Monday, August 8, 2016

The Way Home

It's sooooooooooo hot. The agony is real. The heat feels as though our faces may burn off... And yet the world seems to go about as if this is the way it always has been. As if there is nowhere that one can go that is cool, breezy, and situated conveniently to the North.

Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire... We miss you. 

Decidedly over it, Mark got to the business of typing really fast and searching for higher ground and cooler weather.

His notes on the subject looked like this:

Mountain Town
Temperatures between 60 and 85
River Access (for tubing)
Wine Store
Butcher Shop
Campfire Magic

Verona, VA
Boone, NC

Welcome to Boone. 

Boone, North Carolina, is a town located in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is home to Appalachian State University and is named after Daniel Boone. More importantly, its crispy, cool air makes for great camping. 

Get outside, kids. 


Our campsite was located next to a "babbling brook," as Andrew calls it, that made our two little explorers very happy. And muddy. 





There are probably a lot of things to do in Boone... But most of Mark's time was spent fighting off a cold that he of course blamed on the Amish buffet two days before. 

Occasionally, he would venture out of the bedroom, wipe his brow, and demand food. In these few short hours between his fatigue induced narcoleptic cycles, our family was allowed to explore the town. 

Mark's outing Day 1: BBQ at The Pedlin' Pig. Yummy. 


Mark's outing Day 2: A drive around the local Go Kart track. Vroom. 



This worker volunteered to ride on Max's cart since Max couldn't reach the pedals. So kind, but it turned out to be a long 5 minutes for the man. He came away from the track grimacing and clutching his left arm. Go Kart Cramps are the worst. 


Mark's outing Day 3: Burgers at the favorite local burger joint, the Come Back Shack. Fried Green Tomato and Pimento Cheese Burger with Buffalo Blue Cheese fries. Yes. 



In short, 3 of the 4 Royans enjoyed their time in Boone. The 4th spent his time looking generally unwell and asking April, "Do I look OK?"

Sure, Mark, you look great. 


On day four, Mark emerged with a renewed zest for life and a GPS pointed toward Townsend, Tennesee. Finally, he actually looked OK. Turns out, he just really wanted to get some reading done without too many interruptions. The man really enjoys some Clive Cussler!

The Big Meadow Family Campground greeted us with a splash pad, a pirate playground, and cable. The luxury! 




There is a lot of nature to explore in Townsend, but Andrew made it clear that he didn't give two licks about river tubing or Cade's Cove - he wanted to go to the Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum. 



Max had tea with Audrey and sang with Dolly and Taylor. 



Max then insisted that we visit the neighboring MagiQuest for some additional air conditioned and overpriced fun. 

MagiQuest is an absolute dream destination for the super nerdy. If you're the sort who enjoys dressing up like a wizard and believes that magic wands are real: this is the place for you!

There was an intensive 15 minute training session to make sure we could safely operate our "wands" during which Andrew broke a table. Our wizard training master broke from his faux-British accent to say "That's alright, that breaks all the time, y'all." 

We got to pick Magi names though, so it was totally worth the $19.99 and the hour of our lives we will never get back. 



The kids loved it - as they randomly waved their wands at anything in sight that would open or light up. They ignored the "error" warnings telling them that "this magic element is not available until you have first slayed the dragon of MagiVille."  


One of the adults our family thought that random wand waving was just fine, for it seemed somewhat silly to follow the 38 page instruction book with a 4 and 7 year old. 

Another one of the adults insisted that we "play to win or don't play at all." In fact, he is still insisting that the family refer to him strictly by his Magi name, "Excelsior." 


Wellllll at least he's feeling better and back to his old self :) 

All was not lost at MagiQuest, however, as the price of admission also includes black light mini golf (got through 3 of the 18 holes) and a cool laser maze room thingy. Max nailed the laser maze, as he's small enough to simply crawl along the floor. The adults were less coordinated. 


Having spent all of our "tourist trap" money, we forged ahead through many a green mountain until we arrived in the sweet Southern State of Georgia to see Mark's Great Aunt Shelia and Uncle Charlie. We've somehow missed these fine folks on our adventures during previous trips. Let us tell you: THAT will not be happening again! These two are great cooks, great pool volleyball players, and great hosts! They're just a whole lot of fun!

Let it be known that although they have a few years on us, it sure doesn't show. They creamed us in pool volleyball. We were able to battle back in Dominoes, though!

Bellies full and exhausted from trying to keep up with this wild pair, it was time to finally head back
to Florida.

Florida = very rainy. But that didn't stop us from visiting Mark's family in Lakeland for the afternoon. They boys love time with their cousin and they were happy to rock a Lego set during an otherwise rainy day.

Finally, we capped off our trip with the winners of our Royan Vehicle Blog contest, the Dees Family of Tampa, Florida.

The most loyal readers, followers and comment-makers that our family of RV gypsies could ever ask for, this crew really knows how to appreciate a blog. We showed our appreciation by allowing our children to wreak havoc on their home as they cooked us a delicious spaghetti dinner.

Hey, we're TIRED! We just drove across the country!

