Saturday, October 6, 2012

Day 37

Hungry Mother State Park, Virginia to Hollywood, Maryland
374 miles, 7 hours

Today was the last day of our trip. We were very sad to go home-it has been a great trip and we were just really sad to see it come to a close.

We did not wake up too early this morning, but Dennis and I got to work quickly breaking camp and getting things packed away while the kids slept in. Dennis took care of the outside stuff and I took care of the inside stuff. We really had made quite a mess-we had lots of stuff out-our tacky lights, all the camping chairs, the grill….and since we got it pretty late last night, we hadn’t put anything away like we normally do the night before leaving. I took the opportunity to put away a bunch of stuff that had been accumulating inside the RV-the shower was full of jackets and towels, and there were clothes all over the floor of our room, as well as the kids’ stuff was pretty much scattered all over the place. After cleaning up and everyone was awake, we made a nice breakfast of egg, sausage and hashbrown tacos with fresh avocado and Aunt Colleen’s habanero salsa. Once that was cleaned up, we were ready to pull out and it was about 10:00. We pulled up to the camp office, dumped the water tanks and got on the road.
 Last message board entry - 5 weeks and 2 days of messages on the board
 Sarah and Heather at Gypsy Hill Park
 Leah enjoying some time at the playground
 Sarah's kids (and some extras) climbing the rock wall
The RV, parked at home again

Our big stop today was  a surprise to us-an unscheduled but very happy coincidence. My good friend, Sarah, who lives in North Carolina happened to be in Staunton, Virginia visiting family. Our trip home took us up Rt. 81 to its junction with 64 east, which is right in Staunton. We arranged to meet at a park to just spend about an hour together catching up. We haven’t seen each other in about 5 years, though we keep in touch very regularly long distance. We parked the RV at a Lowes store at the edge of town because Staunton is a little tight to drive an RV through. This made it easier to hop in the car and head down to Gypsy Hill Park where we hung out while the kids played at the playground. It was not nearly enough time to really catch up, but it was nice to get some “face time” and see the kids and how they all have been growing. After our visit we headed back to the RV, hooked up and were on the road. It was about a 4 hour drive home from that point. I drove for a little bit while Dennis took a little nap, and when we stopped for gas at our exit off 95, we had a quick dinner of reheated bbq, grilled chicken  and some green beans. 

We got home about 8:00pm and Granni came over with Elsa to greet us. Elsa was super happy to see everyone-she had pretty much given up on us as gone forever! The kids immediately spread out-Bay and Leah to their rooms to remember their own spaces and missed toys and stuffed animals-Eric to the piano to try his fingers out after a long absence.

We will spend tomorrow unloading everything and doing lots of laundry, and then it will be back to the normal routines. On the way home tonight we commented about how thankful we were for everything on our trip, how thankful we were for God’s provision of our safety and ease of travel without any major issues. And then we joked how we had to convince the RV to continue going home-how it kept trying to turn around and go back out west. We told the kids that we were just going home to refuel and then head back out J  It has been quite the trip!

Day 36

Hungry Mother State Park & surrounding areas
Weather: 78 day, 47 night

Once again, God showed himself as Lord over our trip this morning. Everyone slept in this morning-the latest yet-till 9:00! We had a leisurely breakfast (muffins) and coffee. Bay came to breakfast and said that he had it figured out-we would stay another night at the campground, and then leave tomorrow to go home. Keep in mind that we were scheduled to pack out today-our campsite had already been booked for the weekend by someone else. We asked Bay if God had spoken to him last night about these plans, because, God  hadn't answered us yet about staying another night. We knew we would like to stay, but were okay with leaving too if that was the plan. So, we decided to go ahead and call down to the camp office to find out if there were any cancellations, and there was- one. They asked us to come down to the office and reserve it right away. I hopped in the car and drove down to pay for tonight, and after checking to make sure that we could stay on the same site and not move, we were so excited to be able to extend our trip just one more day! What a great confirmation that it was good for us to be here a little longer J

