Friday, June 29, 2012

Goose Point Campground, Philpott Lake, Virginia

After judicious planning, based on the advice of family members familiar with the area, we skirt around Greensboro to the west before turning north toward Martinsville, Virginia. The third leg of our longest camping adventure is one of the shortest, only about 80 miles. We are headed from the Stubblefield family farm near Pleasant Garden, North Carolina, to our first Corps of Engineer campground of the trip near Bassett, Virginia, just a few miles past Martinsville. 

We roll out of the old Stubblefield farm shortly before 10:00 am and drive the three miles to Hagan-Stone County Park, just outside of Pleasant Garden to use their dump station. A better idea than dumping on the ground at the farm. After all, we'd like to be invited back someday. 

Hagan-Stone is a neatly kept local campground that unfortunately for us, is first-come first-served, with no reservations. [Update as of 5-10-2013, Reservations may now be made online for Hagan Stone, but I suggest you search online (Google, or otherwise) for the current web site. Search under guilford parks.

Cousin Bobby had gone out of his way the day before and driven me to the campground and shown me the facility, including how to get to the dump-station. Southern hospitality is no joke. 

After using their dump station the next beautiful, quiet Carolina morning, we look around for someone to take our $5.00, but the one white service truck we see drives off the other direction, and there is no one in the park office. So, we take Cousin Steve's advice and head west on I-85/I-73/I-40, to avoid the congested route recommended by Chatty Cathy, at least for a little while.

When we cross the Virginia state line, we notice the price of gasoline drops to under three dollars a gallon. In Martinsville, we find several stations charging in the $2.86 range. This will help our travel budget immensely, but we wonder how long these prices will hold. Really odd as the price of gasoline usually surges at the beginning of the summer vacation season. 

The weather is warm and sunny, and the traffic is light. We make a several stops during the leisurely drive north to Philpott Lake, but find ourselves only twelve miles from the campground some four hours ahead of the five o'clock check-in time.

Don't lean back too far!  Chock, or wheel lock your trailer

While sitting in a brand-new Walmart parking lot in Martinsville, pondering our campsite arrival time, Ilse calls the main gate. No problem, our reserved site is already vacated and we can check in anytime. We close up the camper, pile the dogs back in the Toyota and an interesting hour later, we check in at the main gate at Goose Point Campground.

The ride from Highway 57 to the campground is memorable. The five mile drive is well maintained, but very twisty. Twisty to the point of being a real driver's test for those driving even medium sized RVs and or hauling trailers over 24 feet or so. This stretch of road would make a really great go-kart track!

Ilse had also asked about a laundromat in the local area when she chatted with the pleasant volunteer manning the front desk as we found out the Goose Point campground does not have washers or dryers, items found in many COE campgrounds. We looked for the local coin-laundromat as we passed the skeletal remains of Bassett Furniture, the former employer of many of the local residents, and many empty buildings only recently abandoned. Empty factories and warehouses strewn though the town attest to the failed policies of moving jobs overseas simply for cheaper labor. Signs of economic woes and despair are everywhere, but the residents of Bassett are doing their best to keep the place clean and well-maintained, even though it is obviously a struggle. We couldn't find the laundromat, or even the drugstore we had been told was a landmark.

An Assassin Bug toodles across the campsite 

The husband of the volunteer we had talked to laughed and corrected his wife's directions to the laundromat when we checked in. We didn't see it because we weren't on the right road. We decided we would take one day off to relax before heading back into town to wash clothes and try to find an Internet hot-spot connection. He gave us our marked up map and we slowly, and with great trepidation, started up the narrow access road toward loop A and our home for the next two weeks. Wow, this is about as narrow and difficult as I care to drive. Getting out of here will require two sharp turns that are at the steering limit of my Toyota Sequoia, even without the trailer! There is no room for negotiation, only sharp drop-offs. Oh well, I'll worry about it in two weeks, or when we have to go dump our holding tanks, whichever comes first.

While strolling through the visitor's center at Philpott Lake two days later, reading the information plaques scattered around the wall displays, I noticed the lake was named after a Baptist minister. Maybe that explains why not only alcohol is forbidden in all four campgrounds, but also why there are signs posted everywhere stating every container is subject to search for “illegal substances.” We have been to many campgrounds where alcohol is prohibited, but never any that threatened to physically look in my dark blue, plastic cup to see, or perhaps taste, what I was drinking.

