Our Run to the Border (December 27, 2016 – January 3, 2017)

We left Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park in Eva, TN on the morning of December 27th and began our 1,100 mile trek to Mercedes, TX. Since Jason and Jarrod had left the previous evening, we were able to make an early start. However, since we hadn’t had a sewer hookup at our site, we had to make a stop at the park’s dump station first. The lane to the dump station was obviously designed with smaller rigs in mind and had a sharp curve in the middle. We had to be very careful to avoid hitting a tree on one side and a steep ditch on the other.

Once we got underway, the first day was almost entirely on I-40. We spent the night at the Downtown Riverside RV Park in North Little Rock, AR. We had stayed at this park in November 2015. It’s a city-owned park on the banks of the Arkansas River, with a pedestrian bridge across the river to the Clinton Presidential Library. Rather than deal with the difficult back-in we had faced last time, we requested a pull-through site and were set up and ready to relax in a fraction of the time.

On December 28th we only drove 150 miles to Texarkana, TX. Our primary reason for stopping in Texarkana was to get all our vehicles inspected. Texas requires that all vehicles be inspected annually as part of the registration renewal process. However, if you are out of state when your registration expires, you can renew your registration without the inspection but must get the vehicles inspected within 3 days of re-entering the state. We took the RV to be inspected at Shady Pines RV Center where we had had it inspected in December 2015. Since our fifth-wheel is not motorized, the inspection really didn’t involve much more than checking the lights and turn signals. After passing the inspection, we set up for the night next door at the affiliated Shady Pines RV Park.

Phil drove the Nissan a few miles back into town to get it inspected. The mechanic told Phil that, since the vehicle is registered in Polk County and Polk County requires an emission test, he wouldn’t be able to perform the inspection for us. This didn’t sound right since we had gotten our vehicles inspected in Texarkana previously but Phil decided to get us some lunch before investigating the matter any further. While Phil was sitting in the drive-through line at McDonald’s, Jan called him rather franticly to report that there had been a major accident with our rig and truck. About 15 minutes after we had leveled the fifth-wheel, the front legs had lowered, bringing the front end down on the tailgate of the truck and putting a large dent in the front end of the fifth-wheel. By the time Phil got back to the RV Park, one of the neighbors had already gone next door to summon the Service Manager for assistance. Phil moved the truck forward a few feet and we were greatly relieved to see the dent in the fiberglass on the front end of the rig pop right back into shape. There was also no apparent damage to the tailgate of the truck. When the Service Manager arrived, he surmised that the problem was due to a leak in the hydraulics that control the legs and the two rear slide-outs. He added a quart of hydraulic fluid and we bled some air out of the lines. He also placed a couple of jack stands under the front of our rig as a caution in case the legs failed again.

That afternoon, Phil verified that Polk County doesn’t require an emission test so he was able to get the Nissan and RAM inspected.  Overnight we were pleased that the front legs did not drop again. Early the next morning, we hooked up the rig and took it next door to have it inspected more closely while we went to breakfast. Since we didn’t know what they would find, we were prepared to stay in Texarkana another night. However, by 10 am, we got word that there didn’t appear to be any immediate problem that would cause us to delay our travels. The RV service tech had added another quart of hydraulic fluid to bring the level up to where it should be. The Service Manager told Phil that they normally add hydraulic fluid a few ounces at a time so, to add two quarts at once, we most likely have a leak somewhere. Although they could not find any significant leak, the bottom of our rig is enclosed so it is possible that any leaked hydraulic fluid could be absorbed by the insulation. The Service Manager said that the only way to know for sure would be to remove the panels on the bottom of the rig, which would require about eight hours of labor. The Service Manager advised against doing this since our extended warranty would not pay for the labor unless they actually found a broken part. As an alternative, the service tech drew a line on the hydraulic fluid tank so we can monitor any future leaking. If it continues to leak, we will need to take the rig for service at a dealer who sells our brand.

After leaving the RV dealer, we started our 250-mile drive to Waco, TX. Since we’d heard horror stories about construction delays on the freeways around Dallas, we decided to avoid Dallas and instead take the state highways that run between Texarkana and Waco. There were a lot of highway changes and we traveled through many small towns along this route. The GPS only failed us once and instructed Phil to turn down a small back road that looked particularly uninviting. Instead, Phil continued driving until he found a business where he could get the rig turned around. The rest of the drive was uneventful and we arrived at North Crest RV Park in Waco. The owner greeted us warmly and led us to our site. Although we had requested a pull-through site, the owner noticed that we had a satellite dish and he backed us into a site that had the greatest chance of getting a DirecTV signal. The satellite worked great although the Wi-Fi was somewhat spotty. The card for North Crest RV Park referred to it as a “working man’s campground.” We weren’t sure whether this referred to the clientele or the owner, since both appeared to be true.

After having driven for three days straight, we had decided to spend two nights in Waco. However, we discovered that Waco doesn’t really have a lot to see. Other than Baylor University, Waco’s main attractions are the original Dr. Pepper bottling plant and an archaeological dig where the remains of mammoths and other prehistoric creatures could be seen. Instead, we visited Magnolia Market at the Silos based on reviews we had read online. Magnolia Market is essentially a home goods store established by Chip and Joanna Grimes, hosts of HGTV’s show Fixer Upper, but it is much more than that. The Market is based in a rather run-down part of Waco and is built around a number of industrial silos. In addition to the home goods store, there is a bakery and garden shop. Between the stores is a large play area that is stocked with sport equipment and games for use by children and adults alike. There are numerous food trucks that ring the play area. The Magnolia Market was clearly a major attraction for Waco as there were lines for everything and the neighboring Baptist Church was doing a thriving business charging $10 a car for parking.

On December 31st, we left Waco and headed 200 miles south on I-35 to Braunig Lake RV Resort in Elmendorf, TX, a suburb of San Antonio. This was our second consecutive New Year’s Eve in the San Antonio area but, this year, we were too tired from driving to venture out. We managed to stay awake until midnight to see in the new year.

On New Year’s Day, the campground hosted a free lunch. Although the main courses were hot dogs and hamburgers, so many of the campers brought other food that it was quite a feast. We made sure to have some black eyed peas and hog jowls.

On January 2nd, we drove 150 miles, mostly on I-37, to Kingsville, TX. We spent the night at Nature’s Own RV Resort. This small campground was very neatly laid-out and might have been a nice site for a longer stay if there had been more to do in Kingsville. Actually, if we’d arrived earlier, we would have toured King Ranch, the largest ranch in the U.S. King Ranch is as large as the state of Rhode Island and covers parts of six Texas counties.

On January 3rd, we finished our journey with a 110-mile drive to Llano Grande Resort and Country Club in Mercedes, TX, about 20 minutes north of the Mexico border. The temperature was 84 degrees when we arrived, not bad at all for January 3rd. We were very glad to be able to settle down and not have to drive again for a month.

December in Tennessee (December 1 – 27, 2016)

On December 1st, we finished our drive to Nashville with a 70-mile leg that brought us to the Two Rivers Campground near Opryland. We successfully managed to back into our site without too much difficulty, despite coming a little close to a large tree branch. We found a glass shop that was able to quickly repair a small chip in the Nissan’s windshield that Jan had suffered during our trip through Alabama. We then spent some time with our younger daughter, Lizzi, before joining our sons, Jason and Jarrod, and Jess Mollman for another birthday dinner for Jan.

On December 2nd, Phil left for a two-week contract job in Malta. The first leg of his trip, from Nashville to Chicago, was delayed by 1 ½ hours which resulted in Phil having to run from the end of one concourse in O’Hare to the end of another. United had already started pulling his bag off the plane but Phil managed to get to the gate just in time. The rest of the trip went well, with the exception of the man sitting next to him knocking his full glass of red wine all over Phil’s jeans. Phil’s room at the Westin Dragonara Resort in Malta didn’t have quite as nice a view as the one in August but it’s hard to complain about a balcony that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. The weather in Malta in December was mostly overcast, with temperatures in the 50’s and 60’s, and the sea was often quite stormy.

Back in Tennessee, Jan had a very active social life visiting with family and friends. On December 5th, she and Sheila and Ashley Gaskin drove to Memphis to visit Graceland and spent the night at the new Guest House at Graceland.

On December 10th, Jan had some RV excitement. Since the temperature was dropping well below freezing, Jan disconnected the water hoses, filled the fresh water tank and turned on the water pump before going to the Christmas market with Jess. Upon her return, she discovered that the tank gauge was reading empty. The following morning, she added more water to the tank and again turned on the water pump. Shortly thereafter, one of the neighbors knocked on the door and told her that she had a major leak. When they opened the water compartment door, they discovered that the rinse hose was spraying wildly. It appears that the hose had frozen, resulting in a major leak that allowed the water to spray out when the water pump was activated. The neighbor disconnected the rinse hose and the crisis was resolved without any real damage. Another RV lesson learned!

