Friday, June 26, 2009

Strawberry Day

Friday, June 26, 2009
Beaver Dam, WI

Dar rustled me out of bed early this morning so we could meet Dad and brother Bill at the U-Pick strawberry farm at 8am. Despite spending the majority of my years in the Midwest, I've never participated in this local June recreational activity, and was strangely looking forward to seeing what this was all about.

On arrival we found a genuine crowd and congestion in the parking area. The process is simple: grab a "flat" -- the box you'll put your berries in, hop on the tractor/wagon combo that'll transport you out to the right spot in the field, get off, go to your assigned row, and start picking. It only took a few minutes to pick what we wanted. Reverse the process to get back to the beginning, where your haul is weighed and priced. Within a half hour we were back on the road home.

Now I can check this adventure off my bucket list.

This afternoon, we're driving up to Appleton to spend tonight and tomorrow with Justin and Kaytlyn.

T

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Lazy Summer Day

Thursday, June 25, 2009
Beaver Dam, WI

Today is brother Bill's birthday. He's the educated one in the family and is an assistant professor at Montana State University in Bozeman. It just so happens that he's currently in Wisconsin for a few weeks so we're going to help him celebrate with a little get-together tonight. Happy Birthday Doc!

The heat and humidity of the past few days abated some today -- so we're kind'a taking it easy... or at least I'm kind'a taking it easy. Dar is cleaning inside the bus-house and will be making something light for dinner. I've been catching up on some email corespondance, reading, and actually doing a little writing. I also helped troubleshoot a TV problem Dar's Mom & Dad were having this morning. It looks like it might be time to buy a new one.

T

Just post something... anything!

Thursday, June 25, 2009
Beaver Dam, WI

Any reader of this blog knows I have a problem making regular entries to my journal when parked for an extended period and when my energies are focused elsewhere.

I'm so far behind now, about two weeks, that I'm thinking I need to post something... anything... just to break the logjam and get the juices flowing again.

So here it is... a post about nothing special... just to get things moving again -- a little like writer's Metamucil.

T

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Longest Day

Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Beaver Dam, WI

Well, let's see where I left off in my last entry... that's right, we were in Kalamazoo visiting Cher & Jack. We always enjoy visiting with these two and we've been there three times in the almost two years of our travels.

Dar loves to dig in the dirt, weed, plant flowers, cut borders, transplant things from over there to over here, and then trim, water, and fertilize it all. It's the one thing she really misses from our previous life. Whenever she visits family and friends, and gets the opportunity, she loves to help with their yards and gardens. Both Cher and her spent a good deal of time in this manner the past few days and they got a lot done. Dar was really "diggin' it".

Jack and I, on the other hand, love to watch people work in the yard. We did volunteer to run errands, chase down gardening supplies, and generally provide the ever critical support function. But, for the most part, we were the cheer leaders that kept the two girls going when they became weary.

We watched Tiger Woods rally to win the Memorial Golf Tourney on Sunday and then helped Jack & Cher celebrate their anniversary on Monday. In between times Jack and I had a couple spirited discussions on politics and current events.

Monday, Dar and I ventured off by ourselves and found Bells Brewing Company's Eclectic Cafe in downtown K-zoo. Sampling the concoctions of small craft brewers all around the country has become an enjoyable past-time for us. It's even better when we can legitimize this hobby by having lunch at the same time, which we did.

After "lunch" we headed to the Kalamazoo Air Zoo, an airplane museum that we've heard so much about from others. What we found was one grand collection of well-preserved old warbirds and historic aircraft, especially impressive for a town the size of Kalamazoo. Many are presented in period settings with antique cars and other paraphernalia that transport you back to the time these old craft were used. One unique thing is what's purported to be the worlds largest mural -- a fun depiction of the history of flight -- a continuous painting that stretches all the way around the interior of the main exhibit building. There are short films to be viewed and, on the day we visited, a gallery of aviation art that was extremely well done. Being flying enthusiasts, we visit aviation museums all over the country and have seen everything from a couple planes in a small cold hanger to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington. The Kalamazoo Air Zoo ranks up near the top in the quality of it's collection and the effectiveness of it's presentation.

On Tuesday, the 9th, our plan was to make the full distance run to Beaver Dam -- about 350 miles. For us, this is a long day. I researched the route, especially the area around Chicago, to see where construction could present congestion problems, and found the route we normally take through the metroplex had more than the normal number of projects. So we chose to take a longer but less impacted route.