The Goose Point Campground is a typically first class Corps of Engineer campground. If I had to say anything negative about the facilities, it would be the lack of showers at the Loop A toilet facilities. Clean, well lighted, and easily accessible, it also only has one commode on the men's side, a little short for the 19 campsites the facility services. The sites, however, have full electric and water hookups, so they may have counted on most campers using their self-contained facilities. There is a second facility further down the steep road just before the tent-camper's B-loop. It has two commodes and four shower stalls on the men's side and four commodes and three showers on the women's side. Again, spotlessly clean.

The “A” loop is also a “hill-top” type campground, high above the lake and the lower two camping loops. As a result, the campsites do not offer the seclusion or distances between sites found at most Corps of Engineers campgrounds as space at the crest of the hill is at a premium. No big campers here, and not much privacy, either. The sites are gravel, level, and well maintained, but they are a little scary if one had small children. The drop-offs that surround the immediate perimeter of each pad are quite steep. Heavily forested, I doubt anyone would roll more than several hundred yards down the steep embankments before being stopped by trees. If you rolled a basketball over the edge, I imagine it would look like a pinball on its journey to the lake far below.

The only other possible improvement I could come up with would be to add the one word that was left out of the campground description, the “Know Before You Go” notes to campers. The description states “Access road and park roads are hilly, winding and narrow and may be difficult for larger RVs to Navigate.” I think they left out the word “extremely'. It should go in front of difficult.

We will be here two weeks. I'll have a full, opinionated blog to post then. With photos.

NEXT: Philpott Lake - 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Why you never carry bicycles on a rack on the back of an RV

We rolled out of our daughter's drive way near North High Shoals, Georgia, at exactly 8:00 am, headed north. After five great relaxing days at our daughter's place, it was time to hit the road north and begin our three-month summer sojourn. We tanked up at a nearby gas station a few minutes later, and with our gray water and black water holding tanks at 2/3rd full, pulled happily into northbound traffic on U.S. 441. A beautiful, cool, late spring morning, showcasing the lush green, rolling countryside of northeastern Georgia.

We asked earlier at a campground near Bishop if we could use their dump facility as we needed to empty our black water tank after staying at our daughter's place for almost a week. Unfortunately, the answer was “sorry, no, we don't take outside sewage.” So, we became instant fans of a web site called, which lists dump stations for RVers who need to empty their bladders, so to speak. Some people will dump their gray water tank just about anywhere if no one is looking, but I have not met anyone who has admitted dumping their black water, or sewage, in the open. I would like to think none of our fellow RVers are that gross or callous. We picked the closest dump station some sixty or so miles away, up on Interstate 85 near Carnesville. No problem, we could make that easily.

Everything was great, we had a full tank of gas, the dogs had quieted down, and while doing a sedate 55 mph through the outskirts of Athens on a beautiful four-lane divided highway, the tire pressure warning light came on. I had checked the tire pressures the night before and everything then was perfect, but a warning light is not to be ignored especially when towing a 4000 pound trailer. So, at the first possible pull-off, I did a quick walk around the Toyota Sequoia, and the travel trailer as well, but everything appeared to be in order. No flat tires. Oh well, always something.

Back on the road again, this time with a little warning indicator stuck on in the back of my mind. We soon hit the Intestate at Commerce, just 18 miles or so down the road from the dump station we planned to use. A pleasant, uneventful trip up the old, dilapidated Interstate, being sucked along by the endless stream of huge eighteen wheelers passing me like I was standing still. I was doing a perfect 60 miles an hour, a balance between speed and economy, but they were passing me like spaceships heading for an intergalactic docking party. The camper rocked every time one went by, and I was thankful I had tightened down the anti-sway bar on my trailer hitch.

This from the second time the bicycle rack failed.
It was a brand new replacement for the first one that dumped my bicycles in the middle of I-85.
Thanks to a safety chain, they stayed attached to the back of the trailer!

We found exit 160 and headed toward the Pilot gas station, our designated dump-station. Pilot is a chain of fuel and rest stations that cater to the trucking industry found along many of the Interstates. They all have dump stations for RVers to use for a ten dollar fee. If you are a member of their no-charge travel club, the fee is $5.00. They recently merged with Flying-J, a favorite among RVers, and we soon found out why they are so popular. Huge, and absolutely spotless, the tank station/restaurant/trucker's lounge had two separate dump-stations along with the truckers section and the regular fuel islands.

