2017 Trip 4: another great rally adventure

2017 Trip 4: Vacation

It's finally Friday and that means it is time for the vacation to start. We are heading south, ending up at Cape Hatteras, with stops along the way in Raleigh N.C., and the 2017 edition of the Alto rally. This is an east coast year, and it is being held at Stone Mountain S.P., near Roaring Gap N.C.. As has become somewhat of a tradition, our Friday night head start gets us to the Walmart in Ogdensburg, where we camp overnight, do a little shopping, then get our groceries the next morning. This little routine works quite well, and saves us a few hours of time.

Bit of a mishap right out of the gate. We were almost at the border when our cellphone rang, and it was Conor, one of Chris & Tammy's boys. He told us that he just noticed that the window in the Mini was down, and thought he should call us. We talked options, and soon realized that it would be best to swing around and head back to close up that window. It was unfortunate we did not have a set of keys at home, but we sure will now! Fortunately it was still early in the evening, and we were able to get across the border and to the Walmart by about 8:30. Definitely a pain, but good to have resolved and off our mind.  Conor saved the day big time, no worry of us coming back to a drenched or ransacked car.

Chris & Jenn, and their 1743 Alto were already parked in the lot. They are trying the Walmart routine this year as well. It was nice to have their company, we all wandered the Walmart, then had a quick visit and a cold one before turning in. We were serenaded to sleep by a street sweeper cleaning the parking lot, and a guy with an angle grinder fixing a broken down truck just across the way, sparks flying out into the darkness. Made us feel right at home, as if we we in Canada at a Canadian Tire parking lot!

Headed to Lackawanna State Park Saturday morning, our second stop on the way to Raleigh. Right down the I81 through New York State and into Pennsylvania, ending up just above Scranton. Pulled in around 4:00, followed a bit after by Chris & Jenn. They had no reservations, but the online reservation system showed some openings, so they winged it and got a site next to us.  This park  was nice but it reminds us a lot of Murphy's Point, an abundance of tree canopy, and a darkish damp feel to the whole place. We all took a nice walk after dinner to the beach area, then called it a day.

We were up early, as we had a big drive ahead of us. A nice shower made us feel brand new again, then we hitched up and were on the road by 8:00am. We headed towards Lake Anna S.P. Pretty much the whole trip was on the I81, finished off Pennsylvania, through Maryland, then into Virginia. Off the I81 at Winchester, then cross country to well below Culpepper. The first part of the cross country went fine, great roads, moving at a nicer pace than the I81, then it all started to get a little vague. I was following Google Maps, and the route seemed OK, but the numerous secondary roads got progressively narrower...real tiny. At one point, we were on this little road that wove its way through the fields of a number of little farms, half expecting to round a corner and run smack dab into a tractor. Finally we did end up at the road to the park...we had arrived.

Lake Anna is in part a reservoir lake created by a hydro dam at the north end. There is also a nuclear power station situated on the lake's far shore. Site reservations are non-specific. You check in at the office, they provide you with your package, then off you go and find an empty site that you like. An interesting system, as you are not locked in to what may have been a pre-selected mediocre site. We found a really nice one at the far end of a loop, and set up camp. We wandered down to see the beach and dip our toes. It is a large lake, with a really nice beach, and lots of activity on the water. Given that it has been really warm the past while, the water temp was wonderful.

curious water valves...heavy industrial feel
and another interesting design

We headed to North Carolina Sunday morning, specifically the Falls Lake Recreation Area outside of the state capital city of Raleigh.  We were booked in there for three nights, time to visit Dale's friend Debbie, and explore the area a bit. On the road early, to get a good start on what is shaping up to be another stinking hot day. Once again we stuck to the secondary roads. Not having learned anything yesterday from following a Google map we soon found ourselves on a few more 600 series roads, which more aptly should be called country backroads. Putting a series number on these makes you believe the road will be a bit bigger that it actually is. Wrong. Great way to see the true countryside though, at a leisurely pace.

never a good moment

We saw a ton of wonderful Virginia landscape, large majestic homes, and lots of horse ranches. This area definitely has plenty of home pride, with well maintained homes, and acres of land kept mowed and freshly painted fences surrounding them.  Even the roads are in great shape, fresh pavement and paint everywhere. This is nice to see, as our norm in Ontario seems to be to build it and let it crumble away and just patch it.  Given our high tax rate, it makes you wonder where the hell all the money goes,...obviously not to basic services such as roads.

