2011-08-13 Trip -from- Atl, GA -to- Ellijay, Asheville and Cherokee

(Note: I used a pre-coded template for my wordpress posts. The type is small for me and it may be small for you. It is easy to get the type larger – just press the <Ctrl> key and the <+> key at the same time.  To undo the larger type, press the <Ctrl> key and the <-> key at the same time.)

2011-08-13 Saturday  I went to a car club meeting at Vogel State Park for lunch and afterward, drove to Ellijay to meet with Karen.  Karen and I planned a ‘road-trip’ to Asheville and Cherokee, NC. We planned to be flexible in plans and to ‘wander-around’.  We had planned to stay in Ellijay on Saturday and Sunday nights, and drive to Asheville on Monday morning. There is a Wal-Mart in Ellijay, and we shopped for food and last minute items to take on Sunday afternoon. We did pretty well with getting our plans together and executing them.

While in Ellijay, Karen and I sat in an area with dead pine needles and leaves as the floor of the area that had the chairs. Somewhere during the stay, I received about 20 bug bites – not mosquitoes, but some kind of bug similar to a “Chigger” (or red bug). I started itching at night and had a difficult time for a couple of days. I had some alcohol and used a pad to dab the liquid onto the bug bites. The coolness of the alcohol helped the itching some, but I had to dab the bites pretty often. It was a pain that was inconvenient for me. Karen also had some ‘bug-bite’ itch reliever that helped some. After several days of dabbing the alcohol and rolling on insect-bite itch reliever, the bug bites finally became a smaller red bump on my skin and the itching stopped. I had scratched some of them and the scabs remained for a couple of weeks. UG!

On Monday, we drove to Asheville and took the ‘scenic route’ from Ellijay.  It felt really great to be ‘on the road’ and seeing things that I haven’t had an opportunity to see in many years. Just seeing the mountains and the blue haze over them was wonderful. Just driving and seeing the small towns on the route that I’ve never seen before – or it’s been so long that I don’t remember seeing them, was wonderful. I’ve heard of Murphy, but – I don’t remember ever driving through it before.

2011-08-15_NCWaynesville,RestArea_PleasureWay,VannaWhite
2011-08-15_NCWaynesville,RestArea_PleasureWay,VannaWhite

We stopped at a rest area and ate a sandwich and a brownie. Then, we continued to the East Mills area of Asheville. Karen had directions to a National Forest camping area and our first priority was to ‘get-settled’. We found the area without any problem and Karen asked the camp host a few questions. It was late afternoon and we drove about 4 miles down a gravel road to a campsite. It had a creek nearby and was very satisfactory for what we needed. We discussed what to eat and decided to eat separately as it was getting dark and we needed to get ready for the night. It gets really dark under the trees and you have to have all the flashlights and other lights ready for when the sun goes down.

I turned on my ‘reading light’ and read some of the brochures that we had picked up at the rest stop visitors center. Our plans were to go to the Biltmore House and Gardens in the morning. After I turned off the light and got into bed, I didn’t have any problem falling asleep and was suddenly woken-up by a close-by noise. I couldn’t tell where the noise came from – I was half-asleep when it occurred and I just knew that it was a noise and close. I sat on the side of my bed with my first thought being that a bear was nearby.  (The Forest Service cautions everyone who camps in their jurisdiction, that you have to put ALL food inside cars at night.) It was so dark that you couldn’t see anything and I stayed quiet to listen for additional noises. After a few minutes, some ice in the cooler made a sound and I realized, the noise that woke me up was some ice had melted and shifted inside the cooler. Whew! No bear.      Back to sleep.

In the morning, Karen and I left the campsite in my van and returned to civilization. I say that because when you are in the National Forest, cell phone service is unavailable. As we travelled on the road, Karen’s cell phone detected an available signal and made a noise that she had a voice message. She listened to it and quickly determined that there was an emergency at her house in Atlanta, and she had to return immediately. I drove us back to our campsite, she packed up her van and we left.

I decided to stay in the area and she had suggested that I travel to Lake Powhatan. I did and – since I didn’t have a Senior Citizen discount, I drove to Davidson River to get one. (It’s about 30 miles away.) I waited at the Ranger Station for an hour and the only ranger who could issue the card, was expected to return but didn’t. The duty ranger called the Discovery Center at 4pm for me to ask if there were an available ranger there who could issue the card (before closing at 5pm).  They said ‘yes’, so I drove through the Pisgah Forest  (that contains many beautiful waterfalls and sliding rocks) to the Discovery Center. As I arrived, it was near their closing time and I had to go around a closing gate and explain to an entrance ranger that the duty ranger from Davidson River had called ahead for me and that I would only be inside for a few minutes. Inside the Discovery Center, four rangers were completing their day and the one who can issue the card was expecting me. In a couple of minutes, he completed his end-of-day work and asked me for my drivers license and $10. I gave them to him, he completed his paperwork for the discount (I was surprised at how ‘easy’ it was to get the card once you find the right ranger) and I returned to the Davidson River National Park campground. I used my discount immediately for staying overnight in the campground – in all National Parks, with the discount, the nightly fee is $10. (This is the best deal in America.)

Wednesday morning, I decided to go to the Biltmore House and be a tourist. I stopped at a fast-food restaurant on the way and got there about 1pm. The entrance fee was $54 per person and since half of the day was behind me, I decided not to visit today. If Karen and I had gotten there on Tuesday as planned, I could have gotten a $20 discount. I will try to return on another Tuesday and get the discount. I saw a four minute film about the house and gardens, and I had visited it about 20 years ago. So, I returned to the Mills River area and stayed again at the campground. Late evening, I went for a wonderful walk along the riverbank. Several people were wading in the river and I just enjoyed the walk and watching them.

