Back to the Texas Hill Country (February 17 – April 3, 2019)

To attend her uncle’s funeral, Jan had booked a flight to Nashville on Sunday, February 17th, that departed from San Antonio (SAT) at 5:25 pm. That necessitated us dropping Jason off at the Brownsville airport at about 8:30 am for his noon flight. We returned to Palmdale, quickly finished hooking up and were on the road by 9:40 am. The trip to SAT was 270 miles so we expected to arrive by around 3 pm.

Our original plan was to drop Jan off at a hotel near the SAT airport and she would get a taxi to the airport. Unfortunately, when we were within 35 miles of the airport, there was a major crash on I-37 and it took us over 1.5 hours to cover the next 5 miles. Although we had left Palmdale earlier than expected, this delay put us in jeopardy of having Jan miss her flight. Jan called the information desk at SAT to inquire if there was sufficient clearance for us to drive our 13’ 6” fifth wheel and she was told that it would not be a problem if we used the Departure level. When we arrived at SAT and started up the Departure ramp, we saw a sign that said the clearance was only 13’ 0”. Since there was no way for us to turn around, Phil pulled to the curb and sought police assistance while Jan went inside to check in for her flight. After waiting in vain for 20 minutes for a police office to walk by, Phil called the airport and chose the option of reporting a police emergency. Since we were in danger of shearing off several items from the roof of our RV, as well as damaging the overhead pedestrian crosswalk, it certainly seemed like an emergency. After a lengthy discussion with the police officer, Phil was told that the airport built in a 6” fudge factor in their signs and, therefore, we should be OK to proceed. After struggling to pull away from the curb through double-parked traffic, Phil drove very slowly under the walkway and was very happy not to hear any crunching sound. He continued on another 62 miles to Buckhorn Lake Resort in Kerrville, TX and arrived at 6 pm. Jan’s flights went smoothly so all’s well that ends well. It was a very stressful afternoon and one that we hope never to repeat.

After attending the funeral on Monday, Jan returned to SAT on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning, Phil had a dental implant performed and this limited our activities for the next few days.

We had been without a car since April 2018, before we left for our Alaska trip, and were anxious to once again have something smaller than a one-ton truck as our day-to-day transportation. On Monday, February 25th, we began our car shopping effort by visiting six different car dealers in Boerne and San Antonio. We had decided to look at 12 models of compact SUVs made by Nissan, Toyota, Subaru, Hyundai, Honda and Mazda. After doing test drives at each of the dealerships, we narrowed the field down to four models. We spent Tuesday reading a lot of online ratings and reviews, leading us to narrow the field further to the Subaru Forester and the Mazda CX-5. On Wednesday, we chose the Mazda and used the USAA Car Buying Service to get quotes from six Mazda dealerships. On Thursday, we began to negotiate further with one of the dealers. Since it was the last day of the month, the dealer was able to make us a good offer if we could finalize the purchase that day. We quickly drove into San Antonio and completed the purchase.

Although car buying occupied most of our time during the week, we did manage to find other distractions. Phil continued to play pickleball almost every morning. On Tuesday evening, we participated in a Cinnamon Roll, Chili and Salad pot luck dinner. This seemed like a strange combination of foods but we learned that this is kind of a Nebraska tradition. On Wednesday, Jan went for an eye exam and purchased new glasses.

The next couple of weeks were uneventful. Other than a few doctor and dentist appointments, our time was largely spent with Phil playing pickleball and Jan preparing for a cruise later in the month. On Saturday, March 16th, we attended a dinner of Irish stew in the barn at Buckhorn Lake Resort that was followed by a concert by Thomas Michael Riley. The concert was very good. Thomas Michael Riley is an outstanding country entertainer and he was backed up by some very talented musicians.

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On Sunday, our good friends Dave and Jo Peterson, who were met at Palmdale RV Resort, arrived in Kerrville. We joined them at their site at By the River RV Park and spent a couple of hours sitting outside in the beautiful weather.

On Monday, we drove to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. We had visited the park on a Saturday two years ago and the line to get into the park had been quite long. This time we went on a Monday, assuming we wouldn’t have any problem getting in. Although the line of cars was considerably shorter, we learned that the Texas State Parks had implemented a reservation system four weeks earlier. The man at the gate did let us in without a reservation but we did get a long lecture about the need to have reservations next time. After parking, we hiked up the Summit Trail to the top of Enchanted Rock. Rather than return back down the same trail, we wandered around at the summit and blazed our own trail to return to the parking lot. That proved to be more difficult than we had anticipated and required climbing over and between numerous boulders.

On Tuesday, we attended a Taco Tuesday pot luck dinner in the Buckhorn barn. There was a good variety of Mexican food and desserts. Jan had baked a Sundrop cake and, unfortunately, there were no leftovers to bring home after the dinner.

On Wednesday evening, we picked up Dave and Jo Peterson and drove to Bandera where we had dinner at the 11th Street Cowboy Bar. We each brought our own meat to grill over the large pits. It had started to drizzle while Phil and Dave were grilling and Jan and Jo were getting our sides but we were all back under shelter before the heavy rains came. Fortunately, we had gotten seats under the roof because, when the rain began, it came with a vengeance. Even some of those in the shelter got soaked as the rainwater poured through many of the seams in the roof.

On Thursday, Jan and Jo went to Fredericksburg for a girls’ day out consisting of shopping and dining. On Friday, we got together with Dave and Jo and went to the Wild Ass Hey Barn for a delicious fried catfish dinner and entertainment by the performers at Open Mic night.

On Saturday, Dave and Jo picked us up and we went to Luckenbach. It was drizzling for much of the day but we were able to find shelter in the barn where we watched a couple of sets by a very good country band, Small Town Habit.

On Sunday morning, Jan left for a cruise with her cousin, Lori Davis. Their itinerary included stops in Key West and Cuba. Jan flew to Nashville where she met Lori for the flight to Fort Lauderdale. The first flight left at 7:25 am from San Antonio so we left home at 4:20 am. Fortunately Jan’s fights went well and Phil completed the early morning drive without incident.

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Lori and Jan on flight to Fort Lauderdale

Enjoying the Rio Grande Valley (January 3 – February 17, 2019)

We arrived at Palmdale RV Resort at about 4 pm on January 3rd after driving nearly seven hours. After a couple of days of temperatures in the 30s in Fredericksburg, we were delighted to be greeted by sunny skies with temperatures in the upper 60s.

After registering at the office, we went to check our site. We knew that we were going to have to back into our site between a concrete pad and a mobile home. However, we had not remembered how narrow a fit that was. There was an empty site directly across from ours so we decided to pull forward into that one and then back into our site. Unfortunately there was a tree in the way that blocked our entry from the right side. Phil circled back around the park with the intention of approaching that site from the left. In the meantime, some workers who were washing nearby rigs waved to Jan, indicating that Phil should just pull through the vacant site behind ours. Phil followed this advice and managed to get into our site fairly easily. We were later told by the park maintenance man that we weren’t supposed to drive across the lots, since the water lines aren’t buried too far below the surface, but we were glad to be parked in our site.

On Friday, the temperature was in the mid-70s and the sky was sunny. This is the kind of weather for which we had come to Texas. While our clothes were in the laundry, we walked around the park. Later we sat outside and enjoyed the warm weather. Later than afternoon, we joined a large number of fellow campers at a happy hour.

The next week was largely spent relaxing and enjoying the great weather. On Thursday, January 10th, we drove to Mercedes and made our annual visit to the All Valley RV Expo. We made a few purchases from the vendors and strolled through a few of the RVs on display, although none of them were as nice as what we already have. Next we drove to the border and crossed the Rio Grande River to Nuevo Progresso. We had lunch at the Red Snapper Restaurant, then headed to the beauty salon where Phil got a haircut and Jan got a pedicure and manicure. All of these were incredibly cheap, even though we tipped generously.

