Sunday, May 1, 2011

Traveling from Florida to Pennsylvania & the 2011 NRA Convention

I did run into some pretty crazy, windy, severe thunderstorm weather after heading north out of Florida, but I am thankful I missed the tornados and made it safely as far north as I have. My current location is near Cleveland, Ohio, and I spoke too soon in my last post regarding my van running so smoothly. I did get alot of miles in before a breakdown, but my van started overheating yesterday (Saturday), shortly after leaving Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.... So now my van has been towed and parked at a repair shop for a day and a half now, waiting for them to open Monday morning. Hopefully they can help me out... My coolant overflow tank located behind the license plate filled up to the top with coolant - for some reason it got forced out of the lines and won't suck back in or cycle thru. Perhaps a bad thermostat? Or maybe my fan isn't running? I REALLY hope it isn't a head gasket problem. Either way, AAA saved the day yet again. They towed me 70 miles and will reimburse me for lodging and food for upto 72 hours following the breakdown. So really, I'm feeling pretty blessed right now. I'm in a cozy hotel which AAA's "Trip Interruption Protection" service will pay for, and I've got a hot shower, a poofy white bed with 5 fluffy pillows, tv channels galore, a refrigerator, wifi, exercise room access, continental breakfast, a pool/hot-tub to use, and nowhere that I need to be! I'm not used to such luxurious living. lol. I am so completely relaxed right now.

After leaving Jacksonville Florida last week Thursday, I then spent a couple days on Amelia Island - there was alot of metal-detecting fun to be had there. I also did a bit of horseback riding on the beach at Amelia Island State Park, which was a lot of fun too, although my horse didn't particularly like to listen to my directions. Apparently I wasn't rough enough with the reins. Horseback riding is something I really haven't done that much of yet, but I sure would love to. Horses just make me feel good, although I will admit, I'm a bit intimidated by them. They are obviously just so much bigger than me. Anyhow, from Amelia Island I headed north up thru Georgia, and man did Georgia smell nice. I drove thru Georgia at night with the windows down, and every breath I took was just saturated with the thick scent of beautiful wildflowers. I was amazed at how fresh and floral the night-time air smelled there. Since it was dark, I couldn't see whether or not there were actually flowers everywhere, but I'm assuming that Georgia must just be speckled with them. I took very deep inhales and really appreciated the state's overwhelming scent of flowers. I spent the night at a rest area near Thomson, GA, and the next day headed north up through South Carolina, right along the Georgia border.

There were some really cool little towns along that western SC side, and alot of very scenic pull-offs along Hwy 81. The Calhoun Falls area is particularly memorable to me because I took the time to check out the Richard B. Russell Dam, went on a long hike thru Calhoun Falls State Park, and did a bit of swimming in a very warm portion of Russell Lake. It really was a great day that I spent checking out Calhoun Falls, and I had never even heard of that town until I drove thru it and pulled off the highway to check out some signs. My route north was from looking at an atlas and saying, "hmm, that way looks like it would be scenic and fun." :) I had absolutely zero cell phone reception all along that western edge of South Carolina, but that was ok. I had an atlas and a camera, and I had no one that I needed to call.

