Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dec 31 - Our Christmas Holiday with Family

We had a good holiday with the kids and grandkids. For the most part, it's been an easy go... plenty of down-time with a party or two thrown in for good measure. Of course, "down-time" may not be the right term. When there are two energized boys on winter break from school around, it's gonzo-frantic around here much of the day.

As a family we haven't been together on Christmas in 7 years, so this one was special. Both kids, their spouses, the two grandkids, and us. It was a very enjoyable gathering... even if I had to sleep on an air bed for two nights.

It's the same every year. Much anticipation, planning, gifting, food preparation, libations, some football... and then it's all over. Just like that. I shake my head wondering what the heck happened.

Yes, we still have tonight... New Years Eve. But neither Dar nor I have ever been big NYE partiers, preferring to transit into the new year in our own quiet way. I mean, there really is no better time to contemplate the absurdity of life, the passage of time, the immense cosmos, and our tiny dust-speck place in it all.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Dec 7 - An Epic Cold Wave

(I'd like to write about something other than the weather, but weather is dominating the news these days... some even going so far as to call it an "epic" event. Besides, I don't have much else to write about.)

The big news around the Pacific Northwest is the unusual cold blast that's descended over the area... not to mention most of the rest of the country. The weather folks say it's unusual for two reasons. First, cold waves of this magnitude don't hit the Northwest every winter... perhaps, to one degree or another, every two or three or four years... maybe longer. Second, this one is notable for it's persistence. It's just hanging around... not moving along like good cold waves should. By the time we're back to a more "normal" pattern the better part of a week will have passed.

And we were there!

In addition to the cold, we woke to a half-inch of snow on Friday. OMG! It must not have been snow... it must have been the sky falling. Schools were closing, cars and trucks littered the shoulders and ditches of roads and highways, travel times were reported in hours instead of minutes. It was crazy. Of course Dar and I could read and hear about it all from the comfort of the bushouse as we had no schedule or place to be that day. For the uninitiated, this is the reason for the trouble: road salt is not used out here. When a light dusting of snow is repeatedly driven on it packs down and turns to a thin layer of ice. Good old fashioned slick ice. Add to the mix drivers that have little experience with (or memory of) winter driving skills. Then, when these drivers are preoccupied with their electronic screen devices, well, it all adds up to some fine entertainment for the rest of us.

Road salt is one of those love/hate things... another big compromise in life. It certainly helps keep roads ice free in winter, but it plays hell with steel parts on cars. You'll find driving is much easier, but you'll have to buy a new car when the old one rusts away in a few years.

Tonight is supposed to be the worst of the cold in the PNW. The predicted low tomorrow morning is in the single digits... 8 or 9 degrees depending on the forecast. While close, it won't be a record for us and the bushouse. We saw 6 degrees one morning in Marathon Texas a few years ago.

How are we doing? Having spent most of our lives in the Midwest (where, even now, it's much colder than here) we're managing just fine. With a good attitude and the right clothes we 're enjoying this "epic" cold wave. We are, however, going through mass quantities of energy keeping everything warm.

Later... Thom

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Dec 3 - Cold Snap

When I last wrote in this forsaken and neglected blog we had just arrived in Portland after a marathon week of 400 mile days, headwinds, cold nights, and junk food. In retrospect, it now seems like a quick and painless transit from the Midwest to our someday-soon new homebase in the Northwest. And we're certainly enjoying being close to the Northwest branch of our family - especially during the holidays.

As usually happens when we park and become preoccupied with family affairs, the old blog suffers. And that's just the way it is. Probably isn't going to change anytime soon.

We've been splitting our overnights between the "flat" (our apartment at Gage and Andrea's house) and the bushouse. Having our own more or less set up apartment at their place is a real convenience. Instead of driving back to the bushouse after a long day of chasing after the kids, we can just slip upstairs and climb into bed.

But after six and a half years simple momentum keeps us coming back to the old bushouse. There's a comfortable familiarity about the old 'wheel-estate" that's hard to describe... I mean... it's home, ya' know?

A couple Fridays ago we did take a day, just the two of us, and drove the Gorge - Hood River - Timberline Lodge - Hwy 26 loop around Mt. Hood. I'll do a separate post on that. And we spent the long Thanksgiving weekend with Justin and Kaytlyn at their home in the Seattle area.

Supposed to be cold this week. Some forecasts are predicting lows in the teens and highs barely making it above freezing. So I cut some extra wood for the bushouse fireplace, filled the propane tank and the fresh water tank, and stuck a trouble-light (hot bulb variety) down in the water bay. We dial-down the furnace when we're not staying over there but even if the power goes out, for whatever reason, we should avoid frozen water lines in any case.

The way things look now, we're delaying our train trip back to the Midwest until January. One thing I'm realizing is that life gets more complicated when you have two RVs.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Nov 22 - The Gorge and Mt. Hood

November 22 was a Friday. Coincidentally, it was also a Friday 50 years ago, the day John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas Texas. For me, that date will rank right up there with the 9/11/01 WTC attack as a permanent memory. Even though I was only 12 I can remember much about that day... the weather, the somber mood of most people, the nearly constant TV coverage, and the way most people were glued to their sets all weekend long... trying to understand... trying to make sense of it all.

Our day started out along the Sandy River in Troutdale Oregon where we hooked up with a portion of the old historic Columbia River Highway. Now set aside as a tourist and scenic route, this was the first real road through the Gorge. Built between 1913 and 1922, it was, and is, a significant feat of engineering and must be driven to gain a real appreciation of the accomplishment. There are only a few sections of the old road that are preserved; much of the original was sacrificed to the second Columbia River Highway during the 40s and 50s, which evolved into present-day I-84.

We stopped at Vista House at Crown Point for the famous overlook of the Gorge... and were almost blown away. Literally. And it wasn't the view that was the cause. During Winter months high-pressure systems often set up over the east side of the Cascades; at the same time low-pressure can persist on the west side. When air rushes from the high-pressure to the low, and the Cascade Mountains get in the way... the channeling effect of the Gorge concentrates that air flow into a relatively small space... and high winds are the result. We later heard reports of gusts over 80mph up there today... which might explain why it was so danged hard to walk (honest, dear reader, at that point I had nary a beer yet). One had to hang onto stout metal railings to brace against the variable gusts. About the time you think you've got it down (walking in a 50 mph wind) an 80mph gust comes along and, well, upsets everything. Over the years we've experienced some pretty good breezes up there, but today was a new one for us.

A ways further up the Historic Highway we stopped at Multomah Falls, a popular tourist stop for many transiting the Gorge as it has it's own on/off ramps from I-84. Last Spring my Grandson Ryan and I hiked to the top of the falls in one of those outdoor "bonding" opportunities with the younger generation. Today we didn't hang around here long either; just long enough for a few pics of the falls and a quick tour of the Lodge.

Next up was Hood River. If the Gorge has a cultural "Capital", Hood River is it. A small town (5,000??), it has an artsy, counter-culture, affluent vibe that feels pretty good. Wind surfers flock here to take advantage of those persistent Gorge winds. Other constituents of the vibe are a collection of wineries, a craft brewery, galleries, orchards, music shops, board shops, trendy eateries.... all in the shadow of Mt. Hood, a mere 25 miles to the south.

It was lunch time. We found the pub/restaurant/tasting room belonging to Full Sail Brewing and soaked in a mostly liquid lunch of fine craft beer to replenish precious bodily fluids and electrolytes so important to vigorous life.

Our easterly course changed to southerly as we picked up OR-35 and started the climb up to Mt. Hood. From Hood River to Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood (our destination) is an elevation gain of almost 6,000 feet over about 30 miles. The road follows Hood River (the river, not the town) for a good portion of the route. Away from the Gorge the winds subsided too... and the day was bright, sunny, and warm-ish for late November. The views of the mountain, it's peak blanketed in fresh snow, were one of the things we were here to get re-acquainted with. I suppose if I lived up here, had a great view of the peak from my cabin, I'd eventually stop seeing it the same way. But I don't, and I still thoroughly enjoy being up here... being on the side of this still-venting and potentially active volcano.

