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Sunday, April 29, 2012


Finally, after months, we got out on a short backpack in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The weather was kind to us: even though some rain was forecast a couple nights, we had none, and only some fog Friday morning.


We started early and had breakfast at Janice's Diner, a little county place in Cosby, TN. Just some good eggs, sausage, biscuits and gravy. The start of the hike was a 2.5 mile hike straight up to the Appalachian Trail on Low Gap Trail:

What can we say about foggy, aerobic and warm? But the forest was beautiful. Here's a photo of Kathy at the top, cooling off her tootsies:

We hadn't initially planned to hike a section of the AT, but, due to the unavailability of some campgrounds, we had to plan a longer, 21 mile, hike, which involved about 5 miles of the AT. As it turned out, that was a lot of fun. This is the time of year that the through-hikers are in this area on their annual treks from Springer Mountain, GA, to Mount Katahdin, ME. In just about an hour and a half, we met the following through-hikers (trail names only – real names withheld to protect the innocent and guilty):

Hot Sauce and Sweaty Cheddar
Hot Shot
Johnny Walker and Flip
Noname thruhiker
Honest Abe
Stormin Norman
Unnamed trail runner
Thruhiker whose name we forgot

We told each and every one of them that we know Quint and Matt at the Mohican Outdoor Center in the Delaware Water Gap, and we're sure that if they just tell the Mohican staff that Dave'n'Kathy referred 'em, the Mohican staff would take good care of them! :) It felt something like putting a message in a bottle and seeing if it washes up on a far shore. We're wondering if Quint or Matt will e-mail us sometime in June or July with news from one of our hikers.

We had some great views coming down from the AT on the Maddron Bald Trail. Here's one of Kathy backed by the Great Smokies:

The first day turned out to be a long hike – 10+ miles. Much of it was uphill, so we were happy to get into camp, and rest our feet. The campsite turned out to be stunning. With a loud, burbling stream tumbling right at our tent door:

We tried to start a fire, but the wood was too wet, and our fire starters were too wimpy, so we simply ran out of fire starter before we could muster enough fire to start the wood. Good try. It was all we could do to stay up until the sun set.


Saturday's hike was a little shorter than the day before: almost 7 miles. We were up by 6:15 am and, as customary for us, on the trail by about 8:30. The whole feel of the terrain was different from Friday, however. A couple miles down the trail, we took a short 0.7 mile hike on the Albright Grove Loop to see a grove of huge, old growth trees. Here's Kathy having a conversation in Entish with one of the old guys:

After the Albright Grove, we turned East on Gabe's Mountain Trail toward camp. We saw many cascades and made numerous stream crossings this day. In fact, the water was running so high that Kathy waded one stream while David shimmied across a big log, and then we both had to wade the next stream we encountered, as well! Here's one of many photos we took of streams tumbling through the characteristic big boulders:

Our second campsite was also streamside, although the stream was a bit quieter and further from our tent. We met a fellow named Marty who grew up in the UP of Michigan and who has backpacked and bushwhacked his way all over the country. He even planned his own trek to Nepal, Mount Everest and several other 24,000 footers in that area. He never tried to summit them, but got above Base Camp on Everest, to the point where he knows what altitude sickness feels like.

Our dinners each night were very tasty, freeze-dried backpack food. However, Kathy found some lichen on a rock nearby and thought it might be fun to add some fiber to the standard meal:

When we arrived in camp, Kathy noticed that our fire ring still had some hot coals in it, so she gathered some twigs and piled them in it to try to start a fire later. As we were getting ready for dinner, David noticed smoke coming from the fire ring. We had fire! So we quickly gathered as many hemlock twigs and branches as we could and steadily built the fire, until, by the time we sat down to eat, we had a real roaring fire going.

As usual, to bed just after sunset, around 9:00 pm. We actually stayed up until it was dark, but only because Marty stopped buy to regale us with more or his stories.


Up again at 6:15 am an on the trail by 8:30. Sunday's hike was a short out: 4.5 miles. It was a very pretty, relatively easy hike, notable mainly for Hen Wallow Falls, which was about halfway down Gabe's Mountain Trail between our campsite and the trailhead:

This day, we met many people day-hiking up to the falls from the parking lot. As neared the end of our hike, Marty from the UP of Michigan caught up with us and we chatted a little more as we finished the trail. Said our goodbyes.

Leaving the Park, we decided to scout out the next two days' plans by driving through Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge on our way home to the RV.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

In Camp Day 2

Day 1 was a 10 mile hike, almost all uphill. We walked about 5 miles along the AT and met many through-hikers. More on that in a later post. Today we logged about 6 miles, but that was enough we got into camp early - about 3 pm - and we're all settled in. Dave is toasting happy hour.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Moonshine in the Smokies

We found a little campground in Newport, TN, at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains.  We decided to drive longer yesterday and avoid an overnight in Marion, NC in order to beat a big thunderstorm system into camp.  We made it.  The thunderstorm rolled in this morning around 7:30, but we were already tucked into our campsite yesterday, so we enjoyed the rain over breakfast.  The Weather Service warnings were dire, but for us it only turned out to be a small thunderstorm without any hail.

