Change of Altitude: Mountain Stream RV Park (Marion, N.C.)

The beauty of living in the middle of South Carolina is that we’re never more than a few hours from the mountains or the beach. For Labor Day weekend we decided to head north for a few days of relaxation in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

I booked our trip to Mountain Stream RV Park almost a year ago, so we were excited to finally get a chance to visit the campground in person. On Friday morning we packed what seemed like all of our worldly possessions into the Jeep, hooked-up the camper, and headed up I-26. From the Columbia area it was only about a 3-hour drive to the campground. The drive was pretty easy, except for the last 5 miles on Highway 80, which were very windy and had areas were rock faces were very close to the road.

When we arrived we found a very well maintained park. The sites weren’t huge, but they were well designed, so you didn’t feel like you were right on top of your neighbors. There are only 33 spots, which gave the campground a very intimate feel. All but the last two or three sites backed-up to Buck Creek, providing beautiful views and relaxing sounds of moving water. Some sites even had decks overlooking the creek. We were on site 6, which was toward the front of the park near the store.

The park offered full hook-up, cable, and free wifi. The wifi came in handy since there was no cell signal (on AT&T or Verizon) at the campground. We did find that the wifi was spotty in the evenings, but it worked pretty well about 80% of the time. They did also offer an upgraded wifi option for $4.95 a day or $9.95 for three days.

Given the mountain roads, we were a bit surprised to see that most of the other campers had large fifth wheels or even large class A motorhomes. So, even though the roads were tight, it’s clearly possible to get larger rigs into the park. Just be sure to turn left when leaving the campground because we discovered that the top section of Hwy 80 included a set of switchback turns that are nicknamed the Devil’s Whip.

Before we headed to North Carolina, I posted to the North Carolina RV Camping Group on Facebook asking for recommendations of activities to do while we were visiting. On Saturday, we decided to try a few out.

First, we took a short drive to the trailhead for Tom’s Creek Falls. The trail was pretty easy, our 4-year-old even walked the whole loop without asking to be carried. The fall was beautiful! The boys were able to wade in the water at the base of the fall, and we were even able to climb some rocks to a pool a short way up the fall. We spent over an hour playing in the cool mountain water, searching for “dinosaur bones,” and catching crawfish. There was a steady flow of people coming to the fall, but it never felt overcrowded.

Next we went into town to grab some lunch. We ended up at Smokey Q’s in Marion. The food was great, but I was a bit disappointed that they didn’t have macaroni and cheese as a side option. After filling up on BBQ, we went to do some more exploring. We decided on a scenic drive through Pisgah National Forest on Curtis Creek Rd., another recommendation from Facebook. It was a great drive for those who enjoy getting off the pavement.

On Sunday, we decided we’d try the fall favorite of apple picking. After some quick research we chose The Orchard at Altapass. The orchard itself is tucked along the Blue Ridge Parkway and was gorgeous. When we arrived we found out they’d had such a large crowd on Saturday, and they were completely out of ripe apples. So, we picked up some apple butter and blackberry syrup in the store and headed back out. I did discover later that they had posted on Facebook about being closed for u-pick. Lesson learned.

Some fellow campers had recommended Crabtree Falls, so we thought that would be another option, but we arrived to an overflowing parking lot. So, we decided to save that for another trip too. With the orchard and waterfall a bit of a bust, we ended up exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway and forest service roads. We spent a while exploring the area around an empty campsite near the parkway. The boys loved looking at all the cool rocks. We capped the day off with snocones at Pelican’s SnoBalls, then headed back to relax at the campground.

The signs heading into Mountain Stream say “the prettiest little park this side of heaven,” and I think they might just be right. We had a great weekend enjoying nature and cooler temperatures before the hectic push to the holidays. It was the perfect change of altitude to change our attitudes, and I’m already kicking myself for not booking another trip before we left!

Unintended Consequences: Crooked River State Park (Georgia)

Skip to the bottom for a review of Crooked River State Park in St. Marys, Georgia

When Steven first started talking about buying a camper a few years ago, I wasn’t sold on the idea. I was pregnant with our youngest at the time, and I was already anxious about how we’d adjust to being a family of four.

So, we agreed to hold off on adding anything else new into the mix for a few months.

Then, when Jase was a few months old, we found a good deal on a lightly used “starter camper,” and I agreed to give it a try. Everything didn’t always go smoothly, but we still fell in love with camping. Not only has camping brought us closer within our own family, but I also feel like it has given the boys the chance to build stronger relationships with their grandparents.

