Category Archives: Tennessee

Buffalo Trace

Our week in Nashville flew by. We pulled out of Grand Ole RV Park Thursday morning and were on the road by 9:15am. Our route took us up I-65 to Elizabethtown where we cut east on the Bluegrass Highway. The road surfaces were good. There were a lot of tractor-trailer rigs on I-65 heading to and from Louisville. Southern Kentucky has a lot of brown signs on I-65 indicating points of interest – mostly parks with caverns and museums. Apparently the limestone in the area is conducive to the formation of caves.

We stopped at the Pilot Travel Center at exit 86 on I-65 before we hit the Blugrass Highway. I topped up the tank with 60 gallons of diesel. Fuel prices have been on the rise and I paid $3.11/gallon. Our next stop was at Walmart on US127 in Lawrenceburg. Donna went in to get a couple of thigs while I ordered a Subway sandwich for a late lunch. I had a mishap in the parking lot there. Although the parking lot didn’t have trees, which are my usual obstacle in Walmart lots, this one had concrete islands with high curbs at the end of each row. I picked what looked to be the widest opening and went for it. There was a metal stop sign right at the edge of the island. I scraped the trailer on the edge of the stop sign. Arrgh!

We made our way to the Still Waters Campground. Check-in was a little different. No computers. The owners live onsite and do everything the old fashioned way – hand written receipts and journal entries. The guy that took us to our site (on a riding mower!) brought us in from the wrong direction – there was no way I would be able to back the trailer into the site. He had me loop around on the lawn and enter the site from the rear – making it a pull-through. Before I could get all the way in, a branch had to removed from one the trees lining the site. We were finally ready to set up around 3:30pm.

Donna made a quick and easy meal for dinner – just the thing on a travel day. She made a skillet meal of sweet Italian chicken sausage, cherry tomatoes, and asparagus and served it over whole wheat penne and pesto. It was a savory, hearty meal.

Skillet Italian chicken sausage with tomatoes and asparagus

On Friday morning, I got the Spyder out and we rode into town to the Buffalo Trace Distillery. We arrived just in time for the 9am tour. I had read about their tours online – they have five different tours. The Trace Tour runs every hour from 9am to 4pm Monday through Saturday, noon to 3pm on Sunday. Their site says “walk-ins welcome, no reservation required.” It’s a tour that gives background on making bourbon and the history of the distillery. It includes walks through barrel-aging warehouses and one of the bottling operations.

The other four tours are more specific to a certain aspect of the distillery. I wanted to take the Hard Hat Tour which takes you through the mash and distillation process. But, I didn’t notice that all of the tours except the Trace Tour require reservations. By the time I realized it on Thursday, they were all booked. All of the tours are free.

This distillery has the distinction of being the oldest continuously running distillery in America. The distillery was built by Harrison Blanton in 1812. The Prohibition era from 1920 to 1933 closed all but a few distilleries. Buffalo Trace Distillery was known as the George T. Stagg Distillery at the time and was granted an exemption to distill whiskey for medicinal purposes. During prohibition, pharmacies carried small amounts of whiskey which could only be obtained with a doctor’s prescription. Thus the distillery never shut down.

The distillery is on the bank of the Kentucky River and the property is beautiful with manicured lawns, gardens and brick buildings dating back to the 1800s. The rest of this post is photo-heavy – I took lots of pictures at the distillery.

Donna at the visitor center and gift shop

An old pot still used for small experimental batches – I know someone who’d like to have this

One of several barrel-aging warehouses – barrel elevator at the top floor

An interesting thing I learned is why barrels are… well, barrel-shaped. When filled with whiskey, the barrels weigh about 550 pounds. If the barrels were made with straight sides like a 55-gallon drum, they would be hard to handle and maneuver around. With the barrel shape and convex sides, when the barrel is on its side, it only has a small contact area. It can easily be spun or turned. If the barrel is rolled onto a track – much like a narrow-gauge train track – it will roll along and follow the track. That’s how they transport barrels from building to building here. The tracks have a slight slope to let gravity roll the barrel from one building to the next.  They also have elevators to raise the barrels to different floors of the buildings.

