Project Vintage Thunder

The latest on Project Vintage Thunder, by Airstream Life magazine. Sponsored by George M Sutton RV, Reese hitch, Dometic USA, PPG Paint, Axis Products, GSM Vehicles, and Zip-Dee. Vintage Thunder is an "honest" RV refurbishment and travelogue. We tell you what really happens ...

Friday, July 08, 2005

Kanawha State Park, Charleston WV

We broke up the haul from Mammoth Cave to West Virginia with several small stops. Kentucky’s Blue Grass Parkway is just riddled with interesting and unique historical sites, including several which celebrate Kentucky’s heritage as a whisky state. Every turn it seems there’s a Museum of Bourbon, or a Distillery Historic Site. We stopped for lunch at the beautiful My Kentucky Home State Shrine. Sometime we will have to come through here again and spend more time visiting them all.

The scenery is a series of contradictions, first rugged with cliffs and road cuts, but also lush and serene with marvelous landscapes everywhere. It gets progressively more hilly as you approach West Virginia along I-64.

The downside of the Blue Grass Parkway is that it seems to be the land that modern technology forgot, or at least that Verizon overlooked. No cell phone, no Internet. We hastily made a few calls in the brief intervals of usable phone service to set up our next few days, but we got disconnected more than connected, so we’ll have to try again today. (I resolved to go ahead and get a 3-watt car phone booster and rooftop antenna. This handheld mobile phone is hopeless in terrain like this.)

We finally landed in Kanawha State Park, just outside Charleston WV. Although it looks close to the city on the map, this park feels a hundred miles away. To get to it, you meander up and down hills in a zig-zag for six miles. Watch the signs closely or you’ll get lost. Check your brakes, too.

Finally, you’ll reach what the brochure calls “a sharp left”, which is really a 150-degree turn to the left that longer motorhomes can’t negotiate without disconnecting their toads. (We spotted someone there doing exactly that, in the rain.) A couple of miles further, driving along the bottom of a hollow, you’ll enter the park … and then travel another 4.5 miles through heavy forest cover to the actual campground.

Driving through the park, it feels like you are at the bottom of the deepest valley in the world. The sides rise up so steeply you cannot see the sky most of the time, and it is nearly always twilight. The hollow is no more than 100-400 feet wide at any time.

The campground is another experience: another “sharp” right turn, then a one-way road that carries two-way traffic, through an even narrower hollow. A perennial stream runs alongside, and the campsites are sloping cut-outs under forest cover, between the access road and the stream. Parking looks impossible, until you try it; our site was quite easy to back into and we made it on the second try, into a beautiful spot just ten feet from the flowing water.

Trailers over 25 feet are not recommended, but they do get in regularly, according to the staff. The three nearest sites are filled with an extended family from Michigan who come every year – a testament to the uniqueness of this place. It is fantastic, even in the rain that was dripping down on us all night. We opened the windows on the stream side and listened to it gurgle last night. For me, that was worth the price of admission right there.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Mammoth Cave NP, KY

Tuesday vanished in the long drive from Springfield, MO to Mammoth Cave, KY. I would have posted from Mammoth Cave but it’s another of those spots where cellular signals are only wishful thoughts. I couldn’t even get online at 14.4 kbps with my Verizon phone, much less the Sprint-based Internet box we have.

Oh well, another “vacation day”. We did what you do when you visit Mammoth Cave National Park, we went underground into the cool vast chambers and ducked the humid weather of the campground for a couple of hours. How to describe a cave? It was much like many others we have visited, which is to say fascinating in its history and geology, damp and complex, and a bit intimidating. In short, we all liked it and felt a lot more comfortable in the upper 50s than we do up aboveground in the upper 80s.

Mammoth Cave NP offers no hookups, so we have to ration our electricity. It’s really no hardship at all except for the fact that we have a mysteriously poor battery capacity. Once again, after just one night of boondocking, our battery is nearly flat. We were particularly careful in our battery usage, so I suspect that this battery is a dog.

All modern trailers have parasitic electrical drains. These will suck your battery dry in a matter of a week or so typically, even if you don’t use lights or water pump. They come from circuit boards that are always on in appliances like the refrigerator, hot water heater, and stereo. But they should not have any appreciable affect overnight, and yet our battery is dying.

It is possible we have some unknown drain in the system beyond the obvious parasitic drains. But the first thing to do is check the battery with a hygrometer to see if it has lost some of its capacity. I wouldn’t be surprised – this battery got killed a few times last fall before we discovered a drain in the stereo that we have since removed. Every time a battery is run dry, it loses capacity permanently, so this one may be toast. We’ll check it out later. For now, we need to be boondocking less and finding electrical hookups instead.

