Coming Home

Its a good thing that we were already planning on heading home after the Natchez Trace Parkway. In that sense, the truck fire didn’t change our plans.

Our goal for Friday was to get about half of the rest of the way home today, which would put us just about at Columbus, OH. We found that there was a state park in that vicinity, the Alum Creek State Park, that appeared to have plenty of vacancy, so we set it as our tentative goal. In spite of some bad roads and a severe thunderstorm outside Columbus, OH, we arrived safely at this campground and spent the night in relative peace and quiet.

We were less than 300 miles from home when we woke up outside Columbus, OH, and our plan and goal was to spend the night in our own beds, back at home. We reached our goal, putting an end to the Southern Sojourn of 2018.

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Disaster Day Plus 1

By the end of the day yesterday we had made all the “arrangements” that we could make regarding getting home. We had our rental truck, we had made our insurance claims, and now we needed to wait for a tow truck to come and remove our dead truck. It was parked immediately in front of the camper, and it was not movable, so we just had to wait. We spent the time cleaning and salvaging what we could, but mostly discarding damaged stuff that had been in the truck.

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By about noon, or shortly after, the tow truck guy arrived. We met the driver, a fellow named Lee, who told us about his American Success Story (he started out with nothing and now owns four tow trucks). He was a really nice, Southern, fellow.

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After he removed our truck I was able to get the trailer hitched up to the rental truck. I wasn’t happy about how un-level it was, however. The rental is a much taller truck, and the trailer was nose-up by quite a bit. In order to lower the trailer hitch I would need a couple of very large wrenches, which I do not own. I was able to find an Advance Auto Parts store that was willing to loan me the tools that enabled me to get the job done. I really appreciate the guy at that store who helped me find and use the tools I needed.

 

Of course, by the time we really were able to start putting miles behind us, it was getting fairly late in the afternoon. We chose to give Nashville a fairly wide berth, to avoid rush-hour traffic. At one point, several hours after Lee had driven away with our truck, and a good 75 miles from where he first met up with us, we actually saw him on the highway! We gave each other a wave and a thumbs-up and continued on our way.

 

We found a Corps of Engineers campground called Bailey’s Point Campground in Scottsville, KY, and we called it a day.

Disaster!

Today I discovered that the truck interior had burnt up overnight.

 

You read that right. I opened the door to put some chairs away and noticed an unusual and unpleasant smell. Then I saw melted fabric on the front seatbacks. Then I saw a totally melted center console and smoke damage throughout the cabin. There had been an electrical fire that originated in the center console.

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Total shock!!!

 

In the blink of an eye we went from vacation mode to disaster-response mode.

 

We spent the rest of the day dealing with insurance people, truck-rental people, and an enormous set of chores related to overcoming this disaster. There was no question that the truck was completely unusable. I didn’t even attempt to start it.

 

In spite of the destruction, it was clear to us that God’s hand had been involved in protecting us and was still involved in leading us through this situation. The fire had occurred overnight, and it had completely extinguished itself for lack of oxygen because the windows were up. It could have been so much worse. We were sleeping less than ten feet from the site of the fire. The truck has a 36 gallon gas tank which was more than half full. There was a 5-gallon auxiliary gas tank in the bed of the truck. Draw your own conclusions.

 

In the cab of the truck we had quite a bit of gear stored, and most of it was destroyed. Much of it melted, and what wasn’t melted was soot-covered and smelly. We cleaned what we could, but we had to throw a lot of stuff away. Miraculously, my guitar and mandolin were not destroyed. They were in their cases, and these cases were right next to the spot the fire originated. The cases were destroyed, but the instruments were not damaged. They do smell like the horrible smoke, but I’m hoping I can get a professional cleaner to remedy that.

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Also, miraculously, God sent dear friends of ours to be with us today and help us out. Our plan today had been to go and visit these friends, who live in the area. When I called to cancel, they decided to drive the 90-minutes to come and stand with us. They fed us lunch. They provided moral support. When we found a place to rent us a truck, we learned that we would have to get ourselves to the truck-rental place 60-miles away. These friends drove us to get the truck. Thank you, thank you, thank you to these dear friends Rich and Cyndi. God has resources everywhere, and these wonderful friends were God’s agents on our behalf today. The lovely thing about it is that they were simply acting as friends; they probably didn’t even know how much their presence and their help meant to us.

