Sunday, April 29, 2007

Windy City To Cheese Head

This will sound like a line from comedian Stephen Wright, but it’s not! At least I don’t think so. But if it should be, then that guy is darn near as clever (some might say as strange) as I am:

Today I went to the Windy City. It WASN’T!

Chicago was neither windy nor anything else I imagined it to be. Once again we are challenging prior conceptions of the truth as we cross the country. I expected, after all we have been through in this very, very late spring, Chicago to be, yes, windy and cold. I also, if the truth be told, expected the city to reflect the wear and tear of the strong elements and look a bit beaten by them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Chicago was beautiful. Surprisingly, shockingly beautiful! Colorful. Clean. From skyline to countryside to infrastructural elements to geese waddling down the thoroughfare in Sunday morning traffic, Chicago was actually FUN to drive through. We considered going around it to avoid the hassle, but we did wish to see it, and see it we did. It would have been a sad mistake not to drive right on through- past the ball park, the Chicago Board of Trade, the Sears Tower- a welcoming city. Did I mention CLEAN! Spotless. I still can’t believe how clean everything was.
Now our time passing through Chi-town was very limited so we stopped to see the famous landmark apartment buildings that George Burns used to run before achieving fame and fortune and moving to Cape Coral, Florida. OH, NOT THAT GEORGE BURNS --- THE OTHER GEORGE BURNS! Very few people know, to this day, that George Burns’ first wife was Theresa and NOT Gracey as most people think. On display in the apartment museum is the oven which Theresa used to cook her favorite and famous Argentinean/Hungarian Gypsy love meat potion which is widely believed to have lured her then landlord to her apartment to accomplish two things: first to get him to marry her, and not incidentally, to also lower her rent payments. Such a clever and talented cook was the lovely Theresa that she and George are still happily together to this very day. It is one of the true and lasting love stories of Chicago lore.

Then on to Wisconsin, where, way up here in the north country, the weather is a whole lot more pleasant and warm than it was from Kentucky all the way up. I think the jury is still out on global warming but global confusion is a no brainer at this point. Which is why I can sit here with all the windows open in shorts and bare feet, while in West Virginia I was in heavy wool socks and the warmest clothing I could find just to protect against the ice and snow. What a difference a state makes!

This is Badger country. Cheese head country. I half expected to see Steve and Cheryl somewhere along the journey on the way to some big sporting event. They are our dear friends from Connecticut (at least for now). SHE is a Badger Babe. He is a sports fanatic who just happens to look good in any goofy sporting attire, so I guess we should say he is a cheese head. For sure they are Packer fans and will never ever vote Democratic because John Kerry got the name of the stadium wrong…No one here will ever forget that!

We went to one of the many cheese shops near the campground just outside of Madison. I had hoped to try on a cheese head or two for size myself, but, alas, none to be found- just good cheese and related products. But I could not have walked in to a better shop if I had tried. On the counter was a gallon glass jar for donations which read: COW TIPPING. For weeks now, I have been trying to convince Marilyn that people from this part of the country have a sport they call “cow tipping.” Until, now she just wasn’t buying into the concept and thought, every time I brought it up, I was making the whole thing up. In a nutshell, if you have never heard of this, you wait til a cow is standing and pretty much asleep in the field and run up to it and tip it over.
“Why would anyone ever do that,” asked the lovely Marilyn.
“Sport, challenge and general boredom,” says I.
So when I pointed to the jar in the shop Marilyn had to ask the girls behind the counter if it was for real.
“Yes,” said the girl as she wrapped our cheese selection, “It is.”
“But why,” asked Marilyn, “would anyone want to do that?”
And to my great surprise and glee, the Wisconsin girls said the following:
“Well, sometimes for sport and sometimes because we’re bored and sometimes just to see if we can do it!”
I rest my case. Besides, it’s how milk shakes were invented. And while I’m at it, yes, chocolate milk DOES come from brown cows. (Oh I know it doesn’t come out brown or with chocolate flavorings; but since much of the milk we drink comes from cows, I’m pretty sure I get credit for this theory on a technicality.)