Heading continually south, we crossed into N.C., nearing our destination.  The Recreation Area is huge. There is a day use area, a marina, and two separate campsites. Our site is at the end of a loop, and it is fabulous. Not only is it large and level, with a view of the lake, but Dale soon discovered to our surprise that we had our own beach on the edge of the lake.  Dark red sand extends well into the water, and that water is toasty warm. What a bonus! We tucked in under the shade of the trees on the edge of the lake.

It was clammy southern heat which brought with it a brief thunderstorms. We could hear it approaching, so we tucked away some of our loose gear, and in no time, it was pounding down the rain. What was odd though, it remained very bright while it rained, no big black clouds.  A few thunder cracks made it somewhat official.

On Tuesday morning we met Debbie at her house, which was only about 15 minutes from the campground. From there we headed downtown to explore. Raleigh is the state capital, and has a lovely compact downtown area, with several parks and gardens. There are numerous historical installations, with bronze statues or plaques providing a detailed explanation of the events.  We then walked over to the warehouse district (near the heritage train station) and discovered many interesting shops, cool restaurants, and the usual spattering of local breweries, which always seem to anchor the revitalization of these areas.  We really liked the feel and vibe of Raleigh downtown.

Dale & Debbie

clearly a favourite perch

neat little marker in the sidewalk...like a miniature time capsule

nice Art Deco stylings

We grabbed a quick bite to eat at one of these neat spots, then continued to explore. Later in the afternoon the three of us headed back to the campground, sitting by the water to continue our visit and enjoy a cooling G & T. A simple dinner was rustled up, strip loins on the barbie with a side of Caesar salad.  Deb treated us to a very special bottle of wine from the renown Asheville Biltmore Estate winery, for us to save for a future special occasion.  A nice treat since we did not have time on this trip to visit Asheville and the Vanderbilt estate which on our next trip to NC, will be a 'must see'.

Wednesday was a laid back day, the most important activity was finding a Target store, which is a bit of a tradition for most Canadians while visiting the States. There always seems to be something to find at Target, and sure enough, we did. Our folding camp chairs have seen better days, and on top of that, I've never found them comfortable. The back is toonlow and narrow, and the seat pan cuts nicely into the back of my legs. I'm good for about  10 minutes in these things, and then I am squirming like an eel, trying to get comfortable.

Dale spotted some chairs in the camp section, and what caught her eye was that they were called 'captain' chairs. This generally infers that the chair is a bit wider and taller. A test drive in the aisle confirmed this, and I immediately could tell these were much nicer to sit in. Four were dropped into the cart, at the outstanding price of $15.99 each.

Not wanting to just chuck out our old ones, which were still serviceable, or to haul them back home, we took them to a thrift store we spotted in our running around. It appeared to quite the well run operation with a drive through donation area in the back, a large outdoor display section, and a nice big storefront. Good to know the chairs will find further use somewhere. After dinner we started packing up some stuff in preparation for heading out.

Rally day today!...an event that has been in the planning since last November is finally here. We were up early, both of us excited to get going. Before leaving Raleigh we made a trip to the grocery store to load up, as we did not want to have to go looking for a store in the area of the park, or have to leave once we got there. Harris Teeter, the grocery store was a nice find, with a great fruit and veggies section, and a nice deli/meat selection. Amazingly, with some creative reorganization all the supplies were able to fit into the fridge.

It was only a three hour drive to the park, Stone Mountain S.P. through once again lovely countryside. Along the way we lost the power connection to the Alto, which unfortunately means no signals or brakes. A quick off ramp exit led to a simple fix and we were on our way again.

The 421 eventually turned into the 21, then a couple of secondary roads led us to the park. We had the same excitement pulling into our site loop as we did at Kelly's Island two summers ago...Altos everywhere, only a lot more of them this rally.  We arrived at our site to a welcoming gang of Karen & Steve, Annie, Mark, Jack, & Ralph. Got backed in, lots of hellos, then started to get squared away. The conversations were plentiful, with lots of catching up to do. We are in between Linda & Mark and Karen & Steve. The sites are huge, and the grounds are well kept and lush, a perfect setting for the rally.

More Altos rolled in, and our loop soon started to fill up. B Loop was entirely Altos by Friday evening. After dinner we wandered over to Tricia & Ralph's to get the serious visiting started. It was great to see everyone again and for other Alto owners who are active on the Facebook group and we have not yet met, it was great to put faces to them and chatting.  A bit of rain overnight, but it was gone by the morning.

all Altos...nary a beige box to be found

Lots more visiting on Friday, as well as a little handyman repair work on some Altos around us. Annie had a cabinet door that was giving her lots of grief, Linda had a broken cabinet latch that needed some epoxy, then later when Jennifer and Win rolled in they could not get water out of their kitchen tap. Turned out that was a totally clogged aerator. I only checked that because I remembered that Chris & Jenn had a similar issue at Cedar Cove.

