Since selling our house in June and living-traveling full time in our
Cameo 5th-wheel coach, we've caught that vision and have been spending
more time in the "slow lane" of life. It's wonderful!
I wrote about our morphing lifestyle and thought processes in the
last entry, including the desire to stay in some places for longer
periods of time, having full hookups instead of doing so much
boon-docking, and not feeling like we have to go-go-go all the time.
Traveling is our life now, not a summer or winter "trip"
from a home base. Our camper is our home.
Brilliant leaf color along the Roanoke River
Greenway in early November
Above and below: along the Roanoke River in
In this entry I'll talk about the rest of our snowbird migration as
we continued to follow the fall leaf color from Andrews AFB near
Washington, DC to Kings Bay Sub Base, just north of Jacksonville, FL.
That's where we'll be wintering for several months again.
DC TO SALEM, VA
We're back to driving two separate vehicles from Point A to Point B
again, at least until we go to Alaska next summer.
The first leg of this journey was a distance of 262 miles from
Andrews AFB to an RV park in Salem, VA, part of metro Roanoke. It was
only the second time where I've driven our Honda Odyssey minivan behind
Jim while he tows the Cameo 5th-wheel with our Dodge Ram truck.
My thoughts were about the same as when I followed him in the van to
Andrews in June, after we sold the house in Roanoke and didn't
know what else to do with the van except take it with us:
Unless you're the lead dog, the view never changes.
Following our rolling residence
past colorful trees along I-66 in Virginia
It'd be nice if I could lead the way so I could have a better view
but that just isn't practical. We knew better than to even try it that
way the first time.
Because Jim can't maintain as steady of a pace on hilly roads with
the RV as I can in a minivan, he needs to be in front. I can more easily
adjust my speed to keep approximately the same distance behind him as
his speed varies with the terrain.
Jim wants me to stay closer in the van than I want to be, in order to prevent
other vehicles from getting between us. However, it's safer if I have a
better view in front of me -- and definitely more interesting
than seeing only the back end of our camper for several hours! So I stay
back a little farther.
We plan to keep the van with us until we go to Alaska next summer. It
will stay in a storage lot at a military base somewhere until we get
back from that long trip (I guess going anywhere outside the Lower 48 we still
consider a "trip").
At higher elevations along I-81, the leaves were
mostly gone already.
The van is very handy to have when we're camped somewhere for several
weeks or months at a time, like at Kings Bay this winter. It's cheaper
to operate, easier to maneuver, more roomy for dogs and groceries, and
more comfortable to drive than the diesel truck. It's in very good shape
for a 2002 vehicle and we plan to keep it until it is no longer cost-effective.
Meanwhile, there's still a learning curve when we're driving
separately from one destination to the next. It would be similar, or
worse, if we were in a caravan of other RVs, which is common for folks
heading to Alaska. We've heard of groups of two to twenty RVs that
travel together through Canada and Alaska for several weeks or months..
That doesn't appeal to us now. Maybe when we're old. < wink >
It's great when we have sites
large enough to park both vehicles next to the Cameo. This is Kings Bay,
Driving both vehicles
in transit is still stressful, particularly in urban areas and
particularly for Jim, since he's in the
lead and has to make the decisions re: where to turn, which lane
to be in for freeway exits, etc. without me sitting next to him,
navigating. We can call each other on the phone but
dangerous and I can't reach him right away if I realize he's made an
In order to reduce
incorrect turns we'll have to go over the exact route together before
embarking, and scrutinize the turns on the GPS (we have only one GPS unit and.
"Maggie" doesn't always send us the right way). It also helps if we
both write down the directions. Those tactics helped make the drive from
Virginia to Georgia more pleasant.
We'll still have some
split-second decisions, I'm sure. We assume this will get easier as we travel more.
FIRST STOP: SALEM VILLAGE RV PARK
For some reason there are very few RV camping options in the Roanoke
Valley, even in the summer, despite it being a very desirable vacation
destination. It's in a beautiful valley between the Blue Ridge Parkway
and Appalachian Trail (A.T.), which are heavily traveled in the spring, summer,
Hwy. 11 near Catawba Pass; we
were fairly close to the A.T. in Salem.
