The Vacation.

PART 3: 8 Days in a Camper. The Chronicles of Ole Bessie, the Final Chapter 

Note: This is the Final Chapter of The Great Abernathy Vacation of 2018.  I would recommend reading Part 1 and Part 2 first to better understand our mindset heading in to the final two days.  I welcome your comments below at the conclusion of this. It is one of the few things that have kept me from losing it throughout the the process of getting our life back in order.

So.  Lets take a moment to recap. The following notable events have occured thus far on this trip:

Augusta Leaves her clothes behind and resorts to wearing Alex’s rather vulgar shirt into Wal-Mart  to shop for new clothes 

Denied Eggs at McDonalds because "somebody in a bad mood"

Within the first 10 minutes of arrival on vacation, our Camper Slideout Breaks in Savannah 

Truck gets trapped in a Downtown Savannah Parking Garage. Roof scraped like hell. Twice. 

Truck makes it safely deep into the Smoky Mountains. (See the cool nerdy video we made on air pressure from the bottom of Gatlinburg to the top of Newfound Gap)

Captain Augusta narrowly survives like... 200 boulders in lazy river inner tube

Alex Loses his iPhone. Snapchat. His life. His means of communication.

Sewage spill bubbles outside the ground just outside our Campsite window

Hundreds of worms are murdered on the ends of our hooks with not a single fish to justify it

Not. One. Fish. Well. Except for the cheatin kind

Robert gets trapped in the rapids. Augusta smiles. 

The Camper's power dies. No one smiles. 

Captain Augusta keeps us all alive down the Nantahala with her powerful commands. I smile. 

Friday, July 27th Part A. The LONG Journey Out.

With a good night's sleep, we awakened and began to pack. Breakfast was...

Wait. (record scratch....)

Lets go back in time to three days before we left to go out of town.  I had a feeling that this journey might be a little tough on my old truck. It was one of those intuition kind of things. I knew the what the journey would look like. (See the Map Below) By looking at the map you can see the points on our trip was going to be a bit of a haul.  Especially at the extreme frequent changes in elevation. I pulled that F250 of mine into a dealership in Cullman the week before we left and was ready to trade her in for a newer, more reliable vehicle. The young guy took one look at Ole Bessie and said "We wont trade for 2009 F250 6.4 Liter Trucks".  At first, I thought he was kidding. Nope. He was serious. So check this out.... I drove a perfectly functioning F250 to a reputable dealership, right? How bad must a vehicle's reputation be when a dealership will refuse to trade for a functioning running truck? Right there in that parking lot, he told me pretty much, to take my pretty little red truck and go drive away. Im not kidding.  I tucked my tail between my legs and drove away. 

For those of you who dont know, (this included me up until that moment), from 2008-2010, Ford Motor Company made one hell of an embarassing engine on their F250 6.4 Liter engines. This diesel engine was plagued with one mishap after another and apparently the cost of repairing them are outrageous and there aren't many dealers who want to pay the cost of having it repaired as soon as it leaves the lot.  When I bought Ole Bessie, I had never owned a diesel. I was just happy that I was getting something strong enough to haul a large pull behind camper, and was getting it at a good deal....I mean...it only had 88,000 miles and it was less that $30,000. And by a diesel truck's standard, those were low miles and a great price. I had no idea what I was getting into.  I bought it from Contemporary Automotive in Tuscaloosa.  My advice to anyone thinking of going there in the future, STAY AWAY. 

(Back to July 27th)

By this time, my poor truck now had a series of issues:  A mailbox shaped dent on the rear fender, a parking lot beam shaped imprint and scratches all across the roof of the cab, A dome light that stays on for extended periods of time due to a door sensor malfunction, a tire pressure sensor malfunction, a left rear blinker/light that doesnt work and a sleeping storm of issues brewing underneath the hood.  I had heard the distant thunder from this storm in recent trips in the past from time to time. I had lost a little power before, but had it checked out and it was, according to Ford at the time, a simple computer issue. (Or so I thought)

After we began preparations to leave that morning, we had a long discussion about how to get out of the Smoky Mountains and to Desoto State park. I wasnt comfortable being so far away, having already spent a small fortune on the camper and endless amounts of fishing supplies with the thoughts of Ole Bessie possibly dying on us in places you can hear banjos playing out your window.  

As we looked at the map, I began to realize we were in for one hell of a journey out of the Smokies and an back up to Lookout Mountain.  I dont know what the hell I was thinking in planning our exit, but the options were limited. Click here to see the potential problems that existed on this course. There were some unavoidable facts. 

1.  We would have to dive deep into the narrow Nantahala Gorge and back out with an overloaded camper.

2. We would have to drive straight through the most narrow passage in Tennessee---The Ocoee River.

3. We would have to make treacherous climb up Lookout Mountain.

These 3 unavoidable points in our journey had me nervous. So the night before, we had actually talked about just driving back home and skipping DeSoto altogether. This single moment in history proved to be one of the more regrettable, poor decisions we ever made on this trip.  We opted to press forward and make the trip to DeSoto anyway. 

Now, Captain Augusta may be a great legendary white water captain, but she doesnt necessarily wag her tail with her head out the window when there is a camper behind or in any sort of potential sticky situation. This path we chose had every single possible element of impending doom.  And she was busy running a checklist through her head. 

Overloaded camper. Check.

The Ocoee road from hell. Check.

The Lookout Mountain Climb. Check.

Nervous Driver. Check.

Sad, broken Truck, check.

My Co-Pilot chose the back seat and Blake rode up front. And here. We. Go. 

10:15 am. The road winds up and down. Around Bends. Up the Mountain. Down into the Nanatahala Gorge. Dodging speeding 18 wheelers and shuttle buses full of rafters.  Bessie struggles. Augusta closes her eyes. I just keep pressing forward. GPS takes us off road onto an unknown alley. Then back on to the highway. Down the mountain. Into Murphy, NC and Andrews NC (which by the way is absolutely the most beautiful valley in Tennessee.).

