Monday, December 31, 2007

2007's a Wrap

Monday, December 31, 2007 -- Sandollar Resort near Rockport, TX

It's been a week since I last posted to this blog. Let's just chalk up the break to the "pause" I referred to in my last post. To be honest there's an element of laziness too. But it's time to update the blog with some thoughts and the events of the past few days.

Time passes so quickly and it's common to say "where'd the day go?" at this park. We have a great group of neighbors around us. I think I've written about this before, but most of them are here for the winter and most of them are from somewhere in the Midwest. Most of them have a home "up north" and are not fulltimers like us. Even though we're only here for a few weeks -- just passing through -- they've made us feel at home, as part of the group. We often attend the 4pm "happy hour" and we've gone out to lunch or dinner with some. We had a big Christmas pot-luck dinner together. Because we're all parked so close, it's hard to go outside without getting involved in a conversation or, because it's a lively group, shenanigans of some kind. The days just fly by.

Then there are the normal routine things: the laundry's got to get done; the camper's got to be cleaned; weekly or monthly system checks on the bus; small repairs that I can handle; our daily walk. I try to squeeze in some reading and writing. Of course, there are the places to tour or visit -- museums, parks, beaches, mansions, restaurants, and the like. It can all chew up a lot of time.

As the New Year breaks, Dar and I have been fulltiming for 6 months -- a half year. Neither of us feels we've even scratched the surface of the possibilities. If we were to ultimately do this for 5 years we would be 10% done. It doesn't feel like we're 10% done.

Over this time I've observed four broad classes of people who own an RV. This is only my observation and there are certainly variations and permutations of these four categories, but most RV owners fall cleanly into one of the four.

Vacationers: These are people who have jobs and homes and, often, kids. They use their RV during one long vacation during the summer and perhaps a few long weekends at other times of the year. For most of the year the old RV is in storage.

Snowbirds: This group usually has a regular house somewhere but they live in their RV for a portion of the year mostly to escape extreme weather. There are many of these people in South Texas during the winter (called "winter Texans"), but we've also run into the reverse -- people who have their home in the South and take their RV north for the summer.

Bouncers: These are people that live in their RV all year long but it's parked in one spot in the South all winter long, and one spot in the north all summer long. They just "bounce" from one spot to the next. They may take a few weeks moving from one spot to the other, but they're mostly in one of two parking spots. There's a variation of this group that has two RV's, one in the north and one in the south, and they simply bounce by car or plane from one to the other depending on the season.

Fulltimers: These are people like us that live fulltime in their RV, but are rarely in one spot longer than a week or two. They're almost always on the go. Some people in this group still have a house but they don't live in it. (Purist would demand that real Fulltimers do not have a house at all.) Our objective is to see and experience the USA. We get itchy when grass starts to grow under our feet.

In our limited experience it seems that many Fulltimers, those in the fourth group, tend to migrate to "Bouncers", the third group, after a few years. They find places they like and go back again and again. They grow tired of traveling so much and like the comfort of being in one spot for extended periods of time. As we grow tired to traveling so much, our objective is to ultimately move from "Fulltimer" to "Bouncer" to "Snowbird". We do see a real house in our future again -- at some point.

And after almost three weeks here at Sandollar we're getting that itch again. We've thoroughly enjoyed our stay here, but it's time to move on, and see what awaits over the next hill, across the next bridge, in the next state.

--------

Other than fishing or going to the beach, there isn't a great abundance of things to do in this part of the world. We did visit the aircraft carrier USS Lexington, which is now permanently parked in Corpus Christi. I just thoroughly enjoy big machinery like this, and the historic nature of the ship enriches the experience. This ship was started, "laid down", in 1941 as the USS Cabot, but was renamed the USS Lexington (CV16) after the first USS Lexington (CV2) was lost in the battle of the Coral Sea in 1942. Commissioned in 1943, The Lex eventually became the longest active serving aircraft carrier in the world. Decommissioned in 1991, most of it's later years were spent training and certifying Navy pilots in carrier operations. Large areas of the ship are open and set up as it was during WWII. From the Bridge, to the Captains Quarters, to the Engine Room, you can wander around and soak up the experience at your own pace. An IMAX Theatre has been installed on the forward hanger deck. There are a few pictures of our visit to The Lex in our online photo collection.

