So, in addition to getting the bus ready to roll, we spent time saying goodbye to the Karavan people. Some we will see back in TX, but some we wonít.
Our trip back to TX was pretty quick. We wanted to be sure to be back in time to vote before the early voting window closed, so we made the trip in three days. From Kissimmee we went to Tallahassee. We had a reservation at an RV park on the east side of town, where the damage from the storm was minimal. We got parked and then went to an old friendís house and went out to dinner with them. The next day it was on to New Orleans. Again, we got settled in the RV park and then joined another friend for dinner. Our last day was New Orleans to Kemah. I guess because it was our last travel day for a while, the travel gods thought they would give us a little excitement. Between Baton Rouge and Lafayette, Louisiana lies the eighteen mile long bridge through the Atchafalaya Swamp. This bridge carries I-10 over the swamp. It is actually two parallel bridges, one for each direction. There is no shoulder on the left and a narrow shoulder on the right. We were about three-quarters of the way across the bridge when the tire monitor system alarmed about a tire going flat. It was a tire on our tow dolly, on the passengerís side. The tire did not blow out, but was going flat fast. I pulled to the shoulder and stopped. With the shoulder being so narrow, I was only about a foot off the travel lane, and barely had room to open the door to get out because we were only about a foot off the guard rail and concrete side of the bridge. I carry a spare for the dolly, but this was not the optimal place to be changing it. We were so close to the guardrail that I couldnít open the cargo bay door to get my jack and tools out. Barb had to hold the cargo door open as far as we could get it while I knelt on the ground and got the jack and wrench out. Fortunately they were near the front of the cargo bay. The spare was in a compartment on the driverís side however. Most traffic was moving over as they passed, but I couldnít really count on that and be standing out there. I watched the oncoming traffic for a minute and saw a long break in all traffic coming. Since the traffic was quite heavy, I donít know why there was such a break, but I jumped out there and got the spare out in just a few seconds. Once I got the tire changed, I just threw the flat and the tools in the back of the car, and we got going. About a mile further down the road, there was a State Trooper on the shoulder. Sure wish he had been behind us with his lights on, but it all worked out.
The rest of the trip home had heavy traffic and the usual construction just inside Texas. We got to Gordy Road RV park, where we have stayed before. Thus starts our fourth winter here and the end of this update.