Barrel Crossing

Buffalo Trace distills a number of whiskey brands. The interesting thing is they only have three grain bill recipes for their bourbon. Grain bill number one is used for Buffalo Trace Bourbon and Eagle Rare and a few others. The difference between Buffalo Trace Bourbon and Eagle Rare comes from the amount of time it’s aged and the placement of the barrel during aging. Whiskeys that are bottled young are aged in the top floors of the barrel buildings where the temperature fluctuation is the greatest. More expensive whiskeys are aged on the lower floors and closer to the center of the building. The actual recipes are secret, but I’ve heard grain bill number one is 70% corn, about 15% rye and the balance barley. Grain bill number two is also corn, rye and barley but in different percentages – it’s used to make Blanton’s. Grain bill number three is used to make Pappy Van Winkle’s  and is corn, wheat and barley.

The barrels have bar codes and information stamped on them. This one was filled in May of 2014

This barrel has been aging since May of 2007 – probably a third of the contents have evaporated by now

This barrel contains an experimental recipe

As the barrels age, some evaporation occurs. Water escapes as the water molecules are small enough to pass through the wood barrel through osmosis. The alcohol molecules are larger and remain in the barrel. So the percentage of alcohol in the barrel increases over time.

Next we went to one of the bottling stations

The premium whiskeys produced by Buffalo Trace are bottled and labeled by hand. The barrel of whisky is dumped into a trough. A sample is taken to determine the alcohol content of the barrel. Water is added to reach the desired alcohol content, then the whiskey flows to the bottler.

Filling bottles of Blanton’s Single Barrel whiskey

You can thank the Blanton’s brand for creating the popular single-barrel whiskey niche. They started it in 1984 and now it’s the craze. Most bourbons are made by blending several different barrels of whiskey together to create a consistent flavor profile. Each bottle of Blantons is filled with whiskey from a single barrel. The label has the barrel number hand written along with warehouse designation and storage rick on the label. It also has the date the barrel was dumped.

Capping Blanton’s by hand

Applying the labels

Bagging and boxing Blanton’s

They had two lines bottling Blanton’s. One of the women working the line told me they box 350 cases per shift, six bottles to a case. That’s 2,100 bottles per line and they run two shifts per day – 8,400 bottles. They can’t keep up with demand though. The problem comes from aging. Who knew nine years ago that the single-barrel Blanton’s would become so popular? If they had a crystal ball, they would have made more of it back then so it would be good to go now.

They produce 18 different spirits at Buffalo Trace. One of them is Pappy Van Winkle’s. For many bourbon connoisseurs, 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle’s is the holy grail. They only bottle and release it once a year in November. People pay crazy prices for it and often have to be drawn through a lottery to obtain a bottle.

Some of the different liquors made here

Bottle on the right is the Holy Grail – 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle’s

They have a special place to commemorate every millionth barrel filled since prohibition. Right now barrel number seven million is aging in this place of honor.

The glass wall made the photo ghostly

The tour ended around 10:30am with a complimentary tasting. I tried the White Dog which is basically moonshine – it’s liquor that hasn’t been barrel-aged. It was awful. Then I had Eagle Rare in my right hand and Buffalo Trace Bourbon in my left hand for a comparison taste. Both are superb. We finished with a chocolate bourbon ball with a pecan on top and a shot of bourbon cream with a dash of root beer. Delicious.

Before we left, we dropped some cash in the gift shop. We bought chocolate bourbon balls, Buffalo Trace bourbon and I had to grab a bottle of Blanton’s Single Barrel. It’s way pricier than I would usually spend on bourbon, but I got caught up in the hype.

My bottle of Blanton’s – barrel dumped May 16, 2018 from barrel number 178, warehouse H rick number 30

Of course, I had to add a Buffalo Trace T-shirt while I was at it.