The young woman behind the counter had that beautiful, melodic north-Georgia accent that turns sentences into lyrics, and after explaining the benefits of membership to the free Flying-J/Pilot club to me, swiped my credit it card, and for half price, I was entitled to the four-digit code that would unlock the cap to the sewer drain. Or maybe a car wash. No, no car wash. But using the dump station is the same format. You pull up with your RV dump valve aligned with their sewer head, key in the four digit code, and, viola, you have 30 seconds to open the sewer cap and connect your hose from your RV. Neat! Five minutes later we were on the road toward a family reunion in Pleasant Garden, North Carolina, with empty holding tanks. I was positive we would get better mileage with the reduced weight.

We hadn't been to the old family Stubblefield farm in six years, and it had been eight years since the last family reunion. We were looking forward to meeting old friends and meeting all the new grandchildren. We were laughing, talking about old times when a silver BMW pulled up along side and magically rolled down then the passenger window. He pointed toward the back of the camper and I knew we had trouble. I slowed, found a spot we could pull safely off the busy Interstate, and with baited breath (I finally get to use that idiom) pulled far enough away from the pavement to safely check the camper.

My bicycle was dangling off the back of the bike rack, the back wheel dragging on the pavement. My wife's bicycle had also jumped its mounting bracket, but hadn't come off the rack. I always use a safety chain on everything I attach or hook up to the camper, and the bicycle safety chain worked just as it should have when the retaining straps on the bicycle rack failed. As I worked on remounting my bicycle, I realized every passing truck shook the camper, and subsequently the bike rack. The bike rack would swing and wildly oscillate with every passing truck and I realized the standard mounting straps were naively inadequate. The rack was not designed for Interstate travel!

I checked my bike and found the damage wasn't too bad. A flat tire, the side wall was rubbed through, and one petal was pretty much scraped off. Not too bad, considering I could have dropped my bicycle in the middle of busy I-85 and caused who-knows-what kind of havoc. Hey, they could use that in one of those television commercials! We once dodged an electric, handicapped wheelchair that had fallen off a carrier rack in the middle of I-75 once. Damaged cars were all over the shoulder of the road. I learned my lesson from the debris strewn roadway, I was determined it wouldn't happen to me.

I used several heavy-duty nylon tie straps from my kayak tie-down kit to secure both my wife's bike and my now dinged up old clunker, to the the bike rack. After finally finding a gap in the incessant flow of mostly truck traffic, we strained to get back on the Interstate without causing a major pile-up.

A few miles up the road, after being passed by another 50 or 60 trucks, one of the huge monochromatic symbols of Interstate Commerce slowed as he pulled alongside, magically rolled down his passenger window, and I knew what he was going to do next. Yep, he pointed toward the rear of the camper. Damn. Here we go again.

This time nothing hit the road. My bike had been sucked completely off one side of the rack, but only one wheel had come loose and nothing actually hit the pavement. The straps were intact, just pulled completely over the safety stop! OK, time for serious precautions. I found a red, fabric cinch strap and tightened everything to the bumper of the the RV! No way was anything going to come loose this time, and we indeed made the remainder of the trip with out incident. Well, except for retribution from my mother.

We had made the trip in 1994 with my mother for the first Stubblefield family reunion, but I had caused a major family problem. My mom, who of course grew up in the area, wanted me to turn at an intersection she thought she recognized. I ignored her, following a map that turned out to be old and in error. My mom sat in the car and fumed while I went to a gas station and bought a new map of the area. She never let me forget it. She complained to relatives, and anyone else who would listen, about her son ignoring her when she gave directions. It was a major faux-pas on my part, and she never let me forget it. On this trip, I think she got even.

I have an old Garmin GPS, and the map is the one that came preloaded. I won't pay the fee to update the map as I feel it is exorbitant, especially after I have sent in corrections and updates. If I bother with a new one, it will have unlimited map updates. Maybe I'll just go with a smart phone so I won't have to worry about staying current.

Instead of following my instinct, I listened as Chatty Cathy took me up I-85 when I wanted to stay on I-85. Yes, she took me up I-85 Business instead of the actual Interstate, and I soon realized we weren't going to arrive at the family farm as soon as we had hoped.

After the mandatory cussing and griping about my crappy GPS, I resentfully followed her directions to get back on the main route, and as I slowed almost to a crawl while driving across an intersection in a residential part of High Point, I looked to the left and saw my aunt Irene Feeny's house. I haven't been there in over 50 years, but I recognized it immediately! It looked exactly like it did the last time I saw it! We stopped a few blocks later and checked our maps, but we were now on the shortest route to the farm! OK, Mom, I get the hint. You can stop laughing now.

Next: Our first stop headed north: the COE campground at Philpot Lake, Virginia

Friday, June 15, 2012

Prologue - The Great Adventure

Never carry bikes on the back of a camper!
We learned our lesson the hard way!  Stay tuned!

