Friday, July 31, 2015

July 27 Georgia, not a very warm welcome here

Georgia. We didn’t spend much time in Georgia. I thought we might do some exploring like we have been doing all along. We didn’t want to go to Savannah, too far east, nor Atlanta, too big, but we thought their might be something to see. We came down on 441 in North Carolina, out of Cherokee. This continues on down in to Georgia and we had planned to follow it south and go around Atlanta and explore. Well, we passed through three little towns, each with a “Welcome to Wherever” with a cop and a radar gun pointing at you as you come in to town. At the third town, one the cop pulled out behind us and followed us for a couple of miles and then turned off. Just gave Jay a real uncomfortable feeling and he said, “find me an Interstate, I don’t want to spend anymore time here than we have to.”  This meant driving through Atlanta on a Saturday afternoon, which we managed to do in about two hours without any major mishaps. There were plenty of slow downs and a big traffic jam in the opposite direction. We felt very fortunate to get to Temple, GA and stop at a truck stop for the night. 

We may not have had such a bad feeling, but a couple of years ago a dear friend of mine was driving through Georgia on his way to Virginia. He had out of state plates and he got pulled over for a non-functioning tail light. I won’t go in to all the details, but he was taken to jail, had some of his possessions confiscated that he never got back, and once it was all done, ended up with two years probation. Welcome to Georgia. 

At any rate, we made it to Alabama and spent two nights at the highest point, Mount Cheaha State Park, 2,407 feet. It was a nice location but the park definitely needs some more maintenance. The roads were terrible, potholes unfilled, uneven paving, garbage all over, bathrooms in need of cleaning, sites in need of grading. And the big signs, “DO NOT LEAVE VALUABLES UNATTENDED IN VEHICLES”. Not a real welcoming or secure feeling. We didn’t have any trouble, just left me with an uneasy feeling. 

We took time to rest here, not much else to do, it’s to dang hot to go hiking. And did I mention the humidity? I’m not complaining, I moved to the desert to get to the heat, but it’s a dry heat and it is entirely different than the cloying stickiness of the humidity. The cats aren’t even interested in going outside. They would rather stay in the air conditioning than go chase squirrels and birds. Just as well, that way they won’t be getting any ticks.

We went down to the resort restaurant after dinner to check out the sunset. It was a beautiful view and just what we needed after the past few days.

July 31, still in Clanton

And it's still hot. I did manage to find the community swimming pool today and swim laps amongst the teenagers. It didn't open until 11:00 and by then it was mighty warm, the pool water was warm too but I think I missed most of the swimmers that might show up later in the day.

After lunch we all went for a drive around town and to see the dam. 
Harry, Elaine and Jay

July 29-30 Alabama

Jay has a sister that lives in Clanton, Alabama, midway between Montgomery and Birmingham. He called her yesterday and asked if she was expecting any visit from out of town relatives. She said no, her house wasn’t clean. He suggested she get busy because we’re going to stop by tomorrow. We made it to her place in about 3 hours from the park. We were following the GPS, on a two lane road, looking for what we thought would be another two lane road and it said turn left here. We could barely make out the road for all the trees, it looked like a narrow driveway. 
We didn’t turn, but kept going and went back around for another look at this so called road. We found a wide spot and I got out to take a walk to make sure it was the right place. Sure enough, it was. His sister Elaine came out to greet me and I explained where Jay was parked and that I didn’t think we could come up the road. She suggested coming in the other end of the road so we walked down that lane, full of low hanging branches and determined it would be the better way to approach the house. Well, we got off the bigger road and right away one of the branches I thought we would clear, we did not. I climbed up on top of the trailer and Jay handed me a saw to start logging. Oh, and it’s 90 degrees and about 90% humidity. After about 20 minutes of trimming we are clear enough to continue towards the house. The next predicament is some low hanging wires. Elaine’s husband Harry used to be a lineman and he just happened to have an old lineman’s pole laying around. Next thing I know I’m holding on to a pole pushing up to power lines, and oh, by the way, there’s a lightning storm that just moved in. Can we move this thing a long a little faster please?!

We finally get set up in a pretty level spot and get all of the greetings out of the way. We head across the street to the Hickory Chip for some BBQ.  This is the restaurant that Elaine started years ago and cooked BBQ for 10 years before selling it to do other things. After dinner Elaine takes us out for a drive and we end up at her grandson Jody’s house. They are having a birthday party for one of Elaine’s great grandkids so there’s a bunch of people there and we are invited in, of course, and get to meet more of the family that Jay has never met and have some cake. It was fun to meet them, all very welcoming and kind. We called it an early night and tried to get some sleep in the heat.

