Monday, October 28, 2019

First Impressions of Kampgrounds of America

Lumberton/I95 KOA

Let me state the facts first. I have camped in two KOAs during the first half of October--the first in the West Virginia, an overnighter; and the second in North Carolina, for a two-night stay. Both KOAs were located near more than one interstate highway, and both were also fairly near towns with population between 50,000 and 200,000.

These two KOAs were not destination spots, at least by my standards--although they had pools and accommodations that would suit campers with children or campers who liked all the amenities and who planned to stay close to their RVs. I can see how these two KOAs could be fun for some folks, but for me they are not spots for me to arrive and then settle in for a long "camp."

Here are a few reasons these KOAs are not destination spots for me:
  • few active opportunities, such as bicycling or hiking
  • most sites were in full sun
  • large RVs were the standard campers present
  • the sights/sounds of highways nearby
These sites charge about the cost of a one- or two-star motel, so it would be possible to travel across the country, staying in inexpensive motels, and the cost for a bed at night would be about the same. For folks who travel in their family car instead of their RV, there would be a big savings in gas by not hauling the weight.

Having just spent one night (out of eight) in an inexpensive motel instead of my tiny trailer, there are some very real positive reasons to spent a night at a KOA, rather than a cheapie motel. These reasons are why many people travel with a camper.
  • more control over your environment
  • sleeping in your own bed
  • able to cook your own food
  • very possibly more clean
That's a pretty good list of plus features. The staff at the two KOAs I've stayed at have been positive and helpful. I have to say that I loved the bath/shower house at the Lumberton, NC, KOA. They have a "family style" accommodations--a large room with toilet, sink, and shower; well lit (except no dedicated light for the sink mirror, a minor inconvenience while shaving). You go in, lock the door, and have the whole accommodation to yourself. There were two of these rooms in the building next to my trailer, and two smaller set-ups. The Lumberton KOA had the cleanest and best set up bathroom/showers for any campground I've ever visited: private, new tile floor and fixtures, and a real sense of freshness. So, yes, I very much enjoyed a chance to stop for a bit during my road trip and being able to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I also did my laundry while at Lumberton.

However, during my trip so far, I have also spent nights at private campgrounds near freeways that were more rustic (and therefore a bit funkier) but still clean and maintained--just older and more basic, I guess you could say. Two of the three campsites had more shade and campside atmosphere; the third campsite was in a meadow without shade. All cost 30-40 percent less than the KOAs.

Huntington/Fox Fire KOA

As a price comparison, campsites in Iowa state parks with water, electric, and possible sewer, cost from $16-22. The mom and pop private campgrounds on this trip have been $30-35 a night. The two KOAs have run $45-55 per night. If I had searched more, I probably could have found nearby campsites for less than either the KOAs or the mom and pops. However, after driving all day on a multi-day trip, the convenience of a quick-and-easy stop has a great deal of appeal.

The Lumberton KOA did have this trail of maybe a quarter mile behind the campground. The trail skirted this canal, the canal merging into an overgrown and sluggish river. 

You will probably notice that I've made no ultimate judgements of KOA campgrounds. If I could find campgrounds similar to what I'm familiar at home with in terms of costs, sites, and amenities, and convenient locations, then I'd be staying in those campgrounds. However, if I can maintain my sense of personal lifestyle while not having to pay a hundred dollars a night for a more expensive motel, then I'm all for that.

If I find that my scheduled miles of driving at the end of the day locate me near a KOA, then I'll pull in and flop. Based on my experience so far, I'll know the bathrooms will be clean and well-kept, the campsite will be flat so I won't have to worry about leveling my trailer, and the management will be friendly and helpful.

For this trip, my destination spot is Huntington State Park (at $65 per night), on the ocean in South Carolina. From what my friends tell me, this is indeed a spot worth coming to and staying for a while. My thanks to KOA and those roadside mom and pop campgrounds that helped me get to my destination. A compilation of my blog posts for this trip is at my Green Goddess Expeditions link. There are probably lots of campers who have more KOA experience than I have. I'd be interested in your thoughts.

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Friday, October 25, 2019

To the Carolinas and Back, the Tiny Trailer Numbers

tiny trailer camping
Rest stop in Illinois on the way home--20 big rigs and the Green Goddess
First, I have to apologize because I've discovered that numbers aren't screamingly important to me. I mean, emotionally, I don't need to know all the numerical facts regarding my recent three-week trip from SE Iowa to the Carolinas and back. However, looking at the numbers does provide me with another angle for analyzing and understanding my journey, and can help me make determinations about how to become a better traveler. Fortunately, I did keep a journal for cash expenses, and it's pretty nigh impossible to travel using gps without having distances thrown at you--or being able to go back at a later date and find a route and mileage number pretty close to your actual route. So here goes!

Mileage

As hard as it is to believe (even for me), I forgot to set the odometer or to write down my mileage both at the beginning of my trip out and for the beginning of my trip back. I just had other things on my mind, and I had a pretty good idea of the distances: around 850 miles from my home to Pilot Mountain, North Carolina; around 250 miles from Pilot Mountain to Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina; and a little less than 1,200 miles from HBSP back to home, depending on the specific route I chose. That adds up to approximately 2,300 of travel. I began the trip with an average of 18.1 miles per gallon and ended with 17.6. I think the drop wasn't so much because of the miles on the road but because the new addition was mountain travel. I passed through eleven states for this trip, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. For some of those states, I believe I just nipped a corner, an in and out.