Paralleling the Gulf Coast of Texas, there's a long string of barrier islands. A common coastal phenomenon, barrier islands are formed when the washing action of the ocean build sandbars that grow into long narrow islands just offshore from the coast. Along this part of Texas, we have Matagorda Island, St. Joseph Island, Mustang Island, and Padre Island. On the north end of Mustang Island is the beach town of Port Aransas. It's at Port Aransas that the main shipping channel into Corpus Christi Bay opens to the sea. All large ships going in or out of the harbors in this area must go through this channel. It's possible to drive out to Port Aransas, but the short distance across this main shipping channel must be crossed on a ferry system run by the State of Texas. Apparently it's not practical to build a high enough bridge that would allow large ships to pass freely underneath. Once on the island, it's possible to drive on the beach -- right on the sand-- for miles. Campers are permitted to park on the beach overnight in some areas. It's a great uncongested place to get that "beach-fix". We've got a few photos of this excursion online too.

Texas Highway 35 crosses the strait between Compano Bay and Aransas Bay on a 2 mile long bridge built in 1966. Most of the old bridge was left in place and now serves as a fishing pier. It's an enjoyable walk too -- the long segment on the north is 1-1/4 miles long one way. There were two small commercial clam boats fishing right along the pier one day we walked it. Between watching the clamming operation and talking to old grizzled fishermen we learned a lot about fishing in these waters.

We did visit the "Big Tree". It's the largest known Southern Live Oak in Texas. A friend of ours told us the biggest one in the USA is in Louisiana. These trees are just spectacular. It isn't their height that's interesting, but the spread of their crown. The branches are twisted and gnarly and often grow sideways much further than they grow high. This tree is only 44 feet high, but 89 feet across at the spread. It's estimated to be about 1000 years old.

Many days, we drive down to Rockport beach for our walk. Shorebirds all over the place, each trying to eke out survival for as long as possible -- just like us I guess. We almost always see some bottlenose dolphins having lunch.

I'm sure I forgot things, but that's enough for today.

Happy New Year All!

Thom and Dar

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Pause

Sunday, December 23, 2007 -- Sandollar Resort near Rockport, TX

One thing I've always liked about this time of year is the pause.

We've just gone through an entire year of our lives, largely running around and competing with others over jobs, ideas, sales, love, money, possessions, and recognition. Then, the frantic nature of the build-up to our commercialized Christmas and New Years saps more strength... the crowds, the traffic, shopping for the right gifts, the parties, getting the cards out, dealing with nasty weather, holiday travel, and more. It's all enough to give anyone a headache.

But then, it's over. At least briefly -- if you let it. There's a period of time that belongs to only you. If you recognize it, if you let it flow over you, there's a peace that accompanies the silence, the pause. Now it's just you and the loved ones that surround you. For just one day or, maybe, a few, you can take a breather... decide not to go anywhere... watch and enjoy the beauty of falling snow or a crackling fire or waves washing on a shore... look deeply into those eyes you care for and really connect for a while. A time to get spiritual, if you will.

In business, expectations are lower during that week of the holidays. I often used that week to contemplate the past year; to remember and bask in my successes; to confront and learn from the failures. It's also a good time to clean out the files, re-organize, and prepare for the new year.

Our time here is short. An occasional pause, well used, just adds to the experience.