Thursday morning, I wanted to use the internet to look up some information and after much effort, I found a library in Mills River. The GPS gave me the location of the library and I couldn’t find it after riding around the location several times. I asked a local person about it and she said that the library had recently moved. She gave me the directions to the new location and there were highway signs for the library in an industrial area. I kept looking for it and turned around several times. Out of desperation, and not wanting to quit because I knew that I had to be close, I drove down a gravel road between industrial buildings and past a corn field. I found a packing house with a large driveway at the edge of the corn field and was going to use the driveway to turn around and ‘give-up’ when I saw a sign for the new town hall and library down another dirt road and past another corn field. I had found it – a nice, new brick building. (Some politician must have made a good deal on the land.) I went inside and asked if they had wireless internet. They said ‘yes’, so I parked the van near the window of the library and tried to access it. The internet service was locked, so I returned inside and gave them my drivers license and received an id and password for access at one of their terminals. I sent a message to the vandweller group asking for someone to call me and let me know if there were around. I sent an email to my son and my brother and let them know that I was in the Asheville area.

I decided to go to Knoxville since it was near to the camping area for the vandweller group, and if they called, I could join them. I hadn’t visted Dollywood before and stopped at an exit near the theme park for information. I picked up many brochures about the area and the host said that a nearby restaurant was a ‘local-type’. I was hungry, so I went to the restaurant (about 6 miles away from the interstate exit) – and I was truly amazed. What used to be a small town has evolved into a huge tourist area. I found the restaurant, and it wasn’t a chain, but it wasn’t exactly ‘local’ either. It was a commercial, tourist hamburger, french-fries type place that had institutional food that wasn’t impressive. I asked for ‘chicken pot-pie’ and it was rich and creamy, but it had too much salt and kept me thirsty for days. I decided that I wasn’t going to ‘eat-out’ much in the future. It cost too much and had too much salt. I asked the waitress, what theater show she would see if she went out and she told me the ‘Miracle’. I had passed it on the way to the restaurant so I returned to the box office and saw that show that night. For a long time, I had read of Branson, Missouri and all the theater shows that play there. I’ve wanted to go there just to see a show – so, here I was, in Sevierville, Tennessee where there were many tourist attractions and shows.

2011-08-17_NCSevierville,TouristArea-HappyDaysRestaurant-ElvisPressleyStatue&VannaWhite
2011-08-17_NCSevierville,TouristArea-HappyDaysRestaurant-ElvisPressleyStatue&VannaWhite

I enjoyed the show but was disappointed that the crowd was so small. The waitress had told me that the show had been playing for a while and was due to stop playing soon. They planned to replace it with another one – so, the last days are near. At the show intermission, there was an advertisement that you could present your show ticket to the box office and see another show for only about $20 more. After the show, I returned to the box office and got a ticket for the next night to “Hatfields and McCoys” in a theater a few yards away.

The next day, I found a local park and decided to read a book that I had started a few weeks ago. It was a beautiful day, but in the middle afternoon – it was HOT. I thought that the mountain area was cooler – but, the weather has been so hot, it’s hard to get away from it anywhere. I was glad to have the time to be in the area and did some riding around to see more of what the area was like. It was just nice to ‘get out’ and see things that I hadn’t seen in years, or didn’t know was there (like all the tourist attractions in Sevierville and Pigeon Forge). I rode past the Dollywood road that

goes to the theme park and all of the businesses that are similar to what is found in the Orlando area near Disney World.

I just enjoyed seeing what was there. There was highway lane-widening from the interstate to the Sevierville town limit. Inside the populated areas, I saw that there were shuttle services to handle the crowds and help people avoid parking. I was surprised to see the build-up of condos and hotels. At night, I went to the “Hatfield and McCoy’s” show. It was entertaining and the crowd was larger. I didn’t realize that it was a dinner-theater so I had eaten a small hamburger before driving to the theater. I filled up with the food quickly. The server was nice and gave me an extra serving of chocolate pudding for ‘later’. He was nice, but very busy getting and cleaning dishes from all the tables in his area.    Before the show, I had spent some time looking at maps and I had not received a call from the vandwellers, so I decided to drive to Gatlinburg and through the Smokey Mountains to Cherokee tomorrow.

I had seen maps of the drive through the mountains, but – I couldn’t really decide how many miles the drive entailed. I wasn’t sure that the GPS miles were ‘real’ or ‘satellite’ (or as-the-crow-flies). As I drove, I remembered how my mother used to take my brother, my grandmother and me (about 10 years old) to Cherokee and the mountains. My older brother would tease me that we were driving so high, that we were in-a-cloud. I remember him talking about being in the cloud and opening the window. Unknowing to me, he put his hand in the ice cooler and got it wet, then put it outside the window and when he showed me that it was wet, I believed him (that we were indeed, in a cloud).

My ears popped as the altitude changed. I watched the GPS and the elevation was 3000 feet in some parts of the drive. The first hour was an up-up-up climb and a few hairpin turns. Along the way, there was some construction on the road edge. The crews had a machine and was lifting heavy stone blocks to the edge to keep cars from running over the side of the cliff. There were a good many cars on the road – it was two-lane and no-one could pass.

