Heading to the Bar Mitzvah/Arguing with Hal

The time has come to head back north, to Charlottesville. As we prepared for our last night in Ft Desoto I turned on NOAA weather report and heard that there was a front coming through at 4 AM with high winds, falling temperatures and some rain. I just hoped this would not interfere to greatly with our departure.

At 5 AM on January 23, I was awakened by roaring winds, flapping awnings and leaves driven across our roof and side walls. I got up and put some clothes on to go out and assess the damage, if any. I almost lost the door to the wind as I opened it. Having had that experience once, I was prepared to hang on tight. A quick look assured me that there was no damage yet. I was not sanguine that the circumstance would continue. I got Carol up and we pulled in the slide-out rooms so their awning toppers would not be exposed to the wind. This made it a bit cozy, especially in the bedroom where the foot of the bed was now pressed firmly against the opposite wardrobe drawers as it always is in travel mode. We snatched our needs out of those drawers before we closed the room. Being as secure as we could be, we went back to sleep for an hour.

With this early start and three and half days to travel 900 miles we decided that we would get out of Florida and stop early. We took a slightly indirect route because we did not want to retrace our route down, first as a matter of our usual practice and second because who needs I 95 up the east coast of Florida and through Georgia. That road is the pits for traffic. For those who like to see maps of the route click here (be warned this is a large file). Instead we went up I 75 through Valdosta, GA and pulled into Paradise Lakes RV Park north of Valdosta. Paradise it isn’t unless you like a flat piece of land with no redeeming features other than nice owners and full hookups, which were unusable in this instance because of an impending hard freeze. As soon as we had showered, I disconnected the water line and drained it and I could not hook up the sewer line for fear that the cold hose would break in my hand as it has in the past. This was no problem and we may come by here again in March. For $10 my expectations are not high.

Arguing with Hal

We are using mapping software from DeLorme, if you have bought the big state map book or done much with maps you know DeLorme. They are very good. This software works with the GPS to provide constant tracking of location versus the planned route. It has voice prompts and will accept voice command. When I set it up I assigned the “voice’ of Microsoft Mike” as the default voice. Carol instantly renamed it Halitosis, Hal for short. Of course that name has given it an obligation to be difficult. He has not yet refused to open the pod bay doors, but I am waiting. Early on it became clear that when I “forced it” to route me in an inefficient, but scenic way that some of the “vias” I had inserted were slightly off the track I intended. After the first blip of this sort, I went in at higher magnification and relocated most of them to the intended route. In one instance, the main route was split into two one way streets passing through a town and Hal went nuts recalculating to bring me back to the route, which was a one way street the wrong way! Once I figured out what was happening I ignored its clamor to immediately turn right, left, or do anything but follow the highway signs. We laughed it off and kept going.

As we entered Athens, GA, with me at the wheel and Carol as navigator, the route became somewhat convoluted. Rather than stay on the bypass around the city it insisted that we go right through the city. Not having surveyed the route carefully on a FPM (folding paper map) we proceeded to follow the directions until the program seemed to stop responding after having us take a couple of obvious wrong turns. At the next light Carol and I swapped seats on the fly and I tried to coax Hal into being more helpful. I then noticed that I had left a random “via” in the middle of the city and Hal, as any good computer program will, was following its programming to the command. We pulled into a shopping mall parking lot and I restarted Hal without the misleading command. It promptly guided us out onto a slightly different road than we would have taken otherwise that very conveniently led directly to a Flying J Travel Plaza. Lesson learned, Hal is very precise and generally accurate, but has no sense of humor.

From the Flying J we searched for a nearby campground and found another Passport America facility nearby. The Lake Hartwell Camping and Cabins is very nice with wooded sites that have been newly leveled and upgraded. We are putting it our file for a return visit if we come by this way in better weather. The 50% discount price of $12 sure makes it nice on a winter’s evening. For tomorrow I have coaxed Hal into following another scenic route, part of the Savannah River National Scenic Highway and the Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Highway. Click here for map If the computer gets too obstreperous, we will turn it off and return to the paper maps.

