On Monday, June 10th, we drove 175 miles from Lancaster, NH to Hermon, ME where we stayed at Pumpkin Patch RV Resort for four days. Although the drive was shorter than usual, it involved mostly winding state highways that took us through numerous small towns with frequently changing speed limits. We had dinner at the café next door named Just Down the Road and the food was very good.
Hermon is about eight miles outside of Bangor, ME. After a full day of rain on Tuesday, we spent Wednesday exploring Bangor (pronounced bayn-gor, not banger). Our first stop was the Paul Bunyan statue. At 31 feet high and 3,700 pounds, this is the largest of many Paul Bunyan statues across the U.S. Bangor claims it is the birthplace for Paul Bunyan, although there are those in Minnesota who also stake that claim. Our next stop was Riverfront Park where we walked along the Penobscot River Walkway. Since Bangor is a fairly small town, we next decided to continue walking to the home of Bangor’s most famous author, Stephen King. Although it is only one of Stephen King’s home, the gate was open so someone was at home. The house’s architecture and wrought iron fencing seemed consistent with Stephen King’s horror genre. There were other lovely homes in the neighborhood.
Jan at Stephen King’s house
Stephen King’s neighbor
Stephen King’s driveway
Stephen King’s house
Phil at Paul Bunyan statue
On Thursday, rain was forecast so we opted to stay close to home. We drove to the Hermon High School and hiked the Hermon Recreation Trail. This easy, 1.7-mile out and back trail connects the high school and the elementary school. It was rather muddy and buggy but provided us with some exercise. There was a potluck dinner at the campground that evening.
Friday was Phil’s 65th birthday. We drove 37 miles to Trenton, ME where we will spend a month at Timberland Acres RV Park. The campground is quite large and we have a very long pull-through site. Trenton, ME is only a few miles from Mt. Desert Island, home to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.
On Thursday, May 9th, we left Tennessee and headed north to Indiana to visit Phil’s 99-year-old mother and his elder sister, Barb Anderson, and her family. We drove 295 miles the first day to North Bend, OH where we spent the night at the Indian Springs Campground. The following day we drove 258 miles to Elkhart, IN where we spent five nights at Elkhart Campground. We had a pull-through site at the end of a row so we had a large grassy area outside our door.
We visited Phil’s mother each day at the Hubbard Hill Retirement Center. At age 99, she spends most of her days dozing but we were able to spend some time conversing with her.
The rest of our time was largely spent relaxing. On Saturday we went to dinner with Barb & Dan Anderson and Emily & Cody Hall. On Monday we drove to Shipshewana, IN and visited several Amish stores, including Yoder’s Meat and Cheese where we loaded up on unique groceries. On Tuesday we were hosted for dinner at the Andersons.
On Wednesday, May 15th, we drove 252 miles to Streetsboro, OH where we spent three nights at the Streetsboro / SE Cleveland KOA. The campground was very nice but recent rains had made the ground of the pull-through very muddy.
On Thursday, we drove to Canton, OH to visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The exhibits were quite interesting but we had no trouble seeing everything in about two hours.
Front of the Hall of Fame
Phil in front of Hall of Fame
Jan at Joe Montana display
Jan atPeyton Manning display
Phil wearing replica of ringfrom SuperBowl I
Jan with Joe Montana bust
Phil listening to Coach to Player communications
Phil at Randy Moss display
Some of the Hall of Fame busts
On Friday we drove into Cleveland and visited the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. This museum was designed by the famous architect I. M. Pei who, coincidently, died the day we visited. Its distinctive pyramid-shaped design had six stories and there were exhibits on each floor. We spent four hours visiting the museum but could easily have been there longer.
Phil in front of Rock & Rock Hall of Fame
1986 Induction Class
Jimi Hendrix display
The Beatles display
Rolling Stones display
Display including Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis memorabilia
On Saturday, May 18th, we drove 220 miles to North Tonawanda, NY, located between Buffalo and Niagara Falls, where we spent four nights at the AA Royal Motel and Campground. This was a no frills campground tucked behind a small motel but it had decent-sized pull-through sites. Although not inexpensive, it was considerably less expensive than the other campgrounds near Niagara Falls and was adequate for our needs.
On Sunday we visited Niagara Falls. Although we knew the attractions would be crowded on the weekend, the weather forecast for Sunday called for a high of 82 degrees vs. highs around 60 degrees on Monday and Tuesday. After an unsuccessful search for cheap parking, we found a parking lot near Goat Island in the Niagara Falls State Park and shelled out the $30 parking fee. We walked across the pedestrian bridge to Goat Island and, after seeing the lines for the Cave of the Winds attraction, decided to get our tickets immediately. We had 25 minutes until our assigned time for the Cave of the Winds so we used this time to walk to the viewpoint for Horseshow Falls. We then returned to the Cave of the Winds entrance. After watching a short film on Nikola Tesla’s design of the modern alternating current electricity supply system at Niagara Falls, we stood outside in the hot sun for another 45 minutes before entering the elevators down to the walkways below the falls. Unfortunately the harsh winter had destroyed some of the wooden walkways but we were still able to get close enough to the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls to get somewhat wet. Since the tour did not include ponchos, we chose not to go as far up the walkways as some other braver souls who got completely drenched.