As we finally descended out of the Nantahala National Forest and made our way toward the Ocoee, I prepped myself for what was coming. If you have ever rafted the Ocoee, you know that the steep cut throughs are literally inches away from the side of the road heading west on Hwy 64. Its close. So close that 18 wheelers and campers regularly scrub the brush around the sharp turns.  We stopped for a few minutes and watched the various rafting companies take their customers down the slope and into the waters and run through "Grumpy" which is the 1st major rapid on this section of the Ocoee.  Ive rafted the Ocoee many times and each time, I have fallen out. The "Grumpy Rapid" itself had claimed me twice and I swore that I would never do it again.  Wide-eyed Captain Augusta was feeling soo much better that I had not chosen this river rather than the Nantahala that we had survived the day before. 

11:45 am After the brief stop, we pressed forward and HOLY SWEET FREAKING MOTHER OF BATMAN, this was a tight squeeze. The rafting companies don't care about on coming traffic, the 18 wheelers dont care. They are used to the squeeze, but I was not. Blake is in the front grinding his teeth, Alex and Ethan are looking out the window at the rapids and Augusta...OMG, she is desperately trying to do anything she could to either put herself asleep or look down a phone that had no reception. This was tight. We made though. Stopped for lunch on the side of the road near the lake, and prepared for the next big obstacle.

Lookout Mountain.

There are only a few good paths up Lookout Mountain for a big ass overloaded 11,000 pound camper. After much consideration the previous evening, we opted to go through Chattanooga to Fort Payne and up hwy 35 to Desoto State park. Its not as steep as coming in the backside from Gaylesville and its a bit easier than the Valleyhead route or Trenton, GA. The last thing I wanted to do was to take a route that where we had no knowledge of its length or pitch. Well. Guess what---as our luck would have it, the GPS sent us an alert that traffic was shut down in Chattanooga and rerouted us through an unknown path toward Lookout Mountain. After miles of rounding turns, changing highways and heading up and down hills that none of us knew, we finally round a corner and I see the hill up ahead. 

2:01 pm I discover that the GPS has rerouted me up through the Lookout Mountain Scenic Highway.  

2:05 pm Ole Bessie is handling the first quarter of the climb like a champ. We are all nervous. Im beginning to think that young car salesperson was full of Crap.  Augusta has her eyes closed. But We are doing fine. Speed 40 mph. 

2:10 pm.  It happens. It finally happens. The little voice in the back of my head that was warning me all along of the truck dying, prophetically comes true. Power disappears one third of the way up with a HUGE Camper behind us. My foot to the floor. NOTHING. I toy around with the different gears trying to get something and manage to find a sweet spot to make her pull at about 10 mph. By this time you can see the deep valley below us already and from looking at the map we still have several miles to go.  

2:13 pm. Cars start lining up behind us. I have no low gear whatsoever. 10 mph still, but at least we are moving forward and not back down a mountain.  In spots, you can see how high up we are. There is an enormous change in elevation and you can see that the There is NOWHERE to turn around. There is nowhere to stop and assess things. And Just like that parking garage in Savannah, I am past the point of no return. We have no choice but to keep pushing Bessie to the limit. Augusta meanwhile is keeping her panicking to a minimum. Thankfully, because on the inside I was having a meltdown. I had not officially informed her the severity of what could be going on with the truck.  As we continue to move forward, we finally see light at the end of the tunnel and pull the truck over and turn it off.

We have no F%$*ing idea where we are.

Literally. No idea. I'm trying to assess how much more we might have to climb but none of us have any cell service.  The boys probably hate me at this point because I just dont have any answers anymore. We finally manage to get enough service to see that we needed to take HWY 157 toward DeSoto State Park, but there was going to be a unusual number of turns.  The Next 30 miles was the most nerve-racking 30 miles ever. We could manage to get up enough speed on flat and downhill sections and would use that momentum so that we could ultimately coast uphill when we needed it. Thoughts of this scene played in my head.

3:18 pm. We miraculously arrive at our Campsite at DeSoto State Park and begin the process of setting up the Camper. It was a nice spot. Its a shame Augusta and I didnt get to see it that much. We needed to get to the Ford Dealership down the mountain to Fort Payne to assess how much damage has been done to the engine before they closed. At this point spending ANY money was going to be a stretch.

4:45 pm. They take Ole Bessie back to the garage at the Landers McCarty Ford and come back with both good and bad news.

The Bad:  The notorious High Pressure Fuel Pump could be going bad. This would require an entire fuel system replacement. Total Cost $9100.00 to fix.

The Good: He said its possible that the stress of the lengthy climb caused the pressure to spike, killing the power.

The technician took her for a drive. Turbo worked fine. He handed me the keys and said that it might or might not do it again, but I might need to find another way to get the camper home. They felt a little sympathy. Didnt charge us a dime and we left. And we smiled. And we took a deep breath. And we laughed. And we were thankful Ole Bessie was ok. And I take the turn to go back up to Desoto State Park. And she does fine. And we smile. And we are happy its not going to cost us $9100. And life is good. And Ole Bessie starts to make the climb.

6:40 pm.  Bessie Says, "F*** You, Robert Abernathy" and completely dies.

Near the top of Hwy 35. In the turn. Where 18 wheelers are rounding the turn coming down the mountain. We are in the middle of the freaking road. Dead. Wont crank. Nothing. I manage to pop in in neutral and slowly back it down toward the ditch but its so steep, I cant go far. Im 3/4 into the highway. 

This situation is seriously dangerous. Augusta doesnt even have her phone. Alex is still hoarding it from destroying his own earlier in the week.  I was panicking so much, I googled "911" instead of calling it. Augusta is now in fever panic mode. So once again...like a hundred times before on this trip, we reached out on that damn 1 800 Abernathy Emergency Hotline and got someone to rescue us. The Police arrive within minutes and see how serious the situation is and start to direct traffic and try to slow down vehicles making the dangerous turn at the top of Hwy 35. By this time we had gotten in touch with Augusta's Father, Van who was already on his way when we called and made it time to help direct traffic.  AAA dispached a wrecker and said they could have someone there within 20 minutes, but the police on the scene said to forget it, they needed someone right then. 

By this time, I was imploding and Augusta was exploding. The emotions from everything had finally made it to the surface and she had the most deserved, understandable breakdown one could have.  Her crying symbolized everything that had failed on this trip. It wasnt just that Bessie had died. It was that we knew that everything was about to get exponentially more complicated.

We had no transportation. We had a huge camper that had to leave the site in the morning somehow. We had quite a few supplies. There were 5 of us. We still had to get to Gadsden to get Augusta's car AND 3 dogs. Then figure out how to get everyone home.