I lost my own Grandma to COVID a few weeks ago, so I have been thinking a lot about the importance of spending time with our extended family. After my Grandma passed, one of my cousins shared a beautiful tribute to her on Facebook. The post detailed her favorite memories of Grandma. I smiled reading through some of the memories that reminded me of my own visits to Grandma’s house, but I also teared up reading through some of the experiences that I missed out on.

I grew up hundreds of miles from most of my extended family. My parents always made an effort to get us together at holidays or for summer trips, but as I got older it was harder to keep in touch. Now that I have lost three of my four grandparents, I wish I would have spent more time making memories with them. And though it’s largely too late for me, there is still what I hope is plenty of time for my boys to form lifelong bonds with their grandparents.

In fact, being closer to our families was the main reason I wanted to move from Texas to South Carolina after our oldest son was born. Luckily, we live within miles of Steven’s parents and extended family. Unfortunately, my family is a bit more spread out.

But that’s why I’m thankful for camping. All of our parents have campers now, and we typically do a trip or two with each of them every year.

My Dad and his girlfriend, who live in Indiana, upgraded from a pop-up camper to a travel trailer soon after we got our first camper, and we’ve been able to meet-up with them for a couple trips. In fact, one of our first trips was with them in Gatlinburg. Then, a few months ago, my Mom and Step-Dad, who live in Florida, decided to get in on the camping too. This past weekend we met up with them at Crooked River State Park in South Georgia. During these strange times, it’s nice to have an escape that allows us to still spend time with our loved ones.

Unfortunately, with the ongoing COVID crisis, we weren’t able to attend my Grandma’s services last weekend. Grandma was always happiest when she was surrounded by her sons and her grandchildren, and often lamented that we didn’t all live closer. So, I knew Grandma would have been happy to see my boys spending time with their own Grandma, who also wishes her kids and grandkids weren’t so far away.

I wouldn’t have ever imagined buying a tin can on wheels would have led to a greater connection with my parents, but I am very thankful for unintended consequences! I can’t wait for us to all meet somewhere down the road again real soon!

About Crooked River State Park, St. Marys, Ga.

We chose Crooked River State park because it was centrally located between our home in South Carolina and my Mom and Step-Dad’s home in central Florida. The park is easy to access of I-95 near the Kings Bay Naval Base in Kingsland, Ga. There’s a Dollar General, Walmart,  and several other stores within a few miles of the park.

The park itself was very peaceful. The sites were large and well maintained. We stayed on site 11, which was a huge pull through with a gorgeous view of the river. My Mom was on site 39, another large pull through site. Site 11 did not have full hook-up. Site 39 was full hook-up, but the sewer hook-up was on the side that faced the woods/river, which meant the living area faced the road. That was only a minor inconvenience though since there was very little traffic and the park was very quiet.

We were a bit surprised to discover the campground was surrounded by steep cliffs down to the river, which meant we couldn’t access the water for fishing or wading from the site. However, after a quick post on the Georgia RV Camping Group, I discovered there was water access from the river trail near the cabins. We spent time exploring the river bank on Friday, and then Steven and my Step-Dad Tim spent several hours fishing from the bank on Saturday.

The campground is near the coast, but the closest beach is the Cumberland National Seashore, which can only be accessed by ferry or private boat. We decided to save the trip over to the island for another trip, and instead went to explore Jeckyll Island, which was about 45 minutes north. The beach was clean and had parking and facilities. Fernandina Beach near Jacksonville is another option from Crooked River, and is about 45 minutes south of the campground.

The park also had several nice playgrounds, which my boys had to themselves, since we saw very few other kids. Near the playground by the cabins we discovered the park was home to several gopher tortoises, who we enjoyed watching. The park also had a number of trails, a nature center, a bait shop, a boat ramp, and even an outdoor gym.

The only negative was the bugs, which we’d been warned about. If you stay on top of using your bug spray and take your thermacell, you’ll be fine, but don’t forget or you’ll be a tasty snack for the park’s resident no-see-ums and mosquitoes. But I’ll trade a few bug bites for some beautiful sunsets and relaxing time with family.

The Great Escape: Lake Greenwood State Park (Take II)

(Super belated. Sorry!)

I have a confession. I hate fireworks.

Okay, let me clarify that a bit. I don’t hate all fireworks. I just hate when my neighbors shoot off commercial grade fireworks in my subdivision for days before and after any “fireworks holiday.” I know that may make me sound a bit like a Karen, but so be it. I’ve just never understood spending hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars on something you literally blow up. My aversion only got worse once we had kids that we had to try to put to bed in what sounded like a war zone.

Each to their own, I guess.

So, since I can’t stop everyone from living out their pyrotechnic dreams, I made the vow that we were going to get out of dodge for the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve for the foreseeable future. This year we put the plan into action, and headed to Lake Greenwood State Park to celebrate the Fourth.