Damaged walkways on Cave of the Winds tour
Phil at Horseshoe Falls
Jan and Phil at Horseshoe Falls
Phil & Jan at American Falls
We then walked out on the observation deck. Since this attraction was not fully open for the season, there was no admission charge.
Jan and Phil at Observation Deck
American Falls from Observation Deck
We had originally planned to take the Maid of the Mist cruise to the falls but it was also not yet open for the season. However, we could see that the Hornblower Niagara Cruise was operating from the Canadian side so we decided to take it instead. We walked across the Rainbow Bridge to Canada where Phil had a humorous exchange with the Canadian border guard about being a Texan who doesn’t own any guns. After purchasing our tickets for the Hornblower cruise, we were issued red disposable ponchos that only provided protection down to our knees. The cruise began with a short visit near the American Falls but the fun really began when we approached the Horseshow Falls. The boat passed close enough to the falls that we were soon soaked below the knees. It was a very fun experience and we were glad we had done it on a warm, sunny day.
View of falls from Rainbow Bridge
Phil and Jan on Hornblower
Phil on Hornblower as it approaches American Falls
Hornblower cruise ship
After returning to the USA via the Rainbow Bridge, we found our car and drove back to North Tonawanda. We had a dinner of delicious chicken wings at Sawyer Creek Restaurant, near our campground.
On Tuesday we visited a couple of less well known sites in Niagara Falls. Our first stop was at the Second Coming House of Prophet Isaiah. Until a few years ago, Isaiah Henry Robertson was just a middle-aged home-builder who had moved to Niagara Falls to buy cheap houses. He’d fix them up, then flip them for a profit. Then God spoke to Isaiah and told him that Isaiah was actually in Niagara Falls for a very important purpose: because it was where the world would end in 2014. God told Isaiah that he would guide Isaiah’s hands to transform a run-down Niagara Falls house into a carnival-colored showplace, a beacon to catch people’s attention so they could be saved. At the time of the Apocalypse, every person on earth will fly past his house and those that accept Christ as their Lord will be saved. The next stop will be Goat Island, which divides the American and Horseshoe Falls, where Jesus will separate the saved from the damned. The latter will tumble into the Niagara Falls whirlpool, transformed into the Lake of Fire. Although the Apocalypse didn’t happen in 2014, Isaiah is still a believer and will bless the cars of sightseers.
Our next stop was the Third Street Art Alley with numerous murals lining the alley.
We then drove to Lockport, NY where we walked along a portion of the Erie Canal and watched a cruise boat sail through one of the locks.
Upon returning to the campground, Phil washed the road grime off of our trailer and both of our vehicles. It was long overdue.
On Wednesday, May 22nd, we drove 195 miles to Verona, NY where we spent two nights at The Villages RV Park at Turning Stone, an enterprise of the Oneida Indian Nation. The campground was beautiful with lots of trees and ponds throughout. After dinner we visited the Cross Island Chapel, which claims to be the world’s smallest church and seats only two people.
On Thursday we visited the Turning Stone casino. We each got a guest card with a free $10 credit to get us started. We both played the slot machines and, although we went through the credits quickly, quit when we were at breakeven on our own money. We did invest a little bit at the casino by purchasing a couple of cannoli for lunch. We then watched the action in the Bingo room but discovered that it was more complicated than we were used to. We considered joining in the game but learned that we were witnessing part of a four-hour session. The next session wasn’t going to start until another four hours so we decided to pass.
On Friday we drove 137 miles to Lake George, NY in the Adirondack Mountains where we spent a week at Ledgeview RV Park. We had anticipated the trip would be almost entirely on interstate highways I-90 and I-87. Thus, we were surprised when Phil’s GPS had him exit I-90 several exits before reaching I-87. It got even more interesting when the new routing directed him to drive up a steep road that was closed to through traffic. We spent most of the next hour talking to each other over our cell phones and comparing the routing instructions we were getting from our respective GPS’s, which were often quite different. Since Phil’s GPS is configured to select routes that will accommodate our RV’s height, we were hesitant to follow Jan’s GPS routing. However, there were some times when the directions on Jan’s GPS seemed less scary than Phil’s so we took our chances and went those ways. We drove the next 25 miles over fairly small county roads with numerous sharp turns and stop signs. When we finally connected with I-87, we were within about 20 miles of the campground. We were very happy when we completed the drive which, although a shorter than usual drive, had been rather stressful.
The campground was quite scenic and heavily wooded with very tall trees, although we had requested a site in an open area so we could use our satellite. It appeared that every site was filled for Memorial Day weekend but many of these campers vacated on Monday.
On Saturday we drove to Prospect Mountain and drove up the 5.5-mile Veterans Memorial Highway to a parking lot near the summit. There was a free shuttle bus available but we opted to hike the steep trail to the top. From the summit, we had 100-mile views of Lake Gorge and the Adirondacks. There were remnants of the Prospect Mountain Cable Incline Railway which was at one time the longest cable railroad in the world. It was built in 1895 to transport wealthy visitors to the Prospect Mountain House, a hotel previously accessible only by horse-drawn carriage. The hotel went out of business and eventually burned down but its fireplace is still visible. Upon returning to the parking lot, we discovered a service road that led up another mountain. Since our hike to the summit had been so short, we decided to hike this road which led us past several radio towers.
