European Detour

London

With a good portion of Sunday to utilise before we had to get out to Minneapolis Airport we took a good walk down town into the heart of Minneapolis – I think we walked 26 blocks up the main street till we crossed over the Mississippi and then re-trekked back up the road taking in the local library and some other sights for a look. Despite the cold, the day warmed up and sun came out so not too bad at all. We headed back to the hostel to collect our bags and then got a bus downtown to the light rail that takes you out to the airport – I think it only cost us something like $2 each to do both legs so very reasonable. We boarded out Aer Lingus flight early and in what has become unexpected for us, we actually left the gate probably 15 mins early as well – that said we did then get held up on the runway waiting for clearance. Our Aer Lingus flight was okay – the flight to Dublin was around 7.5 hours and arrived a little early. The crew on the flight really gave the impression they didn’t really want to be there which was unfortunate, but hey, we had movies and were given a bite to eat so not all bad. We arrived into Dublin just after 7.30am to heavy rain. To my surprise, Dublin Airport was quite a bit bigger than I’d imagined – looks like they have a significant regional and separate international set up in place. We had to transfer here and seemed to have the biggest walk possible in the terminal, which after the flight wasn’t the worst thing to happen – good to get moving, albeit was cool. We had a layover of around 3 hours which then got pushed out before British Airways finally boarded us in the pouring rain – no covered gate and so we got quite damp waiting on the stairs trying to get inside the plane for cover.

Our flight to London City Airport – down in the Docklands area took a bit over an hour and thankfully we arrived in London to drier conditions. Once we got our bearings, we purchased Oyster Cards for regional transport and got the train into Banks Station and managed to transfer ourselves onto the Central Line up to the Notting Hill Station. We were staying in a Hotel in Notting Hill and as we walked up the street it was quite reminiscent of the movie of the same name – minus Hugh and Julia. We got ourselves checked in and headed back out to the Metro – Metro, Underground, Tube – you know what I mean. We took a train up to Trafalgar Square so we could get to the Tourist Centre to arrange a couple of excursions booked. I think we hit the square at around 4pm and we just managed to get the last light for the day for a couple of pics – by the time we came out of the Tourist Office evening was closing in on us. We got the train back up to Notting Hill and headed up Portobello Road which was supposed to have a load of good eateries but we seemed to walk and walk before we found a corner pub for some English Fish and Chip – mushy peas included as a side. We headed back to the hotel – pretty sure we passed the book store from the Notting Hill movie along the way.

On Tuesday we got the train down to Victoria Station and then walked up to the Victoria Coach terminal so we could book some options for getting to Paris – we looked online at options and had wanted to do a train through the Channel but was pretty expensive, so a coach trip would be in order for us. We picked up tickets for a better price that expected and then got a couple of trains out to Colindale in the north of the city to visit the Royal Air Force Museum. A short walk up the road and a Spitfire and Hurricane from WW2 stand proudly on plinths to welcome you to the museum. The museum was spread over 6 hangars (3 of which were combined) – each hangar represented / presented a different theatre of Royal Airforce machinery and action. The museum was very good – got to see a number of planes I hadn’t seen before (British fighters and bombers), and as we were leaving we got talking to one of the guides and turned out he had moved from Christchurch to London post the quakes around 7 years ago – what a cool place he had to work. With a load of photos on my tablet and phone, we headed back up to the station and got ourselves back via a couple of trains to Notting Hill.

One of the bonuses around London that I was quite taken with was the free morning and evening newspapers that give out at the underground stations – a good read albeit a little commercial, but not complaining. Tuesday was Guy Fawkes Day and whilst we could hear displays going on around us (from as early as 6pm as it really is dark by 4.30pm), we only heard and didn’t see any. We had some hotel room dramas with the window that derailed our evening a little and required the manager to come out and repair the window. The hotel owner appeared to blame a lot on health and safety requirements – you can’t open the windows, you mustn’t tamper with this and that etc – his insurance premiums were his greatest concern I think.  Window fixed we were able to get back to the room and relax again. On Wednesday we were up and away early – 6.45am train round to Victoria and then the walk up to the Coach Terminal for us to connect with our one-day excursion to Stonehenge and Windsor Castle. One bonus of the early start was picking up some hot sausage rolls and a cuppa tea at the station to start our day.

We took a guided tour with Evan Evans for the day – leaving at 8am we had to battle the morning traffic to get onto the motorway to get us out past Heathrow and into the area where Windsor Castle is. Winter hours were in place so the castle doesn’t open until 9.45am so the idea was to get to the que early so we had a bit of a walk from the coach through the area around Windsor and then a wait of around 30 mins before the gates opened. We had 1.5 hours of free time to guide our way through the castle but this really wasn’t enough and we ended up rushing some areas just to get through. There was loads to take in – there’s the castle itself – the architecture etc, the furnishings inside the castle, the history of the area and then the grounds as well. Alas the Queen and her corgis were not to be seen today (they have a flag system – depending on what flag is flying on what castle denotes where the Queen is). Took a bit of a run to get back to the bus in time and we were off again – heading next to Stonehenge. As we arrived the weather packed up – it was cold out in the open and rain threatened. You get transported by buses up to the paddock area where the formations are and then the bus runs you back down to the Info Centre and museum. The formations themselves were very good – really makes you stop and think about the area and what life must have been like back at the time of the erection of the rock formation. Again, how they were able to erect the stones – not just the uprights but the top lintel rocks beggar’s belief.