BUS LAG: what happens when you travel in a motor coach back and forth across time zones at the same time you are correcting the clocks every week or two for that AND daylight savings in each zone. It’s similar to jet lag, but it comes and goes a lot more slowly!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Indiana Wants Me...

Indiana wants me. Lord, I can’t go back there. R Dean Taylor, I wish I had you to talk to...
Admittedly I’ve never really liked Indiana. Not that I ever spent much time there. It’s just that it was never terribly pleasant time. Ditto that for this trip.
Getting here on the Ohio Turnpike, a toll road without justification, in a tropical downpour didn’t exactly set the tone for a grand entrance anyway. Pulled up to the toll both to get a ticket. The automatically dispensed ticket was evidently screwed up by the storm and sent the ticket out the bottom slot. For those of you who have ever driven anything “tall”, the machine should read the height of the vehicle and send the ticket out the top slot where you can reach it. Works for truckers and usually for us. Not this time. To complicate matters when we are driving, the stair cover is “up”, the door is locked - you don’t get out fast. Period. So since the machine didn’t correct its reading error- no ticket for us. An attendant finally noticed and ran into the building, cloaked in heavy rain gear, but again the ticket came out the wrong slot. Finally we put it into park, air brake on, so that we could unlock the door, drop the stair cover and Marilyn could get out to go get the ticket. As she rounded the front of the coach, the ticket got sucked back into the machine. It was just that kind of day. Finally, the ticket appeared at the top slot where I could reach it. Marilyn climbed back in, door locked, stair cover up, air brake off, gear on, see the little driver turn the little handle, chug, chug, toot, toot, off we go. The only thing I can add that would help you to appreciate the weather conditions at the time is this: the back up camera on the rear of the coach was blinded by the rain which was driving horizontally against the back of the coach. I guess that was good in a way: I couldn’t see the half mile line of traffic getting really annoyed behind us while all this was taking place.
Once in Indiana, we saw something new. The highway is lined with a radar system that detects animals on the highway ahead. I guess that’s good for the deer and the antelope, but I shutter to think of the cost of the system. Guess that’s why they charge what they do for highway tolls here.
A few more hours of driving brought us to Elkhart, home of Buster, the Motor Coach and the Newmar Manufacturing plant. Enormous facility really and the tour was most interesting. Most fascinating item worth noting, those 17 ton coaches are pushed from station to station through the plant on four very small air palettes. They ride above the floor 1/8 inch on this mini jet pack and it only takes a couple people to push it along. Another note, about 80 % of the labor force at the plant is Amish. There were as many horses and carriages around the plant as there were motor coaches, though they ask you not to photograph the Amish aspect of things out of respect for the religious sect in the work force. Got to see what was “inside” the coach and how complex the blessed thing really is…and how much there is to go wrong. Which, come to think of it, is why we are really in Indiana in the first place. Time for the one year service of the coach at just under the 10,000. mile mark now on the odometer. Buster will leave here with several outstanding service issues, the likes of which there is not time to take care of at this point. But since these are not safety issues or immediately critical to us, we will leave them to be dealt with another day, another time. We got off to a poor start at the service facility; the tech assigned to the coach was less than thorough but all’s well that ends well and we think that this did. Just wish it could have turned out well without the hassle of making it turn out well. Onward.
Illinois and Wisconsin as “a drive by” tomorrow with a stop at Madison over night. The campground there doesn’t even open until May 1 but they have agreed to let us through the gate anyhow on April 29. I hope the water and power have been turned on. I’ll be looking for roadside shops that sell cheese heads!

There was plenty of time to kill while the coach was in the shop for three days. The "girls" did a little specialty snack shopping at Petsmart. Something for everyone! Would you believe Abby can open the door all by herself? This is her favorite store by a long shot.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Holy Toledo!