After our first trip to Lake Greenwood, I was a bit nervous to return, but thankfully, everyone was healthy this time around. We stayed at Campground 2, on site 121. It was a fairly short site, but we didn’t have any issues parking our 24’ Jayco and our Jeep. And the view was awesome! I know I say that a lot, but what do I say, we’ve found some pretty awesome lakefront sites lately.

The only drawbacks of the site were the lack of substantial shade and large rocks that made accessing the water challenging. But did I mention the view? It would be the perfect site for fall or winter, but for July it was HOT. My in-laws tagged along in what Steven affectionately calls the Monstrosity. They stayed on site 124, a large pull through on top of a hill. They struggled to get their 36’ fifth-wheel level on the site, and had even less shade than we had.

We also had a strange incident where some fellow campers decided our site was their personal boat launch. If they had approached us and politely asked if they could tie-up at our site, we probably wouldn’t have thought much of it. But they didn’t say a word to us as they trekked across our site smoking and hauling coolers of beer. Plus, they came back from the fireworks display on Friday night in the wee hours of the morning on Saturday. They may have been great people, but I wasn’t comfortable having people on our site in the middle of the night, so Steven finally had to ask them to move. Interestingly, some of our friends recently had a similar encounter at Lake Greenwood where a family set-up their chairs right in front of their site. So, maybe it’s just something about that park?

Steven caught a fish… by hand! 😂

But despite the heat and small inconveniences, we still had a good time, especially since fireworks were prohibited inside the park. Actually, our site provided a great vantage to watch the fireworks that were being launched on the other side of the lake, but was still quiet enough for us all to get a good night’s sleep. Perfect! I’m sure we’ll give Lake Greenwood another shot, but as mentioned in my Lake Greenwood post, I think we’ll be looking toward the mountains for the Fourth of July next year!

Tried to get a cute Fourth of July picture, but this captures their true personalities better!

Exploring the Upstate: Lake Hartwell State Park

Note: I’m behind. I was planning to write a post about our trip to Lake Greenwood State Park, but… life. So, I decided to go ahead and write about our more recent trip while it was still fresh in my mind.

During our Fourth of July trip to Lake Greenwood State Park, which was beautiful, but sweltering, I repeatedly said that next summer we needed to spend more time in the mountains. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait a whole year. In fact, we only had to wait a few weeks to escape to Lake Hartwell State Park and the mountains of the South Carolina Upstate.

We’ve made a few trips to the mountains, including a trip to Greenbrier Campground in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and a great trip to the Yogi Bear Golden Valley in Bostic, North Carolina, but this was our first time truly exploring the mountains in our own state. I booked Lake Hartwell on a whim last November during the South Carolina State Parks’ Black Friday Sale, which meant we got three nights for the bargain price of $42.

I’d heard mixed reviews of the park, and didn’t have overly high expectations. So, when we arrived I was very pleasantly surprised. We were on site 46, arguably one of the best sites in the park. As is the case at a lot of lake front parks, the sites were a bit tight, but we still had plenty of room. Plus, the view was amazing, and we had shade (win-win)! We also had great water access right from the back of our site. The bottom of the cove was pretty level and didn’t have a lot of rocks or branches, making it perfect for wading. (The only word of caution that I’ll offer is that there is a good bit of red clay on the bank and on the lake bed, so you WILL stain your bedding if you happen to bump into it with wet clothes.)

The drive up to Lake Hartwell was easier than expected too. From Lexington we took 178 up to 85, and we were able to make it in about three hours. Somehow, miraculously, we actually made the whole trip without a single stop, and both kids took naps! We spent Thursday evening relaxing with my Dad and his girlfriend, who drove down from Indiana (they were on site 48, which was smaller and didn’t have great access to the water).

On Friday, we ventured across the state line to Georgia to Harbor Light Marina (highly recommend) to rent a pontoon boat. Everyone at the marina was very friendly, and the boat was practically brand new (we rented the 65hp 18ft pontoon). We cruised up the Tugaloo portion of the lake looking for fish, but didn’t have any luck since the water was so warm. Even without fishing success, we had a great day, and the boys had a successful first boat trip.

On Saturday we decided to venture out and explore. First, we headed up to Stumphouse Park to see the Stumphouse Tunnel and Isaqueena Falls. The tunnel, built in the 1850s, was intended to be part of a railroad line connecting Charleston, South Carolina, to Cincinnati, Ohio, but the project ran into financial trouble and was never finished. (Fun Fact: It was later used to cure blue cheese.) The tunnel really is an impressive sight and a refreshing place to explore since it stays cool inside even in the summer.

