4. Magical Spooktacular Trip, Florida & More…October/November 2018

Day 17 11.7
As is turns out, I didn’t need the alarm.  I did sleep, but was awake about 1:45 & on the road by 2.  I made it to downtown Atlanta by 4:45am…you’d be surprised how much traffic there is here at that time in the morning.  Not as nutso as it is at any other time (when Phyllis I drove down here, I had to go through Nashville, Atlanta & Orlando traffic all during the day).  But, I got through it.  Well outside of town, but still heading north I stopped at a Starbucks & jumped out the 4Runner in my skirt, sleeveless shirt & Chacos…it was 45 degrees!  Wow…what a change.  I popped in the back & unpacked my warmer clothes, changed in the coffee shop then took off.  I was headed to a scenic drive that would take me up into the Blue Ridge mountains in north Georgia.  Not wanting to miss the scenic part by driving in the dark, I found a pullout & parked & slept for about an hour.  I woke up & it was light so I hit the scenic highway heading to a town called East Ellijay.  East of the town lies a park called Amicolola State Park which has the highest waterfall in the state & is also home to the approach trail for the AT.  The scenic drive was gorgeous!! The trees were the most colorful I’ve seen in years & the rolling mountains in the distance were so cool looking!!!

At the state park, I had to wait 20 minutes for the VC to open.  Then I went in, asked questions (more on that in Random), got a map & drove up the steep mountain road to the top.   The top of the waterfall is near the parking lot & below the lodge.  I walked to look over the falls (falls are best viewed from the bottom) then up a trail to the lodge.  

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The outside of the lodge looked more like an old church…not an old cool church, but a 1960’s or 70’s church.  The inside was really pretty though & there was a great view from the deck.  My photos don’t do the colors on the trees justice…it was really, really pretty!

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I asked about breakfast at the restaurant, but it was  $13 buffet that didn’t look all that inviting.  I bought a package of peanut butter crackers at the gift shop & called it breakfast.  Starting from the lodge, I could pick up the approach trail to the AT.  

So, here’s some me-history:  There was a time in my life I really wanted to hike the AT.  I read so many books about the AT.  I talked to people that hiked the AT.  But somewhere over the years, that dream died & I specifically did NOT want to do a total thru hike on the AT.  (Then it became the PCT, reading, studying, talking to people.  I still follow PCT blogs & hikers every year.  There is still a part of me that would love to think I could do it, but I’m not sure I physically could; I know I don’t want to do it alone; the logistics of figuring out all your food & mailing food drops sounds horrid & I truly wonder if I could get up every morning for 5 or so months & hike 18-22 miles a day (When would I see Claire & Emma?  My cat would hate me!).  I am currently reading a book about a woman in her 70’s that has done the triple crown…the AT, the PCT & CDT & she didn’t start until she was 60!  Truly, I would like to do a long distance trail….but now I’m trying to learn more about the Colorado Trail & the Wonderland Trail…we’ll see.  Sometimes I wish I was 20, or 30 or even 40 all over again!)  But heres a cruel thing about the ATbefore you can even begin your 2,200 miles, you have to hike an 8 mile approach trail which includes 600+ steps!  Thats just mean.

But, that was not the trail I was on nownot the true beginning of it, it was down by the VCId see that later today.  The trail was all in the forestvery pretty as it was lined with gold leaves that had fallen, but rarely a view out into the mountains.  This is the thing about forest hikingyou see forest but not too many views.  I hiked a total of 4 miles only seeing a couple of other day hikers & one backpacker.

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I drove back down to the bottom to see the waterfall & to hike up to the top.   There’s more than 600 steps to get to the top of the falls, but I didnt go that far.  

I went up to the second bridge where you can see the top.  The rest of the stairs that actually take you to the top, have no view of the falls, so I turned around & hiked back down.  

Then I went to the actual beginning of the approach trail where there is a big rock arch commemorating the beginning-but-not-the-actual-beginning of the Appalachian Trail.  

