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Friday, July 29, 2016

MOUNTAINS & RACETRACKS


From the Outer Banks of North Carolina we cut west, crossing lots of flat marshy areas. There are signs up for bears, and we ask the locals if they see any, when we stop to buy blueberries. They assure us that they do see them regularly. Next stop is the town of Raleigh (yes Tim & Kylie we were near your home and you weren’t there!!!) to visit the State Capitol. Don’t know how many of these we have visited, but they are always great. Park right outside & pop in to nosy around. Of course by the time we leave it is rush hour & the urban sprawl goes on for miles as there are quite a few Universities here. It starts to rain, but we have a spot in the forest in mind for tonight, so we head there. Fortunately it proves Ok – flat, quiet & out of the way.

As we continue across country, following little back roads, John suddenly asks if Charlotte is nearby. I say “Yes it is; only we need to change direction & head south”. So that is what we do. Guess what’s at Charlotte? Yes, another huge NASCAR track – and very impressive it is too. We do the racetrack tour – I have never driven along a 22deg camber before. Ok when driving at 130 kph but rather interesting when the driver stops!

Anyway more miles to do. We have some friends to pop in and visit in Waynesville before we head in to the forest again for the night. It is a parking spot beside the river. We are just having a cup of tea at 10pm when a police car rolls in. “What are you doing” (duh…staying overnight!”) We explain very politely. He says we can’t stay as it is for fisherman to access the river. We don’t point out the obvious that there are no fishermen here & the park is pretty big. Perhaps we should say we are fishing! Anyway when we say we will leave first thing in the morning, he says Oh that’s Ok, I’ll just say you are parking!

Our forestry spot is right on the edge of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is our destination. But first we head south to visit The Great Smoky Mountains National Park – we do know it will be very busy at this time of year, but we are too close to miss it. Head along the Parkway stopping to do a few walks & chat to more people who stop to look at GR2. She is definitely a tourist attraction here. Even been on TV apparently! Then on to do the scenic drive through Smoky. Lots of cars & lots of people at the popular spots. Well we thought there was a lot, but when we reach touristy Gatlinburg the place is swarming. We can’t wait to leave. Sadly the rest of Smoky will have to be another visit. We have crossed back in to Tennessee, but before long we are back in Nth Carolina heading back to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Again at 3pm we run in to torrential rain – we did yesterday as well. Evenings are long here so we do a few more miles before heading off the Parkway to find a great dispersed camp spot beside a river. Can even have a fire – awesome.

Carry on the Parkway stopping to walk to some unexciting waterfalls. We are starting to get a bit weary of this scenic drive. It is so sterile with a narrow, winding strip of tarseal, mowed grass edges, overhanging trees and views of misty mountains. And it goes on for miles & miles!! Time for a conference. Decide to turn off and pop down to visit Grandfather Mountain someone recommended. At $20ea to be able to walk a swing bridge, with countless others, we give it a miss. Head towards Bluff City & Bristol in Virginia. John says we won’t bother looking at the racetrack here, but I say – “there it is, we should go in!”  Yet another massive track. No tours, but a guy who stops to say Hi opens it up so we can go inside – Thank you! Then we stay & use their Wifi – bonus. Another night in the forest.

We are now heading into West Virginia (yes that means another no. plate to add to our burgeoning collection).  Have never heard anything about this state, but it is full of mountains, forests, mighty gorges & rivers. First stop is the Welcome Centre for a map & info. There has been massive flooding 10 days ago, so they suggest avoiding the centre of the state. So we plan a route through the back roads to meander through Bluestone National State Park & New River Gorge National Park. Drive some lovely little back roads, winding our way through to Blue River, then on to New River. Very little traffic, lots of little towns showing signs of neglect & rivers full of muddy water. The riverside town of Hinton is gorgeous. Lots of old homes, but many decaying. As we near the gorge we see signs of old mining. This area was in full coal production mode years ago.

