01 Nov

RV Family Travel Atlas: Our Love Affair With Roadfood!

We love food, but with three young kids in tow, eating while traveling can be a challenge. We have learned that roadfood is the secret to successfully enjoying a local food culture. Join us for this week’s episode where we discuss our philosophy of roadfood and the great culinary classic of the same name, by Jane and Michael Stern.

Our campground review this week is actually of two different campgrounds in Swananoa, North Carolina. Mama Gertie’s Hideaway and Asheville East KOA are only a few miles away from each other, and both are great for very different reasons.

All this and more, on Episode 7 of RV Family Travel Atlas!

Play
28 Jul

Robert Lake Park, Montreat: A Playground for the Soul

We were looking for a peaceful way to spend the day, so we decided to return to Montreat, a Presbyterian retreat community on the outskirts of Black Mountain, North Carolina. I don’t know much about the history of this place, but I do know that they managed to build what may just be the most beautiful playground ever.

With rocky streams running through the whole park, the equipment is spread out in little pockets that our kids could discover in bits and pieces, as opposed to the phrenetic but brief enjoyment that most playgrounds offer.

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There is also a nearby lake with paddle boats and canoes, as well as shops, but Max and Theo really just wanted to splash the morning away. When we stopped to look at the waterfall, they asked if they could slide down it. Really?

Back in downtown Black Mountain, Theo pointed out the “Market”, a hardware store that he seemed to think had high potential for landing him a new toy or something. We avoided it like the plague, but someone without the three-kid-crazy might actually enjoy spending some time in the artsy shops that line the streets of this town.

Instead of shopping, we sat down to eat lunch at My Father’s Pizza and Pasta. Now those of us from the New York area usually avoid getting pizza while traveling. At best it is disappointing; at worst–revolting. But the reviews on Yelp! were good, and it seemed fast and kid-friendly.

I apologize for my low expectations. My Father’s Pizza didn’t just make good pizza ‘for the south’. It was just plain good pizza. I had white garlic pizza with bacon and red onions and oh my goodness. Leftovers later that night with a cold beer made campfire nirvana. My husband had some boring meat thing and he said that it was good also. I wasn’t paying attention.

We probably should have gone back to the playground to work off lunch. Instead, we headed back to the campground for naps. Vacationing is pretty hard work after all.

27 Jul

Daddy’s First Descent Down the Swannanoa…

We were staying at the Asheville East KOA to visit family and attend what would be a big, beautiful wedding.  Both the wedding site and the campground were nestled along the banks of the Swannanoa River, about four and a half miles apart.  The river was running high and fast because of two weeks of steady rain.  One afternoon, as Stephanie and I were helping the boys get dressed for a pre-wedding dinner,  she made a simple suggestion that would lead to a great adventure.

“I think you should tube down the river to the wedding site and meet me and the boys for dinner.”

“Really?”

“You’ve been wanting to go for a tube ride, here’s your chance.  If you don’t, I will.”

“Do you think its dangerous?”

“Probably not, you’ll be okay.”

I had just had my hair cut for the wedding at the Acme Barber Shop in Black Mountain and I had stopped for coffee at the Dynamite Roasting Company on my way back to Asheville East.  I was feeling frisky.

So I decided to go and ask for some advice at the camp store.  When I asked the ladies behind the counter if anyone had ever tubed from the campground to the farm they looked at me like I had flying monkeys coming out of my ears and insisted that no, it had never been done before as far as they knew, and no, I shouldn’t try it.  Not safe.

My mind was made up.  Stephanie would taunt me forever if I chickened out.

When I returned to the camper and started to change into my bathing suit Theo and Max voiced their concern, “Daddy, we want you to drive with us in the truck not take the river.”  I promised them that I would be okay, hugged them both tightly, gave Wes and Momma a kiss, and headed outside to prepare my trusty skiff.

I walked down to the banks of the Swannanoa and launched right from our campsite…

The water was cool and green and the woods were lush and lovely.  Was I scared?  Yes.  But I would put my faith in God, and in my Intex inner tube.  After I left the campground property the water began to move very quickly…

And I sensed rapids ahead….