We got an early start and pulled out from Markin Glen Park about 8:30am. After stopping for fuel (2.52/gal) we pointed the nose of the bus-house west on I-94. Near Chicago, I-94 joins up with I-80 for a 25 mile stretch affectionately called "hells kitchen" as these two major roads squeeze around the southern shore of Lake Michigan and through the south-side of Chicago. This stretch used to be nightmare, but after years of re-construction and the addition of more lanes, it's now just a bad dream. If anything happens to impede the flow of traffic here, bad weather, a jack-knifed semi truck, an accident, you can be sitting in a jam-up that could last for hours. But on this day the weather was good and everything was moving smoothly.

Instead of following the fringes of Chicago-land around to the northwest and toward Wisconsin, we continued west on I-80 all the way to I-39, which we took north to Rockford. There we picked up I-90, also under construction, and pushed into the Badger State -- our fourth state in one day. Near Madison we take US-151 northeast to the Beaver Dam area. I stopped a few miles short to top off the diesel tank (2.62/gal) in Columbus. Because things went so smoothly, and by picking up an hour by crossing into the Central Time Zone, we were at the farm near Beaver Dam, our destination, by about 4pm.

We plan to be here for a little more than a month and are looking forward to a lot of family time. There's also a big long list of "to-do's" and projects that's built up over the past few months... things we want to do, or change, or replace, or move, or clean. When moving and exploring it's easy to say "we'll just do it when we get to Wisconsin". Now we're here and the work begins.

Oh, by the way, it turns out that this trip from Kalamazoo to Beaver Dam was the longest one day drive since we started fulltiming in July of 2007. We drove 389 miles.

T

Friday, June 5, 2009

Kalamazoo Family

Friday, June 05, 2009
Kalamazoo, MI

Being married to Dar I've gotten used to being the last couple to leave any event we go to. Whether it's a wedding, party, concert, or any other gathering of more than two people, we're usually the last ones to leave. She's talking and can't break away... she wants to help the host/hostess clean up... she's concerned about the appearance of leaving "too early". It's just the way it is and I've grown to accept it.

So it was no surprise that we were among the last ones to leave the Eaton County Fairgrounds in Charlotte on Thursday. We had to run over here to see these people... over there to say good-bye to those people... and make sure pretty much everyone was gone before she gave me the "thumbs-up" and we were free to go. We did meet some neat people and made some new friends who I'm sure we'll stay in touch with for a long time.

About 1pm we had the wheels rolling down I-69 on our way to Kalamazoo -- just 70 miles away.

Kalamazoo is where Dar's sister Cher and her husband Jack live. It's also the place Dar is storing a bunch of her "stuff". When in the area we always make it a point to stay a few nights and visit with them. Since we found the Markin Glen Park Campground last year, it's become our home any time we're in K-zoo.

Markin Glen is a 190 acre county park. It has hiking trails, a small lake with a swimming beach, large picnic areas with shelters, and a great RV campground that's among the best RV Park-type places we've ever stayed. The 38 sites are level, the right mix of concrete and grass, state of the art full-hookups, and a neat and clean restroom/shower facility. It's only a few years old and the county has a good crew of people to keep it in top-notch shape. In addition to all that it's only a mile and a half from Cher and Jack's house. I can walk or ride the bike if I choose. It's just the best place for us to stay in K-zoo.

Jack broke his ankle a couple weeks ago and is somewhat restricted in his ability to get around. So we're not planning anything that involves a lot of walking. Mostly we're just enjoying their company and helping out around the house wherever we can.

Since Cher has to go to work on Monday, we're planning to explore a couple places right here in the Kalamazoo area. Then, if the weather turns out as predicted, we'll leave early Tuesday for the drive around Chicago and up, into Wisconsin.

T

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Spartan Get-Together

Wednesday, June 03, 2009
Charlotte, MI

On Monday, after our little "near miss" with Mother Nature, we had an easy drive from Celina, OH. to Charlotte, MI. We arrived mid-afternoon at the Eaton County Fairgrounds, parked, and familiarized ourselves with the area and the facilities.

It was only a little more than a week ago when we saw that we were positioned to take advantage of this mini-get-together of the FMCA Spartan Club and the Service Week event being held by Spartan Motors. By taking part in the event we could knock off our annual bus-house maintenance. Attendance was limited to 100 coaches. The fact that they still had room for us at this late date probably says something about the economy and, maybe, the number of people exploring the country in this lifestyle.