Pilot Mountain, North Carolina
Pilot Mountain, NC

My more studied approximations, after having traveled the distance, is a total of 2,600 miles, which includes some micro traveling for food, lodging, and just general running around. It also includes the fact that my navigator took me on several voyages into the backwoods and along urban freeways--that is to say, not always the shortest route but sometimes the "fastest." The main weakness of navigation systems that I can see, having traveled a lot of unfamiliar country now with gps guidance, is that the fastest or shortest route is not always the easiest route. It seems that gps navigating systems have a difficult time figuring Aristotle's "golden middle way," that comfortable space in the middle between extremes. "Fastest" and "shortest" are quantifiable concepts; however, easiest route is not quantifiable, although I suppose quantifiable parameters could be assigned in programming--traffic, road quality, elevation change. Easiest, though, is a much more slippery concept, and that's not even considering that easy will not be the same for everyone. 

Gas

The total cost for gasoline for this trip was $437.58. As I mentioned earlier, my mpg average started at 18.1 dropped to 17.6 by the end of the trip. My tow vehicle is a 2018 Nissan Pathfinder with a V6. The steepest grades I experienced were 9%, and that was when heading north out of Harrison Bay State Park, in the Smoky Mountains. My RTTC Polar Bear weighs 1,450 pounds empty, and the Pathfinder had plenty of power for towing. On freeways, I generally drove between 60-65 mph, often at 62 mph. On the steepest, longest pull in the Smoky Mountains, I dropped the transmission out of overdrive and dropped the cruise speed down to 50 to ease the load on the engine. The Pathfinder came with a tow package, and I'm very happy with how the car performed.

Campground Costs

The overall cost of campgrounds for my trip is $832.59. I also include here (but not in the campground total) $75.23 for one night in an EconoLodge motel room for when my trailer was getting its new roof. The least expensive campground was Harrison Bay State Park in Tennessee, which totaled out to $20.48 for one night, including a senior discount. The most expensive campground was South Carolina's Huntington Beach State Park. At $65 per night, five nights totaled out at $357.50. The roadside overnight campgrounds all averaged between $30-45 per night. 

This road trip included a time schedule. I had a set date to deliver my camper to Rustic Trails Teardrop Campers to have a new roof installed. The weekend for the RTTC 2019 get-together at Huntington Beach State Park established my second deadline, and just wanting to get home and not dilly-dally formed my third time schedule. 

My trip out was a straight shot of overnighters, and the campgrounds all near freeways. My experience with these is that they were quick, clean, and convenient, although there was some difference between the mom-and-pop campgrounds and KOA-type establishments, mainly that the mom-and-pop establishments were a tad bit more "rustic" but also about a third more inexpensive than the KOAs.

A boy enjoying the warm Atlantic waters at Huntington Beach State Park, SC. Tiny trailer camping
A boy enjoying the warm Atlantic waters at Huntington Beach State Park, SC

I had a week to blow before arriving at Huntington Beach, so I spent four nights in a little private campground in the Pilot Mountain area. It provided the most basic facilities of the entire trip, but the campground was clean. It was actually my favorite of the trip, perfect for my tiny trailer. Camping among the trees is just the way to go for me, but it's also hard to beat the South Carolina ocean experience at Huntington Beach. On my way south to HBSP, I spent two nights in a KOA in Lumberton, NC. What can I say about this stay? The cleanest, newest bathrooms I've seen in a campground--and private, "family bathrooms," at that. And the sights and sounds of the freeway about a hundred yards away. Most of the campgrounds on the trip home were private and most "campers," it seemed to me, were semi-permanent retirees or construction workers.

State campgrounds are hard to beat in that the focus is on the natural environment, and the two I stayed at were really the best in overall experience. If my wife and I someday repeat this trip, we'll try to increase the stays at state parks, both in how many we camp at and how long we camp there. If I had been willing and able to take more time on this trip and to drive more miles, I could have relaxed more at state parks. It's a good thing for me to keep in mind. 

Food

I packed quite a bit of food on the trip, so I didn't have to buy much. Ice cost about $22 for three weeks, and I still had a good ice load arriving home. Food costs were $105.42, which included fresh vegetable and apples. That total also included some Subway sandwiches, Taco Bell burritos, and McDonald's french fries that I bought along the way and during my overnight in the motel. I enjoyed steaming fresh vegetables and learning how to cook without setting up the whole camp kitchen. 

One of the best aspects of traveling with a camper is the ability to cook my own food and not change my diet. I think this keeps me more healthy. Sleeping in my own bed and eating my own food--yeah, I like that.

Last Thoughts

What I learned about tiny trailer travel while on this trip deals with time awareness. I always knew I'd get back home eventually, but after a while I just began thinking more in the moment, whether it was negotiating my way through Atlanta freeway traffic or rolling along interminable, slow winding Appalachian backroads. I began narrowing my focus more on the needs of the day to get to tomorrow. Perhaps that sounds strange, but I think it's probably characteristic of road trips. I know that for even small bicycle tours, even overnighters, the focus narrows to "let's get up this hill" or "set up the tent and lie down for a bit." The constant movement of driving, rolling down the highway, and the constant need to be attentive to the details that make the trip safe focus the attention. The selective use of some muscles and not others while driving is a constant reminder that I'm on the road and not on my usual varied daily activity schedule. After a while, the routine of quick camp stops, gas stations,  and miles and miles of asphalt--after a while, I just had to find the joy in the moment. Music and NPR programs helped. My next long trip will be with my wife, and then we can chat and enjoy being together, which helps the miles flow by.

I've discovered I'm a guy who prefers camping over driving. I guess I've always known that, actually. I've also discovered that I can travel on down that road, on and on, even though it's not my favorite activity. We can't always have total control over what we have to do, though. The secret is in being able to find the bliss in whatever we do, and that bliss, of course, is inside of us, not outside. So what am I working towards? Drop-dead gorgeous campsites and bulletproof bliss inside! Camp on, Tommy!

