Monday, April 29, 2013

Microsoft Streets and Trips…

imageI thought I had written a blog about Microsoft Streets and Trips before but after looking back at our past blogs I found that I had barely mentioned some of the virtues of using this mapping product. So this time I am going to devote a whole blog to one of the most useful mapping tools we use in our full timing adventures… Microsoft Streets and Trips!

When we first started full timing in an RV I was primarily using Google Maps as my our tool for travel planning. As useful as Google Maps is I was always looking for other products to assist us in ensuring that we wouldn’t encounter any travel hazards while hauling our 27,000 pound, 12 foot 8 inch tall rig along with our towed vehicle throughout this fine country of ours. Then one day I was offered a copy of a mapping tool for planning our future travels - Microsoft Streets and Trips! And since this discovery it has assisted us in travels from Texas to the Florida Keys all the way up to Maine and back again to Texas. It helped us again leaving Texas to the west through Las Vegas up to Washington State and then down the west coast to San Diego. And recently it helped us get from San Diego back to Texas and now to where we are in North Carolina. We love our Microsoft Streets and Trips!

What do we like most about Microsoft Streets and Trips?

  • it is not a very complex software application so it is very easy to use
  • it assists in our travels by the use of overlay files that point out such things as  bridges too low for our rig and other significant items of interest
  • it has a USB plug-in GPS device that can be useful to verify routes and locations
  • it is wonderful in travel planning by allowing a lot of “what if’s” – such as what if we stayed here what route would it take us to get to our next location…
  • it can be kept private by the safeguards of our own computer unlike Google… but then of course we tell everyone where we are going in a blog anyhow :)
  • one of the biggest plusses is that it works offline on a laptop when we are not near any cellular signals
  • it provides us the opportunity to use a much larger screen than we would get on a smartphone GPS or Garmin GPS
  • it provides free for the lifetime of the software updates on construction happenings which is very useful for our travels
  • it is really good for planning day trips in showing us options available for driving loops to and from a destination

As mentioned above one of the big reason’s I love this program is with the addition of overlay files called POI’s. POI are files that overlay items such as state parks, low bridges, restaurants, banks or any other “Points of Interest” you can imagine as long as someone has taken the time to plot them all on a map. The very best POI is the POI Megafile. This continuously updated files provides overlays of a huge of assortment of POI’s including state parks, freightliner and caterpillar service centers, camping worlds and even the arbitrary POI’s such as In and Out Burgers and Trader Joe locations. Sweeeet!!!


Now don’t get me wrong we still use Google Maps but now we use it as a supplement with for us its most useful feature is the ability to put it on Satellite Mode to get down to the Street View and see what we might encounter in tight spots. Funny fact is when you go to street view of our old house in Google Maps and look real close at the front door you can see Sharon shaking out our carpets (look at above photo at front door - Hah! Google caught her…).

Also we use Google Maps street view to check out new campsites and if we can’t use street view (like where we are now) we use the Satellite Mode to get a feel for what we can expect at our next location see below:


Since it is great sharing information, do any of you use this software? What do you use if you don’t use it? If you do use it what do you like best about it?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Southern Pines, North Carolina…

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imageWhen we first came to this part of North Carolina two years ago we kind of fell in love with the small towns in and around the village of Pinehurst. However, one town stood out as a place we might consider as a place to live longer term. That was the town of Southern Pines, NC.

Southern Pines is located in Moore County on the eastern edge of the Piedmont section of the state of North Carolina and is in an area known as the Sandhills. A small town of around 12,000 inhabitants it was Incorporated in 1887. There are many small towns and villages nearby offering lots of varied entertainment and activities.

With over 200 lakes and ponds in this area it was attractive to the Highland Scots that first settled the area in the late 1700's. This is despite the fact that most settlers passed over the sandy soils found in this region. The Highland Scots immigrated here to escape the harsh environment in Scotland at the time. There is evidence that many Scots still live in this area and imagewe were even treated the some entertainment provided by some Harriers at one of the local watering holes.