Spartan Motors is located right here in Charlotte, MI., just south of Lansing. It was here where the bus-house chassis was built way back in December of 2006. Spartan builds these chassis to the coach-builders specifications -- in our case, Newmar. In early January of 2007 our chassis was loaded onto a flatbed truck and hauled to Napannee IN. where the Newmar plant is located. By the first part of April the coach had been built on the chassis and the motorhome was complete. We took delivery near the end of April. It's hard to believe that was over two years ago.

This weeks event turned out to attract only about 50 motorhomes -- less than hoped. Despite the poor turnout we're really glad we came. First, Spartan has taken pains to make this an educational event for attendees by having a number of very good seminars on various aspects of the chassis. Second, I always learn so much just listening and talking with others about things they've experienced, problems they've had, and the solutions they've found. It's also good to visit and share with people that share our lifestyle. Thirdly, at any gathering like this we make good friends that we'll maintain contact with as we explore the USA. And, lastly, we're able to get our annual service and maintenance done by professionals -- the people who built the thing -- quickly and efficiently with one visit.

Today the bus-house was in the shop for all that maintenance work... a whole list of oils and fluids and filters and safety checks that should be done to assure trouble-free operation over the coming year. We don't put on that many miles -- maybe only 8,000 to 10,000 this year-- but time is as hard on things as miles. For the same reasons people regularly change their car's engine oil, this stuff needs to be done for the much heavier and more complicated bus-house.

Yesterday, Tuesday, we joined a tour of the Spartan Motors plant that builds fire trucks. In addition to motorhome chassis, they make some specialized armored military vehicles and fire trucks. Right now, the fire truck business is the only one that's strong.

I was surprised at the amount of customization that goes into the typical fire truck. Each one is spec'd out to the finest and most obscure detail -- right down to the shade of the color it's painted, the upholstery and interior cab detail... literally everything can be tweaked, altered, and customized. It's safe to say no two are alike. Each one is mostly hand-made.

Tuesday evening, the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce sponsored an outdoor mixer, complete with live music, a couple big campfires, and a hot-air balloon launching. It was a nice opportunity to mingle, meet people, and enjoy a great summer evening.

T

Monday, June 1, 2009

Lightning

Monday, June 01, 2009
Charlotte, MI

We woke to dark skies and thunder at the Mercer County Fairgrounds in Celina, OH. this morning. I jumped out of bed, peeked at the radar online, and saw a large storm approaching. This wasn't in the plans... the rain wasn't supposed to start until later in the day. I also checked the NOAA weather website for warnings and watches, and saw that Mercer County Ohio, the county we were in, was the ONLY county for 5 states around that was under a severe thunderstorm warning... the ONLY one! What the heck?

Not wanting to get stuck in the grassy low spot we selected for our one-night camp, I rousted Dar and we did the "two minute drill" getting the bus-house ready to move in just a few more than two minutes. I started the Cummins diesel, pulled the jacks, and was starting to move just as heavy rain and hail started to fall in earnest. The immediate objective was an asphalt parking lot a few hundred feet away where we could wait out the storm.

As I was slowly moving toward the parking lot, I simultaneously saw a bright flash, heard a very loud bang, and saw wood and bark exploding from an old tall oak tree just a few feet away. Yikes! Lightning had struck the tree. Not knowing if larger parts of the tree, or the whole tree, might be coming down my way I picked up the pace and hustled the bus to a safe spot in the parking lot. Dar, who was driving the toad right behind me, had the same experience... and the same reaction. She pulled up close beside the bus-house, parked, and scurried the few feet through the down-pour back into the camper. You can imagine the conversation as we shared the ordeal and tried to convince ourselves that someone, something, wasn't out to get us. What's a morning without a heavy dose of paranoia for breakfast?

It rained heavily for about 15 minutes and then lightly for a while longer. When it lightened up to a sprinkle we walked over to the unfortunate oak and inspected the damage. It is one of the tallest trees in the fairgrounds and we could see patches of missing bark from the top to the ground, but no signs of burning or charring. Near the bottom the bark on about a third of the tree's circumference was missing and large chunks of it were scattered all about. Unfortunately, I don't think the future is too bright for this grand old oak. It's been growing here for well over a hundred years, through wet years and dry, through that many cold winters and that many hot summers... it probably survived all kinds of abuse from insects, disease, kids, and more. It was mature, grand, the tallest in the immediate area. And being the tallest is what made it the target for that lightning bolt. In a split second everything changed. It's now on a declining path, that long descent to the end.

But isn't that just life?

T