Pettigrew State Park, North Carolina

January 3, 2020, Friday: It was a warm night so we slept with the ceiling fan/vent exhausting and awoke to 65 degrees outside and in the low 60s inside.

One final note about Carolina Beach SP that I forgot to mention in the prior post: They close and lock the gate at 6PM. When Jack was checking in, this was mentioned, and when he asked what we might do if we arrive back and find the gate locked, some general arm-waving and vague references to a “driveway” were made, but we never followed up.

When we returned from Michael’s Seafood on our last night at Carolina Beach, it was 6:45. So we wandered around some of the turn-offs from the main road in front of the gate, and at one point ended up turning around in some poor soul’s driveway. 

For the record, if you go past the park entry off Dow Rd. The first right past the Park Road is, indeed, a gravel driveway, but it goes past a house and becomes the cut-through to get behind the gate and into (as well as out of) the park after hours. Sheesh!

Anyway, we left Carolina Beach SP, and en route, we encountered 75 degrees at 10AM, and clear driving the whole way to Pettigrew State Park. The temps were cooling by the time we arrived around 3PM.

Site 13 is in the sun (for solar gain as there is no electric or water at the sites) and nearest to the bathroom (the loop bathhouse remains closed in the winter, but there’s a heated toilet at the ranger’s office). By the way, the folks at the office are incredibly nice). You can get ice when the office is open, and firewood is on the honor system right at the camping loop.

Hal and Dawn (fellow Alto owners) were already there, as were the mosquitoes, which were pretty bad with the wet, warm weather. We put up the screen house and pulled out the Deep Woods Off to save my ankles, still bumpy from bites sustained at Hunting Island. David, Holli, and their dog Digby joined us shortly after we arrived (another Alto-owner family).

First thing, I took the dogs for a walk, and we ended up at the boat launch, where the sun was setting.

In nearby (relatively speaking) Edenton, NC, were additional Alto owners, Karen and Steve, who wanted to come for the birds but didn’t want to de-winterize their camper. Instead, they stayed at a BnB in Edenton, about 35-40 minutes’ drive away. We’d made a reservation in Edenton for us all to gather for dinner at the Edenton Bay Oyster Bar—one of the past registration sites of the Bike NC Spring Ride.

Needing fuel to even make it to Edenton, we googled nearby stations and found the one highlighted didn’t exist. So we had to go farther away from Edenton en route to dinner to get fuel, resulting in our late arrival to the party. Moral: Don’t trust solely on Google in this part of the state.

Very nice dinner—got some excellent seared scallops on risotto, and returned to the camper for a much-needed sleep.

January 4, Saturday: Overnight the rain began and it really pelted down. We were not looking forward to trying to spot migrating birds in the wet, but we all dressed for it and headed out in separate cars, once Karen and Steve got to Pettigrew and joined us around 9:30AM. Despite the rain, the temperature was quite warm. Got away, headed to Mattamuskeet around 10 after deciding that we’d try to find a cafe for lunch rather than packing our lunches along.

During the long drive to the Visitor Center (it’s actually called the “Refuge Headquarters”) on Lake Mattamuskeet, we saw a bunch of American kestrels and kingfishers, and I spotted one perched bald eagle—very wet and unhappy-looking—along the way. We stopped at the informational kiosk at the top of the VC drive to see loads of water birds (mostly ducks) in the wetlands (mergansers, “redheads,” mallards, pintails, herons, egrets, etc.). But in the area pretty far from the road (needed binoculars to see them) were a gang or three of tundra swans—but no snow geese that we could see. And where we’d seen several bald eagles in the wetland on prior trips, we didn’t see any this time.

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Strangely, the VC was closed so we not only were unable to speak to any rangers or biologists to get tips on where to find the big flocks of birds, but also couldn’t get the general introduction to what we might see and experience while there—this VC has a great display and lots of information about not only birds but also mammals, fish, trees, etc. Too bad those who hadn’t been there before couldn’t experience that.

So we drove around the opposite (far) side of the primary wetland (slightly closer to the tundra swans) and then headed to lunch. Found Martelle’s Feedhouse in Englehard and had a quite nice and filling (and warm/dry) lunch. Many of the local hunters and residents were there, so we knew it was going to be good. They served all kinds of seafood, Eastern NC BBQ, sandwiches and burgers galore, plates and smalls, and everything you might imagine at a “feedhouse.” I got a pork tenderloin salad that was superb.

We were headed to Pungo Lake, where we’d seen the most of the arctic birds in the past when we saw a white patch on the muddy landscape alongside the road. There seemed to be an access road to get closer, so we took it and got our first close-up look (and listen) of tundra swans.

Unfortunately, we spooked them as we peeked around the tree line, but it was quite breathtaking to see these enormous birds fly and sound the alarm. 

It was still rainy: When the actual rain abated, a fine mist fell steadily. So we retreated back to the cars after watching the enormous birds a while and resumed our trek to Pungo.

In another 40 minutes of driving along state rt. 45, we got to the Pungo Lake preserve, driving in at the south entrance, where the main road takes a sharp turn and the “straight” roadway turns into Pat Road. The pavement turned to mud and the pools and puddles on the road were quite deep and numerous. But at least the rain had stopped.

We saw a huge flock of tundras in a cornfield at the far side of a thin, raised bank of trees and bushes. We pulled the cars onto the verge and all piled out to cross the stubble field and use the line of vegetation as a “blind” to get closer to the swans. We saw several piles of bear poop in the stubble field, just as is the case back home.

As we approached the line of trees, however, we found that there was a deep, moderately wide canal between us and our “blind.” But a couple of us jumped the ditch and were able to take some photos of the swan gang. We stood there in the relative dry watching the birds landing, taking off, and just hanging out.

We thought that, logically speaking, Pat Road should somehow link to Phelps Lake from Pungo as the two are relatively near one another. But bouncing along the mud lane simply landed us in front of a “No Trespassing—Private Property” sign, so we turned around and bounced back to Route 45 North and drove around our elbows (it seemed) to get back to camp.