Thankfully, there were several people who offered assistance. Karen and Toby Pendergrass were the first to be there and offer some assistance. They hung out with us for a while that evening at the campground and listened to all our woes.  Also about the time we were trying to map out a plan, Dana and Chris Snyder offered to come pick us and the camper up and get us back to Southside. That just seemed to make for a good plan because our car was just a few miles away from Chris and Dana's house. There were several people who offered to help.

It was refreshing to see how many people really didnt want us to die in the woods. 

So. With a temporary plan in place, we built a fire, threw the remaining food we had left on the grill and we sat outside the Camper. And drank adult beverages. And we laughed. And we cried.

Saturday, July 28th. Good Family. Good Friends.

You find out who your friends are when $*** happens. Ive learned that over the course of my life. Want to know who really cares? Get in a bind and see what happens next. Not that there werent friends that would have gladly helped if given the resources. But Karen and Toby were more than generous and offered their vehicle. Van was so helpful that evening as well.  My dad offered to get us home if we could get to Southside.  My brother  had been taking care of our dogs. But without hesitation, without the first question, Dana and Chris Snyder made sure we got our camper, our supplies and 5 worn down people back home. Chris showed up at the campground at around 9:00 am that Saturday morning.  Didnt ask for gas. Didnt ask for a thank you. Didnt care that we needed to park the camper at his house. Didnt care that we opened up a watermelon in his back seat and ate it. (not really) We hooked everything up to his truck and made the much awaited, financially depleted, long, worn out journey home.  Im sure Chris could sense how emotionally drained we were.

By this time, the Ford Dealership had given me confirmation that to replace the fuel system, it was going to cost me close to $10,000.  I dont have $10,000 laying around.  So this was not welcomed news.  Chris finally got us to Southside and we made it Dad's to retrieve Augusta's Car and then to Jon's to pick up our sweet dogs. Im not sure that we didnt miss them more than they missed us. We were so excited to see them again. Jon did an excellent job assuring us over the past week that they were in good hands. 

We were worn. Tired. Defeated. But happy to be in one piece. Bessie died in a place at least where friends and family were close enough to get us where we needed to be an for that I am thankful.  

Total $$ Tally:

RV Camper fix Expenses=$1000

Truck Expenses=$9200

Useless Fishing Supplies=$350

Trout Farm Fishing=$75

Gas=$ LOL OMG WTF

Alchohol= $ 200

Misc= $1500

Total= at least $14,000 that we dont have.

The Conclusion.

In terms of real disaster, this was nowhere near the scale of real life terrible things that take place. To put in perspective, all this happened while on a vacation. No one was hurt. We all were able to laugh at our own expense. And despite it all, we had a great time.

What Happened to the Camper? Its for sale. In perfect working condition. I have taken out your potential problems and paid for them all. $24,000 and its yours. 

What happened to Ole Bessie? Well as luck would have it, I was listening to one of those Kia commercials where you can bring your trade and they would give you more than your trade and all that stuff that you just never believe.  Well. I decided to take them up on the offer.  I called in a favor to good friend, and was able to work a deal that absorbed the cost of fixing my truck, the purchase of my truck and got into a brand new SUV for about the same cost as what I was currently paying for the Truck. 

Yes. I now have a brand new vehicle with a warranty. And I am happy. And I call haul everything I need except for that big ass camper. We have all looked back on the events of our week and laughed so much. Yes, there could be a movie made of it all. There was more than I could include for times sake, but all in all, we will never forget the great Vacation of 2018. I have no idea what we will be doing next year. If you are interested in tagging along, you'd best save a little money first though. And be prepared for a potential disaster. I think we are jinxed.

What could go wrong on a cruise? 

Whos in? ;)


THE END.

You Can't Make This Up. PART II: 8 Days in a Camper 

Note: If you haven't read PART 1 of 8 Days in a Camper, you can find it here: PART 1

Attempting to set up the next few days is somewhat of a difficult task.  So I will have to break it up twice more. Part 2.  And... a Part 3.  Mostly because theres just so much to tell.  We did had a blast on the few days you are about to read. But for each incredible moment we had, there was something equally as awful to drag it down. 

Wednesday, July 25th. Sewage, Captain Augusta Rides Again, And the Night the Lights went out in Ela.

We awoke on Wednesday morning to the fresh smell of sewage just outside the window. I would try to describe it, but I will let the video and pictures tell the story. To color it up just a bit, I would like to add that the other 100 campsites with RVs, tents..etc all woke that  morning to the fresh smells of a beautiful meadow, daffodils in the breeze,  butterflies gently dancing in the air, and the fresh sounds of a mountain river delicately echoing into the campground.

 

Nope Not for us. Our campsite handyman had already called in the Cherokee Sewage Army. And they were prepared to battle what was bubbling up from underneath our camper.  Let me say...It wasnt any of our doing. We had yet to dump the contents of our camper. Not sure they really believed that, but it was true.  Whatever was coming out of that ground was something so horrible, so puzzling that the sewage army was totally at a loss for words.  They resorted to running a snaking tool into the large PVC pipes to try to break open whatever was clogging it up. This process went on for hours. I was going to try to cook breakfast for everyone with my handy dandy outdoor skillet, but the odor and funk was just not going to allow me to do this. Especially when the snaking tool pulled out the contents of solid waste along with crusty aged condoms that someone had flushed down along with towels that had been sitting in those pipes for who knows how long.  As they were pulling this mess out off the snaking tool, they kept glancing up at me as if I had stuffed these contents down the pipes! I made an effort to indicate that it wasnt me...or us, but by the "yeah, suuuure it wasnt yours" look in his eyes, i could see that I was just wasting my time.

Finally after hours of probing with space aged technology, snaking tools, and maps of the property, they had discovered that there was a septic tank that they knew nothing about that existed just outside our window. Mr. Handyman had been there for 15 years and had no idea that septic tank existed until we arrived. 

Now, you know whats next.  If you've ever had a bubbling septic tank, there really only one thing left to do. And thats to dig that sucker up.  So The Great Cherokee Sewage Army began their archaeological dig at approximately 9:00 am.  Everyone in the campground was looking at us as if we had flushed a puppy or something.  Backhoes, shovels, pitchforks, onlookers, Hell...I think the Cherokee Channel 5 News crew was there ready to report our next mishap. 

