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Archive for the ‘Heading East’ Category

Too much traffic, too much rain, and a GPS I still wasn’t communicating with well dissuaded me from driving the Outer Banks. Instead, I took US 17 through lots of little towns almost the length of North Carolina and arrived at Don and Barb’s house in Wilmington in late afternoon. (more…)

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A little after 9 this morning I had stuffed the last of my belongings into the Little Blue Car,  said my goodbyes to our hosts John and Susan and to my husband, and headed to town. There are probably lots of branches of my bank everywhere I’ll go, but (more…)

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Last day out…with any luck.

We woke up to a cloudy but mild day in northeast Tennessee and got a fairly early start towards Bristol, along with umpteen zillion other people heading there for a NASCAR race.

The closer we got to Virginia, the closer to drizzle we got. Finally crossing the state line, we could start the countdown. Our exit is at mile 283 and home is five miles or so from there. The traffic thinned out but the drizzle got heavier. Most of the way through Virginia, we were running the wipers, now faster, then slower, then faster again. And the farther north we got, the more the temperature dropped. As predictable as rain for a picnic, the farther north we went, the more truck traffic we picked up. I-81 has, for my money, the worst truck traffic of any interstate. I-80 can be awful, but 81 beats it, for sure.

A few miles south of Staunton (pronounced Stanton) we completed our circle trip. We began this trip last November by going south on 81 till we got to I-64 and took that west to St. Louis. Now we were back to where I-64 and I-81 run together for a few miles. This is home territory, or almost. By the time we were out of Staunton, heading into Harrisonburg, we knew all the exits and were really feeling like we were home. And then it hit.

Without so much as a little flurry, the drizzle became thick, heavy, wet snow.  As soon as that snow hit the windshield, the defroster on the driver’s side decided desert looked better than snow and went on vacation. Since there was no need for the Navigator to navigate, the navigator was driving and Himself was frantically trying to clear a path through the fog and well, we just had way too much fun for about the next 20 miles. Then the snow slowed down, cleared out, the road was dry, and the last several miles home were uneventful. As He-who-would-be-embarrassed if I used his name used to say, HI-YA-LU-YA!

So say we all…Hallelujah…we are home.

 

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March 16, 2013

I woke up with a sense of dread and fear. I’ve been gone so long and I missed all those assignments and now it is too late to get them done. I can’t even remember exactly what they were. What will I do? How will I go through life without a college degree?

At 0:dark:30, my brain does not work well. I wake up a little bit at a time. When the rational part of the gray matter kicked in, my only thought was “I’ve had my degree for 40 years! How many more times do I have to have that dream???”

The rest of the day could only get better. We spent most of the day on I-40, one interstate that I don’t really mind too much, at least through Tennessee. We did take US 70 between Nashville and Knoxville a few years ago and found it to be a most scenic, enjoyable route. But we’re headed home and no longer really in the scenic mode.  The two cities definitely had their share of traffic but in between, the traffic is not too bad and the trucks are not as thick as they are on I-81 near home. At some point I mentioned that we could just turn around and go right back to the desert. I-40 would take us back to Barstow, about half way across the Mojave. But for now, it’s taking us home.

The only sign of spring here is the sparkling streams and rivers. A few pastures are greening up but are still wearing their winter green, not the bright green of spring. The oaks and some other tree I don’t know have last year’s dead leaves and not even the willows are leafing out. The maples have a hint of red, which is about as much as their “flowers” will ever show.  Now and again in Texas and Arkansas we saw daffodils blooming in ditches where they’ve been washed from some abandoned home site but here in Tennessee we’ve seen few if any. There was a robin outside our window when we pulled into our campsite this afternoon.

We had planned to camp in Bristol, on the TN-VA border this evening but then a few miles out of Knoxville we saw a highway warning sign announcing extreme congestion umpteen miles ahead in Bristol. We aren’t NASCAR fans but it doesn’t take much brainpower to figure out there had to be a race on at the Bristol Motor Speedway and that’s probably not where we wanted to try to get a campsite on a Saturday night. So we’re in a tiny town at a beautiful campground, far enough off the freeway (oops…gotta quit calling it that…I’m in the east now) to be nice and quiet.