On Saturday night, we attended the Welcome Back Winter Texans dinner hosted by the owners of Palmdale RV Resort. After dinner, they had Bill Chrastil perform and he was very good. His first set was mostly covering various artists from the 60s and 70s. His second set was entirely dedicated to Elvis Presley. Jan received one of his scarves during the final song.

We quickly settled into a routine. Every morning we walk 3 laps around the campground, approximately 1.5 miles in total. On Mondays, there is a pot luck dinner where everyone brings a dish. Although the turnouts have been significantly smaller than last year’s, there is still always quite a variety of foods to eat. On Fridays, we meet for happy hour.

On Wednesday, January 16th, the Progressive insurance adjuster came to inspect the damage to our rig from our incident when we backed into a semi at a truck stop in Knoxville. We also received the bill from Metropolitan Trucking for the damage to the semi.  We decided to pay it out-of-pocket rather than face an insurance premium increase for the relatively minor damage.

On Friday, the usual happy hour was replaced with a chili cookoff. Thirteen couples brought pots of chili. We all got to sample each one and vote for our favorites.

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On Sunday, after a full day of watching NFL playoff games, Phil went out late at night to see the total lunar eclipse. The sky was quite clear so he was able to watch as the earth blocked the sun’s rays from reaching the moon.

On Monday, January 21st, we drove to Harlingen, TX to attend the Welcome Back Winter Texans event. The doors opened at 1 pm and they had free t-shirts for the first 2,000 attendees. We arrived several minutes early but the line was already so long that we wondered if we would even get our free t-shirt. Once inside, we did get our t-shirts and then spent the next hour or so wandering around vendor booths. We had to collect the initials from 30 vendors to qualify for the raffle. The event hall was packed with senior citizens, proving that lots of people will show up for free stuff. In addition to the booths, there were musical performers and outside there was a classic car show.

On Tuesday we drove about 50 miles to Mission, TX to have lunch at Ranch House Burgers with a Facebook group of 24 DRV Owners. We both had the brisket plate that was quite delicious and filling. We spent over 2 ½ hours visiting with the other DRV owners before returning home. The winds had picked up and the gusts were up to 40 mph, which made driving a challenge. We were glad we were not pulling our fifth wheel. That evening the winds grew even stronger, with gusts up to 50 mph, and our house was really rocking for much of the night.

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Lunch with the Facebook DRV Owners Grou

On Wednesday, it was still quite windy so we went to the movies and saw The Upside. We really enjoyed it. On Thursday we went to South Padre Island. We had lunch at Laguna Bob’s and listened to music performed by a couple of the original members of The Castaways, a 60s rock group. After lunch, we walked a long distance on the beach.

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Selfie on the beach at South Padre Island

On Sunday, January 27th, we drove to Donna, TX and went to the Don-Wes Flea Market. We picked up several household items. That evening we went to the ice cream social and stuck around for bingo. Phil won one of the $4 pots, which paid for our ice cream and bingo cards.

We had been looking at bicycles for most of the month but with limited success. If we found a man’s bike that looked OK, we couldn’t find a ladies’ bike we liked, and vice versa. Finally, on Tuesday, we decided put the bike rack on the truck and hit every nearby Wal-Mart until we had two bikes. We first hit the Los Fresnos store but had no success. Next, we went to the San Benito store where we found a bike Jan liked and it was on sale. However, since they had nothing for Phil, we decided to continue on to the Harlingen store before we purchased anything. We had success in finding a bike for Phil but the bike Jan had liked in San Benito was not on sale in Harlingen. Jan tried to get the Harlingen salesman to match the sale price but he would not. So, after loading Phil’s new bike on the bike rack, we returned to San Benito for Jan’s bike. The tires were flat and the seat was loose but we decided to buy it anyway. At checkout, the cashier scanned the barcode and it brought up the original price, rather than the sale price which was $19 cheaper. When we challenged the price, we learned that the sale had ended but that they had not removed the sale stickers yet. Fortunately, they honored the sale price and we bought the bike, as well as a softer seat. When we got home, Phil attempted to install the new seat on Jan’s new bike but discovered that the part required to tighten the seat was missing. This necessitated loading the bike back on the truck and returning to San Benito where Phil exchanged the bike for another of the same model. We also ordered a cover from Amazon to keep our new bikes from rusting as quickly as our old ones.

San Benito, TX, which is about 8 miles from our campground, is the hometown of the late country singer, Freddy Fender. Every time we drive through San Benito, we pass the Freddy Fender water tower which prompts Jan to sing two of Freddy’s hit songs.

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On Thursday, the weather was rather overcast so we went to the movies and watched Green Book. The movie was quite good. On Friday, we drove to South Padre Island (SPI) and attended the SPI Kite Festival. Although the wind was unusually light, it didn’t affect the ability of a large number of professional kite pilots to do amazing things with their kites. We met another couple from our campground and, after watching the kite flying for over an hour, we joined them at Pier 19 for a late afternoon snack.

On Saturday, we joined four other couples from our campground for a rousing afternoon of Giant Jenga. We had both played table top Jenga before but had never heard of Giant Jinga. The game was the same, requiring each player to remove a block from the tower and replace it on top without bringing down the tower, but the blocks were much larger. We played four games of the men vs. the women and it ended up a tie of 2-2. When it started to drizzle, we all squeezed under the awning for snacks and drinks.

On Sunday, we drove 31 miles to Boca Chica beach which is where the Rio Grande River terminates at the Gulf of Mexico. The beach is a state park and, unlike SPI, is totally undeveloped. Although driving on the beach is allowable, we chose to walk and collect seashells. We stayed for 1.5 hours, then returned home to have dinner and watch the Super Bowl. We had previously bought three $2 squares on a Super Bowl board that paid out based on the last digit in the score at the end of each quarter ($50 per quarter). One of the sets of numbers we had was 3 and 3. When the game was tied 3-3 at the end of the third quarter, we won $50. When New England kicked a field goal with a minute to go in the fourth quarter, the score was 13-3 and we felt like we had won another $50. Los Angeles attempted a field goal with 8 seconds to go in the game which, if successful, would have ripped the money from our greedy clutches. Fortunately, they missed the kick and the money was ours.

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Phil at Boca Chica Beach

On Wednesday, February 6th, we drove out to the middle of nowhere to visit Harley’s Beer Garden. It had been recommended by many of our friends at Palmdale and is actually listed as the #2 top thing to do in Los Fresnos, TX by TripAdvisor. The bartender, Sari, is one of the main attractions. She has a sharp wit and a great memory for the names of her customers. We went there in mid-afternoon but there was already a steady stream of customers coming and going, keeping Sari quite busy.

On Thursday, we went to Clayton’s Bar and Grill on South Padre Island and met up with our friends from Palmdale. Thursdays are especially popular with the senior Winter Texans as they offer cheap beer and 25 cent wings. Ruthi, who we had seen perform twice last year, was on stage from 1 – 5 and did a nice job keeping the place rocking.

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On Tuesday, February 12th, we drove to the Brownsville airport to meet our older son, Jason, who came to visit us for five days. On Wednesday, we went to Pier 19 on South Padre Island and took the four-hour Port of Brownsville cruise with Osprey Cruises. It was a great day for the cruise, with plenty of sun for most of the trip. The crew did a nice job of explaining the activity in the area where ocean vessels, oil rigs and decommissioned US Navy ships were being scrapped. In addition to the usual attractions, we saw a lot of dolphins running alongside the boat. We had done a similar cruise in 2017 but this year was slightly different. Homeland Security now requires photos of all the passengers upon boarding the boat and prohibits taking of photographs during the portion of the cruise through the vessel scrapyard and in the port. On the return trip, the boat stopped in the commercial shrimp boat harbor and we were each served a few fresh gulf shrimp.