Needless to say, we got in Ole Bessie and left.  We had to get out of there. Besides, we had a big day planned. It was supposed to go like this:

1. Newfound Gap

2. Appalachian Trail HIke

3. Clingman's Dome Hike

4. Gatlinburg

5. Pigeon Forge

6. Roller Coaster

7. Back to the Campground

8. Tubing on the water

9. Grill Out

10. Go to bed.

We accomplished 7/10. I will say, this was an enjoyable day. Well, Most of it.  Ill let the pictures tell much of the story. We enjoyed a quick hike into the Appalachian Trail as well as traveling up to Clingman's dome, etc. The drive itself through Newfound Gap into Gatlinburg was just amazing.  We saw a bear, Elk, beautiful scenery that even pictures can't describe. My favorite quote...(as I tried to get Ethan to take a picture as we were traveling up the mountains to Newfound Gap) "Sorry, I Cant take a picture because its too beautiful to look away". Those were his exact words. And for a few moments, all was right in my world. I had accomplished at least one really good thing that day.  I even typed that one comment into the notepad on my phone, so I would remember it.

We made it back that evening to our campsite from a full days adventure into the most beautiful parts of the South and discovered that the crews had dispersed, and the 6 foot grave had been drained of its nasty 15 year old contents and covered back up. By this time, were all sick of each other. Being crammed in a truck all day traveling and doing activities can truly test how much you really want to be around someone. And with that, we parked the truck and all five of us migrated away from each other for a little while to do our own things.

My thing? Well. I decided I wanted to  tube down the river that flowed just at our own backdoor. because, I had yet to do it.  The campground offers tubing but no shuttle service, so you have to figure that one out on your own. Somehow, I managed to recruit Captain Augusta and Ethan to join me.  I think she wanted to somewhat redeem herself.  But soon after we made it to the put-in location, I realized that the inner tube wasnt quite as "big ass" friendly as the previous day's tube. There was no hole for my butt to sit though. It was an basically a donut with a layer of plastic covering the hole. For me, this was extremely unfortunate and impossible. Leaning back to paddle while sitting would have been a guaranteed 100% Robert Abernathy back flip into the water. So I had to resort to laying on my stomach on this tube. I notice a gleam in Captain Augustas Eyes as we both now realize---I am the one who now has navigation issues. Karma. Its about to bite.

The 3 of us manage to get into the water. And make our way downstream toward the our campsite.  There were boulders, but Captain Augusta stayed clear.  As we passed our campsite toward the takeout, Ethan and I decided we wanted to take a journey into the unknown, downstream and have Augusta get out of the water (she volunteered) and hike back to our campsite, retrieve Ole Bessie and go pick us up a half mile downstream somewhere near a fishing spot we had found the day before. 

Bad Idea. 

We had no idea where this river would take us on our way to the spot where Augusta would retrieve us. I couldnt steer at all and we could see some swift water ahead as the river suddenly made a sharp turn.  As the current carried us, we rounded and island and noticed the parking lot on the right where we had fished a few days earlier.  Only, the current by this time had picked up speed and we were too far down stream. Ethan and I quickly realized there was a sssmaalllll window of opportunity to get to the bank and up to the parking lot....and we missed it.

Now, keep in mind, I am face down on an inner tube trying like hell to kick and swim and I am getting nowhere. Ethan has already made it close enough to the bank that he is out of the current and heading to the shore. Me? Meanwhile, Im starting to lose the battle. Fast. The current is pulling me away from my destination, and now the only thing left to do is make one more violent flurry of kicking and swimming before I am washed downstream to the great unknown. By this time Augusta had arrived and was watching my panicked state from the comfort of the truck. She could see it all, and I was just kicking in place. Ethan had made it to shore and was prepared to save me. But not Captain Augusta. Nope. Not her. Sitting up there all perched up in her pretty little Captain Augusta Driver's Seat of the truck, watching me flail around like a helpless dog tossed into a whirlpool. I finally found enough adrenaline to make it to a branch laying near the bank to pull me to shore. Nope. Just a loose, floating log floating there waiting on me to grab it and laugh back at me. I cursed the useless log in my hands and tried to get back to shore once again. Nope. Back out into the current. This pattern repeated itself...oh I dont know...3 or 4 more times. Ethan, at this point, sees his clumsy helpless dad out there laying flat across a big inner tube kicking around is determined to save me. Meanwhile, Augusta looks on. Im back to swatting the water and finally make it to a concrete something---I dont know what it was, but it was enough  for me to stand on something solid. Yep.  NOPE. I slipped on the slime that had build up and NAILED it with my knee. It hurt so bad. 

Meanwhile Captain Augusta is still perched atop Ole Bessie, with little $ht eating grin and her evil little laugh watching me fail at making it to shore. Ethan finally saves me and I limped into the truck, bleeding and broken, hurting all over Meanwhile. Augusta just smiles. And we headed back to the Campground. 

Well, I noticed it before we left, but I really didnt want to say anything, but our camper's lights were dimming. And they were dimming fast. They shouldnt have been, because it was plugged in. Which could only mean one thing: the converter that was charging our battery was dying. By the time we got done with dinner and a campfire we could all tell, power was slipping away from our camper. The refrigerator began to go first. Then the air. One by one, we were losing everything that depended on battery power to operate. Of course, the boys at this point were like "this cant be happening" and Augusta is looking at me as if I had intentionally pulled a plug somewhere.  I managed to put a charger on the battery, enough to continue to give us some power though the night (the battery powers the small things that control the big things in the camper).  I knew what was likely about to happen though. We were going to have to dial that stupid 1 800 Abernathy Emergency Hotline again in the morning.  

Thursday, July 26th. The Camper is Dying, Captain Augusta the Signal Caller

We were awakened by a screaming gas/propane alarm. We aired everything out, opened windows and managed to escape in one piece. Apparently, since the battery died overnight, it was no longer powering the thing that powers the gas igniter. I know. That doesnt make the least bit of sense. Im just repeating what the RV service guy told me when we arrived later that morning to see about fixing our dying camper.  We gave them our sad story about the woes of our journey, hoping for a bit of sympathy.  He was friendly. Laughed a little. But I could see right away that there was no charity in his voice. He was a business man. He did things right. He didnt cut corners and you get what you pay for. And for us, that was going to be the tune of about $693.27. It needed a power converter (Only the American made converters) and wouldnt you know, we also needed a new battery too. So. for the second time on our trip, we had to find an RV emergency repair service to come to the campground and fix a problem. If you are keeping score, we have now spent about $1000 on RV repairs since we were in Savannah, Georgia.  This was just becoming absurd.

