Thursday, August 29, 2013

Habits and Routines - Hard Labor Creek State Park



Routines can be unexpected. Seriously, you may not even know you are in a routine until it is interrupted by something out of the ordinary that suddenly defines the routine you didn't know you were in. Since this is a blog, I should put a smiley face here, but I will suppress any wild desires to succumb to the current idioms.

An unrecognized routine may expose itself at the strangest of times, such as the power going out when you turn on the air conditioner in your travel trailer. Ooops! What did I blow this time? Check all the circuit breakers in the trailer power supply. Turn them all off and also turn off the suspected offender, the AC unit, then flip all the circuit breakers back on again. Still no power, even without turning on the air conditioner? Head outside to the campsite power box behind the trailer and double check all the circuit breakers. Flip them all off and back on again, still absolute quiet from the camper. In fact, the whole campground is silent. Aaah, now, there's a clue! Our routine dictates we start with what we expect the problem to be and work from there. 

The camper up the hill from us is yelling instructions to his wife who is inside the trailer while he is also outside fiddling with the power box, just like I did. Obviously, this is bigger than both of us. One of the camp-hosts soon toodles past us in his state-park green golf cart, headed uphill toward the camp office. I yell at him and he responds, “I'll find out what happened, back in awhile...” and he continues putt-putting up the hill. 

Our camp-host comes back by fifteen minutes later and apologizes for the outage, which he believes will be fixed in an hour or so. It seems the camper up in Site 2 pulled his trailer out of the campsite without unplugging his electrical cord from the service box at the side of the campground. He ripped the electrical service box completely out. Unfortunately for us, and him, he forgot to double check his trailer before he pulled out of his campsite. Leaving became routine for him, but he didn't have a routine. See what I mean?

That's why we religiously have an “Over and Under” check before we pull out of a campsite. The “over” part makes sure we have the TV antennae retracted before we pull out from under the trees and the “under” part makes sure there are no cables, water hoses, or trailer jacks still in the down and locked position before I pull out and rip them off. If I can't see unobstructed under the camper, we simply don't leave! Then we always stop and look back to make sure we haven't left the dog behind, or maybe a chair or something. We have our routine. 

As I check the sites around us I realize there is a Direct TV satellite television receiver mounted on a sizable tripod sitting a hundred yards from us in the middle of the campground. There is no trailer or RV close by, the receiver seems to be sitting by itself in the middle of the Georgia woods. The closest camper is the fellow up the hill who was yelling at his wife about the power outage. Actually, he is camped a good fifty feet away from the antenna but it turns out to be his. It is attached by a coax cable that must be 300 feet long. Slowly it dawns on me this is the first weekend of college football! 

More importantly, we are not far from Athens, home of the Georgia Bulldogs who are looking to maul Clemson day after tomorrow in the season opener. The football game will be at Clemson so no loyal Georgia fan would want to miss that! Therefore the satellite antenna. And that is why we need electrical power at our campsites! Seriously! Routine is is what routine does. Thank you, Forrest! 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Dark Side of Camping

When friends ask us about our experiences camping, they occasionally ask us what we consider the least favorable part of RVing, our civilized version of camping. You know, is there a part of RVing we really dislike? While I don't care for the constant semi-truck trailer traffic on the Interstate highways, or having three or four days of constant rain while confined to a muddy campground, or especially inconsiderate pet owners who don't leash or clean up after their dogs, there is one item we dislike that takes first place. The thing we dislike the most is a result of one of the activities made attractive by camping close to nature. Too close to nature as it turns out. Chiggers!
Look Closely! At only 1/150th to 1/120th of an inch in diameter, they are barely visible 

We have many camping friends who have never been bitten by chiggers. Many of my friends have never heard of them. In fact, the Germans don't even have a word for them. They call them “sandfloh,' or sand fleas, which they definitely are not. Chiggers are not even insects, they are arachnids, the same family as spiders and ticks. We have sand fleas in Florida – where we call them 'no-see-ums' – and they are quite mild by comparison to chiggers. In fact, they are almost pleasant next to the little, almost invisible, flesh-eaters that can spoil a vacation faster than bad weather. 