Eventually the kids got dressed and we all went out and took a walk from our campsite around the lake and over to the playground. I’m not sure how far the walk was, but it wasn't too much, just nice weather, fall leaves and hanging out.  Back at the campsite, the kids wanted to change into their water shoes and play in the creek next to our site. Dennis and I sat on our chairs and watched them as they played. They had a blast-moving rocks and dirt to get the water flowing where they wanted it to go. They tried to build dams, create faster moving rapids, and even caught a crayfish  That was a funny adventure just in itself! Bay ended up being the brave one who finally caught it, but as soon as it was on his hands, he freaked out and dropped it. Eventually they got a little container and coaxed it in so they could observe the poor little critter for a little before putting him back in his home.

 Dennis had gotten in touch with a friend of his, Marchelo, whom he worked with years ago at Sprint. Marchelo and his wife now live in Johnson City, TN, and were available to get together for a little visit tonight after they got off work. We made plans for the afternoon and into the evening, got everyone changed into dry clothes, and headed out.

Our first stop was right here in the town of Marion, at a lunch place called Macado’s. It is one of those sandwich shops where all of the sandwiches are named after famous people, like the Babe Ruth, or the Mona Lisa. Because it was around 2:00 by the time we made it to lunch, we had the dining room all to ourselves-it was kind of nice. We ate half our lunches and put the rest in our cooler to take back to the RV for lunches tomorrow. Then we headed to the nearby historic town of Abingdon, Virginia. Dennis and I (with baby Eric) visited here many years ago when Dennis had travel for work. This is the home of a famous theater, the Barter Theater. I’m not so into those types of things, but I know the town is famous and historic for it. Anyways, we were planning on taking the kids to a movie at some point, and so today seemed to be the day. We went to the local Cineplex to see Hotel Transylvania in 3D. The kids loved it so that made it a hit! After the movie, we had fun in the lobby with the funny mirrors-looking at ourselves with long torsos and short legs and giggling over our disproportionate bodies! Silly fun.

Then we drove somewhere and parked so that I could update the blog on the computer. The town of Abingdon has free wi-fi anywhere in the town. By that time Dennis had talked to his friend, Marchelo, and we decided it would be easiest just to drive down to their house and meet them for pizza. It was a little bit of a drive, but that was okay for us. We got to their house and visited for a little bit with them and their 2 dogs and turtle. We haven’t seen them for about 10 years-so we had lots to catch up on! Then we followed them to a local pizza place (I don’t even know what it was called!) and had dinner together. By this time it was pretty late- but the kids didn't seem to mind. It was a good thing that we had all slept in and started our day late, because it was shaping up to be a late night! By the time we got out of dinner, it was 10:00, and we had a 1 ½ hour drive back to the campsite. We said our goodbyes and drove back where everyone pretty much crashed (Bay and Leah fell asleep in the car on the way).

Eric mentioned on the way back tonight how this has been such fun trip-the whole thing. I think we all echo his sentiments. Leah is probably the most anxious to get home, she missed the animals. However I think honestly, none of us are really ready to go back home. We know it’s over, and life must go on as soon as we get home, but we are happy to stretch out the vacation as long as we can. This last stop at Hungry Mother has been a good one-we have ended on a happy note. The campsite is our favorite from the trip, and the past week has been one good visit with friends after another. The trip as a whole has been so good for all of us. I am working on some summary pages that I will post over the next few days-hopefully I can get them all written before we get home and get too busy with everything that must happen then.
 Hanging out by the creek-before our little morning walk around the lake
 We just loved this campsite and were so thrilled to be able to stay for one more night!
 Dennis loves to sweep-even outdoors! I guess there isn't enough floor area in the RV for him to sweep so he had to take it outside!
 Not all of the trees are changing just yet, but some are really brilliant, like this small tree in a parking lot at the park
 It was begging to be climbed
 The lake at Hungry Mother State Park-
Dinner with Marchelo and Shannon in Johnson City