From the community of Government Camp at 4500 feet and at the summit on US-26, there's a road called Timberline Highway that continues ascending all the way to Timberline Lodge. I've written before about Timberline [here] so I won't get into all the history and design of the place. But it's been a couple years since we've been here and it felt good to get back to one of the places in Oregon we find so enjoyable.

There was enough snow that skiers and snow boarders were swarming the hill despite it's "not officially open" status. From 6,000 feet, views of the surrounding landscape are spectacular on sunny days; the neighboring peaks of Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters to the south rise like far off islands in a turbulent Cascade "sea". We wandered around the lodge renewing old memories, recalling historic facts and trivia, and carefully performing our official inspection. The old place is holding up well. We settled at a window table in the Rams Head bar, with full view of the mountain. From there the peak is three miles away horizontally and one mile vertically. Bright sun on the ultra-white snow made viewing a squinty, almost hurtful, experience... at least until the eyes could adjust. We lingered, we talked, we pondered; we love being in the Northwest.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

November 13 - Boardman Oregon to Portland

Being along the Columbia during cold months often means you'll wake to fog. Thick fog. The kind that'll make you wonder where you are... 'cause there are no visible references. Your memory is all you've got to go on. It can feel like a dream if you let your imagination run free.

They said it'd start clearing about 10am, so we lingered until we convinced ourselves that it may indeed be improving... and we were back on I-84 by a few minutes after 10am. About 20 miles later it clearly was starting to clear. Another 20 miles, just as we dropped down into the Columbia River Gorge, just as we wanted visibility to savor one of the great drives in the USA, the fog was gone. The rest of the way to Portland was clear and sunny... and "gorge"ous. Aided by low sun and long shadows we were entertained with scenic eye-candy until we reached Portland. The road through the Gorge, even though it's an Interstate Highway, is curvier than a swimsuit model and almost as delightful (except, some would argue, the Gorge ages better than a swimsuit model). I set the cruise at 50 and let those with places-to-be or those on commercial treadmills pass as they needed.

We discussed our options and decided to book a month at one of our regular RV parks in the area. Recall our situation: sometime in the next few months we'll have the opportunity to buy into an Escapee Coop Park, Timber Valley, here in Oregon. Because we're so close to the top of the list we have the right to rent a site there on a monthly basis until our spot comes up. This RV lot will eventually become our home base. We considered stopping here in Portland for just a week... for the closer access to family and re-connecting with the grandkids for a few days, and then moving the bushouse down to Timber Valley before Thanksgiving. But we're in no hurry so made the decision to keep the whole circus together, right here in Portland/Vancouver, until mid-December at the earliest.

Also on the agenda is Amtrak-ing back to the Midwest to pick up the truck camper and make the run out here all over again. No decision on that one yet... and the TC will remain "on ice" in Wisconsin until we can work it in.

With the 160 (or so) miles today, we traveled 2176 miles in 6 days of driving. This is a record for us... a record we're not particularly proud of and wouldn't have done if it weren't for the potential for tough wintery weather along the way. We found a good weather"window" and slipped through it unscathed. Except for the wind, which we just dealt with the best we could, it was enjoyable, instructive, and... and... we're happy we're here.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

November 12 - Mountain Home Idaho to Boardman Oregon

With a short 300 miles planned for today as well as a westerly time zone crossing we fooled around this morning and did not get an early start. We did however get the circus on the road some time after 9am. After loading up a tank of fuel it was back on I-84 westbound, through Boise, across the Snake River (again) and into the high desert of eastern Oregon. More and more it was beginning to feel good... familiar... like a welcoming home territory... a place I know like the back of my hand, yet, perhaps, really don't know at all. That's right, this is Oregon. And right over there, across the big River Columbia, that's Washington. This is the land we called home for about 8 years in the 80s and 90s... the place we raised our kids, explored, beaches and mountains and high desert. We visited places like Crater Lake, I climbed to the top of Mounts Hood and Helens, let the kids run free at the coast, taught them to ski on the mountains, poked our noses in here and there. But if there's anything we've learned in the past 6 years of our "sabbatical", is that we've only scratched the surface. It was the Cliffs Notes version, the survey course. And now we desire to experience more of it in depth, do the graduate level version. Why? Just cuz. We're really hoping the little camper, once it gets here, is as up to the task as we are.

Weather today was good when we started but deteriorated some as we moved into Oregon. A "disturbance" was predicted to bring a 40% chance of rain, but the whole thing was to diminish as the day wore on. At least "in theory" it was a 40% chance, but "in reality" it turned into a 100 percent chance... something that never happens to me when sitting at a blackjack table in Vegas. Between La Grande and Pendleton the wipers were clearing a light rain all the way.

We landed in Boardman Oregon, at the Boardman Marina and RV Park. We're hard on the banks of the Columbia and enjoyed a sunset light show during a "happy hour" walk up the shore.

It's good to be home.

A last glimpse at the Snake River.

Campsite along Columbia River in Boardman.

Monday, November 11, 2013

November 10 - Little America Wyoming to Mountain Home Idaho

Got down to 25f degrees last night which means the furnace got a workout, as did the batteries that power it. But we managed and got a good nights sleep. The early setting sun this time of year has me thinking about bed (and sleep) at ridiculously early hours... especially when we're in boondocking mode. I can fight the urge for a while but eventually surrender when bed becomes the warmest and most comfortable spot in the house. As a result I'm sleeping, sometimes, by 8 or 8:30. Of course, that means I'll be awake early... turning up the heat... making coffee. But when our goal is to "get there", that's not all bad either. For the most part, we've been able to manage.

The other two times we've been through this way we left I-80 and took US-30, the old Oregon Trail route, up passed Kemmerer, Montpelier, and Soda Springs... and then up to Pocatello before catching the Snake River for the trip downhill to Portland. For something different today we stayed on I-80 and were treated to a spectacular drive through a couple historic canyons. It was new territory for us.

The route of the first Transcontinental Railroad is the route of today's I-80. It was the most logical path for heavy rail traffic to traverse the mountains between the flats of SE Wyoming and the Great Salt Lake Basin... some 3,000 feet lower. The upper portion is called Echo Canyon which ends in an abrupt split about half way down the mountain. At that point, I-80 goes left and down into Salt Lake City, and I-84 goes right and down into the Ogden area. The first Transcontinental Railroad took a right turn toward Ogden, and so did we.

This lower canyon is Weber Canyon (I think). In spots, it's barely wide enough to contain the river, two lanes of Interstate Highway, a narrow local road, and two rail lines. It didn't seem like the whole canyon floor was more than a couple hundred feet wide.

The morning sunlight perfectly lit the canyon walls and produced dramatic shadows that enhanced things even more. It's a small section of roadway that we'll always remember.

Once down to the Ogden area it was back to the humdrum of Interstate travel. But we both felt as if we're entering a new phase in our trip. Crossing into Idaho and getting to the Snake River meant literally that we've arrived in the Pacific Northwest. The Rockies and the high country were behind us. In a small (very small) way, we felt a sense of what those early emigrants must have felt when they made it to this point.

We arrived at our destination, Mountain Home Idaho, mid-afternoon. Miles today (and I'm not fudging anything here), was 400. In four days we racked up 1,676 miles and only have about 500 to go... which we'll break into two days.

We're parked at the Mountain Home RV Park. It's a modern and nicely cared for place operated by some of the nicest workampers we've run across. We've been here once before and thought it'd be a great spot to take a break. We booked two nights and plan on sleeping in tomorrow. There'll be a few chores, a trip to the grocery store, but mostly it'll be a day to vegetate.

