Hello and welcome to Mike and Donna's retirement adventures.
After many years of working and taking care of family, we decided to look for adventures in other places.
Donna's retirement came at the request of her former manager (little Hitler) on 9/27/21 after 18 years with the IT vendor at the San Diego Convention Center. Mikes retirement began 46 years after high school on 3/18/22.
We have always liked cars and driving; we love to travel. We decided life on the road could be a new challenge/adventure for us.
In August (2021) we ordered a new home: An Airstream 30' Classic and a new Dodge RAM 2500 Diesel truck to tow it.
On Friday December 2, 2022, we finally took possession of it.
Have fun following us down the road.
Medoc Mountain State Park
It seems we’ve traversed all over the state! What’s interesting to us is each part of NC that we’ve visited, is SO different – from the terrain to the people!!
As we’ve mentioned before, there are times we find hidden gems to stay at, that are known to locals, but not necessarily to those traveling through the area. Medoc Mountain is one of those places. So nice, quiet, and beautiful….very few peeps there.
The weather was scrumptious – windows open and lots of good sleeping nights!!! Very dark skies at night. Sitting by the fire the first night, we saw a falling star. How cool – one of our favorite things to do when the skies cooperate! We also saw many satellites every night, one after the other go by. Love it!!
We did several hikes located on the campground property. This was the first time we both spotted a BIG snake at the same time. Donna – who loves snakes (NOT) made a beeline to continue down the trail, Mike close behind. Nope – no picture – definitely wasn’t stopping or going back to get one – LOL!!!
Okay – who or what stole Mike’s shower shoe? How in the world does this happen in the middle of nowhere? Shower shoes are left at the door to dry off after using the local facilities. He went back outside to do something, reached for his shoes and……………..one was gone. Hum….was it Big Foot? Was it a kid playing a joke? We looked all over and well….it was just gone.
Sitting by the fire - sky watching, Mike sees a shadow of “something” walking thru the woods behind our site. Quick!! Get that flashlight!!! We see a dog going through the woods. We didn’t think anything of it. We thought maybe one of the dogs camping near us had gotten off the leash. Never saw it again that night.
Morning comes and the other (1 shoe that we had left outside hoping its mate would mysteriously appear) shoe was gone! Well damn…..after looking around we found one shoe – something had chewed it like a toy. Shortly after that we see a hound dog running through the woods. She was skinny and obviously hungry. Gave her some food/water but she wasn’t going to get near us. She seemed friendly but scared.
The Ranger came through on many of his morning drive checks. He was very aware of the dog as many others had reported seeing her over the past several weeks. Sad….seems as if maybe she was a hunting dog that didn’t quite have what her owners were looking for, so they dumped her. The Ranger said it happens a lot……they have a list a mile long for people that want to adopt her – if they can catch her – which they’ve tried several times. We hope the best for her!!!
We enjoyed a beautiful drive through the back roads of North Carolina to a nice, quaint, quiet County Park. A bit off the beaten path and the kind of place we love! A couple of nice ponds that greet you upon your arrival, with several locals trying their luck at catching something….
The skies were extra dark at night, and we were lucky enough to see the ISS pass right over head one night. We tried our best to catch a look at a falling star, but no luck this time….
We met some nice neighbors including another Airstream couple that lived not too far away. They have family in the area and use the park quite often to stay while they visit. While conversing with them, we discussed small issues each of us had with little nitnoi things on our Airstreams. We had noticed our solar was not charging as it should be. They had experienced the same thing and showed us what they did to fix theirs. Voila! 2 of the 3 plugs used to recharge the solar, had wiggled loose over time. All fixed!!! Yayyy!!
Mike was able to catch up with two of his Navy buddies from the USS Peterson, who discovered we were in the area. They hadn’t seen each other since 1980!! They came over to see our home on wheels then off to dinner we went to catch up on old times for a few more hours.
A longtime friend Kurt drove a bit over an hour to come see our home on wheels and swap stories. We saw him last year; he lives near where we bought our truck. Off we went to a local Mexican place to catch up on more stories.
Our camping neighbors mentioned the North Carolina Zoo was a “must see” so off we went to explore it. It was a bit of a drive, but it gave us another chance to see more green countryside! We spent the entire day traversing through the most beautiful zoo we’ve ever been in. Inexpensive to enter – free parking – food meh – but we did get 5 miles on our trek!!!