I was right.  I gripped the handles of my trusty skiff with all of my might and contemplated the folly of my adventure…
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As things got rough I demonstrated the presence of mind, and the sheer stupidity, to continue documenting my journey by snapping photos.

I emerged from the rapids soaking wet, but emboldened by my own misplaced machismo.  But as I plunged further down this uncharted stretch of the Swannanoa I felt more and more isolated from humanity.
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As the river began to flow to the Northwest it became deeper and slower and I had plenty of time to meditate.
I wondered what we would be having for dinner at the farm…
Two hours had passed and I still wasn’t there.  I would have arrived more quickly if I had grabbed Theo’s Mickey Mouse helmet and ridden his scooter down Route 70.  The sky was darkening and I began to hear thunder in the distance.  But the river was lovely….
When I finally approached the farm my heart filled with joy.
I climbed up the banks and saw the white house, past the field and up the hill, where Stephanie and the boys were waiting for me…

I made the trek across the farm as the rain began to fall.  As I walked up the dirt road to the house I could hear voices and laughter.  When I finally arrived the rain had subsided and the mountains and sky were beautiful to behold.  I felt intimately connected to the landscape and to the weather.

My knees were a bit banged up and I got a few strange looks as I joined the party.  But I could hear kids laughing and playing in the side yard of the house and I wanted my boys to know that I was okay.  So I threw the tube into the back of my pick-up, changed into clean clothes, and joined the fun.

25 Jul

Hickory Nut Gap Farm: No Berries? No Problem…

We were sitting on a porch with friends, looking out onto the Blue Ridge Mountains and sipping sangria, when the conversation started. The talk was about who had moved to Asheville and why the rest of us New Jersey folk hadn’t yet.

Jeremy just had to pipe up…Not all of us are looking for an exit strategy from New Jersey, he said. And then looked at me…Right?

I agreed. We love to travel, but we love to go home to the Jersey Shore.

It’s just that some days, when you wake up in the mountains and go berry picking at one of the many local organic farms…

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Then have a picnic lunch and cool off in the creek…

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You have such a nice time that you don’t care if there were hardly any berries for the picking.

And you might wonder–do I really want to go home?

The answer is still yes.

 

24 Jul

The Campground Inspectors File Their Report….

On the second or third day of our visit to the Asheville East KOA I noticed a a bright yellow fifth wheel adorned with KOA logos and advertising pulling into the campground.  I sleuthed around a little and discovered that the inspectors from company headquarters in Billings, Montana were visiting for the campground’s annual inspection.  I am fairly certain that I also spotted the actual inspectors the next morning at the campground’s pancake breakfast.  Two thoughts came to mind as I saw them munching away.  Firstly, these hardened road warriors clearly have their priorities in order–testing a campground’s pancakes is very, very important and should be taken seriously. These inspectors did just that–after every bite they jotted down a few notes in their journals and discussed their findings.  My second thought was simply–how the heck do I apply for that job???
Here at the Lively Little Campers blog we like to think that we also thoroughly inspect each campground that we visit–and we can certainly slay some pancakes…
So after consulting with Stephanie, Max, Theo, and Wes, we all decided to file our own campground inspection report on the Asheville East KOA.  Here are our findings….
1. The interior roads were paved and good for scooting.  In this photo one of the workers in the yellow cart blows Max away in a grueling race around the lake.
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2. The duck corn was delicious–at least the ducks thought so–and the price was right.  We spent a relaxing morning exploring the banks of the Swannanoa River and feeding them.  However, if you look at the picture of the duck corn bags at the top you will see that there is a cute little drawing of a duck on one of the bags but not the other.  This irregularity should clearly be reported to headquarters in Billings!
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3. The boys enjoyed playing at both of the playgrounds and were very happy when they brought in fresh mulch after it rained.  Hey, whose kid is that climbing UP the slide??  Parents these days!
4. The owner’s daughter made snow cones outside of the camp store on several occasions for a buck each.  The boys enjoyed picking out flavors and watching the ice being transformed into a tasty treat.  Just one of many little touches that made the campground so sweet and fun.
5. They recycle!
6. There is lots of room around the lakes for a pretty stroll.

