And here we go again – retracing our steps.
In order to stop ourselves suffering from a bad case of déjà vu, we do our very best to not follow the exact original route we took, as we head back to Michigan.
However, we do have a few repeated occurrences, such as stopping of to have dinner with Loop’s family, who again happen to be on holiday only an hour from where we choose to make camp one evening at Cross Creek RV Park in Maggie Valley, NC. We’ve specifically chosen to pop in here and spend two nights, as the gentleman who owns the park is a Bluebird owner and has offered us up to a week’s free stay to try it out and spread the word if we like it. How amazing is that?
Well, I can confirm, the park is a lovely little find, quiet and well maintained with beautiful mountain views from the windows, and all the residents happily wave to Loops’ and I as we stroll around the park in the evening (though they probably thought we were a little odd as we ended up doing about 3 circuits because the campground, though lovely, is small).
I’d also advise anyone passing through the area to take the time to stop in downtown Waynesville which is so quaint and sweet it’s likely to make your teeth rot (that and the heaps of candy you are guaranteed to buy at Mast General Store); and give yourself a good hour or so to window shop. This is exactly what Loops’, I and his family did (including having his stepdad Paul by me about 1lb of candy at said previous store), before bimbleling up the hill to the top of town to have a ginormous, and scrumptious, dinner at Bogart’s Restaurant and Tavern.
Now being slightly worried about my waistline since coming to the new world, I opted for what I felt would be a moderately sized, fairly healthy meal; ordering something called the Prolific Sweet Potato. Now, the menu informed me that this is great either as an appetiser or main meal, so that to me suggested moderation. It comprises of a sweet potato, stuffed with pulled pork bbq, bacon, jack and cheddar cheese, bbq sauce, creamy chipotle sauce and fresh chives – ok, so maybe not so healthy after all, but I mean, how much of that can you fit into a sweet potato? Surely not that much.
Well, I guess if you were talking about an ordinary sized British sweet potato that may be true. What I was presented with was a potato of epic proportions, certainly a product of some genetic mutation experiment, and was enough to feed three people sitting at the table (or me for the next consecutive three nights, as it turned out).
No matter how I try, American food proportions still sneak up and bite me on the ass, every time.
Another of our ‘haven’t we done this already?’ moments included stopping by the Little Barn Down the Lane again for two days, to see Rick and Marilyn, as well as giving Loops and Rick a chance to change out the generator fan which had given up the ghost about 4 days previously resulting in some very icky, hot nights without air conditioning.
Which then brings us once again to crossing into my beloved state of Indiana – Hoosier country.
Now try as I might, I can’t seem to find any really good, firm explanation for how or why Indiana and its residents have been given the title – the Hoosier state and Hoosiers. They just are, and it is a positive thing for them, not a derogatory one.
We come to Indiana this time in a completely different direction from last, which means a whole new love affair begins, as I take in new sights, smells and people. You may laugh at me right now, or think I’ve gone soft in the head, but the moment we crossed over the state line, I just felt like a whole soft blanket of comfort had been placed gently over me, I was happy to be back.
Where we’ve crossed over the border on US 231, we’ve been greeted this time by an industrial county, immediately passing by Rockport Power Plant, an imposing electric generating coal powered plant, with two thick bodied white steam towers billowing out water vapour. It’s somehow still pretty to me, being out in the middle of flat, empty countryside and apparently boasting one of the tallest smokestacks in the world at 316 meters in height (and yes, these are some very rose tinted specs I’m wearing today).
The good news for me is that we are currently south west of the Hoosier State Forest, where the town of French Lick, that I was so desperate to visit last time but Loops vetoed, is located. This time, we have no excuse not to pass right through it – and it is here that we find some information that (unbeknownst to us now) will hold us in good stead right up through Michigan. Here it is – Casinos love RV’s.
Yes, it’s true. Apparently in the casino business they believe that all people living and traveling in their RV’s are full time addicted gamblers. So much so, that they are happy to provide not only ample parking for their RV patrons, but frequently electricity, water and dump stations – in some places all of this is either very cheap, or completely free!
So we pull into the French Lick Casino Resort and plonk ourselves for two days.
Now I’d just like to clarify that French Lick is not what I expected at all – first, our drive through the Hoosier National Forest was, well, not very foresty at all. The majority of it comprised of farms and villages, interspersed with a few trees here and there. In fact, if we hadn’t driven past a sign declaring its nature, I would have never guessed.
My second surprise came after expecting French Lick to be themed in some fashion, as resort towns tend to be, but was in fact just a normal everyday small town with some shops. In fact the only feature that stood out, was the hotel itself, which I guess maybe is the point?