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Monday, October 21, 2019

2019 Gathering of the Bears: RTTC 2nd Annual Tiny Trailer Gathering

Warm ocean waters, photo by Louisa Dunlap

My first inkling that attending the RTTC 2019 Gathering would be different than most of my camping trips was when I was sitting in my camp chair underneath the Green Goddess's awning, reading and relaxing after the long road trip. It was Thursday afternoon, October 10, the first day of the Rustic Trail Teardrop Campers "Gathering of the Bears." I had arrived early on Tuesday and was all set up in Site 2 of the North Campground at South Carolina's Huntington Beach State Park.

Site 2, Huntington Beach State Park, North Campground, South Carolina

Site 2 is the first campsite you see when you enter the North Campground. (Site 1 is just across the road, but somewhat hidden by trees. Site 2 is bordered on both sides by the entering and exit roads.) So I'm sitting quietly reading, when suddenly an entering car pulling an RTTC Papa Bear completely stops. I hear a shout, "The Green Goddess!" I receive an enthusiastic wave, and the car continues on to find their campsite. This happy circumstance occurred several times during my stay--RTTC owners stopping in their cars, on bicycles, or just strolling by and stopping to ask if my camper was the Green Goddess and if I was Tom Kepler, the writer. Usually I camp and then write about my experiences, publishing and sharing them with readers. This time, I was camping right in the middle of a group of folks who read my blog, and it was such a warm and sharing weekend that turned out to be an enjoyable time of making friends, an experience aptly expressed by fellow RTTC owner Heidi Berman: "I would like to THANK ALL who made the 2nd RTTC reunion a great success. I loved meeting everyone, seeing old friends and spending time with special people who have so much positivity and kindness to give. I can’t wait to camp again."

RTTC evening sharing, photo by Karen Landon

Sharing camping with friends was a new, wonderful experience for me, one that I would never have experienced if I hadn't chosen to attend the RTTC get-together, my attendance effected by a curious convergence of possibilities, including a tree limb smashing my tiny trailer's roof, the gracious offer of the builder to replace it, and the RTTC second annual yearly gathering occurring just one week after the roof replacement. Camping with over seventy others who arrive to share a weekend together? I had last done this when camping with my son and family friends and their son, over twenty years ago.

Event coordinator Jim Cook. Photo by John D. Pappas

I've already written about the tree, the trip out from Iowa, the roof replacement, and other events on this trip, if you need to get caught up.
  • (Sept. 24) A Tree Limb Bashes My Tiny Trailer, the Green Goddess
  • (Oct. 2) Pilgrimage to Pilot Mountain: A New Roof for My Tiny Trailer, Part 1
  • (Oct. 4) Pilgrimage to Pilot Mountain: A New Roof for My Tiny Trailer, Part 2
  • (Oct. 6) Unknowingly, I Tiny-Trailer Camp-Crash Woodstock
  • (Oct. 10) Walking the Beach, Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina

An evening of fine food, photo by Levi Magon Sechrist

The weekend officially began with a potluck Thursday evening, with the get-together coordinator Jim Cook providing an entertaining yet focused welcoming talk, reminding us all to celebrate our commonalities, to be inclusive and big-hearted. And that is what happened for one magical weekend of great people, great weather, and a grand time. Mother ocean, a nearly full moon, enough wind to discourage the mosquitoes, good food, and a few rascally raccoons to keep us on our toes--RTTC pulled off a homespun, heartfelt gathering for its enthusiastic customers.

Moon and ocean, photo by Charlene Bradley Barnes

Beauty of Brookgreen Gardens, photo by Michael Richardson

I had read on Facebook, of course, about the first RTTC gathering, and I had read about other tiny trailer builder get-togethers: Nucamp (T@G and T@B), Camp-Inn trailers, Hiker Trailers, and I'm sure a great many more builder gatherings for trailer owners. I had read the accounts of owners who had attended get-togethers and even made presentations, and about other kinds of get-togethers, such as the Tearjerkers and Xcapers gatherings and the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR).

"Birds of a feather . . ."

These gatherings all seemed like a lot of fun, but as the solitary literary guy, I was having so much fun reading about them that I never seriously considered actually attending them! I have to say now that there's a lot more potential for fun to when you go and participate. Watch Rob Dickerson's video compilation of the gathering to see many fine photos of the camaraderie shared during our RTTC gathering.

Kayaking at Murrell's Inlet, photo by Lori Gandy

Sand sculpture contest, photo by Lisa Keeney Maurer

On Thursday, the first day of the gathering, people settled in and set up camp. Friday included food and an informal "beach party" at a central pavilion. Saturday started with a morning craft show (at which I sold books) and an evening dinner catered by a local chef. These more formal events were the anchors around which the fireside gatherings and beach walks and confabs occurred. RTTC trailer owners--and a few attendees who have not yet been able to buy their Bears--talked and shared and got to know one another. I'm reminded of that saying: "You build a house then make it a home." We had bought these tiny trailers, these "hard-sided tents," and we've filled them with our hearts and dreams. And then at this gathering, we shared our hearts and dreams, we shared our tiny trailer lives. By being a part of this get-together, I'm now more firmly established in this community of like-minded tiny trailer owners--of friends. Thank you, Rustic Trail Teardrop Campers, and thank you, RTTC owners.

Photographer/editor Rob Dickerson says, "I just knew I had seen this group before somewhere!"