Friday night was the traditional 'meet and greet', held in one of the picnic shelters on the other side of the park. Although we all had to drive there, it was a perfect spot, nestled in the cool woods. Guessing that there was over a hundred people there. Tons of food,and lots of conversation made for a great evening. Afterwards we dropped by Lee & Jack's to finish off the evening.

Saturday was tour morning. Given the higher number of Altos here, I believe that the official count was 43, another method was needed to make the tour manageable to fit into into the morning and have less of a crowd visiting each trailer.  The organizers decided upon a "house tour" format.  Five Altos were selected, fellow owners were then free to wander around and visit them in the order they wanted to. The other owners were suggested to send in their mods in advance of the rally and the list and a map was given out at the rally to enable those wishing to see those mods to make their own arrangements over the course of the 3-4 day rally.

We were one of the five, and we focussed our discussion on some of the mods we have done, mostly of the technical nature. The flow of people was steady, and our popular topic was definitely the Trimetric monitor and solar controller install we did. The tour was from 9:00-12:00, and we fielded questions about solar into the afternoon. Lots of keeners out there.

In the afternoon we hung out, then off to the rally potluck dinner in the evening, back at the picnic shelter. Lots more food and more visiting, but the highlight of the evening was a demonstration of falconry by Lee Chichester. She has been a falconer for onwards of thirty years, and brought two of her birds...a peregrine falcon and a red tailed hawk. She explained to us about the birds and what is involved in becoming a falconer. Then out came the birds, one at a time. The peregrine was first. To see this bird of prey, up close, sitting on her gloved hand, was truly beyond amazing. Lee explained how she hunts with the bird, or rather, how she helps the bird hunt. This ritual is all part of falconry, managing the birds hunting and food intake. Once you hear her explain all that is involved, you quickly realize that this is an intense undertaking, requiring solid knowledge, dedication, and a true devotion to the birds.

What do you feel being so close to a bird of prey...a sense of awe. This creature is designed to hunt...from the wing structure to the talons, even their nostrils are adapted to protect their airways from the extreme diving speeds they can reach. Simply incredible. The peregrine was bred in captivity for falconry, but the red tailed hawk is a wild bird. It to was just as amazing, and certainly more skiterish with the crowd. It invoked in me just a touch of fear, and it is little wonder these birds command respect. Lee's presentation was a very rare glimpse into this fascinating world. Thanks Lee!

A few gathered at our place afterwards to wrap up the evening, laughin' and scratchin' until it was time to turn in. Sunday morning was the official wrap up of the rally. We gathered in the grassy open area behind our site, lots a breakfast goodies appeared, and we closed out the rally. Many pulled out today, sad to see the numbers start to dwindle. There was still a bunch of us that stayed a bit longer, and there was a river kayak adventure planned off site in the afternoon.


Dale and I needed to hike to the top of Stone Mountain, if only to be able to say we did. It would be a bit odd to come all this way and not see the highlight of the park. It was a great hike, about forty minutes each way, on an easy trail. We were treated to a wonderful view at the top, sight lines out across the valley below. The weather was clear and we could see a long way. We also ran into fellow Alto owners Barb & Mike at the top and sat down and had a great visit, enjoying our conversation, while taking in the view and the cooling breeze.  We hiked back down together, chatting with other hikers on the way. A group of young girls took a group picture of the four of us, a nice momento of our afternoon.

always interesting to see the warning signs

nice views...perfect weather 

our hiking friends...Barbara & Mike

In the evening there was an ad hoc BBQ at Donna & Wayne's, followed by a roaring campfire at Sherry & Vald's. It was Wayne's birthday, so Annie arranged to get a cake for the occasion. It was a great way to get in some final visits before heading out on the Monday morning. Overall the rally was a huge success. Great to catch up with old Alto friends, and meet a whole bunch of new ones. It will be most interesting to see how these rallies evolve over the coming years.  We are planning to make it to as many as we can.

On the road first thing in the morning, and our original plan was to head towards Pettigrew S.P. This idea garnered a few quizzical looks from those familiar with the park. Seems it is well off the beaten track, and that is not what we had intended for simply a stopover night. On the road, we researched something closer to Hwy 64, and found a private campground near Williamston, which served the purpose quite nicely.

