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Road Trip Recap: Appalachian Adventure

Road Trip Recap Appalachian Adventure

I love posting these recaps of our trips because it’s such a fun way to look back on our adventures and see all the ground we’ve covered. This trip definitely looks different from some of our previous trips — more on that below!

Appalachian Adventure By the Numbers:

Total travel days: 41 (September 6 – October 17)
States visited: 7 (Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Indiana, Kentucky)
Nights camping: 41
Nights in hotels or with family: 0 (!)
Campgrounds visited: 12

First of all — this trip was fun. In some ways it was more mellow than other trips we’ve done (no crazy off-roading, lots of KOAs) but in some ways, it was definitely an adventure (all the whitewater and all.the.bourbon). We definitely enjoyed getting to know a part of the country we’ve neglected. And we picked a great time of year to do it — let me tell you, West Virginia, Tennesee, and Kentucky in fall are gorgeous. The trip was also a study in contrasts; we stayed at both the swankiest campground we’ve ever visited (Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg KOA) and the sketchiest (Camp on the Kentucky RV Park). We spent quality time in four states, and traveled through three more.

Every extended trip we take, it seems like we experience something new — and this trip was no different. This was the first extended road trip we’ve taken where we pulled the camper with us, and it was pretty eye-opening. First, we learned that it’s a lot easier to be lazy with a camper than when car camping; this trip definitely saw us doing a lot more TV watching and lounging indoors than we’ve done on previous trips. We also learned that pulling the camper is a little bit stressful, slows you way down, wreaks havoc on your gas mileage, and puts a major damper on spontaneity. Yikes! This trip was a bit of a test run, as we’re planning some pretty extended on-the-road time for 2017, and it was certainly instructive. So we’re taking it as a lesson to figure out how to improve for the future.

Traveling with the camper definitely changed our travel style. In the past we’ve often rolled into off-the-beaten path campgrounds, cooked dinner over the fire, went to bed early, and rolled out with the sunrise. This trip we averaged 3.5 nights per campground — unheard of for us! — and definitely traveled more slowly. We actually spent six nights each at two different campgrounds. Now, I know that for many full-time travelers that’s nothing, but for us, that’s the definition of S-L-O-W travel, which definitely had its pros and cons. (One thing that hasn’t changed: we’re still terrible at making reservations in advance. We actually got turned away from our very first full-to-capacity campground on this trip! I guess after 18 months on the road, it was bound to happen eventually.)

Now, without further ado — here is the official link roundup/recap of our Appalachian Adventure! We loved our time in the mid-Atlantic mountains, and we hope you enjoy reading about it, too.

Car trouble, camping in Coopers Rock State Forest, and excellent beer! (Morgantown, West Virginia)

Whitewater, whitewater, whitewater! (#GauleySeason kickoff weekend)

Books and burritos in West Virginia’s capital city! (Charleston, West Virginia)

Our new favorite West Virginia state park! (Pipestem Resort State Park)

Yeah, we’d like to be a guest of the Vanderbilts … (Asheville, North Carolina & the Biltmore Estate)

It’s America’s most-visited national park for a reason … (Great Smoky Mountains National Park)

Celebrating Ryan’s birthday in “The Gateway to the South” (Chattanooga, Tennessee)

One night in Nashville + our new favorite campground! (Nashville, Tennessee)

Caves for days! (Mammoth Cave National Park)

Three days. So much bourbon. (The Kentucky Bourbon Trail)

We didn’t jump off a bridge — but other people did. (Bridge Day, Fayetteville, West Virginia)

If you’re interested in reading more of our road trip adventures, check out our 2015 Road Trip recap here (where we travel from the East Coast to the West Coast and back) and our 2016 Road Trip recap here (also known as our Great Southwest Adventure)!

Amazed by Asheville and the Biltmore Estate

[If you’re planning a trip to the Biltmore Estate, use our link to save up to $20 off your tickets!]

