Monthly Archives: April 2014

2014/04/30 (W) MEF3 At The Park

Here are 12 photos of our youngest grand-daughter at the park with her dad and grandma Linda.  Click thumbnail to view entire image.  Maximum dimension is 448 pixels.  Enjoy!

2014/04/29 (W) Normality?

When we got home on Monday, the bus and I had been away from the house for 128 days (130 days including the day we left and the day we returned) spanning portions of five months.  We moved into our new (to us) house on April 12th, 2013.  From May 1st of last year through the end of April 2014 we were in our motorcoach 214 of those 365 days ( +/- a couple of days).  Not bad for our first year as extended-time RVers and our first snowbird season.

Although we are still relative newbies at extended-time RVing this past year allowed us to develop a reasonable understanding of how to make it work for us.  But now we are home and that entails a different pace and rhythm to which we have had to quickly adjust.  First and foremost was letting folks know we were back and arranging visits with family and friends.  After that we have to deal with dentist appointments, veterinary appointments, doctor appointments, car appointments, computer upgrades, WordPress websites, photo editing software, ham radio club breakfasts and meetings, a communications tower, ham radio antennas, an OTA TV antenna, a cell phone repeater system, landscaping projects, fruit trees (pruning), a pole barn, conversion of the house to natural gas, and a list of bus projects (of course).  All by December 1st.  Right.

Gus the cat.  Look closely; he has the longest whiskers I have ever seen on a cat.

Gus the cat. He has the longest whiskers I have ever seen on a cat.

Today was dental appointments followed by a detour to Ann Arbor to visit with our younger grand-daughter and her parents.  I’ve put some photos from that visit in a separate gallery post.  We stopped at the Whole Foods market and picked up something for lunch as well as ingredients Linda needed for making granola.  Madeline was napping when we arrived, so we got to visit with Brendan for a little while, but once she woke up she was ready to go.  It was 70 degrees F outside so we put her in the stroller and took her to the park that is the centerpiece of their neighborhood.  She spent a lot of time walking and running in the grass, up and down concrete ramps, but especially climbing the stairs for the slides and then sliding down.  Not long after we got back to the house Shawna got home from work and Madeline got a lot of mommy interaction.  By that point it was rush hour and we decided to stay for dinner.

No one was prepared to cook and rather than get carryout or delivery we decided to go to The Lunch Room, a relatively new vegan restaurant in Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown district.  Linda had a vegan mac & cheese and I had a mock Rueben made with Tempeh and a cup of vegan tomato bisque soup.  Everything was very good, including the vegan desserts: a grasshopper brownie for Linda and a no-flour chocolate cupcake with a Bourbon / Caramel / Pastry Cream frosting for me.  All of the food was very good and reasonably priced, which is not always the case in Ann Arbor.  By the time we got home and I took a phone call, there wasn’t much of the evening left.

So the new normal for us is not one or the other, it’s both/and; figuring out how to balance two very different ways of living and, in particular, how to flow back and forth between them as easily, smoothly, and quickly as possible.  But that may be just the sort of challenge our brains need to remain agile as we begin our forth score of years.

 

2014/04/29 (T) A Family Visit

Our son decided to bring his daughter to visit with us this morning.  They arrived around 10 AM and left around 1:30 PM.  This was the first time I have seen her since December 16th.  Linda got to see her when she was back in Michigan in late February and early March.  Madeline was one year old when I last saw her and was crawling.  She is now 16 & 1/2 months and walking like she invented it.  She seems to take great pleasure in her independent mobility for its own sake; pure joy.  She also loves to go up and down stairs (with adult supervision, of course).  She is curious about everything and took great delight in exploring the main floor of our house.  It was an excellent visit.

I made a run to the post office and used my 2m mobile ham radio while in transit.  Mike, W8XH, came back to my call and we had a nice QSO.  It was good to finally be back on the air.  I stopped at Teeko’s and ordered 2 lbs each of our two custom blend coffees for pickup on Thursday.  These are half regular, half decaffeinated blends that Jeff roasts right in the store from his amazing assortment of green beans.  Sweet Seattle Dreams is 1/2 Seattle Blend (reg) and 1/2 Sweet Dreams (decaf), and we were the first customers for whom Jeff ever made thus blend.  It’s a blend of two blends, so it has at least four different coffee beans, maybe five or six.  He told me once, but I have forgotten.  The other blend is all Ethiopian Yirgacheffe.  Both are excellent.

I did some research on laptop computers while Linda pulled together something for dinner.  She got a Samsung ATIV Book 8 a year ago.  It is a fabulous machine: 64-bit Intel Core i7 (Gen 3) microprocessor, Windows 8.1 (64-bit), a 15.6″ diagonal touch screen (16:9 aspect ratio), backlit keyboard, and lots of ports including USB3.0 and HDMI, but no internal optical media drive, so we bought an external one.  She especially likes the touch screen as it makes the computer work more like her iPad2.  I decided to get the Samsung ATIV Book 6 which had very similar specifications to the Book 8.  After dinner we went to the Best Buy store in Brighton to see if they had either of these machines.  When I went to the Samsung website and looked for a store near my location the only thing that came up in SE Michigan was the Best Buy chain.

Best Buy in Brighton has some people in their computer department who seem fairly knowledgeable.  I asked about the differences between Win 8 and Win 8 Pro and got a fairly technical answer.  The Best Buy chain also has small Samsung stores-within-a-store staffed by Samsung employees.  The bottom line was this:  Best Buy did not have, and could not order, the Book 6 and had one Book 8 in the store.  It had the Gen 3 processor but the Gen 4 has been available for a while.  It became clear from the discussion that Samsung has not released an updated laptop in a while and may be getting out of the laptop business.  We also found out that Sony has sold off their computer line to someone, and that Dell has not released or announced new products in many months following a private equity buyout and their continued presence in the laptop market is highly questionable.  I had Allen, the computer sales associate, show me what they had and it came down to a choice between a Lenovo (formerly IBM) and an ASUS.  ASUS actually makes the own computers as well as the excellent Nexus tablets.  I opted for the top-of-the-line model G750JM notebook computer.  At least it was top-of-the-line in terms of what Best Buy carries in their stores.

The G750JM has a 17″ diagonal HD (1900 x 1080) matte finish screen.  It is not a touch screen, which was fine with me.  The size is big enough that I can work with spreadsheets and edit photographs.  The matte finish screen means it will work well in the bus where there is a lot of light during the day and reflections can be a problem.  While the newer 4K (retina type) displays are stunning, they are only available in the smaller 13″ screen size and are often packaged with smaller capacity, but much more expensive, solid state drives (SSD).  The G750JM has a 1 TB HDD.  The HDD includes a 16 GB SSD that is primarily used to buffer the OS.  It has 8 GB of very fast RAM that is upgradable to 32 GB should I ever feel the need (and the price of 16 GB RAM modules comes way down).  It was the only laptop in the store that could be upgraded to that much RAM.  A maximum of 16 GB was the norm.  The video/graphics is powered by an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 860M with 2 GB of VRAM.  The computer has built in WiFi, of course, four USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, a LAN port, a bunch of other ports, and a built-in CD/DVD player/writer.  Basically, this machine is aimed at high end gamers, but that also made it well-suited to the things I need to do with it, and it was only $50 more than the Samsung Book 8.

We unboxed the machine as soon as we got home and plugged in the battery and AC power adapter/charger to bring the battery up to full charge.  Unlike older laptop computers the new ones do not require the battery to be installed in order to operate.  I would never run it without the battery, however, as the battery provides a built in UPS in the event of a power glitch.  We powered it up and it found our various home WiFi networks.  We selected one and proceeded with the initial configuration, personalization, and registration steps.  Part way into this process a fast moving storm front brought intense lightning, thunder, and high winds so we wrapped up what we were doing, shut down, and unplugged.  Ditto for all of our sensitive (read data storage) devices.

Based on my limited exposure to the computer thus far I am very satisfied with the purchase.  It will take me some time to get it fully configured and switch over to using it as my primary computer, but with the end of support for Windows XP I need to get it done sooner rather than later.  Truthfully, setting up a new computer, especially one with a (radically) new operating system, is not at the top of my list of really fun things to do.  It is inevitable, however, and always yields significant rewards once I get over the initial hump in the learning curve.  It is also an opportunity to start clean and exercise moderation with the objective of having a more streamlined and efficient operating environment that allows me to focus on the things I really need to do.

 

2014/04/28 (M) Home Again

The wind blew overnight, but the rains held off.  We only had 80 miles to travel today so, other than wanting to break camp before the rain moved in, we were not in a hurry to leave Camp Turkeyville.  We set our sights on a 10 AM departure and by 9:30 AM we were busy with our departure routine.  It was trying to drizzle as I dumped the holding tanks but not really succeeding.  We had the bus and car prepped for travel by 10 AM and pulled out of the RV park around 10:15.

From exit 42 on I-69 we headed northeast towards Lansing, Michigan 38 miles distant.  We drove under overcast skies fighting strong, gusty winds, with just enough drizzle that I had to activate the wipers from time to time.  The bus is heavy and drives well, but it also has a lot of surface area, and I am very aware of strong, gusty side winds.

At the southwest corner of the Lansing area we picked up I-96 eastbound which took us around the southern edge of the city and put us our final course for home.  About 25 miles from our house we stopped at the Mobile Truck Stop at I-96 and M-52 and topped up the tank.  I prefer to have the tank full when the bus is going to sit for more than a few days, especially when overnight lows are going to dip into the 40’s or lower.

We decided to take the Grand River exit off of I-96 in Brighton rather than the slightly shorter route over M-59.  The Grand River route only had three stoplights, all within a short distance of the exit, and kept us on paved roads for all but the last mile of our drive.  The M-59 route would have had many more stoplights and put us on dirt roads for 2.5 miles.

We pulled into our driveway a little past noon.  We had stayed ahead of the rain, at least temporarily, and decided to unload as much of the coach as we could while the weather was in our favor.  The forecast for the rest of the week was for rain so we wanted to take advantage of this window while we had it.  It took a LOT of trips to get most of the stuff out if the house portion of the bus and into our fixed dwelling.  First off, however, were the cats.

Jasper and Juniper seemed a bit weary at first but quickly realized that this was a familiar place and started getting reacquainted with all the nooks and crannies.  Once we had most of our stuff inside the house we set about putting it away, or in the laundry room.  We went through mail, checked phone messages, made a few phone calls, and started making lists of things that we needed to do.  Although we will be here for the next half year or so we have quite a few major projects to work on and it already feels like we will be pressed for time to get them all done.  It was interesting to note that our transition back to a fixed dwelling was fairly abrupt, just like our snowbird departure was in December.

Late afternoon we linked up with our son, daughter-in-law, and younger grand-daughter via Facetime on one of our iPads.  There are advantages to being home and an Internet connection with lots of data is one of them.  After dinner I got our home computer network up and running and sent a few e-mails letting friends know we were finally home.

 

2014/04/27 (N) Camp Turkeyville (MI)

We had a somewhat longer drive today of 250 miles.  That is still within our comfort zone, but we did pull into a rest stop and have a bite of lunch.  Our route from Columbus Woods-N-Waters Kampground took us north on I-65 to Indianapolis, Indiana.  I-65 through Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky had been a fairly good road (except for the construction backup we encountered south of Louisville, Kentucky).  I-65 through southern Indiana was not as good and the condition of the road suggested that we had finally returned to the land of four seasons where a bitter winter had taken its toll on the roads.

