White Water Rafting

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St. Louis – Gateway to the West – May 2018

We arrived at the Family Camp (FAMCAMP) at Scott Air Force Base on Thursday, May 10th. The FAMCAMP is a small set up, but very pleasant. It’s right on the edge of a grassy field with a couple of nearby ponds and lakes. There aren’t fire pits at individual sites, but there is a common one near the bath house and laundry room. There is a shredded rubber track that goes all the way around the airfield for our morning walks. The total length is approximately 6 1/2 miles and on our last morning on base I walked the full circle.

Scott AFB is across the Mississippi River from St. Louis in Illinois, but is very convenient to visiting the city. The eastern end of the Metro Link route terminates right next to the Air Force base and there is a security gate that lets you park your vehicle on base and walk to the station to board the train.

On this trip we wanted to visit some new sites and explore some we had seen on our previous trip. The “Western Expansion” exhibit at the Gateway Arch Visitor Center was being reconstructed and was not available to tour. The Old Courthouse, across the street, was open and some of the Western Expansion exhibit had been moved there. The biggest historical significance of the Old Courthouse is that this was where the Dred Scott took place.

One of our new stops was the City Garden. This is a collection of what I would call impressionistic art.  I found it interesting, but not necessarily what I like in art. I don’t think art should have to be explained to you and these took a lot of explaining. The one I like the best was the “Big Suit,” but I thought it should have been called the “Empty Suit.” The part of the park both of us liked was the splash pad and especially enjoyed watching  a couple of young girls playing there.

From the City Garden we walked past the St. Louis City Hall to take a bus to the Anheuser Busch Brewery. The City Hall stood out to me because it seemed much older than the surrounding government buildings and, as a result, had more character.

The Busch Brewery is always an interesting place to visit. While we had toured it in the past, the tour changes periodically and we saw different parts of the brewery on this tour. Of course the highlight of the tour is tasting the beer! During the tour we had the opportunity to taste the difference between Bud and Bud Light and got a voucher for a full beer in the Biergarten at the end of the tour. Since our last visit they added the Biergarten, a full service restaurant. Here we tasted samples of as many beers and ciders as we wanted before we got our full glass. We decided to have lunch here and it was a “win-win.” We got a free drink with our lunch and they got someone to buy lunch in their restaurant.

The next day we planned to visit the St. Louis Zoo and the Science Museum. The St. Louis Zoo has been voted to be the best free zoo in the U.S. and it lived up to its hype. Pat is a much bigger zoo fan than I am, but I was impressed here. The exhibits were diverse and reflected the natural habitat of the animals. The animals were well cared for. My only complaint is that their map could have been more detailed. I guess when that is all you can complain about, it’s a good place to visit!

The Butterfly House was amazing! I have not seen as many butterflies in any other zoo. They were not too skittish so you could get real close to observe them.

There were plenty of big animals. We saw several elephants, rhinos, hippos, bears, Takin bulls, camels, and even giraffes.

There were some real strange animals, like the Gueraza Colobus, Ring-tailed Lemur, Coqueral’s Sifaka, Addax, and Okapi.

The primate exhibit was very extensive with dozens of monkeys, apes, orangutans, and chimpanzees.

The last exhibit we visited was the Penguin and Puffin Coast. You really have to love penguins and puffins, cuz they are just so cute (Did I really say cute?).

Part of the way through the zoo we realized that we either had to cut our visit short and leave for the Science Center or blow off the Science Center. We opted to stay at the zoo. I guess the Science Center will have to wait for our next visit to St. Louis.

The last event in St. Louis was a special treat for me. Fellow author, Bob Rothermich, and I had helped each other with our last books and he lives in the St. Louis area. We were able to make contact and we had dinner together, spending time talking about books and solving all of the world’s problems. What a great ending to this stop on our journey!