After breakfast, we toured the campground and found this GEN-U-WINE moonshine still.  Luckily, David was appropriately dressed to check it out:

In a few days, we're also going to tour the Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery in Gatlinburg (not far, by the way, from Dollywood for those of you who are Dolly Parton fans), do the moonshine tasting, and maybe stock up on some hooch!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

We attended a rally of Escapees, an organization of full-time RV'ers, in Marion, NC, over the last several days.  It was a lot of fun, and very educational.  Each night, we had excellent country-western music.  On Saturday night, a couple of attendees serenaded the rest of us with acoustic guitars, accompanied by an attendee with drum-solo app on his iPad!

Arrived RV Resort at Carolina Crossroads, Roanoke Rapids, NC, @ 3:30 pm.

Left Tom Johnsons @ 9;00 am

We're on the road again. More later when we get to camp.

Sent from my iPhone

Friday, April 20, 2012

Crabtree Falls, Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

This afternoon, we drove up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and hiked down to Crabtree Falls. The guide said, "a strenuous 2.5 mile hike." We couldn't find the strenuos part. This was the first trail down here that was as rocky as the AT in PA, but otherwise it reminded us of the "moderate with steep sections" trails near Mohican Outdoor Center.

Crabtree Falls is very striking. Here's a photo of Kathy and the falls.

Fog Lifting, Marion, NC

Morning in the mountains at the Escapee rally at Tom Johnson Camping Center.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Biltmore Estate

We decided to give up vagabonding and got a little place in the country. It has 220 rooms, so you're all welcome to come visit.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Re: Oh Albany!

Yes. Due to our record warm winter, the tulips are unfortunately up weeks before Albany's annual Tulip Festival.  Festival planners are NOT happy.
- Laird
In a message dated 4/14/2012 2:08:08 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, writes:
Tiptoeing through the tulips.

Sent from my iPhone

Oh Albany!

Tiptoeing through the tulips.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Blinds Leading the Blinds

Today was rainy so we scheduled a lot of little chores around the RV.  One chronic problem in RV's is the wear and tear of constantly raising and lowering the blinds, which eventually frays the strings that hold the blinds in place.  We had two blinds that developed this issue, so we sent away for a spool of replacement string, and today we took the two sets of blinds apart and restrung them.  This is not overly simple.  There are YouTube videos devoted to instructing RV owners about how to do it.  Anyway, our dining room became a workshop, and we succeeded without breaking any blinds or breaking any windows, and we're still talking to each other.  Here's a photo of David performing surgery and one set of blinds on the operating table:

Beam me up Scotty!

On Monday, April 9, we visited the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum at Dulles Airport. Words cannot describe just how huge this facility is. There are hundreds of planes and space objects in these immense hangers. But being the good Trekkies that we are, we made a beeline straight to the USS Enterprise!

There was also a Mercury capsule and a Gemini capsule and the Wright Bros. plane and Enola Gay and a great IMAX movie on the Hubble telescope and an enormous amount more!

Trail Biking!

Finally took the trail bikes out on a 9 mile trail in Rosaryville Park on Sunday, April 8. Discovered that trail riding is a lot like an amusement park ride! We had a blast. We are now looking for more trails to ride. :)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Saturday in Annapolis

Dear Blog:
Today we played tourist in Annapolis. It's sunny and breezy and people were as fun to watch as the boats and historic buildings.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


Today we held our own sort of vagabond "quadathalon":  we hiked, biked, dined and toured.  We realized that our time in the D.C. area is coming to an end, and we threw together several ventures we wanted to be sure to complete before we leave.


The first part of our adventure was a hike.  Up early, we drove down to Piscataway Park, a beautiful nature preserve managed by the National Park Service along the Potomac River directly across from Mount Vernon.  The motive behind the park was to preserve the natural condition of the view across the Potomac from Mount Vernon.

From the Visitor Center, we first walked down to the fishing pier, where a number of people were fishing.  From the pier, you can see directly across to George Washington's historic plantation:


There are about 5 miles of hiking trails, of low difficulty, although there are some fallen trees to deal with.

But the rewards are great.  We spotted several osprey catching fish, and even saw a bald eagle!