We finally hit the road a few minutes before 11:00am on a bright, Florida Wednesday morning after three months of planning and relentlessly spending money. We pulled into one of our favorite campgrounds, the Stephen Foster Cultural Center State Park, near White Springs, Florida, the first leg of our three-month journey, five and a half hours later. It was 94 degrees when we drove in and chatted with the friendly park ranger at the gate. This is one of the few parks where we don't have to get out of your vehicle and go inside. They have everything ready for you and bring it to your window. All a registered camper has to have ready is a driver's license to prove their age if they qualify for the Florida resident over age 65 discount.

This is our fifth visit to this beautiful park. Our last visit here had been somewhat of a disappointment as the normally lush vegetation between campsites had been completely cut back, leaving the normally secluded campsites naked and barren, the area between campsites strewn with dead vegetation. It has been ten months since we last visited, and the palmettos and wax myrtles have made a valiant comeback. They are now well over knee-high, but I doubt they will ever reach maturity. They'll probably get whacked again just about the time I think they have regained their mature beauty. It's pretty here when everything is green and growing, instead of spread across the campground in a brown, dying morass of coarse mulch.

We are only here one night this time as this is a great half-way break in the trip to Athens, Georgia. We have made the ten-hour trip in one day several times, but it is far more relaxing to stop and listen to the bells in the carillon, wander around among the beautiful, moss-draped live oaks, and wander down to the root-beer colored Suwanee River, breaking the trip into two days. Besides, this is the first day of a three month excursion, our very first extended vacation. A nice way to start the vacation and see if the money spent was worth it.

We awoke about quarter to six in the gray darkness of early morning. That is the time of day you can't really tell if it is going to be sunny or overcast, just that night will soon be over. I knew it would be a great day as I soon found my torsion bar pipe tool I thought I had left behind in Port Charlotte. I can't remove or adjust my trailer-hitch load levelers without it. We even called the young man who is going to mow our lawn to watch for it in case I left it laying in the grass where the trailer was parked. I'm sure it wouldn't do his lawn mower any good to run over that pipe. It also puts my mind at ease about my planning and checking details before we left Florida on our first three month camping adventure. 

We had already had one scare when we couldn't remember where we packed the wine. Talk about a scare! We found the box of with several bottles of liquid refreshment right where we put it. Of course, we put it where we would remember where it was! Wrong! We found it eventually, by accident, of course. The camper simply isn't that big.

Ilse fixed coffee and we both had a leisurely bowl of cereal before walking the dogs around the quiet, almost lifeless campground. No one was stirring. By 7:45 we were ready to roll, and after the “over and under” trailer check, we rolled over to the nearby dump station. We were serenaded by the morning chimes from the landmark carillon announcing 8:00 am as I took off my rubber gloves after unhooking the sewer drain pipe. We were ready to roll. As far as the closest gas station, anyway.

We had deferred tanking up when we got off I-75 the day before as the first gas station wanted $3.45 a gallon! We had topped off in Port Charlotte at $3.24, and paid $3.15 a gallon just north of Tampa. We assumed this station was just an Interstate ripoff and waited until we talked with the friendly ranger at the main gate. She advised us to use the station she used regularly, just up U.S. 41 from the park. We were surprised to find every station we passed in the area to be the same, $3.45. We had an ominous feeling about the price of gas for the trip, a $.30 jump per gallon in one day is scary!  Our next fill-up in Douglas, Georgia, brought a sigh of relief. Everything was good again as every station in the area was charging $3.15. We hoped the expensive bubble around Lake City and the surrounding area would be an anomaly.

We rolled into our daughter's place outside of Watkinsville at 4:00 pm after seeing wild turkeys on the roadway, and a pickup truck in front of us brake hard to miss a deer that decided to bolt across U.S. 41 at 11:00 in the morning. 

Thursday was weird-driver day. We saw enough bad drivers to write a chapter or even a whole book about. When you are towing a travel trailer at 60 miles an hour in Interstate traffic that runs 10 to 20 miles an hour over the posted 70MPH limit, you get a ringside seat to stupidity. From drivers who are obviously impaired, running off the road on both sides of a three-lane roadway, to drivers who cut across all lanes of traffic to make an exit, we saw enough to make us want to park and rest a while.

Now that we're parked safely in the driveway at our daughter's place, that's exactly what we'll do. If I remember where we put the wine.

Next: Why you never carry bicycles on a rack in the back of your RV, at:

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