Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Journey Home

     On May 11, 2017, Big Red and his passengers pulled into the driveway at Chateaugay Lake, thus ending another chapter in our Going to See America 2017 saga.  We have been on the road nearly 7 months and driven Big Red about 9700 miles around America.
     But first I want to back up and tell the story of our journey home.  It took us 11 days to make the trip up the coast from Florida, which probably sounds a little ridiculous.  But we had to make a few planned stopovers along the way as I mentioned in the previous blog, so let's bring everyone up to date.
     In Gafney. SC, we had Big Red serviced at a Freightliner Service Center, which specialized in all makes and models of RV's.....as long as they were on a Freightliner Chassis.  We moved to the campsites at the service center on Thursday morning, as they expected to squeeze us in on either Thursday or Friday.  We set up camp and Debbie was just settling in for a long winters nap, when the call came right about lunchtime, to get ready to be moved into a service bay.  By about 4:30 PM, Big Red rolled out for a short test drive.  The service we had received was pretty thorough.  We went through a 40K mile checkup and everything on the chassis was checked from the front to the rear.  We enjoyed the hosptality of Freightliner for one more night, and returned to the Gaffney KOA for the weekend.  The weather window was closing all around us with storms to the west and north of us. So we took the opportunity to do a little more sightseeing in the Gaffney area and give the storms a chance to move on.    
      As we pulled out of Gaffney on the Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway , we soon stumbled onto Strawberry Hill USA, in Chesnee, SC.  If you're ever in this part of SC, this is a great stop for some very delicious homemade icecream.  The portions are huge, so just be careful of what you order.  The Cherokee Scenic Byway is a popular scenic byway in South Carolina, and runs through the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which were the ancestral home of the Cherokees.  I'll let you in on a little secret.  The ice cream was the highlight of the Scenic Byway.
We did locate a rather unique gristmill along the way though.  Over in Pickens,SC, we found a historic site which featured a restored gristmill, and ancient Indian Petroglyths in Haygood Mill.
       As you would imagine, the mill was pretty much the center of commerce back in the 1860's and 1870's, as area farmers brought their grains in from the fields.  In 1972, the restored mill was listed on the National Registrar of Historic Places.  Then is 2003, while doing some excavating work on a nearby road, workers discovered some prehistoric Native American carvings, known as petroglyths.
      This is the largest collection of petroglyths in SC, and the state has built a large building to protect these petroglyths from the elements. Scientists across the country are unable to provide explanations on what we are seeing here or what type of stories were being told.  Maybe someday they will come up with an answer.                                      
     The following day, we "moseyed" up into NC to visit the Carl Sandburg Home, which is owned and operated by the National Park Service, and is designated as a National Historic Site.  Carl Sandburg's wife Lillian, had discovered the farm named Connemara.
There is a little bit of history that goes along with Connemara.  The house was built by Christopher Memminger around 1838.  Memminger had served as Secretary of the Confederate Treasury from 1861-64.  Kind of unique to have the house purchased by the biographer of Abraham Lincoln.
     Sandburg was 67 and already a Pulitzer Prize winning author, when they purchased the farm in 1945.  Lillian had purchased the farm because it provided seclusion for Carl to work, but also there was ample pastureland for her to grow her Chikaming goat herd.  Lillian kept meticulous notes on each goat, and long after the herd had left Connemara, the NPS was able to locate direct decendants of Lillian's herd, and return them to the farm.  On the day we visited, a new addition was expected to arrive at any time.  
When the Sandburg's left Michigan and moved to Connemara, they brought along two daughters, 3 grandchildren, the Chikaming goat herd and over 15,000 books.  As we toured the house, each and every room had bookshelves, and old photographs showed magazines and books stacked to the ceilings.  The Sandburg's appeared to live a modest lifestyle, as evidenced by the orange crate used to hold the typewriter used by Carl.  Lillian and the girls spent their day tending to the prize winning goats and canning vegetables in the modest kitchen.  The day we toured, the contents of the house had been removed by the NPS for renovations, and the tour guide believed there were over 17,000 books put into storage,
       As Debbie and I walked the outbuilding on the farm, we found a 1962 Jeep in one.  It was the only thing on the farm that was registered in Carl Sandburg's name.  The tractor parked next to it, belonged to Lillian.
        The house appears to have been a warm and pleasant place.  Stories from the grandchildren tell of conversations around the dinner table, and singing or storytelling after dinner.  I think it would be fascinating to tour the house again when the books and furniture are returned after the renovations are complete.

