VIRGINIA IS FOR LOVERS

They say that Virginia is for lovers and it’s true. Lovers of national parks, hiking, scenic overlooks, nature watching, cavern exploring and night sky star gazing! Virginia is the place for all of those things. I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to do a four day getaway to the beautiful Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.

Shenandoah National Park is one that I have often gone to as a day tripper when visiting friends in Front Royal, Virginia which is at the northern most end of the national park that runs north to south in the rolling hills of Virginia.  Its 105 mile Skyline Drive along the ridge is a great place to take a Sunday drive, stopping at the many scenic overlooks along the way. I had always wanted to spend more than a few hours there and get a little further south along Skyline Drive to capture some of the beautiful vistas there.

 

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HAPPY CAMPERS

One of the best parts of promoting Girl Camping is watching women go from thinking that it looks like a fun thing to do, to actually going on their first campout. I have had the pleasure of mentoring many women in the beginning of their journey before passing them off to someone back in their geographical area for their first official campout.  It’s disappointing not to be there for the fun part but I recently got to experience the excitement of three first time Girl Campers at our annual Kickoff Campout at Turkey Swamp Campground in Jackson, NJ.

The excitement had actually been building for months within our online community. Facebook comments and shares about gear and menus and the potential for bad weather abounded. To manage the excitement of an upcoming camping trip it helps to talk a lot about it. We booked the first weekend the park was open knowing the weather could be unseasonably warm or annoyingly cold! We didn’t care. The winter was too long and part of the fun of camping is dealing with the elements.

 

Making camp with the girls is half the fun. Everyone lends a hand to make it happen. Jean created centerpieces from the downed pine branches from the previous nights windy storm. 

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TYBEE ISLAND

It’s hard to beat the charm of a southern coastal town, especially in late February when the northeast is still buttoned up for winter. When I saw an event posted with the Sisters on the Fly for Tybee Island, Georgia, I jumped on the opportunity. Tybee Island, off the coast of northern Georgia, has long been on my hit list and since February is my “slow season” I figured, “why not?” Right off the bat I decided that I would not pull my trailer down there but instead stay in the campgrounds rental cottages. My trailer was still winterized and with so many campgrounds now offering the cabin rental option I decided it was a good time to experience this growing trend in the industry. We booked our cabin at the only campground on the island, Rivers End Campground and RV Park. The spare but comfortable cabins suggest a maximum occupancy of six but unless you are a very close knit group I would say more like four. There was a nice rear bedroom with a double bed and then a set of bunkbeds in what amounted to the hallway. We didn’t mind, we were there to fish, explore Tybee and historic Savannah and catch up with our sister friends.

 

Sweetie Pies was still closed for the season when we were there but locals say the ice cream served there is worth the wait in line to get it.

 

Tybee is a barrier island on the most northern coastal tip of the state of Georgia. It has one of the most beautiful and most photographed lighthouses in the country. The lighthouse is positioned at the mouth of the Savannah River and when the ninety-foot structure was first constructed in 1736, it was the highest structure in the country. Today it is a historically preserved site that sits on five acres and popular tourist attraction. It is one of just a few 18th century lighthouses still in operation. We arrived to see it only thirty minutes before closing but enjoyed every bit of it. I will definitely allow a half a day for this treasure on my next trip.

 

At one time the Tybee Island Lighthouse was the tallest structure in the US.

 

The island became a refuge for the crowded citizens of Savannah at the end of the 19th century and many of the bungalow beach cottages still exist today. Tybee residents apparently like a good parade and there are several each year including the Mardi Gras parade that the Sisters on the Fly participated in this year. Each year the town hosts a Beach Bum parade the weekend before Memorial Day, where those on the floats and those viewing from the road shoot each other with water guns. I am told it is packed! Mark your calendars for the weekend before Memorial Day if you want to partake!

 

Sisters on the Fly Pat Hoke and Carol Thompson all dressed up for the islands Mardi Gras Parade.

 

After exploring the island’s bungalow buildings and gift shops we headed into Savannah for a tour of the Bonaventure Cemetery. This cemetery was the setting for the book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and sits on 160 acres of a bluff overlooking the Wilmington River. Some of its famous residents are singer and song writer Johnny Mercer and poet Conrad Aiken, but what I found fascinating were the tales of Savannah’s ordinary folks who somehow became immortalized in death. A frequently visited grave is that of little six-year-old, Gracie Watson, the daughter of a hotelier in Savannah who succumbed to pneumonia in the days before antibiotics. Her grave has a beautifully carved sculpture of Gracie by the famous headstone maker of the day, John Waltz. The likeness was said to be so spot on that her parents could not bear to look at it and moved back to New England inspiring town folks to care for poor neglected Gracie. To this day pilgrims visit the cemetery leaving tokens for Gracie. Our guide was part historian, and part storyteller who informed and entertained us on a two hour walking tour that I thoroughly enjoyed. You can tour the cemetery on your own but I highly recommend the guided tour.