On December 14th, Jan, Sheila Gaskin and Michelle DeBartolo went to the Ryman Auditorium to attend the Vince Gill and Amy Grant Christmas show.

ryman

On December 15th, Jan met two high school friends, Pam Bogle and Linda Forrest, at Sperry’s for dinner.

sperrys-with-high-school-friends

On Saturday, December 17th, Phil began his trip back from Malta. However, upon arriving in Chicago that night, he learned that his connecting flight to Nashville had been cancelled due to extreme cold and snow. Initially, he was told that there were no available flights for two days but, after spending Saturday night in a hotel, he was able to get a flight back to Nashville on Sunday night. He was very glad to be back home after his 44-hour trip.

On December 20th, we celebrated an early Christmas with Lizzi, her roommate, Amanda Osborne, and their two dogs and four cats.

On December 21st, we picked up Jan’s niece, Katie Schlegel, at the Nashville airport and she spent the night with us. Phil dropped off the truck at the RAM dealer for its 15,000 mile maintenance. The service tech said she would call when it was ready. When Phil called at 6:02 pm to check on the status, he was told that the service department closed at 6 pm. This was not good news since we needed to be out of the campsite by 11 am the following morning.

On December 22nd, Phil wasn’t able to get the truck until 10 am and then had to stop to pick up our Honeybaked Ham order. It was already 11 am by the time Phil got back to the campground and we raced to be on the road within 30 minutes. Our two-hour drive to Eva, TN was uneventful and we were able to back into our campsite at Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park pretty easily. We almost had the entire 36-site campground to ourselves. There was one long-term camper there when we arrived and only one other camper arrived after that. Neither was parked close to us. Although we had some heavy rainstorms, the weather over the next five days was incredibly warm for late December. Daytime highs ranged from the upper 50’s to the upper 60’s.

On December 23rd, Jan’s friend Michelle hosted a get together with several of their girlfriends from high school and they had a good time catching up.

On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, Jason and Jarrod arrived and we all moved into the cabin which was only about a ¼ mile from our campsite. We had dinner that evening with the boys, followed by some spirited games of Marbles.

We opened presents on Christmas morning. Jason and Jarrod took advantage of the warm weather by hiking and riding bikes while Phil and Jan prepared for Christmas dinner and the following day’s family get-together. Keith and Katie joined the four of us for dinner. After dinner, Cody and Liz Patton dropped by and we played many competitive games of Marbles and LCR until after midnight.

On December 26th, we hosted the annual Madden family reunion. Although smaller in number than in previous years, we still had 13 attendees and plenty of food. A good time was had by all. One of the highlights of the reunion was a Poop the Potato relay race. After the reunion, Jason and Jarrod headed back to Nashville while Jan and Phil prepared to head back out on the road the following morning.

madden-christmas-gathering

Our Quick Tour of the South (November 10 – December 1, 2016)

As we reached mid-November we realized it was time to head south to avoid the onset of winter. We had originally expected to spend over a month in the South but, when Phil was offered another two-week consulting assignment in Malta beginning on December 2nd, we decided to park our rig in Nashville while he was gone. That gave us three weeks to do a quick tour of the southern states.

Our first stop was for four nights at Falls Lake State Recreational Area five miles from Durham, NC. Phil had booked the reservation online. There had been no pull-through sites available and no campsites with sewer hookups. Phil had relied on a campground map and a head-on picture of the site to make his selection. When we arrived we immediately became aware of the challenge we were facing in trying to back our rig into the site. The site had been listed as 100 feet deep but, in reality, it was only about 60 feet deep before a six-foot drop-off to a 40-foot picnic area. The online picture was somewhat deceptive in that, what had appeared to be a fairly wide campsite, was actually two campsites. The entry road to our site was one-way, opposite of the direction that would have made for an easier approach. Fortunately the campsite across the road from us was not yet occupied so Phil spent a great deal of time pulling into that site and then trying to figure out how to angle our rig backwards into our narrow slot without hitting any of the surrounding trees. After numerous attempts had gotten us fairly close, a neighbor came by and finished the job for us. The sun was setting as we completed our setup.

The following morning we were able to explore our surroundings. Our campsite is a short distance from the lake and, after our neighbors left, we had a straight shot of the lake from our living room windows. We walked down to the fishing pier and then hiked around the campground.

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Fishing pier at Falls Lake SRA

Although the scenery was beautiful, there were a couple of downsides to staying in a state park. First, we were limited to a 30 amp electrical hookup. During our stay we discovered that our CheapHeat furnace will not run on 30 amps. With temperatures that dropped below freezing one night, that was bad news. We ended up running our heat pump but tripped the circuit breakers several times when we ran the stovetop or the coffee maker. Second, we had no sewer hookup so we really had to limit our water usage. There was a dump station down the road but, after the challenge we faced in getting parked the first time, we were not about to hook up and drive to it until we were leaving.

On November 12th we explored Durham. Our first stop was the campus of Duke University. We strolled through the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, which are adjacent to the campus. The Sarah P. Duke Gardens are actually a collection of gardens, consisting of 55 acres and 5 miles of pathways through the gardens. Admission was free, which we really liked. The University campus was the most beautiful one we had seen.

Our next stop was the American Tobacco Historic District. It is the former headquarters of the American Tobacco Company and covers several city blocks. The former Lucky Strike manufacturing plant operated on these premises until the 1950s. In 2001, the neighborhood became part of a major urban renewal effort and now is a thriving entertainment and restaurant area, along with the Durham Performing Arts Center and the Durham Bulls’ baseball stadium. Rather than tearing down the old factory, they incorporated the old with the new in a very interesting style.

On November 13th we went for a hike of the area around our campsite. That evening we walked down to the fishing pier to look at the “super moon” but it was too cloudy for a good view.

On November 14th we hooked up in the pouring rain and headed for Myrtle Beach, SC. We stayed at the Myrtle Beach KOA just a few blocks from the Atlantic Ocean. On November 15th we walked on the Myrtle Beach boardwalk and waded along the ocean shore.

On November 16th we visited the historic town of Conway, SC. Conway (previously named Kingston) was first settled in the 1730’s along the Waccamaw River. The town floundered and its population had dropped to 100 by 1801. The town began to flourish after the Civil War with the largest industry being “naval stores” such as lumber and turpentine. Much of the present-day downtown was built in the 1900’s after a destructive fire. There are many beautiful old homes that were built in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, as well as many very old live oaks. We got a guide for a 40-stop walking tour of Conway’s Historic Trail and visited more than half of the stops. We also visited the Horry County Museum that was quite impressive and included a wide variety of collections from the area’s past.

That evening we drove about 45 minutes south of Myrtle Beach to Pawley’s Island. We had dinner at an old dive known as The PIT (Pawleys Island Tavern) where nearly every square inch of the walls and ceilings was covered with dollar bills. Jan added one to the collection.

On November 17th we drove about 200 miles from Myrtle Beach to Camp Lake Jasper in Hardeeville, SC. The drive was primarily over backcountry roads and we were exhausted when we finally arrived at our campsite. The campground was quite nice and our site was a long pull-through with a clear view for our satellite dish.

On November 18th we drove to Hilton Head Island, SC and walked barefoot along the shore at Coligny Beach. The day was fabulous, sunny with a temperature of 77 degrees. We ate lunch outdoors at a grill a short distance from the beach.

After lunch, we drove to Bluffton, SC and walked around the historic district. Bluffton was originally settled in the 1720s. In the 1850s a streamboat wharf was built and Bluffton became a stopover for travelers between Savannah, GA and Beaufort, SC. In 1863, the Union army burned down two-thirds of the town. Bluffton is currently the fastest growing municipality in SC. In addition to admiring some of the remaining antebellum houses and the large old trees, we visited the Bluffton Oyster Factory on the bank of the May River.

On November 19th we toured the historic district of Savannah, GA via the hop-on, hop-off trolley. It was truly amazing how many of the beautiful, old structures have been retained throughout this portion of the city. Savannah was built around 24 squares, 22 of which still exist.  We took many pictures but they were only a small slice of the beauty we saw throughout the tour.

On November 20th we drove out to Tybee Island, GA and toured the Tybee Island Light Station and Museum. The Tybee Lighthouse was built in 1773. It was burned in 1861 by the Confederates rather than have it fall into the hands of the Union army. It was rebuilt after the Civil War. The bottom 60 feet are the original 1773 Lighthouse and the top 85 feet were reconstructed in 1867. We climbed the 178 step circular staircase to the top of the lighthouse. Then we toured the lighthouse keepers’ cottages. The cottages have been restored, making it one of the most intact Light Stations in the United States. Many of the furnishings have been supplied by the children of the last Head Keeper who grew up at the Light Station. We then visited the Tybee Island Museum, which is housed in Fort Steven’s Battery Garland, constructed between 1898 and 1899. The museum is very well done and includes exhibits dealing with Tybee Island’s early history, military history and cultural history. Finally, we walked out to the beach and sat in a swing and watched the waves crash up on the shore.