After the up-up-up drive came the highest point and the down-down-down drive. The cars in front of me were going at a good speed, but the whole line were pressing the brake pedal often. Near the end of the drive, I could smell hot-brake smoke as I had my window open. I had put the van into second gear for most of the drive and the rpm of the engine had reached 3000, but I was able to slow the speed without using brakes. (Upon reflection, when I bought the van eight months ago, the salesman told me to use Overdrive, a button on the gear shift know. I had never really realized what the Overdrive was for, but he told me it was for when I am in the mountains.)

When I was about 10, my other brother and I were in the car with my mother and grandmother. We were on our way to Gatlinburg from Cherokee on the same highway and traffic was bumper-to-bumper. It was fall and mother wanted to see the changing of the leaves – as did many other people. Anyway, she pushed the brakes so much, they overheated and failed. She paniced and thought that we were surely going over the cliff because she couldn’t stop the car. My brother had been taking driving lessons and told her to put on the emergency brake. In her panic, she had forgotten about it and she used it to stop the car. I was too young to remember, but I do know that the brakes were not able to be used anymore and we sat on the side of the road until a ranger came. Someone said later and this is another part of the story that I don’t remember, that the ranger took us to a place to stay and a mechanic was called. He must have towed the car to a shop and ordered parts. We were at the cabin for a week while the parts were received and installed. (I do remember my mother saying how much that ranger helped us and that she doesn’t know what we would have done without his help.) After that, my mother never took us to the mountains again, (we went on vacation to Florida) until I was a freshman in college and Dad drove. I guess that Dad told her later about using the second gear for slowing speed. He was a truck-driver and maybe presumed that everyone knew how to drive in the mountains.

Later, when I learned to drive – someone told me to ‘gear-down’ several times so that it stuck and I knew to do it. There are signs on the road about using gears instead of brakes, but – I’m not sure that everyone knows to do it. (Maybe they have learned to use the overdrive transmission button as they travel more in the mountains than I do.)

As I neared Cherokee, I saw a sign for camping and stopped at the Smokemount campground. I used my discount again and enjoyed walking around the area to get some exercise.

2011-08-19_NCCherokee,SmokemountCamping-VannaWhite
2011-08-19_NCCherokee,SmokemountCamping-VannaWhite

The next morning, I went through Cherokee and wanted to see the casino additions. In Atlanta, there are many tv advertisements about Harrah’s Casino and Paula Deen’s new restaurant. I saw the casino new parking deck and, I wanted to see what views the parking deck offered from the top. After getting there, I tried to get wi-fi internet and was happy to succeed for a few minutes. I looked up the casino and hotel and saw where Chubby Checker was in the theater that night. The tickets were only about $20, so I decided to see if any were available.  The top of the parking deck was getting HOT, so – I decided to ‘walk around’ the casino. It was cool and there were many people playing the slot machines. I noticed that there was a ‘non-smoking’ section for gambling.  There was some remodeling at the top of the entrance to the casino from the hotel. I wanted to see What Paula Deen’s restaurant looked like, so I went there an viewed the menu (and prices). I rambled through a couple of shops selling clothing and other tourist items. I decided to return to the van and moved it to the parking deck floor below the top (but, with a view of the hotel because the previous wi-fi internet access connected to ‘hotel guest rooms’).

I got out the laptop and – What? no connection! I need a room number and password to connect – bummer! How did I connect an hour ago? I don’t know – but the wi-fi wouldn’t work now. I returned to the casino, got a hot dog, went to the ticket office for events and bought a ticket to the show at 7:30. I had some time to kill, so I went to customer service to have my Harrah’s customer-access-card activated. I returned to the ‘non-smoking’ area of the casino and found a $.02 machine.

I put $5 gambling/entertainment money into the machine and proceeded to ‘try-my-luck’. I wasn’t very lucky – I played one-line, one-bet until the $5 was gone/used-up/lost-it-all. I found an empty machine near the entrance to the event area and waited for the doors to open. I enjoyed watching a group of five people come in, find machines near me empty – and proceed to do as I did. {I.E., loose money.}  They played three-lines three-times-the-machine-base and their money disappeared faster than mine did. For your money, you get the opportunity to push a button with the word “SPIN” on it, and listen to generated sounds of an old-type mechanical machine turn. In addition, you get to see all of the lights flashing – isn’t that a wonderful value for your money? (I think ‘NOT’!)

Inside the event center, I was in the balcony and had an interesting conversation with a couple of people on the row. They live in NC and come occasionally to the casino. They are not gamblers, but do play a little – because they can. The man just retired a few weeks ago and said that he is still ‘adjusting’. I told them that I retired about seven months ago and wanted to travel. I agreed that the ‘new life’ requires many adjustments. The show was a little late starting and Chubby Checker started with a song melody. I didn’t know some of his ‘deep-cut’ songs – but, as all performers do, he sang his popular songs and the crowd seemed to appreciate them. Many times during the show, he invited audience members to the stage to dance-with-him or show-their-moves. He entertained the crowd, but – it was not a type of show that is performed in Atlanta. The big-time shows that I’ve attended were much more energetic and never involved anyone from the audience. He told his birth-date in one of his monologues and we determined that he’s 70. As I left the show and waited on the escalator, another person and I discussed the show. A man said that he’s 70 and I thought – for being seventy years old, he’s doing well (but, we both agreed – there is no doubt – he’s dying his hair – there wasn’t any grey).