McAfee Knob is one of the most popular spots along
the entire A.T. from Georgia
to Maine; it overlooks the Catawba Valley west of
Off-season RV camping options are practically nil.
We knew we wanted to spend at
least two weeks in the area this fall for a variety of routine annual
and semi-annual medical appointments with the practitioners we've been
using for the last ten years but finding a suitable place
to stay in the Cameo was difficult.
Jim hit the jackpot when he found Salem Village on the internet. We had
never seen the place before our arrival but it looked good online and
from Google Earth.
It's primarily a mobile home park -- a very
nice mobile home park, with high standards for its residents. It has
shattered our negative stereotype of mobile home parks, although there
are still some ratty-looking ones in the Roanoke area.
Still a few bright fall leaves on
the ascent to McAfee Knob
No leaves closer to the top of
the ridge, though -- they're all on the ground now by Nov. 12.
Even most of the leaves in
Catawba Valley have fallen;
the best colors are at lower
elevations in the Roanoke Valley.
Most of the "mobile" homes in the community look pretty permanent
with sheds, carports, and nice landscaping but Salem
Village wisely saw the need for more short-term RV sites in the area. It
has converted about a dozen former mobile home lots to RV sites.
Some of the RVers stay for months or years at a time, too, though, so
there isn't much turnover to allow folks like us to stay there for
shorter periods of time.
We got on a waiting list for a site several months ago but didn't
know for sure until a couple days before our arrival that someone had
left earlier than expected and we could have their site during the time
period we requested. Whew! Our only other option was Dixie Caverns,
which is farther out of town and not nearly as nice of a campground.
It's obvious that the Roanoke area needs more places for RVers, even
in the winter.
Lots of grass and room at our site
We enjoyed staying in this RV park/mobile home community for about
Salem is on the other side of metro Roanoke than our house in Bedford
County was, but it's actually closer to most of our doctors, favorite
stores, and hiking-biking venues. It was fun to learn about a new part
of town (I've always considered Roanoke and its suburbs to be one city).
Not only is Salem Village convenient and attractive, we also feel
like we got a real deal. Our RV site with full hookups --
including powerful 50-amp electricity -- and a large grassy yard
was only $375 a month. Even though we weren't there that long the daily
average was still a bargain compared to some other places we stay.
There was a very colorful maple tree on the other
side of our neighbor's RV.
By mid-November we were mighty glad to have 50 amps, too.
Temperatures were unseasonably cold the last week of our stay, dipping
down to 20 F. some nights. We needed the amperage to run three small
electric heaters to keep the camper warm. Two were directed under the
kitchen sink to keep the water pipes from freezing, and we left the
water dripping overnight.
We have an efficient propane space heater and a rather inefficient
gas furnace, but propane puts a lot of moisture in the air that we don't
want inside. We much prefer to use the electric space heaters.
ACTIVITIES WHILE IN THE ROANOKE VALLEY
Besides seeing our general practitioner, orthopedic specialists,
dermatologist, dentist, chiropractor, and massage therapist?? Oh, and
Casey's and Cody's vet??
It did seem like we had an awful lot of medical appointments but it
was time for various annual and semi-annual visits, like our Orthovisc
knee injections. It was just easier to do them all here than to try to
find new practitioners in the Jacksonville, FL area this winter. It's
probably the last time we'll see all or most of these folks.
Although it will take more research and effort to find good docs as
we travel full time, so far we've been fortunate to get good care on the
road when we've needed it.
Above and below: Cody and
Casey on the A.T. south of Catawba Pass on Nov. 7
Light mist and sleet during that hike produced a
beautiful double rainbow over Catawba Valley.
We took care of some other business, like getting a few things from
our storage unit and putting some other things into it. It could be
years before we ever see what's in there again! Even though we recorded
where most items were located, and took photos of the contents, we still
had a devil of a time finding Jim's ham radio (finally did).
