Friday, October 30, 2009

A Typical Day

We are currently at the Volunteer Park Campground in Heiskell, TN. Located 12 miles North of Knoxville just West of I-75, this place has exceeded all expectations. We originally booked for a 2 week stay, but have extended for a full month.

One of the blessings of our full-time RV lifestyle is the freedom to take things one day at a time. If we feel like moving to a new location we can go without anything holding us back. If, like this stop, we feel comfortable and wish to extend our stay we can for as long as we desire. It is hard not to stay in a place like this when it offers so many amenities; level concrete pads, full hookups including sewer, a well-stocked store, a superb laundry room, cable with over 70 channels, good wifi connection and a genuinely friendly staff. The trees are at peak fall colors, the weather is warm during the days and cool at nights, there is a grocery store within a ten minute drive, a gas mart for minor supplies within walking distance and long-term residents who make us feel welcomed to the area. It feels like home and we are in no hurry to leave anytime soon. After traveling through 15 states in five months, it is nice to slow down for awhile.

For us a "typical" day is much different than when we were employed at the resort. Without the need to meet job schedules or social obligations, what is it that fills our new life so completely that we don't feel the need to make definitive plans or hurry anywhere? Part of the answer is that we simply have the freedom to finally live without constraints. Our children are living productive lives on their own, we have a stable monthly income and are blessed to be able to widely travel while still relatively young and healthy. Another part of the answer lies in the adventure of experiencing new places and meeting new people. A few days ago we had a very interesting conversation with a man from Australia who shared stories of his travels through vast areas of America, Canada, Mexico and Thailand. We have enjoyed superb seafood in Boston, looked upon endless stars in the mountains of New York, visited the wonders of Biltmore House in Ashville, NC and the caves of Kentucky. No day is ever the same as the one before.

That is not to say that we don't have routine obligations like everyone else. Groceries still need to be purchased, laundry needs to be done, repairs and cleaning of the RV need to be attended to on a regular basis and bills have to be paid. Two days ago I spent an hour fixing the water pump after foolishly letting the water tank run dry. Our daily pace of life has slowed down, but there is always something that needs attention or new experiences to be discovered. We have had to adjust both mentally and physically to a different way of life but, so far, this journey has been good to us.

copyright 2009 Lane A Geyer

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Going Underground

Diamond Caverns

There is one word that best describes our time in Kentucky - gray! Whether we were underground exploring the local caves or riding out the cloudy, damp days it was a solid two weeks of gray tones. But in spite of the weather, our time there was both comfortable and very informative.

Our stay was at the Singing Hills RV Park & Campground, located approx. 2.5 miles West of I-65 in Cave City and can best be described as basic. The grounds are a converted 40 acre farm that still contains a large 1900's farmhouse (now an antique/craft store) and a weathered wood barn. There are ample pull-through sites and a small pond. Other small farms surrounding the property contained a small herd of Angus cattle and a flock of chickens with roosters that crowed loudly each morning. The sites were muddy during rains and the buildings a bit dated, yet extremely clean. It's not a place for people seeking alot of activity, but for all it lacks in extras it was constantly filled to capacity and convenient to shopping areas and numerous cave systems. The owners, Beth and Eldon, were two of the nicest people we have ever met and have done an admirable job in making constant improvements to the property since they purchased it two years ago. A word of thanks to our gracious hosts for their genuine hospitality.

A unique aspect of staying in the area is knowing that you are standing, parked or driving above the world's largest cave system. Millions of years ago the bluegrass landscape of Kentucky was covered by a shallow sea. Deposits of tiny marine animals and plants eventually formed thick layers of limestone that were later dissolved by water to form vast underground passages. To date, over 500 miles of cave passages have been mapped and geologists believe another 500 miles remain to be discovered.

Our first journey underground was at the Mammoth Cave National Park. Although best known for the caves, the park is over 3,000 acres in size and beautifully lush with forests, plants, rivers, hiking trails, a lodge and wildlife. On our drive to the Welcome Center we had to stop for a large flock of wild turkeys crossing the road and saw numerous deer. The area was authorized as a national park in 1926 and fully established in 1941. At that time just 40 miles of cave passageways had been mapped. Today, over 365 miles of passageways have been explored and the park experiences up to 3,000 visitors per day during peak periods.

The park offers a variety of cave tours that provide access to over ten miles of the system and range from 45 minutes to three hours in length. We chose to take the Violet City Lantern Tour. Designed to recreate the experiences of cave visitors during the 1800's, participants are given oil lanterns to carry on a three hour, very strenuous three mile hike through large passageways and chambers.

Because the system is a dry canyon, there are no massive stalagmites or stalactites that people normally associate with caves. Instead, what visitors experience is a journey through time in an overwhelmingly immense, gray atmosphere defined by boulder-lined paths that house a fascinating history. With the oil lanterns being our only source of light, the experience felt truly adventurous. Along the way two knowledgeable guides explained the use of the caves by early native Americans, a commercial saltpeter leaching factory established for the making of gunpowder during the War of 1812, an ill-fated tuberculosis hospital and the transition of the system from private ownership to a national park. Due to the consistently dry atmosphere, artifacts from all of the above influences are in amazingly good shape. We would highly recommend this tour, but with one warning - it is not for the faint of heart. There are sections of the trail that are very steep, slippery and require climbs up oversize rock stairs; it's a workout!