This blog entry is posted to you from My Kentucky Home State Park, where we have stopped for lunch.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Last Day of the International Rally 2005

The rally is over. But it ended well. Sunday was notable mostly for the big flea market that is traditional at major rallies. We sold a lot of subscriptions and heard “I just LOVE your magazine!” over and over again, which is something I never get tired of hearing. The Summer issue is now printed and we had copies to show the the flea market – those of you who are subscribers should be getting yours in the mail in the next couple of weeks.

Monday was perhaps the best day of the entire rally, for me. About 10% of the attendees packed up and moved out early, needing to be back home for one reason or another on Tuesday. So the field was a bit less crowded, and Vintage Thunder was more exposed to view.

This meant more tours. I lost track of how many we did, but it seemed that every time we sat down to do something, there would be a tap on the door and another couple would poke their head in asking, “Can we just take a look?”

Mid-day the club held its “Fourth of July Parade” in the air-conditioned comfort of the Expo Center’s main ballroom. I have to say that this was much better than I expected; the floats and costumes were unique and sometimes hilarious. The Michigan delegation did a demonstration of precision lawn mowing with toy mowers that emitted soap bubbles. Two Units towed half-scale Airstreams made of cardboard. Our home unit had a “cooks” theme featuring Emma in a little baker’s hat and apron.

Afterward we checked out the famous (huge) Bass Pro Shop store and museum for a few minutes, then joined the South Carolina Coastal Unit for their luncheon, and then we headed off to the trailer for what we thought would be some downtime.

No such luck. The tours started up again and we ended up two hours late for the Vintage happy hour at Shari and Rob Davis’ trailer. But that wasn’t a problem – the rule was that their Happy Hour keeps going until the food is gone, and so the party morphed into dinner on the grill, and fireworks after sunset.

I’ll admit that Springfield was mostly hot and humid. It was stifling at times. But it was also bug-free (except the occasional Junebug and firefly) and this evening was superb – lots of laughs, good company, interesting conversation, and a beautiful sunset over a field of shining aluminum trailers.

These rallies end abruptly. Tuesday morning at dawn, the water was shut off and by 7 a.m. our water line disappeared entirely. By 8 a.m. the power was shut off, and whether you wanted to be up or not, it was impossible to sleep through the sound of engines starting and people griping about the disappearing utilities. Off we went to the dump station (a 30 minute wait in line), and even as we were driving away we paused to give one last tour of Vintage Thunder.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

International Rally, Days Five and Six

We have to remember that we aren't just attending a rally, we're full-timing. So pacing is important: we shouldn't eat out every night, and we need to take downtime and do the normal things in life once in a while. For us, this meant running a few errands on Saturday and doing a bit of work in the afternoon. Then, we were off to the pool in the vintage 3-amp section for a late-day cool-down before dinner.

On Saturday night Eleanor and Emma broke away long enough to see the "Teen Queen" Pageant that is a staple of WBCCI International Rallies. It's quite a show, I've heard. I've never managed to get myself over to see it in the past two Internationals we've attended. Emma likes it because the girls wear crowns (so they are all "princesses"). I stayed home to plan for the next few days of travel.

Last night, while rolling up the awning, something on the support arm got jammed and a cast metal hook on the support arm fractured into several pieces. I'll be contacting Zip-Dee Customer Service for a new one, on Tuesday. From what I've heard from people around here, this is a common occurrence. The fix is easy, once the part is located. And now I know what to do to avoid this happening again -- a simple matter of procedure.

Today I had to face the reality that doing dishes and taking showers means a full gray (er, "wash water") tank, and the heroic guys from the Sanitation Committee aren't coming back. We had bought a blue boy for this circumstance, and finally I had the chance to test it. This blue tank, when full, weighed about 120 lbs so I could not lift it into the truck. It is designed to be towed behind the truck, albeit at a walking pace. Unfortunately the dump station was nearly a mile away near the Vintage 3-amp section, over some extremely bumpy dirt roads and so the errand took nearly half an hour to complete. Ah, the romantic side of rallying...

The rest of the day disappeared between interviews for future magazine articles and the Flea Market. Finally, a group of 9 of us ventured out to the famous "Lambert's Cafe" for "throwed rolls" (they really do chuck them at you) and a country dinner that was staggeringly huge and darned good, for about $10 each.

We are still constantly running into people who want to see Vintage Thunder. We ran out of "I Saw Vintage Thunder" pins this evening. I expect several more tours tomorrow -- our last day here. I'm letting people know that Vintage Thunder will be for sale this October.

At this point our plan is to head east slowly, stopping at Mammoth Cave National Park, courtesy parking in Virginia, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, and then joining up with some friends for camping. It should be a nice and varied change from a week of rallying, although we've had fun here in Springfield.