I now return to my solitary writing ways, sitting beside my woodstove and writing in the pre-dawn morning. Anyone who owns a tiny trailer knows we're all ambassadors for tiny trailer camping. We are reminded every time we stop for gas and are asked about our trailer, every time we set up camp and have folks come by to ask questions. Being a part of this association of tiny campers is a wonderful way to be reminded that we belong to a larger club, the family of man, as it has been called. We are all human beings, with so much in common. We sit around a common campfire, sharing light and warmth, a human experience that goes back to the dawn of time.

Graphic by Louis Laporte

The next RTTC gather is October 8-11, 2020, at Harrison Bay State Park, Chattanooga, Tennessee. People are already signing up. I stopped overnight at the park as I traveled back home to Iowa from the reunion. Mountains this time instead of ocean. And the experience of a sharing and giving community--always!

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Friday, October 18, 2019

If GPS Routing Were Music, It Would Be the Blues

Yes, talkin' the gps blues . . .

When I take to the highway,
Just want to know which way to go,
But gps don't treat me right--
too many rocks and too little roll.

Please excuse the lame lyrics, but my gps navigation has been bluesy--hardship, unrequited love, and memories of the good times we've had.

Continuing my travels toward home today, the fourth day of five, was actually pretty mundane--and that's good, because "exactly what I expected" is what I want from my gps. Today the travel was fairly light freeway the whole route, which is what I expected from my research. Here's how I planned.

  1. I researched Google Maps in the same way I do when I bicycle tour. I found a route, then expanded the map to check the details. 
  2. After that I checked the map again with the satellite view to ensure there were no surprises. (For instance, once I didn't check while bike camping, and Google Maps took me down a gravel road shortcut. No problem, except two miles of the road no longer existed. I beat my way through the brush, came out a better man, but realized spur-of-the-moment course changes could have their Google goof-ups.) Today the designated "fastest route" was perfectly acceptable. I have yet to research the energy-saving route, though.
  3. I entered the destination into the Nissan gps system, then use the screen touch "spreading fingers" command to zoom in to verify that the Nissan route matched the Google route. 
  4. Yes, and today was an easy day.
Nissan provides three options: fastest route, shortest route, and energy-saving route. What happens if the route I want doesn't follow any of these courses? The car's system allows for five "waypoints," to be inserted between the starting point and destination. These waypoints can be addresses, points of interest, or can be located on the map. If the car's navigation isn't cooperating--as in my experience of both routing me through heavy urban freeway traffic or via every alley and tiniest backroad on the map--then I can provide key waypoints to clue Nissan to my preferences. However, when providing the system waypoints, then the three route preferences are no longer operational, although it is possible to add waypoints to a route that has already been set.

The bottom line is that if I want to be in control of my route, I have to take more time to manage the system. I will probably also buy a dash mount for my iPhone so that I can have it more accessible. I feel like this trip has prompted me to learn enough about gps routing that I will be more capable in determining the route I want and if the car's system is in accord with my desired route.

Today's route was easy--about 275 miles using three freeways that merged one with the other. It was the fastest route according to both Google and the car navigation (Clarion Company, LTD), so my main job was to take the time to make sure that the route was what I wanted, with no mistakes. The manual does regularly remind me to keep alert and use my common sense (and to obey traffic laws). My mistake has been to be too trusting and to accept whatever route provided as the best, which this almost-3,000 mile trip has clearly demonstrated to be naivete on my part.

I've just learned that I can call up additional icons on the map, such as gas stations or rest stops. Will the fun ever end? One thing is sure--if I want "exciting" trips, just blindly accept whatever the navigation system slaps on the screen and head on down the highway. One last story about naivete--On one bicycle trip, I headed for a campsite down a gravel road and across the river. Arriving at the river, I discovered the bridge had washed out years earlier and never been replaced, resulting in bicycling into a strong headwind for ten miles before reaching another campground. Why in the world didn't I remember any of these experiences? I suppose realizing such gps inadequacies while on a bike traveling eight miles an hour on a gravel road isn't the same as having those discoveries on a busy freeway or narrow road with a cement truck approaching . . .

I'm home now, having finished my fifth day of travel. The most interesting aspect of the last day home is that the gps on the trip out from home took me on easy freeways from home to my first overnight rest stop. On the way home from the same roadside campground, the gps routed me a somewhat different way, through a more rural route, taking the loop freeway around Peoria, Illinois, and then taking me on backroads so that I completely missed Peoria. This was great because I missed more construction and a bit of urban freeway, but it is still not clear why the different routes.

I did check on the Pathfinder's screen, and the route seemed the same. I didn't zoom in, though, on the level of detail that would take me street by street through Peoria. I suppose if I don't bother with the details, then the details will occasionally be a surprise. Using the screen on the Pathfinder--and having the car idling while checking--is still something I will have to become accustomed to and get better at.

I am home, though, and I have definitely improved my routing on this trip, especially on the trip home. I've also read in the manual that it's possible to send Google routes to my car's system, so that is another layer to add to my learning curve. For the next few excursions, though, I'll be local, so I have some time to improve my skills without experiencing unexpected and unpleasant gps surprises. Having a gps system for navigation is a great boon, especially when traveling alone. It's not perfect--at least not yet. Not bad, though. Not bad.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Green Goddess Meanders Toward Home

Gainsboro, Tennessee. I remember traveling through here. The biggest town on the drive, population at bit less than a thousand. (photo from online)

I was determined today to not drive urban freeway traffic. I decided to miss Nashville by plotting destinations around the city, thereby driving a more rural route north and west toward Iowa. Well, I was successful but really only marginally successful. I did achieve my goal, but my route was much more "rural" than necessary. When I chose the shortest route--boy, the navigation system didn't mess around!