The path from Camp Turkeyville to Cornwell's Turkeyville complex.

The path from Camp Turkeyville to Cornwell’s Turkeyville complex.

Bruce at the Turkeyville narrow gauge RR X-ing.

Bruce at the Turkeyville narrow gauge RR X-ing.

We picked up I-465 on the south side of Indy and took that around the city to the east and onto I-69 at the northeast corner.  I-69 runs northeast from Indy past Ft. Wayne, and on into the center of Michigan.  In all the years we have driven back and forth between Detroit, Michigan and St. Louis, Missouri the southern terminus of I-69 has always been the northeast corner of Indianapolis.  Not long after merging onto I-69 we noticed that the exit signs had small additional signs stating the “old” exit number.  The new exit numbers were 200 miles higher!  That seemed to indicate that I-69 now started somewhere 200 miles to the southwest. Linda did a quick Google search on her smartphone and found out that the southern terminus of I-69 is now Evansville, Indiana.  We have never been on the new stretch of this Interstate.  Until today we didn’t even know they were building it.

The Turkeyville narrow gauge RR.  You can just see the two trestles from here.

The Turkeyville narrow gauge RR. You can just see the two trestles from here.

The Turkeyville General Store (gift shop).

Linda at the Turkeyville General Store (gift shop).

Our destination was Camp Turkeyville, a relatively new RV park at Cornwell’s Turkeyville complex near Marshall, Michigan.  The RV park had good gravel interior roads and sites.  We had one of the full hookup pull-through sites as we were only staying one evening, not unhooking the car, and needed to dump our waste tanks before leaving in the morning.  The sites were generous in terms of size and spacing, with angled approaches which makes getting in and out easier, but they lacked trees and shade.  Most of the sites did not appear to be level (ours wasn’t) but they were close enough that we were able to level our coach.

Turkeyville antique barn (rear, left) and signs for the various attractions.

Turkeyville antique barn (rear, left) and signs for the various attractions.

After we got set up we went for a walk and checked the place out.  Some of the sites have metered electric, so the RV park is clearly looking for some percentage of the sites to be seasonal or annual residents.  Amenities included a pool with a community building that had restrooms, private shower rooms, and a meeting room with limited kitchen facilities.  There was a small playground and a walking path to Turkeyville.  Turkeyville has a narrow gauge railroad with two trestles, a few farm animals (goats, rabbits, ponies), and a couple of dozen turkeys walking around loose.  There is an antiques barn, a restaurant, a dinner theater, and a “general store,” aka gift shop with a lot of interesting food items if you are not a vegan.  Our FMCA GLCC chapter has held rallies here the last couple of years but so far we have not been able to attend.  It looked like a good venue for a rally of 10 -15 rigs and 20 – 30 people.  The RV park will easily accommodate more rigs than that, but the meeting room would be crowded beyond 30 people.

We settled in for the evening with an eye on the weather.  The forecast called for rain and increasing winds from a storm system that was causing death and destruction across the Midwest and south.  That always makes for a good night’s sleep in an RV.  Fortunately we had a short drive the next day and did not have to leave early in the morning.

 

2014/04/26(S) Columbus (IN) Photos

Here are 28 photos from our visit to Columbus, Indiana.  Most are 640 x 428.  Maximum dimension is 800 pixels.  Click thumbnail to see full image.  Enjoy!

2014/04/26 (S) Columbus (IN)

We planned to leave Cave Country RV Campground at 8:30 AM this morning and ended up pulling out around 9 AM.  We only had 156 miles to travel but would cross into the Eastern Time Zone “adding” an hour to our arrival time.  Construction on northbound I-65 between Elizabethtown and Louisville had the highway down to one lane and traffic was stop and go, but mostly stop.  It took us 45 minutes to travel four miles and complete the merge.  A restroom break at a Pilot Truck Stop added another 15 minutes turning a three hour trip into a four hour one.  We pulled into Columbus Woods-N-Waters Kampgound around 2 PM EDT.  We set up quickly, and a PB&J sandwich and some water, and headed for Columbus, Indiana.

Major traffic jam on NB I-65 between Elizbethtown and Louisville, KY.

First Christian Church, Columbus,IN.  Eliel Saarinen (1942).

First Christian Church, Columbus,IN. Eliel Saarinen (1942).

RVers and pickup truck owners may be aware of the existence of Columbus, Indiana as the home of Cummins, Inc.  The corporate headquarters are here along with the Plant One production facility.  The Midrange Plant is five miles south of town in Walesboro, not far from Columbus Woods-N-Waters Kampground.  We planned a one night stop here because it got us 156 miles farther north on I-65 and because Columbus is a town I have wanted to visit for a long time.  Not because of Cummins, although we would have enjoyed a factory tour, but because the town of only 44,000 is famous for its modern architect-designed buildings.  It started with a church designed by Eliel Saarinen in 1942 and now includes churches, businesses, schools, government buildings, and public art.

Sculpture by Heny Moore in front of the Columbus, IN library.

Sculpture by Heny Moore in front of the Columbus, IN library.

St. Peters Lutheran Church,  Columbus, IN.

St. Peters Lutheran Church, Columbus, IN.

We put the address of the visitor center in our GPS and made that our first stop.  We purchased a map for $3 that marked the location of 78 things to see.  The map included a picture of each object along with the name, architect/artist, year, and address.  About half of these were in the walkable downtown area and the other half were spread out through the rest of the city.  We walked the downtown area first and then drove past a few other sights before heading back to camp.

 

 

St. Peters Lutheran Church, Columbus, IN.

St. Peters Lutheran Church, Columbus, IN.

Among the architects who have designed buildings in Columbus the best known are Eliel and Eero Saarinen and I. M. Pei.  Among the public art the best known artists are sculptors Dale Chihuly and Henry Moore.  The Cummins, Inc. corporate headquarters building occupies a whole city block and we took our time walking around it and photographing it.  As it turns out, Cummins was a major factor in how Columbus came to be a center of modern architecture.  Starting in the 1950’s, the Cummins Engine Foundation made funds available to cover the architect’s fees for any school building project in which the architect was selected from a list drawn up by the Foundation.  The community responded and the Foundation expanded the program to include other public buildings.  Other companies and congregations decided to pursue world-class architects and “modern” Columbus emerged.  This place looks and feels different, embracing “the concept that the built environment is crucial to a quality community.”

Linda at the Cummins, Inc. World Headquarters complex.

Linda at the Cummins, Inc. World Headquarters complex.

We have tried these last four months to not race from one thing to another.  If we decided to visit a place, we tried to allocate enough time to experience it.  Not completely, of course, as I am not sure that’s ever possible, but at least sufficiently that we felt it was worth the trip.  We have not always been successful, but on balance have done well with this approach.  Columbus, however, is a place where we could have used more time and more energy.  We also found most of downtown closed on a Saturday afternoon.  The next time we pass this way we will try to plan 3 – 5 nights, not all on a weekend, but not this time.  We have our sights set on home.

 

 

Entrance to Children's Hands-On Museum, Columbus, IN.

Entrance to Children’s Hands-On Museum, Columbus, IN.

Columbus Woods-N-Waters Kampground is a Good Sam park, but not the sort of place we normally stay.  It is carved out of a stand of tall 6″ to 15″ diameter trees with gravel roads that meander through the forest and gravel sites that split off this way and that.  The arrangement appears almost random, but I suspect it was dictated by trying to save as many trees as possible.  Most of the rigs here are pull-behinds with an equal mix of trailers and 5th wheels, a truck camper with a tent, and six motorhomes, including ours.  Every rig is in a site, but it looks like people parked wherever they wanted.

There are large groupings of people here involving multiple RVs.  The group across from us must have 40 people, including lots of kids.  They had a NASCAR race on.  Around 9:15 PM someone shot off fireworks.  Yup, fireworks.  Not really our kind of place, but we are only here for one night and it was convenient to the highway with reasonably good site access and 50A power.  And we picked 27 OTA TV stations from the general direction of Indianapolis.  Only 10 of them were useable, but they included PBS and Create, so we were happy.

 

2014/04/25 (F) NCM Photos

Here are some photos from our visit to the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky.  Click thumbnail to see entire image.  Maximum size is 715 pixels.

2014/04/25 (F) National Corvette Museum

As forecast, we had thunderstorms overnight.  Light rain started before we went to bed, but the most intense weather was between 3 and 4 AM with lightning, thunder, and intermittent heavy downpours.  It is impossible to sleep through such weather even if we could completely darken the bedroom, which we cannot, as the sound of the storm is omnipresent and the wind rocks the motorcoach.  Once the storms subside, however, the sound of gentle rain on the roof makes for ideal sleeping conditions.  The good news was that none of our usual leaks appeared.

The National Corvette Museum main entrance, Bowling Green, KY.

The National Corvette Museum main entrance, Bowling Green, KY.

We had three things on our agenda for today—breakfast at Panera, the National Corvette Museum, and grocery shopping—all of which were in Bowling Green, Kentucky.  Since we were having breakfast out we did not make coffee at home and used the time normally devoted to breakfast to take showers.  Mundane, perhaps, but we keep the cats’ litter tray in the shower, so using it for its intended purpose requires at but more work than it might otherwise.

We left around 9 AM to dark, cloudy skies but with a forecast for steadily improving conditions across the region throughout the day.  We took I-65 to make time and took exit 22 onto US-231, the main commercial drag into Bowling Green.  We stopped at the visitor information center and got some local maps and information.  The Bowling Green Panera was just down the road and we were there by 10:30 AM.  Maybe it’s a southern thing, or perhaps a smaller town thing, but this was the third Panera we have been in recently where we had to wait in line while the person behind the counter carried on a personal conversation with the 1st person in line way beyond any reasonable definition of customer service.  But I was patient and eventually got our bagels and coffee.  Not that I had much of a choice; it was the only Panera for 100 miles or more in any direction from where we are camped.

Panera is a great place to sit and enjoy unlimited free refills of excellent coffee and use free Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi is not secure but they do require you to log in to their network to accept their terms and conditions of use.  Part of those T&Cs is a notice to please limit your use of the system to 30 minutes during the busy lunch period.  We have never seen that enforced until today when both of our iPads got cutoff and we received a message that we would not be allowed to reconnect until after 2 PM.  🙁   It was past noon by that point and we were ready to move on anyway.  The place was busy, but this was the first time we had ever had our use of Panera’s Wi-Fi system curtailed.

This Corvette was being raffled off at 4 PM.  1,000 tickets, $250 each.

This Corvette was being raffled off at 4 PM. 1,000 tickets, $250 each.

We headed over to the National Corvette Museum where a big “bash” was taking place.  The museum was open for general admission, but plant tours required reservations which were no longer available as of two weeks ago.  The main parking lots were filled with Corvettes and we were parked in a field a short distance away.  Because of the “bash” the lobby was packed with vendors and people, but once we paid our senior admission of $8 (each) and went into the display area it was quiet and not crowded.

The NCM was built, and is run by, a private foundation.  It is not owned, or operated, by General Motors but enjoys a very close working relationship with the company, including the fact that it is on the same street as the factory where the cars have been built since production was moved there in 1981.  Neither of us are “car people” but we found this to be an excellent museum and thoroughly enjoyed our time looking at the cars, reading about them, and trying to photograph them in the subdued museum lighting.