11:00 We left to go Whitewater Rafting on the Nantahala River. I had been on this river several times over the course of the past 30 years or so. I had also guided several groups in those rafts, so I felt pretty confident that I could steer us though the rapids pretty well. And... save us another $100. But, as you could imagine, the other 4 folks getting into a raft with me, well, they weren't quite as confident.  I could feel their apprehension, not just of the river, but of their Griswold guide. 

Let me try to paint this picture for you. Augusta, who was once a fearless inner tube floatress, is now sweating out of every pore thinking about this river that lies ahead. And as we sit though the video orientation of how to behave in our rafts and how to survive if you fall out and how to swim out to shore... all of this is like Red Flag Central to her. Its telling her to not get in that raft. Especially with Mr. Abernathy calling out the commands at the rear of the boat. She is so apprehensive, I am afraid she is going to bail on us. Blake, Ethan and Alex are all just as eager as they can be to get into this raft and go.

We took the shuttle bus 8 miles though the Nantahala Gorge on our way to the put in. As we selected our raft and placed it in the water, I began to instruct them on simple commands like "All forward two strokes!" and "Right forward three strokes" and "Reverse!".  We practiced it in the calm waters and began to head out. Now, I knew the river fairly well---enough to steer us in the right spots if everyone did their job.  Its not a particularly dangerous river in terms of a series of class III and Class IV rapids. But with the Great Innertube Disaster of 2018 still fresh on Augusta's mind, and watching her husband nearly drown trying to get to shore the day before, the Nantahala was certainly the beginning of the end. This was the Titanic. This was not going to be pleasant.

We followed the other rafts in our group, the ones with "real" guides, to make sure we stayed out of harms way. But as we pressed forward, I began to realize we had three paddlers, one guide and one.....

....CHAMPION ECHOING SIGNAL CALLER---Captain Augusta. Every time I would say "all forward two strokes", she would spit out the same repeating command to all in the raft with MUCH MORE...intensity. Example:

Robert:  "All forward three strok..."

Captain Augusta: "THREE STROKES. THREE STROKES!!"

Robert: "ok folks (In a mellow happy guide voice) Lets go right forward two str...."

Captain Augusta: "RIGHT TWO STROKES!!"

This pattern was echoed throughout the 3 hour journey. I could have said anything. Anything at all. And she was going to repeat it. I could have yelled "Everybody Stand up and jump the F*** out!" and sure enough, she would have yelled it and jumped. All by herself. Right into the water. And then been like "wait. what just happened?" 

We made it through the 8 mile course all the way to the last rapid and had time to get out and look at it before we went down.  It was only a class III, but during orientation, they made it sound like there was going to be a 30 ft waterfall at the end of our journey. They also told us we had the option to get out and walk back to the NOC if we didn't want to chance it. Surprisingly, my #1 signal caller decided to ride it out and we made it not problem.  In fact it was a pretty quick, smooth rapid that was very enjoyable. You can see us on that rapid in the pictures. It captured all of our emotions pretty accurately. I wish the photographer had kept snapping pictures though. We were so happy that we all survived that we stopped paying attention to where we were going and ended up stranded on a giant boulder.  It took us a while to get loose, but we finally made it to shore---all in one piece. 

Note: Click HERE FOR PART III. July 27th and 28th: The final leg of our adventure. Ole Bessie Finally says "Enough is enough".  

You Cant Make This Up. PART 1: 8 Days in a Camper 

Note: Our Vacation was July 20th-28th. This will come in three parts July 20th-24th and the 25th-26th and July 27th-28th.

Pull up a seat.  Grab some coffee.  Kick back. Might be a long read. But I guarantee you'll have visions of National Lampoons all the way through this script. Swim for a few minutes in my misery. Well, not just my misery, but the four others who (as I am writing this paragraph) are currently sleeping in the camper. All of whom have danced softly around this campsite in the last day or so in fear of possibly breaking something small--maybe knocking over an insignificant something--- but enough to send me over the edge.  

First, this is all true. The names havent changed.  And I swear to you, we have really had a good time...in between the storms. (by the way, thats the title of the song I have been writing. Coming soon.)  But as things began to pile up midway through our "vacation" I felt  I needed to document this comedy of errors just so we can have it for years to come. I hope you enjoy. 

The Plan

So, we bought a camper a few years ago.  It was a great idea at first. And actually has turned out to be a good investment. But, theres a lot of work that goes into planning a vacation with a camper. If you can find the right spots, it can be better than any hotel or condo. You can take your "house" anywhere.                        We wanted something memorable.  We tossed around ideas of traveling out west, northwest and even up the east coast. But ultimately, we felt like a beach and Smoky Mountain combo would be perfect.  And with that, we opted for a loop from Birmingham, Al to Savannah to Bryson City North Carolina to Desoto State Park and back home. One week. The perfect vacation.  Well, the trip broke down before it even began.  I had already planned the locations but in the midst of checking off the list of things to piece together, I failed to check the school band camp calendar...and a karate tournament. So Vivi and Eli sat this one out. I promised them we would take them on a separate vacation when we returned. So the alternate plan was for Augusta, Alex, Blake, Ethan and myself to make the journey across the Southeast US.

Friday, July 20th. The second longest day ever.

Augusta had to work. That left me to make sure everything was packed in the camper and ready to go. I had a show to play in Gadsden that night so we had planned on leaving from Gadsden after the show. But she didnt get off work until 5:00. That meant I would carry everything, (INCLUDING 3 DOGS)  and she would drive to Gadsden after work. Simple enough. Wrong. Just as we were wrapping up the packing we got a call from the Real Estate Agent that someone was wanting to view the house (Its for sale). They wanted to view it right then.  Which meant, pick up the pace and pack faster.  While packing, IN A HURRY, I didnt pack Augusta's clothes because she said, (and I quote...) "Just leave my stuff and I'll pack it when I get off work".  She said that. But, for some reason, she ASSUMED that I packed all her clothes that were hanging up in the closet. Now folks, I hate playing the blame game.  But you can clearly see that this is not my fault. Try to picture the chaos that ensued after the Real Estate phone call. I was packing things I had no intention of using on this trip. Grabbing dogs, tossing them in the truck with me and Ethan. Dog food, Crates, luggage, bug spray, Generator, OH and ALL MY Music Gear...you get the idea. But nowhere to be found were Augusta's Clothes BECAUSE SHE SAID SHE WOULD GET HER CLOTHES.