I've also added a few photos to the posts of the last few days. If you have a chance, check them out. And, as always, our complete photo albums are here... at http://picasaweb.google.com/thomhoch

Saturday, November 9, 2013

November 9 - Sidney Nebraska to Little America Wyoming

Decided to take a break from the string of 400 mile drives today so we stopped after 395 miles. Considering our before 8am start we were done by a little after 3pm. We're parked at Little America Wyoming, one of the smallest and busiest towns for it's size I know. We've been here a few times before and always park in the same area in front of the restaurant and store, but away from the hustle and bustle of the place. There's no RV park or campground... no sir... no madam... every time we stop for the night at Little America we blacktop boondock... just find a spot, park, and hop in bed.

We're a little early for bed, although tired enough from the day. The common thread of the last three days has been the relentless headwinds and this big old flat-sided bushouse doesn't exactly cut through the wind like an F-16. Really, quite the opposite. It's literally like pushing a billboard down the road sideways. Driving is a two hand, two strong arms, and two sharp eyes affair... and don't take those eyes off the road for a second. 9 feet of vehicle in a 12 foot lane provides very little wiggle room as the wind does it's thing. After 400 miles I'm done. Time to park and enjoy the finer things in life... like a double bourbon on the rocks with my sweetie by my side. (Yes Sue, I'm relaxed now.)

Little America is like the big America... only smaller. There's a post office here... a gas station... a restaurant... store... motel... and, perhaps best of all... no Walmart or other irritating big box store. I assume you could live and vote here. You might even be able to run for office. If I were Mayor I'd set up a toll booth at the ramp off I-80 and charge a buck for every vehicle that passes. Considering the remoteness of the place most people would still stop for a tank of gas or a free 50 cent ice cream cone. In any case, we'd have some additional revenue to help keep the place going.

There ain't much to report about Wyoming today. The highlight of the trip was the gradual ascent to the 8640 foot Sherman Summit, the highest point anywhere on I-80, and the not-so-gradual descent into Laramie. Some dramatic and interesting country for sure.

The plan is to continue our string of 400 mile days tomorrow, after which we plan to take a break. We'll be through the area of greatest concern and can slow down a bit... relax even more.

Friday, November 8, 2013

November 8 - Shelby Iowa to Sidney Nebraska

Another 400+ mile day is in the books... our second in as many days.  It might be a good idea to explain our urgency... the rush to get from the Midwest to the Northwest in just a few days.

That explanation boils down to this:  it's mid-November, Winter is closing in, the entire route is between 41 and 45 degrees north latitude, and there are a couple mountain ranges that will have to be dealt with... and an elevation of about 9000 feet. We're trying to hit a window of relatively calm weather along our 2200 mile route before all hell breaks loose... as it certainly can (and will) any day now. So our motto is "git while the gittin's good". Those who linger will certainly pay the price.

All that said, we got another early start as the sun rose over Shelby this morning. Strong southerly winds were brisk and buffeted the bushouse as we passed through Omaha and around Lincoln... enough wind to make driving tough but not enough for us to give up and throw out the anchor. As the morning wore on and we neared Grand Island and Kearney, the wind eased considerably for an hour or two, and then reversed direction and gusted out of the north most of the way to our destination, Sidney Nebraska.

Sidney is the home office of Cabelas. Their complex here includes a huge store, a huge office building, a large RV/truck parking area, and a full service RV park. Seeing as how it's getting cold again tonight (upper 20s), we opted for the RV park ($17 after discounts for 30amp electric). We might be getting soft in our old age.

The route today was all I-80. Total mileage was 435. We're positioned to take advantage of good weather tomorrow for the apogee of our dash... 9000 feet, the highest point on I-80... located just east of Laramie Wyoming. From there, as they say, it'll be all downhill.

We did stop for about an hour today at The Great Platte River Archway Monument, which is built over the top of I-80 at Kearney.  Kearney is almost exactly half way between New York and San Francisco, and over the years so much American history passed this historic outpost on the prairie.. the Oregon Trail, California Trail, Mormon Trail, and the first transcontinental railroad are all right here. Although a bit pricey at $10/head for old geezers like us, it's a well done set of walk-through dioramas and exhibits that span from the days of old Fort Kearney in the mid 1800s to today. The Monument has struggled in recent years and it's future is in doubt. We're hoping those responsible can find a way to keep it alive... and keep the story of those early emigrants alive too.

Missouri River at Omaha

The Great Platte River Archway Monument

Thursday, November 7, 2013

November 7 - Beaver Dam to Shelby Iowa

Hey, we're on the road again.  After almost 6 months it feels good to be moving, that's for sure.

Yesterday we moved the bushouse off the RV pad at the farm and onto a temporary one-night "stand" nearby. The truck camper took the bushouse's place on the pad... and went into "cold storage". It'll sit there... unused, winterized, loaded and ready to go... until we return and retrieve it about a month from now. (more on that later).  Considering the 24f degree temps last night, the bushouse easily rumbled to life at first light this morning, raring to go. If I didn't know otherwise I'd say it was as anxious as us to hit the road. The only unforeseen issue was a frozen tv batwing antenna which cold-welded itself to it's base... no turning... no dropping... and us not going until stowed.. The steady rain of the previous few days and the hard-freezing temps combined to make life a little interesting... especially if you're the one who had to crawl up onto the roof, negotiate the full 40 x 8 ice skating rink up there, and free the problematic antenna.

Before 8am the wheels were turning. An early-ish start was needed to keep a burning ember of hope alive that we'd make my planned 400+ miles before the sun set. The route was an easy one... US-151 through, around, or near Madison, Dodgeville, Platteville (all WI), Dubuque, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City (IA). Hop on I-80 west, circle around Des Moines, and head for Omaha... but we stopped for the night in the little town of Shelby Iowa. We found an electric plug-in at a motel/RV park near the Interstate to help fend off another night of 20f degree temps. And that's where I'm writing this post.

Tomorrow will be more of the same.

In my last post I discussed our plans to first take the bushouse out to Oregon and then return to Wisconsin, probably in December, to pick up the pick up (get it?) and camper. My first thought was to fly back. But smarter people than I thought it might be cool to "rail" back.  That's right, Amtrak. The "Empire Builder" has both Vancouver Washington (about 10 miles from our daughter and son-in-laws house) and Columbus Wisconsin (about 10 miles from family in Beaver Dam) included on it's list of stops between Portland and Chicago. And not only that, a cross-country passenger train trip has been on my bucket list for years. This has the makin's of a very cool trip.

Cedar River near Cedar Rapids Iowa

Thursday, October 31, 2013

October 31 - Change in Plans

We've been busier than a three-legged squirrel getting ready for winter. Without getting into all the details, here's a brief list... install new solar system on little camper, trouble-shoot and fix battery problem on little camper, change bushouse oil and filter, wash/wax bushouse so it at least starts the winter gleaming like a new one, various suspension enhancements on the truck so it handles little camper better, moving stuff from bushouse... some of it to little camper and some to our apartment here at the farm... and then moving some of it back again. Then there's the long list of smaller jobs that seems to grow longer as things are completed and checked off... not unlike the parable of the loaves and fishes. It might be a miracle.

I've had a little more trouble sleeping these recent days... something I've rarely had trouble with before. Falling asleep usually isn't the problem. But if I awake during the night (a common occurrence, I'm told, with older folks) my mind starts grinding away at this or that... problems grow to monstrous and demonic proportions... and sleep becomes a destination that remains unattainable, over there, un-reachable. My suspicion is that our lifestyle change may be at the root of this. Bushouse... little truck camper... apartments here and there... moving stuff from here to there... planning to drive from Wisconsin to Washington through wintry weather... there's a lot going on. And a lot that still needs to work itself out.

Of course, when morning rolls around and a cup of coffee is poured into the hopper all these things fade into a proper reality. Those demons shrink back to gnat-size, and are barely remembered. Maybe I've been parked in one place too long.