On Thursday, we drove to the border and walked across the Rio Grande River to Nuevo Progresso. Jason had recently gotten his passport and this was an opportunity for him to break it in. After lunch at the Red Snapper Restaurant, we did some shopping and visited the beauty salon. On the way out, Phil got his shoes shined for $3 (including a $1 tip). The line to cross back into the US was much longer than on our previous visits. That evening, Jan learned that her uncle, Walt Madden, had passed away. Although his death was expected, it was still sad news. Jan spent the next few days working on booking travel back to TN for the funeral.

On Friday, the temperature in Los Fresnos rose to 82 degrees so we decided it would be a good day to walk along the beach at South Padre Island (SPI). Before crossing the causeway, we stopped in Port Isabel and spent some time visiting a number of gift shops. Once in SPI, we parked at Clayton’s and walked northerly along the beach. After walking for about 45 minutes with the wind at our back, we started getting into some fog. The return trip was more challenging as the wind and mist made it difficult to see very far in front of us. After a small snack at Clayton’s and a brief shopping trip, we crossed the causeway back to Port Isabel and had an early dinner at Joe’s Oyster Bar. Although it was only 3:30, the restaurant was rather full. We all really enjoyed our meals of fish, shrimp, oysters and crab. The temperature was only 69 degrees when we left Port Isabel but had risen to 80 by the time we completed the 22 mile drive back to Los Fresnos.

On Saturday morning, we hosted a farewell brunch with 10 of our friends. Jan prepared two batches of cinnamon rolls and plenty of sausage links. Combined with the food and drinks brought by our friends, no one went hungry. We enjoyed the food and fellowship for a couple of hours. Although we said our goodbyes, we had already made arrangements to meet again down the road with most of the group.

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Driving to Warmer Weather (December 27, 2018 – January 3, 2019)

On Thursday, December 27th, we began our southbound trip with a 270 mile drive to Forrest City, AR. We had to hook up in a light drizzle and it rained heavily most of the trip. The rain stopped about the time we reached Memphis but, when we arrived at Delta Ridge RV Park in Forrest City, the ground was extremely swampy. We had a long gravel pull-through site but it was a bit of a mess getting set up in the muck.

The following day was a 240 mile drive to Texarkana, TX where we spent the night at Shady Pines RV Park. We’ve stayed at this campground several times before. The location is good for getting our fifth wheel and truck inspected as required for our Texas registrations. The inspections are required annually but, if we’re out of state when our registration expires, we have three days upon returning to Texas to get them done.

On Saturday we drove 205 miles to Corsicana, TX where we spent the night at American RV Park. This was the route we had taken in April 2018, albeit in the opposite direction, where we had our horrible tire blowout in the truck. Fortunately our drive this time was uneventful.

On Sunday we completed our fourth consecutive day of driving with a 231 mile trip to Fredericksburg, TX where we spent four nights at The Vineyards of Fredericksburg RV Park. Although we have spent many days visiting Fredericksburg, this was the first time we actually camped there. The campground is fairly new and, although it was laid out nicely, basically looked like a huge field. There are many young trees planted throughout the campground, making it likely that this campground will be much more scenic is another 10-15 years.

We had scheduled the detour to Fredericksburg over a month in advance so that Phil could see his doctor. At the time he scheduled the appointment, he had been dealing with a painful pinched nerve in his shoulder for nearly two months. Fortunately the pain had subsided by shortly before Christmas and did not return during our four days of driving. Our reservation at the campground was totally non-refundable so, even though Phil decided to cancel the doctor appointment, we were committed to staying in Fredericksburg for four days.

The weather on Monday, December 31st, was fairly warm so we strolled along the shops in downtown. That evening, we went to Luckenback, TX for our New Year’s Eve celebration. The band Almost Patsy Cline kept us entertained from 8 pm until midnight. We sat by one edge of the large dance floor, which provided us with a good view of some very experienced country dancers. The party was held in a big barn at Luckenback and the bar was open on one side. By later in the evening, the temperature had dropped into the low 30s and, although we were sitting on the opposite side, it was cold enough to require keeping our coats on most of the time. We rang in the new year with a champagne toast before returning home.

The weather on New Year’s Day was nasty, cold, windy and rainy, so we stayed in all day. On Wednesday we both had dentist appointments and, other than that, mostly stayed indoors to avoid another day of nasty weather.

On Thursday, January 3rd, we drove 339 miles to Los Fresnos, TX where we will spend six weeks at Palmdale RV Resort.

 

Tennessee Time (October 17 – December 27, 2018)

After our hectic summer travels, we decided to spend an extended stay in Tennessee visiting family, getting RV maintenance performed and just generally relaxing. We had scheduled our RV maintenance at our dealer’s facility in Knoxville on October 29th so we decided to spend the prior 11 days in Nashville. Since our preferred campground, Grand Ole RV Resort, was full, we spent the first four nights at Two Rivers Campground in a 30 amp pull-through site. Jason, Jarrod and Jess dropped by to visit while we were there. Phil took the truck to the Ram dealer in Mt. Juliet for some required maintenance. Since Opry Mills was only a couple of miles away, we visited it twice for shopping and dining.

On Sunday, October 21st, we moved 27 miles to Goodlettsville where we spent a week at Grand Ole RV Resort. We were able to get site #2 which is a long 50 amp pull-through site. We had spent a couple of weeks in this site in April 2018. The site is near the office and playground so there was a large open area by our door side, making it feel like we had a huge campsite.

That evening, Jason, Jarrod and Jess came by for a dinner of spaghetti, salad and Butterfinger cake. Although it was rather cool, we ate outside at our picnic table and listened to the musician who was performing on the office’s porch. We bought some firewood and, after considerable effort to get the green wood to light, we had a roaring campfire.

On Tuesday, we drove into Nashville and visited the Tennessee State Museum. Despite having no admission charge, this was a very impressive museum that provided lots of exhibits dealing with the events, good and bad, that had shaped Tennessee’s history.

On Wednesday, we met Jason, Lizzi and Amanda (Lizzi’s roommate) for dinner in Nashville at the Cheesecake Factory.

On Saturday, we met Jason, Jarrod and Jess at the Regal Cinemas at Opry Mills and watched the latest version of A Star is Born. After the movie, we headed to a nearby go-kart course where all but Phil raced go-karts. Phil’s shoulder was still hurting from the long drive from the West coast so he served as photographer.

On Sunday, we drove 204 miles to Heiskell, TN where we spent the night at Raccoon Valley RV Park. We have stayed at this Escapees park several times and, as members, get a very good rate. Since we didn’t know how long we would be at our dealer’s facility, we had reserved two nights but we ended up only staying Sunday night.

On Monday, we drove to RVs for Less in Knoxville where we ended up spending five nights parked on their lot. Fortunately, three of the major repairs (replacements of the power cord reel, water valve and vanity slide gear box) were covered by our extended warranty. In our first three years, we have already recouped more than the price we paid for the 7-year extended warranty. We also had our bearings repacked, brakes replaced and extensive caulking done to the rig. The repair of the fiberglass panel that had separated from the undercarriage turned out to be a fairly inexpensive job. The most expensive item was the replacement of all four trailer tires which had taken a beating during our Alaskan adventure. The caulking job required power-washing the trailer first so, when we left the dealership on Saturday, our rig looked much better than it had when we arrived.