As it turns out, after Loops and I spent a diverting hour in the casino with just $6 in our pockets – you’ve got to love one cent slot machines – we uncovered that the attraction of this area comes not just from the hotel next to our RV, but actually the whole resort comprises of TWO luxurious hotels; the other a short distance down the road in West Baden.
We made this discovery accidently after searching for the source of an accordion sounding horn we keep hearing every 15 minutes, which turned out to be coming from an electric trolley that runs between the two hotels, all day every day. The trolley is actually a restored remnant of a bygone era, and was first used in 1903, for the same job that it is doing today. It’s both historic and beautiful.
Well, it’s a lovely evening out and with Loops’ having a hankering for ice cream and being told he can get one at the hotel down the road, we jump aboard and spend the next 5 minutes being jittered and jolted down the track over to West Baden.
We emerge to find ourselves outside an impressive historic hotel building, which it turns out was built in 1902 and is famous for the six storey free spanning dome that sits atop it. Walking into the hotel (just because we fancied a tour), I can confirm that it is a sight worth seeing.
You have to crane your neck back pretty far in order to be able to take in the view, but rather helpfully, placed all around the atrium beneath, the hotel have provided comfortable what I would call chaise lounges. People were obviously far taller and wider back in the 1900’s, because as I sat down and my whole body was swallowed up in the chair. Either that or there were giants roaming the earth and this was their seating of choice. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why the dome is so tall….?
Our quest for ice cream was doomed to failure, the shop having closed about half an hour before we arrived. However, we were provided a second tip that ice cream was available over at the French Lick hotel until midnight. Right, well, back we go then!
Another back breaking trolley ride later, we end up back were we began, but rather than try to earn any more pennies in the casino, we wander over to the hotel. French Lick hotel is one year older than its twin and boasts an impressive array of guests with presidents Franklin D Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan having stayed during their National Governors Conferences. Inside the hotel there is a whole corridor dedicated to famous guests, which Loops and I peruse to try and recognise as many as we can.
We sit and people watch in the main reception area while sipping on a mouth-watering cherry chocolate milkshake that was recommended to us by the nice lady at the ice cream counter – it has a rich deep chocolate flavour and a smack of sharp cherry as an after taste. The décor here is less remarkable than West Baden, but very elegant and regal. In fact, I get the feeling that this is what it would be like to sit in Buckingham Palace, should the Queen decide to invite me round for a late night liquid dairy treat.
And with that thought drifting through my head, we wander home for the evening.
After consuming way too much pasta for dinner last night (curse you Pasta-roni!) and some milkshake to boot, I feel today should include some activity; and I am delighted to find out that French Lick has its very own mountain biking track! That’s right, a real off road experience. It took a little bit to convince Loops to try it out, give that technically our bikes are mostly meant for the road or a bit of rugged gravel, not for careening around in mud, stones and forest like situations. But eventually after a fair bit of moaning, he came around to the idea.
We started off gently in the morning though, by taking a bike path back over to West Baden as I discovered one of the reasons the two hotels were built here in the first place, was due to the natural springs in the area; and apparently there is a formal garden that houses several springs right outside the hotel.
My excitement was cut short however on arrival, for while the buildings that once housed the springs still exist and the garden is pretty, it appears that all of the springs were capped some time ago, so there are no bubbling brooks to be seen. I’m actually rather gutted and disappointed. However, there is a fountain with some turtles that shoot water out of their mouths, so I guess I will have to be content with that.
Well, off road biking it is then.
I would like to first say that I have never been mountain biking in my life. And to be honest, I get pretty anxious when my bike hits a stone in the road and makes me wobble. Also, riding uphill, well, I try to avoid it whenever possible and riding down steep hills makes me nervous. So I consider it a great challenge for me to mount up in the woods and ride 2.5 miles of woodland track.
It doesn’t sound like much at all, but by the end my thighs were screaming at me from the work out, I used pretty much all of my 21 gears (mostly because I didn’t know what they did in the first place) and I even had to ride down a hill so steep I had the tips of my fingers on my handle bars while I had to lean backwards so as to not topple myself over – I was petrified!
But it was awesome! And I’d love to try it again!
Back at the bus it was time to make our next plans for our journey north. It is while I am skimming a brochure containing festivals and fairs across Indiana that I spot it. It must be fate, for right at this very moment and for the next couple of days, the Indiana State Fair is taking place just a couple of hours drive away on the outskirts of Indianapolis. Oh my god, we have to go.
Saddle up boys and girls – it’s time to visit the fair!