From Harrison Bay State Park, looking at Google Maps, I decided to find some anchors for my route that would ensure that I would not travel through Nashville and that I'd stay off the main interstate freeway corridors. I chose two towns, Cookeville, Tennessee, and Bowling Green, Kentucky. These routed me north and west away from Nashville.

Since I am traveling alone, I couldn't take notes or photos, but I traveled along the Cumberland River, through Amish country, and along roads much of the day where the speeds were 15-40 mph. Two lanes was the standard, with no shoulder--and narrow, which was my main concern, that is, staying on my side of the road. I did that well, and that task was a lot less stressful than rush hour urban freeway traffic.

I was amazed at how long I drove on these rural roads without ever seeing another car. Also, for long stretches there was no place to pull off, just narrow road and keep on driving. It was beautiful country, wooded with leaves turning fall colors and bluffs of sedimentary stone. The road climbed and dipped, swerved through gulches and over forested mountains. I meandered along, taking my time. The entire trip, including stops, was about seven hours, which includes the time zone change.

At one point in the first of three legs, the Cookeville portion, I traveled on freeway over some long climbs and descents--steep, with 6-9 percent grades. The Nissan still performed well. However, on the steepest and longest climb, I dropped the Pathfinder out of overdrive and dropped my cruise speed to 50 mph, just to ease the strain on the engine. I could certainly tell I was climbing, but the car never bottomed out. Downhill, on the nine percent descents I stayed out of cruise mode, having to feather the brakes some, but the transmission kept the speed down and I didn't have to ride the brakes to maintain control. I kept an eye on the heat gauge and it never moved. I'm glad the Nissan came with the tow package that includes extra cooling for the engine and transmission.

Kentucky Amish photo from online. This hilly country in Kentucky and Tennessee is very rural. All the people living in this area are really tucked away in the valleys and on the mountain tops. Nature predominates.

At one point in either the second or third leg of the trip, I hit Amish country and saw about six buggies on the road. This was narrow county road. The best way to describe it is road like when you center a campground or state park--adequate if you go slow, but narrow lanes. The greatest fatigue for this part of the trip was not being able to use the cruise mode. There is a nerve or muscle in my right leg that becomes irritated if I drive for a long period of time, keeping that leg in play while braking and accelerating. I did all right, though. I feel that I have a good sense of rural Tennessee and Kentucky now. Beautiful country--not a high elevation, so the foliage is lush and diverse; streams, rivers, and lakes; and certainly three dimensions of beauty. It ain't flat!

What I've learned is that navigation systems have to be managed. Just slapping in the destination and taking off has its risks. For instance, I chose to head to Cookeville, Tennessee, because that would take me away from Nashville. However, the navigator chose the quickest route automatically, which was still through Nashville on the freeway corridor. I headed out, saw that I was routed to the freeway, saw the "Nashville" sign, and then pulled off at the next gas station to check the map. Yep, shortest time route was through Nashville. I took the shortest distance--and that included every horse-and-buggy road the navigator could find.

With more research and care in choosing my routes, and by choosing waypoints, I believe I will be able to craft better routes. Yesterday, though, I was successful in that I accomplished my main goal of by-passing the urban freeway experience. All I know is that if my route had been in Iowa, probably half my day would have been spent on gravel roads--so I've got to gain some more sophistication with the Nissan's program.

I checked Google Maps for today's route and used not only the default screen view but also the satellite view. Today's route will be on freeways, but with two lanes each way through more rural routes. I'm planning on missing St. Louis on the way home. Now I just have to make sure that my route on the Nissan system matches that on Google. I've learned how to pinch and spread the Nissan screen view to see more map details, so I'll be able to check the route with my Google Maps route. My wife has also mentioned Waze navigation, which is more real-time, but for now I want to try to accustom myself and master the in-car navigation system. I like the larger screen and the built-in monitor.

For all my meandering yesterday, though, I feel the day was successful. I saw some nice country, was generally much more relaxed, and honestly feel traveling on narrow roads is less dangerous than heavy freeway traffic. So, I'm writing this at pre-dawn, will post, and then it's down the road for another day of hopefully pleasant and safe adventure.

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Monday, October 14, 2019

Tiny Trailer Halloween Freeway Horror Movie

Greenville, SC, freeway. Now add fog.

If traveling through Atlanta, Georgia, at 9 A.M. on a Monday morning with eight lanes of freeway traffic one way is a horror movie, then I was the intrepid protagonist today.

I kept a promise to myself last night and looked in my Nissan Pathfinder's owner's manual for more information about the gps navigator. I learned that when a destination is plugged into the car's gps system, I can choose three options: fastest route, shortest route, or an energy-saving route. I used this information while overnighting in Kinards, South Carolina, so that I could take the more rural route to Harrison Bay State Park in Tennessee. The longest route was the fastest, on freeways through Greenville, SC; Atlanta, GA; and Chattanooga, TN. The shortest was more direct, but because it was rural, it took more time. My choice was rural. I selected that route and saved it.

Hmm. If not exactly my Atlanta route, then all too close to it! Add morning rush hour traffic, though.

My mistake, I discovered the next morning while pre-dawn night driving on a foggy freeway on my way to Atlanta was that the navigation system had saved the destination but not the route--and the route the navigator chose was freeway. Evidently, the Greenville--Atlanta--Chattanooga routes are major connectors because for almost the entire way, the freeways were at least three lanes in each direction.