From Stonehenge we drove through the Cotswolds to the city of Bath – was really nice to see some farm land and pasture along the way after what had felt like total urbanisation in and around London. At Bath, you had the option to tour the historic baths or have free time around the city – we opted for the free time option and had a bit of a look around before making a beeline for the fish n chip shop – we were cold and hungry so we filled up on fish n chips with a side of curry sauce – hit the spot and then some. To ease our full belly’s, we took a good walk up and round the river – some really nice bridges in the city and great historic buildings so was really nice. It was nearly 5pm when the bus left Bath and was getting on for 8pm before we got back into London and were dropped at near the underground. We got ourselves back to Notting Hill and collapsed after what had been a long but enjoyable day. On Thursday we set aside the day to do the local Hop On Off Bus. There are a couple of routes available as well as a ferry ride up the Thames so we crammed it all in taking in loads of sights. It’s not a criticism but there is so much history to take in, in and around London – you need to have time to take it all in and appreciate it all. We walked London Bridge, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, and all that the landscape has to offer locally.

We know we weren’t able to take it all in – as noted, more time is needed to appreciate what is on offer, but you’d want the weather to be good (it was cold getting around London), and you need to understand you will always be around tourist it seems – there are loads of us out there trying to take in the same things. We ended out day by finding our way over to Harrods – despite riding the bus off and on all day, we still managed to get our step count up for the day. Harrods was an experience – lovely store, amazing products available, but it all comes at a cost. Besides the expected fashion and cosmetics, there is a large fresh food court where you can get meats, fish, veges and fruit. They have a big cheese area and then you have the baked goods and decorated cakes and sweets – all very impressive. On Friday we got ourselves down the road early so we could join the free walking tour that the Hop On team provide. Our guide got us down to St James Palace to see the guard getting ready to march up to Buckingham Palace for the ‘changing of the guard’ – we timed it well as this happens every 2nd day at around 10.30am for guard change over at 11am (Henry the 8th had St James built for Ann Berlin, but he’d had her put to death before the Palace was completed – such was the way back then). We walked with the guards (who had a mounted Police escort) up to the Palace barracks to see the other guards coming out. We didn’t spend a load of time around Buckingham Palace – we were told that the crowds start to form from around 7.30am to get vantage spots for the event. We were very happy with what we had seen / experienced. I didn’t pick up on too many facts but I think I heard right that the Palace has 775 rooms, something over 150 bathrooms I believe, and 2 people are employed full time to wind all the clocks in the Palace and keep them running.

From the Palace we got a bus over to the South Bank area and had a wander up through this area – taking in the Borough Markets and getting a good close up of the Shard Building – biggest in London I believe. We carried on up the bank with the weather getting cooler and headed into the Tate Modern Art Museum. This is a big complex and I have to admit that a lot of the art, installations etc were lost on me. I need to get a better appreciation for what some artist call art – not too much of what was on display made sense to me. From the Tate we got ourselves over to the Natural History Museum and had a good look around there – another place that more time is needed to be able to truly take in all that is on offer. Outside the museum they have set up a skating rink and by the time we came out it was dark and the rink was full of people enjoying themselves. We hiked to an underground and got a train back to Notting Hill for a quick bite to eat. Our time in London was drawing to a close but we have to both say we really enjoyed our experience – I had been a little daunted by what I perceived the scale of London to be, but although it was busy, it was never crazy or unmanageable. Appreciate we are supposedly in the tourism off season but there are still loads of people about. People for the most part were helpful and friendly. Everyone seems pretty active – walking the underground to get trains seems to be the norm. I spotted more nice cars in 5 days than I had in 3 months in the US – Lambo’s, Rolls Royce, Ferrari and more. The Underground was / is a good way of getting around – easy to navigate, so yep, a good experience and somewhere we know we could come back to and spend some more time.

Bus Trip North

As noted, our ‘preferred’ mode of transport to get us up to Minneapolis was a long bus ride. We boarded the bus in down-town Jackson and pulled out just before 3pm Friday afternoon. The first leg would be the straight run back up the main Interstate to Memphis – took us around 3.5 hours to pull into the station on the southern side of the city. We had a planned wait of around 1 hour which transpired into the obligatory ‘delay’ and it was almost 8.30pm before we finally got moving again. Whilst it was obviously very dark outside our run north basically retraced the path we had taken to come south – we ran west across the Mississippi into Arkansas and then run north on through Missouri on Interstates 55 and 57. Hitting Illinois, we had a long run ahead of us to get up to Chicago and then west from there. The bus stopped every 2-3 hours – middle of the night included. I roused from a rough snooze around 4.45am to find us hitting the outskirts of Chicago – big city. Even though it was still very dark, the skyline of Chicago materialised and it looked quite impressive – even at night / early morning. Our bus driver struggled with her bearings a little and missed the turn into the station and had to rely on one of the passengers for directions into the station. We were due in around 5.30am but it was 6am before we pulled up and it was a case of off one bus and straight onto the next for the final run through to Minneapolis.