Finally we find the tourists at the massive iron bridge at Canyon Rim. Check out the many viewpoints before heading on to the main roads and on to Charleston – the state capitol. Again we stop and wander through the Capitol Building leaving again during rush hour. Finally out of West Virginia and in to Kentucky & the Daniel Boone National Forest. John has found some free camping in the forest. There are some great spots beside a river, most are full because it is Friday night, so we squeeze in to the last one.

We pick the scenic route through Daniel Boone Forest planning to stop and see the Natural Bridge State Resort Park. What is this Resort part!! Must be because there is a chairlift up to the arch. I opt for the easy ride, saying it will save us time. Anyway it is kind of fun. Lots of walks at the top to view the arch, walk over the arch and walk under the arch.

Finally back to main roads and on to the horse capital of USA – Lexington in Kentucky. Many gorgeous horse studs - all glistening green & manicured. After all this is the home of The Kentucky Derby.  Then again another Capitol Building, in the red brick town of Frankfurt. No interior explore today as it is Saturday afternoon.

Decide it is time we visit the highly recommended Cracker Barrel for a late lunch/early dinner. Yum – good southern cooking. Finally on to Louisville – a rather large city – only stop here is cheap diesel found on Gasbuddy. We are continually amazed at how diesel prices can vary, even within the same tow. Anything from $1.99 to $2.59 per gallon. Across the huge bridge to Indiana and back on to back roads. There is supposed to be a free camp spot here, but we can’t find it so end up on an old slip road beside the river.

As is often the case we find more camp spots the next morning, but the bonus is finding the tiny town of Storey with its cute & very eclectic pub & having time to stop & explore. This wouldn’t have been the case if we had passed it last night while hunting for a campspot. Continue through Hoosier National Forest to return to the main road. We are heading to Bloomington & on to Indianapolis to see the famous racetrack - affectionately known as “The Brick Yard”. At this track we can drive right in to the centre.  We can’t do a track tour today, as wanna be racers are paying to go out on the track with drivers. But John has a good look at the Hall of Fame (I opt out again)

Back on the motorway we cross in to Michigan. Traffic a bit crazy as Chicago isn’t all that far away. Finally we head to a casino for the night.  Tomorrow we will continue exploring Michigan.

Catch y’all soon now!

Michigan surprises us….

MOUNTAINS & RACETRACKS - PHOTOS

Raleigh State Capitol

Charlotte Race Track & yes they do race these buses

Up the slope on Charlotte Racetrack

More trees overhanging the Blue Ridge Parkway

The pink Rhodedrons have finished, but there are still plenty of white ones left

The grist mill in Smoky

Carpark overflowing in Smoky

Views from The Blue Ridge


More of Blue Ridge

Bristol Raceway

They are setting it up for a bike course


More green green countryside

In West Virginia at Bluestone Lake

Going through the town of Hinton

Yet more houses

The lovely gorge in New River Gorge National Park

The old iron bridge

More views

Nearly missed this - and it was right beside the road!

Another Capitol Building - this one in Charleston, West Virginia

Our riverside campspot in Daniel Boone National Forest

The Arch

Squeezing through the rock to get below the arch

And below the arch

Time to ride back down to GR2

Capitol Building in Frankfurt

The Presidents House in Frankfurt

Louisville City

Story pub- pity there is so much dappled shade over the old building

Yes another racetrack - The Brickyard


Pretend racing!!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A TROPICAL HEATWAVE


Yeah I know, what did we expect coming here in the summer. And in vacation time too! We must be nutty.

As soon as we return to Miami we are hit by the humidity. The skies are overcast & storms are threatening. Sounds like Brissie on a hot summer’s day!   We are heading south to Key West. In fact every man and his dog are heading there. It is a long weekend here, and as they are few and far between everyone wants to make the most of it. We actually tried a few weeks ago to book a camp spot in one of the State Parks – and got laughed at. They are booked up months ahead! So we are planning to wing it. Maybe a free spot. There is one on Sugarloaf Key, but the sign says no vehicles allowed, & the overhanging branches would not be too good on GR2. But there is a camp ground right here – so in we go, digging out the KOA voucher we were given last year. Thank goodness they accept it because the site costs $115 per night! And it isn’t even on the beach.

