Tuesday, August 23, 2016

West Virginia State Fairgrounds - Lewisburg, WV

The West Virginia State Fairgrounds in Lewisburg was the site of the Wally Byam Caravan Club International 59th International Rally. We attended our first International Rally last year in Farmington, New Mexico. The thought of having this rally closer to home was very appealing to us. We signed up, and similar to last year, joined the Region Three Caravan to Lewisburg.

Our caravan to Lewisburg turned out to be very eventful. You can read about our narrow escape from the terrible flooding in West Virginia in several earlier postings. Several members of our group wondered if we should even head into Lewisburg because of the relief efforts centered there. That was when our caravan leader said we could help the community more by going in, contributing to the relief efforts and by shopping in the community.

Our first evidence that something was going on was the traffic as we entered Lewisburg. There were around 100 power company trucks from multiple states there to help restore electrical power to the area.

Next, we saw vehicles with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief on them converging in the K-Mart parking lot. We saw many other church related disaster teams working in the area while in Lewisburg and a group of students from Liberty University took time out of their summer recess to help the community. It was reassuring to see so many groups showing up to help the community.

Our caravan finally made it to the fairgrounds and we were parked by the WBCCI volunteers. We were warned before arriving that the city had issued a "boil water" alert so we arrived with a full fresh water tank plus four gallons of spring water for drinking. We lost electrical power twice while camping in the fairgrounds. The longest power interruption lasted a little more than five hours.

Rosie at the WBCCI International Rally, Lewisburg, WV

We had a problem one morning as I was opening Rosie's awning. (Rosie is our 25 foot Airstream trailer.) The strap used to unroll it broke off. I learned last year that the people in the vintage trailer area seem to be able to answer any maintenance questions about Airstream trailers. As expected, one guy I was talking to had a similar problem and he told me to buy a specific type of fishing wire to sew the strap back on. About an hour later, the strap was reattached to the awning.

Rosie's awning strap reattached

We signed up for three excursions while in West Virginia. One was cancelled because it was a cave tour and was flooded out. We were able to ride the Cass Railroad up to Bald Knob in an old coal-powered train. The view from Bald Knob was spectacular. We wished we had sat in the center of our open-air car instead of the end because less of the coal soot and cinders fell there. We sat in the last row of our car and ended up being covered with soot when we left the train.

Coal-fired train heading up the mountain

View from the top of the mountain

the Cass Scenic Railroad

Our excursion on the next day turned out to be very exciting. We signed up for something called the bridge walk. There is a narrow two-foot wide catwalk under the longest arch-supported bridge in the Western Hemisphere. The walk is more than 3,300 feet long and you are more than 860 feet above the river at the bridge's highest point. You are strapped in with a safety strap, but the views were unforgettable.

The bridge from a distance

Selfie with the bridge behind us

Walking the bridge

All strapped in

People rafting on the river

Our feet hanging over the edge

The river below us

View of the catwalk

Success! We reached the other end

We noticed at the International Rally last year in Farmington, New Mexico, that there was an art exhibition and contest. One of the categories was watercolors. We brought one of Becky's original watercolor paintings to Lewisburg and entered it into the competition. There were six watercolor paintings entered and they were all very good. We were thrilled to learn that Becky's painting was judged to be the second place winner at this competition.

Becky earns second place in the WBCCI
watercolor painting competition

An award winning watercolor artist!
The award-winning watercolor painting

We ended up being glad our WBCCI Region Three caravan continued on into Lewisburg because some participants had talked about going home after the flood. I think the town's residents were also glad the 600+ Airstream trailers and motorhomes arrived in Lewisburg after the flood. I overheard a store owner talking to someone about his business. He said that local business dried up and it was the Airstreamers that kept his doors open that week. Without the business generated by the Airstreamers, he said he would have closed the doors and sent his employees home for the week. In addition, the Airstreamers donated more than $30,000 and pitched in and helped with the recovery efforts. Was it good to participate in this Rally? The most logical answer is a strong "Yes."