After South Carolina came North Carolina, where I just happened to be on an AMAZINGLY cool road. If you are ever in western North Carolina, take Hwy 28/64 from Highlands to Franklin, and then keep going all the way to Sylva on 23/441, right towards the Great Smokies. It was mountainous and beautiful throughout the Nantahala National Forest. I pulled off and hiked up "Sunset Rock" in Highlands, NC, and the view was breathtaking... and then I happened to drive by several big waterfalls, one of which I drove behind. It was so cool. It was getting dark upon my arrival into Sylva, NC, so I spent the night parked at Walmart, where I had my very first run-in with the cops. Like I ALWAYS do, I had called Walmart before parking there, just to verify that they DID in-fact allow overnight parking. And they said yes, I could park alongside the lot, so I really did not think I would be hasselled... I never have before, and I've parked in Walmart lots very very very many times. But for being woken up by alot of pounding and various flashlights being shined into all of my windows, the incident was actually pretty funny.... I was half asleep and naked, so I opened my small, screened slider window in a daze and said something like "I'm not dressed, could I just throw on some clothes really quick?" I threw on a shirt and shorts, opened the slider door, and all I could see were lights. I immediately said, "Walmart said I could park here overnight for one night, I'm just on my way back up to Michigan..." They asked me a couple questions like where I was coming from, what I did there, yadda yadda, and then of course they asked to see my drivers license. Half asleep, I grabbed my wallet and pulled out my Visa, which I've been so used to doing everywhere I go, and proceeded to hand it to him. He said "Mam, we don't accept Mastercard." It was hilarious! I can't believe the cop cracked a joke. I laughed and then actually gave him my license, and eventually he came back and told me that he just wanted to make sure I wasn't a wanted felon or whatever, and also to sleep well. :)

From there, my next few days were spent in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park... I got a backcountry camping permit to stay overnight in the park, and did a bit of driving, hiking, and exploring. The Great Smokies and their blue haze just takes my breath away every time I see them. It was extremely foggy on my first drive thru, from Cherokee NC to Gatlinburg TN, but on my 2nd drive back up into the park, the views were alot more scenic.
The van did surprisingly well up thru the mountains, back and forth, about 3 times or so. Sure, I only went about 25 mph, but there were alot of pull-offs to let people pass me, and I was then able to take a lot of photos.
 
At one point, I even pulled off and took a shower inside my van, using Smoky Mountain river water (mixed with heated river water from my butane stove), a solar shower, and an inflatable 4-foot kiddie pool. I hung up a towel on a tension curtain-rod between my two front seats for privacy, and got all cleaned up, right alongside the road. Refreshing!!
 
When finally heading out of the Smokies, it was extremely windy .... a tree blew over, blocking all traffic on 441 (the only main highway thru the Great Smoky Mountains), but luckily a guy had a chainsaw in the back of his truck, and also there were a lot of guys willing to get out of their vehicles to help carry the tree out of the road. After exiting the park, back on the North Carolina side, I decided to spend a little bit of time on the Blue Ridge Parkway, for some more scenic vistas. The only problems were, my van seemed to be going even slower, and I was in the middle of a huge black cloud. After turning on the radio, I learned that a tornado had been sighted somewhere nearby, wherever the radio station was located. It was raining and obviously just not the best parkway driving day, so I got off around Waynesville, headed thru Asheville, and drove over to Morganton, NC to swim a little bit at their aquatic center. I had been there once in the past and knew that I liked it there for a quick swim and a shower, so that is where I went. I then headed more east over to Winston/Salem, where then started north towards Virginia. Passing "Pilot Mountain" in North Carolina on the way up 52 sure was incredible to see. I didn't even know it existed, but it really looked like a huge castle in the sky.


Driving thru Virginia and West Virginia normally would have been quite beautiful... I'm sure because I've been there before and just loved them! But this time, there was nearly zero visibility. It was dark, windy, and raining so extremely hard that my windshield wipers couldn't even keep up. Absolutely terrible driving weather. Ended up finally stopping to sleep in a Walmart lot near Logan, Ohio.

Yesterday, before breaking down, I thankfully made it to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for the NRA 2011 Annual Meetings & Exhibits, and it was SO MUCH FUN. It was free for NRA members to enter the exhibit, and I spent the entire day checking out different booths, picking up free swag (gun keychains, pins, magazines, stickers, patches), and meeting some incredible individuals! I met and got my photo taken with: Mark Craighead & Trent (both of Crossbreed Holsters), Hickok45 & his son John (popular Youtubers), Julie Goloski Golob (incredible professional shooter), and Jim Scoutten (of Shooting USA). I also saw R. Lee Ermey (aka Gunny) at the Glock booth and Ted Nugent. :-)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Mark & Trent (of Crossbreed Holsters) are SO GREAT! Two of the nicest guys you could ever meet:
 

 
Julie Golob was also incredibly nice. One of the sweetest, and best shooting ladies out there!!