I'm pretty sure when Horace Greeley told the young man to "Head West" he wasn't thinking about Toledo, Ohio or any of the name towns we sailed by on the way here. Never-the-less, westward is the direction so I'll be borrowing the concept for this part of the trip.
The western run through Pennsylvania was grueling. High winds made the jaunt over the mountains treacherous- and my hands were aching from hanging onto the blessed steering wheel for 5 hours or so. The campground just north of Pittsburgh was open, I suppose, but only for us apparently as there wasn't anyone else there at all except the lady in the office. Their brochure had said they were big rig friendly. Well, the friendly part was true. The big rig? NOT. But it sure was nice and quiet and we got some much needed rest. The Ohio run was much nicer. Sunny. Clear. Decent roads. No hills of any consequence. With luck, tomorrow we will arrive in Indiana for our service work-scheduled to be about three days work. Then onward, westward.
It's a short stay in Ohio. Wish I had a bit more time and my friend Captain Larry to do some perch and walleye fishing with on Lake Erie. Hopefully another time.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Endless Spring- A Wrap!

When I started calling this phase of the trip "Endless Spring" - that is in fact what I had in mind: following Spring north as far as Pennsylvania to visit the family for a couple weeks before the next phase of the trip. If you've been following the journey, you know what we actually did was "dragging Endless Winter" this far. Mercifully, though, as these two weeks drew to a close the weather finally broke a bit and finally Spring has caught up with us in the last three days here, just in time to make things ready for travel again, clean up the coach, make repairs and do basic maintenance for heading to the factory. With a three day run from here we should pull in to Newmar Manufacturing in Indiana where the coach was built for some work- all minor stuff- and our one year service basics. Dark is falling as I write this and the windows are open- that couldn't have happened even a few days ago! The geese are honking, the peepers peeping, the birds singing at the end of the day.
We had a very nice extended visit with family. Aunt Dot made it out to the coach for her first visit (what a crackerjack that girl is at 90 years young!) Accomplished a bunch of chores for them that needed some help with things and got a bit of rest in the last two days so we are raring to go again.
In addition to the family thing, we hit the farmers market in both Shillington and Lebanon, where they have just moved into a brand spanking new facility which is almost too nice for a farmer's market! Found some shad roe, my favorite meal on this planet, at the fish market and chowed down on that. We resupplied basics at hardware stores in the area. Spent two days outfitting for the great northern part of the next leg (Cabelas in Hamburg and Bass Pro in Harrisburg). Now we have, for the first time in more than a decade- warm clothing! Also hip boots, waders, fleece jackets and rain gear that actually blocks the rain as opposed to the old stuff that used to let it through and then just warmed it up a tad. We have a rechargeable lantern and some new fishing supplies, a pair of binoculars from my dad and a waterproof pair for the kayaks from Cabelas. Hopefully the shopping is finished, completed at about half the budgeted amount. The sales pros at Cabelas are incredible at helping you find items that can do double duty in a lightweight and efficient manner and their help was most appreciated. A letter to LL Bean in Maine for assistance went unanswered; they're slipping!
I'm gonna put the official wrap on Endless Spring right here right now and go outside and sit by the campfire. It's warm enough to do that. Halleluyah!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Rubber Volcano