Getting back on another bus – sore bum and all, we pushed on again in the last of the dark – the run across / through Chicago was around 2 hours plus – big city. We worked our way north to Milwaukee and found a dusting of snow on the ground to support the fact that it was cold out. We were only supposed to stop in Milwaukee (the city looks nice – not nearly as big as Chicago, but we did note a load of homeless living in tents under the freeway bridges – a sad situation) for a little over 30 mins, but just as we were set to move off the bus broke down and we found ourselves ‘enjoying’ the Milwaukee bus terminal for another hour / hour and a half. Finally back on the road, we pushed north west through Wisconsin and finally saw the ‘welcome to Minnesota’ sign – not far to go now. An interesting observation besides the snow – that the further north we pushed, the less there was – not sure how that worked, but by the Minnesota state border there was no snow – that’s not to say it was cold – the phone said it was 1 degree outside. The landscape was all pasture – fields of corn / maize which hadn’t yet been harvested and with the weather the way it was it didn’t look that feasible that they would be able to get it harvested and off the ground. Our second to last stop was the city of St Paul – I think Minneapolis and St Paul are known as the Twin City’s as they are effectively joined at the hip. Finally after a little over 26 hours we finally pulled into the central bus terminal in Minnesota – it was good to get up and be moving freely again.

We got some directions and bearings to get downtown a little to the hostel we were staying at. Bit of a walk and then a short bus ride and we got ourselves to our location – an old hostel which looked like it really needed some good TLC. We got ourselves in and then went for a bit of a walk locally – the area we were in had a load of eateries and bars – the main street lined in trees had fairy lights strung through them so a nice touch. We liked some of the buildings / older but restored, and the homes were a nice mix as well. We got to talking to a couple of people in the hostel and settled in for the evening. Sunday was about getting ourselves back downtown and out to the airport – time for another leg of our journey. Hopefully along the way we will see a bit more of this city – the concern currently is, what will the temperature be in another 2 weeks’ time when we return – if it’s 1 degree now (and supposedly feels more like -3 outside) what will the weather do from here (the news suggested that we are well below average for this time of year so hopefully some warmth comes back through. Will update you from London.

Mississippi

I say Mississippi but in order to get to Mississippi we did have to make a run through the bottom end of Tennessee – through Memphis to be precise. As noted, Memphis is one of those cities that crosses states – Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi. Sticking to the Interstate our run south to the Mississippi border was straight forward and the 25 odd miles we had to run were soon passed and we saw the sign welcoming us to the state of Mississippi. You enter through the suburb of Southhaven – we’d planned on staying at an RV Park locally but when contacting them for a spot, they and another couple of local RV Parks advised they were full – maybe the ‘snowbirds’ had come south. As a result we would have to move further south to get a spot. For tonight we were content to run around 50 miles into the state – we made ourselves comfortable in the Walmart carpark in Batesville for the night – the rain still pouring down.  On Saturday morning the weather started to clear and we made our run south towards Jackson – we’d secured a space at an RV Park at Clinton – west of Jackson the state capital of Mississippi. We had a run of around 150 miles – it took Romin a bit to settle down this morning – all the more reason to get her parked up for the time being. We had a pretty good run south but did come upon an accident on the Interstate so everything ground to a halt for maybe 30 mins before we started to inch forward – couple of vehicles had come together in the greasy conditions.

Reaching Jackson we cut west on the I20 to the suburb / outer town of Clinton and got ourselves parked and settled into the Springridge RV Park – this would be home for us the rest of the coming week, and Romin would be calling this home for atleast the next month. We spent Sunday just relaxing into RV Park life – both Carol and I got a book finished over the course of the weekend. Whilst the park was fine, its location wasn’t the best for us – Clinton didn’t offer us any viable transport options to get in and out of the city, limiting us to trying to walk around locally. Main issue for us is the fact that there are no footpaths and we had the Interstate / Highway to cross – emm, not ideal, but through the course of the week we zig zagged back and forth from the camp across into the local services Clinton offered – loads of fast food outlets – all with drive throughs, along with the necessary auto shop and supermarket. On Monday we hiked over to the shopping area and approached the rental car company for a quote for a vehicle to get us north to Minneapolis, but that turned out to be totally in practical with a $400 relocation fee attached to the quote. Tuesday was spent trying to re-caulk the windows on Romin – some previous heavy rain had generated a couple of leaks, so I took advantage of a fine day to get around most of the windows – not the flashiest job but hopefully it would do the trick, and forecast indicated it was going to be tested that evening.

