To Pigeon Forge - And Beyond!
3 long months.
We are now well past my time limit for staying in one place, and with COVID-19 restrictions finally being lifted across America, we think it's safe to resume traveling again. Safe, and more importantly, places have now opened so that we can stay in different states along our planned route.
Our ultimate destination for our first trip is Box Elder, South Dakota – our home base situated in Pennington County which encompasses the Rapid City area in western South Dakota. We're headed here because we need to apply for our passports in order to travel to Alaska in 2021, and we'll need to cross into Canada to make that happen. I've never had one, and Barbara's passport expired decades ago. One quirk is that you have to apply in your home county, which would be easy if you actually lived there. But since we just maintain a Personal Mail Box as a residenc, we have to travel a great distance in order to apply for ours.
But hey, it's a good reason for our first trip following lock down, so we'll take it!
Since it's sorta-kinda on our way, we decide to stop at Pigeon Forge, TN to see a friend of mine I used to work for when I worked at Jockey, Jack Simmons. Three days are planned for this portion; one to decompress from the first drive and show off our 36LA to Jack, a visit to Jockey for some new clothes, then a day for some fun and food at local eateries.
But first we have to get there.
Plugging in our destination into our trusty Co-Pilot RV GPS program, the first planned route takes us through some very twisty roads, including one complete circle at one point!
Nope. Not gonna do that one. Alternative two doesn't look so bad and is a shorter distance than Alternative 3, so I decide to take that.
Not as good of a decision as I thought it would be. The video below shows the beginning and end of our first drive in months. It has been sped up 2.5 times it's normal speed so that it won't put you to sleep, so don't think I drive this fast normally; especially in mountains and tight turns. Needless to say, it was a rude surprise!
Fortunately, my driving skills hadn't eroded in the last 3 months, and we arrived at our destination – Up The Creek RV Campground – in a bit over 4 hours. It's a very nice small park with wide, tree-covered spaces. Very level lots with concrete pads to the side with tables and chairs. Some sites even have raised fire pits instead of sitting low on the ground. It's surrounded by a small quiet creek (hence the name), but it does lack the usual amenities some people might like in a park.
While there, two other Tiffins set up shop across from us; a 2012 Breeze – Tiffin's smallest diesel model – and a 2019 Open Road 32SA – a fellow gasser. Had nice talks with both folks and shared some upgrades and hacks they might want to try. All-in-all, it was nice to visit with fellow Tiffin owners, something we hadn't done in quite a while.
Our visit with Jack was great, and after shopping we played a round of miniature golf at a course right next door to the Tanger Mall. It's not the most interesting nor challenging course out there, but it had one hole that called out to Barbara and me. Flying pigs have always been a favorite of ours, due to a line Barbara once said about the possibility of us getting married early in our courtship, and used by our best man during his toast at our wedding. Basically, when asked when we would get married (about halfway through our dating time) Barbara's answer was, “When pigs fly”. So finding a golf course with a hole that contained flying pigs was a natural for us.
Our trip to Pigeon Forge was too short to really appreciate the area, but there are lots of things we'd like to get done when return someday. And return we will. Sure, it's the definition of a tourist trap, but there are some very interesting and different attractions there that are probably not found anywhere else.
A quick breakdown at our site at Up The Creek, and it's time for a 4-day speed run to South Dakota, avoiding every city we can during this time of unrest.
Ready For Liftoff!
After sheltering in place for 3 full months due to COVID-19 issues beyond our control, many states have reopened and this now allows us to resume travel. I have to say that while I understand how many older RVers like to do the whole snowbirding thing where they head to warmer climates for 3-6 months and park their rig in one place, I have found out during this shutdown that I am not one of them. At least not yet.
Maybe when this lifestyle isn't so new. Maybe when we're older and want to slow down a bit. But that particular type of RVing is not for me. I find sitting in one place for 2 weeks is enough to get me climbing the proverbial walls and looking for our next destination. Three months? Nope.