Three horrendous days of driving in 20 degree weather and in snow and ice, sometimes to the point of white out, over hill and dale, came to a rather climatic end today as we crossed from Maryland into Pennsylvania. For the second time since we have been full timing it on the road, a truck directly in front of us had a blowout. We can attest to the fact that that is scary! Big pieces of someone else's tire coming straight at you in virtual slow motion while you are sitting in the front of the coach with a picture window windshield in front of you is not something to look forward to. Ever. The first time, rubber chunks flew everywhere and we avoided enough of them to also avoid any damage. This time though, the tire that went had evidently heated to the point of being ready to melt or burn and when it finally "erupted", fist sized pieces of melted rubber, about half a dozed of them, hit us smack in the windshield and literally burned themselves into the glass. A dozed smaller golf ball pieces did the same. I never saw anything like that before. Big chunks of smoldering rubber, stuck to the windshield ! They had to be scraped off with a washer pole that we carry for cleaning the big window as necessary.
When it happened we pulled over right away and the truck indicated he would do the same, but when we pulled over in the breakdown lane, he sped off on the tires he had left. Now that ticked me off! I cleaned up as best I could and caught up with him at exit 1 in Pennsylvania. So did the Maryland police; somebody either saw him speeding off or knew something was wrong when I hit the old diesel horn. The driver was nowhere to be found. I took his truck numbers and photographed the truck. Eventually we located the driver and had a "discussion". Swapped the usual info and got back on the road after a delay we surely didn't need. Now at day's end, most of the rubber has been removed but the chip and crack in the windshield will need a bit more care than I can handle myself. It's always something when you are on the road full time. I prefer the small problems to the big ones, though I would truly rather have no problems at all. Who wouldn't? But this could have been a whole lot worse for a whole lot of people, so tonight we are just happy to be safe and tucked in...
We will visit family in the area around Reading for two weeks now and hopefully get some rest as well. There is some provisioning that will need to be done. After being in Honduras and then Florida for nearly 10 combined years, our wardrobe shortcomings have been pointed out by the abrupt cold snap. In order to be ready for much more northern climates in the near future, some warmer clothing will be a must. There is a Bass Pro Shop and a Cabellas near by so the shopping ought to be a fun experience. We always watch "North To Alaska" on the outdoor channel. Former football great Larry Zonka hosts this fishing and hunting show and is always outfitted to the gills in the very best of hunting and fishing clothing and gear. He's become the NASCAR driver version of the salmon fishing set- all the hot brand names all over his clothing and gear. I'm guessing it's all comped as advertising for the companies that sponsor the show.
Hmmmmmm, Do you think they'd wanna sponsor an RV trip?

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Oooo Mountain Mama!

When John Denver asked West Virginia, Mountain Mama, to take him home on a country road, surely he was speaking of wonderful scenery and foliage under a blue sky and warm breezes blowing in an open window- NOT what we found traveling through the mountain state in 20 degree temperatures with occasional white outs and snow squalls and icy bridges. A 6 hour jaunt finally saw our arrival at Flatwoods, W. VA. After the day of driving we had, I was praying that Flatwood was appropriately named. But guess what? The joint must have been named on April 1, cause it was nearly as big a joke as this weather. We did make it up and over the ridge and into our mountain side site that was better suited to a mountain goat or maybe a mountain bike, but not a big coach- although that's how they market the new campground which is associated with Days Inn which sits up on top of the mountain. We were invited to use the pool, the bar, the restaurant, the spa of the Inn as part and parcel of the camp site, but we would certainly have "froze ourselves" to death walking back down the hill, assuming we did not wipe out coming down the icy drive and break our backs first. So we "holed up": only 7 PM and plenty of light- but snowing like crazy again, so the night shades which have some insulation properties are pulled down tightly to conserve heat and the diesel furnace is firing on high. It's cozy, just not what we hoped for. No idea how the harry we will get back up and over the ridge in the AM on icy roads, but that is the challenge for tomorrow!!!

Friday, April 6, 2007

Snow Dog

If you can't beat the weather, you may as well go play in it....As the snow started to lay around us, Abby, our dog from Honduras, who has Never Ever seen snow before...had her first go at the white stuff! Didn't seem to mind, but not so sure she loved it either!

Uh Oh! Snow!