The waterfall, one of many in the Upstate, was beautiful too. Unfortunately, our time admiring it was cut short when a thunderstorm brought a lightning strike a little too close for comfort. While we waited for the storm to pass we decided to stop at Mountain Mocha, a coffee shop and café in Walhalla, South Carolina, to get lunch. The food was great and the atmosphere was even better.

But the most memorable part of trip was still to come.

We decided to trek north toward Lake Keowee, and realized we were close to Lake Jocassee. For years Steven has been saying he wanted to drive Horse Pasture Road and take me to Jumping Off Rock Overlook, so we figured this was the perfect opportunity. We almost gave up on the mission when the directions from my iphone sent us to a dead end into a gated community. But after a little research and consulting SC DNR’s maps, we found the correct route. From HWY 178 to Jumpoff Rock is about 10 miles on Horse Pasture Road. The road itself is in good shape, but very winding, so it took almost an hour to make it to our destination.

Finally, we made it to a pipe gate marking the end of the road. The only other indicator we’d found our destination was a small sign nailed to a tree and a rough trail up the side of the hill. From the road you’d have no idea what waited at the top.

After a short walk, you crest the hill and are left awestruck by a panoramic view of Lake Jocassee and the surrounding mountains.

It is truly breathtaking. I didn’t want to leave, but Steven said DNR wouldn’t take well to me homesteading on their land, so eventually we made our way back to civilization.

The next day we even more reluctantly (a common theme on these trips) packed to head home. I may or may not have tried to convince Steven to stay another day. Our little weekend camping trips are our one escape during these crazy times, and even the boys seem more relaxed and centered when we’re out enjoying nature. Thankfully, we have more trips scheduled for August to look forward to, and until then, we have our memories and lots of pictures!

We’re Back!

Did you miss us? Just kidding, we know you did! 😉

A lot has changed in our family and around the world since our last blog three and half months ago.

Just days after we returned from our idyllic trip to Hunting Island State Park in March, COVID-19 arrived in South Carolina. By mid-March, I was working from home and we were social distancing as much as possible. Around the same time, Steven got a much deserved promotion, which took him from working in the field to working in an office.

We decided that wasn’t enough change (ha!), so we also made the decision to trade in our trusty 4Runner in March. We’d been considering making the jump for a while, but struggled with saying goodbye to a vehicle that had become a member of the family. Buying the 4Runner, and learning about other families who were traveling the country and world in their 4-wheel drive vehicles, truly set us on a new path as a family. Yet, with two growing boys, we knew we’d like to find something with more towing capacity, so we could eventually get a little bit bigger camper.

We stumbled on the V8 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk, and it seemed to check all of our boxes. One Saturday, right before the country shutdown, we headed to North Carolina to see a Trailhawk that we’d found online. But we discovered the trip was taking a lot longer than Google predicted. Since we had to get back to the boys, we made the decision to stop and look at another option at Stateline Dodge Jeep Chrysler in Rock Hill, South Carolina. We both really liked the Jeep, and the dealership made us a good offer on the 4Runner, so we ended up with the first Trailhawk we looked at in-person.

The following Monday was my first day of working remotely, and I haven’t been back to the office yet, so the Trailhawk hasn’t seen a ton of road time. But the times we have been able to get it out, we’ve really been pleased with our decision. Toyota 4Runners are solid, reliable cars, but the lower trims are pretty lacking in features. So, it’s taken a bit of getting use to all the bells and whistles on the Jeep (we are definitely enjoying the air conditioned seats as summer in South Carolina sets in!).

We ended up cancelling our trip to Barnwell State Park scheduled for April due to the various closures and the general uncertainty about the coronavirus. We also cancelled our trip to James Island County Park for Memorial Day weekend. The campground was accepting people with prior reservations, but the water park, playgrounds and other amenities were going to be closed. So, we made the tough decision to stay home.

Instead, we booked a trip to Pirateland Campground in Myrtle Beach with Steven’s parents the following weekend. It was our first trip towing with the Jeep, and it did great! Steven said he had to keep checking the mirrors to make sure the camper was still behind us. The campground seemed to be taking appropriate precautions: limiting the number of people in the pool area, providing hand sanitizer when entering the store, etc. Although large resorts like Pirateland aren’t usually our cup of tea, we did enjoy being close to the beach and having some fun activities for the kids.

While we were in Myrtle Beach, we didn’t venture out to restaurants or any tourist destinations, and we were fully self-contained in the camper, so we felt pretty comfortable on the trip. However, since we’ve returned Myrtle Beach has become a hot spot for COVID-19, so I’d be more leery to go now. While we were there, we did take the opportunity to visit a few camper dealerships. After having our Gulf Stream Amerilite 198BH for a little over a year, we’d come to realize there were several things we really wanted in our next camper, including a walk around bed, a larger fridge, a full bathroom and an outdoor kitchen. We also knew we wanted to stay as light as possible.

