Category Archives: Tennessee

Closing the Loop

We opted to stay for a second night in the campground at the Meriwether Lewis National Monument. The free campsites are clean and the scenery is terrific with good hiking opportunities. It’s also very quiet. On Thursday, Donna hiked on the Old Trace trail which is part of the original Natchez Trace. The trail took her past the Meriwether Lewis Monument which is his final resting place near the Grinder stand.

Natchez Trace - wide enough for a wagon

Natchez Trace – wide enough for a wagon

Click to enlarge if you wish to read

Click to enlarge if you wish to read

Fenceline on the Old Trace

Fenceline on the Old Trace

Meriwether Lewis Monument in the background

Meriwether Lewis Monument in the background

Meriwether Lewis Monument

Meriwether Lewis Monument

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Grinder house

Grinder house

For dinner on Thursday night, I grilled a pork tenderloin on the Weber Q. Donna had marinated it in a mojo marinade. She reserves half the marinade to pour over the meat after cooking. It’s one of our favorite ways to prepare pork tenderloin and, as usual, it was tender and tasty. She served it with brown rice and roasted peppers, onions and zucchini.

Pork tenderloin with rice and roasted peppers and zucchini

Pork tenderloin with rice and roasted peppers, onions and zucchini

On Friday morning, we packed up and headed down the Natchez Trace Parkway about 16 miles, then we turned west at US64. This is a divided highway with two lanes in each direction. I wanted to avoid I-40 and US64 seemed like a good alternative. There was very little traffic and the road surface was mostly good with only a few sections of construction and rough road. It was slower crossing Tennessee on US64 due to all of the small towns. We drove through Waynesboro, Savannah, Boliver and a few smaller villages before we stopped at Walmart in Somerville (map). We stocked up on groceries, then continued down the road.

US64 hit I-40 about 10 miles east of Memphis. It was immediately apparent that US64 was the way to go. It’s an embarrassment and disgrace how our government has allowed the federal interstate highways to deteriorate. The potholes, cracks and uneven surfaces on I-40 make it barely drivable.

We crossed the Mississippi River and entered Arkansas where we had booked a site at Tom Sawyer’s RV Park. We stayed here the first week of June.  Since then, we’ve completed a 4,000-mile loop that took us north to Minneapolis, across Michigan’s upper peninsula, then down through Michigan and east to upstate New York. From there we went down through Pennsylvania and Maryland, across Virginia and finally back to Tennessee. Whew – we saw a lot and had some great adventures over the last three months. Along the way, we picked up a stray cat and also added a Traeger grill.

One big difference we found here in West Memphis this time around is the Mississippi River water level. When we were here in June, the water level stage was 15 feet. When we checked in yesterday, the stage was three feet. There’s a sandbar creating an island right in front of the park. This wasn’t there before. There are fewer barges on the river as well. I’m guessing the low water level makes navigation treacherous.

Sand bar in the river

Sandbar in the river

Last evening, I took a walk in the park to look at the river. Our site has us facing the water only a stone’s throw away from the river. While I was out, I saw a 2012 Newell coach. The owner, John, and his son-in-law, Lee, were sitting outside. A 2012 Newell is a million-dollar coach (it was probably over $1.5 million new). I stopped and talked to John. It’s always interesting to hear the success story behind owning a million-dollar rig. John’s story was much like many I’ve heard since we’ve been on the road. He started out 38 years ago as the sole proprietor of a Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) service company. He had one truck and one employee – himself. He worked hard and established commercial contracts as well as residential service customers. Then he added a second service truck and employee. He continued to build his reputation and business. Today, he has 66 trucks and nearly 200 employees. He’s enjoying life and seeing the country while his son runs the day-to-day operation of his business. I love hearing how hard work, perseverance and being able to make the most out of an opportunity pays off.

John and Lee sitting outside John's Newell

John and Lee sitting outside John’s Newell

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Radiused corners on the Newell slides

Radiused corners on the Newell slides

One of the things that tip off a high-end coach like a Newell or Prevost are the radiused corners on the slide-outs. These rounded corners allow the use of pneumatic slide seals. Once the slide is out, the seals inflate making an airtight seal. Before the slide is retracted the seal deflates and the slide moves freely.

We decided to stay here for three nights before we move on westward. Donna has been mapping routes to keep us off I-40 and finding places to stay as we make our way to New Mexico. She went out this morning to cycle the scenic and quiet 28-mile loop she rode several times earlier this summer.

Last night, Donna prepared pan-seared wild Alaskan salmon. She served it with the left over side dishes from the night before. Delicious!

Pan fried salmon

Pan-seared salmon

Today I’m going to try my hand at smoking a beef brisket. Donna bought one the other day – it’s something I’ve never done before. I’m hoping the Traeger wood pellet fired smoker/grill makes it easy to do.

 

Natchez Trace

Yesterday morning, we walked across the street to Cracker Barrel for breakfast before pulling out of the Opryland parking lot. We had a quiet night with no disturbances. Our plan was to head south down the Natchez Trace Parkway to the Meriwether Lewis National Monument (map). The monument is operated by the National Park Service (NPS). It’s located just east of Hohenwald, Tennessee and features a free campground with paved roads and 32 paved sites.