And tested it was – around 2am we got warnings on our mobiles of Flash Floods in the area – and soon after the warning siren went off. The rain was very heavy for around 3 hours – but on the plus side – no leaks so caulking looked to have worked. Fortunately Wednesday dawned dry and the day improved as it went on – was quite a muggy day. We took the opportunity to hike over the interstate as we had been, and went and explored the Old Town of Clinton and grounds of the Mississippi College – was good to be around some nice buildings, grounds and trees – yep, the RV Park is fairly bland – a mix of RV’s and trailers in the central area and then a load of trailer homes on the wider complex – I think Carol heard you could buy a unit for around $45K? The Old Town area was quite refreshing for us and they actually had some sidewalks which were a welcome change. That eventing we had another weather warning issued – more flash floods expected up until 11am and again, fortunately the caulking held up well for us but I did find one new leak, so Thursday was a trip over for some more caulking. Following the bad weather the temperature plummeted – we woke to a frost and the temperature only got up towards 10 degrees today – just warm enough for me to get the caulking done. Thursday was Halloween and we’d expected some visitors to the RV that night, and were prepared with chocolate bars, but none came a calling – chocolate bars for the pending trip ahead.

Friday was all about prepping Romin for going into storage for the next 3 weeks, and getting ourselves ready to head north. The options to get to Minneapolis were flying, train, rental car of bus – bus won out based on the budget – in what felt like a case of dejavu from our Europe and South America travel expenses and choices, we were booked for a 25-hour bus ride. We got Romin parked up, our bags packed and got a taxi to collect us from the park and run us into Jackson to the central bus terminal. Our taxi driver was a talker and decided to take what seemed to be the scenic route into Jackson – downside was the fee increased, but on the positive we got to see some more of the city. We passed the Colosseum – I think it’s the city AP showground and arena. The taxi driver was explaining that some of the older buildings in the central city were being restored as apartment living – and was proving popular. The bus terminal finally materialised and we got ourselves checked in and readied for the bus ride ahead – that update is to come.

Running South – Illinois,Missouri, Arkansas

Illinois

With us running out of day, we crossed the Wabash River and found ourselves crossing into Illinois – known as the Land of Lincoln. We picked our path south on Highways 1 and 45 through to Harrisburg. From there we cut west to Marion – a city of 17,000 plus on Highway 13. An interesting observation pretty much as soon as we entered the state was the number of what appeared to be oil derricks pumping away in the paddocks – there were loads of paddocks and therefore more derricks than we’d anticipated. As we’d seen passing through lower Indiana, Illinois was a hive of harvest activity. With darkness well and truly upon us, we pulled south onto Interstate 57 and made a run for the nearest rest area – some 25 miles south – we’d run around 300 miles this afternoon from the RV Park in Greenfield so a solid run for us. We got on the road early on Friday morning in order to try and get going before the traffic built up too much on the Interstate, and because we had some states to cross today. The day started off grey and overcast, but there was darkness on the horizon. Our time in the state would be short this morning and within and hour we came upon the mighty Mississippi River and yes, another state border crossing – goodbye Illinois.

Missouri

Crossing the Mississippi on Interstate 51 we travelled west an intercepted Interstate 55. Crossing the river, we found ourselves in ‘cotton country’ – paddock upon paddock of cotton. As we drove south besides the landscape changing to fluffy fields for us, we found the weather change to the opposite – heavy clouds and then heavy rain. Our time in the state would be short – we needed to keep running whilst we could – whilst Romin was hanging in there. We only got to experience around 65 miles of the lower section of state and again all too soon we were across and out of the state – no rivers to cross this time around.

Arkansas

The landscape from Interstate 55 didn’t vary from the thick fields and bales of cotton (Arkansas is one of the nations largest cotton producers) with the weather getting worse / heavier rain. We stopped just across the state at a Visitor Centre and have a good talk to the team there on the state and what he had to offer. ‘Celebrities’ to come from the state include Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell and Bill Clinton was Governor here before his time in the White House. Aware of keeping Romin running whilst we could we pushed back on the Interstate – the 55 would take us around 75 miles through to the Tennessee border and Memphis. Interspersed with fields of cotton we also found fields of rice – apparently the state’s No 1 crop, followed by egg production, and cotton coming in No 3. The rain got heavier the closer we got to the border. Memphis is another of those cities that seems to span state borders – we would cross through West Memphis, but Memphis also spans south into Mississippi. In the meantime we had another river to cross – here comes the Mississippi again – goodbye Arkansas.

Indiana

Pushing on with Interstate 65 we move north into Indiana. Louisville seemed to be one of those border cities that sprawl across into neighbouring states – it spans across the Ohio river with ‘suburbs’ so we had some built-up area to move through. We pulled into a rest spot about 20 miles into the state and had a rest up before resuming back on the interstate – it wasn’t too manic. We pulled into the junction town of Taylorville where there was a large outlet mall. We parked up at the Cracker Barrell for the evening and had a wander around the shops and then refuelled and recharged – and posted, over at the local Starbucks. Having parked up at the Cracker Barrell it was only fair that we catch a bite to eat there before settling in for the evening. Monday morning had a nice sunrise but it was all too brief and before we knew it we had steady rain. Pulling out of Taylorville we called at the local RV yard for some advice on what might be going on with Romin. The RV shop was little help to us but directed us to the Ford dealer in Shelbyville so we pushed on. We stuck to some secondary back roads and before we knew it we were right in the thick of a really heavy thunder and lightning storm – it was right on top of us. We saw lightning hit a power pole nearby causing a splash of sparks. Visibility was very poor – we contemplated pulling off the road and trying to ride it out but pushed on as best we could – fortunately traffic on the roads was being sensible giving each other space. We pulled into Shelbyville and called at the Ford outlet and got a bit of direction from them, but they were way too busy to be able to look at things for us.

