Posted in LIfestyle, RV Living, Travels

No Reservations!

We purchased our first coach, as you know, in September, 2016 and set out to conquer the USA by road!  We have learned, and relearned so much about this new lifestyle along the way……. today let’s talk about travel planning.  The first thing you need to know about me is that I am a PLANNER.  I love a good ride down an unknown road to an unknown destination, but, in general, I like to know where this big RV is headed for the night.

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The first thing I have learned is that I need to be aware of Big Days on calendars.  A Big Day can be a holiday or a special festival in a certain area or a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence…..let’s say a Solar Eclipse.  I waited too late last year and had to make a less than desirable reservation in a campground in Ft. Lauderdale for Christmas….I have already made a very desirable reservation for this year!  Father’s Day requires advance planning (apparently Dads like to camp!).  The Three Big Summer Days require thoughtful planning (Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day).  And this year add in the Solar Eclipse.

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So, I have had my work cut out for me with snagging campground reservations this year.    I do have reservations for all the Three Big Summer Days and the Solar Eclipse.  But there are also lots of days in-between all the Big Days, just regular days that we need to stay somewhere overnight.  That is where the hard part of planning begins; now I have to figure in Barry’s work schedule.   Because he is still working, we need to be in his territory for sales calls, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, southern Illinois and other places here and there.  We need to be able to reach his manufacturers also for sales meetings and to do factory testing on machines, those are in Vancouver, Toronto, Tampa, and Athens, GA.  The timing of these visits are not usually something we can plan more than a couple weeks out.

This happened in the last two weeks:  PLAN:  Travel to Des Moines, IA for sales calls, Travel to St. Joseph, MO — sales calls, Travel to McPherson, KS — sales calls, Travel to El Dorado, KS – make sales calls in Wichita, Travel to Lee’s Summit, MO – sales calls in KC area and a flight to Toronto for annual sales meeting, Travel to Lincoln, NE – sales calls.  Reservations were made at all those locations……but, there was this little thing hanging over our heads.  A new X-Ray machine was being delivered to a new customer and there will be a FAT (Field Acceptance Trial) at that location after delivery and setup.  The machine was being shipped from the factory in Europe, there were shipping delays, Customs delays, QC in Tampa before the final shipment to the customer In Minong, Wisconsin.  REALITY:  All the reservations needed to be altered and a trip scheduled for him to “no where near us now”.

fullsizeoutput_4fa2Reservations were changed, cancelled, extended.  I lost a reservation fee and overnight charge in Wichita, but stayed at a more reasonable priced park near St. Joseph.  Sales calls won’t be made in central Kansas right now.  I’m in Missouri and he is in Wisconsin.  This all takes a crazy amount of time……and some days my brain gets frazzled with it all.

But it is still better living here than anywhere else with, or without, reservations!!

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Posted in Campgrounds, Parks, RV Living, Travels

In the Corn Fields

After leaving Des Moines, we moved for the weekend to south-western Iowa, just outside the town of Creston, to Green Valley State Park.  First, after a few days with just electric hookups, we were happy to have all the services: 50 amp electric, water & sewer!  All the sites here have some sort of lake view, there is a small beach, boat ramp, hiking & biking trail, and even some cabins to rent.  But the best part about this park was the peace and quiet and darkness!  Even as the park filled up for the weekend, it was still a nice quiet park.  Birds calling all the time.

It’s okay to bring your baby out at sunset……


The lake here is a man-made lake with many campers bringing their fishing boats out in the morning to fish for large mouth bass.  


Most of the fields are planted with corn or soybeans; but a few have been left to grow beautiful Black-eyed Susans……


A slough is a good place to raise a family……


Clouds in the west can’t stop a sunset on the water!


Once, a long time ago, we picked wild blackberries and I came home with chiggers and seed ticks every where (they like to go in all your creases, around your ankles, behind your knees, and further up, if you know what I mean!).  So, no matter how delicious or thick they look, we don’t go in to pick them any more!


Farm art!