Because the “bash” was going on, the museum had opened the area where a massive sinkhole opened up on February 12, swallowing eight priceless Corvettes.  Since that event all of the cars had been recovered from the hole and put on display “as is.”  Most were badly damaged, some beyond recognition or any hope of repair.  Work was also underway to stabilize the sinkhole and ultimately rebuild that part of the museum and return it to service.  We had to sign liability waivers in order to enter this area of the museum and see the sinkhole.  After we were done in the museum we walked around part of the parking lot looking at the Corvettes parked there before walking back to our car.

We back-tracked towards downtown and stopped at a Kroger’s supermarket across the street from the Western Kentucky University medical complex.  This was the largest, and nicest, Kroger’s store we have ever been in.  We picked up the things we needed to take care of our food needs for the rest of the trip home.  Linda found a “power mix” of salad greens that included Mizuna, a slightly peppery and very tasty green that we had not heard of or seen before, even at a Whole Foods.

We took US-31W from Bowling Green through beautiful rolling farm lands back to Cave City.  After unloading the groceries I had a brief chat with one of the guys from the Airstream caravan who filled me in on a few more details about how the caravan operates.  The whole group had also been at the NCM today and got to tour the factory.

Linda made a pot of crushed lentil soup for dinner, from a recipe she has used before, and served it with a salad of the wonderful “power mix” greens and an “Asian” dressing.  On a walk after dinner we met a young couple, also out for an evening stroll, with their 2-year old, Dakota.  They said he enjoyed RVing, especially the rocks and the trains, and was a good traveler.  As long as he likes trains he has a bright future ahead as an RVer.

 

2014/04/24 (R) WBCCI Photos

Here are a few photos of the various Airstream RVs currently at Cave Country RV Campground in Cave City, Kentucky.  They are all part of a 21-day caravan of Kentucky organized by the Wally Byam Caravan Club International (WBCCI).  Click a thumbnail to view the entire image.  Maximum dimension is 640 pixels.

2014/04/24 (R) WBCCI

We stayed at the RV park today to relax and work on “at home” things.  Linda worked on her counted cross-stitch and did a load of laundry.  I dumped our waste tanks and filled our fresh water tank and then worked on our blog, and checked e-mail, and RVillage.  We are now getting about 70 spam comments on our blog every 24 hours and so far the Akismet plug-in/service has been 100% accurate in trapping them while allowing legitimate comments through for moderation or posting if previously approved.  We learned about this plug-in from Chris and Cherie of Technomadia when we stopped to visit them in Billings, Montana in late July, 2013.

Linda reading in the shade of our rig at CCRVCG.

Linda reading in the shade of our rig at CCRVCG.

We decided to extend our stay at CCRVCG another day and Linda took care of that with the office.  We are definitely leaving on Saturday morning.  Our current plan is to continue on I-65 into Indiana and spend the night somewhere near Columbus.  We researched places to stay but did not make any decisions.  We will move to an RV park near Coldwater, Michigan for Sunday evening, and arrive home on Monday with empty holding tanks.

Sometimes staying in the RV park leads to interesting things.  When we got back to Cave Country RV Campground yesterday we noticed several Airstream trailers parked together near the activities building at the end of our row.  Linda commented at the time that it looked like they might be early arrivals for an Airstream rally.  That turned out to almost be correct.  As the day progressed a steady flow of Airstream trailers came into the park, along with three Airstream motorhomes; two class A’s and a Sprinter-based class B.  By dinner time there were 26 Airstream RV’s in the campground.  Other RV’s had also arrived and the campground was almost full.  Linda learned (while doing laundry) that 25 of the Airstreams, including the three motorhomes, were participating in a 21-day caravan of Kentucky organized by the Wally Byam Caravan Club International (WBCCI).

We watched as the participants walked down to the activities building for what we presumed was a kickoff dinner meeting and I took that as an opportunity to photograph their rigs in the late afternoon light.  I have put a selection of photos in a separate gallery post.  We learned in conversation that the caravan was a highly planned, all inclusive, and pre-paid experience.  All RV park registrations and fees, all entrance fees, and all meals were included in the price.  Participating rigs each received a 3-ring binder containing all of the information they needed for the duration of the caravan.  Just follow the Airstream in front of you and park where you are assigned and everything else is handled.  We also figured out on our own that each caravan appears to have a special decal.  I saw a woman putting a bright yellow cutout of the profile of a running horse on the back of her trailer shortly after it was parked and set up.  While walking the campground after dinner we noticed that most of the Airstreams had added this same decal to their collection, which was different for each rig.

Our female cat, Juniper, in the sunlight.

Our female cat, Juniper, in the sunlight.

There is a Fleetwood Discovery motorhome parked opposite our site and the owner came over to chat for a while.  He turned out to be a recently semi-retired tugboat captain who had spent many years working ships in and out of the Crystal River, Florida powerplant.  If you hang around the campground and stay outside where folks can see you, they will stop and say “hi” and you will likely meet someone interesting.  Yesterday we had someone knock on the door.  He was a fellow ham (amateur radio operator) who saw the Amateur Radio vanity license plate on our car while walking the campground and stopped to chat.

At 8:30 PM CDT we connected to a live video chat on blogging for RVers that Technomadia (Chris Dunphy and Cherie Ve Ard) was doing with assistance from the Snowmads (Jason and Kristin Snow).  Our WiFi connection was sufficient to connect to their low-resolution video with good audio transmission.

 

2014/04/23 (W) ALBNHP Photos

Here are some photos from our visit to the region of Kentucky where Abraham Lincoln was born and spent his early youth.  Click thumbnail to see full image.  Largest dimension is 800 pixels.

2014/04/23 (W) Lincoln Birthplace

We were going to visit Bowling Green, Kentucky today but decided to put that off until tomorrow.  The overnight temperature dipped down into the low 40’s, and only rose to 66 degrees F for a high, but it was a clear sunny day and we decided to explore the area NNE of our campground.  This is the area of Kentucky where Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America, was born and spent his early childhood.

Entrance sign to the ALBNHP in Hodgenville, Kentucky.

Entrance sign to the ALBNHP in Hodgenville, Kentucky.

We left around 10:30 AM and took KY-70 to US-31E and headed north towards Hodgenville.  Just south of Hodgenville was the entrance to the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park (ALBNHP).  Admission was free.  In typical NPS fashion, the Visitor Center had excellent displays and a theater running a well made 15 minute documentary on Lincoln’s birth and early life.  And yes, one of the displays was “Lincoln Logs,” one of my favorite childhood toys.  One of the things we learned from the film was the difference between pioneers, like Daniel Boone, who forged trails into the Kentucky wilderness, and frontiersman, like Abe’s parents, who followed the pioneers and settled at the edge of the expanding nation.

Lincoln’s ancestors, as recently as his grandparents, had been true pioneers, coming through the Cumberland Gap with the likes of Daniel Boone, but his parents were not.  When he was born on February 12, 1809 his parents had already purchased Sinking Spring farm and were working the land like many other families in the area.  Although they lived in a one room log cabin typical of the region at that time, Lincoln’s father, Thomas, was in the top 20% of taxpayers in the county.  Frontier life was hard and uncertain but Lincoln was not born into poverty.

From the Visitor Center a trail lead out around behind the building and gently climbed to the top of a hill where the Lincoln Centennial Monument is located.  The cornerstone was laid by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909 and the completed monument was dedicated by President Taft.  Fifty-six granite steps, one for each year of Lincoln’s life, led up to the Monument from the Sinking Spring.

The monument houses a one room log cabin believed, at the time of the monument’s construction, to be the actual Lincoln family cabin where Abraham was born.  It was eventually established, many years later, that Lincoln was not born in this cabin as the trees used for the timbers first grew almost 40 years later.  The cabin, however, is absolutely authentic and representative of the design, materials, and building techniques used in the region at the time of Lincoln’s birth, and is now preserved in a climate-controlled building.  Over the years the cabin has become a treasured icon representing the moment and point of origin of the man many believe was the greatest leader the nation has ever had.

When Lincoln was only two years old his parents lost Sinking Spring in an ownership dispute and moved about eight miles northeast, up what is now US-31E, and rented a 30 acre farm on Knob Creek.  The site is now the Lincoln Boyhood Home Unit of the ALBNHP.  Lincoln said many years later that his first childhood memories were from the Knob Creek homestead.  He only had two years of formal schooling and they occurred while his family lived at Knob Creek.

It is known that Abe and his older sister, Sarah, walked two miles (one way) from Knob Creek to the schoolhouse in Atherton.  It was not uphill both ways but it was, apparently, a difficult journey for them.  Lessons were done by recitation as there were no writing supplies.  Abraham, however, was reportedly fascinated by letters and taught himself to write.  The two years that he attended this school were the only formal schooling he ever received.

Also of note from this time and place in Lincoln’s life was the existence of slavery and his family’s involvement with the strongly anti-slavery local Baptist church.  Although Lincoln’s association with Indiana, Illinois, Washington, D.C. and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is undoubtedly better known it was clear from our visit that the region and circumstances of his birth and earliest years were the clay out of which his adult character was ultimately molded.  However, once his parents moved across the Ohio River to Indiana, again because of an ownership dispute with the Knob Creek farm, it appears that Abe never returned to the place of his birth.

While we were walking along Knob Creek we noticed a group of butterflies gathered on the ground busily engaged in something.  Only after we got back to our coach was Linda able to identify them as Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies.  The behavior we observed was “puddling” in which the males (primarily) gather in groups to extract sodium ions and amino acids from damp or muddy soils and gravel.  Those were precisely the conditions we found along the edge of the creek.

We met a couple from Chicago in the parking lot who were staying in Bardstown, on up US-31E to the northeast, and suggested that it was worth the drive.  Along the way we saw the sign for the Abbey at Gethsemani, a Trappist Monk monastery, so we took KY-246 to the monastery entrance.  Descended from the monasteries of St. Benedict (ca. 1177) this was a Cistercian order of monks.  The grounds and buildings were beautiful, simple, and serene, as you would expect from a place devoted to a life of worship, contemplation, and simple manual labor.  The Visitor Center and gift shop featured items made by these and other monks to support their way of life. A small theater showed an informative 20 minute film about life at the monastery.  Unfortunately for us the monks at this Abbey make cheese and fudge, neither of which we eat.

We continued on to Bardstown and found a place to park on the traffic circle surrounding the building that houses the visitor center and county offices.  Bardstown is an old (late 1700’s) but happening city, the largest we have visited since arriving at Cave Country RV CG.  The region around Bardstown is the center of the Kentucky Bourbon industry.  Barton’s 1792 Bourbon distillery is located on the south edge of town and Maker’s Mark distillery is only 16 miles to the southeast.  We Googled Whiskey vs. Bourbon and found out that Bourbon IS whiskey, but made to very specific criteria.  Bourbon is made mostly from corn mash and comes only from the U. S.; mostly from Kentucky.  Scotch is whiskey made in Scotland.  Irish whiskey is whiskey made in Ireland.  There are lots of subtle variations on this, but that’s the gist of it.

We checked out The Talbott Tavern, which dated from 1796 and is still in operation.  We would have loved to have lunch or dinner in this authentic and quaint setting, but our only menu option would have been a salad, so we strolled through town instead.  There were many old houses dating from 1790 – 1820, and the commercial buildings on the streets around the circle were mostly pre Civil War.  Crume drug store had been in continuous operation for over 150 years.