A nice drive Tuesday morning to the Outer Banks, or OBX as they coin it there.  The landscape is now much closer to sea level. Crossed a number of low bridges, and as much as I am not a fan of bridges, these lower height bridges were actually quite pleasant, and I was able to release the white knuckles and enjoy the sights of the Pamlico Sound. We cruised through Nags Head, wanting to see what it was about before turning south down Hwy 12. With it's mostly all new high end beach houses and retail stores it seems to have lost the original Outer Banks look and feel. We headed to a smaller village of Frisco where it has retained it's original feel.

at least it was straight, flat and low...given my love of bridges

A couple of days before we made another unplanned detour and cancelled our site at the National Seashore Park in Frisco, and booked into a private campground called Frisco Woods instead so that we would have a electrical site.  It had been stinking hot the past few days, with more of the same forecasted, so we realized that the Barley man would need the cooling temps of the air conditioner. Frisco Woods was a well maintained campground and would recommend it, and it is in a central location to the other OBX towns and is close to a National Seashore beach access point.

We were able to find a lovely shaded site, which in addition to the A/C, would be perfect to lower the inside temps. We were glad we made this move. In our travels we did cruise through the N.P. campground, and we would have fried there. Everything was scrub brush and sand dunes. One would need to be Lawrence of Arabia just to make the trek to the beach!

Not really feeling like fixing dinner, we ate at a great spot called Rusty's, located down the road in Buxton. The food was creative and excellent and the craft beer selection was good. Our waitress recommended a particularly good glass of Robert Mondavi cabernet, so good that it deserved another tasting!

some nice sunsets were enjoyed

Wednesday was Ocracoke Island day. Naturally there is a ferry ride involved, but we did wonder why it would take an hour to get to an island we could see? We soon found out that the Sound is shallow depth and so the ferries need to weave its way back and forth around the sandbars to finally reach deep water. It did the same dance when approaching the other dock. Hwy 12 continues on into the town, a long straight stretch of asphalt, bisecting the dunes, ocean on one side, the sound on the other...literally. The town has a real beachy feel to it. The pace is laid back, a touch of tacky tourist spots, and a whole lot of interesting bars and restaurants. Lots of rental golf carts were scooting around, and we knew right away this would also be our mode of travel. Just like at Kelly's Island, this was the best way to see it all including the Okracoke Island lighthouse, and they are blast to zoom around in.

chasing the ferry

water is right on each side of this road...make you wonder why this is all still here

the ponies...descendants of the wild ones

Lunch was at a taco stand called Edourado's. We ordered two fish taco plates made with 'Drum' fish which we have never had before with their homemade Pineapple Basil iced drink. Excellent spot and food.

consumed in the finest of golf carts

Bonus...Dale spotted a salt water taffy place, and a selection of those tasty morsels are heading back to Canada with us.

this abandoned guy has seen better days
Thursday was a relax day, as we have been going pretty steady so far this vacation. We went to the public beach ramp and found a nice spot to sit and gaze out over the Atlantic. The beach goes on for as far as the eye can see, in each direction. A couple of nice walks, then sat back and watched the numerous sand crabs play peek-a-boo with the world. Those guys sure are skiterish.

cute as a button, but nervous as hell

these guys really know how to scurry across a beach

no doubt a storm wrecked havoc on this place

We figured we should also see the Cape Hatteras Light Station, so we drove over to Buxton. It is the second tallest lighthouse in the world, and in recent years has seen a lot of restoration, including being moved to a new location. That must have been a hell of an undertaking. There is a nice information centre here, and you can even climb to the top for the view. For a guy who has difficulty on a step ladder, that adventure was not going to happen. Spent the rest of the afternoon slowly packing gear away and getting ready to head out in the morning.

see...we were there

Big drive on Friday...all the way from Hatteras to Front Royal, Virginia, Shenandoah River State Park to be specific. It turned out to be a nine hour cross country adventure, on a variety of roads, big and small. Wanting to avoid the Chesapeake area and it's proliferation of tunnels and crazy bridges, we cut below the area on secondary roads, most of which alternated between two and four lanes. Traffic was light, and we were soon on the 95. From there we went up and around Richmond, then continued until we cut across to the 66.

The park is set in beautiful rolling hills, and is nestled in the crook of the U-shape river.  Nice site, but mostly open with the sun was beating down on us something fierce. Up went the awning, then we got Barley set up in air conditioned comfort, then headed to the river for a swim. The river winds its way through the park with just enough flow to provide a leisurely float downstream on a raft or tube, the park is known for tubing.  We just floated near the access point, enjoying the  cooling water. The whole park seems brand new, and deserves top marks all around, especially the showers, which were massive and spotless, with tons of hot water.

lazy river....very refreshing

Sunday, HAPPY CANADA DAY!  Although we were in the States, we certainly knew what day it was back home...and this year, Canada's 150 anniversary celebrations.