Trace To The End

Today’s plan was a bit different from our previous four days of driving the Trace. We were only about 50 miles from the northern terminus, so rather than packing up our camper and moving, we planned to leave it where it is and drive to the end and back.

 

Our first goal was to visit the memorial to Meriwether Lewis, who is buried here. A few years ago I learned all I could about the Lewis & Clark Expedition. The expedition’s commander, Meriwether Lewis, was an extraordinary man. He was only about 30 years old when Thomas Jefferson selected him to lead this expedition. I do not know very many 30-year-olds who would be up to the task. Unfortunately, his life ended in tragedy. He is buried at this spot on the Natchez Trace Parkway, so we visited the memorial.

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Some of our guide books recommended a side trip to the little town of Lieper’s Fork. It is billed as a center for arts and Appalachian music. One of the things I like to do when I’m on a trip of this sort is to look for carved birds. I have a collection of them, and I’ve obtained most of them while traveling. It’s a fun hobby. Prices of these things have been going up, however. When I first started collecting, you could get a pretty nice carving for $100. Lately I’ve been running into prices in the $300 range. I haven’t bought any in that price range. Today I saw a carved bird that will hold the record for the highest priced carved bird for a long time. One of the galleries had one on display with a price tag of $2,600. I didn’t buy it. Wasn’t even tempted.

 

In Nashville, the Loveless Café is famous. At least E says it is famous. She has read that people are willing to wait two hours to get a table there! We stopped in about 3:00 PM and didn’t have to wait at all. We got a mid-afternoon “snack,” partly just to be able to say that we ate at the Loveless Café.

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Near the northern end of the Parkway there is a marvelous engineering feat: The Double-Arched Bridge. It was a sight to behold, and a treat to drive over.

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We usually get a photo of the entry signs to National Parks, but on this trip we couldn’t get a good shot as we were entering. So, we took this shot at the end instead:

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On the Trace – Day 4

Our lovely Piney Grove Campground was a few miles off the Parkway, close to milepost 293. Our goal for our overnight tonight was the Meriwether Lewis Campground, on the Parkway, at milepost 385. This left us a lot of time for leisurely explorations of whatever we found along the way. We started the day in Mississippi, traveled through a corner of Alabama, and ended the day in Tennessee.

We took advantage of that leisure time as we took a stroll all the way around the Rock Creek Spring. This spring has beautiful clear blue water that is dammed by a beaver dam. As we rounded one curve on the trail we were shocked to see about a dozen turtles lined up on a log out on the water, sunning themselves. It was the oddest-looking sight!

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We looked and looked for beavers, and I saw some things swimming that I thought might be beavers. But in the end, there was no sure way to be sure what we saw. The likelihood is that it was just more turtles. We counted dozens of them altogether.

On one of our stops, while we were looking at the Buffalo River, I spotted a snake floating along with the current. Earlier in our sojourn, at the Nature Center in Eastpoint, I had had an opportunity to study the markings on various snakes. I was pretty sure that what we were looking at in the Buffalo River was a cottonmouth. After it drifted downstream for a bit, it pulled up and was swimming against the current, right where we were standing. It almost seemed to be looking at us. We were both glad that there was a pretty sizable river bank between it and us.

 

As we drove north, the foliage on the trees became less and less summerlike and more and more springlike. There were more flowering dogwoods; there were more buds and fewer full leaves. Ground-level wildflowers were blooming. Arriving at our campground it was clear that we were making northward progress in our journey.

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On the Trace – Day 3

Most of the highlights of today took place off the Parkway. The on-Parkway notable things were (a) the graves of 13 unknown Confederate soldiers, and (b) a couple of different Native American mounds. Bynum Mounds is a pair of burial mounds, much, much smaller than the Emerald Mound that we saw a couple days ago. These mounds had a totally different purpose. They were more of a memorial to beloved community members.

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The location of the graves of the unknown Confederate soldiers was a short walk from the Parkway. It was a beautiful spring day, with sunlight, wildflowers, and birds singing. In spite of the loveliness, the sight of the graves left a somber feeling. The Civil War is an unimaginable tragedy in our nation’s history. Seeing these graves made me bring this tragedy to mind and ponder its causes. I’m troubled today to think that people are actively trying to remove physical monuments and memorials of this horrible war. We all wish it were not a part of our history, but we cannot just erase it without serious consequences.

