Saturday, April 30, 2011

Last Day in South Carolina

The week is almost a wrap... just about in the can... a done deal. Time has simply evaporated as we worked on projects, planned, executed, and watched Tim whip-up scrumptious dinners, sipped wine (and lugged more than a few empty wine bottles to the recyclers), talked, laughed, watched movies, and just hung out. Tomorrow morning, Sunday, we'll be back on the road again... taking a longer and more "exploratory" route back to Wisconsin.. hoping to see a few things along the way.

Our projects this week boiled down to theme days. Monday was plumbing day -- Tim and I replaced two problematic toilets. Tuesday was yard, garden, and gutter cleaning day. Wednesday we prep'd a number of old computers for a trip to the electronic recyclers and nursed sore muscles. Thursday was tree removal day -- a maple tree that had gotten way too big for it's spot in the planting bed in front of the house. Friday was small engine repair day, and we motor-toured around the area (all four of us) as we hunted up needed parts for said small engine. And, to bring us up to date, today, Saturday, was cookie baking day. Tim has developed the ability to create the best cookies -- we always find a bag or two stashed in our bags.

Gotta go... we're running to the store to get a few things for dinner. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Near York, SC

We arrived at the home of our friends, Tim and Chris, on Sunday afternoon. During the first portion of our drive, between Lexington and Knoxville, we drove through heavy thunderstorms with water piling-up on the road faster than it could run off... making for a slow and tense, but interesting drive through a very scenic mountainous area . This is the same general rain system that's caused so much grief from Arkansas, Missouri, and up the Ohio River valley during the past week. But from Knoxville on the weather was more typical of this part of the country in Spring... warm and sunny.

The purpose of our trip was to spend some time with friends. It's been almost two years since we were here with the bus-house in May of 2009. We really enjoy hanging out with these two, helping with various projects, and partaking in the output of Tim's culinary skills. Hunger certainly isn't something we experience during these visits.

We'll be here for a few more days before trekking back toward the Midwest.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Lexington Layover

We're uncharacteristically motel-ing it in Lexington Kentucky tonight... after an agreeable 600 mile drive from Wisconsin. We left Beaver Dam this morning about 7:30am and arrived here in Lex. (after loosing an hour to the Eastern Time Zone) about 7:00pm. As I wrote earlier, we're on our way down to see our friends Tim and Chris in South Carolina for a few days... sans the bus-house.

The toughest part of the trip so far was the preparation and packing. I'm out of practice... having the luxury of always having the bus-house and all my clothes and stuff close by... and thus never a reason to have to pack a bag.  Travel by RV is great in this regard... not to mention avoiding the cost of lodging.

With only 400 miles to go tomorrow, we may enjoy a more leisurely breakfast before hitting the road again.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Time for a Road Trip

With the situation here in Wisconsin under control, Dar and I are planning a road trip for a couple weeks. We're going to drive the car (the toad) to South Carolina to visit some dear friends for a week, and then explore some new areas during a more leisurely return. The "mother-ship" bus-house will stay behind in dry dock here in Wisconsin during our absence.

In an effort to balance the scales after almost a week of crummy weather, nature provided a great sunny Spring day yesterday. The recent collection of solid white precipitation is gone for the most part and the grasses are re-asserting a predominant green-ish hue over the countryside.

Dar's brother and sister-in-law Dennis and Laura stopped by to say hi last night. During their visit we spotted a herd of 13 or 14 deer who entertained us for a good quarter-hour as they slowly grazed their way around the farm house and toward a woodlot on the other end of the property. It's been some time since we've seen this many deer at one time around here... a good sign that wildlife is still able to thrive in this mostly agricultural area.

We hope to be on the road early Saturday morning and will post updates as we have things of note to put in the record.

Almost "on the road again".
T

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

April Showers?

Not exactly the image one gets when thinking about almost-late April in the upper Midwest. I mean... shouldn't the grass be green and growing?... shouldn't spring flowers be popping?

We woke to about 3 inches of slushy wet snow this morning, most of which fell yesterday. During the past few days the temps have hovered in the low 30's with an occasional bump a bit higher during the day.