On Saturday, November 3rd, we drove 20 miles to Anchor Down RV Resort near Dandridge, TN where we stayed eight nights. Anchor Down is a beautiful RV resort with outstanding vistas overlooking Douglas Lake. We had originally only reserved four nights (Sunday through Wednesday) but, after our repairs were completed on Friday at RVs for Less, we added Saturday night. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to reserve the same site so we spent Saturday night in site 152 before moving to site 125 on Sunday morning. On Sunday morning we went ahead and extended our stay for an additional three nights.

On Tuesday we drove through Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg to reach the 5.5 mile Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. The road was very narrow and winding in spots, definitely not designed for our dually tires, but we managed to only clip our tires on the rocks a few times. We were not obviously the only people who decided to drive the Motor Nature Trail as the road was quite crowded. The foliage appeared to be at peak fall color, despite it being several weeks after the usual peak for fall color in the Smokies. We pulled off the road several times to enjoy the scenery. We stopped to examine the Bales homestead where Ephraim and Minerva Bales raised their nine children in a two-room cabin from about 1890 to 1930. While exploring the Bales’ barn, we encountered a flock of wild turkey.

The weather got considerably cooler and wetter for the balance of the week, causing us to limit our outdoor activities somewhat. On Sunday, November 11, we drove 145 miles to Chattanooga, TN where we spent eight nights at Raccoon Mountain Campground. We had stayed at this campground two years earlier. We had a long pull-through site on the edge of the property. The campground was largely empty for most of our stay but filled up a lot for the weekend.

The first several days and nights were extremely rainy and the ground around our site became quite saturated. Fortunately our rig and truck were parked on hard-packed gravel that kept us above the puddles.  On Wednesday the rain had largely stopped so we ventured out to downtown Chattanooga to do some shopping. We would have done more exploring but the weather was uncomfortably cold and windy.

By Thursday the weather cleared up and the temperatures rose to a more pleasant level. We decided to take a drive and headed out to the Ocoee Scenic Byway. This 26-mile byway, the nation’s first National Forest Scenic Byway, travels along the rocky bluffs of the Ocoee River Gorge. The Ocoee River attracts lots of whitewater enthusiasts and is one of the busiest rafting rivers in the world. We stopped briefly at the Ocoee Whitewater Center, home to the 1996 Olympic Canoe/Kayak Shalom competition.

On Saturday, while we were waiting for our clothes to dry in the laundry room, we hiked a portion of the campground’s hiking trail. The trail was quite steep and not particularly well-marked but it provided us with a good workout. We were sorry we had to turn back before completing the climb but we only had 40 minutes on the dryers.

On Sunday we visited the Chattanooga Market where we visited lots of booths selling a variety of foods and crafts.

On Monday, November 19th, we drove 144 miles to Goodlettsville, TN where we spent six nights at the Nashville North KOA. That evening we picked up Jason and met Jarrod and Jess for dinner at Lockeland Table. The dinner was a celebration of Jason’s 36th birthday as well as a Bon Voyage for Jarrod and Jess, who depart for their Australian adventure on Wednesday.

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On Tuesday we worked on getting our food for Thanksgiving. Given the limited cooking space in our RV, our initial idea was to order take-out from Cracker Barrel. However, when Jan called to place the order, she learned that all the local Cracker Barrels were already sold out of take-out orders. We then considered dining in at Cracker Barrel but learned that there is often a multi-hour wait to be seated there on Thanksgiving. We finally decided to get a ham from Honey-Baked Ham. We learned our lesson from this experience and will be ordering our Christmas meal well in advance.

On Wednesday we dropped Jarrod and Jess off at the Nashville airport. After a week visiting friends in Los Angeles, they were headed off for several months in Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia. They were kind enough to let us use their car during the balance of our stay in Nashville. After a few days of navigating our one-ton Ram dually through the narrow streets of Nashville in heavy traffic, we were very grateful to have a smaller vehicle.

On Thursday Jason came over and we celebrated Thanksgiving at home. We dined on our ham and a multitude of side dishes. Although we were all quite stuffed, we each found room for a slice of Phil’s first homemade pecan pie.

Pecan pie

On Friday night we picked up Jason and drove downtown to watch the Nashville Christmas tree lighting. Several choirs performed prior to the tree lighting and various city officials spoke. Although rain had been forecast to hold off until later that evening, it began to drizzle as the last choir performed. The actual tree lighting occurred as the rain grew harder. Fortunately we had worn our rain jackets and brought our umbrellas. After the tree lighting, we stayed downtown and went to Demos’ restaurant to celebrate Jan’s birthday.

It rained the rest of Friday night and most of Saturday. Jason came over on Saturday afternoon for a dinner of gumbo and cornbread. On Sunday afternoon we visited two Christmas craft fairs, the Fort Houston holiday market and the Vintage holiday market.

On Monday evening we went with Jason to watch the Nashville Predators play the Buffalo Sabres at Bridgestone Arena. We stopped downtown at Oscar’s Taco Shop for a quick dinner before the game. Although we were seated in the upper section of the arena, we had a good view of the ice hockey game. The Predators won 2-1. The game was very exciting and Buffalo had numerous opportunities to tie the score in the last few minutes.

On Friday, December 7th, we went to see the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium, known as the “mother church of country music.” The lineup included performances by Emmylou Harris, Toby Keith and many others. All the performers were very good. We dined at Oscar’s Taco Shop again before the show.

Upon returning home, we discovered that our furnace was not operating.  The fan was on but there was no heat.  We have the Cheap Heat system that is designed to allow us to run our furnace using electricity, rather than propane.  We had used electric heat almost exclusively for the last three years without any problems.  It appears that the thermocouple in the heating coil had burned out.  Fortunately we were able to switch over to heating with propane but this was not a condition we wanted to live with long-term, especially since the nighttime lows were in the 20s.  Phil called and arranged to get the Cheap Heat system repaired at our dealer in Knoxville on Dec. 18th.

On Saturday, Jan got together with Lori Davis for a “girls afternoon out.” They had brunch at The Sutler.

On Tuesday evening we returned to Bridgestone Arena with Jason to watch another Nashville Predators game. This time it was against the Ottawa Senators and the Predators won 3-1. Once again we dined at Oscar’s Taco Shop before the game.

On Wednesday afternoon Jan met Linda Forrest and Pam Bogle at BrickTops for lunch.  On Thursday, December 14th, Jan decorated our home for Christmas.

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That evening, we went to the Douglas Corner Café to see Levon perform. Levon is a country trio that is under contract with Sony Music’s Columbia Nashville and Epic Records. One member of the group, Ryan Holladay, is from Jan’s hometown, Camden, TN. They are outstanding musicians and harmonize beautifully.

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On Monday, December 17th, we drove 204 miles to Raccoon Valley RV Park in Heiskel, TN where we spent the night. On Tuesday morning we took our rig to RVs for Less to get our CheapHeat system repaired. The dealership was not so busy as usual so we didn’t have to wait for service. The problem with the CheapHeat system turned out to be a faulty controller box rather than the thermocouple, as was originally thought. Either way, we were glad we had the extended service contract.  We were back on the road by 1 pm, heading back toward Goodlettsville.

Our good fortune left us when we decided to stop for lunch and fuel at the Pilot Truck Stop about 20 miles from the dealer. There were no pull-through parking spots so Phil had to back into a spot between parked semis. Unfortunately, he misjudged his turn and ended up hitting the grill of one of the parked semis with the rear corner of our fifth wheel. Although it only cracked a strip of plastic on the semi’s grill, it shoved in the end cap on our fifth wheel slightly and crumpled one of the side panels. After exchanging info with the truck driver, we returned to RVs for Less to see what could be done to get us fixed. Upon examination, our dealer assured us it wasn’t as bad as it looked. We arranged to get some work done immediately to ensure that we would have no water intrusion, then have the paint job done when we return to TN in April. Fortunately they had a replacement for the crumpled side panel. We camped out on the dealer’s lot the rest of Tuesday and all day Wednesday while the work was completed.

