Friday, April 3, 2015

Wal-Mart and Home

It was a busy night at the Wytheville Wal-Mart! Remember I didn't want to stay at the Marion Wal-Mart because of the partying teenagers? Well, the Wytheville Wal-Mart has an even larger group of young people who loiter and make noise. There were about 6 trucks, none of which had a muffler, most of which were growlers, 20 or so kids, talking, revving engines, playing what I'm sure is a fun "honk the horn" game, all just a few feet from my bed. It was around 10 when I decided I didn't have to put up with this, I could go somewhere else. So I did. I was considering the Cracker Barrel, but they were closed at that point and I did to know if it was legal. I saw another RV on the other side of the parking lot so I drove over there. As soon as I got near the other RV, they drove off and ended up parking right where I'd just left? I hope they had better luck over there!

Settled into my new spot, I decided to read another chapter to get ready to go back to sleep. A few pages into my chapter, the LP/CO detector went off. Lovely. It hadn't gone off yet this trip and it was running out of time. I wasn't running anything - other than the fridge (which is having it's own issues), and the LP/CO detector has false alarmed randomly so many times, so I was 99% sure this was nothing. I opened the door and let fresh air in, just in case, the alarm took it's sweet time shutting off. I also shut the fridge off. Out of an abundance of caution I did open the vent & turn on the fan and I opened the windows right by my head to keep the fresh air circulating. The next challenge was trying to get to sleep after, worrying about whether it was going to go off again. Had I gone to the Cracker Barrel I probably would have been sound asleep by this time and alarm would have woken me up, which is worse than it going off randomly when I'm just sitting there.

I was just about asleep when a semi came in. Pulled in right behind me. And idled his engine. For a long time. Opening the window also increased the traffic noise. Finally I did fall asleep, I didn't sleep well, but it ended up not being the worst Wal-Mart night, that distinction belongs to the Allentown, PA Wal-Mart on the hottest night ever in July 2012.

I was slow to get moving today, I read my book, got a shower, and moseyed back to the highway! The trip home was uneventful, just set the cruise and drove! I love I-81! It was supposed to rain all day but it didn't start until I was on 66!

I made it home at 3:00, with no further issues from the van! Still have no idea what caused that, but it seems to have been a one time event!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Virginia Creeper Trail: Part 2

Cracker Barrel might be my new "go to" overnight spot, at least the one in Abingdon! So quiet! This morning wasn't as cold so despite not having a picnic table to sit at, I did still get a leisurely breakfast with my book! It was nice to slow down and not feel rushed and pressured to get out to the trails before all the other people got there! I was still at the trail head at 9:30!

Last Spring Break Dad and I camped near Damascus and biked the Virginia Creeper Trail starting in Damascus and going up to the end of the trail at Whitetop Station. Today's plan was to start in Abingdon, at the "beginning" and ride to Damascus, which is the halfway point. It was 16 miles one way for a 32 mile ride.

From Damascus to Whitetop the trail climbs continuously - it's 1600 feet of elevation change over 17 miles. It's a great downhill ride, and it's a tough uphill climb! Last year Dad and I rode up, and then back down, most people get a shuttle from Damascus and only ride down! The trail from Abingdon to Damascus is more rolling, it actually gives the appearance of being flat, but it's not. It's more subtle elevation change! The 16 miles from Abingdon to Damascus is much easier than Damascus to Whitetop, but it's not as scenic.

The trail from Abingdon starts out going through neighborhoods, but quickly you are in the woods! The trail follows a river, not sure which one, I think it changed rivers several times! Then the woods thin out and there are farms and cows! Then it's back in the woods with the river on the side, this river is a deep, wide, slow moving river, very different from the creek that runs alongside the trail up the mountain. One interesting point along the trail was Trestle 7, about mile 6 or 7. The trestle is out in the middle of a rolling farm and the trestle was destroyed when a tornado ripped through in 2011. You can still see the damage to the trees on several hills near the trestle. They rebuilt the trestle and just reopened it last April. There is also a rest area & cafe about halfway - Alvarado Station. I didn't take many pictures, my phone was buried in my backpack!

The last three miles into Damascus the trail follows US58 and it's not as scenic. It's also going uphill, slightly, but enough that you feel it, and this was where the wind started whipping. Heading into the wind, uphill, wasn't too fun, but I made it to Damascus!