There are over 40 championship golf courses within a 15 minute drive so if you are a golfer this is the place to be. There are also some great artists and musicians in this area as well. Many master potters live there and many have shops along Pottery Road. We have mentioned the musicians in past blogs before but we do always look forward to listening to live entertainment whenever we can. The mild climate in Southern Pines has also become an attractive home for horse people and horses. We also mentioned in the past the harness training track in Pinehurst as a fun place to visit.

imageWhile our daughter and roommate visited we took them into downtown Southern Pines. Advertised as ”the most dynamic small town that you'll ever see” Southern Pines has a nice collection of shops, restaurants and nightlife along with its theatre, music and arts scene. We enjoyed walking in and out of the many shops and had we stayed longer we could have had the choice of many quaint bistros, pubs or ice cream stops. Our current favorite pub, however, is in the nearby village of Pinehurst at Maxie’s.

Every time we are in this area we really enjoy ourselves so is this a future place for us to live sometime in the future? Only time will tell because for now our love for the open road still beckons...

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Visit to Pinehurst, NC…

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Heritage Campground 046No trip to this part of North Carolina’s Sandhills region is complete without visiting the village of Pinehurst in Moore County. A small village of just under 10,000 residents it is home to the Pinehurst Resort a well known spot to golfers worldwide. In fact the Pinehurst Resort will host the PGA Golf Championships in 2014. What does this mean to the economy here? Well if you simply look at the RV park we are staying at for $400 per month, the Heritage Campground 042rate for a 15 day stay during the PGA Event will change to a tidy sum of $1125.00. I trust they will get it and probably be packed during this event.

Our daughter Katie and her roommate came over to Heritage Campground to stay with us the past weekend. So of course we took them over to the cool little village of Pinehurst. The single largest attraction other than the golf courses in Pinehurst has to be the Carolina Inn. The Carolina Inn has been open to guests since 1901 This magnificent century old hotel complete with its “signature copper cupola and sweeping verandas make you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time to anHeritage Campground 053 era when elegance defined grand hotels and resorts.”  As beautiful as it is a stay here it is not cheap as the lowest rate available at this time is for $222 per person, not per room. At least it includes both breakfast and dinner…

Spring in Pinehurst is a particularly nice time to visit as the dogwoods and azaleas in late April and early May will be in full bloom making this very picturesque village all the more a treat to the eyes. After we walked around the Pinehurst Resort grounds and spent some time in the rocking chairs on the Heritage Campground 032veranda of the Carolina Inn we strolled over to the small but quaint village. There were a few square blocks of shops catering mostly to the higher socioeconomic classes has shops that offer some fine wines, exotic olive oils, and high end consumer goods. We even noticed a few nice spots to enjoy a cold adult beverage inside or outside on a garden terraces.

We will visit this little town often while staying nearby to watch the changing of its colors as the azaleas reach their peak colors very soon…

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Maness Pottery and Music Barn, Carthage, NC…

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While staying at the Heritage Campground, Amy our campground hostess stopped by to suggest that we stop by Maness Pottery and Music Barn in Carthage. Why? I mean what do pottery and music have in common? Well as we found out this is the place to be on a Tuesday night as this is where many of the locals gather to enjoy good music, good food, and good company.

As we drove up to the Maness Pottery Barn the first thing we noticed was the lack of anything looking like pottery. It turns out the proprietor Clyde Maness had once actually sold a little of everything from his Pottery Barn, including pottery for a while but not any longer. However one thing consistent for the past 39 years has been that Clyde invited his neighbors to his place every Tuesday night for a Maness Pottery and Music Barn 011community jam session. Upon entering the barn we discovered a crowd in the front room either chatting, tuning instruments or grouped in circles singing and playing. In the next room we we saw what resembled a large family reunion or church gathering as tables were piled high with potluck dishes. We saw a plastic jug with a slit open on top holding donations made by those choosing to donate for the dinner here as well.