We headed back towards Cave City on US-31E but rather than retrace our route we took KY-84 west just south of Hodgenville and then headed south on KY-357 to Munfordville.  Along the way we stopped at an IGA and bought a bag of Romaine salad greens and a couple bottles of water.  We picked up US-31W in Munfordville and followed it south through Horse Cave to Cave City where we took KY-70 back to Cave Country RV Campground.

For dinner Linda pan-fried firm tofu slices (~1/2″ thick) with onions until caramelized, added a sweet bar-b-que sauce, and served it open-faced on some whole wheat hot dog buns we still had.  A simple green salad and small glass of sangria made it a meal.  Afterwards Linda read while I worked on this post and edited photographs of our visit to the land of Lincoln’s birth.

 

2014/04/22 (T) MCNP Photos

Here are some photos from our visit to Mammoth Cave National Park (MCNP) in Kentucky.  Click on each thumbnail image to view the full image.  Maximum size in either dimension is 800 pixels.  Enjoy!

2014/04/22(T) Mockingbird

Cave Country RV Campground has northern Mockingbirds.  Similar In size to Robins, they are grey and white, and masters of song.  We had at least one, maybe more, hanging around our rig early this morning and they started vocalizing at the first hint of daylight, long before sunrise which comes early on the eastern edge of the Central Time Zone.  And they sang, and sang, and sang, almost nonstop for more than three hours, and often in plain view of our coach windows where we could watch them.  There are other birds here as well, but the Mockingbirds were a real treat as I do not recall ever hearing them around either of our houses in Michigan even though their year-round range covers all of the lower 48 states.  The cats are also enjoying this spot, having a good view of all the birds on the ground and in nearby small trees.

We had some rain overnight and woke to completely overcast skies and a temperature of 62 degrees F with 100% humidity.  Perhaps a bit surprisingly it was very comfortable inside the rig.  We had a leisurely morning and Linda made her wonderful blueberry vegan pancakes served with real organic maple syrup.  We don’t have these very often and they are a real treat when we do.

We called the Livingston County Road Commission this morning to see when the seasonal load restrictions would be lifted and found out that they “hoped” to check conditions again tomorrow or Thursday.  Counties south of us (Wayne and Washtenaw) were planning to lift the restrictions late this week and the county to the west (Ingham) was planning to lift them next Monday.  In a “normal” season these restrictions would have been lifted on April 16th.  So as of this morning it appears that we will be delaying our return beyond this Thursday when we had planned to pull in to our driveway around mid-day.  Full- and extended-time RVers are fond of saying their plans are “written in Jell-O” and this is just another example of what that means.  (Linda checked the LCRC website later in the day and it had been updated to indicate that the restrictions would be lifted at 6 AM on Monday, April 28.)

Late morning I returned a phone call from Gaye Young.  She chairs the FMCA’s (national) Education Committee, to which I have recently been appointed.  It was our first conversation.  Among other things the committee will be studying RVillage and developing recommendations for FMCA’s involvement.

At noon we headed over to the Mammoth Cave National Park Visitor Center.  We were here seven or eight years ago, but it did not look familiar.  Once inside we learned why; the building had been constructed in 2010 on the site of the former visitor center.  The former adjacent administration building was now a fabulous museum connected to the new visitor center.

Admission to MCNP is free but entrance to the cave is not.  There are now over 400 miles of known/mapped passageways in Mammoth Cave making it the longest cave in the world by a big margin.  Unexplored parts exist for sure and the total extent of the cave is unknown.  We did a cave tour the last time we were here.  Today we were more interested in hiking and photography so we got a trail map and some recommendations from one of the rangers.

From the Visitor Center we took the foot bridge that goes over the ravine, with the trail down to the Historic Entrance to the cave, to the hotel/restaurant building.  We picked up the Heritage Trail and followed it past the hotel rooms and Sunset Terrace rooms to the “Old Guide’s Cemetery” and then to Sunset Point.  From Sunset Point we took a steep switchback trail down to the Echo River Spring Trail and followed it a short distance to its northern terminus where the River Styx emerges from the cave and flows to the Green River not far away.  From here we picked up the Green River Bluffs Trail which eventually returned us to the Visitor Center parking lot.  It was a good hike through the forest with wild flowers and occasional distant views.  I got a few nice photos along the way and will put them in a separate gallery post.

After our hike we had lunch at the hotel coffee shop and recalled having eaten there before.  We ordered a veggie wrap with potato chips and a black bean burger with fries.  Not a completely healthy meal, but still vegan.  We split everything and had a nice variety of food for our late lunch, all of which was very good.

MCNP is large at 53,000+ acres and has extensive “back country” with 70+ miles of trails.  Development, however, is mostly confined to a small area around the Visitor Center, which includes the modern campground, and two additional cave entrance sites. The campground has an entrance station, so we were not able to drive through and have a look.  We both recalled driving through the campground the last time we were here but could recall camping here.  And yet we must have, as we were traveling to Bowling Green, Kentucky in our Itasca Sunrise motorhome to attend the Life On Wheels program.  To paraphrase Wallace Stegner (1983), the National Parks really are “America’s Best Idea.”

We returned to our campground in Cave City and walked around a bit more, taking photos in the late afternoon light.  I spent a little time at the east end of the campground by the train tracks trying to get some photos of a passing train, but I could not get a good vantage point.  Later we had leftovers for dinner, turned on the TV for a while, responded to a volunteer questionnaire for the GLAMARAMA in June, responded to e-mails and RVillage posts, and worked on processing the photos from today.

 

2014/04/21 (M) Cave Country (KY)

We only had 191 miles to travel today, so we were in no particular hurry to leave this morning.  We were up early enough to have a couple of cups of coffee and a banana and take showers.  RV parks, like motels, usually have posted times for departure (latest) and arrival (earliest).  If the park is not crowded, or not expecting to be, you can usually hang around a little beyond check-out time or arrive a little before check-in time; but if you push the limits on this you may be asked to pay for an extra day or wait in a holding area until check-in time.  I walked up to the office of Northgate RV Travel Park to let the owner, Wes, know that we planned to leave around 10 AM and he seemed fine with that.  I also checked the park egress to US-31 to make sure we could leave the way we planned.  Wes’ dog, Dottie, followed me around for a bit.  Dottie looked to be at least part Border collie, and was very sweet.

We chatted with our neighbor for a while.  He and his wife were Royal Canadian Air Force mechanics who had been full-timing for the last three years since they retired from military service.  We had also chatted some with Eric yesterday.  The only long-term resident of the RV park, Eric is a young EMT for whom Wes has provided a small trailer to live in.  We also met and chatted with some other RVers on our strolls through the park, all of them passing through like us.  One younger couple was from Wyandotte, Michigan, an old community south of Detroit where one of our best friends grew up.  His “Big M” (University of Michigan) hat was the conversation starter.  They were headed to Pensacola, Florida to visit the Naval Air Station and see the Blue Angels.  Their kids were on (presumably) on spring break.  They were familiar with Wayne RESA, from which I retired in June 2012, which surprised me.  We always seem to meet interesting people in RV parks.

We pulled out of Northgate RV Travel Park at 10:30 AM, turned onto northbound US-31, stayed to our left and almost immediately were on the entrance ramp to northbound I-65.  Fifteen miles later we were in Tennessee.  I-65 in Alabama, at least the part we traveled, was an excellent road through attractive countryside and that continued to be the case in Tennessee.  In fact the road got even better as entrance ramps were usually longer, forming an entrance lane that eventually merged in to the right hand lane of the Interstate.  At larger interchanges, and near cities, there were often double entry lanes that merged down into a single lane and then into the traffic flow.  The total distance for these merge lanes was often 1/2 mile, plenty of distance and time to get up to speed and merge.

Getting through Nashville was the only tricky part of the drive, and it wasn’t that bad (hey, we made it).  Traffic was congested, made a bit worse by some construction, but it moved along.  To stay on I-65 we had to negotiate at least five places where the road split, alternating “keep left, keep right, etc.” but our Rand McNally RVND 7710 GPS provided lane information in navigation mode, and Linda was watching the route on a map and her smartphone, so we knew where we had to be.  Actually, what we did was get in the center lane with all of the long-haul trucks, slow down, and follow them.  The center lane generally allowed us to go either left or right as required and had the added advantage of keeping us out of the right hand lane with all of the exiting and entering traffic.

We stopped at a Pilot truck stop at Exit 6 in Kentucky and put 86 gallons of #2 diesel in the tank bringing the tank level up to 3/4.  That was enough fuel to get us home where we can put in additives and top off the tank with fuel blended for the cooler Michigan climate this time of year.  The fuel stop added 20 minutes to our trip and we finally pulled off I-65 at exit 354 at 2 PM CDT.  It was less than 1/2 mile to Cave Country RV Park from the exit.  Linda got us checked in and the woman in the office escorted us around to our site in a golf cart.  The normal route in was blocked by a disabled motorhome being hooked up to a wrecker for towing.  We heard it was an electrical problem, but it doesn’t really matter; RVers always feel for their fellow travelers when equipment problems develop.  As an interesting side note, the woman in the office was a seasonal worker who had been at Williston Crossings RV Resort for the big Carriage 5th wheel rally that took place the last week or so that we were there.  IN some ways RVing is a small world and people who have been on the road for quite a while tell us that this sort of thing happens more than you would expect.

We had a mixed greens salad and an Amy’s Roasted Vegetable Pizza for dinner and then went for a walk around the RV park before taking a quick drive through town to locate the grocery store.  In spite of its location near the entrance to Mammoth Cave NP, Cave City did not appear to be a prosperous place.  Many business were closed, the buildings vacant and for sale.  Most of the newer/nicer businesses (motels, restaurants, filing stations) were right at Exit 354, including Cave Country RV Park.

Cave Country RV Park is a well kept basic park (good gravel interior roads, no swimming pool) conveniently located to I-65 and the entrance to Mammoth Cave National Park.  It has a laundry, restrooms, and a lounge with a pool table, a big comfy couch, and a TV.  The office has a small store with the usual essentials, such as electrical and sewer adapters.  It is located next to a major CSX rail line, but we like the sound of trains, so that was OK with us.  (It is not unusual for RV parks convenient to highways to be adjacent to railroad tracks.)   Given that it is the Monday of Easter week it seemed odd that the park wasn’t even half full, although rigs continued to arrive after sunset.    Rain was in the forecast for the overnight and it rained briefly for the first time just before 9 PM.  We were able to pick up CBS over the air, presumably from Bowling Green, Kentucky to the southwest, and watched a little TV before turning in at 10 PM.

 

2014/04/20 (N) Nature Trail Photos

Here are a few photos from our visit to the Madison County Nature Trail on Green Mountain, southeast of Huntsville, Alabama.  Click thumbnail to see entire image.  Maximum dimension is 600 pixels.

2014/04/20 (N) A Nature Walk

According to Trip Advisor the number one thing to do in Huntsville, Alabama is the Madison County Nature Trail.  The #2 attraction is the Botanical Gardens and the #3 attraction is the NASA Space Center.  We opted for the Nature Trail because we wanted to get outside and move around after a long day of driving yesterday.  It helped that entry was free.  Adult admission to the Botanical Gardens was $12 each and it was going to cost $20 each (minimum) to get into the Space Center.  For some reason it did not seem right to us that we should have to pay to get into a NASA museum.  Perhaps it is a privately funded and maintained museum?