Ozark the cat got comfortable on Donna's pillow before she made the bed and we headed out

Ozark the cat got comfortable on Donna’s pillow before Donna made the bed and we headed out

Our route took us around the south side of Nashville on I-440 then south on I-65. We stopped in Franklin at the Walmart to stock up on groceries. Then we detoured west on TN840. This route took us over the Natchez Trace Parkway and we had to loop back to Leipers Fork to access the parkway.

The Natchez Trace is an old forest trail. Some say it’s existed for centuries as a game trail. It was used by native Americans and became a major trail for commerce in the 18th and 19th centuries. The trail runs some 440 miles from Nashville, Tennessee to Natchez, Mississippi and traverses the northwest corner of Alabama.

Thomas Jefferson wanted to connect the Mississippi River frontier with settlements to the north. In 1801, the US Army began blazing and improving the trail. Early settlers in the north referred to as Kaintucks would float their goods down the Mississippi River in flat boats to sell in Natchez. They would sell their goods and their boats and walk the 440-mile trek on the Natchez Trace back north. In 1810, it’s estimated that 10,000 Kaintucks walked up the trace to start another river journey. This led to commerce on the trail. Trading posts commonly called stands appeared. Settlements formed along the trace.

The development of steamboat traffic on the Mississippi river made it easier and cheaper to transport goods. In the late 1800s, the Trace lost its importance as a trade route.

In 1809, Meriwether Lewis, who along with William Clark explored the upper Mississippi and the Northwest, was governor of the Louisiana Territory. He was traveling up the Trace to meet with Thomas Jefferson when he died near Grinder’s Stand. There’s much controversy surrounding his death. It was officially ruled suicide but many believe he was murdered. I read a great historical novel – a work of fiction that incorporates factual history in the story – about the Lewis and Clark expedition and Lewis’ death. I read the book about 20 years ago. I looked for it online but can’t find it. I think the title was Who Killed Meriwether Lewis.

The Natchez Trace Parkway is a paved two-lane highway that follows much of the original trace. There’s limited access – only about 50 access points along its 444 miles. We didn’t realize that at first, but found the access points on the Tennesee map we picked up at the visitor center. The road is operated and maintained by the National Park Service. No commercial vehicles are allowed and the speed limit is 50 mph. The road surface is in great condition. It’s a scenic drive with many historical markers and scenic overlooks. We saw a few gangs of wild turkeys along the road and had two whitetail bucks run out in front of our rig, requiring me to brake hard.

Overlook on the Natchez Trace Parkway

Overlook on the Natchez Trace Parkway

I had looked at Google Earth the night before to see what the Meriwether Lewis National Monument looked like. I was leery of pulling into a park that wouldn’t allow us to get turned around and back out again. The satellite view of the campground was obscured by trees but I could see the main road had a turnaround loop at the end. We pulled off the parkway and entered the monument. When we reached the campground entrance, Donna suggested pulling over in a turnout by the entrance and walking through the campground to check it out before pulling in.

The paved roads through the campground are tight with lots of trees along the sides. There are 32 paved sites, some back-in and some pull-through. Most aren’t level. The sites are well spaced with lots of trees and vegetation separating them. There are two loops. The first loop has 13 sites and was totally unoccupied. The second loop is larger and has a bathroom (no showers). There were only a few campers there. After looking around, we thought it was doable and liked the look of site 8 which is a back-in and site 14, a pull-through.

I backed us into site 8 with Donna directing me with a handheld Cobra CB radio. The site was too short for us by a few feet – once I backed in far enough to clear the road, our slideouts were too close to trees. We pulled out of there and moved to site 14. We easily fit our 56-foot overall length in this site.

Site 14

Site 14

Donna went out for a hike on a trail that leads from the campground to the original Natchez Trace. She was out for about 90 minutes and said she would not recommend the trail for inexperienced hikers or anyone nervous about being alone in the woods. It had a few water crossings and seemed to vanish in the underbrush at times. She returned covered in cobwebs as well as scratches on her lower legs from prickly vegetation. But the trail did lead to some beautiful stretches of river. Here are a couple of pictures from her hike.

Water crossing on the trail

Water crossing on the trail

Little Swan Creek

Little Swan Creek

A park ranger came by later and stopped to chat with us. The park is very clean and quiet – it’s hard to believe it’s free. There are no hook-ups although there is a water spigot between our site and site 15. A reader commented on yesterday’s blog that they had just pulled out of this campground and said the water is really good here.

View from our doorstep

View from our doorstep

I grilled turkey burgers on the Weber Q for dinner. With the special sauce, they were very tasty on toasted onion rolls.

Last night was very dark and quiet. I slept soundly. We’ll hang out here for another night before we head west.

 

Nashville Talent

On Monday morning, Donna went for a power walk from our site at Nashville Jellystone Park (map). While she was out walking toward the Two Rivers Campground and the Nashville KOA, she saw the downtown shuttle pass by and came up with a plan for the day.

She thought we should roast a whole chicken for a late lunch – kind of a dinner for lunch plate. Then we could take the shuttle to downtown Nashville and see the sights. Sounded like a good idea to me, so I unloaded the Traeger wood pellet fired grill and found a problem. We had traversed some rough roads, especially on I-40 through Knoxville. The Traeger had obviously been bounced around and one of the door hinges came off. The screws had vibrated out and the door was askew, the other hinge was loose. Luckily no real damage was done. I found the screw and nut and reassembled the door.