In order to be settled down for Thanksgiving Day, we drove the next three days. On November 21st we drove 210 miles to Lake Park, GA where we spent the night at Camping World of Valdosta. The campground was previously run as a KOA but was recently taken over by Camping World. We first had to register at the Camping World store and then had our choice of campsites. The campground was fairly large and there were few other campers there so we had our choice of pull-through sites. Although we seemed to be parked out in the open, we were unable to get a satellite signal and the cable TV hookup didn’t work. Fortunately, we were able to get several channels via the air antenna. This was not a campground where one would want to stay long-term but, at $22 for the night, it provided good value for an overnight stay.

On November 22nd we drove another 200 miles to Defuniak Springs, FL, a short distance west of Tallahassee. We stayed overnight at Juniper Lake RV Campground. It was a very small campground out in the boonies and the owner met us at the entrance and directed us to a long pull-through site just off the street. We sat at our picnic table and did the registration. The owner recommended Bogey’s for dinner. We took her advice and both enjoyed some good fish. Although our site was only about 10 feet from the street, we didn’t hear any traffic during the night. This was another campground we wouldn’t stay at long-term but, for $21 a night, it was a great value for one night.

On November 23rd we finished our trip west by driving 120 miles to Gulf Shores, AL where we spent six nights at the Sugar Sands RV Resort. Sugar Sands is a fairly new campground and is very attractive. The sites are large but are all back-ins. With assistance from one of the camp hosts, Phil managed to get backed in after numerous attempts. We stopped in the large Rec Room and learned that there was a potluck dinner planned for Thanksgiving. Jan signed up to bring a coconut cream pie and macaroni & cheese.

The amount of food for the 1 pm Thanksgiving feast greatly exceeded the crowd and we had to try most of the offerings. We had a nice conversation with another couple who have been full-timing for about as long as we have. After the meal, we returned to our rig and were too full to do anything the rest of the day.

On November 25th we skipped the Black Friday shopping madness but did venture out to the Wharf, a small shopping and entertainment center on the edge of a marina with some beautiful yachts. That evening, Jan’s friend / former co-worker and her family, formerly from Camden, TN and now residents of Gulf Shores, came to visit us and we had a good time catching up.

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Shane and Carol Ann Snider with Jan and Phil

On November 26th we drove to the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge and hiked a couple of trails. First, we hiked the Pine Beach Trail (4 miles round-trip) from the parking area to the beach on the Gulf of Mexico. The trail is unique with a saltwater lagoon on one side and a fresh water lake on the other. We also hiked the Gator Lake Trail (2 miles round-trip) but fortunately did not encounter any gators. Both trails had long sections of loose sand that made for strenuous walking.

On November 27th we visited the Fort Morgan State Historic Site. Fort Morgan, built between 1819 and 1834 on the Gulf Coast at the entrance to Mobile Bay, was designed to protect Mobile, AL from attacks by foreign enemies. The fort was held by the Confederacy from 1861 until a major Civil War sea battle in 1864. After the Civil War, the U.S. Army operated the fort during the Spanish American War, World War I and World War II. In 1947, the War Department deeded the fort to the State of Alabama for use as a historical park. Unlike most historical sites, the fort has been left largely intact and enables visitors to climb over and through the massive fortifications and artillery batteries.

Later, we visited The Hangout, a large dining and entertainment complex overlooking the beach in Gulf Shores. We both placed our written wishes in the Wishing Wall.

On November 29th, we began our trip to Nashville where we would park while Phil took on a two-week contract job in Malta. Our first leg was a 180-mile drive to the Montgomery South RV Park in Hope Hull, AL. The campground was rather basic but our site was a fairly level pull-through that was very convenient to the interstate. Shortly after we set up, Phil heard from one of our neighbors that a severe storm was headed our way. The local TV station confirmed that there were currently tornados in Mississippi and that the storm front was going to hit our area the following morning.

On November 30th, we woke up early and got on the road quickly in an attempt to put some miles behind us before the storms hit. We managed to get nearly two hours into our trip before a torrential downpour forced us to stop. Fortunately we were close to an exit when the storm hit and managed to pull into a gas station parking lot. We sat for nearly an hour until the worst of the rain passed. We then continued on our 240-mile drive and eventually the storm passed entirely. We spent the night at the Texas T Campground in Cornersville, TN. Once again, the campground was very basic but our site was an easy access pull-through and good enough for an overnight stay. Our options for restaurants was very limited but, since it was Jan’s birthday, Phil found one that was highly rated on TripAdvisor. It was The Tennessean which is basically a truck stop. Despite that, the food was very good and had very large portions. In fact, we were so full that we ordered pie slices to go for a later dessert.

Colonial Virginia (October 26 – November 10, 2016)

On October 26th we left Charlottesville and drove two hours to Williamsburg, VA. We spent two nights at the Thousand Trails campground in Williamsburg. We had received a free one-year membership when we bought our rig and had been considering renewing our membership for another year. However, after this experience, we will not be renewing it any time soon. The drive to our site was harrowing as the roads were very narrow and there were many trees dangerously close to the roads. One turn was so sharp that our trailer brake cable disconnected, causing our trailer brakes to seize up. We were quite relieved once we got our rig into the site. We watched the Cubs even up the World Series at one game apiece with a 5-1 win in Cleveland.

On October 27th we spent the day at colonial Williamsburg. We parked at the Visitor Center and bought our tickets. We were able to take advantage of a Fall special that, because we are over 50 years old, gave us unlimited visits until December 31st for the price of a one-day ticket. We walked along the path to the Governor’s Palace and took a guided tour. After the tour we wandered through the maze.

Later we strolled the streets of colonial Williamsburg, including visits to Bruton Parish Church and the College of William and Mary. We ate a late lunch at the Chowning Tavern.

We headed back to the campground when it started to drizzle. As we approached the campground, it was apparent it had been raining harder there than it had in town. When we arrived at our site, we discovered that our power was out and we assumed that it was campground-wide. Our supersized inverter allowed us to run on batteries all evening but we began to get concerned as the batteries started to run down overnight. By morning, we had little power. Jan went to the office and found out that the outage was not campground-wide. The office sent a serviceman who tested our power pedestal and insisted that there was no problem with our 50 amp service. Despite this, our power management system would not accept the current. Phil used our 30 amp adapter and we were relieved when we were once again able to have power to our rig.

Since we had only been able to get a 2-night reservation at Thousand Trails, we had to pack up and move a few miles down the road to the Williamsburg KOA. Our first site was so badly sloped that we were unable to get leveled. We moved to another site and were able to get leveled, although it was still more sloped than we would have liked. We were relieved to find that we had no problem getting 50 amp service, proving that our power problem at the Thousand Trails campground was with their pedestal rather than our rig.

That night we watched the Cubs lose game three of the World Series 1-0 in a pitchers’ duel.

On October 29th we returned to Williamsburg. We started the day with a guided tour of the Capitol building. Later we strolled down Duke of Gloucester Street and visited a lot of the tradesmen and shops along the way. There were Halloween decorations all over the place. We visited the Courthouse and sat through a reenactment of several civil trials.

That afternoon we went for a walk around the campground and had a nice visit with a couple who had reached out to us via the RVillage website. We headed back to our site in time for trick or treaters. Unfortunately, we didn’t have many kids come by so we were left with a lot of candy (darn!). Later that evening we watched the Cubs play badly and lose game four of the World Series 7-2 and fall behind in the Series three games to one.

On October 30th we moved again, this time only about 35 miles to Chesapeake Bay Thousand Trails. This Thousand Trails was much nicer than the one in Williamsburg and, due to our Thousand Trails membership, only cost us $3 a night for 10 nights. Although the campground has a Gloucester, VA address, it is really in the boonies and requires an 11 mile drive to civilization. We knew we were going to have to contend with a back-in site but our larger concern was that, due to the lack of cable TV, we needed to find a site that would have a view of the open sky for our satellite TV dish. Upon arrival, we parked our rig and drove around the campground looking for a site with few trees. When we found one that looked ideal, we set up and then tried the satellite. Despite numerous attempts, we were never able to get a satellite signal. Not a huge problem, we thought; we can just rely on signals using our “over the air” antenna. No such luck; we couldn’t pick up a single channel.

With no TV reception, we needed to decide how we were going to watch game five of the World Series. It turned out that our only option in Gloucester was a very smoky sports bar. Not only were we surrounded by heavy smokers but most of the crowd was there to watch the Sunday night NFL game between the Cowboys and the Eagles. Fortunately, the Cubs won a very suspenseful game 3-2 to stay alive.

After spending $55 to watch the Cubs game at the sports bar and facing the prospect of another nine days with no TV, Phil was determined to get a satellite signal before the next game. He initially believed that he could get a signal simply by moving forward on our site. However, as we hooked up to move, we were advised by some of our neighbors that there are very few sites that are DirectTV accessible. We tried one that was suggested by a neighbor and, after watching the satellite dish circle the sky for several minutes, we were relieved when it finally locked in on a signal.