And now our plans are changing again. Instead of leaving the bushouse here in Wisconsin and spending the winter bouncing between our kids guest rooms and the truck camper, we're now planning to move the bushouse out to Oregon... probably starting the trip next week. Once the motorhome is parked and secured, we'll fly back to Wisconsin and do the trip a second time with the truck camper... perhaps taking a different, more southerly (warmer) route. It's a repositioning of our resources to the Northwest.

In the long-run we know we'll settle in the Northwest. First, we really like that part of the country and all the recreational opportunities that exist. Second, it's where our kids (and grandkids) are. Back in the late 80s and early 90s, we lived in the Portland area for 8 years... which is why the kids both settled there. We found we liked the climate and considered the wetter and cloudier winter a fair tradeoff compared to the much colder and nearly as dreary winters of the Midwest. And speaking of tradeoffs... the long dry summers of the Northwest are among the best we've experienced anywhere. Location-wise, the NW is nicely positioned between the desert Southwest (which we love to explore during winter) and Alaska and the Canadian Rockies, an area we plan explore much closer in the future. There is no perfect place, but for us, the Pacific Northwest comes close.

What spurred this idea of moving the bushouse now? I discovered the other day that we're now number 7 on the waiting list at the SKP Coop Park in Sutherlin Oregon and it looks like we'll be able to grab a membership (and our own RV lot) sometime in the next few months. Because we're near the top of the list we can also rent on a monthly basis until that time. Having our own RV community home base provides options both now and in the future. While that future evolves... while we see if the truck camper is going to work for us... while we see if we like the RV coop thing... we can use the bushouse as our home. If it looks like something that will work we may trade the travel-ready bushouse for a more sedate trailer or fifth wheel... something we can leave more or less permanently in Sutherlin... and continue our explorations with the little camper. And while all this works itself out we're much closer to our kids and grandkids.

So next week will be a big deal for us. After almost 6 months we'll hit the road, head west, and into our future.

Monday, October 21, 2013

October 21 - Does Warmth Equate to Happiness?

The annual migration of snowbirds, winter Texans, and other ice-o-phobes is well underway, with the most senior of our RVing elders leading the way south. I'm not sure why, but it does seem that the more mature of the lot has an innate need to head south earlier every year. At first they were fine with leaving in November, maybe even after Thanksgiving. But as the years tick off, they're soon leaving in early October. They're a co-dependent pack who look for support in their peer-group... a mutual revulsion society that shuns anything less than 80f degree temps and bright sunshine... and any mention of words like freeze, snow, sleet... well, they go into shock and may need a respirator to survive. Added to all that, there's also the side-effect of a lingering residual competitiveness that drives them to be the first at whatever they do... first to arrive, first to leave, first to bed... you get the idea. You gotta love old folks... they're so predictable.

Easy travel to warmer latitudes helps knock environmental extremes off the human experience. But at what cost? Are folks who live in the tropics happier than those in northern latitudes? Maybe because I'm from the northern latitudes I've come to appreciate the seasons... full seasons, complete with some "nasty" weather and extremes in temperature. I can't think of a pleasure more extreme than thawing out frozen toes in front of a roaring fireplace, mug of hot chocolate in hand. It's a pleasure unlike any other... and one that won't be experienced by most escapees to the south.

We're still in Wisconsin, and it's almost November. As the law of averages dictates, our recent warm fall weather is giving way this week to a blast of near winter-like conditions... low 40s for highs and 20s for lows. And I'm looking forward to it. Can you imagine how good the next sunny and mild 50f degree day will seem?.. how happy I'll be?

Friday, October 18, 2013

October 18 - The Truck Camper Story

The other half of our not-so-secret lifestyle change is our new truck camper. During the last year or so as we were deliberating the evolution of our traveling life, much of the discussion revolved around a new rig. We had done six years in the 40' class A motorhome which we found very comfortable... so comfortable in fact that it would easy to continue as we have, for maybe another 6 years.

But life marches on... we're not getting any younger... and the long-term prognosis for continued good health and relatively robust physical condition is NOT good. If one in our position harbors any inkling or desire to do something unconventional (even more unconventional than living in a bushouse for 6 years full time)... something that pushes the boundaries of good sense and the extremes of what gentile folk consider reasonable... well, you'd best be getting on with it before you can't. To hell with what others think.

What we desire in this evolved lifestyle is simplicity, freedom, and spontaneity. We want to spend less mental energy on the tools of our lifestyle and more on the experiences. We feel a need to be more organic with our travels... to live in the moment, the present, and meld the process of exploration with our location... where we happen to be.

I don't know if I'm making my thought clear. But in contrast I felt that in the last 6 years there was too much time spent on the past and the future... and not as much on the now. "Yesterday we moved the bushouse and parked it at the RV park. Today we're exploring. Tomorrow we plan to move again." That sort of thing. Too much planning and not enough living in the moment.

Well anyway, after a long process we settled on a TC, with a converted Sprinter class B high-top van in close second. We want something small and nimble. And we don't want to tow anything... no car, no trailer. I'll admit that this is still a work in process, and success is certainly not assured. But unless we try how will we know?

About a month ago we took deliver of our Northstar Arrow [ R.C. Willett Co. of Cedar Falls, Iowa.] It's a hard-side truck camper with a "wet bath" (shower and toilet in one space). It has an abundance of headroom (I'm over 6 feet), a full queen-sized bed (spend 8 hrs a day here... should be comfortable), a cook top, fresh water system including water heater, more storage space than we need, and relatively simple and accessible systems.

As with all things RV, there are compromises all around. In my idealistic dreams I craved a light-weight pop-top camper that would weigh a thousand pounds... one that could be loaded onto a half-ton pickup that can get reasonable fuel efficiency. But perhaps that would be too far out there. Would the flexible vinyl soft-sides of a pop-top camper be able to meet our need for warmth as we skirted the higher latitudes we think we'd like to explore during Winter? Would a pop-top feel too much like a tent? Could we manage living in it for a month or two at a time? Hmmm.

Thus we settled on a hard-side unit and a larger truck than the dream. And we'll all see together where this will go. Stay tuned.

That's my truck camper story and I'm sticking with it.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

October 16 - The Bushouse Story

It hasn't been a secret that we're in the middle of a lifestyle change. After 6 years of living and exploring with our Newmar motorhome (dubbed the "bushouse" by grandson Ryan) we're both ready for a change. This has been one of my quirks (or maybe "faults" is a better word) throughout life... every few years I feel a need to change things up, to move someplace new, take on a new or additional job, or do something in a different manner. Now it's happening again.

I've written about our thoughts on this matter before and won't bore the reader with a re-hash here... except to offer links to a few of those previous posts [here] and [here] and [here].

We still intend to travel and explore North America (we've really just scratched the surface of things to see and do) but we desire to do it differently... to find a way to more easily get off the beaten path, to be more spontaneous, and to maximize the time we spend in more rustic camping venues. After a lot of thought and consideration we decided to try a truck camper. I'll get into that in my next post... The Truck Camper Story.

Because our lifestyle for the past 6 years has been one of periods of travel alternating with periods of extended stays near family in either Wisconsin or Washington (for months at a crack), we felt it might make more sense to transition to a smaller travel rig and take advantage of the mini-apartments we have available to us when staying with family. And that might mean the bushouse becomes surplus... redundant... an unnecessary and expensive complication.

But hold on there pard'ner... not so fast.

The bushouse is our home. It has been for the past 6 years. And it still is today. It might be prudent to slow down just a tad.

We've toyed with selling it, timidly tried last month, but timing (few buyers of motorhomes in October in Wisconsin??), and our hearts (maybe we're being to hasty... maybe we still need some kind of home base??) combined to convince us that, at this point, we're going to back off on the selling idea, winterize it (for the first time ever) for a long Wisconsin winter, and re-visit the issue in the spring. If we find the smaller rig idea isn't going to work for us, having the bushouse still gives us options.