And I'm enjoying the whole experience... knowing that warmth and green grass and spring flowers are only a few days off.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Sense of Adventure

As I write this morning, 40f degree air is being driven by 30+mph east winds against the side of the bus-house... rockin' and rollin' us around a bit this morning. At the moment, there's no rain, but that's supposed to change later today and for much of the weekend. We're certainly getting a taste of the unusually wet and late Spring of 2011. And you know what?... I'm really OK with it all.

We started our Sabbatical project almost four years ago because we were tired (maybe "bored" is a better word) with the comfortable life we had in the suburbs west of Chicago. We wanted to feel life. We wanted adventure. We wanted to explore all corners of this grand country and experience the good and the bad, the ups and downs... the reality of life that somewhere, everywhere, people are living and thriving in... to be engaged in the process of life while we still had some life of our own to live.

We're not unique in this regard. Many fulltimers are seeking the same thing... at least we say we are. But what do most of us do after we get started? We run, as fast as possible, from any threat of discomfort or extreme. We head as far south in the Winter as possible to escape the cold... and do the reverse in Summer to avoid extreme heat. We drive as fast as possible through the middle part of the country in Spring... running scared... just knowing there's a tornado chasing us from behind. We whine and complain in our blogs any time the weather's isn't our sense of perfect. Well, I'm here to submit that maybe, just perhaps, we're in need of an attitude adjustment.

I've been as guilty as anyone. But lately, as we approach our 4 year fulltiming anniversary, I've been pondering the subject... reviewing our original goals and reasons for living this way... thinking about what we found... wondering where we're going. And I question if we're not getting just a wee bit stale... have fallen into a routine... getting, dare I say it, just a tad bored?

To keep that ember of adventure glowing, to push boredom back into the dark corner where it resides, I'm thinking we may need to "push the envelope" a little more as we travel... to be a little more fearless... to not miss opportunities that expand our experience because we're fearful of a little discomfort or extremes in weather. This Spring, for family reasons, we moved north a month sooner than usual... and, if you've read this far, you know what we're experiencing weather-wise. But, with a little mental adjustment, it's really not been that bad. Having experienced this cold wet April in Wisconsin I think we'll savor the warm sunny days, when they arrive, far more than otherwise.

Maybe next Winter we'll not stay as far south. Maybe we'll stay in the high-country a little longer in the Fall and not be pushed by the threat of early winter storms. Maybe we'll use a little discomfort to our advantage and add to the adventure that this little Sabbatical project is supposed to be all about.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Home Base Wisconsin

800 miles in two days. For us, the perennially pokey sabbatical fulltimers, this is a record. To break it down a little more, Tuesday we did Little Rock to Effingham, IL... 456 miles and a team high for one day of travel. Wednesday we drove the famous Effingham to Beaver Dam, WI leg... 357 miles. And yes, we arrived at our home base in Wisconsin about mid-afternoon... just in time for the weather to revert back to near-Winter for a few days.

A few observations from the past two days:

Interstate Highways. They have their place and they can get you from point A to point B quicker than any other land-based means of transportation system I know of. BUT, and it's a big butt, they're congested with truck traffic... all of which is moving faster than we and the bus-house prefer to travel... which is to say in the 60 to 65 mph range. It's NOT a relaxing way to travel. Com'on... what's the rush?  Oh... and can we talk about the condition of these super-slabs??? We all know large sections of them are falling apart, literally "falling, sinking, crumbling, and cracking apart"... tearing up our tires, suspensions, and nerves... and adding to the growing pain of traveling on these decaying ribbons of concrete. And get this... NEWS FLASH... there ain't no money to fix 'em. Been reading the papers lately?? So they're just going to get worse. Remedy? Get off the Interstates and seek areas in the west where there's less population density.

Cracker Barrel in Effingham. After touring and turning down the congested parking lots (full of trucks... nothing but trucks... never seen so many trucks...) of the Super Walmart, Menards, and Flying J at the same exit, we found a little oasis at the Cracker Barrel. The manager was almost eager to have us park overnight in their lot, perhaps motivated by pity (can you, sir, spare a tuppence??), the tell-tail dust on our well-traveled and wind-burned faces, or was it knowing full well that we were badly in need of our quarterly CB-fix? In any case, she offered us a quiet island in a sea of Kenworths and Peterbuilts to spend the night and we were so grateful.

