Miles 1452 to 1543

The first week of June 2017 we were able to reserve the last available campsite for three nights in nearby James H. (Sloppy) Floyd State Park, Summerville, Georgia. I fixated on planning meals and Earl focused upon re-evaluating our campsite supplies.

The forecast ahead showed two mild sunny days and two with light rain. What we actually got were hot humid days with very still air.

For the travel and set-up camp day, our Saratoga Jacks Thermal Cooker finished up Lasagna in the top pan for lunch. Corn on the cob and sweet potatoes cooked in the bottom to add as side dishes to grilled pork chops for supper.

During the rest of camp, we ended up just eating light meals because the heat diminished our appetites. Along with breakfasts and suppers prepared at home for camp cooking, we also relied on prepped salads and fillings for lettuce wraps to make lunches easy.

Lettuce Wraps with Side Salads

Lentil & Ground Turkey Sloppy Joes Lettuce Wraps with Side Salads

To escape the heat the people around us retreated into their RVs during midday to dusk. We had a great ceiling fan, even air conditioning, and comfortable seating in the Vistabule. Still, we also wanted to enjoy being outdoors.

The humidity and heat made it stifling to sit under the shade of our REI Alcove, even with cold drinks in-hand. Earl suggested getting a box fan and we considered strapping it to the ridge pole of the Alcove. At the Summerville, Georgia Walmart Earl bought a lightweight Mainstays 20″ High-Velocity Fan.

Fan

Mainstays 20″ High-Velocity Fan

I came up with the idea of placing the new fan on the Vistabule’s countertop to serve two purposes. With the screen doors of the pass-through closed, the back of the fan could draw and circulate air through the Vistabule’s cabin from open vents and windows. Meanwhile, the front of the fan blew air into the outdoor sitting area under the Alcove.

Fan on Countertop

High-velocity Fan in Front of Pass-through

It was a surprise that the fan fit between the cabinets of the Vistabule’s counter space so perfectly.

We checked the noise level from various distances surrounding our campsite. The hum of the fan was not intrusive, barely heard beyond a car’s length away. The noise it did make was primarily directed toward the front facing into the Alcove.

The fan’s humming noise did not interfere with our conversation while sitting under the Alcove enjoying the breeze. We were spaced about 3-4 feet away from it. Plus, the white noise and air flow certainly helped me get a comfortable quick nap inside the Vistabule.

We would have left a day or two early without that fan, that is how much it helped us while outdoors during the day. I do not believe any fan could be enough relief when the nighttime temperatures also hold above 90 degrees. At least, our old bodies do not handle heat well anymore!

Thank goodness there were still cool mornings and nights, the teardrop’s ceiling fan provided comfort while we slept.

The high temperatures and humidity made for challenging conditions on our first test run of the teardrop’s air conditioner. What better test than during the hottest part of the day with direct overhead sun?

When the futon was up in the seated position, we found that its doubled over back blocked the air conditioner’s output too much. We tried adjusting vents and placing a bag to hold out the back of the futon more and got some improvement.

When the futon was down in the bed position, allowing full air flow, the air conditioning worked very efficiently.

The forest around our campsite was so quiet and still that we just had one tiny toad visitor to the campsite. I did not even see a squirrel until the last morning. The lake had several ducks. It was along the roads just outside of the state park that we saw more wildlife: three deer, two snakes, one box turtle, and wild turkeys.

We ended up enjoying a relaxing time at James H. (“Sloppy”) Floyd State Park. The campground had a narrow twisty road through the 25 campsites. Sites were roomy and well-equipped.

Tire Jack Chock

Securing Lily the Vistabule Teardrop Trailer

The park was clean, maintained by friendly hosts. Phone reception averaged zero to one bar, with an occasional two bars hiccup in the evenings. It was just enough coverage to track the weather and check news headlines. There was a fishing lake that could not be seen from the campground, but was accessible by taking a short path. Separate picnic areas around the lake were heavily used by the locals on the weekend.

The camp was not far from home and it suited the main purpose of our trip; we got more experience with equipment and organization skills. While we enjoyed our stay, there was nothing in the area that would entice us to return.

Dine

We probably differ from a lot of people in that I decided not to have a propane tank or cookstove installed in our Vistabule. We also do not plan to cook over a regular campfire.

That leaves us using four other ways to cook while traveling: 1) 110 electricity, 2) solar alone or stored as 12 volt power, 3) thermal, and 4) small amounts of wood.

