Here We Go A Fossiling

Given a choice between the mountains and the beach I’ll choose the mountains every time. There’s just something about the mountains that makes my heart happy and fills my soul with peace. I love the scenery, the wildlife and, even during the hottest times of the year, the mountains usually bring at least a slight relief from the heat. (Summer in the South is frequently like living in a sauna.) However, the beach is Kenn’s happy place. He and his family spent a week at the beach every summer and the memories of those times still hold a special place in his heart. Over the years we’ve each learned to appreciate the other’s favorite.

I’ll admit, it took me a while to learn how to enjoy the beach. The two biggest hurdles for me were 1) I can’t swim and 2) I’m a redhead; I practically burst into flames in the sun. (We won’t get into my irrational fear of sharks.) For years, most of our trips to the beach consisted of me coating myself in sunscreen and sitting in the shade watching Kenn and our boys cavort in the surf while I silently counted the days and hours until we could leave. Eventually, I learned that even a non-swimmer can have fun wave-surfing on a boogie board. (Aside from one trip to the ER when a rogue wave slammed my foot into the ground. Fortunately, my toe wasn’t broken; I just had a lovely purple toe/foot for a few days.)

But, the thing that truly taught me to appreciate the beach are fossils. I love getting out and scouring the shoreline for shark’s teeth and other fossils. Over the years I’ve found hundreds of shark’s teeth and met another fossil hunter who helped me identity other items as fossilized sting ray barbs and puffer fish mouth plates. When the time comes for me to shuffle off this mortal coil my boys will have to decide what to do with all of the baggies filled with my beach finds. (I hope they’ll do more than just toss them in the trash.) Fossil hunting in the Peace River in Florida is on my bucket list.

The fossil finds from our latest beach trip

Now I just need to figure out how to spend more than three days at the beach without being ready to lose my mind from boredom. (Not even fossil hunting has been enough to change that.)

Until next time, happy trails!

The Electronic Tattletale

Prior to our purchase of Ruby the Big Red Truck, my research focused on things such as tow capacity, reliability, and longevity. While I know all of those things will serve us well, it’s the little previously unknown/unexpected features that I enjoy. I love the big, bulky interior door handles and the loud clicking of the turn indicator. However, far and away my favorite feature on the whole truck is the “lane assist” which beeps to let you know when you drift too far to one side or the other of your lane; we call this feature the electronic tattletale.

Image from Depositphotos.com

Kenn has always had a tendency to “wander” when he drives so he’s not as big a fan of the electronic tattletale as I am since he is the one she most often tattles on. Early on, he turned the lane assist off but I insisted that it stay on. (My truck, my rules.) Prior to Ruby and her electronic lane assist, that function belonged to me. A common complaint was that I missed a lot of the scenery in our travels because I was watching the road – even when I wasn’t the one driving.

During our trip to Amicalola Falls State Park, Kenn stumbled across another feature of the electronic tattletale. We were traveling along a curvy mountain road with Kenn behind the wheel and Ruby beeping on a regular basis. Suddenly, Kenn laughed. Apparently his “wandering” passed some threshold; he said a picture of a coffee cup popped up on the control panel with a note that it was time to take a break. Well played, Ruby! (Ruby’s dashboard/control panel are like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise in comparison to our older Toyotas.) I have to say, I’m enjoying my new found freedom in the passenger’s seat. It’s nice to be able to relax and watch the world go by instead of always being focused on the road.

What are your favorite features on your vehicle? (Heated seats are a close second to the electronic tattletale for me.)

Until next time, happy trails!

Review: Fall Creek Falls State Park

Fall Creek Falls State Park is located in Spencer, Tennessee. Kenn and I visited the park in October, which, thanks to the changing leaves is a beautiful time of year to be in the mountains. Fall Creek Falls features 222 campsites in five different areas. (The areas are called, appropriately enough, A, B, C, D, and E.) Picking a campsite based on not-to-scale park maps and thumbnail site photos can be a crap shoot. Most of the time everything works out fine; this trip was one of the few times it did not.