Effingham itself. I don't have much to say about the town... except for that name. That wonderful collection of letters and sounds that roll off the tongue... "Eff-ing-ham"... the best Effing-town in Illinois. It's fun to play around with it, given it's unfortunate audible connection with one of the "bad words" in our lexicon. We found ourselves referring to things like this... "the Effing-Walmart"... "the Effing-exit"... or my personal favorite... "the Flying-Effing--J". Go ahead... try it... let yourself go. It's all in good fun and could be therapeutic.

I'm sure you're asking yourself, about now, after having slogged through this poor excuse for a post, whether Thom is just tired from two long days of travel or if Thom is under the influence of some fine Kentucky Bourbon?  Hmmm?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Winter Won't Go

Last Tuesday, when we arrived at Maumelle, our original plan was to leave and continue northward on Monday, today. But an approaching weather system which was supposed to pass through the Little Rock area yesterday (one of the reasons we were pausing for 6 days) slowed by a day, so we decided to sit tight and will now head out on Tuesday. It looks like we'll have a two day window of reasonably nice moving weather so we're going to do all 800 miles during those two days... much faster than our normal pokey pace of travel.

Once in Wisconsin it looks like we'll be lucky enough to experience the tail-end of a tough Wisconsin Winter and cold Wisconsin Spring. Here's the forecast from NOAA for the tail end of this week...


By my count there are no less than 3 mentions of "snow" in those few days. Well... welcome home Winter Texans! Glad we didn't stow the electric heater during the string of 80+ degree days we've had lately.

As I write this, about 8am on Monday, the leading edge of thunderstorms have already passed through and we're in the intermittent showers behind the front. It'll be a good day for indoor chores and getting ready for travel tomorrow.

Remind me again why we're moving north so quickly...??

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Hot Spring Day in Hot Springs

About 50 miles southwest from our camp at Maumelle COE, is Hot Springs, AR. This city of 40,000 people is nestled among the hills (mountains?) of Central Arkansas and is perhaps best known as the host city of  Hot Springs National Park. Yesterday, Friday, we drove down that way to check it out during a very hot (high 80's) spring day.

There are 58 places designated as National Parks in the United States. Of these, about a dozen are not accessible by road, or are on islands that we can't drive to from the continental USA. By my count, that leaves 46 that we can visit by RV during our sabbatical. Of these, after having visited Hot Springs National Park yesterday, we've been to 19... with 27 yet to go.

Hot Springs National Park is the smallest in the NPS system. Established first as a "Reservation" way back in 1832, it was promoted to full National Park status in 1921. The focus of the Park is the natural hot water springs that flow from the sides of Hot Springs Mountain... to the tune of up to a million gallons per day of 143 degree water. During the 1800's and early 1900's, the waters became known for their healing properties and people came from far and wide to take advantage of their curative effect. Bathhouses sprang up, along with doctors and clinics who all claimed knowledge of the best regimen for the cure of all sorts of ailments. As the years went by, the bathhouses became more opulent as most catered to a well-to-do clientele. 8 of them are preserved along "Bathhouse Row", the centerpiece of the National Park.

The Visitor Center is located in the old Fordyce Baths building, which is also preserved as a museum of the bathhouse experience. Most of the original fixtures and rooms are left as they were when it closed in 1962 and you can poke your nose around most of the interior to get a feel for what guests enjoyed during their visits.

We also walked the grounds and along the Grand Promenade between Bathhouse Row and Hot Springs Mountain. We stopped in the grand old Arlington Hotel which still caters to visitors... as it has since 1875. There we lingered a while and enjoyed a refreshment.  Our visit to Hot Springs National Park provided an instructive view into this little slice of American history.

After the Park, we drove out to Hot Springs Village about 20 miles north of Hot Springs. The purpose was to explore the largest gated community in the USA. Here's some sense of the scope of this place: over 40 square miles... 470 miles of paved roads... more than 30,000 lots... 9 golf courses... 11 lakes. Once we gained admittance (remember, this is a gated community... you've got to jump through hoops just to get a visitor's pass) we drove through miles of heavily wooded countryside -- only occasionally catching a glimpse of a house, here and there, through the trees. The main roads are all tree lined with intersecting streets leading into "neighborhoods" where the otherwise concealed homes are. Developed in the 1970's, only about a quarter of the lots have homes on them but the population is already over 8,000. It's quite a place... an invisible town...  have never seen anything quite like it before.