I took some shots of the sunset as the sky cleared and the rain clouds dispersed.

Everyone elected to eat dinner separately, and although Hal suggested a campfire, he reported that the mosquitoes were ravenous so we all nixed that idea. In our camper, at least, we turned in early.

January 5, Sunday: At 6AM it was 42 both in and outside the camper, so we cranked the furnace and crawled back under the Rumpl blanket. Didn’t get up until late, and Hal and Dawn headed back to NOVA around 9:30 because Hal had to be at work on Monday.

As they were pulling out, Karen and Steve arrived to see what the pulse of the group was. It wasn’t until about 11 that Jack and I decided to pass up the opportunity for more bird-finding in favor of taking more time to hike around with the dogs. Everyone else elected to drive around some more, although the two cars-full went on separate adventures. Karen later reported seeing a bald eagle. David and Holli headed back to Pungo and later reported good sightings of swans, but also snow geese (which I was sorry to miss).

At the end of the campground along the walk to the Plantation is an interesting hollowed-out tree that Jack can stand inside. He held the dogs with him and they were both intent on some sound or smell within (probably a squirrel). Jack himself was unmoved by squirrel scent.

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We took the pups along the boardwalk from the Plantation to the ranger’s office, and then along the 2.8-mile trail to Moccasin Overlook. Along the grassy trail, however, we encountered a lot of pooled water, and some dogs we were worried had no invisible fence restraints, so we turned around early. In all, it ended up being about a 2 mile trek.

The wind came up and there was significant chop out on Phelps Lake. But it dried things out a bit as the temperatures began to drop.

Around 2 Alison and Andy showed up from Raleigh, just to see what all the bird-fuss was about, and after chatting a while, they headed off to Pungo also. I loaned them my binoculars and when we saw them again, they reported lots of arctic bird sightings and a very satisfactory trip.

I threw the ball for Mischief for a bit and Holli and David discussed sharing a bonfire and some adult beverages, and we set up for that and had a lovely evening with them and Alison and Andy. We set up behind the trailer on the slight rise where Jack had taken down the screen house, so we were high and dry.

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At about 7 the party broke up and Jack and I ate chili and “take and bake” rolls for dinner.

January 6, Monday: Holli and David rolled out of camp around 8:30 and we decided to delay breakfast until we were on the road. Jack had a special mission: to find the butcher who had made the sausages we ate when Edenton was the host site of the Bike NC Spring Ride a few years ago. He had done his research and thought we might have it pegged with directions to get there and an opening time of 10AM.

Tragically, Grandma’s Sausages was out of business. An elderly gent taking the sun in a carport next door to the shop kept trying to sell Jack the business or the building, even though Jack kept insisting that all we wanted were some of Grandma’s sausages. He said his wife used to run the business but had to stop, and now they were trying to sell it.

Sausage-less, we headed along back roads to Ahoskie, NC, where we ate lunch at a Golden Skillet. It was quite the place for “regulars” to gather, and Jack really enjoyed his chicken livers.

We kept to the back roads to NC Rt. 4, which is the Kerr Lake/North Bend Federal Campground road, and we crossed the dam and entered one of our most happy places. While our favorite peninsula was not open in the dead of winter, the loop available to us had a warm shower house sporting private toilet/shower rooms. Site #78 was relatively level so we could leave the truck hitched as we anticipated leaving for home the following morning.

Set up was minimal, so we grilled some bratwursts and re-heated leftover roasted veggies and potatoes for dinner. Then we walked down to the lakeside and watched the sun set as the evening star appeared.

The forecast for back home was for up to an inch or two of snow/sleet/icy mix early Tuesday, so we kept up with John via text and delayed deciding whether to head home the next day (as scheduled) or not.

January 7, Tuesday: The rains came in the night and the deluge continued most of Tuesday. We had only paid for one day as they would not refund if we decided to leave after spending just one night. But the gate attendant said as long as we paid by about 3PM, it was okay to delay our decision. We saw a total of 2 other campers, so there wasn’t any chance someone would come in and kick us out of our site.

At about noon, John texted that they’d gotten a slushy mix that was making driving on the mountain less than ideal. He said if we were to encounter trouble, it would be getting in our driveway.

While it was still pouring down with rain at North Bend, we decided to stay another night, and I walked with the dogs in the deluge to the front gate to give them another $10. The furnace was on when we got back, so my jeans and the dogs were able to dry out in comfort.

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We listened to our audiobook, took nice warm showers (knowing that the water at home was turned off) and simply chilled out for the day. The rain stopped around 3PM when the wind whipped up to blow away all the clouds. We fought the wind down to the beach where a previous camper had created some rock-balanced towers that were pretty neat in the back-lit dusk.

January 8, Wednesday: The temperatures dropped like a rock overnight and we quickly broke camp at 34 degrees under a clear, bright sky, as we were surrounded by frosted leaves carpeting the woods. Initiated the 3-ish hour drive home at about 9-9:30, and were able to begin the long process of re-heating our 48-degree home in the mountains by about 2PM on January 8, 2020.

Carolina Beach, North Carolina

December 29, Sunday: Took our time on the drive to Carolina Beach State Park in North Carolina, near Wilmington. Arrived at dusk, and set up in site #34. Our “home” for the next 5 nights was deep and wide, well-separated from neighbors. A large graveled (tent-pitching?) area behind where the trailer sat had a lovely live oak branch cascading across it—Jack had to watch his head going back and forth to the bathhouse, but it was quite a nice addition to the amenities. We tied the dog run to it and later, used it to “air out” some of the dog bedding.

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Although our drive was dry, we found many mosquitoes upon our arrival in the waning light. It was rather damp in the air and on the ground all around. We had leftovers for dinner.

