Checking off NC in Style!
I love writing these blog entries. I don't do it for the click-bait, or the number of likes or comments I get after people read them (but I do love the comments!). I write because I'm having fun each and every time we move on to another destination and see something we've never experienced in almost 37 years of marriage and more than 60 years of living on this Earth. And if you get to live vicariously through our travels, well, that's an added bonus.
Some RVers dread “Moving Day”, and I get it. Some people aren't wired to drive - even some full-time RVers. For them, the destination is the goal. But for me personally, I love both the destination AND the time spent behind the wheel getting there – especially if the roads are in good condition. And for THIS full-time RVer, there's nothing better than seeing a sign saying “Welcome to (Fill-In-The-Blank)” through that big windshield, especially when we've never been to (Fill-In-The-Blank).
Case in point; the subject of this blog – North Carolina. For years, we've always PASSED THROUGH North Carolina, driving the 170 miles or so from the South Carolina border to the Virginia border on our twice-a-year pilgrimages to Massachusetts; many times without a stop for gas, food or a nap at a rest area. For the 32 years Barbara and I have lived “down South”, North Carolina was either a place I went to for work during my Xerox days, or it was just kinda in the way.
Now we FINALLY get to experience some of North Carolina, and it didn't disappoint.
Of course, when your first destination in North Carolina is the fabulous Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, you're pretty much assured that there will be no disappointment. The grounds and buildings are simply breathtaking. George Vanderbilt outdid himself in creating a masterpiece of late 19th – early 20th century style and opulence that only the fabulously wealthy could imagine. The attention to detail. The “spare no expense” mentality, even to the agriculturally and scientifically-designed grounds (the first in America) that surround the actual estate. The immense scale of everything! You can easily imagine formal dinners being attended by the rich and famous; the men in their white ties and tails, the women in the formal finery of the era. One never left one's room without being perfectly attired for the event at hand.
For about $85 per person, you get access to a self-guided tour using a hand-held “guide” which tells you some of the history behind the building and the people who lived there. You can take a shuttle to and from some of the parking areas, but believe me, if you can walk it, it's worth the effort. Obligatory gift shops are (tastefully, of course) off to one side, and a decent cafe provides reasonably-priced food and drink. We could have taken a lot of pictures inside, but they wouldn't do justice to the one's already on Biltmore's own website. You'd be doing yourself a favor if you went to that site if you can't make the trip.
Unlike the Vanderbilt's, our own accommodations were a bit more pedestrian. Keeping with our usual desire to save money by not frequenting expensive RV resorts much closer to Asheville, we stayed at a small park just outside of Lake Lure, about an hour south from the Biltmore. Our spot in River Creek campground in Rutherfordton, NC, was barely long enough to back into with the Mini parked off to the side, but we did have a nice river running right behind us. A friendly couple own the place, and they are very helpful if you need anything. A nice perk about staying so far away was the drive in the Mini over and back down the mountains to get to Asheville. Lots of switchbacks and hairpin turns, and a couple of really cute touristy-trap towns to drive through.
After Asheville, it's a quick hop down to the Charlotte area to visit a former co-worker of mine from our Xerox days. Debbie (my former Xeroid) and Chuck Martin have retired to the Concord, NC area, so we found us a campground right next door to Charlotte Motor Speedway. Mercifully, no races were scheduled for our weekend there. My understanding is that it can get quite loud on race day. Yates Family Campground is a really small RV park, but they put us in a nice, long back-in site next to a small field that a wild turkey would run through pretty much every day. Grover definitely wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving early!
The Outer Banks was our next destination of note, but first we must baby-step our way across North Carolina. Needing to stop near Kernersville to visit a long-time friend of Barbara's from her high school days, we found an absolute gem of a park in Clemmons, NC. Tanglewood is a large county park that has all the usual county park recreational things to do, but this one also has a great (and reasonable at $38 per night) RV campground on site. It's not large, with only 44 available sites (all back-in) to choose from, but each site is paved and have full hook ups. Most sites have tree canopy above for shade, with just a few on one row that may let some extra light in. The camp hosts are absolutely wonderful (one current host couple has a 2018 Tiffin 36LA), and work hard to keep the park in immaculate condition.
With so few sites, however, reservations can be tough to come by, and us big rig users are further hampered by the excess slope and limited lengths on half the available campsites. When making reservations online, once you put in type of RV (Class A motorhome, 5th wheel, etc) and length, only spaces that will take your RV will come up as possible choices. Since half the sites are excess slope, they are literally unavailable to motorhome owners since we have more restrictions on how to level our coaches than travel trailers and 5th wheels. This gives people like us only 22 sites to try to snag, and the locals scoop them up early. We were fortunate to get 4 nights just before Labor Day weekend.
Oh, and don't try to fool the reservation system by putting in a different length or type of RV just to get a spot. The camp hosts are (rightly) unsympathetic to your complaints that you can't fit or can't level, and bring out your reservation form to show you what you requested. “Says here that 45-foot motothome you're trying to back in there is supposed to be a 32-foot travel trailer. Mind explaining that?” “Oh, and we STILL don't have a spot that will fit you. Sorry . . . “
Anyway, Tanglewood RV campground is a great place to stay, and it's about a 5-minute drive from I-40, so easy access to get back on the road. Had a great dinner with Dave Woods and his wife, Blanca; they got to see what motorhome living is all about, and as usual, Grover made some new friends.
But Labor Day was looming large, and there were no spaces to be had anywhere on the Outer Banks. As I continued to call campgrounds further and further west of the Outer Banks in hopes of finding anything, Barbara was anticipating moving from Walmart to Walmart over the long weekend. At the last minute, I was able to find a campground in Wilson, NC that had a spot we could have for the next 4 days.
Now, Wilson, NC isn't on anyone's radar scope as a destination location; it's a bit off the beaten path in rural country. But it does have a really nice lake if fishing is your thing, and they have a really interesting display of whirlygigs downtown. What's a whirlygig, you ask? Well, it's one of those wind-driven mechanical things stuck atop poles that turn and move things as the wind blows. And Wilson has about the biggest display of some pretty impressive whirlygigs on the planet.
Our campground was Kampers Lodge, a relatively small, older campground, that was extremely well laid out. It has the usual full-time residents arrayed around the perimeter in back in sites, but the center of the campground was designed with pull-through sites where you entered one site one way, while the RVer next to you entered in the other direction so that your patio sides faced away from each other. This also created “buddy sites” where people traveling together could face their patio sides towards each other, making it easy to visit with each other. The campground is very level and all sites are small gravel with stacked-stone fire pits on grassy space separating each site.
Kampers Lodge also features a small pond with plenty of ducks to feed, and they have 4 donkeys in a large pen in back who will cheerfully eat anything you might wish to bring them. Grover was fascinated with them.
Our Labor Day weekend complete, it's just a short 20-minute drive south to a local Flying J for some inexpensive gas so that we'll have a full tank to get out and back from the Outer Banks, and it's time to hit the road for a truly unique experience.
But that's for our next installment . . .
We're Dave and Barbara Richard, and we're planning the ultimate retirement experience - travel the U.S. and Canada in style in a Tiffin Open Road 36LA Class A motor home, play golf and stop at every weird and wacky roadside attraction we can find.