We leave early as we have a big day planned. Off to the very crowded Key West. By the time we finish walking around the old port area we are covered in sweat (and it’s only 10am!) A drink & some delicious key lime pie does the trick. We decide to explore the rest in the air-conditioned cab of GR2.

Time to head back north. We plan to pop in to one of the State Parks to get on a snorkeling trip – but when we arrive there is a massive queue of cars, just to get in. Bummer. Not our thing at all. We quickly talk ourselves out of it & head off the Keys. Moral of this story: Don’t revisit places you have great memories of – it just disappoints.

We have an appointment to keep in Orlando on Tuesday to collect our new awning, so we head north, deciding to avoid the busy coastline. So instead of beaches we are passing alligator infested swamps. We spy a large parking area beside an airboat ride place and decide to try our luck there camping. We are sent on our way, but told to go over the road to a boat ramp (yes another one) and are given vouchers: 2 for the price of one – they open at 9am tomorrow. We sit on the jetty watching one lonely alligator & 3 cars hooning in the carpark.

So we do an airboat ride after all. Can’t resist the cheap price – just as well as it only lasts 30minutes! Then a wander around their zoo – all rescue animals. It will probably be the only panther we see as we missed the one crossing the road! And so on to Orlando. Today is Independence Day so naturally I have checked online to see where there will be fireworks – and I am in luck. Orlando has a big display, and of course we need to be there tomorrow! Yay!! It is a long drive on very quiet back roads hugging the side of the huge Lake Okeechobee. As we near Orlando we follow the GPS to the fireworks, find a carpark & head in to Lake Oela – right in the centre of the city. Many hours of sitting waiting, people watching & generally getting bored they start. Not bad! As a fireworks connoisseur I enjoy them – especially the grand finale with gold streaks raining down. Of course it is traffic chaos to get out, but we don’t have far to go as we plan on staying at the Fiamma workshop. They don’t know of course – but it works well.

By 8.15 the next morning the new awning is inside GR2. It has to be put in through the back window. Then we head to a Camperworld workshop to get it installed. Fingers crossed they can do it early as we are booked in at 12. All installed before 12, so we can leave the city and head to Ichnetucknee State Park. I have read that you can float down the river in tubes & maybe see otters. We arrive too late to do the float so head in for a swim & snorkel in the Blue Hole. A fun way to cool off. Decide to stay at O’Leno State Park so we can do the float tomorrow. On a side note here: walking around the camp area in the evening we note that every single caravan/Rv has their aircon on and are inside. What a pity on such a lovely evening. Actually it is more like envy on my part – a nice cool night instead of a sticky sweaty one.

By the time we get back to the river the long float is full. There is a max of 1250 allowed on the 3hr float. Max of 2000 on the shorter floats! Crazy huh! Well short float it is. We head in with our 2 big tubes & pay for the tram rides. Eventually leaping in the water with heaps of others. But despite the crowds it is magical. The water is dark, trees overhang & we are finally cool. After our 90min float we have lunch, then head off to do it all again. By the time we finish it is 5pm – so really time to head on, and before we know it we are in Georgia. All we can see in every direction is swampy land & trees. On the map I see the huge Okefenokee Nat Wildlife Refuge – maybe there will be a carpark. Before we get to it we find a flat spot off a little back road – but no sitting outside tonight or we will be carried off by bugs.

We reach Savannah by late morning. The plan of attack is to park on the riverfront & explore on foot. Well that is not to be. These carparks are not suitable for us – we find a spot on the street and oh boy it is so hot. That tram ride looks much better than walking. So we get onto one of them for a tour of the city. When we stop at the visitor centre we see a row of motorhomes – we should have come here first. We discover that we can overnight in the carpark for a mere $8. So we collect GR2 and head there. Then we can explore town in the slightly cooler evening, eat out at a seafood restaurant & sit in the carpark all evening chatting to a lovely young German couple. All the other motorhomes have left.