On our way back to camp we checked out a couple other State Parks... Lake Ouachita and Lake Catherine... both of which offered very nice campgrounds that would easily accommodate anything from tents to large RVs. But more than that, the facilities were up-to-date, neat, and cared for. Based on these two locations, I think we'll try an Arkansas State Park during our next visit.

Dar is pretty much up-to-date with albums in our online photo collection. See more of our trip to Hot Springs, as well as other pics from recent days by clicking here.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Pondering Pooches

Warning: this post is about RVers and dogs. If you're prone to light-headedness, fainting, or fits of rage whenever someone says anything negative about dogs or dog owners -- even in jest -- please DO NOT read this blog post.

According to a recent Escapees Club survey, almost half of it's members travel with pets. Personally, I think the percentage is much higher. Based on observations alone, I'd say a strong majority of RVers have pets and almost all of those pets are dogs. I've never completely understood this. Sure, many people like having a dog around when you have kids, especially teenagers, as the dog continues to provide love and companionship long after the kids don't want anything to do with you. I can understand that.

But once the kids are off on their own, you're feeling freedom like never before, and you're now living in less than 300 square feet, what's the point of having a dog?

One afternoon recently, I pondered this situation... pondered why people have a need for dogs at all. Sitting on the banks of the Arkansas River in my comfortable chair, adult beverage in hand, warm sun shining down, and river lazily flowing by... I could come up with only two reasons why a person would want a dog... and the reasons are different depending on whether you're a man or a woman. I'll get to those in a minute.

But first, com'on, let's be realistic. There are a lot of downsides to keeping dogs. They can be expensive... food (nothing but the best for little Fluffy), vet bills (annual check-ups and repairing injuries from run-ins with the neighbor's cat), and all the gear and little outfits necessary to keep a dog in the style to which it's owner has become accustomed. Dogs can also be messy... all that shed fur and hair collecting in the corners and under the furniture, in the heating vents, and on your pillow and all over your clothes. And how about that time when Fluffy jumped up on the Thanksgiving Dinner Table? Controlling a dog presents it's own set of problems. Some dogs bark a lot, prompting their owners to yell "Fluffy, NO... STOP IT Fluffy"... as the quiet of the darkening night is broken with a repeated alternating duet of barking and yelling, dog and owner, rising to a crescendo along with the rage of nearby folks trying to rest. Dogs also run away... not that they're trying to escape the very comfortable and worry-free life they're living. No, it's just what dogs do. They see a squirrel and they're programmed to go after it. They see a deer... ditto. Or a rabbit or a biker or a jogger. That's just what dogs do. But it all creates headaches for the owner who must then chase the dog who's chasing the squirrel all around the neighborhood yelling "Fluffy, COM'EAR... NO... STAY... HERE Fluffy, HERE boy!"

So for all these downsides, there must be some upsides, right? Well this is what I came up with during my time along the Arkansas River.

First, if you're a woman, there are only two reasons I can come up with for you to want a dog... both of them primal. First, as something that feeds a need to nurture -- a surrogate child perhaps... something cute and cuddly that you can take care of. Second, for personal protection... mostly from men (yes, guys, we're the problem once again!)

And if you're a guy, there are only two reasons I can come up with for you to want a dog... both of them primal. First, as a way to attract and meet girls. (No need to go into this further... it clearly works.) Second, as a hunting partner and companion (you see, the dog jumps into the frigid water and retrieves the dead duck -- a fair trade for that little pat on the head it gets when it climbs back into the boat, soaked). Speaking for myself, I don't hunt and I already have a girl... and therefore, no need for a dog.

I should probably add, in fairness, that many people do get a positive dose of simple companionship from their dogs. And then there's the heavy dose of physical exercise from all that walking and running after Fluffy while he's chasing the squirrel. At our age any exercise is a positive thing.