Tomorrow should be easy. It’s maybe 30-40 miles to Bristol, then 283 miles to our exit. Five miles after that we’ll be home. And wouldn’t you know…there’s a winter storm watch for home starting at 4:00 pm tomorrow. A watch is better than a warning, so I’m not going to stress over it.

If the weather is too nasty, we’ll just camp on the driveway. We drained the water pipes before we left, there’s been no heat or fresh air in the house for over four months, and the larder is bare. Even in the trailer we have little left to eat. But we’ll be home!

The library scheduler is glad I’ll be back in time to take somebody else’s place, good friends have said to call as soon as we get in and make a date for dinner, and another friend has a lunch date planned already.

Has the pussy willow tree done its thing yet? Are the weeping willow buds showing color yet? Are the bluebells up? Are the crocuses blooming? The spring was running when we left…is it still?

Tomorrow I’ll have the answers.

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Today was much like yesterday but started off with greater promise. Larry went to an interpretive walk led by a state park ranger who seemed unable to say “I don’t know” and gave whatever answer sounded good to him. But Larry did learn some things about the history of the park and we decided to get to the other side of the lake and check out the Hot Springs National Park. Naturally, it was one of those “can’t get there from here” kinds of places but with three different maps in front of me, I managed to get us there.

Hot Springs, Arkansas is an old town built around what must be massive hot springs coming out of beautiful rock formations. But the streets are old and narrow and clogged with traffic. Trying to maneuver our rig through town was a bit more of a challenge than we had anticipated. When we finally got to the National Park, we realized it was the hot springs. One whole end of town seems to have become the Park, sometime in recent history.

Even more distressing than the traffic was the lack of diesel availability at the gas stations. This is the first time we have needed fuel and have not been able to find it. And of course, we sadly needed it. No problem, Larry would empty our spare 5-gallon container into the tank and we’d be fine. Except for a few problems:

  • Narrow streets give you nowhere to pull over.
  • When we left town, headed up a steep hill, we found a parking lot but couldn’t find the combination to the lock which keeps the fuel chained to the truck.
  • The combination may have been in a little notebook in the entertainment center. Guess what is covered up by the slideout when we’re on the road?
  • Larry didn’t say what he did to solve the lock problem and I didn’t ask. It took a while and there was a little blue cloud hanging over his head. He got the fuel in the tank. That’s what counts.

Need I add that we did not stick around to see the “National Park”?

We headed east on a combination of highways, sometimes I-40, sometimes US 70. Not that it will do any good for anyone but me, but I’d sure like to teach a certain young lady how to drive on two-lane highways. Honey, if you don’t know how to pass on a two-lane highway, fer the luva Pete, don’t tailgate! Pushing me isn’t going to make me go any faster, especially when I’m already going 10 mph over the speed limit. When I slowed way down and pulled over to the right as far as I could, that was your cue to pass me. The nearest on-coming car was a mile away…a speck in the distance. But noooo….

Yep, now I feel better.

We got through Memphis before the worst of rush hour and got about half way to Nashville to a great RV park in the hills. It is quiet here except for a zillion frogs. The windows are open at 8:30 pm and the pizza they delivered from the camp store was a whole lot better than the mystery meat dinner we were going to have.

These old horses have definitely seen the barn door and there is no stopping us now. Meds are running out, the weekend is upon us, we need to get home.

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We got around when we got around this morning and pulled out of the RV park near Terrell, TX about 10:15 or so. A friend posted on Facebook yesterday that it was snowing at her house, just a few miles from ours, so we’re not in any great rush to get home. Last year spring came very early and by the time we got home at the end of March, both the redbuds and dogwoods were blooming. We’re starting to see a few redbuds in eastern Texas, so I doubt that Virginia has any blooming yet.