We motored on – with the weather slowly improving – the thunder and lightning behind us. We made our way to an RV park we had selected in Greenfield – this would be our base for the next few days. Our friend Dale up in Montana had put us in contact with a good friend of his from Montana, Jeff Sholty who spends a lot of his time in Indiana looking after his elderly mum. We made contact with Jeff and had high hopes that he would be able to work with us to see some of the sights around Indianapolis over the next few days. We got ourselves settled in at the RV park for the balance of the day. On Tuesday, not having had any joy linking in with Jeff, we decided to push on with our own plans and made our way into Greenfield catching a lift from Dave at the camp (the town was around 5 miles from the camp). We made the call to get a rental car for a couple of days so we could get out to see some of the sights we had in mind, and with car sorted we made the run into Indianapolis on Interstate 70 so we could go and have a look at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. The museum had a great display and both Carol and I had a great time taking it all in. Having spent a few hours looking around inside we had a bit of a look around outside but I’d have to say it’s just not the same – we’d like to be on site on the day of a race – besides the Indy car races on the track, NASCAR also run on the track. The track can hold something like 350,000 – I think I read that the Indy 500 is the largest one-day sporting event in the world. The atmosphere on race day must be amazing. Getting through Indianapolis’s late day traffic wasn’t as crazy as I’d expected, and we had a pretty good run back out to the RV park.

On Wednesday morning we had an early start in order for us to make the run over to Dayton, Ohio for the day. We were as close as we were going to get to Dayton from where we were staying in Indiana so made good sense. The run east across Indiana was literally a straight forward run on Interstate 70 – a run of around 130 miles to get us from Greenfield through to the other side of Dayton, Ohio. Why Dayton – well it’s the home of the US Airforce National Museum and truly a bucket list location for me. The run to Dayton took us the best part of 2 hours – being in a rental car certainly made for some easier, and faster travelling. The museum has been on the bucket list for a very long time as the museum houses my other favourite aeroplane – the XB-70 Bomber – I was very excited to see it. The museum is spread over 5 hangers and as I had anticipated would be the case, one day simply isn’t enough time to take in all that is on offer – well atleast not for someone like me – an aviation buff since I was a young fella. We were in the museum by 9.30am and didn’t leave the museum complex until around 5.30pm.

The museum has 5 ‘theatres’ full of aircraft – you start with WW1 and then move across to the WW2 theatres. From there you head into the Korean and Vietnam theatre before pushing out to the Cold War theatre – now I was getting excited. Between the final 2 hangars there’s a Rocket atrium and then the last hangar is the one I was looking forward most to – the Experimental Aircraft theatre – and there taking centre stage, for me anyway, was the XB-70 Bomber. I won’t bore you with details but this plane ticks so many boxes for me – form, style, power and performance and above all of that, the futuristic design of it. Needless to say I spent a lot of my day in that last theatre and before leaving at the end of the day, had to head back out there for one final look. Might be sometime before I’m able to come back via these ways. Very excited by the day – besides the XB-70 I was chuffed to find a whole load of unexpected other aviation treasures on display today – I’m thinking my must-see list is now pretty much ticked off – well, for now anyway.  Getting back out of Dayton we made our way over to Interstate 70 to make the trek back west to the RV Park. We were making good progress until the dreaded ‘road works ahead’ sign popped up – a 10-mile crawl later we finally inched our way through the jam and were in clear traffic again – finally. The traffic backed us up for around 40 mins so it was dark by the time we made it back to the RV Park, but we made it.

On Thursday morning I made the trek back into Greenfield to drop the rental car off and then we prepped to head off in the camper again. With Romin running rough we made it back over to Shelbyville and then headed west on Highway 44 to intercept Interstate 69. The landscape back out in the open of the Interstate was full of harvest activity intermixed with rolling hills. The harvest activity was corn and soya being harvested – combiners kicking up dust. The run south on the Interstate was good – not too many trucks roaring by so we enjoyed a good run before branching west on the 64 to the border – another river to cross and we would be in another state. Coming up to the border we noted a big coal mine – obviously there is coal ‘in them their hills’. Time for us to leave Indiana behind.