Ill come back to this later.

3:00 p.m. Ethan and I pull out with an over-loaded Camper. Blake has Alex's car in Tuscaloosa. Eli is currently at the Karate tournament winning a gold medal.  Alex is stranded at the house, hiding somewhere from the prospective home buyers viewing our home, waiting on Augusta to get off work. 3 Dogs are stuffed in a packed truck panicking on their way to be boarded at my brother's house 1 hour away.   Maggie, our lab, we discover is not the least bit excited about our current situation.  In fact, we soon learn that she has quite the phobia of traveling. Big dog doesnt like the back seat. We fought with her while swerving all over I-59 with that big ass camper to the point that we finally just let her do her thing whatever it was just so she would calm down. And that was to be curled up underneath the passenger seat in fetal position. So poor Ethan ended up with two poodles in his lap and a shaking lab underneath his legs all the way to Jon's house where we left them to be boarded.

11:00 p.m. Craig Pruett and I finish the show at Little Bridge Marina. By this time, Augusta, Alex and Blake had already made the drive with the rest of their luggage (uh...most of it) and we are set to go. Except that I cant carry the all the music gear with us. So we load up all my stuff in Craig's car for him to hang on to while we are gone. Does any of that sound hectic? We pull out, sometime around midnight on our way to a Morrow, Georgia Walmart Parking lot to stop for the night.  We arrive at about 4:30 am and set up right next to something dead right outside the camper. We never found what it was, but Dear God...it was horrid.  We crank up the generator, open up the slides, turn on the air and get ready to sleep for a few hours. 

Except...

"Robert, did you pack my clothes that were hanging up?"  I froze. Eyes wide open, realizing what the next few minutes would look like. Gentlemen. We have all had that moment where you know you arent necessarily to blame for something, but you are going to get feel the burn of a hot, fire breathing, scolding wife regardless. This was that moment. It was pretty much ALL her clothes. Shirts, more shirts and...yeah...pretty much everything.  Not sure how the communication broke down, but lets just say she was mad. I took it on the chin like a man.                 

Not really. Im not going to lie, I squared the blame directly back at her which was probably not the best thing to do.  

The boys slept through the raging storm. (both metaphorically and literally)  Augusta and I managed to get the antennae working enough to see that a category 5 thunderstorm was bearing down on us and we were just sitting ducks.  

Saturday, July 21st The Longest Day Ever.

8:00 am.  The generator runs out of gas.  And I failed to mention that we couldnt get the dome light to go out of the truck the night before, so that morning I was still nervous about whether or not the truck would crank.  But it did.  I was still in my clothes from the night before. Sweaty. My oily hair was glistening in the sunlight as we marched across the Walmart parking lot to buy Augusta some vacation clothes.  I posted a small video of her walking in misery as she weaved in and out the aisles trying to locate the clothes she would be wearing for the rest of our fabulous journey.  I tried to make light of it. But it was no avail. She wasnt happy about it.

9:30 am We wake up the boys and close everything up and head for breakfast in Walmart at McDonalds. We are told by the cashier that we cant order anything with eggs. Because...and I quote... "they in a bad mood. Can you just order something else".  So. We order something else. Without eggs. Im not sure why the hell we couldnt order anything with eggs. No egg McMuffin. No Sausage Egg McGriddle. Beats the hell out of me. But we managed to fill our stomachs full. Ethan is probably not going to be happy that I am about tell this story. But I am anyway. You see, it doesnt matter where we are, what kind of toilet is nearby or who you are, if he's gotta use it.  Hes going in and he will take his sweet precious time until he is done. And theres nothing you can do about hurrying him up.

11:30 am. We hit the road to Savannah Georgia. Keep in mind. Our truck is full of people. The bed of the truck has a HUGE generator in it, along with more camping supplies than we should have ever considered carrying.  The camper is LOADED down. Its heavy. BIGLY. And we have several hours to go on I-75 South to I-16 and eventually to this campground I picked out.  When we finally arrive at Red Gate Campground in Savannah, I discover that its not what I had pictured. In my head, the campsite would be nestled between two beautiful oaks with that signature Savannah moss drooping from the leaves while overlooking a peaceful lake.

Nope. HUUUGE open field with not a single tree around. Plenty of sun. Our Awning was useless too, since it was facing the afternoon sun.  Now this camper is a good one. Dont get me wrong. I love our camper. Its big. Plenty of space. We have every amenity we could ever want in the big momma. But it just seems like theres a hex that exists around the time we always set up. Something always happens. And like clockwork, we get her positioned just right and leveled and begin opening the slide. And POP!! Something breaks. I had heard that sound before and it had cost me some money to have it fixed. It was the cable. It utlimately cripples the camper because you cant take a half open slide down the road. We were essentially crippled in Savannah until I could find someone who could come out and fix it.  This single event dominated the rest of the evening. Phone calls, trying to fix that stupid thing ourselves. I made the boys climb up there and look to see what they could do because my fat ass couldnt squeeze anywhere near the problem.  It is not in the most convenient location. We were all defeated.  And tired. And Ill. And already sick of the issues we had already encountered.  I felt responsible for every moment of disgust on their faces.  And like Clark Griswold, I was determined to make sure they were having a good time. So I felt like taking an evening trip to downtown Savannah would cure it all.

7:00 pm. The iPhone GPS is not always reliable. It took us through a part of town that we had no business driving through on the way. I mean, we were not on the highway at all. Im not completely sure, but I think we drove through someones backyard trying to find the main road. We finally made it to downtown and admired how beautiful Savannah is. I felt relieved. I felt like I had done something right. We just needed to find the perfect parking place. Now, my truck is a pretty good sized F250. Parking that baby has never been easy. Just ask Alex, who conveniently left me a watermelon sized dented imprint of someones mailbox on my back fender from a few weeks earlier.  Its difficult to park. And parking on a street is difficult. But parking in a parking deck is even MORE difficult.