As we left town today for another campground, we had to go through this underpass:


I purchased lowclearances.com map download and got to use it today!  Our coach is 12’9″ high up to the top of the old satellite dome on top……this train bridge was not a problem!  But we still held our breath as we drove under it!  One of the troubles I have run into is finding a good GPS program for us.  I have researched and read all about Garmin and Rand McNally and everyone else without coming to a good decision. Every one of them has mixed reviews and in the year 2017 I feel that there should be a GPS that has more good than bad reviews!  In the meantime, I map our route the night before we leave on Google with the low clearances layer added.  After I determine the safest, easiest route, I use Waze while we drive; Waze is a live traffic/navigation app that gives great clear directions and live updates (police ahead, construction, hazards, etc.).  Little things that make a big difference!

Posted in Campgrounds, RV Living, Travels, Weather

Wow! It’s Hot!

Just north of Des Moines, Iowa is a Corps of Engineers lake and several campgrounds…….we stayed at one of them, Cherry Glen Campground  on Saylorville Lake.  Now, we have lived in the St. Louis, Missouri area for most of our lives and are familiar with the Iowa weather:  winds blow across most of the time, it is hot in the summer and cold in the winter, and winter ice and snow are frequent problems.  This week was no different; but we had good strong electrical hookups and our A/C’s work well.  They issued an Extreme Heat Warning for this part of Iowa as the temperatures were always in the 95º range for the week……at nights only cooling off to the upper 70º’s.  

But while we were here, we discovered the neighboring town…. well not really anything for us to discover but this:

That’s funny! I guess we own this town!

We also made time to visit with some of our eldest son’s friend and family while we were here.  They have 2 boys, one is 8 and the other is 2; it was fun to see them and meet the boys.  We haven’t seen them since the 8 year old was about 3 years old!  Sadly, I forgot to take a photo with them……too hot for my brain I guess!

This is a common site in Iowa! Farm equipment!
Posted in Campgrounds, RV Living, Travels

Heading West (sort of)

We spent a working week in St. Louis.  Mom and I had doctor’s appointments, Barry had office appointments and a couple of guys in from Athens, Georgia, and I had work to do at the house.  I took the last load of things to be donated to the D.A.V. (At least I hope those were the last loads!).  Barry & I moved all the packed boxes of things we are keeping into the garage to get them out of the house.  I vacuumed the entire house.  We got a bid to trim the front yard trees hanging over the house…..$900……and they could not schedule that for a month……so, we got our very big ladder out and I got on the roof and cut the most egregious ones myself.  Lots of scratches, bruises and sore muscles later, I was down on the ground and cleaning up the mess.  I so wish our house would sell.  

At the end of the week, we headed north to Keokuk, Iowa.  We won’t be back in St. Louis until mid-October after traveling around Iowa and Kansas for a month then heading west to Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas!  Until then, it was a weekend in Keokuk at a little RV campground, Hickory Haven.  It is a small park with gravel sites, no WiFi, bad phone service and some standing dead trees, but had full hook-ups.  It was a good chance to wash the dust and dirt off the lower portion of the coach accumulated from Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Illinois and Missouri rains.  

Keokuk is a small/medium sized river town with many interesting things to see.  There is a very interesting National Cemetery here.  I just imagine they chose the location as it was not really farm-able; very hilly and uneven with large trees scattered throughout.  It was established in 1862 and is one of the 12 original Federal Cemeteries.  It is divided into 2 sections, one with the very oldest graves that borders Oakland Cemetery (est. 1851), and the more recent era graves further back.  Oakland Cemetery has beautiful grave sites hanging precariously off the steep slopes.  (By the way, I have a deep love and respect for old cemeteries!). 

Keokuk has an older section of town with lovely large homes overlooking the might Mississippi River.  Many have interesting architectural elements……..I am not sure what to call this style of cut rocks, but both of these homes are majestic and beautiful.


Rand Park eagle

There is a beautiful old power plant on the Mississippi River here…… the actual name is U.S. Lock and Dam #19.  It was built between 1910-13 and, when completed, was the largest electricity generating plant in the world!  There are great views of it if you drive across the river bridge near downtown or from Rand Park.