We originally headed back here to Georgia to get a grandson fix. We had been traveling from Texas to Arizona and finally New Mexico for the first 3 months of 2020, and Barbara was in her “I can't wait to see Jace” mode after a couple of months on the road. Added to that was that we didn't exactly enjoy some of the destinations during that trip for various reasons, and we were ready to settle down in one place for a bit in order to rest, recharge and spoil our grandson.
But it was only supposed to last for about a month at the most. Like the old joke goes, “Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”
A planned trip to Utah with friends was canceled. Then a hoped-for trip to New England to visit my 90 year-old Dad and some life-long friends bit the dust. A short trip to Florida to visit family never materialized. Even when things started getting better, many states on the way to our hoped-for destinations were still closed, so even if we had a place to park this thing, we couldn't get from here to there. I get that we didn't know enough about this virus to make sound decisions at first, but once we knew what we were dealing with, previously bad decisions were being compounded by reopening delays; and in our case, ignorance of the RV lifestyle.
And being sheltered in place took away any excuses I might have had to avoid getting things done around the RV. I've been blessed in our 35 years of marriage that Barbara never developed the need to put together “Honey-do” lists for me. In that regard I'm usually the one to give me chores to do, and in an RV (as most of you readers know), there is a lot of little – but important – ongoing maintenance to keep these rolling earthquakes in road-worthy shape.
So in the past month or so, we've been able to accomplish the following things:
Now, most of you wives out there are looking at this list and saying, “Except for the Relectix, my hubby could knock most of that list out in a single day”. And you'd be right.
But I'm retired.
And sheltered in place.
With four OTA TV stations to watch.
So I eased my way through this list in about the last 5 weeks. But hey, it all got done, right? And now we're ready for road again.
This next trip is going to be kind of strange. A short 3-day trip to Pigeon Forge, TN to visit a friend I used to work for, then a speed run up to Rapid City, SD to do some paperwork in our home state. Need to apply for passports in hopes that the Canadian border will be open next year. We plan to do Alaska in late summer of 2021, and possibly some of the Maritime Provinces earlier in the year. For this trip, we might spend about 3-4 weeks in various locations in South Dakota depending on what interests us.
After that, we'll make our way slowly through the corn and wheat states, seeing what they have to offer and basically biding our time until Liquidspring might be ready to launch their front-end CLASS system to compliment the rear end system we already have installed. If all goes well we'll be in Indiana for late July or early August and finished in time to head back to the Mothership – Red Bay, AL – in mid August to have the last of our warranty issues taken care of before our first year runs out. Not a lot of things, and nothing major at all except for a paint issue and a slide adjustment, so we hope the trip will be a short one, because New England beckons in September and October.
Normally, we follow the suggested routes our CoPilot RV system gives to us, but with a summer of potential unrest staring America in the face right now, we're going to be a lot more careful planning our travel around cities in the coming months. Usually we have no problem driving through small to mid-sized cities if the route looks good, and taking beltways around the bigger ones. This year will mean extended use of state road detours well outside of metropolitan areas, which will mean extra travel days and miles. It is what it is.
This will also be Grover's first extended trip in his new moveable home, so we'll see how he handles 5-6 hour drive days and a different nights in different places.
Either way, we're primed and ready for liftoff!
First, a disclaimer: We are not affiliated with Advanced Elements in any way, nor do we receive any compensation from them.
RVers will understand this, but for those who follow this blog and don't own an RV, space is ALWAYS at a premium, especially regarding storage. Sometimes it can be made a bit easier depending on the type of vehicle you tow. Roof racks, pickup truck beds and even small trailers can provide welcome relief for folks trying to bring things like bikes or boats to be used once we get to our destination.
We tow a Mini Cooper. A Mini Cooper CONVERTIBLE. No significant trunk, and the rag top doesn't allow for a roof rack.
So it's really important that we find recreational items that fit in the basement bays and storage cabinets inside our Tiffin. Now the good news is that Tiffin, unlike many other RV manufacturers, puts a great deal of thought into making sure you can stuff an inordinate amount of junk in everything they make. They even call it the “Store-It-All Guarantee”. And we've been impressed with their efforts in that regard. An earlier post on our Montague full-size folding bikes shows how great Tiffin is at making use of limited space.