Because we arrived at dusk late on a Sunday evening, we didn’t discover the “shortcut” to the bathhouse until the next AM, right off the back of our site. Likely because of the holidays, Jack found the men’s side of the bathhouse to be messy, with too-little paper anywhere to serve. On the women’s side, not much was out of order and the facilities were just fine, including several semi-private showers. In the showers, however, I found few hooks on which to hang stuff (and the bench was small). In several of the showers, they had retro-fitted wooden covers over what I assumed had once been vents or windows, and these had closures on which to hang a shower kit and a net bag to keep clothes off the bench and dry.

December 30, Monday: There was more rain overnight, but we slept until the dogs got restless at around 7:30. Toasted some of Jack’s good bread, showered, and put up the awning, etc.—things we didn’t get around to during our late arrival.

Headed into Wilmington for groceries and lunch. Ate at a Mexican restaurant called Corzano’s, which I thought meant “deer’s” or “stag’s” or some such, due to the images on the sign. When I tried to translate it, the closest word I could find that was a real Spanish word was Corazóno’s, which means “heart’s.” Not sure how that fits, but I tried translating “hart” (another name for a deer, especially a male deer) but the phrase “corazón a corazón” means “heart to heart.” 

So I guessed that Corzano must be the surname of the person or family who owns the restaurant. In any case, our meal was delicious, with portions so generous I had to take some of my fajita burrito back to camp. They have excellent salsa, too.

I took a long walk with the dogs to the second (of two) camping loops. At the top of this loop are some cute (very small) cabins, which appeared popular. My guess is that one would need your own camping gear to stay in one, but I did not peer into any windows.

I found that this second campsite loop was mostly closed off. Not sure why, but not counting the cabins, it’s a small loop with its own bathhouse, and some pretty nice unserviced sites interspersed. In front of the gate was site #46—if one can live with an unserviced site, 46 has a beautiful, deep (private) access point to the Snow’s Cut Trail that traverses the high bluff of the Snow’s Cut River (a tributary of the Cape Fear River). I imagined that carrying a couple of camp chairs out to the bluff would make for some quite lovely sunset-watching with an adult beverage. But the downside would be that the vast trail system at the park is quite popular and that trail would be rather busy. 

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Boat on Snow’s Cut River

Because of the weather and the shady site, we ran the generator for ~3 hours to get our battery up to snuff for the night furnace. We ate leftover game hen & winter vegetables, and added some rice to the mix for our dinner.

December 31, New Year’s Eve, Tuesday: Another “good sleeping” night as the overnight was nice and cool (high 40s) and we decided to sleep without the furnace. Getting out from under the Rumpl blanket was another matter—it was 52 inside, so we hopped up to turn on the furnace and get the space warm before arising at around 8:30 to a lovely, crisp, and clear day. 

The cool temps for the rest of our stay kept the mosquitoes at bay.

In the wee hours, we’d been awakened by a horrible caterwauling and decided it was coyotes on the hunt and it sounded like they had caught their prey. 

Piddled around for most of the day. I wanted to try a breakfast casserole in the Omnia oven, so we’d gotten the ingredients at the grocery and I used the remains of Jack’s bread (going stale) in the mix. The recipe requires refrigeration overnight, so we put the Omnia with the ingredients ready-to-cook into the back of the truck to stay cool overnight. I will include the recipe I used below for anyone with an Omnia that wants to cook a delicious breakfast casserole—if you have space and weather to keep it cold-ish overnight.

I ate the leftover burrito from Corzano’s for lunch, and with the dogs, we headed to the Snow’s Cut Trail to see how it fit with the rest of the trail system. Our goal was to get to the Visitor’s Center and see the carnivorous plants, but the place was closed. In summer there’s a trail where you can spot them growing in the wild, but in the winter they are invisible in the wild and dormant. But apparently, the VC has an indoor display of them in an artificial environment. Even though the VC was closed, the restrooms were accessible so we took advantage and then carried on exploring more of the trails, clocking 2.6 miles total.

Saw lots of interesting plants, fungi, and flowers along the way.

For evening chow, we cooked the remaining half of kielbasa, and I roasted the second “round” of winter vegetables I’d prepared before we left home. This time, I roasted them for less time and they were much better—more flavorful and less mushy—than the first round had been (less time = 35-40 minutes). Got the opportunity to use one of my Christmas presents: a portable Dutch Oven steel cooktop with raised sides for wind protection. The legs are adjustable and can even be removed, leaving a 4-inch rise so the cooktop can be used on a picnic or other table without fear of burning up everything below.

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Enjoyed some kick-back time in the chill of evening, and rang out 2019 with a dram of whisky.

January 1, 2020, Wednesday: The dogs got restless around 5:30-6 on this morning, so we got up a bit earlier than normal to 44 degrees outside. 

After walking and feeding the dogs, I got out the Omnia from the “cold storage” in the back of the truck and cooked it on medium-low for about a half our, then turned it up to medium-high for the last half-hour (or so). Took it off the heat and let it sit for about 10 minutes while Jack grilled some toast to accompany. It was pretty delicious.

We tried to air out the dog bedding, but the site is shadier than expected, and it was quite cool all day, so our need for “sunshine and summer air” wasn’t exactly what we got. Later, we offered an Alto tour to someone who asked to see inside and thawed the filet mignon we’d brought along, in anticipation of our New Years Day meal.

We enjoyed a lovely bonfire, some good wine, and a delicious meal of grilled filets, “smokehouse” style green beans, and potatoes au gratin. Very nice (and hopeful) way to launch us into 2020.

January 2, Thursday: Another chilly night. We again awoke to 44 degrees outside, and only 49 inside. Ate a reprise of the breakfast casserole heated in a frypan, and took a very long hike to Sugarloaf Dune, “a prominent pre-Colombian geologic feature.” I have included the storyboards we read below in case anyone wants to read more about it.

The various trails to get there wind throughout the park and were marked on the map as being ~2.5 miles one-way. The ones we chose went mostly through what I might call “piney savannah”—we traversed the Campground Trail first, then connected and continued along the Sugarloaf Trail past Grass Pond, Lilly Pond, and Cypress Pond. We hit the Swamp Trail on the return (which was not swampy).