The next room revealed a large stage and plenty of comfortable chairs.  Along one side was a specially made dance floor. The music goes from 6 to 10 p.m. and Clyde lets bands play their style of music on stage for 20 minutes at which time before sending another band up to play. I mean nearly a dozen bands will show up every Tuesday night for a jam session where they get no pay and there is no cover charge. A cardboard box was passed through the crowd once while we there where the audience had the option to toss in a few bucks to help Clyde offset the cost he incurs to provide this musical event every Tuesday night.

imageThe musicians come form all over this part of North Carolina and are typically composed of people who might be lawyers, accountants or policemen in the nearby towns. What do they play? Well the night we went there was a mix of country, bluegrass and gospel some with vocals and some simply acoustic. No amplifiers or electrical guitars here just banjos, guitars, bass and mandolins. Mostly bluegrass (one of my favorite venues of music) was played and nearly every time a band would crank up some bluegrass the local dancers called Cloggers (a style of folk dancing) would flock to narrow wooden dance floor and they would dance, many with metal taps tapping loudly with the beat of the music.

More than 200 friends, neighbors, and visitors such as us were in attendance this past Tuesday night. Each person there seemed to have a great time either listening to the music on the main stage, chatting or playing cards in a room nearby, eating some home cooked vittles in the dining area or enjoying watching the musicians in the front room queuing up to play next.

Maness Pottery and Music Barn 007In the front room we had the opportunity to meet Clyde Maness a lively energetic fellow who has lots of stories to share with anyone who is willing to listen. For nearly 40 years he has cooked up his famous pinto beans and potato salad. He proudly shared that his barn jam has been televised and featured in many music magazines. Besides a lively chat with Clyde we loved watching the collection of musicians waiting to play next as they would tune up their instruments, break out in smaller jam sessions while warming up or trading guitar notes with each other.

What a hoot! If you are ever in this part of North Carolina on a Tuesday night you really must stop by Charlie Maness’s Pottery and Music Barn where even the parking is free… Find it at 10995 N.C. Highway 24/27 just west of the small town of Carthage, N.C. 28327. This little southern cultural event is a great thing to experience in this quaint spot in the Piedmont of North Carolina…

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Thoughts on Early Spring in North Carolina…

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Heritage Campground 012As we mentioned in our last blog one reason we are staying put in this part of North Carolina for a month is to let the mother nature catch up to us. We left the Rio Grande Valley of Texas several months ago but every since we left that part of the Lone Star State we have been staying where ever spring was beginning to peek out. Well we have now gotten a bit too far north and spring is just starting here…

One of my favorite seasons is spring! The Flowering Dogwoods (header photo), Azaleas and Yellow Jasmine are the early bloomers in this part of the world. What I like most about spring is the that all the plants seemingly have a new lease on life and the rebirthing of the greenery abounds everywhere. Other than the beautiful wildflowers that are displayed each spring I love the brilliant “fresh” greens that emerge from the buds of the trees. The color of green new born leaves have is a color that seemingly exists in nature only during the briefest time in early spring.

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Right after these new leaves emerge they begin to resemble miniature likenesses of the mature leaves found on the plant they inhabit. The freshness of this color of green is due to the fact that these leaves have not had the time to fully armor themselves from the elements. They have not had to weather the blistering sun and the detrimental elements that mother nature will undoubtedly cast upon them. When they due they will lose this vibrant color of green and take on a darker and less brilliant shade of green resembling most leaves of all the other species trying to conquer the elements.

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Heritage Campground 039Depicted in today’s blog are some of the early budding trees found in much of the Southeastern Forests found in much of the forested southeastern USA. As I pen this blog other spring creatures are emerging as I am listening to the ethereal sound of the wood thrush. For those of you who have not heard this song (or were unaware you did) you should take the time out of your day to absorb the trill and melodic sounds the spring denizens emit.

The colors and sounds of spring are equal to those of fall… This nomadic lifestyle allows us to enjoy extended versions of my two favorite seasons…

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Heritage Campground, Carthage, NC…

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As Saturday morning rolled around we watched most of the other class participants of the Freightliner School take off and head back home. As the only full timers attending the class we took, we were, of course last to leave. Got to love this lifestyle as there is no real sense of time… of having to get somewhere fast or having to hurry up and leave. We made our coffee and had a nice breakfast before finally rolling out around 10:30 am.

From Gaffney, SC we made our way into North Carolina and traveled through Charlotte NC. Another 100 or so miles down the road and we Heritage Campground 003came to the entrance of the Heritage Campground in Carthage, North Carolina. We found this campground two years ago while staying in the Southern Pines/Pinehurst area. Now we didn’t stay here last time because we were apprehensive driving our motorhome down the 6 tenths of a mile narrow dirt road that was lined with pine trees. Now that I have a couple of years of driving Abbey all over the USA I had no worries about getting us into our our site.