Asheville, North Carolina had long been on my radar as “a city I’m sure we’ll love.” Mid-sized East Coast city? Check. Thriving food and beer scene? Check. Quirky, but not weird? Check.

Yet somehow, in all our years in Virginia, we’d never managed to make the seven-ish hour drive to Asheville. Our travels to North Carolina always brought us to the Outer Banks, and Asheville was juuuust far enough off the I-81 corridor we traveled to visit Ryan’s family in Louisiana to make it an inconvenient stop.

So, on this trip we were excited to check in with Asheville — and we loved it so much, we ended up staying six nights instead of the three we planned on!

Our visit started inauspiciously: we’d planned to camp at Lake Powhatan Campground, just south of the city. When we called ahead that morning as we left Pipestem, it was too late to make a reservation, but customer service rep at Recreation.gov assured me there were “plenty” of campsites available.

As we pulled into the campground, the attendant had a look of despair on his face. “Boy, I sure hope you folks have a reservation,” he said mournfully. Womp womp. The campground was full — although the attendant seemed to think we weren’t really missing out. “We’ve been stuck here all summer!” he grumbled. “There’s no wi-fi and you have to drive ten minutes just to get cell service.” We weren’t particularly distressed by that, but with no room in the inn, we were forced to find new digs. KOA, here we come.

The next day we headed into Asheville to explore. First stop: Coffee! We found this awesome coffee “shop” — Double D’s Coffee and Desserts — and I ordered my first pumpkin spice latte of the season.

Double D's Coffee and Desserts Asheville North Carolina

Baristas served drinks and desserts downstairs, but the upper deck was also gorgeously renovated. I was already smitten with Asheville!

Double D's Coffee and Desserts Asheville North Carolina

We spent the greater part of our first day in Asheville just wandering around — there were so many little shops and great restaurants down each main street and side street. And the architecture was phenomenal, with everything from Victorian to Arts and Crafts, from Art Deco to Modern design. We later learned that the Great Depression preserved Asheville’s historic downtown, as the city’s debt was too crippling to allow them to add modern skyscrapers.

Asheville North Carolina Architecture

We also enjoyed some really great meals in Asheville, although we barely scratched the surface of the food scene. It was definitely tempting to eat at a new restaurant every single meal, although we restrained ourselves for budgetary reasons. A few highlights: Ryan raved about his sandwich at Gourmet Chip Company, and we enjoyed a sunny afternoon on Rhubarb‘s patio.

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Their menu was pricey, but we ordered fall cocktails and a truly fantastic cheese plate, and enjoyed some people watching and delicious food.

Rhubarb Restaurant Cheese Plate Asheville North Carolina

While we enjoyed exploring Asheville itself, we couldn’t leave without exploring the Biltmore Estate, the jewel of the city that is also the largest private home ever built in the US. It was built by George Washington Vanderbilt II with architect Richard Morris Hunt and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The Biltmore Estate had been on Ryan’s must-visit list for years, and we were both excited for our visit!


It’s kind of funny; when the house finally came into view, we both said, “I kind of thought it would be … bigger.” Now, don’t get me wrong; at 178,926 square feet, the Biltmore is definitely the polar opposite of streamlined living. But while the house is absolutely gorgeous, it didn’t feel as overwhelmingly massive as I’d expected.

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This was my favorite piece of the exterior; inside this portion, to the left of the entrance, is the twisting 102-step staircase that takes you to the second and third floors, spiraling around a four-story, wrought-iron chandelier.

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And one of my favorite interior rooms was just to the right of the marbled Entrance Hall: the octagonal, sunken Winter Garden. The windowed ceiling, the hanging lanterns, and the central fountain were all gorgeous.

Biltmore Estate Winter Garden

One of Ryan’s favorite rooms was also on the first floor — the massive Banquet Hall, which is the largest room in the house. It felt positively medieval, with its rare Flemish tapestries, triple fireplace, and table for 64. Across from the fireplace is an organ gallery housing a 1916 Skinner pipe organ … accommodated nicely by the 70-foot-high barrel-vaulted ceiling.