We are slowly heading north towards The Outer Banks – a string of islands just off the South Carolina coast. In fact John has already booked the ferry – he is so organized. We start meandering north trying to keep off the motorways. At this point it proves a bit pointless as even the smaller roads are big highways with lots of traffic. There are lots of massive housing estates – mainly gated, & and of course all the attending shops, shops & yet more shops.

We hadn’t planned on going to Charleston, but as it is so close it seems a pity not to pop in. So this time we head straight to the Visitor centre – but the carpark is full. So back on to the street! We book a 90 minute Historical van tour to get an overview. Then get off to have a final look around. Again it is hot, so we end up collecting GR2 and doing the rest inside GR2’s air-conditioned cab.

Lots more driving to do as we have a ferry booked tomorrow. Thankfully there is a bypass around Myrtle Beach as the whole area is wall to wall cars. That night we are hit by a huge storm – scariest ever. Thunder & lightening seems to crash right in to GR2. The lightening is spectacular & the noise deafening. By Saturday we only have 130 miles left to go, so we can slow down. Slowly the houses, shops & towns peter out. The peninsula gets narrower, the marshes bigger. The road ends at the ferry. Murphy’s Law: because we are early, the ferry is running late. Oh well time for a coffee & chat.

It is a 2 hour ferry ride, so we arrive on Ocracoke Island early evening. We drive through the tiny township, stopping at the lighthouse for a few photos, before heading on to the State Park Camping Ground right beside the beach. It is lovely to spend most of the morning swimming, before heading out at checkout time. Explore the rest of the island – by simply driving down the narrow strip of land. As we near the end of the island we find the queue of cars waiting for the ferry….Sunday afternoon & the wait is ages. Then an hour crossing. From now on there are bridges & causeways. Time to hit the ocean again before setting off to explore this island.  It gets more built up as we drive (we are getting nearer to the bridges connecting to the mainland) It may be a challenge to find a camp spot. We decide to head as far north as we can. The map looks as if the houses peter out- well they don’t. They only stop where the road heads on to the beach, and we don’t have a permit $50 to drive on it. So we find a spot where cars park to go to the beach. It is just emptying out as we arrive at dusk, and when we head off it is already half full. It is kind of sad that there is so little beach front left in these lovely places.

Well we head back down the island to visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial. This is where they tested their planes. There are markers showing the short distance they flew, a replica plane & a bit of info. Time to leave these islands and head inland towards the mountains. We are hoping it will be cooler there.

See y’all soon.

 

 

 

TROPICAL HEATWAVE - PHOTOS



Driving out to the Keys

There were qyuite a few of these guys at our KOA campground on the Keys

Key West

Key West old town

Key Lime Pie - forgot to take the photo before I polished off my share

There was a huge queue to take a photo of the southern most point - so I jumped out of GR2 and got one as we passed it.

Crossing in the right place - one of the few red deer left on the Keys

Crossing the Key bridges

Our little mate where we camped

Campspot on alligator creek

Airboating

This alligator was much bigger!!

Our panthar

Sunset over Orlando while waiting for the fireworks

Finally!!


After this gold rained down from the sky - Wow

Floating in the Ichnetuckee River

Perfect way to spend a hot day


Savannah city

Hard to get a good photo because of all the lovely trees covered in spanish moss



The centre piece of the park in Savannah


Yummy

Sunset

More waterways

On to Charleston



And still more waterways

Wild horses at the beach while waiting for the ferry

What a lovely beach for the day - Ocracoke Island OBX

Another ferry ride

Another simple seaside home


The pier - it has seen better days

Love the lighthouses

Connecting roads & bridges

More lighthouses

Houses right on the sandbanks - OBX (Outer Banks)

After our morning stroll on the beach - see GR2 in our campspot for the night & the lighthouse

The Wright Brothers plane - well a replica anyway!