The trip went well, but it was an intense focus the entire way. Even Atlanta was manageable, but I had to narrow my focus down to moment-to-moment thinking to keep myself from getting too nervous. Luckily by this time in the trip, I understood automatically the symbols on the gps screen, which helped me choose the correct lane. Much of the time I chose a middle lane, which for me meant, "Hey, I don't want to pass, and I'm just traveling through." Then I could ease into a left or right lane, depending on which freeway I was merging with or continuing on. That worked well except for one semi that blasted its horn at me just outside of Greenville. It was still foggy and dark, and I hadn't realized that I was now outside of Greenville and could take the right lane. Also, the truck driver was probably jacked on coffee.

My comment for this photo is to add about 50 semis for accuracy.

The Chattanooga experience was okay--just more steady-to-heavy three lanes of traffic, except that I took the wrong road on a highway change--the east and west entrances were right beside one another, resulted in a "That's it--no, that's not it!" moment. A short excursion through a one-lane residential area, and I was back on the freeway. My main experience for the regular freeway driving was that I drove at 65 mph rather than more slowly. It was just less stressful to somewhat go with the flow, although the flow was actually more because folks were in a hurry and a lot of the freeway was 70 mph.

Safe at Harrison Bay
I'm learning better and better how to use the capabilities of my Pathfinder. I've learned how to go slow in low and to use the incline automatic Hill Descent Control, which automatically keeps the car at about 3mph so the focus can be on steering. (I used this at the most rustic campground I've stayed at.) I've learned how to turn on the fog lights, the engage towing system, and how to activate the signals that flash warning lights left and right if being passed. And, by the way, I don't fiddle and try to figure this stuff out while blasting down the freeway. If I don't know how to activate something, then it's just "old school" until I have a chance to stop and research.

What got me through this day of freeway driving was today's music: Eric Clapton's Unplugged and the Best of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. That big traveling mug of chai didn't hurt any, either.

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Thursday, October 10, 2019

Walking the Beach, Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina

Three Chairs and an Angler

I was raised in California, and who can mention California without the Pacific Ocean coming to mind? California, though, is a diverse state geographically with many climatic zones. Growing up, camping was not heading to the ocean, not this Northern California boy. No, going camping was heading into the Sierra Nevada, trout fishing and shooting the rapids on inner tubes. So here I am in my 60s, and experiencing the first time at an ocean alone--the Atlantic Ocean. I'd never have imagined.

Eighteen Gulls, One Flying

I arrived two days early for the Rustic Trail Teardrop Campers get-together, and celebrated my arrival with a long walk down the Huntington Beach State Park's beach--three miles, I'm told--my first morning after my arrival. I didn't walk all three, more like two, but it was still an enjoyable, learning experience, walking that sandy strand, the day overcast with the sun occasionally burning through. The sand was firm and an easy walk. In places where the sand had been carved by the surge, small pools and rivulets separated the beach into sections like a tiny model of a continent's map of rivers, lakes, and land. Sometimes as I walked, shells crackled as I stepped on them. I stopped for closer examinations of differently shaped and colored shells.

Sand and Boy

At the entries to the beach from the park, signs warned of the possible presence of alligators, to not feed them and to keep pets close by. I thought it ironic for those two points were posted together. "A fed gator is a dead gator," the sign said, signaling, I suppose, the danger of conditioning the alligators to associate humans with food. Not being familiar with the ecology of the coast, I didn't wander into the bush.

Basecamp Beside a Live Oak

This is a beautiful park, and I'm told that I was lucky to pick up a site for five days. I have Site 2 in the North Campground, right at the beginning of the campground as you drive in. It's near the shower house and also about 250 yards from the gift shop. I'm also about the same distance from the ocean. I can hear the sighing rise and ebb in the distance, and how much more fulfilling to hear the sound of the surf, rather than the sound of the interstate freeway, even though they both sound similar, rising and falling notes in the distance, waves and truck tires. Just knowing it's the ocean and not that long, lonely highway, though, makes a difference as I sit in the early morning beside my campfire, sipping chai and writing.

Tossing the Net

South Carolina has made a real effort to make this park an enjoyable stay; just camping here could be called a taste of glamping. The sites are $65 per day, which is considerably more than the $16-22 at Iowa state parks, but this is a special place, with more development of the day use and campgrounds, yet still maintaining the integrity of the environment--zones of activities, I suppose.

Shell Game

I'll take a longer walk on the beach today, exploring a bit more. Tonight the gathering begins, and I'm ready for it. I've already met some wonderful people, people I've communicated with online, but it's so fulfilling to just meet and chat. Let me add another solitary walk to my stay here at Huntington Beach, though. I wouldn't mind coming here again sometime, especially to share this place with my wife. This time, though, I get a chance to get to know the ocean, to hear its whispers and bird calls, to feel how brine slicks the water and hear waves like the breathing of the sea. I could get used to this ocean life if I were give myself a chance. I don't plan on getting too busy today. If you see someone way down the beach, too far away to identify, that just might be me, strolling along, taking some photographs, my heart singing along with Mother Ocean.

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Sunday, October 6, 2019

Unknowingly, I Tiny-Trailer Camp-Crash Woodstock

tiny trailer camping at Jomeokee Park
The Green Goddess at Ground Zero of the informal Jomeokee music festival

Not literally Woodstock, of course, since I'm in North Carolina, not New York--and since it's not 1969. The party I've crashed is the Jomeokee 2019 Gathering, an informal music festival get-together that's been happening in one form or another and in one place or another for the last forty years. They've chosen Jomeokee Park Amphitheater and Campground for the last few years, about fifty families showing up in small and tiny trailers, quite a few tents, and a couple-or-three larger rigs.