Damascus is a great little town! In addition to the Creeper Trail the AT runs right through Damascus! In fact there are two spots where the AT and The Creeper are together! The town is filled with hikers and bikers and services! When I first rode into town I arrived at the town park by the caboose. I pulled up to a picnic table and had a snack. It was sunny and warm and only 11:15. I wasn't ready to turn back. I considered getting a ride on the next shuttle to the top and riding down, but I'd still have to ride back to Abingdon and that seemed like it would be too much. (It did later occur to me that I could have gotten a shuttle back to Abingdon!) There was a map of the trail that I was studying and it occurred to me that I should ride up a little ways, if I rode up to mile marker 20, that would give me a 40 mile ride! I'd never done a 40 mile ride, no time like today right? Life is too short!

After a snack I headed out of Damascus, up the trail. It was only 4 miles, and it wasn't even the steep part of the uphill, but it was tough! Riding down though was fun and I was kinda regretting not just getting a shuttle to the top. The creek & the rhodendron really reminded me of Little River Road in the Smokies. When I was driving that road I was wishing I could bike it, now in know I don't have to go all the way to Tennessse, I can just ride the Creeper Trail. And, as a bonus, there were no people on the Creeper Trail! None. Beautiful sunny day and I barely saw anyone! I guess they are all fighting for parking spots at Clingman's Dome!

After my 8 mile up and I back I was ready for some ice cream! I'd wanted a milkshake from The Dairy King, but I didn't see the Dairy King, it wasn't where I thought it was, but I found another ice cream place! They were out of milk for a milkshake but they had peanut butter cup! Good enough!
After my ice cream I went to check out Mount Rogers Outfitters and then got back on the trail heading back to Abindon. This was when 40 miles started to seem like not so great of an idea. Remember, I've barely ridden my bike all winter and first opportunity I try and set a personal best! Well, I had no choice but to keep riding! My thighs and my butt hurt! I ended up taking lots of breaks and doing lots of yoga stretching by the side of the trail. When I was riding into the wind coming into Damascus I was thinking I'd get to go with the wind on the way back. Yeah, not so much. Wind must have shifted. It was gusty and when I was in the woods I was sheltered so it wasn't as bad as it could have been, but it was still annoying.

Finally, after several rest stops over the last 5 miles, I arrived back at Trestle 1 and the parking lot! I was so happy to see my van! I had some more snacks, changed clothes and started thinking about where I was going to sleep tonight!  I am really happy that this worked out the way it did! When I first started thinking about Spring Break I knew I wanted to ride my bike, I'd wanted to do a portion of the Greenbriar River Trail in West Virginia, but with no open campgrounds I couldn't.  I almost didn't even bring my bike to the Smokies because there are so few places to ride!  I'm so glad I did!

I'd thought I'd go to a Hungry Mother State Park, I figured I could camp tonight and explore in the morning. When I got there, after coming down a huge hill (remember, the van may or may not be having a problem with going up hills), I discovered that the campground wasn't really in the park. There was nothing to do right by the campground and getting to where the trails were involved more big hills for the RV. It was also $30 a night. I knew I'd worry about whether the RV would make the hill all night so I opted to find another place to stay.

There was a WalMart in Marion, Dad and I stayed there last year, but there were some teenagers hanging around that night and I wasn't sure I wanted to stay there on my own. I'd seen a billboard for a Cracker Barrel at Wytheville which was 20 miles up the road so I headed there. I didn't see the Cracker Barrel (I'd gotten off at the wrong exit), but there was a WalMart. There was another RV, a big class A, settled in - slides out, jack stands down, so I figured they were staying so I pulled in behind them. Other than taking my trash to the trash can I didn't even go in WalMart. It did strike me as very funny that I was bringing my trash into Walmart - usually it's the other way around!

I like staying in campgrounds because I sleep better, but I feel like I have a more relaxing evening when I'm at WalMart (or other non-campground). When I'm in a campground I always want to go see stuff, take a walk, take a hike, see the place, but in a parking lot there's nothing to see so I sit, read a book, write my blog, check email!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Rainbow Falls

I didn't get busted by the Rangers for camping illegally! I did decide that I would head out as soon as I was up and have breakfast at Metcalf Bottoms - no campsite means no picnic table and I wanted to try again to read and eat breakfast! It wasn't as cold this morning so I thought it would work! Also, I was paranoid about the RV and how she would run, I wanted to test it out as soon as I could.

It was pretty much all downhill to Metcalf Bottoms and the RV was fine! I got there and made coffee, put on my long underwear and gloves and sat down at a picnic table by the river and had a lovely breakfast! I still wasn't able to finish my book, but it was nice to read some of it! After breakfast I got dressed and did the dishes and was ready for the day! At 9:30 I headed out to Gatlinburg - heading to Rainbow Falls, but still worried about the van making it.

The van had no trouble at all getting to Gatlinburg so I ventured out Cherokee Orchard Road to the Rainbow Falls trailhead. This road was very steep and narrow. It was quite the test of whatever is wrong with the van. If I'd known how steep it was I never would have drived up there. But, the van made it, without an issue. It was 10:00 and already most spots were full, I actually got the last good spot for a large vehicle. There was a wide spot in the road and I pulled right in.

