| It's official, a full month
on the road. Friday. The weekend. All those tenting spots filling up with
families. But the thought of taking the tent down and moving over to some
other less hospitable corner of the campground and setting it up again
just seemed like too much. I just want to get in the car and drive for
30+ hours nonstop and make it home. I could be back in time for Halloween
and be out of this crazy country before the election insanity. (Personally,
I think a new civil war will break out after Bush somehow wins with 105%
of the country apparently supporting him. Bush will explain: "It just shows
how very muchly I am belovered by my people.")
But I still had a score to settle with Pizza Hut! So after I was all packed up I went there for their all-you-can-eat dinner buffet. I seemed to be the only oddball there, with everyone else die-hard regulars. I think one family even dropped their grandmother off so she could pig out for two hours and then they'd come back and retrieve her.
But you can only eat pizza and bread sticks and cinnamon bread for so long before you have to leave. So before long I was on the road again and within a number of minutes I had waved goodbye to Florida.
Then a strange thing happened. I was only a few minutes into Georgia when I saw a sign for their tourist information area and I decided to go check it out. Initially I figured I would just pick up a map and a few cool items for the fun of it or in the odd chance that I was actually back here someday. But once again I found myself thinking that maybe I could find something worthwhile here. Now that I was on the road again, the idea of setting up the tent somewhere didn't seem like such a chore. Another KOA campground caught my eye. A few hours ahead and just a few miles from my planned route. More importantly, it had wireless access.
So, instead of driving for 24 hours straight, I pulled into the KOA campground at Forsyth, Georgia after only about four hours. A half decent location. A rather fickle internet connection (I spent an hour or so in my "office" in the washrooms accessing it because I couldn't seem to get it anywhere else) and also home of the world's proudest goose!
There was a pond there filled with ducks and a few Canada geese. At one point a formation of geese flew overhead and I wondered if the ones in the pond would join them. Instead, the whole flock of them swooped in and glided into the water. Unfortunately, they were too fast for me. I was still fumbling for my camera when the last one came in.
A pretty uneventful evening. There were numerous other tents set up around me but I never saw anyone around them. I looked through all the various booklets on Georgia attractions but the only thing that really caught my eye was several hours back the way I came so I figured there was no point in staying more than the one night here. However, I did decide to foolishly be original in my choice of restaurants for the night and went to a nearby Hooters. Hey, it's a place I've always heard about and never gone to. Besides, they advertise themselves as more of a family restaurant these days...
I walk into a pub atmosphere and there are girls zooming by everywhere wearing short shorts and low cut black tops. Whoever is closest to the door yells out a "Hey Y'all" to whoever comes in the door and then gets them a seat. I was immediately confused after I sat down when the waitress (or "My Hooter Girl" as I am supposed to refer to her as) puts down a napkin, sprinkles salt on it, and then asks what I want to drink. I thought she was preparing for some exotic drink and I said "Just a Pepsi".
And what kind of menu doesn't have fries? The best thing I could find was Buffalo Chicken Strips so I ordered that. Not the tastiest of things unfortunately. And instead of sweet and sour sauce I was stuck with ranch salad dressing. Certainly an odd place. At one point one girl yelled out "All Hooter girls to the front" and they all had some group meeting and then the "girls" started coming by the tables with a broom and dustbin, bending over and sweeping the floor. Or leaning over to dust the various photos on the walls around each person's tables. According to an article on the wall, sometimes they just all grab hoola hoops and start hoola hooping up front. A unique experience, for certain, though not one I will probably repeat.
One interesting tidbit in the article was that the typical Hooter girl may only be paid $2.50/hour but they also might make a couple hundred dollars a night in tips. And it did appear to be a family restaurant. Though I saw numerous couples coming in with their young sons but never saw any coming in with their young daughters. I wonder why...
I actually left feeling somewhat depressed by the whole thing. Back at the campground I returned to my "office" for a while. Around midnight a late arrival showed up, shining their headlights into my tent and keeping it on all the while they set up their own tent. I was actually coming back from the washroom at the time and the woman apologized, fearing she may have woken someone in my tent.. However, it didn't keep them from then inflating their air mattresses with a pump that sounded more like a vacuum cleaner. Some people are just so considerate!
