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2011-08-13 Saturday  I went to a car club meeting at Vogel State Park for lunch and afterward, drove to Ellijay to meet with Karen.  Karen and I planned a ‘road-trip’ to Asheville and Cherokee, NC. We planned to be flexible in plans and to ‘wander-around’.  We had planned to stay in Ellijay on Saturday and Sunday nights, and drive to Asheville on Monday morning. There is a Wal-Mart in Ellijay, and we shopped for food and last minute items to take on Sunday afternoon. We did pretty well with getting our plans together and executing them.

While in Ellijay, Karen and I sat in an area with dead pine needles and leaves as the floor of the area that had the chairs. Somewhere during the stay, I received about 20 bug bites – not mosquitoes, but some kind of bug similar to a “Chigger” (or red bug). I started itching at night and had a difficult time for a couple of days. I had some alcohol and used a pad to dab the liquid onto the bug bites. The coolness of the alcohol helped the itching some, but I had to dab the bites pretty often. It was a pain that was inconvenient for me. Karen also had some ‘bug-bite’ itch reliever that helped some. After several days of dabbing the alcohol and rolling on insect-bite itch reliever, the bug bites finally became a smaller red bump on my skin and the itching stopped. I had scratched some of them and the scabs remained for a couple of weeks. UG!

On Monday, we drove to Asheville and took the ‘scenic route’ from Ellijay.  It felt really great to be ‘on the road’ and seeing things that I haven’t had an opportunity to see in many years. Just seeing the mountains and the blue haze over them was wonderful. Just driving and seeing the small towns on the route that I’ve never seen before – or it’s been so long that I don’t remember seeing them, was wonderful. I’ve heard of Murphy, but – I don’t remember ever driving through it before.

2011-08-15_NCWaynesville,RestArea_PleasureWay,VannaWhite

2011-08-15_NCWaynesville,RestArea_PleasureWay,VannaWhite

We stopped at a rest area and ate a sandwich and a brownie. Then, we continued to the East Mills area of Asheville. Karen had directions to a National Forest camping area and our first priority was to ‘get-settled’. We found the area without any problem and Karen asked the camp host a few questions. It was late afternoon and we drove about 4 miles down a gravel road to a campsite. It had a creek nearby and was very satisfactory for what we needed. We discussed what to eat and decided to eat separately as it was getting dark and we needed to get ready for the night. It gets really dark under the trees and you have to have all the flashlights and other lights ready for when the sun goes down.

I turned on my ‘reading light’ and read some of the brochures that we had picked up at the rest stop visitors center. Our plans were to go to the Biltmore House and Gardens in the morning. After I turned off the light and got into bed, I didn’t have any problem falling asleep and was suddenly woken-up by a close-by noise. I couldn’t tell where the noise came from – I was half-asleep when it occurred and I just knew that it was a noise and close. I sat on the side of my bed with my first thought being that a bear was nearby.  (The Forest Service cautions everyone who camps in their jurisdiction, that you have to put ALL food inside cars at night.) It was so dark that you couldn’t see anything and I stayed quiet to listen for additional noises. After a few minutes, some ice in the cooler made a sound and I realized, the noise that woke me up was some ice had melted and shifted inside the cooler. Whew! No bear.      Back to sleep.

In the morning, Karen and I left the campsite in my van and returned to civilization. I say that because when you are in the National Forest, cell phone service is unavailable. As we travelled on the road, Karen’s cell phone detected an available signal and made a noise that she had a voice message. She listened to it and quickly determined that there was an emergency at her house in Atlanta, and she had to return immediately. I drove us back to our campsite, she packed up her van and we left.

I decided to stay in the area and she had suggested that I travel to Lake Powhatan. I did and – since I didn’t have a Senior Citizen discount, I drove to Davidson River to get one. (It’s about 30 miles away.) I waited at the Ranger Station for an hour and the only ranger who could issue the card, was expected to return but didn’t. The duty ranger called the Discovery Center at 4pm for me to ask if there were an available ranger there who could issue the card (before closing at 5pm).  They said ‘yes’, so I drove through the Pisgah Forest  (that contains many beautiful waterfalls and sliding rocks) to the Discovery Center. As I arrived, it was near their closing time and I had to go around a closing gate and explain to an entrance ranger that the duty ranger from Davidson River had called ahead for me and that I would only be inside for a few minutes. Inside the Discovery Center, four rangers were completing their day and the one who can issue the card was expecting me. In a couple of minutes, he completed his end-of-day work and asked me for my drivers license and $10. I gave them to him, he completed his paperwork for the discount (I was surprised at how ‘easy’ it was to get the card once you find the right ranger) and I returned to the Davidson River National Park campground. I used my discount immediately for staying overnight in the campground – in all National Parks, with the discount, the nightly fee is $10. (This is the best deal in America.)