Jomeokee is perfect for the tents and small rigs. One smaller double-axle trailer did manage to squeeze in and one medium-sized Mercedes-Benz RV, but they either were off the grid or just plugged in at 15 amps for 12v lights. The rest? A pop-up tent-van, a couple of Scamps, and a Coleman tent trailer. One single-axle trailer found a spot but couldn't use the slide-out because there were too many trees.

See what I mean? Jomeokee created spots among the trees for camping but allowed the trees their space; therefore, we're camping in the woods. The miserable alternative is that trees are bulldozed, a chevron-patterned campsite strip laid out, and then trees replanted where and if space allowed. So I'm cozied up with many neighbors after five overnighters while traveling--four in the camper and one in a motel while the camper was getting a new roof because it was bashed by a tree limb during a storm. I had expected a quiet Thursday-through-Saturday rest before hitting the road again, but instead--I've camp-crashed Woodstock!

tiny trailer camping at Jomeokee Park
Everyone shared dishes with a Mex/Tex focus

Although a few folks showed up Thursday, everyone else arrived on Friday, and it was really fun to watch all the folks arrive with their different rigs and vehicles, helping one another set up--the greetings and hugs and assistance with backing the trailers or figuring out tents and tent poles. By dark, everyone had arrived, and I was invited to a potluck taco dinner. It was an expression of the friendly, neighborly composition of the group, and also a kindness. "After all," said one of the organizers, "we've pretty much invaded the campground!" And I'm happy to share this space with these long-time friends who have come together to enjoy one another's company along with some good music. I even met a member of the band!

I've had quite a few folks ask questions about my Rustic Trail Teardrop Campers trailer, a Polar Bear model. Yes, the Green Goddess looks sharp with her new roof and, as one comment put it, "those shiny chrome wheels," (aluminum, actually, but you get the idea--green, silver, and bright white, a shining light at the top of the hill).

This Saturday I spent time cooking a full, late breakfast of home fries and scrambled eggs, followed by a late lunch of kitcherie, an Indian curry with dahl, grain, and vegetables. Then this evening I'll wander over for a snack at my camping neighbors' potluck.

Pilot Mountain and Interstate 52

Today I walked the overpass to Pinnacle, the local hamlet but never really saw any "downtown." Two gas stations, one on each side of the freeway, told me they had no gallons of water (picking up a gallon the "task" of my walk). Each told me, though, "There's a Dollar General just up the road," so I kept walking until I could see the road round and crest a hill before disappearing. Then I realized that their "just up the road" was predicated on the assumption that I was driving a car. I had no immediate need for water, so I turned around and headed back to camp to see what was happening.

tiny trailer camping at Jomeokee Park
Colorful tents and a Scamp in the background. (There were two side by side.)

Mostly, I wanted to check out the different camping arrangements, and there were all kinds. Since almost everyone knew one another, people packed in and shared tables and campfires. It had cooled today with the temperatures actually dropping as the day progressed, so the 60s temps created a more cozy environment.

tiny trailer camping at Jomeokee Park
A well set up Jimmy van, in great shape

tiny trailer camping at Jomeokee Park
Dianne with her Honda van with tent package, celebrating her recent retirement.

tiny trailer camping at Jomeokee Park
A classic tiny trailer with California plates. I couldn't locate the woman owner regarding the make and model, but one neighbor said it was made in 1969. 

Darkness fell, and after dinner the concert began, featuring the Willy Douglas Band. After listening to a few songs, though, I just got tired--and nothing to do with the music, believe you me. The group had both male and female singers and played a variety of rock and roll. I had met the keyboard player, Russ, and his girlfriend, both of whom made a point of making me feel included . . . but I was just plain tired. My solution was simple, since I was traveling again tomorrow--go to sleep.

A wonderful night of rock and roll

Then a strange and wondrous thing happened. I slept for about two and a half hours and woke up to music--and not music up the hill but music outside my door. I peeked out and saw a small venue set up across the road, maybe thirty yards away, max. I remembered then being told earlier that after the stage concert at the amphitheater, a smaller concert was happening later right in the campground, and this explained why someone had earlier called my campsite "Ground Zero."

While I had been napping, Cooper Pearce and the Jam Cooperative had set up outside and were playing, happy campers had lit a campfire in my site's ring, and a happening was happening outside my door! I thought it only reasonable to get some good out of my nap, so I got out of bed at 12:30, dressed, and joined the party. The trio playing was highlighted by seventeen-year-old Cooper, who has great "chops" with the guitar and sings with a stand-out, original voice. I was lucky enough to hear a half hour of the group's music, soaking up the "this is happening outside my door!" experience.


After the set ended, I grabbed my camp chair and joined a group set up around my campfire (well, my fire ring--their campfire). It was easy talk about the night and the Jomeokee Gathering, as the group has come to call their get-together which has met at Jomeokee Park for the last four years. I was told that I was going to be put on "the list" and would be invited next year. I said if I came, I'd bring my wife.

Then I noticed a man with a half gallon of some pale amber liquid in a bottle, the bottle in one hand and a beer in the other. I asked him what was in the bottle.

"Fig brandy," he said.

"Did you make it?"

"Yes."

"Did you have to buy fresh figs to make it?"

"No, I've got a fig tree outside my house."

"Well, how long does it take to make fig brandy?"

"It only takes a week or two to make beer or wine," he said. "Of course, it tastes better if you let it age a bit."

He asked me if I wanted some, and I replied that it was a bit late for me. "Late! It's past 12:30. You mean it's a bit early!" I agreed that it was indeed a bit for me, whichever way you looked at it.

The talk moved around the fire, stories about living on a mountain, about cleaning up after other rock concerts, about how one young woman of twenty-six was actually seventeen. "I'll take that!" she said.