The Mighty Mississippi
Keokuk Power House on the US Lock and Dam #19

We found a nice restaurant downtown, Angelina’s, that earned two visits from us…..otherwise, unless you love to look at corn and soybean fields, there is not too much to do here………but relax!   Our next direction is North West toward Des Moines…..we really will head West soon!!

Posted in Campgrounds, Parks, RV Living, Travels

Lazy Days on the River

Although it was still a holiday week, we moved to Hidden Valley Outfitters Campground (HVO) near Bennett Springs, MO.  I have never been to this part of the state and looked forward to visiting the springs.  However, due to the holiday, Barry was not able to book any appointments in Springfield or Joplin.  Instead, we found time to visit with family and relax!!!

Saturday on the River

First though, the campground:  a Good Sam campground and a discount!  It has a funny little entrance to the area — they are currently in a little metal building and nearly finished with a new big building across the way.  It looks like an old-style Old West building with a long front porch, but will include a water feature out front……worth returning to see the finished project.  After you check in, you drive between  the Niagua River and a big field before the campground comes into view.  There are about 4 rows of campsites in this area with 50 amp, FHU’s, a campground, picnic shelter, river access and a nice shower house.  Continuing along the road and over a low-water bridge into another campground for tents and smaller campers with 30 amp electric.  In this area is also a little chapel and another nice playground and shower house.  Up the hill is a third camp area for “extended stay” units — this is a huge property.  We stayed here for 7 nights; but had to move from site #38 after 5 nights to site #37.  Site #38 is the first site as you come into the campground and faces the river.  It was a wonderful place to relax with the first shade every afternoon and the view of rafters floating down the river.  And the fishermen…….everyone comes here to fish for the trout released just upstream at Bennett Springs State Park.

Trout fishing at Bennett Springs State Park

There is so much to see and do at the state park; fishing, shopping and eating in the lodge, trails, lots of wildflowers, multiple campgrounds (those reservations are as hard to get during Trout season as the ones in the Florida Keys!), pool, playground, even the Bennett Springs Church of God.  We ate breakfast at the lodge one morning and it was delicious; the lodge was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1930 from stones and timber frames.  The state introduced 40,000 mountain spring trout in 1900 and purchased the spring and surrounding property in 1924-25.  

Beautiful Bennett Springs State Park

I was not always an outdoor person, we never camped as we grew up and I did not take my family camping……so these moments are all new to me.  I have never been on a river float trip — until now!  HVO offered float trips and we booked a Saturday morning time!  Barry and I met other floaters at the picnic shelter and were picked up by their van driver.  People brought coolers and float tubes and more coolers and sunscreen and music players and more coolers!  It seems that loud music and drinking are major parts of floating on the river!  We drove back up north of the state park for about 7 miles until we reached the drop off site.  A couple of men were there with rows of rafts, canoes, and kayaks lined up along a gravel bar for us; one pointed to two kayaks, made sure we had paddles and life jackets and walked away while we loaded up our water bottles and sunscreen and pushed off.  Poor Barry was a bit unsteady and fell right into the water as he tried to get into his kayak (!!).  I was already paddling into the current and paused to just float until he caught up to me.  Our trip was wonderful!!!!  The water was comfortably warm and kept us from getting too hot.  We saw wildflowers, huge trees, fish, turtles, snakes, lots of birds and many other floaters.  We floated by tall old trees, towering cliffs, dead tree snags, with bird songs accompanying us.  We stopped a couple of times to get out and swim in the warm water.  We finally came up to the spot where Bennett Spring met the river……the water dropped from warm to so very cold!  Then we came back to the HVO gravel bar and landed our kayaks there with the waiting boat team.  We walked back to our coach, tired and hot and happy.

Floating under the Highway 64 Niangua River Bridge
  

After a lovely week, we packed up and drove back to St. Louis for some family time.