Kentucky

Continuing on the 231 that we climbed out of Tennessee on, we noted that the standard of roading dropped a bit – that was until we got ourselves through to the town / city of Scottsville. The roading improved, the houses got bigger, the properties were large with big fenced paddocks, but where were the horses? Another observation across pretty much all of the US is the total lack of fencing – houses / yards are rarely fenced. From Scottsville it was an easy run on the 231 into Bowling Green – Corvette country. Bowling Green is the home of Corvette in the US – their main production line is based here and as a result they have the National Corvette Museum – our destination for today. There’s a long running GM worker strike at the moment and workers made sure to be on the corner near where you turn into Corvette Drive to go to the museum and also where the factory is. The museum was good – I’m not going to say great as I was, yep, disappointed that a couple of key Corvette cars that I had expected to see / be on display, were not. You don’t come all this way not expecting to see what I think many Corvette enthusiasts will say is ‘thee Corvette’ to see in the flesh – the ’63 Split Window. Alas, no original ’63 was part of the collection / display today. The museum made headlines back in 2014 when a large sinkhole opened up in the museum and ‘swallowed’ 8 cars in the collection. Unfortunately 5 of the 8 were so badly damaged that it was deemed in practical to restore / repair, so now the museum has a large central display – in the area where the sinkhole occurred, to remember the vehicles involved – 3 of the restored and the other 5 looking pretty much as they were when dragged out – caked in mud / dirt, and smashed.

Having had a good look around the museum we had a walk around the nearby area – across the road from the museum is the smartly located Artz Classic Cars – he has quite a collection – Corvette’s are popular in number, but he had a pretty amazing collection of 50’s onwards American classics and muscle cars – all for sale – if only. Supposedly buyers have come from all over the world to buy vehicles from Art – he has some reputation. Having had a good Corvette fix we found a spot to park for the night – yep, in a central Bowling Green shopping complex car park – it wasn’t too noisy so all and all not too bad. On Sunday we had a wander around and then got ourselves, and Romin moving on Interstate 65 for our run across Kentucky today. The Interstate points us north towards Louisville, Kentucky’s largest city. Coming into the city you pass the Louisville International Airport – appears to be a big UPS hub as there were a load of UPS planes in the area. We pass Cardinal’s Stadium – the state’s NFL team – all of these stadiums are impressive – just need to get along to a game sometime. Navigating the spaghetti junction, we are running out of state. Bordering Kentucky and Indiana is the Ohio River – we cross that and we have crossed out of one state and into another – I think there were 4 bridges spanning the river all within a kilometre of each other.

Tenessee

We cut into the state of Tennessee to the east of Chattanooga on Highway 225, and made our way through to Cleveland and then up an onto the busy Interstate 75 again – where does all this traffic come from? We were swamped with trucks and cars roaring north on the interstate – all passing us with ease as we struggled at our desired 60 mile an hour max. We pushed on up the interstate around 25 miles to a rest area and parked up. We still had daylight so I got the barbe out and cooked up some sausages for us – nice easy dinner. Rest area was popular with the trucks – we were hemmed in by them and were rocked to sleep as best you can with the hum of the truck generators that seem to be kept running overnight. On Saturday morning we got on the road early – A) to try and beat some of the traffic, and B) because we had a bit of a run ahead of us, around 200 miles to get up and into Kentucky to the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green. We had a nice run up and through the state of Tennessee this Saturday morning – Romin got running okay so that was the main thing for us. We had plans to probably come back to Tennessee to ‘park the camper’ in November, so weren’t too concerned about our only crossing the state this morning. Getting on the road earlier looked to be a good move – the Interstate wasn’t its usual manic, plus we only had a short run up it before cutting north and west to get up through the state.

Our route took us west on Highway 305 and then connected with Highway 68. This road took us over the Watts Bar Dam – I can’t be sure if it was part of a river or a rather large lake but I do know that just up from the dam there was a large nuclear power plant with the standard chimney plume. On the west side of the dam you climb up to an area called Grandview and then out to the city of Crossville. At this point we hopped onto the Interstate again – I40 for our run west. The I40 runs you all the way into Nashville and we got to around 25 miles from the city before branching off to head north and out of the state. Along the way we managed to gain back and hour – crossing from the eastern to the central time zones – that said, our run across the state this morning still took us something like 5 hours, so gaining an hour was a plus for museum timeframes. We got ourselves onto Highway 231 just after the town of Lebanon – yep, another one of those places that it would be interesting to learn as to how it was named. The 231 gives you one last climb out of the state – Tennessee had rewarded us with a good run today – plenty of variety but no significant climbs so a bit easier on Romin – a good outcome I think. Yep, before we know it we are crossing over into another state.

Georgia

Crossing over the Savannah we were now in the southern state of Georgia. We pulled into the rest area just over the river aiming to park up for the night only to find that overnight parking wasn’t allowed so we pushed south on Interstate 85 to a truck-stop for the night – busy spot and also noisy but needs must. On Friday morning we made the call that we would stop to take in some sight in the state, so I found details of the Georgia Motorsports Museum so we made our way north and across to the town of Dawsonville. Looks like Georgia was one of the key states that was heavily involved in the running of moonshine. As a result, the local moonshine runners developed great car craft and many were selected to become the first NASCAR drivers – story goes that some would run moonshine before and after the races. Georgia is another very strong NASCAR state, and Dawsonville is home to the Elliot family – another strong name in NASCAR history. The museum in Dawsonville has a load of info relating to the Elliot’s and other local motorsport identities and was very good. Next door to the museum is a Moonshine Museum for those interested in that. Getting back to Romin, she started to run a bit crazy on us – the speedo isn’t working – its flat lining when first started and then once running it flicks back and forth something crazy. As a result the transmission is struggling to work out what gear to engage in, so when we do get running we are best to keep running. So we carried on west on Highway 53 to cut across to Interstate 75 before then running north to the top of the state on Highway 225. We were running albeit it not well, so we pushed on and yes, left another state behind us whilst there was still daylight.