We drove by our previous house, which we sold in June, but didn't
have a good opportunity to look at it or the yard because the new
homeowner was mowing the front yard close to the road and we didn't want
him to see us.
A ladder was propped up against the roof and piles of leaves were
below it. One of Jim's least favorite activities when we'd return to the
house in the fall was blowing leaves off the roof and out of the
gutters. He had a big grin on his face when he saw the leaves, so happy
he doesn't have to deal with them any more! And I'm very glad not to
have several weeks of weeding to do.
Above and below: fun at
Funny thing was, our only reaction when we saw the house and
yard was one of relief, not nostalgia for selling the place. It
had come to represent a lot of work, not a retreat.
In contrast, I was surprised when we approached the Roanoke area
a few weeks ago and I got teary-eyed when I saw Tinker Mountain.
I have better memories of fun times hiking the Appalachian
Trail in Virginia than I do of previously owning the nicest
house and property there that I ever owned!!!!
Interesting. And that's why I can say with certainty that I'm
glad we finally sold it to travel full time in our RV. Ditto for
FUN ACTIVITIES WHILE IN VIRGINIA
Between all the medical appointments, shopping, and other
mundane activities we still had plenty of time for more fun things
like hiking, cycling, and going on a day trip to my favorite
winery along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Not only was Salem Village convenient to places we needed to go,
it was also very close to several bike path trail heads where we
could walk the dogs and go cycling. Even on cold or wet days I
had to walk the dogs, and Jim rode his bike quite a bit.
Jim cycles on part of the river greenway in
Above and below: hiking
with Casey and Cody at Chestnut Ridge in Roanoke
Blue heron in Mason Creek near our
Calm stretch of the Roanoke River in Salem
where the dogs like to swim
We used to frequent the unpaved greenway
along Wolf Creek
in Vinton when we had property east of
Photos in this entry show scenes from the Mason Creek bike path
across the creek from Salem Village; segments of the
Roanoke River Greenway in Salem and Roanoke; the Wolf Creek Greenway
in Vinton; and Greenhill Park.
I also hiked two to ten miles on single-track trails a few times with the dogs,
too, including Chestnut Ridge in town and two sections of the
Appalachian Trail -- the ridge west of Catawba Pass and
north of the pass to McAfee Knob.
CHATEAU MORRISETTE WINERY
One sunny-but-very-chilly day in early November we drove south
on the Blue Ridge Parkway to my favorite Virginia winery at MM 171.
I've been buying
Chateau Morrisettes's tasty and reasonably-priced wines at
the WalMarts and Sam's Club in Roanoke the last 10+ years but had never
visited their winery. It's one of the larger of the 100+ wineries in
Virginia and has a restaurant, tours, several festivals throughout the
year, and daily wine tastings.
Sam's Club and WM
in the Roanoke area carry a total of about ten of Chateau Morrisette's wines.
For the record, my favorites are Blackberry, Our Dog Blue (a semi-sweet
Riesling blend), The Black Dog (a semi-dry Cabernet-Merlot blend), and
the sweet white and red mountain laurel varieties -- but the
winery's broad selection is
all good and reasonably priced.
At the winery I tasted some other flavors that I
hadn't seen before and
chose two of them to buy. I got a Red Farmhouse Sangria (listed under
"fruit wines") for $7.99/regularly $10.99 on-site and a white Angel
Chardonnay ($12.99 less military discount of $2.60).
I didn't realized they offered a 20% discount to military folks until I
was checking out. I should have gone back to get more of the wines I buy
in Roanoke because they'd be cheaper with the discount than at WM or
Peaceful green meadows at
lower elevations on the Blue Ridge Pkwy. south of Roanoke on Nov. 2
Same day, higher up, with more leaf color
Labs are the winery mascots and are featured on most of the wine labels.
The winery encourages visitors to bring their well-behaved dogs onto the
grounds and into the wine tasting/shop but we left ours in the car
because of the weather that day.
The winery sits at 3,500 feet elevation and it was COLD and windy there
at noon. So were all the overlooks along the Parkway.