The park has a colonial farm and a working eco-farm.  In one section of our hike, we passed a burial ground for the Piscataway Indian Tribe, including a memorial to a chief who died in the 1970's. There were several boardwalks across marshy areas, and we encountered a woman fishing from one of the boardwalks.  Further along the river, we also spotted what we believed was an osprey nest with chicks, perched atop a convenient sign:


The second part of our adventure was to bicycle across the Potomac on the Woodrow Wilson (I-95) Bridge.  We drove from Piscataway Park to the National Harbor, parked the truck, pulled our bikes off the back, and pedaled about 4 miles to Alexandria, across the river.  The ride was quite interesting, because it included a ride across a pedestrian/bicycle bridge over I-95.  The bridge was beautifully landscaped, with narrative signs explaining history and geographical highlights surrounding the bridge:

The ride across the Potomac itself was exhilarating, with blue sky, fresh water and views of Alexandria and Washington D.C. around us:


Across the bridge, we pedelled through Old City in Alexandria to one of our favorite restaurants, Virtue Feed & Grain, an establishment that our friend David from our SERC hike recommended, and where his daughter Gabbie works.  Kathy had what she describes as, "a velvety, custardy Quiche Lorraine that just melted in your mouth, unlike any quiche I've had - ever!"  David had a chowder of smoked haddock and shellfish.  Of course we sampled their great selection of microbrews on tap.

After lunch, we pedaled back across the Potomac to National Harbor.


The fourth part of our adventure was a tour of Fort Washington National Park, which sits south of National Harbor on the Maryland side of the Potomac River.  Originally built as a smaller fort directly on the river to guard approaches to Washington, D.C. on the Potomac, the fort was eventually rebuilt after having been rendered ineffective in the War of 1812.  The resulting fort is very similar in style and construction to other federal forts of the era such as Fort McHenry, Fort Sumter and Fort Jefferson.  Here are two views -- one of the officers' quarters and main gate and drawbridge -- the other the view of the Potomac River from the fort:

Several people were fishing down by the lighthouse, as the sun moved lower into the late afternoon sky.

Having finished our adventures we drove home, only to find our campground filled with many more RV's, here for Easter Vacation or Spring Break.  As we type this, the night is filled with the light and color of many campfires, the barks of dogs and the laughter of children having their own camping adventures.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Monday, April 2, 2012

RV Camping According to R

R and his parents came to visit us on Saturday. We were all excited about this because, when R originally learned we were selling our house and living fulltime in our RV, he worried to his parents that we will be homeless. So we knew that it would be important for him to see our new home.

On arrival, we had a tour of the RV. The cats were upset about an invasion of their (now smaller) home space, as we had expected. However, we didn't anticipate how upset the cats would be. All disappeared at first. Baxter even hissed at R and his parents as they tried to go upstairs to the bedroom area. Nevertheless, we completed the tour. R was pretty impressed with our televator and our lazy reclining chairs.

Then Kathy and David took R and his dad on a tour of our campground. We offered R our camera and told him to snap away. The result was a whole slew of photos that provide, we would say, an uniquely R-esque view of our campground. He started out with this photo of David:

Then he snapped one of his dad –

– followed up quickly with one of Kathy:

He particularly enjoyed unique details of the campground, such as a picnic table,

a tree,

as well as some leaves:

There were some accidental photos of his legs and arms, but he did get one photo of his face (or at least part of it):

Far and away, however, R focused on all the RV's and vehicles in the campground. There were many more than we can show here, but this one is an example:

There's no doubt that his vehicle and RV photos were the most well composed and thought out, which is a natural outgrowth of his interest in cars (see below).

All the photos stopped, however, when R's attention turned to collecting dandelions and rocks. He collected too many to hold, so his dad offered to hold them. There were so many that R filled his dad's hands with dandelions and rocks (oh, the joys of parenthood). All of the specimens went home with R. We're not sure his parents were as excited about that as he was.

After our campground tour, R played at the playground, but that was soon aborted when he was hit in the nose by a nerf football. His dad was there to soothe his pain, and his mom followed up to finish off the parental ministrations.

Meanwhile, the campfire had been lit and had grown to a nice warm blaze, so all of us warmed ourselves at it while we waited for dinner to cook. We had hamburgers, finished off with s'mores. R found a great marshmallow stick with a prong at the end that allowed him to cook TWO marshmallows at a time – which his dad greatly appreciated when R offered his dad the two golden-brown works of art. Not a singe or burn mark on 'em.

After dinner, R came into the RV, only to encounter a Baxter cat ready to defend his territory TO THE DEATH. Baxter was ready to chase R out of the RV, but David intervened. This actually happened twice and Kathy took up the cause the second time. Baxter was exiled to the bedroom, which solved the problem.

We capped the evening off by watching the movie, “Cars,” which is one of R's favorite movies. He really, really likes cars. He collects lots of cars. So you can understand why this movie might appeal to him. His mom said they had watched the movie “more times than I care to count,” which we took as a ringing critical endorsement of it. You'll be happy to know that the hero wins the heroine in the end, reconciles with the father-figure, and bests the bad guy.

Although R really wanted us to watch “Cars 2” as well, it was getting very, very late (way past David's bedtime), and R and his parents had a long way to drive home. So we agreed that Cars 2 would be screened on the next visit.

“Goodbye, R! We really enjoyed the visit!”

“I'm really going to miss you, Uncle David.”

“I'll really miss you too, R.”

“...and tell Aunt Kathy that I'll really miss her, too.”

“I will, R.”

And they drove quietly off into the darkness.