Friday, October 5, 2012

Day 35

Hungry Mother State Park, Marion, Virginia

Weather: Day 71, night 61

Today we biked the upper section of the Virginia Creeper Trail-from Whitetop Station to Damascus, Virginia. We only brought bikes for Dennis and Eric, as well as Leah’s tag-along bike, so we had to rent a bike for myself and Bay. Also, the way this trail works is that you take a shuttle up to the beginning of the trail, and it is pretty much a downhill ride back to Damascus. The trail continues on to Abingdon, however we only did the 17 miles section today. We rented from one of 9 bikes shops in the town of Damascus-the Shuttle Shop-basically because they offered the best price mid-week. Evidently this place fills up with bicyclers on the weekend. Our guide said that there are easily 250 people going up the mountain between the bike shops every hour and a half. That’s too many bikers for us to deal with-we were very glad we did the ride on a Thursday. There were enough people on the trail as it was.

After breakfast and packing  lunch, we headed over to Damascus in the car-it was about an hour ride. Once there, Bay and I got set up on our bikes, and then everything was loaded up onto the trailer. There were about 20 people going up the mountain with us at the 11:00 shuttle. It was a 40 minute drive up to Whitetop Station-where they unloaded the bikes and dropped us off. From there, we rode down the trail. The Virginia Creeper trail was converted from an old railroad line (like many of the rails-to-trails that we bike) back in 1998. The  trail followed a creek most of the way and was shaded with some beautiful views of the mountains at many stops along the way. There were lots of small, old trestle bridges that we crossed, and several small rest areas along the way. We stopped about 7 miles out of Damascus for some ice-cream (our traditional reward for the kids on a long bike trip). The time really flew by-and before we knew it (about 3 hours later) we were back in Damascus turning in the bikes. Overall, the trail was okay. Compared to  the Allegheny Passage that we have ridden in Pennsylvania, the condition of the trail was not as well maintained. It was much more narrow, and very rocky, causing us to have to slow down and carefully navigate some sections. Getting on and off the bridges was also pretty rough-there was not a very gradual incline leading up to the bridge-sometimes it was quite a distance and really jolted the rider and the bike.

Leah’s tag-along bike was attached to my rental, because there was a fender on my bike to keep the rocks and dirt from flinging up into her face. Initially she was attached to Dennis’ mountain bike, but that didn’t last long as she quickly had something flung into her eye. The boys had a good time playing around on the trail since it was such an easy ride. Dennis taught Eric to do bunny hops over the bumps leading to the bridges, and all 3 of the boys were riding side saddle and putting their feet up on the handlebars being silly. It was all funny until Eric got his foot caught on the handlebar and crashed! Nothing too bad-just a nice red raspberry on his knee. He was a good sport about it all.

The kids all fell asleep in the car on the drive back to the campground. We grilled some chicken on the new charcoal grill to have with our salad and the kids had some mac-and-cheese for dinner. Dennis got a very nice campfire going tonight, and after showers for all, we played a game of Pass the Pigs and then headed to bed.

We have our campsite reserved just for tonight-all of the sites were booked for the weekend when we got here. We will check and see in the morning if there were any cancellations for Friday-if there are, then we are planning on staying one more night.

 Waiting at the bike shuttle shop to get a ride up to the top of the Virginia Creeper Trail. The town of Damascus survives on the business of these bike shops
 At the trial head. I rented a beach cruiser since we were just pretty much going downhill-I won't use one of those again. The coaster brakes were hugely annoying!
 The colors on the trees are just starting to change. It is not peak season, but it sure was beautiful. Don't be deceived by Eric's wardrobe choices-it was very cool-I think about 50 degrees at the beginning of the trail. It warmed up considerably as we came down the mountain, but at the higher altitude it was cold!
 Just riding down the Virginia Creeper
 Having fun while stopping for ice-cream!

 This is when Eric fell while doing one of the boys' stunts. Dennis had the camera today, so he didn't catch it until after the fact!
 Back at our campsite-the water woods are so peaceful. 
 Eric took this picture-he is getting better at his photography skills!

Our collection of National Parks stickers is growing. There were actually a few parks we went to that did not have any stickers so we are going to try to find those online when we get home.