      I am not familiar with any of Mr Sandburg's writings, which doesn't speak well of my schooling.  I'm going to have to remedy that at my earliest opportunity.  You just can't beat a great public library.  Mr. Sandburg died at Connemara on July 22, 1967.  The property was sold to the NPS in 1968.
     After departing Gaffney, we pushed Big Red toward Chateaugay, as I had an upcoming dentist appointment I needed to tend to.  The camp wintered well, and although we're a little cramped for space, Debbie is setting everything up nicely.  We've got the outside picked up, and Debbie has moved most of the provisions from Big Red into camp.  We had a nice dinner with Tony and MaryAnne on Sunday, and the next big event will be the arrival of Liam for a visit toward the end of June.  Oh yea, Ben and Joanne are coming too.
      We're looking forward to doing some traveling this summer as we put together our plans for next year's travels.  Spring has sprung up here, and the blackflies are loving it!  They'll be gone in a week or two, and then we get to look forward to the second hatch.  We hope everyone enjoys their summer and perhaps there will be a few more stories to tell. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Cowpens & Kings Mountain National Historic Sites,Gaffney, SC

     We came north from Florida with plans to stop in Gaffney, SC at the Freightliner Service Center and get Big Red serviced.  I generally get it serviced in Champlain, but we received glowing recommendations at the Tiffen Rally to come here.  We were unable to get a reservation with such short notice, so right now we're parked in their service area with 50 amp service, on a waiting list.  There are probably 10 other rigs parked here, and everyone is awaiting their turn.      The last 2 nights we stayed at the Spartenturg NE/Gaffney KOA here in town.  The KOA is a lovely park, nestled among  lots of tress providing wonderful shade from the afternoon sun.  It was a nice quiet park, with lots of open fields for people to excercise their dogs.  The front office ladies were quite friendly at check-in, and we noticed a very nice looking pool area, although we didn't check to pool temperature.
      In the immediate area, we found 2 National Battlefields which played significant roles in the Revolutionary War. The first battlefield we visited was Cowpens National Battlefield.  On January 17, 1781, Daniel Morgan led his army of Continentals and backwoods militia, against Banastre Tarleton's larger force of British regulars.  The militia's rifles were much more accurate than the British muskets, and the open area where the two armies met, known locally as the Cow Pens, proved much more advantageous to the militia.
      Morgan deployed his army in 3 lines, with the militia out front.  He asked them to fire 2 shots at the advancing British Army, then fall back to the next line of defence, approximately 90 yards away.  After they fired, they fled to the rear, and the British Army, anticipating a rout, charged headlong into the line of Continental regulars.  After firing their volleys, they also turned in retreat, but reloaded as they moved.  The British now sensed victory, and charged at the retreating militia.  Suddenly, Morgan turned his retreating line, and fired almost point blank into the British line.  In that confusion, the militia rejoined the fight along with Ferguson's Cavalry, and completely overwhelmed the British.  The battle lasted less than an hour, and British losses were staggering.  The Continentals captured over 600 prisoners, and the British Army suffered it's first defeat in their attempts to control the Carolinas and move into Virginia.
                                                                                       Next, we traveled about 20 miles, across the border into NC, and then back into SC, before arriving at Kings Mountain National Military Park.  In 1931, Congress finally gave this area and the men who fought here, the recognition they deserved.  In 1780, Britain continued it's brutal control over the Carolinas.  For the most part, Irish backwoodsmen living west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, had remained neutral in the fight.  But Major Patrick Ferguson, who was commading British Forces in North Carolina, issued a warning to these backwoodsmen, telling them to submit to British rule or be killed.  This enraged local militias, and they joined the fight, traveling east over the Blue Ridge Mts, and joining forces against the British.
     On Octorber 6, 1780, Ferguson moved his army of 1000 Loyalist militia and 100 British Provincials to the ridge on top of Kings Mountain, and waited for the backwoods militia. On October 7, 1780, nearly 900 of the militia's best riflemen arrived at the base of Kings Mountain, and closed in on Ferguson's forces.  Using guerilla style tactics, the militia used trees and rocks to cover their advance up the mountain.  Ferguson's forces were silhouetted against the sky on top of the ridge, and the marksmenship of the militia proved advantageous.  Twice Ferguson attempted a bayonet charge down the hill, but three times, the militia returned, and soon overran the hilltop.  Ferguson soon found his forces fighting back to back, completely surrounded and being massacered.
 In a little over an hour, the backwoods militia overtook the hill.  Ferguson was eventually killed as he attempted to flee on horseback. This decisive battle forced the British out of the Carolinas, and led to further Colonial victories in their fight for idependence.
     The battlefield remained unprotected until 1815, when a former Patriot doctor organized the first commemorative ceremony. After directing the cleanup of the site, which included reburying bones unearthed by years of erosion, a monument was dedicated to the Patriots killed in the fight, and to Major Ferguson.  In 1909, the Daughters of the American Revolution dedicated an 83 foot high monument.
     In 1930, President Hoover came to the site of the battle, along with 70,000 people, celebrating the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Kings Mountain.  In 1931, Congress established the Kings Mountain National Military Park.    
     Both of these parks feature beautiful Visitor Centers, which is a must to completely understand what was happening in the Revolutionary War, and more specifically on the battlefield.  They also both offer a walking path around the battlefield which allows visitors to view everything firsthand.  The walking trail at Kings Mountain rings the ridge where the battle was fought, and includes steep inclines.  Be sure to carry plenty of water for this 1.5 mile hike.
     I apologize for turning this into a history lesson, but these little known battles were important, and played a major role in pushing British forces out of the south.  And these sites are exactly what Debbie and i are searching for as we continue Going to See America 2017.
     Hopefully, our visit to the Service Center will move along, and we'll continue our journey north.  And hopefully, this nice warm weather will come with us!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Departing Hot Hot Florida!!