Posted in Campgrounds, RV Living, Travels

Alatoona

After we left Ft. Myers, FL, we wanted to get to Nashville in 2 days and needed to put some miles on the coach.  We got as far as Tampa on Wednesday evening and “dry-camped” (no hookups) in a nice Cracker Barrel parking lot just off the highway.  The parking is free and meals are always easy at Cracker Barrel.  After breakfast, we got back on Interstate 75 and continued north toward Georgia.  It was our first time to drive north through Atlanta with the RV and neither of us were looking forward to the traffic in the coach with the toad (car we tow) behind us.  No matter how I try, I always seem to get into a big city at rush hour and this was no exception.  There are a couple of constants in Atlanta:  tons of traffic and road construction.  They have so very many roads and highways there and they are always, always crowded!  

Typical Atlanta Traffic

Tail lights, police rushing to accidents, drivers cutting across all the lanes, and, of course, drivers who pull out in front of the RV.  I always leave a couple of car lengths between me and the car in front; it’s just safer.  But there are always people who feel like that open spot belongs to them and in they fly.  With the toad behind me, I do not like to have to lay on the brakes that hard and wish people would give me the space!  Even though there are so very many highways around Atlanta, every one of them is always crowded and between 4:00 and 7:00 every night, it is much worse.  They are building a new baseball stadium just north of Atlanta and, of course, are building new highway lanes to accommodate that traffic……road construction is a constant here!

51 minutes to drive 24 miles!!!!!
 I found a campground just north of Atlanta on Alatoona Lake and we pulled in around 6:30.  I took a water/electric only site to save $$ and we parked looking towards the water.  The road in was a windy little thing with a railroad crossing, but once in the campground, it was lovely.  The site was a good size, it was shady and cool near the water.  Tall pine trees shaded everything and campfire smoke began to fill the air.  Ahhhhhhhhh…….easy to relax.

Nice view of the lake
The next morning we headed out to drive to Chattanooga and then west toward Nashville.  Another reason we have avoided the Atlanta route is the mountains around Chattanooga. We have not really had the coach in big mountains yet and didn’t know what to expect. In this time line, though, this was the shortest and fastest way to Nashville from Tampa.  We learned that the RV has an engine brake (not a Jake brake) and used that to manage the drive down the mountains around Chattanooga.  It held the engine in check, did not require Barry to used the brakes, and kept us a nice slow speed down the other side.  Nashville here we come!

Posted in Campgrounds, RV Living, Travels, Weather

The West Coast (of FL)

As you may recall, I was having a fit about not having working windshield wipers in the RV and made an appointment at a Newmar dealer for service in Ft. Myers.  So let’s talk about that.  Every time we drive south on Int. 75 on the “West Coast” of Florida, we pass many signs for North Trail RV in Ft. Myers, a Newmar dealer and service center, one of the few such places in Florida.  The wipers have been a problem for many months and it seemed to me a dealer repair was in order.  I made an appointment about 10 days in advance and explained the needed repairs to the scheduler.  As I planned our trip from Ft. Lauderdale north, we built time in for this appointment, two days in a campground in Ft. Myers and a day for service.  I explained this to the scheduler when I spoke to her two days before the appointment and stressed that we did not have any time to wait for parts to be ordered; she suggested we priories our repairs.  Our priorities for repairs were as follows: 1) Wipers, 2) Front A/C, 3) Fresh Water pump, and 4) Awning bracket.

So we drove north and west from Markham Park along FL Hwy. 27 through the heart of the Everglades and along the edge of Lake Okeechobee.  I hoped to avoid the Turnpike and the tolls and the traffic and maybe see some sights along the way.  Sure enough, we could see the “River of Grass” that is the Everglades.  Birds of every type waded in the water or flew overhead.  Several alligators lay in the water alongside the highway; but more “gators” lay along the roadway……those parts of tires that come off big trucks.  Florida highways have more pieces of tires than any where else we have been.