Heritage Campground is a privately owned park that is adjacent to a beautiful and scenic spring fed lake. Each site consists of a nicely appointed space covered with mature pine trees and has a foundation of hard packed sand – resembling concrete. Our site had been recently raked and thus free of pine needles and cones. We have a small fence on one side that gives us a sense of a “yard” and we have ample space between our rig and others.

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There is a mix of transients such as us, permanent residents, and temporary residents who travel to this area frequently for work. The park has several nice amenities such as the nice little beach and swimming area in the spring fed lake. We came here for several reasons… one we to visit with our daughter who lives nearby. Another reason is that we really love this area in the spring time as there is plenty to do. And lastly we are here since we felt as if we may be far enough north for this time of year weather wise and thus, need to stay a south a while before heading any further north.

Heritage Campground 035Therefore, since the Freightliner class brought us further north than we had originally planned to be in April we went ahead a booked a month long stay here at Heritage Campground. Although we actually might only stay 3 weeks or so it is much more economical to book a month-long stay so that's what we did. Four hundred dollars plus utilities will allow us to enjoy some upcoming spring festivals and fun little places we discovered last time we traveled through this area. This is the first time we have returned to a place we have been before not counting the Gaffney Service Center stay and our old home College Station, TX. We are interested to see if we like it as much as we did the first time we visited this area… stay tuned…

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Camp Freightliner, Gaffney, South Carolina…

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Camp Freightliner 005Thursday was our first day of class at Camp Freightliner so Sharon and I got up early to make it in time for the 8:00 am start which was really early for Sharon… Fortunately the coffee was brewing and soft drinks and water were also provided. As soon as we entered the class we were greeted by the instructor Mike Cody and given a binder containing several hundred pages with an outline of the content to be covered in class over the next two days. The information in each class participant's binder was specific to their motorhome down to the VIN number of the rig. Information such as the date the chassis was actually ordered and built as well as detailed information about all the items installed by Freightliner on the chassis were included.. This information alone was worth the cost of the class!

Camp Freightliner 016The class started off a bit slowly as Mike introduced himself and we introduced ourselves to the other participants but soon we were off to the races as Mike began covering a lot of material about each of our motorhomes. It didn't take too long to learn that Mike is a southern boy (even though he spent a good amount of time in California) and if his accent doesn’t give it away his vernacular and humor certainly will. After the first day it was apparent there is an awful lot to know about our rigs and that Mike probably knows more about each of our rigs than the class collectively knows about any one of them. This guy knows his stuff…

Camp Freightliner 015The first day went by pretty fast and other than a small morning break and a break for a tasty lunch (provided by Freightliner from a local establishment) we were bombarded with a wealth of information. Before we knew it it was time for the first day of class to end. After a little Question and Answer session we were dismissed but told to return before long for a bar-b-que dinner also to be provided by Freightliner from another local establishment. Meal time provided us the opportunity to visit one and one with Mike as well as our fellow classmates. A special treat for us was one of the participants was celebrating his 60th birthday and his lovely bride made a very delicious birthday cake to share with the class, lucky us!

Day two started especially early since we had some very active thunderstorms roll through that night that made sleeping in a motorhome a bit uneasy. The Camp Freightliner 012second day was a much longer day as more questions were asked by the participants. Now let me make this clear that although it felt at times the class was wandering off course we found that by listening closely to the questions others asked and to Mike's answers to these questions was where many of the real gems of information came forth. These non-textbook answers and the follow up was where much of the real applicable information was gained.

Camp Freightliner 010What we felt Camp Freightliner did for us in this class was to take all the information we already had available to us within our owners manuals or on the internet and repackage it for us in a format very specific to our needs. For example I now have at my fingertips pictures of all my schematics, step by step instructions on how to do some of my own maintenance if I chose to and easier to use formats for record keeping with regard to maintenance.  More importantly I have the knowledge necessary to ensure I will not be taken advantage of in the service of my coach, Remember, a little knowledge can be dangerous!