On the lighter side... Some years ago I came across this hypothetical scenario:  Ultra-intelligent beings from another world are observing the planet earth. From their probes and UFOs high above the Earth's surface, they peer down and can see movement... indeed they see life itself. They observe a wide variety of life-forms and start to focus on the interactions between two of them. They observe that when one of these creatures wants to go for a walk, the other creature stops whatever it is they're doing and goes for a walk. On the walk, one of the creatures poops and the other creature bends over and carefully picks up the poop and puts it, like so much stolen treasure, in a bag before continuing on. If you were the distant observer, which of these creatures would you say is the more intelligent being?

Now please, all you dog-owners out there who, despite the warning above, read this post and are feeling a need to throttle me right now:  please, please remember that liking dogs and owning one are two totally different things. I do like dogs. But I like them even more after they've gone off with you, their owners.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Maumelle

We're camped at Maumelle Park COE on the west side of the Little Rock AR metro area. It's one of the nicest Corps of Engineers campgrounds we've stumbled into during our sabbatical. We were here for 8 days back in November of 2008 and said then that this is our kind of camping... and that whenever we're through the Little Rock area we'd try to make a stop here for a few days.

We left the Longview area Tuesday morning, pointed the nose of the bus-house eastward on I-20 to Marshall where we hooked onto US-59 north to Texarkana. There we picked up I-30 which we took to Little Rock. As we head back to Wisconsin this Spring we're using Interstate Highways more than we'd usually prefer for time and fuel savings. But after a couple hours on I-30 where the super-slab was jam packed with semi-trucks the whole way... well, I was longing for those long un-congested 2 lane roads that weave through the western states and the relaxed driving experience that comes with them. Interstate Highways may get you where you want to go quickly... but when you're driving a motorhome at something less than the 70++ (80+?) speed that is the norm for traffic in general, it isn't a relaxed and comfortable time... at least for us. Give me that quiet little two-laner any day.

Our plans are to be here through the weekend in order to give Spring a few extra days to warm things up a little more up North. And exactly why would we want to push on earlier than we'd have to??

From the views along the Arkansas River you wouldn't know you're really just a few minutes from the hustle and bustle of the metro area. As we sit along the river's banks we're looking at natural scenes that haven't changed much in perhaps hundreds of years.

Soaking up the solitude...
T

Monday, April 4, 2011

Longview TX

Yesterday, Sunday, we headed north out of La Grange about 9am and rode an all-too-rare tailwind pretty much all the way to the Longview area... a distance just shy of 260 miles. We're parked at Fernbrook RV Park just south of I-20 and decided to spend two nights here to give the weather a chance to clear a little. The predicted morning a line of thunderstorms showed up right on time and produced some heavy downpours followed by a drop in temps from the mid 70s to the mid 50s... and strong gusty winds the rest of the afternoon. We simply hunkered down and let it pass; a perfect day for getting some long delayed inside work done.

Tuesday looks like a good travel day so we'll bite-off the next chunk of the journey and try to get to the Little Rock area... and one of our favorite Corps of Engineers campgrounds. Current plans have us holding up there for a few days.

Along the way tomorrow I'll be looking for a few gallons of diesel fuel. The last diesel we purchased was on our way into the Coastal Bend during the first couple days of January... think we paid about 3.16/gallon. I noticed the going price along our path yesterday was 3.90/gallon.

That got me thinking about fuel efficiency. I heard a recent ad on the radio... about how long-haul trains can move a ton of cargo almost 500 miles on a gallon of fuel. So how does our little Focus do in this regard? Here's the math: we get an average of about 35 miles per gallon. The car weighs a little over 3000 pounds (1.5 ton) with the two of us aboard. So it moves a ton and a half 35 miles on one gallon... or, for the same comparison metric... it'll move one ton 53 miles on one gallon.

And how does the big bad inefficient bus-house do? Let's see... we get 8 miles per gallon... and the bus-house weighs a little more than 32,000 pounds (or 16 tons) as we're moving down the road. So if one gallon moves 16 tons 8 miles, then one gallon will move one ton 128 miles. Hmmm. On a simple fuel used per ton moved basis, the bus-house is more than twice as efficient as the high-mileage Ford Focus.  Don't ask me to explain this... I've been over it a dozen times.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Northward to Kolache-land

After a bunch of "good-byes" and a couple long blasts from the air horns, we're departed from Sandollar RV Park yesterday, Saturday, morning about 10am. Our chosen route was through Victoria and then northward on US-77.