Our reservation was for a site in Campground C. As the saying goes, first impressions are important. When we pulled into Campground C my first impression was “Nope, nope, nope. I want to go home.” That’s not the feeling you want to have at the end of an 8-9 hour drive. Nothing about Campground C appealed to me: there were few trees and the sites were on top of each other. Our site was at the end of a tiny strip of land wedged in between two roads. Getting our travel trailer backed in was more stressful than usual since we had several people standing around watching. (This is also where I learned that I’m not supposed to use “left” and “right” when giving Kenn directions on backing in; I’m supposed to use “driver’s side” and “passenger’s side”.) Most campsites have room for the tow vehicle somewhere near the camper; this one did not. Once we got the travel trailer wedged in, there was another site to one side and a picnic table on the other. We had to park the truck on the other side of the picnic table and pray that it didn’t get hit since it was perilously close to sticking out into the road. Keep in mind, at the time of this visit we were using both a smaller travel trailer (RPOD 180) and a smaller tow vehicle (Toyota Tacoma) than we are using now. Neither one of us was happy. After discussing what we were going to do, Kenn talked to one of the park rangers who gave us a list of sites that would be available the next day. We drove around and viewed all of the sites before choosing the one we thought would best suit us and reported back to the park ranger.

Fall Creek Falls State Park

We spent the next day exploring the park without ever wandering too far from the campgrounds since we had to keep driving back to see if the site we were moving to had been vacated. (Checkout time was at 1pm; the site was finally vacated somewhere between 2pm and 3pm.) The new site was a HUGE improvement over the first one and even had a sewage hookup. Once we got moved and set back up we continued our explorations and got to enjoy a beautiful sunset.

Fall Creek Falls State Park

Now that we had a great site, we were looking forward to the rest of our stay. Alas, it was not meant to be. Shortly before we settled in for the night I got blindsided by a stomach virus. It was a long, miserable night most of which I spent on the couch so my fever-induced tossing and turning wouldn’t bother Kenn. The next morning we decided just to pack it in and head home; I didn’t feel like doing anything and we were afraid that if we stayed, Kenn might come down with it about the time we were scheduled to leave. (Fortunately, he never did.)

All in all, Fall Creek Falls State Park is definitely worth a visit – as long as you avoid Campground C, LOL.

Until next time, happy trails!

Google Maps vs. Waze

I am directionally challenged. Knowing which direction is which does not come naturally to me like it does to my husband, Kenn. I can work out directions if I know the time and can see the sun but that method isn’t particularly helpful in bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic. In spite of my directionally challangedness my primary function during our travels over the years has been that of navigator. (Many of our biggest traveling arguments have revolved around navigation. Translation: my hubby refusing to follow the directions given.) Map apps were a life changer for people like me.

Over the years, Google Maps has been our go-to map app. Prior to our road trip in 2019 Kenn decided that we should give Waze a try. It took me a bit to get the hang of Waze, but once I did, I really liked it. There are a wide variety of voices to chose from; my favorite was Kate with her proper British accent. (I thought Cookie Monster would be cute. I was wrong. Adding “om nom nom” after everything drove me nuts so the Cookie Monster voice was in use for less than a minute.) Waze has a game-like vibe that allows you to unlock achievements by collecting “candy” for various actions. Waze showing our speed in comparison to the current speed limit was helpful even though it wasn’t enough to keep us from getting a speeding ticket in the mail from Sioux City, Iowa a couple of weeks after we got home. (insert facepalm here) I also like the capability for users to mark and unmark things such as accidents, debris in the road, etc. in real-time. In my opinion, Waze also does a much better job with pronunciations; Google Maps garbles the simplest of names much less complicated ones. The biggest problem we had with Waze was that it relied on the availability of a cell signal instead of GPS. There are a lot of places in this big, beautiful country where there is no cell service; since we were traveling through a lot of those areas, we eventually had to revert back to Google Maps in order to have reliable information.

Image courtesy of http://www.depositphotos.com

One of the biggest problems with map apps in general becomes apparent when we are towing our travel trailer. When towing we avoid interstates and big cities as much as possible. However, map apps interpret “avoid highways” as “please take me down every crappy side road possible”. We’ve had Maps try to route us down roads that specifically forbid travel trailers, fire service roads, and a road leading under a railroad track with insufficient clearance for our travel trailer – this in spite of the fact that within sight distance, less than a block away, was a road that went over the railroad tracks. So far, we’ve been able to avoid these potential fiascoes. I’m waiting for the day we make the local news in some town because we’ve brought traffic to a complete halt due to following the directions of our map app. In my opinion, what we really need is either a separate app for those of us towing or a towing option in the current apps that is smart enough to allow us to avoid interstates and those roads that aren’t travel trailer friendly. App developers, are you listening?

Have you had any harrowing experiences due to map apps?

UPDATE: Since I wrote this post I have discovered an app called CoPilot RV that I will be testing out during our trips over the next few months. I’ll let you know what I think.