Donna prepared the chicken by rubbing it with olive oil, salt, pepper and granulated garlic that she bought at Brooks BBQ in Oneonta, New York. She went to the pool for a quick dip while I fired up the Traeger and roasted the chicken. It comes out so moist and tender on this grill – it makes the best chicken you’ll ever have.

Roasted whole chicken hot off the Traeger

Roasted whole chicken hot off the Traeger

Earlier I had scootered over to the Opryland Resort and Convention Center. I wanted to get a look at the bus/RV lot that Donna found mentioned in the Escapee’s Day’s End Directory. The directory said that free overnight parking could be found there. I rode all the way through the lots at the Opry Mills Mall and back through the resort. I saw dedicated bus/RV parking near the Mills, but it was clearly marked “no overnight parking.” In fact, every lot I looked at was posted. On the way back to the campground, I saw another lot at a strip mall that had two RVs and a couple of tractor trailer rigs in it. It looked like it would be fine for dry camping – a big lot and no signs prohibiting overnight parking. The downside was the slope of the pavement and the lot was empty during the day, but there were several bars, restaurants and the Willie Nelson museum in the area. I didn’t know what it would be like at night.

We had reserved two nights at the Jellystone Park for half price on our Passport America discount rate – two nights for $75. A third night would cost another $75. I’m trying to average my costs down by finding free or low-cost sites as we move west. Our trip through the northeast was expensive – we’ve been spending like we’re on vacation. But we wanted to stay one more night in Nashville if we could.

Anyway, the shuttle picked us up at 3pm. There were two other couples already on board from the other RV parks. We made one more stop at a nearby hotel where three women boarded. The drive to downtown took about twenty minutes and the driver talked non-stop, giving advice on what to see and where to eat. The shuttle costs $10 per person for a round trip. The return trip is actually free – they pick up on the bottom of the hour (4:30, 5:30, 6:30, etc.) at the Country Music Hall of Fame. They don’t issue tickets – they work on the assumption that you must have already paid the $10 if you are boarding to go back to the Music Valley area.

Donna and I wanted to check out the music scene on Broadway. There are a few street musicians and many clubs and bars with live entertainment. Most of the places on Broadway don’t have a cover charge. The musicians play for a small fee paid by the bar and tips. They are hoping to get “discovered” by a Nashville recording studio.

Our first glimpse of Broadway was at the corner of 4th and Broadway at the Honky Tonk Central (map).

Honky Tonk Central

Honky Tonk Central

We walked east on Broadway and made our first stop at the Broadway Brewhouse for a cold one. I had a Tennesee-brewed IPA that was pretty good and Donna sampled and then went ahead and ordered a Tennesee-brewed stout that was really good. After leaving there, we continued east on the south side of the street and crossed over to the north side at 2nd Avenue. We saw a man with a trumpet, microphone and small amplifier on the corner. He had backing tracks playing through the amp from his smartphone and was singing “What a Wonderful World.” This guy had Louis Armstrong down. It was uncanny – Donna thought he was lip syncing at first. We hung around for a few songs and dropped some money in his trumpet case. He chatted with us before we moved on. He was a super-nice guy and very talented.

This guy could impersonate Satchmo

This guy could impersonate Satchmo

We walked back west on Broadway, stopping in a few shops to look at western hats and cowboy boots. We stuck our heads in a few bars to see who was playing but we wanted to get a look at everything before we sat down somewhere.

A friend of Donna’s suggested we stop at an off-the-wall place in Printer’s Alley owned by her friend. It’s an English-style pub called Fleet Street Pub. We found it a few blocks north of Broadway. Printer’s Alley is a little off-beat for Nashville, but it has history and charm. We stopped at Fleet Street but the friend of Donna’s friend wasn’t there. Donna chatted briefly with her husband.

Printers Alley

Printer’s Alley

We found a blues club in Printer’s Alley and went inside. A very talented guy was on stage playing Mississippi Delta blues – more specifically he was playing songs by the blues great Leadbelly. He took a short break and came over to where we were sitting. His name is Fritz and he was really friendly. While we chatted with him, a woman who was sitting next to us went up on stage and played the keyboards and sang. It was so cool – these talented musicians are all over the place. After a couple of songs, Fritz joined her and they did some songs together. Fritz was playing a cheap knock-off Chinese guitar, but in his hands it sounded great. Then he picked up a saxophone and wailed on a song accompanying the woman at the keyboard (we didn’t get her name).

Fritz making music

Fritz making music

We wandered back to Broadway and started our pub crawl. We would stop in a place that had live entertainment. If the band caught our fancy, we would order a drink and hang around for a few songs. Other times we listened for a few minutes and moved on. In one place there was a duo that shined. One of the guys guitar playing style reminded me of Stephen Stills. Donna put in a request for Homegrown by Zac Brown. They didn’t really know the song, but they looked it up on an iPad and immediately played and sang a very good rendition. I was blown away.

We finally came back to the Honky Tonk Central for our last stop of the night. It’s a three-story building with a bar and stage on each floor. We stayed on the first floor where one of the hottest bands I’ve heard in a while was playing. The guitar player was amazing and the sound he was getting from his Dr. Z amp was unbelievable. I haven’t heard tone like that since the Joe Bonamassa concert we went to a few years ago.

Hot band at our last stop

Hot band at our last stop

By then I’d downed enough beer and it was time to find the shuttle home.

