Our fifth wheel and the truck

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Welcome back and you can see that I am determined to get this blog up to date very quickly! I am getting back in the groove (did I hear someone say - rut?!) Once again we are driving down I90 and I have the computer on my lap. We are on our way to the Badlands in South Dakota but that is a story for another blog!

After Tess! Well things have been very quiet around the rv since we said goodbye to Tess. Our plans are to drive back to New Castle, Indiana to get some warranty work done on the fiver as well as having slide awnings put on both slides. We had one night of rain and the pitter patter of the rain drops above our heads on the bedroom slide kept both of us awake so the awnings hopefully will improve that. Here’s hoping.

We overnighted in a Rest Area in West Virginia on our way to Indiana and again awoke to clouds blanketing mountains and drifting through the valleys. It is just so beautiful that West Virginia is definitely on my bucket list but will have to wait for another trip as we start heading west in anticipation of the end of our journey in two months.

Wow, this is a small world! In September last year you may remember that Norm and I attended an RV rally in Goshen, IN. Well we have stayed in touch with a number of people from the rally including Jim and Jan, with whom we are planning to drive to Alaska in June next year. You wouldn’t read about it, Jim and Jan happened to be in Indiana at the same time we were there and we were able to have dinner together. Jim arranged to meet at a restaurant half way between them and us - yeah right Jim - it took them 45 minutes to get there and us - 15 minutes! LOL It was really good to catch up with their travels and the plans for the Alaska trip next year. Jim has been doing so much homework to plan for the trip and I guess as the time gets closer we will all be more involved in the plans. There are four (I think) rv’s going to go in a convoy for 90 days leaving in the middle of June. What an amazing trip it promises to be!

We left Indiana with our destination Blanchardville, Wisconsin where we will be staying with our friends Mary and Bruce. They were expecting us on 7th May however during a phone conversation with Mary recently she asked me if we were outside her house already (we were still in Indiana) and so we decided to surprise them. They were supposed to be away until the 5th and we were hoping to get to their home before them and have the rv set up in the front drive with chairs out on the lawn and the wine in hand. Unfortunately they arrived home about half an hour before we got there but none the less were very surprised by our early arrival.

After all the running around that we have done over the last four weeks we were grateful for the time to catch our breath while in Blanchardville.

We had experienced some problems with the radio cutting out so we took a trip over to the nearest Ford dealer in Monroe to get it replaced, visited a cheese factory and took various road trips in the areas surrounding Blanchardville.

The highlight of our stay - apart from Mary and Bruce’s company of course - was our visit to the House on the Rock. It was amazing and such an eclectic collection of ‘stuff’. Alexander Jordan had built this house on a rock over quite a few years and then spent his time collecting so many different things. He had to climb a 75ft ladder to begin the construction just to get the materials up to the site before he built steps. It is quite a feat of engineering - sort of - as he has literally built the house around, over, and between the rocks on a promontory over the valley. The house is so interesting - lots of nooks and crannies, very low ceilings, lots of Tiffany glass and lamps and sitting areas everywhere and the walls and ceiling, in places, are huge boulders. The ceilings are all covered with red carpet, so you don’t bang your head on the rocks I assume! The photos may not do it justice!

There is the Infinity Room which is difficult to describe but is a long triangular shaped needle like extension that protrudes out of the house and over the woods. It is made of glass and has windows that allow you to look on all sides, including down. It is almost like being right in the canopy of the woods. Mary was a bit reluctant to come all the way out as it does have a bit of movement as you get out towards the end of it. Very interesting.

There are great big sheds chock a block full of interesting things. There is an amazing collection of dolls and dolls’ houses, replicas of the English monarchy’s crowns and robes of ceremony, weapons of all kinds including a couple of Gatling guns, decorated eggs including a couple of Faberges, bells, sleighs, clocks, the most amazing calliopes of all shapes and sizes, old cars and vehicles, carousel horses, angels and so many other things. The list goes on! While the house and its environment are so different from what we usually look at, it really is a ‘not to be missed’ activity. It is just amazing that all this is under one roof. You have to see the carousel with its 20,000 lights and every horse on which you ride is not a horse - there are monsters and animals of every description on it. It is a wonderful experience and we spent the whole day there and still didn’t get time to look closely at everything.

The calliopes were absolutely amazing. There were big ones and small ones, there were some with violins, bass, drums, bells, whistles, jars with air going across them, and there was even one there that was made up of a complete orchestra with dummies being manipulated to play the instruments. It was truly amazing to see the work that had been put in to building them. I really liked the octopuses garden one (and yes it played the Octopuses Garden by the Beatles) with all its under sea creatures. And every one of the calliopes was in working order and using the tokens you get when you go in you can play each one. The range of music played was wonderful.

