All posts by xctraveler

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 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 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.

Marking Time

Just in case someone should happen by this site, I thought I would post an update.

Gee 2 is in storage with pink stuff in the water lines and everything else shut down. We have been out a couple of times to run the generator and be sure that everything is ok. I expect that we will make at least two more visits to exercise the generator before we bring it home to prep for the winter trip.

As a surprise, even to ourselves, we have actual plans for the first 30 days or so. we decided to spend some time in Florida near Carol’s brother in St Petersburg. It being Florida we needed to have reservations so we are booked into Fort Desoto Park in Pinellas County for ten days. We hope to spend a lot of time with Art and Natalie and also to visit several friends who live in Long Boat Key.

At the end of that time we will retrace our route to Covesville to arrive in plenty of time to help out in preparation for Josh’s Bar Mitzvah. After that, we will be off to the west (left) coast.

Watch here for updates and reports.

Covesville to Rochester with a stop in Corning

Saturday morning we had little to do to get underway. We had breakfast and cleaned up the interior to batten things down for getting underway. By 7 AM we were rolling, in short order it was 8, we had camped 20 miles from the time zone change, lost an hour instantly. We went though Kentucky and West Virginia and on into Virginia all on I 64 stopping only for gas and bodily needs. At 6:30 that evening we were unhooking the car to take Gee 2 back up the driveway to camping pad in Hungrytown Hollow. The kids were excited to see us the dog had clearly missed us and Malena and Dan also seemed quite happy we were there. Malena had had a procedure that provided some immediate relief and was doing more than she should. Carol and I made our own dinner and used their kitchen table. We spent time with all of them on Sunday and on Monday morning we took responsibility for Josh, this meant taking him ice skating. Carol and I are old timers at skating having grown up on the ice in Cobbs Hill Park. It is amazing how long it takes to recover those abilities. Also the ice seems a lot further away then it did then and falls are not as easy to laugh off now. We had a ball and I may actually do it again some day; after the bruise on my leg from falling on my keys heals.

Then we had a quick changing of the guard and Josh went off with Dan for haircuts, while Carol and I took over with Alex and Cory. I drew the easy job, Cory fell asleep in the stroller and all I had to do was keep him with me. Carol had to keep track of Alex who does not slow down very often. Malena has had another doctors appointment and went directly home from that. We kept the boys in town and had lunch all together at Baggbeys on the Mall. After lunch we went back to the house and caught up with Malena. The kids played and we did not do too much of anything. Dan had to get to work on his computer and somehow we all ended up with computers going.

In the morning we got up to see them all off to the first day of school for Alex and Josh. They all went for the opening day ceremony and Carol and I once more prepared Gee 2 for a long day on the road. As we rolled we decided that reaching Rochester was doable, but probably not fun. I remembered a nice restaurant in Corning, NY that we have stopped at many times before, London Underground, and suggested that the timing would be perfect if we stayed at Ferenbaugh Camps just north of town. And so it was. We sat down to a delightful dinner at 7:30 and enjoyed the meal. The time was made even more interesting as we struck up a conversation with two men at the next table. They were new Yorkers who had decided to escape the Republican Convention. They came to Corning for the Glass museum and the Rockwell and then were going on to Niagara on the Lake for some Shaw and then to Rochester to see the George Eastman House. We commended their brilliance at finding the good stuff.

The next morning we cleaned up, disconnected the utilities and hooked up the car for one last day on the road. We started up 17 to I390 and almost immediately got distracted. I turned off on to 15 and enjoyed the ride through the countryside at a slower pace. When we got to the intersection with 15A in Springwater I decided that the lesser road was more interesting and it didn’t have dump truck for me to follow. We came up the east side of Conesus lake and decided to pick up 65 coming through Honeyoye Falls and came in on Clover Road, a very new route for us in the motorhome.

Our lessons learned were not too painful. We have retained our flexibility when it comes to route selection and extended planning. I learned that the upper rear corners stick out further than I expected, fortunately my tuition was some barked rubbed on the finish on the upper right rear corner. We also will be clear about who has responsibility for watching what parts when maneuvering in tight quarters. Most everything about Gee 2 is an improvement on what we had before and it is a delight to travel and camp in.

Watch for more adventures starting in January.

Branson, MO back to Covesville

We moved on from Memphis on Tuesday as planned, headed for Branson, MO. We had a great “scenic” route laid out, but decided to take I 40 on into Little Rock and then US 65 north to Branson. This was a good call because US 65 is about as scenic as one needs to get. It cuts directly, or maybe indirectly given the curves, through the Ozarks. It has plenty of hills and curves, enough to keep both Carol and me happy and the views were just great. So I know you are all just waiting to ask the question, what is in Branson and why did you have to go there?