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Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry – May 2018

When you are visiting Nashville it is almost a responsibility to visit the Grand Ole Opry. The Grand Ole Opry is a weekly country-music stage concert which was founded on November 28, 1925, by George D. Hay as a one-hour radio “barn dance” on WSM. It is the longest-running radio broadcast in U.S. history. Dedicated to honoring country music and its history, the Opry showcases a mix of famous singers and contemporary chart-topping performing country, bluegrass, Americana, folk, gospel, and comedic performances and skits. The Opry’s primary slogan is “The Show that Made Country Music Famous”. Membership in the Opry remains one of country music’s crowning achievements.

We took the daytime Backstage Tour of the Grand Ole Opry. Our virtual tour guide and host was Blake Shelton. At the beginning of the tour and at stops along the tour we heard Blake tell us about the Opry and its membership. Our actual guide shared stories about the Opry and country music greats, past and present — from Minnie Pearl to Carrie Underwood, from the Opry’s biggest moments in history. We went in through the artist entrance where legends, new artists, and superstars alike walk into the Opry House on the night of an Opry show. It’s possible to have the chance to step on stage and into the famed wooden circle (saved from the original stage) as generations of artists have done, but unfortunately they were setting up for a show and we could not get onstage.

As we walked through backstage, we were able to look into the stars’ dressing rooms. I thought it was neat that they were numbered with a guitar pick symbol. Each dressing room is decorated around a unique theme. The “Cousin Minnie,” “Wagonmaster,” “Little Jimmy,” and “Mr. Roy” dressing rooms honor music greats Minnie Pearl, Porter Wagoner, Jimmy Dickens, and Roy Acuff, respectively. It’s definitely a tour highlight!

After we left the Grand Ole Opry, we took a bus to downtown to visit the Bicentennial Capitol Mall.  The bus dropped us off right by the Capitol Building and we went in to explore. At the security entrance we were shown where we could pick up a self-guided tour. As we strode through the building we saw busts of famous dignitaries. It was interesting to note that, in addition to Andrew Jackson, two other Presidents were from Tennessee – Andrew Johnson and James Polk. Other dignitaries included David Crockett who, in addition to defending the Alamo, served in the Tennessee and the U.S. House of Representatives. The other was Admiral David Farragut, famous for his quote, “Damn the torpedoes, Full speed ahead!” during the Battle of Mobile Bay in the Civil War.

Our intended destination was Bicentennial Park. Located in the shadow of the Capitol in downtown Nashville, the Bicentennial Capitol Mall gives visitors a taste of Tennessee’s history, natural wonders and serves as a lasting monument to Tennessee’s Bicentennial Celebration, which was June 1, 1996. The Bicentennial Capitol Mall is Nashville’s Central Park. Because of its natural attributes, the historic French Lick that attracted wildlife, Native Americans, trappers and settlers to what would become Nashville.

As an outdoor museum, the mall features a series of design elements that highlight the natural and cultural history of Tennessee.

  • Tennessee Map Plaza is a 200-foot-wide granite map of the Volunteer State. One of the largest and most accurate depictions of a geographical region, it includes every city, county, river, highway and railroad in the state.

  • Rivers of Tennessee Fountains is a collection of 31 geyser-like spray fountains commemorating the state’s major lakes, rivers and tributaries. Inscriptions provide details about these waterways. A large trough represents the Mississippi River. On hot days, visitors cool off by splashing in the water jets.

  • Located in the middle of the park is the 2,000-seat Tennessee Amphitheater, which features terraced lawns and a dramatic view of the State Capitol. It is patterned after the Greek amphitheater at Epidaurus. It is the setting for outdoor concerts and other theatrical productions.

Next to the park is the Nashville Farmers’ Market. Dating from the 1800s, and covering 16 acres, the Market House has a variety of vendor stalls, eateries and other merchants along with a weekend flea market and various special events. We took advantage of the Market to take a break for lunch from a couple of the vendors.