Well it worked quite well taking us through SC and into NC on I 85. Our route passed through the Greensboro area where we were to pick up US 29 North, the last leg. Well unknown to DeLorme or even to the NC State map maker, they have opened a new bypass carrying I 85 – I 40 further south and well beyond the connection to US 29. Hal went nuts trying to route us through an area that did not show any roads. Eventually we got back to the old road and backtracked to US 29. Then we had to follow a detour because the ramp we wanted was closed. Hal took this in good stride and figured out the detour and brought us on to 29. We got off in Danville, VA where the software had located a Wal Mart just off the route. That was where we spent the night before coming on to Malena and Dan’s house. We are now in our usual spot in front of the house.

We will stay here until Monday, January 31. Then we roll out west.

Good News, A Tight Squeeze and a Close Call:

We finally got word from Carol’s doctor, he said “keep traveling, enjoy your trip and there is nothing to worry about”. “Resume breathing!”

We pulled out of St Augustine before that call and made a stop in Micanopy, FL after less than 80 miles. It is about twelve miles south of Gainesville and is a very old town dating back to the early 1800’s. Micanopy (accent on the long o) means highest chief in the local Indian dialect. Today it is a beautiful town of many antique shops and a lovely B & B. We walked a bit and then had lunch and moved on to Paynes Prairie Preserve just a couple of miles north of town, where there was great birding and a campground with room for us. We saw Bald Eagles in flight and other birds to numerous to list here. The facilities were lovely and well maintained.

On Thursday we moved on to St Petersburg and our reservations at Ft Desoto. The campground met all of our expectations. It is rustic and woodsy and the sites are very nice once you get into them. When Carol first saw #195 (our first site) she thought the entry was obstructed by a tree and hydrant. With some careful maneuvering and Carol’s guidance, I was able to back between the two trees with a foot our two to spare. Once in we had plenty of room to deploy our slideout rooms.

We went to Art and Natalie’s home as soon as we got set up and cleaned up. There we had a wonderful dinner and sat and talked until time to drive back and get some sleep. That night it rained. A front came through and the wind came up. We heard some strange noises and went back to sleep. Art and Natalie came over in the morning and as I was showing them around the motorhome and site I realized that there was a tree leaning against the back of the motorhome. It had fallen in the storm. It did not cause even a small scratch. I pulled it clear and was able to see that it had barely touched us. I called the rangers and within an hour it was gone. Whew!

As I write this it is Thursday night the 20th. The time has certainly been flying. Natalie had some doctors appointments and is going to have a heart pace maker implanted next week. The good news is she will get to go to her grand daughter’s bat mitzvah in Israel, the bad news is she will miss Josh’s. The even better news is she was diagnosed early and has not had many of the symptoms.

We have continued to sight see around her appointments. On Tuesday Carol and I took off for Sarasota and Long Boat Key where we have several friends. We had a delightful lunch with the Blochs at Tommy Bahamas on St Armand Circle after touring the John Ringling Estate. We went on from lunch to the Selby Gardens where we took in the orchids and many other beautiful plants. Then we ended up at the Rapowitz’ house for cocktails before going out to dinner with them, the Blochs and the Holtzmans. After all that we drove back to Fort Desoto and called it a night.

In the midst of this we keep make small additions to Gee 2 to make it more personal. I finally got around to mounting a second fire extinguisher in the bedroom, and applying Velcro (I bought the stuff with the brand name) to hold down the DVD player in the A/V cabinet and applying it to the bottom of the docking station for this computer so it won’t slide around on the dash when the driver turns or hits the brakes. We have been adding hooks in appropriate places and looking for better ways to do things. Today we went to the flower show at the Tropicana Stadium. I found the only way I will ever get onto a professional baseball field. We even found stuff to buy for Gee 2 there. Tomorrow we hope to see some Manatee at the power station and do some other things during the day. We have not made any plans for Saturday yet and Sunday is move out day.