On Thursday morning we hooked up in the rain and returned 200 miles back to Grand Ole RV Resort in Goodlettsville, TN where we will spend another week. It rained almost the entire trip but, fortunately, stopped long enough for us to get set up.

On Friday we drove to Camden, TN and had lunch at Country & Western with Lori Davis and Andrea Madden. We all had the fried catfish fillet dinners and the food was delicious as always. After lunch we visited Walt Madden and Andrea’s brother, Flash Melton.

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The next few days were spent getting ready for Christmas and for our trip to Texas. Jason came over on Christmas Eve and spent the night with us. On Christmas morning, we ate Jan’s homemade cinnamon rolls and opened presents.

We decided to go see a movie that afternoon. Most of the films that were showing locally either were not of interest to us or had showtimes that conflicted with our dinner reservation. We finally settled on Creed 2 and it turned out to be surprisingly good.  We drove to Franklin for dinner at Buca di Bepo. Our reservation was for 6 pm but the restaurant was packed and we had to wait for 45 minutes. The meal was very good and we had enough food for leftovers.

Our final day in Goodlettsville was spent getting ready to travel. We returned Jess’ car to Matt’s mother’s house. We really appreciated the use of the car since getting around Nashville in the truck would have been challenging. Jason spent the final night with us. We all rose early and got on the road.

Tennessee Bound! (September 29 – October 17, 2018)

On Saturday, September 29th, we began our quick trip across the Western and Midwestern U.S. to visit family again in Nashville and get repairs done on our truck and RV. Our first drive was 244 miles to Richland, WA where we spent two nights at Horn Rapids RV Park. Although hilly, the drive was fairly easy after we got past Seattle. The RV park was quite large and nicer than most we’ve visited. Although it was rather cool and breezy, Phil was able to give our rig a long-overdue washing.

On Monday, October 1st, we drove 268 miles to Caldwell, ID where we spent two nights at Ambassador RV Resort. At about 9 am on Tuesday morning, Phil discovered that our bathroom door was locked from the inside. The lock had always been difficult to open and, as a result, we never locked the door. However, the lock had been getting loose in recent days and it appears that it must have shifted into a locked position by accident. We spent the next couple of hours trying to unlock the door but with no success. We attempted to remove the hinges on the door but this also proved unsuccessful. When we called the manufacturer, we learned that the hinges were not removable. Finally, we called a locksmith and had to wait an hour for his arrival. Fortunately the campground bathrooms were nearby and very clean. The locksmith had no more success than we’d had so we told him he was free to drill off the old lock. Even after drilling off the handle, he still had a hard time disengaging the lock mechanism. After the locksmith left, we drove into Caldwell and bought a new door lock at True Value. We believe the new lock is of higher quality than the original.

On Wednesday we drove 317 miles to Logan, UT where we stayed at Traveland RV Park. We had some difficulty finding the RV park since it was tucked behind a Quality Inn. We could see the RVs parked there but had to circle around the neighborhood before we finally found the entrance. We managed to get set up before the rains began but, once they started, they continued almost non-stop for the two days. During one slack period, Phil managed to set up the grill but ended up grilling our steak in the rain. The lousy weather was most unfortunate because the little we saw of Logan was quite lovely.

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Buddy, our bonsai, enjoyed the view from our campsite

On Friday we drove 285 miles to Rawlins, WY where we spent the night at the Rawlins KOA. We had originally planned to spend two nights in Rawlins but the nighttime lows were below freezing and the forecast for Saturday night was calling for 1-3 inches of snow and slick highways on Sunday. The first 100 miles of our drive as we left Utah was through the canyons and, although winding and hilly, was quite beautiful. However, the rest of the trip was on the interstate and took us across wide open plains.

On Saturday we got an early start. The temperature was only 31 degrees when we were packing to go but, fortunately, the sun made it feel somewhat warmer. We drove 250 miles, all on I-80, to Sidney, NE. The weather was clear for most of the drive but, shortly after passing Laramie, WY, we ran into thick fog. We exited the interstate for a rest stop but the sign was covered with snow and we made a wrong turn. Fortunately we found a parking lot about a mile down the road and were able to get turned around. We inquired about the fog at the information counter in the rest stop and were told we would be in the fog for a long time. We could see semis continuing down the interstate so we decided to give it a go. When one of the semis left the rest stop, we followed closely behind him and were able to follow his taillights until the fog cleared. Fortunately the man at the information booth was wrong and the fog cleared within a few miles.

We spent the night at the Cabella’s RV Park in Sidney, NE where we had stayed in June 2017. The RV park is first come, first serve but we were able to get a good spot when we arrived around 4 pm. The RV park is next to a Cabella’s store and across the parking lot from the Cabella’s corporate headquarters. We learned that the Cabella’s corporation had been bought out by Bass Pro Shops in early 2018 and the loss of so many corporate jobs in such a small town had led to seriously depressed real estate market and local economy. We contributed to the economy by dining at Margaritas Family Mexican restaurant. The food was delicious, very filling, and, based on the largely Hispanic clientele, authentic Mexican cooking.

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Chairs at Margaritas Family Mexican restaurant

It rained most of the night and we packed up Sunday morning in a light drizzle. We continued our drive across Nebraska with another 260 miles on I-80. It rained for most of the drive but stopped long enough for us to get set up at the Grand Island, NE KOA where we stayed for two nights. The name of the campground was somewhat deceptive as the town of Grand Island was nine miles away. The forecast had called for rain and thunderstorms for the entire stay but, fortunately, it only rained hard at night. Due to the lousy weather, we didn’t do anything all day on Monday except grocery shopping and laundry.

On Tuesday, October 9th, we drove 265 miles through steady rain to Adel, IA where we spent two nights at the Des Moines West KOA. Again, the name of the campground was deceptive as it is over 20 miles from Des Moines.

Over the previous week we had begun to experience a lot of problems with our fresh water tank. When we were hooked up to campground water, some of the water would bypass the check valve and find its way into the fresh water tank. This meant that we needed to drain the fresh tank almost entirely each time we needed to drive. When the weather gets below freezing, we need to disconnect the hose from the campground water and just use the water in the fresh water tank. Unfortunately, our water pump started running for a few seconds each minute, even when the water wasn’t running. This would generally indicate that we had a leak somewhere but we couldn’t find one. We had added these issues to our list of repairs to be addressed at our dealer on October 29th. However, the problem became a bigger issue before we could get there. About half way through our drive to Adel, IA, we stopped at a rest area and Jan noticed that about an 8-foot section of the door side panel had pulled away from the undercarriage. We were able to drive the rest of the way to our campground and had to wait until the rain stopped before we could better inspect the damage. It appears that the subflooring had gotten waterlogged from the water leak and this extra weight had forced out the screws holding the paneling in place. In addition, a pipe that can be used to hook up to the propane tanks had pulled out from the flooring. Phil crawled under our rig and took some pictures to send to the dealer. He also wired the pipe in place to keep it secured until we can get to the dealer. It’s times like this that we miss having a house! We had planned to stay at a Corp of Engineers park after leaving Pella but, since they don’t have water at the sites, we would have had to rely entirely on our fresh water tank and our water pump for three days. With that out of the question, we had to find another campground for our next stop.

With all the rainy weather, we had not been able to do any sightseeing since we left Washington. After doing what we could do to address the damage, we decided to drive 16 miles to Winterset, IA and visit the John Wayne museum and birthplace. Winterset turned out to be a lovely little town that has retained much of its heritage.

