The Family

The Family
Airstream Weekend Warriors

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Roadside Stop in Berea

Berea College
Berea, Kentucky

     The one downside to traveling on weekends is that we are forced to take the interstates to reach our destination quickly. As you know, that is one of the worst ways to see the country. We find ourselves traveling on the same roads quite often. If we are heading south, we are going through Kentucky on I-71 or I-75. The same is true for northern trips to Michigan. Most trips east or west involve I-70. To escape the monotony and homogenization, we attempt to find someplace interesting to stop. With the Airstream we always have to consider parking. I thought I would start a little series on worthwhile roadside stops. Just a few miles from the interstate, there is a whole world out there.

     For my fist installment, I will highlight the small town of Berea, Kentucky.

    We picked up this Brawney Mountain Whisk hanging in our kitchen in Berea.

     Lucy helped me with a much needed Airstream bath.

     Melizza is also freshening the Airstream with some new pillows. We are looking at reupholstering the dinette cushions with a dark grey leather and perhaps a solar upgrade later this season.
Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Back To Basics

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Cades Cove Campground
Townsend, Tennessee
The Cades Cove Loop by Bike
Abrams Falls
     Summer is here. Early in the summer season, synchronous fireflies make an appearance in one small section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They appear near the Elkmont Campground on the Tennessee side of the park. The fireflies, or Photonus carolinus, synchronize their flashing patterns and no one really knows why. I am not a biologist but I suspect it has something to do with getting lucky. This bioluminescent display peaks for about two weeks in early June and is highly dependent on elevation, temperature and rainfall.

     I was lucky enough to score a reservation last year and observe the light show. This year we returned with two of our neighbors. Given the growing popularity of the spectacle and the limited access, I was able to secure only one campsite instead of the required three. This reservation became our golden ticket to view the fireflies. Without a campground reservation or one of the few National Park Service bus tickets, you are out of luck.
     I was able to reserve sites for the entire group at Cades Cove Campground. The two campgrounds are about twenty miles apart but the drive is a slow and winding following a stream. We made the drive on our first night and were treated to a magnificent display. I don't know exactly where the national park buses take the visitors but we knew a good spot from our experience last year. Our party was able to view the fireflies without much of a crowd. As darkness begins to cloak the area, the forest floor begins to light up. The ground was alive with pulsing yellow pulses of color for ten seconds and then everything stops. Another ten seconds passes and the illumination repeats. Periodically we move our chairs for a different perspective. One particularly fantastic display occurred in a small valley below us. There is no easy way to capture this experience on film.

     Staying at Cades Cove turned out to be a good thing. This was our first time staying hear and I must say that I prefer this campground to Elkmont because it provides easy access to the Cades Cove Loop Road. On Saturday morning, the eleven mile loop is closed to all but pedal bikes. The scenic grasslands surrounded by mountains are best experienced at a slow pace. The ride is much too strenuous for the little ones but we were able to follow a short loop through Cades Cove for about three miles. Without traffic, this place is paradise. With traffic, a common black bear siting can cause a traffic jam on this one lane road. We did spot a coyote near the campground and one black bear in the meadow but the animals remained largely hidden from us.

     The campground is shaded by large trees. You can rent bikes if you did not bring your own. Our campsite was near Abrams Creek. The kids spent hours playing on the ancient boulders and running through the cool mountain runoff. The soothing sounds of moving water added to the ambiance.

     Beyond our visit to Elkmont on Friday, we never left Cades Cove. We just enjoyed breakfast cooked outside, lots of laughter, hiking to waterfalls, and a campfire by night. This trip was a great reminder of why we like to camp. We had no electronic devices to distract us. Even the teenagers enjoyed being unplugged from the noise of everyday life. Cades Cove campground is a sanctuary from the world. We just relaxed for the weekend in our quiet corner of the ancient mountains until it was time to pack up and get back to the grind.

     Here are a couple of shots from our hike to Abrams Falls.

    After returning home, we learned that an Ohio teen had been attacked by a black bear on the other side of the park. He was camping in the back country and pulled and dragged from his hammock by a black bear. He was airlifted to a hospital in Asheville, North Carolina and is in stable condition. He was apparently following all of the rules although he might have eaten pungent Indian food earlier that day. It is a reminder that this is still a wild place and that black bears are unpredictable.  

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Memorial Day In Charleston

James Island County Park
Charleston, South Carolina

    What do you do after a big win? You go to the beach of course. Melizza and I decided to make last minute beach reservations for Memorial Day once we knew Jack was advancing to the Global Destination Imagination Finals. Since it was so close to the holiday weekend, we had to scramble. The Gulf Coast of Florida is our preferred destination. The beaches are second to none but our favorites in Grayton Beach and St. Joseph Peninsula were fully booked. We were able to cobble together one night in a private park and a couple in Henderson Beach State Park. Destin is a little too crazy for us but we'll take it in a pinch. The James Island campground near Charleston, South Carolina was an easier reservation to secure. We double booked Florida and South Carolina and that turned out to be wise decision since the weather in Florida was looking bad. We opted for Charleston. It is usually easy and cheap to cancel a campground reservation.

     The James Island campground is the only game in town for Charleston. It is conveniently located about ten minutes from downtown and ten minutes without traffic from Folly Beach. James Island is a county park but has a resorty feel to it. It is well manicured with dog parks, a water park, golf courses, climbing walls and various other diversions. We chose it for the proximity to the beach and Charleston proper. Our site was next to the game room with Ping Pong and Foosball. Sometimes the simple things are such a hit with the kids.

