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I feel the need, the need for speed! 3/26/14 – 4/1/14

Charlotte Motor Speedway

Charlotte Motor Speedway

The drive down to Charlotte from Raleigh was quick and we arrived at the Apollo RV Park and got set up. We were actually in Concord, NC, which is a bit northeast of Charlotte, and we were in NASCAR country! This whole area was full of campgrounds for the Charlotte Motor Speedway. We hadn’t researched the area very well, so the place we stayed wasn’t really all that great. We had already scoped out a new place we would be moving to the next morning. The older couple that owned the Apollo were sweet as can be and ran the park out of their home. In fact, we came into their living room to pay for our night and they were settled down in the living room watching TV. Nice, nice people, but the park just wasn’t for us. It basically felt like we were camping in their backyard. We headed out for dinner and stumbled upon the Carolina Ale House. Mike said they were the best wings he ever had, which is saying a lot, and they had over 100 beers on tap, all served in an icy cold chilled glass. We frequented this place 3 times during our stay here!

The next morning, we packed up and drove the ¼ mile to Tom Johnson Camping Center & Racing Resort. Didn’t even need to hook up the car. We got settled and the vibe was already so much better, plus this is the lowest we have paid yet for camping, only $23 (I’m sure much pricier during big events). We had views of all three racetracks – Charlotte Motor Speedway, ZMax Dragway and The Dirt Track at Charlotte. There were no events or races happening, but there was an RV Rally onsite, so lots of fellow campers. I can just imagine how much fun this place would be on a race weekend!

View from our camping spot

View from our camping spot, ZMax Dragway behind Mike

We decided to do a tour of the tracks, so walked over and paid $12 for an hour tour – totally worth it. We got into vans and headed down to the main speedway. We had a great guide, Babette, who was full of knowledge. We actually drove out onto the track and she explained all of the different areas, then we did a few laps around at about 80mph (racers go over 200 mph) and we could really feel the banked turns. It cracked me up that we were racing around the track in a 12-passenger van. You can do a tour where you get suited up in full gear and get in a car with a professional driver; 3 laps at 165mph for $150. We were good with the van! The tour also included the Dirt Track and the Zmax dragway, which is the only 4-lane drag strip in the world. This whole complex plus the camping areas are all owned by one person, Bruton Smith. Money is not a problem for him — apparently he saw the big screen at the Dallas Cowboys arena (which at the time was the largest HDTV in the world) and wanted to have something larger. So he had one installed at the Speedway, which is now bigger, pretty impressive. Afterward, we went up to the restaurant to try to get a beer, but it was closed, so we snuck down another floor and went out to the seating/suite areas to take some photos. Neither one of us are Nascar people, but this made us appreciate the sport and more interested in attending a race at some point. We made our way back to park and decided to head to the NODA (North Davidson) district to Baja Fish Tacos, another Guy Fieri recommendation. This place was absolutely packed, but we were able to find a spot at the bar. It did not disappoint!

Our tour of the Speedway

The infield is a mini-city.   Restaurant, mini-market, shower house,, garages, tire center and even campsites.  It’s Huge!

Largest HDTV in the world!

Largest HDTV in the world!

Victory Circle

Winner’s Circle

Pit Row

Pit Row

Doing laps in our van

Doing laps in our van

For more pics from our tour of the Charlotte Motor Speedway, click HERE


The next couple of days were very windy and wet. We took some time to get some errands done including laundry, haircuts, pedicure and some shopping for our upcoming events of the Masters and Kentucky Derby. On Saturday, we headed an hour north to Denver, NC for dinner at the home of Mark & Denise Abbott. Mark is a friend of Mike’s good friend Bruce from high school and Mike met him on their last guy’s golf trip in Bend. He is also a Coug! Anyway, we got in touch with them and they very kindly invited us up to their home. This is always a treat for us to be in a spacious house (rather than the cramped MoHo or a restaurant) and enjoy a home-cooked meal and conversation with friends. We had a great night with delicious food and wine and we really enjoyed getting to know them better. Thank you Abbott’s!

