Francis Marion National Forest

We left Croatan National Forest a couple days ago.  We enjoyed our time there, almost 2 weeks, but it was time to move on.

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We set our sites on South Carolina and hit the road.  Conway, SC looked good on paper.  It had some free camping sites near by and Planet Fitness in town.

Planet Fitness has become something of a requirement for Nicole.  She’s pretty serious about getting in shape and we work our at PF exactly 3 times a week.  I’m enjoying the regular showers and the workouts add some entertainment to our days.  We’ve been going for about 3 weeks now and are beginning to see some results.

But I was talking about Conway, SC.  We got there and checked out the camping site.  It was along another river though not nearly as nice as the White Oak River we had had been living next to.  In fact this place was a little trashy.  Broken beer bottles, cans, and other trash where everywhere.  Heck, one guy even forgot to pick up his boat when he was done with it.

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We decided to stay the night anyway.  It was hardly the worse place we’ve stayed at.  About midnight a pickup with open exhaust roared into the camping area.  They decided it would be funny to do a donut and splatter our van with sand and mud.  The racket they made woke Nicole up in a panic and she wasn’t able to get much sleep the rest of the night.  It was now the worse place we’ve stayed at.

Strangely the pickup got suddenly silent after doing the donut.  Then about a half-hour later it started back up and left quietly.  It wasn’t until the next day that I understood. I went for a short walk and found where they had lost control of the truck and slid off the road and into the surrounding swamp.  It looked to me like they had buried their front tires into about 2 feet of mud and water.  They got the truck out, but given how long it took them to get it into 4WD, I think that they spent some time knee deep in swamp mud getting the front hubs locked in.

This negative experience meant that we were only one night in Conway.  The next day we headed to Francis Marion National Forest where there are almost a half-dozen free campsites.  We’ve been here about 3 days now and are enjoying it.

We have between 25-40 minutes to drive to the Planet Fitness near by, but it seems worth it so far.  The weather is overcast, but it is warm and in the 70’s.  The biggest complaint I have today is that some jackass over the hill is blaring country music and some other jackass is firing off a 22 so fast that there obviously is no aiming involved.  Miles from anywhere and I have this shit to put up with.

In between workouts I’ve been getting some light reading done and quite a bit of coding.  While I consider myself retired, I don’t want to let my skills degrade.  Given the recent uncertainty in the stock market, it isn’t a given that I will never have to get a job again.  Besides, I enjoy programming again and it passes the time.

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Croatan National Forest

We’ve been in the Croatan National Forest for a couple of days now.  Nicole has been doing a bunch of reading and I have been teaching myself the macOS graphical API’s for an open source project I have been contributing to.

We are moving between a series of campsites along the White Oak river trying to see which we like best.  There are 5 of these total, but only 3 are in the national forest.  The 3 in the national forest are the ones we are looking at because they are the ones we can camp for free at.  Most of the sites have launches so that you can canoe down the White Oak and get picked up at one of the downstream sites.  There are also a couple of sites on the other side of the forest we will be getting to next week.

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Nic and I also decided that one of the things we should be doing with our free time is getting into shape.  We’ve started hiking a little more.  Yesterday we went and got a membership to Planet Fitness and did a workout.  We plan on going 3 times a week.  Pricing wasn’t bad.  We got Nic their premium Black Card Membership that allows her to any of their 1500 locations for about $25/month (including annual fees).  It also allows her to bring a guest when ever she wants, so I can get in for free.

Neither of us have done much working out lately, so we’re both pretty sore today.  On top of things it is raining all day and tonight, so today is a hang around inside the van and lick our wounds kinda day.

Wolf Gap, VA

Nic and I considered our time with Lisa and Flash to be a vacation.  We spent more than we usually do on dining, drinks, and gas.  It was time to get back to just living life as simply and as cheaply as possible.

Some of the best places to do that are National Forests.  In this case we went to the George Washington National Forest and a place called Wolf Gap.  This was directly west of Washington, DC and on the border between Virginia and West Virginia.  And I mean on the border.  It was literally a 5 minute walk for me to get from my campsite on the Virginia side to the West Virginia border.

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Dispersed camping often times means you get nothing except a spot to park in the woods.  Wolf Gap had a bunch of nice-to-haves.  Marked and maintained campsites, a pit toilet, picnic tables, fallen dead wood (for campfires), and fire rings were all available.  They even had level tent pads for the tent campers (which was everyone except us).