Wednesday morning, I decided to go to the Biltmore House and be a tourist. I stopped at a fast-food restaurant on the way and got there about 1pm. The entrance fee was $54 per person and since half of the day was behind me, I decided not to visit today. If Karen and I had gotten there on Tuesday as planned, I could have gotten a $20 discount. I will try to return on another Tuesday and get the discount. I saw a four minute film about the house and gardens, and I had visited it about 20 years ago. So, I returned to the Mills River area and stayed again at the campground. Late evening, I went for a wonderful walk along the riverbank. Several people were wading in the river and I just enjoyed the walk and watching them.

Thursday morning, I wanted to use the internet to look up some information and after much effort, I found a library in Mills River. The GPS gave me the location of the library and I couldn’t find it after riding around the location several times. I asked a local person about it and she said that the library had recently moved. She gave me the directions to the new location and there were highway signs for the library in an industrial area. I kept looking for it and turned around several times. Out of desperation, and not wanting to quit because I knew that I had to be close, I drove down a gravel road between industrial buildings and past a corn field. I found a packing house with a large driveway at the edge of the corn field and was going to use the driveway to turn around and ‘give-up’ when I saw a sign for the new town hall and library down another dirt road and past another corn field. I had found it – a nice, new brick building. (Some politician must have made a good deal on the land.) I went inside and asked if they had wireless internet. They said ‘yes’, so I parked the van near the window of the library and tried to access it. The internet service was locked, so I returned inside and gave them my drivers license and received an id and password for access at one of their terminals. I sent a message to the vandweller group asking for someone to call me and let me know if there were around. I sent an email to my son and my brother and let them know that I was in the Asheville area.

I decided to go to Knoxville since it was near to the camping area for the vandweller group, and if they called, I could join them. I hadn’t visted Dollywood before and stopped at an exit near the theme park for information. I picked up many brochures about the area and the host said that a nearby restaurant was a ‘local-type’. I was hungry, so I went to the restaurant (about 6 miles away from the interstate exit) – and I was truly amazed. What used to be a small town has evolved into a huge tourist area. I found the restaurant, and it wasn’t a chain, but it wasn’t exactly ‘local’ either. It was a commercial, tourist hamburger, french-fries type place that had institutional food that wasn’t impressive. I asked for ‘chicken pot-pie’ and it was rich and creamy, but it had too much salt and kept me thirsty for days. I decided that I wasn’t going to ‘eat-out’ much in the future. It cost too much and had too much salt. I asked the waitress, what theater show she would see if she went out and she told me the ‘Miracle’. I had passed it on the way to the restaurant so I returned to the box office and saw that show that night. For a long time, I had read of Branson, Missouri and all the theater shows that play there. I’ve wanted to go there just to see a show – so, here I was, in Sevierville, Tennessee where there were many tourist attractions and shows.

2011-08-17_NCSevierville,TouristArea-HappyDaysRestaurant-ElvisPressleyStatue&VannaWhite

2011-08-17_NCSevierville,TouristArea-HappyDaysRestaurant-ElvisPressleyStatue&VannaWhite

I enjoyed the show but was disappointed that the crowd was so small. The waitress had told me that the show had been playing for a while and was due to stop playing soon. They planned to replace it with another one – so, the last days are near. At the show intermission, there was an advertisement that you could present your show ticket to the box office and see another show for only about $20 more. After the show, I returned to the box office and got a ticket for the next night to “Hatfields and McCoys” in a theater a few yards away.

The next day, I found a local park and decided to read a book that I had started a few weeks ago. It was a beautiful day, but in the middle afternoon – it was HOT. I thought that the mountain area was cooler – but, the weather has been so hot, it’s hard to get away from it anywhere. I was glad to have the time to be in the area and did some riding around to see more of what the area was like. It was just nice to ‘get out’ and see things that I hadn’t seen in years, or didn’t know was there (like all the tourist attractions in Sevierville and Pigeon Forge). I rode past the Dollywood road that

goes to the theme park and all of the businesses that are similar to what is found in the Orlando area near Disney World.