Mark & Denise Abbott

Mark & Denise Abbott

The weather decided to take a turn for the better on our last few days! That is one thing we have learned about this area is how volatile the weather can be. In our 6 days here, we have experienced a range of temps from low 30’s to low 80’s. That just doesn’t happen in Seattle. One day we headed into downtown Charlotte. We walked around all day long and I just really loved the feel of this city. It is very clean and felt completely safe. There was a definite business/corporate crowd walking around and there were many restaurants with outdoor seating areas and a mix of office buildings, retail stores, churches and hip looking condos. We visited some classic tourist spots and took pics at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, the very cool Duke Energy building and the Corner of Trade & Tryon. We stopped at the 7th Street Public Market (a warehouse where locals sell food, drinks & crafts) for a beer, then found a wine bar, which had ½ price bottles and sat outside. We were right in the heart of the downtown area and it was fun to watch the work crowds and just enjoy the atmosphere. On the way back to the car, we stopped at the highly recommended Amelie’s French Bakery for a sea salt caramel brownie, which was one of the best desserts I have ever had. I am going to be dreaming about this one for years to come!

Lady Bird at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art

Firebird at the Bechtler Museum 

Bronze statues stand at the each corner at the intersection of Trade & Tryon.  Duke Energy building in the background (the one with the whole in the top)

Bronze statues stand at each corner of the intersection of Trade & Tryon, the center of downtown. Duke Energy building is in the background (the one with the whole in the top).

Enjoying a beer at 7th Street Station

Enjoying a beer at 7th Street Public Market, light rail in the background

Wooden Vine Wine Bar

Wooden Vine Wine Bar, downtown Charlotte

On our last day in Charlotte, the temps reached over 80 so we just hung out at the MoHo park, sat out in the sun and BBQ’d. We both really liked this town. It has a lot to offer not to mention the housing is extremely affordable. The people were all very friendly too. They are passionate about their sports teams and we enjoyed the local food and craft beer scene. Random side note: Many of the scenes from one of our favorite shows Homeland have been filmed here too – I love that kind of stuff! Next stop is Columbia, SC for a few days then onto Augusta, GA for our bucket list – The Masters! Looking so forward to this and meeting up with some great friends from home.

p.s. I have started a running program via an App that my friend Sunny shared with me. It is great for someone like me who is NOT a runner as it eases you in with alternating walking, running and sprinting. I have been doing it every other day for 3 weeks now and am now running in 3-minute increments with 1 minute of recovery walking for a total of 35 mins. It is not easy for me, but I must say it feels good to get outside and have some “me” time. I have been going rain or shine and it certainly makes all of the eating and drinking feel a bit ‘less-guilty.’ By the end of 8 weeks, I will supposedly be running the entire time. Stay tuned…

March Madness in Raleigh, NC 3/21/14 – 3/25/14

PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC

PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC

We arrived in Raleigh without a reservation. For those of you who know Traci well, this is a long ways out of character for her. We always have reservations at out next destination, usually 3-4 places in advance. We pulled into the NC State Fairgrounds and parked in an open site. It was was first come first serve, and we arrived about 3:00PM after a 5-hour drive from the coast. The place was rustic, but nice and open, and we settled near the back of the campground. It was located just 15 minutes from downtown, huge and well laid out. Some of the events for the weekend included a horse show (which is every weekend), a giant dog show with dogs everywhere, and a weekly flea market with probably 1,000 booths! After paying for our site, we headed over to the PNC Arena (home of the NC State Wolfpack), which was adjacent to the fairground. The first round of March Madness was in full session, and Duke had already been ousted – haha – too bad for the Dukies! The atmosphere was fun with beer gardens, food trucks and big screens everywhere to watch the action. Kind of nice to be around crowds after the ghost town of the OBX. We tried to secure tickets for the Sunday games, but the scalpers were out and not giving any discounts yet, so we headed back to the MoHo for diner and relaxing evening.

The next day we headed downtown, the City Market area. I thought it would be something like the Pike Place Market back in Seattle, but not the case; one small vendor station for produce, a few galleries, and otherwise not a lot more to see. We stopped into a busy place for lunch, and had a really bad service experience, and poor meal, then decided it was time to return to the comforts of our home.

