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The final day of the Arcadia (Bussin’) Rally featured breakfast, seminars, meetings, tire kicking, preliminary departure preparations, dinner, door prizes, and a New Year’s Eve party with a live band.
Once again breakfast was coffee, juice, donuts, and bagels. But we didn’t have to cook it or clean it up, and it was the first social activity of the day, so it hit the spot. The building was already decorated for New Year’s Eve with sparkly signs and ceiling streamers. Although celebrations are really about the people, the room decorations added a festive touch.
After breakfast I went over to photograph Frank Morrison’s GMC PD4014 “Cool Cruiser” and interviewed him about it for a possible BCM featured bus article. The coach conversion was originally done by an architect in Flint, Michigan and the interior is different because of that. Frank bought the bus from him.
The morning seminar was on GPS and mapping technology with Tom Mason.
We did not attend the morning seminar because the Converted Coach Owners (CCO), which we belong to, had a meeting at the same time. There were approximately 15 people in attendance. CCO is a small, independent group of converted bus owners most of whom are from the lower Great Lakes area, so this was a pretty good turnout for being so far away from home.
After the CCO meeting I had the opportunity to talk with Jack Conrad at some length about the rally and get a few pictures of him and Paula. Jack and Paul started the Bussin’ Rally in December 2000 (the 2001 Rally) and turned it over to Bill and Brenda Phelan after the 11th one in December 2010. Acadia Rally 2014 (Dec 2013) was Bill and Brenda’s third as organizers and hosts.
The afternoon seminar was a roundtable discussion lead by Howard Best. With respect to owner-converted buses the knowledge and experience that assembles at the Arcadia Rally is probably unmatched by any other such gathering during the year. Even with 100 buses and 200 people, the Arcadia Rally was very relaxed and these experts were very accessible. Throughout the rally participants ambled from bus to bus and stopped to chat. Sometimes they pulled up a chair and sometimes you would find their heads in a bay discussing a technical issue. It was just that kind of event, and has been since it started in Dec 2000.
The afternoon seminar was followed by bingo with Bob Ernst calling the action once again. Linda, Karen, and Kathy came over to play, and Linda had bingo on the first card! I think she’s hooked.
As the day went on we noticed quite a few people making preliminary departure preparations and decided we should do the same. We had hoped to not have to dump our tanks until we got back to Williston on the 1st, but we were getting low on fresh water which usually means our waste tanks are nearing full. We dumped our holding tanks, filled the fresh water tank to the 2/3rds mark, stowed the water hose, and put lawn chairs away. All that remained to do on the outside for tomorrow was stowing a step stool, a couple of mats, disconnecting the electrical shoreline and stowing it; turning on the chassis batteries and engine accessories air switch, and hooking up the car for towing. The inside usually takes less than an hour to get ready and we typically deal with that about 90 minutes before we plan to pull out. We don’t like to do this too soon as once the interior is prepped for travel it is more difficult to use for living.
At 5:15 PM we headed over to the activities building with Bill, Karen, Mike, and Kathy for dinner. A centerpiece had been added to each table and about half of the rally goers had changed into dressier clothes. Like last night’s meal, there was a serving line to get your food. Volunteers staffed the various serving stations, and it was a smooth, quick process. Dinner included spaghetti with marinara sauce (no meat, thank you!), veal parmesan, shrimp, green salad (no cheese, thank you again), and desserts, including fruit cocktail (thank you a third time) with sweetened tea, unsweetened tea, and water to drink. People also brought their own beverages to suit their tastes.
As the band started bringing in their equipment I figured it was going to be a long, loud night, so after dinner I went back to the coach to work in quiet surroundings. In my absence the door prizes were given out starting at 7 PM. After the door prizes were distributed a group of volunteers put the New Year’s Eve party decorations on the tables. These consisted of plastic lei, party hats, tiaras, and noise makers.
The New Year’s Eve party got started around 8 PM with country rock band Desert Moon. We sat with our dinner group at a table in the middle of the room with good access to the main doors. The room acoustics were very “live” and the volume was dangerously high so Bill and I came and went throughout the evening, finding camaraderie with like-minded individuals who gathered outside the building to talk buses in the cool evening air. The median age of the rally participants was probably between 65 and 70, and many people left long before midnight and of those who remained many were also in and out of the building. There were often more people dancing while the band was on break than when they were playing as the volume of the pre-recorded music was lower. But enough of us stuck it out until midnight to bring in the New Year when Bill and Brenda lowered a sparkling ball from the ceiling while we counted down from 10. At the stroke of midnight (EST) we all said our “Happy New Year’s,” and then many of us went back to our coaches and went to bed.
Our children are grown and have not spent New Year’s Eve with us in quite some time, having lives and friends of their own with whom to celebrate the coming of the New Year. Our tradition for more than 10 years now has been to spend a quiet evening at home enjoying some traditional foods, watching the celebrations from around the world on TV, and finally having a champagne toast at midnight. We no longer have those foods since we changed the way we eat and we have been busy enough at the rally that it never occurred to us to buy a bottle of “bubbly.” We did open a bottle of Black Star Arcturos Late Harvest Riesling, which served the occasion just fine, but what we really enjoyed was ringing out the old year and bringing in the new one with old and new friends who share our interest in the converted coach and the lifestyle it makes possible.
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The second day of the Arcadia (Bussin’) Rally kept us busy. Breakfast was sponsored by Luke of U. S. Coach & Equipment Sales. (Breakfast yesterday was sponsored by Steve Foster and the activities building is sponsored for the entire rally by Central Florida Bus.) I went to the 9 AM seminar on the use of the on-board fresh water tank, put on by Tom Mason. Tom uses the water in his tank for all domestic purposes, including drinking and cooking, and described the filtration system he uses to make sure it is safe and tastes good. From there it was a Q&A/discussion format, which works well at a rally where there are a lot of very experienced people but the number of attendees at a seminar is not too large.
The “official” open house was today from 10 AM – noon, but many attendees have had their buses open to visitors since they got here. Linda and I decided not to open our coach because of the cats, who are very stressed by strangers in their home. We visited a few coaches including the Ultravan, the Love Bus, the Cool Cruiser, and two gorgeous trailers–a Spartan belonging to the Bone’s, and an airstream belonging to the Hunt’s—both with highly polished aluminum exteriors.
The “Old Hounds” group met for lunch at the Wolfert’s bus, so I stopped by there to get a few photographs. After we had our own lunch, I attended the 1:30 PM seminar; a presentation by John Hunt of Tin Can Tourists titled “Home on the Road.” John had researched and prepared an excellent presentation on how American’s took to the road in automobiles over the last 100 years. The emphasis was on the evolution of where they stayed: think primitive roadside camping (the original boondocking) through the development of various kinds of campgrounds, cabin camps and eventually motels. John’s delivery was very good.
The South East Bus Nuts were having a mid-afternoon meeting so I stopped by to take a few photographs. Linda and MaryAnn went to play bingo and had a great time. Bob Ernst was the caller, one of his many volunteer duties at the rally. (Bob also takes care of the coffee all day, and was one of the golf cart drivers escorting buses to their sites.) While the ladies played bingo, I went back to the Iron Horse and spent a couple of hours with owners Jimmy and Sadie Clay. I took additional exterior photos and interviewed them about the conversion project.
We went over to the activities building with Bill and Karen for dinner around 5:30 PM. As promised, Brenda Phelan had prepared salads for us. We had hoped we might be able to have some corn, but after grilling it (yum) they put it in pans with butter (yuck). The only other thing they had that we could eat was bread, so we each took a piece.
Dinner was followed by door prizes followed by a break before the evening entertainment started. I used that opportunity to return to the coach and process some photographs. I went back for the evening entertainment where Linda, Bill, Karen, Mike, and Kathy had held on to our table near the front. Normally we don’t sit up front, especially for bands, but tonight was Sally Langwah and her husband, Roy. They did a “Nashville impersonation” show in which Roy did Willie Nelson and Elvis Presley songs while Sally did a range of famous country female singers including Dolly Parton and Patsy Kline. She changed into a different/appropriate outfit for each singer.
Sally and Roy were very entertaining. They both interacted with the audience, who played along wonderfully, and their show lasted about 90 minutes. After their show they provided another hour of music for dancing. Linda and Karen learned a couple of line dances, and Linda and I got up for a few slow numbers (that’s the best I can/will do). Although the crowd thinned as time went on, there were still 30 people there at the end having a great time. Sally and Roy have already been invited back for next year’s rally.
Although we’ve been here since the 26th, the Arcadia (Bus’in) Rally 2014 officially started this morning with breakfast at 7:30 AM. In addition to coffee, orange juice (it’s Florida, after all), and donuts (it’s an RV rally, after all) there were bagels, and they were vegan, so there was something we could eat. Linda thanked rally organizer Brenda Phelan for that. While we were finishing our breakfast Brenda approached Linda regarding dinner and offered to prepare a salad for us in place of the main (meat) course they would be serving. We didn’t expect that, but we certainly appreciated it.
There was a memorial service at 9:30 AM to celebrate the life of Fran Mason. On December 16 she and Tom were checking in to an RV park just down the road from the rally site when she had a cerebral hemorrhage. She was air-lifted to a major medical center but did not survive. Tom and Fran had been coming to the Bus’in Rally for years, Tom serving as the Master of Ceremonies, and they were well known and beloved by the regular attendees. Many people contributed photographs and video clips of Fran from previous rallies that were then edited into a slide show. Although we never met Fran, we felt we should attend the service; this rally just has that kind of vibe. It was clear that she was a person who loved life, and John Vickery did a good job of making the celebration of her life was as upbeat as such a gathering can be.