I just enjoyed seeing what was there. There was highway lane-widening from the interstate to the Sevierville town limit. Inside the populated areas, I saw that there were shuttle services to handle the crowds and help people avoid parking. I was surprised to see the build-up of condos and hotels. At night, I went to the “Hatfield and McCoy’s” show. It was entertaining and the crowd was larger. I didn’t realize that it was a dinner-theater so I had eaten a small hamburger before driving to the theater. I filled up with the food quickly. The server was nice and gave me an extra serving of chocolate pudding for ‘later’. He was nice, but very busy getting and cleaning dishes from all the tables in his area.    Before the show, I had spent some time looking at maps and I had not received a call from the vandwellers, so I decided to drive to Gatlinburg and through the Smokey Mountains to Cherokee tomorrow.

I had seen maps of the drive through the mountains, but – I couldn’t really decide how many miles the drive entailed. I wasn’t sure that the GPS miles were ‘real’ or ‘satellite’ (or as-the-crow-flies). As I drove, I remembered how my mother used to take my brother, my grandmother and me (about 10 years old) to Cherokee and the mountains. My older brother would tease me that we were driving so high, that we were in-a-cloud. I remember him talking about being in the cloud and opening the window. Unknowing to me, he put his hand in the ice cooler and got it wet, then put it outside the window and when he showed me that it was wet, I believed him (that we were indeed, in a cloud).

My ears popped as the altitude changed. I watched the GPS and the elevation was 3000 feet in some parts of the drive. The first hour was an up-up-up climb and a few hairpin turns. Along the way, there was some construction on the road edge. The crews had a machine and was lifting heavy stone blocks to the edge to keep cars from running over the side of the cliff. There were a good many cars on the road – it was two-lane and no-one could pass.

After the up-up-up drive came the highest point and the down-down-down drive. The cars in front of me were going at a good speed, but the whole line were pressing the brake pedal often. Near the end of the drive, I could smell hot-brake smoke as I had my window open. I had put the van into second gear for most of the drive and the rpm of the engine had reached 3000, but I was able to slow the speed without using brakes. (Upon reflection, when I bought the van eight months ago, the salesman told me to use Overdrive, a button on the gear shift know. I had never really realized what the Overdrive was for, but he told me it was for when I am in the mountains.)

When I was about 10, my other brother and I were in the car with my mother and grandmother. We were on our way to Gatlinburg from Cherokee on the same highway and traffic was bumper-to-bumper. It was fall and mother wanted to see the changing of the leaves – as did many other people. Anyway, she pushed the brakes so much, they overheated and failed. She paniced and thought that we were surely going over the cliff because she couldn’t stop the car. My brother had been taking driving lessons and told her to put on the emergency brake. In her panic, she had forgotten about it and she used it to stop the car. I was too young to remember, but I do know that the brakes were not able to be used anymore and we sat on the side of the road until a ranger came. Someone said later and this is another part of the story that I don’t remember, that the ranger took us to a place to stay and a mechanic was called. He must have towed the car to a shop and ordered parts. We were at the cabin for a week while the parts were received and installed. (I do remember my mother saying how much that ranger helped us and that she doesn’t know what we would have done without his help.) After that, my mother never took us to the mountains again, (we went on vacation to Florida) until I was a freshman in college and Dad drove. I guess that Dad told her later about using the second gear for slowing speed. He was a truck-driver and maybe presumed that everyone knew how to drive in the mountains.

Later, when I learned to drive – someone told me to ‘gear-down’ several times so that it stuck and I knew to do it. There are signs on the road about using gears instead of brakes, but – I’m not sure that everyone knows to do it. (Maybe they have learned to use the overdrive transmission button as they travel more in the mountains than I do.)

As I neared Cherokee, I saw a sign for camping and stopped at the Smokemount campground. I used my discount again and enjoyed walking around the area to get some exercise.

2011-08-19_NCCherokee,SmokemountCamping-VannaWhite

2011-08-19_NCCherokee,SmokemountCamping-VannaWhite

The next morning, I went through Cherokee and wanted to see the casino additions. In Atlanta, there are many tv advertisements about Harrah’s Casino and Paula Deen’s new restaurant. I saw the casino new parking deck and, I wanted to see what views the parking deck offered from the top. After getting there, I tried to get wi-fi internet and was happy to succeed for a few minutes. I looked up the casino and hotel and saw where Chubby Checker was in the theater that night. The tickets were only about $20, so I decided to see if any were available.  The top of the parking deck was getting HOT, so – I decided to ‘walk around’ the casino. It was cool and there were many people playing the slot machines. I noticed that there was a ‘non-smoking’ section for gambling.  There was some remodeling at the top of the entrance to the casino from the hotel. I wanted to see What Paula Deen’s restaurant looked like, so I went there an viewed the menu (and prices). I rambled through a couple of shops selling clothing and other tourist items. I decided to return to the van and moved it to the parking deck floor below the top (but, with a view of the hotel because the previous wi-fi internet access connected to ‘hotel guest rooms’).