Sunday we relaxed in the MoHo then and decided we would try to get some tickets for the NCAA games that night. Traci really wanted to see ex Coug coach Tony Bennett. We wandered over to the arena, and again the scalpers were way out of line! We had a beer at the outdoor venue, covered from the cold rain, and headed back to the MoHo. Movies and warmth for the night.

NC State, home of Russell Wilson's first 4 college years

NC State, home of Russell Wilson’s first 4 college years

Monday – MY BIRTHDAY – and I wanted to do a pub-crawl for the day. We hit an area just east of town, and found that a lot of places were closed on Monday’s, damn! We enjoyed a great lunch at Natty Green’s, and a good beer or two. The day was nice, but the breweries were not open, so we headed home for me to make some wings and chill, all-around a relaxing good day – beer and wings!

The next day we woke and were tired, just slow moving. We decided to stay another night, and just spent most of the day relaxing in the MoHo. It was cold and rainy. About 3:00PM, we headed out to Chatham Hill Winery, only about 4 miles down the road. Some all right vinos, but not what we are used too on the west coast. We got a tip for a local BBQ around the corner, and got some take out to return to the MoHo. After a quick meal, we walked the 15 minutes back to the PNC arena and scalped some great seats for the nights NHL game, Carolina Hurricanes vs. NY Islanders. The game was entertaining, Traci’s first NHL game, with the home team giving up 4 goals in the first 12 minutes, but scraping their way back to a 5-4 defeat; a cold walk back to the MoHo, a late night, and on to bed. (Cold weather was now back, lows in the upper 20’s — we sure miss the Florida Keys!) Tomorrow we head to Charlotte, and the trudge towards Augusta is in sight!

NHL Hockey

NHL Hockey game

Grand Canyon and Sedona – 10/25/13 – 11/4/13

Grand Canyon!

Grand Canyon!

Hello all, sorry for the lack of posting, we have been all over the place and just got behind on our duties. We left the Phoenix area and headed north about 100 miles to a place called Camp Verde. A small little town on Hwy. 17, that is not visible from said highway, but has a really nice park, the Distant Drums RV Park, right across the street from their casino. We picked this area as it was close to the Grand Canyon, and we did not want to take the MoHo up there with the cold temps at night below 25 degrees! We arrived on a Friday, nice weather and we got set up for our stay – anticipating about 12 days here.

Saturday we headed into Sedona, only about 30 minutes away. If you have not been there, get there! This place is truly amazing, the colors are difficult to capture with a camera, and the landscaping is spectacular. We went through town to try a hike 30 minutes north in the Oak Creek Canyon, but the parking area was packed and there was no way to get in. We returned to town, drove around a bit and found a nice place for a late lunch/early dinner. A Mexican restaurant, I had to see the Tequila list. There it was…a sampling of 4 Don Julio Tequila’s, Blanco, Reposado, Anejo, and the one I have wanted to try, 1942. The wait was well worth it, the 1942 was so smooth and buttery, I was really surprised how much different it was, so glad I did the tasting. We took a few more photos and headed home for the night.

Don Julio Tequila Tasting

Don Julio Tequila Tasting – it came in this cool carrier

Sunday we packed up for two days for the Grand Canyon. We thought it was about 2 hrs drive up, so we would do the Canyon, come down about 30 minutes, grab some cheap motel and return the next day. We got to the park about 10:30AM and stopped in the visitor center to determine what would be a good hike for the day. We decided on one that required a shuttle drive out and back. So we geared up and headed to the site. (So far we had not seen the Canyon.) Along the way, we finally got some peaks into the Grand Canyon, and it is massive! We got to the drop off site, and immediately headed down, down, down. The hike we chose was about 1,000-foot drop and return back up. It was steep and steady, and we were dreading the return up almost as soon as we hit the trail. After about 45 minutes of going down, we came to an overlook that was truly breathtaking – Ooh Aah Point. We stopped here for pictures and just sat on the edge for about 20 minutes. (We could hear some equipment working below, so we decided this was a great spot to just return to the rim.) Heading back up, we had many stops to catch our breath, but so worth the hike. We returned to the shuttle stop and missed our bus, so we hiked across the rim to the next one about a mile away. So peaceful, as there were not a lot of people here at this time of year, we felt like we had the rim trail to ourselves. We got on the next shuttle, and headed to the west end of the park area. Here we again walked a mile or so across the rim, stopping at several lookouts and to take pictures. One spot had a naturalist with a couple high-powered scopes, focusing on a California Condor nest in the canyon wall. We never saw the babies, but there were some in the nest. Further along, I thought we could see one off in the distance, and now knowing that their wingspan is over 10 feet, I am sure of it. It was just so far off that we could barely get a picture with the telephoto lens, but it was a huge bird nonetheless. We returned to the visitors area and decided we had seen everything we needed to so we abandoned our plan for a motel and headed back the two hours to home. (The next day was forecast for high winds and cooler temps, and we did not really have a lot of clothes to combat those conditions.)