Day 34

Knoxville, Tennessee to Marion, Virginia (with a long repair stop at Camping World)

183 miles, 4 hours
Weather: high 71, low 60, partly sunny

This morning we slept in until the trash trucks came by and woke us up-at least it woke Dennis and me up! The kids slept in considerably later-which was fine because both Bay and Eric are fighting the cold that I had a couple of weeks ago. We meandered into the house and had some coffee, Bay and Sammy played outside in the treehouse for awhile, and by then everyone was awake. Julie made pancakes for the kids and we visited for a little bit with Mark and Julie before getting packed up and ready to go.

We got on the road and just north of Knoxville saw a Camping World just off the highway. We had wanted to get a cover for our RV before we got home if we got the opportunity, and so pulled off to go in. While in the store, we noticed that their service department was not very busy, so Dennis checked with them to see if they had time to take a look at our tires. One of the valve extenders for one of the inside tires has not worked the whole trip, so we could not check the tire pressure or put air in that tire. They were able to take a look at it and fix it, which was a huge blessing, because we did not want to have to schedule a time for the RV to go in to a service center just for such a little thing! It did take a considerable amount of time, but it is now fixed.

Once that was done, we were quickly on our way to Hungry Mother State Park, our last destination of our trip. This is a location that we have wanted to visit for quite some time-we have been interested in bicycling the Virginia Creeper Trail. It is very similar to the Allegheny Passage Trail in Pennsylvania that we have ridden parts of for many years. It runs from Damascus to Abingdon-37 miles. You can do the whole thing or just part of it. Our plan is to bike 17 miles of it. Since we did not bring bikes for Bay or myself, we will rent bikes for half a day.

We showed up at Hungry Mother State Park, without much knowledge of the campgrounds or park map-this really is just a show up and see what’s available kind of stay! Since it is mid-week, we were not worried about crowds. The road into the park was quite adventurous-at one point we approached a very tight turn and a van was coming toward us. We were not sure if we were going to make it around the turn with the car trailing behind, but we did, and the campground was the very next turn-off! We found a beautiful site, nestled in between some tall deciduous trees and immediately next to us runs a laughing little brook. There is a constant sound of lightly running water over the rocks, but it is very shallow. As soon as we pulled in and got positioned, the kids got out, put on their water shoes and spent the rest of the afternoon in the water! Dennis commented that “it wasn’t quite the Narrows, but it was still fun!” 

We heated up the BBQ that we had bought and frozen back in Oklahoma from Rudy’s and had that for dinner-boy it was fabulous. Then we took a little drive to check out the rest of the park and let the kids play on a playground for a little bit. Back at the campsite, we took showers and then got a campfire started for the first time on our whole trip! Amazingly, this is the first time we have camped and there hasn’t been a fire restriction. Of course, we had no firewood, or newspaper or even a fire-stick! We bought some nice green, wet wood from the campground host, gathered some leaves and sticks, Dennis split some of the wood into kindling, and we nursed a fire along enough to get some hot coals so the kids could roast marshmallows over an actual fire. It was a nice quiet and still evening to sit out by the fire in our chairs. It felt like a normal, east coast camping experience! As much as we have enjoyed so many parts of our trip, camping at a place like this really is our favorite type of camping. Lots of tall trees, shade, mountains, cool air and no bugs. The running brook is a huge bonus. 

 Heather and Julie before we left
 Bay, Sammy and Leah had a great time playing. Sammy was easily able to say Bay's name, and Leah's nickname was "LeeLee"
At the Camping World that was so nice to fix the valve extender on our rear tire. Dennis was paying attention to how they fixed it so he could fix it in the future if necessary 
We LOVE our campsite at Hungry Mother State Park. The brook running next to our site and the quiet seclusion is perfect!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Day 33

Hopkinsville, Kentucky to Knoxville, Tennessee

5 ½ hours
230 miles
Weather: Rainy-60’s daytime

We woke up pretty early this morning in the Cracker Barrel parking lot to get out of there before the breakfast crowd came in. It was rainy most of our drive today through the mountains of Tennessee. We drove south toward Nashville, and managed to somehow avoid a good  bit of morning traffic. We then turned east and had pretty much a straight shot on I-40 towards Knoxville. We stopped for lunch along the way-it was actually an RV store parking lot that we stopped in. Dennis wanted to see if they had a part for our outside light, and also they had a big selection of RV’s. We decided to take a look inside a few of them, just to compare since we now have had our RV for awhile. What we found was interesting-we are VERY happy with the one we got and feel it is definitely the best fit for our family and our needs.