The what is over a 100 theaters with just about every kind of music and entertainment you can imagine. I could take my 5 year old grandson to any show without having to answer any untoward questions. It started as a Missouri Ozarks showcase of country music. Many of the big names from Nashville built their own theaters there. There are several seasons. We arrived in the lull between summer family and fall bus seasons. When school is not in session the place is filled with families (so we are told) and the family entertainment venues are jumping. The buses bring in retirees by the thousands for a few shows a couple of nights in a cheap hotel and all the chain food you can imagine, oh I didn’t mention buffets, really big.

This picture is the Lobby of The Remington Theater where we saw the Oak Ridge Boys.

We set up in Chastain’s RV Park just on the edge of the district (by about 500 feet) and set out to choose some shows to attend.

This is not easy since there are more schedules than you can think about. Many shows are offered at 2 PM and again at 8. Some are on at 10 AM. We thought we would go to a couple of them. By the time we were done we got to five shows in three days. Tuesday night we went to “Country Tonight” which had several good country singers and other entertainment of a very country nature. Wednesday we saw The Oak Ridge Boys at 3 and Acrobats of China at 8. Wednesday at 2 we went to The Magic Show with Brett Daniels and at 8 we saw Cirque produced by Neal Goldberg. All of the entertainment was well done and very professional. The performers all came into the lobby to greet the patrons after the show. The theaters are huge, holding up to 4,500 in the case of the Grand Palace and most of the audiences during this interim week numbered in the low hundreds. The performers did not seem fazed by the small audiences and appeared to put out the full effort for us. It was fun and very personal. I do not recommend Branson as a place for most readers to visit. The hotel accommodations run to Fairfield Inn and other mid to low level chains, I am sure there must be some high end, but we did not see it. The food is almost exclusively national chain. We did get into one local restaurant, Jim Owens Steakhouse which was acceptable and was able to put together a decent vegetarian meal for Carol. Not a place I would go out of my way to eat in, but acceptable.

As for why, because it is there. We don’t need to repeat this particular excursion and given its location in the Ozarks, 50 miles south of Springfield, MO, it is not likely that we will happen to be passing by.

We had been making plans for a swift return to Rochester after leaving Branson. Given the direct interstate route it was clear that we would pass through St Louis, MO, Indianapolis and Columbus, OH. We have friends in each of these places and began to set up stopovers of a couple of hours in each for a visit. Accept for the first in St Louis this was not to be. We got a call from Dan that Malena had a kidney stone and was in great pain and Dan seemed to need some help with the kids getting ready to start school and many unknowns about Malena. Since we had to go through St Louis no matter what and did not have to make any decisions until we were ready to leave there, we decided to go ahead with our visit with Carol Slepian. We three go back to Kindergarten together and the Carols were very close through school and have stayed in touch ever since. Her husband, Jake, was at work performing surgery so we could not get to see him unless we stayed over which was not to be. We spoke with Dan and Malena while we were visiting and made the decision to go through to Covesville as quickly as possible.

To visit Carol, we had gotten off the Interstate in the heart of St Louis and found our way to a synagogue near her home that had an open parking lot. Carol called the office there for us and cleared the way for us to park for an hour or so. It is Central Reform Synagogue and we acknowledge their welcome here. We managed to get out of town ahead of the Friday rush hour, just barely, and crossed Illinois and much of Indiana as darkness (and Shabbat) approached. We got to Corydon, IN and located a WalMart just off the Interstate. They gave us the expected permission to stay the night in their parking lot and so we did and I went in and bought a cantaloupe to have fruit for breakfast and to satisfy the unspoken suggestion that one repay their kindness by doing some business with them.

More of Too Long Between. . .

We found an interesting art gallery in the Arts district, saw it from the trolley, and met the owner. Carol has the details, but we were quite charmed and the collection was very eclectic. They were hosting a retrospective of a local artist who had been very sick for a month, in hopes of raising money for him and his family.