Later in the afternoon, I got the Sea Eagle kayak out and we rolled it down to Elkhorn Creek on the kayak carrier. Donna paddled up the slow moving creek and had a look around. I saw a water snake as we were launching the kayak – harmless. And Donna didn’t see anything scary other than a couple of cows drinking from the muddy river.

Donna on Elkhorn Creek

Donna prepared another quick and easy meal last night. She made a new dish she’s calling Skillet Taco Turkey & Black Beans with Cauliflower Rice. Healthy and scrumptious.

Skillet taco turkey dish

Tomorrow is Donna’s birthday. We are postponing her usual birthday dinner out due to the lack of a suitable restaurant open on Sunday in the area. We’ll probably find something in Lexington in a few days. We’re booked here through Tuesday. Hopefully the weather holds out, but the forecast calls for a strong possibility of thunder showers today and tomorrow.


Nudie’s in Nashville

There’s a company that runs a shuttle service from hotels and RV parks in the suburbs to downtown Nashville. Donna called them Monday morning and arranged for a pick-up here at Grand Ole RV Park at 2pm. The round-trip shuttle service costs $15/person. We thought 2pm would be early enough to miss rush-hour traffic on the 30-minute ride downtown. It was also late enough by the time we got there for the bands to be playing on Broadway.

The shuttle dropped us off by the Country Music Hall of Fame on 5th and Demonbreun. We walked a block north to Broadway and made our way down to the waterfront on 1st Avenue. Most of the activity is in the bars and clubs on Broadway between 4th and 2nd Avenues. We crossed to the north side of Broadway and made our way back toward 4th Avenue and stopped at a few clubs to see who was playing.

We made our first stop at Whiskey Bent Saloon where two guys were taking requests. It was amazing – someone would put in a request, then while one of them was playing and singing a song the other would look up the song requested on a smartphone and would learn the song in a matter of minutes and play it.

Stump the Band

We heard rock and roll coming from a club across the street and stopped there for a couple of cold ones. It was Nudie’s Honky Tonk. The name doesn’t mean what you might think it means. The club is named after Nudie Cohn. Nudie was born in Ukraine and was a renowned tailor. He made suits for everyone from Ronald Reagan to Elton John and, of course, Elvis Presley. He made the $10,000 gold lamé suit worn by Elvis. The club has photos of Nudie with various artists and celebrities lining the walls along with various suits he made.

The band was playing classic rock with a power trio format when we came in. Nashville isn’t just country music.

Rockin’ power trio

After a few songs, a girl joined the band to sing. She was good and could cover a wide range of tunes – everything from Journey to Led Zeppelin. The guitar player was clever – when they played What I Like About You by the Romantics, he hit chords with what must have 32nd notes to simulate the harmonica in the original tune.

Power trio now fronted by a woman

We moved on and went to The Stage on Broadway. The band playing there was smokin’ hot. I was wearing a black Gibson shirt and the band leader started teasing me a bit. He asked what I wanted to hear – I said Bob Dylan. He said okay and started the intro to Knockin’ on Heavens Door, then stopped. He asked me my name and I said Bob Dylan – if I would have been quicker on my feet, I would have said Robert Zimmerman – Bob Dylan’s real name. He wanted to know my name, so I told him. Then he said if I could answer a question, I would win a prize. He asked what band besides Bob Dylan covered that song. I said everyone’s done that song. He said, “Okay, what band other than Bob Dylan had a number one hit with that song?” I responded with Guns N’ Roses. He said, “Bingo! Right answer. That means you get to buy a round of drinks for the band – three whiskeys and a Coke.” Then they played the song.

Later he donned sunglasses and fake sideburns to cover an Elvis number. I thought he looked more like Neil Diamond.

Elvis or Neil?

The guy sitting stage right ripped on the steel guitar and he was no slouch with a standard electric guitar either. The front man with the left-handed Telecaster was unbelievable. At one point in the show he asked if anyone in the audience had an empty beer bottle. A woman gave him one. They launched into the Allman Brothers Ramblin’ Man and he used the beer bottle to play slide guitar licks. It takes a deft touch to hit the notes with something as big and heavy as a beer bottle!