2011-08-20_NCCherokee,Harrah'sParkingDeck-and-VannaWhite
2011-08-20_NCCherokee,Harrah’sParkingDeck-and-VannaWhite

I stayed at the Cherokee Campground and asked the host for a breakfast restaurant recommendation. She said ‘Peter’s Pancakes’ and I got directions there. I had a wonderful multi-grain pancake with blueberry syrup. Apparently, it is a place that many locals visit. I hadn’t heard from any vandwellers, but couldn’t find any wi-fi internet. I travelled again to a library and found the wi-fi locked. It wasn’t open so I visited a local flea market and decided to return home. I really enjoyed looking through the items on sale at the flea market. I live in Atlanta and there are NO flea markets around the city. I noticed that some of the items on sale could be found in Atlanta stores for less cost. The only thing that I bought was a used book about the Jon Benet family. By the end of the trip, I had lost track of the day and date, so I didn’t put the time on all of the previous paragraph entries.

2011-08-21_NCCherokee,CampgroundOffice
2011-08-21_NCCherokee,CampgroundOffice

Note – after getting on the internet at home, I found out that the vandwellers couldn’t get cell service from their location. I tried several times to get internet access and wasn’t successful – so, I couldn’t see the notices that they put on the web for me. I hope that I will be able to catch-up with them again in the future. Now, I’m home again and back into my cycle of paying-bills and reading emails. It’s still HOT in Atlanta. Since it’s mid-August, there is hope that the weather will cool some soon.

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((My Dad has a nickname for me and it is “Puddin”. He started calling me that when I was very young. I named my van, “Vanna White”. When I decided to start a blog, I wanted a unique name for my travels and the names “Puddin” and “Vanna White” came to mind.))

2011-08-09 Reflections on Vandwellers GA-GTG

<<Note: To make the type look LARGER, press the keyboard <Ctrl> Key and the <+> Key (above the equal “+” sign) at the same time. To make the type look SMALLER, press the keyboard <Ctrl> Key and the <-> Key (minus sign) at the same time.>>

I previously posted and included a photo of my lanyard and beads gathered from the Georgia GetToGether of last week. Well, after thinking about the newly acquired lanyard, I had a past-regression memory of my previous lanyard that I used at the job.

I just retired from working many years with several major corporations. The adjustment has been as difficult as when my children grew up and left home and I had ‘empty-nest-syndrome‘. I don’t know what you call the syndrome that I now have – it’s just a plain adjustment to “having a lot of time on my hands“.  Anyway, many years ago in my first job, when I got to work, I simply entered the a building. Of course, the building was locked at night, but open to employees and everyone during the day.  Over time, more security became necessary and functional areas were locked in the building interior and if you worked in that area, you received a key. If you were part of the employees of the company and you wanted to enter the locked area, you knocked and someone would let you in. It was a pain of an adjustment.

Fast forward to years passing and when I began working in downtown Atlanta. Corporate badges with your picture on it became ‘the fashion’.  You were required to wear your employee badge inside the building. You had a badge for entry into your work area.  In effect, the employee badge was separate from your door entry badge.  Of course, things changed and your picture-employee badge merged with the magnetic-code door-entry badge and life became ‘easier’.   Well, when I retired, I had a badge with a plastic protector (for the combination employee picture and entry code) and the corporate lanyard was a neck strap made with of cloth. (It was wider and longer than a shoelace.)  Below is a comparison of the new vandweller lanyard and the former corporate lanyard.  (Employees were given push-on pins for achievement and for their yearly participation in the United Way corporate donations. For the holiday season, we were given ‘buttons’ for that particular year and were strongly encouraged to wear the button on the lanyard with our badge for all meetings during that season. After a while, the lanyard-pin-button-badge combination became heavy.) <Note: The writing on the black lanyard cloth is “FSG”. I started with the company when that name was used. That name was replaced with another, but I kept the old black, cloth lanyard for the memories.>

2011-08-08_GAAtlanta_BeadLanyard-andCorporateLanyard
2011-08-08_GAAtlanta_BeadLanyard-andCorporateLanyard
2011-08-08_GAAtlanta,CorporateLanyard(Close-Up)
2011-08-08_GAAtlanta,CorporateLanyard(Close-Up)

2011-08-08 GA,Atlanta – Addendum to Vandwellers GA-GTG

<<Note: To make the type look LARGER, press the keyboard <Ctrl> Key and the <+> Key (above the equal “+” sign) at the same time. To make the type look SMALLER, press the keyboard <Ctrl> Key and the <-> Key (minus sign) at the same time.>>

If you had the strength to follow ALL of the previous post, you may remember me posting pictures and telling about the trauma of the front passenger NAIL in my tire.  Well, I had several people tell me that keeping a plug in the tire was OK for a while, some said that it was OK forever (until a new tire is required), and my older son and others tell me to get a patch. I’ve been to a local tire store many times and they always treat me very well, so – in the sake of  “safety”, I returned to Discount Tire and requested that they put a patch on the location where I had a plug.  Once again, they were very kind and accomodating and told me that it would be about an hour wait.  I began reading the newspaper and they fixed it for me. I asked how much I owed them at the end, and I was told $0.  I hadn’t bought the tire from then and, of course, I didn’t have any ‘road hazard insurance’ on it. (I think that insurance actually replaces the tire if it is cut.) Anyway –  I couldn’t believe it – I know that it had to be a lot of work to take that tire off and put the patch on, then remount and balance the tire. I surely did expect to pay them for their time and labor. So, then I thanked them and asked them why they were willing to do all of that work and not charge?  The reply was “So you will tell your friends about us”. Well, friends and blog-readers,   get your tires from “Discount Tire”. Tell them “Julie sent me”.

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Second post of Addendum:

I can’t help but add this reflection =  At the Vandwellers GA-GTG, I was told that many members ‘traded beads’. Huh? What do you mean? What kind of beads? Well, David told me that his ‘bead’ was a hexagonal nut that is used on a screw because he is ‘into’ tools and mechanical working and it fits on a lanyard.