 

The Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah had stories to tell. One headstone of a mother said, “she did what she could.” There must be more to that story!

 

Another great guided tour we took in Savannah was on the river boat, the Georgia Queen. The captain took us up and then down the river sharing many points of interest from history as well as modern day. The Savannah River is the fourth largest seaport in the US and it was fascinating to learn the details of how the ships adhere to the tide schedules to get their fare in and out; the role that tug boats play in that operation and what life on the river was like one hundred years ago. We went on the afternoon cruise but there is also a dinner cruise that is highly praised that I will put on my list for next time.

 

 

The Georgia Queen river boat offers two hours tours along the Savannah River with a fascinating narration of the history of this seaport.

 

One of the things I looked forward to the most in anticipating this trip was the opportunity to fish with my friend and fishing mentor Carole. I grew up in a fishing family and belonged to a group called the Young Explorers when I was a kid. My Uncle Bud and Aunt Renee were the group’s leaders and along with my cousins Eddie and Bobby we fished the lakes and rivers in Minnesota. While raising my family the fishing thing got away from me until I joined the Sisters on the Fly and learned to fly fish. One of the best things about owning an RV is that I find myself choosing destinations based on the proximity to great fishing and when I am through fishing I get to go to my home away from home! Carole and I decided to hire a guide for the day to maximize our experience. We were lucky to have gotten the sought after Kai Williams of Awesome Adventures Charters who is a Hilton Head, South Carolina native who grew up on the salt marshes and oyster beds where we planned to fish for red fish. Kai had a 17’ Ranger flat bottomed skiff that allowed us to navigate in the shallows as the tide went out exposing the oyster beds. We spent a great day on the water watching the eagles swoop, red fish jump, and the American Oystercatcher birds secure their dinner. The fish weren’t biting that day but as they say in the fishing world, a bad day fishing beats the best day in the office any day of the week!

 

 

I had a great day on the salt marshes off of Hilton Head fishing on local guide Kai Williams 17′ flat skiff.

 

Part of the fun of belonging to an RV group is the fellowship with others in the RV world and those you meet when traveling. Every time the Sisters on the Fly are at a campground they garner a lot of attention with their festive trailers and love of travel. These ladies have stories to tell because they go places and do things and they take their little homes on wheels with them. The Rivers End Campground hosted the public to a Sisters on the Fly trailer tour with the proceeds going to a local charity. For several hours on Saturday morning the locals poured in from Tybee and Savannah to see the trailers and discover the places you can go when you have an RV.

 

 

The Sister on the Fly trailer tour did not disappoint. Sister Tammy Buchanan has collected everything a well heeled RVer might have owned for her 1970’s era trailer.

 

It’s always great sharing the fun with newbies and RV wannabes but in the end, the best part of any campout is always the quiet time around the campfire at night. It’s the time where we catch up with old friends and get to know new ones and when I am not camping, it’s the part I miss the most.

 

 

New sister Christine DeLong’s 1966 trailer is a page out of history and where we all settled in to enjoy the fire, ocean breezes and star filled sky.

 

 

 

SHALL WE GATHER AT THE RIVER?

Shall we gather at the river?

Where bright angel feet have trod

With its crystal tide forever

Flowing by the throne of God

Robert Lowry, 1864

 

The subtle influence of grandmothers is a topic for poets and psychologists alike. It can supply strength when you think you have none.  It can also carry a loving imprint that tells you who you are no matter what the world seems to be telling you. More often than not, this benevolence comes in the form of an unconditional love. It’s conveyed by the mere “doing” of grandmotherly things. The ironing of a special dress, the unasked for purchase of the item you’ve been eyeing, the cookies on the porch when you most need a friend. Grandmothers have a way of filling the gap. It’s what makes us still miss them decades after they are gone, still think of them when eating a family recipe perfected by them, and still wish we had one more afternoon to just be with them.

Debra Facer, like so many of us, had such a Grandma. Her life would have seemed ordinary to many but she planted seeds of comfort in Debra. Those seeds would bloom when needed and the fragrance of that bloom would remind her of just how extraordinary her grandmother was. The seeds that Debra’s grandmother Dealia, and also her mother Joann, planted in her would bloom and help her to survive childlessness, widowhood at 37 and an ovarian cancer diagnosis.

Dealia the way Debra remembers her – loving life!

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CAUTION: CRAZY CAMPER LADY AHEAD…

When Atlanta area mom, Jacki Wicker, was raising her son and daughter she was too busy to think about what life would look like when they grew up and moved out. When they flew the coop her initial reaction was, “Whew…done!” Then a little time passed and the reality of her new life sunk in. “Whew…done,” was replaced with, “What now?”

Jacki grew up in rugged South Dakota where her Air Force dad and social worker mother took her and her two younger brothers camping all the time. They tent camped until her dad bought a homemade pop-up trailer that had a big bed for her parents and enough floor space for three sleeping bags.

 

 Although Jacki’s daughter did not grow up camping she is game to start three generation campouts with her mom and daughter, Presley.

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