While the trails are well-marked, it’s a good idea to take one of the trail maps with you so you can see your options and choose your path.

After the hike, we took showers, and Jack began to pack for our departure. For dinner, we headed into Wilmington to Michael’s Seafood, and the place was packed. We sat on the back (enclosed) patio with enormous gas-flame heaters to keep it useful in winter. But the space was incredibly loud! It was difficult to hear yourself think. We both had shrimp and grits, and although it was tasty, Parkway Grille in Floyd does a better job of shrimp and grits (IMHO).

One final thing I should mention, especially for those who travel with dogs: There are trash and recycling bins all over the camping loops. Literally every 50-75 yards or so, there’s another 4-bin “station” for both garbage (including dog poop bags) and recyclables (single-stream). A true luxury if you’re walking and picking up after dogs.

Given these bins are just wooden containers, I had thought to myself, “Well, I guess they don’t have a raccoon problem here (see the prior post from Hunting Island, SC)!” But they do, indeed, have raccoons, as we saw a troupe of the pests traversing the campground just prior to leaving. I wondered how they managed to keep them out of the garbage . . . 

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Omnia breakfast casserole

Bread: you’ll line the lightly oiled bottom of the Omnia’s silicone liner with sandwich-width sliced bread cut in cubes/chunks. You can use store-sliced bread or homemade, white or multi-grain, crust on or off. How much you need depends on what type of bread you use. I used about 2 slices, chunked up and fit flat on the bottom. The bread should form a relatively unbroken “mat” at the bottom, approx. .5 to 1 inch thick.

  • ~7 eggs
  • ~1.5 c milk
  • ~ 1/2 c store-bought pico de gallo
  • ~ 6 grilled sausage patties, crumbled (or about 1/3 of a “loaf” of ground sausage, fried & crumbled)—can also use ham or cooked, crumbled bacon, etc.
  • 1-1.5 c shredded sharp cheddar
  • Cayenne and chili powder to taste
  1. Spray olive oil lightly on the Omnia silicone liner
  2. Drain the liquid from the pico de gallo as you assemble the rest of the casserole
  3. Mix the eggs with the milk and any spices or herbs you want to add
  4. Place the bread in one layer on the bottom of the Omnia
  5. Sausage on top of the bread
  6. Pico de gallo next
  7. Some of the shredded cheese (save some for the top)
  8. Pour egg mixture over all—the amount should cover easily but not drown the rest of the ingredients. Use a fork to press everything down and get some air out.
  9. Top with the rest of the shredded cheese.
  10. Let rest overnight in a cool place/refrigerator.

Pre-heat the bottom (separate) cooker (7-10 minutes?) before adding the Omnia on top.

Cook on Medium/Medium low for about a half hour. Raise temp to Medium/Medium high for another half hour.

Once steam begins to come out of the holes in the top of the oven, give it another 5 minutes and test with a knife to assure the eggs are solid.

Remove from heat and let it rest for 5-10 minutes.

Serve with toast or fruit.

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About Sugarloaf Dune — At 55 ft. Above sea level, Sugarloaf Dune is part of an ancient sand dune ridge that formed when sea levels were higher. It was named Sugarloaf in 1663 because it resembled a mass of crystallized sugar. The name caught on and Sugarloaf has been on navigational charts ever since. Throughout history, the dune has been a landmark for river pilots traveling the Cape Fear River.

American Indians inhabited the area around Sugarloaf from 6,000 BC until their decline [due to disease brought by Europeans and being forced west by white colonists—LC] in the early 1700s. Artifacts and remnant mounds of shellfish from these former inhabitants can still be found in the area today.

Sugarloaf played an important role in the defense of Fort Fisher and Wilmington during the Civil War. In the winter of 1864-5, about 4,500 Confederate troops encamped here. A one-mile line of heavy earthworks stretched from Sugarloaf on the edge of the Cape Fear River to the Atlantic Ocean. Confederate earthworks can still be seen in the park today.

Twenty-five years after the Civil War, a pier located at the base of Sugarloaf Dune became a major transportation link for the area. A local steamer called “The Wilmington” made regular stops at the pier, often carrying up to 500 passengers. An open car railway then carried passengers from Sugarloaf along what is now Harper Avenue to the boardwalk for a day at the beach.

Before the park was established in 1969, the Sugarloaf area was used and misused by the general public. Four-wheel drive vehicles, motorcycles, and beach buggies trampled the fragile dune vegetation and caused major erosion. Today, exposed tree roots are signs left behind by the activity of the past.

This historical landmark is still being threatened. You can protect it:

  • Stay on the designated trail
  • Do not climb or walk on the dune face
  • Keep out of the fenced areas
  • Report any damage or misuse to a park ranger

Help the park protect Sugarloaf Dune for future generations to enjoy. [Hear, hear!]

Winter Grinch Gathering – South Carolina

December 23, Monday: After celebrating Christmas with family on Dec. 21, we departed Meadows of Dan. We had taken the unprecedented step of draining the water pipes in the log house. We ran one electric heater in the kitchen and one in the water stove/pressure tank building. The weather forecast while we were gone was for mild weather until the week of our return (January 6-12). We were unable to engage a house sitter on short notice, so we bundled the dogs and their gear for the trip (I had previously transferred my red-tailed hawk, Blizzard, to my apprentice for the season, so I was birdless for the first time in 28 years).

We’d arranged to meet John and Mary at Hunting Island State Park in SC to be away for the holidays. We left after my third post-op appointment in Blacksburg and I got the go-ahead from the nursing staff there to leave town.

Our first night was a midway point somewhere between Charlotte and Charleston at a Pilot/Flying J truck stop with a Wendy’s attached. We awoke Christmas Eve morning to lots of holiday lights on both sides of our little trailer, as two enormous semis had scrunched in on either side of us, and they left their running lights on. Since we were running our own furnace, we didn’t hear much of the noise of their arrival or engines—just background to our sleep.