Next, Cuzzin Dick said that he also had a ‘bead’ to fit on a lanyard.

Then, Sandra told me that she had a special ‘bead’ to trade with friends along the vandwelling journey.

So, it appeared that I needed a ‘bead’.  David came to the rescue. He had pulled a lot of flat pebbles out of the sauna side hole and I saved them. Sandra helped carry them back to camp. At camp, David had purchased a dremel-type tool from Harbor Freight and he was willing to experiment with his new ‘toy’. He asked me to bring him some of the pebbles and I got 7 of them. He tried his new drill on them and put a hole at the top of the pebble so that, in effect, it was capable of being strung on a lanyard.  He continued to perfect the craft and he used water to dribble onto the pebble in order to keep the drill bit cooler. That worked better – and next, he put the pebble in about two-inches of water and held it while he put the point of the drill bit under water about one-half inch. He had perfected the art of drilling a hole in a pebble and I had obtained a memento of our GA-GTG sauna swim and ‘bead’ (capable of being strung onto a lanyard).

In addition, David decided to use his Boy Scout skill of creating a lanyard for me. He had some special waxed thread that he proceeded to braid into a lanyard for me. At the end of his efforts, he put one of my newly created ‘beads’ onto the lanyard and presented it to me. Well now – don’t you know that I was PROUD! I was an official vandweller with a lanyard and ‘bead’!

I asked David if he would like a ‘bead’ which he had just created and he said ‘yes’. He went to his van and presented me with his ‘nut’.  Cuzzin Dick was nearby and I asked him if he would like a ‘bead’ and he said ‘yes’. I gave it to him and a few minutes later, he returned with one of his ‘beads’. Hey – this ‘bead’ trading thing is real and fun!  Next, I encountered Sandra and asked her if she would like a ‘bead’. She said ‘yes’ and gave me a very special one. I put them all on my lanyard and HERE THEY ARE—> (note: The pebble on the left is mine.)

2011-08-08_GAEton,Lanyard-and-Beads
2011-08-08_GAEton,Lanyard-and-Beads

2011-07-18 to 07-29 to Eton, GA for 10 days (a long post)

2011-07-29_GAEtonNationalForestVandwellers_WalkingStickFromSandra
2011-07-29_GAEtonNationalForestVandwellers_WalkingStickFromSandra

<<Note: To make the type look LARGER, press the keyboard <Ctrl> Key and the <+> Key (above the equal “+” sign) at the same time. To make the type look SMALLER, press the keyboard <Ctrl> Key and the <-> Key (minus sign) at the same time.>>

2011-07-18 – Many months ago, I joined a Yahoo Group called “Vandwellers”. It is a group of several thousand people who send emails to each other. I read it for many months before posting anything to the group. (This is called ‘lurking’). I subscribe to a Daily Digest form of messages, so I don’t receive a large number of emails each day. A moderator for the group requires that the posts be ‘trimmed’, i.e., cut much of the words so that only the conversation topic appears on a reply and in that way, the amount of reading required is condensed. (Note: this is requested because many members have smart phones to read email messages and are charged by the line for transmission. If messages are clipped, then the cost of messaging should be reduced.) The purpose of the group is to share ideas about living in a van, or converting vans to be compatible for travel. There is a section for posting both messages and another area for pictures. While working on Vanna White, I looked at many pictures to see what others had done to transform their vehicle and I read many messages – such as ideas on having electrical installed. It was a vandweller who recommended taking the van to an audio installation shop a nd have two marine-‘slow discharge’ batteries connected to the van alternator, so that as you drive, the living-area (house) batteries are charged.

