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Rob Loewindick, the author's son, fly fishes under the guidance of Ian Rutter.
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Virginia Highland Haven
“Airstreamers are nice people,” says Laura Dixon, who’s been coming to Virginia Highland Haven for more than 19 years. The shareholder/members organize potlucks and picnics. Guest Byron Blizzard’s early experiences were with a group: “The first caravan I went on was with my grandparents, in 1983,” he says, to California.
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Skip and Marge Higgins’ well-loved pop-up camper, parked at Hungry Mother State Park in Virginia.
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The Higginses’ new home.
On a mountaintop in Floyd County, Va., Airstreamers have spent their summer since the 1970s.
On a clear day, you can see the gorge at Narrows from here, all the way over in Giles County. Evening sunsets are unobstructed and beautiful.
Virginia Highland Haven is Airstream-only, and membership-based. If everyone’s here, then shiny, classic Airstreams are parked in 46 spaces, marked by vegetable and flower gardens, picnic tables, hummingbird feeders, lawn chairs and grills.
The 75-acre park was established in the 1970s, and it’s a quiet little community from May to mid-October, populated mostly by retirees. Non-members can stay as guests if there’s an open space, and on this particular weekend there’s a family with young children. The property includes hiking trails and a lodge (with piano, video library and laundry). Members sign up as hosts for one week every year, organizing entertainment (movies, potlucks) and handling parking of guests, and the board of directors elects a president every year.
“When you buy an Airstream, you buy into a family,” says Laura Dixon (of Greensboro, N.C.), who’s been coming here with her husband Dick since 1988.
Abe Lincoln (yes, really) and his wife Melissa are from Richmond, Va. (he is 47, she is 53; they still work and drive back and forth through the summer). Melissa, who works for a florist, is the gardener: growing cherry tomatoes, phlox, hydrangeas, cardinal flowers – “for the hummingbirds.” Abe takes us on a tour, a bumpy ride on the back of a John Deere Gator down hiking trails to a waterfall and stream.
On one hand, life up here is simple. “Deer every day, turkey pretty often,” says Abe. “The raspberries come in first and then the blackberries.” There have been three bear sightings so far this week.
On the other hand, Airstream life is helped along by much more modern conveniences – GPS, wireless internet and remote-controlled awnings.
But in the end it’s all about living, Jack D’Atre, (from Vancouver, Wa., with his wife Phyllis) seems to suggest, summoning up an oft-repeated adage from older Airstreamers to younger ones:
“The aluminum gets in your blood and keeps you young.”
Angling by RV
My 13-year-old son stares at the mountain river through the motorhome’s side window. “That looks good, Dad.”
“Let me pull over here and we’ll give it a go.”
“See that biggest rock in the middle?” he says. “I bet there are a trout or two waiting there for a meal just like Ian said.”
Ian Rutter, a professional fly fishing guide in the Smoky Mountains, introduced us to fly fishing for mountain trout the day before. I turn to speak to Rob and he is already pulling fly rods out of the RV’s under storage.
For me, planning the trip to the Smokies via a Winnebago motorhome had to include fishing the pristine rivers and streams. As an avid angler and traveler, I felt the need to go beyond a sightseeing trip and get my feet wet – literally. Along with Rob and me are my 16-year-old daughter Danielle and wife Linda, all efficient anglers. The four of us spend several days traveling along the mountain rivers, stopping frequently to cast a fly.
Townsend, Tenn., at the northwestern edge of the park, is a good starting point for an RV angling adventure. Available in Townsend are campgrounds to accommodate nearly any size RV. In the park, basic but efficient campgrounds welcome RVers; this region of the park hosts several fishing opportunities including the Little River. Most people are sightseeing, which leaves most of the river open to fishing and there are plenty of pull-over spots for RVs. The summer months bring parades of rafters down the river.
On the opposite side of the park, Cherokee, N.C. is another starting point. The Oconaluftee River is paralleled by U.S. 441, which connects Gatlinburg and Cherokee. The Oconaluftee Visitor’s Center, just north of Cherokee on U.S. 441, provides angling and camping information to RVers onsite, and might possibly give up a few hot spots on the river.
Park campgrounds such as Smokemont near Cherokee can accommodate RVs up to 35 feet in length, but not all park campgrounds are as RV-accommodating. Campground research in the planning process will eliminate any negative surprises. Be sure the RV’s maintenance is up-to-date to handle the ups and downs of mountain driving.
If you’re looking for more than casual fishing, then a guide is essential. Most local guides will pick you up at the campground for a day of serious mountain river fishing. Hiking river banks, up, over and around boulders carrying rod and reel is worth the effort.
One result of our trip: Rob now packs our fishing gear in the RV before anything else.
She didn’t even like camping, or so I recall my wife, Margie, saying as I pulled that canvas-sided pop-up camper into the driveway. Some time later, she was the one asking to go “camping” every free weekend.
Many a fine time was had with that camper up and down the Blue Ridge, visiting state parks and campgrounds along the way. Even on rainy days, when we’d hunker down inside, playing board games or reading, life was good. We fished, cooked over a campfire and hiked most of the rest of the time.
I should have known that wheels were turning in her head.
We were curious about the larger recreational vehicles we saw in the parks. They represented a different lifestyle – the ability to be on vacation 24/7. It wasn’t long before we’d laid out a time line and financial plan to become what are known as “full timers.” We just had to decide on the RV.
The large RV buses, or class As, as they are known, and their smaller cousins, classes B and C, are impressive in that they can be parked anywhere and be set up almost instantly by merely plugging in power cord, water and sewer connections; however, we couldn’t get over the fact that changing the oil or getting a tune-up on our “home” must be done while we waited in a garage or truck stop.
There was also the high cost, with some of the largest going into seven figures. That left us with a choice between travel or fifth-wheel trailers, either of which would need a powerful vehicle to tow them. We needed a new vehicle anyway so we purchased a one-ton diesel pickup.
We pored over RV brochures and went to shows for well over a year and learned that the fifth-wheels provide more interior room, more storage and are much easier to tow and back up. The price for the 35-foot model we decided on was well within our anticipated budget, so when the house sold, we were homeless for the time it took to mount the connecting hitch in the pickup and hook it up.
“Home” is now a mostly white, nearly eight-foot-wide, 16,000-pound (loaded) RV, with motor-driven extensions along the sides. We purchased a hitch, similar to that of a semi-tractor, and mounted it in the bed of the GMC. For any hope of slowing or stopping the beast within a single zip code, we installed a complicated digital braking assist system.
We have lived in our RV for nearly a year at this point. We’ve negotiated the slim roads of northeastern cities, relaxed to bluegrass in our home state of Virginia, eaten peaches in Georgia, watched rain storms travel the plains of South Dakota and spent Christmas under the palm trees in Florida. Life indeed is good!