Camp Freightliner 009A big surprise also came when after two years of driving our FRED, we felt sure we understood the mode switch on our 2100 series Allison transmission only to discover through attending this class that we were using it wrong!  I assumed that when engaging the mode button on highways I was using it much like in our old Toyota Camry to increase gas mileage, but this is not true at all for the motorhome as that button provides no benefit on flat stretches of road!  It actually works best providing economy when traversing those small but annoying hills where there is a constant gear shift from 5th to 4th and back to 5th or when accelerating through the gears such as when in stop and go city traffic.   This is an example of the cool information specific not only to our chassis but to our style of driving that we learned that will benefit us in the future.

Camp Freightliner 004For Sharon the class was invaluable for other reasons. She had been so intimidated by her lack of knowledge that she feared what the class could offer for her. However after attending the class she now feels so much better about the function of our motorhome and fully understood most of what was presented in class.  This knowledge has made her excited about knowing even more. These last couple of days we have actually had more productive discussions about the inner workings of the motorhome than we ever had prior.  I know had I ever attempted to teach her the basics I envision there would not have been this level of excitement from her (undoubtedly more yawning and deference would have been involved). So after this class it is nice to have her now excited to be part of the process of motorhome maintenance.

We can’t give out a lot of really cool generic information since most of the reallyCamp Freightliner 011 cool information we came away with was more specific to our FRED chassis and our style of driving. Our opinion is that anyone choosing to invest in this class will more than likely get the tuition fully refunded in savings achieved in driving your particular chassis for better efficiency and mileage and/or in properly servicing your chassis. We say, take the class and take it from Mike Cody…man this guy really knows his stuff… and while taking it go ahead and schedule your maintence to be performed at their service center. I mean who is best qualified to work on your chassis that the people who built it!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Made it to Gaffney, SC–Freightliner Service Center…

waiting area in service center

Since we only had a drive of 90 miles or so to make it over to Gaffney, South Carolina we weren’t in a big hurry to leave Hartwell Lake State Park. We decided to take a nice long walk around the lake shore before leaving and finally pulled out of our site by 11:00 am. As we neared Gaffney a representative from the Freightliner Service Center in Gaffney, SC called us to inform us of a brake recall that existed for our motorhome that Gaffney Welcom Signhasn’t been completed. I was totally unaware of this recall and consider myself pretty much on top of these things. They asked if we could get to Gaffney by 1:30 pm so they could start on our rig right away since this recall would take some time to accomplish. Score! Not only was I unaware of the recall but we were going to the best place to have it fixed. Thanks for the heads up Freightliner!

We pulled in and unhitched the car and no sooner had we done so a Freightliner mechanic came out to discuss what was going to be done on Abbey. He asked us if we had any questions and he took Abbey straight to a bay to begin work on her. We drove into town and had lunch at an east coast fast food eatery called Cook Out. Inexpensive and quite tasty… and yes we will eat at another one of these places once of these days. As we returned to see Abbey we were told that they would need more time to finish the bays in service centerwork which was fine by us since we will be attending the Freightliner Class Thursday Morning.

Thursday morning comes bright and early now that we are on the eastern time zone. The first day of class at Camp Freightliner starts this morning. We have been on the road now for a bit over two years so why take the Freightliner class now? I thought we might not learn anything worth while at Camp Freightliner after two years on the road but then I realized I would probably learn more now that I would have when we first started. When we first hit the road a class such as this may have been information overload for us but now that we know a little bit more about our rig I am looking forward to learning much more from this class.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Tire Repairs, Lake Hartwell SC, Clemson University…

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Tire Issues Clemson Lake Hartwell SC 079Monday was a day spent making many phone calls trying to locate a tire. Best Tire and Auto Center told me they could sell me a Goodyear tire whereas another dealer tried to talk me into some Firestones. After researching the Firestones it was apparent they were rated to support 1800 lbs. of weight less per axle on the front. As much as I wanted to save nearly $200 for the tire I bought the one Tire Issues Clemson Lake Hartwell SC 080from Best Tire and Auto. Even better they offered to come out to the state park to install it and did a great job – total cost $770 bucks – YIKES! Expensive but worth the peace of mind in replacing the tire that was nearing a blow out…

One last hike over to the falls before we left Alabama and we then watched the NCAA’s that night. Wow!, what a great game last night in the finals of Men’s Basketball. Too Tire Issues Clemson Lake Hartwell SC 081bad the officiating this year in the tournament was not very good. Congrats to Louisville as they fought off a tough Michigan team.I went to bed a little later than normal but after a good nights sleep we left Chewacla State Park early Tuesday morning to make our way through Atlanta.  I wanted to be in the heart of city no later than 11:00am.