At 100 RVs, the Arcadia Rally is large enough to have seminar presentations and small enough to not have simultaneous ones. The 11 AM seminar was on work-camping. We have been to seminars on this topic before so we went back to our rig where Linda worked on her needlepoint and I finished my photo gallery post for the 28th. A few more RVs arrived today and after lunch I took another stroll around the rally grounds looking for photo opportunities.
Linda headed over to the activities building with Karen at 1:45 PM for the ice cream social and I followed a bit later. We did not have ice cream, of course, but I wanted to get photos of the activity. The 3 PM seminar was put on by Forrest Bone from the Tin Can Tourists. It was a well researched and well documented presentation on the history and modern re-creation of that organization, which was a major factor in the beginnings of extended-timing and the development of “house car” tourism in Florida during the 1920s and 30s. The modern incarnation of the TCTs is not limited to any particular type or vintage of RV; anyone interested in the Tin Can Tourists can join. The new TCT is based in Michigan and holds rallies at Camp Dearborn in Milford, Michigan each May and September. The also have rallies in Florida and elsewhere.
After the seminar I was looking for more photo ops when I found Jimmy Clay outside the Iron Horse with the door open. I talked with him briefly about having the bus featured in Bus Conversions Magazine and learned that bus was in the magazine some years ago before they repainted the outside. We went inside where I met his wife, Sadie, got the interior tour, and took lots of pictures. We agreed that I would return tomorrow, but not during the official open house, to get some photos of the systems and bays and then sit with them and take notes for the article.
For dinner Linda fixed angel hair pasta with sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, and onion in olive oil and served it with a simple green salad and a glass of white wine. We then headed over to the activities building for the opening ceremonies which consisted of a few announcements and lots of door prizes. John Vickery handled the Master of Ceremonies duties. This was followed by “Joy and the Gang,” a band which performed vintage rock tunes to go with our vintage buses. A few couples got up and danced and the band seemed to understand what they needed to play for this crowd. They were scheduled to play from 8:00 to 10:30 PM but we left after less than 30 minutes. Linda and I have no tolerance for loud music, and the acoustics of the activity building were such that the lyrics were unintelligible. We turned the TV on when we got back to the rig and watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
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One of the activities that often takes place at RV rallies, especially converted bus rallies, is a scheduled open house. People with owner-converted coaches are like a fraternity, and are always interested in what their fellow coach converters have done since they last crossed paths. We are still undecided as to whether we will open our coach because of our cats, who tend to be wary of strangers, but just in case, Linda decided to clean house this morning while I wandered the rally site taking pictures.
Rally organizers and hosts Bill and Brenda Phelan are expecting 100 rigs to show up and by noon today at least 90 had arrived. More arrived during the afternoon and a handful were planning to come in tomorrow. The rally officially starts tomorrow (Sunday) at 7:30 AM with coffee, juice, donuts, and bagels.
Late morning we drove to the Arcadia, Florida historic district. Most of the district lies between eastbound and westbound FL-70 from FL-17 west for a couple of blocks. There was a sidewalk market throughout the district and we soon figured out that Arcadia is a center for antiques and collectibles. Much of the original architecture remains but except for a few restaurants and other businesses most of the square footage is devoted to vintage resale. This was perfect for us; lots of people out and about and lots of interesting things to look at, absolutely none of which we had any interest in buying. It helps us stay within budget.
We had a light lunch when we got back to the coach after which Linda sat outside and read while I worked on some digital photographs. Even though it was cloudy, the temperature got up a bit past 80 degrees F and the bus reached 84 inside. I shut the computer and network electronics down since heat is their main enemy and we went over and had a long chat with Mike Muller and MaryAnn Nash who are parked two spots down from us. They are another GLCC couple and Mike is the GLCC VP.
We returned to our bus around 4:30 PM to read and write when we felt a few raindrops. We put the folding chairs away and went inside just as it started to rain so we closed up the roof vents. The rain was brief, but the forecast for overnight and through the day tomorrow is for widespread, persistent, and occasionally heavy rain. The combination of temperature and wind has been quite pleasant, and we have had very few bugs, but the humidity has been noticeable. We expected that, this being Florida after all, but the storms forecasted for tomorrow are associated with a cold front, behind which the humidity should be a bit lower.
As dusk settled over the Turner Agri Civic Center we saw folks out strolling and decided to take our wine glasses and go for one ourselves before dinner. Along the way we met John Silver of Central Florida Bus Sales and Repairs. John has two coaches for sale at the rally; a 1994 Prevost XL (DD 8V92) Royale Coach and a 1997 MCI (DD 60 Series) Vantare. Although it was night by the time we got back to the coach, we had good visibility for walking as the main entrance road to the Turner Agri Civic Center has a long line of very tall, very bright lights. Many of the buses had their interior lights on, and some had exterior lights as well. It made for a pretty sight.
Many RVers like to dine out, especially at rallies with friends. While we enjoy the company of our fellow RVers, we prefer to dine in as much as possible. We have delicious dishes prepared with healthy fresh ingredients in reasonable portion sizes and at modest cost in the comfort of our own home. Tonight was left over Tofurkey with baked potatoes and mustard greens that Linda bought from the only sidewalk vendor we found selling food in the Arcadia HistoricDdistrict today. We started with a small glass of white wine and ended by finishing the vegan chocolate cake.
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We slept in this morning and did not get up until sunrise; very late for us. I made a big pot of coffee and then went for a stroll to take some photographs in the early morning light. I took photos in the afternoon light too, and I have assembled a gallery of images as a second post for today. When I got back Linda made vegan blueberry pancakes with real Maple syrup and vegan breakfast sausage patties. She does not use these fake meat products much anyone, but occasionally we like to have a more “traditional” breakfast. Starting Sunday the rally provides coffee, juice, bagels, toast, and other breakfast items every morning.
After breakfast we drove into town to find a 10-32 Nylok (stop) nut and other items that had been accumulating on our list. Our Garmin 465T GPS found the Walmart just 2 miles SE of the rally venue. We spotted a Tractor Supply Company and a Do It Best Hardware store on the way to Walmart and made note of other local businesses as we passed by. We found everything on our list at Walmart except for two items, one of which was the stop nut, so we stopped at the hardware store on the way back to the Turner Agri Civic Center. Stop nut and drain stopper in hand, we started back to base camp and remember another item that we had not written down. A quick U-turn back to the Sweetbay Market by the hardware store and we found a small (pocketsize) spiral bound notebook. I needed something I could carry around easily to record various details of the rally for my BCM article.
Back at the coach I replaced the two regular nuts I had used to fix the main patio awning yesterday with a Nylok stop nut. We let the awning sit for a while longer to make sure it was dry and then rolled it back up. We are parked with the passenger side of the bus facing north so the awning wasn’t providing any shade but merely blocked our view of most of the rally.
We then decided to give the coach a quick wash. The temperature was around 70 degrees F and there was a high overcast; plenty of light but not a blazing direct sunlight. We closed up the roof vents and windows, got out the hoses, sprayer, collapsible bucket, brush, dish soap, and microfiber cloths and went to work. The coach had picked up a film of road grime over the last 8 days and 1,300 miles and unlike most campgrounds, there was no problem with washing it at our site. We had planned on doing this at the designated RV/Car Wash station at Williston Crossings when we got back, but now we won’t have to. It still needs more hand detailing, but that can be done at our long-term site.
The washing done we opened the coach back up as it was getting warm inside. We had lunch around 1:30 PM; tofu hot dogs with mustard, onions, and relish along with fresh grapes. Apparently this was a comfort food day, but it was also an easy preparation meal. While we were eating I got a call from Chuck Spera. He was on his way from Naples to Ft Meyers and wanted to come to the rally site to visit and check it out. His ETA was still two hours out, so we went for a walk. I then took the camera and went out again as quite a few rigs had arrived during the day.
Barbara was back in Detroit for the holidays, so once we knew Chuck was coming we knew we would be going out for dinner and did some online research. There are plenty of places to eat in Arcadia, but it is not a dining destination. The Magnolia Seafood Grill appeared to be our best option; rated number one on Trip Advisor. Chuck arrived at 4:25 PM as estimated. Linda opened a bottle of our 2009 Egri Merlot and we settled in for a chat. He had a mobile mechanic (Mustafa, seriously) in Naples replace the water pump, connecting hoses, and thermostat on his Detroit Diesel 8V92TA engine (the same one we have) that morning and had to go to Ft. Meyers to return the old water pump to avoid the $165 core charge.
As the sun set and it started to get dark it also got very cool as there had been a strong breeze from the northeast all day. We headed for the heart of Arcadia’s historic district and found the restaurant. Linda and I split a very nice salad and a very mediocre pasta marinara. Chuck had a blackened Corvina (Cilus gilberti, similar to sea bass) with a baked potato and broccoli all of which he said was excellent. Our waitress, Jackie, was delightful and attentive. She even had the cook prepare our garlic bread with olive oil instead of butter. Chuck had a 90 mile drive back to Pelican Lake in Naples, so concluded our visit around 7:30 PM, made plans to meet again, and went our separate ways. We rounded out our meal back at the rig with some vegan chocolate cake and settled in to read, process photographs, work a few puzzles, and watch a little TV before going to bed.