At the first dealership we stopped at, we found a camper that fit the bill: a Jayco JayFlight 224BH. However, I was reluctant to commit until we visited a few more dealerships. We stopped at few more locations, but were surprised to discover bunk models were in very short supply. One salesman said it was due to a perfect storm of limited stock being produced because of factory shutdowns and increased demand from people wanting a safer way to travel. We went back to the campground to think about our next step, and got several calls from the dealership with the Jayco we liked. After some negotiating, we decided to go for it. On Sunday, we packed up our site, drove across the street and swapped campers! You don’t realize just how much stuff you have in your camper until you have to take it all out in a parking lot.

Maybe all the craziness in the world kick-started a midlife crisis because now we have a new truck and a new camper!

After getting back from the beach, we took the next few weeks to prep the new camper. Then we set off on our maiden voyage for Father’s Day weekend. This time, with COVID-19 cases skyrocketing in South Carolina and protests happening across the country, we opted for a more secluded destination: Winfield Campground in Appling, Georgia. Winfield is an Army Corp of Engineers campground on Lake Strom Thurmond about 20 miles west of Augusta, Georgia. It was our first time visiting Winfield, but we weren’t disappointed. We were on site 55, a very large, pull-through site with a great view of the lake. The sites have water and electric and are a bargain at $28 a night. The playground was still closed, but they had a small, but nice beach area that the boys enjoyed.

We absolutely loved camping in our new travel trailer! Although the layout is similar to our previous camper, it feels much more spacious. And the larger bathroom and outdoor kitchen are huge hits! With our Amerilite trying to take a shower always felt like a big production, but showering in Jayco is a breeze. Being able to cook and wash dishes outside also meant that someone wasn’t stuck inside missing out on good conversation and beautiful scenery. We really feel like this is a travel trailer that will grow with our family for years to come.

As it always does, Sunday came too quickly, and it was time to pack-up once again. Luckily, it was only a one week hiatus, and we’re scheduled to head to Lake Greenwood State Park for the Fourth of July. We also have a trip planned to the Upstate to meet up with my Dad and his girlfriend later in July, and in August we’ll be heading south to Crooked River State Park in Georgia to meet-up with my Mom and her husband, who just bought their first camper a few weeks ago.

As overwhelming as the last few months have been, we are thankful to still have our jobs and to be able to keep exploring as a family. We all have more than a little bit of cabin fever from being cooped up in the house so much, so being able to get out and enjoy the outdoors together has been our one glimpse of normalcy. We hope that all of our friends and family are staying healthy and safe, and that we’ll see you somewhere down the road very soon!

A weekend in paradise: Hunting Island State Park

A grinning toddler teeters toward me with an outstretched hand. I offer my palm and he places a small seashell into my hand. Pleased with himself, he sets off to find more treasures.

Meanwhile his brother, shovel and bucket in hand, is on a quest to find the best place to dig for dinosaur bones. The sun is shining and we have the beach to ourselves.

It is a perfect afternoon.

Lately, it seems like our boys grow an inch every night. Everett has gone from a toddler to a little boy and Jase from a baby to a toddler. We needed a getaway to spend quality time together as a family, making memories we’ll remember for years to come.

Luckily, Hunting Island State Park didn’t disappoint. We’d rescheduled this trip several times (thankfully the state parks are always very accommodating with changes), but finally the timing was right. Camping in late February can be risky if you aren’t a fan of cold weather, but we were fortunate with comfortable temperatures and clear skies. In fact, we much preferred this trip to the unbearably hot weekend we had at Edisto Beach State Park last August.

Hunting Island is completely undeveloped. There is only one road in and out, and getting to the park requires a slightly harrowing bridge crossing, but once you arrive it’s the perfect destination for a peaceful weekend. The park has been hit hard by several storms in recent years, so we were a little nervous about conditions. However, our fears proved unwarranted. Though one campground was completely lost to Hurricane Matthew and Tropical Storm Irma, the remaining campground has been repaired and is in good condition.

We stayed on site 157, which was a large corner lot near the playground. The map given to us at check-in showed that the site was a pull-through, and it may have been at one point, but now it is a back-in. The map also shows beach parking, but we discovered there is no parking for beach access in the campground. So, if you want to go to the beach, you must walk from your site. Luckily, it wasn’t a bad walk from our site, but we’re definitely going to keep that in mind when selecting sites for future trips.