My mom used to call them redbugs. They were a normal part of Blackberry picking on the family farm in North Carolina. You don't need to be a camper to have one of nature's worst biters chew up your ankle, all you have to do is walk in green, tall, wet grass where the adult mite, Trombicula alfreddugesi, has laid her eggs. Damp or wet grass happens to make a really great home for the little stinkers. It takes high humidity or moisture for the larvae, and they are normally found close to the ground, you know, foot level, or not much higher than your shins. That's where their normal hosts, rabbits, opossums, raccoons and just about anything else at ground level, run around. Unfortunately, green, tall, wet grass can be found on almost any overgrown hiking or bicycle trail. Especially the trails that encircle most campgrounds. Especially summer campgrounds. We've actually picked chiggers up in mowed fields.

Our pre-teen daughter called from a central Florida girls' summer camp one year and said we would have to pick her up early as the camp was being closed down early due to a severe measles outbreak. It seemed every child in the YMCA run camp had been infected with the disease and the camp medical staff had no choice but to send everyone home. We thought that was really odd as our daughter had the measles when she was in elementary school. 

We met her several hours later at the pick-up point along with a bus filled with scratching, red blistered young girls and realized they weren't measles ridden at all, they were all covered with chigger bites. The medical staff at the summer camp had never seen a chigger bite and misdiagnosed the symptoms! They assumed they had a medical emergency on their hands! They did, but not the one they thought.

Chigger bites are not fun. The insidious bites don't peak in their horrible itching and pain for two or three days, and they take about two weeks to heal past the scabbing phase. Even then they leave blotches for another week or so. Scratching the bites once they have crusted simply starts another round of intense itching and the healing process starts all over. The bites are insidious because you don't have any idea you are being attacked while the little bugs, or buggers, depending on your viewpoint, are busy inflicting wounds you will regret for weeks to come. You can not feel them bite or even crawl up your skin as they look for a soft, easy place to attach themselves, so you have no idea they are there. You may be standing in a field of them being attacked by the hundreds and not feel a thing. Not for 8 to 12 hours anyway. And they seem to attack in bunches. That's because the adult lays 3 to 15 eggs in a cluster, usually under a leaf or a blade of grass, and if you brush against the leaf or blade of grass and pick up one chigger, you probably get them all.

Chiggers are almost invisible, being only 1/150th of an inch long, and oddly enough, in the larval stage, have six legs, making them look – under a microscope – like insects. The last two legs develop soon enough to expose the true nature of the little red beasts. 

Chiggers are arachnids. In other words, they are in the same family as spiders and ticks. They are not flies or gnats. Technically they are Trombiculidae mite larvae, and in another of nature's quirks, once they develop into adults, they are harmless! 
 
According to Wikipedia:

After crawling onto their hosts, they inject digestive enzymes into the skin that break down skin cells. They do not actually "bite" but instead form a hole in the skin called a stylostome and chew up tiny parts of the inner skin, thus causing severe irritation and swelling.”




Sound like fun? The little stinkers don't actually bury themselves in your skin the way ticks do, and can easily be removed with soap and water, even a brushing with a towel or cloth can remove them before they settle in for dinner. If you give them a head start, however, you are in trouble. Going to bed without getting them off is a real treat as they then can wander over your whole body looking for tender parts. Believe me, they will find them. After they find a nice soft fold in your skin, like your groin or even your navel or a similar tender target, they drill a tiny hole in your skin and shoot you with a really ingenious chemical that causes another, really unique reaction from you, the human recipient.

The digestive enzyme they shoot you with is a meat tenderizer and no amount of clear nail polish will fix the wound. Being protected from the air may give topical, temporary relief, but in the long run nail polish is a remedy that doesn't offer much relief from a chigger bite. That's because your body builds a defense around the intruding enzyme that is destroying your tissue and actually encircles the attacked skin cells as a protective barrier. The result is a hard, crusted tunnel, filled with a digestible mixture the chigger then happily feeds on. After 2 or 3 days, the now satisfied larvae drops off and enters its next phase of life. You are no longer needed, but the feeding-tube reminder left in your body will drive you crazy for the next two weeks. That remaining stylostome and your body's reaction to the enzyme are the problems.

Hydrogen peroxide has been recommended as a topical agent, but again, the relief is only from the cooling liquid as the enzyme, or protein doesn't dissolve or react to the Hydrogen Peroxide. Even common bleach, such as Clorox, has been recommended as an agent to off-set the enzyme, and may actually be one agent that helps diminish the chemical reaction. I'll let you know by next week.