On November 1st we explored the campground and walked along the Piankatank River. We discovered the Adult Lounge and spent a couple of hours finishing a jigsaw puzzle that another camper had started. That evening, the World Series moved to Cleveland and the Cubs won 9-3, forcing a 7th game. We were able to watch from the comfort of our living room.

puzzle

On November 2nd we visited Yorktown, the site of the final battle of the American Revolutionary War from October 6-17, 1781. We began at the Yorktown Visitor Center and walked to the Victory Monument. We drove the seven-mile Battlefield Tour covering the British Inner Defense Line, the Allied siege lines, the Moore House (where terms of surrender were negotiated), and Surrender Field. Then we drove the nine-mile Allied Encampment Tour through the American and French encampment areas.  We ended the visit to Yorktown with lunch along the riverwalk.

That evening, the Cubs won game seven of the World Series 8-7 in the 10th inning, clinching the World Championship for the first time in 108 years. We undoubtedly violated the Quiet Hours rules with all our celebrating.

On November 3rd we played pickleball for the first time since June and we were both quite rusty.

On November 4th we watched the Cubs celebration parade on the MLB channel for several hours. The crowd was estimated at 5 million, making it the largest crowd ever in North America and the seventh largest anywhere.

On November 5th we played pickleball with another couple, then drove about 30 minutes to Urbanna, VA for the 59th Annual Oyster Festival. Urbanna is a small waterfront community with a population of about 500. For the Oyster Festival the entire town is closed to traffic and we were forced to park in a cornfield quite a distance outside of town. The crowds were overwhelming. We passed on oysters for lunch and had clam strips instead. We watched the Oyster Parade that was quite long; then continued exploring block after block of craft stands.

On November 7th we finished the third leg of the Colonial Virginia Triangle by visiting Jamestown. Jamestown, founded in 1607, is the oldest permanent English settlement in North America. After watching a short film in the Visitor Center, we took a trip back in time with John Rolfe (an English settler who married Pocahontas in 1614) who spoke at length about the challenges faced by the settlers in the first 14 years. We then walked around the excavated foundations of the expanded settlement on Jamestown Island. We strolled through the 1607 James Fort and the 1907 Memorial Church, then visited the Archaearium and saw many discovered artifacts from the original settlement. Finally, we visited the glasshouse where we watched an artisan demonstrate glassblowing techniques of the 1600s.

After visiting Jamestown, we took the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry across the James River to Surry, VA. We ate dinner at The Surry Seafood Company and both had crabcakes. We had a window seat and the view of the sunset over the bay was beautiful.

November 8th was Election Day. We spent the day getting ready to leave and played some pickleball. That evening we stayed awake until 2:30 am watching the election results but we finally called it a night when Hillary Clinton’s spokesman said there wouldn’t be any more news until the morning. When we awoke on November 9th, we learned that Donald Trump had actually won the Presidency in a stunning upset. The combination of little sleep and rain forecast for most of the day led us to decide to stay put for another day. We spent almost the entire afternoon working on the jigsaw puzzle we had started a few days earlier. Being the obsessive types we are, we kept at it until we finished the puzzle, only to discover that there was a piece missing. On November 10th our stay in Virginia came to an end and we began our trip south.

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Appalachian Mountains – Fall Color, History and Zombies (October 17-26, 2016)

On October 17th we left Tennessee and headed to Asheville, NC. Although the route was almost entirely interstate highway, the highway was very hilly and winding. We spent three nights at the Asheville West KOA in Candler, NC, about 10 miles west of Asheville.

On October 18th we toured the Biltmore estate. Biltmore was one of the homes of George Vanderbilt, grandson of the industrialist and philanthropist Cornelius Vanderbilt. Construction of the Biltmore House, a 250-room French Renaissance chateau, began in 1889 and took over six years to complete. The finished home contains over four acres of floor space, including 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces. We took the self-guided tour that led us through about 30 rooms in the house. After touring the house, we strolled through the huge Biltmore gardens and then enjoyed wine tasting at the Biltmore winery.

Although the KOA was very nice, our site was very shaded and we were unable to get a satellite TV signal. They did provide cable TV but the Cubs playoff game was on FS1, not one of the stations provided by the cable. This made finding a nearby sports bar a critical mission before the NLCS game on October 18th. We ended up watching the game at Buffalo Wild Wings in Asheville. Unfortunately, the Cubs couldn’t score and ended up losing 6-0. The following night, we decided to watch the Presidential debate instead and followed the Cubs’ game on the Internet. That strategy paid off as the Cubs won in a blowout, 10-2.

On October 20th we moved further north to Wytheville, VA. We spent three nights at the Wytheville KOA. The campground has a number of unusual amenities. On our first night, we walked down to the amusement center where they have bowling alleys and batting cages. We ordered a pizza for dinner and it was delivered to our rig. Our campsite had a clear view of the sky so we had no trouble getting a good satellite signal. We watched the Cubs win game five of the NLCS 8-4 and take a series lead of 3 games to 2 against the Dodgers.

On October 22nd we did a scenic byway drive north of Wytheville. We drove to the privately owned Big Walker Mountain lookout with its view of several states. We visited the BW Country Store but, because of the cold weather and strong winds, chose not to climb the 100-foot observation tower. We continued the drive through the hillside and enjoyed the scenic vistas.

After a stop at Wal-Mart, we drove through downtown Wytheville. We noticed that the main street was blocked off so we decided to investigate. It turned out that we had arrived in time for the Zombie Bash. We had a little time before the Zombie Parade was going to begin so we went to Skeeter’s for some hot dogs. We also checked out the childhood home of Edith Bolling Wilson, the wife of Woodrow Wilson.

The Zombie Parade, although it didn’t have a large number of zombies, was quite amusing. Immediately following the parade was zombie flash mob dance to the music of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. We left before the start of the Zombie 5K race. That evening we watched the Cubs clinch the National League championship by beating the Dodgers 5-0 and advance to the World Series for the first time in 71 years. We celebrated and watched the post-game analysis and Cubs fans’ celebration until 1 a.m.

On October 23th we left Wytheville and drove to Charlottesville, VA. We spent three nights at the Charlottesville KOA. It was a small campground deep in the woods but we got a nice level site. The trees blocked our ability to get a satellite signal. Fortunately the campground had decent cable TV that included the Fox channel that was showing the World Series games.

On October 24th we toured Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson. We began by watching a movie dealing with Jefferson’s life. Prior to our scheduled guided tour, we explored the service rooms, known as “dependencies.” Jefferson had designed the dependencies so that they were connected to the house by a cellar-level passageway so that they were close but invisible to the public spaces of the house. The guided tour took us through 10 rooms on the first floor of the house. The house had taken 40 years to complete due to Jefferson’s many years away from the plantation. The time he spent as Minister to France had a great influence on him and the house reflects alot of the things he saw there. Following the house tour, we took the “Slavery at Monticello” tour. Jefferson, following his time in France, did not believe slavery was sustainable but did not see a way it could be ended during his lifetime. He considered himself an “enlightened slaveholder” but his writings clearly show that he saw his slaves as property and not much more than that. We walked through the gardens and took the path back to our car. The path took us past the Jefferson family gravesite.

Later that afternoon we visited the campus of the University of Virginia, which had been founded and built by Thomas Jefferson. We took pictures of the Rotunda and walked on the Green.

On October 25th we drove to the Shenandoah National Park and drove 40 miles of the 105-mile Skyline Drive. Phil was able to get his Lifetime Senior Pass that will get us into all National Parks and Recreation Areas for free.  We stopped at numerous scenic overlooks and took a short hike at one of the stops. The leaves had not yet reached peak color due to the warm weather but the views were still impressive.  That evening we watched the Cubs lose the first World Series game, 6-0.

Rocky Top Tennessee (October 5 – 17, 2016)

On October 5th, we headed two hours south to Chattanooga, TN. We spent the next five days in the hills at the Raccoon Mountain RV Park and the weather was wonderful. The first day we headed to downtown Chattanooga and had a delicious brunch at the Bluegrass Grill, the #1 rated restaurant in TripAdvisor. We spent the following day at Rock City on Lookout Mountain. Rock City has trails that wind through large rock formations, including Fat Man Squeeze, and provides a view of seven states from Lovers’ Leap.

On Saturday, we had a family gathering, including Keith Schlegel, Lori and Bruce Davis, and Brittany and Caleb Dickerson, at our campsite to watch the Tennessee-Texas A&M football game on our outside entertainment center. Phil grilled pork chops and we ate outdoors at halftime.  During the game, we attracted a lot of neighbors who dropped by to watch the game with us. Although the Vols managed to come back from a large deficit, they ended up losing in overtime. Fortunately, the Cubs won their playoff game later that evening.