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In Tupelo we left the Parkway to see the birthplace of Elvis. Neither of us is a huge fan of Elvis or his music, but his place in American pop history is undeniable. It was fascinating to see the humble home in which he began his life and to read about his early years.

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Before we left the Parkway for our overnight location we stopped at another Native American mound. This one, Pharr Mound, was notable for its amazing field of wildflowers.

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Our overnight location, off the Parkway, was a Corp of Engineers campground called Piney Grove. Our campsite was absolutely amazing. Both E and I feel that it may well be the nicest campsite we’ve ever had. It was right on the shore of Bay Springs Lake, and it faced east so that we could see the rising full moon. I was able to put the kayak in and paddle around in the calm lake at the time of sunset-moonrise.

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Later, after it was dark, E saw a couple of large creatures swim past, which we believe were alligators. Other wildlife we saw and/or heard here included a hummingbird, loons, and an armadillo.

On the Trace – Day 2

When your plans for the day call for only 100 miles or so of driving, it gives you a very relaxed sense about getting up and getting going in the morning. Our goal was to get from the Timberlake Campground, on the Barnett Reservoir (near milepost 102) to the Jeff Busby Campground at milepost 193 right on the Parkway. Not a very stressful day.

 

Because of our lazy approach to things, we didn’t get on the road until 11:00AM!!

 

Our first stop, and by far the best stop of the day, was at the Cypress Swamp at milepost 122. The park literature states that “a lucky visitor may have a chance to see an alligator” here. There is a relatively short walking trail, with a boardwalk that takes you literally onto the water. I had my doubts about seeing an alligator, because there were quite a few people out on this lovely Saturday afternoon, including some pretty noisy children. We spent about an hour slowly walking the half-mile trail and thoroughly enjoying the swamp.

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After about an hour, with no wildlife sightings, E found some people who pointed out a small alligator on a log out in the midst of the swamp. It was so small, and so far out, that we probably would have missed seeing it without having it pointed out to us. My super zoom feature on my video camera was perfect for this situation.

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I think this fellow was probably only about 2 feet long.

 

Now that we had a better idea of what to look for, and where, we started seeing more things. We saw a big turtle sunning himself. Then we noticed that there was actually a second, smaller turtle right near him. Then, within a few feet of them, there was another gator. A triple play!

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Eventually we found a third gator! I guess we would have to be considered “lucky visitors” by park standards.

 

The rest of the stops along this stretch of the Parkway were enjoyable, but nowhere near as exciting as the Cypress Swamp. We saw more of the sunken trace, we visited the Mississippi Craft Center, we stopped at a place called the French Camp, and we eventually pulled in to the Jeff Busby Campground late in the afternoon.

 

We had been assured by park staff that we would have no problem getting a campsite at this campground. This is a non-reservable, free campground with 18 campsites. I was a bit concerned about getting one of these first-come, first-served sites, arriving as we were, late in the day on a Saturday. As we drove in, the first thing I noticed is that all the sites seemed to be pull-through sites. (This is a type of campsite where you do not have to back your RV in to the parking spot. You pull in, park, stay the night, and then proceed straight on through a sort of a loop to exit the site.) Then I noticed that nearly all of them were full already. Then I noticed that there were far fewer than 18 of them, and some of the ones that were vacant would not adequately fit our truck and trailer combination. I was beginning to think we’d have to find a different campground.

 

I started a second drive through the campground, more slowly this time to see more clearly what was available. This time I noticed that what I had thought were single pull-through sites were actually access drives to multiple sites. In other words, what had looked like a single pull-through site was actually a little driveway to three tent sites. One guy with a truck/trailer combination had pulled in to one of these driveways, blocking it off from allowing others to use it, and had essentially made three tent sites inaccessible. A couple other people had done similar things. That explained why I had not been able to count 18 sites. Since the campground is free, it is also not staffed, so there was no one to control this sort of behavior.

 

I was able to find a spot on one of these little driveways to park our trailer in such a way as to give us access to one of the sites and leave the other sites on that driveway available to others. There was a substantial hillside (drop-off) just outside our camper, leading down to a fire pit and picnic table. Not a super-nice site, but adequate for one night. It was very quiet and very forest-y

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