We left Williston Crossings RV Resort in Williston, Florida at 10:15 AM and traveled to the Turner Agri Civic Center in Arcadia Florida for the Arcadia (Bus’in) Rally 2014. Our route took us down US-27 to I-75 to FL-70 to US-17 and over to the rally venue, covering 200 miles in 3 hours and 45 minutes. I-75 had a lot of traffic and a few construction zones, but US-27 and FL-70 we excellent roads with very few vehicles. I have not been posting maps of our daily travels, so here is the route we have traveled starting on the 19th. We have traveled about 1,300 miles in that time.
We were met at the check in station by Bill and Brenda Phelan who now run the Arcadia Rally. Linda took care of the paperwork while I introduced myself, indicating that I had been asked by the publisher of Bus Conversions Magazine to do an article on the rally. We unhooked the car and were escorted to our back-in site. We immediately recognized the bus parked behind us as belonging to Bill and Karen Gerrie. They always travel with Karen’s sister Katherine and her husband Mike, and sure enough, they were here too! By the time the rally starts on Sunday we expect there to be other converted bus people here that we know.
We were escorted to our site, backed in, straightened out, and leveled and then went through our usual arrival routine; Linda setting up the inside while I hooked up the electrical shoreline and checked the house battery state of charge and that the inverter/charger was working. We then deployed the awnings.
While opening and securing the main patio awning the front rafter arm started to come off of the awning shaft. Closer inspection revealed that there was supposed to be a retaining pin or bolt holding these two pieces together, but it was missing. Yikes! I looked down and there was a black bolt of approximately the right diameter and length on ground in front of me. Was it possible that this had just fallen out? I looked at the other end of the roller tube and there was the matching part, but with a Nylok nut on the end. I went back to the other end and looked for the nut, but didn’t see it. It probably fell off a long time ago, if it was ever there in the first place. No one has worked on these awnings since they were installed by the Zip Dee Factory outside of Chicago, Illinois in October 2012. It would have been very, very bad if these two parts had separated while we were traveling on the highway.
I managed to get the bolt back through the mating holes, but I did not have a Nylok nut of the correct size in my parts kit. The Gerrie’s have a 1965 GMC bus that they converted. Bill is a very knowledgeable and resourceful guy when it comes to buses, but he did not have an 8-32 Nylok nut either. I did have some regular 8-32 nuts, however, so I double nutted the bolt and snugged it up nice and tight. We added 8-32 Nylok nuts to our growing list of supplies we needed to buy and things we need to do.
With that chore out of the way, we pulled up the chairs and settled in for a chat. I mentioned the Check Engine Light issue and erratic speedometer problem we’ve been having, and quick as a wink Bill had his ProLink/NexIQ engine diagnostic tool out, hooked up to our bus, and we were reading codes. The DDEC II engine computer did not have any active codes set and only one inactive code. The inactive code was for a fuel temperature sensor high voltage. Joe Cannarozzi (our mobile mechanic) and I had replaced the fuel temperature sensor back in the spring but I never got around to hooking up my ProLink and clearing the old code. That little oversight has caused me way too many anxious moments. My bad.
Bill also had a special card for his diagnostic equipment that allowed us to look at the error codes from the ATEC transmission computer. No codes were set, indicating that the vehicle speed sensor was sending a good signal at least as far as the transmission computer. We assumed that was the case as the transmission was working great and the cruise control was working as it always has. The erratic speedometer appears to be either a wiring problem between the computer and the dashboard or the speedometer gauge itself. The easiest/cheapest thing to do would be to clean the connectors on both ends. The next easiest thing would be to replace the speedometer and hope that’s the problem, but that will not be the least expensive solution if turns out not to be the gauge.
Although I had stopped worrying about the Check Engine Light, it was a great relief to know that there were no active error codes being generated by the engine or transmission computer. One of the great things about rallies in general, and converted bus rallies in particular, is that many converted bus owners have done their own conversions and have a special sense of community about their machines. They know their way around buses, travel with tools and parts, and are usually willing to help each other when there’s a problem.
With a potential awning disaster discovered and averted and the Check Engine Light issue resolve, we finally settled in to our chairs for a long, well-deserved, chat. While we were talking four Sandhill Cranes walked by about 50 feet away. These magnificent gray birds have a distinctive red cap on their heads, and can stand almost 4 feet tall. Although they tend to spend summers much farther north in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Canada, we have them on our property in southern Michigan during the late spring to early winter. We also saw kildeer, and several other birds we did not recognize. On the drive down today we saw pelicans and egrets plus the usual raptors that can often be spotted along highways.
By 5:30 PM it was getting dark and mosquitoes started to appear so we wrapped up our conversation and headed inside for the night. With all of the activity and socializing we had managed to skip lunch. Rather than take an hour to prepare something, we had the chickpea salad Linda made the other day. It’s one of our favorite cold dishes and reminds us of egg salad.
Linda turned on the TV and scanned for channels. We are parked facing west with the front OTA TV antenna pointed slightly north of our nose. That’s somewhat in the direction of Tampa St. Petersburg although they are actually northwest of our location. The scanner found 60 digital stations, so she flipped through them to see what was there. We had the PBS trio, a weather station, the usual commercial offerings, and lots of Spanish language stations. Impressive really; if you look at a road atlas Arcadia is 40 miles east of I-75 and appears to be in the middle of huge swamp.
We could not find a usable Wi-Fi signal so we turned on our Verizon Mi-Fi device and got online. If you need to be online while traveling, you need to have more than one way to get there. (Technomadia has the definitive book on the subject for RVers.) We checked e-mail and I worked on this post. We took a few minutes to have vegan chocolate cake with fresh strawberries. We finished up our online work and went to bed early. Although the rally does not start until Sunday, I have to start acting like a reporter tomorrow so I can write a really good article on this event with lots of good photographs.
What do extended-time RVers do on Christmas day? Pretty much what they would do at home, except for visiting/hosting family. It got down to 33 degrees F overnight, so we had the spirit of winter if not the actual thing. That was still above freezing and much better than the 9 degrees F in Howell, Michigan. Linda put her knit cap on and went for a walk before breakfast. With the way people are bundled up here she didn’t want to show off by walking without her hat. We may not be overly concerned with fitting in, but there’s no reason to make people feel bad on Christmas day. We both went for a couple of walks later in the day. There are pictures of the RV resort throughout this post that do not necessarily relate the text.
This was our 7th day on the road and as we are leaving Williston Crossings RV Resort tomorrow for a week we needed to do a load of laundry. One of the Laundromat buildings is fairly close to our current site and even closer to our long-term site when we get back. Like everything else here it was clean and well lit with commercial washers and dryers in good condition and all functioning properly. I took care of the laundry after breakfast, as I would have done at home, while Linda started working on our holiday meal, as she would have done at home. At some level life on the road is just life, and there’s a certain comfort in that, but with more variety of new experiences which is why people do it. We have been determined from the beginning that our extended-time RVing would not be an extended vacation. Although we plan to do plenty of sight-seeing while we are in Florida, so far we have been quite comfortable with just sitting in one place and relaxing.
Linda’s first culinary task was to make her vegan chocolate cake. She had not packed vegetable oil, so she used avocado oil instead. The batter (I got to clean the bowl) did not have any unusual taste, so we expected the cake to be very good when we finally had some for dessert.
We turned on the dash radio and were able to tune in the Gainesville NPR station with a good strong signal even though the antenna is 20 miles away. Not bad considering that our radio does not have an antenna at the moment! It was removed as part of redoing the roof in 2011/12 and has not yet been replaced. So at this point we have fast Wi-Fi, a good selection of over-the-air TV stations (including the PBS trio), and good radio signals (including NPR). This place just gets better and better.
With our outstanding Wi-Fi we decided to try contacting our children using Facetime on our iPads. We connected with our son and daughter-in-law first. Our grand-daughter was having a late morning snack of teething pretzels and “freezy peasies” (frozen peas). She seemed to recognize us and smiled and waved in-between gumming pretzels and peas. She got very excited when our male cat, Jasper, wandered into the frame, so it was pretty clear that she recognized the images she was seeing. Facetime is going to allow us to stay in touch with her development while we are here, which is very nice. We then connected with our daughter and had a nice chat with her. She was baking rolls for later today when she and her husband were getting together with her brother, his family, and a friend.
We bought a Tofurkey yesterday to have for our main dish today. Linda had not tried to cook one in a convection/microwave oven before, and the cooking directions advised against microwaving it, so this was a bit of an experiment. She made cranberry-orange relish yesterday from our remaining fresh cranberries. Today she made a green salad which we ate an hour before our main mean. She convection roasted the Tofurkey and it came out great. While it was relaxing she microwaved a couple of yams and sautéed some asparagus spears to complete the side dishes. We had a bottle of Early Season White Cranberry Wine from Forestedge Winery in Laporte, Minnesota to round out the meal. Of the many non-grape wines available from Forestedge Winery, this is one of our favorites.
It may be Christmas day, but chores have to be done when they have to be done. Even though we have a full-hookup site at the rally in Arcadia we wanted to leave Williston tomorrow with empty holding tanks and a full fresh water tank. You never know if the facilities you’ve been promised will actually be functional when you arrive. I attended to these tasks after dinner.
After an early evening stroll through the RV resort we had vegan chocolate cake with fresh strawberries for dessert. As expected, the cake was excellent.