We were camped close…way too close…to I-20 for the past two nights but decided that I-30, just a few miles north, would take us where we wanted to go. Or not. What’s the rush? Why fight with the trucks and the texting idiots who can’t watch the road or their speed and text at the same time? So we took US 80 instead. One discovery we have made and are happy to pass along: most interstates have an older US highway nearby. Often they are divided highways with at least two lanes in each direction. The highways are in excellent repair and well-signed. Most are expected to carry the interstate traffic when there is an accident that closes the interstate. Those of us who live along I-81 know how quickly US 11 gets clogged when the interstate is closed, but we also know that most of the time there is little traffic on 11.

US 80 was all we hoped for…wide, well-maintained, with almost no traffic. It does, like most US highways, go through little towns, but for us that is an advantage, not usually a downside. To know an area, drive its federal or state highways. We decided that a really little town has no Dollar store. A small town has a Dollar General or a Family Dollar. A good sized little town will have both and maybe a couple of fast food franchises. A BIG little town will have a Walmart! But even better are the little mom and pop shops. They may be antique shops (more likely junque shops), donut shops, Uncle Elmer’s alignment shop, or swap shops (usually a couple of notches below junque shops). The poorer the town, the more “stop, shop, & swap” shops, often in old gas stations or a couple of single-wides.

Have you noticed? There aren’t any more little gas stations. We passed lots of them, all long since out of business. One even had its old Kerr-McGee sign out front. Most have carefully removed all signs of whatever brand they used to sell. I saw a funny post card in west Texas that asked “Know how to be a Texas millionaire rancher?” “Start with 2 million!” Maybe it’s that way with gas stations now.

One of my fondest memories as a child in Dallas was the neighborhood grocery store. I think it probably had wooden floors, don’t remember that part for sure. It was maybe three blocks from home, down the “right-a-way”, which meant nothing to me. It was an old streetcar right of way which is now the route of a commuter train, but I’m sure that little store is long gone. By the time we were 5 or 6, every kid in the neighborhood did emergency grocery shopping for their mother. We’d buy a loaf of bread or a quart of milk and maybe some “baloney” for sandwiches. There was a screen door that banged, “pop” bottles in icy cold water deep in the Coke machine, and sno-cones for a nickel or dime. I haven’t seen a store like that in years, not even in museums or historic re-creations. Little towns and big city neighborhoods always had them.

Anyway…eventually 80 went where we didn’t want to so we took some state highways and wound up in Texarkana where we found the last Whataburger we’re likely to see on this trip. We blew it…ordered the burger with fries and a big drink. Yum! Great burgers. A little soup was all we needed for supper.

We’re in a state park in Arkansas tonight, camped beside a lake. It would be great except for the Spring Break kids who insist on sharing their music with everybody, the ancient power plant across the lake, and hordes of Canada geese. The geese had finally settled for the night when somebody or something just woke a bunch of them. I hadn’t realized how obnoxious they can be!

I think this is one of those lakes where the video to the “Redneck Yacht Club” was filmed. If not, it could be. Thank goodness it’s a little too chilly for that much fun yet! We shall survive and tomorrow we’ll be on the road yet again.

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We figured we would head east out of Houston but a picture of a scrumptious breakfast posted on Facebook tempted us to head north. We got an invitation we couldn’t resist and so we wandered our way to the Dallas area yesterday.

This morning we found the Bob-Father, our granddaughter’s godfather Rob. He started school with our son and they’ve remained good friends. He and his wife have three young children and a lovely home and somewhere along the way, Rob has become an outstanding cook. Pulled pork between fluffy pancakes drenched with maple-bourbon syrup makes a fabulous breakfast, one to keep you going all day. And go we did!

The Dallas Arboretum is one of the most beautiful gardens we’ve seen. The annual Dallas Bloom has just started, with thousands of tulips in bloom everywhere.  There were also thousands of Texans enjoying a perfect, Spring-Break day. The Arboretum is on the banks of White Rock Lake and comprises a couple of estates which have been designed and planted to perfection.    013

 

It is amazing to me that there are enough attractions here to keep even young children happy and willing to explore. Rob’s two older children are 4 and almost 7 and were both familiar with the gardens. They knew exactly where the teepee was, enjoyed a slide disguised as a sculpture, and took their turns on the rolling hill, a steep grassy slope no child could resist.