7. We discovered a secret passage from the campground to the Hot Dog King.  Plus a 10% percent discount for campers!

8. We found a great spot for tossing rocks!
9. There is a charming common area with games which makes for a nice place to meet your neighbors and unwind and relax after a long day of unwinding and relaxing.
10.  When I asked the owner where to disembark when tubing the Swannanoa River on their property she loaded me and the boys onto a golf cart and drove me out and showed me.  The boys were thrilled!  It’s hard to beat that kind of customer service.
I tried to share my report with the inspectors in the big bright yellow KOA fifth wheel, but like the fiddler and his airstream, they were gone.  They had probably moved on to their next pancake breakfast, check-lists in hand.
22 Jul

Chrome Shining in the Sun…the Southern Truck Parade

As I’ve already mentioned, the Asheville East KOA is a delightful campground to stroll through.  I’ve been taking about two walks a day there, sometimes with the boys, and sometimes without.  I enjoy walking along the banks of the Swannanoa River and then heading over the little bridge to walk around the spring-fed lakes out back.

This weekend I noticed another lovely sight while strolling around the campground.  A whole bunch of shiny pick-up trucks–both old and new.  I like the way that chrome looks shining in the sun about as much as I like the way that sunlight looks when its shimmering across a lake.

It’s a well-known fact that Southerners love their trucks more than we Northerners do and here is the proof.  Each truck looked like its owner had staged it for a fashion show.  So here is the view from my front row seat…

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Hey you little campers, scram!!!  Daddy wants some alone time with his truck.

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Now that’s better.  My pick for best in show.
21 Jul

Dynamite Joe and the Caffeine Kids, Black Mountain

When you travel and camp with kids coffee is more important than gasoline.  I would rather be stranded on the side of the road with the tank on empty and a fresh cup of Joe in my hands than be woken up in our camper by my twin boys at 6:15 a.m. only to discover that we’re fresh out.  Our kids are naturally caffeinated but we are not.  So luckily for Stephanie and me, when I noticed that our supply of coffee had dwindled down to the last bean I discovered one of those Great Good Places that make life worth living.  The Dynamite Roasting Company, in Black Mountain, is only 2.4 miles up the road from the Asheville East–a match made in heaven if you ask me.

You see, I’ve become an amateur coffee snob in training over the last year.  I used to look for the independent book stores when we travelled to a new town–but now I look for coffee shops.  More specifically, I look for coffee shops with one of these in them…

The first word out of Stephanie’s mouth in the morning is often “coffee?” but she will drink any decent brew from the grocery store.  But I want my coffee fresh roasted, and I want to know when it was roasted and what region it is from.  The baristas at Dynamite are knowledgeable, accessible, and fun to chat with.  They know their stuff without being snobby.  The overall vibe of the shop is mountain cool without any air of pretension.  Notice in the picture above that even the cops in the greater Asheville area like to drink the good stuff.  No Dunkin’ Donuts for them!  Even though they do look like they are hiding behind the roaster…..

The shop itself is cozy and comfortable, and thank goodness, they had a nice variety of whole bean poundage to choose from.  The packaging of the beans was even aesthetically pleasing…

The barista helped me select two pounds to get us through the next stage of our journey.  I brought home the Honduras Los Pinos and the Suplican Clemencia.  Both were excellent.  Stephanie preferred the darker Suplican which had the qualities of a good French Roast, and I preferred the Honduras, which was brighter and fruitier.  Before we leave town I am going to grab a pound of their Summer Blend which is pictured above, on the right side.

Dynamite Roasting Company may just be the perfect little coffee shop.  I’ve tasted coffee from other roasters back in New Jersey that is equally as good, and my hometown shop, Turnstile Coffee Roasters in Belmar has an equally charming space–but I have never been in a coffee shop that has had such an excellent record collection.

If I lived in Swannanoa or Black Mountain I would spend a dangerous amount of time and money at the Dynamite Roasting Company.  As a fan of the coffee and chocolate houses of 18th century England I would probably even try to have my mail delivered to the shop.

But for now I was just happy to have replenished our supply of whole bean and to have discovered a great new place.  I wish I could have lingered for a while on their front porch and contemplated the view….