Phil and Jan at summit of Prospect Mountain
Jan in Adirondack chair at gift shop
View from Prospect Mountain summit
Prospect Mountain sign
On Sunday we drove into Lake George and walked the Lakeside Parkway along the southern edge of Lake George. It was a hot day so we took several breaks and enjoyed the views of the lake.
Relaxing along Lakeside Trail
Phil at Lake Gorge sign
View of Lake George
View of Lake George from Million Dollar Beach
One of several lake cruise boats
On Monday we drove to Bolton Landing, a small neighboring town, to watch their Memorial Day parade. After the parade, we decided to stroll along the downtown shops to allow the traffic to clear out. As it turned out, we ended up following the crowd to Veterans Memorial Park and arrived in time for the Memorial Day commemoration ceremony.
Beginning of parade
Veterans in classic car
Memorial Day commemoration ceremony
Phil as an angel
Jan and flamingo
On Wednesday we drove to Pottersville, NY and toured the Natural Stone Bridge & Caves Park. The stone bridge is the largest marble cave entrance in the eastern U.S. and is still being carved by the beautiful Trout Brook. We did the self-guided nature trail that covered ¾ mile and over 500 stairs of irregular rock, timber and root. It even included a small climbing wall that we both scaled. We followed a map that listed 20 stops and provided descriptions of each. The attraction had been open for the 2019 season for less than a week and the owner was still clearing uprooted trees and doing repairs to the walkways that were damaged over the winter. He told us that, although there is always damage caused by the winter weather, the ice they had last November was the worst he could remember. The scenery was beautiful and we were able to get very close to the rapidly flowing water.
Jan on climbing wall
Jan at Natural Stone Bridge
Jan in Noisy Cave
Jan on trail to Peter Pan’s Peephole
Phil with caveman
Phil on climbing wall
Phil by Trout Brook
Phil climbing through Arch Rock
That evening we went to opening ceremony of the annual Lake George Elvis Festival. Lake George has been hosting one of the largest Elvis Festivals in North America since 2014. In total, there are over 50 Elvis Tribute Artists performing during the five-day event. It is apparently no longer politically correct to call them Elvis impersonators. The tickets for a weekend pass range from $129 to $269. Even a single headline show was too pricey for us, $60-80, so we limited ourselves to the free opening ceremony where nine of the so-called “headliners” performed two numbers each.
On Friday, May 31st, we drove 124 miles to Fairfax, VT where we spent three days at Maple Grove Campground. This small, family-run campground only has 26 RV sites and nearly all of them are filled with seasonal campers. We had requested a pull-through site, although all the sites appeared to be back-ins. Fortunately there was no one in the site that would have backed up to ours, so we were able to pull forward through that one into our site. The campground is heavily wooded with very mature trees. We were unable to use our satellite dish but the proximity to Burlington, VT enabled us to get a lot of over-the-air channels.
We spent Saturday in Burlington. The skies were somewhat overcast but the temperature was ideal. Our drive into Burlington took us through the campus of the University of Vermont. The campus sits on a hill above the city, providing views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks. It’s a big campus with beautiful buildings and grounds. Our first stop was at the Burlington Farmers’ Market, which has been held every Saturday since 1980. It was clearly a popular attraction as we had to drive around quite a while to find an open parking spot. More than 90 vendors have stands offering seasonal produce, flowers, alcohol, crafts, prepared foods and more. The prepared food stands offered a wider variety of ethnic foods than we normally see at other farmers’ markets. We also strolled through the neighborhood by the market and found that a lot of old warehouse buildings have been repurposed as storefronts for offbeat products.
Our next stop was at the Church Street Marketplace. The city offers two hours of free parking in the nearby garages but it took us two trips through the garage before we managed to get a spot. The Church Street Marketplace is Burlington’s award-winning open air mall with historical architecture, festivals, street entertainers and over 100 places to shop and dine over many city blocks. We discovered that we had arrived during the Burlington Jazz Festival and there were stages set up at various spots throughout the marketplace. We had lunch at an outside café and could hear the music from up the street.
Our final stop for the day was at the Waterfront Park. Again, we were able to park for free in a nearby parking garage. We walked along the boardwalk that ran the length of the marina. We took time out to sit on a swinging bench and enjoy the views of Lake Champlain with the Adirondacks in the background. The scenery was beautiful.
The weather on Sunday was very overcast with quite a bit of rain. We started the day by visiting a covered bridge in Fairfax that is still in use. We then walked the trail through the Fairfax park.
When the rain started, we decided to take a drive through the Lake Champlain Islands. Lake Champlain stretches more than 100 miles from the Canadian border and forms the northern boundary between Vermont and New York. Within it is an elongated archipelago comprising several islands – Isle La Motte, North Hero, Grand Isle, and South Hero – and the Alburg Peninsula with bridges connecting the islands and the mainland. We stopped at Hero’s Welcome, a large general store that offers a little of everything in several buildings. They even have a dock for customers who come by boat. Jan managed to do some early shopping for Christmas.