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On Sunday, we joined Brittany and Caleb for church, followed by brunch and a visit to the Chattanooga Market, a large weekly producer-only arts & crafts and farmers’ market. On Monday, Jan and Brittany spent a girls’ day out exploring Chattanooga and shopping.

On Tuesday, we met our sons, Jason and Jarrod, and Jessica Mollman for lunch. On Wednesday, October 12th, we packed up and drove to Sevierville, TN (pronounced Severe – vulle), just south of the Great Smoky Mountains.

We spent the next five days at Riverside Campground in Sevierville. During the drive from Chattanooga, Jan’s “check engine” light came on in her Nissan so getting the car serviced became our number one priority. We were able to get an appointment at the Nissan dealer in Knoxville on Thursday and got the problem fixed. It turned out there was a problem with the car’s onboard computer. It cost us $220 to get the computer reprogramed, not a fun expenditure but we were glad it wasn’t something more serious. Following the car maintenance, we visited the Bush Brothers Visitor Center in Chestnut Hill, TN where we watched an interesting film and explored numerous displays showing the Bush family history and explaining the processing and canning of baked beans.

On Friday, we drive to Cades Cove, an isolated valley located in the Tennessee section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The valley had been home to numerous settlers before the formation of the national park. We drove the 11-mile picturesque loop and stopped at many of the historical and scenic sights along the way. We were fortunate to spot a black bear and even more fortunate that it was moving away from us. On the way back to our rig, we drove past the Dolly Parton statue in Sevierville.  On Friday evening, Jason got a ride with some friends and came to spend the weekend with us.

After breakfast on Saturday, we all headed out to the Fire Fox Adventure Park, which could best be described as a grownup’s playground. The 150 acre adventure park has 15 zip lines and America’s longest (335’) swinging bridge over the deep Foxfire Gorge. The swinging bridge is called the Bridge to Prosperity. Before crossing the bridge, we wrote down our wishes on “wishing strips.” All three of us wished for the Cubs to win the 2016 World Series. After crossing the bridge, we hung our wishes in the ceiling of a covered bridge. We then rang a bell that is supposed to attract the elves who will grant our wishes.  Another tradition dating back to the Scots-Irish settlers was to build piles of rocks, known as “cairns,” to bring health, wealth and prosperity. We each built our own cairn.

We hiked up to a waterfall, crossed over a series of smaller swinging bridges, then hiked along the river.

The hike brought us to an obstacle course. It was advertised as being for young people but Jason and Phil had a lot of fun climbing on the ropes, crossing the swinging balance beam and sliding on the zip line. We saw a couple of snakes. Finally, we came to a large pen where we saw a large bull and several llamas.

We got back to our campsite in time to watch Alabama rout the Vols. We had better luck that evening as we watched the Cubs beat the Dodgers in the opening game of the NLCS.

On Sunday morning, Jason left and we drove to Gatlinburg to mingle with the throngs of people shopping on the main street.

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Family, Baseball and Repairs (September 20 – October 4, 2016)

After saying goodbye to our campsite in Marengo, IL, we headed to Lagrange, IN for some warranty work on our rig. We had originally planned to have the work done at the DRV factory but, when Phil called in early June to schedule an appointment, they were booked all the way out until late October. Since our manufacturer warranty expired on October 11th, we needed to find another alternative. The warranty manager at DRV suggested we try Cross RV for the work. Phil had heard good things about Cross RV on various RV forums so he scheduled an appointment for Sept. 21st. We were very happy with the decision. Paul and Kay Cross took very good care of us and were able to address our list of issues. We spent two nights camped on the side of their facility, nothing fancy but it’s hard to argue with free. While our rig was being worked on, we killed the day by visiting Phil’s 96-year-old mother and exploring a number of Amish stores in Shipshewana, IN.

The following day, we headed about an hour northwest to Lake Spaulding Campground in Niles, MI. This family-run campground is small but well maintained. They have three small lakes and a stream on the property but, once again, we didn’t find time for any fishing. Our site was surrounded by mature trees which, unfortunately, kept us from using our satellite dish. Fortunately, we were only a few miles from South Bend, IN and were able to get quite a few TV channels over the air. A bigger annoyance was an invasion of stinkbugs. We spent the next couple of weeks capturing these bugs and releasing them outdoors. We had only planned to stay in Niles for three nights but ended up staying there for a week.

Niles is only about 25 miles from Elkhart, IN so we were able to visit Phil’s mother at the Hubbard Hill nursing home almost every day, as well as his sister and her family.  We spent some time feeding the ducks in the Angel Garden at Hubbard Hill.

We also found time to do some exploring in southern Michigan. We drove about an hour north to Holland, MI. Although the wrong season for tulips, Holland was still quite scenic. We walked along the Lake Michigan beach and tipped our toes in the water. Later we climbed the 237 steps to the top of Mount Pisgah and, after catching our breath, enjoyed the view of the beach and the Lake Macatawa harbor.

On the drive home, we stopped for lunch at The Butler, a historic restaurant in Saugatuck, MI. Saugatuck is a cute little harbor town that clearly caters to tourism. After lunch, we strolled the two blocks of shops. Jan had read that having fudge was a “must do” when visiting Saugatuck and we had to oblige.

Phil spent much of the week trying to line up campsite reservations for the coming weeks. Despite our desire to be free to travel at will, he soon discovered that the demand for campsites in the fall outweighs the supply. Despite numerous rejections, Phil was finally able to fill our calendar with campsites through early November.

On Sept. 29th we left Michigan and began our trip to the Cincinnati area. We overnighted at Hidden Paradise Campground in St. Paul, IN. Getting to the campground was our initial challenge. It required driving through a small residential neighborhood. Phil didn’t have time to read the sign for the campground before he turned down a smaller street than he should have. It made the journey a little more of a challenge but we managed to get to the campground without incident. Being mid-week, the campground had many available sites, although we were fortunate to get one of the few 50 amp pull-through sites. After getting set up, we explored the campground. They have a small petting zoo and we were able to get up close with some very tame deer. They have a lake that was once a quarry where scuba diving is allowed year-round.

The following day we drove on to the Cincinnati South Campground in Dry Ridge, KY, about 30 miles south of Cincinnati. We had purchased tickets to two of the last three Chicago Cubs regular season games but had then discovered that campgrounds in the Cincinnati area were fully booked for that weekend. Although the drive from Dry Ridge to the ballpark was longer than we’d hoped, the campground was quite adequate for our needs. The only complaint was that a very active railroad track was directly across from the campground. The trains didn’t keep us awake at night but, when we were awake, we were very aware of the trains that seemed to pass about every 10 minutes.

The Cincinnati Reds’ ballpark, Great American Ball Park, overlooks the Ohio River and is a quite impressive venue for a baseball game. The Cubs led most of the way in the Friday night game and won 7-3. We enjoyed fireworks after the game.

On Saturday, we did some sightseeing in Kentucky near our campground. We visited Rabbit Hash, KY and spent time exploring the general store. In reality, it was just a temporary setting as the historic general store (in operation since 1831) burned down in February and is being rebuilt.

On Sunday, we arrived early for the Cubs’ game and happened to be passing the Westin as some of the Cubs players were leaving the hotel and boarding their bus. Among others, we saw Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. We spent the next hour exploring the Banks, between Paul Brown Stadium and the Great American Ball Park. We posed in front of the Queen City sign and walked by the Roebling Suspension Bridge and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

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The Sunday Cubs’ game, the final game of the regular season, was very suspenseful. Kyle Hendricks, the likely NL Cy Young award winner, was the starting pitcher for the Cubs but did not have a good game, giving up four runs in the first inning. The Cubs were still losing 4-3 with two out and two strikes in the ninth inning before rallying to win 7-4. It was the Cubs’ 103rd win.

On Monday, October 3rd, we began our drive to Knoxville where Phil had scheduled some routine annual maintenance at RVs for Less, the dealer where we bought our rig. We had not made campground reservations since we hoped to be able to spend the night on the dealer’s lot as we had when we bought our rig. One hour from Knoxville Phil called the dealer to see if they had room on the lot and learned that they didn’t have any record of our service appointment. Although Phil had scheduled the appointment for October 4th about six weeks earlier, he had sent an email in late September that mistakenly referenced our service appointment as being on November 4th. It’s amazing how easy it is to lose track of time now that we’re retired! Anyway, the dealer was able to fit us in on October 4th but didn’t have room for us to camp out on their lot. Instead, we stayed at the Escapees’ Raccoon Valley RV Park for two nights. The pull-through site was relatively short and close to our neighbors but we were just happy to get a site on short notice.

On October 4th we dropped off our rig at the dealer and killed the day in Knoxville. We returned at 5 pm and learned that our service appointment had been very fortuitous. The Sales Manager told us that they had found that three of the brake calipers were not operating properly and that one of the brake lines was wearing badly. The defects were so serious that the dealer fixed the brakes and did all the other maintenance Phil had requested as warranty work, resulting in no charge to us instead of over $500 we had expected to pay.