But Stephanie was back at the campground and I wanted to go home and brew her a fresh cup.  A great KOA and a great coffee roaster less than three miles apart?  I didn’t think our road trip could get any better, but thanks to the Dynamite Joe, it clearly did.   The Caffeine Kids are forever grateful.
20 Jul

Good Morning Swannanoa! East Asheville, KOA

We woke up on our first morning at the Asheville East KOA in Swannanoa, brewed some coffee, and then decided to head out for a stroll, and a scoot, to check out the campground.

I really liked our site.  That is the Swannanoa River rushing by in the background.  The water in the foreground is a small pond that formed after the river jumped its banks a few days before.  A family of ducks had also moved in by the tree.

Over the last few weeks the rain had caused the river to run high and fast.  This is the view from a cute little bridge that crosses the river and brings you over to the other side of the campground where there are two charming lakes for fishing and canoeing.

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They have cabins and RV sites that face out across the water.  What a lovely view to wake up to on a misty mountain morning.

The campground has a lot of cute nooks and crannies for exploring and is much larger than it seems from the road.

After our walk the boys wanted to play at the smaller of the two playgrounds right in front of the camp store.  Max felt like stretching his legs and doing some climbing, so he did.

We were happy to be back in the mountains and looking forward to spending a lot of quality time with our family.  I was also immensely pleased to have such a convenient base camp for the second part of our trip.  We have been looking for a great place to park our camper when visiting Asheville–and now we have found it.

15 May

Girls’ Night (Okay, Afternoon) Out: Zip Lining in Asheville, NC

Three years ago, the Asheville community was all abuzz about a coming attraction, and it was NOT the impending arrival of our Max and Theo. Navitat, a zip lining company (or “tree-based adventure company” as they like to call themselves), was opening in the mountains. It was the area’s hottest ticket. Everyone was doing it. Everyone was raving. Everyone except Jeremy and me.

Bad timing on our part, huh? We had been traveling down to Asheville for the last five years, and they decide to open this place when I am 200 pounds and pregnant with twins. Way to throw the whole life change thing in my face.

Anyway, the topic kept coming up over the last two years and I seriously considered it each and every time we visited. The hassle of arranging to be away from twin infants was just always a little too much of a hurdle for me. Next time, I would promise myself.

That is…until THIS TIME!!! Because I am now a mother of toddlers and I am capable of anything. No more “Ohhh, babies, how can I possibly leave you for even a precious moment?” Now it’s “There is milk in the fridge, peanut butter in the cabinet, and the rest you can figure out!” The boys (and that includes my husband) have no problem fending for themselves in my absence, and I am determined to make the most of this.

My sister and I headed out with a couple of our friends, and the payoff for this particular event was huge. I had never zip lined before, so I was certainly excited, but I honestly did not think I would have as much fun as I did. Once you got over thinking so much–how should I hold my feet, where do my hands go, when do I brake, should I break now, now, how about now–



it was just breath-taking and exhilarating.  I basically want to go zip lining again and again and again. Not so easy of a hobby to indulge unfortunately.

Navitat is running a first-class operation down there in North Carolina.  The two guides for our group were friendly and good-humored, striking just the right balance between educating us and letting us just enjoy the experience.

In between the zip lines, they had charming diversions like a rope swing, a rope ladder, and a couple of repelling points. The guides also tried to incorporate regional history and botany…again, just enough to be interesting without being overbearing.

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What is the best news? They say that a course is coming to our neck of the woods soon and very soon. Our guides told us that they would be opening a Navitat in the Jim Thorpe area of the Poconos, a favorite weekend destination for our family.

To say that I am excited would be an understatement. By then the boys will be even older and even more capable of watching their father for extended periods of time. Possibilities expand before my eyes.

08 May

Mt. Mitchell: On Top of the World (as far as us East Coasters are concerned)

Seven or eight years ago, Jeremy and I were spending our usual couple of weeks in Asheville during the month of July. The free music festival Belle Chere is held there every year on the last weekend in July, and we had our pre-parenthood traditions that included lots of late nights listening to music in crowded bars, followed by sleeping in until all hours, and then maybe getting around to an afternoon hike.

One of these lazy afternoons was hot and humid enough to chase us up to a higher altitude. We learned early on in our mountain explorations that if you want to escape the heat, just go up a few thousand feet. And bring a sweater…and a raincoat, because you never know.