110v Electricity

We live in the deep South and (until Earl retires) will normally be hooked up to campsite electricity to use our Vistabule’s air conditioner during the region’s extended season of hot weather. So, the use of electricity for a single burner induction cooktop and an electric pot for boiling water will not add additional expense.

[Also, both appliances are used at home.]

Another advantage to having the induction cooktop is that it is safe to use indoors. In dire need, should bad weather require it, there is an electrical outlet in the pass through of the Vistabule.

Thermal

Combined with the two 110v appliances, a 5.5 liter Saratoga Jacks thermal cooker adds an additional option for preparing meals. It can sit in the car cooking dinner while driving down the road or be placed on the galley countertop when we are in camp.

[Plus, it is handy at home and for Earl to carry on the train to work for pot luck dishes.]

The thermal cooker is similar to a crockpot, yet adds the efficient qualities of a thermos. Food is heated to boiling for a short time then placed in the thermal cooker to finish cooking – without being hooked up to any power source. It also holds the food at temperatures safe to eat, and without burning, for hours until ready to serve.

The electrical and thermal combination allows us to quickly prepare all of the day’s meals during the (relative) cool of the morning. Though, the thermal cooker can also be set up to cook breakfast overnight, a hot meal waiting for us in the morning.

[At home, the thermal “cooker” can also be used to retain cold temperatures by first cooling the large inner pot in a refrigerator or freezer. That makes it great for carrying ice cream or cold salad to a gathering.]

Solar / 12v

We also opted to get solar panels which provide additional stored battery power for the Teardrop’s 12 volt system. So, we can go off grid.

For “cooking”, right now we only have a little Roadpro 12 volt Beverage Heater – an immersion element to warm soup, tea or coffee.

There is a 12v outlet in the pass through, so we could also use this while seated inside the Vistabule.

Wood

As a backup or extra cook surface, I splurged for a BioLite CampStove2 that uses small amounts of wood. Our model is lightweight and sized for two people. It will take a good long while for the savings in wood to equal the BioLite price, that’s for certain. (Fingers crossed for a long life!) Meanwhile, the BioLite gives us a quick, easy way to grill and cook off grid and it has additional features.

We will use it in combination with the thermal cooker.

Kitchen to Galley

This all adds up to learning slightly different techniques and routines for cooking. Remember what it felt like when first learning how to get a full meal completed, timing the sides and main dish to be ready for serving at the same time? Moving from a full kitchen to a small galley will also take some experimentation. It will be a fun challenge!

Miles 975 – 1451

Heading out of Lake Poinsett State Park into a beautiful morning we continued on the Interstate through Memphis.

Half way to Nashville, TN there was an exit for the Natchez Trace State Park, so we veered off the Interstate to drive into the park. We found the park’s Pin Oak Lodge open for lunch.

Pin Oak Lodage, Tennessee

Pin Oak Lodge at Natchez Trace State Park, Tennessee

I had once driven along a section of the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi, but Earl had never heard of it. I explained it to him as an old Indian Trail stretching from Tennessee to Mississippi that was a significant route during the Civil War.

Later I read that this Natchez Trace State Park in Tennessee is on an alternate route of the Old Natchez Trail.

Natchez State Park Wildersville, Tennessee

Back on the Interstate, a light state of doldrums seemed to hit both of us as we realized our trip was coming to an end. We were back into familiar territory with work and home crowding into our thoughts.

At a reststop in the afternoon, we gave two more couples tours of the Vistabule before getting back on the road.

As the Interstate curved northeast to Nashville we decided on another night at a hotel. We figured the break would leave us rested and we could arrive home the next day with plenty of time and energy to unpack and secure Lily in her storage unit.

Early on the final day we were on the last stretch of Interstate heading southeast homeward bound. We made a beeline from Nashville to our Georgia destination.

It really was bittersweet to have to end our first journey with Lily.

I was a bit sad that it had not felt wise to take the more northern route as previously planned, due to areas of flooding and additional storms along the way.

We had missed out on campgrounds I had planned for us to visit, like Big Spring, Missouri, Land Between the Lakes, and Mammoth Caves, KY. They were places I had been to as a child and wanted Earl to experience.

Earl was more philosophical, He reminded me that with Lily we could go to the places we missed at another time, and we had already made great memories on the trip as it was. He reassured me that we fulfilled the objective of the trip; we picked-up our new Vistabule, got broken in with towing her, and brought her home.