Mothers’ day was spent having lunch with Mary and Bruce’s family which was really lovely and when you can’t be with your own kids - Hans, Tom and Emily (Hans’ wife) are the next best thing. We had a yummy lunch of my favourite American fare - ribs and salad. Lip smacking good thanks to the heroes of the barbecue - Bruce and Norm!

I forgot! There was another huge highlight of our stay with Bruce and Mary and that was when Bruce took me for a ride on his Harley Davidson!!!! Woo hoo!! It was ….. Words fail me! We were gone for about ¾ hour and went up hill and down dale all over Blanchardville and surrounding areas. Drove through Yellowstone State Park (saw people swimming - they have rocks in their heads - it is still really cold!!!), along river banks and through woods. Bruce is now my hero!!

One more thing - the fresh dairy air of Wisconsin!!!!!! Thanks Mary for that description, it will stay with me forever!

We stayed in Blanchardville for just over a week and then had to start thinking about moving on. Saturday morning - all packed up, hitched up and ready to rumble!!! Oops the driver’s window is down and won’t go up!! We had had some problems with the window and had a new switch put in it in Cary, NC but prior to this we had always been able to get it up but there was no way it was going up this time. Sooo, unhitch and Norm has to drive over to Monroe (with the window down and in the freezing cold) with Bruce as I wasn’t going out in that cold. They were all rugged up with jackets and gloves! Can’t be fixed, needs a new motor and regulator but we can put it up for you so you can get to your next destination and have it fixed there. Well the Ford dealership got it nearly all the way up and Norm and Bruce managed to finish it off and with the aid of an eraser and some duct tape, kept it up for our drive to Minnesota! More warranty work to be done - this time in MN! Thanks goodness for warranties!

It was a bit sad leaving Mary and Bruce however we have made arrangements to meet up in the Grand Canyon just before we head to Phoenix where we will put the rig in storage before coming home. There was also talk about them visiting Aust. in February while it is still freezing in Wisconsin. To say that Mary hates (with a passion) the cold is an understatement. She would love Australia in the summer time.

Our next stop was Byron, Minnesota which is just out of Rochester, with our friends, Judy and Pete who we met while in Livingston, TX and with whom we traveled around Louisiana and then met up with again just out of Atlanta, GA.

We stayed with Pete and Judy for three days prior to us heading west and them heading east to babysit their grand daughter for a while. Sort of reminded me that I have grand kids at home that I will be seeing in a couple of months. Can’t wait to see how much they have all grown especially Blayd who was 18 months old when we left and will be 2 ½ when we get back. I will just have to make up for lost time!!!

During our stay with Pete and Judy they took us on some sightseeing excursions. We checked out the local gourmet bakery - and they are gourmet! The pastries were really lovely and I could see that if I was staying very long I would need to put myself on a diet.

Our first day we took a long drive up to the Mall of America. Now I can safely say that you haven’t seen a shopping mall until you have been to the Mall of America! Apparently this is the biggest shopping mall in the US. It has three levels (I think) and four wings - North, South, East and West and in the middle is an enclosed amusement park with all sorts of scary rides and entertainment. Some retail outlets have two shops because the mall is so large. We had lunch in the mall and Judy and I got some retail therapy. Norm even found the storage space bags that we are planning on using to put all our clothes in when we leave the fiver in storage. Bugger - not long now!

We had an absolutely beautiful day when we visited the Oxbow State Park with an animal rescue service that was really busy. It had a bear, wolves, foxes, a seriously crazy porcupine, bison, bald eagles and other animals. All the animals except the bison and deer are being kept in captivity as they wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild.

Another day we went to the Mayo Clinic. Now I have heard of the Mayo Clinic but never realized that it is in Rochester, MN. Everywhere we went Judy or Pete would pass a comment about a building that was part of the clinic. Talk about a company town. The visit to the actual clinic was really interesting and the history behind the beginning was fascinating. The actual clinic building is awesome and like many hospitals the art work is stunning. There is even a grand piano in the atrium area where someone plays each day. While we were there a lady who seemed to be accompanying a guy in a wheelchair sat down and played beautifully for about 15 minutes. I reckon Rochester is the place to be if you get sick. Pete said he thinks that the ratio of residents to doctors is about 25:1. Wonderful odds when you consider what they are likely to be in other places including Australia.

