Location: West Virginia to Kentucky, USA
Well there we were Front Royal at the start of Skyline Drive Shenandoah National Park which turns into the Blue Ridge Parkway, Blue Ridge Mountains and onto the Smokey Mountains.
One of the misconceptions I had was understanding the North and South in the Civil War context. It seems the reality is the north was just a small pocket up in the northeast here and the south was everywhere else, it is just that the north controlled the money and industry. Shenandoah and this section of West Virginia are right in the guts of some of the major civil war battles and there is history and memorabilia everywhere. We headed up into the Parkway but unfortunately at this time of the year the visibility is not as good as in winter but still quite spectacular. Off to the east you have got the relative lowlands of Virginia and Washington DC area and out to the west are the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains.
We camped in one of the National Parks at Big Meadows where Lizzy apparently saw a small black beat just down from our campsite; my guess is it may have been a big skunk! There were deer and squirrels roaming freely everywhere. The rangers warned us about the wildlife as bear often come into the camps and help themselves to anything that is left out or open including eskies and tents. The national parks are set up well for camping and touring with overlooks (lookouts) every few miles. We meandered along the ridge for 100 miles or so and decided to head for a major town as our gas water heater decided it didnt want to play the game. After being directed and redirected half a dozen times we finally found a hardware store that sold propane gas (LPG), we thought we would eliminate the 1st possibility of the problem. It was only now that it really became obvious to us that there is no LPG over here, you dont see it in servos at all, strange for a place that is supposedly trying to reduce their dependence on foreign oil and reduce their greenhouse contributions, blah,blah,blah. Eventually after another half a dozen stops to RV repair centres, all of which were booked out for the next 3 to 5 weeks, we had our gas problem repaired, it was only the igniter sensor that was the problem, again frustrating as I had already been able to isolate components of the heater that indicated that it was only a sensor or a valve that appeared to be a problem. Maybe they just couldnt understand my aikcent
Folks aint dumb where I come from
.. Cant help but remember a comment from an Aussie barman in Dublin who had been working over here, it was good but the yanks are so dumb.
We dropped into a small Yogi Bear Park on a lake outside of Marion NC. Jack managed to lose his thong on Yogis, Glow Stick Wagon Ride, but dont worry, Ranger Smith found it and came looking for Dennis as in the Menace. Diid Diinace loooose a fliiipp flooopp? Didnt take him long to make an impression (yes, they all talk like Forest Gump).
Back on the road heading south we decided to slip into Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina, one of the highest points on the eastern seaboard and also a famous hang gliding launch in the old days. They banned flying from here some years ago when one (only one?) of their local instructors ironed himself; mind you its not the sort of place you would want to outland as it is forest and mountains as far as they eye can see. A feature of the mountain is a pedestrian swing bridge that is actually a mile above sea level across to an unfenced viewing rock outcrop, JACK GET BACK HERE.
From here it was down into the peaks of the Smokey Mountains, Maggie Valley and the Cherokee Indian Reservation (Theyve got it sussed, they run their own casinos). Maggie Valley was a real surprise it just so happens that this weekend was a huge bikers festival. There must have been 10,000 Harleys cruising this mountain road between Maggie Valley and Cherokee. If any bike enthusiast ever comes over here you have to drop into the Wheels Across Time bike museum. It has every Harley (and some Indian) exhibit you could think of really good. Did any one know that Harley made a horizontally opposed (BMW style) engine?
We camped a couple of nights just out of Cherokee (another Yogi Bear Park) where the kids had an absolute ball rafting down the creek right outside our campsite. (thanks a lot James what have you started!) Jack found a busted old side caster reel in the creek and with a bit of imagination, a length of stick and some twine he and Liz resurrected it into a fishing pole that Huck Finn would have been very proud of. A packet of hooks and a loaf of bread later, it was baked beans for tea again and burnt marshmallows on the camp fire, but they tried.
A bit of indecision but we decided to risk it and go over the Smokey Mountain parkway which is actually the mountain border between the Tennessee and North Carolina; what a great drive. Magnificent views, winding roads with waterfalls and streams, rock bridges and the inevitable blue haze noice!
As usual, with our perfect non-planning system, we just happened to lob into Pigeon Forge Tennessee, Dolly Parton Territory. Pigeon Forge itself is just a 7 mile strip of tourist traps, thanks to Dollywood no doubt. What was neat was that it was the start of their annual hot rod festival. We enjoyed a few hours of just cruising and looking at classics parked in every car park or vacant spot along the road. Best guess is there were 2 to 3 thousand cars there but by the weekend they estimated 25,000 vehicles would be parading bumper to bumper along this strip. We saw our first F650 and talk to me Sue managed to get me a seat in a classic 56 Chevy.
Having had enough of the Tennessee Hillbillies it was time to get serious and head north back up into Bourbon Country Bardstown, Kentucky. There are a heap of distilleries in this area including, Wild Turkey, Four Roses, and my two favourites Makers Mark and Jim Beam. We did a great tour through the Makers Mark distillery recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest continuous bourbon distillery in the world. They have done a really fantastic job of preserving this place with a lot of the old buildings, vats and stills all on Whisky Creek. Believe it or not they really do hand dip every bottle to get that red wax seal on them. Strangely enough our kids were the only two kids on the tour and next time you have a Makers Mark remember we stuck our fingers in those vats!