So, our take away lesson from traveling to pick up Lily our Vistabule Teardrop Trailer has been:
Part of the fun of a trip is in the anticipation of planning for it.
Part of the fun of a trip is in enjoying it as it happens.
Part of the fun of a trip is in reliving the memories of it.

Miles 717 – 974

The Lake Fort Smith park ranger had given Earl a tip about where to locate a more sturdy permanent coupler lock than the one we were using.

We easily found Crabtree RV Center in Alma, Arkansas and bought a couple of items. They have a well organized set up of services and seem to handle just about anything that pertains to RVs.

The sales clerk was interested to see our Teardrop, plus he had the excuse of coming out to check that the lock fit properly. So, he had a tour. As he and Earl headed back into the store to complete the purchase, a lady drove up and started asking questions. She said she had a year old Casita that bounced all over the road when towed, so she wanted to replace it. I was happy to show her our amenities and explain how well the Vistabule behaved while towed.

Near Alma, Arkansas we switched to Interstate 40 heading east.

Northwest of Memphis, we camped at Lake Poinsett State Park, Arkansas.

Lake Poinsett State Park

Lake Poinsett State Park, Arkansas

It was a lovely wooded campground. We decided to stay a couple of nights as a break from driving. The slightly higher priced lakeside campsites seemed to have mere glimpses of the lake due to so many trees. On a walk around the campground loop, I was delighted to see a Little Free Library.

Little Free Library

Little Free Library – Lake Poinsett State Park Campground

Our site was just a bit of a walk from the restrooms. It was an excuse to try out erecting the changing room tent and placing a portable toilet in it.

Lake Poinsett SP Campsite

Campsite – Lake Poinsett State Park, Arkansas

We angled the little rectangular changing room tent to give us a bit of privacy from the other campsites.

Campsite Set Up

Campsite Set Up at Lake Poinsett

Later we found that it was too close to the teardrop. When we propped open the Vistabule’s door, the corners almost touched and did not leave room to walk between the two. Another mistake was placing down an outdoor rug as an afterthought. We just folded it to fit the space as well as possible. Live and learn.

Teardrop Traveling: Camp Set Up Tips

For two nights, we were parked next to a gleaming restored vintage Airstream. I would have loved to see inside, and kicked myself later for not chatting up the owners. Shiny silver Lily was like a mini-me to the Airstream.

Open Galley

Open Galley at Lake Poinsett State Park

Meanwhile, the Vistabule was a minor celebrity at the campground. We had three groups come through to tour and ask lots of questions during our stay.

NEWS UPDATE: Lake Poinsett is scheduled to be drained during late summer 2017 for structural repairs and projects to revitalize the habitat. After work is completed, the lake is expected to refill naturally by 2020 or 2021.

Region 8 ABC News: Fishing lake to be drained this summer, remain closed for years

Miles 566 – 716

We headed east past farm fields in Kansas along state roads to meet Interstate 49 in Arkansas so we could turn south. It felt great to finally be able to enjoy sunshine, the open road and green landscapes.

A shady spot was found for our lunch break near the Interstate by Lake Bella Vista Park in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Lake Bella Vista Park

Lake Bella Vista Park in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Further down the Interstate we parked among large trucks and trailers at a nice Arkansas rest stop. But, the big rigs didn’t hide us from a friendly man interested in finding out more about our Vistabule.

Later, bored with driving on the Interstate Highway, I glimpsed a faded sign enough to read the word “scenic” and that was all it took for us to make a spontaneous exit.

We didn’t know it at the time, but we were taking the Pitkin Corner exit onto Arkansas State Highway 71, the southern end of the Boston Mountains Scenic Loop.

Enjoying the slower pace and passing through small towns, we eventually stopped at a roadside pull off to shake our legs, determine where we were in relation to the Interstate and check for a campground.

State Hiway 71, Arkansas

Roadside Stop on Sate Highway 71, Arkansas

Wifi definitely was not available, but we still had cell phone coverage at that point for online searches. Earl made a call to reserve a campsite at Lake Fort Smith State Park which was just a few miles ahead.

Lake Fort Smith State Park, Arkansas nestled in a valley edging the Ozarks National Forest. The lake was created from two reservoirs which were connected as the surrounding communities were growing and needed additional water supplied.