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I took the photo, then sat down with my phone to text it to a dear friend in Iowa.  She & her son had backpacked the Georgia portion of the AT this past July & I figured shed walked right under this arch.  I loved hearing about her trip when I saw her this past fall on my way to South Dakota.  I thought sending her the photo would make her smile at the lovely memories she had from the trail & the awesome experience of hiking with your adult child.  And it did..she loved getting it & so we texted back & forth, visiting for a few minutes.

Id read about a cute little town just east of here (yes, Im now headed in the wrong direction…that’s how I explore) called Dohlonega.   There’s a little shopping area around a town square with some cute shops & restaurants.  I walked around for about an hour then had lunch at an Irish Pub voted Georgia’s best.  It was a beautiful day, so I sat outside.  The beer was okay & the Paddy Melt was good.

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I stopped in at the VC to ask about two waterfalls I was chasing (more about that in Random).  I left with a map & directions.  I’d be driving up into the Blue Ridge mountains on twisty, narrow, forest lined roads.

I finally found DeSoto Falls...not huge, but pretty.  It was next to a $12 a night Forest Service Campground.  I visited with the older woman who was the camp host…she was super nice.  I couldn’t decide what to do as of yet, but I’d need to soon.  Daylight Savings time is wicked for hikers & campers…I’d wanted to be in camp before dark or out of deer-hitting-car territory.  I only had a couple of hours left.

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The next waterfall was up the road & really impressive named Hells Falls!  It was 2 miles down an old road, but definitely worth it!

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Now I had to make a decision…I could go back & camp at the FS campground; take the twisty road farther up into the mountains & hope to find the dispersed camping area I’d read about, or backtrack & spend part of the night driving on the highway & make it back home for the weekend to spend it with Danny.  Then it started to rain.  That pretty much made my decision.  I couldn’t enjoy a nice forested campsite if it was raining, & I wouldn’t make it up through the mountains before dark having to go slower because of the rain.  I turned the 4Runner to head down the mountain, retracing all the miles along the southern edge of the Blue Ridge mountains.  The drive going back was beautiful, but without the sunshine lighting up the trees, they were less colorful.

But then I came around a corner & before I could even think what I was looking at I heard myself saying over & over…”Oh My Gosh!!  WOW!  That’s Amazing”  A huge double brilliant colored rainbow was right in front of me!  I pulled off the road trying to take photos of this magnificent gift!  I was like a little kid jumping up & down & couldn’t pull my eyes away…so wonderful!

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I drove & drove & drove, knowing I’d probably not make it to a highway before dark…& I didn’t.  But, I didnt have any deer running in front of me & I was grateful for that!  I pulled into a rest area near Chattanooga, prepared to sleep well, knowing I definitely wouldnt be hot tonight.  There was a big sign stating a 2 hour time limit to stay there & a uniformed person to enforce itI wasnt sure if they run you off or not.  Id called Danny & told him I was going to sleep here anyway.  Then I had the crazy idea I could pull around back & maybe not be so visible…but instead of a ‘back’ it was the exit & it put me right back on the highway.  The next exit was a huge Loves gas station & truck stop & I needed gas anyway.  So, I asked them if I could park in the back of their lot for a few hours to sleep & they said no problem.  Yay!  It may not be a cool place, but it was a place.  Once again, I set the alarm, this time for 3:30am.  The next city I had to drive through was Nashville…not as bad as Atalanta or say SanFrancisco, but its always been bumper to bumper when I’ve gone through it during the day.