On Tuesday morning, I got busy re-organizing the trailer – again. I’ve had the Traeger grill in the very back of the trailer, behind the scooter. Donna thought it might be getting a rougher ride back there than it would in the front. I bought into her logic – I could see how the trailer might whip up and down behind the axle over bumpy sections. I took everything out of the right front, next to my tool chest by the side door. I rearranged that stuff and then lifted the Traeger into that area and strapped it in place. We’ll see if it rides better there.

I took my time – check out time was noon and we were only going a few miles. We had everything packed and I fired up the engine at 11:50am. We drove to the lot I had found the day before. There was a bus conversion RV and tractor- trailer rig as well as another semi-trailer parked in the empty lot. We claimed a space between the tractor-trailer and the semi-trailer.

Donna and I walked to the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center. On our way, we saw the lot that was mentioned in the Day’s End Directory. It was marked RV/Bus and Trailer Parking. I had missed this lot on my reconnaissance run earlier. I had passed by it on the west side where there’s a private lot being used by Bridgestone Tire and Rubber Company for high-performance driving classes. I thought the whole area was for Bridgestone.

We walked into the RV/Bus lot and didn’t find any signs prohibiting overnight parking. These signs are posted in all of the other lots on the huge Opryland complex. This lot was level and looked to be very quiet. After some debate and walking back and forth across the lot, we decided to go back to the coach and move it across the street to Opryland. While the lot we were in looked to be a sure thing, I was a little apprehensive about how things might go in the night. It wasn’t level and all the bars in the area could mean lots of noise and the possibility of people getting out of hand in the night.

The RV/Bus lot only had a handful of cars in it and one big truck in our section. The next section over has had a number of tour buses coming and going. It’s very quiet and level.

The Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center houses the largest atrium I’ve ever been in. It has waterfalls and a stream running through it. It’s filled with tropical plants – so many were in bloom that I had an allergy attack. A big New York Life Executive Council meeting was happening there. We wandered around. Donna wanted to take the boat ride in the stream that’s inside the hotel complex, but when she saw it cost $9.50/person, it didn’t seem worth it. I couldn’t capture the grand scale of this place, but here are a few pictures.

Fountains in the atrium

Fountains in the atrium

Stream inside the hotel

Stream inside the hotel

Boat rides through the atrium

Boat rides through the atrium

Donna in front of a waterfall in the atrium

Donna in front of a waterfall in the atrium

We  went to John A’s for dinner, it was only average food at best. Then we stopped at Nashville Palace to take in some live music. Once again many people that appeared to be regular customers got up on stage to join in for a number or two. Lots of talent here. Our overnight spot turned out to be quiet with no troubles.

Today we plan a short trip down the Natchez Trace Trail to the Merriwether Lewis National Monument. We found free dry camping is available there and we hope to take advantage of it before we head west to Memphis.

 

 

 

 

 

Fill’er Up

In my last post, I mentioned filling our fuel tank with 50 gallons of diesel fuel at the bargain price of $2.22/gallon on our way to Nashville. If you follow this blog, you probably have noticed that I often mention topping  up our tank with 40 or 50 gallons of fuel. We have a 100-gallon fuel tank, so why do I top off the tank so often? There are a number of reasons.

First of all, I’m the type of guy that likes to have at least a 1/4 tank of fuel in my vehicles at all times. You never know what may come up and stopping for fuel in an emergency situation – like driving someone to a hospital – doesn’t make sense to me. In our motorhome, a quarter tank of fuel isn’t enough. Our Onan 7.5kW Quiet Diesel generator draws fuel from the same tank that supplies our Cummins ISL diesel engine. The generator fuel pick-up is a stand pipe that extends approximately a quarter up into the tank. This means the generator can’t draw fuel if the tank is less than 1/4 full. This is by design – it prevents the operator from running the tank dry with the generator. That way when you dry camp, you’ll always have enough fuel in the tank to drive to a fuel station.

Another reason is moisture in the tank. Diesel fuel is hygroscopic. This means it will attract and hold moisture. The air space in the tank will have a certain amount of moisture in it, depending on temperature fluctuations and humidity. By keeping the tank full or nearly full of fuel, the air space is minimized and less moisture is present. Our main fuel filter is also a water separator. Water stays in the bottom of the filter where there’s a valve to periodically drain any water collected before it can get to the fuel injectors. I check ours from time to time, but I’ve never had a noticeable amount of water in the filter.

When I fill our tank, I treat the fuel with Biobor JF. When moisture is present in diesel fuel, microbial contamination can occur. There are hydrocarbon-utilizing microbes that thrive in the fuel/water interface. They live in the water and feed on the fuel. Biobor is an economical way to combat this. It also adds lubricity to the fuel. Since Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD) was mandated and and implemented at the end of 2010, diesel fuel doesn’t have the same lubricating properties it had before. ULSD has 15 ppm sulfur, previously it was 500 ppm. Fuel companies are supposed to blend lubricating additives in the fuel, but I like the peace of mind knowing that the Biobor adds lubricity.

Most of the time, I buy diesel fuel at a Pilot/Flying J travel center. I like knowing that I can pull into the trucker lane and have plenty of room to maneuver. I’ve read that most RV collision insurance claims occur in gas stations – people try to maneuver a large rig in a tight space and end up hitting something. I also like the high-speed nozzles at the trucker lane. I can pump 50 gallons in less than 5 minutes. I have a Pilot/Flying J RV Plus card that is a fuel credit card. I swipe the card at the pump – it automatically adjusts the price to seven cents below the advertised cash price and I can pump up to $1,000 of fuel. Most fuel stations will only allow $100 on a credit card. It’s a pain when you have the swipe your card, then go inside and give your card to the cashier to complete the fill-up.