So, after months of learning what worked for others, I tried to adapt many ideas to help with ‘fixing-up’ Vanna White. Several months ago, David (from Dalton, Georgia) sent a message to the group asking if anyone wanted to camp in the North Georgia mountains. I returned a reply that I was interested and a few days later, he posted a date “to come” and a place “to camp” (with travel directions). The dates of the “Get-ToGether” (GTG) spanned a couple of weeks starting on 7/18. I decided to go as soon as I could because I was excited about the trip and ready to try camping in Vanna White for a second time. Many days before leaving, I worked on building a storage shelf and I wired a 12-volt fan and 12-volt light to the interior. I packed the items that I thought I would both need and use. I charged batteries for the flashlights, and I bought an outdoor stairway solar-light for trial. I put the solar light on the van dash to charge during the day, and at night, pushed the button to turn it on and used it as an interior light. I had organized some pots and pans to take but I decided that I really didn’t want to cook on this trip – so, I planned to take convenience food. As the date for camping approached, I put 8 gallons of water into plastic milk jugs and I filled a couple of plastic crates with food from the kitchen = peanut butter, cereal for breakfast, boxes of rice-krispie bars, trail-mix, a can of tuna for lunch, in addition to several one-serving plastic containers of peaches and pears. The morning of starting the trip, I shopped at Wal-Mart for ice and a large sandwich, some soy milk and some cheese. For utensils, I had a camping metal knife, fork, spoon (that hook together) and a metal soup cup. I bought four inexpensive plastic plates from a store so that I wouldn’t be burdened with disposable styrofoam or paper. Of course, I packed some paper towels and toilet paper, but – I wanted to minimize trash whenever possible.
I packed enough clothes for six days and planned to arrive on Monday and return on Sunday. After getting there, the plans changed. Originally, I planned the trip so that I would arrive home in order to pay end-of-month bills. Once I got there and decided to lengthen my stay, I borrowed a cell phone to call my son and ask him to make the house payment for me. I told him that I would pay the remainder of the bills when I returned. He had told me before I left that if I needed him to pay bills, he would do it for me. By making that phone call, I was able to stay three more nights.
The National Forest is an area of Georgia that has no houses. It is there to preserve the trees and our native land. The National Forest Service employs rangers to manage this area. A few miles outside of the town of Eton, in north Georgia is a management area called the Chattahoochie National Forest. It is a mountainous area and has no paved roads. The forest service roads are gravel and maintained by them. Previouly, I had been with another group to the forest service area over 10 years ago. It was for an overnight of camping in tents and group meals, such as pancakes for breakfast. That area was a grassy area near a river that had nothing to support anyone camping.
The area that we visited was similar in many ways but much improved for sanitation and convenience than my first trip. This are supported camping by having
-railroad ties around a level area for tents and gravel base for road and tent base,
-a post-base-type picnic table,
-tall post for hanging a light or other items (we used it for helping tie tarps and for trash bags), a
– large fire-ring with grate.
In addition, there were 2 bear-resistant trash cans in the camp and a pit toilet. A pickup-truck pulling a trailer would come on Tuesday and Friday. The man driving the truck would empty the trash cans and put the plastic bag liner full of trash into the trailer and haul it away. A woman would travel with him and mop the pit-toilet floor while he emptied the trash cans. She would also ensure that there was sufficient chemical to retard any smell. I was truly amazed at how great the camping area was. Our area contained 5 tent sites and they are available on a ‘first-come, first-served’ basis. Often, other people would drive through the area to see if there were any available sites. We had a group of people there and sometimes we would talk with the passer-by and tell them that we would be there until Sunday. The forest service rules require that campers move sites every 14 days. In addition to our 5-tent site area, there are dispersed camping sites along the national forest road. Also, at Lake Conasauga, a hosted-camp, about 8 miles further on the gravel road. It has 40 camp sites and electricity provided with a cost of $10 a night. Also, I was told, that there was potable water available there – but, it was not at every campsite. There were several spigots available with the water. Our camp had a really nice creek flowing by many of the sites. The constant water-flowing sound that the creek made was perfect for making everything peaceful.
The time that I was there seemed to fly by. We had great weather and the escape from the heat of the city was incredible. (In Atlanta, daily temperatures in the high-90’s was constant. In the forest, we had some low-80’s in the day, but it was humid and comfortable after getting wet in the creek or spraying water from a bottle on arms and legs. Note: the general rule of Georgia is that the mountains are about 10 degrees cooler than the city.) The tall trees and the creek provided a very nice temperature for just hanging out under the tarps that David and Dick had put up. We had an occasional rain cloud overhead, and we would wait for it to pass over under a tarp or in a van. Afterward, the creek level would rise significantly and add more noise to the forest. We enjoyed watching the butterflies around a firering and seeing the sunflowers bloom near the pit toilet and along the road. We watched the mushrooms grow (but, didn’t eat any) and we listened and watched for rain. Since we were so deep in the forest with mountains around us, a rain shower would sneak up on us because we couldn’t see it coming. There weren’t many mosquitoes, but there were a few flies and a couple of pesky horse-flies. When going on a picnic, I’ve always encountered many ants. At this place in the forest – I saw an occasional large black ant, but none of the small brown ones that invade houses.
We did had a problem with mice. One day after an afternoon shower, David was looking around the picnic table and happened to see some paper inside the Coleman 2-burner propane camp stove on the edge of the table. He picked the stove up and began picking out the paper and wondered how paper got inside the stove. Then, he saw something move and decided that a mouse was inside. I was sitting in a nearby chair and saw a small brown head look out a round hole in the bottom of the stove. I told David that “I saw it”. “There’s a mouse inside the stove bottom.” David had the stove in his hand and put it back on the table. He pulled the last of the paper out of the bottom and the mouse realized that he was discovered. The stove bottom had holes in it and VERY QUICKLY, the mouse jumped through a hole, off the picnic table top and onto the ground. He scurried quickly to a nearby pile of wood and there was no way to find him after that. Well, my mother always told me that you never find one mouse – they come in pairs. I said something like that to David and in a few seconds, I saw another small, brown head in the stove bottom. I told David that another mouse was inside and a few seconds later, that mouse jumped through the stove hole and onto the right of the table, jumped to the ground and scurried into the hole of a nearby tree. David wanted to prevent the mouse from returning so he tried to find it in the tree. He said that the hole went up inside the tree and there was no place down the trunk for the mouse to hide. Sandra said that she had noticed mouse droppings on the table in the morning when she made coffee. She brushed them off and didn’t have any idea that they had made a nest inside the stove. Dick is the owner of the stove, and he got several paper towels, and some liquid cleaner and wiped the stove part-by-part until he was satisfied that any mouse remnants were removed.