The next day we slipped over to the Jim Beam Distillery and had a look around there. It is huge by comparison (the biggest producer in the world) but it doesn't have the same ambience as the more boutique style Makers Mark. As luck would have it Fred Noe the son of Booker Noe the 7th generation of the Beam family was being inducted as the new president of the Jim Beam Company. As you would expect, I wandered into the ceremony and made the most of the situation!!!! Hi guys, if you ever need an experienced tasting rep in Australia? The next time you see a Jim Beam bottle just see if Fred Noes head is on the label. A few souvenirs later and it was Nashville here we come, but first there was Bowling Green Kentucky and the Corvette Museum, again we just lucked out and saw the sign on the highway.
The museum was an impressive history of Corvette from the start in the early 50s to now. As a new Corvette purchaser you can actually pick it up brand new from the Corvette Museum. They have one section with a number of new cars on display and tags indicating who the new owners are and when they will take delivery. They literally drive their new car from the factory to the museum. Whilst there, we witnessed two sets of people taking delivery of their new vehicles and getting their personalised Corvette briefing.
A couple of souvenirs later and it was look out Nashville, here we come.
Location: New York City & Washington DC, USA
The night before New York City we stayed at an advertised New York City campsite, it was 90 miles from New York. Although very nice with a free flowing creek etc, it would have been too far to commute. Our research didnt turn up anything much better although eventually (too late) we did find out there was a campsite in New Jersey, straight across the river from downtown NY. Anyway with the information at hand we decided to search out a motel within reasonable commuting distance. We ended up in New Jersey (Joisey) at a Days Inn about half an hour from downtown with its own shuttle buses ($5 each way), perfect. You have to love the accent here Sue broke into a Lavern and Shirley rendition how embarrassing mum!
Well what can you say about New York from someone who hates big cities? Its everything and more than what I expected you just have to see it. Sorry guys, Sue has added the Big Apple to her girls weekend list!
We ventured into town a couple of nights and it was just awesome. Time Square with its massive lights and billboards really does turn night into day, even saw the naked cowboy! We wandered around the streets, which are packed 24/7, chatting to the locals cops and just taking it all in. Even ventured into the Virgin Mega store, you could spend a week in there and still find something new! NY is the type of place you could just sit on a corner and watch he world go by.
We only did one tour but it took in Central Park (yep the runners do have their own lanes), Empire State, uptown with the Dakota building (John Lennons place) etc, 5th Avenue (settle Sue), Greenwich Village, Brooklyn Bridge, Rockefeller Centre, and of course the World Trade Centre site. It doesnt matter who you are it still rocks you standing there
After a couple of days we decided to move on as even if you spent months here you wouldnt see all of it, the shows, shopping and the sites. On our way out we did a half day tour of Ellis Island and of course The Statue of Liberty. That was really neat as it put a lot of the growth, history and immigration issues into perspective. It actually even made the Titanic make more sense.
Our only disappointment with NY was not catching up with an old mate George Hotz who I played in a duo with some years ago. For some reason he disappeared off the web page and we werent able to contact him. For those who remember our wedding, he was the piano player that came in and played for us.
Our next destination Washington DC and another old friend from school days and one of my first business partners, Jamie, sorry, James Kennett. We had a white water rafting business for a while, Nymboida White Water. For one reason or another we ended up camping out that night in a supermarket car park, adventure camping! The next morning we backed into Jamess driveway and spent a great 5 days there. For anybody who knows James you wouldnt be surprised to hear that he was the perfect host. He and Elaine gave us the use of their second car which allowed us to take in the sites of DC, The White House (apparently George W was in Sydney so we didnt get invited in), The Capital Building, Lincoln Memorial, and George Washingtons Estate at Mount Vernon. Every where you go here there is something familiar, Langley, the Pentagon, CIA. Washington DC was nothing like what we expected it is really a very picturesque city and Church Falls, the suburb that James lives in, is a classic with massive tree lined streets and plenty of old world charm.
I enjoyed an afternoon with James in a private club with some of his business associates and from the 14th floor although you could see most of the major landmarks, the majority of the city was not visible, it was all under a huge treed canopy. I imagine in winter it might be a little different with no leaves.
One of the few things I really wanted to see in the US was the Smithsonian Air and Space Institute. Whilst Sue, Liz and Elaine ventured into DC and visited the American Indian Museum and the old Smithsonian, James Jack and I hit the Smithsonian Air & Space. How can you describe this place? It has virtually all the major flying machines ever built. To name a few, The Wright Brothers Flyer, the Space Shuttle, the Blackbird Spy Plane, Boeing 707, Enola Gaye (atomic bomb), the Gossamer Condor and the list just goes on forever and all this was under cover. We were there for hours and Jack really surprised me, he just kept wanting to know more information.
The time with the Kennett family was just like being at home for us. James let us take over the house, thanks mate someday I hope we can return the favour. Quite a few family meals and plenty of old stories, you know, the older we are the better we were. Possibly all of our kids got a more detailed inside to their parents previous lives too much information Jan!
Having bid our farewells we took James advice and headed for West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River come on sing along unfortunately Sue remembered all the words and weve heard it one too many times