Lately, I’ve been planning ahead for fuel stops. I have an app on my phone called TruckerPath that shows me all of the truck stops along my route. I also look at a web site called TruckMilesThis site shows daily average fuel prices by state. We’re in Tennessee now and will head to Memphis in a couple of days. We’ll probably overnight in West Memphis, Arkansas like we did on our way east. TruckMiles shows Tennessee diesel fuel prices average 10 cents/gallon less than Arkansas – so I should fill my tank before I leave Tennessee and enter Arkansas.

The last thing I look at when I plan my fuel stop is the Pilot/Flying J fuel price chart. I look at their prices and I also pay attention to the column showing the intended bio blend. Nowadays, a lot of diesel fuel is blended with bio-mass based fuel – it’s not all petroleum-based. Our generation (CAPS era) Cummins ISL engine is approved for up to 10% bio blend. The Pilot/Flying J chart shows the intended blend ( I think this is lawyer speak as they don’t guarantee the exact percentage). Bio blended fuel is noted with a “B” number – B5 is 5% bio, B10 is 10% bio and so on. Bio content in the fuel adds lubricity, but bio-mass based fuels are less stable than petroleum-based fuel. They also are more prone to attract and hold moisture. My preference is for B5 or less bio content. In some areas, such as Minnesota, it’s hard to find diesel fuel that’s less than B20. Again, by filling my tank when it’s half full, if I have to pump B20 into my tank, I’m cutting the percentage down by mixing it with the existing fuel in my tank.

That’s probably more than you ever wanted to know about filling up with diesel fuel. But if you read this far, it may help you decide where and what fuel to put in your tank.

We’ll head into town today, but first I need to get on the roof and reset my satellite antenna for the western arc satellites. I wrote about that here.

Ozark the Travelin’ Cat

After my last post, a blog follower named Daniel asked, “What’s up with the cat? Do you still have her?” The answer is yes, we still have and adore her and she’s become quite the traveler. At first she she was over-stimulated by travel – all of the new sounds and seeing the world flash by had her edgy. It was difficult for all of us. She would dash around the coach and be very vocal. We worried about her hurting herself and also I had concerns when she would jump up on the dash and distract me or block my vision of the side view mirrors.

Before we left Hollister, Missouri I rode the scooter to Branson and bought a cat carrier/crate which we knew we would need to take her to get spayed. After a day of travel, we decided it was best for all of us if Ozark the cat traveled in her crate. I’m happy to report that after a couple of months of travel, Ozark has accepted her crate and travels quietly in it. She doesn’t fight Donna when she’s put into her crate and usually grooms herself once inside before napping for hours. Ozark seems to have adjusted very well and seems to enjoy finding herself in new surroundings on a regular basis.

Ozark attacking a catnip toy mouse

Ozark attacking a catnip toy mouse

We changed our surroundings again on Saturday, but not until after Donna took a hike on the Seven Sisters Trail. She found a variety of mushrooms on her hike – we’re not mushroom experts so she didn’t pick any. We don’t know if they’re poisonous or possibly hallucinogenic. Wouldn’t that make a memorable meal! Here are a few photos from her hike. Unfortunately the spectacular views mentioned on websites weren’t evident due to heavy foliage.

Trailhead

At the summit

Something took a bite of one

Something took a bite of one

Looks harmless

Looks harmless

Hmmm... is it edible

Hmmm… is it edible?

I wouldn't try these

I wouldn’t try these.

We left Stony Fork Campground in Jefferson National Forest around 10:30am. Our route took us southwest through Bristol. We saw many road signs warning of heavy traffic and stoppages. These were due to the NASCAR race at the Bristol short track scheduled for Saturday night. We came through by noon and didn’t have any traffic hassles.

The drive through the Smokey Mountains was pleasant. On a tip from the Escapees Days End Directory, Donna had already contacted the management of a restaurant in Crossville and secured permission for overnight parking in their RV/truck lot. I looked at my trucker app and found a Pilot/Flying J station only a few miles away that had diesel fuel for $2.29/gallon. With my Pilot/Flying J Rewards card I would get a seven cent discount making our cost just $2.22/gallon – the least expensive fuel we’ve bought since we hit the road over two years ago!

Before we reached Crossville, I saw a sign for truck/RV wash ahead. Our coach is so dirty, I haven’t been able to wash it properly since we were in Michigan. The road grime was bad enough, but then the rain while we were in gravel/dirt sites in New York splashed more dirt up the sides of the coach. I couldn’t stand it. We stopped at a Blue Beacon truck wash. A crew of about eight guys went at it with pressure washers. I opted for the full treatment – wash, under carriage, Rain X treatment and citrus alloy wheel cleaner. I was amazed at how they were choreographed as a team and got it done in no time at all. The full treatment cost $77 and I think it was money well spent. The coach looks good, the alloy wheels gleam and I’m happy. This is the least expensive (other than doing it myself) RV wash I’ve had.