James Island County Park

The signature Spanish Moss
     This was a last minute booking so we missed out on a few things. Our arrival was on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. That meant booking a top restaurant like FIG, Hominy Grill or Husk would be difficult. Also, most of the seafood stores were just about sold out for the holiday weekend. My biggest disappointment was the Bowen's Island Restaurant was closed on the days we were in town. I definitely want to check that out on a future visit. We made the best of our short time in this gem of an area.

    Our first stop was to the beach on ritzy Kiawah Island. They have a public beach that allows dogs. Whenever we can bring Maggie to the beach, that is a win for us. I hate to leave her behind. The South Carolina beaches are distinctive with dark hard packed sand. They are also very wide at low tide with a distinctive smell that I remember from my childhood. The salt marshes of the Low Country have a unique look and feel. Just read any book by Pat Conroy and you will understand the allure of this region.

     Charleston is a charming city. It is home to some of the best architecture in the southern United States. The homes south of Broad Street are owned by families that can trace their heritage back to boats that arrived from Europe. This is as old money as it gets. Charleston is also home to some of the best restaurants in the south. You cannot find a greater concentration of excellent dining options like this in the south outside of New Orleans. We just strolled through the streets and soaked in the charming architecture with stately homes, courtyards and grand churches with soaring steeples.

     There is another side to Charleston as well. There are those who arrived on a different sort of boat. We visited the Boone Hall plantation. This cotton plantation has preserved rows of slave houses and is now a major tourist attraction. The charming oak lined entry and bucolic setting hide the horrors that occurred here. The Afro Caribbean Gullah culture is as big a part of the Low Country as the European component. The concept of slavery is still strange to Lucy but it is an essential part of her education to understand our history. The big money crop in South Carolina was rice but this plantation was too close to salt water for rice cultivation. This beautifully maintained plantation is an popular attraction in Charleston for good reason.

The Cotton Gin House
The distinctive Spanish Moss hanging from the live oak is blowing gently in the breeze 

     How could I visit the Low Country without sampling some seafood? The oysters are not in season yet but I did pick up a bag of Virginia oysters to shuck. The wild peel and eat shrimp from the Atlantic coast is second to none and we definitely had our share. We also picked up a couple of slices of the famous Coconut Cake from the Peninsula Grill.

     After a couple of short days, it was time to head back home to finish the school year. All my kids are transitioning to new schools next year. Jack will be moving to high school. Ethan will be in middle school and Lucy is moving into second grade. 

    We made a quick stop in the River Arts District in Asheville for a lunch a meetup with my baby sister. Add White Duck Taco to the long list of superb dining options in Asheville. We will be visiting Western North Carolina a couple times this season and I look forward to that.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Dry Camping On A Parking Garage

Knoxville Civic Auditorium Parking Garage
Knoxville, Tennessee

    In our six years of Airstream ownership, we have slept everywhere from Wal-Mart parking lots to full hookup campgrounds near the ocean. Our dry camping experience in Knoxville was a new one for us however. We camped on top of a parking garage in Knoxville, Tennessee and it was awesome. It was not the rooftop at the Four Seasons but we loved it.

Lucy was picked up early from school in style so we could hit the road
Ethan was able to bounce the ball to his hearts content and not bother anyone.
     Jack and his Destination Imagination team travelled to Knoxville for the Global Finals for the third time. This tournament brings 1,468 teams from around the United States and the world to compete in STEM, fine arts, engineering and performance challenges. The students are required to write, perform, make their own costumes and produce sets. The students must use creative thinking ti meet all the elements of challenge that they work on for months. This program encourages independent thinking, improvisation, engineering and performance. The annual tournament takes place on the University of Tennessee campus and at the World's Fair Park. It attracts close to 10,000 people. All of the dorms and hotel rooms in Knoxville fill up during this event. We decided to turn our visit to Knoxville into an Airstream trip like last year. However, we wanted to stay closer to Knoxville proper this time instead of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Cades Cove is great but it is too far away and we are returning in a couple of weeks with friends. We had to get creative just like the kids that won state and, in some cases, national tournaments to qualify for this event. I found a parking garage that allows RV camping by the Knoxville Civic Auditorium and Coliseum. The garage is minutes from downtown and the campus.

The Troutstream as seen from the Knoxville Marriott
    We had the entire top of the garage to ourselves. They offer full hookups but we opted for dry camping since we were only in town for two nights. They charge $25 for no hookups and $50 for hookups. That is steep but suited our needs perfectly. We were able to walk across a pedestrian bridge and swim at the Marriott. We were just a five minute drive from the chaos of the tournament . We loved our concrete oasis.

     This location allowed Jack to have his space with his team and also allow Lucy and Ethan to join in on the fun like outdoor movie night and pin trading. Teams come to this tournament from all over the country and the world. Each region produces local pins and the kids trade with each other all over Knoxville. It is quite the enterprise and the kids get way into it. Ethan and Lucy are shrewd negotiators. That is a skill that will serve them well in life.

     The icing on the cake was that Jack's team won the Global Tournament beating out seventy teams from the United States and Asia. They beat the South Korean team by two points in the Science competition. Their challenge was called Making Waves. I am so proud of him for all the hard work and determination. We are proud of the fine young man he is becoming. The entire family celebrated this achievement with Jack. Ethan's team coached by yours truly, made it to the Ohio state finals but fell a bit short and did not make it to Globals. Ethan definitely wants to follow in his big brother's footsteps and make it here someday. At least we know where to stay if we return.

Jack played the role of a mad king

They had to visually represent waves and demonstrate increased frequency

Closing Ceremony 

Jack enjoying the moment
     After the win, it was time to celebrate!!!!