We arrived in Knoxville at the home of our friends the Steimer’s. We knew them when we lived in Greenville-Mark was the youth pastor at our church there and before Eric was born and for a short time after he was born we worked with the youth with Mark and Julie in that church. We have kept in touch loosely with them since they moved to Knoxville about the same time we moved to Maryland, and it was really great to see them and how their kids have grown up, and also meet their newly adopted 2 year old, Samuel Bay. Yes….his middle name is Bay-just like our Bay! We think that is pretty cool! It was so nice to just pick up where we left off with them-there is something comforting about reuniting with old friends-the kids played, hung out, and we enjoyed dinner and games with them and also some other friends, Joel and Brianna, who came over. The two oldest kids (Julianna and Jacob) are now off to college, so we did not get to see them, but it was fun to see how Elizabeth and Lydia have grown into such neat young people. In fact, Mark and Julie are in the process of bringing home their other adopted child, Chala, and you can view their adoption blog here if you are interested in seeing their story. It is a great story that totally brings glory to only God and he has shown them in so many ways that this is His story, His plan and He is the one writing it down and bringing it to fruition.

We stayed up too late, looking at pictures and talking, and then crashed in our camper parked in front of their house. What a great visit!

 Leah playing out back on a really cool little hand-powered bike
 Mark cooking dinner and Samuel helping out
 Parked out in front of the Steimers house
 Bay and Leah discovered Jacob's old toys
 Samuel playing tackle football with Mark
 Hanging out on the couch
We taught  the Steimers how to play Mennonite Madness-if you don't know this game-I'd be happy to tell you how to play-it's lots of fun

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Day 32

Tulsa, Oklahoma to Murray, KY
Murray, KY to Hopkinsville, KY

569 miles, 12 hrs. 45 min.

Today was a big travel day. The weather was lousy-drizzly rain-but the scenery made its permanent transition from desert/prairie to deciduous forest. It seemed kind of suddenly that we noticed it, but I’m sure it happened gradually! I looked out at one point and felt like we were in a lush tropical forest compared with the desert landscape that we had grown accustomed to over the past few weeks!

We were able to alter our route slightly  to be able to visit our past youth pastor from church, Mike Chipman. Eric was really hoping to get to visit him since he just moved at the beginning of the summer and he had developed a good relationship with him over the past year. We had originally thought that we might hit Memphis, TN by driving along Rt. 40 all the way through Oklahoma, but since we went a little north to Tulsa, we stayed north to Murray, Kentucky, which is just on the border of Kentucky and Tennessee. This meant that we would travel through southern Missouri, and we went right through Sikeston, home of Lambert’s CafĂ©. This is the restaurant famous for their “throwed rolls” (grammatically incorrect, but very fun to witness!). We arrived kind of early (about 4:00) but that was a good thing-no wait and we knew it would be a lot of food, so we did not want to have a late dinner. The menu was typical home cooking, and they indeed do come around with pans of hot rolls on rolling carts, calling out “Hot Rolls!” and you hold up your hand, and they toss the rolls across the entire restaurant to you. Hopefully you can it, but if not (there were a few rolls on the floor), they’ll throw you another. And, they are very hot too-you have to immediately set it down on a paper towel-hot and buttery-and they seem to melt in your mouth. We figured out the way to eat there-you order your dinner, and then, as they walk around with bowls of “pass arounds”-sides like black-eyed peas, fried okra, fried potatoes & onions, you fill up on those and the rolls, and then take your meal home with you in a to-go container for dinner the next day. So it ends up being 2 meals in one! The kids really got a kick out of the rolls being thrown-they caught several. One Bay caught ended up being speared by his thumb. One of Eric’s bounced off of him and landed at the table behind us! It really was fun and a good experience.