If you had asked me even 10 years ago if we would ever be in Florida on Christmas Eve I would have scoffed at the suggestion. And yet here we are; and loving it. We got up around 8 AM to clear skies and cool temperatures, the overnight low having gotten all the way down close to 50 degrees F. There was a light breeze, and it was a bit brisk, but we were bemused to see people bundled up like they were in Michigan (where the temperatures were near 10 deg F). Speaking of Michigan, there are quite a few people here at Williston Crossings RV Resort from our state, as well as from Ontario, Canada.
I made coffee, as I do every morning, and that got Linda up, as it does most mornings. Teeko’s Sweet Seattle Dreams is a 50/50 mix of their Seattle Blend (caffeinated) and Sweet Dreams blend (decaffeinated). We were the first customers that Jeff made this particular combination for, and he liked the aroma so much he is considering brewing up some to serve by the cup. Not that we’re addicted or anything, but we like to start our day with the smell of coffee being ground and brewed. The drinking that follows isn’t too bad either. I uploaded several blog posts before breakfast and a few more afterwards while Linda went for her first walk of the day. She is very focused on getting in at least 10,000 steps every day, and determined to drag me along. 🙂 We then headed for Gainesville, Florida to do some grocery shopping.
There was a Christmas Eve social at 4 PM in the Activities Building at Williston Crossings RV Resort; BYOBeverage and a hor d’ourves to share. We didn’t have anything with us to share, so we picked up hummus and chips while we were in town. Linda also needed various ingredients for our Christmas eve and Christmas day dinners. Our research indicated that our best general purpose grocery option would be Publix, a large grocery store chain in Florida. There are several in Gainesville (home of the University of Florida and the Florida Gators). There is also an Earth Origins organic market in Gainesville. One of the Publix stores is in the SW corner of the Gainesville area at the intersection of I-75 and FL-121, just 15 miles from the back entrance of the Williston Crossings RV Resort. The Earth Origins market is in the northwest quadrant just north of the University of Florida campus. Between the two stores we were able to find most of the products we are used to getting from the stores where we live, including Whole Foods. We did not look for the Trader Joe’s in Gainesville on this trip, but we know there is one there if/when we need it.
We had a light lunch when we got back. I continued to work on blog posts (I am almost caught up) while Linda entered receipts into Quicken and copied photo files from the NAS to her machine for redundant storage.
We took a roasted red pepper hummus and chips to the Christmas Eve social. Our main reason for going was to be sociable, not for the food, but we always try to take something we can eat on the assumption that there won’t be anything else vegan available. We got there just after 4 PM and left about an hour later. During that time there were approximately 40 people there, enough to fill the room but a small percentage of the residents. All seven people at our table were first time residents at Williston Crossings. One couple was from Ontario and another had recently become full-timers, having sold everything and hit the road this past July. Someone brought veggies, so we had something to eat besides the hummus and chips.
Linda prepared a lovely Christmas Eve dinner of angel hair pasta (somehow appropriately inappropriate for us) with mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes tossed in an olive oil with garlic. A little white wine to wash it down and some fresh strawberries for dessert finished the meal off nicely.
After dinner I went to the Adobe website to see if I could get some pre-sales technical support before deciding whether to order the Adobe Photoshop Photography Program. This program is subscription based and includes Photoshop Creative Cloud and Lightroom 5 for $9.99 per month (with a one year commitment). My Live Chat customer support person indicated that I would be able to use this on my old Windows XP Pro laptop, so I went ahead and ordered it. Adobe was very efficient at taking my money, but as soon as I tried to download Photoshop I was informed that it was not compatible with my operating system. Aaaarrrrgggghhhh. I had a few “words” with the Live Chat person about this. When our Live Chat session was done I was presented with a survey and I made it clear I was not pleased with the pre-sales support I had received which seemed more concerned with “helping” me to place the order than with accurately responding to my technical questions.
The subscription allows us to install the programs on two computers, and I did establish (I think) that we can move it to a new machine if/when we get one. For now we downloaded the Creative Cloud app onto Linda’s much newer 64-bit Windows 8 machine and then used the app to download both Ps(CC) and Lr5 onto her computer. Although Linda will probably not be the primary user of this software it at least got it installed so we can start learning how to use it.
With 3.5 days of hard driving behind us and nothing we had to get up and do first thing this morning, we slept well last night and got up when we were ready. That turned out to be around 7:30 AM, but that was two hours later than the last few mornings. We had a leisurely start to the morning and eventually went on a walkabout to explore the Williston Crossings RV Resort and the town of Williston, Florida.
Besides the beautiful landscaping, the high quality of the sites/infrastructure, the excellent Wi-Fi, and the nice people we have met so far (staff and residents) one of the things we like about Williston Crossings RV Resort is that it appears to be very quiet and relaxed even though lots of people are out and about. The people parked next to us, for example have an outside TV. They were watching it at 7 AM this morning while smoking, which they do constantly, but we never heard the TV and we never smelt the smoke. We only knew they were there because we looked out our window and saw them.
A couple of bonus features we discovered included the recycling program and the RV/Car Wash station, available for use at no extra charge. Another plus is that the resort is walking distance from Williston, a city of 2,200 residents (not including the RV Resort). We walked downtown this morning and discovered a grocery store, two drug stores, two hardware stores, and a variety of non-chain eateries. When we got back we walked the RV Resort and took pictures. Our estimate is that there are at least 600 sites here so there are, or will be, at least half as many people staying at the RV park during January and February as live in Williston. It’s a BIG park, but you can only see limited portions of it from any given vantage point, so it has much more intimate feel to it.
We also checked out a possible different site (#439) that was available in the old section of the resort and decided to move our reservation to that site. The pull-through site we originally reserved for January – March was in the new section where the tree cover is sparse to non-existent, making the sites much more exposed to the sun. Site #439 is a back-in rather than a pull-through which will save us $400 over the three months we are here. The main reason for moving, however, was that it has the mature trees of the older section, including Live Oaks draped with Spanish moss, which will provide a more attractive setting while affording us good shade from the sun. By the time we got back to our coach we had walked about 6,000 steps. At 2 feet/step that was 12,000 feet or a little over two miles. At 2.5 feet/step it was 15,000 feet, or just under three miles. Either way, we would not have done that at home with temperatures in the mid 20s and lots of snow on the ground.
The north end of the resort is still under development and the landscaping is sparse compared to the south (older) end. We were told that the northwest corner is being developed with sites that can be purchased. The roads and utilities are in, but most of the sites have not been paved and landscaped. This part of the resort is closer to the club house, swimming pool, and pavilion. At the center of the north section are three full size train cars and a caboose. We do not know what plans the owners have these but they are badly in need of restoration.
The nearest cities of any size are Gainesville (20 miles) and Ocala (25 miles). Gainesville is a college town. It has a Trader Joe’s, a few “health food” stores, several farmers markets, and a Panera so we will be making that trip occasionally for items we cannot find in Williston. We are looking forward to eating a lot of locally sourced fruits and vegetables while we are here. The Nutrition Facts daily video reports for the last few days have been about recent studies on the remarkable properties of berry fruits. It’s worth checking out.
We were surprised this morning when we got an “access denied” message when we tried to view the Nutrition Facts video. Nutrition Facts uses YouTube to make their videos available and had a problem a few weeks ago with a false report of “offensive/inappropriate content” which shut them down for 24 hours until they got it straightened out with the powers that be. We weren’t sure at first if this had happened again or if we were being blocked from getting to YouTube by the resorts Wi-Fi system. A quick check of YouTube directly indicated that the resort was apparently blocking YouTube. As large as the resort is, it is understandable that they don’t want people streaming video content, and YouTube would be an obvious site to block.
(Opinion: People who abuse the ability to report offensive or inappropriate content of YouTube by making false claims should themselves be barred from ever using YouTube again.) Nutrition Facts is now backing up their collection of almost 800 videos to another service (Vimeo, I think) as a precaution against this happening in the future.
Verizon Mi-Fi to the rescue! We always try to use Wi-Fi when it’s available but we have the Mi-Fi device for just those situations where we can’t. As long as we were powering up the Mi-Fi device we did a little experiment: Instead of connecting to it directly, we had the Wi-Fi Ranger connect it and then connected our computers to the Wi-Fi Ranger. Bingo, worked like a charm. More to the point, we were able to watch the Nutrition Facts dot Org video.
We connected back to the resort Wi-Fi system and turned off the Mi-Fi. I then downloaded a new version of a program that was 84 MB without objection from the resort Wi-Fi system. Linda renewed a few memberships that we had not taken care of before we left and I continued to work on cleaning up e-mail. Adobe has an interesting offer available to anyone who wants it for Photoshop CC (creative cloud) and Lightroom 5; $9.99/month with a minimum one year contract. But you have to order by December 31st. They are no longer going to sell these programs, so if you want them, this is how you will have to get them. You can install on two computers under the terms and conditions. Renewals will be at “current prices”, so no guarantee it that the price will remain at present level.
I did not order it yet as some of the features appear to require a 64 bit operating systems (Win 7, 8, or Mac). That works on Linda’s laptop, but not mine. I downloaded a new version (18.0) of WinZip this morning, only to discover that it would not install on anything less that MS Vista. I like my existing Dell laptop computer, and I like Windows XP Pro SP 3, but it’s becoming all too clear that I am going to have to get a new machine, probably sooner rather than later. Ugh. In the world of computing one of my least favorite things is the process of moving to a new operating system.