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Christmas Eve day: The first thing we noticed about Hunting Island State Park was the standing water everywhere. There had been a storm that dumped 7 inches of rain, and much of the park and the campsites were flooded. It was difficult to even see the paved drives because there was so much water everywhere. While all the “waterfront” sites and the premium areas near the beach were useless (with many folks awaiting the reconnaissance of the park ranger to see what sites they might move into) John and Mary’s and our sites were uphill and mostly dry, back off the beach.

The signage around the park is pretty awful, too, and there is but one dumpster at the exit area of the campground. That’s the only place to throw away doggie poop bags, so we set aside a collection/trash bag onsite, hung from a tree—and periodically disposed of the poop as we hiked around.

Our site, #168 presented us with an interesting uphill slope on which it was difficult to level the camper front-to-back. But the site was large enough to put up a dog run, although we elected not to erect the screen house. While the site offered both elec and water, we remained winterized and so used the electric only.

The really great news about this campground was that all over the park the wifi connectivity was robust. When lots of folks are online, of course, there was a dip in power. 

The really bad news was that it was infested with raccoons, and we saw a troupe of them ambling down a tree across the road from us, and into the woods. You cannot leave ANYTHING out for any length of time at all, lest the pests get into it and strew it all about. And, of course, the dogs went crazy when they spotted the beasties (there was also a ton of squirrels, but they were at least not so invasive).

Before dinner and to learn our way around, we took the dogs for a walk along the main road to where John pointed out a long-legged waterbird wading in the creek nearby.

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We strolled over the dune and to the beach—en route, in the looser sand of the dune area, the sand burrs were prolific, and all the dogs picked up the spiny devils in their paws. Riley had an especially bad go of it, as his fur is long. Removal was as hazardous to the human as pick up was to the canine.

The tide was out and we had a nice stroll along the beach (no sand burrs there).

Mary and John (and Riley) had set up several sites along from us, and Christmas Eve evening, we went to their site to share leftover lasagne, which Mary had made to take to John C’s down in NC for a meeting. It was delicious.

Christmas Day: We awoke to see 7 of Santa’s 10 (rein)deer out our front window, taking their leisure after a hard night delivering gifts to the world’s children.

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While we had hoped there would be the option for a seafood Christmas Dinner, with the rains and long drives to get here, none of us was able to get into town to obtain shrimp or whatever. 

We did take a drive out to the Visitors Center, and walked along the beach amongst what the locals call “The Bone Yard.” This strip of shoreline had made the news a short time before we arrived, as the state decided to bulldoze some section of the beach (not where we were) for safety. 

To access the area we crossed a bridge over shallow water (since the tide was out). Under the bridge, we saw a wading waterbird that offered a pretty neat reflection photo op.

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The Bone Yard was a section of shifting sands in which the carcasses of trees figure prominently in the landscape. Some were freshly drowned, others had been there long enough to have become bleached or bark-stripped. It was an amazing sight, and I took lots of photos. We also saw a very small horseshoe crab shell and a starfish. We really loved that part of the walk.

Our Christmas Dinner was Chorizo/Kale soup with Jack’s special bread, and J n M ate with us at our site. We enjoyed a bonfire and exchanged gifts.

Many, many people bring their dogs here to camp, and one of those Mary had met before we’d arrived stopped in during our bonfire hour and said, “I hate to be a bearer of bad news, but you’re Mary, right? Over at your site the raccoons are getting into your trash and coolers and making a mess. You might want to go back and interrupt them before they do real damage.”

Up they jumped and were able to save everything except some grapes stored in a cooler. They had quite a mess of garbage to clean up, though. Bloody raccoons!

December 26th (Thursday): Shortly after arising and using the bath house, a water main was either shut off or damaged during the staff’s management of the floodwaters. No fresh water anywhere in the campground.

The State Park offered many walking trails through neat mixed woods (palmettos and long-leaf pine) and we found some rudimentary maps around and about. John wanted to try one of the forest trails that would end up at the lighthouse. 

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We were almost stymied by an enormous pool right in the middle of the trail, not terribly far along the walk, but we managed to bushwhack around it.

The second, deeper and wider pool, however, confounded us. We could see no real manageable way to bushwhack around with the dogs (and the ticks were out, too) so we turned around and walked back to the car, parked at an access point off the main road.

So we drove to the lighthouse instead. Once there, first on our agenda was to use their restrooms. 

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Upon our return, we lounged a while and Jack roasted some game hens on the grill while I fixed some roasted winter vegetables in our Dutch Oven as John prepared some hassle-back potatoes in his DO. Delicious meal, and another campfire (solo stove).

December 27th (Friday): With another camper we had met (she also had a dog and camped nearer the waterfront in a conversion van) named Donna, we headed into town for fresh seafood, lunch, and a visit to the grocery store.

Back when my parents lived on Lady’s Island (nearer Beaufort than Hunting Is.) we frequently visited a little place along the main road called The Shrimp Shack. You order at the window and try to find a place to sit either inside or out. The place was still open, some 20 years after my parents had moved away.

Naturally, their shrimp was the best (I had a “shrimpburger” which is like a crab cake sandwich, only with shrimp instead of crab). But anything you order at the window is bound to be delicious. 

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Across the road is a fresh seafood place with shrimp boats moored alongside (another throwback to when my parents lived there, still in operation) and that’s where we got fresh shrimp to skewer and cook on the grill.

After our grocery stop, I took a lovely walk with the dogs as the shadows grew long at the beach. Saw some neat sand patterns, too.

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December 28th (Saturday): Fellow Alto owners, Hope and Elaine joined us in the campground coincidentally—with their two beagles. Their 2114 was “perched on an anthill” in a different section of the campground, elevated quite high above the road (and still-pooled rainwaters). 

We walked with them and Donna and her standard poodle along the beach all the way to the lighthouse. The tide was going out on our way to the lighthouse, so we had limited choices to get there. But the sand was wide and firm on our return to the campground. Elaine found several sharks’ teeth in the sand and we all looked for shells and more teeth on our way back to the campground. But she was the lucky one.

