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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lunch with the Facebook DRV Owners Grou

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

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Selfie on the beach at South Padre Island

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Phil at Boca Chica Beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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