We spent the rest of our time wandering in the downtown area, going past the Musician’s Hall of Fame and Museum. It was featuring a Rolling Stones exhibit. While we didn’t have the time to explore it, we did get a picture of the signature Rolling Stones “Tongue and Lips” logo.

There are many campgrounds in the area to stay while visiting Nashville, but we chose one a little ways out of town that was more pleasant than some of the ones closer to Nashville. It is a Corps of Engineers campground called Seven Points. With our Interagency Senior Pass we were able to stay for half price in a nice, wooded setting. It is on the shore of the J Percy Priest Reservoir and it was a great place for our morning walks.

On Thursday, May 10th we pulled out of our site and headed north to St. Louis, IL.

 

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The Hermitage – The Home of Andrew Jackson – May 2018

Many of us know of Andrew Jackson as a hero of the War of 1812 with his heroic defense of New Orleans. Some of us know him as the seventh President of the United States.  Fewer of us know of him as a change agent. He was the “People’s President,” campaigning on a platform of removing career politicians and reducing bureaucracy. To say he was interesting is an extreme understatement.

Jackson faced challenges his entire life. His father died the same month he was born in 1767. He joined the militia at age thirteen during the Revolutionary War and was captured by the British. He was orphaned in 1781 at age fourteen. From then on he was passed from family member to family member until he was old enough to go out on his own. He became an attorney at the age of twenty. In Jackson’s words, “I was born for a storm and a calm does not suit me.”

After failing to win the Presidential Election in 1824, he was elected in a landslide in 1828.  Jackson saw this as a mandate to cleanse Washington of corruption. The way he looked at it was that power in Washington rested in the hands of fewer and fewer men. A government run by insiders served the privileged few and ignored everyone else. Men schemed for offices and officials lined their pockets at the public’s expense. He felt that the government had abandoned the principles of the Revolution and feared rise of an aristocratic class that served its own needs over the needs of the people. He believed that a permanent set of employees too often became entrenched and no longer responded to the needs of the people. He believed that any man with suitable skills should have a chance at such an office.

In another example, the Second Bank of the United States had been run by a board of directors with ties to industry and manufacturing, and therefore was biased toward the urban and industrial northern states. Jackson objected to the bank’s unusual political and economic power and to the lack of congressional oversight over its business dealings. To Jackson, the bank symbolized how a privileged class of businessmen oppressed the will of the common people of America. The battle to eliminate the Second Bank of the United States went on for the next three years. Finally Jackson felt he had received a mandate from the public to close the bank once and for all, despite Congress’ objections. On September 10, 1833, Jackson removed all federal funds from the Second Bank of the U.S., redistributing them to various state banks. In addition, he announced that deposits to the bank would not be accepted after October 1. Finally, Jackson had succeeded in destroying the bank; its charter officially expiring in 1836.

He greatly reduced patronage in federal agencies, He was a supporter of the common man, his approach upset the status quo, brought common voices into Washington, and outraged the elite establishment.

Jackson’s heritage is like a double-edged sword – he was a slave owner and supported slavery and was instrumental in the removal of Indian tribes from the East in the “Trail of Tears.” On the other hand, he maintained the union by fighting an early attempt by South Carolina to secede from the Union. He destroyed the hold “elites” had on the power in Washington. He balanced the U.S. budget and eliminated the national debt.

The Hermitage was the home to Jackson and his wife, Rachel. It began with a small two-story log cabin and evolved into the building it is today.

Jackson was not adverse to hard work and living within his means. He was a very hands-on manager of the Hermitage. Unfortunately, after his death, his son inherited the estate but was not a good manager and it was lost in bankruptcy. The Hermitage had lapsed into decay when a group of ladies in Nashville, Ladies’ Hermitage Association, took action to purchase the estate, restore it, and eventually turn it over to the State of Tennessee.