In the meantime, I use a commercial product called Chiggerex®. It has the anti-itching components recommended by all the “experts,” such as Benzocaine, Aloe Vera, Chamomile, and a label full of other chemicals. We find it offers the best relief for us. [This NOT an endorsement! Find your own cure and don't bother me about corrupting my amateur blogging status! On the other hand, if you find something that works for you, let me know.] 
 
Some people prefer Ammonia based agents such as AfterBite®, or different types of Calamine lotion to get through the agonizing itching. The only thing we know that works for certain is time. Two weeks of it. If I ever quit scratching.

[Post Script: In researching the article on chiggers, it became obvious only several reference articles formed the basis for the hundreds of web pages containing information on chiggers. Much of that information was simply cut and widely pasted across the Internet. I eliminated untested or documented pages and “cures.” Apparently no ideal solution exists for relief of chigger bites. There are “home remedy” recommendations from fingernail polish, bleach, vinegar, petroleum jelly, even applying a salt wrap. There seems to be no single antidote to the chigger's enzyme, but plenty of mis-information about the animal and its bite. I therefore add the following statement: 
 
Because chigger wounds are a complex combination of enzymatic and the resulting mechanical damage, plus allergy and immune responses, plus possible secondary bacterial infection subject to local influences, no one remedy works equally well for most people.”
 
My humble thanks to the University of Maryland, Iowa State University, and many other formal institutions for their published papers on chiggers. ] – George

NEXT: Habits and Routines, at:
http://sleepstwo.blogspot.com/2013/08/routine.html






Sunday, August 25, 2013

Hard Labor Creek State Park

One of the benefits of Hard Labor Creek State Park for us is that it is only 17 miles from our daughter and her family's home, near from Watkinsville, Georgia. 

It was a pleasant, uneventful tow down from Richard Russell State Park near Elberton, and took us only an hour and a half or so. We found we won't be able to stay in any Georgia State Park over the Labor Day weekend in our RV as every campsite site is already reserved! All the campsites at Watsadler and the other U.S. Army Corps of Engineer campgrounds are also booked! Only for the Labor Day Weekend, though, then they are all practically empty! That doesn't help us, but we have a week until we have to check out, so we decided to make the most of it.

Site 26 at Hard Labor Creek state Park
We arrived at Hard Labor Creek Sate Park knowing we would have to vacate after only a week's stay. We simply hadn't made reservations early enough! Not being able to stay over the Labor Day weekend means we have to arrive at our daughter's place several days earlier than we planned, but as long as they don't mind, neither do we!

Checking in at Hard Labor Creek State Park was a pleasant experience. Registering at all of the Georgia State Parks we have stayed at in the past have been pleasant. The volunteer at the registration desk was friendly, pleasant, and made a suggestion that was worth its weight in gold: She said to turn on our hot-spot as we drove through the campground looking for an available campsite. The area is known for not having cell-phone coverage or Wi-Fi, but, she said, there were several areas that had cell-phone coverage, it just wasn't universal for the entire campground. 

Taz meets a camp host piece of yard art
We drove slowly around the beautiful but narrow campground and found we indeed did have cell-phone coverage in certain areas. Let me 'splain, Lucy! Our hot-spot is Virgin, which in reality is Sprint. Our cellphones, and Ilse's smart phone, are on Verizon. Normally, the Verizon units chat away without problem while the poor Sprint connection seems to falter every time we try to log on. Many times we wished our hot-spot was a Verizon unit because we would like to be on the Internet if we can get cellphone coverage. The Sprint unit usually seems to be searching for a cell tower while our cellphones happily connect us with the world.


OK, hotspots are nothing more than cellphones that speak digital data rather than voice. Each hot-spot has a cell phone telephone number that connects it to the nearest cell-tower, just like your cell phone, only it doesn't pass information in the audible range for the human ear. Rather it translates the cell-tower stuff to high-frequency data and looks for something digital to talk to, such as your computer or tablet. It is an intermediate device – so is your cell phone – but it can handle five devices if you are on a 3G network. If you are a high-speed 4G network, most hot-spots can handle up to ten devices simultaneously. OK, this is getting deeper than I wanted. Just understand a printer can not be added as the functions of a hotspot are not the same as your router at home. Any more information will cost you $125 dollars an hour.
The nearby Apalachee River from Price Mill Road

Here is the kicker: Our vaunted Verizon cellphones were dead as doornails while our poor little Virgin/Sprint hotspot hummed away as long as the battery would last! I'm posting this blog through our little Sprint/Virgin hotspot, and will continue to check e-mails and the Internet every chance we get. The camping spot we picked not only has 3-bars – if you don't know what that means, this whole blog is a moot exercise – and has privacy, and plenty of room as we expect company during the week we are here.