Waiting to enter the Blue Beacon wash bay

Waiting to enter the Blue Beacon wash bay

We found the Shoney’s restaurant and their gravel RV/truck lot. After circling the lot a few times like a dog looking to lay down, we decided on a fairly level spot. Donna felt a need to pay back for the free parking and went out to pick up litter. She ended up filling six bags! One of the guys taking care of the lawn expressed his appreciation of her effort.

Clean and shiny in Shoney's lot

Clean and shiny in Shoney’s lot

We went inside and had dinner in Shoney’s. Not my favorite food and not a choice Donna would usually make, but when they offer free overnight RV parking, we feel like we should patronize their establishment.

Breakfast will be another Shoney’s meal, then we’ll head onward another 110 miles to Nashville where we’ll relax, find live music and good beer for a few days. Of course rain drops are falling on our clean and shiny rig this morning.

Winding Road Ahead

I tied down the scooter and had the trailer completely loaded and road-ready before dinner on Wednesday. After dinner, I took I took my last  walk through Tom Sawyer’s RV Park. I watched a large barge tow heading upriver, then snapped a photo of a rare motorhome. It was an Airstream 310 from the early ’80s – I’d never seen one before. This one was powered by an Isuzu diesel engine, making it doubly rare – most had 454 Chevy gas engines.

Airstream motorhome

Airstream motorhome

When we were pulling out of Tom Sawyer’s RV Park on Thursday morning, I could hardly believe it when I saw a similar Airstream motorhome stored near a shed by the office. It looked like it hadn’t moved in a long time. After nearly two years on the road without seeing one of these rare coaches, I saw two here at the park!

Our destination was the Escapees (SKP) Turkey Creek RV Village in Hollister, Missouri (Map). Our route out of West Memphis took us up I-55 for about 12 miles to the junction of US63. This was the only stretch of interstate on the entire 270-mile drive.

I generally enjoy taking the smaller highways and US63 was a nice road. The pavement was good and the traffic was fairly light. When we crossed into Missouri and headed west out of Thayer on MO142, it got interesting. MO142 has a smooth surface, but it’s a narrow two-lane highway with no shoulder. Most of the time, if you dropped a wheel off the pavement, you would be in a ditch. Our lane was barely wide enough for our 102-inch width. Luckily, there was very little traffic. But, when an oncoming heavy-duty truck would pass, I had to squeeze over to right as much as I dared and brace myself for our mirrors to collide. We managed not to knock mirrors and only had half a dozen truck encounters over the next few hours.

The terrain changed on MO142. We were heading into the Ozarks. The Ozarks are the most extensive mountainous region between the Appalachians and Rocky mountains. Although they are often referred to as the Ozark Mountains, it’s actually a high plateau with deep ravines and ridges. MO142 constantly climbed and dipped. The hills were short and steep. I was either on full power or using the Jake brake to slow a descent. There were so many curves in the road, Nally (Our Rand McNally GPS) was constantly chattering “Left curve ahead” and then “Right curve ahead” or “Winding road ahead.”

After about 40 miles of this difficult stretch, we turned north and found US160 at Caulfield. This seemed like a better two-lane highway – the lane was wider anyway. My opinion soon changed. US160 continued up and down in the fashion of MO142 but soon became more extreme. The climbs and descents were steeper and the road was a series of sharp curves. At the crest of many of the climbs, I couldn’t see the bottom of the descent until we started down. Nally kept warning of the winding road ahead as I would see speed advisory signs of 30mph curves.

At one curve, a car was partially pulled off the road. It was halfway into the lane because there wasn’t enough shoulder to pull completely off the road. We were moving slowly and I braked hard, I couldn’t see around the curve at first to see if it was clear to get around the car. We saw why they were stopped. The passenger door was open and the passenger was sitting on the door sill with his head down – obviously very car sick. It was understandable with all the up, down, right and left motion.

The scenery was beautiful, but I didn’t have much of a chance to enjoy it. My concentration was fully absorbed by driving and keeping us on the road and in our lane. We made a stop at the Bullseye station in Gainesville to top off with fuel. I stretched my legs and took on 38 gallons at $2.55/gallon. I think this was the cheapest diesel price we’ve ever had. Our fuel mileage worked out to 8.5mpg – better than I expected. I figured the up and down terrain coupled with running the diesel generator to run the AC all day would result in poor fuel mileage.

We pulled into Turkey Creek at 3pm – nearly six hours after our 9:15am departure. It was a tough drive. During the drive, Donna and I discussed our options for the next few weeks. We will be in Minneapolis on July 5th, we have a site booked there for Donna’s Senior Olympic bike race. I originally booked two weeks here at Turkey Creek thinking we would move on to Des Moines. Des Moines is problematic due to the Junior Rodeo National event that has the RV parks full.

While we were checking in, Donna mentioned the SKP Stay & Play promotion where you pay for 15 days and get five additional days free. A quick look at the calendar showed that we could stay for 18 or even 20 days and still make it to Donna’s scheduled event with Meredith Publishing (Better Homes and Gardens) in Des Moines. Doing the math, if we stay for 20 days, the promotional rate works out to $14/day. Even if we leave after 18 days, it’s only $15.55/day for a pull-through 50 amp full hook-up site. So we paid for 15 days and have the option of staying up to 20 days.

We have site D8, the only pull-through available for our length of stay. The good news is the site is shaded by a large tree. I don’t know what kind of tree it is – maybe a reader can enlighten me.

Shade tree by our site

Shade tree by our site

The bad news is, the site slopes toward the creek and is also low in back. Getting the coach level was a chore.