Eating out in Lewisburg

At a Lewisburg restaurant

Here are some specifics about this park:
  • Our site had only 50 amp electrical service. I'm glad we were warned to bring a 50-to-30 converter cable or we would not have been able to connect to their power.
  • Our site had both water and sewer connections. After the "boil water" advisory was lifted, we thankfully connected the water.
  • Our parking area was on grass. Some of the Airstream trailers were parked on gravel.
  • I'm of the opinion that there isn't a level patch of ground in West Virginia. We used every leveling tool we had and we still had a pronounced right-to-left lean.
  • We had enough room between us and our neighbor's trailer to extend our awning and to park our truck. Not all of the sections in this park were that lucky.
  • We could only pick up two TV stations using Rosie's antenna. These were CBS and FOX affiliates.
  • AT&T provided terrible service over the fairgrounds. To be fair, they probably lost a tower or two in the flood and their system was overloaded with flood related traffic.
  • The park provided Wi-Fi service. It was overwhelmed by having to serve 600+ trailers. Since the fairground's camping area can support more than 750 trailers, I would have expected their Wi-Fi to easily accommodate a measly 600. It didn't.
We were supposed to stay in this campground until July 5th. The weather forced us out a couple days early. The forecast called for two days of rain and we didn't want to chance leaving on the wet grass that was going to be in our section of the park. We left early, but we signed up for the WBCCI International Rally next year, which will be in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Flying our flags from Rosie

Sunset in Lewisburg

The officers of the Amateur Radio Club of the WBCCI

Monday, August 22, 2016

Eagle's Nest Campground - Glen Jean, West Virginia

Our Region Three Caravan needed a place to dry out after our weather-forced evacuation from the flooded New River Campground and our night in a Lowes store parking lot. Our caravan leader found the Eagle's Nest Campground, which was located about 10 miles south of the Lowe's store where we parked for the previous night.

Eagle's Nest Campground

The description of the park said it was on a hill out of the flood zones and it was dry. That was music to our ears.

Several members of our group walked across the Lowes parking lot to the Bob Evans Restaurant for breakfast before heading to the campground.

The short trip to the campground was uneventful. The road was intact, we didn't see any raging or rising water and there was only a light rain shower.

Things didn't look as good when we arrived at the campground. The remaining sites all had some form of standing water at the back of the site. Rosie's door (Rosie is our 25 foot Airstream trailer) is at the rear of the trailer and that meant we would always be stepping out into a puddle. We tried several potential sites and none worked. That was when the park's manager stepped up and asked another camper to move her car from a site we didn't know was open. This put us into a campsite that would work with our rear door.

Rosie between two other campers

The campground is across the street from a West Virginia National Guard Armory. The Guard was activated by the Governor to deal with the flooding disaster in the state. It was interesting to watch the soldiers report in and leave to help with the flood relief.

The manager said that our caravan was the largest group he had ever seen in his campground. We easily filled two-thirds of the campground's spaces. Everyone was opening the awnings and the backs of their trucks to start the drying out process.

Our WBCCI Region Three Caravan group in the campground

We found a number of our group later in town at the laundromat. Too many of our clothes were wet and dirty from our hasty exit from the New River Campground a day earlier and the laundromat was a welcome sight.

There isn't much to say about the park. We needed a place to rest and decompress from our escape and this park gave us that opportunity.

Here are some specifics about this park:
  • Our site had 20, 30 and 50 amp electrical service
  • Our site had both water and sewer connections
  • Our site was paved with gravel and we had to use an extraordinary amount of leveling tools to bring Rosie into a tolerable left-to-right lean. We are under the impression that a patch of level land in West Virginia is rare.
  • We were able to watch ABC, CBS, Fox and ION TV signals from Rosie's antenna
  • AT&T placed a strong 4G signal for both voice and data over the park
  • The park had both showers and restrooms, but you had to walk a long way to find them. The manager said the bathhouse was in the tent area about 500 feet up a dirt road from the RV campground. They were in working order and clean.
  • Speaking of the "tent" area, we did see several deer in that area of the park
We stayed in this park for two days while waiting for our turn to enter the WBCCI International Rally in Lewisburg. During this time, the park's manager was frequently seen working in the park and making sure our group was well taken care of. His extra effort was greatly appreciated by our caravan.