After a gourmet bakery breakfast thanks to an early morning run by Judy, we said farewell and thanks for having us, to Judy and Pete. It is times like this, as we say our goodbyes, knowing we won’t see friends for a long time, that I realise just how precious our time in America has been and what wonderful people we will be leaving behind. We will just have to come back again next year! Haha - that is the plan!

From here we head further west into South Dakota, then Wyoming and Utah. So look out for the continue adventures of these two Aussies in America!

The wonderful thing about this blog is that it brings me up to date - at last! I promise faithfully that I won’t get so far behind in the future (fingers crossed).

Be safe dear family and friends and don’t forget to leave a comment when you visit - it means a great deal to us. Take care of you and yours.

More Blue Ridge Parkway.

Hi everyone, welcome back. See I told you, you wouldn’t have to wait too long for the next exciting chapter in our trip. But can I keep it up? That is the $64000 question!

Picking up from where I left off in the last blog we continued our journey along the Parkway with a visit to more mountains, valleys and glorious views. We lunched at a place called Peaks of Otter Lodge and Restaurant which was lovely. Sitting in the restaurant with views out over a lake and to the hills in the distance. There were no otters evident however we did take a stroll around the lake to find a dead turtle floating in the lake and sitting on its back was a cute little frog. Small things and small minds!

From there we took off along the Parkway again to stop at Apple Orchard Mountain. Due to the severe weather, the trees (Northern Red Oak) have been pruned by the wind, ice and snow to give the appearance of an old apple orchard. It was just beautiful and oh so peaceful. I think we are too early in the summer season to encounter too many tourists so it is really quiet and reflective. You just can't help bad luck!!

Our next stop was at Otter Lake (I think) which was a glorious spot. There was a gorgeous lake with a spillway and the river flowing through rocks, wildflowers and trees just getting their leaves. I hadn’t realized how many photos I take with water in them till now.

Just goes to show you just how much water there is in this here country. I know there are places experiencing droughts just like Australia but there is soooo much water! There are creeks and rivers all over and of course they provide beautiful environments for the amateur photographer.

We took a side trip to the Natural Bridge which is just off the Parkway. This was just amazing - here I go again, running out of superlatives.

Our arrival at the entrance of the Bridge attraction was quite a jaw dropper. There is a huge elaborate motel up on the hill overlooking the parking area and an enormous welcome building to the bridge. Of course we had to walk into the obligatory gift and souvenir store to buy our tickets! We then walked down to the Natural Bridge attraction.

We were amazed to find out that about two weeks before our visit the whole area had been under water when the river had flooded. The walkway had been washed out and the evidence of the flood could be seen in the branches of trees where debris had been trapped. Obviously a great deal of work had been done to repair the damage and return the attraction to a standard that could cater to visitors.

Something that I found quite interesting is that there is actually a road that goes across the top of the bridge. Aren’t they worried that it will cave in one day and the bridge will be gone forever?

The actual bridge itself is enormous (215ft high, 40ft thick, 100ft wide and a 90ft span between the walls) and the arch that goes under it is huge. There is a river running under the bridge and we took the walk up to the falls. It was a beautiful walk up to the Lace Waterfalls with cliffs on either side and a path along the edge of the river. Evidence of the flood was everywhere however it didn’t detract from the beauty and serenity of the area. The only thing that did that was the kids running amok with their parents smiling benignly upon them! And to think, I used to be so patient with kids - what has happened to me? Haha!

The next day was to be our last on the Parkway and we got off to a late start. We stopped at a little historic reconstruction of an early settlers farm. It was so interesting how they survived without all the mod cons that we take for granted and how they were so creative with solving the problems they faced. Like the bee hives that were made out of hollow sections of the black gum tree, the bear proof pen that had to be constructed to keep the pigs safe when they were rounded up in the autumn and the substitute for a fridge - a shed constructed with a creek running through it to keep everything cool. Norm walked inside and immediately commented on how much cooler it was inside. The early pioneers in any country certainly did it tough and especially in places of extreme weather.

We continued our journey along the Parkway and were continually amazed at the views of the valleys and mountains that were around every bend in the road.

Heading back to the campground we found the most gorgeous restaurant and I would highly recommend it to anyone who happens to be in the vicinity (don’t ask me what vicinity though!). It was an old mill and we were pretty late arriving (3.00pm on Mother’s Day) and they were about to close however they were very accommodating and allowed us to stay. And I have to say it was the BEST meal we have had since our arrival. Cloth tablecloths and napkins and amazing food! The bread was to die for and the main meals were brilliant. The staff were amazing and so friendly - in fact Kelly, our waitress, was gorgeous and was talking about bringing her family to Australia in the near future. We hope to see you in the West some time soon Kelly and Seth!. The place is called Osceola Mill and was brilliant.