But what about something for the water? Clearly, we have no ability to bring a canoe, kayak or boat with us, given our choice of tow vehicle. So it all comes down to what can be stuffed into a basement bay on our 36LA.
Enter Advanced Elements. They are one of a couple of vendors offering INFLATABLE kayaks that, when not in use, simply fold up into their own carrying bag for relatively easy storage. These are not some glorified pool toys; these are serious watercraft. Advanced Elements makes kayaks for calm waters like lakes, inlets and bays (more our style), all the way up to Class III whitewater (not a chance). They make single person kayaks as well as 2-person tandem kayaks for couples like us who like to spend time together.
We chose their Lagoon 2 tandem model. We chose it over their other tandem model in the base class due to it's simplicity. We have no need to have 3 positions for seating, as there is little chance one of us would take it out alone. The Lagoon 2 has two distinct openings for each person, as you can see in the picture below. Each seat has an inflatable bottom for super comfortable kayaking, with a semi-rigid back that provides great support. The seats lock into their respective openings to keep them from sliding around while paddling and keep the seat backs upright.
There are two primary air chambers in the Lagoon 2; both are filled by an ingenious spring valve which recesses into the opening to quickly deflate, and with a simple turn rises up and provides a lock to keep the air from escaping after you remove the filling hose. There are screw-on caps to each valve as a backup in case the valves fail. Advanced Elements offers either a double action hand pump or a bellows-type foot pump for about $15-$20 bucks, or you can buy one on your own as long as it has the right size hose opening. Our foot pump came with about 6 different tips to use when another product might need to be inflated. The coaming around each paddling position is inflated by mouth valves. All in all, it takes about 5-7 minutes to take it out of it's carrying bag, unfold it, and inflate it. And even less time to take it down and store it.
And this thing is built like an inflatable tank. The top uses two materials; a high denier Polyester Rip Stop and a PVC laminate. The inner tubes are covered with high density fabric as well. But it's the bottom of the hull that makes this so sturdy, yet packable. It is made of a flexible PVC Tarpaulin material which will protect you from the occasional underwater rock or other obstruction. The bow and stern are rigid casts that can stand up to rocky shores, and also house the control fins built into the bottom. These fins allow the Lagoon 2 to track well even in windy conditions. Our initial voyage in Lake Lanier off the boat ramp at Little Hall COE park was on a breezy day with winds gusting to 14 mph, and we had no trouble tracking straight and true.
Now to the boring but necessary specifications:
Length = 12'
Width = 34”
Weight = 37 lbs (Easy enough for me to lift into the back seat of the Mini, or into a large basement bay)
Max Capacity = 350 lbs of people or cargo
Folded size = 35” X 19” X 7” (the 7” depth does NOT take into consideration storing seats in the carrying bag)
Cost = $530
It also comes with it's own repair kit! There is also bungee deck lacing on the Lagoon 2 for storage of a small cooler, etc, and Velcro straps to hold your paddles in place. Paddles are optional, but a bit pricey beginning at $50; we went to Academy Sports and bought two 4-piece 87” Magellan paddles for about $30 each. They store much easier in the basement bay without having to use our pass-through storage. Most other paddles are two-piece and some are even a single 92” long paddle. Our Magellan paddles came in mesh storage bags about 2' high.
This is a beautiful piece of engineering, and very comfortable to use and enjoy. Using the carrying handles at each end makes it very easy for two people to carry down to the shore and launch. It moves easily through the water, and is very stable from side-to-side. Our first trip was about a mile out against the wind, and another mile back. Very easy and very enjoyable. The seat support for the bottom and back is outstanding. We showed this to a couple of other campers staying in nearby sites; one couple who has another brand of inflatable kayak and another who uses rigid, single person kayaks. They were both very impressed with the Lagoon 2 and Advanced Elements overall.
As are we. This product definitely gets two thumbs way, way up from Parental Parolees!
We're Dave and Barbara Richard, and we're living the ultimate retirement experience - traveling the U.S. and Canada in style in a Tiffin Open Road 36LA Class A motor home, playing golf and stopping at every weird and wacky roadside attraction we can find.