We spent most of Friday exploring the beach. It was a nice change from the overcrowded beaches in other parts of the state. We’d go long stretches without seeing anyone else, and it would feel like we were on a private island somewhere in the Caribbean. In a few sections of the beach, there were obvious signs of the destruction caused by the storms, a solemn reminder of nature’s power.

When we checked in we’d been told we could walk down to the lighthouse at low tide, so we decided to give it a try. It was a beautiful walk, but unfortunately, we discovered the lighthouse actually wasn’t accessible from the beach due to a beach renourishment project that began in early February. We did drive down to the lighthouse the next morning, but since kids have to be 48” inches tall to climb to the top, we decided to admire it from the ground.

In addition to the lighthouse, we made stops at the Visitor Center, the Nature Center, the Marsh Boardwalk, and the Campground Store. The Visitor Center has a few alligators living in the pond out front, one of which we were able to see sunning herself on the bank. Everett also really enjoyed seeing the local animals who called the Nature Center home. The boardwalk was an easy walk, but if you have spirited kids, beware that there aren’t any rails on the walkways over the marsh. The Campground Store was well stocked and had a lot of great gifts and keepsakes. We made sure to pick out an ornament for our collection and a few gifts for family members.

If you like visiting restaurants or local attractions while you are camping, you won’t find much near the park, but Port Royal and Beaufort are only about 30-minutes away. We spent Saturday afternoon exploring the area, making stops at the Chapel of Ease and historic downtown Beaufort. The boys particularly enjoyed the Monkey’s Uncle toy store and the playground at the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. On the way back to the campground we made a quick detour to the Carolina Cider Company & Clockwise Coffee, a local joint that had great drinks and baked goods. I recommend the pecan streusel coffeecake (yum!).

Sunday morning came much too soon, as it always does, but we made our way home relaxed and with priceless new memories. We can’t wait to go back!

Christmas Camping Magic: James Island County Park Campground

So, I’m a little hesitant to write this post because I’m worried if I tell everyone how magical James Island County Park Campground is during their Festival of Lights, then it’s going to be even more difficult to find a spot for next year!

I don’t remember where I first heard about the Festival of Lights, probably one of the many camping-related Facebook groups that I follow, but I decided it would be a fun destination for the weekend of Thanksgiving since I’d have some time off of work. When I went to make our reservation back in August, I thought I was lucky and found the very last available site, but knowing what I know now, I think it was likely that I actually stumbled upon a cancellation. Regardless, we were able to secure a spot thanks to a little Christmas magic, and am I so thankful that we did.

After all our multitudes of misadventures earlier this fall – from the “do we have a site or not” fiasco at Hamilton Branch State Park to the late night ear infection at Lake Greenwood State Park – I had some serious anxiety going into our trip. Luckily, most everything went smoothly. Having the day off work meant we were able to take our time packing and getting on the road, and also meant our first daylight set-up in three months.

When we arrived I was pleasantly surprised. I’d had an image in my head of a Myrtle Beach style RV resort with cramped sites and no privacy, but the sites were actually well-spaced and there was a good amount of tree cover to provide a bit of buffer from the neighbors. We were on site 109 – since it was the only one available – and where a little concerned what we’d find when we arrived since the website had a note that said “a tree on site may prohibit awning use.” However, the site was perfect for our camper. We were able to back the camper to the edge of a beautiful oak tree and still have room to put out our awning and park the 4Runner: one of the benefits of a smaller camper and tow vehicle. It also was a large corner lot diagonal from the bathhouse, which worked great for us since my Dad tagged along and camped on our site in his tent. There was a trash dumpster at the edge of the site, but it didn’t cause any issues and seemed to be emptied regularly.

After getting set-up, we were able to relax and enjoy some perfect weather before heading over the Festival of Lights activities. Again, I had a mistaken concept of what the Festival of Lights would entail. Not only did it include a drive through lights display featuring an estimated 2 million lights, but there also was an entire festival village that include gift shops, food vendors, visits with Santa, story time with Mrs. Claus, a carousel and much more! Staying at the campground meant we didn’t have to pay the $20 entrance fee, wait in traffic or fight to find parking to visit the village. It was truly a magical experience. The toddler didn’t even complain about the walking!

On Saturday we spent the morning enjoying the park’s playgrounds and hiking trails, then we took a side trip to somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for years: the Angel Oak. It was a quick jump over to John’s Island, probably about 15 minutes from the campground. The tree is tucked behind a chain link fence along a dirt road, and traffic can be a bit tight getting in and out, but it’s worth it to see a true spectacle of nature. After we got back, the boys and I took a nap and Steven and my Dad went and tried their luck at a fishing hole. Steven was excited to reel in a good size catfish! Later that evening Everett took Steven on a guided tour of the lights, then before we knew it, it was time to start packing up.