It was a great week and very relaxing!!!
They call this part of North Carolina, the “High Country”. There is just something magical about fall creeping up and a few of those tree leaves starting to change. We had warm days and cool, crisp nights. Sleeping with the windows open and listening to all those night creatures, makes for a fabulous night’s sleep!!
Nestled deep in the mountains where we stayed, is the college town of Boone. Hey – it’s Appalachian territory here! Little did we know that a few days after we arrived, was the 1st football game of the season at Appalachian State University…..
The town was bustling with all kinds of peeps in black and yellow – the school colors. Students, Moms, Dads, Grandmas, Grandpas – all here to cheer on their local team. We toured the town well in advance of game day. Packed full of neat places to poke in and out of…
Grandfather Mountain is like no other place we’ve been. We hiked to the top and felt like we were on top of the world!! The views from every angle were spectacular! If you’ve never seen the Blue Ridge Mountains in person, they are like no other mountain range anywhere. The Mountain famous for its “swinging bridge” is a mile up. Donna got up enough guts to walk across (she didn’t look down). This was quite the accomplishment for her since she is scared to death of open air heights. Then she had to walk back across – oi vey!
Done!!! LOL!!! We hiked back down and off we went to the Nature Center and wildlife habitats that are part of Grandfather Mountain. Pretty neat place!!! The weather couldn’t have been better for us – Yayyy!!
Blowing Rock is another neat town – very quaint with shops and restaurants. We got there early because it was Labor Day weekend. We managed to get in and out of all the shops before it got too crowded. But…..trying to find lunch was a bit of a challenge. We did – but good thing we weren’t starving as the wait times were nuts!!
From the town, we went to the actual “Blowing Rock”. No doubt it’s a tourist place. We were a bit disappointed as we were expecting this HUGE rock but in reality, it was not to be. Oh well – the views once again of the Blue Ridge Mountains were breathtaking….
Crab Orchard Falls is a very popular hike in the area. We headed off early in the morning to accomplish the hike before it got too hot. What a simply beautiful place tucked in the woods. We had been told that a “must do” was to stop at the famous Mast General Store which was near Crab Orchard Falls. It’s in a little township called Valle Crucis. What a neat place! Yep – we managed to find a few things including handmade ice cream and sherbet.
We sat outside resting our bones from our hike and shopping spree and enjoyed every yummy bite – LOL!!
Remember Andy Griffith? His hometown is Mt. Airy, NC. Oh – another day trip – let’s go!! So off we went to everything Mayberry. What a neat “throwback” day it was. We went into many of the shops, and then headed to the museum. What fun it was!! We understand from the locals that every year there is a festival called Mayberry Days, celebrating the Andy Griffith Show. Unfortunately, our dates in the area weren’t going to coincide with the festival as we didn’t know about it in advance.
Floyd’s Barber shop was still there and Mike decided he needed a haircut. While there, several locals came in and turns out they were former actors and written books that were just being published.
Our trip to the area was planned around and attending the “Land of Oz Autumn Festival” at the top of Beech Mountain. We bought the tickets back in June as the Festival is only 3 weeks in September and sells out quickly. We weren’t sure what to expect and realized that it was something very special, based on listening to other people talk about it. There were people from all over the US that had come to “play Oz” for the day! OMG – it was SO much fun.
All of the characters looked and sounded just like they did in the movie. The Yellow Brick Road meandered through the woods. Along the way, the characters reenacted parts of the original movie. Did we feel like kids? Yep…..and it was a fabulous day!!!
Can we just tell you that THE most BEAUTIFUL road/drive (we think) in the US is the Blue Ridge Parkway. It runs through Virginia and North Carolina at 469 miles long. We’ve been on it several times in several different areas of Virginia and NC. If you ever get the chance, DO IT – put it on your bucket list – you will not be disappointed……………………
Raccoon Valley RV Park (Heiskell)/Comfort Inn (Oak Ridge)
We planned this trip around a Navy Reunion for Mike. When he was in the Navy, one of the ships he was on was the USS Oak Ridge. Have you seen the movie “Oppenheimer”? Oak Ridge is known as the “Secret City”. It was established in 1942 as a production site for the “Manhattan Project” - the massive American, British, and Canadian operation that developed the atomic bomb. Lots of history!!
Last year when we attended the reunion, we toured areas that are no longer “active”, along with several museums.