Day 18 11.8
I slept good but woke up at 2am.  I headed toward Nashville, where the traffic wasn’t bad but the construction was.  It’s very common in big cities for their highway construction projects to happen at night.  There was a van in front of me, at a curve & a merge, that literally stopped…STOPPED…I had a car behind me & it had a semi behind it as well as a long line of cars.  No one was going more than 30 or 40 miles an hour, but the van stopped.  I thought we were all going to be crushed…there was no where for me go…the van started moving again & we all lived.  Traffic in a big city…..always grateful to drive away from it!  I drove all the way to Clarksville…about an hour east of Nashville.  I stopped for about an hour to rest in a Starbucks parking lot before they were opened.  I went out for breakfast down the road to a locals place called Rudys…it was interesting.  The food was good, hot, & cheap.  Sometimes you overhear conversations that just make you wonder.  The two waitresses & two other people in the booth next to me were chatting up a storm.  Lets just say the topics were interesting with smooth southern drawl.  Then I drove back to the Starbucks having not ordered any coffee from the restaurant..but waiting until I could get some really good stuff.  It was like night & day comparing the two places in the same town.  The staff at Starbucks was diverse, some tatted & all pierced, young, black, white, asian…all of us buying drinks for 1/2 of what I’d paid for my entire breakfast.  Life & it’s people are interesting.  

My next stop was a place I’d never even heard of before this trip called Land Between the Lakes…locals call it LBL.  I’d read where there was hiking & cheap forest camping here, so I was hoping for a good nights sleep & some time to enjoy camp both at night & the next morning…maybe even a campfire.  My plan now was to be home by Friday afternoon.  But home was getting snow today—not much incentive to book it back there—but a clear forecast for Friday.

My first stop was the Visitors Center.  They told me for ‘dispersed’ camping I’d need to buy a 3 day permit for $7.  They were managed by the Forest Service but integrated with another association so that’s why the fee.  Also, they didn’t sell just one night of camping.  I was willing to pay the $7 & they had firewood I could buy.  But then I overheard another staff member take a phone call & ask my gal some questions, which led to my next question I asked her…’Is it hunting season?”.  Yes, she said, it starts tomorrow.  
‘With guns or bows?” I asked.  Guns she said.  I said thanks but I won’t need the permit; I won’t be camping here.  I have not had any good experiences hiking or camping near hunters.  As I sat in the parking lot trying to figure out what to do with my day in LBL & where I was going to camp tonight, the parking lot starting filling up with trucks.  Out of those trucks climbed men in camo clothes & orange hats.  I could now see this was a huge area for hunting.

The LBL is 170,000 acres of land between two big lakes…one in Kentucky & one in Tennessee.  It’s beautiful forested space.  But there were tons of trucks filled with hunters.  You’d see them off the side of the road…they were all there to set up their camps.  There are bison & elk in the park, as well as a nature area for rehabilitated animals & they’re also part of an endangered wolf project.  I did all that…paid $5 to go through the gate to see the Bison & Elk…I really wanted to see the Elk.

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I drove around twice but only saw one lonely elk sitting back in the woods.  Then I went to the nature center—another $5-- & looked at all the animals & was the only person at the naturalist Bobcat talk…but that was great.  When that happens (because I’ve often been the only one at something like this), they just talk to you…not a scripted speech but just talk & answer questions…& I always have a bunch of questions!

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I went into the central VC (the biggest one) & walked through the exhibits & watched the video on how it all came to be.  It sounded like it was a tough fight to get all the land…imminent domain was used which always pisses people off & I can see why.  Evidently some people still are…sounds like it hasn’t & still isn’t a smooth transition to this recreational area.  I drove the scenic loop that looks out to one of the lakes.

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Then it was time to keep driving.  I’d chosen a never before heard of state park in Missouri called Trail of Tears.  I showed up about 3:30 only to find their VC is only open on the weekends (I must have missed that when I checked out their website)  I drove around to one of the basic campgrounds but it was closed.  I finally found a maintenance guy, who told me only one campground was opened…it had electric but no water.  I didn’t need electric & I always carry my own water, so I was good.  He warned me it was down by some railroad tracks…I asked if it was safe (which at the same time I’m letting some guy know I’m driving all the way down by river to camp by myself) & he said it was (as long as he wasn’t a serial killer) it was just loud sometimes.  Loud I could handle.  There was no place to buy firewood, so out went that idea, but I could still enjoy coffee in camp in the morning since I didn’t have to get up early & could just take my time.  About an hour after I’d picked out & paid for my spot, I saw the guy drive through.  I was no longer concerned about him knowing I was here, there was one other camper in the place.  About an hour after dark, one other camper came in a big Class A motorhome & could see she was a woman by herself.  