The weather forecast for today was perfect: mostly sunny with thin, high clouds, light winds, a high temperature of 77, and zero chance of rain.  Without trees to shade our motorhome we decided to put all of the awnings out and open all of the roof vents to make sure the interior temperature remained comfortable for our cats.

We are camped just north of the city limit of Athens, Alabama so we drove through town to have a look.  The rail line to the west of the RV park runs through the center of town.  The town was incorporated in 1818, a year before Alabama became a state, and still has grand homes dating from the 1820’s.

Entrance to the Marion County Nature Trail on Green Mountain, Alabama.

Entrance to the Madison County Nature Trail on Green Mountain, Alabama.

From Athens we took US-72 east into Huntsville and picked up US-231 / Memorial Parkway SW going south.  From the Parkway we took Weatherly Cove Road SE to Bailey Cove Road SE to S Shawdee Road SE to Nature Trail Road SE, the road into the park.  Located southeast of Huntsville on a 72 acre site atop Green Mountain, the 1.5 mile Madison County Nature Trail circles a small lake, crossing a covered bridge and winding through a forest of hardwoods and conifers.  Along the trail we saw a Winged Elm tree.  But this was not just any Winged Elm; it was the Champion Winged Elm for all of Alabama, the oldest and largest tree of its species in the whole state.  It was by no means the largest or tallest tree we have ever seen, but it was beautiful, perhaps more so because we knew we were looking at something special.

We have been intentional about not packing every day full of activity and decided to return to our coach after our hike.  We reversed our route, stopping at a Kroger supermarket on US-72 for a few things.  We took a second pass through Athens, crisscrossing the historic Beaty District and driving past Athens University before returning to Northgate RV Travel Park.

We had hummus, bagel chips, and grapes for lunch.  I downloaded the photos I had taken along the nature trail and worked on processing them.  I finished editing my blog post for yesterday, uploaded it, and then took a nap.  I eventually got up and returned the awnings to their travel configuration while Linda prepared dinner.  As she often does, she adapted a recipe to the ingredients she had on hand and made a one pot dish of barley with mushrooms, onions, garlic, tomatoes, hot peppers, and kale.  It was very good.  We had fresh strawberries later for dessert.

 

2014/04/19 (S) Sweet Home Alabama

We woke around 6:30 AM to thickly overcast skies and temperatures in the mid 50’s.  We tried to keep to our morning routine as much as possible, minus the coffee and breakfast.  There are certain things we do that alert the cats that we will be starting the engine and moving the coach and, once altered, they immediately go to their “safe places” under the front passenger chair.  We wanted the cats to eat, have some water, and use the litter tray before we tipped them off.  We got dressed, made the bed, and checked e-mail, RVillage, and Feedly (iPad blog aggregator/reader); in other words, a pretty typical morning.  We were also checking the weather conditions along the route we planned to follow, but the cats didn’t know that.  As far as they knew it was just another day in paradise.

I had disconnected the water hoses (fresh and waste) and stowed them last night along with the water softener.  Around 8 AM we hooked the car to the bus and got it ready to tow.  That was the first clue.  Linda straightened up the inside while I disconnected the shore power cord and stowed it for travel.  Those were the big clues.  I switched on the chassis batteries, the engine accessory air valve and the air valve for the toad brakes, and verified that the inverter was working.  Linda double checked that the bays were closed and locked and then we did our light check.  She stayed outside the coach while I fired up the engine and let the air pressure build up.  The cats were already under the seat before I turned the ignition key.   As I pulled slowly out of our site Linda verified that the wheels on the car were rotating (transmission in Neutral), the front tires were tracking (turning L or R to follow the bus, indicating the steering column was unlocked), and that I had adequate clearance as I turned onto the park access road.  She climbed on board, closed and locked the door, and put her seatbelt on.  We pulled out of Live Oak Landing at 9 AM.

Our destination today was Northgate RV Travel Park just north of Athens, Alabama.  After a short 1.5 mile drive from the Live Oak Landing we picked up US-331 and headed north for Alabama.  I think today was the first time either of us have been in Alabama.  I have the vaguest recollection of having been to the NASA Space Museum in Huntsville many years ago, but the more I try to remember any details the less certain I am that it ever happened.  The only time I have ever been in Mississippi was the summer of 1975 when I flew to Columbus Air Force Base from Plattsburgh Air Force Base in northeast New York State as part of my summer ROTC training.  It’s possible that we also stopped in Huntsville, Alabama but if we did the memory of the trip is lost for now.  (If only I had a pensieve.)

We followed US-331 north as far as AL-97 which took us NNW to I-65 northbound somewhat south of Montgomery.  The rest of the trip was on I-65 north.  At exit 354, just 15 miles from the Tennessee border, we looped around onto US-31 south.  The entrance to Northgate RV Travel Park was 1/4 mile down on the right (west) side of the road.  I don’t know about the rest of Alabama, but this was a beautiful drive through woodlands of mixed hardwoods and conifers.  We started our trip at ~20 feet above sea level and ended at ~800 feet ASL, but we climbed much more than this suggests as we went up and down rolling terrain that included some long, steep grades.  There were also very few straight sections as the roads curved back and forth.  I’m not sure why, but I expected it to be flatter and more open/agricultural.

Entrance to Northgate RV Travel Park in Athens, AL.

Entrance to Northgate RV Travel Park in Athens, AL.

We arrived at Northgate RV Travel Park at 4 PM and checked in with the owner, Wes.  This a simple RV park with great access from I-65.  There are sites for ~20 RV’s, all with 30/50 A electric power and water, and most with a sewer connection.  The interior roads and sites are gravel.  There are some bushes but no trees, and no frills here; this is a corner of Wes’ farm.  No bath/shower house, no pool, no laundry room, and no credit cards; Just a convenient place to stay, with good hookups and useable WiFi at a fair price, while traveling through the area.  This is an overnight stop with no long-term or seasonal residents and Wes will let you stay up to week, if you ask nice.  Wes has two very friendly dogs who roam the park checking on guests and the rules are pretty simple, “don’t ride the cows and don’t milk the goats.”  We logged in to RVillage and checked in to our new location.

 

2014/04/17 (R) Pensacola NAS Photos

Here are some photos from our visit to Naval Air Station Pensacola where we saw the Blue Angels practice and then toured the Naval Aviation Museum.  Click on a thumbnail to see a larger version of the image in a separate tab.  Maximum size is typically 600 pixels.

2014/04/17 (R) The Blue Angels

No, we have not been visiting religious resale shops.  Today we drove US-98 west all the way to Pensacola, Florida to visit the Pensacola Naval Air Station (NAS).  Along the way we stopped at the Panera in Sandestin again.  The outlet mall shops were not open yet so there was very little traffic and not much of a crowd.  We took 20 minutes to enjoy some coffee and a bagel before continuing on to Pensacola.  The 100 mile trip was probably a little slower than taking I-10, but it was a leisurely, pleasant drive that allowed us to take in the coastal sights.  Photographs from today are in a separate gallery post.

As we got to the end of the bay bridge we did not see a sign for the Pensacola NAS so we picked our way through downtown and finally pulled into a Walmart parking lot where we put the address in our GPS.  As soon as we resumed driving we saw a sign for the NAS and Museum and the GPS wanted us to take a different route.  In this instance the signs won, although the GPS way would also have worked as the NAS has a front and rear entrance and our destination was closer to the rear entrance.

Four of the six U. S. Navy Blue Angels in diamond formation.

Four of the six U. S. Navy Blue Angels in diamond formation.

The Pensacola NAS is the U. S. Navy’s primary flight training facility and is home to the Naval Aviation Museum and The Blue Angels Navy Combat Fighter Flight Demonstration Squadron.  The Blue Angels’ practice sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday are normally open to the public.  They did not fly on Wednesday this week due to weather conditions so they flew today instead.  The session was open to the public and the public showed up in large numbers.  They started at 11:30 AM sharp (this is military stuff, after all) and flew for about one hour.  The practice session consisted of the same maneuvers, in the same order, that make up the “show” The Blue Angels do almost every weekend somewhere in the country from mid-March through early November.  They might repeat a maneuver or leave one out based on how the routine is going, how the equipment is performing, or the weather conditions.

The security personnel also acted as “play by play announcers,” letting the audience in their section of the grandstands know what maneuver was coming next.  While we were waiting for the practice session to start they also provided information about The Blue Angels, the NAS, and answered whatever questions people had.  The gentleman in our section had spent 30 years as a Naval aviator and was very knowledgeable.  He also had the right personality for working the crowd.

When the flight demonstration was over we toured the Naval Aviation Museum.  The museum is adjacent to the runways where the Blue Angels practice and is served by the same parking lot.  While not as extensive as the Smithsonian Air and Space Museums or the Air Force Museum, it is an excellent facility with a superb collection of aircraft and artifacts focused exclusively on Naval flight operations.  We took about three hours to wander through the exhibits, but you could easily spend two or three days here if you wanted to read every placard and study the displays more carefully.  Admission to The Blue Angels practice session and the Naval Aviation Museum are both free.  The museum has an IMAX theater, flight simulators, and other attractions that charge a fee.

We left the NAS around 3:30 PM via the rear gate and headed west towards Perdido Key.  Along the way we found the entrance to Big Lagoon SP and went in to check it out.  We had heard about BLSP from Jimmy and Sadie Clay, who spent March there as volunteer campground hosts.  (I did an article on their converted bus, the Iron Horse, which appeared as the cover/centerfold story in the April 2014 issue of Bus Conversion Magazine.)

From BLSP we continued west to Perdido Key.  Just past the entrance to Perdido Key SP was the Perdido Key Visitor and Community Center, which housed the Perdido Key Chamber of Commerce offices.  Four miles down the road was the Alabama State line.  Our reason for stopping here was that Jimmy and Sadie had mentioned that their daughter was the director of the Perdido Key Chamber of Commerce and we thought it would be fun to meet her.  She was there (Tina Morrison) and we introduced ourselves and chatted for a few minutes.  They pulled up the website for Bus Conversion Magazine on a computer and there was the Iron Horse on the cover!  We got a nice map of the greater Pensacola area to help guide us back to I-10 using parkways on the west side if town, thus avoiding downtown during the late afternoon.  The drive back on I-10 was through heavily wooded rolling terrain with light traffic.  I was still tired from my night of no sleep earlier in the week and nodded off while Linda drove.

After a simple dinner Linda read while I processed photos from yesterday and today.  I updated a plug-in on all four of the WordPress sites I run and got my personal blog post for yesterday uploaded, but not the photographs.  The rain started around 9 PM and quickly intensified.  It did not take long for the bedroom vent-fan leak to re-appear.  A powerful low pressure center south of Pensacola was pulling copious amounts of moisture north into Florida, Alabama, and Georgia.  This was forecast to be a long-duration rain event, but without severe storms.  River flood watches and warnings continued for the area along with urban flash flood warnings and high surf and rip current warnings for the coastal beaches.  We decided to put a pot on the end of the bed to catch the drips from the leak and slept on the couches.  I guess that’s a good reason to keep a sleeper sofa big enough for two when we redo the living room and dinette.