Honestly, though, the trip to the Dees house was the perfect ending to our Summer 2016 family adventure.  Until next year, America!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Michael Scott and Milton Hershey

Ahhhhhhh the trek home. Days of endless driving followed by more driving. For parents of small children, you all know what this means: iPads and a truck-load of gummy bears. Also, frequent prayers for a Chick-Fil-A sighting.

Our course home allowed us the pleasure of some extensive drive time through Pennsylvania's roadways - most of which were under construction. Hard core, everywhere-you-turn construction. We're really not sure how they accomplished the funding to re-pave the entire state at once, but... Kudos.  They must have a real Peter Russo type in Washington pushing some pork their way </EndShamelessHouseOfCardsReference>.

At one point we'd just had it with the construction pileups and the fact that we had not spied Michael Scott in Scranton, so we pulled in to a WalMart parking lot and had a real deal picnic. Awning down, chairs out.


When we literally could stomach no more of Pennsylvania's roadways and detours we agreed that a relaxing 2 day stay in Amish Country was just what the doctor ordered. 







The Amish really come across, at first, as authentic with their whole "we're old fashioned" shtick. They've got the horse and buggies, the boss outfits, the impressive facial hair. Most tourists buy right into all of that without so much as a second glance... but not the Royans. We look a bit further, dig a bit deeper, and start peeling away the layers....

Pretty soon some suspicious things start to come to light... For example, this fine Amish attraction is literally sharing a parking lot with a Super Target. That "authentic" Amish dining establishment has food that tastes spot on like a TV dinner. There is also something called "ThermFlow ®" as the second ingredient in all the "made from scratch" pies they sell.



One thing that even the Amish can't fake, though, is horse shit. Mark, despite his stock-car-racer-like driving prowess, encountered a heaping helping while getting stuck behind a horse and buggy for several miles on a hot summer day.  Subsequently, the efficient churning action of our six tires resulted in a thorough coating of horse manure in every nook and cranny of the F350 undercarriage. For the first time the entire trip - we longed for a severe thunderstorm.

And with that we will naturally segue to our next stop... Hershey's Chocolate World!


Our family and about a million of our closest, sweaty, tourist friends crammed in to the Hershey's attraction to celebrate sugar, chocolate, and America. Mark really likes KitKat's, BTW.



Andrew quickly set his sights on the "Make Your Own Candy Bar" offering and we were off to the races. The Hershey's have really figured out how to milk this whole chocolate thing. It's literally a theme park dedicated to their product line. Very impressive. In any case, we made some great candy bars, dressed up like we were on an episode of "Lavern and Shirley," and capped things off with a Disney-like ride through the history of Hershey. The place was alarmingly busy, especially for a Thursday, but we're glad we had the experience. 










We arrived at Gettysburg on Friday morning, bright and early, eager to beat the heat and the crowds. April would comment (wearing shorts), " is SOO hot out here.  I can't believe the soldiers had to fight here, at least they were able to do it in the winter so that they wouldn't feel so hot in those heavy wool clothes." The battle of Gettysburg took place from July 1, 1863 – July 3, 1863. 


The recruiter at the main door could see right away that our boys were cut from good stock. So they were eager to sign them up, and sign them up they did! A few quick questions and it was off to boot camp for Max and Andrew.






Even Dad ended up having to get a little PT in and prove he had the mettle to hang with the local volunteers.


After a few sweaty hours at Gettysburg, it was on to some lighter fare at a roadside spectacle in Virginia: Dinosaur Land. The children, still miserable and exhausted from their Gettysburg experience, were kept on the brink of a meltdown for hours with the promise of "In just a few more hours we'll see some dinosaurs." They obliged, and dreamed of all that was to be of this magical dino world. As we approached, however, the horse-shit removing thunderstorm we so desperately desired descended upon us... and Dino Land closed right before our eyes.

The gift shop, however, remained open, and April carried a sobbing Andrew through the relentless rain and flooded parking lot so that he could get a peak at all that he was missing out on.

The gift shop, which smelled like an old, smokey, wet couch, featured gems such as this "educational project," on sale for 75 cents.

Please note the bottom line:

"This book contains about 26 different animals, with information obtained by leading scientists and geologists. We had no information on a few of these animals and we are very sorry that none was obtained." 



Alas, we hope another 10 million years will not go by before we get another chance to explore all of Dinosaur Land's mysteries.

We drove deeper into the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, where we would encounter more pleasant weather, some additional Civil War historical sites, and some fantastic Southern hospitality. Our Endless Caverns campground was complete with beautiful views, relentless face-swarming gnats, and a great little fishing hole where the boys spent an afternoon chasing perch and bluegill.

As they were finishing up for the day, Andrew hooked an especially challenging catch. He fought it as it ran, and things got pretty tricky. When he finally landed it, he learned why - it was his very first Largemouth Bass!! Mark was a proud poppa!




Farewell, random road trip stops, we're off to the mountains of North Carolina!

Snarfs and Snoozes

While driving the 1772 miles home from Bar Harbor, April looked and Mark and said... "What should we call our last blog of the summer?&...