Day 32: Saturday, October 30th, 2004
| Some very odd dreams last
night. Being next to the interstate once again, the sounds of the traffic
seem to have somehow infiltrated my dreams turning into the soundtrack
for whatever was going on. A car would zoom by with a loud whir and then
it would get higher and higher as something dramatic happened. Then there
would be complete silence, followed by the low rumble of an eighteen wheeler
as something ominous was occurring. And I didn't even take any medication
Actually saw a couple people
come out of their tents in the morning. Which makes me wonder whether they
were simply hiding in their tents the entire previous evening or if they
snuck in after 2am or so.
I've been noticing that I have all sorts of little bites all over my legs. I started getting them as soon as I got to Florida. I just hope they do not continue showing up. I'd hate to think that I have brought anything back with me. Surely the cold on the return trip will kill them off anyway. I hope. Maybe I'll have to be fumigated at the border.
I hung around the campground as late as I could in the morning doing some updates on the web sites and left just before check out time at noon. Had a late breakfast at IHOP consisting of silver dollar pancakes, French Toast triangles, scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausages. They certainly know how to make breakfasts. Then I got back in my car and drove and drove and drove until I made it to North Carolina.
North Carolina. Land of Chimney Rock Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway. I decided to aim for the starting point of the parkway and had three possible plans. One was to go to the parkway and start driving and driving into the night, knowing there were numerous state campgrounds along the way that I could get into at any hour. The next plan was to head for the campground right next to Chimney Rock Park and since I had such a great time hiking there, maybe I could do it again. Finally, the third plan was to cut across a mountain trail and get to Interstate 81. Bypassing the parkway, it would take me in almost a perfect diagonal path aimed at home.
Regardless of my choice, all three plans basically took me to Cherokee. Looking up in the campground booklets, I noticed they had another KOA campground there. The idea of a campground with an indoor pool and hot tub sounded nice. Pretty reasonable at $25/night or $22.50 now that I was a KOA Value Kard holder. This particular campground was also rated as one of the best in the country. When I got to the area it seemed like a typical tourist area with lots of stores selling t-shirts, mini golf places, gold panning shops, go karts, arcades, casinos. But it also looked kind of interesting and had perhaps a dozen different campgrounds in the area.
I went to the KOA, far from the noise of any interstate, and was quite surprised to find enormous crowds at the campground. It seems that they were having a special Halloween weekend and tons of families had shown up and they were having a "haunted woods" adventure for the kids and all the RVers had pumpkins and were giving out candy to the kids as they went from spot to spot. The tenting spots were perhaps the only locations not booked up for the weekend. Such a change of pace from the last few campgrounds I'd been at.
I had a relaxing dip in the hot tub and pool and wandered around seeing all the kids dressed up and hearing regular screams coming from the haunted woods. I can certainly understand why this campground was rated so highly. It was like a community unto itself. There seemed to be more staff at this campground than all the other campgrounds I have visited so far put together. There was a tiny internet cafe next to the pool area along with a diner. There was a pavillion that serves regular all you can eat meals. A big screen tv in another place where they have regular movie nights. Bus services to take guests in to the village or to various attractions. Pretty impressive.
I was also impressed with my tenting site. There were actually trees between me and the next tenting area. And for once the staff was actually younger than me. I suppose it helped that many of them were very beautiful Indian girls.
The icing on the cake was that the place had a wireless internet connection. It only seemed to work around the pool area and seemed rather erratic, but it was good enough for me. I hoped that maybe I had found my oasis, a magical place that I could spend a while in and give a happy ending to my road trip.
Day 33: Sunday, October 31st, 2004
| Unfortunately, I had one
of those annoying sleepless dreams all night long. In this case, it had
something to do with my attempts to find just the right angle to sleep
at so that I wasn't putting any pressure on my chest and I wasn't leaning
on my left arm (which has somehow become sore). Somehow this all turned
into some game where I was trying to choose the exact angle to sleep in
and there were all these slots I could choose from and depending on which
slot I chose there would be some prize on the opposite side. And there
were people calling from the other side wanting me to choose their positions.
And the whole time I was only partly asleep so that I was really exhausted
when 4am rolled around and it started to rain.