The two most impressive museums we visited were Stax Recording Studio and the National Civil Rights Museum. Stax was the home of much of the music we know from the 60’s. It went bankrupt in the 70’s and the building was taken down in the 80’s. It has been reconstructed on the original site in great detail, including the Satellite Record Store serving as the entrance and the floor of the recording studio is sloped as the original was – it has been built in an old movie theater. The National Civil Rights Museum incorporates the Lorraine Motel where MLKing was killed and the building across the street which served as the James Earl Ray’s vantage for the killing (if you accept the idea that he was the killer and not some other conspiracy theory). The history of the civil Rights Movement is detailed and the room where king was staying, 306, has been preserved. All the evidence from his murder is presented and you can make your own determination. Ray did plead guilty and die in prison. There was one more stop in Memphis, and that was at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art where there was a traveling exhibit:

Jewish Life in Ancient Egypt:

A Family Archive from the Nile Valle

We toured the show and then went into the auditorium for a presentation by Rabbi Micah Greenberg and a professor of religious studies from University of Tennessee and an orthodox rabbi. Given the size of the Memphis Jewish community, we met people we had seen the day before and are now friends. After the lecture we went to the zoo and finished the day with dinner and relaxation back on Gee 2.

Too Long Between Posts

So, we had a great time with the kids for five days and then we set out for Memphis, TN with a general idea of a route and some needs to make specific stops. Although we had little desire to face Nashville and its traffic again, it was clear that if we were going to get to a Camping World this trip it would have to be Nashville. That became our first planned stop and the first “casualty” of delayed planning. We needed to stock up on groceries and some other needs before we would be totally self contained. We made it to Staunton, VA, about 45 minutes from the house (by a direct route) and spent two hours there, plus another half hour for lunch. We were already half a day behind our minimal schedule before we had even gotten started.

After lunch we rolled down I81 past Roanoke until we got to a Flying J near Marion, VA. Nearby there was a private campground near Hungry Mother State Park (that is NOT a typo). This would not be my first choice of campgrounds, but I knew who had slept in our bed the night before and who was using the bathroom, so the upkeep of the campground was of little concern other than appearances. Do not go out of your way to stay there. I have no idea about the facilities in the park, but doubted we would find anything we could fit into, so gave it a miss.

The next day, Wednesday the 18th found us rolling along the interstate, 81 to 40 into Nashville, and we arrived mid afternoon. This gave us time to set up near the Camping World store. The RV Park we stayed at was, God help us, now a Yogi Bear Jellystone Park, something we have managed to avoid for all of our years of camping until now. Since it had been a decent park the last time we had been in the area in January, we checked in and found it quite comfortable, the only thing changed was the name and the signage (and the price). We killed the rest of the afternoon shopping for small comforts for Gee 2, a special soap dish for the shower, another small folding step for internal use, and items that are generally made for RV’s. Carol made a nice dinner on board and we thought about finding some music, as we opened the door we heard it, it was coming from a small pavilion in the Park and a trio was performing an uninspired mix of music, mostly country. They were not bad, just not polished. When we asked later, we learned that this was a pickup group that had not played together much at all. For the price, free, they were pretty good and we had had our music in Nashville.

Thursday the 19th found us starting out in familiar territory. We retraced our route from the winter of 2002 on to the Natchez Trace Parkway. This time the weather was fine and warm, hot even, and we slowly worked our way to the south of Tennessee along the Trace. We were surprised at the lack of bright colors. We have seen winter drab and early Spring along the way and sort of expected the summer would be a riot of color. Instead everything was lush green. As we worked our way south we discussed where to stop for the night. Just West of the Trace I noticed Shiloh National Military Monument and just east of that Pickwick State Park which had camping available. We decided on the State Park with little idea of what it was about. As we followed the highway signs for the park I realized we were approaching a large dam, this is part of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the dam serves to provide power, here is a retired turbine, and maintains a navigable waterway and flood prevention as well as providing a major recreational resource.

The campground (note not an RV Park) was quite lovely, but the sites were small and not really level as you can see from the amount of boards and blocks we needed even with our power levelers.

For our RVing friends in motorhomes, there are three or four sites that will accommodate a unit of 36 feet, maximum, and they are not particularly level. Don’t be fooled by the pull throughs on the map they are humpbacked and the utilities are on the wrong side, your door will open on the road. We drove into town for a look see and found a Radio Shack that had the printer I was looking for and a radio with CD player that Carol wanted for dining out, so we left town with more goods than we arrived with and less money.

