Miles 1939 – 2288

It was a sunny late afternoon drive, on Friday, October 6, 2017, along state highways curving the edge of foothills (and driving near some of the areas we had visited last weekend) to reach Townsend, Tennessee in a little over four hours.

Image: Townsend/Great Smoky Mountains KOA

Townsend/Great Smoky Mountains KOA

Lily was hitched and towed to the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains where we stayed overnight in a very crowded KOA.

Image : Early Autumn Campsite - Townsend, TN

Early Autumn Campsite – Townsend, TN

The Vistabule was quickly secured. We headed out for supper at the Carriage House Restaurant, returned to play several rounds of Rummy, then tucked in for the night.

Image: Apple Valley Stores and Cafe, Townsend, TN

Apple Valley Stores and Cafe, Townsend, TN

After the luxury of sleeping a bit late, we were ready to eat again. Earl had noticed the Apple Valley Stores and Cafe in passing and wanted to head there for breakfast.

Image: Breakfast at Apple Valley Cafe, Townsend, TN

Breakfast at Apple Valley Cafe, Townsend, TN

Though it caters to tourist crowds, the staff knows how to do it well. We enjoyed the food and service on its porch. It was a great start to our day, but definitely not doctor approved food.

Image: Wood 'N Strings Store Townsend, TN

Wood ‘N Strings Store Townsend, TN

I had planned a secret outing especially for Earl and could not resist dropping a few hints. I gave him an address to enter into the GPS and told him to accept a gift, without complaint, for himself as an early retirement gift.

Image: Instrument Showroom at Wood 'N Strings

Instrument Showroom at Wood ‘N Strings

Since he can not see sign boards well enough to read them from a distance, Earl had no inkling of where I was taking him until we walked into the house used as a show place for the Wood ‘N Strings Dulcimer Shop.

A couple of years prior as we discussed retirement and what he might like to do with free time, he had mentioned a desire to learn to play a Lap Harp. It was an unexpected notion to me, he’s a city boy after all.

Image: Dulcimer Display at Wood 'N Strings

Dulcimer Display at Wood ‘N Strings

I was fully expecting that with some hands-on shopping we would walk out with one of the shop’s specialities: beautifully handmade Dulcimers.

Earl was in awe and held back from touching anything, though the clerk had invited us to play any of the instruments we wanted to try out.

Image: Flute Display at Wood 'N Strings

Flute Display at Wood ‘N Strings

I finally ran my fingers across the strings of a large Festival Dulcimer and got Earl started. He roamed around taking a close look at all the instruments, art and gift items, while I sat and waited since I dislike shopping.

Image: Gift Room Display - Wood 'N Strings, Townsend, TN

Gift Room Display – Wood ‘N Strings, Townsend, TN

After circling the rooms, Earl focused in on the display of Lap Harps in a cupboard.

Image: Lap Harp Display at Wood 'N Strings

Lap Harp Display at Wood ‘N Strings

The clerk mentioned the various ways people hold a Lap Harp and different options used to strike or pluck the strings.

Image: Case, Music Sheet, Lap Harp, Pick and Hammer

Case, Music Sheet, Lap Harp, Pick and Hammer

He showed how music sheets are inserted under the strings so that even beginners are able to play songs.

Image: Lap Harp, Pick and Hammer

Lap Harp, Pick and Hammer

Earl decided upon a dark wood Lap Harp because the strings contrasted with the surface and were easier to see. He got outfitted with every accessory needed, and picked out several packets of music sheets.

Earl is a low-key guy. I only knew his excitement because he made the purchases without hesitancy. He was thankful, but I was overjoyed to fulfill his wish and appeared more gleeful than he did.


Once we left, I said, “Aren’t you going to thank me with some driving music?” He immediately leapt to pull out the lap harp. That’s when I knew just how happy he really was to have it.

I pulled into a Day Use Area by the river and Earl started a mix of using sheet music along with teaching himself by sound to get acquainted with his Lap Harp.

Image: Townsend, TN Entrance to The Foothills Parkway

Townsend, TN Entrance to The Foothills Parkway

Later, after grabbing a sandwich from The Apple Valley Cafe, there was still plenty of day ahead of us. So, we headed to the Townsend entrance of the Foothills Parkway at mile 16.9. The planned 71 mile parkway is still under construction, there are just separate sections completed.

The piece of The Foothills Parkway we drove is lower in elevation and more gently curved in comparison to other parkways we have enjoyed.

The beauty of the views from its overlooks are outstanding. We had a beautiful, relaxing experience with sparse traffic.

Image: Early Autumn Colors: Foothills Parkway, TN

Early Autumn Colors: Foothills Parkway, TN

The area trees showed a bit more changes in color than we noticed during our previous day’s drive. We drove in several miles before turning back.

Once again we left a parkway without going the full distance available. There was yet another hurricane approaching a southern coast and it was coming rapidly to bring tropical storm conditions to Tennessee. We are no storm chasers, Nate is the second tropical storm chasing us from a camping trip this year.

Skipping the second night of camping, we opted to pack up and get away from trees and rivers during the expected winds and rain.

We took the interstate home with Earl practicing on his Lap Harp at times. Lily stayed dry all the way into storage. Afterwards, back on the road there was a road delay entering the outskirts of Atlanta. Our return drive took about two hours more than expected, but the wind and rain held off all the way home.

Miles 1 to 120

Hitched Vistabule Preparing to Pull Out

Hitched Vistabule: Preparing to Pull Out

After an orientation session from the Vistabule team, we drove out of St. Paul, MN in the late afternoon of Thursday, April 27, 2017. Our shake-down trip from St. Paul, MN to metro Atlanta, GA was already undergoing major changes from the plans I had researched and mapped out while still at home.

In the last week, Mother Nature had thrown a major, tragically dangerous, springtime hissy fit. Driving from Georgia to Minnesota on Interstate highways, we saw flooded creeks, rivers and fields throughout the Central Plains States.


Central Plains Flooding April, 2017

On the morning we arrived to pick-up Lily, there was a heavy dusting of snow in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fortunately, that snow was melted by noon and roads were clear, but unusually cold temperatures were in the forecast for several days ahead. Unfortunately, there was another round of snow expected for St. Paul and additional rain targeting the states already heavily flooded.

We also found that while some Minnesota State Parks remained open year round, they did not normally turn on water and heat for the rest room facilities until May 1st.

So, instead of heading east for a night at Frontenac State Park, we checked weather apps in order to head toward sunshine. There was a sweet spot in Albert Lea, Minnesota about an hour and a half drive southwest of St. Paul.

We tried to enter Myre-Big Island State Park, but was unable to find the sign-in forms or register by phone. So, we settled for a hotel on that first cold night with Lily. She was secured in the parking lot within sight of our hotel window and we had a good night’s sleep.

Luckily, we found an alternative campsite in the morning. The Albert Lea/Austin KOA campground was open. It was a relatively small KOA by a quiet road with a train track in the distance. About half of the park seemed to be filled with permanent RVs, there were some cabins being used and additional open campsites with gravel pull-throughs, water, electricity and sewer hookups available.


Albert Lea/Austin KOA, Minnesota

The daytime temperatures remained in the 40s. While there was about half a day of light rain, the KOA had Wifi, a camp store, and automatic heat in the restrooms which we truly appreciated. Meanwhile, we were able to practice unhitching and hitching the trailer and putting the sofa bed combination up and down. Plus, we managed to cook in the galley between raindrops, and gave our little heater a good trial run as temperatures fell to 30 degrees at night. We settled into the KOA for two nights, quite happy and comfortable.
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