I rushed out and put the tarp on (hey, there hadn't been a cloud in the sky) and my main thought was "No! You cannot ruin my magical oasis like this!" But it rained and rained for most of the rest of the night. No big puddles in the tent, but things were somewhat damp when I finally crawled out in the morning.
Still, it looked like the start of a wonderful day. Only four bucks for their all you can eat pancakes, bacon, and orange juice breakfast. Then I was off to the village to explore. I wandered around some of the shops and then checked out a place that offered visitors the chance to see and feed some real wolves for only $3. I went in but they just looked like very large dogs to me. Who knows. They also had various other animals there but it was the kind of place that made me wonder whether they took proper care of all the animals or not. Next door was another similar place but they had bears. Undaunted, I decided to check them out as well. Numerous bears here, including a few that liked to show off as well as a couple younger bears. We were allowed to pet them but when they saw I didn't have food for them, they just swatted my hand away.
I suppose I was just in the mood for checking out animals. After a little more driving around I ran across a petting zoo that proclaimed that they now had in some baby tigers. Admission was $5 and for another dollar I could get a little tray of apple pieces, lettuce, and bread for the bears. Yes, more bears. And these bears certainly knew how to put on a show when they saw people coming by with food. One would lie on his back and rock back and forth. Another would stand up and twirl around or just put his paws out.
A very friendly fellow who worked there showed me a scrapbook of photos of the various bears over the years, taken from when they were just cubs (and playing with his children) to when they were full grown. It made me feel good to see that he seemed to have a genuine love for the animals and that they were well looked after. He also wondered if I would like to have my picture taken with one of the young tigers. Only ten dollars...
How could I pass up such an opportunity. He brought out one of the tigers and got me to hold it and a baby bottle as he took a Polaroid picture of us. He was also nice enough to take a couple pictures with my camera as well.
That alone made my visit to Cherokee worthwhile. The man also let me pet the adorable looking ocelot but I didn't get any pictures of that unfortunately. In another section they had a wise looking monkey, a beautiful stretching tiger, some extremely close-knit lemurs, as well as a whole bunch of goats that mauled me when I tried to feed them.
All in all I had quite the wonderful time there. I headed back to the campground thinking that I could head for home now. I had another great day to finish off my trip on a high note.
Back at the campground I did a little exploring and some more swimming. Then I set off again, planning on exploring the mountains just north of Cherokee. However, I got sidetracked when I decided to stop in at the Cherokee Museum and spent an hour or so there looking at the exhibits. Very interesting to hear some of the stories of their people. I especially liked one that told of how there once were no diseases. But then the men started killing off the animals and the animals all got together and decided that for each animal that was killed off, they would make a disease that would kill the men. But the plants, who were fond of men, did not like this so they decided that they would create a cure for each disease that killed off the men. And so, Medicine Men would seek out the right plants to cure the diseases.
Of course it was also depressing to see all the devastation brought on by the arrival of the white men. Imagine if Americans rounded up a couple Canadians at a hockey game, claimed they represented all of Canada, and then bought the country from them for a few six packs...
By the end of the visit I realized that I have been lugging my backpack around with me far too often. I need to either get a lighter laptop or be more trusting and simply lock it in the car. My back was aching by the time I left the museum. Hey, at least it made me forget about my sore chest for a little while.
I decided then to just head back to the campground and relax by the pool for the rest of the day. Although I gained an extra hour in the morning with the clocks going back, nightfall arrives at 6pm now, seriously cutting into my evenings.
I also decided to have myself a bonfire. At the campground store they sold little kits that contained two bundles of wood, a mini fire starter log, matches, and roasting sticks. (There was another that included hot dogs, buns, and marshmallows as well, but I already had all that.)
Of course I should've known better. American wood simply does not burn! I think I've had one successful bonfire during my entire visit to the States. In that case, the wood had been shrink wrapped in plastic, insuring it was dry. I tried for well over an hour. Not even the little fire log could do more than make the wood blacken. I managed to gather some small twigs and branches from the ground and had enough of a fire for one hot dog and one marshmallow, but it was very annoying.
I did notice that a few other places were successful in making bonfires. Did they have better wood or do I simply suck at making fires? Maybe they doused their wood with gasoline first.
on to the next day...