So what does all this mean for the ol' bushouse? Well, for the next few months, this Winter, while we're trying on our new camper for size, not much. It will sit here in Wisconsin for a few months of well-deserved rest. It'll be on ice... in mothballs... on it's own "sabbatical".

In the meantime, we'll be off traveling and exploring until next Summer with the truck camper.

That's the bushouse story and I'm stickin' with it. At least for now.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

October 15 - Changes to Blog

You may have noticed recent changes to the layout of this blog. Here's the quick story.

The RV Sabbatical Journal blog is now presented in a simple single column format. The focus is on the most recent post, which is where I'd like it... with little else to clutter the page. In my effort to define the blog's purpose and to feed my desire to keep it all clean and simple, I've removed that smaller right-hand column which included a bunch of things I thought I could do without or, at least, handle differently. Did anyone really care what were the most viewed posts from the previous month? Our story is best found on a separate page under the "About" tab, so the small sections called "What's This All About?" and "Synopsis" were deemed redundant and done away with. The Google search widget didn't seem to work most of the time so it too was deep-sixed.

The two elements that I felt still had some value were the previous post "Archive" function and the "Follow Us by Email" widget, which are both now in the footer at the bottom of each page... if a reader wants them, they can still find them. I've also turned "comments" back on and will simply deal with things as they come in that department.

A side benefit of moving to a simple uncluttered layout is that it's now much easier to read this blog on tablets and smaller screens. I never had success in getting the mobile version of the blog to work the way I thought it should (and the way Blogger implies it will work), and now I don't need a mobile version. Ahh, the benefits of simplicity.


Rain fell most of the day here. But we really shouldn't complain about the weather this month... it's been spectacular for the most part. The kind of October we've been hoping for. However, as we head into the last half of the month, sinking historical average temperatures and fewer hours of sunlight will slap us in the face... and we'll wake from this seasonal dream... and bask in the Winter which provides the balance that defines enjoyment. How does one appreciate the mean unless you've experienced the extremes?


Ran down to Madison this afternoon to pick up Dar at the airport. She flew to Phoenix last Thursday to join her favorite sister for a long weekend of exploring the Phoenix area as a possible retirement spot... for her sister, not Dar. While there are parts of Arizona that would be of interest to Dar and I as a home base, Phoenix ain't one of 'em. Just too many people and too much hubbub.

And we stopped in at Ale Asylum on the way home... to bolster our energy and replace essential electrolytes (lost during long periods of travel at high altitudes) with craft beer that's "Fermented in Sanity". Oh, and we had dinner there too. It's good to have my partner back.

Monday, October 14, 2013

October 14 - I'm Back

Rather than one long post (and, I fear, it would be very long) in which I try to cover this blog's recent dry spell, how about I break it down into a series of shorter posts as I attempt to bring the record up-to-date over the next few days. Maybe by then we'll be close enough to getting our Fall travels underway and there'll be more time to write... and more to write about.

Regular readers of this blog know that I've had periods in the past when writing has been a struggle. Without exception, those spells are associated with periods of time when we're sitting in one spot for a while. Probably because I don't have a clear purpose for the blog (is it a travelogue?.. a diary??... who really is the audience???) the words won't flow. I want to keep it interesting and fresh, but unlike some others in bloggerville who have no problem writing the same tiresome daily drivel... day after day after boring day, I just can't do it. I'm not a small talk kind of person. Think I'd rather give it up and close it down altogether if that's all I had to write about.

Anyway, here's our setting and current status: We're still in Beaver Dam Wisconsin, and probably will be until early November. We still have the bushouse and have decided to keep it here until next Spring/Summer. I'll go into that subject with a later post. Alongside the bushouse is our new Northstar truck camper, which is another story I'll cover in a post or two in the next few days. Our energies now are going into getting the bushouse prepared for a lonely cold Winter and getting the new camper ready for 5 or 6 months of travel. Most know how projects and tasks "bunch up" as deadlines near... and that's part of the urgency we're feeling right now as we scramble during the next two or three weeks to wrap everything up.

So bear with me as I get my writing muscle and fingers back to strength. Thank you for checking in.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Random Images from the Upper Peninsula

I'm getting a little behind again so I thought I'd pop up a few images from our time in the UP of Michigan... the first two weeks in September. I think it's plain to see why we like this part of the USA so much.

view from the bus-house
foot dip in the river
some time to chill and let the stresses of this summer go 
looking for an evening snack
a little exploring...
ho-hum... another nice day in the UP.
makes cool evenings a little more tolerable

We've been back in the Beaver Dam Wisconsin area since the 13th and are busy with projects and preparations for Sabbatical II. Should have the camper next week and we're anxious to get it out and spend a few nights aboard.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Monday, September 2, 2013

Sept 2 - Sabbatical II Plans Coming Together

During the last year we've been on a quest to get started with the second chapter of our nomadic lifestyle. After talking to many folks along the way about smaller traveling rigs, and discussing our personal needs, wants, and exploring preferences, we narrowed it down to either a Sprinter-based class B van or a truck camper. I've written before about the strengths of each and the reasons we're downsizing so dramatically (here, here, and here) , so I won't repeat it. Let's just say we want to be comfortable, compact, nimble, and not tow anything.

We visited a Sportsmobile plant in Fresno California and saw Sprinter vans being turned into amazing class B travel rigs. We also visited a number of truck camper manufacturers and spent hours inside both pop-top and hardside models... to imagine living and functioning in so small a space. It was all instructive and we could have dragged out this process longer... but eventually we had to make a decision and pull the trigger. So in June we decided on a truck camper and proceeded down that path. While the Sprinter class B van was, and still is, very attractive to us, this decision hinged on price. The van would have cost much more than we were prepared to shell out.

A month of correspondence with Rex at Northstar ensued... back and forth... questions about this and that... answers... what ifs... and more. Rex tolerated us, at least it seemed that way (thanks Rex), until we finally firmed up an order and agreed on a price. The camper we ordered is a hardside unit and I'll talk more about it in a future post. If all goes well the camper should be ready about the middle of September.

Once the camper was on order we stepped up the pace of looking for a truck to mount it on. That process also took about a month while we deliberated about Ford or GM or Dodge, gas or diesel, capacities, and all that. End-of-model-year rebates made this a good time to buy a truck but the selection was somewhat limited... especially for the specific truck we were looking for. In late July we completed the deal for a Ford F-350 SRW (6.2L gas, short box, 4wd). We deliberated long and hard about the gas v. diesel decision but ended up going gas. For the trucks available that met our specs, a diesel would end up costing us almost $10k more. And while a diesel gets better fuel mileage, you can buy a lot of gas for $10k. I was also interested in keeping the cargo weight capacity as high as possible and the higher weight of a diesel engine cuts the load capacity by a few hundred pounds.

So that's where we're at. Have truck... waiting for camper... have motorhome on the market... getting our two mini-apartments ready for occupancy.. And we're both getting very excited to get it all put together and start traveling again.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sept 1 - UPpity for a Couple Weeks

After the rough summer we've had this year we were primed and ready to go somewhere... anywhere. So yesterday, without too much thought or planning, we fired up the bus-house and headed north, into the land of pasties... the UP of Michigan.

The route was all north - US151 to US141 at Green Bay, to MI95 from near Iron Mountain to Camp. Light winds and a few clouds made driving easy and enjoyable. Taking the bus-house on what could be it's last excursion with us aboard added a touch of emotion for us too. Making this a family outing, our little Ford Focus toad made the trip too... following the bus-house like a little lost puppy.

Out of respect for the owner's privacy we strive to keep the precise location of our "Camp" up here in the UP confidential. But I will tell you it's on a lake and the property is surrounded by trees. That oughta' narrow it down for the curious.