The weather did not cooperate and we had reservations for Graceland RV Park in Memphis and plans to take a very convoluted route from Pickwick to Memphis so we got up early and left for Memphis. The route was northerly to TN 100 and then westerly on Tn100 until we turned South. There we gave up on scenic and braved the expressways into town following I240 to I55 to US 51 (Elvis Presly Blvd) within a couple of blocks we spotted The Heart Break Hotel on the corner of Lonely Street. We turned in on Lonely Street and found the RV Park at the end. This is a nice place, not particularly scenic, but quite comfortable. The Memphis locals were horrified that we would stay in such a rough neighborhood. We did not understand until we went shopping for wine. We found one place that had a “customer area” completely surrounded by ½ inch Plexiglas and the wine selection ran to Richards Wild Irish Rose (a product of Canandaigua Wineries, now Constellation Brands).

But I get ahead of myself. Our first full day in Memphis was to be Saturday and we traced down the Reform Synagogue, Temple Israel, far to the east of us, and made our way there for Saturday Morning Shabbat Services. Torah study was a shock, there were over 40 attendees and it was clear that this was a normal occurrence. The lox and bagels were special; although not being prepared we had eaten and could not partake. Rabbi Micah Greenstein led the study and it was quite wonderful. We went on to the congregational service in the chapel lead by Tara and Maury Feldstein. He had just been hired from B’nai Jeshrun and the service was quite a mix between the Reform we are used to and the more conservative of BJ. Also the music was very different. This is new to this congregation, fourth week, and they too are just getting used to it. It was a very warm service and we were very welcomed.

While in Memphis we did many different things. We walked Beale Street and managed to get into one club that had a bunch of old timers playing Blues that seemed pretty authentic to us. Most of the music we heard coming from bars was modern fusion. We went to Graceland, which was a short walk from our campground. I must say it is worth the trip. I am not exactly an Elvis fan, but he certainly accomplished a lot and, it would appear, he was generous in his support of many causes. Graceland is about as gaudy as you might expect.

This just makes it more fun because it meets expectations.

Messing around with new Blogger

Here is a picture of Cory, Malena and Dan’s youngest, on board Gee2 before the hurricanes turned the weather wet and chilly.

For the record, the software puts the picture in the right place, but it does not get the link quite right. I had to edit the link. Most of you really don’t care, but for any novice setting up your own blog it may take some greater knowledge than Blogspot would have you believe.

Yesterday, that was Friday the 13th, we drove to Natural Bridge Virginia, this is listed as one of the 7 Wonders of the Natural World, from the time of Washington and Jefferson. George Washington surveyed this area and the route of highway 11, which still passes over the bridge, when he was a young man. As we remembered, the area is a major tourist trap and even the entrance to the gorge with the bridge is a major shopping event. Once we got past the entrance, the area is quite interesting. Here we are under the bridge:
by Ann Carol

The Native American Village was staffed by two members of the tribe from the area who were quite interesting in their presentations of what they were doing and were also willing to talk about their lives today.

The kids all ended up with wet feet from wading in the stream and the adults, at least the two older adults, were quite content to get back in the car for the ride back to Covesville with dry feet. We stopped at a new restaurant in Batesville, Cucina del Sol, and had excellent Mexican food. I was even able to find a fine chicken dish that did not challenge my diet too much.

Today, the 14th has been grey, wet and chilly all day. We have had fun hanging around the house with the kids and now Malena and Dan have gone off to a party and we are babysitting.

More soon.

Starting over.

We thought we were pretty comfortable in Goliath, especially during the 3 month winter journey that took us coast to coast and all along the southern border of this great country. If you followed any of the trip you know we shopped our way across the country and ended up ordering our new motorhome during a mechanical breakdown in West Virginia. We had it built to our order, more like ordering a car than custom construction, and took delivery in June between trips to Central Europe and Israel. We have never been accused of letting grass grow beneath our feet.

This is a new beginning, Goliath is gone and we now travel in Gee 2, a 36 foot Southwind with a couple of slideouts and a really large shower in the back (well, if you’ve seen our shower at home this is just medium large, but compared to many home showers and all the motorhome showers we have seen, this one is LARGE). For all of the details you can click on the Fleetwood RV website. This will provide a good picture and a complete floor plan. Ours is the 36E and we do not have the washer/dryer and we do have the sofa sleeper.

We took a shakedown cruise to Roseboom, NY. This is in Cherry Valley and not too far from Cooperstown. Most everything worked just fine and the punch list of fixes was mostly trivial. We picked up Gee 2 from the dealer and after a few days to get ready we set out and had a 500 mile day, almost 11 hours, getting to Malena and Dan’s home in Virginia. That is where we are now. In a day or two I will post some pictures and a link to Fleetwood Southwind for those who care about floor plans and such.