On Monday, June 3rd, we drove 94 miles to Fairfax, NH where we spent a week at Riverside Camping and RV Resort. As we started to set up, Phil discovered that the 10-foot long slide in our hallway and bedroom wouldn’t extend. He had heard a concerning noise when he extended this slide in Vermont but had been hopeful that there was no real problem when he was able to retract the slide without any problem on Monday morning. Without this slide extended at least about 8”, we are unable to access the bathroom, the bedroom or the hall closet. Although we were able to use the campground bathroom, the only clothes we had available were the ones we were wearing and the weather had turned considerably colder. Phil called our RV dealer to ask if there was a manual override to allow us to get the slide open. While we waited to hear back from the dealer, Jan searched the Internet for a solution. When we did hear back from the dealer, it was suggested that Phil climb up on the top of the slide and use his electric drill and a flexible bit to rotate the motor. There is very little space between the top of the slide and the ceiling. Phil had to squeeze into the crevice and slide his body to a point where he could reach the motor. Although he isn’t claustrophobic, it was still a very uncomfortable feeling. Unfortunately his efforts didn’t result in any success and the dealer told us we would need to find an RV technician to fix our issue.
Crawl space between slide and ceiling
Slide that wouldn’t budge
Phil climbing into crawl space
Phil spoke to the campground owner and got business cards for four nearby RV techs. One of our neighbors, who has been RVing for 30 years, dropped by to see if he could help and ended up suggesting that we select Craig Beane RV Service. Phil called Craig Beane but only got his voice mail. Since we couldn’t access our bathroom, we then headed to Rite Aid to stock up on toiletries. Craig’s home was only a few miles away so we drove there but he wasn’t at home. Shortly after returning home, Craig returned our call and suggested a possible solution. This necessitated Phil climbing back into the hole but, again, the suggestion didn’t work.
We were fortunate that we did have access to our air mattress which is stored in the basement. However, since the air mattress covers the heating vents in the living room and we had no pillows, we had a very cold and uncomfortable night’s sleep. We woke up Tuesday morning with no idea as to how long it would take to get our issue fixed. Phil called Craig again and Craig agreed to come right over. Upon his arrival, Craig quickly diagnosed our problem as a broken gear and he thought he had the right part back at his facility. Unfortunately, Craig quickly determined that he was too “thick” to fit into the hole. Luckily he had an assistant who was thin enough so he ended up doing all the hard work. Once they returned with the part, it took over two more hours to replace the gear box and readjust the cables. We were incredibly relieved when the slide finally moved and we could access the bathroom and bedroom again. Although the service call was not inexpensive, we hope to be reimbursed for all but the deductible by our extended service contract provider. Considering the alternative of sleeping on the air mattress again and the need to go clothes shopping if the repair hadn’t been completed timely, it was money we were more than willing to spend.
On Wednesday we were finally able to get out and do some sightseeing in New Hampshire. We started by visiting the Mechanic Street Covered Bridge and the Mt. Orne Covered Bridge, both in Lancaster, NH. The Mechanic Street Covered Bridge was built in 1862, with repairs to the abutments in 1967, and is still open to passenger car usage. The first Mt. Orne Covered Bridge was built in the 1860s or 1870s but was destroyed by a log jam in 1908. The current bridge was built in 1911 and rehabilitated in 1983, with vehicles up to six tons still allowed up to cross using the single lane.
Mechanic Street Covered Bridge
Mechanic Street Covered Bridge
Mt. Orne Covered Bridge
Mt. Orne Covered Bridge
We next drove to Littleton, NH where we spent a couple of hours exploring its downtown. Littleton’s downtown is a bit of a trip back in time, with a Main Street brimming with businesses and small shops to browse. Running parallel to Main Street is the Ammonoosuc River. Our first stop was at the Riverwalk Covered Bridge. This long pedestrian bridge across the river was completed in 2004. We then ate a delicious lunch at Millers Café & Bakery, adjacent to the bridge. In 2009, Millers Café was recognized as one of the Food Network’s 50 Best Sandwiches in the USA.
Riverwalk Covered Bridge
Jan on bridge
Phil on bridge
View from bridge
Millers Cafe & Bakery
After lunch we strolled up Main Street. Our first stop was at the Pollyanna of Littleton sculpture, the centerpiece of the historic downtown. We had seen banners throughout town declaring Littleton as “The Glad Town.” As we were taking pictures, a local resident approached us. He invited us to the Official Pollyanna Glad Day on Saturday, June 8th, and showed us a copy of the agenda for this annual full-day celebration, including a sing-along and the Pollyanna Glad Day wave. We asked him about the connection between Littleton and Pollyanna. We learned that a hometown author had written the two Pollyanna books.
The Glad Town street banner
Our final stop on Main Street was at Chutters, a huge candy, fudge & gift store. Its claim to fame is the world’s longest candy counter, which measures 112 feet long.
On Thursday we drove to Shelburne, NH and hiked the 3-mile Mount Crag Loop. The loop was created by three different trails but it was well-marked so we had no trouble finding our way. The trail to the summit of Mount Crag was pretty much a non-stop climb of moderate steepness. It was quite buggy so we resorted to wearing our mosquito netting that we had purchased for our Alaska trip but had never used. The view from the summit was spectacular, with snow on some of the distant peaks. We enjoyed a picnic lunch at the summit.