Thats when we spotted the parking deck.  It read 6'6".  Does anyone ever measure the height of their vehicle. Hell no. And neither did I.  I didnt notice any bars hanging down and we drove in but I figured if I can make it though the first beam, then we're good.  Now, at this time, everyone was getting nervous, including me, but we were already past the point of no return. The passages were getting more narrow and I began to realize that we were going to have one hell of a time just trying to squeeze in a parking spot. Much less, trying to pass underneath beams so low that I could touch them with my hand out the window.

I dont know at what point I realized this was like..the worst Idea ever. But it finally hit me on about the 3rd level that not only were we not going to be able to squeeze into a park, but we also might not get out. Its a bad feeling. And its surprisingly a claustrophobic kind of feeling.  I remember taking the exit ramp off that 3rd level thinking, "we arent going to make it".  Mostly because I could see the beam as we headed down and it was LOOOWW. To make matters worse, the beam sat squarely over the bottom of the ramp which mean the angle of my truck would be positioned such that the cab of the truck would be elevated into the beam.  As we inched closer, the tension was high. We all knew was about to take place.  I had no choice. I had to press forward.  And as expected we mashed the hell out the the roof of my truck. It was loud, painful to listen to.

Worse than anything, I knew it wasnt over. We still had two more levels to go.  Because this parking deck was so full and so narrow, it wasnt like we could pull over and sit and think things through. NO. We had to keep going. So we made our round to the next ramp. By this time, it seemed like everyone in Savannah was lined up behind me as we made our way toward the second exit ramp. I slowly made my way down the ramp and realized that this beam was lower than the first. It was so low that I was afraid that not only could it hit our windshield, we might get it wedged in permanently!  So I politely got out and asked everyone to back up. This was not a welcomed gesture in a crowded parking garage in Downtown Savannah on a Saturday night. One by one, they all backed up. And so did I. Miraculously into an abandoned spot directly behind us.

We managed to get out of the truck and decided to walk to the Riverwalk, smile and take some pictures and collect our thoughts while visiting downtown. We were ill. We were hungry. And the Clark in me was trying to make the best out of a terrible situation.  We managed to find the most expensive restaurant downtown and sat down to order. I didnt care the cost at this point, we all knew what was ahead of us. That last beam.

After a few hours of visiting downtown, we decided to walk back and got lost on the way. I have no idea where the hell we were going, but it was no doubt in the wrong direction.  About a half an hour later, we managed to make our way back to the truck. By this time, we had formulated a genius plan and decided to let as much air out of the tires as possible and have everyone sit on the tailgate.  Which, in retrospect, was even dumber than anything else I had done that day. Because all it did was pitch the end of the truck that wanted lower---SEVERAL INCHES HIGHER. Think about it--If you sit on a tailgate, it will lower the bed of the truck. NOT THE CAB. Why the hell we didnt stay in the cab, I don't know.  I put her in drive and we hit that beam with enough force to bring the parking deck down...not to mention with everyone in the back of the truck!  Geez. you might have seen the video. I was sooo defeated, angry, upset.. you name it. Fortunately, the final beam was much higher. We took our flat-tired, beat up truck to the nearest gas station to pump it up. The Air pump machine took our $1.25, laughed at us, and shut off before we could get it to pump. I was so frustrated, I didnt care at this point, I just decided to make the 5 mile drive back to the camp with flat tires.  We had a pump back at the camp. 

Fun Fact: We made it to camp and had a drink. Or two. In a broken camper. 

 

 

Sunday, July 22nd Tybee Island

We were told that the repair guy would be there to fix our camper that morning. I was confident that these people who I didnt know could get in there and fix it. They were from South Carolina, so had to make a bit of a drive, but assured me that they could handle it. So in the meantime Augusta, Ethan and I decided to check out the fishing pond and visit the horses. This part was very enjoyable. They had a nice fishing pier, a $hit ton of baby bream and like...6000 turtles. We were not going to catch a fish. But it wasnt for trying. Ethan has a real knack for impatient fishing. If it doesnt bite on the first cast, he is ready to try another lure. Or different bait. Which, by the way, we were TOTALLY unprepared.  We had no live bait. We tried other things though...like...cheese puffs and smoked cajun sausage.  That didnt seem to work for some reason.  We finally gave up after about 700 casts and made our way back to the camper.

These guys fixing the camper...oh my. They werent prepared to fix this cable. And they charged by the hour for their inexperience. They finally got it repaired and we were all happy and they opened it open and it snapped off again. By this time it was 105 degrees and we were just gonna have to leave them there at the camper while we went to the beach. I was not going to spend our vacation waiting on them to fix it. 

Tybee Island is pretty. But Ill take any section of the Gulf over Tybee any day. (read about my previous Tybee Island Disaster experience here) And the sand...That sand was hotter than a blistering hell and it seemed like we would never get to the waters edge to cool off our feet.  When we finally arrived, we discovered that the murky waters from the river empty just a few miles away. The friends that we made next to us on the beach told us that the water was murkier than normal. Hopefully that is the case.  The ocean was brown. Ultimately, we made the most of it and enjoyed several hours of beach time with the boys and decided to head back after we had depleted all the contents in our cooler.

The rest of the day was spent fishing, swimming in the pool back at the camp site, hanging with the horses and enjoying some down time. Oh. Did I mention fishing. While Augusta and I were relaxing in the pool, the boys were all fishing. And completely unsuccessful I might add. Another 700 casts. No fish. LOL. More about this later...

A bit of good news: I discovered Sonic's Pickle Slushies. Worth the try. ;)

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, July 23rd Bryson City, North Carolina

We woke up that morning and headed out.  Completely uneventful drive. Ok. Not really. I knew at some point we were going to have to climb into the Smokies with a big ass camper. I didnt know when. But man, what a climb.  We hit it somewhere around Asheville and that old dented up truck of mine handled that mountain like a champ.  Her name, by the way is Bessie.  And Bessie had every reason to curse me going into the Great Smoky Mountains. But she didnt.  We passed an unfortunate school bus that had over-heated on the way up and we just counted our blessings as we finally made it to the top.