Beer bottle slide guitar

It only rained once while we were downtown and we were sitting in the Whisky Bent Saloon at the time. We knocked off early and caught the shuttle back to the RV park. Donna stopped in at the office/restaurant and picked up the daily special for dinner – Shepherd’s pie with cornbread.

Wednesday was mostly a hang out day for me. I made a run to Walmart for a couple of things and stopped at the Cigar Club and bought a couple of cigars. Donna had a visitor in the afternoon – a Facebook friend by the name of Charmaine Alsager. They discovered that they have a few friends and interests in common.

Earlier in the day, I got a text and phone call from Lester Foreman. We met Lester and his wife, JoAnn, at the Tom Sawyer RV Park in West Memphis in 2015. I wrote about Lester and his Vixen coach in this post. Lester had been checking in with us through the blog and knew where we were. He wanted to tell me about a great place for breakfast about 20 miles away called the Bottom View Farm.

Donna and I headed out on the Spyder at 7:30am this morning to find the place for breakfast. I missed a turn and we ended riding for about an hour before I found it. We were pretty hungry by the time we arrived, but as luck would have it, there was a note on the door: Sorry, closed due to a death.

We ended up getting breakfast at Johnson’s Crossroads Cafe – Donna had noticed it on the way out and thinks that it was a restaurant Charmaine had recommended the day before. The food was good and the service was fast. Today I’ll have to tidy up the trailer. We’re heading north to Frankfort, Kentucky tomorrow. The temperature will be 90 here and we’ll probably have another thundershower before the day is done. The forecast for Frankfort is about 10 degrees cooler and hopefully it’ll stay dry there.


Daily Downpours

We mostly hung out at the Grand Ole RV Resort and dodged the expected thundershowers all weekend. Friday evening Donna browned bone-in skin-on chicken thighs and cooked it with diced tomatoes, red wine, and kalamata olives and then topped it with feta cheese. She served it with whole wheat orzo and  roasted broccolini on the side. I’d made a run to the Goodlettsville Kroger a few miles away earlier to pick up the wine and kalamata olives.

Chicken with tomatoes, kalamata olives and feta

It was a very tasty meal. We ate inside as the thundershowers rolled in.

On Saturday morning we planned to go to the Madison Creek Farm for their Saturday market. Their farm is located out on Willis Branch Road – an affluent area with large homes and horse farms. When we arrived we found out that the market was closed due to a wedding being held there. From time to time, they rent out the property for special events.

Madison Creek Farm

We saw some fresh vegetable baskets they had prepared for members that signed up for weekly pick-up. The vegetables looked great and were obviously freshly picked from the garden. They also grow flowers and in the summer months, customers can cut their own.

When we returned to Grand Ole RV Park, we moved from our temporary site to a long, full hook-up site. We packed quickly and made the short move by 11am.

Donna enjoying a glass of sun tea in our new site

Our new site is on a small rise near the park entrance, overlooking most of the RV park. It’s nice but the trees along the south side of the coach have blocked my Dish Network reception. No Moto GP race coverage for me this weekend.

After we settled in, I rode the Spyder to Walmart several miles away on Gallatin Pike. The traffic in the Nashville area is horrible. At a couple of intersections, I had to wait for the traffic signal to cycle twice before I could get through. I went to Walmart to refill some gallon jugs of purified water.

Donna went out and hiked along a creek called Lumsley Fork – she actually walked along a road called Hitt Lane that follows the creek. In the late afternoon and into the evening we had thundershowers again.

They serve breakfast here at the RV park. On Friday, I had their bacon and eggs plate. I found out they had biscuits and gravy, so I had to have that Sunday morning. They also have a daily dinner plate – no open menu, just one entree per evening and live entertainment. Donna met one the musicians. He stays here at the park and plays in two bands. One band plays on Friday night and is more of a country music band with a girl playing fiddle. The other band plays on Saturday night and they cover blues and classic rock. They have other musicians for each night – either on the back patio – weather permitting – or in the little store/restaurant.

