We woke to the sound of rain pounding on the van roof and for a moment I could have sworn we were back in England and the past month and a half had all been some crazy dream. The large blister on my hand from hacking down dead trees the day before was enough of a reminder that we were actually camped in the Blue Valley mountain range.The day before we were grumbling about the poor waterfall offering and so we should at least be rewarded with grander sights on the days short hike.Aimee showed no signs of remorse for her grand vanishing act last night. Since learning how to climb up to our sleeping compartment, she has been a visitor during our attempts to sleep. Apparently kittens (or at least Aimee) have a standard time in the morning where they feel it appropriate to run, bite, claw all parts of your body and then run around like a maniac when you attempt to apprehend them! Needless to say she was still not in our good books that morning!There are two things you can always count on with British people.
- They will always have a stash of tea bags hidden somewhere in their van
- They will always be prepared for rain!
300 days of our year is spent in wet drizzle and so we are always prepared for a potential gloomy spell. Secret umbrella hidden in the tea pot. Wellies hidden inside the biscuit tin! We’re very crafty.Dressed in our favourite waterproof jackets, we headed out into the abyss outside and followed a short single track to the start of the small trail.The trail started at a small river crossing and then lead up a small path on a slight incline.
The path offered multiple opportunities to stop and look at the stream at different falls.
Content we had seen enough water spilling down the side of a mountain, we headed back to the van. I feel it might take a while to see a waterfall grander than Niagara Falls!Back in Ruby, we switched our wet clothes for our cosy clothes and enjoyed the comforts of the van. The Wallas heater was on, we had a large mug of hot chocolate and additions and we caught up on all of our British television and our blogs. Well… I didn’t quite catch up with my blog, but I made some leeway.As much as we had enjoyed our free camp site, we had exhausted the walks around us, and Willow was ‘chomping at the bits’ to go further north of the region to see the autumnal colours more.
We had not long got off the single track dirt road and back onto the main road when Willow screeched at me to pull over immediately. The engine temperature was rising well above 110°c which was a bad sign.Pulling over at the safest place we passed, Willow hoped out to investigate.We had almost run out of of engine coolant!The van has had a small coolant leak from a pipe near the radiator located under the van, that was very awkward to get to and try as had, Willow had been unable to stop. Up until this point it had not caused us any problems, we just had to remember to check the levels regularly and top it up when needed. This time we had forgotten to check it! To make matters worse, Willow also suspected that the cooling system had pulled in some air, and that their was an airlock in the radiator, meaning that the coolant that was in the system would be cooled. This meant that we would have to bleed the cooling system on the side of the road if we wanted to drive more than a couple of minutes without the engine overheating.Luckily for me, Willow is smarter than the average bear! She had installed an easy to access ‘bleed point’ in the system as this wasn’t the first time we have had to bleed out an airlock.
Half an hour later, convinced that all the air was out and the system topped back up, we were on our way again. This time the engine temperature holding around it’s usual 90°c.After a brief stop in Highlands, the nearest town, we made our way north, closer to the Great Smoky Mountains. We had identified another free campsite the Pisgah Nation Forest.The spot had boulders in place to stop large RV stopping there, but Ruby is small and nimble, so we glided round the rock and parked up in a lovely isolated spot that was all ours.With the van set up, we ploded off down the road to see more waterfalls.
You could really see the difference in the leaf colours. The trees here clearly exposed to colder weather.
Occasionally, we would catch a glimpse of a nearby unusual mountain, which had a very smooth and rounded peak.
Back at the van, it was business as usual. Us sat around a warming fire, built with free wood left for us by the other camper parked by us in Blue Valley.
With the fire burning hot, we treated ourselves to BBQ’d hot dogs and jacket potatoes, both delicious… I was really getting in to this outdoor living business!I would have had a perfect night’s sleep, if it wasn’t for a truck parking nearby with some incredibly loud caged dogs. Neither of us were sure what the guy was up to as he didn’t look like a hunter. My theory was that he was hunting for truffles, but I wouldn’t bet on that hypothesis.We drove further up the mountains, towards a nice looking hike Willow had spotted on Alltrails.On the parkway, both our phones suddenly bleeped into life. We had grown accustomed to not having signal in the camp sites. We both seized the opportunity to phone our parents to let them know we were alright.With the folks spoken to, we took some pictures of the spectacular surroundings.