Grand Canyon selfie

Grand Canyon “selfy”

Mike a bit too close to the edge

Mike a bit too close to the edge

Monday turned out as forecasted, high winds and cool, so we were glad we chose to go back to the MoHo. We decided to explore the Camp Verde area, and headed to Montezuma’s Castle, a Native American cliff ruin just across the highway from us. (Thanks Charlotte for the recommendation.) This is one of those places you only see on Nat Geo, mud walls and old timbers holding onto a wall, and some 700 years old. It baffles me how they could find a location and then have the engineering skills to pull it off and make it habitable, but also so long lasting, truly skilled beyond their time. We then headed into Camp Verde town and did a few errands, including paying the NAPA auto guy $12 cash to replace an overly corroded battery terminal on the MDX. What a bargain – this would never happen in a big city! Home that night for dinner and relaxing.

Montezuma's Castle

Montezuma’s Castle

Tuesday we headed to Cottonwood, about 30 minutes NE. As we entered town, it had all the stuff of a small city, the big box stores, grocery’s, etc. When we got to the west side and old town, it had a small little quaint street and all antique shops and tourist stuff. We walked the street and checked out all the neat stuff; one place had 2 acres of antiques. We came back late that afternoon and headed over to the casino across the way. A small place, quiet and clean, but not a lot going on so we headed back home to the MoHo soon thereafter and chilled.

Wednesday the weather got better, so we headed back to Sedona. Our first stop was the church on the hill, Chapel of the Holy Cross. Somehow the engineers of the church were able to carve a building right into the hillside, how I do not know. It overlooks the area with a very beautiful view all around, a neat place that is open to the public and very worth the stop. Next, we had wanted to walk the Tlaquepaque market area. We parked in the square and wandered the shops and galleries. I could have dropped some serious cash here, some of these artists are very talented and their prices reflected it. (My mom would have needed a trailer to haul her purchases home if she had ever had a chance to go there.) After a couple of hours here, we ended up at the local brewery, what a shocker! Dinner and a beverage and we headed back to the MoHo.

View of Sedona from the church

View of Sedona from the church

The colors are amazing!

The colors are amazing!

Thursday we just relaxed, did nothing. We both packed for the weekend and just felt good to not be on the run. Friday I took Traci to the Phoenix airport for a flight home to Seattle.  There was a service for her Uncle Hal who had passed away two weeks prior, and it was important for her to be there. I stayed in Phoenix at our friends the Clines for the weekend. I spent a lot of time fishing on their private lake in their neighborhood. Saturday I went golfing with my former employer Bob and his close friend Gordy. We had a great time, better conversations, and finished the night back at Gordy’s for a few laughs and beverages. Sunday I fished, and watched the Seahawks almost choke again, only to pull it out in OT. (I had two great meals at local wing joint, Hurricane Grill and Wings!) Monday I headed back to the airport to pick up Traci from her weekend at home, and we headed back to Camp Verde where we left the MoHo for the weekend. We returned to the MoHo, and our power was out, again. We had been dealing with it failing a few times the last 10 days or so and were not sure if it was the local box here at the park, or our MoHo. Monday night, we lost power completely, and I could not get it reset. It turns out our plug connector was loose inside, and completely melted the inside of the plug! Glad it was only that, it could have been much worse, affecting much of our electronics. The local ‘RV Medic’ came out and repaired it for us. Tuesday we head out towards Lake Mead, and then on to Vegas for the weekend for our friend Shelly’s bday celebration!