So we decided to head up to Mt. Mitchell, the highest point east of Mississippi. We weren’t up for any of those real hikes (on account of all that music in bars), so we stumbled onto the Balsam Nature Trail, an easy mile loop full of stones and moss and mushrooms and caves.

This has become one of our favorite hikes to do with the boys. We take them each time we are in Asheville, and it is the perfect walk for young rock scramblers. At this point they can walk the whole trail themselves with only a couple of snack breaks to boost the morale.

A brief “Mt. Mitchell and the Boys” montage (sing Through the Years in your head…)

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In the spirit of celebrating the general mouthiness of my boys, I will admit that when we took them up the mountain a few weeks ago, Theo was expressing skepticism about the fabulousness of this particular hike. Basically, we had been to the fish hatchery the day before and so for him, on this particular day, it was feeding fish or bust. He kept requesting fish, and at one point his brother piped in with a request for a beaver. Say what?

So in classic manipulative cheerleader mom mode, I told them that while there would probably be no animal sightings, there might be….wait for it…a WATERFALL!!!! Gasps, smiles, claps. My work is done here, folks.

Okay, so there is no waterfall. There is just a small, trickling fresh water spring that comes out of the mountain toward the end of hike. Vocabulary is fluent at this age and I take full advantage. But it was enough for them, and it is enough for us…every time.

I can’t wait to go back to our waterfall.

19 Apr

Campground Review: Mama Gertie’s Hideaway

Swannanoa, Western North Carolina

The Lively Little Campers are also lucky little campers.  Max and Theo just happen to have two loving grandparents who live in Asheville, North Carolina–surrounded by the stunning beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The boys have visited Ami and BeBop in Asheville many times, but we have never had the pleasure of camping there.  That all changed last week when we kicked off the 2012 camping season with a seven day stay at Mama Gertie’s Hideaway in nearby Swannanoa.
Last summer while staying in Asheville we scouted out the two area KOA’s and were not particularly thrilled–as both were close to highways with relatively small sites.  So when we started planning this most recent trip we had no idea where to stay.  I spent countless hours pouring over my Trailer Life directory and I put on my captain internet costume while I slogged through dozens of campground reviews.  This probably sounds painfully familiar to many of you campers out there, right?
My extensive research narrowed down the options to a couple of spots.  But to make the final decision I felt that it would be necessary to put some boots on the ground.  BeBop (aka grandpa) was given an advanced scouting mission that he tackled with his usual tenacity and style.
The end result: Site 19 at Mama Gertie’s Hideaway.  An absolutely beautiful, quiet, peaceful, and private spot nestled right over a gurgling stream.  The rear bed in our camper (Max and Theo’s “clubhouse”) literally looked right over the water.  The gentle sound of water rushing over rock whispered us to sleep each night.
As an added bonus there was also a Jayco RV dealership and a great diner called The Breakfast Shoppe within walking distance of the campground.  The salesman at the dealership allowed the campers to investigate his complete line of travel trailers and hybrids with no pressure added and the cook at the diner made the boys Mickey Mouse shaped pancakes.  I don’t know about you, but eating Mickey Mouse pancakes and looking at Jayco RV’s is a pretty good way to waste away a morning.
Mama Gertie’s Hideaway was truly a lovely campground, and it was situated in a great location just east of Asheville.  But when you’ve got three year old twin boys who love to run, scoot, slide, and swim–beauty and serenity are not the only qualities that this mama and papa look for in a campground.  The boys have their camping wish list too.  Unfortunately, Mama Gertie’s had no playground, no pool, no open field for play, and the roads were too steep for scooting.
BeBop’s fact finding mission uncovered all of this before we booked but we decided to go for it anyway.  It was too cold for swimming and we would be spending most of our time at the grandparent’s house anyway–and they have the world’s best scooting road right in front of their home.  And to be fair–Mama Gertie’s lack of amenities and activities is reflected in their bargain price.  Our site was 32 dollars a day and they offer discounts for Good Sam and AAA members.  They also offer a free night after six nights paid–perfect for our itinerary.
If we camp in the Asheville area again this summer we have already decided to look elsewhere–somewhere with a little more action for the boys.  I will, however, miss the peacefulness of Mama Gerties.  And if peacefulness is what your looking for then I can suggest no better place.
Onward!