Looking up at our site from the creek

Looking up at our site from the creek

All of the 9 sites in row D are pull-throughs. Sites 1 through 7 are fairly level.

Sites 1 through 7 in row D looking toward the office

Sites 1 through 7 in row D looking toward the office

While we were driving with the generator on to power our roof air conditioner, Donna took advantage of the electrical power and put a whole chicken in the slow cooker. Once we were set up, we dined outdoors at our picnic table. The slow-cooked chicken was tender and tasty.

Slow cooked chicken with garlic red potatoes and green beans

Slow cooked chicken with garlicky roasted red potatoes and green beans

Today we’ll head out and explore Branson on the scooter. The forecast calls for a 60% chance of thunderstorms this afternoon.

Gibson Tour

Donna went out for a Sunday morning bike ride at 8:30am trying to beat the heat. She wasn’t entirely successful. By the time she returned from her 26-mile ride at 10:30am, the temperature had risen well into the 80s with high humidity.

I grilled a couple of salmon burgers that we bought at HEB in Rockport, Texas and froze for later consumption. We have two more in the freezer. We had them for lunch on onion ciabatta rolls. I wrote about the fresh salmon burgers from HEB in this post.

After lunch, I rode the scooter to Memphis via the I-55 bridge. I followed Riverside Drive to Beale Street and found my way to Lt George W Lee Avenue where the Gibson guitar factory and retail store is located. Parking is problematic in this area. I had no choice but to pay $5 to park in the Gibson lot.

Ginson retail entrance

Gibson retail entrance

Gibson guitars are made at four factories in three locations – Memphis is where they make the semi-hollow body and hollow body guitars. My ES339 was made here. In Nashville, Gibson USA makes the solid body guitars. Also in Nashville, the Gibson custom shop makes special guitars – my Les Paul 1960 reissue G0 was made there. In Bozeman, Montana, Gibson makes acoustic guitars – my L130 acoustic guitar was made there.

Orville Gibson founded the company at the end of the 19th century to make mandolins. The company was headquartered in Kalamazoo, Michigan and built guitars there until guitar production moved to Gibson USA in Nashville in 1974. The Kalamazoo plant continued operation as a custom shop until it closed in 1984 and the Nashville custom shop opened.

The tour cost $10. About 20 people were in the tour group. All tours for the weekend were sold out. They give six tours daily, Monday through Saturday from 11am to 4pm. On Sunday, they have five tours starting at noon. Our tour lasted about an hour and we walked through the entire production area. We saw how the process works from beginning to end. There’s very little automation – almost everything is carried out by hand. Each guitar takes about four weeks to  to finish and they complete about 65 guitars per day here. There are several inspections during the process. About 4% of the production is scrapped due to flaws. The final finishing process is all done by hand. The guitars are painted with a nitro-cellulose finish by painters using spray guns. The last step is polishing the finish on buffing wheels. Polishing is a three-step process with increasingly finer compounds used to achieve the final lustre.

My tour ticket

My tour ticket

It was a very interesting tour for me. I was surprised by the diverse people in our group. We had older folks and young people. We had families. Most of the people in the tour weren’t very knowledgeable about guitars – I wondered what enticed them to take the tour. I think most of them didn’t really understand what the tour guide was talking about some of the time – like when he explained the installation of truss rods or how the binding is applied.

After the tour, I walked to Beale Street a block away. It was fairly quiet as it was Sunday afternoon. I saw two bands playing – one was jamming loudly in the court where we saw the Australian guitarist on Friday night. I cooled off with a cold Wiseacre Ananda IPA at BB King’s Club. While I was at it, I checked the Statelines app (from Technomadia) on my smartphone and saw that alcohol is not sold in Arkansas on Sunday. I needed to get some beer, so I decided to stop at a store in Memphis where alcohol sales are legal on Sunday after noon. I saw a funny sign as I was walking down Beale Street.

So true

So true

My map showed a market a couple of blocks away on Vance Street, so I scootered over there. Wow, what a difference two blocks makes in the neighborhood. The gentrified Beale Street is world away from Vance Street. The neighborhood was reminiscent of Beale Street back in the ’70s. I found of photo of Beale Street taken in 1974 on this site.

Beale Street at Third Ave cica 1974

Beale Street at Third Ave circa 1974

I went into the market and made my purchase quickly. I wasn’t comfortable in this neighborhood. The people loitering on the curb outside the store looked rough. I rode back home to Tom Sawyer’s RV Park.

I was inspired to practice guitar while Donna was outside reading a book. Later, we took a walk together through the park. This RV park has very few long-term visitors. It seems like most people use it as an overnight stopping point or maybe a weekend getaway. Unlike most parks, we haven’t seen the usual weekend influx of campers or the Sunday afternoon exodus back to the workaday world. Instead, people seem to come and in and out in a fairly equal exchange. Over the four nights that we’ve been here, we’ve had four different RVs in the site across from us.

One of the rigs that’s been here since we arrived is an old GMC bus converted to an RV. A lot of the bus conversions I see are a little rough looking, but I’m always intrigued by them. Converting an old bus into an RV is a lot of work. It’s invariably a labor of love to make it into your own vision of what an RV should be.