We hope to get close to two weeks of R&R in before returning to Beaver Dam for the Fall and all the tasks associated with moving most of our "stuff" from the bus-house to the apartment out at the farm, and then getting the new truck camper prep'd and ready to go. I'm sure we'll also make a few short excursions while we familiarize ourselves with the new rig and make sure all systems are "go". During the next couple weeks I'll write more about all that, as well as fill in a few other gaping holes in the record created by this blog-weary writer's sins of omission.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Aug 4 - My Dad

Harold A. (Huns) Hoch
My Dad
1923 - 2013

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Facebook is Loosing Me

My first attempt at a post on my thoughts about Facebook has been discarded... wadded up and chucked in the virtual waste basket. It really wasn't very "friend"ly... actually came off rather mean-spirited. I'm not sure why. It's difficult to be critical of something that so many of my "friends" and relatives use... and, apparently, think highly of... without coming across as being critical of those using it. I don't want to do that... and I certainly don't want to come across as seeming to tell others what to do.

Let me just say this: I check in on my "friends" on Facebook to see what they're doing, where they are, why they are where they are, and to, maybe, see what they have to say, what they're thinking about, and how they feel. That's the reason I signed up for FB in the first place. I love reading about my Grand-kids, the family and extended family, seeing photos of them all... following the travels of nomadic friends... getting into their minds for just a few seconds. Quick efficient updates.

But, increasingly, it seems to me, my screen is filled with posters, signs, or e-chain letters (click "like" if you love Jesus, hate Obama, or think the world will end this year) written by someone unknown, that contain a message a "friend" wants to share with me. Often that message contains a political or religious agenda... an agenda I may not appreciate or agree with. Even if I am in sync with the message, I don't like having to wade through all this clutter to find out how my kids or grand-kids are doing. This evolution of FB might be fine for some, but it's not for me.

Call me old-fashioned, but I'd much rather hear from YOU... about YOU.

I think that's all I'll say about Facebook today.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Found Alive, Author Vows to Return to Old Ways

To all those folks who tenaciously check this blog every day (something like a hundred a day)... even though there's been NO activity or posts for a month and a half... take heart, the author has been found, alive, and is currently in rehab, where a team of professionals is working every day to help him regain the ability to think clearly, to write, and to get back his passion and excitement for blogging. With a little luck, he should be back to his old ways in the next few days.

There's so much to write about. One of the first topics will be Facebook. What's happened to Facebook recently that, at least as far as I'm concerned, is making me think seriously about leaving?

Friday, May 31, 2013

May 15 thru May 31 - The Beginning of an End

Time for a long entry to the blog in an attempt to bring the record up to date. If you're like many readers and find daily minutia and personal triflings boring, you may want to skip this entry. Now that we're more or less settled for the summer I don't plan on posting here often... certainly not daily. Something like every week or two will probably suffice to keep the record current and my writing muscle from turning completely to flab.

When we last heard from our intrepid explorers they had just arrived in Cedar Falls Iowa. Our purpose for stopping there was two-fold: first, we have four good RVing friends from our Rockport Texas days... Andy & Betty, and David & Carol Ann... who live right here in Cedar Falls. We hadn't seen these folks since a year ago this past Winter (we skipped Rockport this year) and since we were driving by it just made sense to stop and see what kind of trouble we, collectively, could get into. Our other reason for stopping there was to visit the Northstar Camper plant. Yes, much to the chagrin of some we're still considering a truck camper for Sabbatical II - the great downsizing.

Andy & Betty offered to have us park in their driveway during our two night stay... and since we're on a very small old age pension (and cheap by nature) we took them up on that very kind offer. Both nights we were there David & Carol Ann joined us to help keep the conversation lively.

We arrived in Cedar Falls Tuesday (the 14th). On the 15th, Wednesday, Dar and I ran down to Northstar where we met with Rex, a grandson of the founder. R.C. Willett Company ("The Truck Camper People"), builders of the highly regarded Northstar campers, have been in the truck camper business for more than 52 years. I'm not sure, but 52 years must put them at the top of the list as the longest-running business in this RV industry niche.

What an enjoyable visit! Rex listened to understand our background and our ideas for the next chapter of our RVing life. He showed us campers in every phase of production, pointed out features and build details that were developed from years of experience, and took us through a series of completed units waiting for shipment. I was a little surprised to learn that many of the units they build are exported to countries all around the world.

In all, Rex spent 3 hours with Dar and me. It was a visit that far exceeded our expectations and gave us a lot more to think about... to consider. But generally, we do believe we're on the right track (for us) in our quest to aggressively downsize for the next chapter.

On Thursday the 16th we bid "adieu" to Andy & Betty and headed into Wisconsin for the first time since last November. Crossing the Mississippi at Dubuque, the drive was uneventful, the weather agreeable, as the anticipation of "coming home" plucked at my emotions. Something full time RVers, those who wander like nomads all the time, don't experience is the emotional high one gets from going home. I've written about this before... there's nothing like the feeling of coming home - unless it's the feeling of leaving again. I think that's one of the reasons we're designing Sabbatical II with two home bases... to double the pleasure... the kick... we get from going home, planning the next exploration, and then leaving again.

Since arriving in Beaver Dam the last two weeks have been a blur. My Dad has been going through some really tough health problems. He's 90 and things are starting to wear out. I'm not going to get into any specifics here, but we've been helping out and spending as much time as we can with him and Mom.

We're currently parked on our RV pad out at the farm outside Beaver Dam. Since we're considering this the end of our first "Sabbatical" (com'on... who ever heard of a 6 year sabbatical??) -- what will go down in history as Sabbatical I, our stay here this year is rather open ended. There's much to be accomplished in the next few months... get our "apartment" here at the farm set up, put the bus-house on the market and, hopefully, pass it on to another couple looking for an exciting RV-based life chapter, and get our next rig ready for the new adventures of Sabbatical II.

I think I need a nap.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

May 14 - Delivered from Pender

Considering my mental burden, I was able to get a reasonable night's sleep, but was up for the day by 5am... reading over all the documentation I had on these problematic Atwood levelers. Before 7am, I called Newmar to get the location of the Atwood control module... the controller... for the leveling system. There are electronic gizmos scattered all over the place in this motorhome and, since I wasn't sure of it's location, a little help in narrowing down my search could be helpful before I start crawling around in the "basement" playing hide and seek with a little black box.

Newmar says it could be here... or it could be there... and with those two possibilities, it didn't take long for me to find it and make a positive ID. Now it was time for a call to Atwood... and I was dreading the likelihood that I'd get less-than-stellar assistance... a customer service rep named Rajij in Bombay reading from a script... someone who didn't have the knowledge to understand my problem, much less help me. Without the chassis air suspension inflated we were unable to move... we were stranded in Pender. And as nice as Pender is, there was probably no one in town who ever saw an Atwood Levelegs leveling system before... much less having the knowledge to get me on the road again. Without some real assistance from Atwood, my last best hope, there was, in my mind, the real possibility that we might become inadvertent long-term residents of Pender. Our traveling lifestyle might end right here.

But assistance was delivered to this aging stranded man-in-need... this reluctant new Penderite. And that assistance came to me in the form of a guy named Mark... who, while sitting at his desk in Elkhart Indiana with a Levelegs controller just like mine in his hands, gave me the magic formula to get our air suspension re-inflated and deliver us from exile in northeast Nebraska. Unplug this... unplug that... start the motorhome engine... with a short piece of wire as a "jumper", energize the black wire in the first position of plug A... which will energize the relay which will allow the suspension to reinflate. The sound of that relay closing was music to my ears. We were on the road a short time later, clawing at the miles between Pender and Cedar Falls. It was turning out to be a very good day.