Today, the Hermitage is an excellent example of period architecture with much of the wall paper and furnishings being original. There are guided tours of the mansion and self-guided tours of the grounds. Volunteer docents in period attire are available in the mansion and on the grounds to add to the learning as you tour the estate.

Jackson’s Tomb. It is covered because it was recently vandalized and it being repaired.

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Hiking and White Water Rafting in the Smokey Mountains – May 2018

As we planned our route for leaving North Carolina we decided that we would stop and see some sights in Nashville. However, it was too far to drive in one day so we opted to stop for a couple of days at the Fox Fire Riverside Campground in Hartford, TN. Our only reason for stopping in Hartford was that it was about halfway to Nashville and we choose Fox Fire Riverside Campground because it was on a river. What a fortunate choice! Hartford is not much more than an intersection with a four-way stop, but is on the edge of the Great Smokey Mountains. It is also home to more than a dozen white water rafting operations.

We arrived on Thursday, May 3rd. After we settled in to a nice pull-thru site, we checked on rafting trips and found out that the next possibility was two days away, on Saturday. The level of the river is controlled by a hydro-electric dam and they normally released water from the dam on Tuesday through Thursday, and sometimes on Saturday. A release was scheduled for this Saturday.

We followed a link on Fox Fire’s web site to Smokey Mountain hiking trails and made plans to hike to Hen Wallow Falls the next day.  There was plenty of parking and a picnic area at the trailhead. The trail was well marked, although we did take a different trail for a short distance by accident (it pays to be alert!). Two point two miles up the trail we came to the falls. We had fun climbing on the boulders at the base of the falls and looking for a cave that was next to the falls. After relaxing and a snack we headed back down the mountain. It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm, but cool enough to be comfortable.

The next morning we checked on the rafting and found out they had a trip tentatively scheduled to leave at 1:00, but it was moved up to 11:00 because the dam would close off the water at noon. When we checked in we discovered we had a boat all to ourselves with our own personal guide. It was good that we had this personal service, but not so good because we had to paddle an eight-person raft by ourselves. Fortunately the river was running fast and we didn’t have to work too hard. Our guide, Randall (with his dog, Bluesy), was very experienced and gave us a great ride. I think he was happy to have two experienced paddlers for a crew. The ride was exciting and we were soaked by the end of the float – but what a fun time! I would gladly recommend Big Creek Expeditions to anyone looking for a professional experience on the Big Pigeon River.

In addition to hiking and white water rafting Hartford also has a winery (Goodwater Winery) and a legal moonshine distillery (Bootleggers).  We sampled both and bought some wine and moonshine to take with us.

A side benefit of staying at the Fox Fire RV Park was the annual gathering of the Coleman Collectors Group. If you ever owned a camp lantern or camp stove it’s a good bet that it was made by Coleman. The Coleman Company has been making outdoor equipment for decades, many military command posts in WW II were illuminated by Coleman lanterns and many field kitchens used Coleman stoves. Coleman products are known for being the best and longest lasting pieces of camping equipment. It was fascinating to me to walk around the various tents displaying Coleman products. One of the sad pieces of information I got was that a Coleman lantern I sold at a garage sale for $15 could have been sold on Ebay for around $100-$150! Oh well!

We did a lot in our two days, more than we thought we would do on what was to supposed to be just a stop-over. On Sunday, May 6th we headed west to Nashville and the Grand Old Opry.

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Camp Hosting in North Carolina – April 2018

As we returned to the Falls Lake State Recreation Area, we realized that this would be our fifth season serving as Camp Hosts in the Holly Point Campground. Our duties in the campground are very simple – clean our assigned bathrooms five days a week and be a role model for other campers. In addition we try to make sure the campers know we are available to help them if needed.

Our desire to be camp hosts was not driven by getting a free campsite in exchange for light work, but to be able to stay in the park for more than two weeks at a time. You see, North Carolina, like many other states limits stays in the park to fourteen days in a thirty-day period. Our daughter lived in Raleigh and we wanted to stay longer than fourteen days, hence our desire to be a camp host. Holly Point is a beautiful campground. The campsites at are roomy and wooded, giving each camper plenty of privacy, and many sites offer easy access to the lake. An added benefit was that it was early in the season and there was plenty of deadwood for campfires.