Homecoming (June 30 – September 18, 2016)

On June 30, we returned to the Chicago area for Phil’s 2 ½ month contract assignment at Methode Electronics. Methode is based in Harwood Heights, just west of Chicago. Unfortunately there are no campgrounds close to this area so we will be spending our 2 ½ months in Marengo, IL and Phil will have a 46 mile commute each way to and from work.

June 30th was a very long day for us. We left Goshen, IN at about 9:30 am and made the 200 mile drive to Marengo, IL. We drove a somewhat longer than necessary route to avoid driving through Chicago but there was no way to totally avoid the heavy traffic. We managed to complete the trip without incident. We drove through extensive construction zones along I-90 between Schaumburg and Elgin. This was bad news since Phil will be driving through these areas on his way to work, making a long commute even longer.

We are camped at Lehman’s Lakeside RV Resort.  Although it’s not really what we would consider a resort, we have a decent sized site with a concrete pad. Unfortunately the pad is not level with the ground and Phil tore one of the mud flaps off the truck when he was backing the rig into place. In a rather strange arrangement, the sewer hookup is in the middle of the concrete pad and required crawling under the rig to hook up the sewer hose. Our site is along one edge of the campground and we have a large cornfield within 50’of our bedroom.

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The cornfield reminded Jan of the movie Children of the Corn so she was prepared to see children coming out of the field. Likewise, it reminded Phil of the movie Field of Dreams so he was expecting to see ball players coming out of the field.

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We had tickets to see James Taylor and Jackson Browne in concert at Wrigley Field the night of June 30th. We left our campsite around 4 pm and didn’t get to our seats in Wrigley until 7:15 pm. This was a quick reminder of how horrible Chicago traffic can be. We have not missed the traffic after getting spoiled by the wide-open spaces in the Southwest. The concert was very good and the weather was perfect but we didn’t get back home until 1 am. Phil had to get up and go to work in the morning but, fortunately, didn’t need to arrive until 10 am.

Phil got to enjoy the 3-day July 4th weekend off from work. On Memorial Day weekend, Phil hadn’t been working so the long weekend was just like every other day. This time, although Phil had just worked a few hours on July 1st, the long weekend felt like a welcome break. Lehman’s Lakeside RV Resort had a few scheduled activities for the weekend. On July 2nd, we walked down to the lake to watch the parade of decorated golf carts and bicycles. Later in the day, we partook of free hot dogs and corn on the cob down by the beach.

On July 3rd, there was a pot luck supper at the beach along with a deejay. We had to leave early to drive to Crystal Lake to watch the fireworks. We parked by a local park and sat atop a hill to watch the show.

A few days later we met a few of our neighbors who could be best described as “good old boys.” Our next door neighbor has a mobile bar that he constructed on the chassis of an old riding lawnmower. He took a group of us on a tour of the campground. This is the third generation of such vehicles that he’s built. He’s already planning the next generation which he says will have hydraulic steering.

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Although there’s not been a lot of action at the campground after the July 4th weekend, Jan has enjoyed walking around and snapping pictures of our surroundings and the livestock. She particularly enjoys watching the sunsets over the cornfield.

On July 14th we were able to spend some time with our daughter and son-in-law, Alison and Bill Lynch, on their way through town. We had an enjoyable lunch at Gino’s East. It was our first deep dish pizza since returning to the Chicago area.

On the evening of July 16th we experienced a true homecoming when we returned to Schaumburg for a Summer Breeze concert in the park by Hip Pockit. It was a reminder of why we had enjoyed our six years as Schaumburg residents. It was a beautiful night, the crowd was large, and the band was very good. We picked up a Lou Malnati’s pizza and picnicked in the park before the concert began.

On July 20th Phil played hooky from work and we took in an afternoon Cubs game at Wrigley Field against the New York Mets. It was a beautiful day for a ballgame and the Cubs won 6-2. It was also Jake Arrieta bobblehead day so we had to get there early to make sure we got our bobbleheads. The only real negative of watching a game at Wrigley Field is that many of the seats have obstructed views and, for this game, we had a pole right in front of us. Fortunately the guys next to us left early and we were able to slide down so the pole was no longer a problem.

The balance of July passed with little that was noteworthy. We watched the wasp nest hanging in the tree by our front door as it grew larger and larger. We had a hot air balloon float over our campground.

On July 30th there was a concert on Gilligan’s Island at the campground to celebrate one couple’s new rig. The band played classic Southern rock and was surprisingly good.

On July 31st we went to the Fizz Ehrler memorial Turning Back Time Car Show in Sycamore, IL. The streets of Sycamore were lined with vintage cars and motorcycles. It was by far the largest car show of its type that we’d ever seen. Phil even found a 1975 AMC Gremlin that similar to his first new car, although much sportier. We had never been to Sycamore before and found that it was quite an impressive little town, with lots of old Victorian style homes.

On August 8th Phil’s contract job took him to Malta for nearly 3 weeks. Malta is an island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, south of Italy and north of Libya. Despite its small size (only 17 miles x 9 miles), Malta is one of the most densely populated places on earth with over 400,000 residents. Phil stayed at the Westin Dragonara Resort and had a room with a balcony that overlooked the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, having to go to work every day cut in to his ability to use the resort’s facilities as much as he would have liked.

On his second Sunday in Malta, Phil took a hop on, hop off bus tour of Malta with three of his co-workers. Despite the small size of the island, the bus tour took four hours to complete a single loop if you went non-stop so they didn’t hop off very many times. Malta is a country that has a long history and has been owned by many different countries over its history. They gained their independence from Great Britain in 1964. One of the stops was at Mdina, an ancient walled city that had once served as the capital of Malta.

While Phil was in Malta, Jan’s girlfriends, Sheila Gaskin and Michele DeBartolo, came to visit for a few days of girl time. They spent a day shopping near the campground, then spent two nights at a hotel in Chicago.

After a week back in the USA, Phil left again for a 2-week assignment in Shanghai on September 3rd. This was Phil’s 10th trip to China and it may very well be the last one. The traffic in Shanghai was terrible and it took at least 45 minutes each way to and from the office. Fortunately, the company had a driver that managed to get the team around town without incident. Phil and his co-workers had dinner at a very nice steakhouse that overlooked Shanghai’s Bund district. The views were incredible!

Our older son, Jason Bain, came to visit on September 3rd. Jan and Jason enjoyed a couple of Cubs games. The Cubs cooperated by winning both games. The first game was at Wrigley Field against the San Francisco Giants and lasted 13 innings. The next day, Jan and Jason drove up to Milwaukee to watch the Cubs play the Brewers at Miller Park.

On September 14th Jan connected with her cousin, Lori Davis, at Midway Airport and then traveled to NYC together. They visited her niece, Katie Schlegel, and had lots of adventures, including being in the audience for the Today Show and Late Night with Stephen Colbert. They also went to the 9/11 Memorial site, Little Italy and Chinatown, among other places.

Heading Back North (June 18 – 30, 2016)

During the winter, Phil accepted a consulting assignment for the months of July, August and the first half of September for a company based in west Chicago. Although it’s hard to turn down good money, Phil became increasingly reluctant to return to the working world as the dates approached. Phil had neglected to research the availability of nearby campgrounds when he accepted the job. When he finally began to look at his options, Phil discovered that there were no decent campgrounds anywhere near the city. Ultimately he found a campground with marginally decent reviews in Marengo, IL, about 45 miles from where he will be working. Although the campground is close to I-90, the commute will be about 1.25 hours each way. Fortunately Phil subsequently found out that he will be out of the country for four weeks out of the two month assignment. He will be in Malta for two weeks in August and in Shanghai for two weeks in September.

The drive from Kerrville to Marengo, IL was over 1,300 miles. We decided to break up the trip by spending a few days in Branson, MO and then visit Phil’s mother and sister’s family in Elkhart, IN for a few days. We began the trip on June 18th and spent the night at Buck Creek RV Park, outside of Abilene, TX. We had stayed at this campground on our way to Kerrville in May. On June 19th we continued on and spent the night at Pecan Grove RV Park in Chickasha, OK, a short distance south of Oklahoma City.

On June 20th we drove the rest of the way across Oklahoma. Nearly the entire day’s drive was on I-44, most of which was a toll road. This was our first experience with towing on a toll road and Phil found it a little unnerving to pull the dually and fifth wheel through the narrow toll booths. In addition, the tolls were quite high. Phil paid a total of $22.50 in tolls for the truck and rig and Jan paid about half that amount for the car. We stopped for the night at the Downstream Casino in Quapaw, OK. Phil had discovered this site on the RV Parky app. By going into the casino, we were able to get a free Q Club card that entitled us to stay overnight in their RV park for free. The RV park wasn’t much more than a parking lot with electric and water hookups. Fortunately it was a Monday night so there was plenty of empty space between us and our neighbors. In addition to getting the free campsite, the free Q Club card came loaded with $12 in free credits which we parlayed into another $5.91 in winnings on the penny slots.