Our campsite at Ela Campground was fantastic. As opposed to Red Gate, this was much better than pictured. I highly recommend it. Nice people. Great atmosphere there. The sites back up to the Tuckaseegee River and it truly is majestic.  Much of our prep time for this trip was for the fishing. I had never been fly fishing and was excited to try my hand at it. Blake and I watched several Youtube videos prior to going on vacation, which of course meant we were experts by the time we arrived.  Wrong. We probably got tangled up in the trees a dozen times.  There was a nice old man two spots down reeling in Bass and whatever the hell else he wanted to catch and a 9 year old kid down the embankment catching trout with bread. Our boys=nothing. 3 days, 2000 casts. Nothing but trees, boulders, logs and a pounds of earthworms who were seemingly murdered for no reason. 

The boys also enjoyed drifting down the river in tubes.  Except that for that brief moment when Alex dropped his phone in the water.  He was able to retrieve it, but it was too late. The damage was done. And to a 17 year old with no phone, on vacation, out of town, away from civilization,  this was the greatest disaster of all. Of course, Augusta surrendered her phone for the duration of the trip, so he could have contact with snapchat. You know. The essentials. 

The rest of the day was spent relaxing around the camp, playing a few games and yelling at each other every now and then.  All in all, this was the only day that didnt have disaster written all over it.  

Fun fact: Augusta snored loud enough that night to keep the bears away.

Tuesday, July 24th- Captain Augusta. Professional Fishermen. And Sewage.

9:00 am. Great Sleep. Huge Breakfast.  Great day ahead. We decided to make this day our fishing day and Tubing Day.

Tubing First.  Augusta has begged me for hundreds of years to take her tubing. And in the midst of my perfect vacation planning, I made sure we were in a location were tubing down a nice steady stream was nearby. The Ocanoluftee River was the perfect river. We made it to the outfitter and signed the waivers, jumped on the bus and headed out!

As you could expect the water is cold. The air temperature was chilly that morning as well. But not too bad. The real unexpected thing was that Augusta's arms didnt quite reach the water around her tube. I dont know if she just has short arms or is she was in a fat tube. But for whatever reason, her fingertips gently graced the water and...that was about it. I dont know if you have ever been tubing, but this is an unfortunate disability in the water when tubing.  You still have to navigate, which unfortunately is something Augusta wasnt prepared for.

As we (The guys) made our way into the water, we were having a good time back and forth across the gentle rapids, following the course of the river, becoming one with the water. Meanwhile, Augusta is having one hell of a nightmare trying to not only catch up, but to also figure out how the hell to get off the rocks she kept landing on. ONE AFTER ANOTHER. While we were all having a good time, spinning in place, splashing each other---you know. FUN STUFF, Augusta is cursing every other breath as her fingertips skirt across the water while slamming into every obstacle---every barrier possible. She got caught in every eddy she possibly could while trying to catch up, splashing in place. 

I dont know how it is humanly possible to navigate a stream as poorly as she did, but it was hard to watch. I slowed down as often as I could to help her.  I would say, "Augusta, just follow me". And she would try. And she would not follow me. And she would end up on the only boulder in the middle of the damn river while the rest of us were scratching our heads, wondering the the crap is that woman doing?  She somehow managed to square up the only bridge pylon in water. There was like 100 yards of water and one bridge pylon. She hit it. Right in the middle. We shouldnt have laughed. But we did. Poor girl.  

I stayed with her most of the way just to ensure that she didnt go off and find some mysteriously hidden waterfall somewhere and go flying into the abyss. We finally made it to the wrong take out and had to hike another hundred yards to the bus where everyone (Including the other group who was with us) was waiting.  She still has bruises from rocks, trees, and everything else that was sticking out of the water. We made our way back to Ole Bessie and headed to the camp for part II of our day which was to catch some fish. Finally.

I know it sounds crazy. But if you first dont succeed, try...try again. We were to the breaking point on this whole fishing thing. We were soooo prepared. Youtube tutorials, various web sites, the idea of catching trout on a fly rod was just awesome.  Well. It didnt happen.  We were so frustrated. What are the freaking odds of spending days and countless hours casting a line and not a single fish.  We decided to try another area and headed down about a half mile to a spot where we were sure to catch something (according to some locals). LOL. Nope. Not even a bite. We finally gave up. 

As we were leaving I spotted a sign. It was like the heavens opened up and shined down a golden ray of light on this one sign that stood out above all the others.  "Trout Farm 3.5 Miles"  No one saw this glistening light from the Fish Gods but me apparently. I hit the brakes and abruptly turned left without warning, CLARK GRISWOLD JR. Was going to be the freakin hero for once on this trip.

Seventy Five Freakin Dollars Later, we all caught some fish. In a fish pond. Where you are guaranteed to catch fish. But we didnt care. There were no trees around to catch our line, No rocks. (except for a waterfall Ethan somehow cast his line into and got it stuck). Just a worm on a hook and lots of hungry trout. And we were happy. And we caught several a piece. And I didnt care.  I paid the girl at the desk. They cleaned up those trout, and we headed back to camp proudly. with a big bag of trout. And we took pictures.  And we tossed them suckers in hot coals and ate them that night. And it was good. 

Now on a normal vacation, thats how the day ends. You have a fun day, you catch and eat the fish and then you sit around a campfire, tell a few stories and then go to bed. But no. Not us. Not the Abernathys.  As the rain began to fall that evening, we opened the windows to the fresh air and sat at the table to play some cards and we all smelled it.  All at once. There was something going on outside our camper and it wasnt pleasant at all. Augusta, our fearless innertube captain, made her way outside in the rain to figure out what was going on. I tried to ignore her because I knew when she yelled "Robert" it meant I was going to have to walk outside and fix a problem.  Sure enough, bubbling out of the ground was nasty sewage right outside our camper. It was so foul. Brown, filthy, nasty sewage.

I called the 1 800 Abernathy emergency hotline once again and had someone come out to rescue us from the odor. He couldnt snake out whatever was in that drain and promised to have someone come out the following morning. We closed the windows, listened to the rain and awaited yet another inevitable problem to be solved the next morning.

Fun Fact: Augusta Snored again pretty loud this night too.

Stay Tuned: Part II, Days 5-6. Captain Augusta Rides again, The Night the Lights went out in Ela