T

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Holiday Decorating

December 19, 2007 -- Sandollar Resort in Rockport, TX

The holidays just wouldn't be complete without Christmas lights and Holiday Decorations -- at least for Dar. For most of the years of our marriage, she was always the one who spent time, money, and personal effort (not to mention risking life and limb) to achieve the warm holiday look she wanted the house to have, both inside and out. She took great pleasure in doing most of it herself. It started years ago when she said something about putting up lights on the outside of our house, two stories up, and wondered if I'd do it. Perhaps I was in a bad mood that day... I certainly was not in the holiday spirit... or just preoccupied with another project -- I don't know. But I said something along the lines of "If you want lights on the roof, put 'em up yourself." To make a long story short, she did. And she did for many years thereafter. And she made sure ALL the neighbors saw her. She took great pride in making sure everyone knew she did the outside lighting at the Hoch's house. For many years, I paid the price. I was shunned at Christmas parties, often chewed out by people I didn't even know about sending my wife to the top of a 30' ladder and onto an icy roof in the dead of winter. It was ugly, but I endured. You see, Dar's a perfectionist, and if I were out on that roof stapling lights to the shingles, anything I did wouldn't have been right anyway. It would have caused a lot of turmoil and pain in our marriage... not a good thing, especially during the holidays. In some ways, I feel I've actually saved our marriage by refusing to be part of the Christmas outdoor decorating thing, and letting her do it exactly the way she wanted it.

Eventually, the neighborhood guys started inviting me back to card games and such... and were actually jealous of what I'd achieved. Somehow, I'd gotten my dear wife to do all the outside decorating work. I'm sitting around the fireplace reading a book, having some warm holiday nog, listening to music while they're out there slipping, sliding, falling, and freezing their fingers trying to figure out which dead bulb is responsible for the death of the entire tangled string of lights. They wanted to know how I did it. Inside, I wished I knew how I did it too.

But let's fast-forward to this year. This was going to be a tough year for both of us -- since we'd have NO family around us at all for the first time in many years. I truly wanted to help out, in my owned limited way, with making it a good holiday season for us. So I looked for small ways to assist the "pro" during these holiday preparations. There turned out to be two small things that made me look pretty good in the eyes of my sweetie.

First, on a shopping excursion to Corpus Christi, she sent me to Home Depot while she shopped at other stores -- so I wouldn't interfere with her mission. While in Home Depot I spotted a small -- very small -- 24 inch high -- artificial Christmas tree. It was the last one they had. I knew that she had dreams of us walking out into the woods behind the bus to chop down a small seedling to use as our tree. But, alas, pine trees are not easy to find around here, and we're not exactly out in the sticks. Any pine tree we did find would have to come from someone's yard -- and that just wasn't going to happen. Until that day, it looked like we might not have a tree at all. But when I spotted this little Chinese-made fake tree I knew it was the right tree for us. Not only was it the right sized tree for us, it was fully decorated with lights, pine cones, and little fake berries of some kind. AND... it was 50% off the original price... just $4.99. AND I probably saved that little thing from the dumpster.

Dar fell in love immediately... with the tree. She called it our "Charlie Brown" Christmas Tree. It was bent and twisted from weeks of abuse at the hands of shoppers at the depot, but with Dar's magic touch, and a few additional decorations, it turned into a marvelous little tree. We'll make sure we get a photo of it online soon.

The second thing that kind-of shocked Dar was this: I found three boxes of Christmas lights that we'd brought along when we started this adventure back in June. Often people use strings of lights to brighten up dark campsites at any time of the year. Somehow I got the idea to put these lights up in the big live oak tree we're parked under. It wouldn't be a tough job as all I'd have to do is walk around the roof of the camper and string them from branch to branch -- forming a sort of colorful halo of Christmas lights over the bus. I did just that and it looks darned good if I can say so myself. Dar was shocked that, at least this year, she didn't have to do any outdoor decorating for Christmas.

But the real decorating is on the inside of the camper. Dar's a magician when it comes to this decorating thing. At night, the bus really feels like the holidays on the inside and looks pretty darned good on the outside too. I think it'll be a good Christmas for us.