Then our gentleman of the two bottles said, "Hey, somebody drank all my moonshine!"

"I think that was you," I said.

"You're one perceptive dude," he said. "You can't get anything past this guy," he added to the gang around the fire.

We all chatted a bit longer. Then at about 2 A.M., the group broke up, heading for bed. My camp-crash of the Jomeokee Gathering was over. What a wonderful happenstance, though! As one woman said to me, "Music has brought us together, and it's been bringing up together since 1980." And the Gathering so warmly gathered me in and made me a part of their weekend. I thank them for that and thank Tom Pace, owner of Jomeokee Park, for developing this rustic park with so much personality and heart.

I leave Pilot Mountain with wonderful memories of my trailer being fixed for free by its builders, Rustic Trail Teardrop Campers, of a great four days of camping, and of the welcoming band of brothers and sisters who included me in their family. I am truly blessed.

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Friday, October 4, 2019

Pilgrimage to Pilot Mountain: A New Roof for My Tiny Trailer, Part 2

Field repair of the five-inch crack.
Towing the Green Goddess into the Rustic Trail Teardrop Campers facility, I felt like ET returning to the mothership. I felt like clicking my heels and saying, "There's no place like home." Feeling a faint sense of deja vu because I've seen photos of the RTTC headquarters storefront so many times, I introduced myself to Levi Sechrist, and the Goddess was wheeled into the shop.

I pointed out the roof-bash patch ("Tree Limb"), we talked a bit about my trip out ("Pilgrimage 1") and how the Nissan Pathfinder towed the trailer, and then I pointed out where the trailer had leaked and then been caulked by my son-in-law. I had been told a year ago that if there were leaks in the trailer, if were to travel the 850 miles from Iowa to Pilot Mountain, the company would take care of the problem if it were a construction issue. Levi said it would all be fixed, and the company would do it for no charge. I moved to the showroom sofa to write for a couple of hours, asking to be told when the roof was off.

Replacement and insulation.
This is, of course, the time to give a positive shout-out to RTTC and their appreciation of their camper owners and their customer support. For a small company, they are ready and willing to walk the talk regarding standing by their trailers. And remember--I'm the second owner of the trailer, even if the original owners only used it once on the purchase trip from Pilot Mountain to Des Moines. I did find out, though, that only a few campers had been built with fiberglass roofs instead of aluminum during a time of materials shortage. Even though the fiberglass was assured worthy by the manufacturer, RTTC returned to the aluminum roofs when it again became possible.

It was with a bit of trepidation that I watched the crew start stripping down the trailer . . . and it was also heartening to see them work with such authority. Anyone who reads articles and social media comments regularly about the various types of campers and RVs knows that leakage for any type of recreational accommodation is an issue, and constant diligence and maintenance is part of the RV life--and that includes tiny trailers, especially those with kitchen hatchbacks. Hearing Levi explain the solutions and how they were going to do a "4-time seal" of the seams made me feel glad that I'd done my part for the Green Goddess by bringing her in.


The trailer back prepared for the aluminum roof and new diamond plate bottom panel.

Some leakage in the front prompted a replacement of some foundational structure, and in the back the same applied but was more comprehensive, due to both some water damage and also the break in the underlayment from the limb damage. I only took a few quick photographs in order not to intrude with the work.

My work completed, I drove three miles to an EconoLodge for a room and to the Food Lion grocery store to check out what was available for when I was road-ready again. Ah, yes, and a nice little old lady sold me some ice at the local Pinnacle, NC, gas station, necessary with the mid-90s heat. For lunch and dinner I stepped outside my usual food routine and ate at Subway and McDonalds--veggie cheese sub and french fries. That certainly dulled out any nervousness I was feeling. Some reading, some writing, and a little mindless TV, and my 2-star motel was an air conditioned sanctuary away from the heat.

New aluminum roof and caulked seams.

White aluminum roof, silver diamond plating on the bottom for strength, and a new logo.

Levi texted me the next morning, asking if I could come to pick up the trailer around noon to allow time for the caulk to harden. I showed up a little early so I could take a tour and meet everyone. Levi and the crew had fixed all the water damage, added the new white aluminum top, and replaced the back lower white with silver diamond plating (to improve strength). With new caulking and a new roof, the Green Goddess looked brand-spanking new. It was wonderful, and I thank the kindness of RTTC for, as Levi put it, not wanting to run a business where you avoided customers who had questions and issues. No one will ever accuse them of being fair weather friends.

My tour was brief but illuminating. RTTC generates computer designs, which are then coordinated with a CBC machine which utilizes the computer instructions to precision-cut the sidewalls for the trailers to precise shapes and depths. The building has its cabinet shop, and large rolls of aluminum are handy for all RTTC roofs.

Once the computer-generated designs are complete, the CBC machine precisely cuts the sidewalls.

Sidewalls ready for a build.

The cabinet shop.

Aluminum for roofing.

RTTC showroom

I had a great time talking to everyone at RTTC, the whole family and crew. This trip provided me not only a refurbished camper trailer; it also, as the title of this two-part series indicates, was a journey to a special place that has made a difference in my life. Grandpa and Grandma, son and daughter, granddaughter--I ate lunch in the showroom, chatting with everyone, shared camping stories, played "fetch the ball" with the kid, and talked motorcycles with Zack. I felt at home.

Me, Levi--and the Green Goddess, still looking sharp after her 850-mile return to the mothership.

And then Levi gave me the okay, so I hitched up and pulled out--leaving but looking forward to the RTTC get-together only a week away. Happy trails to me, knowing I meet these good people again.

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