“If you can’t get five, take three.” Having been snookered by Harvey, we decided to make the trip back to Virginia into a new trip. So we started working on Plan B. That consisted of a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains NP and thence home via the Blue Ridge Parkway. Along the way we could visit Gene’s brother Mike, and Jean’s friend and old teacher Glen. So we headed east. Just east of Nashville, Harvey started catching up with us. The forecasts had him going a lot of places, many in our projected path. Trying to fit our projections with Harvey’s proved to be difficult and frustrating.
Things seemed very changeable, and we came up with plans C, D, and E. Eventually, Harvey went north and we went back to Plan B.
Things seemed very changeable, and we came up with plans C, D, and E. Eventually, Harvey went north and we went back to Plan B.
West of Nashville, the outer bands caught up with us and we ran through occasional rain in varying degrees of intensity, but none heavy. We contacted Gene’s brother Mike who agreed to meet us at the Harriman Cracker Barrel. We got there and parked behind the restaurant, which is the only level place there. After a while we saw the manager come by and look us over, but he didn’t knock on the door. Since we hadn’t formally asked for permission, I was a little worried, so I went out and spoke to him. He was mainly interested in our rig, since he was thinking of getting one. We showed him the inside and made a friend.
Mike came by and we went out to a nearby Mexican restaurant for drinks and dinner. We decided to stay another day, so next day, after breakfast in the restaurant, we drove to Mike’s house. We had avoided doing that at first because the last time we were there, we were parked in a low spot in his driveway and had a very hard time getting the rig leveled. This time we tried a different approach and were able to park level — albeit so close to his garage we couldn’t open the rear doors. Luckily, we didn’t need to. The day was overcast, with occasional light rain. The solar panels didn’t produce much, but the battery held through the night to our great pleasure. We spent the day visiting, and then went out to a different Mexican restaurant for dinner.
Next morning, we visited briefly with Mike and Heidi and their daughter Melissa, then headed for Bristol. Jean needed to get to a Wells Fargo bank and we hadn’t seen one anywhere in Tennessee. Bristol is right on the line between Virginia and Tennessee. In fact, the line goes down the middle of the main street. Driving down the street there is a procession of American and Tennessee flags on one side of the street, and American and Virginia flags on the other. The Wells Fargo was on the Virginia side.
Once her business was finished, we drove to the Medical Center, where Jean’s sister-in-law was in Intensive Care. We caught up with her brother-in-law in the lobby and talked for a while. The sun came out as we were fueling up, so we headed for Asheville, NC. There were still storm clouds as we headed into the Appalachians, which made for great vistas after spending several weeks in the plains.
We managed to contact Jean’s friend Glen, who informed us that the Friday night dances were finished for the year, but there was an event in Asheville the next day. We pulled in to a Cracker Barrel in Asheville for the night. The next day was busy and a little confusing. After breakfast, we went in search of propane. We found a campground that had propane but they wouldn’t sell us any unless we paid for a site (which we didn’t need). We finally found some at a Tractor Supply Company. Then we had to find a Post Office so Jean could mail some bills that were due.
Jean called Glen and got directions to his house. But first, we needed to find a place for the night. Since this was Labor Day weekend, we expected that could be difficult. We tried a KOA near Glen’s house but kept getting busy signals. The only other campground in the area was a place called “Mama Gertie’s.” We tried that and got through to a woman who seemed a little confused. It didn’t sound too promising but we felt we didn’t have much choice. They had one space left, so we took it.
The directions to get there were to take Exit 59, turn right, and go uphill (in fact the address is on Uphill Rd.). So we did and uphill it was. We climbed up the steep side of a mountain, wondering how they could put a campground (which requires level ground) on such a place. When we got there, we continued to go uphill through the campground. The road was steep, but the camp sites were carved into the hill and were level. We climbed through three layers of campers, and finally came out at a level place way up the hill. What with sharp turns and such we wondered whether any big Class A’s could make it but there were several up there. This was obviously a new section and everything was first-class.
We finished up our tasks for the day: filling the water tank and dumping the holding tanks. Then we headed back down the mountain to visit Glen. After visiting with Glen and Evelyn for a while, we drove back in to Asheville to find the “Shindig on the Green.” Finding a level parking place in this hilly town took a while, but we got one about two blocks from the event. We met Glen and Evelyn there; he has been associated with the event for years and emceed a little more than half of it.