It was pleasantly warm today, in the lower 80s, and bit humid but with a light breeze, so we wanted something light for dinner. Linda walked back to the local grocery store to pick up some fresh greens for a dinner salad and few odds and ends from the drug store. Around 3 PM the grounds crew passed through our area and used a leaf blower to clean the patio portion of our concrete pad. Nice touch. They also mentioned to Linda that the reason the current occupant was vacating site #439 was because one of the adjacent neighbors liked to build a fire every evening and he didn’t like the smoke. We often have campfires at night when we are camping in cooler weather, but decided to check that out after it got dark. We did not see any obvious problem, but we will investigate a little further tomorrow.
Not really; as it turned out the rain forecast for overnight never developed. But around 5:30 AM we got a blast of colder air, probably the downdraft from a thunderstorm, which was the first sign of the approaching frontal boundary. It started raining around 5:45 AM and rained heavily off and on from 6 AM on. The Weather Channel radar showed an unpleasantly large band of heavy rain just to our west stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to our southwest northeastward up the western side of the Appalachian Mountains into the mid-Atlantic states and beyond. The whole line was training from SW to NE while moving to the east, portending a long rain event in Cartersville, Georgia once it started. The southern edge of a severe thunderstorm watch box was just to our north, but we only had a little lightening no thunder. As route would take us south to southeast, there was a chance we could get ahead of the advancing storm line if got started early enough.
I had to unhook in the rain in order to get us on the road at 7 AM; not something I would normally choose to do, but it was OK. There is often an upside to most situations, and in this case there were two. One was that I finally got to use my new REI raincoat and rainpants, and I am happy to report that I finally have raingear that keeps the rain on the outside where it belongs. It was also an opportunity to test whether the leaks in our roof had been found and sealed. So far, so good. Indeed, we ran in and out of rain for most of the drive today, heavy at times, and no leaks appeared.
Besides trying to stay ahead of freezing temperatures, another reason for leaving Michigan a day early was to stick with our plan to drive through/around the Atlanta, Georgia metro area on a Sunday. The Cartersville KOA is about 50 miles north of Atlanta, so leaving at 7 AM allowed us to deal with Atlanta traffic between 8:00 AM and 8:30 AM on a Sunday morning. We did not have the road to ourselves, and traffic was probably slower than normal due to the rain, but this proved to be a good call on our part. We had been told that we could take the bus straight through downtown Atlanta on I-75, and our Rand McNally GPS routed us that way, but in the end we were persuaded to take the I-285 by-pass around Atlanta to the west by a sign that said “All trucks with more than 6 wheels use I-285 by-pass.” I-285 W paralleled I-75 a few miles to the west and I-285 E returned us to I-75. It did not add that many miles, and there were fewer entrance ramps with less traffic merging onto the highway than on I-75 through the city.
By the time we got south of Atlanta it was past sunrise. The rain had let up and the sky was noticeably brighter. We did not manage to outrun the storm front, but the rain became lighter and intermittent until we got into Florida when it finally ended.
We had also been advised to stop in Georgia just before the Florida state line and top off our fuel tank as the price of diesel fuel can be 20 to 25 cents per gallon higher in Florida. We have a Pilot / Flying J discount card, so we tend to look for Pilot Travel Centers and Flying J Truck Stops first. We checked their website the night before and found that they had a Pilot Travel Center at exit 11 and a Flying J Truck Stop at exit 2, both conveniently located to I-75. We have also gotten comfortable with how to get in and out of these truck stops and use the truck pumps. Even when they have “RV pumps” we never use them as access is often a problem and they usually have automotive size nozzles that take longer to fill the tank. We ended up stopping at the Pilot Travel Center at exit 11 at 11:45 AM and were back on I-75 S by 12:10PM. Upon crossing into Florida we did not see a significant difference in the price of diesel fuel, but perhaps the stations near the border try to keep their prices in line with the border stations in Georgia?
Yesterday was the first time I had driven any type of vehicle in Georgia and the first time we have had the motorhome in the state. It was not the first time either of us had been here; Linda was in Savannah once with our daughter’s Girl Scout troop and I was in Atlanta many, many years ago on business. Today was also the first time we have had the coach in Florida. Again, it was not our first time in the state. We had heard about the I-75 Florida Welcome Center, but having just stopped for fuel in Georgia we passed it by. They allow you to stay for up to 24 hours to “rest”—no slideouts; no awnings; no bar-b-cue pits; no lawn chairs—but you can definitely spend the night if you need to and are able to boondock.
We pulled in to Williston Crossings RV Resort just after 2 PM. They had opened a new entrance on SR-121 which caused us a moment of confusion when we saw the sign as the address we had put in the GPS required us to travel another mile through Williston to get to the entrance. The entrance gate was closed, with no room to turn around, but there was an office building with an illuminated OPEN sign, so we turned it. A woman came out to greet us and explained that this was a new entrance and we were welcome to use it. She called for an escort and let us through the gate to wait for the golf cart to lead us to our site. They assigned us a great full-hookup (50 amp electrical service, of course) pull-through site with lots of shade trees. Most of the sites here are paved, and ours was close enough to level to make leveling the coach easy. It is also a very long site and would easily accommodate a 45 foot motorhome with a 25 foot trailer behind it.
Once we were settled we walked up to the office to register and get our packet of materials. There was a white board on the front porch of the office building with the names of all of the people arriving that day. Ours was listed; a nice touch. The resort is a “gated” community. The gates are open during the day but closed at night, so our packet included the gate code. Unlike most RV parks, the resort does not issue stickers or hangtags for the RVs, tow, or towed vehicles. Beside the usual rules, emergency numbers, etc., our packet also included a newsletter and calendar of upcoming events. The resort has an activity building with a workout room, a clubhouse, a pool and covered pavilion, and nice laundry and restrooms. The office has a billiards table, library, reading area, a small kitchenette and dining area, a gift shop, and mailboxes. (See photos at the end of this post.) If we want to it appears there are plenty of things to do here.
Williston Crossings RV Resort was one of several places that had been recommended to us by fellow GLCC member Ed Roelle. Ed and Janet have stayed there in the past and thought it was one of the best RV parks around with reasonable rates for a really nice park in Florida in the winter. We had checked out the website, which always makes a place look good, and described the variety of amenities and activities. We also checked the satellite imagery, so we knew that the park was large and had some nice tree cover. But none of that research gave us a complete or accurate picture of what is here. It is, quite frankly, nicer than we expected.
We scanned for OTA TV channels and found quite a few, including the usual trio of PBS stations. Score! The local ABC affiliate was showing The Sound Of Music, so we watched that during the evening.
Often referred to as “the shortest day of the year” the winter solstice is the exact same length as every other day of the year. What’s special about it is that in the northern hemisphere it is the day with the least time from sunrise to sunset and the most time from sunset to sunrise. From here to the Summer Solstice the minutes of daylight increase slightly each day.
As glad as we are to be headed south, there are always reasons to stay home. Family tops the list, especially birthdays and holidays, but we took care of that with the cooperation of our families. We have our friends and clubs, of course, but another reason would be the Winter Solstice Special Release Party at Schramm’s Mead in Ferndale. Since we could not be in two places at once, we will just have to hope that Ken still has some Winter Solstice left when we get back. 🙂 If not, perhaps Ken will have a Vernal Equinox Special Release or a Summer Solstice Special Release. Any excuse to buy Ken’s mead.
What we did instead was pull out of the Oh! Kentucky RV Park/Campground at 8:20 AM and drove 0.3 miles to get back on southbound I-75. It was dry but overcast as we started out, but we were in and out of rain for most of the drive. The rain was generally light, but we did encounter heavier rates from time-to-time. We did not experience much fog, but we did have some areas with ground clouds. We made it past Knoxville, Tennessee without the problems we had back in October. This was the farthest south we have been with the coach, and the first time I have driven I-75 south of Knoxville. We made a brief stop for fuel at the Pilot Travel Center in McDonald, Tennessee and continued south on I-75 into Georgia. This the first time I have driven anything in Georgia and the first time we have had the coach there. Even with the rain it was a relatively easy and uneventful drive, except for the continued, almost random, on/off of the Check Engine Light. The coach ran well with good power and all of the gauges indicated normal operation, so we just pressed on. When we get settled in Arcadia for the rally I will pull out the ProLink and read the codes. That should draw a crowd and might even make for an interesting round-table discussion.
At 1:30 PM we took exit 111 and headed west 0.3 miles to the entrance of the Cartersville/Cassville-White KOA, This was our first time staying overnight in the Georgia in the motorhome. Linda had called ahead when we were near Knoxville, Tennessee, so we knew the office would be closed from 11 AM to 3 PM. The office manager left a map of the campground for us in the night registration station with our spot marked on it and the route to take through the campground to get there. She even put an orange traffic cone at the entrance to our site to mark it as reserved; very thoughtful. The temperature was in the low 60s when we arrived and rose to 69 during the evening. Rain was forecast for the later evening and thunderstorms for the overnight. As we have done since before we left, we kept an eye on the weather.
This is the second KOA we have stayed at in the last three months. We tend to think of them as overpriced with lots of amenities that appeal to families with kids, but that we don’t use. Both parks, however, have been very good places for us to stay, with: convenient access; good gravel interior roads with sufficient width and turning radius for our rig; mature trees trimmed up high enough to not scratch our motorhome; pull through sites with 50 amp full hookups; and clean bathrooms with good showers. The one in Natural Bridge, Virginia was full of kids, but it was a weekend near Halloween and we had fun giving away candy to the trick-or-treaters. The current location appears to be no more than 40% of capacity, with no evidence of kids; definitely off-peak season.