Merry Christmas Everyone

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Settled for Christmas

Saturday, December 15, 2007 -- Sandollar RV Park in Rockport, TX

A few weeks ago, on a recommendation from someone we trust, we booked the Sandollar Resort in Rockport for three weeks during Christmas and New Years. Not knowing how fast things book up over the holidays -- or how booked they already might be -- we rolled the dice, made reservations, and despite never having laid eyes on the place we hoped it'd be that perfect "homey" place to be for Christmas.

We arrived in Rockport a few days early. Even though it may have been possible to move in at Sandollar early, we thought it'd be good to try another place for the experience. Based mostly on internet research we decided to try Drifters Resort. We arrived there Tuesday and found it to be an excellent RV park, only three years old, small but very well done. With both cabins and RV sites, it's a friendly place filled with genuine and outgoing people who didn't even wait for us to back into our site before coming over and introducing themselves. Many of these people are from the midwest -- Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan -- and like almost everyone down here from the north at this time of the year, they're looking to escape Winter. Many of them arrive in October or November and stay until April. You just can't beat Midwesterners!

After three days at Drifters we felt like one of the gang. We knew most of the people on our end of the park on a first name basis and had long conversations with many of them. But, alas, it was time to go and get set up at Sandollar. So we said our good-byes. This is a place we could easily come back to and spend more time. Maybe next year?

At Sandollar Resort the bus is parked in a nice spot under a large live oak tree. "Live oak" is a general term for a number of different oaks throughout the southern U.S. that share the characteristic of evergreen foliage. While other oak trees have shed their leaves, live oaks are still full of green foliage. The gnarly, tough, resilient live oak wood was highly valued by shipbuilders of the 18th and 19th century because it was more resistant to cannon balls. I don't think we have to worry about cannon fire here at Sandollar. I'll get a picture up on the home page later today.

So here we are for the holidays. The neighbors here are as nice, and friendly, as the ones at at Drifters. They have a nightly "happy hour" that I attended last night... just a short get-together every night at 4 or 5pm to chat and tell stories. They're also planning Christmas dinner for everyone in the park. Dar's busy getting the bus decorated. She's happy with the choice we made for Christmas this year.

T

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Breezy Day at the Gulf

Tuesday, December 11, 2007 -- Drifters RV Resort near Rockport, TX

There's a broad coastal plain that follows the shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico stretching all the way from New Orleans, through Texas, to Mexico. This long arc of land is about the flattest land I've ever seen -- flatness that rivals parts of Illinois, Indiana, and the Canadian Great Plains. It's said that raindrops develop a severe case of indecisiveness when they don't know which direction to flow after hitting the ground. So they just sit there, evaporate, and make the air humid.

All this flatness can also make breezy days a challenge for driving an RV... like today. When the wind blows off the Gulf, there's nothing to stop it or slow it down. The last few days there's a big storm system in the central part of the country that's sucking humid air out of the Gulf. Since we've been in Victoria on Sunday, the winds have been howling.

The owner of the coach and I had a little "safety meeting" this morning, prior to leaving Victoria. It seems the owner, who's also the safety director, was concerned that the wind, blowing at 15 to 20mph and gusting higher, may be reason to stay in Victoria another day and take our chances with the higher probability of rain predicted for tomorrow. All I could think of was the safety meetings they have before every space shuttle launch -- and how decisions can come back to haunt. I listened to her concerns and went quietly outside to check out conditions... took the trash to the dumpster... watched trucks and other RV's going by out on the highway... wetted my finger and stuck it up in the air... tried to remember if we had any O-rings that could cause us a problem. I held my breath and threw the dice. And the decision was made to "go". We drove boldly into the stiff headwind.

(An aside: There's something that happens that when you're traveling in your RV -- the wind is almost always a headwind; it's rarely pushing you. I don't know why, but others I've talked to about this agree. More study is needed on this.)