This was to be our last day on the Parkway as the next day we were heading up the Shenandoah Skyline Drive through Virginia.

Tess and I decided we needed some quilt therapy so we left Norm at the fiver with some jobs to do and we took a long drive through the Shenandoah River Valley to Lynchburg. It was just glorious driving along the banks of the river through beautiful green trees covered mountains. We found the quilt shop and spent quite a bit of time there (and a little money!) before we found somewhere for lunch. As we headed back to the campground we were engulfed in a huge storm and it was absolutely pouring down making driving a little difficult. A girl’s day out - just what the doctor ordered!

We set out early the next day for the Skyline Drive and about 20 miles into the drive we decided that we were Parkway and Skyline’d out. Despite the deer, the fabulous views of gorgeous valleys and mountains we had just had enough and we called it a day with plans to head back to Cary the next day in time for a bit of sight seeing before Tess’s flight home.

We arrived back in Cary and had a day or two before Tess was due to leave so we visited Raleigh for a day and had a great time in the Capital Building and watching a group of school children drilling in the square as if they were Confederate soldiers. What is it about American government buildings that they love to build them with cupolas (I think that is what you call them - you know - those great big round domes on top of them)? We visited a mall - just so Tess could say she went to one - and as we were leaving we were aware of the ‘tornado skies’ as there were more threats of tornadoes in Raleigh. This was the last thing that the people of Raleigh needed as they were still cleaning up after the April 16th tornadoes of which there was evidence everywhere. Downed trees and tarps on rooves and walls.

America had been hit by record numbers of devastating tornadoes this spring with many people losing their lives and others losing everything they owned in the world. I am blown away (no pun intended) by the resilience that these people demonstrate in their attitude and ability to get back up and move on with their lives. Our thoughts and prayers are with them all as they try to recover some normality in their lives.

And while I don’t want to finish on a sad note I am going to add to it by saying that this brought the end of Tess’s holiday and we had to say a sad farewell until August when we will be returning home. We had such a good time however I am not sure about Tess! We will see!

Once again we say adieu until next time. Thoughts and prayers are with you all - stay safe, healthy and happy and take care of you. I will catch you all again soon.

PS The next chapter is being worked on as I post this one - getting back into it now!

Byeee y'all.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Blue Ridge Parkway and Other Fascinating Places

Hi y’all

And it is nice to be back - even if I am hopelessly far behind in this here blog! We are driving along in the car right at this moment so it is a wonderful opportunity to try (?) to get a little further up to date with our comings and goings.

Have I mentioned that I love our new fifth wheel. I am in heaven! Wardrobe and drawers and room to put all the clothes and a real queen size bed!

Folowing on from my last blog. We arrived in Cary, North Carolina where we are having some warranty work done on the truck and we were picking up our friend, Tess, who came over from Australia to spend about three weeks traveling with us.

After some dramas along the way - with immigration in Los Angeles - Tess arrived safely and we turned our noses in the direction of a small but gorgeous campground in Balsam, NC. (Just south of Abbeville, NC). Moonshine Creek - what a beautiful campground with a creek running along just behind the fiver - mind you the road getting to it was a bit of a challenge! (Note to self: Check driving instructions on the campground website before relying solely on the GPS!)

The first day we drove along the southern most section of the Blue Ridge Parkway into the Great Smoky Mountains. We couldn’t take the fiver along this section as some of the tunnels were less than 12ft in height and we would have removed the vents and air conditioner if we had tried! New rig? Not a good idea!

This section of the Parkway and into the Smoky Mountains is just so picturesque. With fabulous outlooks and views across the valleys, gorgeous creeks/rivers and with all the trees just starting to get their blossoms and leaves it was so beautiful. We made a number of stops and Tess said we nearly killed her on one of the stops when we did a bit of a hike up part of the mountain. It was a little challenging and we didn’t go toooooo far!

We drove right through the Smoky Mountains into Tennessee and stopped for lunch in Gatlinburg so Tess was able to say she had visited Tennessee. We even took a photo so she could prove it. Gatlinburg is a really cute town and reminded us very much of Estes Park, CO, in its layout and tourist appeal of the main street. A convoy of yellow Mustangs drove through town while we were there - must have been about 30 of them. And no I don’t want one - I want a red one!!! Everyone knows the red ones go faster.

On the way back through the mountains we came across quite a few cars on the side of the road with people out and walking around. Turns out that a large black bear was spotted and everyone was out taking photos until some idiot drove through with his hand on the horn and scared the bear off. Takes all kinds I guess!