As an update to yesterday’s post, I discovered that I was pushing the wrong button and that both windshield washer pumps do, in fact, work. Duh. L The good news was that both windshield washer pumps work! J When we got to our destination I switched the output hoses back to their correct pumps so everything should work the way it’s supposed to tomorrow; except perhaps for those clogged orifices on the lower wiper arms. It’s always something, it seems, and any RVer who is honest about it will admit that. But they will also tell you that it’s part of the experience/lifestyle, and you either learn to take it stride and deal with it or you end up doing something else.
As a final technical note, now that I have started valving off additional circuits on the auxiliary air system, the pressure seems to be holding much longer and thus the compressor runs much less often. It is now at least a two hour cycle and may be holding longer than that. The new auxiliary air distribution/control panel that I built last year and installed this past spring has made it possible to do this.
We left Lakewood Village RV Resort in Wapakoneta, Ohio at 9 AM and drove the 231 miles non-stop to the Oh! Kentucky RV park/Campground in Berea, Kentucky, arriving at 1:30 PM. Even though we encountered light rain at points along the way we were able to travel at 62 mph much of the time, so we did slightly better than the 50 mph average we use when translating distances into travel times. It turns out that 62 mph is a speed that both the drivers and the bus like. As was the case back in October, there was considerable road construction through Dayton, Ohio that required us to slow down, but traffic moved smoothly through the construction zones. There was also still considerable construction along I-75 through Cincinnati, Ohio with posted speed limits of 45 mph, but again, traffic moved very smoothly.
As soon as you cross the Ohio River on I-75 and enter Kentucky you have to climb a long steep grade. This was the only part of the trip where I had to drop the transmission into 3rd gear as we did less than 40 mph up the grade. I think the bus could have done better, maybe 50 mph, but the big fully-loaded tractor-trailers could not, and that dictated the flow of traffic for everyone else. No problem; after owning a large vehicle for over four years, and having crested the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming at under 20 mph in 1st gear, we are very sympathetic to what truck drivers have to deal with. Eventually the grade became less steep and everyone was able to travel a little faster, or get around the trucks that couldn’t, but it seems that we were climbing for close to 30 minutes after crossing the river. Kentucky is hilly.
The Oh! Kentucky RV Park/Campground was a modest place, but was perfect for our needs. The entrance was only 0.3 miles from the exit ramp off I-75 and was an easy turn in for us. There were more rigs here than at Lakewood Village RV Resort, mostly 5th wheels and trailers, but it was also much warmer than where we were the previous night. There were also a dozen or so “seasonals” and a number of long-term campers. We tend to be leery of parks with seasonal (permanent) units as they are often not well kept, but they had a great pull-through site for us with easy in-and-out access and full hookups that included 50 amp electrical for under $30 for the night. Besides, the temperature was 57 deg F when we arrived and went up to 61 deg F before settling back to 57 deg F as the forecast low for the night. It was also very windy.
I walked around the campground, which was not very big, and took a few pictures. I wanted to scope out our exit path and I like to document the places we visit. Linda and I took a leisurely stroll a little later as we usually do at a new RV park. Steve (from the office) stopped by while I was washing the windshields to chat for a minute and compliment us on our “camper.” Linda headed back to the office/store to pick up a few essentials and was addressed as “honey” for the 8th time. She thought it was quaint. She met one of our fellow campers on the way back, an older woman out walking her dog. The woman was traveling solo pulling a small trailer with a pickup truck. Linda went for a longer walk by herself later and met the woman again, who joined her for the stroll. She confirmed that it was windy there all the time, not unlike what we experienced in Wyoming this past summer.
You meet some interesting people RVing. This woman was from Montana, older, retired, and married with adult children. She had been at this campground since September and wasn’t leaving until April, but her husband was in Florida for the winter. She had a son who lived in central Florida. She tried one winter there but didn’t like it. She had daughter who lived and worked near Detroit, Michigan, apparently also in a “camper.” Small world.
She picked Berea for the winter because it’s mentioned in the Bible (Acts), she had never been to this part of the country, and the price was right. She did not do much other research before booking herself in here for 7 – 8 months, however, and was surprised to discover that it was not in the mountains. The mountains are not far away; you can see the first real mountain range from I-75 southbound as you approach the exits for Berea. Although we did not unhook the car and go exploring, our research indicated that Berea was an interesting place with a famous college and a thriving community of artists and artisans. Perhaps not interesting enough for an 8 month stay, but then there may be enough cultural attractions and opportunities for classes to fill the time. I suppose it depends on what you like to do.
Although it spritzed occasionally, it never really rained so I decided to get the water softener out and fill our on-board fresh water tank. I also cleaned the four windshields and the front side windows. Our lower windshield washers don’t work, so I decided to take a look at that. It’s amazing what you can do when the temperature is 60 deg F! I did not arrive at a definitive diagnosis (which means I wasn’t able to completely fix the problem) but I rigged up a work-around. I may have a multiple failure situation. It appears that the pump for the lower windshields has either failed, and/or the switch on the windshield wiper stalk has failed, and/or the wiring in-between has failed. Figuring it out exactly will take more time and test instruments than I wanted to deal with today. I also discovered that some of the small orifices on the wiper arms may have been inadvertently clogged when they were spray painted. My work-around was to simply switch the output hoses from the two pumps. That allowed me to turn on the lower wipers and then activate the upper wiper pump, causing windshield washer fluid to spray on the bottom windshields. We will be driving in and out of rain all day tomorrow, which means lots of road spray, so I hope this works.
Why do people snowbird? I don’t know about anyone else, but as we have gotten older we have become less tolerant of the cold and the work involved in clearing snow from our driveway. We are also not winter sports people, so the main charm of winter for us is looking at the snow. True, now that we are both retired we no longer have to drive to/from work every day, regardless of how ridiculously dangerous the weather and road conditions are, but that does not equate to a particularly active lifestyle. And with the change in the way we eat—to a whole-foods plant-based approach —we are both healthier than we been in decades; so part of the decision to become snowbirds was the desire to be in a place where we could be much more physically active during the winter months.
As I have described in some previous post(s), we decided to try Florida for our first snowbird experience primarily because of the Arcadia (Bus’in) Rally held in Arcadia, Florida between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Although we would have liked to be headed south around November 1st, family, business, and personal commitments did not make that possible. Early entry for the Arcadia Rally, however, was December 26th. We often try to take advantage of early entry dates when they are offered and we wanted to arrive on the 26th and get set up.
Our original plan was to leave on the 20th, drive to Berea, Kentucky and stay two nights. We would then drive to Cartersville, Georgia on the 22nd and again stay two nights. The 24th would find us driving to somewhere in Florida and again staying for two nights. The morning of the 26th we would then drive to Arcadia, Florida. That was the plan, before the weather forecast strongly suggested a different itinerary.
Based on the national weather forecasts it appeared that if we left Michigan on the morning of the 20th there was a high likelihood we could have mixed precipitation on the first part of our drive. Me, the bus, and ice don’t mix. Further, there was a strong cold front pushing south which had the potential for us to drive through heavy rain and experience below freezing overnight lows for much of our trip south. Leaving on Thursday the 19th offered the opportunity to get somewhat ahead of the rain and avoid below-freezing overnight lows for the entire trip. Either way it looked like we were going to drive in rain.
As I mentioned in the previous post we had determined that the Lakewood Village RV Resort in Wapakoneta, Ohio was far enough south to assure overnight low temperatures above freezing. We decided to aim for a Thursday noon departure which, barring any traffic situations, would put us at the RV resort before 4 PM with plenty of daylight left for getting parked and hooked up. From there we would continue on to Berea, Kentucky and Cartersville, Georgia as planned, but only stay one night in each place, ending up at Williston Crossings RV Resort in Williston, Florida where we would stay for four nights before driving to the Arcadia Rally.
We were up early Thursday morning, had our usual breakfast, and then got right to work loading the bus. We packed more “stuff” than we did for our summer trip out west. Our western trip was only two months with mostly summer climate so we only needed summer clothes. This trip will be closer to four months by the time we get back with temperatures ranging for below-freezing lows to highs in the 80’s, requiring a more extensive selection of clothes.
Although we had 8+ inches of snow on the ground and temperatures in the 20’s when we got up, there was some sunshine and temperatures rose through the morning to just above freezing. The driveway was already cleared as we hired a snow-removal service for the winter and I had spent several hours the previous day removing a couple of additional inches that fell after the snow removal service was there. As we did not expect to have overnight lows below freezing we decided to load fresh water on board which would allow us to use the bathroom and then fully de-winterize the rig once we got parked without having to hook up to an external water supply.
By noon the bus and car were ready. We rounded up the cats, put them on board, and then finished prepping the house. We checked the light timers, stopped the grandfather clock, set the thermostats at 55 deg F (we can monitor and control the main one via the Internet), winterized the toilets and sink traps so they would not evaporate (and just in case), opened cabinets with water lines to aid in keeping them at room temperature, turned off the well pump, closed the water valves, and shutdown the water conditioning equipment. We locked the doors and pulled out of the driveway at 12:30 PM.