We parked at Orange Harbor Mobile Home and RV Park on FL Hwy. 80.  A nice park with full hookups and good WiFi, but mostly row after row of mobile homes for SnowBirds.  The RV park was near the back of the community and we were the only people in the area; most of the other places were closed up for the summer.  The campground hosts came and lead us back to our site; we had a pull-through site that was all gravel with a concrete patio right on the end of the parking row.  This should have been the easiest parking ever; but it was a fiasco.  The hosts (a husband and wife in their 70’s) and Barry tried to direct me into the site by maneuvering around a palm tree on the passenger side.  They had parked their golf cart and our car on the end of the street on the driver’s side.  It was just too tight to get the coach to make that right hand turn and squeeze into the spot so we decided that I should back out, go around the block and return a street over and pull through another site and directly into our site.  As I tried to maneuver the coach around the golf cart and car, a street sign on the passenger side went unnoticed and I clipped it.  It left a scratch on the side of the coach, then caught on the back awning arm and the bracket on the arm broke apart.  The three of them were all standing on the driver’s side and could not warn me that it was there.  Add that to the list of repairs at the dealer…….

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See the wall cloud in front and the Virga behind?

Barry left after I got parked and headed north to Tampa for a sales call the next day and I settled down to clean the coach.  I got out the ladder (in the basement!) and washed the huge windshield and front of the coach.  Florida has love bugs that stick to everything as you drive and will leave a mark on the paint if not cleaned off soon.  I applied a thick coat of RainX to the windshield (again) and polished the nose of the coach also.  I washed the entire lower panel all the way around the coach and then cleaned the wheels and tires and the Newmar mud flap until the chrome shone.  All the while, it became more cloudy and thunder rolled in the distance.  I just had time to ride my bike over to the pool and back before it started to rain……again and continued for the next 24 hours with lots of distant lightning and rolling thunder.  The sun peeked out under the clouds the next evening for a pretty sunset.

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The next morning we got up early (6:45!!) and made our way to North Trail RV Service center.  Our appointment was a 9:00 am and we arrived by 8:30 but had to wait for our scheduler (Jonathan) to check us in after 9:00.  Hmmmm.  They had a nice waiting room with sofas and recliners and a big screen TV and free water and was dog-friendly.  We had a Cracker Barrel breakfast and returned to wait.         At 12:40 another customer approached the receptionist and inquired about his wait and she explained that all the service employees take an hour lunch at noon.  Hmmmmmm.        About 1:15 Jonathan came and went over the issues.  Wipers:  they do not carry the motor in stock and needed to order one, it could get there in 3 days.  WHAT???  We declined to wait — I had explained on all those previous phone calls that we needed that part to repair our wipers!!!  GRRRRR.    They could repair the water pump, it needed to be replaced, was in stock and could be completed this afternoon at a cost of $250….okay.  The dash A/C needed a tune-up and some parts and could also be completed this afternoon for about $900…..okay.  They had the broken awning bracket and could also repair it for about $100…..okay.  We settled back down to wait as a storm broke overhead and the rain began, again.        A little after 4:00, Jonathan came and was ready to check us out.  The total came to $1,566 and our first priority was not fixed…… GRRRRRR.  We paid and a porter brought the coach up to us.

As I got in, I noticed some bugs on the dash, lots of bugs on the dash, and also on the floor under the driver’s seat, lot of bugs, maybe ants?  I started whacking them with my hands as fast as I could.  The dogs got excited and started barking and barking at me.  After I killed about 50 ants, I wiped a handful into my hand and went back inside to the receptionist and asked for Jonathan.  He was already helping someone else and I would have to wait.  I handed the ants over to her and said, “He needs to come out to my coach IMMEDIATELY!!!”, and returned to the coach to kill more ants.  He did not come out soon and after 10 minutes I sent Barry in to bring him out which he did.  I had a dustpan full of ants and, of course, he could not imagine how that had happened.  I brushed all the ants into his hand as he offered to have a crew come vacuum the coach.  The slides were all in and vacuuming would have been wasted; I was not about to wait any longer and declined his apologetic offer.  I was fuming out my ears and wanted no more of this place.  My wipers were not fixed, I was out over $1,500, and now we had ants in the coach.     I drove off the lot and then noticed that the wipers were not in the down position but were stuck in the vertical position right in front of me on the windshield.  We continued to drive north and away, looking through the wipers like goalposts on the windshield.  Goodbye Florida!