Wow, did we see manatee! The Tampa Electric Company canal where they discharge warm water was full of manatee. The highest number thye have recorded there is 303. There weren’t that many, but enough to give us the sense of their presence. We went on from there to lunch in Ybor City, the home of the Tampa Cigar and a wonderful mixed culture of Cuban, Spanish and Italian. Today it features lively night life and decent luncheon places.

The weather as warmed as we prepare to move on Sunday back to the cold of Virginia. I may post once more before the Bar Mitzvah, then you won’t hear from me for a few days while we get clear of the East Coast.

On to Florida

We decided that we needed to stay on the East Coast until after Josh’s Bar Mitzvah. This meant going to Florida, if we were to have any hope of finding warm weather. It also provides us with the opportunity to visit Carol’s brother and sister-in-law in St Petersburg. Having decided that we searched for a nice place to stay near them and between our magazines and the RV.net forum we decided to stay in Ft Desoto. This is a campground that has ratings varying from excellent to dreadful. Reading the individual reviews leads me to believe it will be fine for us. We will know tomorrow.

But first we have to get there. We rolled out of Hungrytown Hollow mid Sunday morning. Our goal was to continue until it got dark or we got tired and we found someplace to stop. The route was easy, south on US 29 to I 85 to I 77. The roads were clear and with nothing to cause us to pause we soon were entering Columbia, Sc with the sun beginning to set and a Flying J in the offing. We pulled in to top off the propane tank and empty our holding tanks which we had not emptied since arriving at Dan and Malena’s. As we surveyed the parking area it did not look very welcoming so we asked about the nearest WalMart along our route and found that was one “just off the highway.” Five miles of “just off the highway” brought us to a WalMart in a fairly congested area. There were no RVs in the parking lot, not a good sign. I decided that since we were the first I had best ask the manager for permission. The surly customer service person said they didn’t permit it, but she would ask the manager anyhow. Within a matter of minutes the manager granted us permission and we did our shopping and retired to dinner and a good night’s rest. So far we had not stayed in a campground this trip and we were out seven days.

We left Columbia on I 77 which brought us to I 26 which brought us eventually to I 95. At this point I could see that we would make St Augustine with plenty of daylight. We called ahead to Pepper Tree RV Resort in A1A about five miles south of St Augustine. A quick review, it has 17 rental sites scattered among many park models. The sites are tight, but level and acceptable. For a two night stay when amenities were of no interest at all and a 50% off Passport America deal, who could complain? If passing though and needing a few nights rest, I would stay there again. If I were looking for a fancy resort with plenty of things to do on site, this would be my very last choice.

The first thing I did was wash Gee 2, it needed it. Then I washed me and we went to town to see about dinner. After checking out every restaurant within walking distance of where we parked, at least twice, we walked into the nicest surprise that can be found. The Columbia serves a Spanish menu mixed with Cuban and it is excellent and the price was not exorbitant (that become relative having dined in New York City recently). We finished a bottle of superb wine between us and made it home safely. The next day we did the tourist thing with a couple of hours at the Alligator Farm and other tourist wanderings. We had lunch in town and returned to Gee 2 for a modest repast from our own larder for dinner.

To be continued. . .

A Delayed Start in GOOD Weather

We are off on another winter escape. The plan to leave on Monday the 3rd of January was thwarted by Carol’s need to have doctors cause her pain and suffering. Once we knew the schedule we went ahead with a revised plan to leave on the very next day, Tuesday the 4th. I need not go into the effort Carol put in to not losing more time on the trip than was avoidable.