One of the blessings of my life has been the years I was able to spend at home with my children, getting to know their friends. A considerable number of my younger friends on Facebook are people like Rob whom I’ve known since childhood and have been fortunate to know as adults. It is easy sometimes for our generation to wring our hands…as our elders have before us since the beginning of time…and wonder what the world is coming to. But as long as it is in the hands of the likes of Rob and Gina and so many families like theirs, I am not horribly concerned.

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March 8-11, 2013

We left San Antonio on Friday morning and made our way eastward along I-10 to Houston. We decided not to follow Ms. GPS who tried to direct us to a bypass because our friend lives right off I-10 on the eastern side of the city and it would be out of our way to take the bypass and besides, how bad could the traffic be in mid-afternoon and the Navigator knows what she’s doing. Maybe the Navigator and Ms. GPS are going to have to become better friends, or at least not sworn enemies.

We survived the mid-afternoon mess on I-10 and pulled into Elaine’s back yard a little after 4. We’ve been here before, know the drill, and were set up in record time. I LOVE Southern manners. Her 10-year-old grandson was around before we were set up to say “Hello, Miss Esther” and give me a big hug. Fortunately I still had some chocolate chip cookies to offer him.

Pizza and plenty of wine made a delicious dinner and we all crashed in the den, catching up on the trip and whatever else had happened since we were last here. Elaine is a self-employed tax-accountant with her office a few yards from her front door, so for three or four months she lives and breathes taxes. I’m glad there is someone who likes that stuff! It also means she doesn’t have a lot of time or energy to visit, so our stay here will be a short one, much as I enjoy hanging out with her.

An excellent cook, Elaine doesn’t do much baking and she quickly put in an order for a cake I baked last time I was down here, so Saturday meant a run to the store for ingredients in between umpteen loads of laundry. Then a nice LONG hot shower was pure heaven!

Again the questions arise…how can you stand to be away from home so long? How can you stand to be cooped up in the trailer with each other for so long? Don’t you miss home? Aren’t you looking forward to getting home? Don’t you know when you’ll get home? Don’t you miss your friends? Your activities?

Anybody who has spent a long time on the road knows those questions have complicated answers. The only ones we can answer now are yes, we are starting to look forward to getting home. I have some gardening I hope I can get done before everything breaks dormancy.  There’s a huge clump of Siberian irises that needs to have the dead tops burned off, then dug up and divided. If anybody at home needs or wants Siberian irises…they make huge clumps of narrow iris leaves and have dark blue flowers…let me know. As soon as we get settled in at home, I’ll be digging those up. We also know that by April first, we’ll need to start mowing again. Who knows how many little critters may have moved into the house while we were gone. They’ll have to be dealt with. Old houses always have their assortment of insects and sometimes bigger stuff.

But we will miss the freedom of the road. We will miss the many friends we have been able to see on this trip. We are still missing the desert, with its wide open spaces and luscious dark sky at night. But it will be great to have breakfast with the gang on Thursdays again, go to club meetings on Friday and off for ice cream after the meeting. I’ll be able to sub at the library again, have lunch with friends I see at least once a month, and finally get some cleaning out done. I have more pack-rat tendencies than clean-out-the-attic tendencies but maybe living in the trailer for four months has enhanced my eagerness to get rid of stuff.

We will be leaving here shortly to visit one more “old friend”. We’ve known him for over 30 years and he’s only 35. It will be good to see him and his wife and finally meet their three children. Then, we will definitely turn the truck toward home. How long it takes us is anybody’s guess. But it won’t be long.

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March 7, 2013

Tis the season! Maybe you’ve been reading this blog and have thought about getting an RV and taking off next winter. Or maybe retirement is coming soon and you want to travel for a while. Or you have kids or grandkids you want to take on a summer vacation and figure an RV would be a cool way to spend time with them and see the country. Or maybe you just went to an RV show and were utterly dazzled by all the great and wondrous options you found there and one of those glorious, gleaming RVs spoke to you. If you are already an experienced RVer, you can skip the rest of this post. But if you are a novice or a wanna-be, read on, my friend.