I got out the laptop and – What? no connection! I need a room number and password to connect – bummer! How did I connect an hour ago? I don’t know – but the wi-fi wouldn’t work now. I returned to the casino, got a hot dog, went to the ticket office for events and bought a ticket to the show at 7:30. I had some time to kill, so I went to customer service to have my Harrah’s customer-access-card activated. I returned to the ‘non-smoking’ area of the casino and found a $.02 machine.

I put $5 gambling/entertainment money into the machine and proceeded to ‘try-my-luck’. I wasn’t very lucky – I played one-line, one-bet until the $5 was gone/used-up/lost-it-all. I found an empty machine near the entrance to the event area and waited for the doors to open. I enjoyed watching a group of five people come in, find machines near me empty – and proceed to do as I did. {I.E., loose money.}  They played three-lines three-times-the-machine-base and their money disappeared faster than mine did. For your money, you get the opportunity to push a button with the word “SPIN” on it, and listen to generated sounds of an old-type mechanical machine turn. In addition, you get to see all of the lights flashing – isn’t that a wonderful value for your money? (I think ‘NOT’!)

Inside the event center, I was in the balcony and had an interesting conversation with a couple of people on the row. They live in NC and come occasionally to the casino. They are not gamblers, but do play a little – because they can. The man just retired a few weeks ago and said that he is still ‘adjusting’. I told them that I retired about seven months ago and wanted to travel. I agreed that the ‘new life’ requires many adjustments. The show was a little late starting and Chubby Checker started with a song melody. I didn’t know some of his ‘deep-cut’ songs – but, as all performers do, he sang his popular songs and the crowd seemed to appreciate them. Many times during the show, he invited audience members to the stage to dance-with-him or show-their-moves. He entertained the crowd, but – it was not a type of show that is performed in Atlanta. The big-time shows that I’ve attended were much more energetic and never involved anyone from the audience. He told his birth-date in one of his monologues and we determined that he’s 70. As I left the show and waited on the escalator, another person and I discussed the show. A man said that he’s 70 and I thought – for being seventy years old, he’s doing well (but, we both agreed – there is no doubt – he’s dying his hair – there wasn’t any grey).

2011-08-20_NCCherokee,Harrah'sParkingDeck-and-VannaWhite

2011-08-20_NCCherokee,Harrah’sParkingDeck-and-VannaWhite

I stayed at the Cherokee Campground and asked the host for a breakfast restaurant recommendation. She said ‘Peter’s Pancakes’ and I got directions there. I had a wonderful multi-grain pancake with blueberry syrup. Apparently, it is a place that many locals visit. I hadn’t heard from any vandwellers, but couldn’t find any wi-fi internet. I travelled again to a library and found the wi-fi locked. It wasn’t open so I visited a local flea market and decided to return home. I really enjoyed looking through the items on sale at the flea market. I live in Atlanta and there are NO flea markets around the city. I noticed that some of the items on sale could be found in Atlanta stores for less cost. The only thing that I bought was a used book about the Jon Benet family. By the end of the trip, I had lost track of the day and date, so I didn’t put the time on all of the previous paragraph entries.

2011-08-21_NCCherokee,CampgroundOffice

2011-08-21_NCCherokee,CampgroundOffice

Note – after getting on the internet at home, I found out that the vandwellers couldn’t get cell service from their location. I tried several times to get internet access and wasn’t successful – so, I couldn’t see the notices that they put on the web for me. I hope that I will be able to catch-up with them again in the future. Now, I’m home again and back into my cycle of paying-bills and reading emails. It’s still HOT in Atlanta. Since it’s mid-August, there is hope that the weather will cool some soon.

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((My Dad has a nickname for me and it is “Puddin”. He started calling me that when I was very young. I named my van, “Vanna White”. When I decided to start a blog, I wanted a unique name for my travels and the names “Puddin” and “Vanna White” came to mind.))