Lake Fort Smith, Arkansas

Overlooking Lake Fort Smith, Arkansas

The park office is in a beautiful building with exhibits to interest children and adults. Along the back of the exhibit area there are large windows overseeing paths and a stone lookout to the lake below. Near the windows there were handouts with bird information and binoculars set out for visitors to use freely.

Earl was fascinated with what he called the “rock gardens”. They were large rocks or boulders with striations of colored deposits, sometimes grouped with plantings. The landscaping was definitely top notch, enhancing and suiting the natural setting.

Rock Garden, Arkansas

Rock Garden, Lake Fort Smith State Park, Arkansas

Our campsite was on the upper level section of the campground, near the rest rooms. It had a level concrete RV slab, with a separate shaded gravel section for a grill and picnic table. Forest lined the back of the site.

Lake Fort Smith State Park, Arkansas

Campsite at Lake Fort Smith State Park, Arkansas

After Lily the Vistabule was secured, I stretched out on the sofa with a delightful cross breeze coming through the side windows and promptly fell asleep. It felt like I was in a hammock; a very refreshing nap. Earl took off on a walkabout of the park.

That evening we fiddled with the multi-settings on the fan. The changing weather during the trip helped ease us into getting familiar with the features of our Teardrop Trailer. The only equipment that remained untested was the air conditioner and the solar panels for the Vistabule and the outdoor shelters we had bought at REI and Walmart.

The next morning as we prepared to leave, our campground  neighbors came over for a closer look at the Vistabule.

Miles 441 – 565

Leaving Kansas City, Missouri, we headed southwest to Fort Scott, Kansas then swung due south to make our way to my sister’s home. Along the way sunshine broke through the clouds and made it a pleasant drive.

Due to Earl having a set vacation period, we planned to stay two nights to visit my sister. After Lily was unhitched and secured, we headed out to a restaurant for an evening meal and enjoyed catching up; telling Earl some of our family tales.

The next day was warm and sunny. It gave us time to tour the small town in the morning, then straighten out and finish packing Lily in the afternoon. A friendly couple from the neighborhood drove by and saw us working with Lily’s galley hatch and side doors open, so they swung back around to get a tour of the teardrop.

The following day we expected to leave around noon, but we ended up spending a third night in town because evening thunderstorms were in the forecast.

By mid-morning our last day in Kansas, the sky was partly cloudy and the weather report promised a couple of nice days ahead. We set out to follow the sun – excited with the thought that, just maybe, we would get to do more actual camping!

Miles 121 – 440

With rain storms in every direction, we checked weather reports to avoid strong thunderstorms on our way out of Albert Lea, Minnesota. Scattered rain was expected during the day’s drive south toward Kansas City, Missouri.

We had been told that it takes a people person to tow a teardrop trailer because it is an attraction. Right away we were finding that to be true. Driving along, the teardrop trailer gained a number of curious stares and thumbs up signals. Earl had to start developing his tour patter on the first day of travel by showing our Vistabule to a man at a rest stop. In the campground on the second day, the young clerk at the campground store had never heard of a teardrop and was curious.

After two nights of camping in chilly weather, we had no problem waking early to get hitched up and ready to go just as rain clouds were rolling in. Our first stop before leaving the Albert Lea, MN area was to pick up breakfast. We had bantered about the possibility of taking the trailer through a fast food drive up lane. A truck stop with a straight drive up entrance gave me an easy opportunity. As we sat at the speaker box, Earl jumped out to take a photo, and the worker hung way out of the order window to get a good look of the Vistabule.

Fast Food Drive Up

Fast Food Drive Up with the Vistabule

Next we headed for groceries. I pulled in the parking lot along side of a beautiful RV.

Vistabule parked beside an RV

Beauty Comes in All Shapes and Sizes

Soon after Earl headed across the parking lot for groceries, a man drove by, circled back and stepped out to take pictures of Lily. I offered him a look inside and had a pleasant conversation. He was excited to hear that the Vistabule was made nearby in St. Paul.

Later as we unpacked groceries from the cart, a woman stopped and asked numerous questions from her SUV. She was enthusiastic, but saw we were about to leave and was too polite to accept a tour.

That day’s drive was a mix of sunshine and clouds with the promised scattered showers. The gray skies were easy on the eyes, and temperatures pleasant. There were wind gusts between 20 and 30 mph, but the Vistabule handled well.

We passed through areas with flood waters that were still rising, so instead of camping we opted to stay in a hotel near the Interstate for the night.