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I’d been checking the forecast for St. Louis for the past couple of days wondering where that snow was going to after it left Lawrence, but St. Louis forecast was always dry…so no worries.  So, was the forecast where I was camping at tonight, & while it was getting colder, it started to rain.  Nothing hard, but it put me in the 4Runner.  I read for awhile, turned on my fairy lights, & talked to Danny.  Pete called & we talked for a couple of hours…Yay!  That was wonderful.  About midnight, I shut everything off & tucked in under my covers wearing a stocking cap & my down jacket & my Rumpl quilt over all of me. 

I woke up about 5:30ama little headache & stomach feeling wonky.  I thought about leaving as it was still spitting a little rain & pretty chilly.  But, I didn’t want to worry about the deer on the back roads…I was about 30 miles from any kind of highway & then I’d be in St. Louis rush hour traffic.  So, I swallowed a Tylenol & tucked back in & fell into a deep sleep…


Day 19 11.9
First I heard all kinds of car doors slamming then shouting & yelling.  I startled awake & looked out my window.  In the campsite right next to me were vehicles, but standing outside of them were several men in camo, a couple with clip boards & some young girls dressed in uniformed work out clothes with them.  At first I thought they might be crazy hunters, but then I saw some young high school aged recruits running into camp & some of the men shouting, “run faster!’  'Push harder!!”  "you’re going to flunk!!!”…It was the Army.

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It was before 8am & it really pissed me off.  One of them waved at me as I sat up from my bed.  I got up, put my boots on, got my coffee stuff & went out to the picnic table…all the while listening to them yell at these kids.  I was feeling kind of cranky!

After about 20 minutes of yelling & sending all the youngsters running back up the road, they piled in their trucks & left.  I visited the outhouse, packed up my stuff & was getting ready to leave when a park employee showed up.  I am not one to voice complaints to usually, but this was rude.  The Army may get to yell at all their underlings, but I don’t feel they have the right to show up anywhere & be loud & obnoxious.  I told the employee I knew it wasn’t his fault & there was probably nothing he could do, but I’d appreciate him passing it along to his bosses.  He said they were only supposed to do it on Saturdays…but I told him I wouldn’t have appreciated it on an early Saturday morning either.  Maybe they should try for afternoons?  or someplace else in this mostly empty park that doesn’t end in paid campground?

I drove out of the park, hoping to leave my irritated feelings behind me.  I booked it through St. Louis but right outside of the city, ran into around 3"-4” of snow on the ground.  Thankfully not on the highways, but all along the road for about 80 miles.  Wow…that wasn’t in the forecast.  It was pretty though as there was still some color on the trees.  Here’s one of my drive-by shooting photos.

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The snow thinned out until I got closer to Kansas City. I thought I was in the clear driving until I drove through some weird squall —it was practically a white out.  I was on a long highway bridge & suddenly everyone slowed down to a crawl.  It was a white knuckled few minutes & as soon as I dropped down off the bridge I was on dry highway all the way home with clear views in front of me.  I made it home at 2:55pm…5 minutes before my weekly video chat or "cocktail hour" as we call it, with Jill.  

My cat was sure happy to see me!

It’s 20 degrees here…super cold for this time of year.  Danny made it home from work around 6:30 & it was great to see him & I’m looking forward to dinner out tonight, fireplace fire tomorrow & a day tucked inside, some good beer, lots of cat time & conversation with Danny.

The Disney Cruise…what a wonderful treat Sara & Kevin gave us!  

Everything was first class, easy, efficient, organized & super fun…that’s the Disney way!  You dropped your bags off before you ever boarded, & they magically showed up in your room.