Close by is the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary. It opened in 1896 and closed its doors in 2009. Quite interesting and creepy at the same time……..It sits exactly as it did when the doors closed with the exception of a Distillery that is now on the property. They distill their own Moonshine and Vodka, using all local grains and fresh mountain water.
All in all, it was a great trip – we had tons of fun seeing old friends once again……
OMG! If you’ve never been to The Smoky Mountain National Park, then put it on your bucket list!!! It’s been many years since we’ve been here but didn’t come to explore Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge. We were here with our MINI Cooper Club to drive “The Dragon” which is on the opposite side of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park (Devils Gap/Fontana Village).
Our campground was awesome! Very close to several entrances to the Great Smoky Mountain NP. We explored and did as much as we could during our week stay.
We poked around the town of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Both tourist towns with plenty to see and do. You drive right through Gatlinburg into one of the main entrances to the National Park.
The scenery, roads, waterfalls, rushing rivers – all just breathtakingly gorgeous. It was hot but no rain the entire time.
Our first drive through the NP we spotted a juvenile bear by the roadside – not interested in any of the traffic going by. It was happily munching on whatever it could find.
Tunnels – lots of them…..
We did a 3 mile hike to Grotto Falls which is quite a popular place. We got up at O dark thirty to ensure we could get parking, as it is very limited. The trail was very well marked, and “bear” warning signs posted quite frequently. We spotted a biggie as we were heading back but couldn’t get the camera out quick enough. It was fairly close to us so safety was our main concern. It happily came towards us on the trail then disappeared into the forest.
Clingmans Dome was on our list to do – again. We had hiked/climbed up when we were previously in the area but forgot how STEEP it was (we were a lot younger)! Whew!! We got our workout for the morning. It was a cool and foggy morning but still awesome.
Pigeon Forge was fun to explore – especially since we knew there was a Moon Pie General Store. Donna’s favorite snack……yeah, they sell Moon Pies elsewhere, BUT there are only 2 General Stores that have all kinds of other goodies. It was fun……….Mike also got some go-kart riding in. Did we feel like little kids? You bet ya!!!!
Also in Pigeon Forge is The Old Mill District. We had lunch at The Old Mill Restaurant. Good home cooking food!!! Man, we have to stop eating like this – LOL!! Beautifully located on the river….
We found Iron Mountain Metal Craft shop. They teach you make knives from railroad spikes. So of course, we had to.
Another wake up at the crack o dawn was to do an 11 mile bike ride inside the NP at the area called Cades Cove. This is where a lot of wildlife can be seen in the park. It is a beautiful open meadow. Every summer evening, like a rush hour in a big city, lines of cars full of wide eyed tourists drive around the loop hoping to catch a glimpse of something wild. On Wednesdays, the NP closes the 11 mile loop to cars and only allows bikes. We were hoping to spot more bears, but sadly, we saw none – booooooo…lots of deer and turkeys though. And a family of coyotes. It was fun riding bikes in the middle of the Smoky Mountains.
The Chalets surrounding Gatlinburg have views that must look awesome.
Catawba Falls Campground
We had a quick overnight stay at this family-owned campground – to do some “adulting” like laundry, phone calls, paperwork, etc. The weather was simply gorgeous which enabled us to open all the windows and sleep to the sound of the babbling creek right behind our site. Ummmmmm…..simply lovely!!
The day was crystal clear through the mountains. We spotted a nice Woodie being towed somewhere…..unusual to see such a vehicle in these parts…..
Something quite common throughout the southeast are giant trees with years and years of “vine” growth. Pretty neat looking….
Stone Mountain State Park
What started out as a gorgeous sunny driving day, although slow, through some very mountainous areas, turned nasty, with a whopper thunderstorm. It was raining so hard; we pulled off at an exit and sat for a while to let the skies settle down a bit. Luckily we were only 30 minutes from our campground.
The area is quite full of many outdoor things to do – hiking, biking, boating….you name it…
We hiked to the famous (around here anyway) Stone Mountain. Such a site to see, my oh my!!! On the grounds of the campground made it easy to get to. Located at the base of Stone Mountain, was the Hutchinson Homestead. It was a working farm built by the Hutchinson family in the mid-19th century. It was restored in 1998 and bought by the state of North Carolina as part of the Stone Mountain Park, in 1979.