 

2014/04/16 (W) Emerald Coast Photos

Here are some photographers from our visit to Camp Helen SP and St. Andrews SP along Florida’s Emerald Coast.  Click thumbnails to view larger version of image in a separate tab.  Largest dimensions is typically 600 pixels.

2014/04/16 (W) The Emerald Coast

Powell Lake at Grayton Beach SP, FL.

Powell Lake at Grayton Beach SP, FL.

As forecast, it dropped into the upper 30’s overnight.  By the time we got up at 8 AM the temperature had rebounded a bit into the low-mid 40’s.  I switched on the coach chassis batteries to power up the Pressure Pro TPMS and checked the pressures in all of the tires.  They were all 1- 2 PSI lower than the cold pressure readings I took before we left Suncoast Designers in Hudson, even after having Tires Plus in Spring Hill add air to all of the tires.  But the temperature in Hudson was in the 60’s at the time, and in the eight mile drive to Spring Hill the pressures had risen 5 – 8 PSI.  How much air to add to each tire under those conditions was an educated guess at best and I had not guessed as well as I had hoped.

The DS steer tire, in particular, was reading 107 PSI this morning.  My target was 110 PSI.  The forecasted low for early Saturday morning is 53, and it will likely be closer to 60 degrees F by the time we pull out, so the cold tire pressures will be fine for the next leg of our journey.  The issue, and the problem I was trying to solve, was to make sure we had adequate cold pressures for the colder overnight lows we may (will?) encounter as we travel north without having the tires overinflated for where we are currently traveling.  The overnight lows for next week at our home are currently forecasted to be in the low-to-mid 40’s through mid-week then in the mid-to-upper 50’s.  I really need to rig up a way to travel with an air compressor that is adequate for adjusting the pressure in our bus tires.  We are still at the point where bus projects seem to get added to the list faster than they get checked off.

After breakfast Linda was reading, and I was reviewing, the blog posts I had put up last night for the 12th through the 15th.  Between us we found a dozen errors.  The Note app on my iPad2 has an annoying tendency to change words in an attempt to correct my mis-typing and less-than-perfect spelling.  I usually catch the change, but not always.  I also have a tendency to miss little words such as “we” or use “a” instead of “an” or “were” instead of “where” (or vice-a-versa).  I think most of these are typing errors; I actually know when to use which word.  (I even know the difference between “farther” and “further”, a distinction that seems to elude even professional journalists.)  I upload my drafts to my computer and finish them in MS Word where the spelling and grammar checkers find most of these kinds of things, but introduce their own unique set of rules about what words should be used.

I logged into our WordPress site and made the corrections.  I also rearranged the layout of some photos.  The posts looked fine on my computer but resulted in very narrow columns of text next to left- and right-justified photos, so I centered them without text wrapping.  I am still trying to figure out the optimum width for inline photos that can be left- or right-justified with text wrapped around them on an iPad.  I think it is around 400 pixels, but at that size details can be difficult to see.  If I center them without text wrapping, they can be up to 600 pixels wide with the theme I am using.  This is not an issue with gallery posts, if course, where the limitation on the size of photographs is the how large of a data file I want to upload and store.

We left the coach around 10:30 AM.  Photos from today’s outing are in a separate gallery post.  Our itinerary was to head towards Panama City via US-98/Co-30/Co-30A (the Emerald Coast Parkway) and then work our way back as close to the Gulf of Mexico as possible, stopping at several state parks along the way.  Before we got to Panama City we saw the sign for Camp Helen State Park and pulled in.  Formerly a private retreat, and then a private vacation resort for a company in Alabama, it became a Florida State Park in 1997.  Camp Helen was yet another example of the FSP system acquiring formerly private homesteads and roadside attractions and preserving them for the historical, educational, and recreational use of the public now and into the future.

Besides the buildings that survive from the resort days, the park property extends from the Gulf of Mexico through white sand dunes and scrub forest along the west edge of Phillips Inlet to the other side of US-98 were it runs along the southwest edge of Powell Lake.  Powell Lake is a costal dune lake, one of the largest in Florida.  Costal dune lakes are rare, found only along the northwest Gulf coast of Florida and in Australia, New Zealand, and Madagascar.  A large number of different bird species have been recorded here by members of the local Audubon Society and American Bald Eagles and Osprey are often seen.

We hiked the nature trail through part of the dunes and the scrub forest which had a different mix of plant life than we have seen anywhere else.  The forest included Sand Pines, whose range is limited to Florida.  Unlike many other pines, the pine cones of the Sand Pine do not require fire to open and release their seeds.  We did not encounter any other hikers on the trail and this was one of the nicest little hikes we have taken in a Florida State Park.  Camp Helen is a little gem of a park amidst the over development of Florida’s Emerald Coast.

We put the address for St. Andrews SP into the GPS and then continued on towards Panama City Beach.  East of Powell Lake US-98 gets renamed the Panama City Beach Parkway.  We followed the signs to the park which took us past the Naval Support Activity facility and the Navy Diving and Salvage Training Center.  St. Andrew SP is at the tip of a peninsula that forms the south side of the Grand Lagoon.  Just past the tip is the entrance to St. Andrew Bay, which opens into East and West Bays, and forms the southwest edge of Panama City.

There was a costal defense battery installed at the tip during WW II to protect the bays from German submarines and one of the two gun platforms is preserved under an open-sided pavilion.  We hiked along the southwest edge of St. Andrews SP Pond, a short but excellent trail.  The pond, and the island in the middle of it, are home to many different birds as well as alligators, and is an egret rookery.  We did not see any alligators on our hike, but we saw and heard lots of birds.

We left St. Andrews SP and followed Thomas Drive to Front Beach Road (Co-30) and followed this along the Gulf until we were forced back onto US-98 just before Western Lake and Grayton Beach SP.  It was after 4 PM and we were getting a little tired but we pulled in to Grayton Beach SP to check it out because Chris and Cherie of Technomadia had rated it one of their top 10 + places to camp.  The campground was fully booked, but we were able to drive through and agreed that it looked like a charming place to put down the leveling jacks (if only we had some and if only we could have gotten a reservation).  Continuing west on US-98 we spotted the entrance to Deer Lake SP and pulled in.  The entrance road was in bad shape, one of the few times we have encountered this at a Florida State Park.  It led to a small parking lot that was right up against some large fancy housing on the east property boundary.  All of the park lay to the west and was only accessible by hiking.  It was probably lovely, but we were hiked out for the day.  We switched drivers and headed back to our RV park.

We got back to the coach around 5 PM.  I dumped the waste tanks and filled the fresh water tank while Linda got dinner ready.  We had skipped lunch today, so we were hungry.  She made a simple green salad with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing and seasoned couscous to go with the left over Tofurkey roast and steamed green beans.  A glass of moscato and some fresh pineapple chunks for dessert completed the meal.

 

2014/04/15 (T) A Taxing Day

At 1:30 AM (Tuesday, April 15) my cell phone issued a severe weather alert tone.  The message from the Weather Channel app was an emergency notification that a flash flood warning had been issued for Freeport and advised us to seek higher ground but to not drive through water.  If we had not already been awake, we were now!  But then, that is the point of having your cell phone set up to alert you to dangerous and threatening conditions with a sound that announces an imminent nuclear attack.  As if that wasn’t enough, the leak at the passenger-side rear corner of our bedroom vent-fan reappeared.  I had applied a liberal coat of Dicor self-leveling lap sealant to the outside of that vent-fan back at Williston Crossings and it had not leaked during two subsequent heavy rain events, so I thought I had taken care of that problem.  Either I missed a spot or the water got in somewhere else.

Although Live Oak Landing is on the Choctawhatchee River it is on ground that is noticeably higher than the water level and the RV sites are not right at the bank.  I figured we were safe as we could see the east end of Choctawhatchee Bay from the front of our bus.  Ocean water levels rise and fall with the tides, but oceans don’t flood.  The interior roads and sites are paved, so they were not going to get washed out by the rain and we were not going to be mired in soft ground.

We had a lull in the rain between 3:00 and 5:30 AM and I used the time to work on blog posts covering the 12th through the 14th and keep an eye on the weather.  I prefer doing one post per day, and uploading it before I go to bed, but that is not always possible.  When I first started blogging I would often write the rough draft in bed on my iPad, e-mail it to myself, get up early the next morning, finish it, and upload it.  I still do that sometimes, but just as often I end up several days behind.  BTW:  The WiFi at Live Oak Landing is very good.  We have been able get connected and do what we needed to do, even when it was raining.  We also have an acceptable Verizon 4G/LTE signal here.

The rain resumed briefly at 5:30 AM but without the previous intensity and fanfare.  It started again at 6:50 AM.  I checked the radar on my iPad Wundermap app and it showed the cold front just a few miles to our west and another fetch of rain beginning to come on shore and positioned to train over us.  It was not severe, however, and the band ultimately drifted east of us before coming onshore.  The rain event in most of the panhandle was done by 8:30 AM.   The end of the rain event, however, was not the end of the weather warnings.  Flash floods occur during and shortly after heavy rain events, but rivers can rise above flood stage long after the rains have moved through as large volumes of water upstream try to make their way to the sea.

There was no sunrise today, just a gradual change from night to muted, grey light that continued through the morning.  By mid-morning the cold front had passed by us, the winds had shifted from southwesterly to due north, and the temperature had dropped. A low pressure center had moved directly over Atlanta, Georgia with the cold front trailing SSE into the Gulf and the rainy weather shifted to northeast Florida, downeast Georgia, and up the Atlantic coast.  A wider view of the continent showed the heaviest weather farther north.  The cold front stretched along the Appalachian Mountains, up through Quebec and then wrapped around through Labrador and into the Labrador Sea.  There were four additional low pressure centers located in northeast Pennsylvania, southwest of Montreal, over the middle of Labrador, and just off the coast in the Labrador Sea.  Behind the front was cold and snow; in front of it, rain.

Linda checked the weather back home. The 3+ inches of snow recorded overnight in Detroit, Michigan pushed the total for the season to a new record of over 94 inches.  The old record was established in 1880/81.  This has been a historic winter with records broken across much of North America.

By early afternoon the storms were gone and the day was struggling to become partly cloudy instead of all cloudy.  The temperature barely broke 60 and it was windy so it still felt like winter’s last hurrah.  Linda discovered last night that the dish soap we bought at Publix never made it into one of our grocery bags.  It happens.  We needed more toilet paper, so we headed back to Publix in the early afternoon and stopped at the customer service desk with receipt in hand.  Mary said it was “no problem, just pick up the soap and tell the cashier that Mary said it was OK.”  It was only a $0.69 item, but we appreciated that Publix took our word for it.

With our shopping taken care of we decided to drive west on US-98 about eight miles to Destin, Florida.  The closer we got to Destin the more developed the area became.  We saw a sign for a Panera at a premium outlet mall and decided to go there for lunch.  Destin is a very upscale, resorty kind of place.  We crawled through traffic, and some of the worst engineered traffic signals we have ever encountered, to get to the mall and the restaurant.