“Shindig on the Green” consists of a series of acts by local musicians. Stony Creek is sort of the house band. There were two clogging groups as well as a parade of musicians of various ages and abilities. Each musical group played two songs, and then came another. Glen also called a big circle dance with lots of participants.
Supper was barbecue from one of the vendors. There was a threat of rain that didn’t happen; and all-in-all it was a most pleasant evening. All that was left was to climb the mountain back to our campsite in the dark.
Next morning, we were right next to the laundry, so we did a load. That finished just at check-out time, so we packed everything up and went in to Black Mountain for breakfast. Jean used to hang out there in her student days, so she was interested in what it was like now. After breakfast we walked around and went in to a couple of shops. Then it was off to Asheville. The plan was to see Biltmore, then stay at the Cracker Barrel again and head off for Great Smoky National Park on Labor Day (when, with luck, the campground will be emptying out).
The traffic was heavy going in to Biltmore. No surprise there. The surprise came when we went in to buy our tickets. Prices for adults (no senior discount) were $75 apiece — holiday special price, normally it is $65. That is way beyond our range, either way. So we watched the little slide show and reluctantly drove back out.
We thought it would be interesting to see downtown Asheville, so we headed that way. Downtown was crowded and there was nowhere we could park. Things were not going according to plan. We gave up and headed toward Cherokee, hoping to find someplace to park along the way. The Allstays app said that the casino in Cherokee allowed RVs to park overnight. Sounded good to us. We made it in to Cherokee in reasonable time and went in to the huge casino parking lot. Mobbed wouldn’t cover it. Nowhere did we see an RV. Looking in the casino book, we found that the Cherokee casino did not allow overnight RV parking. In fact, there is no casino parking anywhere in North Carolina. Our bad luck seemed to be holding.
This being Labor Day weekend in a popular area, we despaired of finding a place to camp. However, one campground right in Cherokee had a space, so we took it. In fact, there seemed to be a couple of empty spaces. We finally caught a break just when we needed it. But our problems were not over. When we went to lower the sofa into a bed, it hung up halfway. It would neither go down nor back up. Gene spent about an hour and a half in the dark messing with it. He has more persistence than mechanical skill, but he finally got it all the way down. So we had a bed to sleep in, but we didn’t dare try to put it up again, so we finished the trip with no sofa.
Next day was Monday, Labor Day. Our next goal was Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains Park, which has a campground. We assumed that the campground would be packed for the holiday weekend, but people would be checking out on Monday afternoon. We took our time getting started, then tanked up on fuel. We left Cherokee about noon and headed for the park. We drove by the Visitor Center (which was crowded) with the idea that we could get a park map when we checked in at the entrance gate. It turns out that Great Smoky NP doesn’t have an entry gate. Soon we were in the park and climbing. Meanwhile, the traffic leaving the park was endless.
We wound up into the mountains with gorgeous views on all sides. The top, at Newfound Gap, is at 5,046 feet, almost 4,000 feet higher than where we started. It is a twisty, mountain road but well worth the effort. All the overlooks were crowded (and the best ones on the wrong side of the road), so we decided to shoot pictures on the way out when it would be better. As is turns out, we went out a different way.
We eventually went in to the Sugarland Visitor Center, on the other side of the park. There we finally got the map, and saw an excellent film about the park. From there we took another twisty (but mostly level) road through the park to Cades Cove. We arrived at the campground about 3:30 and found that our prediction was right. The campground had been completely filled over the weekend, but now he had our choice of sites. We counted twelve other rigs that night.
Next day, Tuesday, we got up early to drive the eleven-mile loop road. We were early in hopes of spotting some wildlife, especially bears. In the event, we saw a few turkeys and one deer. The same things we see all the time on the farm. What we did see were some of the old cabins and farmsteads. The oldest ones were log construction.
After some sawmills were established, there were more plank buildings. There is even one that is half-and-half.
Some of the people had what were called “cantilever barns.”
There are a number of old churches (and their associated graveyards) on the loop.
One that interested Gene was a Baptist church with an apse-shaped end. This is common on European cathedrals, but rare in old American churches.
The weather was overcast with occasional sprinkles. Then, just as we got to the end, the sun came out. So we went around again. This time we had some interesting experiences. One was meeting a car going the other way on this one-lane, one-way road. After the shock, he pulled off the road and we went on.
After seeing a church that we had missed the first time around, we came to the pull-off that has the most gorgeous vista on the whole loop. While we were there a car full of twenty-somethings from New Jersey pulled in. They all got out and draped themselves around the car, and one man stepped out front, turned his back to the view, and took a picture of the car. Having driven hundreds of miles to one of the most beautiful spots in the country, he took a picture that he could have taken in his own driveway. They fooled with the camera for a while, but it didn’t appear that anyone even looked at the scene. Then they drove away.