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It was difficult to get photos in some rooms, but another favorite was the library. It reminded me of the library from My Fair Lady, with a second story balcony reached by a spiral staircase. We also loved the huge basement kitchen and the indoor swimming pool!

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I was surprised to find that the house truly was only half the attraction of the Biltmore Estate. The grounds were phenomenal — and while much of that was owed to Frederick Law Olmsted’s masterful landscape architecture, the views of the Great Smoky Mountains certainly made his job easier.

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Vanderbilt envisioned a park-like setting for his home — and while the formal gardens were lovely, the meandering paths and charming ponds definitely delivered.

One thing that we kept hearing reiterated as we toured the house and gardens was that different elements of the home and grounds were designed with the comfort and pleasure of guests in mind — from the 35 bedrooms and 43 bathrooms to the beautifully-designed property. The grounds were designed so guests could spend their days wandering the grounds, enjoying the coolness of the woods, boating on the pond, or picnicking on grassy hills … and I certainly thought that if I’d had a book and a picnic, I would have been content to never leave. We left feeling that being a guest at Biltmore would have been a wonderful thing!

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A storm was rolling in over the mountains, so we cut our ramble around the grounds short and headed indoors to the Biltmore Estate winery and a free wine tasting! The pours were generous and we enjoyed the chance to sample some North Carolina wines.

While our visit to the Biltmore Estate was pricier than many of the attractions we choose to visit ($65 for a weekday ticket), it was definitely worth the cost for a full-day experience of history, architecture, and enjoying the outdoors. If you’re planning a trip to the Biltmore, you can use our link to save up to $20 off your tickets! That’s a pretty good deal as these tickets rarely go on sale and coupon codes are next to impossible to find.

We also added the daytime audio guide to our tour, which was $11. It’s not easily shared, so if you want to do the audio guide you really need one for each person or you’ll effectively double your tour time. I did find that a lot of the audio guide information was listed in the tour brochure, which is included with your tickets, but there were some interesting facts and background information only found on the audio guide.

I’d recommend starting your day early to give yourself ample time to wander through the house, explore the grounds, and visit Antler Hill Village. We ate lunch at the Courtyard Market just behind the house itself, which was one of the less expensive options (we spent around $25 on lunch for two), but there are quite a few dining options ranging from cafe-style food to luxurious seated meals. And don’t pass up the free wine tasting at the Biltmore Estate winery in Antler Hill!

Those are the highlights of our visit to Asheville! What should we do next time we go back? (Because that’s definitely happening!)

Planning is Half the Fun: September 2016

As I write this, we’ve been parked in Virginia for over three months — and 100% feeling the itch to get back on the road! Because planning is half the fun, I’ve been spending plenty of time with my nose in travel brochures, figuring out where we’re going to stay, eat, and play in September.

Headed For Appalachia | Our Streamlined Life

This trip is going to look a little different than some of our past adventures. Instead of a more traditional road trip, this one is all about whitewater! Our travels will center around Gauley Season; we’ll be spending at least three of these six weekends hitting the river. In between we’ll be roaming West Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

Last time we posted an overview/planning post like this, we got some terrific suggestions from you guys here and on Instagram.  So I’m counting on you to come through for us again. Comment, email, Instagram us … we’d love suggestions on camping, hiking, eating, and drinking!

On more note — it’s as yet TBD if we’ll be taking the camper or once again hitting the road with just the Tahoe and a prayer. Is it weird that after three months of all the creature comforts of our turtle house, I’m kind of longing for the simplicity of car camping? Ryan seems less convinced, but I’ll work on that 😉

Week 1 (September 5 – 11)