You had the same staff at dinner each night, even though you moved to a different restaurant each night.  They got to know you & what you like & were so nice.  There was food available though through room service 24 hours a day.  There was food all day long in the buffet area, which was really good.  There was coffee, tea, hot chocolate & sodas available 24 hours a day.  Ice cream cones most of everyday.  Everything was included in the cruise (except beer, but Sara had told us to bring our own on the boat & we listened to her for sure!)

There were live shows each night & movies going multiple times throughout the day.  Chances to meet Disney characters & photo ops with them.

You even got to know the person who took care of your room.  Each time Claire was greeted by a staff member, they’d say “Hello Princess”…it was pretty cool because she loved that so much!

It was a whirl wind three days, but we enjoyed sharing it with them so much!

It was funny hearing the crying, upset, mad children on a dream of a lifetime cruise made just for kids.  I was walking by a couple of parents as I left the breakfast line & the mom said to the dad-- who’d just gotten their kid some Mickey Mouse waffles--…”Don’t be surprised if he starts crying...you put syrup on the waffle”.  Kids….you love them no matter what!

Halloween in Sara’s neighborhood was a blast!  All of us dressing up with the Toy Story theme was super fun.

Taking care of Claire & Emma while Sara & Kevin enjoyed some time away was wonderful!   (Hey Sara, if you’re reading this, have I mentioned we’d love to come babysit again?)

Watching Claire & Sara with their friends was really cool.  We love being involved with the girls…reading & playing with them, but it’s also really awesome to see Sara & Claire with their friends who are a daily part of their lives.

In 41 years, I’ve never, ever been able to get Danny to dress up for Halloween.  He agreed to do all this in about 5 seconds when it was for Claire & Emma.  And, I could tell, he loved it!  It was great seeing him having so much fun too.

My road trip around Florida…

Here’s an interesting thing about the people /rangers that work at Visitors Center…I’m always surprised when they’re clueless or pretty wrong about their place.  It is their job to inform visitors.

So, I was surprised when the Ranger told me about “in peak” wildflower hike with only one variety wildflower….

And when the information person at the Amicolola State Park-- where the biggest attraction is the waterfall & the hike up to the top-- that she didn’t really know anything about the stairs & she’d never even done the hike before…

And the guy at the Dohlonega Visitors Center told me the two waterfalls I was hunting were only 20 minutes away, when it took me closer to 45 minutes to get to the first one and that they were right on the side of the road when each one was notthey werent hikes to get there, but each one was at least 1/2 mile off the road.

Maybe Im just being negative, or too picky or my expectations are too high.

Why do hunters wear orange hats with camouflage clothes?  Why do they wear camouflage the day before hunting season begins?

I drove 3,465 miles

I took 1,428 photos….although I haven’t cleaned out the bad ones yet

LaSt ThOuGhTs
Well, this might be my last trip of 2018.  Nothing else is planned & it’s winter.

It’s been a fantastic year for me for traveling though!  

I got to see so many new places & wonderful places I love that I keep revisiting.

I met some new friends on the road too & I can’t wait to follow their adventures & meet up with them another time.

Joining Sisters on the Fly was a nice surprise & I can’t wait to camp with those women in 2019.

I had new fun opportunities when I met Janine Petit of the Girl Camper Podcast & being a guest on her show was awesome fun & I’m looking forward to speaking at the Wonderful Women of Waxahachie event in Texas, April 2019.

Meeting Sherry Ott from OttsWorld in Crested Butte, taking her on a hike & writing articles for her blog was just great…I’m so envious of her world travels.  We hope to meet up for more hiking in CB in 2019.

Jill has learned so much about her RV & is traveling all around in her sweet little teardrop named Tramper.  We have a couple of things planned together in 2019 & I can’t wait!

But, you never know what adventures maybe around the corner, a surprise waiting to happen, or what a determined traveler can make happen!

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