It’s hard to know what kind of RV to buy if you don’t know what kind of RVing you want to do. If you can get a handle on that first, it makes the rest of the decision making a lot easier. So…do any of these fit?

  • The open road is calling. You want to be parked beside that sparkling mountain stream with a fire and hot dogs and s’mores for dessert, then the next night find a quiet forest hideaway.
  • You have family and friends scattered all over the country and you want to be able to visit them without intruding.
  • Ya wanna be a snowbird! Close up that house the day before the first frost and don’t go home until the tulips are up. One set of friends swears by Tucson, another by south Texas, yet another group heads to Florida each winter. You want your own place in the sun.
  • You’ve got your flies all tied and your waders packed and you don’t care if you don’t shave for the next three weeks. But the river runs through Montana and you’re in Timbuktu.
  • “Winnebagos aren’t camping!” We just wanna explore the mountains and deserts and hike and really camp.
  • You’re retiring and want to see all the places you haven’t had time to visit before. You might work-camp for a while, maybe visit friends for a while, do the tourist stuff sometimes, and still want to see the national parks you haven’t been to yet.
  • You’re up to three weeks paid vacation and finally have enough seniority to take them in the summer when the kids are out of school and you want to go see Grandma and anything along the way that’s interesting.

Those last three were us, by the way…at different times in our lives.

Let’s look at these in order:

  • If you are looking for a lot of nature camping in state and national parks, national forests, etc, you will be able to get into a lot more campgrounds if your rig is small. Most national parks now have sites for big rigs and hookups for them, but many of the other public campgrounds do not. If your rig has water and electrical hookups, figure out how long you can “dry camp” without plugging in or filling up. If you have a generator or solar panels or wind generator, you may be able to dry camp for quite a while.
  • If you are not so interested in nature camping but want to be able to park on friends’ or family’s driveway for a week or so and plug into their electricity and water, then judge the size of your RV on the places you want to be able to park.
  • Snowbirds live in their RVs for months at a time. You want something as comfortable and convenient as you can afford. There are RVs with electric fireplaces, entertainment centers, ceiling fans, glass-fronted hutches, and five slideouts, plus washer and dryer. All of these things add weight, as do hardwood floors, granite countertops, etc. But if you only pull it twice a year or you put it in storage when you’re not using it, then get the biggest, prettiest, most comfortable one you can find and afford. If, however, you’re going to start at Quartzsite and work your way to Florida all in one winter, you either need a really big heavy truck to pull a huge trailer or a diesel pusher motor home, either of which is going to be costly and not very fuel efficient. You might want to consider something lighter.
  • Boy, you gonna need a slide-in camper for that pickup o’ yours and make sure there’s a big ole fridge fer the beer! If ya got buddies along, pack a tent or two and don’t eat chili.
  • We camped for several years in a VW camper van. Great for two people. We cooked outside, ate outside, watched the stars at night, and puked all night when morning sickness got confused. But I digress. There are still camper vans, tent trailers, and shells (or truck caps…same difference) to put on the back of a pickup. You can put down a mattress there and use sleeping bags or you can just stow your gear there and camp for real.
  • If you are going to be full-timing, even if not permanently, you want something big enough to be comfortable. You will probably spend more time in RV parks than regular campgrounds. If you have a travel trailer or a fifth-wheel trailer, you will use your tow vehicle to sightsee with. Most RV parks have laundromats and showers. Now most have wifi, although regular readers know that wifi is not always reliable. You may want to have a smart phone and be able to use it for wifi for your laptop. If you have a motorhome, you will probably be towing another vehicle (often referred to as a toad) for getting to the store and wherever else you want/need to go.
  • Tent trailers are economical and usually sleep several people. They are lightweight and can be pulled by mid-sized cars or ½ ton pickups or SUVs. They give you the opportunity to camp in parks and forest campgrounds with your kids without breaking the bank. Our “family” RV was a 16’ travel trailer with a couch that made into an incredibly uncomfortable double bed, a dinette that slept one, and the bunk (bonk) above it which slept both children until they outgrew it. When it no longer reliably supported even one child, it was time to upgrade.