The parking lot was packed and so was the Panera.  Apparently the stormy weather had prevented the residents from getting their maximum daily dose of high-end shopping, and they were all out on Tuesday afternoon making up for lost time.  In spite of the crowd it did not take long to place our order and receive our food and it was the same good quality we have come to expect at Panera wherever we find one.  Unlike Watercolor, which seemed vibrant but relaxed when we drove through yesterday, Destin seemed crowed and almost frantic; not our kind of place.  The traffic lights were so stupidly set up I concluded that the traffic engineers must hate rich people and were using them to inconvenience them to the maximum extent possible.  Being neither wealthy nor tolerant of stupidity, we finished our lunch and got out of town.

Before returning to Live Oak Landing we drove past Topsail State Park, a former commercial RV park, and through the very upscale community of Santa Rosa Beach right on the Gulf of Mexico.   We then drove to Freeport just to check it out since Live Oak Landing has a Freeport mailing address.  It was a one intersection town without anything special to recommend it.  Been there, done that, no reason to go back.

Back at our coach we were both very tired, having had very little sleep last night, and took a nap.  Naps are a great thing.  I used to consider them a luxury, but I’m seriously considering making them a part of my daily routine.  When we finally woke up Linda made a green salad and re-heated the spicy quinoa and black bean dish from the other night.  A beautiful sunset suddenly developed and I grabbed my camera to try to get a view shots.  This kind of lighting situation really requires a tripod and the use of the high dynamic range (HDR) technique, but I did not have time for either of those, so I got what I could hand held.

Sunset at Live Oak Landing.  (This photo has more image manipulation than normal.)

Sunset at Live Oak Landing. Our coach is lower right. (This photo has more image manipulation than normal because of the extremely high contrast lighting.)

Live Oak Landing has cable TV but we were able to pick up a surprising number of channels over the air (OTA).  We watched a couple of shows while I worked on blog posts.  The forecast low for early tomorrow morning was 39 degrees F, so we closed the ceiling vents and windows before we turned in for the night.

 

2014/04/14 (M) Photos And Articles

We were still tired from our 350 mile repositioning to the Florida panhandle yesterday, and the weather forecast for today and tomorrow called for thunderstorms with a high probability of heavy rain, so we did not plan on doing any site-seeing.  I worked at my computer, editing photos for two gallery posts, and then turned my attention to editing photos from our Suncoast Designers visit and putting the finishing touches on my article for Bus Conversion Magazine about our a RV window repair experience.

Our site at Live Oak Landing near Freeport, FL; an RVC Outdoor Destination.

Our site at Live Oak Landing near Freeport, FL; an RVC Outdoor Destination.

We needed groceries and Linda located a Publix on US-98 in South Walton about 10 miles from the RV park.  We decided to take a short drive east on US-98 and then down to the coast.  We drove past Grayton Beach State Park as far as the resort community of Watercolor. We could not figure out if Watercolor is a condo development, a timeshare resort, or just a regular old resort.  It’s an “architectural” place, very attractive and interesting, but planned and intentionally designed.  A bike trail runs along the south side of US-98 and there were lots of cyclists, runners, joggers, and walkers using it.

Live Oak Landing Outdoor Destination borders one of the branches of the Choctawhatchee River on the north side just before it empties into the east end of Choctawhatchee Bay.  This is a very large bay that connects to the Gulf of Mexico on the west end.  The Choctawhatchee River was already above flood stage at Ebro, east of our location, when we arrived on Sunday at 4:00 PM CDT.  We were watching the weather while we were in Hudson, Florida and heavy rains had pushed through this area and up into SE Alabama and southern Georgia early last week.  All of that water eventually flows to the Gulf of Mexico through the Florida panhandle.  From the time we got here my cell phone Weather Channel app issued a steady stream of watches/warnings for strong/severe storms, river flooding, and flash flooding for most of the panhandle, including Freeport.

Another view of Live Oak Landing.  Our coach is at towards the end on the left.

Another view of Live Oak Landing. Our coach is towards the end on the left.

What better time for a thanksgiving dinner?  We bought a Tofurkey brand roast, two yams, and fresh green beans on our trip to Publix and Linda cooked all of that for dinner.  We finished off our box of red wine and had a few dark chocolate covered almonds for dessert.

A strong cold front approaching from the WNW provided the lifting mechanism for a massive fetch of Gulf moisture, resulting in powerful, sustained thunderstorms training northeast over much of the western Florida panhandle, southeast Alabama and southwest Georgia.  Over the course of the day and into the evening the cold front pushed steadily eastward across the region and the rain finally reached us around 9:00 PM accompanied by a spectacular lightning display and booming thunder.

The Choctawhatchee River from Live Oak Landing RV park.

The Choctawhatchee River from Live Oak Landing RV park.

I had finished my article for Bus Conversion Magazine an hour earlier, had Linda proof-read it, and had made final corrections.  I was uploading the article and photos to my Dropbox, and e-mailing the publisher and editor to let them know, when the storms arrived.  I finished those tasks, shut down my computer and unplugged the power supply.  I also turned off the NAS and unplugged both the power and data cables.  I left the WiFi Ranger and the Amped|Wireless router on.  It would be inconvenient to lose them it a lightning strike, but the loss of programs and data would be catastrophic.

We went to bed and tried to sleep but it was pointless.  The coach was a bit stuffy with all the vents and windows closed and the lightning, thunder, and rain were non-stop.  The most intense rain fell at the rate of 3 – 4 inches per hour accompanied by the kind of lightning and thunder that signals the end of the world.  Warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico is the fuel that makes serious weather in this part of the country.  Life in an RV puts you in intimate contact with nature.

 

2014/04/13 (N) To The Panhandle

I was up early today anticipating getting on the road again.  We had a little juice and took our vitamins, but did not have coffee or breakfast.  I generally do not eat or drink much in the morning on travel days.  The bus was mostly ready to go except for last minute details and around 8 AM we shifted into departure mode.  I opened the passenger-side engine bay door, opened the air supply valve to the engine accessories, unlatched the rear engine cover and raised it, and connected the coach chassis batteries.  Since the engine ran a bit warm on the drive from Williston to Hudson I wanted to visually verify that that radiator fan was spinning.

While I waited for the Pressure Pro TPMS to pick up the pressure readings from all of the tires I closed all of the ceiling vents and the side windows. The driver-side front/steer tire pressure was a little lower than I like, the drive and tag tire pressures were OK.  The passenger-side front/steer tire pressure was a little higher than I normally run, put not excessive and within the maximum cold pressure limits of the tire and wheel.  I wrote down the tire pressures for reference later.

L-to-R Nancy, Bill, and Linda at Suncoast Designers in Hudson, FL.

L-to-R Nancy, Bill, and Linda at Suncoast Designers in Hudson, FL.

While Linda secured the inside I shut off the AC power, disconnected the power cord, stowed it for travel, and closed up the utility bay.  Just before 8:30 AM I fired up the main engine, let the oil pressure build, and put it in high idle.  The radiator fan was spinning as it should and I closed the rear hatch and side door on the engine compartment.  Bill and Nancy were up and Bill guided me out of our parking spot while Linda kept an eye on the rear end of the bus.  I only had to back up once, and only a little bit, to complete the turn.  With the tag axle raised the turning radius of the coach is shortened enough to make a difference in slow, tight turns.

We need to find a large vacant parking lot, set up some cones, and practice maneuvering the bus in and out of tight spaces.  I have driven the coach enough that I generally have a good feel for how it handles but our visit to Suncoast Designers revealed that our individual and team skill sets were incomplete.  We do not have a good understanding of how to back it around into a narrow space starting from a perpendicular position.  In particular we do not have a good feel yet for where the front tires are as the nose swings.

The centerline through the front tires is behind the driver, five feet from the front bumper.  Bill had me pull much farther forward out of our site before turning the wheels hard left than seemed visually reasonable from the driver’s seat.  As the front end came around I completely lost sight of the curb that ran along the far side of the road as it disappeared under the front of the coach.  But Bill could see my tires and knew I was positioned correctly.  He said I could probably have pulled out of the site without backing up, but the passenger-side front tire would have barely missed the curb.  He had me turn the tires hard right and back up slightly, creating the additional space needed to complete the tight left turn out of the site and onto the road.

20140413-03807

Nancy gave us a couple of business cards with their contact information and we said our farewells.  I pulled out of Suncoast Designers at 8:45 AM with Linda following in the car.  We got to the Tires Plus store just before 9 AM and got parked parallel to the end of the building.  We checked all of the tire pressures again using the TPMS and recorded them.  The pressure in all of the tires rose about 5 PSI in the eight mile drive.  The technician was ready to go and was very patient as I removed each pressure sensor, checked the tire pressure with my gauge  (that I have previously checked against a known good pressure standard), compared it to the two TPMS readings, determined how much additional pressure to have him add, checked it again, and put the pressure sensor back on.  We thanked him for the service (no charge) and gave him a tip.

The sensors will have to be removed once we get to our destination and the tires have a chance to cool off.  The baseline pressure is determined by the pressure in the tire when the sensor is installed and the warnings are triggered by deviations from the baseline.  The overnight low from Tuesday into Wednesday is forecast to be 38 degrees F, so that will be the time to check and reset.  The Pressure Pro was one of the early TPMS systems and this how it was designed.  Newer systems permit the baseline pressure to be programmed into the receiver by tire position.  Our sensors do not have user replaceable batteries and when they finally need to be replaced we will put that money towards a newer system.

Linda guided me as I backed the bus around behind the service bays.  We hooked the car up for towing and did our light check.  Our left turn signal on the car was not working, but everything else was OK.  One of the sockets in the wiring connector on the car was slightly corroded so I cleaned it using the awl in my Leatherman multi-tool.  That fixed the problem when we left Williston, but not this time.  I examined the connector on the bus, and found that part of one of the pins was missing.  This was almost certainly the left turn signal and there was nothing to be done about it at that moment.  This is a standard 6-pin round RV/trailer connector.  It was a cheap piece of junk the day it was made and did not improve with age.  I will be replacing both connectors and the cable with products from EZ Connector.  Weather sealed, gasketed, and magnetically retained with integrated self-closing covers; primo.

We pulled out onto US-19 northbound.  The road construction workers had the day off and traffic was light so we had an easy run up to Crystal River, picking up the US-98 designation near Homosassa.  Even with light traffic it took a while to get through Crystal River where the speed limit is often 30 – 35 MPH and there are frequent stop lights.  Once we cleared Crystal River we were able to travel 60 MPH, plus or minus, for most of the rest of the trip except through Chiefland.

The Check Engine Light came on soon after we left Suncoast Designers and stayed on for quite a while.  It eventually went off and only occasionally came back on, especially under acceleration or climbing hills.  The engine coolant temperature gauge initially read below 195 degrees F, but morning temperatures were moderate.  The sun was behind us and the coach stayed comfortable without the OTR air-conditioner.  I don’t know how precise the engine temperature gauge is, but it does seem to be accurate.  (Precision is the extent to which it shows the true/correct temperature; accuracy is the degree to which it is consistent or repeatable in terms of its readings.)  The engine oil temperature came up to 186 degrees F on the gauge fairly quickly like it normally does.  The transmission temperature gauge eventually came up to the same temperature but took a lot longer, as it normally does, even with the use of the transmission retarder going through Crystal River and Chiefland.

The GPS wanted us to take I-75 and was very persistent in trying to get us to leave our chosen route.  It became humorous after awhile and we should have counted the number of times it said “recalculating.”  We obviously had the preferences set to “maximize freeways” or something like that.  It finally figured out what we were doing when we got to the US-19 US-98 split at Perry, Florida.  US-98 turns west to WSW and follows the Gulf coast where it becomes a designated scenic drive.  While probably beautiful, it would have been a longer route with lots of shore communities making it a long, slow drive.  US-19 turned NNW and ran up to I-10 east of Tallahassee, Florida, the state Capitol.