We all brought our own leftovers to J n M’s site just as the rain began to pour in the evening. We crammed ourselves under the awning, and for the most part, stayed moderately dry. It was fun spending more time with Hope and Elaine, whom I’d met for the first time this past October at the Watauga Dam informal Altogather. 

Soon after we’d finished our meals, the rain abated somewhat, and we all called it a night. Mary, John, and we were all set to leave in the AM, while Hope and Elaine were staying additional time at Hunting Island SP. J n M had a long drive all the way home, and we were headed more northeasterly to Carolina Beach SP, near Wilmington, NC.

 

Trip’s End

Sunday, Apr. 21

We finally got a break in the weather, but most of the Alto crowd had left. Jack and I headed to South Hill for foodstuffs enough to fix dinner for John (arriving without Mary, who has fallen under the weather, or possibly the pollen) and additional Floyd friends, Brad and Ellen. 

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Because we’re settled and they’re arriving in the afternoon and likely won’t be set up before dinner time, we texted with them to let everyone know we’d handle dinner for all of us. We found the fixins for the fennel chicken dish we like to cook in the Dutch oven, and we also got some pork loins to grill for Mary and Allen who were coming to the campsite on Monday. 

I began cooking circa 5:30, completing it by around 6:30, and served directly from the Dutch oven, with Omnia heat-and-serve rolls and roasted potatoes. Afterwards, we cranked the Solo fire, and the Karl & Hari crowd came over from loop C to share.

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It was another glorious sunset, with the sun peeking below the clouds and shining brightly on the end of our peninsula, making the trees look like they were about to combust.

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No good sunset is complete without a good reflection photo off Roomba (it’s a thing with the Alto models that have lots of windows).

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Here’s a gallery of photos I’m calling “Sunset After the Storms”

Monday, Apr. 22

First thing in the morning, I watched an adult bald eagle fly over. The day dawned cold (47 degrees) but I was outside watching for birds and enjoying the clear morning by about 7. I wasn’t the only early bird, as a couple of fishermen were plying the waters near our site also.

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Before lunch, we took a bike ride with Brad and Ellen while John took a kayak paddle-about. We toured around the campground, and across the hydro dam, where we stopped both coming and going to watch bald eagles and osprey and enormous fish near the dam. I could have watched the birds all day.

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Instead of going back to the campground, we turned right at Rt. 4 and headed to the tailwaters of the dam, where there were tons and tons of birds all doing wondrous things, just carrying on with their birdy lives. We got off our bikes again to watch eagles and osprey and herons and cormorants and so many more. Saw this heron trying to hide while roosting in a tree.

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Returned to eat a late lunch and enjoyed the sun. Even though the breeze picked up as we ate, the sky was incredibly blue-blue, and the sun was toasty hot.

Allen and Mary came for dinner around 6, and we grilled a pork loin. John, Brad, and Ellen brought their own dinners and we all ate together. Everyone enjoyed another campfire, topped off with a celebratory dram to mark the end of our trip, as well as Brad’s (Apr. 24) and Jack’s (Apr. 26) birthdays.

Tuesday, Apr. 23

Naturally, on the day we must leave, the temp soared to 52 degrees and the wind stayed dead calm. Heard several lonely loon calls in the early AM.

We enjoyed a leisurely morning and said goodbye to Brad and Ellen around 8:30. Watched a contest between a lone loon with a fish, versus an entire gaggle of cormorants. The cormorants were doing a tag-team “harass the loon so it drops its fish” game, with much of the action happening under water. The loon would dip below, with 2 or 3 of the cormorants flying over to where it dove and diving after it. The loon would pop up again and other cormorants would fly over to it and dive after it when it dove for cover again.

Finally, the loon surfaced and up-ended the fish so it would go down its gullet, and suddenly, all the cormorants looked like they were bored, as if they’d had nothing to do with the loon at all. They all went different directions after the game was won by the loon.

Once the water warmed up a bit, John took a final kayak tour before he began to load up for departure. We ate an early lunch and began breaking camp in earnest around noon.

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Just as we were nearing our own departure time, we saw a Canada goose family swimming by. The water was a bit choppy by then, but the little goslings were pretty easy to see. The hard part was getting the youngsters and both parents in my camera’s frame at the same time. But I finally managed.

It was an uneventful drive back home, and we parked Roomba in the driveway near his garage overnight. All was well with the house and critters and we were thankful for Surya, our house sitter. Naturally, the first thing Mischief wanted to do was play ball. 

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I grabbed some meat and went out to see how Beebs (redtailed hawk) was doing, and she seemed quite keen on the food, but not so sure about me.

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Thus the 2019 Spring Trip comes to a close. It was wonderful and fun and so very exciting to share with so many of our friends and to meet new friends along the way. 

More adventures to come—watch this space for the next peregrinations we undertake with our Alto camper.

 

Chippokes Plantation Campground, April 5 & 6

One last thing I forgot to mention as a big “pro” on the plus side of our Bike Florida Tour: Oranges.

All the rest stops had them in abundance, and they were cherry red, sweet, and O! so refreshing. So good, in fact, that we stopped at a roadside stand before leaving FL and bought a sack full. Yum.

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So we said goodbye to FL and headed to SC. Travel was unremarkable, thank goodness. But I did capture this pic of Angela and their Alto2114 traveling along ahead of us at one point.

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So Lynches River Campground was our overnight spot on Thursday, April 4, and that’s the campground that is mostly for tenters, with only 2 serviced RV sites. Mark and Angela got #2 (a pull-through) and we got #1 both with electric and water. The bathhouse was rustic to say the least, but it had exactly two private rooms, each with its own toilet, sink, and shower. For a one-night stayover, it was just perfect. Next stop: Chippokes Plantation Campground near Williamsburg, VA, April 5 and 6.