The drive to the walk was only 10 minutes, however in that time the weather completely turned. Grey menacing clouds blocked off the views of the valleys below us.Mercifully, our walk did not offer views of the valleys around us, so we wouldn’t be missing out. Our walk would take us through a heavily trafficked trail, around a small mound and then towards another waterfall.Here you could appreciate the changing colours further. The reds and oranges almost darkening by the hour.
It took us a couple of hours to complete the circular walk, and by the time we arrived at the waterfall our feet were starting to feel our increased step count. Neither of us mind though. We could both walk for hours until our feet bleed. In fact, once on a walk in Greece, my feet became so badly blistered, I lost a lot of skin.
We took a few pictures at the waterfall and then headed back, not feeling the need to climb up it any further.
Back at the van, Aimee was doing a terrible job guarding it.
We decided to go back to the same camp spot. It was so idyllic that we didn’t see the point moving on for the sake of it.With another stack of free firewood, we enjoyed another peaceful evening in front of a camp fire. I don’t know what was coming over me, I never had fires back in England… Well maybe one or two.The following morning we decided to head into Asheville on the recommendation of David, the mechanic in Charlotte.On the drive there, we stopped off at the same view point we called our parents from the day before. The skies were even clearer that day, and we had an even better view of the valley around us.
The drive took us down the parkway, through tunnels and along large winding roads. It was the kind of drive that you would love to drive an old Jag along with the roof down.We identified a cheap dive bar named Ole Shakey’s Getaway, this time we were determined to have a few drinks and use their WiFi.We pulled up late in the afternoon, there was already a crowd of regulars stood outside savouring the last warmth of the day. It’s safe to say, everyone stopped their conversations when we rocked up. We could both feel the hard stares as they tried to figure out what was happening.Getting out of the van, we made our way over to the crowd to say hi. We started chatting to Walt, Keith and Heath. Heath was apparently the local VW nut, and had his own collection of VWs. Walt and Keith were lovely, and both offered us spots to spend the night, if we were unable to stay in the bars car park.Heath informed us that we were in Asheville at the ideal moment. That coming Saturday, he would be hosting a VW poker run up into the mountains and then to Okar Blues and Sierra Nevada breweries. I couldn’t believe our luck. Two brewery stop offs… I mean a VW car meet.Heath then spent a little while trying to convince us to go to the Nascar event the same weekend, but our minds were already made up. We hadn’t really seen much of the VW community in the North East, and so we were both excited about looking at a load of VWs.As the night went on, we started speaking to other locals at the bar and I started to sample some of the local beer offerings, which is an unfortunate consequence of meeting new people.
We socialised into the early hours of the morning, sharing tales and meeting new people.
Eventually, all of our socialising caught up with us and so we said good night and bit the sack.I’d be lying if I said that the following morning I woke up feeling right as rain. I felt like I wanted to ground to open up and swallow me. Fortunately, we were in no rush to go anywhere, so I had all morning to return to a state slightly resembling that of a normal person.The parking for Ole Shakey’s was next to an old single track railroad and the French Broad River; as we had once again failed to use the WiFi the night before, we spent the afternoon working on our blogs and downloading more of our English television programmes sat next to the river. We even brought Aimee out on a leash that we had just bought her, to begin her training.
Fed up off staring at phones and laptops, we left the bar and decided to head slightly out of Asheville to check out another free camp site.Aimee really enjoyed the experience of being able to join us outside and was really startling to take to life as a van can.