I arrived on Monday, David, Dick, and Sandra were there to greet me. I was excited to be there and happy to have found the group. I had read their email posts, but now I had a name and a face to match. The vandweller posts are very helpful. Where is a good place to park? What is a good type of inverter to buy? ya-da ya-da. An answer to a question gives information and ideas to help set direction for travel or investment. The vandweller list has a mandate to not ‘flame’ or criticize others and to help one another. The list contains many people who are considering the possibilities of vandwelling as well as people who have experience. I was still a ‘wanna-be’ since I had the van, but I had no experience. I soon learned that both David (the organizer), and Dick had a LOT of experience.
David had gotten an email that a van from Dallas with several people were coming. Since it was such a long trip, we weren’t sure when to expect them. We thought that they may arrive Tuesday evening, but – to the best of my memory (the days melted together) the actual arrival was Wednesday. We met Christine, van owner, with her travelling companions, Ben, Chris and Soren. She had recently purchased her Scooby-Chevy van and had a mechanic look it over and install several new components. As I understand it, this was the maiden voyage. They came without food and were tired from driving so far. They had used a GPS and tried to input the latitude/longitude of the campsite into the directions. It didn’t work. They had to use the directions that David sent. They had a cooler with food that they used for travel, but it was almost empty and they needed more food and ice. Well, …. , here’s the thing. We were about 7 miles from Eton, BUT – on a gravel road, you have to drive very slow due to the rain putting ruts in the gravel. I measured that it took me about 45 minutes to travel the 7 miles. Items stored in the van rock back and forth when driving. Also, if you speed up and go too fast, you may encounter a large rock and damage the underside of the van. The group decided that they would return to town for food the next day and ‘make-do’ with what they had for the night. They put-up a tent on site 2 and set-up camp. The back seat of the van folded down so that 2 slept in the tent and 2 slept in the van.
(Note: While returning from a trip to town, the van developed mechanical problems. Probably, since the road was so rough, a wire worked itself loose from a connection and the group reported that the radio ‘went-out’ and the turn signals didin’t work. David looked under the hood and found a wire loose from the alternator. Eventually, he removed the dog-house van interior cowl and took out the alternator. On a trip to town, he knew a shop that would diagnose any problems for him. He returned with the necessary parts and fixed the electrical issues with the van, knowing that the alternator diaode test was successful. I was amazed that he was able to do this for the group.)
There was a small waterfall at a short distance from camp – and a medium waterfall further, then a large waterfall and swimming hold even further. The longer you hiked down the trail, the steeper the rocks got and the harder it was to get there. I went ‘swimming’ in the sauna area once (it was the closest waterfall). (Note: it is called the sauna because of the size of the area to stand in to a waist depth.) The water was cold (to me) and getting in-and-out of the area required me crawling on hands-and-knees. Others seemed to climb up faster because they are younger and more agile. Both David and I were in the sauna while the others built a rock-funnel for the water to trickle down the big rock to the area known as ‘the shower’. If you went under the waterfall, everyone said that it felt like taking a shower. While the funnel was under construction, David found a rock hole that was deeper than his elbow and about the double the size of his arm. He felt to the bottom of the hole and started pulling up pebbles. The pebbles were rounded by the water tumbling over them many years and were smaller than the size of the palm of your hand – and slim. I stacked the pebbles up on the side and Sandra helped me carry them back to camp. I had a coffee cup filled with them when I returned. (Note: there will be an additional story about the pebbles later.) The rocks to the sauna-area were very steep and on the ledge of the waterfall, the rocks were wet a lot of time. A couple of the Dallas group and Sandra had slipped on the rocks (but, no one was seriously hurt, bruises were the result). Duke-the Pitbull slipped into the sauna and Ben picked him up and carried him to the edge so that he could return to Sandra (he had his leash on the whole time we were there – a park requirement). I didn’t want to take a chance of falling. At the end of the outing, I crawled back to the waterfall bottom. I had enjoyed the ‘swimming’ – but, I after that trip, I didn’t have the energy to return.
A few days later, Sandra, Christine, Ben, Soren, and Chris went further down the trail to the waterfall area known as the “swimming pool”. I was told that it had a rope down the rock slope to help lower you to the swim area. In addition, there was a rope tied to a tree and used to swing and fall into the “swimming pool”. Sandra said that Duke didn’t like her being on the rope at all. He also didn’t like to see Ben swinging and falling in. Soren took his camera and showed us pictures of the area. Sandra said that getting there was so dangerous, she wasn’t sure that she wanted to return. David had been to the “swimming pool” in his younger years. Now, as an adult, he had hurt his knee and often wore a brace to keep it from twisting. He wasn’t willing to take a chance of getting hurt and going back to that area.
Many of the locals knew the area and there was a special parking place for ‘day-use’ at the top of the hill. We saw many people walk pass the camping area to go ‘swimming’. Other water activity was that the Dallas gang went ‘creek walking’ several times – it was only ankle deep most of the time.
The creek water needs to be treated before drinking it. David had a 25-gallon tank with spigot that we used for community water. If anyone went to town, we requested that they return with drinkable water. We tried to be conservative when washing dishes.