The hike to Rainbow Falls was about 5.5 miles round trip - all up going to the falls, all down coming back. It's a very popular hike so the trail was well worn and there were a lot of people, although fewer people than many of the other popular hikes because it's more strenuous! It's obvious why this is a popular hike! The trail mostly follows the rhodedenron lined river and there are lots of views of cascades and small falls. As we climbed higher there were views of the mountains and Gatlinburg!

I was almost to the falls and there was a stream crossing with a waterfall, I thought maybe that was IT, but it was kinda small and I couldn't believe thousands of people would hike up to see that, so I asked a guy nearby and he said that Rainbow Falls had a sign! We dubbed this falls "Close Enough Falls" for folks who were done hiking and wanted to turn back!



Soon , I got to Rainbow was huge! I didn't feel like climbing over the rocks to get closer!

I still wasn't sure what I was doing with the rest of the day, the rest of the trip. I figured I could go back to Elkmont or Cades Cove mid-afternoon and score a site, but there was the issue of the van and how long would she cooperate? There were several commercial campgrounds I could go to, but I'd be paying $40 or more to stay there and there wasn't much else I could do in the park, I hadn't planned out what I was doing tomorrow and with the van maybe going to conk out on me on a big hill, I really didn't want to drive back up into the mountains to get to the trail heads. Hanging out in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge was not appealing. While I was hiking I made a plan to drive to Abingdon, VA and stay the Cracker Barrel , then tomorrow I can ride the other half of the Virgnina Creeper trail! The start of the trail is right by the highway! And as long as I stay close to 81, I'll have cell signal in case I need to call roadside assistance! Perfect!

I do need to give a big shout out to the three, THREE, people who parked behind me at Rainbow Falls! All three of them parked in a way that left me plenty of room to back up, should I need it, to get out! One fear of mine driving my big van up to a trail head like that is that I will get parked in, these three folks not only didn't park me in, but parked in a way that allowed three cars in the space that might have been taken up by 1 car in another setting! Excellent parking! :-)

After my hike I was trying to navigate through Gatlinburg and I made a wrong turn, but I learned a way to get to a different area of the park without running the tourist trap gauntlet - might be a possiblity for next time! On my detour I found a Food City I could get into so I pulled in & got some lunch and double checked the weather in Abingdon to see if my plan was going to work - it looked good!

Also at Food City, I picked up some bottled water. Turns out un-winterizing my van takes 2/3 of my tank of fresh water?!?? Not sure what happened because the tank was full when I left home! I know 6 of the 30 gallons went into the hot water heater, there's no leak because the water pump would be running. I guess it just needed that much to charge the lines and stuff. Anyway, I was going to put more water in at Cades Cove, but it was cold & I'd have to take the bike off to get the hose out (I suspect my rear tire issues were because of trying to open the van doors without taking the bike off so I'm not doing it anymore), then it was late when I got back, then I was trying to get out of there quick & it was cold again & the bike. I figured I'd be going somewhere with water. Well, Cracker Barrel doesn't have water. So I bought 3 gallons for drinking, coffee & flushing if I need it to conserve what's in the tank for washing & showers. I'm going to drain it when I get home in case it gets cold again so I'd rather not have it full.

It took almost an hour to go the 15 miles from Gatlinburg to I40. That 15 miles is like Redneck Vegas. I don't think there is any other National Park that you have to pass through such an eyesore to get to it. It's really very sad because the park is beautiful! Similar to, but totally different from Shenandoah and the Blue Ridge. The smokies are more rugged and there's more water so it's greener and mossier and has better creeks!

It was 100 miles to Abingdon and Roxy was just fine! She got right up to speed on the interstate and we cruised right along. A few times I thought maybe she was going to lose power, but I think I was being paranoid. I got to Abingdon a little after 5, I didn't want to go right to the Cracker Barrel because I wouldn't have enough to do, so I got fuel and located the trail head (more steep up hills for Roxy...she did fine!), that took until about 6, so I went & parked up at Cracker Barrel.

I went in to check with a manager about spending the night and he was so nice! I knew I should buy something or eat...I decided to eat dinner, I have a ton of food in the van, but sitting at a table was appealing! After dinner I discovered the rocking chairs on the porch, I could sit there and finish my book! I'd wanted to sit outside because it was so nice and I didn't want to open the windows in the van because it was going to let the heat out, if I keep it closed up it stays warmer in here at night!

After I finished my book I curled up in the van and wrote my blog, checked in on Facebook, texted! It was nice to be "home" early!