The free campsites were littered down a single track dirt road riddled with pot holes, which lead to a trail head hike. As it was midweek, we had hoped to find a spot as easily as our previous ones, however this spot seemed to be in demand, every spot we passed was already occupied by a van or a tent. We followed the dirt track all the way to the end, which was the main parking for the hiking trails. As it was getting dark and there was only one other vehicle in the car park, we decided to leave park the van there not anticipating any bother from local rangers.As luck would have it, not a single car bothered us that evening, we did however here someone cough outside the van, but when I went out to investigate there was no one there!The next morning, we drove down to the nearest camp site to investigate what facilities they had. We were in desperate need of water, and a shower definitely wouldn’t have gone a miss at that point.The price of the camp site was more than we were willing to pay, considering we just had a peaceful night’s sleep further up the track for free. The site manager did say we could have drinking water for free.Before leaving the site, we quickly stopped off at the toilet before we would head off to the post office to try and collect the van parts that should hopefully have been forwarded on from the Charlotte University post office.As we were about to get back into the van, Willow had noticed that the fans were on and the engine was close to overheating. We both feared another repeat of the air lock we had suffered a few days earlier in Blue Valley.The good news was that we had not let the coolant run low, causing an air leak.The bad news was that the bumpy dirt track had disconnected a coolant pipe, chucking coolant all over the ground, meaning it was time to get the tool kit back out to sort the coolant system. Considering we installed the Subaru engine for more reliability, the actual cooling system was proving to be just as unreliable as an air-cooled engine!With the pipe reattached and the coolant topped back up, we set off to the post office in Horse Shoe to see if the rude lady in Charlotte had forwarded the post on like I had asked.It was no surprise to me when the lady at the counter informed me that there was no package waiting for me, and that if it was forwarded on when it should have been, then it should have been with them a couple of days ago.Annoyed that we still didn’t have the replacement bushing because of some idiot postal workers, we stopped off to give Ruby a proper clean in anticipation for the VW revival show on Saturday, as Ruby was starting to show signs of her long drive from New York.We headed back to our previous night’s spot, keeping an eye out for a free spot with a fire pit, but same as the night before, they were still occupied.As it was too late to complete a large hike and the weather seemed to be taking a turn for the worse, we decided to give Aimee another try in her backpack. Our previous attempt had not been very successful, only managing to roughly walk about 50 metres before having to take Aimee back to the van. She was almost a week older at that point and had since been outside on her lead, so it seemed like a good time to try.Just like before, it wasn’t long before Aimee wanted out of the bag, there was clearly too much excitement around her for her to relax. Willow turned around, and I carried on a little further to the nearest stream to collect some water for a shower.We had walked down to the river earlier, scouting out a small circular walk, but decided against it as it required you to cross the stream several times and at that point we hadn’t come suitably prepared.Willow had clearly gotten the better arrangement, as the stream was further than I remembered. To make matters worse for me, the heavens had opened, leaving me. to carry the heavy bucket of water alone whilst getting drenched. It at least meant that I would already have showered by the time I got back.We woke the next day, greeted by blue skies again. The car park had quite a few cars in it this morning, clearly today was the day to stretch out legs and finally get the longer hike we had been craving.
The walk we identified was classified as a moderate hike around the foot of a small mountain called the Coffee Pot mountain. The trail would then lead us up and over the main ridge at the top before leading us back around.After yesterday’s attempt with Aimee, we decided to leave her in Ruby. A long walk would most definitely discourage her from wanting to use the back pack as she got older.Although it would e fairly easy walk for us, we set off fully equipped for every scenario. More equipped than any Munroe or Pyrenees mountain that we had ever climbed. This was mainly to justify to ourselves that it was worth carrying it in the van!The hike was not really challenging, and at best I would have described it as an easy-moderate. It was however long and offered us a variety of streams, trees and colours.
The walk took a grand total of three and a half hours. A lot less than what we are previously used to, but it was by far one of the most enjoyable hikes we had competed we far. It had wetted my appetite for the hikes we would complete in the West, and at that moment a part of me would have considered skipping the South East warmth in favour of more challenging hikes. We would however get a lot of these after our brief spell in Florida and my ‘tan’ if you could even call it that, was in dire need of a top up.
We settled down to some reading and some British television on the laptop that evening. Excited for the VW meet the next day.
We had made sure to pack the van away the night before, so we could have an early start the next day. I couldn’t believe that the weekend was upon us already.We stopped off at a nearby Ingles to grab some breakfast and WiFi, before heading off to the VW meet.Sadly, the rain from yesterday had not fully blown over, and so we weren’t convinced about the views we would get driving up and over the parkway.Pulling up, it was clear that other people had the same concerns. There was no more than 3 VWs when we arrived, with a few more arriving shortly after us.We quickly spotted Heath and introduced ourselves to the other VW fanatics. Heath explained the rules of the poker run and gave us a map of the route.