So far we are impressed with this relatively unknown Georgia State Park. Clean, quiet, and well laid out with spotlessly clean facilities, we simply should have made reservations earlier!


NEXT: The Dark Side of Camping, at:
http://sleepstwo.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-dark-side.html





Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Lake Richard B. Russell State Park



As we sit here in our absolutely empty campground on the banks of Richard B. Russell Lake, we wonder if we are the only people on earth. Well, not really, but it is amazing we have had four days of this beautiful locale all to ourselves. It quit raining two days ago and things are almost back to normal. Scratch the campfire though, the firewood probably won't dry out until next May. We did get to see some of the Blue Moon last night, the first time the overcast has broken since we've been here.

The only other guests have been Jade and Tom, who we met up in Asheville, but they only stayed one night as they were headed home to Sarasota and stopped only as a layover on their way home. It was still raining then so I don't blame them. There is one new tent over on one of the very first campsites, but he stays to himself and could be dead for all we know. He hasn't been seen since he set up his tent three days ago. 

We just had a fawn -- she still had her spots -- wander between us and the nearby lake a few minutes ago. Taz was busy watching squirrels on the other side of the campground and didn't see the young intruder as she non-nonchalantly wandered through our campsite, stopping occasionally to nibble on some new found growth. The fawn never looked up, she had no idea we were here, and Taz never looked over, he had no idea she was there. Really unique! They were only yards apart, yet neither knew the other was there. These are priceless moments.

However, there is a dark side to camping. A price to pay, so to speak. No matter what precautions you take, something seems to always slip in and bite you on the ankle. And on the shin. And on the thigh. And on the soft, tender flesh that can extend all the way to your armpit: chiggers! Ilse found them, or vice-versa, while standing in a recently mowed trail that led through a grass field while making a cell phone call. Oddly, I didn't suffer the massive attack and I walked only a few feet away from where Ilse walked! To say the scores of the little buggers has put a crimp in our life style would be an understatement. Ilse is on the verge of intense discomfort, which is to say, pain. Which translates to: DON'T TOUCH ME! Unless, of course, you want to help me scratch!

I don't take it personally, I have had chigger bites in some very personal locations that caused me to consider castration as a remedy. They are nasty little buggers! These are the things Coleman and Camping World conveniently leave out of their media ads about the joy of sleeping outdoors. Time heals all wounds. Hopefully.

We did have another surprise as we tried to make reservations down at Hard Labor Creek State Park over the weekend just before Labor Day. All sites had already been reserved. Same for Watsadler, and even the park we were in, the Richard B. Russell State Park, which has been almost completely empty since we arrived almost a week ago! The locals pile into every available campsite for an end-of-summer ritual, and if you don't reserve early, you are like us: SOL! Which means, of course, Should of Learned! [Ed note:  Yes, I know! It should be SHL, but that doesn't make it funny...]

No problem, our daughter has invited us to their place three days early, so all is well in the world. We will get to spend extra time with our granddaughter, which is always a plus, and we won't have to suffer Genghis Khan and his juvenile hordes as they see how much toilet paper they can stuff in the men's room toilets.

It's what you do with what you've got that counts.

NEXT: Another Pleasant Surprise, at Hard Labor Creek State park, at:
http://sleepstwo.blogspot.com/2013/08/hard-labor-creek-state-park.html 











Sunday, August 18, 2013

Richard B. Russell State Park - Alone, at Last!


Richard B. Russell State Park
For the first time in our relatively short history of camping, we are alone. Except for the camp hosts somewhere up the hill, we are the only campers in the Richard Russell State Park campground! There is a huge group of Indian families having a rather boisterous get together at a pavilion not far from us, which adds to the oddity of the situation. Hearing Hindi music drift across a lake in rural northeastern Georgia is as incongruous as listening to Randy Travis at a square dance in Mumbai. They'll be gone as evening falls, and then we'll have the entire campground to ourselves. They are probably the medical staff and their families from all the local hospitals and pharmacies. They are the only ones over there, and we are the only ones here. They are obviously having a good time. How unique can it get.

And, it quit raining! It is still overcast though, and comfortably warm.


I wondered whatever happened to our old Cikira... Oh, no, that's not it!