This year was a bit different as our daughter had made plans to move to Washington State. Most of our free time was spent helping her pack her household goods and other preparations for  moving. We celebrated Elisabeth’s birthday at the Brasa Brazilian Steakhouse – all the meat you could eat and we all took advantage of it! We celebrated Elisabeth’s birthday at a Brazilian steakhouse – all the meat you could eat and we all took advantage of it!

On April 13th Pat and Elisabeth left on their cross-country drive to the Tacoma area of Washington. I had the privilege to stay back and clean bathrooms by myself (sigh). As they drove away I was already looking forward to Pat’s return on April 23rd.

Camping in North Carolina in the spring brings some unique problems, the most severe (in my opinion) is the yellow pollen from the pine trees. The pollen doesn’t affect my allergies, but it is constant, and gets into everything. I can wash the truck and in an hour it was covered with a coating a pollen. This is our picnic table after ONE day!

In addition to our camp host duties, I hiked and kayaked in the area. Holly Point Campground is right on the shore of Falls Lakes – a reservoir created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a flood damage reduction project. The Corps of Engineers built the campground and then licensed it to the State of North Carolina to operate as a state park. Over the years I have found almost all of the nearby geocaches and this year I was able to find to remainder.

The Ranger staff presents programs throughout the camping season and I was able to attend one that was held at Holly Point on a “day in the life of a Ranger.” It was informative and well done. The kids attending really enjoyed trying on the various hats/helmets worn by Rangers in the performance of their duties.

Once Pat was back and the pollen had slackened, we spent time doing some work around the campsite, such as washing the trailer and waxing the front cap (makes it easier to clean the bugs off). My last goal was to find the last cache on the lake. The icing on the cake was watching an Osprey circling over us. Of course, this was the one time I was on the lake without a camera!

On May 3rd we pulled out of our site and headed west. Next stop – the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee.

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Where The Rubber Meets the Road, April 2018

When you are a full time RVer, tire problems can be more than an inconvenience, especially if it results in a blow out.

In November of 2013 we left Fort Benning, GA enroute to Pensacola, FL. As we were traveling down the road a semi tractor-trailer pulled alongside, tapped his horn and pointed at my trailer. I pulled into the next parking lot and discovered that my left rear trailer tire had a blowout. I suspect that I had driven about 10-12 miles with three wheels on the ground and was not aware of the problem. The shredding tire tore up some of the side and trim on the trailer, ripped out the wires to the trailer’s brakes and damaged one of the leveling jacks. By the time we were done with the repairs, the bill was over $8,000! Thank goodness for insurance.

Now, as always, I had checked the pressure on all four trailer tires and they were fine. I suspect I hit a small pothole that had caused the tire to lose air and with low pressure it overheated and blew out.

This was the beginning of my education on tires, but it was not the first issue we had with tires. When we bought our fifth wheel trailer it came with a brand of tire called “Duro.” It was a Load Range E tire and was, essentially, a piece of junk. Many RV manufacturers will mount a low cost tire on the RV and will often mount the lowest load range possible. The instructions for our Duro tires said they should be inflated to 80 PSI (Pounds per Square Inch), this also happened to be the maximum inflation pressure. I was uncomfortable with inflating the tire to the maximum but I naively figured “they know what they are doing.” On two separate occasions the Duro tires just lost air for no apparent reason and I replaced them with Goodyear Marathon tires (also a 10-ply, Load Range E). It was one of these Marathons that blew out in 2013.