We also visited the Winterset visitor center and got a map showing the locations of the covered bridges made famous by the 1995 film The Bridges of Madison County, starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. We visited four of the bridges.

On Thursday we drove 70 miles to Kellogg, IA where we stayed for three nights at the Kellogg RV Park. The RV park is tucked behind a Phillips 66 gas station but had long pull-through sites and full hookups.

On Friday morning, Phil woke up at 5:40 am and drove to Oskaloosa, IA for a 7 am appointment at Kelderman Manufacturing for repair of our truck’s rear suspension air bags that were damaged when we were in the Yukon. In the afternoon we drove to Grinnell, IA. We walked around the historic downtown district and visited the Merchants National Bank building. The bank building is one of eight Midwestern “jewel-box” banks designed by Louis Sullivan, legendary American architect and mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright. It was constructed in 1914 and has been a National Historic Landmark since 1976. In 1999, the bank building was taken over by the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce.

This date represented our third anniversary of being full-time RVers. When we started our adventure, we committed to at least three years so we wouldn’t give up prematurely if we ran into problems. Over the past three years, we have covered about 37,000 miles. Although we’ve faced the occasional challenge (especially recently), overall we’ve loved our experience and don’t see us bringing this lifestyle to a conclusion any time soon. We will probably cut back somewhat on our mileage but aren’t ready to come off the road.

On Sunday, October 14th, we drove 306 miles to St. Peters, MO where we spent two nights at St. Peters 370 Lakeview Park. Although only the first 70 miles were on I-80, the rest of the drive was on a divided highway that was actually quite a bit smoother than the interstate. We had stayed at St. Peters 370 Lakeview Park three years earlier and had struggled to get into a back-in site. This time we had reserved a pull-through site and it was much easier. Unlike three years earlier, the weather was quite cold and we were unable to enjoy the walkway around the lake. Other than doing laundry and making a trip to Sam’s Club and WalMart, we didn’t do much on Monday.

On Tuesday we drove 198 miles to Paducah, KY where we spent the night at Fern Lake Campground. The campground was nothing special but we had a pull-through site within ¼ mile of the interstate, all we really needed for an overnight stay. We walked across the road to El Torito for an outstanding Mexican dinner.

On Wednesday we completed our drive to Tennessee by driving 147 miles to Nashville.

Resting and Waiting in the Pacific Northwest (September 3 – 28, 2018)

On Labor Day, September 3rd, we drove 156 miles from Merritt, BC to Blaine, WA where we stayed at Lighthouse by the Bay RV Resort for 17 days. Blaine is in the extreme northwest corner of Washington state, only 35 miles from Vancouver, BC. Although the campground has a Blaine address, we were only a short walk from Birch Bay on the Pacific Coast.

Our reason for hanging out in Blaine was twofold. First, we wanted to relax and catch up on cleaning and maintenance after our hectic travel throughout the summer. Second, we wanted to meet up with our son, Jarrod, and his fiancé, Jess, when they completed their hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. The terminus of the PCT is at Manning Park, BC, just over the Canadian border from western Washington.

After getting set up upon our arrival at the campground on Labor Day, we walked down to the beach at Birch Bay. The beach was quite rocky, which made it somewhat difficult to walk along. We passed a little restaurant and ice cream shop near the beach and made plans to return there in the coming days.

On Tuesday we drove to Bellingham to do some shopping at Walgreens, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Fred Meyer and TJ Maxx. After a summer of shopping at mostly small stores, it was good to have access to a greater variety of goods. We also enjoyed refueling the truck for $3.14 a gallon, about $1.50 a gallon less than the average of what we’d paid in Canada. However, the downside of being back in civilization was that the traffic in Bellingham was much worse than what we’d experienced all summer.

On Wednesday we decided to return to the Birch Bay ice cream shop but found that the business was closed for the season and wouldn’t reopen until mid-May 2019. We tried a couple of other shops that advertised ice cream but they were either closed or out of ice cream. We ended up walking along Birch Bay and visiting the Visitor Center.

Our DirecTV service, which we had suspended in early June, was reinstated on Wednesday and we were glad to have access to television again.

On Thursday Phil climbed up on the roof and applied a large amount of sealant around the base of the satellite dish. We had several days of light rain after that and did not experience our roof leak. We are optimistic that the problem has been solved but we’ll reserve final judgment until we have some heavier rainstorms.

Phil discovered that the Blaine – Birch Bay Rec Center offers pickleball almost every day. He played for about two hours each day on Friday and Saturday. After not playing since April, his body was quite sore afterward and he struggled to get around the rest of the weekend. Undaunted, he returned to play on Monday.

On Tuesday, September 11, we drove into Blaine to hit the post office and grocery store. We decided to visit Peace Arch State Park on the US-Canada border. Phil got into the wrong lane and ended up going through Canadian Customs. The Canadian border guard gave us directions to the Canadian side of the park. However, there was no parking on the Canadian side so we had to return through US customs. When we arrived at the park, we discovered there was a $10 per person admission so we left without visiting the arch. Instead, we drove to the Blaine Marine Park where we could see the arch across the bay for free.

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Peace Arch with slogan “Children of a Common Mother”

On Wednesday, September 19th, we drove to Lynden, WA to do some sightseeing and grocery shopping. Lynden was established in 1874 and saw significant Dutch immigration in the early and mid 1900s. Lynden pays homage to its Dutch heritage through locations such as buildings on Front Street, where some of the businesses have been made over with a Dutch theme, complete with a windmill.

On Friday, we drove 90 miles to Sunshine Valley, BC where we spent three nights at Sunshine Valley RV Resort. The campground was situated in a valley surrounded by steep and heavily wooded hillsides. On Saturday, Phil drove into Hope, BC to refuel and do some grocery shopping. Jan worked on a sign to welcome Jarrod and Jess at the end of their hike and prepared the celebration dinner.

On Sunday, September 23rd, we drove about 30 minutes to Manning Park and waited near the terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) for Jarrod and Jess to arrive. After waiting for a couple of hours, we saw a large group of hikers arrive at the end of the trail. They let us know Jarrod and Jess were just a few minutes behind them. When they arrived, it marked the completion of their 2,650 mile hike that had begun near the Mexican border on April 25th. After lots of hugs and pictures, we drove to the Manning Park Lodge and had a large lunch with a group of about 10 hungry PCT hikers. Later that evening, we had spaghetti, garlic bread, lemon cake and ice cream with Jarrod and Jess to celebrate their PCT completion. We had originally intended to leave Sunshine Valley the following morning but decided to stay another night.

On Monday, we drove to the Coquihalla Valley and hiked the Othello Tunnel Trail. In the late 1800s the Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR) faced competition from American railroads to establish a line to the mineral rich Kootenays. With CPR sponsorship, the Kettle Valley Railway built a line through the Coquihalla Pass in 1913-1916. The line used a 2.2% grade over most of the 36 mile climb from near sea level at Hope to the 3,646 foot Coquihalla summit. But only four miles from Hope, the Coquihalla River presented a straight walled canyon. The railway construction required 14 tunnels and cost five times the average cost per mile at that time. The canyon between tunnels one and two was used in the filming of the Sylvester Stallone film “Rambo: First Blood.” After hiking through the tunnels, we drove into Hope where many other scenes in First Blood were filmed.

