A few weeks ago I introduced Easin’ Along readers to Bertha, the travel trailer we decided to bring home after having had so much fun during the cross-country adventure we called Sherman’s March to the Sea. In that post, we detailed some of the steps Helen (adorable wife) and I went through in selecting the type, size, storage site, and decorations for our new toy. We’ve accomplished a lot since Bertha came home, and we’re still very much involved in the decorating and outfitting process, but Bertha was born to have fun and we couldn’t wait to get her on the road. This week I’ll share with you a few details about her first trip.
Within a couple of days of Bertha joining the family, I hitched her up and took off for the Cherokee National Forest for the annual gathering of the Appalachian Anglers Society, an event we call Camp II. I wrote at length about this event last year (link here) and I hope you’ll revisit the trip. In that post, I wrote that although I have attended Camp II for almost forty years, it had been several years since I had camped overnight. This was mainly due to my having sold or given away most of my camping gear when we downsized. Bertha changed all of that and I was chomping at the bit to spend three nights in the woods having fun with old friends.
The entrance to the Cherokee National Forest is within an hour’s drive south of our home in Knoxville. I was eager to see how well my truck (named Sophie) handled the hills, but everything went well and I was so grateful because the drive is incredibly beautiful and I wanted to enjoy it without distraction. I was not disappointed. When I arrived at Bald River Falls I stopped to take it in. The recent heavy rains had filled the Tellico River Valley and the volume of water flowing over the falls was heavier than I had seen it in years. A short video of the falls is posted on the Easin’ Along YouTube page (link here).
I didn’t linger long however because I was in a hurry to arrive at the campground. Years of experience with this group had taught me that the serious campers arrive early and take up a lot of space. I wanted Bertha to have a level spot with room for Sophie. Luck was with me—there was only one camper on site when I arrived and we had our pick of campsites. I pulled in with all of the skill of a long haul truck driver, unhitched Bertha, grabbed a lawn chair and waited for the arrival of my fellow campers. Let the fun begin!
It wasn’t long before others began to show up and set up. Our location was in the McNabb Campground along the North River. It is one of the few campsites in the National Forest that can be reserved for an entire group. When I began attending this event (on my 30th birthday) we had as many as 100 campers over a weekend. Through the next couple of decades, the number has dwindled to as low as 30, but recently attendance has grown some as new members have joined and sons of members began to attend. This year I counted nearly forty in attendance.
Our primary purpose for the event is to fish for trout in the many streams throughout the area, but we’re also there to catch up with each other after a year of doing what we do. I fly fish, but it is the fellowship that brings me back every year. These are great guys who share a love of the outdoors and each of us knows how fortunate we are to have such a beautiful playground in our backyard. In our younger days, things could get a bit rowdy as we all tended to let our hair down a little, but now most of us are short-haired types and have mellowed a bit over the years.
We’re also there for the food. Camp II always brings out some of the most accomplished outdoor cooks I have ever been around. This year was no exception. On the first night, we had an outstanding fish and shrimp boil that I honestly couldn’t get enough of. I filled my bowl several times. On our second night, we were treated to smoked prime rib, grilled lobster tails, baked potatoes, and grilled fresh asparagus. The word incredible doesn’t do justice to this meal.
As much as I was there for the fun and the food, I was also there to give Bertha a good test of her ability to provide shelter for an extended period. She was tested early because it rained almost the whole weekend. Not only did it rain, there was an unusually strong storm that came through the mountains and we had winds that approached 80 miles an hour. Trees were losing limbs everywhere. Bertha rocked a little, and certainly got her feet wet, but otherwise proved to be able to withstand most anything.
The first night was cold and damp but I sat on Bertha’s couch and read a book in full light and warm as toast. Occasionally I would spot a few who were standing beside a soggy campfire every time the rain slacked off. (Note: A reader has chastised me severely for not inviting everyone in. Bertha has an occupancy limit but I did extend a few invitations…none were accepted, however). I slept very well as the rain fell gently on the roof.
From our beginning, Easin’ Along was created to promote and participate in an active lifestyle during our retirement and continue to do so for as long as we are able. Now that Bertha has passed her first exam, it looks as though we will have no trouble doing just that for a while longer at least, and we can continue happily Easin’ Along down the retired road. We look forward to that with great vigor.
Next week, Helen and I take Bertha to Cherokee, North Carolina for Bertha’s second trip. Please come back…’cuz Bertha gets a bonus!