Quapaw is in the extreme NE corner of Oklahoma, very close to the borders of Missouri and Kansas. We visited the monument where the three states meet.

We drove to Route 66 in Galena, KS to see the truck which the director of the Pixar movie “Cars” had discovered as the inspiration for the character “Tow Mater.”

Then we drove to downtown Joplin, MO and had dinner at the Red Onion Café.

On June 21st we drove to Branson, MO where we stayed at the Ozark Country Campground for three nights. Our activities were somewhat limited due to the extreme heat. The daytime highs were in the upper 90s and actually reached 100 degrees on our third day. Jan had found a couple of good deals on Groupon. On our first night we used one of these deals for dinner at Ernie Biggs, a piano bar in the Branson Landing district.

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On the second night we used the other Groupon deal to attend the show “Raiding the Country Vault” at The Mansion theater. The audience was quite small but the show was very good. An ensemble of outstanding musicians performed songs by a wide array of country superstars. During each of the performances, biographical material was displayed on screens behind the performers. After the show, we explored some of the attractions along the main drag.

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On our third day we ventured out in the heat to hit some of the other sights in Branson. We hit Dick’s 5 & 10, the Shrine of the Holy Spirit and the Table Rock Dam.

We also visited the College of the Ozarks, a Christian liberal arts college that expects its students to work on campus to earn their tuition. One of the student workplaces is the Edwards Mill, a water-driven grist mill from the 1800s. We bought a bag of cornmeal milled by the students. In addition to the mill, there is a weaving studio with numerous looms.

On June 24th we drove about 185 miles and spent the night at the Stanton / Meramec KOA in Sullivan, MO. On June 25th we drove about 175 miles and spent the night at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, IL. It was our first time staying at a fairgrounds and it worked out quite nicely. The fairgrounds were almost empty so we had our choice of sites from hundreds of possibilities. Most of the sites were on asphalt and, given how hot it was, we opted to park on a grass spot. The site was a back-in but, given that we had our choice of sites to back into, Phil didn’t have much difficulty and didn’t have to worry about being perfectly aligned. The campground host was very friendly and provided us with a guide to the sights in Springfield. Although we had lived in Illinois for six years, we had never been to Springfield before.

After getting our campsite set up, we headed out to do some sightseeing. Our first stop was the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. It was a very impressive museum and provided a good understanding of both Lincoln’s years before becoming President and his years in the White House.

The museum provided a perspective on Lincoln’s presidency that you don’t often hear, covering both the good and the bad. We learned that Lincoln was elected President with only 39% of the popular vote because of running against three other candidates. There was a whole hall devoted to political cartoons critical of Lincoln that were much more negative than what we see today. It appears that Lincoln’s status in American history only became very positive after the Civil War and his assassination.

While we were downtown, we also saw the Old State Capitol where Lincoln’s body had laid in rest and the office of the Lincoln Herndon law firm where Lincoln had been a partner.

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Next, we went to see the Lincoln Tomb. It was quite a remarkable structure and contained quite a few sculptures. The tomb contains the remains of all of the Lincoln family except one son who is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

We would have liked to have more time to sightsee in Springfield but we needed to keep going. On June 26th we drove on about 180 miles to the Old Mill Run Park campground in Thorntown, IN. It was very remote and we had some doubts about the accuracy of our GPS when it led us down some small country roads. We drove to the slightly larger town of Lebanon, IN that evening to finish doing our laundry after the campground laundry room closed at 5 pm.

On June 26th we drove about 150 miles to Goshen, IN. Although the mileage was the least we had done in a while, the route was via a large number of country roads and through various small towns and, thus, seemed much longer than the prior days. We were happy to be finished with our drive when we arrived at the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds in Goshen. Like the fairgrounds in Springfield, the RV campgrounds were almost empty and we were allowed to pick any site we wanted. Also like Springfield, the sites were all back-ins and Phil struggled to get backed in due to the proximity of a fence line. Finally he spotted another site that had plenty of room to line up the rig and then just back straight into the site. We were very close to the train tracks and, although we could hear the trains pass by frequently during the day, they didn’t affect our sleep at night unless we had the window open.

We spent three days in Goshen and were able to visit with Phil’s 96-year-old mother each day.

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On our second night, Barb and Dan Anderson, Phil’s sister and brother-in-law, came over for dinner. We had envisioned having dinner outside but the temperature had dropped into the 60s and was quite windy so we ate in our rig instead. On the third night, we had an enjoyable dinner at the Anderson’s and were joined by the extended Anderson family.

We took the truck to the Goshen Dodge dealer and discovered that the malfunctioning windshield wiper had been installed incorrectly at the factory. The wiper arm had to be replaced but the dealer didn’t have the replacement wiper arm in stock. It would take at least 3 days to get the part and, since we were leaving town, we decided to wait until we get to the Chicago area to get it fixed.

 

Back Home in Texas (May 9 – June 18, 2016)

After being out West for two months, it felt kind of strange to cross the border back into Texas and to reset our clocks to Central time.  We had not originally planned to return to Texas so soon (especially in the heat of the summer) but our HMO insurance made it necessary.  We had already scheduled a slew of doctor, dentist, and vision checkups for our return to Kerrville.

Canyon / Amarillo, TX

On May 9th we survived an extremely windy drive to Canyon, TX where we had reserved a site at the Palo Duro RV Park for three nights.  We had a very nice site but most of our neighbors appeared to be permanent residents and the campground felt like a ghost town during the day.

On May 10th the wind had subsided a lot but the forecast called for a high of nearly 90 degrees so we decided to take it easy.  There really wasn’t much to see in Canyon or Amarillo but we went out to see some of the attractions.  Our first stop was at the Cadillac Ranch where a number of old Cadillacs were partially buried in the middle of a large pasture.  We watched several people spray painting messages on the cars.

Next we visited the 2nd Amendment Cowboy.  In addition to the large cowboy statue, there were vintage Cadillacs once owned by John Wayne, Willie Nelson and Elvis Presley. IMG_5707

Our next stop was at the Big Texas Steak Ranch where they offer a free dinner if you can eat a 72 oz. steak dinner in an hour.  Not only do you have to finish the 72 oz. steak but you also have to eat a shrimp cocktail, dinner salad and a baked potato.  We passed up the challenge.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park

On May 11th we visited the Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon in the United States, surpassed only by the Grand Canyon.  It is approximately 120 miles long and 600 to 800 deep.  We hiked the 6-mile Lighthouse Trail. The ascent to see the Lighthouse rock formation was quite steep.

After the hike we visited the Pioneer Amphitheater in one of the canyons where musicals are performed in the summer.

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Lubbock, TX

On May 12th we drove to Lubbock, TX, a two-hour drive that was mostly on I-27.  We stayed for two nights at Camelot Village, a large RV community that is populated predominantly by long-term residents.

We spent May 13th sightseeing in Lubbock.  Our first stop was at the National Ranching Heritage Center on the campus of Texas Tech University.  The 27.5-acre facility was established to preserve the history of ranching, pioneer life and the development of the livestock industry in North America. We walked along a 1.5-mile trail that took us to over 40 structures representing the history of ranching from the 1780s to 1950s. It was very interesting and illustrated how difficult ranching life was in the early years.

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Next we went to the Buddy Holly Center. The Buddy Holly Gallery is shaped like a guitar and contains exhibit cases that follow his youth and early career in Lubbock to his last concert in Clear Lake, Iowa. Buddy Holly’s Fender Stratocaster and his famed horn-rimmed glasses were some of the artifacts displayed. We also toured the home of J. I. Allison who, with Buddy Holly, were the original founding members of the Crickets. It was in this house that Holly and Allison wrote the hit songs “That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue.” Finally we watched a video covering Buddy Holly’s life and the influence his short musical career had on other musicians such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

For lunch we headed to The Shack, a BBQ restaurant that was unimpressive from the outside but served delicious food. Phil had pork ribs and beef brisket. Jan had a beef brisket sandwich. The portions were huge and the BBQ was some of the best we’d ever had.

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Abilene, TX

On May 14th we drove 173 miles to Buck Creek RV Park, about 6 miles east of Abilene. The manager was not on site but he had left a map showing how to find our campsite. The site was somewhat rutted but was about 100’ in length so we had no trouble finding a level spot. Phil drove the truck back into Abilene for refueling but, other than that, we didn’t do anything in Abilene.

Kerrville, TX

On May 15th we drove 197 miles to Buckhorn Lake Resort where we will stay for a month. Since we had spent January and February at Buckhorn, it felt like coming home again. The campground was not as full as it had been in the winter but there were more campers than we had expected.