We drove about four miles to get to Grand River Avenue, picked up I-96 eastbound for about four miles and then headed south on US-23. It took about 90 minutes to reach the Ohio state line and another 30 minutes to swing around the west and south sides of Toledo, Ohio to reach I-75 in Perrysburg, Ohio. We had an easy run south from there to exit 111 at Wapakoneta, and just another half-mile to get to Lakewood Village RV Resort. We arrived at 4 PM, having traveled 166 miles in 3.5 hours. But it was almost due south of our starting point and got us out of freezing temperatures.
The resort was open for business but mostly snow-covered with very few guests. The resort roads and parking lots, however, were clear of snow. We were allowed to pick our spot and found a nice pull-though that just accommodated our motorcoach/car combination and would provide for an easy exit the following morning. We had an early dinner and turned in for the night at 8 PM.
We were planning to leave for Florida (in the bus) on Friday, December 20th, so by Tuesday the 17th our attention was starting to focus sharply on what we had to do to get out of town. But first we had to get Marilyn to the airport for a mid-afternoon flight back to St. Louis, Missouri. Linda did the shuttle run while I stayed home and started pulling together stuff to load on the bus or into the car. I also started copying the files from the old Buffalo Technologies LinkStation Pro Duo NAS to the new Buffalo Technologies LS421e NAS. This turned out to take quite a bit of time as I had to do the copying in pieces; there were too many files and too many gigabytes of data to copy and paste them in one move.
We also started watching the weather forecast, both at home at along our route. By Wednesday the 18th it was becoming clear that we would be much better off leaving on Thursday the 19th instead of our planned date of the 20th. We had planned to have company over for dinner on Wednesday, however, so we did not see how we could possibly be ready to leave the next day. Although we were disappointed by a last minute cancelation due to the illness of one of our guests, it changed the situation in favor of a Thursday departure. (We hope you are much better very soon Kristine.)
We originally intended to leave early enough on Friday the 20th to get past Ann Arbor, Michigan before the morning rush hour and make it a campground in Berea, Kentucky before dark. It was clear that we could not be ready to leave that early on Thursday morning, and did not want to arrive anywhere in the dark, so we adjusted our plans. (A true traveler has no fixed plan, and is not intent on arriving. Lao Tzu). We knew there was a Coast To Coast (C2C) RV resort near Wapakoneta, Ohio. A quick check online indicated that they should still be open this time of year and that we still had enough C2C points in our account to cover the $10 per night cost. A phone call verified that they were open and had plenty of available sites. Although Wapakoneta was only 166 miles from our house it was far enough south to have overnight low temperatures above freezing. It was also close enough that we could leave at noon and be there by 4 PM. That would give us the morning to finish loading the bus and closing up the house.
In part because Linda and I had decided to leave for Florida before December 25th, our son and daughter-in-law decided to have Madeline’s 1st birthday celebration on Saturday, December 14 instead of her actual birth date on Wednesday the 18th. This put in motion a planning process in which Shawna’s mother (Carol) flew in from Denver, Colorado on Friday the 13th and flew back on Sunday the 15th. Linda’s sister (Sister Marilyn) also flew in from St. Louis, Missouri on Friday and flew back on Tuesday the 17th.
Marilyn arrived at 9 PM local time. We now have a one hour drive from our new house to Detroit Metropolitan Airport, so we left early enough to stop at Neehee’s in Canton, Michigan for dinner. Neehee’s is a chain (I think) that serves Indian vegetarian street food. It is fast, reasonably priced, and fantastically good eats. It is not convenient to where we now live, however, so whenever we have to drive anywhere near there (which isn’t very often) we try to plan time to stop and have lunch or dinner.
On Saturday, in spite of very marginal winter weather, Shawna’s sister (Tracey) and her family (Kyle, Mari, and Andrew) drove over from the Grand Rapids, Michigan area and her brother (Rob) and his family (Becky and Jack) drove up from Columbus, Ohio. We all gathered at Brendan and Shawna’s house in Ann Arbor late that morning for Madeline’s 1st birthday party.
Madeline had come down with croup a few days earlier and developed a bad cold to go with it—her first real illness since she was born—but she was a trooper and enjoyed opening her presents (with a little help from mom and dad). Meghan, Chris, and Katie were also there and our side of the family took our leave mid-late afternoon so Shawna’s family could have their holiday celebration.
The wintry weather continued on Sunday and with temperatures below freezing the snow continued to accumulate. The bus was winterized so we did not have any concerns about water tanks or pipes freezing, but we kept the electrical heaters in the house and bays running just the same.
Sunday was a quiet day for Linda, Marilyn, and me, but Monday found us headed back to Brendan and Shawna’s in Ann Arbor for the Fay Family holiday celebrations. Meghan and Chris were there again, but being a school day Katie was not able to join us. We had a great visit and a lovely dinner meal. Linda made vegan lasagna, Chris brought salad, bread sticks, meatballs, and dessert from the restaurant (he’s the general manager), and Brendan/Shawna provided the wine.
On Saturday morning I went to our local ham radio club breakfast as I usually do. Linda stayed home, which is not usual, as I had a website meeting immediately following breakfast. Club president Mike (W8XH) and I previewed the new club website for a small group that included the other two officers. We provided them with logins so they could access the site, most of which is blocked from public view, and asked them to interact with it and provide feedback.
We had ordered garage door openers so each of our children could have one. They arrived a couple of days earlier and we finally got around to programming them on Saturday afternoon. They arrived just in time, too, as we were headed to Katie’s (grand-daughter #2) 17th birthday dinner that evening. Our daughter (Meghan) and her husband (Chris, Katie’s dad) were there, as were our son (Brendan), his wife (Shawna), and their daughter (Madeline, grand-daughter #1).
Katie has developed quite a taste for sushi and selected Yotsuba in Ann Arbor, Michigan for her birthday meal. Japanese restaurants were once a rare treat for us. As with most restaurants that are not specifically vegan, or “vegan friendly” Japanese restaurants now pose a challenge for us. But they had things we could eat, and they were very good. Katie is very interested in science and decided she would like to start building a library with some quality leather-bound books in it. She specifically requested Darwin’s On The Origin Of Species… and Linda was able to find a used, mint condition copy at Franklin Books (in New Jersey).
Brendan and Shawna had a social engagement after dinner so they left to put Madeline to bed. Linda and I followed a short while later and did baby-sitting duty for a couple of hours until they returned. By the time we got home it had been a long but very good day.
Sunday evening was the annual South Lyon Area Amateur Radio Club holiday dinner which is held in lieu of our regular second Sunday of the month business meeting and technical program. The club decided to try a new venue this year and selected the Zukey Lake Tavern near Pinckney, Michigan from among three candidates. Although not located in South Lyon, we had a portion of the restaurant to ourselves that was sufficient to accommodate the 40 people who showed up. We were also allowed to order from the menu and had sufficient wait-staff to efficiently take our orders and deliver our food. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and like the food; at least they ate a lot of it!
Linda pulled her usual babysitting shift on Monday and I headed for Edwardsburg, Michigan to retrieve the bus. I originally planned to winterize it and then drive to our friends’ place in Twelve Mile, Indiana to spend a couple of days tying up loose ends on the Zena auxiliary power generator project. I was then going to take the bus to Martin Diesel in Defiance, Ohio to have them check, service, and adjust it before returning home. As most of this work would be done outside, I decided to alter my plans when the weather forecast called for overnight low temperatures near zero (F) for most of the week. Pat and Vickie Lintner from our FMCA Great Lakes Converted Coaches chapter had once again offered the use of a spare bedroom at the house in Elkhart, Indiana so I took them up on that. That allowed me to spend the later afternoon and early evening working with Michele Henry at Phoenix Paint on an article I was writing about the exterior renovation of our coach that was done by her shop from October 2011 to August 2012. I grabbed a salad for dinner at the Martin’s grocery store on SR-19 on the north side of Elkhart, Indiana and then headed to the Lintners’ for the evening. (BTW: If you are in the Elkhart area and want a really nice salad, the Martin’s salad bar is fabulous. They also have a deli counter where you can get hot items, including potatoes. They have fountain and bottled soft drinks and a Starbucks Coffee, all conveniently located next to a two-level seating area where you can sit and eat, and they have free Wi-Fi if you want to sit and work.)
On Tuesday morning I finished prepping the bus for travel, hooked up the car, and left Phoenix Paint around mid-morning for the drive back to our house in Howell, Michigan. I like to change up my route, so this time I took US-12 to I-69 to I-96 to M-59 to our house, with a stop at the Mobile Truck Stop on I-96 at M-52 before exiting onto M-59. I arrived home mid-afternoon with a full tank of diesel fuel, parked and leveled the bus, and plugged it in. Linda was in holiday shopping mode, so she wasn’t there when I arrived.
I spent the next couple of days working at my desk trying to get a few last minute things taken care of on various websites and straightening up papers. When we are gone for a while we prefer not to come home to clutter and chaos. Linda went to the bakery for the day on Thursday and I headed over to Micro-Center in Madison Heights, Michigan to purchase a Buffalo Technologies LinkStation 421e dual drive Network Attached Storage (NAS) enclosure and two Toshiba 3.0 TB hard disk drives. This new NAS was an addition to our existing Buffalo Technologies LinkStation Pro Duo 1.0 TB RAID 1 NAS, which we planned to take with us in the bus.