And so we set off on the poker run, in a convoy of 7 vehicles. As we expected, the views at the top of the parkway were nonexistent. We were literally driving though rain clouds! Driving back through the tunnels were drove through earlier in the week, I couldn’t stop myself… I dropped down a gear and slammed my foot to the floor. Ruby’s 2 litre Subaru engine roared into life as we raced through the winding tunnels.As we pulled up to our first destination to draw the first poker cards, Heather approached me with a large grin across his face. Apparently he loved the sound of Ruby tearing through the tunnels as much as I did!Cards picked, we set off to our next stop. A waterfall named sliding rock. The VW revival was set up by Heath and his wife Jen to raise money for disadvantaged children. Heath had promised to pay an extra $20 towards the final pot if anyone slid down the natural water slide.Having recently slid down one in Pennsylvania, I had been open to doing this in the days leading up to the event. However, as the weather sucked, nobody was interested in staying long, plus we would have had to pay for the pleasure of approaching the waterfall, and so we left with me thankfully drier than I could have been.
Our first two hands were not strong. Two different suites. We would definitely need some luck if we were going to win the anything by the end of the journey.We headed off towards the first of the two breweries, Oskar Blues Brewery. We did stop off on the way for another waterfall photo opportunity.
On the drive along the winding roads, we passed an unfortunate soul who had driven his Hummer off of the side of the road.
Our little convoy eventually all arrived at Oskar’s and we picked our next card. We weren’t doing great, but we did almost have a straight hand.
We stayed to enjoy a beer in the hipster drinking area.
Soon we were back on the road, heading towards the Sierra Nevada Brewery. Surrounded by VWs and heading to some of my favourite breweries, I felt lime a small child on Christmas Day.We pulled up to Sierra Nevada in stylish fashion.
Sadly, we did not stop off for a drink at Sierra Nevada. Heath’s outdoor tubing company hosts team bonding events for the brewery and so they had provided him with a chest full of free beer for us all. I could have died happy there and then!From the brewery, Willow and I strayed from the pack to stop off and buy some veggie burgers for the BBQ.Back at Heath’s yard, we drew our final card. We had a queen high pair. Meaning that we finished in 3rd place thanks to the queen that I pulled out right on the river. Our prize was a prepaid card to the value of $50. Neither of us could believe our luck. We also got a free t-shirt to help remember the event.We spent the rest of the night helping Heath get through the endless supply of beer Sierra Nevada had provided him and speaking to all of our new found friends.Eventually, almost everyone had left and it was just me and Willow, Heath and Jen, and a Canadian couple named Garry and Heather who were currently touring the States in their VW and were also planning on staying at Heath’s like us.The beer was flowing, I took on DJ responsibilities and the playlist bounced from Jethro Tull to Lynrd Sknyrd to Black Sabbath and Led Zeplin.One of the hardest things I have found living in the van is meeting really remarkable people and making strong friendships. Purely because I know that at some point soon, we will be back on the road, possibly never to see any of these people ever again. That is one of the best things about writing this blog. Not only will it keep the memories of our encounters alive for me as I get older, but it allows me to continue to communicate with my new friends as we continue to make our way around America. I always offer people we befriend the chance to come and visit us one day back in England, so that one day we can repay the same hospitality.We woke up the next morning to a bit of a toilet crisis. We’re still not quite sure how it happened, but our compost toilet in the van had seemed to failed. The poop had changed from the compost we had been developing since September into a slush. To make matters worse, it had leaked out of the toilet, along of nice bamboo floor, under our fridge. I’m sure you can sympathize with me when I tell you that it was not what I fancied cleaning up the morning after a late night. At least we were parked next to a large river to clean the toilet out after we had emptied it into a porta loo!I am so grateful that Heather, our new Canadian friend, made us breakfast that morning whilst we set about cleaning poo from between our floorboards.Shortly after breakfast, Heath and Jen returned to takeaway the left over food to deliver to a local homeless shelter. I couldn’t believe how amazing the two of them were in supporting their local community. They were so kind hearted, they even made sure we took plenty of leftover bread, salad and cookies After a bit of persuasion, Heath even managed to twist my arm to take a few of the left over beers!I really hope that their VW poker run gets the turn out it deserves next year. It is such a nice way of taking a passion and using it to offer a better life to unfortunate children.
After swapping details with Heather and Garry so that we could visit them when we eventually arrived in Canada, we set off. From here we would be driving all day to get back towards the south coast.
All that stood behind us was a 4 hour drive to Savannah!As you can imagine, the drive down the interstate was mind numbing. We swapped drivers halfway to help break the journey up.We arrive at Tybee Island, Savannah, just as the sun was setting.
After spending over a week camping without paying or needing to use a Walmart, we decided to park in the beach car park.
We had a police car pass us a couple of times, but they never came over to speak to us. We just had to remember to be up and moved before 8am when the parking metres started again.