About half-way through it started raining again, this time pretty hard. As we approached the end of the loop we ran into a long traffic jam. I didn’t realize there were that many cars on the road. We assumed it was a “critter jam” because near the end there were three or four cars pulled off the road and several people at the edge looking at something in the woods. We couldn’t see what they were looking at so we just continued on in the rain. We were soon back in our campsite, setting up in the rain (no hookups, very quick). We spent the rest of the day napping and reading — very laid back.
It rained off and on during the day and overnight. The next day (Wednesday) the forecast was for more rain, but clearing late. Not wanting to drive the mountains in the rain (and possible fog) we bought another night, and relaxed another day. The closest thing to wildlife we saw that day was this tree frog.
Finally, on Thursday we checked out and headed toward home. We needed groceries, so we left the park and went to Pigeon Forge. After stocking up, we headed out of town on the main drag. Traffic was heavy, but there seemed to be a huge car show the length of the street. Parked in the business parking lots was an incredible number of hot rods and old restored cars. There was even an old Bugatti (a type 35 from the 20’s I think)! We kept seeing hot rods on the road for much of the rest of the day.
We took I-40 back to Asheville, where we picked up the Blue Ridge Parkway. It felt good to be off the interstate and back on the quiet road through the mountains. In the late afternoon, we checked in at Crabtree Falls campground. There are no hookups, but that is not usually a problem for us. That night it was. When we set up, we tried switching the refrigerator from DC (which we use while driving) to propane. It would not even try to start on gas. We can’t leave it on DC overnight because it would deplete the battery. What we did was to start the generator so we could run it on AC. But we had to turn the generator off at 9:00pm for quiet hours. We just turned the fridge off and hoped it would hold its temperature enough through the night (which promised to be cold). Then in the morning we could turn the generator on again. It held its temperature well, but did get warm enough to start defrosting the freezer compartment — but not enough to thaw the contents.
Next morning, we dumped our tanks on the way out. Then we went in to Linville Falls Visitor Center to find out a close place to get diesel. Per their advice, we got off the Parkway and went in to the village of Linville. There is a gas station there and it does sell diesel. After waiting for the one pump that also had diesel, we found that they were out. The attendant told us where the next place with diesel was. When we got there, it was a crowded, tiny station with one diesel pump. There were two dump trucks and a flat-bed in line. After waiting a while, I checked the Gas Buddy app and found there was another station selling diesel a few miles further along. We went there, only to find that they were also out of diesel. Gas Buddy had no further ideas, so we went back the previous station. The two dump trucks were gone (after taking on 75 gallons) but there were now two more people in line. So we got in line and waited. The pump was running slow, so it was quite a wait. We finally got our fuel and headed back to the Parkway, but the adventure had taken two hours.
Back on the Parkway, we went to see the Moses Cone mansion. If we can’t see Biltmore this house is fancy enough for us. Inside, there were many locally-made crafts for sale.
Heading north once more we encountered a large number of runners spaced out over several miles. It can be tight encountering a runner at the same time another car is approaching from the opposite direction on a two-lane road.
Toward the end of the day, we spent some time on the phone to various local campgrounds. For one we just got sent to voice mail. On two others, the campgrounds sounded pretty primitive, with unreliable electricity (to run our refrigerator). Jean finally went in to a biker bar (the only establishment available) and got directions to the first campground. It turned out to be convenient and very nice. It had widely spaced campsites with full hookups and the restrooms had tiled showers.
The last day on the road, we drove to the Blue Ridge Music Center, dedicated to mountain music. They have built a small, new building since we were last there. It was labeled the Luther (guitar-builder) building and we got there just at noon, when the live music begins. In fact, one of the musicians was an instrument builder, who played some of his instruments. The five musicians were all local and put on a good show. We stayed through several numbers, but had to move on.
We had lunch at the restaurant at Mabry Mill. In the parking lot we saw a Checker airport limousine. I never knew they made one.
We were getting close to the end now. We pulled off on one more overlook to see the mountains rolling away like waves on the ocean.
After this last view of the mountains, we visited one of Jean’s cousins who lives just off the Parkway until he needed to go to work. We made it home a little after 7:00.
Statistics: We were gone 45 days, during which time we covered 4,932 miles. One trip basically turned into two, so we have half a trip still to do.