So we arrived at the Drifters RV Resort just South of Rockport just after 2pm. Registering, parking, and completely setting up house took a half-hour. Meeting all the neighbors took much longer. We then drove into town, got some local touristy information at the Chamber of Commerce, and checked out the town. There's a large fishing fleet based here and the town, in general, feels like a lot of beach towns I've been to in the past -- very laid back, casual, everyone very friendly. It's great.

We'll be here for three nights and will move on Friday over to the place we plan to spend the holidays, just a few miles away. In both places, this one and the one we're moving to later in the week, we're within sight of Aransas Bay and the Gulf. We're a little over a hundred miles from the southern tip of Texas so this should "take the edge off" winter as we'd planned.

T

Saturday, December 8, 2007

In Shorts Again!

Saturday, December 8, 2007 -- Livingston, TX

In a surprising twist of nature, the weather gods have given us near record high temperatures here in east central Texas. It didn't get below 70f last night and was over 80f today. There's a weather front north of here, toying with us, and will keep the weather a little cloudier and hard to predict much of the rest of the week.

Let me bring you up to date on our bus problem. Remember, we found a small puddle of engine coolant under the bus while parked in Vicksburg on Wednesday. Spartan, our chassis maker, got us into a diesel shop in Shreveport to have it fixed, but they wouldn't be able to get us in until Friday morning. So we made the drive over to Shreveport on Thursday, checked in with the shop, and set a time for the next morning. Needing a place to stay Thursday night and wanting something close to the diesel shop, we settled on a nice parking spot in Harrah's at Louisiana Downs Racetrack and Casino. This is the first time we've done this but we know people that do it all the time. Almost all Casinos have RV and Truck parking which works out great if you're simply driving through and need a place to get some sleep.

The next morning the bus was at the diesel shop by 7:30am and by 9:00am it was done and we were ready to go. The culprit was a clamp on a heater hose that carries coolant from the engine all the way to the front for the bus's dash heater. It was just loose and needed to be tightened. I shouldn't be needing to add coolant any longer.

This little diversion to Shreveport wasn't so bad. It wasn't far from our original planned route, and, I figured, I'd probably have to see Shreveport someday anyway, so why not now?

The rest of Friday we meandered down to Livingston Texas where an organization we joined last spring, Escapees, has it's headquarters and an RV park. It was a good stopping point on the way south and we wanted to see the Escapees mailroom anyway.

One of the benefits of this organization is that you can sign up for their mail-forwarding service. Believe it or not, they have their own zip code and are servicing more than 30,000 customers -- almost all of them people like us who live full-time in their RV while roaming the country. We did get a glimpse at the operation, where about 100 employees sort, file, and forward mail and packages according to each customer's requests. It's a larger operation than the Post Office in Livingston. But size doesn't determine quality and I'd still have to say that the mail forwarding service that we use in Beaver Dam is still second to none.

We're staying here two nights and will leave on Sunday. By traveling around the dreaded Houston metro area on Sunday we're hoping to avoid some of that legendary traffic everyone talks about. But it could also be the time they close half the roads for quick repairs, so it still remains to be seen just how intelligent our idea is.

All along our path the last five months I've found other people who are fulltiming to be the friendliest group of people I've ever run into. When we've moved into neighborhoods in the past, there was always a period of time that had to pass before you really felt a part of the 'hood. It took weeks or months, sometimes, before you met neighbors, and some you never met. In RV parks it's totally different. There are many theories about this... some say it's because everyone is mobile and, thus, "new to the neighborhood" almost every night... others say it's because most of us are traveling with only a spouse and we CAN'T WAIT TO TALK WITH SOMEONE NEW!... still others say there's a brain defect that's commonly found in fulltimers that causes them to think everyone is their long-lost best friend. In any case, there's something going on here.

Last night, I went outside to wash the bugs off that 4 acres of glass called a windshield. While working away every single person that saw me, at least 5 people, came over and started to tell me about the places they've been, what the names of their children are and where they live, and why the government is not to be trusted.