The group continued to grow when the week-end came. Les had been working in Ringgold as a handyman repair person for the tornado damage. He had a converted prison van that he used as both his work and camping needs. He is in-process of moving his family from the northern US to the Georgia/Alabama border area. He only stayed a one night – but, I couldn’t have made this trip without his help: On Wednesday after I arrived, I moved my van from Site 2 – the Dallas gang camping spot, to near Site 3. After I parked, Dick said that he thought my passenger front tire was low. I looked at it and he was right. David looked at it and found a nail in my tire! UG! What am I going to do now? Deep in the Woods – 45 minute drive on a mountain, gravel road to civilization. By the way, auto companies have it written in their contract, that they don’t come off-road to fix tires and start batteries. Well, … , David needed to return to Dalton to fix his air-conditioner (his wife had called him that it was broken). He offered to stop at an auto store and buy a tire-plug repair kit while in town. I jumped at the offer and told him that I would be happy to pay him back for the kit. Well, he got the kit on Friday, and Les came to visit on Saturday. David and Les had talked and Les said that he knew how to plug-a-tire and David said that he had a compressor and would help. So, late in the afternoon, after supper, we went to Vanna White parking near Site 3. David started the compressor, Les found a Leatherman type tool and with a lot of strength, he pulled the nail out of the tire. He used a handle-tool with a pointer to hold the air in the tire as he prepared to insert the plug. Another handle-tool had an inverted tip for the plug and the plug was a sticky-black-rubber 4-inch long piece that was pushed into the hole after quickly removing the air-holder-tool. Les really knew what he was doing – and was strong enough to get-it-done. The tire was plugged in a few minutes. I told him many times how much I appreciated him fixing my tire for me. I kept wondering, where I had driven that the tire would pick-up a nail. One of those mysteries that will never be solved. I felt that when I left, I would be much safer. David, Dick and Les all said that the plug was much safer for holding air in the tire than leaving the nail. It was obvious that the tire had a air-leak and Les said that when driving, the tire flexes (especially on gravel, rutted-road) and the nail would drive farther into the tire and do more damage as well as let out a lot of air. Anyway, now the problem was solved. I was very grateful to both David and Les for repairing the nail in my tire.
Kenny also came for the week-end. He had converted a wider-type 10-passenger bus to a camper. This was also his first trip. He travelled with his two dogs and added excitement to the trip by providing many attendees with cigars. Both Kenny and Les left mid-Sunday afternoon. Kenny had a mechanical problem with his bus. Les had a diagnostic code reader and used it to re-set Kenny’s computer codes. His bus was better, but he still lacked power to drive up the steep hill to get to the main road. David had a tow rope and Les used the rope to tie to his van and pull Kenny up the hill. Once he got to the top of the hill, his bus was able to travel back to Eton because the remainder of the trip was downhill and the road to our camping area was the steepest of the journey. Again, Les with his knowledge and equipment to the rescue. After returning to Atlanta, Kenny sent David an email that he made it home without further incident.
After the week-end, the Dallas gang remained along with David, Dick, Sandra and me. During the course of the days together, we got to know each other pretty well. Thinking back, mostly I just sat around and enjoyed the company of others and being outside in the wonders of the forest. I especially enjoyed being around so much ‘nature’. In addition to sitting under a tarp during the rain, I walked around the campsites and marvelled at the mushrooms that sprang up after the rain. Also the flowers that bloomed along the roadside. After the ‘swim’ trip, Sandra and I went tramping through the forest hoping to find me a hiking stick. The forest was damp and I found a branch that was straight and the right size. But, the stick was wet. I ended up trading the forest stick for another one from the cooking woodpile. At the end of my stay, Sandra gave me a walking stick that she had. It is beautiful and has a really unique handle. (See pictures.)
I had planned to leave on Monday. But, the Dallas group would be around a few more days and I had enough food to stay a while more. David let me borrow his cell phone (he had a special magnet mount antenna and Razor cellphone that allows an external antenna) and I decided to stay until Friday. Our normal cell phones were not working. To use a cell tower, you have to have a line-of-sight signal. We were between mountains and far enough away from a tower, that only David’s phone worked because of the extra power of the antenna. He was so familiar with the forest and technology, he had designed a cellphone signal extender. We spent our time talking and exploring the world around us. I was less than 100 miles from home, but in an entirely different world. I borrowed a paperback book from Sandra, and when there wasn’t anyone around who wanted to talk, I read the book. It has been a long time since I’ve read a book. When in Atlanta, I have the internet, newspapers and magazines to read. I had become used to short articles and had developed a short attention-span. I found it hard to concentrate and read a long book. The book that she gave me wasn’t long, but – I’m not a fast reader and I just took my time going through it. Near the end, I told Sandra how I thought it would finish. She looked at me funny, but didn’t say anything. That night, I finished it and my prediction of the ending was completely wrong. I guess that’s the reason that I will never make a novel writer.
Our major cooks were Dick, Sandra, and Ben. We had several ‘community’ suppers where someone decided what to cook and others helped. I told everyone that I was not really familiar with cooking on propane, and I watched how they hooked up the propane canister to the stove and lighted it after turning it on. I don’t drink coffee – so, I didn’t have morning duty either. Anyway, I helped by washing dishes a couple of times, and cutting up vegetables a couple of times. Dick cooked potato soup one night and I helped cut the potatoes and onions. He had special spices that he used for more flavoring and he used some of the milk that was brought back when David went to town. I ate well, but I wasn’t just sitting around thinking of food, like I do when in Atlanta. I ate all of my chilled food in 5 days and I ate the tuna, fruit, and trail-mix the remainder of the time. Sandra was ‘bad’ when she asked David to bring back some Oreos and milk from town on one of his trips. I definitely was ‘there’ when the cookies were opened and disseminated.
It was really sad to leave on my last day. I felt like I had lived in wonderland for 10 days and didn’t want to leave. I knew that paying bills and cutting grass in the yard awaited. However, I had made some really great vandweller friends and had hope that we would reunite. Being retired means that you don’t take vacation anymore; you get to decide what you want to do with your time and then do it. A whole new world had opened to me on this trip – imagine it, a forest with none of the city conveniences and distractions that was only 100 miles away. In a few weeks, I may be ready to ‘do-ot-again’!
P.S. Besides the cellphone call to my son, my only touch with the outside world was when I listened to a Chattanooga radio station for about 30 minutes at night several times. The station played oldies-type music and only advertized a few businesses. I didn’t hear any news of what had happened in the world until I returned home. When I returned, I discovered that “the world still existed”.

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2011-07-25_GAEtonNationalForest_Vandwellers_Creek(Left)
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2011-07-25_GAEtonNationalForest_Vandwellers_Creek(Right)
2011-07-25_GAEtonNationalForest_Vandwellers_Creek(Right)
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