Later in the week we visited Diamond Caverns, the fourth oldest, private show cave in the country that has provided tours for over 145 years. Being a wet system only 1/2 mile in length, it was a much different and less strenuous experience than Mammoth Caves.

As shown in the pictures above, the cave is presented by a state-of-the-art lighting system that highlights numerous stalagmites, stalactites and calcite crystal formations along passage walls. It is a beautiful atmosphere with sparkling calcite formations resembling diamonds overhead and cut-away displays of mineral deposits. Our young, but informative guide did a good job of explaining the unique aspects of the system as well as sharing interesting stories of the cave wars undertaken by private owners during the turn of the century. It's well worth the visit if you are ever in the area.

We are currently in the Knoxville, TN area enjoying a colorful, fall atmosphere. Will update you later on our experiences here.

copyright 2009 Lane A Geyer
Photos by Deb

Monday, October 5, 2009

It's Raining Walnuts In Brazil (Indiana, That Is)

October 9, 2009

We are currently in Cave City, KY after an enjoyable two week stay in Indiana. It was my home state until ten years ago and I enjoyed returning for the Fall foliage and visits with my daughters and grandson.

But before I explain our trip through Indiana, I would like to share a story.

Several months ago Deb awoke to say she had a dream in which I told her we should name our motor home Howie. At that point I was on my first cup of coffee and, not being fully awake, my brain could not register how the name Howie made any sense at all in the grand scheme of things. "Howie?", I ask. "What is that supposed to mean?"

With a smile, she said that I told her Howie stands for 'House On Wheels Is Excellent'. So from that point forward we have fondly referred to our home as Howie; a reference that feels much more comfortable than RV or rig. RV immediately implies a recreational connotation, which does not properly apply in our case. Howie is our full-time home, our full-time transportation and, in his own way, our constant companion. For many of the same reasons, rig doesn't fit because it sounds too much like a semi-truck. Besides, Howie turned 25 years old this month which in itself deserves the respect of a more formal name. Depending on the source, Howie can now be considered either an "antique" or a "classic". Either way he has been very good to us through 14 states and numerous campgrounds over the past four months.

We left Ohio on September 20th and made our way West primarily on U.S. 30 through central Indiana, then North on U.S. 31 into the South Bend area. It was a very smooth trip and much less taxing than our previous months of driving through steep mountains.

If you've never driven through Indiana, here is a overview of what you will see: corn field, corn field, bean field, farm buildings, corn field, woods, corn field, wheat field, stoplight (in the middle of corn fields), farm buildings, stoplight, McDonalds, corn field, bean field, McDonalds, corn field, woods, silos, corn field....well, you get the idea. There are some beautifully wooded hills in the area South of Bloomington, but the majority of the state is overwhelmingly flat farmland.

During our first week we stayed at the Beaver Ridge Family Campground in Lakeville, just on the outskirts of South Bend. My oldest daughter Shannon, son-in-law Tom and grandson Collin live in South Bend so the site was both comfortable and convenient. We would have liked to spend more time there, but any trip to the area had to be planned around Notre Dame home football games; it is almost impossible to find a motel room or campground opening within a 60 mile radius of the town when they play at home. They had an away game at Purdue that week, so we were able to obtain a nice spot. We spent most of our time enjoying the Fall atmosphere, visiting with Shannon and Collin (who had just turned two years old) and taking a picture of the family football trophy at the hallowed Notre Dame stadium. Our thanks to the gracious hosts of Beaver Ridge who made our stay very comfortable and enjoyable. It is a campground we would recommend if you are ever in the area.

On the 27th we headed back South on U.S. 31, then West on U.S. 41 into Brazil, IN for a week stay at Fallen Rock Parke Campground. My youngest daughter, Jennifer, and her husband, Trent, live in Terre Haute, but we were not able to find a campground there that wasn't insanely expensive. As it turned out, Fallen Rock proved to be a comfortable, scenic stay that was not too far from Jennifer's workplace. We had a very quiet week, enjoyed a nice visit with Jennifer and attended a Saturday evening music show at the campground restaurant. I can't say that the musicians will ever make it big in Nashville, but the evening was a nice change of pace. The odd part of the experience was that we were the youngest people in attendance.

The only down side of the stay was that Howie got continually pelted by falling walnuts. The campground was filled with mature trees and several strong winds caused the nuts and shells to drop on the roof like small bombs. As a result, a few cracks developed in the front roof seams and a major hit was taken by an overhead vent. Luckily, the vent is directly over the shower so, until I was able to patch the break, there was no real water damage.

Our current location is only two miles from Mammoth Cave National Park. We are here for a full two week stay and look forward to visiting the caves next week. Will update you later on that experience. Until then, Happy Trails!

copyright 2009 Lane A Geyer
photos by Deb