The Carolina’s

For me I associate the Carolina’s with NASCAR – Days of Thunder and all that, and so whilst not a huge NASCAR fan it would be rude not to check something heart here in the heart of NASCAR country. Crossing into North Carolina we stopped at the Visitor Centre and I picked up on some NASCAR options. Any true NASCAR fan would head straight for Charlotte and the surrounding areas as this is where the big speedway is and a big number of the main NASCAR teams have their workshops here, and as a bonus to the tourist, they invite tourists to come and check them out. With our current fear of big city driving we had made a call that we wouldn’t head into the heart of Charlotte – that represented something just a bit too busy for us. Instead we headed for the home of the King – no not Elvis Presley – the NASCAR King Richard Petty. We headed south on the 29 through to Greensboro and then dropped down on Interstate 73 (a really nice piece of road, in fact all the roading through North Carolina was pretty good – much smoother and better maintained than some of the states), through to the small town of Randleman – or King Country. The local road / Interstate section is named after the King and so forth. We looked like we were out in the countryside somewhat and thinking to ourselves there can’t be anything much of a museum out these ways, when we found the ‘Petty Compound’. You have the Petty Museum, the old Family home, and then you have a series of workshops which is Petty Motorsports where they tweak hot cars with the ‘Petty touch’.

The museum itself was really good – I’d been a big fan of the King since I’d seen NASCAR as a young fella and the museum chronicled his life in racing. Petty won 200 NASCAR racers, and 7 championships – no one has come close to his 200-race record to date. The museum is full of his trophies and some specific cars, but also a huge collection of guns, knifes and belt buckles – all things he loved to collect. He had model cars as far as the eye could see – yep, loads more than I have. He had a bit of everything. The King had a cameo in the film series ‘Cars’ with Lightning McQueen so there was a section in the museum dedicated to that. Richard’s wife of 50 odd years was a huge part of the racing family and she was also included in the film as one of the ‘support wagons’ at the races. The Petty’s are a NASCAR legion – Richard’s dad Lee was one of the first NASCAR champs, and then after Richard his son Kyle was a NASCAR legion as well. Kylie’s son Adam also raced and won a NASCAR event and was showing real promise to continue on the family heritage, when he died in a race event aged only 20 years old I think. Out the back of the museum you get to have a bit of a look at the Motorsport workshops where they ‘tweak’ vehicles – in effect you bring your new sportscar to Petty Enterprises and they ‘hot it up’ with some Petty parts and tweaks. The workshop looked to be very busy. As we were coming away from the museum we even had the pleasure of meeting the King – he was pulling out of the yard in his Cadillac and stopped to say giddy to us and shake hands – pleased to learn that some Kiwi’s had come a calling at his museum to day (the museum is a family run affair). In the excitement I overlooked to get a selfie with the King – missed opportunity I know. Before we knew it, his Caddie was moving off and we headed back to our stead – Romin (not sure of his exact age, but the King is 80 plus now and comes into the workshop every day that he isn’t off at a NASCAR event – pretty sure the Petty’s still have an active NASCAR race team).

Pulling away from the museum having both really enjoyed our afternoon there, we were rewarded with the day drying and warming up – making for easier motoring. We got back onto the nice Interstate 73 and pushed south for a time before finding a really nice Interstate rest area for the night – it was big and well off the main road so more comfortable than many we have stopped at.  On Thursday morning we called into the Visitor Centre attached to the rest area for some further info before heading on south on the 73 through to Rockingham – a nice consistent run for us. At Rockingham we cut west to both take us out of the state, but also to take us down and below the city of Charlotte. Upon reflection we both felt that we needed more time in the state – from a geographic point of view the state has a lot more we would have liked to have checked out (if we were running more reliably with Romin we would have taken more time to explore). To the east of the state you have the Atlantic Coast but you also have what looks to be an amazing area called the Outer Bank – in essence a big peninsula that runs out from the mainland pretty much enclosing the entire coastline of North Carolina. You have the likes of Cape Hatteras at its point and you also have the Kitty Hawk area where the Wright Brothers made their historic first flight – there’s a national monument there and I would like to explore at some stage. Then of course you have Charlotte and the surrounding areas with all the NASCAR activity so I’d like to time it to actually come back for a race and to take in some of what is on offer in the area. To the west of the state you have the bottom end of the Blue Ridge Skyline Parkway and I’m pretty sure part of the Appalachian Trial runs through the state, so lots to take in, but for us, too little time this time in state.