Sunday we loaded as much as we could and on Monday both before and after the procedure, we worked getting everything ready for a Tuesday departure. Tuesday we woke up early and it was clear we were leaving, although my co-driver was going to be sitting out the drive in the navigator seat. We rolled out at 10:50 AM and made a brief stop at my mother’s to say good bye and make our departure real for her.

Then in grey and drizzle we started south. Our thoughts were to make Carlisle, PA that night and stay at Western RV Village and push on early in Wednesday. I have not taken a solid 5 hours at the wheel since we started these adventure. Fortunately Gee 2 handles very well and is not troubled by big trucks passing or normal cross winds. The new tow’d, 2005 Toyota RAV4 AWD standard transmission follows like a contented puppy dog. The only consession we have to make to it’s owner’s manual is to remember to start the engine and let it idle 3 minutes every 200 miles. Since it is unlikely we will travel that far without a normal stop, we just run back and start it up each time we take a break.

We did not make it quite as far as the RV park. I pulled into the Flying J at the intersection of I 81 and the Penn Turnpike (I 76) to fill up the propane tank. While there Carol found a place at the end of the row of parked RV’s with just enough room for us. I pulled in, leveled, and ran out the bedroom slide into a space that was not in anyone’s way. After dinner on board we took a walk and met some of our neighbors. While talking with a couple and a trucker, the other guy noticed that I had a puddle of water and a drip from the utility compartment. I opened it and noticed that the low point drain did not seem to be secure and that was the source of the leak. I seated that and closed up, content that the problem was easily solved.

The lullaby of diesels and rv generators was fairly steady and we slept quite well, waking early as the others in the parking lot started to get under way. One fifth wheeler, from our neighbor to the north, was trying to go between our unit and the next one over, where our overnight neighbor had departed. This space was really too narrow for him to go through and turn, but he was putting my bedroom slide in jeaporady, so I yelled to Carol to get out of the bedroom and I pulled the slide in. Eventually they gave up and backed clear and pulled around behind me, without hitting the tow’d.

Having had enough of that kind of excitement we rolled out at 7:30 AM. The drive down 81 was uneventful and we arrived at Malena and Dan’s by 11:45. AM. There I was able to spot Gee 2 in a reasonably level place in no time and we invited Malena and Cory on board for lunch. Gee 2 may have a new name, “Zayde’s Bus” Cory started calling it that. We will see how long that lasts. Alex’s “Kitchen Bus” is long gone. He is too sophisticated, its “the Motorhome.”

We had dinner at Gretchen and Ed Robb’s home. For the story of how we met see San Antonio, TX, Winter ’04. Dinner and conversation were delightful and we may go back on Saturday afternoon, to take the kids to see Gretchen and the farm and horses.

Back on board, during the night I noticed that the water pump was cycling occasionally. This is not good, it means there is a leak in the system someplace. Somehow I managed to ignore it and sleep just fine. In the morning it became more evident that there was something wrong and I began a search. The search took me to the utility compartment ( this compartment houses the water inlet, the drains and the black and grey water drain as well as cable, phone and satellite connections). There I double checked the inlet connection. This connection has a check valve which must be depressed a bit when winterizing. I had read on rv.net that it was subject to damage if pushed too enthusiastically. I determined that this was the source of the leak. By the time I finished the diagnosis it was no longer a slow leak. I had also read that the part is inexpensive ( a relative term in the RV world) and easy to change out. The latter was true, undo three screws and unscrew the the pipe connection from the back. It is clear this is not a repairable item. The nearest rv supply place to Dan’s is in Harrisonburg, 60 miles away, nearby in RV terms. They had the part and the installation was trivial. I have a spare stored in the utility compartment. Any item that breaks and costs less than $100 is worth having a spare on board, especially if it’s failure is a show stopper, and this one is, it means no running water.

We are repaired and settling in to celebrate Josh’s 13th birthday, he is a legit teenager, God help Dan and Malena. The Bar Mitzvah is the end of this month, we will be back.

No pictures this time, it has been grey and dismal and we have not had time for photos yet.