Thunder Road

There was a line of thunderheads just north of us and another just south, but we managed to slide right through Atlanta with hardly a drop of rain on the windshield.

Sometimes I forget that most people drive cars that allow them to more or less disregard the weather. We don’t. I can drive the bus through a storm, and I have, but if we can avoid it by staying put for a day or leaving a day early, we usually do. When we slide right between two of them, I won’t lie, we feel a little more clever than usual.

We spent our first night back on the road at a small campground somewhere in Alabama. We got up the next day and hit the road early. As is par for the course, we didn’t realize it was Memorial Day until it was really too late to plan for it. Most campgrounds we could find that took reservations were already full. We went with our usual plan, find a campground with no electricity. Take away people’s ability to run the air conditioning and televisions 24/7 and you’re pretty much guaranteed to find an empty campground.

Natchez Trace Parkway photographed by luxagraf

And we did, right in the middle of the Natchez Trace, one of the oldest thoroughfares on the continent. It probably started with big game during the last ice age and then various tribes picked it up as well. By the time Europeans arrived it was pretty much a highway connecting the Choctaw, Natchez and Chickasaw nations. These days it’s a smoothly paved road that doesn’t allow trucks.

The Meriwether Lewis campground is somewhere in the middle, a bit toward Nashville. It’s where the explorer lived and died I believe, though honestly we never made it to the monument.

None photographed by luxagraf
Definitely the most backwoods rig we’ve seen. I’d have taken a better picture, but they wanted money for it, which, uh, yeah, no.

The campground was one of those head scratchers for me. It’s really nice, up on a ridge in the middle of a mostly beech and oak forest, cool breezes, plenty of shade and pretty level sites, a water spigot, bathrooms with flush toilets, trash pickup and yet totally free. I mean I get it, my tax dollars at work, but why not charge a few bucks to cover some of the costs? Like everyone else, I love free camping, but when something is free I don’t expect luxuries like picnic tables and bathrooms. I expect to not be hassled about where I’m parked and not much else. Amenities and free together doesn’t seem sustainable to me, but then I’ve never been over the Interior Department’s books, so what do I know?

Whatever the case we claimed a spot on Thursday and didn’t leave all through the weekend. Memorial Day, survived. We didn’t get a lot of sun, but we managed. By the time we left nearly a week later our batteries were way lower than you should ever let your batteries get. Somehow though ours keep on going though, sorta.

We sat out some thunderstorms, sweating a bit in the bus. Those gloriously huge windows don’t do you much good with it’s storming too hard to have the awning out.

It wasn’t all rain though, usually just a couple of thundershowers around midday and then it would be overcast, but plenty warm enough to head down to the creek and cool off playing in the water, catching frogs, chasing minnows, throwing rocks.

None photographed by luxagraf

little swan creek, Meriwether Lewis campground photographed by luxagraf

little swan creek, Meriwether Lewis campground photographed by luxagraf

little swan creek, Meriwether Lewis campground photographed by luxagraf

little swan creek, Meriwether Lewis campground photographed by luxagraf

We tried to get in the water every day to make sure we got the ticks off us. This part of Tennessee has ticks like nowhere I’ve ever been. Most of them are not deer ticks thankfully, but ticks suck even if they don’t carry some disease.

One afternoon I drove a few miles up the road to dump the tanks at a nearby RV park and couldn’t help noticing how badly rusted our black tank straps had become. It was on my mind because someone in a Facebook group that Corrinne belongs to posted a story about their black tank falling off and smashing all over the ground while they drove through a campground. Awkward.

We already refer to small towns we can’t remember the name of by saying things like, “you know, the one where the fuel line cracked?” or “What was that place, where the rear transmission mount almost fell off?”; “What was that place where you hitchhiked to get a new alternator?”

I really did not want to have one of these that went, “you know, that campground where we dropped the black tank on the ground?”

When I got back from dumping I crawled under the tank with a flashlight to get serious about things and realized that one of our straps was already cracked about halfway through. It is 1969 steel so it probably had some life left in it, but I didn’t want to risk it.

I called a few auto parts stores in the area looking for fuel tank straps, but no one had anything. I ended up driving the Volvo to the nearest good size town, which had a Lowes, and bought some aluminum, some large sheet metal screws and two long drill bit extensions. A couple hours under the black tank and I had a nice new strap in place. The only problem was that when I jacked up the tank to lift it off the old strap, I cracked it. So two days later I was back at the RV park dumped it again, dried the outside and got busy with the fiberglass and resin. Fun times.

Nothing makes a creek bath feel sweet like an afternoon of sweating, fiberglass, and resin.

That night we were sitting around the fire after dinner when a pair of summer tanagers flew right up to us, chatting away as if we didn’t exist. The male sat up in the tree, chirping away, almost like he was giving suggestions to the female that was down on the ground gather sticks and pine needles in her beak. Then they’d fly away and come back a bit later for more.

Summer Tanager, meriwether lewis campground photographed by luxagraf

The whole time they didn’t seem bothered by our presence, even the kids playing quite loudly, at all. It was the start of something of a running theme the last couple weeks in Tennessee — birds just fly right up to us. This morning a hawk landed about 10 feet from us and just sat there on the ground, occasionally looking over at us, but for the most part seemingly unconcerned about our existence.