Have you heard of Hickok45 and his son (and camera man) John? If not, check them out on YouTube.


R. Lee Ermey - The line to get his autograph was endless. So I just took a photo.


So glad I made it to Pittsburgh before my breakdown. Now I just need to get my van fixed.

52 comments:

questionmarke said...

I'm glad your travels have been safe and enjoyable! As someone who has also been abruptly woken from sleep in my van by police who were hammering their fists on the window and shining flashlights in my face, I can say it is a very unpleasant experience. One I do not wish to repeat if it can be helped...

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Anonymous said...

Hi, sounds like your on the east outskirts of Cleveland. I am going shooting tomorrow at A&A a rural shooting range east of Cleveland. I would totally pay for a couple hundred dollars of ammo for us to shoot together. I have enjoyed lots of your youtube videos very educational. Safe journeys and god bless. P.S. Melt is terrible food and service don't go there.

Barry said...

Great post. Keep it coming I love to hear about your travels.

BC

Instead said...

Great shower idea!

Don West said...

What a great trip! Glad you're doing well. I've been to all those little Carolina towns too. Still lots to see down there though...can't see it all in one trip and I even lived there :-)

Cam LaBelle said...

Ahhh, how your blog makes me want to just move on into my '79 Bay...

You were all through my 'neck of the woods', my friend. I grew up about an hour north of Nashville and we always vacationed in the Smokies, Carolinas, and Virginia. Now, I live in coastal Georgia. And, that fragrant smell is the 'confederate jasmine' blooming all over this area. I love it too...

Safe travels and sending you well-wishes for the vw :)

Cam LaBelle said...

PS- did you see the house with the carousel horses on the front porch while you were on Amelia Island?

Jeff & Chris said...

Glad you are safe!!

Jeff and Chris

KLR Camper said...

How I do enjoy reading about your adventures in the Smokey Mountains. I just rode my motorbike up there last month and absolutely loved it. I agree that you could never have enough time to see everything in any one place so I will definitely be returning to do some hiking in the backcountry. Good journeys!

Jeffsjusthonda said...

Bummer. Sounds like the heads have to come off. Larry Chase had no major problems on his 22 month adventure. Just two engine replacements, he told me. ~JTC

The Drifters said...

I'm glad to hear you made it through the stormy weather ok. I wish I would have known you were here in the Smokies, I live in Gatlinburg. Well, in the next city over anyway. It is a beautiful area, I do love it here, but currently I am outfitting my van to live in and travel.

That very weekend you were in Gatlinburg, they had a VW convention in that county. It was fun, I went.

Thanks for the great blogs, I enjoy reading them and getting ideas for my van :)

hughlewis79 said...

My girlfriend and I are loving your blog, videos, links, etc. Reading of your travels, ideas, and way of life makes many of us want to do the same. I must admit I've checked several local vw repair shops for a westy for myself. Keep living the good life!

Anonymous said...

The thing that I like the most about your blog is your eloquent manner of describing your adventures. I can close my eyes and envision the sights and see them through your eyes. That is a rare gift, thank you for sharing.

Best of luck on your continued journey, hopefullly the weather will be a little bit more cooperative. I hope that the problems with your van turn out to be minor!

Keep posting! as each time you do, I get to take a mini vacation through your writings.

-Sniper-T

eric said...

I enjoy your youtube videos and this website as well. I must say I do believe I am a bit envious of your lifestyle:).

BFBushcrafter said...

Looks like an awesome trip my friend. Just found your blog about a month ago and I absolutely love it! you are truly an inspiration and make me want to hit the road again. Thanks for the great blog!

BFB

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The beautiful place and we have going to this place.I agree that you could never have enough time to see everything in any one place.

Justice06RR said...

Thank you for sharing your travel adventures! I enjoyed reading it and hopefully will be able to check out the spots you recommended in NC and TN.

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