The drives were very easy to install in the LS421e. On power up the LS421e initially configured itself as a RAID 0 NAS, which means it combined the HDDs to appear as a single 6.0 TB drive. The NAS Navigator 2 software that came with the unit made it fairly easy to manage the device and I reconfigured it as a 3.0 TB RAID 1 NAS, in which the two drives are mirror images of each other. If one drive fails it can be replaced with a drive of the same or larger capacity and the new drive will become an exact mirror of the other one. The process required some patience, however, as the RAID 1 configuration took approximately 10 hours per Terabyte, or 30 hours total, to configure itself. The NAS Navigator 2 software tells you this in advance, so it doesn’t come as a surprise, but it is a very long time. A bonus to the NAS Navigator 2 software is that it will manage all Buffalo Technologies LinkStation and TeraStations on the network, so I was able to use it to manage the existing LinkStation. That was an unexpected bonus as the existing LinkStation was originally installed and managed from a workstation computer that is no longer in service.
It’s been three weeks since my last post. We have been incredibly busy, but that doesn’t mean I have much to write about. Sometimes busy is just busy. For my part, I’ve been neglecting our website and this blog in favor of designing, testing, and vetting three other WordPress-based websites; two for RV clubs and one for our local ham radio club. That has taken a lot of my time, but I don’t mind. It’s very interesting work that I chose to take on, and I’m learning a lot, which I enjoy. But it isn’t necessarily all that interesting to write about.
I continue to discover useful WordPress plug-ins and learn how to use them. I am using Participants-Database to create online member directories, WP-Members to block them from public view and require a username and password to view them, and Exclude-Pages to create web-pages that do not appear anywhere in the WordPress menu structure. I am also using Meteor-Slides to create automated slide shows. After a long and frustrating search for a good photo album / image gallery plug-in, I finally figured out how to create galleries using the native WordPress gallery function. That was a major victory and I was so glad I persisted in my search instead of buying one. I have also installed WP-Backup-2-Dropbox, which is automatically doing a weekly backup of all four of the sites to my personal Dropbox account.
Steve was over several times to work on the Linux box and we finally got one of the WordPress websites ported over and working! We had to edit a few pointers in the wp-config.php file and set the permalinks back to default, but that did the trick! Porting over the other three sites will have to wait, but eventually I will be able to install and test new plug-ins on my own local web-server and even develop content which I can then upload to the live site. Working on the local web-server instead of the live web-host has a number of advantages. For one, the system will respond more quickly. But most importantly I won’t inadvertently take down one of my live sites.
Bus Conversions Magazine ran another one of my articles in the December 2013 issue. This one was on the construction and installation of the new auxiliary air panel. You can read more about it on our BCM page.
The new owner of BCM, Gary Hall, has faced and met a whole string of challenges since buying the magazine, but I remain confident that he is on the path to saving the magazine and not just making it viable, but making it better than it has ever been. BCM remains a unique resource for the non-commercial bus converter and I am doing what I can to help keep it in business by subscribing and submitting articles. It’s pretty simple really; the magazine needs subscribers, authors, and advertisers. The problem is that each one of those groups wants the other two groups to be in place before they make a commitment. No one wants to read a magazine with no content (articles and advertisements). Authors don’t want to write for a magazine that no one reads and advertisers don’t support. And advertisers don’t want to spend money placing ads in magazines with no content that no one reads. Fortunately BCM has advertisers, authors, and subscribers, but they could use more of each.
If you are reading this blog post and you own a converted bus, are converting a bus, are thinking about converting a bus, or have a business that sells things that might be useful to people with converted buses, please consider subscribing to or advertising in Bus Conversions Magazine. And if you are specifically converting a bus or working on one that is already converted, please consider writing one or more articles about the work you are doing, and take a lot of pictures to go with it. You do not have to be a great writer or photographer. If you provide them with a starting point the folks at BCM will work with you to turn it into a nice article. And I can tell you from personal experience this past year that it is fun to see your articles in print. In fact, your bus could be the “cover” and “centerfold.” Now really, haven’t you always dreamed of that? 🙂
Starting with the January 2014 issue of BCM there will be another staffing change. It appears that they are going to use my article on the FMCA GLAMARAMA 2013 rally that was held in Goshen, Indiana back in September 2013. While the article is specifically about that rally, it is more generally about the experience of attending an RV rally put on by one of the large RV organizations. Assuming the article runs, it will be my seventh article in 12 months and my third cover article. Not bad for a beginner. I have also agreed to “cover” the Arcadia 2014 Rally in Arcadia, Florida December 29-31. It’s called the 2014 rally because it runs through New Year’s Eve with everyone departing on New Year’s Day. This is one of the largest gatherings of converted buses currently taking place in the country, and it will be the first time Linda and I have attended.
The 19th, 20th, and 21st of November saw me back at Phoenix Paint in Edwardsburg, Michigan working on the bus and consulting with Michele Henry on the repair of the body panels and rear bumper fascia. I was invited to spend the night at the house of fellow GLCC members Pat & Vickie’s nearby which saved me the cost of a motel and provide dinner and conversation. Thank you both.
We We managed to fix the front roof-mounted remote-controlled searchlight and get it re-attached to the roof. We also undid the temporary mounting (zip ties) of the WiFiRanger-MT (mobile titanium) and mounted it behind the front TV antenna to the driver’s side using the permanent roof-mount bracketing. I removed the covers from the front and rear over-the-air TV antennas and was finally able to determine and map the direction they point to the numbers on the controller box. That will finally allow us to know where we are aiming the antennas.
My last little project was to install the Critter-Guard. There is a hole in the floor of the utility bay with a ring installed around it that is threaded to accept a screw-in cover. The Critter-Guard consists of a circular piece of high-density foam, a two-piece plastic cover, and small latches to hold the cover in place. I was not able to remove the old screws that secure the ring, so I drilled holes for new ones halfway in-between the old ones. The product came with two sets of slightly different latches to accommodate just this situation.
With the latches installed, the electrical shoreline and fresh water hose were routed into the bay through the hole in the floor. The foam is split along most of a diameter and has two holes in it (along the diameter line), one for the electrical shoreline, and the other for the fresh water hose. The foam fits snuggly around these lines and into the hole in the floor. The two-piece Critter-Guard cover plate is also split along a diameter and has two holes to match the holes in the foam. The plate has a tongue on one piece and a groove on the other. It is fitted around the shorelines on top of the foam and the latches are turned to hold it in place. The net result is that “critters” cannot get into the bay through the utility line access hole. I plan to submit this little project to Bus Conversions Magazine as a short article / product review.
As long as I’m talking about buses, I found a major air leak in Chuck’s Prevost H3-40 Liberty conversion. As with all older buses, he has been plagued with air leaks. Our mobile mechanic, Joe Cannarozzi, has fixed a lot of them by replacing air valves and tightening air lines, but leaks remain, and Chuck’s auxiliary air compressor was still running more often than it should while parked. I was poking around in the bay under the driver’s seat—looking for the check valve that is usually installed in the air line from the auxiliary air compressor to the air system—when I heard a distinct hissing noise. I heard it clearly, but it was at a frequency that Chuck did not hear. He had a plastic tube stethoscope and I used it to clearly locate the leak as coming from the pressure control switch. This switch (also known as a well pump switch when used in a water system) monitors the pressure in the auxiliary air system and turns the auxiliary air compressor on and off as needed to maintain the pressure between two set point limits. Once I was able to place the stethoscope at the loudest point, Chuck was also able to hear it clearly. He removed the old pressure switch, got the specs off of it, and I found an exact replacement in stock at Northwest Plumping Supply in Howell, not far from my house. Chuck picked it up, installed it, and … no more air leak, at least not there. The auxiliary air pressure is holding much better than it was before so the auxiliary air compressor is running much less frequently and Chuck (and Barbara) are much happier. They things that make “bus people” happy are different from what makes most people happy. You would probably have to try living in an RV to fully understand.
When Linda went in for her annual physical exam in early November she was able to talk to the nurse and find an opening for me. I was able to get my lab work done a few days in advance, and the results were available in the Henry Ford Health System MyChart website that same afternoon. I like having the lab work done in advance so that I can discuss the results with our doctor. Everything was within the normal range, so I was pleased. I got a new prescription for my nasal allergy medication and had to mail it in to our mail order pharmacy provider as this was the first prescription either of us has had filled since we switched our health coverage to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System on July 1st.
We went to our daughter’s house for Thanksgiving with family. Linda and the two kids did all the cooking and we had a nice assortment of dishes, many vegan-friendly. We got a Tofurkey for the two of us and it was very good. (Everyone else had real turkey; boo.) We had fresh grapes, fresh cranberry-orange salad, roasted Brussels sprouts, candied sweet potatoes, regular mashed potatoes, home make Parker House rolls (thanks Meghan!), some yummy cookies, some nice wine, and other things I can’t remember. Both of our grand-daughters were there. It was nice.
My friend and former co-worker, Kate, got back from a week+ trip to Berlin, Germany just in time for us to take her out for a birthday dinner; not exactly on her birthday, but close. We went to Nirmal in Ypsilanti, an Indian restaurant with a health conscious attitude. They had a buffet style setup designed for carryout, but you could also have it dine-in, which is what we did. Linda and I got two vegan entrees (green beans and okra), yellow rice, garlic naan bread, and a small dessert for $5 each plus tea. Kate ordered Makhani with chicken off the menu. We adjourned to the closest Starbucks for coffee, photo viewing (on an iPad, of course), and conversation. Kate had selected 30 photographs to show us, and they were wonderful, as usual.