We've found that the first day out after a long stay is best kept to an easy one. After calcifying in one spot for weeks or months everything is out of the traveling groove... certainly me... Dar too... and then there's the bus-house with all it's systems running in travel mode... and finally the little toad, now relegated to being tugged behind the camper in a cloud of dust. If we keep that first day short and ease into travel mode gradually, subsequent days seem more enjoyable.

In that vein, we dropped anchor in La Grange (yes, Texas... we'll still be in Texas for a few days... it is a huge State) at Colorado Landing RV Park. We had originally thought we'd just overnight at the local Walmart, but found it was a very small store with a congested parking lot and they didn't allow overnight parking anyway. Colorado Landing is a small mobile home and RV community with a dozen or so very nice and well spaced pull-through sites for transient travelers. We snatched one of those and minimally set up (power cord only) for a one night stay and a quick get-away in the morning.

Since it was early afternoon and we were hungry from our "long" 142 mile drive, on advice from the park office we headed over to Los Fuentes, a local Mexican restaurant where we had a very agreeable lunner.

And, we're told, no stop in La Grange is complete without a visit to Weikel's Bakery, a local institution since 1929. One of their specialties is the Kolache, a sweet pastry of Central European origins, which they make in a range of filling flavors and in amazing quantities. This isn't your small local downtown bakery any more... no sir.  It's a destination stop for many travelers between Austin and Houston (located just off the highway) and was surprisingly busy for mid-afternoon on a Saturday. We loaded up with a few goodies and poked around the small town on our way back to the camper.

Sunday we'll mount up early and hope to be in the Longview (still Texas) area by mid-afternoon. There's a good chance for rain on Monday so we may opt to stay put there until Tuesday for the dryer (and cleaner) driving conditions.

Now, where's my apple Kolache?...  Dar!!?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Ready to Roll

Hey, it's April 1st. And if I were in a more whimsical mood I'd write about how we've decided to sell the bus-house and move to a sailboat we've just acquired with the intention of sailing around the world during the next few years... or that we just can't handle this lifestyle any longer and we're moving back to the suburbs of Chicago so we can get jobs with large Fortune 500 corporations and get back on the rat race treadmill again. But alas, I can't access the area of my brain where cuteness and whimsy reside, and you'll have to move along to other blogs for your April Fools fix this year.

But it is April, and April just sounds like Spring, doesn't it? "April" sounds like hope... sounds like children playing on new grass, warm gentle breezes, bright colors, al fresco dining, and love.  In contrast, "March" sounds like trouble... sounds like storm troops, jail doors slamming shut, gray days, black and white photos, lost causes, and depression. I, for one, am glad March is over and April is here.

We're busily preparing the bus-house for travel and planning our escape from the Coastal Bend. Excitement is in the air as we finished washing the salt, sand, and oyster shell grunge off the camper and stowing all the gear and "stuff" laying around as a result of the lack of discipline that accompanies long-term stays. The new tire pressure monitoring system is in place and ready to go. Other systems have been checked, cleaned, tested, and safety certified. Everything is aiming at departure tomorrow, Saturday.

Our original plan was to head east toward friends in South Carolina before hitting Wisconsin in mid-May. But that's changed. Our son Justin has just accepted a new job out in Seattle. Moving from Wisconsin to Washington is a big stressful thing -- especially when there's so much else going on... Kaytlyn (his wife and sweetie) finishing her Masters degree, finding a place to live out there, closing out his old job, getting established in the new one, and the magnification of difficulty caused by a 2,000 mile move. When we moved out of our last house 4 years ago, we threw a bunch of stuff on the back of his U-Haul truck when he wasn't looking and he's been wondering how he came to have so much stuff ever since. Well, these two could probably use a little help in getting ready for the move and we've decided an early arrival in Wisconsin would be in order this year.

But we won't forget about our South Carolina friends either. Once things are deemed under-control in Wisconsin, it'll be time for another road trip... this time in "nimble-mode", with the only the car. We'll drive to our friends house, taking the time for some linear exploring along the way. The savings in fuel will cover the cost of motel stays and we're looking forward to trying a different style of exploration for a couple weeks... not to mention spending time with our friends Tim and Chris.