     It's the last day of April, and even though we had intended to remain another week, the weather is going to push us north.  Not bad weather!  Hot weather!  It's been 94 +- for the past few days, and even though the weather is questionable to the west and north of us, we just aren't capable of surviving in this heat.  Debbie was able to sum it up quite simply.  It's revese winter.....we stayed indoors from the cold up north in the winter, and Floridians stay indoors from the heat in the summer.
     We won't be heading straight home though.  We've got a stop planned in Gaffney, SC at the Freightliner Service Center.  We've heard that Freightliner does a great job servicing the motorhome's chassis, so we're gonna give it a shot.  We'll be on a waitlist, but perhaps we'll get lucky and someone will cancel.  We've got time to spare, and as Debbie says, "This isn't a vacation we're on.  It's a lifestyle."
     Our visit to Florida passed pretty quickly, and even though we repeated ourselves by returning to Sun-N-Fun, our exploits on the inter-coastal waterway made possible with our membership in Freedom Boat Club, has made this portion of our journey very enjoyable.  We especially enjoyed being able to use boats in numerous locations along the Gulf Coast including Sarasota, Bradenton, Venice, Pine Island, Punta Gorda, and Fort Myers.  Hard to say which one was the most enjoyable.  Each one presented separate and unique challenges to our boating skills.