  • Because we have a gap between the end of our Maine camping reservation (August 27) and our first day of rafting (September 10), I’m not sure exactly when we’ll head towards West Virginia. But my first planned stop is Charleston, West Virginia — the capital city priding itself on “small town charm and a progressive attitude.”
  • I have my eye on camping in the Kanawha State Forest just outside the city. On the food front, I’d love to check out MoxxeeBluegrass Kitchen, and Taylor Books Café.
  • Because I love spooky stuff, I’m dying to check out the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum north of the city. Their tours look creepy and amazing.
  • By the weekend, we’ll be headed to Fayetteville! We have camping and rafting reservations at Cantrell Ultimate Rafting and are ready for a weekend of crazy water! Ryan has rafted the Gauley River before, but it will be my first time; we’ll be doing the Upper Gauley one day and the Lower Gauley or the New River the next. This is the only river trip with set dates, as we’ll also be joined by Ryan’s world-travelling cousin Barry!

Week 2 (September 12 – 18)

Week 3 (September 19- 25)

  • The next planned stop is a little further — I’m still dying to get to Asheville, North Carolina. It’s about four hours from Fayetteville … unless you take the scenic route and make a stop at the Hatfield & McCoy Moonshine Distillery — which, let’s be real, sounds totally worth the extra two hours.
  • I have my eye on a bunch of campgrounds in the Asheville area, from the Mount Pisgah Campground (a NPS campground off the Blue Ridge Parkway) to the Twin Falls Resort State Park to the Lake Powhatan Recreation Area.
  • I’ve heard the food in Asheville is amazing, but I haven’t scoped out anything specific yet. I do know we’ll go the Biltmore and I can’t wait to visit Battery Park Book Exchange.
  • Depending when Ryan’s next weekend back on the Gauley happens, we may be returning to Fayetteville from Asheville. If so, I’d love to take the scenic route, traveling up the Blue Ridge Parkway (great suggestion, Cat!).

Week 4 (September 26 – October 2)

  • Our next destination is Knoxville, Tennessee. I’m excited to visit, and I’ve heard that #KNOXROCKS, but I don’t have any specifics planned out yet. Apparently they have a brand new ale trail and 4,500 acres of green and open spaces, so I’m sure we’ll manage 😉 I’ll be contacting Visit Knoxville soon to get some suggestions.
  • I’m looking at camping at Panther Creek State Park and the Knoxville KOA.

Week 5 (October 3 – October 9)

  • It didn’t make my 2016 National Parks Wish List, but I’m still dying to check out Great Smoky Mountains National Park — so that’s where we’re headed next, either two hours from Asheville or four hours from Fayetteville.
  • I definitely want to camp in the park and I’m in desperate need of some hiking suggestions! Rainbow Falls and Charlies Bunion both look like great options — and maybe we’ll even do a little backpacking!

Week 6 (October 10 – October 16)

  • The western- and southernmost point of our trip will be Chattanooga, Tennessee, another city I’ve been wanting to get to for a while. I’ve heard it’s beautiful and outdoorsy and I can’t wait to check out their 13-mile riverwalk and get in some history.
  • For camping, I’m looking at Harrison Bay State Park. It’s about 25 minutes from downtown and looks super pretty.
  • Before we head to New England, I’d love to finish off our trip with my first half marathon since last September: the Four Bridges Half Marathon, through downtown and across the river.

Ready to Hit the Road | Our Streamlined Life

So: Where should we go? What can’t we miss in West Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennesee? And if you live on our route … can we camp in your yard? 😉


The Maiden Voyage (or, The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men)

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The day had come — our maiden voyage in the camper was upon us. As Rebecca laid out in our last post, it was time to make like a goose and head south for the winter. And we felt SO READY. I’d had the Tahoe checked out and prepped. I’d had the camper worked on, updated, and prepped. Rebecca had food shopped. I’d even built the couch! We were up early, eager to get on the road. We said our goodbyes to our friends, hooked everything up, and started pulling out right on time…

…when I heard someone yelling “Hey, your right brake light on the camper isn’t working!”

Dang.

And that was the start of a four-hour, two-repair-shop delay that included fixing the wiring relay for the brake light, adjusting the camper brakes, and having the Tahoe’s barely-functioning parking brake (which had been rebuilt only 2 months earlier) adjusted and repaired.