This afternoon, Dar and I went out to get a little exercise by walking around the park. We left the camper about 3pm and but didn't start our walk until well after 5pm. The nicest and friendliest older fellow across the street made a wise-crack and before I knew what happened Dar and I and he and his wife were talking, mostly about Alaska, non-stop, for the next two hours. They lived in Alaska for almost 35 years and had a ton of pointers and information that will come in handy when we make the decision to spend the summer "up there".

Tomorrow night we think we'll stay somewhere in the Victoria Texas area. If our drive is trouble-free and we have a good internet connection, I'll let you know how it goes tomorrow night.

T

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

So We're Off to Shreveport

I had a few service chores to do on the bus today, the things that I'm supposed to check monthly or weekly. It's not too bad a deal but "a maintained coach is a happy coach" I've been told.

A few weeks ago we lost the chrome exhaust pipe extension that sticks out the back of the bus -- it just fell off on our way from Georgia to Alabama. It's not a critical component that prevents us from driving, but it does deflect the exhaust down and off to the side. Diesel exhaust can be a little sooty and the extension helps keep the back of the bus and the toad a bit cleaner.

After realizing it was gone, I called Spartan (the maker of our chassis) and they were very responsive and concerned about my issue. They immediately sent a new extension via next day express which we received while we were at Trace State Park near Tupelo. The same day, I got my old working duds on, my wrenches out, and proceeded to stick that thing on where it belonged. I was a little concerned, however, that the bracket that holds the thing on was a might small -- after all, the first one came off for some reason and it was probably shaken loose from this small-ish bracket by all the jarring and bouncing we endured on some of those fine Interstate Highways during the past 6 months.

After talking with Spartan about this issue, I came up with a fix... a way to secure the extension to the bracket and the bracket to the main exhaust pipe from the engine -- two heavy metal screws that are inserted into holes I drilled through the pipes and the bracket. I was able to finish this job today. I don't think I'll be loosing this shiny new extension anytime soon.

But while under the bus, I noticed a small puddle of something that was leaking from our bus. During the past couple months or so, I've had to add engine coolant -- not much, maybe a pint or so -- every other move. Hoping the system was simply adjusting and filling all the nooks and crannies in those long 40 foot heater hoses that run up from the engine to the front heater, I just added when I needed to, and hoped it would stop needing more at some point.

That puddle under the bus today was coolant and it appears to be coming from one of those long heater hoses where they run over the rear drive axle. The good news is that I think we've found the leak. The other good news is that if it's a heater hose, it should be a relatively easy fix, although not one I'm going to attempt. The bad news is that we're going to Shreveport tomorrow where there's a Spartan Chassis service location. It's not that I have anything against Shreveport, mind you, we had a different route planned. The customer service people at Spartan have been excellent. I feel like they're concerned and will see this through until it's corrected.

The best scenario is that we get to the Shreveport service location and they can squeeze us in tomorrow afternoon, identify the problem, and fix it before they close at 5pm. The next-best scenario is that they won't get us in until Friday morning, but they're able to get us back on the road by noon or so. In that case, we could still make Livingston Texas before nightfall. The third-best scenario means we may have to spend the weekend in Shreveport.

I'll try to get an update on the blog tomorrow sometime. If I can't for some reason, it'll be Friday.

T

Vicksburg History

Wednesday, December 05, 2007 -- Vicksburg, MS

Vicksburg is packed with history. In a lot of ways, it's the real heart of the old South. It was the home of Jefferson Davis for many years and the seeds of the confederacy where sown here. It's location on the Mississippi River was important economically before the Civil War and strategically during the war. It was the successful Vicksburg Campaign that boosted the standing of Ulysses Grant with Lincoln, and was key to Grant being given complete military control of Federal forces during the last two years of the war. His success also translated into popularity with the people which translated into his being elected president in 1868.

