After leaving a wintery Connecticut in late December, we headed south hoping to find some warmer weather or at least somewhere with less snow. I guess Mother Nature cooperated a little. As we headed into Washington the snow disappeared, but the frigid temperatures didn’t let up at all. Hrudy (our van) has a propane furnace which does a great job keeping us warm, but campervans like ours don’t seem to be built for temperatures as low as we were seeing. We began this leg of the trip without running water since it still wasn’t warm enough to drain the antifreeze out of our pipes. Even with the furnace on and the heat of the vehicle, the floor and living space is no where insulated enough to keep the pipes from freezing which can risk damaging the water pump. The other problem we were running into was getting enough sun for our solar panel to recharge our batteries. In the northern areas, between shorter days and lots of cloud cover, our solar panel was not able to get enough light, draining our batteries much more quickly. This is a huge problem since our furnace has an electric starter that requires battery power when we’re staying off the grid (free camping or boon-docking). Realizing we’d have a few more crazy cold days, we focused on minimizing the draw on the batteries throughout the day and found alternative means of charging devices and reducing our light usage (we found a great lighter/USB chargeable lantern), to ensure that for these -17 C nights we wouldn’t freeze because the furnace stopped working.
We’re just starting to get more comfortable taking our van into the really big cities – even with tons of experience, it’s still our home and we don’t want to unnecessarily risk damage in excessively high traffic areas. So even though we didn’t make it to the actual Smithsonian Museum, we were excited that we would be able to see an off-shoot site of the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, located in Chantilly, Virginia.
Full of restored planes, fighter jets, helicopters and even a stealth bomber, this place was amazing! Graeme, who really enjoyed following the NASA missions when he was a kid, was thrilled to see the actual Discovery space shuttle, permanently housed and displayed here. This museum is set up to see the evolution of the technology and makes it easy to marvel at some of the air craft that brilliantly designed, yet at the same time preserving some of the really early flight models that leave you asking ‘who thought trying to fly that thing was a good idea?’.
On our way south through Virginia, we jumped on the Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park. It costs $25 to drive the route from end to end and definitely takes longer because of its reduced speed limits, but the scenery is well worth it in both respects. Part of the Appalacian Range, the Skyline Drive winds you through the mountains, with elevations of up over 3500 feet. There are numerous overlooks that provide views that go on for miles, across the vistas and valleys. We weren’t planning on being there past dusk, but our poor timing gifted us with a spectacular sunset that made us glad that we were.
The next morning we hopped on the Blue Ridge Parkway (an extension of the Skyline Drive) another scenic route that would take us out of Virginia and then through to North Carolina. This byway takes a little longer, but was free to drive and provided us with another slew of gorgeous scenery and ear-popping overlooks.
With a winter storm chasing us, we decided to temporarily bypass Georgia and get out of the Carolinas before we got stranded in freezing rain or snow. We took a brief stopover just outside of Charleston, SC with a detour to the Charleston Tea Plantation for some hot tea and a factory tour and then a quick visit to the the Kazoobie Kazoo Museum…because, who wouldn’t want an annoying sounding instrument while living in less than 100 square feet? With our new kazoos (technically Wazoogles), we made a bee-line for the Florida Keys, in a search for sun, sand and hopefully some warmer temperatures!