By the time we got to the town of Cherokee it was late and we missed all the attractions. I would have liked to have taken a look around but it seems to be the same everywhere we go. We just can’t get to do everything we want. If we stay in one place an extra day or two then we miss something up ahead. We just might have to come back again next year!

The next day we continued our exploration of the Blue Ridge Parkway by covering the section between Balsam and Abbeville. The weather wasn’t too kind to us with low cloud and cold winds blowing however, even like this the Parkway has its appeal. We stopped for lunch at a resort along the way and Tess made friends with Jerry, the head waiter!!!! Some people - you just can’t take them anywhere!!

From the Parkway we made our way to Abbeville with the intention of visiting the Biltmore Mansion which was constructed by the Vanderbilt family. Well!!!! $58 per person to have a look around! We decided against it and content ourselves with visiting the gate house and taking some photos of the front yard with all the beautiful tulips and other plants.

That evening we were invited to have dinner with some friends of a friend of Tess’s and had a lovely dinner and evening with Lyn and Ron. Lyn is a quilter by profession and she showed us some of her work which is absolutely stunning. We even got to taste some of Ron’s moonshine. Peach flavoured and soooo nice. I always thought moonshine would be sort of rough and ‘gut wrenching’! I could certainly develop a taste for this stuff although I don’t think it would take more than a couple of sips to put me on my ear.

Our plan for the next day was to take the interstate to Abbeville and then get on the Parkway to our next campground. Well, we did that, however driving along the Parkway was just too stressful with its narrow, winding roads with a 31ft fifth wheel on the back so while we made it to our next stop we decided that in the future we would find campgrounds off the Parkway and travel along the highways. Once at the campgrounds, we would then return to explore the park without the fiver. It worked out much better as it is difficult to find places to stop and admire the view with the fiver on the back.

Anyway getting back to our adventures - we continued our exploration of the Parkway with some side trips along the way. Cone Manor is on the Parkway and we stopped there for a sticky beak. It is the most magnificent home with stunning views down across the valley and a lake. The home was built for a family and has been turned into a rather up market gift/craft shop/art gallery. Gorgeous stuff, that, had we been living at home. I would have been tempted, however when you are living in an rv there really isn’t room for lots of things and certainly no walls suitable for art works.

While at Cone Manor we took a short hike and I was amazed at some of the fungi that were on the trees. There were so many different ones it became quite a joke when we were looking at the photos after our visit - oh no more fungus, what a surprise - more fungus, another photo of fungus!! Tess and Norm spent a bit of time laughing at me and my fungi photos!!

From Cone Manor we visited a town called Blowing Rock which was really beautiful with so many old and beautifully renovated homes and buildings. According to the waiter at lunch it is a very up market town with many expensive homes and the shops were very boutique style. Can’t wear those sort of clothes in an rv unfortunately.

AND…. Before I forget - you should have seen the size of the burger Tess had for lunch!!!! Now I have some fabulous photos and will post them on here unless I get some very good reasons not to! Blackmail?? Me???? Never!!!!

There was an outlet mall just out of Blowing Rock so I gave Tess her first experience of outlet shopping and we had a lovely time. Bank accounts took a minor beating while Norm sat in the truck and read his Kindle!!

Our next excursion was to Damascus, Virginia via Whitetop Mountain. On the way we passed a cyclist on the side of the road when I noticed he had an Aussie flag on the back of his bicycle. Of course we had to stop and say ‘G’day’! Turns out Sholto was riding a trail from Washington DC to Montana over a period of four months. Now that is what you call fit - especially with some of the mountains he is going to have to negotiate along the way. We arrived in Damascus shortly after and settled down for some lunch when who should arrive on his bike but Sholto so he joined us for lunch - four Aussies lunching in Damascus, Virginia - you wouldn’t read about it!!

There was a bike ride from the top of Whitetop Mountain down to Damascus that I really wanted to do but it wasn’t to be - never mind it will leave something for me to do when we come back!! Haha!!

Okay, so you don’t get overwhelmed with all this activity (on the blog I mean!!) I will conclude this enthralling episode of our adventures and will take it up again real soon. I promise to bring you up to date in the very near future! And don’t say you have heard that before - I really mean it this time.

Au revoir our dear family and friends. We continue to think of you often and while we are really enjoying ourselves on this almighty adventure we (at least me!!) do look forward to catching up with many of you when we return home in August.

Take care and be kind to you. Stay healthy and happy.

Love and hugs from both of us.