The Vicksburg National Military Park is a huge crescent shaped park that encircles most of the city and was the area that contained the Confederate and Union lines during the 47 day siege. Here's more from Wikipedia:
The park includes 1,325 historic monuments and markers, 20 miles of historic trenches and earthworks, a 16-mile tour road, two antebellum homes, 144 emplaced cannons, restored gunboat USS Cairo (sunk on December 12, 1862, on the Yazoo River), and the Grant's Canal site, where the Union army attempted to build a canal to let their ships bypass Confederate artillery fire. The Cairo, also known as the "Hardluck Ironclad," was the first U.S. ship in history to be sunk by a torpedo/mine. It was raised in 1964. The Illinois State Memorial has 47 steps, one for every day Vicksburg was besieged.

I really enjoyed the Illinois State Memorial which is nothing less than spectacular. It's circular shape and dome with an open oculus reminded me of the Pantheon in Rome, one of my favorite buildings on the planet.

The U.S. ironclad Cairo exhibit was stunning. After a hundred years in the muck on the bottom of the Yazoo River, large portions of the boat were raised and reassembled within a "ghost framework" that allows visitors to walk around and through it. A museum of Cairo artifacts that were raised with the boat is worth seeing as well.

The last stop of the day was the old County Courthouse in downtown Vicksburg. This building was built before the Civil War and is now a museum. If you think the Civil War ended in 1865 a visit to this museum will correct that idea. In many ways, the War -- or at least the ideas that caused the War -- are still alive and well in Vicksburg. I may write more on that issue in the near future.

Because we packed so much into Tuesday, we're planning much less for today. I have some work to do on the bus and with the short days this time of year, my window of opportunity is short. Tomorrow we'll be heading west, toward Texas, but plan to at least overnight somewhere in Louisiana.

T

Monday, December 3, 2007

Back on the Trace

Monday, December 3, 2007 -- Ameristar RV Park in Vicksburg, MS

Things went off this morning pretty much as planned. The sun rose before 7am and I popped out of bed to a mere 56°f. in the camper. Yikes! That was some cold front that came through last night. It took less than 2 minutes for me to a) turn the heat up, b) load the coffee maker and turn it on, c) make sure the water heater was on, and d) jump back into bed until the heat and the coffee were done.

It may have been cold this morning, but at least it was windy too. Once coffee'd, showered, and dressed, I went out to tend to my assigned moving-day chores. Tire pressure -- check; Engine Oil level -- check; Engine coolant, hydraulic fluid level, transmission oil level -- check, check, check; Slides clear and ready for retraction -- check; load bikes onto bike carrier on car -- check; this is but a sampling, but maybe you get the idea. By the time I was done outside, I felt like I was back in Wisconsin, frozen fingers and all. Dar's jobs on the inside are, well, not easier but perhaps warmer.

Regardless, we had the bus rolling and were out of the park by 10:20am and were back on the Natchez Trace by 10:35. The route today took us from Tupelo to Jackson -- all of that leg on the Trace, a distance of about 180 miles -- and then over to Vicksburg on I-20. I GPS'd the drive today at 224 miles.

I just can't say enough about the Natchez Trace drive. If you ever get a chance to meander down this long, skinny, National Park, do so. It's good for your head and it's good for your spirit. The lack of traffic and absence of commercial vehicles, and the steady 50mph -- no stopping or slowing for curves, etc -- well, the 4 hours it took for us to traverse the 180 miles and stop for lunch at a picnic area just melted away and the stress with it.

Of course, that stress was back as soon as we got on I-20. But thankfully we were only on that dadgum road for a half hour before Vicksburg was looming on the horizon. A quick exit here, a wrong turn there, and before we knew it, we were at the RV Park. We picked a site in the "midwestern'er's" section... I'm kidding, but the two neighbors we talked to so far are from Michigan and Iowa.

Dar has an itinerary of "historical" significance already planned out for the next two days. I'm sure I'll have something to write about tomorrow night.

T

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Laid Back Sunday

Sunday, December 2, 2007 -- Trace State Park near Tupelo, MS

Clouds, gusty winds, and intermittent rain accompanied the morning today. That was the prediction and they were right on. And so it went during the rest of the day. Definitely a day to stay in.