Monday, May 13, 2013

May 13 - Stranded in Pender

Monday morning. About 8:30am, Edward the Blue Ox tech knocks on the door and says he's taking the tow bar for service. To prepare for him, I'd been working on unlocking the two pins (locking type) that secure it to the receiver (one for the drop adapter and one for the tow bar) but, despite my best efforts, could not get a key into one of them -- it was jammed or corroded or something. He took the whole deal... tow bar and drop adapter together... and went off to do his thing.
In the meantime, we explored little Pender and looked for a store to get a few basic food items for the larder. Most towns of just a thousand people don't have a food store at all, or, if they're lucky, perhaps a C-store/gas station. What we found was Cubbys, a brand spanking new "Community Store". More a small grocery store than C-store on steroids, sure you could get fuel out front, but you could also get fresh meat, a wide range of groceries, and even hot prepared food at the deli.

There are a few things necessary to make a going community, and one of those things is a store... a place to buy the necessities, supplies, without having to run 20 miles to the next, larger, town... leaving your money in that community while yours declines. Yes, I was happy to see this little store and hope the community of Pender, in this Walmart-crazed culture of ours, will support it... will help make it a success.

Back at the bus-house, our tow bar was returned in like-new condition and with an assurance that it's up-to-spec and capable of towing for many more miles. The cost of this inspection and re-conditioning? $25... a real deal by any standard. Especially when they throw in a free night or two in their RV park. I'm glad we came.

Considering it was already afternoon, I arranged an additional night in the RV park so we could get an early start the next morning. We're planning to stop for two nights near Cedar Falls Iowa where we have some RVing friends to see. And since we're right there, we're going to stop at Northstar Campers to see their facility and find out more about these highly-considered truck campers. We're still debating our next rig... class B or class TC? That is the question. If we want to explore without towing anything there aren't many more options than those two. The decision point draws nearer.

Being concerned about our balky jacks, I wanted to get the bus-house ready for travel before we hit the sack for the night. So after dinner we stowed our loose gear, pulled in all but our bedroom slide, and retracted the jacks... and trouble loomed. The jacks retracted but a troublesome jack in the rear failed to send the necessary "I'm retracted" signal to the controller... which means the controller didn't send the signal to the chassis to "air-up" the suspension. So there we sat... despite my best efforts to remedy the situation by cycling the jacks again... unable to move. I called Coachnet, our road-side assistance provider, who couldn't offer much technical help with these particular jacks (Atwood Levelegs). They did offer to dispatch an RV technician but I declined until after I had a shot at talking to someone at Atwood... which would have to happen in the morning.

With all that on my mind, I retired for the night wondering how much sleep I'll be able to get.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

May 12 - Pampered in Pender

Comfortably parked in the Blue Ox RV Park in Pender, and conveniently attached to full hookups, we had no place to go and no schedule to keep today... a great day for lazing around. It was Mother's Day and Dar had the day off from most normal chores... well, except for a load of laundry, something she doesn't trust me with under any circumstances. Besides whipping up a simple meal for dinner, I did dishes too. Hope the Mother of our children enjoyed her day... near as much as I enjoy having her around every day. And Happy Mothers Day to our Moms up there in Beaver Dam... and to our daughter out in Washington.

We happened to hit Pender on a weekend so we have to wait until Monday morning for the Blue Ox tech to check out the tow bar. Once again, we were the only ones in the place last night. We're obviously not following the RV crowds around these days.

Yesterdays brisk wind abated overnight and we got down to 27f early this morning. And how's this for contrasts... Monday, tomorrow, highs should be well into the 80s... and Tuesday, they're saying well into the 90s. Welcome to Spring in the Midwest.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

May 11 - Blown to Pender

Dar and I were the only ones in the Kearney Cabelas truck and rv lot last night (Friday)... no trucks or refrigerated trailers that can drone on all night long. What we did have was the sound of the railroad as we were camped right across the road from a UP mainline through here... and it's one of the busiest sections of track I've seen. Often there'd be two trains going by at the same time, and at least once, I saw three. Yes, there are three sets of rails and if one had time between trains to feel those ribbons of steel, I'll bet they'd be hot. But the cool night meant mostly closed windows in the bus-house and we slept fine. Don't think either of us were awakened by steel wheels on steel rails all night.

As the rising sun sliced in through the windows of a rocking bus-house Saturday morning it became obvious that the issue today was going to be wind. Area wide predictions were for 20 plus mph winds and gusts to over 30. Since this was a day of mostly two lane roads, it might be a long one.

Most of the time driving the bus-house is a manageable task, but it does demand your attention. Whether it's wind, or uneven road surfaces, or the "wakes" that other large vehicles throw-off as they punch a big hole through the air... these can, and do, conspire to shove our slab-sided camper one way or the other and make it necessary to input small steering corrections to compensate. These things are happening all the time. If your attention is diverted for a few seconds, the need for a small steering correction can grow rapidly to a big steering correction. And remember that we're driving an 8-1/2 foot wide vehicle down a lane that might be just 10 or 11 feet wide -- not much wiggle-room. It's important for the driver to keep his/her mind on his/her job.

Windy days, especially with a direct side-wind, mean there won't be much spare time. Not only does the wind blow and gust at varying intensity, but any obstacles on the windward side of the road... a barn, a small woodlot, a billboard, a cut through a hill... these things can momentarily block the wind. When the driver already has a steering correction built-in to compensate for the wind... and that wind suddenly stops... the vehicle begins to head for the side of the road. The skillful driver will then compensate by steering in the opposite direction to straighten the vehicle and keep it in the lane of traffic. But then, as you emerge from behind the hill or woodlot, the wind hits you with full force again... sending the vehicle the opposite way and with the wind. Once again, a steering correction is called for. It can get challenging.

Despite it all, and the reality that the wind was every bit as strong as they predicted, we made it to Pender Nebraska, our objective. A small town by almost anyone's standards, only 1,000 people live here. As it's only 35 miles from Sioux City, I'm guessing that some of those Penderites probably work up in the "big city" and come back out to the country to sleep. For sure, we're part of a small group of RVers who actually want to go to Pender.

And the reason is... Pender is the home of Blue Ox Corporation. They're the folks that make the towing gear we use to pull our car, or toad, along behind us wherever we go. It's rather important that you have faith... confidence... in this device. It would not be a good day if you lost the toad along the way. Besides being "toad-less", it'd be very expensive. We've all heard stories of it happening... and some of them may actually be true. But Dar and I are big into NOT worrying... and having good safe towing gear is important.

If you stop by and park in their very nice RV park (no-charge for customers), Blue Ox offers to go over your tow bar and evaluate it from a safety and capability standpoint. They clean it up, tighten it up, lube it up, inspect and replace any components that are wearing, and get it back to you with the assurance that it meets their specs. If the tow bar has gone beyond it's safe life, they'll make you a deal on a replacement. It's insurance. It's peace-of-mind.

And that's why we're in Pender for a couple days.

Friday, May 10, 2013

May 10 - Sidney to Kearney Nebraska

From Cabelas store to Cabelas store...  one time zone to the next... into that gray area between "The West" and "The Midwest"... we continued our eastward trek today. If we didn't officially cross into the Midwest today, we certainly will tomorrow. I've written about this before but there is a north-south demarcation between West and Midwest out here that runs from the Canadian border and into Texas. In the West you're a rancher; in the Midwest you're a farmer.  In the West you attend rodeos; in the Midwest it's tractor-pulls and county fairs. In the West you wear a cowboy hat; in the Midwest it's a seed-corn sponsored baseball cap. These days everybody drives pickup trucks, even soccer Moms who used to drive mini-vans. But in the West, you'd probably have a horse or two besides. The demarcation line wavers some and is wider in some spots than others. But it clearly runs right through the part of the country we're crossing today and tomorrow.  In Texas the line jumps to the eastern border of the state and is clearly defined. It seems everybody in Texas thinks they live in The West... even middle level bankers in Houston who have never seen a long horn steer. They live in subdivisions of little "ranchettes' and they greet you with a big "howdy" even if it comes out with an eastern accent.