     Debbie did a great job navigating the ICW, while I worked at keeping myself hydrated.  It's an awfully bright sun down here!  
The beaches along the ICW can be a little trickey to locate and navigate, but we managed to find a few nice spots to stop and enjoy.  We did discover that the big boats don't give a damn that you're a little boat, as they maneuver past us, kicking up some huge wakes.  Once we learned to get out of their way, it was a much nicer afternoon.  We didn't take the time to get our "open water" certification, which would open up the blue water to us.  But so far, we're quite content in cruising the ICW.  Babysteps first!  
     We both celebrated birthdays this month, and Debbie was successful in catching up with me, if only for a few days!  She does seem to get awfully excited when I break out into the lead again.   It's also a good thing neither of us had a birthday cake as I'm not sure the smoke detector could handle it!                                                                                 
      On the 17th, we fired up the GMG and we threw a rack of lamb on.  Debbie does her magic with the seasonings, and let them sit all day getting ready.  I set the grill for 500 degrees, and this is what we ended up with after 12 minutes each side!  They were so delicious!  

     As you can see, our activities the past month or so have been for the most part, focused on boating.   We found Turtles Restaurant down by ICW marker #48, in Little Sarasota Bay, by following a well marked channel into the boat dock.  Alongside us was a very lucky pontoon boat, who chose not to follow the channel and just cut across the bay.  He made it in just fine, but venturing outside of a marked channel is not the wisest thing to do.  The hamburger and salad we had was delicious, and the beer was cold.  There was also plenty of shade under the red umbrella, and we enjoyed watching the boats pull into the marina next door.
     We're anticipating a 2 week journey home, so you'll have to wait and see how we do.  Our friend Jeannie Harwell just posted some photos from Mooers which show the trees are just starting to bud up in Mooers.  The weather at Chateaugay Lake is about 2 weeks behind Mooers, therefore, according to our precise calculations, Spring should be arrive in about 2 weeks.  So, we're right on schedule.  I'm sure MAE will be excited to hear that we're on our way north.
      Liam will be coming to visit us in June, so we're pretty excited about that.  I haven't published a photo of Liam in a while, so I'll throw a few in.  He's becoming quite a handsome young man.
      Ben has taught him to throw kisses when they Facetime with Grammie, so he's becoming quite a suck up too!  Grammies always fall for that.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Visit to Tarpon Springs

     On Friday 4/7/17, we returned to Sarasota from the Okeechobee KOA near Lake Okeechobee,  where we attended our first Tiffin Rally.  We've attended a Good Sam and an FMCA Rally, and we had heard numerous good things about Tiffin Rallies.  Best of all, the 2018's would be there, and we would get our first glance at the new rigs.  The KOA was filled with about 300 Tiffin RV's featuring all years, makes, and models, and Bob Tiffin and the rally organizers did a great job at making us feel welcome.  Even Elvis showed up the last evening and put on a great show after dinner.  We survived a week of high 80's, high humidity, and an afternoon of tornado warnings, but it was nice to move back to Sarasota by weeks end.
     On Saturday, we packed up and headed over to Tarpon Springs.  I had been receiving some notices of a new RV park being built along the Gulf, and I wanted to check it out.

Tarpon Springs also has a historical downtown, which reflected the Greek culture that became so prominent in early Florida with the discovery of the sea sponges growing in the gulf.  
     The first settlers arrived in Tarpon Springs in 1876, and by 1890, the sponge industry was going strong.
 Immigrants from Greece brought their diving expertise to this country, and soon over 500 divers using rubberized suits and helmets were operating out of a fleet of 50 boats.   With the divers came their families, and Greek restaurants and bakeries now line Historic Downtown.  For 30 years, the sponge industry flourished, and was the largest industry in Florida, greater than tourism and citrus.  A blight in the 1940's decimated the sponge industry, and the area turned to the tourists.  In the 1980's, the industry revived after the discovery of new sponge beds, and the weekly auctions are again happening along the sponge docks.
     Downtown buildings are decorated with festive murals, all dedicated to the sponge diving industry, and a bronze statue on the waterfront commemorates the Tarpon Springs Sponge Exchange, incorporated in 1908, and still active today.  
     We had a delicious lunch of chicken and pork at Yiannis Greek Restaurant, and it included a wonderfully sweet dessert called baklava.  If you like sweet, you have to try it!  Debbie and I walked the shops and gazed into the bakery windows we found along the way.  Debbie laughed when a t-shirt clearly explained all she had experienced that day.  It said - I'm not hollering...I'm Greek!