This park has a rather well-known golf course, although today there are no golfers. There are only two boat trailers on the four slot mega-boat ramp, which was put in for the 1996 Olympics. There is a plaque on another boat ramp identifying the lake as an official rowing training site for the 1996 Olympics. 

The park is manicured and well taken care of. The roadways are mowed and the camp pads are clean, wide, and in the style of all Georgia state parks, open to first come, first served. On line reservations only confirm the number of campers, so you pick your site from what's available when you get here. If 28 people register, the campground is full and reservations are closed. Individual campsites can not be reserved. Since we got to pick from 26 sites when we got here, we believe we have the best site in the campground!

The Richard Russell State park gets high marks from us. Even though the shower and toilet facilities are old, they are spotlessly clean. A note on the wall has the contact for the camp hosts in case of problems. If the toilets get messed up today, though, I'm sure we'll be prime suspects.  

NEXT: Enjoying our solitude, at:
http://sleepstwo.blogspot.com/2013/08/richard-b-russell-state-park.html 






Just Singin' in the Rain...

The young lady in the form-fitted red dress calls it a “rain event.” She looks as if she is in high school, but she is the weather person for a local television station so I'm sure she knows what she is talking about. Just the same, calling the constant rain we've had for several days now a rain event doesn't require a college degree. It rained daily while we were up in Asheville at Lake Powhatan, and now it is raining constantly with only occasional breaks in the persistent drizzle. Constant rain really does dampen the camping spirit, so to speak, and we've seen many tent campers pack in early and head home. We left Lake Powhatan early Friday morning while it was semi-dry and got to pack away the mats and awnings while they were also semi-dry. We barely got out of the mountains before it came down again in earnest. 

We opted to take a scenic drive through the edge of the mountains back to Georgia rather than heading back down US 25 to Greenville, a ride I thought was bland and uninteresting, even if trouble free. We picked up NC 280 just south of Asheville and cruised into pretty Brevard, a few miles down the road. There we picked up the “waterfall trail,” US 64 and headed to Cashiers, a road we last drove in 1980. The rain faded away so it was an overcast, chilly day, perfect for towing a trailer.

Back then, U.S. 64 was a narrow, twisty road that really suited the turbo Mustang Cobra I owned at the time. The McLaren orange sports sedan had a Michelin handling package and made mincemeat of the mountainous highway. It was an absolute dream to drive through the mountains. The countryside back then was still Appalachia, with roadside vegetable stands and people sitting on their porches watching traffic. It looked like it had in my youth. 

The highway hasn't changed at all in thirty-three years. In fact, most parts don't appear to have had any maintenance since the last time we drove it. Beautiful drive, but definitely not the right road to tow a camper! It was a scenic, if somewhat busy ride, with many anxious moments watching high-dollar SUV's crossing the double yellow line while headed toward us.

What has changed, though, is the landscape. With sterile man-made waterfalls and gated communities dotting many corners along the roadside to Cashiers and Highlands, it looks like the money has found where to go for the summer. Asheville looks practically poverty stricken by comparison. There are more Audi's, Mercedes Benz and Lexus here this time of year than in Palm Beach or Naples. The highway traffic jams are made up of Porsches, BMW's, and Jaguars, many of which have Florida license plates. Appalachia has a new face, at least in the far southwest corner of North Carolina, and it doesn't spit tobacco anymore.

By the time we drop out of the mountains into Dillard, Georgia, the rains start again and it appears we are back in reality as normal traffic seems to be made up of Toyotas, Chevvies, vans and pickup trucks. The ride down to Richard Russell State Park near Elberton is an easy, uneventful, if wet, drive.

Since rain is forecast for the next five days or so, we've decided to stay at Richard Russell State Park in Georgia instead of heading up the road a short distance to Lake Hartwell and Watsadler Campground, one of our favorites, as we first planned. Since we can't go outside to play, we'll stay inside and take advantage of the basic cable television service and the free Wi-Fi, neither of which are available at Watsadler. 

Hopefully, the “rain event” will pass by before we all get cabin fever.


NEXT: Alone, At Last, at Richard Russell State Park, at:






Monday, August 12, 2013

Asheville: A new definition of diversity

The popular Biltmore Estate, the former Vanderbilt summer home in Asheville, North Carolina, is just a few minutes from our campsite at the Lake Powhatan campground. We used the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway as a short cut since it is adjacent to the campground and allowed us to avoid the traffic-filled byways of this summer residence for many Floridians. The number of Florida license plates here is second only to the native North Carolina plates. 