BUT, after the fixes were made, we were finally on the road, and feeling confident that everything was working correctly. Now, I haven’t done much towing in the past — I’d only towed the camper about 4 times prior to this, and only for short stretches, so knowing for a fact that everything was working was a big plus for me.

So we head south, and about two calm, steady, happy hours later, the rain started. Woo. However, everything is working, we’re rolling along smoothly, so I just pick a lane and stick with it, avoiding crazy commuters as best as I can.

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Then the real fun starts. My camper brakes, which were newly checked and newly serviced, started shorting out. It was just here and there, so we kept on rolling, but as it got darker, I started losing them for longer and longer periods of time.

Then it REALLY started to rain. Like, deluge-style, Noah-Round-II rain. And the brakes went out entirely, never to return. Now it was a party. I kept it slow, avoided the brake pedal like the plague, and was blessed with wide roads and few fellow travelers, and we made it to our campground (a state park a few miles outside Durham, North Carolina) just after 8:00pm …

… to find that the gates had been closed and locked at 8. “Well, you should have checked online first!” you say? Well, in rare fit of super preparedness, we actually had called ahead, and the park system told us they were trying a new program of leaving the gates open all the time, instead of closing them at 8 like their website said. LIES.

Fortunately two helpful park rangers appeared out of nowhere and directed us to an open campground up the road, and set up in the continuing deluge, and after a quick dinner, turned in.

Welcome to the camping life.

However, rain eventually passes, and the clouds roll away, and the next morning we were greeted by gorgeous views in our lakeside campsite:

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The campsite was one giant puddle, but man was it pretty. I began looking for local repair shops and mobile RV repair companies, since I wasn’t too eager to tow the camper without brakes again, and was relieved to find a shop only a few miles up the road: D&H RV Center in Apex, NC. These guys were AWESOME. They were already slammed busy for the day, but when I explained the problem to them, they promised to squeeze me in. In only about an hour and a half they got us all straightened out, safe and back on the road! We went back to our gorgeous campsite, set back up, and later that night, went out for dinner with my friend and his fiancee, who live in the area. Day saved!

At least, for the moment. We were very excited to finally have all our onboard systems working that we hadn’t used all summer — the stove and oven, the hot water heater, the shower. And everything was working as advertised! It was such a cool feeling to have our six month project home on wheels finally in complete working order.

However — and surely you saw this coming — our problems were not over. The next morning, we got up and began packing up to head to Charleston, SC. I made coffee, took a shower, and enjoyed a beautiful morning with the sun rising over the lake. Rebecca got in the shower, and I decided to go outside and meander a round a bit, but when I did, I heard water running — and it wasn’t coming from inside the camper. I didn’t get a picture of this, but when I got down and looked under the camper, the water from the shower that was supposed to be draining solely into our grey water tank was POURING out of multiple seams in the paneling underneath the camper, starting up by the kitchen, and going all the way back to the drain line for the tanks. Suddenly, my rusted axle and sagging panels made a lot more sense.

Now, I know it sounds like amateur hour — and in some ways it certainly is, as this is our maiden voyage. But when we first brought the camper home, I took it to an RV repair center, and had them run a complete systems check, including pressurizing and checking the water system. According to them, there were no issues. However, a bunch of other things they told us have turned out to be false, so I’m not sure why I was surprised.

Anyway, we turned the water all off, dumped the tanks, and headed to Charleston, and I can honestly say we’ve been in better moods before. On the upside, the brakes and lights were all working, the sun was out, and it was getting warmer every hour we drove south. And at the end of the day, I guess you can’t go looking for adventure, and then cry when every day isn’t beach sunsets and mountaintop views — you gotta take the good with the bad.

And now, here I am, in a KOA in Charleston, enjoying a sea breeze and temperatures in the mid-70’s, with a glass of my uncle’s apple wine that we helped him bottle, watching the sunset over the lake, and wondering what in the world we were thinking when we decided to do this … and being so grateful we did. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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