I used the downtime in the afternoon to remove and clean the screen on our Fantastic Fan in the kitchen. The roof vent collects a greasy film and dust over time.

On Sunday evening, Donna marinated a pork tenderloin in a brown sugar/bourbon/dijon marinade. She broke into my bourbon stash for one of the main ingredients. The weather was threatening when I put it on the grill. I had just given the tenderloin a final check and found the internal temperature with an instant read meat thermometer at 135 degrees when the rain started falling. I quickly put the meat on a cutting board as Donna opened the door to the coach for me. The rain came down in buckets.

Pork tenderloin with brown sugar/bourbon/dijon gravy, mashed sweet potato and buttered corn with roasted red peppers

Thunder had Ozark the cat hiding in a small storage cubby in our closet.

Ozark hiding out

After a heavy down pour, the rain let up and we had showers off and on into the night. It’s overcast this morning and the forecast calls for thundershowers this afternoon – a 50% chance all afternoon. We’re planning to take a shuttle to downtown Nashville, but we’ll probably be dodging showers while we’re there. The high should reach the upper 80s. Waiting for a window of nicer weather doesn’t look like a possibility. The daily showers should continue all week.



Alabama Hospitality

My last post was on Monday, so I have some catching up to do. Between travel days and a stop without a good Internet connection, I haven’t been able to post. Nearly five years on the road and I can only think of a few instances where our Verizon Jetpack wasn’t able to pick up a good wireless signal.

In my last post, I mentioned I was waiting for a package to arrive at the Hattiesburg post office. I followed the tracking and it showed it was available at the post office in the historic downtown area of Hattiesburg Monday morning. Hattiesburg isn’t a large metropolis by any stretch, but it does have three post offices. I’ve always been a little leery of having parcels sent to General Delivery in larger post offices.

I rode the Spyder downtown to collect the package. The diagonal parking on the street was all metered. Uh-oh. I didn’t plan for that. I found two dimes in one of my pockets and wondered how long the line was in the post office. I put a dime in the meter and found that bought me 36 minutes of parking time! I was able to retrieve my package in a matter of a few minutes. I won’t be so leery of General Delivery from now on.

The package I was waiting for came from Famous Smoke Shop in Easton, Pennsylvania. That’s right. I’d ordered cigars. I got a box of cigars from Tabacalera Oliva in Esteli, Nicaragua. Oliva makes a large number of hand-made cigars for their own brands and others. The cigars were boxed in a beautiful wooden box also made by Oliva. They have their own wood shop making cigar boxes! Last year, they made over 60,000 boxes there and are expanding to be able to supply up to 100,000 boxes annually. They are a big part of the economy in Esteli. The box was made with interlocking box joints and a hinged snap clasp – exquisite construction for a consumable. No paper covered cardboard at Oliva!

Beautifully made cigar box

On Tuesday morning, we made the coach ready for travel. Before we hooked up the trailer, I drove to the dump station to dump and flush the holding tanks. Then we drove back to our site to hitch up the trailer and were on the road by 10:15am.

Our route took us away from Hattiesburg up I-59 to Meridian where we made a stop at Walmart to stock up. The road surface was good and the traffic light. There was dense forest most of the way with fewer pine trees than we saw south of Hattiesburg and more hardwoods. Mississippi isn’t like I expected.

I-59 gave way to I-20 and we were on a northeast heading. Our next stop was in Tuscaloosa, Alabama at the Pilot Travel Center. This is our first trip to Alabama in the coach – I’ve flown into Atlanta several times before but never visited any other part of Alabama. We continued toward Birmingham on I-20 and exited at mile post 100 before we hit Birmingham.

We found the Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park there. They have RV sites located in three campgrounds. We were lucky and scored a pull-through full-hookup site for just $25/night. Our site was more than 80 feet long! We paid for two nights.

The park is in a heavily forested, hilly area and Mud Creek runs right through it. Donna went out on her knock-around bike while I puttered around our site. She found a few trails and points of interest. It was hot and very humid – temperatures in the 90s. We had both roof air conditioners on for the duration of our stay.