The Blue Ridge parkway offers a serene, somewhat slower connection to the U.S. 25 Hendersonville Road area than the other alternatives. Asheville itself is no longer the sleepy little mountain hideaway of years gone by. In fact, it is the intersection of two major Interstate highways, I-26 and I-40, and the bypass that rings Asheville, I-240. The Interstate traffic is incessant through this pretty little corner on the edge of the Smoky Mountains.


After being presented at the entrance to the beautiful estate with the option of seeing how the old rich ostentatiously lived in the past for a mere $59 apiece, or using the $118 bucks for a great dinner and wandering through the city with fewest number of fat people in America, the choice was easy. Asheville is the last major hippie refuge on the east coast, and is worth a walk back through the '60's. For $118 bucks, I'll read about the Vanderbilts.

I'm just guessing about the statistics of the number of obese people here, but one thing is certain: more people here are fit and health conscious than any place we've been in several years. The area appeals to the outdoor-types who crowd the hiking and bicycle trails that seem to be everywhere. Perhaps they are the ones who live on the outskirts or in the many surrounding urban areas. Downtown Asheville may be a somewhat different story.

I haven’t seen tie-dyed shirts or tops seriously worn as clothing for many years, but the first trip into downtown Asheville was a trip through Alice's looking glass, and many old fashions and styles appeared to be quite common. We even saw haircuts that were popular when Hee Haw was a prime time TV show. Asheville is where the hippies and the hillbillies meet in a diverse, uniquely tolerant atmosphere that confounds many out-of-towners. It is definitely unique.

The old hippies, and their young imposters, are tolerated perhaps as an odd quirk, or perhaps as an eye-wink to a place where mountain-grown herbs take on a different meaning. Maybe there are just too many of them. They seem to have come from all over the east coast. Whatever the reason, diversity flourishes in Asheville more than most towns further east. So does good music and good dining. A diverse, eclectic population inhabits downtown Asheville.





















NEXT: Singin' in the Rain, at:
http://sleepstwo.blogspot.com/2013/08/whether-or-not-weather.html













Friday, August 9, 2013

Pleasant Surprise - Lake Powhatan, NC


Pulling our 21 foot KZ Sportsmen travel trailer up the gradual incline on U.S. 25 from Greenville, South Carolina, into the foothills of the Smokey Mountains was no problem. It was a short, easy 186 mile trip from Athens, Georgia, to Asheville, North Carolina, and took us just over four hours. By the time we reached the junction with Interstate 26, – Interstates are great to use through the mountains – we were practically there and the climb was just about over. I don't think we downshifted into second gear more than once. Quite a bit different from our Toyota Sequoia's baptism of fire towing a trailer in the West Virginia mountains during last year's camping trip. 

Our pad, number 53 on the Lake Side Loop, was paved, and had thirty amp electrical service with water and sewer. With no camping pads across the access road in our part of the loop, privacy was great. We could easily have been in an isolated outpost, but in fact the campground is just around the corner on North Carolina Highway 191 from the entrance to the famed Blue Ridge Parkway and the beautiful North Carolina Arboretum.
Lake Powhatan Campground is open from April 1st to October 31st, as are the other three camping areas that are part of the recreation area, North Mills River, Sunburst, and Davidson River Campgrounds. Lake Powhatan has 85 sites, but only 6 have RV electrical service, and only 5 have standard electrical hookup. All the other sites are standard non-electric or tent camp sites. Our pad had all the civilized amenities of any RV campground except for cell phone coverage. A quirk of the local hills and valleys puts most of the campground in a dead spot. No Wi-Fi Internet service either, not even for Verizon users. 
Our first stay at a National Forest Campground – it is run under permit by the Cradle of Forestry Interpretive Association – and we can't help but notice the number of volunteers working and staying at the campground. Each of the four loops, Big John, Bent Creek, Lakeside, and Hardtimes, has at least two sets of full-time hosts, and the campground shows the result: it is spotless! The toilet and showers are sparkling clean, and the camp pads are raked and swept almost as soon as they are vacated. There is no camping store or “headquarters” so to speak, a huge fifth-wheel camper parked behind a wooden privacy fence at the main gate serves as the office. The group of hosts meets there in the morning before heading out to their respective tasks. One of those tasks, of course, is to man the front gate which is open from 7:00am until 10:00pm, which in our experience are extraordinary hours for a manned gate. The gate closes at 10:00pm, and there is no access until the gate reopens at 7:00 am the next morning. You may be fortunate enough to meet a sympathetic guard after hours, but don't count on it as they make rounds of the entire campground.

