Monday, June 30, 2014

Sweltering in the South and a visit to Astor

It is HOT, I mean really, really, really HOT.  Yesterday's heat index was 113 degrees inland and 108 on the coast. It is soupy and rainy and we are one month into Hurricane Season here in Florida.  Our first tropical activity is happening off shore but so far nothing predicted but more rain.  Florida is also the lightening capital of the US with storms occurring approximately 100 days out of the year.  The most dangerous area runs from St. Augustine (north) to Lake Okeechobee (south) and from east to west coasts according to the University of Florida.  Where do I live....yep, right about there.  Daily summertime showers are a fact of life in Florida and we rank number one in the number of deaths due to lightening, 94% of which occur between late May and the end of September.   Now you know why the snowbirds all go north around the end of May :-)

Visit to Astor, FL

Drawbridge over St. Johns River
Being too hot to do much else,  a friend and I met in the middle yesterday for a lunch along the St. Johns river.  The town of Astor is said to be "a quaint little Drinkin' Village with a Fishin' problem".  I didn't make that up, it came directly from the city's website. 

Located on the west side of the St. Johns River between Lake George and Lake Dexter, with a population of under 2,000.  In 1874, William Backhouse Astor, Jr. from New York's wealthy Astor family purchased over 12,000 acres, and established a town he called Manhattan. New settlers arrived by steamboat to the town which consisted of a church, schoolhouse, botanical garden, and free cemetery. William Astor also built a hotel, saw mill, and eventually a railroad. Over the next twenty years Astor saw his town grow, but the Manhattan name never caught on. When William Astor died in 1892, the town was officially renamed Astor in his honor.
Astor is directly off of SR40, the Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway.  There is hiking and biking, boating and fishing, and sightseeing.  We ate lunch at the Blackwater Inn on the river but opted for the inside view to beat the heat.
Our view through the window screen

Our waitress was very nice - entertaining, but nice!

Good lunch company

I don't know if Astor is famous for yard art, but they should be... there are two huge shops along the road with very unique "art".  There's also a Pioneer village that I'd like to visit one day, when the temperature is under 100 degrees!  So, if you need a life-size bear, or a 10' pink rooster, or a 15' T-Rex for your yard, let me know... I can hook you up!

T-rex, notice the people for scale.  Taken through the car window

Monday, June 23, 2014

Meeting the Sisters in Elkmont

A secondary reason for my visit to Elkmont Campground this month was an opportunity for a Sisters On The Fly event.

I originally joined this organization two years ago.  The vintage trailers and camaraderie appealed to me and I was looking for others who liked to camp.  After all, what is not to like about camping trailers, horses and fly fishing (although I've yet to attempt the latter)?

I've scheduled two or three trips over those two years but for one reason or another had cancelled every one of them.  I was determined to get in at least one trip this year before my membership expired yet again.

Wanting to see the fireflies in the Smokies, this seemed like the time to do it!  I signed up, convinced a camping friend to go with me to try it out, and away we went.

This is a HUGE event for SOTF with over 80 "sisters" attending from all across the country.  In that regard, it was hard to meet everyone.  There were several people there that I have met through T@B camping and rallies (the greatest bunch of people ever) and I tended to gravitate toward them.

There were several events that I didn't partake in - a fly fishing excursion and a trolley trip to Cades Cove.  Potlucks for breakfast and dinner and a ranger walk through what used to be the town of Elkmont were ones I did participate in.

I enjoyed meeting a few new people, and the "prom" (which was the one event I thought I'd pass on) turned out to be great fun watching everyone.  They truly do "have more fun than anyone"!

Would I go again -- maybe.  It was very scheduled and a little regimented for me, though I don't know how you would do it any differently with that many people and the organizers did a great job.  I think I'd like to try a smaller event where you have a better chance of getting to know people.   I did enjoy the women I met and seeing all the different trailers.  There were at least three vintage Airstreams that I didn't manage to get a picture of.  Here are just a few of the vintage campers that were there...

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Synchronizing in the Smokies

After a quick stop in Elko, GA for an overnight--
Does anyone know what these are?  We passed about 10 of them in a row...some type of converted school bus
A quick overnight in Elko - Twin Oaks is a small well-maintained campground we stop at on the way to Nashville.  At $19 (Passport America) it's a great quick stop right off I-75

we were on our way to the GSM National Park to see a phenomenon that occurs only there... the synchronization of thousands of fireflies.    We stayed at Elkmont Campground, in a site with a view that more than made up for having no services.
Our campsite at Elkmont

Room with a view - out the back window of Breezin'

My morning coffee spot!
 I added a second battery to Breezin' before we left and I was pleased that we made it 4 nights and still had most of our battery power left.  We were pretty conservative, using lanterns at night and it was cool enough we didn't need the overhead fan.

Thursday I took Grace and Dillon to a local boarding facility that had a fenced acre to run on, while a friend and I took an impromptu hike to Laurel Falls.  I would show you all the beautiful pictures we took at the falls but we didn't make it all the way there!  About a mile in (and the trail is only 1.3 miles long) the skies turned black and the thunder started to rumble and the lightening started.  Since we were hiking in shorts with no jackets or supplies at all (we hadn't planned on hiking) and I had my camera without a case of any kind, we turned around and headed back down to the car.  Can't believe I just admitted that :-)

Wildflowers along the trail
Early morning in the Smokies
Backpacking bear at NOC
Later in the day we took a quick trip into Gatlinburg, tourist mecca of the Smokies.  Not my kind of place, but we had a great burger and beer and there is a NOC Outdoor Store of Appalachian Trail fame,   which I had to visit (and spend a little money).

 Later that night, we walked to see the fireflies.  I wish I had the photographic skills to show them to you (I don't).  Instead I'll leave you with this link that tells more about it:  Synchronized Fireflies

I went with the idea that this would be nice to see, cute maybe.  I was wrong.  It was completely magical and something you should take the opportunity to see if you get the chance.  It only happens at the Elkmont area of the Smokies and only two weeks a year.  It was incredible!

The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful.  I had a book going to press (no, I'm not the author, just work for the publisher) so I spent a couple of days in Kinards, SC at a campground with 4 bars of 4G Verizon to get the final work on it done and then a night at the KOA just south of Savannah.  Would have loved to stay at Skidaway Island state park again but needed the stronger signal to finish up.

Back home in Florida....   ready to go again!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Goodbye Friend... Ruby has a new home

I know it's silly to be sad over an inanimate object, even one as cool as Ruby.  But it was bittersweet when she pulled out of the storage facility on the way to her new home this week.
Ruby the T@B parked at her new home!
When I moved to Florida, I thought I was done with camping...  I had just sold the farm and the horses; and the dually and horse trailer.

Big Bubba the truck and horse trailer
the barn
The farm house

 While I adjusted okay to not riding (I will always miss it), I had to have a way to get back outside. Enter the T@B trailer.  If I couldn't ride and camp, I could at least still camp!

We explored the Florida state parks, took in a rally, went back to Tennessee to visit family and even made our way to a couple of national parks.  I had a blast, I was back outside, I was hiking and camping and it made the move easier.

I loved the T@B, but with two big dogs I just needed a little bit more floor space.   So last fall I moved to the Airstream Sport.  Not much bigger, but just enough that I don't trip over the dogs trying to get to the door.  I love the airstream and I'm happy I made the switch, although I miss how easy the T@B was to manuever.  I've had to get better at lining up the hitch and I can't swing the 'stream around to capture the best view from the front door!  

Ruby has gone to a good home and it was time for someone else to enjoy her as much as I did.

Now, time to pack up Breezin' and get back on the road!