Mike fishing to his heart's content

Mike’s fishing hole – the Cline’s backyard

More Sedona pics HERE
More Grand Canyon pics HERE

Moab, UT – Arches NP and Canyonlands NP – 6/18/13 to 6/21/13

Landscape Arch, Arches National Park

Landscape Arch, Arches National Park

We arrived to some heat, 98 degrees here, but it is a dry heat as “they” say in the desert. The drive here was another spectacular trip. Only about 180 miles, but still awesome at every turn (and I notice every turn when I am pushing 31,000 lbs. down the road, and towing another 4,500 lbs.)! As you can guess, I need a cold one or two after the drive, so we headed to the Moab Brewery. As luck would have it, it was Tuesday night and from 4-6, all chicken wings were $.25 each; can you say HEAVEN!! (Weird Utah laws, no happy hour’s for alcohol at any of the dining establishments, but “nightly specials” for food are allowed).

We stayed at the north end of town at the Moab RV Park, nice gated place that has really easy access to town, would come back for sure. Our first full day here we decided to go to Arches NP. Everyone has seen some photos of this place, and after spending the last two weeks here in Utah it seemed familiar as we entered the park. (We entered twice, I forgot to turn on the AC, so we had to go back and turn it on; that would have been a devastating return to the MoHo in this heat late in the day). We got to see some 8 or so arches on the hike we chose, and each one was amazing in its own way. They all have cool names like North and Sound window, Delicate arch, Landscape arch, Double O arch, etc. Some small, some large, all distinct, and amazing that they are still standing. We drove through the park the rest of the day, and took in some of the more easily accessible arches. Some of these things are massive! It shocks me to see these wonders of the world in person, another place the pictures just do not do the justice that the naked eye can see.

The next day was our day to cool off, a float down the historic Colorado River! We chose a ½ day trip, with lunch, transportation and equipment. The river is not running too high now, so it was more of a float like the Yakima River for those of you who know what I mean, but still a bit of rapids here and there to get you wet. They also had 2-person blowup kayaks called “duckies” that we got to use which we took advantage of. A great group of people on the trip and we would recommend Canyon Voyages Adventure Company if you are in the area. We ended the evening with a really great dinner at Pasta Jay’s, a Boulder, CO company that has a location in Moab. Great sidewalk table, and more food than anyone could eat — there are going to be some great leftovers.

The last full day we headed to Canyonlands NP. Much smaller of the parks, as there was only one “pay” station at the entrance, and it was unattended, the honor system. (We bought the yearly pass to all the National Parks for $80 back in Crater Lake, so now we are getting in for free, so to speak). This area is about 6,000-7,000 feet in elevation, so a bit cooler than Moab – by about 10 degrees. We decided to go to the end of the road and take our hike in the “Islands of the Sky” region to see this area from above. (We had met a couple of teachers from Missouri on our raft trip the day before, and they said if you have not seen the Grand Canyon, this will give you an idea of what it looks like). We did a short 1-mile hike out to the end of the bluff, and you better not be afraid of heights here, as it is a long way down to the area I would call the “subfloor.” (There is a 100-mile drive through this subfloor area, called the White Rim road that is for 4-wheel drive only, high clearance vehicles. They recommend you take two days to do the drive, and you can see much of the road from up here). From the subfloor area, the Green and Colorado rivers have carved this place up and you get the complete picture of why it is called Canyonlands NP. You can see for some 35-40 miles in almost all directions, truly awesome to be there. We finished our day with a quick stop at a local winery in Moab, Spanish Valley Vineyards and Winery – one of 11 wineries in the state. Similar hot and cold weather to our Eastern Washington, but the soil is a lot different.

Canyonlands National Park - it's a long ways down!

Canyonlands National Park – it’s a long ways down!

Next, we are on to Bluff and our last few days here in Utah. We both agree, this state needs to step up their marketing within the US of what they have; these parks are incredible. We found that most of the people we encountered in the parks were foreigners, which surprised us. We had very little knowledge of what was here, now we will never forget and tell everyone we know this is a must for the bucket list!

Pics are HERE for Arches National Park
Pics are HERE for Canyonlands National Park