The campground also honors the Federal Senior pass, or in my case, the now obsolete Golden Age Passport, so costs are quite reasonable for a full 14 day stay. Many of the sites are first come, first served, but the full-service sites are available through on-line reservations at Recreation.gov.

Our site has full service, which means it has a sewer hook-up. This can be a terrible experience for first-time sewer users in an RV as many people mistakenly believe their RV systems work exactly like those at home. They do not, and leaving your RV's black water valve open continuously so it drains constantly into the sewer will normally end up in an embarrassing service call to unblock a solidified black-water tank or drain. We simply use the sewer hookup as a dump station, emptying when it is full, then filling the holding tank back with two gallons or so of fresh water along with the chemical packs we normally toss in at the beginning of each cycle. I don't keep the gray water tank valve open, either, as I use that water to flush the drain hose after emptying the black water tank.


The campground is criss-crossed by hiking and biking trails of all skill levels. In fact, the entire area around Asheville is an outdoor enthusiasts dream. Unfortunately the run-off from the continuous summer rains that feed the small, pretty lake have contributed to a high bacterial count that closed the lake to swimming. The lake isn't large enough for even a kayak or canoe and can be circled on the adjacent hiking trail in less than 20 minutes. It is perfect for the two Canada Geese that decided to spend the summer. Incidentally, the water monitoring service determined the geese were not at fault for the contamination.

We'll post more photos as we explore the campground and the surrounding area, but our first impression of the campground is very good. In fact, it is a pleasant surprise.

NEXT: Asheville - A New Definition of Diversity, at:
http://sleepstwo.blogspot.com/2013/08/asheville-new-definition-of-diversity.html 



 






Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Anastasia – Third Time is a Charm


We planned our third visit to Anastasia State Park just outside St. Augustine, Florida, to coincide with a full moon. The brilliant, full Florida moon rising out of the Atlantic Ocean over the expansive, empty beach that stretches to the horizon, tempted us to try for yet a third time. The two times1 2we have camped here in the past during a full moon left us with wonderful memories. But, as always, timing is everything!

The St. Augustine light house is a few blocks north of Anastasia State Park

We checked on-line reviews of the popular park while we patiently waited as Hurricane Chantal teased the northeast Florida coast before finally fading away, drenching the Atlantic coast as far north as New York. Ilse and I thought we might have to delay our arrival in northeast Florida, but Chantal obligingly allowed us to make the trip on schedule, leaving behind only occasional Florida showers. It was a six hour trip up from Port Charlotte. I avoided all Interstates, using only state and county roads. It was a marvelous, unstressful Sunday drive, and we were set up in the Sea Urchin loop, a first for us, in site 77 well before dinner time.

We read several comments about many of the campsites having no drainage, or worse, the drainage ending up in the campsite itself. Having never been caught in a deluge here, we were concerned about our unknown campsite. The hard-packed, sand-based sites here, are mostly flat, but only one or two are paved in the entire 139 site campground. Some though, are a little quirky in their layout.

The first six camping loops, sites 1 through 105, have better privacy than the newer seventh loop
located further south of the other loops. There are no campsites across from each other in the first six loops as there is an island of vegetation in the center, and the one-way road only has campsites only on the right side of the road. The newer Coquina loop seems somewhat crowded by having double the number of campsites. They eliminated the center island and doubled the number of campsites.

The toilet and shower facilities are clean and well maintained as always, even after the hoards of toilet-paper-stuffing children blocked up all three commodes in our men's room on Sunday. The toilets were spotless just a few hours later.


Our first day was spent catching up on reading and just relaxing. Intermittent rain showers made it comfortable just to stay in the camper anyway. Getting ready for a two month long camping trip is hard work. Putting up hurricane shutters and closing up the house, prepping the car and trailer, planning the food and itinerary take time and effort. Why is it so much work to have fun? Monday was spent as the relaxing first day of vacation, after an early morning walk to the beach, of course. 