While we were having the damage repaired on our trailer, I did some research. I discovered that the newer models of our same trailer were now being mounted with Goodyear G614 tires which is a 14-ply, Load Range G tire. I located a Goodyear dealer about a mile from the RV dealer doing the repairs and made arrangements to replace all four trailer tires. Now I have tires with a maximum inflation of 110 PSI that I inflate to 95 PSI.

One of the pieces of information you should know is the manufacture date of the tire. It is a 4-digit number – the first two digits are the week and the last two digits are the year. A tire with a manufacture date of 1413 was made in the fourteenth week of 2013. You should replace your tires at least every five years.

There is a lot of information on the sidewall of the tire.

So, the first thing you have to do is to make sure you have the right tires for your RV. Obviously in my case I was placing too much of a load on the Load Range E tires. In full disclosure I don’t get any compensation from Goodyear, but I would recommend the Goodyear G614 to anyone with a fifth wheel trailer.

Second, know to what pressure you should inflate your tires. All tire manufacturers provide a chart so you can determine how much pressure you need for the weight they will carry. The desired PSI is the PSI when the tire is cold. That does not mean that the tire has to be a specific temperature, just that the vehicle has not moved in the previous three hours.

Before you leave to travel to your next location you should check your tire pressure and the tightness of wheel lugs (yes, they can work themselves loose). Periodically, take time to visually inspect the tires. Check for tire wear. Between the treads are wear indicators and if these are level with the tread the tire must be replaced quickly, periodic inspections will let you catch this early. Also look for cracks in the sidewall and unusual wear patterns. In backing the trailer you sometimes cause the tires to move sideways, causing “scrubbing,” where one part of the edge of the tread is more worn than the rest of the tire.

Even if you check your tire inflation just before you leave how will you know if something happens while you are driving – like my blow out in 2013? This is where a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) comes into the picture. A TPMS consists of a set of sensors mounted inside the tire or on the valve stem and a monitor that is mounted on your vehicle dashboard. The sensor monitors the tire pressure and temperature. As a tire is driven on its temperature will increase, this is normal. When a tire has low pressure the sidewall flexes more than it should and the tire heats up abnormally until it blows out.We purchased the TST 507 from Truck Systems Technologies. It came with six sensors and a monitor. I mounted four sensors on the trailer tires and the remaining two on the inside dual rear wheels on our pickup truck. The monitor and the sensors communicate within their own wireless network. Some people have expressed a concern that the distance from the sensor to the monitor in the cab of the truck was too great. We have had no problem with the sensors transmitting from the rear axle on the trailer to the cab of the truck (approximately 36 feet). The staff at TST walked me through the set up to set the upper and lower limits for pressure and temperature.

No matter how carefully you check the tire pressure before you leave, a TPMS is critical for safety. In October of 2017 we were driving from Pigeon Forge, TN to Raleigh, NC when the alarm on our TPMS went off. I immediately pulled onto the shoulder and saw the TPMS was showing only 85 PSI on my left rear trailer tire. I checked it with a tire gauge and verified it was actually 85 PSI. I drove to the next drive into a service station and put on the spare tire. Later I was told that a weld on the rim had a crack in it and that was where it was leaking. It caused me about $150 to replace the rim and remount the tire, but it was much better than another $8,000 insurance claim. By the way, that tire showed 95 PSI before we left that morning.

Another factor is speed. You may be used to driving at the posted speed limits with your car or truck, but towing a trailer changes things. Most Special Trailer (ST) tires are only rated for 65 MPH, yet I will often see trailers smaller than mine (which means they probably have Load Range E ST tires) passing me doing at least 65 MPH or more. Driving at excessive speeds will cause your tires to overheat and fail.

Finally, when you are not driving you need to protect your tires from the sun. Ultraviolet rays will break down the material of the tire. Whenever I am stopped for more than one night I always put covers on the tires. If you are parked on concrete for extended periods of time you should put plywood sheets under the tires to prevent the concrete from drying out the tires.Your tires are literally “where the rubber meets the road,” you take care of them and they will take care of you.

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