From there, we hiked in a different direction to Stone Mountain Falls. A breathtaking 200ft. waterfall in Big Sandy Creek that flows down a steep rock face into a shallow pool.
Surrounding the lower falls is a pool that makes a beautiful natural area full of boulders, branches, and rocks. There are 350 steps leading down from the top of the falls and an overlook along the way. Whew! We did it…..Yayyy!! We were a bit pooped when we got back to the truck.
Late in the afternoon we headed into the town of Elkin for supplies. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a pet Llama outside of a Llama farm. Well….we did today. Meet “Sipping Kalua”!!
The owner was asked multiple times – jokingly – “what kind of dog is that”? His reply –“he’s my Llamadoodle”. He proudly walked with a leash into the Tracker Supply Store and then into Lowes. Quite the site to see….
Oconee State Park
The woods – the trees – the lake - the curvy roads – the sunsets! All gorgeous scenery……The area is chock full of trails, waterfalls, and just neat things to do outside.
Even though it was HOT and HUMID, we went to Stump house Mountain Tunnel. It’s noted on the Register of Historical Places. It was originally started to connect South Carolina’s coast to Tennessee. The project ran out of money and came to a halt. 1617 feet of tunnel is available to walk in - it’s 25 feet high and 17 feet wide and then you come to a locked, old, creepy door. The walls are dripping with water from above that creates little pools of water all along the tunnel edge.
From the Tunnel, we hiked to Issaquena Falls, named after a legendary Cherokee girl who is said to have leaped from the top of the falls with her lover. It is not known if they died or landed on a ledge out of sight of hostile tribesmen and eventually lived happily ever after.
Both of these cool places are located in the Sumter National Forest.
Interesting sights always catch our eye as we travel from destination to destination.
Something we’ve seen here and there, trucks carrying logs going to??? Who knows –paper mill, or to build log homes…..
Chester State Park
Right on the lake! A Beautiful Small Park – just what we like. We lucked out and nobody had the site directly across from us, to block our view of the lake. There is a long dock to walk out and enjoy the view. There was a gathering spot by the lake, with swings, tables/chairs, and a fire pit. Super nice!!
It was great to meet our neighbor Larry; he spent a lot of time watching baseball games on his outdoor TV.
The historical part of town looked like it folded many years ago. We saw pictures of what it used to look like as a thriving town way back when. Everything looks so run down and sad. We were told that after Interstate I-95 was built, most of the little towns along what WAS the main highway then, simply couldn’t sustain them. There were a few small shops open on the main street that we poked our heads in. Outside of that, down the road, there were some amenities. Here and there, were some beautiful looking plantation looking homes.
Along our travels, in the smallest rural areas, there may not be much, but there are churches everywhere. Some are huge and beautiful – others not so much. The locals gather in whatever they can.
As with any hot and humid area, we had a few whopper thunderstorms roll through. In our sticks and bricks house, no big deal. When we are inside The Sandman, you can feel the thunder rolling under your feet – boom!!!!
Givhans Ferry State Park
Such a nice quiet place! Off the beaten path and another beautiful place. We are just amazed daily at how many beautiful places there are that we are so fortunate to see…
We were lucky enough to see Donna’s friends, Sue Gage and Lisa Gage Patrick again. They all went to High School together in Subic Bay, Philippines. We had planned this trip not knowing we would see them several weeks earlier.
They came out to visit us one evening to see The Sandman. We had burgers with all the fixings and some yummy desserts, they brought to share. As luck would have it, those evening South Carolina thunderstorms rolled in shortly after dinner. It gave us a chance to hang out inside and yack for a bit – LOL!!
The next day we all got together again and headed to Charleston. We toured the area and some of the outlying islands. We had a great lunch on the beach at Isle of Palms, and then we caught a ferry to Fort Sumter.
Charleston is filled with so much history and the most beautiful tree lined streets ever. We need to come back!! We ended the day going to the famous “Angel Tree”. It’s estimated to be over 400 years old. Coolest tree we’ve ever seen. It was a great time!!!
When down in this area, it’s important to note how to evacuate during hurricane season. We happened upon this route many times.
Our last day at Givhans we did something new – can’t believe we’ve never done this before. We rented floating tubes and went down the Edisto River. The river runs right behind the campground and “Edisto Adventures” rents whatever you need. Off we went – 2 miles – 2 hours. We took a cooler for lunch and snacks. They pick you up at the end and bring you back to the park. SO much fun!!!