On Tuesday we drove 91 miles to Surrey, BC where we spent two nights at Pacific Border RV Park, right by the US border crossing. On Wednesday we took the SkyTrain into Vancouver. Jarrod and Jess spent the afternoon with a couple that they had hiked with on the PCT while we explored Vancouver on our own. We first went to Gastown, the original settlement that became the core of Vancouver, for lunch. We finished our lunch in time to watch the steam clock, one of the few in the world, signal 3 o’clock with a musical tune and a toot from each whistle. Then we walked along the Vancouver waterfront. We had intended to walk to Stanley Park but, as we walked past Canada Place, we saw a bicycle rental shop with a tandem bike. The store clerk suggested we try out the tandem bike first since he said many people don’t like them. After testing it, we decided to give it a go. We ended up riding the tandem bike for 1 ½ hours through Stanley Park. After returning our bike, we met Jarrod and Jess for our return trip on the SkyTrain.

On Thursday we drove 163 miles to Gig Harbor, WA where we spent two nights at Gig Harbor RV Resort. The drive was fairly easy. We got through US Customs with only a few questions and only had to deal with heavy traffic when we drove through Seattle. We had expected to have a back-in site in Gig Harbor but were relieved to find that we were able to get a pull-through site. That evening we had dinner at Tide Tavern on the Water and the weather was perfect for sitting outside on the deck.

On Friday morning we drove Jarrod and Jess to SeaTac Airport for their flight back to Nashville. We spent the afternoon getting ready to begin our long trip back to the Midwest.

Heading South to the Lower 48 (August 16 – September 3, 2018)

On Thursday we left Haines and backtracked 250 miles to Whitehorse, YT where we spent two nights at Pioneer RV Park. Since we had covered this entire route the previous week, we didn’t make many stops along the way. We had stayed at Pioneer RV Park with our caravan in late June and it had been a bad experience, with our rigs parked so close together that we could barely extend our steps. Fortunately, this time we got a much better site and had an adequate amount of room.

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View of Dezadeash Lake on drive to Whitehorse

We had spent a couple of days in late June exploring Whitehorse with the caravan group so there really weren’t too many of the major attractions left for us to see. We returned to the fish ladder that we had visited before. In June, we were told that the peak salmon run would be in mid-August but, unfortunately, we only saw a few salmon on our return visit. We next stopped at the Visitor Center and inquired about walking tours. We were told there was one starting from the MacBride Museum at 12:30 so we hurried down several blocks to the museum. However, when we arrived, we learned that the tour had been at 11:30. So, we returned to the Visitor Center and got a map of downtown Whitehorse and did our own walking tour. We stopped at the Old Log Church, the original Anglican Church in Whitehorse. We also walked by the Log Skyscraper, the Yukon’s first skyscraper dating to the Alaska Highway construction years. We had lunch of halibut fish and chips from one of the many food trucks parked on Main Street. Next we strolled along the waterfront and visited the railroad depot.

We spent much of the rest of the afternoon doing our grocery shopping for the coming weeks since it might be a while before we see another large grocery store. Not only did they charge for plastic bags, they also charged a dollar to get a shopping cart. Phil had to watch some other shoppers to figure out how that worked. You had to insert a loonie (Canadian dollar) into a box on the handle and this would release a chain that held the cart in place. Then, when you returned your cart to the collection point and reconnected the chain, you got your loonie back. It was actually a rather ingenious way to ensure that carts get returned, rather than leaving them in the parking lot.

On Saturday we had a short drive of only 105 miles on the Alaska Highway to Teslin, YT where we spent the night at the Yukon Motel. This was one of the campgrounds we had stayed at with the caravan during our drive to Alaska. We had no cell service but were able to access the campground wifi.

On Sunday we drove another 166 miles on the Alaska Highway to Watson Lake, YT where we stayed at the Baby Nugget RV Park. Again, this was one of the campgrounds we had stayed at during our drive to Alaska. At this campground, we had no cell service and the only wifi was in the laundry room. We drove into town to do some grocery shopping and refuel the truck. While in town, we visited the Sign Post Village and searched for the sign that our Adventure Treks group had nailed up there in June. We had not accompanied the group when they hung the sign and, although we searched for it a long time in June, we had never found it. This time we had a picture that our tail gunner had posted on Facebook. Jan was able to locate the row by analyzing the background in the photo and Phil found the sign itself.

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Adventure Treks sign in Sign Post Village

The following morning, as we were preparing to depart, we began to experience electrical problems with the truck. The first message on the dashboard display said that the left turn signal was out. A few minutes later we got a message that the parking light was out. Over the next few hours most of the lights on the rear of the truck failed, including the other turn signal, brake light and the license plate light. The Parking Sensor, which notifies Phil if he is about to back into something, also failed. Fortunately, the turn signals and brake lights on the trailer still worked so we felt OK with driving.

We had heard a lot about the forest fires that were raging throughout British Columbia and could already smell the smoke as we left Watson Lake. Instead of returning the way we came (on the Alaska Highway), we had decided to return via the Cassiar Highway. This highway has the reputation of being extremely beautiful but the smoke hindered our ability to fully enjoy the beauty.

On Monday, August 20th, we drove 200 miles to Iskut, BC where we spent the night at Red Goat Lodge. The road was much rougher than we had anticipated and the smoke was especially bad for about an hour around Dease Lake.

The campground setting was by the edge of the Iskut River and this provided beautiful reflections of the surrounding mountains. However, the campground was extremely rustic and needed a lot of work. When Phil initially went in to register, the man in the office was not very helpful and just told Phil to drive around and pick out whatever site we wanted. We found a good length pull-through site that was easy to get into but, as we discovered the next morning, was not easy to get out of. That evening we strolled along the river and enjoyed the scenery. Phil spoke to the woman in the office and learned that our next destination, Hyder, AK, was smoke-free. However, she also told Phil that the worst of the smoke was still ahead of us. She said that Prince George, BC was the worst area but the smoke had extended all through Washington and Oregon.

The following morning was quite stressful. Phil examined underneath the truck and found that the hose that holds a bundle of electric wires running to the rear of the truck had a large hole in it. Next, after we had hitched up, Jan noticed that one corner to the hitch appeared to have pulled up from the bed of the truck. We decided to unhitch so that Phil could tighten the bolt but the hitch would not disconnect. Finally, after several failed attempts, we tried pulling the rig forward a bit and then the hitch did disconnect. After Phil tightened the bolt on the hitch, we reconnected the rig and then performed our usual testing of the trailer’s lights. Unfortunately, the left turn signal now wasn’t working and only the right brake light would light. Our next adventure came when we attempted to exit our campsite. There was a tree blocking us from making a sharp left out of our site. However, it appeared that we might be able to get out by going forward through another campsite, although this required going through a bit of a ditch. Unfortunately, we found that there was another tree that prevented us from exiting this path. By working the rig back and forth, we were finally able to back out onto the road. However, one of the mud flaps get snagged in the ditch and ripped off. All in all, it was a terrible start to the day. Since the campground had no cell service nor wifi, we had no choice but to head on down the road and hope for the best.

Fortunately, the 200-mile drive to Hyder, AK was much smoother than the previous day’s, even though we had to stop three times for single-lane construction zones. The scenery was beautiful but the winding road made for a tiring drive. We arrived at Camp Run-A-Muck at about 4 pm PDT and managed to fit into our pull-through site without too much challenge.

As predicted, the air was pretty clear and there was only a slight whiff of smoke. We had reserved our spot for three days but, rather than take a leisurely drive through BC over the coming weeks, we immediately decided to extend our stay in Hyder to a full week and then make a quicker drive through BC back to the Lower 48. Although we had no cell service and very poor wifi at the campground, we had picked up a strong cell signal when we drove through Stewart, BC which was just a few miles prior to reaching Hyder. During the first couple of days, we drove into Stewart to access the Internet and this required going through the Canadian border crossing each time. We subsequently learned that we could get a cell signal in Hyder if we drove over a long bridge to the boat launch.