Tuesday was the start of the real vacation. With sunshine and mild temperatures, I unloaded the bicycles and finally got into vacation mode. We eventually drove to town, did some grocery shopping and had Thai food for lunch. Well, it was supposed to be Thai food. I think it was just a matter of taking the correct numbered meal out of the freezer, putting it in the microwave according to instructions for whichever meal we ordered, punching a couple of buttons and serving it piping hot! Yum!


Really?

We got to do things we never had time for in the past. First on the list was a visit to Fort Matanzas National Monument, just a few miles south on famous US A1A. The weather held on Wednesday for our free boat ride to the small, but impressive fort that only fired its cannons in anger once. We had seen it from a distance when we brought a boat from St. Augustine to Ft. Myers way back in 19993, but only the teasingly far-off view as the Inter-coastal waterway passes on the other side of Rattlesnake Island from where the Spanish thoughtlessly built their fort hundreds of years ago. 


Ft. Matanzas


We decided to check out Gamble Rogers State Park, some 30 miles south, as an alternate to Anastasia if we need to park our little trailer somewhere else. We were already south of St. Augustine, so why not take a look. Scratch Gamble Rogers, it isn't for us. We got back to camp just before the afternoon rains started. 

We had a hint things weren't going to go as planned on Wednesday when storms really began to roll in. By Friday morning, it was obvious the comments on the Internet were accurate as some campsites had been flooded more than once. Most of them drained within hours, but some sites, such as 67 and especially 81, were under ankle-deep water for many hours. Definitely not for tent campers! 
Site 81 after a good rain


We met Susan, from Naples, on Friday night after she backed in to site 81 and set up her tent. The original reservations had been canceled so she picked up the spot for a one-night stay. It rained almost as soon as she was set up, but it was a light shower and the water didn't encroach her tent. We later sat outside our trailer in the pleasant, but moist evening air as the sites drained and chatted well into the night. We joked about drying out the tents and bedding, but by the next morning it wasn't a joke. We had a torrential downpour just after she packed up and site 81 was soon under four inches of water.

Saturday night was an adventure, to say the least. Ilse commented on a sign she saw on the nearby Elks marquee that stated “Sat - Latin Dance.” So, we planned to stop by and see what was happening.  The adjacent St. Augustine Amphitheater was holding a concert by Sublime at the same time, so A1A, the street outside the park was jammed with police and flashing lights by the time we headed to the Elks club. The Elks parking lot was full, but not for the Latin dance. Turns out the dance had been held the previous weekend. They didn't take down the sign until the day before we showed up looking for some Salsa. The Elks club itself was fairly empty, save for a few regulars who looked at us nonchalantly as we walked in. The Elks make extra money by providing extra parking for the amphitheater.

We met Shirley, a thin, attractive blonde who was fending off the hands of Jack, somewhat heavier and younger by several years, as he tried to win her favor, obviously with Braille. Ilse and I sat next to them at the bar and ordered two gin and tonics that had to be thrown in the drain as the tonic water dispenser turned out to be empty of anything that vaguely resembled tonic water. The White Russian Ilse ordered as a substitute turned into a Miller High Lite beer when it was discovered their milk for the mixed drink had expired. It didn't take long for the bar to empty out. Not a real good night so far. Not for Jack either. Shirley kept telling him he wasn't going home with her and she wasn't going home with him, either. He kept asking, "Who hurt you, baby?" Poor Jack. We had free popcorn and played the jukebox. At least we got to dance to Patsy Cline. Not a real hot time in the old town that night.

We eventually made four trips to the beach without seeing sunshine even once, and the unending cloud cover made sure we didn't see any hint of moonlight during the full moon. Not until 3:00 am the next Tuesday, anyway.

So, even though we didn't get to see our full moon, we have had a great time. Tourists have a knack for crowding me out of anywhere they decide to congregate, and St. Augustine in the summer is a prime tourist attraction. We have another week here, and plenty of things to still see and do, depending on how much rain we get and how well we squeeze past the crowds.

We'll come back to St. Augustine, one of our favorite places, probably in time for the Christmas lighting ceremony in November. I'll have to see when the full moon occurs in November. We'll try for four, the third time didn't count.

[Update Note: Full moon will occur November 17th, 2013; the Lighting Ceremony will be the Saturday before Thanksgiving, November 23, 2013.  Festivities start for one of the best lighting ceremonies in the country (per National Geographic) at 6:30pm]

NEXT: On to Asheville, NC, and a great discovery, at:
http://sleepstwo.blogspot.com/2013/08/pleasant-surprise.html

 

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