Sunday morning Everett and I did make a quick detour into the camp store, which had some great items, including a special addition ornament to commemorate this year’s festival – take my money! I think we could have spent several more days at the campground and not been able to enjoy all of the festivities. I’m definitely hoping we can make a trip to the Festival of Lights an annual tradition. In fact, I tried to book a stay for next year upon returning home, but discovered Thanksgiving weekend 2020 is already booked-up! So, fingers crossed we find another lucky cancellation. I’m also hoping we can visit the park again this summer to enjoy their water park and spend some time over at Folly Beach.

We’re taking a bit of a break from camping this month because we are going to go to Grandma’s house in Florida to celebrate the boys’ birthdays. So, until next time, see you down the road!

The good, the bad, and the ugly: Lake Greenwood State Park

(Written by Steven Yancey)

So we meet again fellow travelers! I hope this entry finds you all well, healthy and many miles of good travels under your wheels.

Where do we find the Yancey family in this entry of adventure you might ask? Well that’s a loaded question, as travelling with kids isn’t always pretty or easy. I know social media sometimes portrays these perfect families traversing the globe without a care in the world, but that just isn’t reality, at least not our reality.

When we decided we wanted to give the camper life a try, we did a lot of research, and eventually chose a small, lightweight camper that we felt comfortable towing with our 4Runner. Having a 19’ camper and mid-size SUV means we can pretty much find a campsite anywhere from a large RV park to a state park or even a national forest road. We have never found a spot that we can’t fit in or a road we couldn’t go down. My parents on the other hand have own a large 36 foot fifth wheel, which they pull with a 2500 Dodge Power Wagon. And they typically can be found in Myrtle Beach at a large RV resort, such as Pirate Land or Ocean Lakes. So, I was surprised when they decided to plan a long weekend at Lake Greenwood State Park near Greenwood, South Carolina.

They went up the week before to scout the area, and decided that it was big enough for their rig and offered some full hook up spots for their rig that I affectionately dubbed “The Monstrosity.” After securing two sites in close proximity we waited for Thursday. It was going to be perfect, I put in for a leave day on Friday, planned to leave early on Thursday. I couldn’t wait for all of us to relax and enjoy some serenity. Then it all went ugly, pear-shaped, and stressful.

I left work early on Thursday and spent a frantic day trying to pack because when you and your significant other have two full-time careers and two babies to get ready for bed you forget things. After packing, cleaning the house, and a trip to the grocery store I realized it was nearly 4 p.m.. My parents were already at the park and lamenting on how peaceful it was and how they wished they had done this sooner and oh this and oh that. And the ever helpful, “when are you gonna leave.” Alyssa was finally able to tie up things at work and make a mad dash home stopping in route to pick up the boys. She wheeled into the driveway as I frantically, yet with expert precision, began loading the truck. Stacking coolers, bags, and other accoutrement for our weekend’s adventures. We finally wheeled out after hooking up the camper and headed north. It was quickly becoming dark, and I began to worry I was in for a repeat of our previous trip to Hamilton Branch State Park, even though I swore I would avoid arriving at a new park in the dark at all costs!

We finally arrived and, thankfully, didn’t have too much trouble getting set-up thanks to my Mom and Dad (AKA Nan Nan and Pop Pop). Dad was able to help me set-up, while Mom helped Alyssa wrangle screaming hungry youngins from their car seats. The night went quickly and was uneventful. We awoke to a cool breeze coming off the lake and our first real look at the park and its beautiful scenery. Everett was being difficult and I could tell he didn’t feel well. His health continued to deteriorate throughout the day as did his attitude.

After a peaceful day of mostly sitting around the fire talking about life we attempted to get the boys to bed. Jase eventually fell asleep, but Ev soon woke up screaming and saying his ear hurt. After staying up to nearly 1 a.m., several trips around the park in the truck, and attempting every means of soothing, an exhausted Alyssa decided to make a Red Eye drive over an hour back home to a pediatrician, home amenities, and separate rooms for the kids.

I remained behind to salvage the weekend hoping that after some TLC and antibiotics she would return to finish out the weekend. On Saturday I was able to make some new friends by the way of Patti and Ronnie. They arrived in the evening taking the spot between our site and my parents’ site. After a quick introduction I found that this was the very first trip they were taking in their brand new camper. Both seemed happy to be there and a little unsure of setting up so I offered some help. My first thought was good for them!!! One, for getting out of their comfort zone trying something new and having a little adventure. And, secondly, for being humble enough to ask for help. A word to the wise: if someone asks for help or advice give it to them genuinely. You were new at this once too, drop the ego and be kind to people. If you ever read this Patti and Ron, it was a pleasure meeting both of you. Keep adventuring and I hope we run into you two again somewhere. Unfortunately, Everett was diagnosed with an ear infection and didn’t feel up to returning to the campground.