Here are some close by things that you want when living off the grid and on the road.  It had a public trash facility only 5 minutes away.  Less than 5 minutes was an artisan well that was maintained by the local 4-H with safe drinking water to fill our tanks.  It also had a nearby recreation area (Trout Pond Rec Area) that had cheap showers or if you wanted something nicer there were 2 truck stops just 20 minutes away.  Finally, it was close to a city that had all the shopping you could need.  

Also it had some kick ass views if you were willing to hike a couple miles to see them.IMG 0132

Wolf Gap was about as good as it gets except it was too cold for Nic.  Days were 50-60 degrees with nights getting down to the 30’s.  I put a Webasto heater in the van this year, so it stayed at what ever temperature we wanted day or night.  This made it possible for us to stay a week at Wolf Gap, but it didn’t give Nic a lot of outside time.  She mostly stayed in the van and read.  I was sitting outside enjoying an all day fire either listening to music or reading as well.  The cold doesn’t bother me the same as it does Nic.

The wife wanted something warmer, so we hit I-95 and started heading south into North Carolina and the Croatan National Forest.  We just got here today, 10/23/18, and set up camp.  It is about 20 degrees warmer here.

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Flash and Lisa – Part 3

We had a couple of big items that we wanted to accomplish while being in New England.  We wanted to see the fall colors, lighthouses, eat lobster rolls, and go to Salem, MA.  We got plenty of views of the foliage in Maine and Vermont.  The lighthouses were kind of a bust.   The really nice one we went to, you couldn’t get close to and it was covered in scaffolding.

Salem surprised me by how much fun it was.  This is where we got the lobster rolls (for Nic and Lisa) and did some touristy stuff we hadn’t done for much of the trip.

Parking was a nightmare in Salem.  The public parking garages had 6’ 6” clearances.  We left Flash and Lisa’s RV at a campsite and took the van, but it is still closer to 8’ tall than 7’, so we had to find alternate parking.  We ended up in a private parking lot that cost $30 (which Flash covered for us).  Other than the cost the parking lot worked out well because it was centrally located.

Right away we saw the Witch House.  We plopped down our $8 a piece to tour the place.

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Inside was a historical look at colonial life.

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Salem itself was interesting this time of year.  Lots of people and kids were dressed up in costumes and walking around long before Halloween.  Sorry, I didn’t get any pictures of them.  We also walked around town, grabbed some coffee, and eventually ate at a really nice restaurant to get the lobster rolls.

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We even checked out an old cemetery.

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At the end of the day, we made our way back to our campsite.  The next day we dropped off Flash and Lisa’s RV at the rental place and took them to the airport.

The airport is in downtown Boston and we dropped our friends off right at 4:00 PM.  Boston rush hour is a real hassle. Nic and I left Boston and headed to Providence, Rhode Island to spend the night.  We rested our heads in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel restaurant.

The drive between Boston and Providence was basically one long traffic night mare.  Nic and I had decided that we’d had enough of cities and decided to head out to the wilderness.  We set our sites on West Virginia and the next morning hit the road.

Lisa and Flash – Part 2

Everyone told us that all the tourist go to Bar Harbor.  So we went.  We just visited the town and missed things like Thunder Hole because we were a bit fatigued from driving that day.IMG 0087IMG 0088

After that we headed to Glen Ellis, Maine.  We got some gloom and rain or this would have been one of our favorite camping sites.

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About 20 minutes away was Glen Ellis Falls where we hiked in to view one of the largest waterfalls locally.

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We spent a lot of time in Maine and it were ready to see some other states.  On our way to Vermont, through New Hampshire, we took the Kangamangus Highway which was very scenic this time of year.

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We ended up in Stowe, Vermont.  One of the first things we did was check out a local maple sugar farmer who sold us some really good maple syrup.  We then headed out to checkout out some local breweries.  One we went to was The Alchemist.  The beer was disappointing, but the architecture was impressive.

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One common beer theme that we liked about New England was that you could get Shipyard Pumpkin Ale everywhere on tap.  It tastes almost just like a pumpkin pie.  If you want they will coat the rim with a brown sugar mixture.  We found it to be too sweet, but it must be popular because it was always offered to us when ever we ordered a Shipyard Pumpkin Ale.

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More in Part 3…