The restrooms and showers were in the tent area of the park

We spotted some deer in this park

More of the tent area of the park

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Lowe's Home Improvement - Fayetteville, West Virginia

We were very wet and emotionally spent by the time we pulled into the Lowes parking lot in Fayetteville, West Virginia. We had to flee the rising flood waters near Gauley Bridge as we pulled Rosie, our 25 foot Airstream trailer, through the mountains during a downpour and hail storm while avoiding washouts and debris on the road.

Members of our WBCCI Region Three
Caravan to the International Rally
in gathering in the Lowes Store parking lot
in Fayetteville, WV

We needed a high and dry location and the Lowes store had a parking lot big enough to fit the 15 Airstream trailers making up our Region Three Caravan to the WBCCI International Rally.

The store manager understood that we were weather refugees with nowhere else to go and welcomed us to camp there for the night. We were joined by another camper who was also trying to find higher ground to get out of the flooding.

Dry camping is very different from camping with power and water hookups. Rosie's batteries were charged and we had enough fresh water in our tanks to get by for the night.

Our group gathering in the Lowes parking lot

We replaced the halogen lights in Rosie several years ago with LED lights. That greatly reduced the power draw on our batteries and allowed us to freely use Rosie's overhead lights. The old halogen lights were well known for their ability to both generate heat and to use up your trailer's batteries.
You also worry about charging your cell phones while dry camping. We have a 12-volt charger and were able to use Rosie's batteries to keep our cell phones charged.

WBCCI Region Three President Matt Hackney making sure
everyone is safe

Rosie among the other Airstream trailers

More Airstream trailers from our caravan

Becky and Suzy (our Yorkie) in the Lowes parking lot

It must have been a sight to see 15 Airstream trailers huddled together in the Lowes parking lot. We were all very grateful to be there and to have evacuated the New River Campground within minutes of the dam spillways being opened and flooding the park.

Rosie is very quiet when boon docking. We missed the normal noises we are used to hearing while camping. We did learn that we need to make sure we have a full fresh water tank because you never know if you will end up in Lowe's parking lot for the night.

Monday, August 15, 2016

New River Campground - Gauley Bridge, West Virginia

The second stop on our Region Three Caravan to the WBCCI International Rally in Lewisburg, West Virginia, was the New River Campground near Gauley Bridge, West Virginia. This is a nice little "mom and pop" campground along the New River.

Gauley Bridge, WV

We were able to get a prime site right on the river. Our view included a family of ducks who enjoyed swimming in the area behind Rosie, our 25 foot Airstream trailer. We also enjoyed watching some members of our caravan group kayak on the river.

Rosie's site along the New River in West Virginia
Some of our WBCCI Region Three Caravan group at New River
Campground as we head to the International Rally in Lewisburg, WV

There were several excursions planned while we were on this leg of the caravan. The first was a tour of the Blenco Glass Company in Milton, West Virginia. I quickly saw why everyone was excited about this tour.

Blenco states their products are handcrafted. They are! We watched craftsmen gather the hot glass then work it in the furnace. The glob of hot glass was given over to the glassblower, who created his beautiful glassware. That was then given to a finisher who cleaned up any imperfections and moved the product to a cooling conveyer. We were fascinated watching this process.