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Chippokes is actually in Surry, VA, and is a re-purposed grand farm and mansion, once an actual plantation. Today, it is quite a fine and spiffy Virginia State Park, with hiking trails, the mansion itself, equestrian trails, electric and water, and nice renovated bathhouses. Loop B has the most modernized and level campsites, where Loop A has older, less flat/improved sites.

We linked up with John and Mary at Chippokes, so we had three side-by-side sites with Mark and Angela. Roomba was in the middle, on site #2.

Mark and Angela’s son, Brent, linked up with them (and us), coming down from New York to see his parents while they were relatively close. He spent some of our arrival/set up day in Williamsburg and he and Mary and John all arrived around 5PM.

We all went out to dinner, hoping to catch the pub in Smithfield, but there was a minimum of an hour’s wait there, so off we went to Smithfield Landing where we had a delightful dinner, and all got to know one another a bit better. The walk through Smithfield from the pub to the Landing and then back to our cars after dinner was fun times together also.

The next day, Mark, Angela, and Brent headed to Jamestown, while Mary, John, Jack, and I headed across the ferry into Williamsburg. But first, we went to the Edwards Ham store and picked up some good old fashioned Virginia Ham products. Yum.

We rode the Pocahontas ferry and saw a smaller ferry passing across the river. It was overcast the day we headed into Billsburg, but it never rained despite the look of the sky.

We had a bit of a drive around the campus, telling J&M tales of our college days, and had a quite nice sandwich from Colonial Williamsburg’s famous Cheese Shop.

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That night, we all fixed our own dinners but joined up to eat at our site. We had shared appetizers and a fire to cozy up to as our final night together after our fun travels with Mark and Angela. Brent also was headed back north the next day, while John, Mary, Jack, and I were headed to Janes Island, MD for our next, longest stop of our Spring Trip.

Before everyone broke apart, I set up the timer on my camera to get a group shot. And Riley also had to have some fun before we bundled off to Maryland.

 

Kickapoo/Paint Creek

August 6-8

We checked into site #75, in the Illini loop of Kickapoo State Recreation Area (SRA) in Illinois, after stopping at a really nice grocery store en route to pick up some dinner entrees. Possibly due to the difficulty of keeping the water pipes from freezing in winter, none of the sites have water, although many have electricity. There are also sections where tent camping and/or unserviced RV camping is the norm. Cell service at the site is okay—we had two bars of Verizon LTE. The bath houses are clean and sufficient.

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Camping area map: detail from a larger, elderly map. That’s I-74 west and east on the right.

As is usual when we have stayed at Kickapoo in times past, an individual of the local deer population greeted us.

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We enjoyed the company of this very interesting tree in our site, too. If we’d been staying longer, we probably would have used it to hang a hammock to lounge about some.

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Instead of lounging, however, we set off on our bicycles to explore more of the park area than we’d ever had time to do in the past. This is a really huge recreational area, with hiking and mountain biking trails, and so many ponds and lakes I think one might get lost.

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At the turn of the century, the area was a surface mining operation. We tried to ride to a mine “shaft” designated on the map, but it was gated—even though we rode around the gate, we stopped at a dilapidated old wooden bridge that had way too many saplings growing on it for comfortable crossing. The entire SRA is 2,842 acres, with 22 deep water ponds (221 acres of water) along the Vermillion River. The state purchased nearly 1,300 acres of the mining operation in 1939 from United Electric Coal Co. Most of the purchase price was raised from Danville, IL residents at the time. So if you’re a water or fishing enthusiast, it’s a great place to visit. Check it out here.

There is a ton of infrastructure around, but on a Monday, we encountered only enough vehicles to count on two hands; and we saw only a few individuals and families taking advantage of the vast amounts of fishing and paddling (most of the waterways are designated electric motors only) opportunities available. Maybe things are different on the weekends, but overall we found the place quiet and sedate. Surprisingly, there were very few printed materials available to folks who might want to know more about the trails, the history, or the amenities. Without actually riding on any of the “trails,” most of them appeared to be rugged, mountain-bike-only trails.

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The park stretches on both sides of the I-74 corridor, with roadways going over and under the highway.

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I thought it odd that there was no safety structure along this overpass, keeping folks from pitching themselves or objects off the bridge . . . 

Here is a map of the whole shebang, that I’ve cut into two halves so it’s not so huge:

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Our ride took us over all of the roadways designated in white, plus a few that don’t seem to be on any maps at all. The roadways and some of the put-in areas for boats and fishing were somewhat unkempt and in need of some TLC, but its an old park, after all. We took our time and tootled about for a couple of hours. It was pretty hot and muggy.

Bike Stats:

  • Ride time = 1:25
  • Stopped time = 1 hour
  • Distance = 12.3 miles

After our exertions, we treated ourselves to another grilled salmon dinner—this time eating delicious wild sockeye, with grilled squash and Uncle Ben’s Wild Rice. Yum.

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We headed to Ohio the next morning, to Paint Creek State Park (near Bainbridge, OH), where it began to rain and refused to stop the entire time we were there. We also moved from central time to eastern time, and started the adjustment to misplacing an hour somewhere along the way.

Our site (#125) was the same one we’ve stayed at before, because so many of the sites are elevated (nice and level) parking areas where both sides of the “lawn” areas fall off sharply from the site, making erecting an awning difficult if not impossible. While #125 is rather sandwiched among other sites, the one to our “face” was empty this time, and with the rain keeping us indoors anyway, it was not a problem.

The bath house is fine, but augmented with a couple of toilet-only structures, and there’s a laundry, but no dish washing station. And the sites are all either unserviced or electric-only.

Since it was raining steadily, and since we stayed indoors the whole time, the lack of tremendous amenities was not a problem (check the link above to our prior, 2017 stop here to see more of the lay of the land). We have, however, thoroughly enjoyed a long bit of in-campground cycling in the past.

The State Park is another boating haven, with the reservoir created when Paint Creek was impounded providing power boat and jet ski entertainment, as well as more sedate fishing, canoeing/kayaking, and swimming opportunities. There are also hiking trails and a few Mountain biking trails, plus a disc golf course (and an archery range), but few cycling options other than the campground roadways. The park office offers wifi, but otherwise, cell service (Verizon) is non-existent.