Elaine at work on geneaology
Well, I didn’t sleep well and in the morning Jay is up and says, “we have ants.” “What do you mean we have ants?” I say. “Ants.” So I hop out of bed and begin to freak out. At least they are little sugar ants. Elaine had mentioned these the day before when we arrived. That she had been having some trouble in her house and car with little sugar ants. I didn’t give it another thought, but in the morning we had an army of ants and then some. It was gross and I told Jay, “I want to go home!” Here again is something that is beyond my comprehension to take pictures of, one of those things that I don’t care to remember, so you won’t get any pictures of the ant invasion. Besides, they were so tiny you would probably think, what is she so freaked out about? But they were everywhere. Along side the shower, in the cats food, all along the baseboards in the kitchen heading in to the cupboards, under the washing machine. Jay quickly gets online, yes, for once we have service, and finds a recipe to kill them. A cup of sugar in a cup of water with 2 tablespoons of Borax. Well, where am I going to get Borax. Just so happens Elaine has a bottle of Boric Acid in the garden shed. So we quick mix up a batch and start feeding the ants. We also sprayed some toxic Raid outside the trailer around the points of entry and after a couple of hours most of the ants are gone. Miracle of miracles. I did get the cupboards cleaned out, I just would rather not have had to spend the morning wiping up ants. 

They have a lovely spot here on a very rural road, as you can see from the pictures. That is a road, not a driveway. She keeps chickens, I love chickens. 

Garden and chicken house and yard in the back.

Hummingbird vine

 They also have a pond and Harry stocks it with catfish and carp.
Harry relaxing after spending the morning watching Jay work on the truck.

A beautiful passionflower, Harry calls these maypops.

This is Elaine's favorite saying. She always gets a kick out of people's expressions when they read it. She says a lot of times they do a double take, and tell her they like it.

And yes, it is hotter than blazes here and humid, about 95 degrees with 75% humidity. She does have internet service, though which is nice. Jay has been having withdrawals and I am finally able to get some posts here. We are having a nice visit and will head out on Friday, July 31. If we can figure out how to get out of the driveway!

July 23-25, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Our parking place for the next few days is Smokemont Campground in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Did you know there is no entrance fee to this national park? As part of the land deal the Feds did with the property owners who gave up land for the park there was never to be any charge ever for this park. It was set aside for the enjoyment of all.

As usual, our method of getting from A to B is to stay off the interstates and drive the back roads and scenic byways. Well, our GPS doesn’t know that we aren’t driving a car, so sometimes we get in a place where we shouldn’t be. This time it was down a narrow lane, heading towards Erwin, NC. It would have been fine except for the railroad crossing. Just slightly higher than the road on both sides. If it would have been flattish on the other side we could have made it but it went up to the tracks on both sides and we would have high centered or been dragging the back end of the trailer. Fortunately, Jay has excellent backing skills and with guidance he backed down the lane about 200 yards to an even narrower lane bordered by grass. He pulled in there then backed down where we had come from without running it to a nearby fire hydrant, or pulling down any low wires or running in to an old shed. Then, getting through the downtown was no picnic either. It’s one town that has made some improvements, narrow pedestrian crossings, parking on both sides, close 90 degree turns,(we take the whole road on those), creating a challenge for driving through town and forget about parking anywhere, there are no wide spots so most cases we don’t stop. 

After all of that we did make it safely to Smokemont. It was a good thing we missed the turn onto the section of the Blue Ridge Parkway

outside of Maggie Valley on our way to Chero
kee. Turns out there is a low clearance tunnel there with no advance warning signs other than the one 100 yards from the tunnel, on a curve, with no place to turn around. Would have been a serious Yikes!! moment.

On Saturday we woke up to a nice sunny morning. Our plan was for me to hike a short section of the AT(Appalachian Trail) and it was a perfect day for that, so I thought. It all started well at Newfound Gap, I was going to hike the 7 or so miles up to Clingman Dome. There’s a problem to start with, why hike uphill? Why not drive up to Clingman Dome and hike down? Nope, not me. I love a challenge.

 No, he's not going with me. But he did walk about 1/4 of a mile on the trail to say he did it too!

Our plan is for me to hike to the next trailhead, 1.7 miles to see how long it takes me to get there and decide if I am going to continue on uphill. Jay will wait until 2:30 before he drives up to Clingman Dome to wait for me there. I take off around 11:00, and it’s all uphill. About 11:45, a light drizzle starts and I am not near the end of this 1.7 miles, so I fish out my poncho and get covered up just in the nick of time as the sky opened up and it poured rain. It takes me about 20 minutes longer to get to the trailhead parking lot. I’m not really a slow hiker, it’s just not an easy trail, and it’s about 5,200 feet in elevation.

   I am praying for a little cell service as this storm has moved in and doesn’t look like a passing squall. I type out a short message to Jay and press the send button, “please come get me.” I stare at the phone as the message starts to go then the blue line stops midway. Okay, I’m going to have to walk back down, I’m certainly not going up. At the rate I was going it would take me all day to get there so my best bet was to walk back down the trail to Newfound Gap. As I am putting the zip off legs back on my pants, getting thoroughly soaked in the process, I hear the little swoosh of my phone indicating the text message sent. Hooray! And just hoping that he can receive it on his end. This is where patience comes in, I need to just stay put and wait, in the rain. I’m glad I did because Jay showed up about 5 minutes later and that put an end to my hike on the AT. At least I got to do that much of it.