The terrain had been essentially flat up to Perry, but part way to I-10 we encountered a hill; up one side and down the other.  It just appeared out of nowhere as if someone had built it there just to get our attention.  But then there was another hill, and another one and …  we were north of “the bend” and officially entering the panhandle which, unbeknownst to us, was not flat like the parts of Florida where we had spent time this winter.

By the time we got to Perry the outside air temperature was in the low 80’s and the engine coolant temperature was indicating 195 or a hair under.  The engine and transmission temperature were staying in the 186 to 190 range.  The pyrometers came up to 700 – 900 degrees F on hills depending the grade and length.  The cruise control ran perfectly all day, as it always has, but the speedometer sat on zero and never budged (accurate, but not precise).

Once on I-10 west we made good time traveling due west across the panhandle.  The road was straight but had lots of ups and downs.  The highest point in Florida is in the northwestern panhandle near the Alabama border.  Just west of Tallahassee we stopped at a Flying J truck stop and travel center to top off our fuel tank.  We continued west on I-10 and crossed into the Central Time Zone before exiting at US-331 and heading south towards the Gulf of Mexico and the towns of Freeport and South Walton.  Fifteen miles from the Interstate we made our last few turns and arrived at Live Oak Landing RV park.  We had traveled 350 miles in 7.5 hours including the fuel stop, but still a little below our usual 50 MPH average.  We were tired when we arrived and Linda fixed a salad and pan grilled our last two tofu hot dogs.

 

2014/04/12 (S) More Hudson

We stayed at Suncoast Designers until Sunday Morning as planned.  Bill and Nancy, in the Newmar Essex next to us, decided on Friday to also have the large window in their entrance door repaired.  Suncoast was willing to do the work but it would not be completed until sometime next week.  We decided to keep them company while we figured out where we were going next and made the arrangements.  We had struck up a fast friendship with them and enjoyed just sitting and talking.  They are from Ottawa, Ontario but have had a mobile home in Ocala, Florida for 25 years.  They have a customized 1938 Chevy and are active in the National Street Rod Association (NSRA).  They have been RVing in various rigs for a long time, so we had lots to talk about.

Bill and Nancy went out for breakfast to a place nearby that Joe recommended.  Breakfast has become our least favorite meal to eat out, unless we can find a Panera, as our menu choices are typically very limited.  Linda had researched places to stay in the Florida panhandle and identified several possibilities.  None of them were Florida State Parks, as the system was fully booked statewide, and none of them were right on the Gulf, as they were all dreadfully expensive.  We selected Live Oak Landing near Freeport, Florida, an RVC Outdoor Destination park.  Live Oak Landing was 15 miles south of I-10, which would give us access to everything between Tallahassee and Pensacola.  It was 10 miles north of from US-98 which would give us ready access to a stretch of the Gulf Coast from Panama City to the east to Destin to the west.  The website said they had openings but Linda called to confirm that and made the reservation.

I worked most of the day at my computer while Linda worked on her counted cross-stitch project.  I took a break for a couple of hours mid-day to run some errands.  The most important errand was to find the Tires Plus shop in Spring Hill, verify that they could/would fill our bus tires at 9:00 AM Sunday morning, and scope out any access issues.  It’s a good thing I did.

Yes, they would be open at 9, and yes they would be glad to put air in our tires at no charge.  Getting the bus into their parking lot would not be a problem, but getting out might be.  The manager asked me to pull up alongside the end of the building so they could reach the tires with their air pressure hose.  From that position I could then back around behind their service bays and pull out of the lot the way I came in; easy enough as long as the car was not in tow.  The obvious solution was to have Linda drive the car separately and hook it up after the bus was backed around behind the building.

I stopped at the Publix across the street and the dollar store next door where I found a small bottle of Goo-Gone.  Linda called as I was driving back with a short list of items for me to pick up at … Publix.  I continued on and stopped at Walmart instead.

The tape that Suncoast Designers used to secure the openings after the windows were removed left a residual glue line on the body and adjacent windows.  The Suncoast employees were pushing to get customers taken care of so I decided to just take care of this myself.  Linda helped and it gave us something to do in the afternoon.  The windows were easy to clean up with a safety razor blade, but getting the glue off of the paint required a solvent, and Goo-Gone is what they recommended.  It contains petroleum distillates and citrus extracts, so after it removes the glue it has to be cleaned off the paint with soapy water which in turn has to be rinsed off and dried.

I had sent a TXT MSG to Chuck that resulted in a call back.  In the course of the conversation I mentioned that the engine ran a bit warmer than usual on the drive down from Williston.  I thought I recalled him telling me that he had his radiator removed and cleaned or re-cored but that was not the case.  What he had done was wash it with a garden hose from inside the engine bay.  The radiator fan draws (relatively) cool air in from outside, so he figured it made sense to clean it with water sprayed in the opposite direction.  He said that cleaning radiator had helped the engine run cooler.

His logic made sense to me, and Suncoast had very conveniently left a hose with a spray nozzle on a reel behind our coach.  I sprayed the radiator as best I could from inside the bay and then sprayed it through the lovers from the outside.  We would find out tomorrow whether it made any difference.

Early Saturday evening we circled up our chairs again with Bill and Nancy grabbed a cold beverage, and enjoyed a nice chat.  Steve and Kathy stopped by for a while and another couple who had just arrived also stopped to chat.  They were from eastern Ontario and were native French speakers, but their English was excellent.

 

2014/04/11 (F) Suncoast Designers Photos

Here are the photos from the repair of four of the eight awning-style thermopane windows in our motorcoach.  The work was performed at Suncoast Designers, Inc. in Hudson, Florida.  Great people to work with and they have a correct process for doing this work.

2014/04/11 (F) Primitive Camping

[Photos related to this post and the one from Apr 9 will appear in a separate gallery post.]

Definition of “primitive camping”:  not being parked on a level concrete pad with 50A full hookups.  It’s all relative, of course, and that certainly is not our definition.  We are parked on gravel, which some RVers like better than concrete or asphalt, and we have 50A RV electrical service and fresh water at out “site.”  There is a dump station here and we are only minutes from more places to shop than we could visit in a lifetime, with more things to buy than we could possibly ever need or want.  So, no, this is not primitive camping.  The rigs are parked fairly close together, closer than we typically experience at RV rallies, but this is an RV repair facility after all, not a campground.  There is enough space for adjacent rigs to put out their slides and still be able to walk between them, and the “canyon (Venturi) effect” causes refreshing breezes to flow between the units.  To me, primitive means more (or less) than just not having hookups.  When I think of primitive camping, it conjures up an image of remoteness and wilderness.  In spite of having a background in mathematics, statistics, and research methodology, I guess I’m just a romantic at heart.

Joe finished cleaning and caulking our four windows this morning.  Kevin uncovered the openings and helped Joe reinstall the finished assemblies with assistance from Matt (on the outside) and me (on the inside).  When all of the windows were reinstalled Matt cleaned them inside and out.  Linda took photographs to document the work for the article I am writing for Bus Conversion Magazine.  We left the four repaired windows latched shut but were once again able to open the other four.  It will be nice to finally have windows open in the bedroom again.  Joe (who is a very funny guy and a delight to work with) had us sign off on the work, after which Linda went to office and paid our bill.  She also bought three cans of the Ardex Labs spray glass cleaner for $5 each.  We found it online; $15.99 / can plus shipping.  So much for Internet bargains.

We were pleasantly surprised to see that the cost for the repairs was only 57% of what we had been quoted.  We did not ask why, but we suspect it was because they were able to remove and reinstall the awning frames from the body with the thermopane glass sandwiches in them, and do so fairly quickly.  This allowed them to do most of the work inside.  Another factor may have been the size of the windows; the glass in our awning windows is only about 28″ wide by 17″ tall.  They told us when we made the appointment to expect 3 – 5 days for the work and it took 3.5 days.

The work on our coach was wrapped up by noon and we were free to go but being mid-day Friday we decided to stay.  We have made friends with Bill and Nancy from Ottawa, Ontario Canada, in the Newmar Essex motorhome next to us (Bill is the guy who helped us back in when we arrived.)  They decided yesterday to have the upper window in their door repaired and were going to have to stay until early next week for the work to be finished.  We decided to stick around and keep them company as we have enjoyed talking with them.  Besides, not knowing when the work would be done, we had not made a reservation yet for Sunday in the panhandle and will need to do that early on Saturday.

Our driver-side steer tire was reading about 5 PSI lower than the passenger-side tire when we left Williston on Monday afternoon, but both readings were above the minimum I like to run, so I chose not to deal with it there and then.  Of course, it was 87 degrees F when I checked them.  It’s been noticeably cooler here, especially first thing in the morning, and the driver-side steer tire looks like it could use a little extra air.  One of the nice things about filling the tires in Michigan in Mid-December and then driving to Florida for the winter was that even with a very slow leak the cold pressure goes up along with the morning low temperature.  But now that we are about to start our northward journey I would like to have all of the tire pressures reset enough above my normal cold pressure that they will still be OK when we get home.

I asked Joe if Suncoast had a shop compressor.  He said they did but he did not think it was set to a high enough pressure to inflate our front tires, which normally carry 110 – 115 PSI cold.  I was hoping we might find a mobile tire service like Carter Tire in Elkhart, Indiana but a Google search did not reveal anything promising.  I asked Joe if he could recommend someplace nearby, preferably heading north from here, and he suggested Tires Plus in Spring Hill.  His friend Dave works there and Joe thought it had plenty of room for us to get in and out and high enough air pressure to fill our front tires.  It is also about 10 miles north on our intended route on the northbound side of the road, and is open on Sunday at 9:00 AM.  I plan to drive up there tomorrow to verify the facts, but it sounds like exactly what we need.  If we are there at 9 AM and get our tire pressures taken care of we can make it to the western panhandle by late afternoon.

I had a long list of things I wanted to get done at the computer today, but it was another lovely day and we ended up sitting in shade between our rig and Bill/Nancy’s rig all afternoon enjoying the breeze, and shooting it.  We skipped lunch and were finally driven inside by hunger and the arrival of small, persistent, flying black bugs.

Because we skipped lunch we had an earlier dinner than usual.  Linda improvised a dish made with ingredients she had on hand: quinoa, black beans, tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, onions, and olive oil.  The hot peppers were really hot so she used them sparingly, but the dish still had a serious kick.  She has developed a good feel for how to combine these kinds of ingredients without a recipe.  It was delicious and I asked her to capture the recipe on our website/blog.

The coach had warmed up a bit during the day so we set two of our chairs out in front after dinner to enjoy the cooler evening air.  Bill and Nancy brought their chairs over and we enjoyed small glasses of the Barefoot Moscato while they enjoyed a couple of beers.  We talked until it got dark and chilly and decided to call it a night around 8:30 PM.  Sometime later we heard a very strange and loud sound, like an ATV, drive past the front of our coach.  I heard it returning from the back parking lot and managed to get a glimpse as it went by.  It was a pick-up truck with a fogger in the bed.  Presumably they were spraying something for insect control.  I have not seen anyone do that in quite some time.