If you are seriously considering an RV, make sure you know the differences between the three classes of motorhomes, travel trailers and fifth-wheel trailers, tent trailers, campers, and shells. You can search the web for definitions and pictures of each of those types.

But the most important thing to do before buying one of those expensive dream-machines is talk to people who have used them! Talk to friends about their RVs…what they like and why, what they wish were different. Don’t get all your information from the glossy pamphlets nor the salespeople. Do your homework, and look at LOTS of RVs before spending the big bucks. And then have a blast!

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March 4-6, 2013

We wandered across a lot of west Texas without seeing much of interest other than lots of activity in the oil fields. There are a few cattle grazing in some of the vast ranches but it looked to us that ranchers may be making more money off from cell towers and oil drilling than cattle these days.

We arrived at my cousin’s in San Antonio on Monday the 4th and are just kicking back, enjoying staying put for a bit, doing necessary repairs and chores, and appreciating warm temperatures. We will head towards Houston as soon as our packets of mail come in, but there’s no hurry. Home got a heavy snowfall over night and we are in no rush to return to that.

Shortly before we left Big Bend, Larry found a book about a couple who took the same drive we did on that long Old Ore Road. They got stuck, made numerous mistakes, she managed to hike out but her husband died. It is a fitting reminder that the desert is as dangerous as it ever was for those who are not prepared. So what can you do to prepare?

No one goes into the desert to get stuck and die. No one expects to have to deal with the unforgiving environment up close and personally. We rely on our cars, our air conditioners or heaters, our coolers with soda pop and Doritos and maybe granola bars and don’t give a thought to any of that failing us.

All of the park literature contains warnings about the extremes of weather, the lack of water, what to do if your car breaks down. READ IT! Believe it!

  • Summer or winter, take plenty of water. That’s in addition to whatever you have packed for lunch. Drink water before you get thirsty.
  • Toss in some granola bars or a non-salty, protein-rich snack, something that won’t spoil and won’t make you thirsty.
  • Take layers of clothes. It only takes a minute to toss in a t-shirt if you’re wearing sweats in the morning or sweats to wear at night if you start off in a t-shirt.
  • Wear some sturdy shoes. They don’t have to be hiking boots, they don’t even have to be expensive. Just don’t wear sandals or flip-flops or high heels…I’ve seen all of those!
  • Pack a blanket or two, summer or winter. If it is cold, you’ll need to bundle up. If it is hot, you’ll need shade. Ropes or tie-downs or bungy cords or tie-wraps will help you rig up that shade.
  • Make sure one of those blankets or tarps is brightly colored. You do not want to blend into the background should you get stuck and need to be rescued. You have to be found to be rescued.
  • Let somebody know you plan to take XYZ road. We asked at the store before we took that road, and said we planned to head out there that morning. Other friends of ours who do extensive off-roading always call a daughter and let her know where they’re going and when they should be back. If she hasn’t heard by then, she’s to alert someone.
  • Do not rely on GPS, cell-phones, or even radios. If you are way off the beaten track, rest assured that path does not include all the usual electronic support!
  • You can buy GPS maps that include off-road roads, but even if you know where you are, there is no guarantee you can reach someone to tell them.
  • If the worst happens and you break down or are stuck, stay with your vehicle. It is a lot bigger than you are and is much easier to spot than you would be by yourself. It also provides protection from the extremes of temperature.

If you do a lot of off-roading or a lot of hiking, then you will have detailed maps and much more equipment than the casual tourist. You will (hopefully) have your own list of do’s and don’ts.

Exploring some of the historic sites of the deserts from California to Texas has been a tremendous amount of fun, has freed us from the confines of the city, and has given us lots of fresh air to breathe and beautiful nights to enjoy the stars.  Respect the desert, prepare for it, don’t take it or your equipment for granted, and you can enjoy it as well.

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