Phil enjoying the view from the summit
Phil relaxing at summit
Jan and Phil at summit
Phil by dam
View from summit
View from summit
On Friday we drove to the White Mountain National Forest and attempted to hike a loop formed by the Valley Way, Brookside and Air Line trails. Our AllTrails app shows this loop to be 3.5-miles and of moderate difficulty. The Valley Way trail was quite pleasant, with a moderate incline along a fast-flowing stream with lots of waterfalls and rapids. Our difficulties began when we reached the Brookside trail. The path required us to cross the stream and it took us quite a while to find a place where we could do this safely, without wiping out on the slippery boulders. Shortly after crossing the stream, the trail required us to cross back over again. Finding a way to get across this time required even more effort. Although the trail continued to provide beautiful views of the stream, the ascent become much steeper and required lots of climbing over tree roots and rocks. Although the tree markers and proximity to the stream had us confident that we were still on the Brookside trail, we had no Internet service so we couldn’t refer to the AllTrails map to see if we had missed the cutoff for the loop. Phil had taken a picture of the trail map when we started the hike so we knew we could connect with the Air Line trail at the Madison hikers’ hut. However, we didn’t know how far that would be. After hiking for 3.75 miles, we met some hikers coming down the trail. Phil asked them how much farther it was to the Madison hut and their only response was “a ways,” which was not very helpful. We decided to give up and return down the Brookside trail. Rather than have to cross the stream again twice, Phil had the idea to blaze our own trail on the west side of the stream. This proved to be a mistake and we ultimately had to give up and find a way across. Our desire to get back to our car outweighed our concern for safety and we took considerably less time in selecting our paths across the stream on the return. After some wandering around in the woods, we finally picked up the trail again and worked our way down. We were exhausted by the end of our hike, which turned out to be 7.5 miles of mostly hard climbing. In hindsight, we discovered that the trail marker for the cutoff to the Air Line trail only had the name of another trail, something that was not shown on the AllTrails map.
Jan on trail
Phil by stream
Phil pondering path across stream
Phil by stream
On Saturday we returned to Littleton to do some shopping. While there, we decided to do a short hike, the Kilburn Crag Trail. This was a fairly easy 1.4 mile out-and-back hike. The trail was quite muddy in places but we were generally able to find firmer ground along the edges. The end of the trail provided a beautiful panorama of downtown Littleton surrounded by mountains.
View from summit
View of downtown Littleton from summit
Phil & Jan on trail
Phil on trail
Sunday was our last full day in New Hampshire. We went out trying to find the campground’s nature trail but never did find it. However, we did meet some of the seasonal campers and were invited over to join them in a game of corn hole. After being beaten rather badly, we opted to return to our air-conditioned trailer rather than enduring the mid-80s temperature.
On Tuesday, April 2nd, we began our trek back to Tennessee. While Jan went to a 9 am doctor’s appointment, Phil got on the road by 8:30 am and completed the 360 mile trip to Livingston, TX by 3:30 pm. Although he had intended to completely miss Houston, the GPS took him over a portion of the dreaded tollway around the northwest corner of the city. Fortunately it was about 2 pm when he hit the tollway and traffic was fairly light. The tollbooths were rather narrow but Phil managed to get through them without incident. Since Phil drove around 62 mph on I-10 and Jan was able to drive closer to the 75 mph speed limit, Jan was able to arrive only about 30 minutes later than Phil despite leaving Kerrville quite a bit later. We spent the night at the Escapee’s Rainbow’s End campground, which is where our mail forwarding service is based. Phil arrived early enough to be able to pick up our mail in person.
On Wednesday morning, we headed out for our 257 mile drive to Vidalia. LA where we spent the night at the River View RV Park and Resort. The campground is on the edge of the Mississippi River, directly across the river from Natchez, MS. Our site was in the northern part of the campground and was quite nice. We were able to watch barge traffic on the river. Unfortunately, the southern portion of the campground had suffered flooding and this eliminated the use of the sewer at our site.
On Thursday, we drove 258 miles across Mississippi to Eutaw, AL where we spent two nights at the Jennings Ferry Corp of Engineers campground. Although we had stayed at numerous COE campgrounds previously, this one was unusually big rig-friendly as it had numerous long pull-through sites.
On Saturday, we drove 183 miles to Fort Payne, AL where we spent the night at Wills Creek RV Park. Although we had counted on a fairly short drive, we ran into a traffic mess in Birmingham. Although Jan’s GPS was telling her to take the Hwy 459 bypass, Phil’s GPS told him to stay on I-20 through the city. When Phil saw the electronic signs saying that through traffic should take 459, he was already in the I-20 lane and was unable to take the bypass. We soon discovered that I-20 was closed due to road construction and we were forced to exit onto downtown streets. With the GPS now useless, we drove around a while before we found a detour sign. We then got behind some semis and followed a circuitous route through the city that eventually led us back to the interstate. When we arrived at the campground, the owner met Phil and told him to drive around and pick out whatever open site he wanted. We managed to get set up before the rain started but, once it started, it rained pretty much non-stop all night.
On Sunday morning, the rain had stopped and we managed to make the 175-mile drive to Heiskell, TN with only a few drizzles. We spent two nights at the Escapee’s Raccoon Valley Campground. We always stay at this campground the night before getting service work done at our dealer’s facility. We had originally planned to only spend Sunday night there. When we then heard from the dealer that they wouldn’t be able to work on our rig until Tuesday, we extended our stay for a second night. Our son Jarrod and his fiancé, Jess, were traveling through the area and joined us for Monday night. We were all awoken rudely by the LP alarm that went off twice in the middle of the night.
We arose early on Tuesday morning and had blueberry pancakes to celebrate Jess’ birthday. After breakfast, we drove to RVs for Less for our service work. The biggest part of the work involved getting portions of the rig repainted and the dealer doesn’t have an indoor paint booth, so the length of our stay was largely dependent on how many dry days we would have.
We ended up spending six nights on the lot at RVs for Less. Fortunately the weekdays remained rain-free so the paint work was able to be completed without interruption. Since we had to answer the service techs’ occasional questions related to our other issues, we stayed close to home for most of the entire week. Friday, April 12th, was our 16th anniversary and we celebrated with dinner at the Copper Cellar restaurant in Knoxville.
The work on our rig was largely complete by Friday afternoon but, since the bill wasn’t finalized until Monday morning, we ended up staying a couple of additional nights for free. One of our service issues related to very weak water flow through our kitchen faucet. After much testing, we were advised to buy a new faucet so, on Sunday, we went to Lowes and purchased one. Unfortunately, we discovered that the hole for the sprayer was 1/8” too small. We had to wait until Monday morning to have a service tech expand the hole so Phil could finalize the installation.
Since we hadn’t known how long we would be at the dealer, we had to wait until the weekend to make reservations for our next stay. After striking out at a couple of campgrounds, we made reservations for four nights at Duvall in the Smokies in Sevierville, TN. Since it was only a 31 mile drive from the dealer, we waited to leave until almost noon on Monday.
Duvall in the Smokies is a small, but very nice, family-run campground that runs along the Little Pigeon River. We had an adequately long, paved pull-through site. The campground was very well maintained and there was bluegrass music piped through speakers planted throughout the campground. After getting set up, we made a shopping trip to the Tanger Outlet Center.
After dinner, we headed to Dairy Queen for dessert. We arrived at 7:58 pm but saw that they had a special on two medium-sized dipped cones and/or sundaes for $4 after 8 pm. We waited until after 8:00 to place our order. In addition to enjoying this bargain, we did an online survey that earned us a free dilly bar. This was such a great deal that we repeated the experience on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Then, on Thursday, we collected our three free dilly bars.
Although we had planned to visit Dollywood, we decided to save the money instead and spent the next three days hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains. On Tuesday, April 16th, we hiked the Clingmans Dome trail. Clingmans Dome is the highest mountain in the Smokies and the highest point along the 2,174-mile Appalachian Trail. It is also the third highest point in mainland Eastern North America. Although the hike was only one-half mile each way, it was quite steep. There was a concrete observation deck at the end of the trail that, after climbing a circular ramp, provided a 360-degree panorama of the surrounding terrain. We also walked a short distance off the trail to meet up with part of the Appalachian Trail.
Observation deck at top of Clingmans Dome
Phil on ramp to observation deck
Jan and Phil on Appalachian Trail
Jan on Clingmans Dome Trail
View ffrom Clingmans Dome Trail
On Wednesday, we returned to the Clingmans Dome area and hiked the Andrews Bald Trail. The hike consisted of a moderately difficult out-and-back trail, 1.8 miles each way. We had a picnic lunch at the scenic overview at the end of the trail.
Jan on Andrew Bald
Phil hiking to scenic view area
Phil and Jan enjoying picnic lunch
View from Andrew Bald
Phil on trail
Tree growing through boulder
Jan on trail
Andrew Bald trail marker
Phil on trail
On Thursday, we drove to the Great Smoky Mountains Institute in Tremont, TN and hiked the Spruce Flats Falls Trail. This was another out-and-back hike of moderate difficulty with a round-trip distance of 2 miles that led to a beautiful waterfall. On our return, we encountered a student group that had spotted a bear climbing a tree about 40 yards from the trail. We stopped and watched the bear for quite a while.
Phil on trail
Downstream from falls
Phil on trail
Phil at falls
Jan at falls
Since the weather forecast called for rain on Thursday night and all day Friday, we went ahead and hooked up on Thursday evening. The weather forecast turned out to be correct and we left Sevierville in a steady rain. It rained most of our 225-drive to Goodlettsville, TN where we had a 7 day reservation at the Nashville North KOA. About midway through our drive we encountered an accident that kept traffic on I-40 stopped for over a half-hour.
Jason stopped over on Saturday to watch the Predators playoff game but, unfortunately, they lost. On Easter Sunday morning, April 21st, we drove to Moss-Wright Park in Goodlettsville and explored the outside of historic Mansker’s Station, a reproduction of a 1779 fort, and the Bowen Plantation House, said to be the longest standing brick structure in Middle Tennessee. Then we walked over two miles on the trail. The first mile was shaded and quite pleasant but the last mile was in the sun and quite hot.
Bowen Plantation House
Ducks in the river
Phil along trail
Amusing sign alteration
We returned home and began preparation of a huge Easter dinner. Since we had only been able to get a 30 amp pull-through site at the KOA, we had challenges in power management. With the combination of the convection oven, induction cooktop and electric frypan in use simultaneously, we frequently tripped the circuit breaker. Jason, Jarrod and Jess arrived in the early evening and Phil joined them in some competitive games of marbles while Jan finished dinner preparation. Once the sun set, the weather cooled off and we were able to eat outside at the picnic table. No one left the table hungry.
On Monday Jan met her friends, Sheila, Michelle, Ashley and Laura, for lunch in Nashville. Since Phil needed to pick up our daughter, Lizzi, from the hospital in Smyrna, TN that afternoon, he dropped Jan off at the restaurant and drove to the hospital. Unfortunately, there was delay after delay in getting Lizzi released so, at about 3:30 pm, Phil left Smyrna and returned to Nashville to get Jan. The combination of rush hour traffic, road construction and accidents turned this into a two-hour roundtrip. However, when we returned to the hospital at 5:30, Lizzi had just finished getting released so the timing worked out OK. After dropping Lizzi off at home, we returned home and snacked on Easter dinner leftovers.
On Tuesday we drove to Hendersonville to see the movie, The Best of Enemies. The movie, dealing with the integration of the Durham, NC schools in 1971, was excellent and we had the theatre almost entirely to ourselves. On Wednesday Phil took the truck to the Dodge dealer and had them install the new wheel cover and hubcap, at no charge.
On Thursday Jan drove to Camden, TN to pick up her niece, Katie Schlegel. Then, they drove to Jackson, TN, hoping to visit Jan’s Aunt Phyllis before she went in for open heart surgery. Unfortunately, Aunt Phyllis had already been moved into pre-op before Jan and Katie arrived. However, they were able to visit with Jan’s Uncle Charles and cousin Michael. Then, Jan returned to Goodlettsville with Katie, who spent the next three nights with us.
On Friday, April 26th, we moved 30 miles from the KOA to the Seven Points COE campground on J. Percy Priest Lake. The timing of our move was complicated by an 11 am checkout time at the KOA and a strictly-enforced 3 pm check-in time at the COE campground. Phil had found an out-of-business grocery store nearby that had a large, empty parking lot and he spent an hour practicing backing the fifth wheel into parking spots. This was especially important since our first site at Seven Points was a back-in. Phil then drove to the local Walmart parking lot and parked the rig for the next few hours. Jan and Katie picked up Phil at the Walmart and, after running several errands, we all met Jarrod at the local Cracker Barrel for lunch. After lunch, Phil returned to Walmart to do some grocery shopping while Jan and Katie hit the nearby Old Navy, easily killing off the remaining time.
During our previous stay at Seven Points, Phil had identified site 34 as being relatively easy to back into. However, when he arrived this time, it looked more challenging than he remembered. Fortunately, with Phil’s backing practice earlier in the day and guidance from Jan and Katie, Phil was able to get backed into the site without too much difficulty.
Once in place, we were very pleased with the site, which had a great view of the lake across the street. We spent the next few days walking and riding bikes around the campground. Despite daytime highs in the mid-80s, the breeze off the lake made it feel quite pleasant.
On Saturday afternoon, Jason and Jarrod came to visit and we spent several hours visiting and playing marbles.
On Sunday morning, we attended meditation with Jason. We then went to the condo where Jarrod and Jess are currently staying and had lunch, before driving Katie back to Camden.
On Tuesday, April 30th, Jan drove back to the hospital in Jackson, TN to visit her Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Charles. Then she joined a group of her childhood girlfriends for dinner at the Mexican restaurant in Camden.
On Wednesday we needed to move from site 34 to site 57. Checkout time was 2 pm but we could have moved as soon as the previous occupant of site 57 had vacated. Unfortunately, it appeared that they were also waiting to change sites and they didn’t leave our new site until almost 2 pm. Although site 57 is a pull-through, the driveway is quite narrow so we had to be very careful to avoid the surrounding trees. Also, the electric and water hookups were placed on the wrong side so we had to run our power cord and hose around the back of our rig.
That evening we joined Jason, Jarrod and Jess for a Nashville Sounds baseball game. The Sounds are the Triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. It started to rain as we walked to the stadium and the start of the game was delayed from 6:30 pm to 7:45 pm. After the rain stopped, it was a lovely evening for sitting outside and we had first row seats up the first base line. Jan was somewhat concerned about being hit by foul balls but we didn’t have many come near us. Unfortunately, the Sounds lost 4-2.
Jan and Jess with Booster
Enjoying the Nashville Sound game
With the rain delay, it was nearly midnight before we returned to the Seven Points campground. We had been told that the gate to the campground was closed between 10 pm and 6 am so we weren’t surprised to discover that we were locked out. We were surprised, however, to find that there was no legal parking area where we leave the car. We ended up leaving it on the side of the entrance and walked in the dark to our campsite. Phil set his alarm for 5:45 am and was at the gate when the attendant opened it at 6 am. The attendant seemed puzzled as to why we had parked outside the gate and Phil was chagrined to learn that, although the gate was closed, it was not locked. Since we had been locked out previously at the COE campground in Georgetown, TX and had recently stayed at another COE campground that locked the gates at night, we had just assumed it was locked. We live and learn!
On Friday, May 3rd, we attended Lizzi’s pinning ceremony at Volunteer State Community College. Lizzi had received her BS in psychology from Belmont University four years earlier but, after a couple of jobs working in that field, she decided she’d rather work with sick animals than sick humans. She returned to school for two years and earned her certificate as a Veterinary Technician. Although she had previously avoided science classes, she worked hard in this program and graduated with honors. At the pinning ceremony, the 19 Vet Tech graduates were honored. They played a video showing the variety of animals Lizzi and her classmates had worked with in their clinics, including snakes, rabbits, cows and mice as well as dogs and cats.
Lizzi receiving her pin
Pinning Ceremony program
Vet Tech graduating class
Jan and Phil with Lizzi
The following morning we attended Lizzi’s graduation. With about 800 graduates, the program lasted nearly two hours and was as unexciting as most graduation ceremonies.
Lizzi receiving her diploma
Photo after receiving diploma
Lizzi in graduation crowd
Entire graduating class
Lizzi with diploma
Jan and Phil with Lizzi
Lizzi’s cap decoration
On Sunday, Jason, Jarrod and Jess came to our campsite and we spent the afternoon eating and playing games. Jan had purchased Giant Jenga and we enjoyed playing a couple of games. We managed 38 moves before the tower fell in the first game; 28 in the second. Phil then grilled pork chops and we had a large early dinner, followed by making s’mores over a roaring campfire. We ended the afternoon with a couple of games of marbles.
Jason trying not to topple the stack
Roasting marshmellows for s’mores
On Monday, April 6th, we drove 200 miles to Anchor Down RV Resort in Dandridge, TN where we attended the first three days of the DRV Owners Group (DOG) rally. There were over 100 attendees and 63 rigs. We were in site 132, a pull-through that provided panoramic views of Douglas Lake from our living room windows. It helped that three of the sites across the road from us remained vacant for most of our stay. The rally began with a meet-and-greet potluck dinner and, as usual, there was enough food to feed a small army.
View of Douglas Lake from site 132
Phil and Jan at meet and greet dinner
View from hilltop
On Tuesday, we took the Mazda into Knoxville for an oil change and made a Sam’s Club run. We returned for a BBQ dinner prepared by RVs for Less, our RV dealer. Every family received door prizes and we got a Cracker Barrel gift card. Again, there was too much food but it was delicious.
Karen, Butch and Ken from RVs for Less
On Wednesday morning, Phil played pickleball for a couple of hours. We spent part of the afternoon at the Tanger Outlet Center, then joined the DOG Group at the Hatfields and McCoys Dinner Feud where we were served a family style meal of fried chicken, pulled pork and several sides. After dinner, we watched a farcical musical revue with dancing and comedy.
Phil & Jan at Hatfields and McCoys Dinner Feud
Outside of Hatfield & McCoys
Phil playing pickleball
Hatfield & McCoys show
Dinner at Hatfield & McCoys Dinner Feud
On Thursday, May 9th, we left Anchor Down and headed north toward Indiana. We have already booked six nights at Anchor Down (site 132) in October 2020 at another DOG rally.
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.
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.
Phil relaxing on the rock
Phil on Summit Trail
Selfie on Summit Trail
Phil at summit
Phil among cacti
View of hillside from Enchanted Rock
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, Jan and Jo went to Fredericksburg for a girls’ day out consisting of shopping and dining. That 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.
Dave and Phil grilling dinner
Leaking roof during downpour
More leaking roof
Selfie at 11th Street Cowboy Bar
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.
Small Town Habit
Selfie at Luckenbach
Our own performers
Posting at the Luckenbach Post Office
Phil and Jan in the Kissing Booth
Jan with Hondo
Jo with her new hat
On Sunday morning, Jan left for a cruise with her cousin, Lori Davis. 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.
The itinerary of Jan’s cruise included a day in Key West and a day and a half in Cuba. Jan and Lori took advantage of their time on shore to participate in various tours.
Jan and Lori in Key West
Hemingway Rum Co. in Key West
Jan and Lori on Classic Car tourof Havana
Driving through a restored section of Havana
Havana shoreline from Classic Car tour
Lori and Jan with cigar-smoking Cuban woman
Cuban street performers
Farewell view of Havana from cruise ship
After picking up Jan at the San Antonio airport late Saturday night, we spent the next two days getting ready to travel and completing last minute appointments with the dentist and doctors.
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.
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.
Jan and Phil all dressed up
The line waiting for the doors to open
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jason and Phil on stern
Jason and Phil
Jason and Jan
Last picture of salvage yard before entering the restricted zone
Our cruise boat
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.
Phil, Jason and Jan at the border
Jason upon entering Mexico
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.
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.
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.
Phil at Bales’ cabin
Jan in Bales’ cabin
Phil at Bales’ barn
Flock of wild turkeys
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.
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.
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.
Jan with Santa
Jan with Nashville Sound mascot
Mascots for Nashville Sound, Nashville Predators and Tennessee Titans
Final choir after tree lighting
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.
View of game from our seats
Jand and Phil at Predators’ game
Jand and Jason at game
View down Broadway after Predators’ game
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.
Toby Keith and Eddy Raven
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.
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.
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.
Damage to end cap
Danage ti side panel
Repair in progress
Completed temporary fix
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.
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.