We're aiming to get up early (for us) Monday so we can be rolling by 9:30 or 10:00am. We decided that we'd head right to Vicksburg tomorrow where we've got a full hookup site reserved. Electric power makes good heat which will come in handy Tuesday a.m. when it's supposed to be near freezing here in central Mississippi. We'll be in Vicksburg until Thursday morning when we head west and more south in search of heat.

Reservations have been made to spend the holidays near the gulf coast of Texas, just north of Corpus Christi. Three weeks in one spot. The thought of soaking up some sun and warmth sounds pretty good right now.

Ok. That's the quick update for tonight. Gotta hit the sack and get some rest.

T

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Oxford, Tupelo, Brice's Crossroads

Saturday, December 1, 2007 -- Trace State Park near Tupelo, MS

We extended our stay here for three more days, which will get us through the weekend. The bus leaves on Monday morning and we'll be on it. Both Dar and I like this place a lot, it's solitude, the setting, the "being in nature" aspects of the park... it's all so close to an ideal place to spend some time with your own thoughts, to get caught up on some reading, to organize some writing projects, to seek small adventures in nearby towns, to learn about the rich history of the area, to see the small shack were Elvis grew up... It's a good place for us right now.

One of the objectives of our sabbatical is to find that place we'd like to live after this vagabond stage is over. We think we'd like a small to medium sized town that's walkable for most of our needs, and one with energy and a vibrancy that comes from a college or an artistic community. For climate, we're just looking to take the edge off the traditional tough midwest winters, so a moderate climate with distinct seasons would be good. As we travel around the U.S., we're keeping an eye out for such a place. That said, this past Wednesday we drove over to Oxford, MS, the home of the University of Mississippi, or "Ole' Miss" as locals call it. Over the years I've heard good things about Oxford so we went to check it out.

It turns out to be a neat, bustling town of about 20,000 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It was the home of the writer William Faulkner for much of his life, and writer John Grisham is a current resident. It's picturesque and quaint, with a real southern feel or charm. The University of almost 20,000 students, who, I assume, are not all part of the official population of the town, produces an energy similar to other large University towns like Madison, Champaign, or Kalamazoo, but in a smaller package.

We had coffee in a small downtown cafe, walked both the campus and some of the neighborhoods, and came away with a good impression. But I don't think Oxford will end up on our short list when the time comes. The deep south, with it's summertime humidity and heat is probably too much for a boy from the north.

Thursday we drove the other direction into Tupelo which was named "Gumpond" prior to the Civil War and should, in my opinion, be called "Traffic Jam" today. Here's a town that feels larger than it's official population of 36,000. It's been growing and the infrastructure is probably not keeping pace. And that's not going to change now that a new Toyota assembly plant is being built just 8 miles up the road. After a nice stop at the Natchez Trace visitors center, we checked out another nearby state park, and then raced by the Elvis Museum, Chapel, and Interpretive Center so Dar could do a "drive-by shooting" and snap a picture of the little two room shack he grew up in. There isn't much to see or do in Tupelo.

Friday we drove about 25 miles north of Tupelo to a Civil War Battlefield known as Brices Cross Roads. The battle took place on June 10, 1864 between about 5,000 confederates and 8,000 union soldiers. The battle lasted less than 6 hours before the Union Army retreated north. About 3,000 men, mostly Northerners, were killed.

There isn't much at the site but a few stone markers that depicted the location of battle lines at various points during the day, and a larger stone monument commemorating the event. There was a mysterious path that led out into a field, but just ended... no sign, nothing of note to see... it just ended. Funds may have been short that year. Or it may have been a symbol of the Confederate effort.

Today, Saturday, we're hanging around the camper. It's another gorgeous day, sunny and a high temp in the mid 60's expected. I'm sure a long hike around the park will be on the agenda too.

T