We started a jigsaw puzzle we’d purchased in Michigan at the Sleeping Bear Dunes gift shop, featuring pretty Michigan rocks in the shape of the state. It was fun but very challenging.

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To the patter of rain on the roof, we got about a third of it put together on our nook table before calling it a day at 12:30A in the EST, where we felt it was still 11:30 CST.

The next day, we continued putting the puzzle together through breakfast and lunch, and finished around 2 in the afternoon. We didn’t want to get it partway done and have to undo all our work before our departure on Wednesday, August 8, so we kept at it. And it kept raining.

For our evening’s entertainment, we watched the third of the three movies we’d brought along: Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, MO. We found it to be a tight, unsettling story very well told, with just enough ambiguity to provoke lots of thought. Troubling, overall—leaves you wondering what you might have done in a similar situation. Well worth the look-see.

Still damp, we left for Grindstone Federal Campground in the Mt. Rogers Recreation area, near Damascus, VA: our final stop along this odyssey, back to Virginia with friends and neighbors for the first time in nearly 6 weeks. What a fun adventure it’s been.

La Jolie Rochelle

Arrived Tuesday, July 10 after about a 3-hour drive to Saint-Raphël de Bellechasse, easterly from Quebec City. There (with a bit of hunting) we found Camping La Jolie Rochelle, a simply wonderful private campground along a beautiful babbling river. 

It was hot by the time we were able to get in and, with tremendous help from our host—he actually backed Roomba into the tight spot opposite a serious stone wall—we set up our Alto in site #13 of a long string of Altos of all stripes, model numbers, colors, and ages. We joined a mini-rally. I was seriously relieved that I did not have to back Roomba into that spot.

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Our grassy site was simply excellent, right on the river embankment, even sandwiched among everyone else, some of whom we knew from the rally we attended last year, some from shared Alto travels, and some only virtually, via Facebook. So it was really fun to put some faces with names we knew from the Altoistes FB group.

After setup, I shared a beer with Alto friend Jim, and realized I needed more beer. So Jack and I headed out to scope the area for a grocery. We found a lovely place called “Marche Traditions” and it was surprisingly good for a small grocer with only two checkout lanes. Full of good veggies, cheeses, beer, wine and everything in between. We got some go-alongs so we would not starve while camped in a parking lot for the Anniversary Celebration (which begins Thursday), and of course beer and wine to share and consume.

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Roomba is at the right of the photo, with the awning that has the blue noodles on the guy lines.

The evening was a “gathered meal,” or one in which everyone brought to a central location (six picnic tables pushed together beside the pool area) whatever they were having for dinner anyway, and if one chose, bring something to share. If nothing in the cupboard to share, no worries. We all just ate together, and it was a very fun evening. We had gotten some desserts pre-made from the Traditions grocer, and they seemed to be a big hit with the group, although I did not have one.

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This is a pic from our picnic site of a few of the Altos gathered here.

Before and after we ate, we were able to tour one of the Alto model 2114s, an extra-long Alto version — the first than many of us had seen, and I think about the 11th ever sold (they had just been released earlier this year). 

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Also, another Altoiste who goes full time using a Safari Condo conversion van to pull an older yellow Alto rolled in to join us.

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A campfire was built and many gathered around it into the night, but I cocooned in Roomba to read and get my eyes closed by ten. Jack stayed with the group until about 11, but I did not wake up when he got in.

On July 11, I arose early (6:30) to find the temps had dropped to 40 degrees outside. With an extra shirt and long pants, I carried my tea outside and watched some gulls preen and dry themselves on some rocks in the river shallows. 

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I watched them for a long time before Jack got moving.The sun came over the trees and enlivened all sorts of life including a pair of kingfishers that flew above the water upstream and out of sight. 

After breakfast, we sat and read and visited and chatted with fellow Altoistes until plans began to come together for a bike ride. Mark, Richard, Jack and I ended up headed to a paved bike path that my understanding is was once a rail bed, now converted to a bike trail. In full, it is 70 km, paved the entire way.

We started by driving what seemed a long way to begin at “P7” in Armagh. This had been the rail station, and off the parking lot was a cafe/snack stand. We started at 1:30 and rode outbound about 12 miles, and turned around to come back for a total ride of 24 miles in 1:38 of ride time (we paused a few times to drink water and decide whether or not to continue).

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Along the route I saw a female pheasant, likely near her nest, just standing beside the trail. We also saw a goshawk zip past along the timber line near a gravel road, and saw many Monarch butterflies. We also heard but did not see a red-tailed hawk soaring above somewhere.

The trail was very nice, fairly straight and pretty flat, and it was a good ride. Richard is a serious cyclist so he kept our pace up, and I averaged 14.6 MPH over the duration.

Richard peeled off at Route Principale, on our return and somewhat close to the end of the ride, to take the main roads back to the campsite via a more direct route than we’d traveled to begin. Mark, Jack, and I stopped at the little cafe to grab an ice cream and some more water.

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Upon our return another 2114 had arrived. The family we have often camped with in the past “traded up” their 1723 for the larger 2114 to better accommodate their family. They came straight from the pickup at the factory to our little gathering, and moved that beast into their site with the Caravan Mover, with a little help from their Altoiste friends, since they’d never used one before.

A few of us gathered to share beverages at our campsite, and we talked to Cynthia and Gail—Alto owners from Australia here for the Celebration—for a long time, sharing stories and once again, putting faces with names we’ve corresponded with for years over the internet.

A simple meal after our showers, and more Alto friends, Michele and Claudette, whom we met for the first time in April when we were camping at Virginia Beach, arrived and we shared a glass and slapped mosquitoes together as the sun set.

Everyone is looking forward to the celebration activities tomorrow, so we (mostly) hit the beds early, although a hearty few sat by the campfire again into the evening.