We did drive up to Clingman Dome, it was completely socked in so we didn’t bother climbing the observation tower. There were people huddled under trees eaves of the outhouses in ponchos and carrying umbrellas. Looks like a good day for a drive.

Next stop is Cades Cove in the west end of the park about an hours drive away and a short 11 mile loop. A lot of other people had the same idea though and it was a slow go. Especially when it started raining again and we got behind someone who was driving 5 mph and I swear the driver was running a video camera out the window.

There are a dozen or so old buildings, in the valley or cove as they call it here. This was one of the original homesteads and there was a family living here until about 1940 or so.

There wasn’t anything to see it was raining so hard, even the animals would be hunkered down somewhere. Finally after being stuck behind them for about 4 miles they used one of the many pullouts to let the traffic by.
Okay, rainy day, perfect for running down to Gatlinburg to pick up some groceries, it’s only 10 miles from where we are now. That was a huge mistake. When we came around the last bend in to town I was shocked at what I saw. It was a narrow two lane street, no parking on either side, just the sidewalk lined with candy stores, souvenir shops, arcades, garish lights and bold signs. I have never seen anything like it. I was expecting something like Leavenworth, but it was awful!! I wanted to cry. The GPS wasn’t helpful at all when I searched for grocery store. It came up with Mountain Carmel Company, the Funky Monkey candy store and things of that nature. 

There wasn’t a grocery in sight and traffic was bumper to bumper in both directions snaking along the narrow road way so we decided to go on up to Pigeon Forge.
yes, that's a replica of the Titanic, on land. I have no idea what it is, a hotel or a museum or what, and I don't really care.
 same with this building. What the ...... ?


Surely there’s a grocery there. Well, we couldn’t find one there either and it was a large scale version of Gatlinburg. Three lanes of bumper to bumper traffic in both directions and even larger, gaudy, garish, crass tourist attractions. Not at all what we enjoy. We finally made our way to Wal-mart having taken about an hour to go 10 miles. Yet another nightmare on this day. The place was packed with the oddest assortment of people ever. And whole families, like 8-10 people shopping together. We couldn’t even get to the canned tomatoes because one family couldn’t decide which kind to buy and there were 6 of them around their cart. We picked up just a few essentials to get us through the next couple of days and headed back to camp. It took us an hour and a half to get back to camp, 40 miles, that was thanks to the by-pass around Gatlinburg. Thank goodness for leftovers because it was nearly 9:00 by the time we got back to the trailer.

We had such a bad experience there we thought we would skip Maggie Valley. But in the morning we had a change of heart and headed to town. Surely it can’t be as bad as Gatlinburg, it didn’t look that way when we drove through the day before. And it wasn’t. What a relief. We found a coffee shop with Wi-Fi, got us some coffee and I set to work to get a couple of posts on the website, fully intending to do more but the guy running the place was so friendly and nice we spent more time visiting with him than I did working. Which was just fine.
There were some amazing smokers and equipment for cooking BBQ.
The Better Bean, where we met Doyle who served a fine cup of espresso. We visited a while and then I got set up to do some work on the computer. A guy came in to talk business with him so he was occupied for a bit. When he was done with him, he asked if I was allergic to chocolate and I said no, that I love chocolate and haven’t had any for quite a while. He brought us a piece of chocolate cake, homemade by his wife, and a sample of coffee ice cream, homemade by him. What a treat! The cake his wife is going to enter in to the dessert competition on Saturday at the BBQ festival. Too bad we won’t be there to see if she wins. She should, it was delicious. We spent more time visiting with Doyle, not another customer came in the whole time we were there, about an hour an a half. Completely different than what was going on on the other side of the mountain in Gatlinburg. Much more the type of experience we seek, thanks for sharing your Southern hospitality with us.

And the chainsaw carver. He was really fast. Carved this little guy in about 20 minutes.

 We stopped at a farm stand to get some fresh produce, specifically a watermelon, which they had plenty of. Here's Jay picking out just the right one.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the BBQ festival, listening to some local talent play music, checking out the craft vendors and some BBQ of course. It was a small venue, we didn’t stay for the evening tasting of the competitors BBQ, just headed back to camp for a relaxing evening at home.


Saturday morning I got up pretty early as I wanted to do a loop hike from the campground, about 6 miles. Once again, it’s a hike in the woods, like the part of the AT that I hiked. Every once in a while there will be a spot where a tree has fallen over and lets in a little dappled sunlight, but mostly it’s just woods or walking through a canopy of rhododendrons.

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