On Wednesday morning, I took Donna’s bike and traced her route from the day before. After going up and over a steep hill, I found some historic buildings. There was an old forge – the blacksmith shop – and a grist mill that dated back to the civil war.

Tannehill Forge

John Wesley Hall mill – note the waterwheel on the left powering the grist mill

Mud Creek

On Wednesday afternoon, Miriam Armbrester and her husband Rand picked us up at the park. Miriam has been a subscriber to Donna’s organizing tips newsletter for more than 15 years! They live in the area and it was Miriam who gave us the tip about the campground at Tannehill State Park.

They took us up to Bessemer where we had lunch at the oldest restaurant in Alabama – the Bright Star. The Bright Star opened in 1907. It’s well-acclaimed – it’s listed on MSN’s list of 60 iconic restaurants you must try before you die. It’s also a James Beard Foundation award winner for American Classics.

Sign in front of the Bright Star restaurant

Rand grew up in Bessemer and has known the restaurant owners since he was a young boy. We met Jim and Nick Koikos, the brothers who have run the family business since 1966. Since it was our first time there, they started us off with a taste of their seafood gumbo – gratis. Donna and I ordered the daily special – grilled red snapper stuffed with lobster and crab au gratin. It came with a choice of three sides and was fabulous.

Miriam, Donna and Rand at the Bright Star entry

Rand hosted the lunch and very generously picked up the tab. Thanks again, Rand! Miriam made up a goody bag for us containing stuff made in Alabama, everything from old-fashioned ginger ale to syrups, barbeque sauces, grits, chips and coffee plus a couple of books written by a pastor friend.

All made in Alabama!

She also gave us a sour cream pound cake that she made. Delicious – I’m sure it’ll put a pound on. Thanks, Miriam!

We had a thundershower Wednesday night but it was dry out when we woke up Thursday morning. It took me a little longer than usual to get squared away for the road. The hoses all needed to be wiped clean from the rain and mud. Also, I didn’t notice it before but one of the cabinet doors in the trailer must not have been secured. It popped open sometime on the road and spilled its contents on the floor. I put everything away and made sure the doors were secure.

We hit the road around 10am and took I-20 into Birmingham. Rand warned us of road construction in the city. I looked at alternative routes but in the end figured it wasn’t going to be much better to try and skirt around it. My hunch proved true – we didn’t have any issues with construction traffic and hit open road again on I-65 once we were past Birmingham. A couple of hours later were crossed into Tennessee.

I noticed something I don’t remember seeing outside of Texas before – armadillo road kill. I’ve seen dead armadillos on the roadside in every state we’ve been in since we were in Texas – Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee – even right outside of Nashville. I know they’re expanding their range and I also know I never saw them in Tennessee before.

The traffic in the Nashville metro area was terrible. There are a few junctions where multiple freeways converge and traffic stops. You need to plan ahead to be in the correct lane or you’ll end up on the wrong freeway. Many people don’t do this and try to make multiple lane changes at the last instant. Scary!

We were thinking about going to the Opryland Resort to dry camp but changed our plan en route. We booked a week at the Grand Ole RV Resort and Market on the north side of town in Goodlettsville. They did’t have a full hook-up site available, but they put us into an electric only overflow site for two nights, then we’ll move to a full hookup pull-through site for five nights. They discounted the weekly rate for us.

The staff is very friendly. A woman from the office drove me around in a golf cart to look at various options for dropping the trailer and different sites. After conferring with a guy from the office, they put us in the overflow site and suggested I drive across the lawn and pull into the site from the back, leaving the trailer hooked up. I told them I could just as easily back into the site and not make a loop across their nice lawn. They didn’t seem to think I could maneuver the trailer in reverse like that. Donna directed me and we were in without any issues at all.

After dinner, a thunderstorm moved in. It looks like we’re in for more warm weather with a high probability of daily thundershowers. The shuttle to downtown Nashville starts running on Monday, so we’ll probably just hang out until then before we check out the downtown music scene.



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


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.


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.