Our drive was a tad over 200 miles today. The late start was due to a morning walk followed by a good breakfast at a Perkins restaurant... and the fact that I had to return the new GPS I got yesterday. After about 2 hours of use it just locked up and wouldn't respond to anything (remind you of some cherished one in your life?). I'm hoping it was a rare failure of the electronics so I just exchanged the frozen one for a new one. zippideedoodah.

Unsettled weather out this way is easing and we had mostly sunny skies today. There was one short patch where we drove through a small shower even though we could see sun all around on all sides.  Must have been one dark cloud over the top of the bus-house.

We're settled in for the night at another Cabelas store... this one in Kearney. When we hit the road again tomorrow morning we'll be pretty much off the Interstate Highway system for the rest of our trip back to Wisconsin. Destination tomorrow is the little town of Pender Nebraska.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

May 9 - Good Bye Wyoming... we'll be back.

This will be a quick note to the record that we left Cheyenne this morning and ran a whole hundred miles (and 1600 feet elevation... down) to Sidney Nebraska. We're camped (well, moochdocked really...) at Cabelas in Sidney... their corporate headquarters. They have a full hookup RV campground ($$) here too, but we, being old timers on a fixed income, decided to rough it tonight and go without any connection to the civilized world at all.  So here we sit and here we'll sleep... as the world spins on it's axis until old Sol rises on the eastern horizon tomorrow morning.

Just because we're "moochdocking" doesn't mean we didn't drop any money at all in Cabelas coffers. We had lunch at their lunch counter and then wandered around the store until two items jumped into our arms... a new pair of shoes for Dar and a heck of a deal on a new GPS for Thom. Staying here for free can get expensive.

Tomorrow, we move eastward again... ever closer to the Midwest. And lower elevation is already moderating the night-time temps. Bring on the warmth!  Why, a couple days from now there's talk about a low overnight temp of 61f somewhere down the trail.  We're ready.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

May 8 - Wyoming State Capitol

This morning we made the jaunt a few miles north to downtown Cheyenne and the State Capitol of Wyoming. Cheyenne is not a big town, although relative to most other clusterings of people in Wyoming, it can feel that way. With a population of only 60,000 hearty folks, getting around town is easy and quick. Our camp on the south end of town is less than 3 miles from the heart of town and the Capitol Building. We probably could have walked if we were ambitious.

Parking was easy-to-find right on one of the streets that run alongside the Capitol grounds. Upon entering through the main front doors at the top of the portico steps we were confronted by the lack of a security checkpoint, no x-ray machines, nor any walk-through metal detectors. No sir, the State Police have a desk in the rotunda on the first floor and that’s about it. Clearly the good citizens of Wyoming don’t feel the need to over-do the security thing... and retain the sense of liberty one gets by just going in whenever one feels like it... no questions... no hassles.

We had wondered why Cheyenne is the Capital City of Wyoming... what with it being in the extreme southeast corner of the State. Many other States we’ve visited have taken pains to locate their Capital in a central spot, as close to the middle of the State as possible. So how did Cheyenne become the Capital?

Cheyenne was born in 1867 in the path of the rapidly expanding transcontinental railroad. Union Pacific crews arrived as they laid the tracks westward. Cheyenne soon laid claim to a higher status than older settlements like Fort Laramie, Fort Bridger, and the mining town of South Pass City -- changing Cheyenne from a village to a city in a matter of months. The seat of the new Territorial Government was established in Cheyenne in 1869. Apparently, no one’s felt a need to challenge that decision since.

One can also speculate that there was very little population throughout the rest of the Wyoming Territory and that Cheyenne’s proximity to Denver and it’s relative closeness by train to Omaha and other population centers to the east also played a role.

The building was built between 1886 and 1890, prior to statehood for Wyoming (1890), and expanded again in 1916 when the two large wings for the legislative chambers were added. Between 1974 and 1980 the building was extensively renovated.

What we saw today impressed us as stately and fitting for this big but wild western state. Surprisingly, it’s the original Capitol... so they got it right the first time. Many other states have moved their State Houses multiple times, or they were built too small or in the wrong place, or they burned down. But Wyoming got it right and it’s still in daily use by the Governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer, and Auditor, in addition to the legislative chambers. That fact alone puts it in rare company among other states.

The building is in the traditional style... modeled after the US Capitol in Washington DC. A central rotunda sits beneath a large dome and two adjoining wings contain the House and Senate Chambers. The impressive dome is 146 feet hight and is covered in sheets of copper. But in 1900 it was decided to gild the copper with 24k gold to help maintain a bright, fresh, un-tarnished look. It’s been gilded 4 more times since then, the last in 2010. The exterior is various shades of sandstone, much of which came from quarries in Wyoming. The interior floors are a “checkerboard” of both white marble from Italy and black marble from Wyoming. Many of the black tiles contain imperfections which are actually fossils. The impressive staircases, doorways, and doors are cherry.

Popping into the House Chamber for a look, we were impressed with the good-looking desks used by the representatives... oak with marble tops. Surprisingly, these are relatively new having been commissioned and installed in 2001. Before that time the lawmakers used army-issued metal desks. They served their purpose for near a hundred years.

Overall, we liked the place. This being our 30th state capitol, we’ve found a few along the way we really didn’t like (good old Florida tops the list), but most are reasonably impressive and seem to serve both the symbolic and functional reasons they were built. Wyoming fits right in there. Those Territorial leaders who commissioned this building had foresight... they did a good job. The building still works today and appears to be poised to go on doing it’s job for the foreseeable future.

After our visit we sought out and found a brewpub... a near-tradition for us on Capitol visitation days.  We had an enjoyable time at Shadows Brewery and Grill in the old Union Station building... despite their lack of the most important craft beer a brewpub can make... IPA. Life isn't easy all the time.

More photos in our online photo album...[click here]

Took me a while to figure out that "Crook" is the County he represents...
 and not his profession.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

May 7 - Why the Rush?

A few days ago I promised to say more about why we've hurried our pace and are making this mad dash back to the Midwest. At our current rate, after factoring in this short breather in Cheyenne and a couple stops we're planning in Nebraska and Iowa, it looks like we'll be back at our Wisconsin home base around the 16th or 17th... about two weeks after leaving the Northwest. The initial plan to take a month for this travel leg clearly went up in smoke.

So what happened? To put it simply and directly... we're anxious to get on with "Sabbatical II - The Great Downsizing". We've talked and deliberated, pondered and imagined, thought about this and thought about that... analysis paralysis, some would say. Enough already! It's time for action.

We have already taken a few steps toward that next chapter. Our space at our daughter and SIL's place (dubbed "the flat") is now set up and ready for our occasional occupancy. In Wisconsin one of Dar's first projects is to set up "the apartment" out at the farm house, which will serve as our occasional Wisconsin home base. Between the Midwest and the Northwest, and our involvement with family in each, we spend almost half our time. In another month or two, we'll have non-RV quarters in both locations.

During our long drives the past few days Sabbatical II has been a vigorous topic of conversation. We're not ready yet to say which small camper type we're choosing... only that it'll be really small and will surprise some folks. But let me say this... despite all the free advice out there (and some rather expensive advice :) as well) that purports to help people with making the leap to fulltiming -- there are more ways to be a traveler/explorer than dragging a giant overloaded RV around with you wherever you go. We've had six terrific and enjoyable years with the bus-house and we wouldn't trade those years for anything, even a sure-bet claim to a silver mine in the San Pedro Mountains of central Nevada. Our next chapter will be an evolution, not a revolution.

And on top of all that, we have our four parents, all in their 80's or 90's, that we try to help out in many ways during our time in Wisconsin. Whether it's home repairs, mowing or helping with yard work, or offering transportation services, we love assisting the ones that nurtured and raised us during another, way-back long-ago, chapter.

Without a doubt this summer will be a busy one in Wisconsin. We just want to get on with it.