South Carolina

Unlike North Carolina we had no fixed plans for stopping in South Carolina as disappointing as that might be – whilst we were running (well Romin that is) we just needed to keep pushing, so today was about primarily transiting the state. As we crossed into South Carolina we were soon rewarded with our first views of cotton fields – yep, big paddocks of cotton wool in essence. We stuck to Highway 1 as it wound its way into the heart of South Carolina. We made our way through to Camden and then cut west on the 34 to join up with Interstate 26. In amongst loads of traffic we pushed north before then cutting west on the 418 to head the west Interstate 85 for the final run across and out of this state (the run across state took us about 5 hours of driving I think – at our pace). Before we knew it we were heading for the Savannah River which is the state border between South Carolina and Georgia – crossing that bridge ended our time in the state of South Carolina. Our brief reflections of the state – the roading wasn’t as well maintained as North Carolina, there were a few cotton fields that we saw, but there were large pine plantations right across the state. The properties were big, and there was a lot of farmland. To the western side of the state we went through an area rich in marble – there was a large marble processing factory, and the local school was clad in marble – a different look. For now we had a river to cross.

Maryland and the Virginia’s

On the basis that we plan to come back to Washington DC towards the end of our travels, our time through Maryland this afternoon would be all too brief. Short to the tune of around only 12 miles on via Interstate 81. We cut south on the western tip of the state where Maryland borders West Virginia. Reality is there’s not much more to tell than it was a straight forward run through this state – too short to form any real perspective of the state and what it holds – hopefully we can see more of it in January / February.

West Virginia

Crossing the state line we were now in West Virginia, and being consistent with our recent pattern, our time through this portion of the state wouldn’t be long either. With the day running out on us we had to find a park for the night – Walmart at Martinsburg was our chosen destination. Martinsburg sit right about bang smack in the middle of Interstate 81’s short run through the eastern corridor of the state. The following morning we got back on the road and after a mere 30 miles we had crossed another state, again, with not too much to report on. Reality is that the state view from many eastern Interstates are pretty nondescript – trees, rolling land, sometimes farm land and then you get the billboards promoting what services are available at the next exit and for me the all-important question, how cheap will their fuel be?

Virginia

Crossing yet another border we did so knowing that with this state atleast we wouldn’t be crossing it in only a day – we had some plans. Just over the border there were a really nice Visitor Info Centre at Clearbrook and the lovely volunteers set us up nicely with some state-based info and advice. Virginia markets itself as the ‘love state’ – you will love doing this and love doing that in Virginia. The state was celebrating 50 years of this marketing and so the likes of the Visitor Centre had a large ‘love’ monument out front and lots of associated ‘love’ tokens around the place. Getting back to Romin and thinking about the road again, the dilemma for us was around the fact that at some point we would have to cross some mountain (I say mountains, and yes there would be up’s and down’s, but we were probably talking less than 5-6000 feet), in order to be able to work our way west again. Cutting through the back of Virginia and West Virginia you have the likes of the Shenandoah Mountain range so we made the call the largely bypass West Virginia and make our run south in order to lessen any impact these ranges have on the lower eastern states. Our experience of the past week with Romin was that the less impact the better – flatter running was preserving her wellbeing. That said, we did decide we couldn’t not be in Virginia and not take in part of the Shenandoah Ranges so we headed south on Interstate 81 around 100 miles to the town of Staunton where we then cut east on the 250 through a dip in the ranges (a saddle maybe) to the town of Waynesboro. There we stopped at their Visitor Centre and besides getting direction of the pending run through the hills, the volunteers were able to set us up with state maps for below and west of Virginia (a lot of state Visitor Centres only hold maps pertaining to that state).

Waynesboro is the gateway to the Blue Ridge Skyline Parkway. The parkway is at the southern end of the Shenandoah ranges and is a little lower to navigate, but is still a roadway that in essence runs south right along the top ridgeline of the ranges. The Skyline Parkway actually runs right through to the bottom of Virginia and then also down through North Carolina – we would only be taking in a stretch of around 50 miles today – enough of a test for Romin we felt. From Waynesboro it’s only a comparatively short climb to be up and on the ridge line and then you travel south on a winding, sometimes up and down road. On the plus side for us and Romin – speed limit on the road is only 45 and that is only on some stretches – most of the road you travel at around 35 miles and hour so a good pace for us – yes, almost our normal cruising pace. Along the Parkway there are stops and points of interest. We stopped at the Humpback Rocks Visitor Centre where they have preserved a farm-let from the era. Was all very rustic and got you thinking about the hardships people endure for where they live. At Humpback there are some rocks you can walk to – and the pictures looked pretty impressive but we settled for our wander around the farm and amused ourselves with the squirrels dancing around. Getting back in the parkway we enjoyed the vistas that ‘riding atop a mountain range’ provide.

Our Boondocking website directed us to a Forest Camp just off the Parkway so we headed east and down the valley on the 60 and soon found a quiet little spot called the Oronoco State Forest campsite. We settled in and got the deckchairs out for a time before we started to lose the sun and had a good walk up the valley as the sun dropped down. The camp had a couple of other groups staying as well – we got to talking to one chap that was driving back through to Texas – we heard him rise and get away early the next morning, as the following morning greeted us with very heavy rain. We got on the road early and wound our way slowly down the valley to the town of Amherst, and after some breakfast we pushed on south in the heavy rain, sticking to Highway 29 through to Danville in the south of the state. We had a good run south (around 75 miles) but again it was time for us to move on through and into another state.