GMC bus conversion

GMC bus conversion

This is a far cry from the Millenium Coach built on a Prevost chassis I showed in my last post. Speaking of Prevost chassis, we saw two more coaches built on Prevost chassis as we walked through the park. The first one was a 2011 Liberty Coach. We met the woman who owns the coach along with her husband and chatted for a while. They’ve had several coaches, including a Marathon Coach built on a Prevost chassis. She said the Liberty was the best they’ve ever owned.

I forgot to take a photo of their beautiful RV, but I snapped a shot of a Country Coach built on a Prevost XL chassis.

Country Coach Prevost XL chassis

Country Coach Prevost XL chassis

Today the thermometer is forecast to hit 90 degrees with less humidity than we’ve had lately. There’s a 40% chance of a thundershower. I might try fishing the ponds here today.

Beale Street

After writing my post yesterday, I set up my Cycle Pro Mechanic bike stand and worked on Donna’s bike. Donna has been complaining about erratic shifter operation and the chain jumping gears on the few rides she’s been on since her crash. With her bike suspended on the stand, I could turn the crank and shift gears to see what was going on. I went through the rear derailleur set-up, adjusting it until it shifted properly. Without the bike stand, that job would have been impossible.

By the time I had it done, she was ready to go for a ride. She rode south and made a 26-mile loop. Part of her ride was on the Mississippi River Trail which stretches 85 miles from West Memphis to Helena. It was hot and humid out and that was the longest ride she’d done in months. Although she had plenty of water while she rode, she needed nutrition and hydration when she returned.

While Donna was out, I took care of a few chores. We made plans to head over to Beale Street in downtown Memphis. Nowadays, Beale Street is a major tourist attraction in Memphis. Beale Street has a long tradition of being a place where you can hear blues music. In 1909, W.C. Handy wrote Memphis Blues and later wrote Beale Street Blues. The list of blues musicians that performed on Beale Street is long and includes such famous names as Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, Albert King and of course BB King.

The Marines sent me to school in Millington, north of Memphis in 1975. I came down to Beale Street with a couple of buddies to check out the blues bars. It was a different scene back then, not the tourist attraction it is today. Very few white people came to the blues clubs. The street was filled with thieves and con men. We stuck together and treaded carefully. Back then, we would usually go to Overton Square on Cooper Street where the rock and roll clubs were. The city adopted a plan for gentrification of Beale Street back in 1973, but it didn’t gain traction until the 1980s.

Today Beale Street is closed to vehicular traffic from 2nd Street to 4th Street. There are street entertainers and musicians everywhere. Handy Park has outdoor concerts and the clubs lining both sides of the street have live music. Donna and I took an Uber cab from the RV park and were dropped off at the corner of 2nd and Beale.

2nd and Beale - BB King's Club on the right, Blues City Cafe on the left

2nd and Beale – BB King’s club on the right, Blues City Cafe on the left

Our first stop was the Blues City Cafe. We both ordered the half rack of hickory-smoked pork ribs. It was seasoned just right and the meat literally fell off the bones. I would rate it as the best barbeque ribs I’ve ever tasted. It came with small sides of baked beans and cole slaw and a large side of steak fries plus Texas toast. I paired it with locally brewed IPA from Ghost River Brewing.

On Beale Street, some laws don’t apply. Every bar and restaurant serves adult beverages in plastic cups to go. You can walk out the door, drink in hand, and make your way down the street to your next stop.

Beale Street

Beale Street

As we walked down the street, we could hear a band jamming incredibly loud. The music was coming from Handy Park. I haven’t heard a band play that loud since the ’80s.

Jamming loud music

Jamming loud music

We watched them perform a couple of songs, but it was too loud for Donna, so we moved on. After we crossed the street, we heard another band. The gal singing could’ve been an American Idol winner, she was that good.

She could belt it

She could belt it

A corner open air bar had a pair of guitarists playing. Their arrangements were well thought out and they covered songs expertly. The guy on the right could sing – he sang Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ perfectly.

The guy on the right can sing

The guy on the right can sing

The talent and musicianship were amazing. There were great musicians everywhere. It was early – we arrived at 5:30pm and none of the clubs had cover charges until later in the evening. We continued to hop from bar to bar and check out the music. At our next stop, the band did a brilliant cover of Bob Dylan’s Positively 4th Street.

You've got a lotta nerve...

You’ve got a lotta nerve…

We found a club with a table on a patio next to the Blues City Cafe and sat for a while. There was a group of youngsters performing acrobatic gymnastic feats on the street for tips. We people-watched for a while there. Along the way, I found another local IPA from Wiseacre Brewing. This was top shelf IPA, the best I’ve had in a while.

Donna at a street side table

Donna at a street side table

After people-watching for a while, we moved again when we heard a band playing in the courtyard next to the club. The guitarist was from Australia and he knew how to play blues.

Australian bluesman

Australian bluesman

I ordered one last beer while we watched the band.

Beale beer

Beale beer

Around 8pm, it was starting to get dark. We’d had our fill and it was time to go home. Beale Street is definitely a great time if you like live music. We requested a ride from Lyft and the driver arrived in about 10 minutes.

Beale Street at sunset

Beale Street at sunset

On the way home, a thunderstorm rolled in. It was pouring rain by the time we got to our coach. Wind had knocked limbs off trees in the park and the power was out. I switched the inverter on and we were able to watch an episode of Homeland before we went to bed.

This morning it’s overcast but calm. Power was restored in the night. Today will be hot – near 90 degrees with a 20% chance of a thundershower this afternoon.