Tire Issues Clemson Lake Hartwell SC 075As it turned out making our way on Interstate 85 through Atlanta was uneventful which was a very welcome event. A few hours later we entered into South Carolina where we settled into a nice pull through site at Lake Hartwell State Park. Since we are only staying one night (because we had to stay longer at our last location to fix the tire) we were going to leave the car attached. Then we discovered that we were less than a half hour away from Clemson University. As many of you know we love visiting institutions of higher learning so we made the quick trip over to tour Clemson.

Tire Issues Clemson Lake Hartwell SC 074We didn’t have a lot of time to explore the University but did a drive through most of the major facilities and we stopped to take a picture or two of the Clemson House. The students were outside enjoying the sunshine and from the appearance of the vegetation here it is still quite early in the spring season. Trees are just starting to bud much like they were in College Station, TX when we left there about a month ago… Now I know why I like the south! Nevertheless there were still many flowering pear and plum trees adding color to the roadside along with the requisite Dogwoods and Yellow Jasmine.

Tomorrow we will make the short drive over to Gaffney, South Carolina where we are looking forward to once again seeing the peachy water tower there. We will be staying behind the Freightliner Service Center while we have the motorhome serviced and while we attend the Freightliner school on Thursday morning. It has been a long time since we have been in school and even longer since we have had to sit in one spot for more than a couple of hours…we'll have to see how it goes...

Monday, April 8, 2013

Auburn University…

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Auburn University 008We hadn’t planned to be in the Auburn area this long but had stay to for a couple of reasons. First and foremost was a tire issue with one of our front tires which we were planning to tend to while we were at Gaffney Freightliner in SC. I have been watching the tire closely and it now appears unsafe for any further travel adventures down the road. We decided we really must have it replaced right away. The other reason we lengthened our stay is that we like this state park and the college town of Auburn.

We spent some time leisurely walking around the Auburn University campus and the some of the buildings are quite spectacular, especially Samford Hall. There was also an earth Auburn University 001day festival going on in the Auburn Arboretum where we had a nice stroll. While we were walking around admiring the campus it appeared as if the sororities and fraternities were enjoying an Old South themed day in the front lawn of Samford Hall playing croquet.The ladies were in dresses and floppy hats and the men were in khakis and polo shirts.The themed event added to the picturesque spring day.

Auburn University 012Sharon also noticed there was a softball series being played this weekend so we decided to watch the Sunday afternoon game.  The stadium was very nice and there was a big crowd there to enjoy the game with us.  It was a slugfest and a back and forth game down to the last inning where Ole Miss spoiled the hope of the home team for a three game sweep.  The final score was 11-9.

We were a bit confused at first with the War Eagle vs. Tigers words printed in several locations. So a quick search on Google gave us clarification regarding these two names. It turns out that Auburn University’s nickname is the TIGERS and "WAR EAGLE!" is their battle cry. Now we understand the campus lingo a little bit better.

Auburn, AL 023With the flowering dogwoods and the azaleas in bloom it was sure enjoyable walking around the campus but not nearly as enjoyable as walking around this scenic state park we are in. We took several hikes in and around the state park and  noticed there are tons of mountain biking trails. One of the shorter but scenic trails took us around the lake over to the spill off to the remnants of an old CCC built dam. The spill off results in a really beautiful waterfall that was quite an unexpected treat.

The rest of our time the last few days was spent on researching RV tires and seeing what was available in this town or nearby.The park ranger was helpful in Auburn, AL 014providing reputable dealers and I finally found a place that can get me a replacement tire like the ones we have now, Goodyear G670’s. Although they are very pricey the next best local option were some Firestone tires that are much cheaper but don’t support nearly the weight load the Goodyear tires do. So we will get the new tire installed and then continue the trek to Gaffney where we will begin the Freightliner school on Thursday…