Hyder only has a population of 100 and touts itself as the “friendliest ghost town in Alaska.” Stewart, BC is slightly larger, with a population of 500. Hyder was originally called Portland City but was renamed when the U.S. Postal Authority told residents there were already too many U.S. cities named Portland. Both towns got their starts in 1898 with the Gold Rush. Hyder boomed with the discovery of rich silver veins in the upper Salmon River basin in 1917-1918. At the peak in the 1920s, the area had a population of 10,000. Both communities are located at the head of the 90 mile long Portland Canal, the fourth longest fjord in the world.

On Wednesday we drove to the service station in Stewart to see if they could fix the truck. We learned that they only do tire repairs but they did give us a referral to a local mechanic, Wade Bursey, who has a garage behind his house. Wade took a look at the broken wires and discovered the cause. An iron clamp on the rear suspension had cracked when we hit a large pothole. When the clamp broke, the pressure drove the leaf springs upward and through the wiring bundle. Wade thought he could fix the wiring but couldn’t get to it until Thursday at noon. We attempted to find a rental car but the Hertz franchise, operating out of the ice cream shop, only had one car left at the end of the season and it was unavailable.

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Broken clamp from truck’s leaf springs

On Thursday morning we drove to the Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site to see if there were any bears feeding on the spawning salmon. We saw many chub and pink salmon in the creek and lagoon but no bears. We were not terribly surprised since there had been few bears spotted this season. Since salmon die after they return to their spawning grounds, there were a large number of dead fish in the water. The chub salmon were quite large, averaging between 30-40 inches in length.

At about noon we drove into Stewart and Jan attempted unsuccessfully to rent a car while Phil took the truck to Wade’s garage. Phil sat there for a couple of hours while Wade struggled to fix another vehicle. Jan had lunch in Stewart and explored the little bit of downtown. Phil left to drive Jan back to the campground and, when he returned, Wade was ready to work on the truck but said that it wouldn’t be finished until the next morning. Although Phil had been prepared to hike the four miles back to the campground, Wade was nice enough to give him a ride.

Later that afternoon we had our first campfire in almost three years of RVing, in large part due to free firewood.

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Phil by campfire

On Friday morning, we walked up to the border crossing to call Wade to see if the truck was ready. After three unanswered calls, Jan spotted Wade’s truck driving by us. He had driven to the campground to get Phil. We were able to flag Wade down as he drove back to Stewart and get Phil a ride back to the garage. Phil learned that the truck was ready and, although Wade was unable to replace the broken clamp on the leaf springs, he did repair the 17 broken wires so we now had lights on the back of the truck. Phil later called the Ram dealer in Smithers, BC to see if they could finish the repair job when we were there the following Wednesday. The dealer was booked out until after Labor Day but said he would see what he could do when we come in on Wednesday.

On Saturday, August 25th, we returned in the morning to the Fish Creek site but, again, saw no bears. We then drove out to the boat launch to access the Internet. The skies were overcast and Jan got some great pictures of the harbor with heavy cloud cover.

On Saturday evening we returned to the Fish Creek site and, this time, we hit pay dirt. About ten minutes after we arrived, an adolescent grizzly (3-5 years old) showed up and stuck around for 75 minutes. He consumed a large number of chum salmon, both dead and alive, and then started playing by tearing apart a number of small trees on the creek bank.

On Sunday we drove up the Salmon Glacier Road. Salmon Glacier is the world’s largest road accessible glacier. We had gotten a self-guided auto tour guidebook from the Visitor Center and it explained various points of interest along the route. The road is unpaved after the Fish Creek viewing area so we had to drive very slowly over the next 11 miles to the Toe of Salmon Glacier viewpoint. Given the damage to the truck’s suspension, we drove very slowly over the washboard roads and attempted to miss as many potholes as possible. It took us about an hour each way as we drove between 6-14 mph. We opted not to drive the last six miles to the Salmon Glacier summit.

On Monday we walked through the town of Hyder. For the most part, the town is quite dilapidated. More than a few of the residences consist of walls built around old RVs or mobile homes. There were a number of signs and displays on the residences that demonstrated that the locals have a sense of humor. We had lunch at “The Bus,” whose owner has been selling seafood caught by her husband and son for 20 years. We had halibut fish and chips and a cup of chowder. Everything was delicious.

Monday evening we returned to the Fish Creek observation site and, again, were rewarded with the site of a large grizzly. It initially swam around in the lagoon and, occasionally, would splash the water with his paws and capture a large chub salmon to eat. When he’d had his fill of salmon, he pulled down tree branches along the bank and feasted on berries. Next, he strolled up the creek right below the boardwalk out to the parking lot. We were able to walk along the boardwalk for about 100 yards while the grizzly was only about 20 feet away. It was an amazing experience.

On Tuesday we had to pack up in the rain and hit the road, leaving Alaska for the final time. We drove 220 miles to Telkwa, BC where we spent two nights at the Fort Telkwa RV Park. When Phil had made the reservation, the owner had told him that the back–in sites were much better than the pull-throughs. She had offered to have her husband help get us backed into our site. When we arrived at the campground, Phil was surprised to learn that the “help” actually consisted of the husband jumping in the truck and parking it himself. We were glad we had taken the back-in site as we had a great view of the Buckley River out our living room window.

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View from our living room window

On Wednesday Phil drove to the Ram dealer in Smithers, about 10 miles away. When he took the broken clamp into the parts department, he learned that it was not a Ram part. It seems to have been part of the Kelderman rear suspension upgrade we had installed in Iowa in May. This will mean contacting Kelderman for a solution. The good news was that the two micro fuses Phil was able to buy for $3.50 solved the remaining electrical problems we were having. One fuse brought back our rear camera and parking sensor. The other fuse solved our more critical issue; the trailer’s left turn signal and brake lights are now working.

We then took a nature hike along the Bulkley River. This area is known as Steelhead Paradise and there were many fishermen fly fishing in the river. When we reached town, we decided to have ice cream for lunch. The town of Telkwa, with a population of 1,500, was established in 1906 and many of the original buildings have been retained and restored.

On Thursday, August 30th, we drove 235 miles to Prince George, BC where we spent the night at Northern Experience RV Park. The only sightseeing stop we made along the way was in Houston, BC where we stopped to see the World’s Largest Fly Rod. The rod is constructed entirely of aluminum and is anodized bronze to simulate graphite. The rod is 60 feet tall and weighs 800 lbs. The smoke level along the drive was quite low and a strong breeze that evening kept the air quality very good.

On Friday morning the smoky skies had returned. We drove 145 miles to Williams Lake, BC where we spent two nights at the Stampede Campground. As we drove through Quesnel, we passed the World’s Largest Gold Pan. The campground in Williams Lake was connected to the Stampede stadium where they hold a major rodeo event in early July.

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World’s Largest Gold Pan

On Saturday morning the air was smokier than usual but not bad enough to keep us indoors. We went to the Scout Island Nature Centre and hiked the Island Trail. Much of the trail near the end of the island was overgrown so we had to blaze our own trail for much of the way. The air cleared later in the afternoon and we were able to sit outside and enjoy the blue sky.

On Sunday we drove 210 miles to Merritt, BC where we stayed overnight at the community-operated Claybanks RV Park. Our only stop of note was at a rest area overlooking Kamloops Lake. When we arrived at the campground, we were surprised to learn that we had been assigned to a back-in site rather than the pull-through we had requested. However, we managed the back-in fairly well.

Monday was Labor Day and the traffic was rather heavy for our 156 mile drive to Blaine, WA. We drove non-stop until we crossed into the United States just a few miles from Blaine. As much as we enjoyed our summer adventure in Alaska and Western Canada, it felt great to be back in the Lower 48 again.