We were disappointed that most of the leaves had already fallen, even at
2,000 feet (they are still pretty in the valleys).
The fun part was getting into snow above 3,000 feet! There were 3-4
inches left in some places at
the winery and for a couple miles before we got to it:
Are you kidding me??? It's barely November!!!
On the way back to Salem we stopped so Jim could play ball with Casey in
the snow. Look at 'er go in the photo above. Both dogs love snow.
SALEM, VA TO WESTON LAKE REC. AREA, FORT JACKSON, SC
The second leg of this journey was from Salem, VA to Kings Bay
Sub Base in far southern Georgia.
The weather turned very cold in the Roanoke Valley a few days
before we left -- I'm talking an unseasonably low
20 F. overnight in November! -- but we weren't able to
leave any sooner because of one last pending medical appointment.
Following the Cameo through Fancy Gap, VA
When we finally got going on November 19 we broke the 574-mile
distance into two days of driving, stopping at Fort Jackson's
Weston Lake Recreation Area's
very nice campground near Columbia, SC the first night. The rec.
area is open only to the military and guests, not the general public.
We're glad we didn't stop this time at the WM-Sam's Club parking
lot where we stayed last year when driving this same route. We
didn't know then about this option.
It was dang cold in the Columbia area, too, and we
needed the 50 amps of electricity we had at our site at Weston
Lake to stay warm and keep the pipes from freezing. Because it was still
in the 20s F. Jim didn't even hook
up to the water or sewer for just one night.
We really like the campground and rec. area and would like
to spend more time there if we're ever in the area again.
The campground has 44 RV sites with varying levels of utilities plus
unlimited tent sites. Each RV site we saw is spacious and shaded
by large trees. Our cost was only $15/night for full HUs.
There are also some cottages to rent and a pretty lake, which we
could see from our campsite.
WESTON LAKE TO KINGS BAY SUB BASE, GA
The final leg of our journey to our winter snowbird "nesting
area" was an easier, flatter drive through the rest of South
Carolina and eastern Georgia to Kings Bay Submarine Base at St.
Mary's, which is a stone's throw from the Florida border.
This is our third winter at Kings Bay. It's good to be back. It
felt more like "going home" when we arrived today than Roanoke,
where we owned a house and land for ten years. Oddly, some other
places feel more like home than Roanoke, too -- most are
in Colorado, where we often spend the summer.
This is the earliest we've arrived at Kings Bay and to my
delight, I saw some of the brightest leaves of the season on base when I took
my first bike ride:
We literally followed the fall leaves from the Canadian
Maritimes all the way to Florida (a few days
later we did see some fall color in the Jacksonville area).
We are happily camped in the first lakeside site, the one
closest to the RV park entrance and office. We have a large yard
with no other sites on our doorside. We can play "gatekeeper"
all winter, watching people come and go (that has both
advantages and disadvantages). There is plenty of
room for both passenger vehicles at our site.
The advantage of being close to the office is having a
stronger WiFi signal. We can get the campground's free WiFi
signal fairly clearly and our own MiFi signal (for secure
transactions) even better.
Our orientation is good, too, with the door facing east for
morning sun. Trees shade the back of the camper to the southwest
so we won't receive too much hot sun (if it gets hot, that is).
We have 50-amp electricity, water, sewer, and cable TV for
$570/month = $19/day. Sites that aren't on the lake are $1 less
a day. We like the lakeside sites best because the sites are larger and
we can see more birds, boats, alligators, and views at the lake.
Their "grins" make alligators look happy as
they bask in the sunshine.
Our original reservation was for a lakeside site in December,
January, and February. Because fewer people are here yet in
November, we were able to come in ten days early.
We will have to decide soon if we want to extend our stay at
Kings Bay into March because the RV park is usually pretty full
then. We can stay up to four months if we get our dibs in early
enough. We're considering moving to one or two bases in Florida
that are new to us in March but we need to do more research first.
Stay tuned in 2015 to see where we go next!
Next entry: bookends from Kings Bay -- the
year in review
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup
© 2014 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil