Tropical Trails – Month Two (February 28 – March 28, 2023)

While much of the U.S. was dealing with extreme cold and snow in early March, we experienced a regular dose of daytime highs in the 80s, with an occasional low-90s, albeit with strong winds.  Although Phil continued to play pickleball most mornings, we spent a lot of time indoors with our air conditioners running.

On Thursday afternoon, March 2nd, we gathered by the pool to listen to live music by Kenny Ray Horton.

On Friday, Phil drove to the Dodge dealer to pick up the rear hubcap he had ordered four weeks earlier.  It had fallen off the Ram during our trip to Kerrville in January.  Since the replacement hubcap cost $225 and attaches with a lot of easily-broken plastic clips, Phil attempted to get the mechanics at the dealership to pop it on.  After two mechanics were afraid to try it and claimed not to have the right tools, they referred him to Discount Tire.  The service rep at Discount Tire popped it on with his bare hand in a few seconds, at no charge.  However, on the drive home, the Ram’s check engine light came on.  Phil called the dealer and, although their service department was booked two weeks out, they suggested he return on Monday to have the service tech check the truck’s computer codes.  On Monday, he returned to the dealership and the computer codes indicated a problem with the emission sensor.  They suspected the wiring may have been chewed on and found rodent tracks under the hood.  It would have been an expensive repair, since accessing the sensor would require removing part of the engine.  Fortunately, they reset the check engine light and it stayed off.  Hopefully, it will remain that way.

On Wednesday, we joined 48 other campers for a tour of the SpaceX Starbase facility at Boca Chica, TX.  Construction had begun in the late 2010s, with the original intent of supporting suborbital launch vehicles.  However, in 2018, SpaceX announced that the site would be used exclusively for their next-generation orbital launch vehicle, Starship, with the ultimate goal of launching spacecraft to Mars.  The focus of the SpaceX program is to make space travel more affordable, by recovering all the components of the launch vehicles.  The launch tower is designed with cranes to lift the rockets onto the launch pad and giant arms that will catch the rocket on its return.  Although most areas of the SpaceX facilities were restricted, we were able to get quite close to the launch facility, the tracking towers, and the rocket farm.  Our guide provided a tremendous amount of information about the program, in much more detail than we could possibly absorb.  Following our tour, we were able to watch videos of several of the previous test launches.  Although several of these launches had successfully lifted off, inverted, and lowered back to the launch pad, they had exploded upon touch down.

Having driven down several miles of gravel roads to reach Rocket Ranch, our car was quite dirty by the time we returned to Brownsville.  We took it through a car wash, which got it very clean but ripped off one of our windshield wipers.  Later that afternoon, we gathered by the pool to listen to live music provided by Madelyn Victoria.

On Thursday, March 10th, we attended our second shrimp boil and listened to Shake N’ Bake, a musical duo who we had seen in 2020. 

On Saturday, we decided to spend some time on the beach at South Padre Island.  We originally intended to use the beach access by Clayton’s but found the parking lot packed solidly with Spring Breakers.  We then drove north in an attempt to find beach access.  We passed several public access entries but refused to pay the $12 parking fee.  We continued to drive several miles north on the county road, until we reached the end of the road.  At that point, we found that we could park for free on the shoulder and climb over the dunes to reach the beach.  This section of the beach was much emptier than the ones closer to town.  We spent an hour sunbathing and watching people riding horses along the shore.  Afterward, we headed to Longboard, where we had dinner and listened to music.

Sunday was the hottest day yet, with a high of 95 degrees.  We found a spot in the shade by the clubhouse for two hours of music by Leslie Blasing.

On Thursday, March 16th, we returned to Nuevo Progresso, Mexico for the day.  We had lunch at Red Snapper, then headed to our regular salon.  Jan got a manicure, while Phil got a haircut and pedicure.  We made a few purchases as we headed out of town.

On Wednesday, March 22nd, Phil participated in a pickleball tournament.  That evening, we headed to The Broken Sprocket with a large contingent from Tropical Trails.  The Broken Sprocket is home to several food trucks and provided live music until 8 pm.  Then, it was time for karaoke.  Jan joined many of the women from Tropical Trails in a rousing rendition of Under the Boardwalk.

On Thursday, we attended Tropical Trails’ Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting Ceremony.  This seemed odd, since the campground has been open for three years.  It appears that the ceremony was related to Tropical Trails joining the Chamber of Commerce.  There were quite a few attendees from the Brownsville and South Padre Island Chambers of Commerce.  Leslie Blasing provided the musical entertainment.

On Friday, we headed to the Riverview Club in Mission, TX and took an hourlong boat ride on the Rio Grande River.  There was a group of 40 from Tropical Trails so we had the boat, the Riverview Dreamer, to ourselves.  The captain did an excellent job of explaining what we were seeing along the way.  Across the river from Mission, TX is the Mexican city of Reynosa, with a population of nearly 1 million.  Much of the Mexican side of the river was lined with privately-owned parks and recreation venues.  The Rio Grande was much wider and deeper than we were used to seeing in Nuevo Progresso, which we learned was due to the Anzalduas Dam.  Along the shoreline on both sides of the river, we could see numerous partially submerged rafts that are used by drug smugglers and human traffickers.  We cruised past a privately-funded border wall.  The captain told us that this wall cost $10 million dollars per mile to construct but is of higher quality than the U.S. government-funded wall, which costs three times as much per mile.  Following our cruise, we had lunch at the Riverview Club.  Jan had the fried shrimp basket; Phil had a pork tenderloin sandwich that was much bigger than the bun.

As we neared the end of our stay at Tropical Trails, we spent the last few days getting ready to travel again.  Phil washed the RV and our vehicles, since we had not stayed in a campground that allowed this for quite a while.

Tropical Trails – Month One (January 27 – February 27, 2023)

On Friday, January 27th, Jan had her initial appointment with her new PCP in Kerrville scheduled for 9:15 am.  Since it was 350 miles from Kerrville to Brownsville, we decided to drive separately, rather than arrive after dark.  We packed up early and Phil got on the road by 8:45 am and arrived at Tropical Trails by 2:45 pm.  Jan arrived a few hours later. 

We had stayed at Tropical Trails for three months during January – April 2000.  It had been the campground’s grand opening, and we had a good time with the small group of campers who stayed here then, many of whom we are still in touch with.  Despite this, we swore we would not return to Tropical Trails due to the nearly constant strong winds.  However, since then we have followed the activities at the campground on Facebook.  This, combined with a desire to return to South Padre Island and Progresso, Mexico, led us to give it another chance.

Upon our arrival, the most obvious difference was that virtually all 240 sites were filled.  In 2000, there had only been about 30 rigs here at the peak.  Another change was that a large number of the sites are now covered with blue canopies.  One thing that hadn’t changed was the thick mud surrounding the concrete pad.  Although there was more ground cover than three years ago, a light drizzle as Phil was getting set up quickly turned it into a mess.  He soon had mud up to his knees and was scraping ½”-thick mud clods off his shoes.

After a rainy Saturday, we headed out on Sunday to the Don-Wes Flea Market in Donna, TX.  We found the parking lot much less full than in the past.  As we walked around, we quickly learned the reason.  The main building, which had held most of the stalls, was gone.  We learned that the building had burned down in July 2022.  We made a few purchases, but not as many as we had anticipated.

On Monday, Phil went to play pickleball.  In 2000, Phil had been one of the few campers who had played the game before, and he spent a lot of time teaching the others.  This time, things are quite different.  Advanced players are scheduled from 9-11 am, with beginners from 11-12.  Phil arrived before 9 am and the four courts were already packed.  He spent more time waiting to play than playing, until people started leaving shortly before 11.  Jan headed to the fitness center, which was also popular.

That afternoon, Tropical Trails was holding a Welcome Back event, with free pulled pork sandwiches and a deejay.  Although the event was scheduled from 1 – 3, they were about out of food when we arrived at 2:15.  When we arrived, the entire pool area was packed and we quickly realized that we should have brought our own chairs.  We ended up bringing the food back to our rig.

A strong storm front brought cold weather to much of the United States over the next few days.  Kerrville got below freezing temperatures and ¾” of ice.  Although Brownsville is only 300 miles south of Kerrville, we were spared the ice storm and the freezing weather.  We still had several days with highs in the mid-40s, which largely kept us indoors.

Although it had only warmed slightly by Friday morning, Phil headed back to the pickleball courts.  There were a few other hearty souls playing, albeit bundled up.

By Saturday, February 4th, it had warmed up enough for us to venture out to South Padre Island for the first time in 2023.  We listened to music at Longboard, then headed to Pier 19 for dinner.  In the past, we drove through the KOA campground to reach Pier 19.  This time, as we drove through the campground, we couldn’t find our way to the pier.  Upon checking the Internet, we learned that Pier 19 is now permanently closed.  As an alternative, we drove to Port Isabel and had dinner at Joe’s Oyster Bar.

On Sunday, we hung out by the pool listening to music provided by a deejay.  It was good that we remembered our chairs this time, since all the pool chairs were taken.  As is typical in resorts, people come out early in the morning to claim the lounge chairs for the afternoon.

On Tuesday, we drove to South Padre Island and took a two-hour cruise with 38 of our fellow campers from Tropical Trails.  It was a windy day, with a small craft advisory, so the boat captain kept us in the bay and along the canals between the homes of the rich, and possibly famous.  We were very well fed, with servings of grilled shrimp and fajitas filled with beef, chicken and grilled fish. A couple of musicians kept us entertained throughout the trip.

On Thursday morning, Phil participated in a pickleball tournament.  It was pretty low-key and, although they did record scores of the eight games, they never announced an overall winner.  On Friday, we attended our first shrimp boil of the season.  While the food was being prepared, we sat outside and listened to Kenny Ray Horton perform.  It was rather cool and windy, so the audience was bundled up and glad to move inside when the food was ready.  In addition to the peel-and-eat shrimp, we had potatoes, Italian sausage, corn on the cob and a roll.

Jan’s cousin, Lori Davis, and Lori’s husband, Bruce, came to South Padre Island (SPI) for the weekend.  After the shrimp boil on Friday, we drove to their hotel and delivered a coconut cream pie Jan had made for them.  On Saturday morning, we returned to SPI and met Lori and Bruce at Yummies Bistro for brunch.  The food was excellent.  Jan and Lori each ordered a Spanish macchiato, a deluxe coffee concoction which the barista had decorated beautifully with a floral design.  We then took Lori and Bruce for a driving tour of SPI.  We stopped outside the gates to Isla Blanca State Park and walked a loop around the park and along the Gulf-side beach.  Afterward, we drove to Longboard and listened to live music for a couple of hours.  We then had dinner outdoors on the deck at Louie’s Backyard.  The high temperature for the day was only in the upper 50s, but the sun made it feel good.  As the sun set while we were eating dinner, it cooled off rapidly and we decided to call it a day.

The cool and windy weather continued for most of the next week.  Other than Phil playing pickleball every morning, we didn’t spend much time outdoors.  Phil participated in a pickleball dink tournament on Thursday, but found it to be a rather boring format.  Jan got a massage at the campground on Friday.

On Sunday, February 19th, we attended the Los Fresnos PRCA Rodeo.  The weather was in the upper 70s and quite sunny, so it was a great day to be outdoors.  We arrived two hours before the rodeo and spent the time wandering around the fairgrounds.  We had some lunch, listened to live music, checked out the livestock, and attended a ventriloquist performance.

The rodeo itself was a sellout, with rather tight seating for over 8,000 attendees, and the professional rodeo cowboys put on an excellent show.  The events included bareback bronc riding and saddle bronc riding; calf roping, team roping, and breakaway roping; steer wrestling; barrel racing; and bull riding.  Kids ages 4 – 7 participated in mutton bustin’, in which they attempted barebare riding on a sheep.  Kids in grades 3 – 5 participated in calf scrambles, in which they attempted to chase down calves and capture the ribbon attached to the animals’ tails.

On Tuesday, we observed the golf cart Mardi Gras parade around the campground.  The turnout was rather small, due to the extremely strong winds.  On Thursday, we gathered by the pool for live music provided by Leslie Blasing.

On Friday, February 24th, the pickleball group gathered for pictures, sporting the new Tropical Trails pickleball shirts.  That afternoon, we headed to South Padre Island and attended SPI Market Days at the Convention Center.  We then stopped at Clayton’s for some fish tacos and listened to live music provided by a couple known as The DuOver.

On Saturday, we visited the 77 Flea Market.  Despite it being very hot, we wandered through almost all the massive venue.  Although there really was not much of interest to us, we did manage to buy a nice selection of fresh fruit and only spent a total of $5.50.

On Monday, Phil participated in a Pickleball Boot Camp, in which JR, a certified pickleball trainer and former Marine drill sergeant, provided tips to improve the participants’ play.

A Short Stay in Kerrville (January 18 – 27, 2023)

On Wednesday, January 18th, we drove 74 miles from San Antonio to Kerrville, TX, where we stayed at Buckhorn Lake Resort.  Although we managed to fit in several other appointments during our stay, our primary reason for returning to Kerrville was to get Jan established with a new primary care physician (PCP).  When we were in Kerrville last summer, she had learned that her PCP was leaving her practice.  Jan had submitted the paperwork necessary to transfer to Phil’s PCP in November.  Unfortunately, the office called to say that she needed to submit one more document, requesting the doctor to accept her as a patient.  They wouldn’t email the form and it didn’t arrive in the mail for several weeks.  Jan mailed in the form immediately upon receipt, but got a call in early January saying that Phil’s PCP had stopped accepting new patients two weeks earlier.  This was very frustrating since, if they had emailed the form, Jan would likely have been accepted.  The only one in the practice accepting new patients was a Nurse Practitioner.  Even at that, Jan had to submit a new form to see if the Nurse Practitioner would accept her.  She completed this form on our first day in Kerrville and was accepted a few days later.  Since the only medical insurance option for Jan is an HMO, she needs a referral from the PCP before seeing any specialist.  Since the new PCP was unlikely to give a referral to someone she had never met, it was essential that Jan schedule a physical ASAP.  She was able to get an appointment on Friday morning, January 27th.  This required extending our stay in Kerrville by two days.  Oh the joys of healthcare in the 21st century!

The rest of our time in Kerrville was uneventful.  The weather was not really conducive for outdoor activities, with daytime highs in the 50s and many nighttime lows below freezing.  Phil played pickleball indoors at the Methodist Church most mornings.  He also played outdoors twice at Buckhorn, but the cold and wind made the drive to the church worthwhile.  Jan made several trips to the fitness center at Buckhorn.

We did make a trip to Fredericksburg to stock up on sauces and candied jalapeños at Russlin’ Rob’s.  We also strolled along Main Street but were disappointed to see so many shops out of business.

The Long Way to Kerrville, TX (January 1 – 18, 2023)

Although we were going to spend the first four months of 2023 in Texas, we first needed to return to Tennessee to visit our RV dealer in Knoxville and our property in Jasper Highlands.

We awoke early on New Year’s Day and prepared for our 267-mile drive to the Birmingham South RV Park.  Our departure seemed to be going smoothly at first, but things went south in a hurry.  When Phil stopped at the traffic light before getting onto I-10, he picked up the scent of burning rubber, but hoped it was from the truck in front of him.  When he exited I-10 four miles down the road and hit his brakes, the truck pulled sharply to the right.  This time, the smell was more pronounced.  At a traffic light a few miles down the road, passengers in car next to him pointed to his front tires.  He pulled over on the shoulder and got out to inspect.  He discovered that there was a tremendous amount of smoke pouring out of both sides of the hood.  Jan pulled up behind him and we spent the next hour trying to decide what to do.  It was obvious that we couldn’t risk continuing to drive to Birmingham. 

We had spent over $2,000 ten days earlier on major routine maintenance on the truck, including replacing the front brake pads and having the front wheels aligned.  Other than driving the truck back to the campground, we hadn’t driven it since the maintenance was done.  Unfortunately, since it was a Sunday, the dealer was closed.  Also, since New Year’s Day fell on a Sunday this year, they would also be closed on Monday.

While we waited for the tires to cool back down, we tried to find a nearby campground where we could stay for three nights while we got the truck serviced.  When we found one with an available site, the question became how to get there.  Although we do have towing coverage with CoachNet, it would have involved finding two tow trucks on a holiday; one to take the truck to the dealer and one to take the fifth wheel to the campground.  By this time, the smoke had dissipated and we decided to try backtracking 25 miles, of our original 40 miles, to the new campground.  Phil drove very slowly and tried to time the traffic lights to limit the usage of his brakes.  We even stopped at Buccee’s half-way to our destination to allow the brakes to cool.  It was stressful but we managed to make it.

We booked a site at West Wales RV Park & Light Railway for three nights, with an option to extend, if necessary.  Although the online reviews had been marginal, our site was long enough and extremely wide.  Our site was next to the train station for the light rail, but we never heard it running.  West Wales operates two train ride attractions, each of a different size – narrow gauge (2’ between the tracks) and grand scale (7.5” between tracks).  Both are reportedly big enough for even a grown-up to ride.  They decorate the facility for seasonal events.  We got to see the decorations for the Artic Express, with over a million lights twinkling in the trees and over the exhibits.

After killing time on the Monday holiday, we got up early on Tuesday morning and got the truck to the Dodge dealer when they opened at 7:30 am.  Unfortunately, they didn’t even get to look at the truck by closing time that afternoon.  Phil got a call from the service advisor on Wednesday morning and learned that the calipers and brake hoses needed to be replaced, as well as having the brake fluid flushed, at a cost of $900.  Phil tried to argue that the damage was related to the brake work done on Dec. 21st, but got nowhere with that.  The service advisor said they needed to order the brake hoses but expected them to arrive by early afternoon, with the service completed by day-end.  However, the hoses didn’t arrive until 4 pm on Wednesday and the service work didn’t begin until Thursday morning. 

Since we had needed to be at our RV dealer in Knoxville for a Wednesday morning service appointment, each delay required rearranging our travel plans.  We finally decided to reschedule the Knoxville appointment to the following week and go to Chattanooga first. This resulted in re-routing our travel to Texas.

The service work was completed by noon on Thursday and we were able to be on the road by 2 pm.  We drove 246 miles to the Birmingham South RV Park, where we overnighted.  By the time we arrived at 6:30 pm, it was quite dark.  It had been many years since we’d had to set up in the dark, but we managed to get it done without incident.

On Friday morning, we drove 170 miles to Rossville, GA, where we began a five-day stay at Holiday Travel RV Park of Chattanooga.  We were glad to be off the road for a little while. On Saturday, after getting an oil change for the Mazda, we visited our lot in Jasper Highlands.  It was only 43 degrees and had been raining for most of the drive.  Fortunately, it stopped raining when we arrived, so we were able inspect the property.  It looked quite barren with all the leaves off the trees and the overcast skies didn’t help.  We could see the markers for the septic system that had been placed by the TN Department of Environment & Conservation.

The rain became more intense on Saturday night, turning the already-wet campground into a swampy mess.  We were very glad not to be traveling that day.

On Tuesday, we went to the movies and saw an early release of A Man Called Otto, starring Tom Hanks.  The movie was quite good.  The combination of a good film and it being Discount Tuesday led to having the theater more crowded than we have seen in several years.

On Wednesday morning, we drove 100 miles to our RV dealer, RVs for Less, in Knoxville to have our furnace serviced.  Our CheapHeat furnace had stopped heating on electric in early November.  Our testing had indicated that the problem was with the thermocouple.  Since the weather in Gulf Shores stayed fairly warm in November and December, we were able to get by using the heat pumps when the lows stayed above 40 degrees, and the furnace on propane on colder nights.  When we have had service done at RVs for Less in the past, we have always spent at least one night parked on their lot.  When we arrived around noon on Wednesday, it was clear that there was no room for us to park this time.  While the service tech began working on our rig, we made a run to the post office and stopped for lunch.  Upon our return, we found that the work was done, and they were ready for us to leave.  While the bill was being finalized, Phil found us a campsite for the night.  We drove 97 miles to Monterey, TN, where we spent the night at Spacious Skies Belle Meade.  The campground was very nice, with very long and wide pull-through sites.

That evening, as we began to plan the balance of our drive to Kerrville, the weather forecast created a dilemma.  The forecast for Thursday called for severe weather, with heavy rain and high winds.  We considered staying another day in Monterey but abandoned that idea when we saw 1-2” of snow forecasted for Thursday night.  Since the storm wasn’t supposed to hit until mid-morning, we got up very early on Thursday morning and were on the road by 7:25 am.  After about 90 minutes of clear skies, we reached the storm front.  Although it rained much of the next two hours, the heavy downpours only lasted a few minutes at a time and the one hailstorm wasn’t too bad.  Our early departure brought us to the exit for our planned stop by 11:15 am.  Since the weather had been tolerable up to that point, we decided to continue on for another 130 miles, to Tom Sawyer’s RV Park in West Memphis, AR.  When we were within 60 miles of our destination, the skies grew very dark, and we encountered a very scary storm.  The rain was so heavy that traffic slowed to 40 mph and the hailstones hit so hard that we weren’t sure our windshields would survive.  Fortunately, we reached a rest area and were able to pull off and ride out the storm for 15 minutes.  We had rain for the remainder of our drive but, fortunately, it stopped as we neared the campground.  We were quite tired after driving 326 miles under difficult conditions.

We had stayed at Tom Sawyer’s RV Park in September, and, at that time, the Mississippi River was quite low.  This time, the river was much higher.  Although it wasn’t raining as we set up, it was cold and quite windy.  After being set up for 45 minutes and enjoying the heat from the furnace and fireplace, we lost power.  After several unsuccessful attempts to reset the circuit breaker, Phil notified the office, and they sent a mechanic.  When the mechanic was unable to fix the problem and we were getting cold, Phil decided to see if he could hook up our power cord to the pedestal for the site next door.  It worked and, fortunately, no one ever showed up for that site.

On Friday, January 13th, we drove 286 miles to Texarkana, TN, where we spent the night at Shady Pines RV Park.  We had stayed at this park many times.  On Saturday, we drove 200 miles to Corsicana, TX, where we stayed at American RV Park, another park where we had stayed several times before.

On Sunday, we drove 226 miles to San Antonio, where we spent three nights at the San Antonio / Alamo KOA Holiday.  Facing headwinds of 20-30 mph for most of the trip resulted in a rough ride and low fuel economy.  After covering over 1,200 miles in five straight days of driving, we were definitely ready for a few days of relaxation.

On Monday, we caught the bus across from the KOA and rode into downtown San Antonio.  We walked along the River Walk and had lunch at Casa Rio.  Despite it being a holiday (MLK Day), there were less people on the River Walk than we had ever seen before.  We enjoyed being back in warm weather, with the temperature in the mid-70s.

Gulf Shores, AL – Month 2 (December 1 – 31, 2022)

With our friends leaving at the end of November, our social activities slowed down considerably in early December.  However, we were blessed with daytime highs in the 70s for most of these days.  This allowed us to get outside more, to enjoy bike rides, walks on the beach, and outdoor pickleball.  Phil found time to wash our rig and perform other maintenance.  We had hoped to make a trip to Dauphin Island but thick fog every morning kept the ferry shut down until later in the day.

We were entertained for several days by a cardinal who visited the tree behind us regularly.  It seemed confused by the reflections off our back windows and flew into the glass over and over again.  We would chase it off, only to have it return a short time later.  We tried hanging things outside on our windows, but this had no effect.

On Saturday, December 10th, we visited the Christmas festival at The Wharf.  We visited the vendor booths and listened to live Christmas music.  We then made our first trip of the year to Flora-Bama, where we had lunch and listened to live music.

On Monday, six weeks after submitting our septic system permit application, we got a response from Natalie Lankford, Environmental Consultant for the Chattanooga office of the TN Division of Water Resources.  She wrote, “On paper, there appears to be sufficient space for a 3 bedroom Modified Low Pressure Pipe system, but I will know more once I flag out the LPP laterals on contour.”  Although we’re not exactly sure what that means, it seemed encouraging enough for us to schedule a meeting with an architect in early January. 

On Thursday, December 15th, we drove 475 miles to Nashville to attend Lizzi’s graduation from Belmont University.  Although she had earned her Bachelor’s degree from Belmont in 2015, she returned two and a half years ago to earn a Master of Science in Strategic Communication and Leadership from the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.  We left the campground at 8:07 am and arrived at Belmont just a few minutes before the hooding ceremony began at 5 pm.  Fortunately, there were only six students receiving their Masters from this college so the hooding ceremony was quite short.  After a brief reception, we headed to our hotel for some much-needed sleep.

On Friday evening, we attended the graduation ceremony in Belmont’s Curb Event Center.  This time, there were about 1,000 students receiving degrees so the ceremony lasted quite a while.  Afterward, it was too dark and cold to take pictures outside the arena, so we all headed back to our hotel.  After taking lots of pictures, we headed to Darfons Restaurant, where we had a delicious meal, with very large portions.

On Saturday, we drove to Camden, TN for a get-together with Jan’s relatives at the Country & Western Steakhouse.

On Sunday morning, we picked up Jason at 9 am and began the long drive back to Gulf Shores, AL.  We got back home at 6:30 pm and were ready for an early bedtime.

The following week brought unseasonably cool weather to Gulf Shores.  Daytime highs never got out of the 50s and, by the end of the week, we were having lows below freezing.  Although we were spared the artic weather experienced by much of the rest of the country, it largely kept us indoors.  Jason did manage to get out for some running, walking, and bicycling, but he had to really bundle up to do so. 

On Thursday, December 22nd, we received approval from Natalie Lankford on our septic system application, enabling us to continue with plans for our 3-bedroom house. 

On Saturday, Christmas Eve, we enjoyed an early dinner at the Shrimp Basket restaurant.  We also picked up individual cheesecake slices at Hope’s Cheesecake for later.  That evening, we attended the Christmas Eve service at Central Church, in the Orange Beach Community Center.

On Christmas Day, we attended a potluck Christmas feast in the campground’s activity center.  We shared a table with a couple from Pensacola and enjoyed getting to know them.

Jason’s flight back to Nashville was originally scheduled to depart from Pensacola on Christmas day at 6:40 pm.  However, as the day progressed, his flight on Southwest became increasingly delayed.  By the time we dropped Jason off at the airport, the flight was already delayed by two hours.  When we were halfway back to the campground, Jason learned that his flight had been cancelled.  He was rebooked for Tuesday at 7:30 am and, fortunately, was able to retrieve his luggage.

On Tuesday, we all woke up at 4 am, with the intention of taking Jason to the Pensacola airport.  However, we quickly learned that that flight had also been cancelled.  To make matters worse, his return wasn’t rescheduled until Saturday morning, New Year’s Eve Day. Over the next few days, we learned the extent of Southwest Airlines’ problems and that many Southwest customers had experienced even greater hardships than Jason’s.

On a more positive note, the weather for Jason’s second week in Gulf Shores, although windy, was much warmer than it had been for his first week.  We were all able to spend considerable amounts of time outdoors.

On Saturday morning, we all got up at 4 am and drove Jason to the Pensacola airport.  This time, his flight departed on time.  After napping upon our return home, we went out for an early New Year’s Eve dinner at Doc’s Seafood Shack.  Since New Year’s Day was a travel day, we didn’t attempt to stay awake long enough to ring in 2023.

Gulf Shores, AL – Month 1 (November 1 – 30, 2022)

On  Tuesday, November 1st, we drove 166 miles to the campground at Gulf State Park for our two-month stay.  With Todd Ehlenfeldt’s assistance, Phil got us backed into our spot in site #12 fairly easily.  After getting set up, we attended a happy hour at the campsite of Scott and Gail Wahls, friends we had met here last year.  We were joined by longtime friends, Todd and Beth Ehlenfeldt, Tom and Roxi Rykal, and Dave and Jo Peterson.

On Wednesday, the same group gathered for another happy hour, this time at Rykal’s site.  We then headed to Doc’s Seafood Shack for dinner, where we shared a bowl of gumbo and split the seafood combo.

On Thursday morning, Jan went for a walk on the beach. 

That afternoon, we drove to Pensacola, FL and caught a nonstop flight to Nashville so we could attend Jan’s 45th high school reunion.  We spent the night at the Club Hotel near the airport.  On Friday, we drove to the reunion venue at The Lodge at Paris Landing State Park, after making brief stops in Camden and having an early dinner in Paris.  Our room at The Lodge was very nice and overlooked the Tennessee River. That evening, we met around the firepit with many of the early-arriving attendees.

On Saturday, after lunch in the lodge’s restaurant, many of the group gathered around the big screen TV to watch the Tennessee – Georgia football game.  Unfortunately, the game did not go as well as hoped and the crowd dwindled after halftime.

The main event began at 6 pm, with socializing and dining on a wide array of finger foods.  At 7 pm, the music began and was provided by a one-man band who was quite good.  There was a large turnout from the Class of 1977 and the attendees enjoyed reconnecting.  The fun continued until after 11 pm.

On Sunday, after saying goodbyes, we headed back to the Nashville airport.  Before catching our afternoon flight, we stopped for an early dinner at Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen at Opry Mills and consumed catfish, spare ribs, four sides and peach cobbler.  Our nonstop flight back to Pensacola was on-time and we got back to our campsite by 6:30 pm. 

On Monday, November 7th, we celebrated Scott’s birthday with the Ehlenfeldts, Petersons and Wahls with dinner at DeSoto’s Seafood Kitchen.  This was the first of three birthdays our group will celebrate in November.

Tuesday morning, Phil went to the Orange Beach Rec Center and played pickleball for nearly three hours.  Since he hadn’t played in about two months, he was rather stiff afterward.  That afternoon, we hosted a gathering of the five couples at our site and played numerous games of LCR.

On Wednesday, we headed to Walgreens and both got our flu shots and COVID boosters.  Thursday afternoon, we met the whole group at the Big Beach Brewing Company for an offsite happy hour. 

Afterward, we sat outside and enjoyed the heat from our fire ring.  We had purchased the fire ring and propane tank in the Spring but this was the first time we had tried it out.

On Friday and Saturday mornings, Phil played pickleball at Gulf State Park.  Although the concrete courts contain a lot of cracks, there were some very good players there and it was free (unlike the Rec Center).

On Friday evening, we went to Papa Rocco’s for dinner with Tom, Roxi, Beth and Gail.  Our primary reason for this outing was to see Bo Grant, formerly of The Platters.  We have seen him perform at least once each of the past three winters.  In 2019, Jan had asked him to change the lyrics of Sixteen Candles to Sixty Candles in honor of her 60th birthday, but he had forgotten to do it.  Jan reminded him that he had let her down and, this time, he obliged her request, albeit three years late.

On Tuesday, November 15th, Phil got online at exactly 8 am to request reservations at Gulf State Park for November 2023.  He had pre-programed his iPad to reduce the entry time somewhat and was able to complete the forms in 86 seconds (15 seconds faster than in 2021).  However, due to the increasing popularity of this campground, his entry was #324 in the queue (60 higher than in 2021).  Fortunately, he got the callback the following afternoon and was able to reserve our same campsite (#12) for next November.

On Tuesday afternoon, Jan joined Beth, Roxi, Jo and Gail for a girl’s day out.  They went to The Wharf to see the movie Ticket to Paradise, starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts.  Afterward, they did some shopping at The Wharf and had refreshments at Tacky Jacks.

On Wednesday, we drove north to Spanish Fort and Daphne for some shopping.  We then stopped for lunch at Market by the Bay, based on a recommendation from an older gentleman who had dropped by our rig when we were in Georgia.  We both had shrimp po’boy sandwiches and agreed with the recommendation.  After lunch, we stopped in Fairhope and did some Christmas shopping.

On Friday morning, we picked up Jason at the Pensacola airport and stopped for breakfast at Brick & Spoon in Orange Beach.  Saturday was rainy so we decided to spend the afternoon at the movies.  We went to The Wharf and saw The Menu, described as a horror/comedy film.  Phil enjoyed it more than Jan.  After the movie, we headed to Doc’s Seafood Shack & Oyster Bar for Jason’s 40th birthday dinner. We returned home to watch the Tennessee Vols football game.  Unfortunately, the Vols were overrun badly by the South Carolina Gamecocks, thus ending the Vols’ hopes of a national championship run. 

After taking Jason back to the Pensacola airport for his flight home on Sunday morning, we joined the Ehlenfeldts, Petersons and Wahls that afternoon at Doc’s Seafood and Steaks restaurant to celebrate Beth’s birthday.  This Doc’s is the newer version of the restaurant where we had eaten on Saturday night.  We then returned to the Ehlenfeldt’s coach and had cake and ice cream. 

Since we were going to be in Denver on Thanksgiving Day, the group decided to celebrate the holiday on Tuesday.  We gathered at the Petersons’ site and everyone brought multiple dishes.  As usual, we ate more than we should have but it was all very good.  After dinner, we played games and then gathered around the Wahl’s fire ring to escape the dropping temperatures.

On Wednesday morning, we drove to the Pensacola airport and caught our non-stop flight on Frontier to Denver.  We arrived 1-1/2 hours before our flight but, due to the nearby parking lot being full and both baggage drop-off and TSA having long lines, our flight was already boarding when we arrived at the gate.  Upon arriving in Denver, we took a 45-minute train ride from the terminal to Union Station downtown.  Jess picked us up and took us back to her and Jarrod’s apartment.  Jason had arrived earlier in the day.  After relaxing and dining on pizza, we went upstairs to Brittany and Caleb’s apartment in the same building and got to see 5-week-old Liam for the first time in person.

We had rented a basement apartment through Airbnb that was four blocks away, in a nice residential neighborhood.  The apartment was well-furnished, with everything we needed, except a coffee maker.  Jarrod brought us a coffee press, which did the job for Jan’s morning coffee.  Although Jarrod or Jess drove us to our apartment each night, we were able to walk back to their apartment in the mornings. 

After breakfast on Thursday, we walked through the neighborhood to Cheesman Park, one of the many city parks throughout Denver.  We enjoyed seeing the huge historic houses along the way, many of which have now been subdivided into apartments.  The weather was cool, but not unpleasant, and there were many people in the park.  Upon returning to the apartment, we relaxed and watched NFL football until it was time for our Thanksgiving feast.  Caleb, Brittany and Liam joined us for the Thanksgiving festivities.  We dined on Honey Baked Ham and beef tips, as well as many delicious side dishes and desserts.  No one left the table hungry.  After dinner, Jan held Liam while the rest of us played a rousing game of Marbles.

On Friday, we drove to Roxborough State Park and hiked six miles.  Although it was breezy and there were patches of snow on the ground, we warmed up quickly in the sunshine.  We enjoyed seeing the dramatic red-rock formations and the large herds of deer.

On Saturday, the women headed to a couple of craft fairs and then to lunch.  The guys relaxed at the apartment and mostly watched the numerous college football games.

On Sunday, we checked out of our apartment and headed across town to Cozy Cottage for breakfast.  The food was delicious and the servers were very friendly.  After returning to Jarrod and Jess’ apartment, Caleb, Brittany and Liam joined us for a walk through Denver City Park, a very large park across the street from the apartment.  It was then time for Jarrod and Jess to take us to the airport for our flight back to Pensacola.  Jason’s flight was a few hours later than ours, so he hung out with us until it was time for us to board.  The flight left a few minutes early and made good time getting back to Pensacola.  After some delay in getting our suitcase and catching the shuttle to the remote parking lot, we drove back to Gulf State Park and arrived at 9:45 pm.

As the end of November approached, we had to say goodbye to our friends until next November.  On Monday, November 28th, all five couples gathered for a late afternoon lunch at Tacky Jack’s.  Tom and Roxi Rykal departed on Tuesday morning.  On Tuesday evening, we joined the Ehlenfeldts and the Wahls for dinner at Lamberts, home of the “throwed rolls.”  Todd and Beth Ehlenfeldt left on Wednesday morning.  That evening, we hosted our final happy hour with the Petersons and Wahls, who were leaving the following day.  It was Jan’s birthday but, after over a week of big meals, she opted to celebrate it at home. 

Fall in TN and GA (Sept. 18 – October 31, 2022)

On Sunday, September 18th, we drove 200 miles to Rossville, GA, where we spent three weeks at the Holiday Travel Chattanooga RV Park.  Although the park has a Georgia address, it is less than a mile from the Tennessee border. We had stayed at this campground four months earlier, when we came to look at property in Jasper Highlands.  We have now returned to begin the long process of design and build of our new home. 

On Monday morning, we drove to our lot in Jasper Highlands.  We used our 100-foot tape measure to get a better sense for where on the lot we might want to build.  We then met with Grant Moore, the Project Manager for Fredonia Builders.  Fredonia’s claim to fame is their Amish carpenters who do the framing.  Phil had previously had a phone conversation with Grant, who is also a Jasper Highlands resident.  Since Grant owns a Fredonia-built house, we began by touring his home and discussing Fredonia’s process for design and build.  Grant took us to two Fredonia construction sites so we could see some of their work.  We then met Lisa Boyle, owner of Fredonia Builders, and drove back out to our lot.  Grant and Lisa gave us their opinions on where we might build.  Unfortunately, due to Lisa’s sensitivity to poison ivy, she was limited to assessing our heavily-wooded property from the road.  They advised us to stake the perimeter of the house we’d like to build and apply for the septic system permit, before spending any money on architects or builders.

On Tuesday, we met with Hunter Godfrey, the Project Manager: Draftsman for Goodman Creations, to discuss the process and cost for architectural design of our house.  We liked what we heard but let them know we were planning to apply for the septic permit first.

Wednesday morning, we headed back to our lot.  We first stopped at Lowes to pick up some landscaping stakes, mason line and various tools for clearing brush.  We then spent several hours chopping down branches and thorns.  After this effort, we were able to run a string line along one border of our property.  Being too worn out to fix dinner, we ordered catfish plates from Champy’s which were delicious and very filling.

On Saturday, we attended the Chattanooga Home & Garden show at the convention center.  We enjoyed chatting with many of the vendors, although it would have been premature to ask for estimates.  We spent about an hour talking with LaNita Cates, the New Client Liaison for Cole Construction, despite already having scheduled a meeting with her on Monday.  We got home in time to watch the Tennessee Vols beat the Florida Gators in an exciting game.

On Monday, September 26th, we went to the Chattanooga office of Cole Construction and met with LaNita Cates again and Matt Cole, one of the owners.  They are the only custom builder working in Jasper Highlands that offers a fixed cost contract.

We spent many hours on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday back on our lot, clearing lots of brush and running string lines along the boundary of our desired house plan.  There are many mature trees that will need to be cleared prior to construction but, for now, we just had to work around them.  The final touch involved running yellow caution tape along the string to keep people from tripping over it.

On Saturday, Jason came to visit us and spend the night.  We drove him out to Jasper Highlands to see our property.  After walking our lot, we drove around so Jason could see many of the beautiful homes in the development.  We also stopped to explore Raulston Falls Park and the Pat’s Summitt pavilion.

On Monday, October 3rd, we drove to Cloudland Canyon State Park for a hike.  This state park is located on the western edge of Lookout Mountain in the northwest corner of Georgia.  We hiked the 1.8-mile out-and-back Waterfalls Trail to see Cherokee Falls and Hemlock Falls, as well as an unnamed falls on Sitton’s Gulch Trail.  Although fairly short, the hike was rated as strenuous due to 600 stairsteps each way.  As usual, the stairs going down weren’t too bad; going back up was another story.  Due to the lack of rainfall, the falls were not as impressive as they would have been otherwise.

On Tuesday, we drove to Helen, GA and spent the day and night with Bruce and Lori Davis.  Bruce’s family has owned a time-share unit there since 1985 and have a tradition of visiting during Oktoberfest.  Helen is Bavarian-themed village in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northern Georgia.  We spent the afternoon exploring Helen with Bruce and Lori, strolling the cobblestone streets and visiting a number of shops, including Betty’s Country Store, Helen Hat Company and Hansel & Gretel Candy Kitchen.  We stopped to listen to music and enjoy some liquid refreshments at King Ludwig’s Biergarten.  We had German food for dinner, naturally.  The food was delicious, and the portions were very large.  After a quick breakfast on Wednesday morning, we headed for home, first making a stop to check out the campground at Unicoi State Park.

During our brush clearing efforts the previous week, Jan had discovered what appeared to be a survey marker buried in the ground.  That was concerning since this marker was several feet away from where the surveyor’s stake was stuck in the ground.  We decided we should get the line re-surveyed before applying for our septic permit.  On Thursday, we learned that the marker Jan had found buried in the ground was the correct boundary.  This meant that the string line we had run for our proposed single-level house footprint was actually seven feet inside the required setback area.  This was enough for us to abandon our thoughts of a single-level house and, instead, to consider other options with a smaller footprint.

On Friday, we worked to clear the space needed for a two-story house, located on the left side of the lot.  We still had thoughts of possibly building a house with a walkout basement, so Jan invited Grant Moore, of Fredonia Builders, to return to our lot and give us some more advice.  Grant came out on Saturday morning and confirmed that the two-story was our better option.  However, after Grant left, we started to consider placing the two-story house on the right side of our lot and began to clear the necessary area.  By the end of the day on Saturday, we were torn between the two options and could find pros and cons with each.  Since we were scheduled to return in two weeks, we decided to use that time to make our decision.

On Sunday, October 9th, we drove 156 miles to Goodlettsville, TN, where we would spend eight nights at Grand Ole RV Resort.  We arrived in time to watch the second half of the Titan’s win.  Jason dropped by for dinner.  Monday was a more relaxing day, although we did head out to Moss-Wright Park in the afternoon for a long walk.

On Tuesday, we drove to Lebanon, TN and met Philip and Brenda Dunlap for lunch at Los Compadres.  Jan spent Wednesday with Sheila, Ashley and Laura at Cheekwood Estate & Gardens.  After waiting out a tornado warning at Ashley’s apartment afterward, Jan’s drive home through the rain and rush hour traffic was extremely slow.  After visiting our storage unit on Thursday afternoon, we attempted to explore downtown Nashville for a couple of hours.  We abandoned the plan when we could only find full-day parking for $26, and it was getting close to rush hour.  On Friday, Jan spent the afternoon with Sheila and Rita shopping and dining at Opry Mills.

On Saturday morning, we drove to the West End of Nashville and found free parking on the campus of Vanderbilt University.  We then visited the Graduate Nashville hotel and enjoyed some fresh oysters at White Limozeen, the rooftop restaurant and bar.  The pink-themed restaurant was packed with bachelorette parties.  It was drizzling as we left the hotel, so we decided to just drive back down Broadway.  The streets and rooftops were packed with people.  We made it home in time to watch the Tennessee Vols beat Alabama 52-49 on a last-second field goal, ending a 15-year losing streak.  It was a super exciting game!

On Sunday evening, October 16th, we met Jason and headed downtown for a Jason Isbell concert at the Ryman Auditorium.  Before the show, we had dinner at the Assembly Food Hall, across the street from the Ryman.  To describe the Assembly Food Hall as a food court would be to do it a great disservice.  The hall features 24 eateries, nine full-service bars, one full-service restaurant, and three performance stages.  The hall’s 100,000-square-foot includes an open-air rooftop concert venue and over 25,000 square feet of outdoor patio and terrace space.  The place was very crowded.  Jason found us a table and, as we each headed out to order food from different vendors, we were joined at the table by a couple from California.  We had quite a good conversation with them, on a wide range of topics.

The concert began at 8 pm with the special guest, Vagabon, a female vocalist originally from Cameroon.  Things got much more lively when Jason Isbell took the stage.  Isbell grew up in North Alabama and started playing as a teenager in a garage band, with a friend.  They played at the Grand Ole Opry when he was 16.  At age 22, he joined the band, Drive-By Truckers, and was with them for six years, until 2007, before beginning a solo career.  Isbell’s band, The 400 Unit, is primarily made up of musicians from the Muscle Shoals, Alabama area and were very talented.

After a late night, we had to get going early on Monday morning to begin our 206-mile drive to Heiskel, TN, where we spent the night at the Escapee’s Raccoon Valley RV Park.  On Tuesday morning, as we prepared to drive to our dealer, RVs for Less, for service, we were unable to get the two hydraulic living room slides to retract.  This wasn’t a total surprise since a hydraulic fluid leak was on our list of service issues.  Phil added a quart of transmission fluid, and we were able to get the slides closed.  When we got to RVs for Less, they quickly determined that the leak was due to a broken O-ring, and it was fixed quickly.

The remainder of our stay was spent addressing an issue referred to as “butt wiggle,” where the rear cap begins to separate from the frame.  The mechanic said that, on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being the least serious), ours was a 1.  However, once he had done enough work to make the diagnosis, it only made sense for him to finish the job of adding braces to hold the end cap in place.  The total job took eight hours of labor.

Since we never know how long our service appointments will last, we had booked our next campground reservation for Friday.  When we were done early, we had to scramble to find a spot for Thursday night.  Since October is a very popular time in the Smokies, we were fortunate to find an overnight spot at Riverside RV Park in Sevierville, TN, about 25 miles from our dealer.  After getting set up there early Thursday afternoon, we headed off to spend the rest of the day in Gatlinburg.  We strolled the main strip from one end to the other, and then returned down the other side of the street.  We stopped for dinner at an Italian restaurant.

On Friday morning, we checked out of Riverside RV Park.  Phil drove our rig 45 miles to Heiskel, where we spent the weekend at Raccoon Valley again.  Since we had nothing planned for Friday, Jan stayed behind and spent the day shopping at the Tanger Outlet Mall in Pigeon Forge. 

We had chosen to spend the weekend in the Knoxville area so we could attend a Tennessee Vols game, since Phil had never been to Neyland Stadium. We had pretty much abandoned that plan since ticket prices were initially too high, for what was expected to be a blowout game against Tennessee Martin, a FCS football program. However, by Friday night, ticket prices on StubHub had gotten considerably cheaper so we bought some. We parked about 1.4 miles from the stadium and followed the orange-clad crowd. Our seats, in the corner of the end zone, were better than we had expected, and we saw a lot of game action in front of us. The temperature was cool to start the day but, with bright sun, it warmed up quickly. The game turned out to be as one-sided as expected, with the #3-ranked Vols rolling up a halftime score of 52-7, despite pulling many of the starters. The backups played the entire second half and we left with seven minutes remaining. The final score was 65-24.

On Monday morning, October 24th, we left early to meet a Progressive claims adjuster at a truck/RV body shop near Knoxville.  We have experienced hairline fractures to the paint job on our front cap from an incident quite a while ago.  We had filed the claim in Spring 2021 and had received a check from Progressive, based on photos Phil had sent them.  Due to our travel itinerary, we weren’t able to get an actual estimate from the body shop until Spring 2022.  Due to a large difference from their initial estimate, Progressive decided they wanted to schedule a meeting at the body shop, where they could inspect the damage in person and discuss it with the body shop owner.  Again, due to our travel, we weren’t able to schedule that meeting until now.  After that fairly quick meeting, we drove 120 miles back to Rossville, GA, where we spent the next week at Holiday Travel Park Chattanooga. 

On Tuesday, we were back out at our lot in Jasper Highlands, clearing brush and deciding where to situate our house.  Matt Cole, owner of Cole Construction, dropped by at 10 am and provided his opinion.  He recommended we move the house about 35’ farther back than we had previously intended, now starting 75’ from the road.  We spent the rest of the day clearing brush from the paths we would need for staking the new house location, farther back and on the left side of the lot. 

Over the next two days, we met with two more prospective custom home builders: Cain Development on Wednesday and McCoy Homes on Thursday.  This brings us to a total of four possible builders, all of whom come highly recommended.  It will be difficult to make the final selection, as there are pros and cons for each. 

On Friday, we returned to our lot and proceeded to stake out the house footprint, using Matt Cole’s recommendation, but moving it to the right side of the lot.  We spent the entire day clearing brush, marking the corners and running string lines and caution tape around the perimeter.  Although we were very tired and sore, we were glad that we would not need to return on Saturday.  The next step is to apply for the septic permit and wait 4-6 weeks for a decision.  Hopefully, our proposed location will be approved, but, if not, we hope any suggested changes will be acceptable to us.  Regardless, the many days we’ve spent clearing brush from multiple areas on the lot, assisted by the falling leaves, has made the property appear much more open.

Jason came to visit us again on Saturday.  We all enjoyed watching the 3rd-ranked Tennessee Vols beat up on the 19th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats, 44-6. 

As we were leaving our dealer’s lot on October 20th, Jan had learned of a tribute for Loretta Lynn at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville on October 30th.  She logged in to claim one of the free tickets and received a QR code.  When we arrived at our campsite, she tried to get Phil a ticket but he was placed on the waiting list.  Over the next ten days, there was a lot of conflicting information as to whether or not having the QR code guaranteed a seat in the Opry.  It sounded as though the QR code holders would be given tickets on a first come, first serve basis on the day of the tribute.  On Sunday, October 30th, Jason left us early, drove back to Nashville, and got Jan a place in line at the Opry.  Jan arrived at 11 am and relieved Jason.  She was in line until 3:30 pm, when they started letting people inside for the 6 pm show.  The tribute included a large number of country music icons, both in person and by video.  Although it was an exhausting day, Jan was glad she was able to attend. Back at our campsite, Phil was able to watch the tribute on CMT from the comfort of his recliner.

On Monday, October 31st, we began our drive to Gulf Shores, AL.  Phil towed our rig 267 miles from Rossville, GA to the Miller’s Ferry Corps of Engineers campground outside of Camden, AL.  The campground was quite nice but extremely remote.  Jan drove 300+ miles from Nashville and arrived at the campground about an hour after Phil.

On the Road Again (Sept. 10-18, 2022)

After two months in Kerrville, we were ready to move on, although not necessarily looking forward to the long drive to Tennessee.  On Saturday, Sept. 10th, we hooked up and got underway.  After sitting idle for an extended period, we were concerned that something might not operate as intended, but we were pleased that there were no issues.  We drove 256 miles to Corsicana, TX, where we overnighted at the American RV Park.    

On Sunday, we drove 191 miles to Texarkana, TX, where we spent two nights at Shady Pines RV Park.  The GPS had recommended a mostly-interstate route of 234 miles, skirting around Dallas.  Phil chose to take a somewhat slower, but definitely shorter, backroads route that took us through many small towns.  This was at least our tenth stay at Shady Pines RV Park, which is affiliated with an RV dealership next door.

Although we had scheduled a mobile RV tech for Monday to address our microwave wiring issue, Phil spent Sunday night trying to fix it himself.  Replacing the plug on the power cord was fairly straightforward.  However, replacing the receptacle remained a challenge.  Having never worked with Romex wiring before and having almost no slack in the line, Phil was apprehensive about being able to connect the new 20-amp receptacle he had bought at Lowes.  On Monday morning, he drove to the RV center next door and purchased a snap-in receptacle similar to the one he was replacing.  Although this solved the issue of having enough wire, Phil couldn’t figure out how to get the wire into the slots.  He watched a YouTube video on the subject and learned that the manufacturer recommended using their specialized tool to do the installation.  Phil then returned to the RV center to see if they had the tool and if he could rent/borrow it.  They didn’t have that specific tool, but they did lend Phil a different tool and the service manager explained how they use it.  Phil returned to our rig and, using the borrowed tool, was able to connect the receptacle.  We were quite relieved when we turned the power back on, and the microwave worked again.  It had taken a fair amount of work but, having saved the cost of a service call, it was all worth it.

On Tuesday, after returning to the RV center to get our TX annual inspection on the fifth wheel, we drove 283 miles to West Memphis, AR where we spent three nights at Tom Sawyer’s Mississippi River RV Park.  We had read very good reviews on this campground and, although it was not very fancy, it had one major thing going for it: location.  Our site was about 100 feet from the banks of the Mississippi River.  We were able to watch barges going up and down the river from our living room window.  They even had an observation tower right by our site.

We spent Wednesday in Memphis, TN visiting Graceland.  Although Phil had lived in Germantown, TN (a suburb of Memphis) for 10 months in 1988/89, he had never been to Graceland before.  We first did the tour of the Graceland Mansion, aided by an iPad and headphones that provided narratives on each room.  Since the house has remained largely as it was when Elvis died in 1977, the furnishings were a throwback to the past.  However, seeing the rooms and the grounds definitely brought to life the stories of the Graceland lifestyle of Elvis, his family and his friends.  There were plenty of home movies on display throughout the exhibits, adding to the experience. 

After touring the mansion, we began our walk through the eleven exhibitions.  We first visited the Presley Motors Automobile Museum and Presley Cycles exhibit, then had lunch at Vernon’s Smokehouse.

After lunch, we visited the rest of the exhibitions, including Private Presley: Elvis in the Army, ICONS: The Influence of Elvis Presley, and Elvis: The Entertainer Career Museum. All of the exhibits were filled with memorabilia from Elvis’ life and his career in music and movies.  Our final stop was at Elvis’ two airplanes.  After spending most of 5-1/2 hours on our feet, we were quite worn out by the time we left Graceland.

On Thursday, we drove to Germantown, TN and checked out Phil’s former home and neighborhood.  We also drove through a nearby development of newer construction.  This consisted of block after block of McMansions, with virtually no space between each house.  The houses didn’t even have driveways.  Our curiosity led us to explore how the homeowners accessed their garages.  We discovered that there was an alleyway that was shared by a large number of homeowners to reach their garages in the back of the houses, but without any driveways.  It was wild! 

Upon returning to our campsite, we spent some time watching the barges moving up the Mississippi.  Phil climbed the rather rickety stairs up to the treehouse observation deck and enjoyed sitting in one of the rocking chairs up there.  The water level of the Mississippi was quite low but, as the picture shows, this has not always been the case.

On Friday, September 16th, we drove 150 miles to Hurricane Mills, TN, where we spent two nights at the Buffalo River/I-40 KOA.  On Saturday, we drove to Eva and attended the Eva Beach Music and Folklife Festival.  We listened to some music and explored the car show and craft booths.  Eva is only a few miles from Camden, TN, where Jan lived most of her life.  As we walked around, Jan met and chatted with a few old friends, but was somewhat surprised by how few people she knew.  We visited with “Flash” Melton, Jan’s aunt’s brother, who was emceeing the event.  Two of Jan’s lifelong friends, Sheila and Michelle, arrived later and Jan toured the grounds with them while Phil enjoyed the classic rock offerings of “The Geezers.”

After leaving the festival, we stopped at Wal-Mart for fuel and groceries.  However, when we returned to our rig, we realized we had forgotten to get coffee so we headed back out to an Amish grocery we had passed.  As usual for our trips to Amish stores, we ended up buying more than just coffee.  Jason arrived later that afternoon and we had dinner at the Log Cabin Restaurant.  We all had catfish and the portions were very large.

On Sunday morning, Jason headed home to Nashville, and we took off for our 200-mile drive to Rossville, GA.

Hot Times in Kerrville, TX (July 10 – September 10, 2022)

On Sunday, July 10th, we drove 203 miles from the Waco, TX area to Kerrville, TX, where we will spend the next two months at Buckhorn Lake Resort.  We expect to suffer through 100 degree daily high temperatures for the foreseeable future.  However, after spending well over $100 on fuel every travel day, we are looking forward to being stationary for a while.

We had originally planned to spend these two months in Colorado.  However, the crazy high fuel prices convinced us to scrap those plans.  Instead, we decided to come to Kerrville, TX and take care of myriad medical, dental, vision and hearing exams.  In our first two weeks in Kerrville, at least one of us had an appointment almost every day.

We did attempt to get some exercise in the early hours of the morning.  Phil played pickleball most mornings, from 8 – 10 a.m.  Jan would often get in a walk or a trip to the fitness center during this time.  Occasionally, we would also get out for a walk in the evening.  However, most of the day was spent indoors, reading and playing on our phones, with the A/C going. 

We did catch a couple of afternoon matinees at the Kerrville cinema.  On Sunday, July 17th, we saw Where the Crawdads Sing.  Then, on Tuesday, July 19th, we saw Top Gun: Maverick.  We enjoyed both of them. 

On Thursday, July 21st, we had to drive to Austin for one of Jan’s doctor appointments.  After the doctor, we took advantage of being in a big city by hitting several big box stores.  Then, we met Jan’s niece, Katie, and went to Sour Duck Market for dinner.  Although the temperature was 100 degrees, the restaurant had fans and foggers throughout the outdoor seating area and the heat was quite bearable.  We placed our order and paid for it entirely online.  The only human interaction was when they delivered our food and cleared our dishes afterward.

On Sunday, we drove to Luckenbach and watched a performance by a husband-and-wife duo, known as Treble Soul.  Hannah Prestridge and Curt Jones had met in 2014 while performing on Broadway in Nashville, TN.  They returned to Texas in 2014 and were named the Texas Country Music Association’s Vocal Duo of the Year in 2018.  In 2020, they auditioned on American Idol and Hannah won a Golden Ticket to Hollywood.  In addition to watching the performance, Jan purchased a Willie Nelson ornament for when we have a Christmas tree.

As we moved into August, the temperature dropped a few degrees, with daytime highs averaging only around 95 degrees.  On Saturday, August 6th, we attended an End of Summer Shindig event at the Kerrville-Schreiner Park, along the banks of the Guadalupe River.  Although the crowd was surprisingly small, we enjoyed listening to the music.  The generator that was powering the band’s amplifiers failed half-way through each of the first two songs, but they finally got it working.  Then, a wind gust blew over one of the lighting stands but, fortunately, the guitarist caught it before it hit the ground.

Over the next few weeks, we tried out several new-to-us restaurants in Kerrville, including Thai O’cha, Grape Juice and Pint & Plow Brewing Company.  On Friday, August 19th, we spent time browsing the shops in Fredericksburg and had lunch at the Fredericksburg Brewing Co., the oldest brew pub in Texas.

On Sunday, August 21st, we drove back to Austin and had brunch at Cenote with Katie and Michael, before they relocated to Baltimore.  The next couple of days were very rainy, significant because Texas had been suffering from a severe drought.  Phil took advantage of one of the rainy days by playing pickleball indoors at the Kerrville Methodist Church

Our remaining weeks continued to be uneventful.  The temperature dropped slightly, with daytime highs in the mid-80s and low-90s but the humidity kept us indoors most of the time.  We did a lot of reading and made a few trips to the pool.  We spent a lot of time exploring house plans online and scheduled meetings with an architect and two builders in late September.  We also took advantage of strong wi-fi service (unusual for a campground) by binge watching all eight seasons of Game of Thrones.

On our final full-day in Kerrville, we had an unwelcome event.  As Jan started to use the microwave/convection oven, the power went off.  We had had this issue three months earlier but, after jiggling the power cord, the oven had worked again.  This time was different.  We jiggled the power cord and, although the power blinked on for a second, the electrical outlet started making a sizzing sound.  Upon examination, we could see that both the receptacle and plug were fried.  Since we had done minor electrical repairs on the rig in the past, we imagined this repair wouldn’t be too difficult, but we were wrong.  The wiring of the original receptacle had been done at the factory, before the outside walls were installed.  It was wired using 12-gauge Romex non-metallic wire, which was quite stiff, and there was virtually no slack in the wiring.  Phil had to expand the hole in the wall, just to be able to extract the receptacle.  Fortunately, the receptacle was hidden in the cabinet above the oven, so the damage wasn’t visible.  To add to the challenge, the receptacle was a snap-in wiring type that wasn’t sold at Lowes, nor Home Depot.  We’ll save the rest of the story for our next post, but the good news is that it ended well.

Our electrical issue didn’t keep us from enjoying our final night in Kerrville.  We dined at The Boat and had a table with a view overlooking the Guadalupe River.  We shared a half-dozen oysters on the half shell, then split the seafood combo.

Heading to Kerrville, TX (June 25 – July 10, 2022)

On Saturday, June 25th, we began our long haul to Texas.  We drove 146 miles to Zanesville, OH, where we spent two nights at Wolfie’s Campground.  As Phil was pulling into our site, one of the trailer’s tires clipped a cinderblock the owner had placed on the edge of the site.  Upon examining the tire, he discovered that the outside tread had ripped apart from the tire.  Phil immediately started calling around to see if he could find a replacement tire.  Unfortunately, being Saturday afternoon, he was unable to find a tire dealer that was open and sold trailer tires.  Phil ended up installing the spare tire on our fifth wheel.  Accessing the spare tire from beneath our rig required removing the bikes and the rear license plate.

Over the weekend, Phil was able to locate a replacement tire at Discount Tire in Hamilton, OH, 47 miles from our next stop.  On Monday morning, Phil called the store and ordered the tire.  We then drove 166 miles, without a spare tire, to Richmond, IN, where we spent two nights at Deer Ridge Camping Resort.  The drive was uneventful until 13 miles from our destination, when traffic came to a complete standstill.  It took us over 30 minutes to move the next mile. 

On Tuesday, Phil drove our Mazda to Hamilton, OH and got the replacement tire.  After installing the new tire on the fifth wheel, we visited Fountain Acres Foods, an Amish store in nearby Fountain City, IN.  We loaded up on spices and fresh veggies.  Phil treated himself to a small tin of sticky buns.

On Wednesday, we drove 216 miles to Effingham, IL, where we spent two nights at Camp Lakewood RV Park. 

On Friday, July 1st, we drove 123 miles to St. Peters, MO, a suburb of St. Louis, where we spent the four-day Fourth of July weekend at 370 Lakeside Park.  This was our third stay at this campground.  Our pull-through site for this stay was directly across the road from the site of one of our most embarrassing RV experiences in all our years on the road.  In October 2015, only weeks after buying our fifth wheel, we attempted to get into our first back-in site.  We attracted quite an audience that afternoon, one of whom just sat in his lawn chair to enjoy the show.  At first, Phil had thought he was going to have success but started to panic when he saw how close he was coming to hitting the tree and rig in the site where we are currently parked.  Eventually, we were joined by two of the neighbor men who moved some obstacles and provided advice that helped get us backed into the site.  In the years since that afternoon, we have mostly booked pull-through sites.

On Saturday morning, Phil’s brother and his wife, Kip and Marcia Gordon, came by to see our rig for the first time.  We then headed out for breakfast at Gingham’s Homestyle Restaurant with Kip and Marcia.  After breakfast, we escaped the heat by heading to the movie theater at Mid River Mall to see Elvis.  That evening, we met at Kip and Marcia’s house and headed out for dinner at Rich and Charlie’s Italian Restaurant. 

On Sunday afternoon, we headed back to Kip and Marcia’s house for dinner.  We were joined by a large group of the extended family, including their two daughters (Shannon Roland and Mackenzie Gordon), their son-in-law (Derek Roland), two grandchildren (Ellie and Rhys Roland), two cousins (Austin and Millie), and Marcia’s sister (Cindy Rebbe).  We dined on pork steak (a St. Louis delicacy), corn on the cob and salads.

Monday was the Fourth of July and was even hotter than the previous days.  When we returned from the grocery store at 3 pm, the temperature was 97 with a heat index of 108.  Knowing that it would be even hotter when we arrive in Texas was of little comfort.  We then headed for dinner at the Roland’s home.  Most of the clan from Sunday’s dinner was there but, unfortunately, Marcia had not felt well and was unable to attend.  After briefly sitting outside, the heat drove us indoors to the air conditioning.  However, the heat did not keep the kids from heading outside to shoot off fireworks.  Since we were traveling on Tuesday, we had to leave before it got dark enough to view the big fireworks displays in the neighborhood.  It had been a great three days and we were really grateful for this opportunity to reconnect with part of our family who we rarely get to see.

On Tuesday, July 5th, we hit the road again and drove 226 miles to Springfield, MO, where we spent two nights at the Springfield / Route 66 KOA Holiday.  Other than trains that roll nearby day and night, blowing their horns, the campground was very nice.

On Wednesday, we drove into Springfield and visited the Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World national headquarters.  The store claims to be the grandaddy of all outdoor stores.  It is certainly the biggest Bass Pro Shop we’ve ever visited.  In addition to numerous displays with stuffed animals, there are aquariums throughout the store with fish, turtles and alligators.  The store also houses the Archery Hall of Fame and Museum and the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum.  In the basement, they even have a shooting range.  After leaving the store, we had an early dinner at Bosky’s Vegan Grill.

On Thursday, we drove 226 miles to Rock Creek Road RV Park, 12 miles north of McAlester in SE Oklahoma.  The campground was nothing special, with mostly long-term residents, but our site was roomy and, at $27.50 for the night, it was our least expensive private campground in years.  By mid-afternoon, the temperature had reached 105 degrees, with a heat index of 114.  It took many hours for our two air conditioners to cool down the inside of our rig, which was 88 degrees when we arrived.

On Friday, we drove 300 miles to Lorena, TX (a few miles outside of Waco), where we spent two nights at Camp Caravan RV Park.  The truck’s GPS gave us a couple of mis-directions, including having us in the left lane, when we should have been in the right, as we tried to get to I-35E in the middle of downtown Dallas.  Fortunately, we were able to pick up the highway a short distance down the road.  The campground’s website had warned that the entrance was easy to miss and, sure enough, Phil missed it despite driving down the road very slowly.  There was a roundabout a mile farther down the road so we were able to get turned around fairly easily and found the entrance on the second attempt.

Good Times and Bad in the Keystone State (June 12 – 25, 2022)

On Sunday, June 12th, we drove 61 miles to Gordonville, PA, where we spent six nights at Country Acres Campground.  We had been looking forward to exploring the Amish communities in Lancaster County and visiting some of the many restaurants, shops and bakeries.  Gordonville was located between the towns of Paradise and Bird-in-Hand. 

On Monday, we drove into Lancaster.  We had lunch at Cava, a Mediterranean fast-casual restaurant.  Jan had the Crispy Falafel and Phil had the Spicy Lamb Meatball Pita.  We then located Wheatland, the home of President James Buchanan, but opted not to do the tour.  Instead, we visited Gish’s Furniture and spent an hour looking at high-quality Amish furniture.  All the furniture was solidly constructed, using only hardwoods.  There were many beautiful pieces, but the prices were quite high.  After doing our grocery shopping, we returned to the campground and spotted two of our friends from our 2018 Alaskan caravan, Ken and Cathy Bentz, arriving.  After they got set up, Ken and Cathy dropped by and we had a nice time getting caught up on each other’s lives.

On Tuesday, we drove with the Bentz’s to the Sight & Sound Theater in nearby Ronks, PA for a musical stage production, telling the Biblical story of David.  Upon our arrival, we met up with Tom and Trish Lehr, also from the Alaskan trip.  The Sight & Sound Theater was unlike any we had ever seen.  The center stage itself was enormous, with sets towering up to 40 feet high (including a 22’ Goliath), but, in addition, stages on both sides made us feel like we were in the middle of the action.  Adding to this feeling were the many live animals (goats, sheep, horses, camels and birds) who raced down the aisles during the show.  The production also made extensive use of special effects to add to the performance by the 50-person cast.

After the show, we drove to the Fireside Tavern, where we had dinner with the Bentz’s and Lehrs and celebrated Phil’s 68th birthday.  After dinner, we returned to our rig and enjoyed some birthday blueberry pie and ice cream.

Unfortunately, later Tuesday evening, Phil developed a high fever and various other symptoms.  When the fever continued through the night, we headed to Urgent Care on Wednesday morning.  It was quickly confirmed that Phil tested positive for Covid.  The Urgent Care was unable to prescribe anything and advised Phil to contact his PCP.  Phil’s doctor was unavailable on Wednesday but Phil was able to set up a telemedicine appointment for Thursday at noon.  Following the Thursday appointment, Phil’s PCP issued a prescription for Paxlovid.  However, due to communication issues between the doctor’s office and the Walgreen’s in Lancaster, it took several phone calls and four hours to get the prescription filled. 

In the meantime, Jan became very ill.  After testing positive, using at-home test kits, for both Covid and a UTI, Jan headed to Urgent Care on Friday.  Once again, Urgent Care could not prescribe anything for Covid but Jan was able to get an antibiotic for the UTI.  Unfortunately, Jan’s PCP was unavailable so she was never able to get anything prescribed for Covid.

On Saturday, June 18th, it was time was us to leave Lancaster County and drive to our new location.  Since neither of us were really feeling well, Phil tried to extend our stay.  However, given that it was a Saturday at a popular location, we were not surprised that no extension was available.  We were very disappointed to leave the area, having only experienced trips to Urgent Care and Walgreens over the previous three days.  We had scheduled a Amish farmland tour for Thursday but had to miss that. 

We managed to make the 216-mile drive to New Stanton, PA (35 miles SW of Pittsburgh) without incident.  We checked-in at Fox Den Acres Campground for our weeklong stay.  We were glad we wouldn’t have to go anywhere for a while.  Our site was a 120’-long pull-through site so we had plenty of room. 

We didn’t do much for the rest of the weekend, other than watching the US Open golf tournament.  By Monday morning, we had both gone 24 hours fever-free, making us no longer contagious for Covid.  However, still feeling fatigued from the ordeal, we continued to take it easy.

On Tuesday, we felt well enough to drive to Pittsburgh’s PNC Park to watch the Chicago Cubs take on the Pittsburgh Pirates.  We had great seats, about 14 rows away from the field.  Phil wore his Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series Championship t-shirt but, alas, these are not the 2016 Cubs.  The Cubs were losing 5-0 after three innings and ended up losing 7-1.

On Thursday, we returned to PNC Park for an afternoon game.  We had great seats, directly behind home plate.  However, after sitting in the hot sun for a couple of innings, we moved back to find some shade.  Unlike games at Wrigley Field, there were plenty of empty seats, so that was no problem.  After giving up two homeruns, committing four errors and stranding four runners at third base, the Cubs were losing 6-2 at the end of the 7th inning.  However, the Cubs then scored five runs in the 8th to take the lead.  Unfortunately, the Pirates’ next batter hit the first pitch over the centerfield wall to tie the game.  After the Cubs’ runner was thrown out at the plate in the top of the 10th, the Pirates scored to win, 8-7.

Sampling the Mid-Atlantic States (May 30 – June 12, 2022)

Over the next 13 days, we camped in four of the Middle Atlantic states.  Our first stop was in Rockwood, PA, where we spent six nights at Hickory Hollow Campground.  The drive to Rockwood on Memorial Day, May 30th, was supposed to be 206 miles but, due to a couple of wrong turns which necessitated a couple of challenging u-turns, we added an additional 40 miles. Phil purchased $100 of diesel at the Pennsylvania Turnpike service plaza at $6.18 per gallon.   Given that we only get about 9 mpg when towing, this is ridiculously expensive. 

On Tuesday, we toured Fallingwater in Mill Run, PA, designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright.  The house was built partly over a waterfall as a vacation home for the Edgar J. Kaufmann family, owners of Pittsburgh’s largest department store.  Fallingwater exemplifies Wright’s philosophy of organic architecture: the harmonious union of art and nature.  In addition to the house, Wright designed 90% of the furniture.  The main house was built mostly by local craftspeople in 1936-1938, followed by the guest house construction in 1939.  It is listed among Smithsonian’s Life’s list of 28 places “to visit before you die.”  In 1991, members of the American Institute of Architects named the house the “best all-time work of American architecture.”

On our drive home, we visited two of the ten remaining covered bridges in Somerset County: King’s and Barronvale.

On Wednesday, we visited the Flight 93 National Memorial.  This memorial honors the courage of the 40 passengers and crew members on United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001.  Four al Qaeda terrorists had hijacked this flight, headed from Boston to San Francisco, and had turned the plane back toward their target in Washington, DC, either the Capitol or the White House.  Passengers and crew began phoning family, friends and authorities to report the hijacking and learned of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.  Realizing that their plane was part of a planned attack, the passengers and crew made a collective decision, by vote, to rush the terrorists and try to retake the plane.  The terrorists ended up crashing the plane, inverted and at 565 mph with 5,500 gallons of jet fuel still on board, into an open field several miles from Shanksville, PA, 18 minutes flying time short of Washington, DC.

Our first stop was at the Visitor Center, where they have outstanding displays detailing, event-by-event, the happenings of that day, including a lot of broadcast videos.  One of the more emotional displays enabled us to listen to three messages passengers had left on answering machines.  Another display had pictures of the 40 passengers and crew members and contained each person’s profile, family pictures and mementoes from their life. 

We then walked the trail through the 40 Memorial Groves to the impact site (marked by a boulder) and debris field.  We viewed the Wall of Names at Memorial Plaza, where the names of the passengers and crew members are engraved on a white marble wall. 

Our final stop at the memorial was the 93-foot-tall Tower of Voices, which contains 40 large wind chimes. On our drive home, we stopped at the Trostletown Covered Bridge.

On Friday, we drove to Johnstown, PA and visited the Johnstown Flood Museum.  We learned a great deal about the May 31, 1889 flood that left 2,206 people dead after the catastrophic failure of the South Fork Dam, 14 miles upstream from Johnstown.

The huge, earthen South Fork Dam, once part of the state’s canal system, had suffered from decades of neglect.  In 1879, a group of wealthy Pittsburgh industrialists and businessmen bought the dam and the surrounding land and created a resort where its members could hunt and fish on weekends and summers.  By 1889, the club had 66 members (including Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon), 16 private summer homes and a large clubhouse.  The new owners not only failed to make adequate repairs to the dam, but seriously compromised safety features from the original design.  Downstream, the town of Johnstown was an industrial hub and had a population of 30,000, largely Welsh and German immigrants.  Cambria Iron Works employed 7,000. 

On May 31, 1889, heavy rains led to the dam holding back 20 million gallons of water before it collapsed.  This is equivalent to the volume of water that goes over Niagara Falls in 36 minutes.  Within 10 minutes, four square miles of downtown Johnstown were completely destroyed and 1 out of every 10 people living in the affected areas were killed. 

The museum is located in the former Cambria Library, built after the flood to replace the original library on the site, using funds donated by Andrew Carnegie.  This library was one of the first of more than 2,500 Carnegie-funded libraries in the world.  The first floor holds exhibits about the flood and its aftermath, including a relief map that illustrates the path of the flood down the narrow valley, using light and sound effects.  The second floor holds a theater showing a 26-minute Academy Award-winning documentary about the flood.  The third floor features an elegant gymnasium and running track, which we were told is common in many Carnegie libraries.  The museum also has a replica of an Oklahoma house, one of the 310 prefab houses created to shelter people left homeless by the flood.

After leaving the museum, we strolled through the Downtown Johnstown Historic District.  Although the district includes ten buildings that survived the flood (including the Methodist church), the majority date from 1890 – 1930.

As we drove out of town, we passed the Johnstown Inclined Plane.  This plane was built in 1891 as an evacuation route in the event of another flood.  There have been five more major floods in Johnstown since 1889, including one in 1977 which claimed 88 lives.  Initially, it was used to transport people, horses and wagons up Yoder Hill, which has a steep 70.9% grade.  It is now used to transport cars and motorcycles, and their passengers, up the hill.  Unfortunately, it is currently being refurbished, so we didn’t get to experience the ride.

On Sunday, June 5th, we drove 115 miles to Williamsport, MD where we spent two nights at the Hagerstown / Antietam Battlefield KOA.  The roads to the campground were quite narrow and tree-lined but, fortunately, there was no opposing traffic so Phil was able to straddle the middle line for most of the 2-mile drive.

On Monday, we drove to Sharpsburg, MD and visited the site of the Civil War Battle of Antietam, which remains the bloodiest day in American history.  Twelve hours of fighting on September 17, 1862 left nearly 23,000 soldiers dead, wounded or missing.  This is four times as many American casualties as suffered on D-Day.  7,650 American soldiers were killed. The battle was between Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Union Gen. George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac.  It was the first battle in the Eastern Theater of the Civil War to take place on Union soil.  Although most historians consider the battle to be a stalemate, the Union claimed it a victory.  Abraham Lincoln, who had delayed issuing the Emancipation Proclamation during a series of Union defeats, seized on this battle to issue the proclamation shortly thereafter.  Interestingly, the Emancipation Proclamation did not free slaves held in Maryland, since Maryland had remained in the Union.  The perception of a Union victory and Lincoln’s proclamation dissuaded the governments of France and Britain from recognizing the Confederacy.

Upon arriving at the Visitors Center, we watched a 30-minute video detailing the fighting at Antietam.  It was very disconcerting to watch numerous lines of soldiers charging at each other, despite being under heavy gunfire, and seeing soldiers dropping like flies. 

After leaving the Visitor Center, we did the 11-stop driving tour of the battlefield.  We got out and explored several of the stops.  We climbed the steep steps of the Observation Tower, built by the War Department in 1896. 

Our final stop was at the Antietam National Cemetery, where 4,776 Union soldiers (more than one-third of them unknown) and 261 veterans of later wars are buried.  Although both Union and Confederate soldiers had originally been buried in mass graves where they had fallen, only Union soldiers were reinterred in the National Cemetery.  Confederate soldiers were reinterred elsewhere in MD and WV.

On Tuesday, we drove 205 miles to Rehoboth Beach, DE where we spent three nights at the Delaware Seashore State Park.  The drive was much slower than usual, as it took us across the Bay Bridge and through a lot of small towns in Maryland and Delaware.  The last 10 miles toward Rehoboth Beach had a seemingly endless number of traffic lights.  Our campsite was barely large enough to hold all our vehicles, but we can’t complain when we are within a short walk of the Atlantic Ocean.  Delaware is the 47th state in which we’ve camped over the past seven years.

On Wednesday, we walked to the beach and strolled up and down the shore.  It was a beautiful day.  The beach was fairly empty, probably not surprising for mid-week in early June.

On Friday, we drove 129 miles to Clarksboro, NJ, where we spent two nights at the Clarksboro / Philadelphia South KOA.

On Saturday, we drove to Haddon Heights, NJ and attended Phil’s 50th high school reunion.  We arrived in Haddon Heights early, so Phil gave Jan a quick tour around the town.  The reunion was held at the Sons of Italy lodge and was catered by Anthony’s Restaurant.  There were about 60 attendees, including quite a few of Phil’s close friends, most of whom he hadn’t seen in over 45 years.  Phil was surprised to see Gene Piontkowski, his college roommate for 3 ½ years, and his wife, Beth.  Phil had located Gene and let him know about the reunion but hadn’t thought he would be attending.  Phil’s childhood best friend, Bill Loder, and his wife, Cindy, were also there.  Phil was the best man in their wedding but hadn’t seen the Loders in over 35 years.