From there we headed to the Chipman’s home. The drive to their house was interesting. We drove across the confluence of the Mississippi and the Ohio Rivers, across two VERY narrow, old bridges. The kind that take your side-view mirrors off. We crossed the Mississippi on one bridge, were in Illinois for about 2 minutes (on a tiny peninsula where Cairo is located), and then crossed the Ohio on another bridge into Kentucky. We stopped in for about an hour visit-it was a school night for both Mike and the kids-and then headed out toward the highway to get a little blacktop under us before calling it a night. It was good to see them, and see how Mike was adjusting to life as a high-school teacher and taking a break from full-time ministry. They are very happy to be back in that part of the country-close to family and where they both grew up and went to college.

We thought we might drive as far south as Nashville for the night (about 2 hours) but the driving conditions were terrible. The rain combined with the darkness made it so we decided to stop as soon as we got to the Interstate. We pulled into a Cracker Barrel parking lot and called it a night.

Narrow bridge across the Mississippi- 
Eric happy to see Mike again

Monday, October 1, 2012

Day 31

Tulsa, Oklahoma

Weather: High 77, Low 63 and Partly Cloudy

Today we had planned on leaving sometime in the morning, and then we thought we might leave late tonight, however we were having such a good time visiting with our old friends that we decided to stay another night and just leave super early tomorrow morning!

We slept in this morning, and spent the morning resting and catching up on some RV chores. Dennis used the new bug remover he got at Camping World to clean all of the caked on, baked on, bugs off the front of the RV. Plus, he washed the RV and the Subaru completely-which were completely covered with dust from the desert! I got all of our pictures finally uploaded and the blog completely updated from being backlogged an entire week. What a difference a real internet connection makes! The kids just kind of chilled out-reading, playing and watching movies.

Eric and I drove over to the grocery store to restock and to get some food to cookout for lunch here. When Russ, his girlfriend, Becky, and daughter, Elizabeth got home from church, we grilled some burgers and hot dogs and had lunch all together. Chris and family stopped by on their way home from church to see the RV and say one last goodbye. The kids played together for a little bit, they took a tour of the RV, and then they were off.

For the rest of the afternoon, we just hung out with Russ and Becky. Bay and Elizabeth got out Russ’s old GI Joe toys and played with those, while Eric and Leah played Wii together. Around dinnertime we decided to head out and get some custard at Custard King, and go over to a park along the Arkansas River until sundown. Dennis was surprised to find that they had an 18-hole disc golf course at the park, so he, Russ, and Eric played while Becky and I watched the younger kids at the playground. It was a relaxing evening, and when we were all done, we headed back to Russ’ house. The kids played some more while we grown-ups played a game of Pass the Pigs. Then it was time for bed for the kids, so we are packed up and ready to go first thing in the morning! It has been so nice to spend some time out here with Russ and the Chow family and we are so glad that we had the extra time to be with them.

 Eric fixed the pedal straps on the bikes this morning
 Look! No bugs caked onto the front of the RV! This is the cleanest its been the whole trip! We had so many bugs from when we started on the east coast, and haven't been able to wash it since going west because of the drought conditions. Of course, out west, there are no bugs. Now that we are heading back east, finally got the bugs off, but I'm sure it will be plastered again after another night driving-oh well!
 Hanging out at Russ' this afternoon
 Bay and Elizabeth trying to avoid the water fountains that jetted up randomly-yes, they did indeed end up getting a little wet!
 Leah didn't take any chances with the water, she just ran around
 The big boys had a very nice time playing frisbee golf
 Russ even learned how to throw a disc pretty well!
 Leah on the counterbalance saucer-it was pretty fun-we all tried it out
The sun setting in the background at the Arkansas River (which is very dry right now)