So, on Sunday my beautiful bride returned in our chariot to hook-up and haul us away. This is probably the oddest blog yet, but life isn’t always pretty and doesn’t always go to plan. But don’t get frustrated, which is what I continue to tell myself about 14,000 times a day. Just roll with it. Life is a continual learning experience. So until next time, keep adventure in your hearts, and get outside!!! Easyrunner out.

Lessons Learned: Hamilton Branch State Park

When we bought our camper, I made one rule: we will use it at least once a month (barring any unforeseen circumstances).

Initially, I had booked a trip to Hunting Island State Park as our October trip, but then we decided to take our sans-kids anniversary trip. Since our venture to North Carolina had required us taking some time off of work, I decided to reschedule our trip to the coast and book a quick weekend trip somewhere closer to home.

I chose Hamilton Branch State Park, an expansive park with 200 campsites nestled along the shores of Lake Strom Thurmond. We’d visited the park on a daytrip before, and promised we’d be back to camp. I decided to book the weekend of Oct. 25, so we could participate in the park’s trick-or-treating event.

Our first trip to Lake Greenwood State Park in March 2019.

On the day of our scheduled departure, Steven and I both raced home from work to pack the truck and hook up the camper. Even though we packed quickly, the sun was beginning to set as we pulled out of the yard and headed west.

That’s when things got interesting.

As we cruised down the road, I decided to pull up our confirmation email, just to double check the details of our arrival. Hmm… I couldn’t find it. So, then I decided to double check that my credit card was charged. Again, no dice. At this point, I started getting nervous. The only conclusion I could draw was that somehow our reservation hadn’t gone through.

Lesson One: Always print out your confirmation email prior to departing.

As the last rays of sunlight faded from sight, I shared the news with Steven. He chuckled, but was clearly flummoxed. We decided to continue on to the park, in hopes of finding an available site. Of course, when we arrived, the park office was closed. We checked the list of available sites tacked to the door, but didn’t find much that fit our needs. Finally, we decided to double check that the site we believed we’d reserved wasn’t, in fact, reserved to us.

At this point it was pitch black. We located “our” site on the map, but realized it would be hard to turn around, if it was occupied by someone else. Steven strapped on a headlamp and took a stroll down to the site. It ended up being more of a trek than a stroll, and when he arrived at the site, it was empty. We had hoped there would be some kind of sign indicating who the site was reserved to, like we had encountered at Barnwell State Park, but no such luck.

Steven was understandable growing frustrated at this point, and comments about “just going home,” where starting to be slung around in the darkness. To make things worse, all of our stomachs were starting to rumble.

Lesson Two: Eat before you hit the road.

In a last effort to save the trip, we decided to hunt down a camp host. Luckily, we saw a small wooden sign denoting “camp host” just a short distance down the road. Steven trudged to the site and knocked. A few moments passed. Then the camp host emerged. When Steven explained our predicament, the host said, “you’re on site 33, I remember because I used to know a guy named Yancey!” So, after all the drama, the site was reserved to us. I never did find the confirmation email, but I did find the credit card charge. It was just further back on the statement than I had thought it would have been.

Crisis averted, we snaked through the woods to our site. Did I mention it was dark? Really dark? When we finally arrived, we grabbed our flashlights and headlamps to inspect the set-up. It was odd. The lot was huge, but the electric box and water were on the far side of the site blocked in by trees. Navigating our camper into the spot took some intricate maneuvering.

Lesson Three: Don’t arrive in the dark (especially, if you don’t know the set-up of the site).

Once parked we discovered the water spigot was missing any discernible handle, meaning Steven had to do some MacGyver-ing. Did I mention we were hungry? Our misadventure reaching comical heights, we finally were able to set-up, make dinner and relax. Just in time to get ready for bed.

The next morning, the stress of the previous evening melted away when we saw the spectacular view our quirky site provided. In fact, that Saturday ended up being one of the best days we’d had in a long, long time. There was a slight chill in the air, the campfire was warm, the view serene and the company perfect. Our toddler enjoyed trick-or-treating that evening, and all was right with the world again.

Lesson Four: make the most of every day you’re given.

This trip definitely taught us some new lessons, but in the end we were thankful we persevered through the challenges and enjoyed a peaceful weekend together as a family enjoying all that nature has to offer. And would it really be a Yancey family trip without some misadventure in the mix?