The first site we were assigned was under some large trees. After unhooking and starting to set up, we realized the rooftop satellite dish would possibly have a problem with the tree branches. After trying unsuccessfully to get a signal for about 20 minutes, we decided to move. Fortunately the woman in the office was able to rearrange the schedule and find us a more open campsite at the end of a row. The new site had the additional advantage of overlooking the pickleball courts so we were able to see when people were playing.

 On May 17th our quiet evening was rudely interrupted when something hit our living room slide with a large bang around 10 pm. It didn’t take long before the initial bang was followed by a torrential hail and lightning storm with many hailstones as large as tennis balls and golf balls. The sound inside our rig was almost deafening and the onslaught continued nonstop for 20 minutes. This was followed by strong winds that had our rig shaking. We would have liked to have taken shelter somewhere safer but the combination of hail and lightning discouraged us from any thoughts of going out into the storm. We finally went to bed around midnight although it was still raining hard and we were still seeing occasional lightning.

The next morning we got our first opportunity to survey the damage. The most obvious damage was to our Nissan Altima which had the entire back window broken out and the front windshield, although still intact, was smashed in numerous places. The car had dents all over. Our Ram 3500 (although less apparent in the photos) sustained even more severe denting and the windshield was cracked in several places, although all the glass was still in place. Phil called USAA immediately to report the damage and their response was fantastic. They had a wrecker on site within 20 minutes to haul the Altima away. They arranged for us to get a rental car from Enterprise. Unfortunately, since Enterprise had also sustained heavy hail damage, it took a couple of days before we could get the rental car. By the second day, USAA let us know they had determined the Altima was totaled since the damage was over $11,000. The estimate to repair the Ram was over $12,000 since virtually every panel on the truck needed to be replaced. The estimated time for repairing the Ram was 28 days, although the person at the collision center hoped it would be slightly less. Fortunately we were scheduled to be in Kerrville until June 15th. USAA definitely lived up to their good reputation as they were very responsive and kept us informed through every step. Surprisingly, despite $23,000 in damage to our two vehicles, our RV which was parked between the two vehicles appears to have sustained almost no damage. We reported the claim anyway and have requested an adjuster to take a look at our rig just to see if they spot any damage we may have missed.  The adjuster ultimately only identified damage to the satellite dish and the damages were estimated to be about $1,800.

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On May 26th we visited the Kerrville Visitors Center to get information on local events during the balance of our stay.  We timed this well as we were offered two free tickets to the opening night of the Kerrville Folk Festival.  We were already aware of the Folk Festival but had decided we didn’t want to spend $30 a ticket to attend. Free tickets definitely changed our decision.  The Kerrville Folk Festival lasts for 18 days and is held on Quiet Valley Ranch, about 9 miles south of town.  The festival has run annually since 1972 and is the longest running folk festival in the U.S.  We stayed for almost three hours but left early when the lightning in the distance became more frequent.  We made it to within 5 miles of our campsite when the storm hit with a fury.  We managed to make it home but got soaked getting from the car to our rig.  The storm was similar in strength to the one on May 17th but the hailstones were much smaller.  Fortunately there was no damage to our rental car.

We picked up the Nissan from the collision center on May 27th. Although USAA has assessed the car to be a total loss, we had decided to hold onto it anyway since it only had 46,000 miles on it and was mechanically sound. Appearance-wise, it’s hard to overlook the hail damage which Jan is trying to describe as giving the car “character.” When we got the car home, we discovered that there was still an inch of water in the spare tire well and the rear mats were still damp. Fortunately we had a sunny day which enabled us to dry out the interior of the car. The collision center had vacuumed out most of the broken glass but we are still finding plenty of pieces they missed. While we were at the collision center, Phil got to see the progress of the repairs to our Ram 3500. There were so many panels removed from the truck that it looked like it was still on the assembly line.

Due to the hot weather and damage to our vehicles, we didn’t do as much sightseeing this trip as we did when we were in Kerrville during the winter. However, we did venture out on a drive to Hunt, TX to see the famous “boot fence.” The fence runs about ¼ mile along the road in front of a ranch. Over time people have stuck old boots on each of the fence posts.

On June 7th, we had a free day with no doctor or dentist appointments so we drove in to San Antonio. We did some necessary shopping at Kohl’s, Sam’s Club and REI and then headed to the Riverwalk for lunch. We surveyed our options for lunch but finally ended up at the same BBQ restaurant we had visited in December. It was quite hot so we  chose to sit inside with the A/C rather than outside along the Riverwalk. After lunch we visited the Witte Museum, partially in an effort to avoid the rush hour traffic. The museum had an array of offerings but we spent most of our time in the air-conditioned Texas heritage building.

Phil continued to play pickleball almost every morning before the temperature got too hot. We also took advantage of the campground’s two pools to escape the afternoon heat.

On June 10th we returned to Tonya’s Our House food truck in Ingram for the fried catfish plate. We hadn’t been there since the winter. The popularity of the open mic night seems to have grown greatly since then. The seating area was much larger and, despite the heat, the crowd was twice as large as when we were last there. As usual, the performers were mostly good old country boys from the local area. It is scheduled from 6 – 8 pm but we were there until almost 9 pm and they still had quite a few performers on the sign-up list.

Although we had originally planned to leave Kerrville on June 15th, there were delays in getting our truck back from the collision center. After they put the truck back together again, one of the headlights did not work. After a couple of days of trying to find the source of the issue, the truck was sent to the local Dodge dealer. Ultimately the problem was identified as a faulty Body Control Module (BCM) which controls many of the vehicle’s electrical functions. A new BCM was overnighted to the Dodge dealer and the problem was resolved. The total repair job cost over $13,000 but fortunately we only had to pay the $250 deductible. The truck looked brand new when we got it back.

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We decided to extend our stay in Kerrville for an extra three days to give Phil a chance to drive the truck around town and make sure everything was working as expected. We finally left Kerrville on June 18th and began our trip to the Chicago area.

The Colorado Plateau (April 18 – May 9, 2016)

After leaving Las Vegas, we began our three week adventure in the Colorado Plateau.  The Colorado Plateau covers an area of 130,000 square miles within southern and eastern Utah, northern Arizona, western Colorado and northwestern New Mexico.

Our first week was spent at Bauer’s Canyon Ranch RV Park in Glendale, Utah.  It was a small family-run campground with few amenities but it was ideally situated between Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park.  We were very happy to find that all the National Parks were free from April 17-24, 2016.

Zion National Park

On April 19th we made our first visit to Zion National Park.  We took the scenic 24-mile Zion – Mt. Carmel Highway that connected the area near our campground to Zion National Park.  We had not driven this way with our fifth wheel since there are tunnels along the way that are too low.

Upon arriving at the Visitor Center, we took the shuttle all the way to the end and then hiked along the Virgin River.

After the Riverside Walk we rode the shuttle back and hopped off at the stops along the way to view the magnificent sights.  We hiked between one of the stops and the Zion Lodge where we had lunch.

Bryce Canyon National Park

On April 20th we drove about an hour to Bryce Canyon.  We stopped along the way in Dixie National Forest and climbed the red rock in Red Canyon.

Upon arriving at Bryce Canyon we boarded the shuttle.  We road it to the end at Bryce Point where we got our first views of the Bryce Amphitheater.

We next rode the shuttle down to Inspiration Point and then hiked down the Rim Trail to Sunset Point.  Phil’s fear of heights really kicked in a few times during the Rim Trail but we managed to survive the hike.

We hiked the 3-mile Navajo / Queens Garden loop down to the canyon floor and then back up again to Sunrise Point.  Given how steep the descent was, we knew the return trip was going to be a challenge and we were right.  The long, steep climb at high altitude had us huffing and puffing along the way.

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

On April 21st we visited the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Angel Canyon, north of Kanab, UT.  The mission of Best Friends to “Save Them All” relates to their goal to eliminate the 9,000 healthy and treatable dogs and cats that are killed in America’s shelters each day.  The sanctuary is a huge facility that cares each day for an average of 1,700 animals of many different species, including about 400 dogs and 600 cats.  The sanctuary is manned by 400 employees and tons of volunteers.

Our visit began with a short video that was followed by a 90-minute tour of the facility by shuttle.  The tour took us by numerous buildings dedicated to the many species of animals, including horses, rabbits, pot-bellied pigs, birds of many types as well as dogs and cats.  We were able to go into a couple of the buildings where we got to interact with a dog and lots of cats.  They were obviously hoping some of the guests would adopt one of the animals but we managed to resist the temptation.

The end of the tour took us to the outskirts of Best Friends’ property which included canyons where many Western movies and TV shows were filmed in the past, including the movie The Outlaw Josey Wales and the first two seasons of the Lone Ranger.  We saw several large animal cemeteries where locals can have their deceased pets buried.

After our tour we headed into Kenab for dinner.  We chose the Ironhorse Restaurant and Saloon.  We were the first customers when the doors opened and had some very good beef brisket.  The décor of the restaurant and saloon reflected the old west and had memorabilia from the old Western movies filmed in Kanab.  We had fun taking pictures in the courtyard.