     We even found one of our Freedom Boat Club franchises down at the waterfront, so it looks like we'll be returning up here to do a little boating.  Our next adventure is boating down at Pine Island on Tuesday, which will give us a look at some bigger water, and a chance for Debbie to experience her first "cheeseburger in paradise" out at Cabbage Key! 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Sarasota Adventures

     We've been in Sarasota (Florida) now for just over a month,and I've been totally negligent in my postings.  So today I'll try and catch up a bit.  We have settled in at Sun-N-Fun Resort in Sarasota which is conveniently located a short distance off of I-75.  Now if you've never driven I-75 during the snowbird season, you should buckle your seat belt nice and tight, and give it a try.  Debbie and I have decided that Florida has the most aggressive drivers in the country, which doesn't work well when you factor in road construction and traffic congestion.  Just because the speed limit is 70, doesn't mean that you get to go 70.....unless you're on I-75!  ZERO traffic enforcement means rodeo time on the interstates, mixed in with lots of down time as the authorities clear the wrecks from the highway.

     But I digress.... Roughing it Smoothly definitely describes our chosen lifestyle!  Debbie sets up a pretty comfortable campsite wherever we settle.  Our Vermont friends, Dean, Joanne, and Mrs B, joined us for some smoked corned beef as Debbie's latest gadget, the Instapot, turned out the the vegetables in about 20 minutes.
 The Green Mountain Grill came through with a tender corned beef which I smoked for about 6 hours.  I took this "before" picture when we started, but we moved right into the eating part when it came out.  Dean and Joanne stayed a few more weeks camped out here at Sun-N-Fun, but headed north to Vermont in early April.  Dean called recently and advised it was 34 degrees and snowing in Burlington, and there was no need to come north.  Debbie and I comfortably sat back, knowing we weren't headed north till early May.
      As Dean and Joanne continued with their healthy activities including pickle ball and bike riding, Debbie and I moved to our next adventure which features our favorite pastime....boating! Last year at the Sarasota Boat Show, Debbie and I joined the Freedom Boat Club, which has given us access to boating all along the coast of Florida, up eastern seaboard into Virginia, over into Michigan, and even Lake George.  

 It's just a quick drive from the Resort over to Marina Jack's at Sarasota Harbor, and we're soon out enjoying the Inter-Coastal in one of the variety of boats provided with our Freedom Boat Club membership.  We have to take a driver's test and get certified to venture out in the "blue water" and Debbie's not quite sure she want to do that yet.
 Tomorrow, we're going down to Pine Island and using a boat out of there, which will put us out in the inter-coastal with lots of water all around us.  We'll see how Debbie likes it.  We'll be in a 21' Key West, so I think we'll do just fine.  Debbie is the navigator, and these are some of the charts we use to navigate.  Not too confusing is it??  But once you've tried it, it really is quite easy.  When we return to the dock, we pay for the gas we used, and walk away.  Freedom Boat Club cleans and stores the boats, and makes them ready for the next member.

 As you can see, I get to drive when it's a go slow pontoon boat, while Debbie like to "see what she can do" on the open water!  And she's looking pretty radical keeping the hair our of her face!!  Now you might think that there's plenty of water all around, but with the tide comes varying water depths, so it's best to stay between the buoys.  Debbie's job is to work the charts and keep us there.  There are lots of restaurants, and beaches to pull into, and there's quite a party atmosphere out here on the weekends.  My next goal is to figure out this salt-water fishing.

  Of course, we also need to include a visit up to Gainesville for a visit with Aunt Anita.  She's pushing 92, and still managed to bake a cake for her "favorite nephew"!  We love visiting with her and hearing the stories of growing up in Corinth.

Her mind is as sharp as a whip, but the knees aren't as strong as they used to be.  She still manages to amaze us, and we can only hope to be as active as she is when we get that age.  How she managed to raise 9 kids and bake a cake every day is beyond me!
      We did a day trip up to Tarpon Springs yesterday, with a visit to Historic Tarpon Springs and the Sponge Exchange.  I'll pick that up in the next blog.  Right now, lunch and the pool is calling.  Stay safe everyone!