Blenco Glass Display
Glass creations start when a "glob" of glass is gathered in the furnace

Glass blower at work
Gathering glass from the furnace

Using a glass mold

Glass removed from the mold
Transferring the glass to the finisher
Finisher moving another product to the cooling belt

People watching glass creations being made

Day two was a free day allowing the caravan members to explore the area on their own. We elected to go to a grist mill that the West Virginia State Park system claims is one of the most photographed attractions in the state. While we are not sure how accurate that statement is, we thought the grist mill, the stream and the waterfalls were wonderful and we took many photos of each.

Grist Mill at Babcock State Park in West Virginia
The grist mill
Back at the campground before our third day started

Day three started with everyone gathering at a state park about 12 miles away through the mountains for tram and jet boat rides. Our group made it to the park in time, but nether the tram nor the jet boats were running because of the rains and lightening in the area. The revised plan was to travel into town for lunch then reconvene for the tour later that afternoon.

We received a text message saying the boat ride was cancelled, but we missed the more important message saying to return immediately to the campground. So, we went to the grocery to restock on a few items.

The mountain road back to the campground was the first sign that things were getting much worse. Fast flowing streams of water and debris were falling on the road from the wall of rocks lining the road. We also noticed that the gentle mountain streams we saw yesterday were now raging torrents of angry water. We also saw water starting to flow over some bridges on our road.

First signs of the flood

Water pouring over the mountain road

We took pictures of a lazy waterfall less than a quarter mile away from the campground earlier in the week. Things were much different today as it was a huge avalanche of fast-flowing water flying over the rocks. Very scary and very dangerous!

Waterfall near our campground the day before the flood
24 hours later!

That paled in comparison to our first glimpse of the campground. A chain was across the entrance because it was washed out from the rising waters. The river was rapidly rising and everyone was hooking up as quickly as possible to escape the flood. It appeared that someone gave the "abandon ship" order and the forced evacuation of the campground was in full swing.

The campground as it starts to flood

The park attendant told us how to find the back exit to the park. That was something we had not noticed until then and it was nothing more than a poorly maintained dirt path, but it was good enough. We were able to reach Rosie and completed the fastest hook-up in our history. As the rains continued to pour, we were mindful of the rising river and the increasing flow of water coming from the mountains.

Flood waters around Rosie
The fire pit behind Rosie is now part of the river

Once we hooked up Rosie and threw our power and water cords in the back of the truck, we were ready to leave. We were grateful our truck pulled Rosie out of our camping site as the river had risen to reach Rosie's tires. The condition of the rear exit was rapidly deteriorating from the rain and the other RV units evacuating the park, but we made it to the road and were out of the park.

The hastily created plan was that the caravan would move to Babcock State Park, which was about 18 miles away. We were one of the last six Airstream trailers to leave the park and that turned out to be a fortunate thing. More about that later.

We were traveling with one other Airstream trailer through a heavy downpour and hail. Becky noticed that Google Maps was showing the little mountain road ahead of us as red and at a complete standstill. We found an abandoned storefront and pulled over. A few minutes later, three more Airstream trailers pulled in behind us. One in our group was able to communicate with the Airstreamers ahead and confirmed that the road was underwater and they were having to back their trailers up about half a mile along mountain roads to reach a place they could turn around.

Pulled over during the hail storm

We were able to plot a new course to a Lowes store where the manager allowed our group of refugees to camp in the parking lot that night. We were high and dry, but that is the subject for another posting.
Here are some specifics about this campground:
  • Our site had 20, 30 and 50 amp electrical service.
  • Our site also had water and sewer connections.
  • Our site was backed up to the New River.
  • The campground had very nice showers and restrooms.
  • AT&T placed a strong 4G signal over the campground for both voice and data.
  • Some people in our group said they could receive one TV station. We couldn't see anything.
  • The campground offered a military and veterans discount, which was appreciated.
Sadly, this review is how the park was before the flood. The state opened the floodgates on the upstream dam about 30 minutes after we left and the park quickly filled with six to 10 feet of water. Chances are that it may take some time to bring the park back to life.

Original watercolor painting by Becky of the New River
behind Rosie

Original watercolor painting by Becky of the grist mill