The mere fact that I am sitting in Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky, IN A SNOW STORM is somewhat indicative to me (and perhaps you as you read this) that the plan to follow spring north as far as Pennsylvania has a few flaws. Well, at least one for sure: we somehow got ahead of the Spring we hoped to follow. I do suppose it's a tad better than the band of violent weather including tornadoes that passed through where we were camped in Tennessee the other night though. Actually, this IS Spring in the mid-Atlantic states which is why the home base is Florida for now. Usually warm in winter. Seldom quite cool even in winter. And never with the snow already!!!
But every thing that happens on the trip adds to the mystery and the memory of travel, so I guess it’s all good- even if some days it doesn’t feel that way. Kentucky has been lovely from a scenic point of view. It lives up to the blue grass/rolling hill horse country reputation in full. The horse farms are for the most part very large and perfectly manicured. Lexington is to Kentucky what Palm Beach is to Florida- a visual presentation of what big money can do with a place.
Now if we could just get some heat. Only yesterday we walked a mile some 300 feet underground at Mammoth Caves just north of Bowling Green. The temperature in the cave was 54 degrees. From previous experience one goes into a cave for two reasons : to see what’s there, and to cool off. Only yesterday, that cave was about the warmest place we could find- considerably warmer that the outdoor temp and for sure out of the wind. As sometimes happens out here on the journey, there was a divergence of opinions on the experience. At 5’ 6 inches, Marilyn walked upright for much of the distance underground; at 6’3” I did the tour like a walking stick with a crook a third the way down from the handle and a twist at the bottom. You decide which of us felt the better about the 2 hours it took to tour the cave…
I didn’t take any pictures in the cave. No matter how interesting (or not) a cave is, they don’t photograph well. Even the postcards in the gift shop at the National Park that includes all the caves were disappointing. At least we saved 50 cents! That pays for about 1 mile of the trip. You’ll just have to use your imagination. The best feature in the cave is called “Frozen Niagra.” See what you can do to conjure that up. And no I didn’t say, “Frozen Viagra!”
Cave country, horse country, yes, but there was cowboy humor here as well. I haven’t seen something like this since I was 10 years old and my family was crossing the Sierra Madres in Mexico en route to Mexico City . Then, a cow on a steep portion of the mountain roadway got smacked by a big truck on the way up the mountain. The truck wasn’t about to stop or down shift and that cow had become rather stubborn in its own right. As it charged up the mountain, after being “bumped” a good one, straight for our vehicle, we all burst into hysterical laughter. To this day, I can’t understand why that was more funny than terrifying, since there were no guardrails at that point and the sheer drop off the edge was about 800 feet. This time, an escapee (as in cow, not as in full time RVer) was dashing down the pike in front of us on the way to the park- zigging and zagging and doing unpredictable lane changes without ever signaling. It was the best treat of the day for me and there was no charge for admission. I guess the National Park system just decided to throw that entertainment in with our season pass which we purchased at Padre Island back when we were in Texas.
Judging from the NOAA weather report we hear on the Sirius satellite radio in the coach, we are running about a week or so ahead of Spring now, but we are still on track to make it to Hershey, PA by April 9th, which was the plan all along. If Spring does catch up with us soon, that would be a welcome happening before heading west across the northern US states before heading into Canada somewhere in Montana- on the way to Alaska!

Monday, April 2, 2007


On our dash across Arkansas, we stopped off at Hot Springs for a couple days. Hot Springs is the boyhood home of William Jefferson Clinton, 42nd President of the United States. We stopped to tour the hot springs, but the tour guides all feel a need to point out where Wild Bill ate a chile dog or a burger and other less than flattering moments in his boyhood. Here the T-shirt shops all sell t's with the president's likeness and degrading and insulting comments, the likes of which I will leave out. In contrast to Crawford, it was a night and day display of what the hometown crowd thinks about their guy. I can't help think about the irony of it all. Hot Springs! Bill Clinton! How perfect is that?

Our last night in Arkansas we camped on their side of the Mississippi River. And I do mean ON the river. The campground is named Tom Sawyer- and that sure works! This time when I say I could throw a stone into the river from the campsite- I mean it! The campground is wonderful in all aspects that matter to us: proximity to water, plenty of space, easy in and out for big rigs, balance between trees and open spaces, good cell reception, and closeness to area attractions that caused us to select the campground in the first place. For friends who are camping- mark this one down! Just how close is the river to the campsite? Well, the office says most of the time they are on the river, but occasionally they are IN the river! Non stop barge traffic up and down the mighty river was great entertainment. We could have spent a lot more time here and been happy about it.

From Tom Sawyer, a day trip to Memphis, TN to visit Graceland, home of the King...Elvis. To be sure, no other home of any individual, be they politician, sports hero, or otherwise famous, bears such a recognizable name and is so identified with its owner. Elvis breathed and sang life into this stately southern mansion and it was quite the experience touring and touching where an icon of our generation put his mark on all our lives. Buried there on the grounds with his parents and twin brother (who died at birth) he still moves the masses who visit and pass by and cry by his gravesite by the thousands daily. Thank you....thank you very much!