A bit of a shorter drive to Wilkes-Barre PA, but throw those hills into the mix, it added time to our drive. We took a quick detour into Harrisburg, just to cruise the downtown and get a bit of a feel for the area. Lots of interesting older buildings, and there seemed to be an Art Deco feel to the buildings, plenty of sculptures and friezes all over the place. The section along the river had nice looking walkways, and even an older pedestrian bridge to the other side. There was a very interesting old railway bridge, with several tall supporting pillars.

Got a little lost on the way into Francis Slocum State Park, an oddly placed detour sign had us heading much deeper into the countryside than we thought we should be, so I eventually found a a property to wheel into and as luck would have it, the owner came out and got us back on track. The park is by a small lake, but strangely has no swimming beach, but rather a pool area. It is very lush and green, nice sites, with a heavy treed canopy. No need for the awning here. We got set up, then the forecasted storm blew though the area, dumping lots of rain, but nothing too serious. The cooling effect was definitely welcomed.

A couple of interesting tidbits on the park. The lake here was created as a reservoir to control flooding. When Tropical Storm Agnes hit here in 1972, the Park was closed and became the temporary home to 280 families. The Park was reopened in June 1974, when the last family was able to leave. It was named after Francis Slocum, a young girl who was kidnapped by Delaware Indians in 1778. Francis was taken along when the Delaware Indians moved westward, and ended up spending her whole life with them. Her brothers never gave up searching for her, and after 59 years, she was found living on a reservation in Indiana. She refused to return to Pennsylvania, eventually passing away at the age of 74.

Last leg of the journey home was an overnight at Green Lakes State Park, just outside of Syracuse. We have been here a couple of years ago, and it is a favourite as the jumping off point to make it home the next day. Last time we were here they were working on some park renovations, and the results now showed. Brand new comfort stations, a fine looking dump station, and yes, if you have seen some that we have over the years, one can easily recognize a fine looking one! The park looks great. We stayed in the slightly more wooded area this time and it is now our preferred area. The sites a reasonable in size, and very well maintained. The new comfort stations are the best we have ever seen. There are four separate shower rooms, massive, each with its own sink and toilet. I can see this being a real help to young families.

Naturally, a trip to Trader Joes is a given, as are big fans. There is also an L.L.Bean nearby, and that is always great to wander through. The rest of the afternoon was very low key, and in the evening we watched a video on some of the Canadian National Parks. The premise was to get together a group of musicians and independent filmmakers, let them loose in a N.P. for five days, and see what they come up with. The results were interesting, but a tad eccentric. Unfortunately, one does not get a sense of the parks at all, which I would have thought was part of the whole point.

Arrived back home on the Monday, the vacation now at a close.
Highlights...the Rally of course! Renewed friendships and made a whole bunch of new ones. So many great people in one spot, all with a unique little Alto as a common thread. The falconry presentation by Lee was fascinating, and certainly a special memory. The birds are just so majestic. The Outer Banks are also a special place, with Ocracoke Island a must see for everyone.

We were blessed with great weather and safe travelling, filled with friendly people and wonderful sights. Yet another fine adventure in a little sanctuary on wheels.


  1. Hello Jim, Dale and Barley,

    Meeting you at the rally was great! Enjoy reading your blog and this post especially as it covers some trails we have taken.

    Monday, returning from SC where we went to see eclipse totality, I drove some roads in NC that were beyond white knuckle as I had side views of the Alto turn after turn while hoping I would not meet a large vehicle! But as you say, we saw some beautiful countryside and discovered two state parks we will return to for some hiking.

    I shared with Mike that you were flexible and changed your plans with regards to Pettigrew. We were wondering how that had gone for you two. Anyway, my sharing with Mike had a point, we need to learn from the pros and remember to be flexible when it makes so much more sense!

    Please give Barley our love! We told Casper all about him.

    Mike and Barbara

  2. Hi guys,
    An excursion to view the eclipse, one of those rare events you just have to do. We had little change up here in Ottawa, but followed it keenly on the internet.

    Discovering new roads and countryside is one of the huge bonuses of travel, as long as the roads don't get too adventuresome. Yes, we altered our route, as your comments were closely noted. If it had been a 2 or 3 night stay, then it would have been worth the drive, but for a quick stopover, sometimes it is wise to give plans a bit of a re-think.

    We got Barley one of those soft sided dog crates that a few at the rally were using. Barley loves it...and so do we. It gets him outside, and it lessens our level of worry that he will freak out on his leash, which has happened, and it is not pleasant for all involved. Perhaps an idea for Casper should he ever headed out with you guys.

    We so enjoyed hiking with you and Mike on Stone Mountain, and what a great place to have a visit!

    Take care,