Bill and Kit’s 2012 Excellent Adventure-Journal #2

Latitude: Wherever ••• Longitude: Who Cares

“The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.” 

John Muir

Friday, January 13, 2012:  Since it is Friday the 13th……we ain’t going anywhere!  Besides after 4 long days of travel covering 1800 miles we need a break!! Barksdale Air Force Base is located in the northwest corner of Louisiana, just outside of Shreveport.  Their campground is located on the opposite side of the airstrip from the base proper and appears to contain mainly Air Force personnel on temporary assignment.

Shortly after setting up camp one of these BFA’s flew over.

BFA…..that’s military jargon for Big Friggin Airplane.  That monster is a B-52 bomber that first went operational in 1955 (when I was only two and Kit a mere twenty-seven).  They feature 8 engines, can travel at over 600 MPH and can carry 70,000 pounds of whup-ass.  Big is an understatement as two of these suckers will barely fit on a football field, depending on the skill of the pilot.  Oh, and by the way, provide a whole different dynamic to the game.   There were 744 built with 85 still flying today.  A number have crashed…..apparently the tail likes to fall off for no apparent reason.  There is a B-52 crash site on a mountainside near Moosehead Lake, Maine.  A lot of folks have taken the dirt road and short hike to see the wreckage and pay respect to the 7 patriots that perished there in 1963.  However there have been cases where after such an “unplanned in-flight incident” the aircraft kept flying and landed safely proving the airworthiness of design.  Here is what one looks like on the ground.

We spent two days at Barksdale AFB looking around, stocking the trailer with food, and generally relaxing.  We also experienced our first trailer component failure after three years and many miles of travel.  The hot water heater stopped heating hot water.  You know, it should be called a cold water heater…..why would you want to heat hot water?  Anyway, it’s not an emergency as most RV water heaters are dual sourced…..electric and propane.  In our case the electric side is what malfunctioned.  Figured out we would just rely on the propane side until I could locate parts and attempt repairs. In one of our walks about the campground I noticed a fellow doing some work on a nice mountain bike, so we stopped to talk.  We learned that Ray and Rosa have mutual acquaintances in common with us.  Last year we camped next to a nice couple by the name of Mike and Angela at San Onofre Beach, California.  Well as it turns out they camped next to the same couple last year as well.  Another one of unending “small world” occurrences we seem to encounter on these trips.  Ray did tell of some nice bike trails down the road, but since we were pulling out in the morning those will have to wait for exploration on another day. Sunday, January 15, 2012:  Left Barksdale AFB at 0852 under clear skies and temperatures in the 30’s.  Hopped on I-20 where we soon crossed the Texas line and stopped at the Welcome Center to pick up a current Texas State Park guide.  Of all the state parks in the US we have stayed at over the years, we believe Texas has the nicest, many constructed by the CCC. Back on the road, we turned on the radio and found a number of Mexican language stations and at one point couldn’t find any that were being transmitted in English…..kinda weird. We generally prefer to travel the back roads, so tiring of the Interstate we pulled off on TX-155 heading toward Waco.  Seeing a small gas station in the middle of nowhere advertising fuel for $3.18 a gallon we stopped to top off.  The temperature had quickly risen to the mid 60’s and the bright sun promised a warm afternoon. Enjoying the leisurely travel through Texas Hill Country, we stopped for a picnic at a small town park and enjoyed a bit of walking around to work out the kinks. Back on the road, Kit tried the radio again and came upon a station that advertised “All Polka-All the Time”.  Gotta believe there aren’t more than about 7 Polka songs in the world but we listened to that station for the next few hours as we passed cattle farms, small dusty towns and oil fields.  The thing about listening to Polka music while driving is that one has a hard time controlling the speed…..for some reason you want to go faster and faster. Nearing Waco, of Branch Davidian fame, we moved over to TX-35 toward Belton and the Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area (BLORA) managed by Fort Hood.  Checking into the park we were greeted by this old fellow.

Apparently folks feed this guy as he repeatedly tried to get close enough to sniff my camera…..however I kept my distance which really got its goat. BLORA is a very large lakeside recreation park located about 60 miles north of Austin.  There are three campgrounds to choose from as well as rental units spread about.  With our Golden Age Passport the full hookup sites were seasonally priced at $11.25 per night…..an incredible bargain for all that is offered.  We choose to camp in the woods at the Deer Park campground and true to its name, when we arrived we were greeted by this young buck.

The campground was only about half full so we selected a nice secluded spot in the woods.

Texas, as well as the rest of the south is enduring a rather severe drought…..the lake was so low that floats and piers were high and dry, sitting on parched soil hundreds of feet from the water’s edge.

After a nice walk around the area we settled in for the night listening to the silence of the wilderness.   Monday, January 16, 2012-Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area, Texas (BLORA):  We decided to stay another night so we could enjoy some of what this area has to offer.  The weather is clear and cool but the forecast is for a warm afternoon.  One BLORA feature that I was anxious to checkout was the Mountain Bike Trails.

The trail system was very well maintained and thoroughly enjoyable.  Within the 20 mile network there were beginner, intermediate and advanced trails, the latter featuring a number of technical sections, some of which I ended up walking…..still fun, however.  There are unique trail hazards in the south that make it prudent to bring a spare tube and an inflator.  In addition these hazards make falling a rather prickly situation.

Now Texas is undergoing a severe drought, but somehow I was able to locate the only muddy spot in the state and the goop was like cement, sticking instantly to tires and bike.

This place is a keeper and will be added to our ever expanding list of prime camping opportunities. Tuesday, January 17, 2012:  Up and on the road by 1100 for the short two hour trip south to Kyle, Texas and an anxiously anticipated stay with Kit’s sister Char and her husband Don.  The sky was clear, temperatures in the 60’s and traffic light.  Since there are no convenient back roads we stayed on I-35 until we got past Austin.  After making a brief stop at the huge Cabela’s store in Buda we pulled into their neighborhood at 1410 and our first dooryard camping opportunity.

After a warm welcome and an excellent home cooked meal we settled in for the night in our trailer.  Some folks we stop to see are a bit put out that we prefer staying in or trailer while visiting.  We are often encouraged to take advantage of their guest room but we actually prefer our own bed.  Besides it gives our host a bit of privacy and since we make our own coffee and breakfast it partially lifts the burden of having guests visit.  Folks that RV about the country understand  instantly and others that we visit frequently have learned to appreciate the simplicity of our preference. Wednesday, January 18, 2012 through Sunday, January 22, 2012-Kyle, Texas:  Spent a very nice six days visiting with Char and Don.  In addition to enjoying the nice weather we spent time experiencing this unique part of Texas. On a nice warm day, we traveled to Austin’s Zilker Park.  The wind was perfect for kite flying so out with kite #2.

We also enjoyed all the various botanicals at the Botanical Garden:

And stopped for lunch at the world famous Trailer Park Eatery:

Trailer Park cuisine at its finest.  I enjoyed a Dirty Sanchez and a Green Chile pork taco.  Too hard to describe but feel free to look them up at http://torchystacos.com/food/tacos/  Axle grease provided at no extra charge!

On another day, I worked on getting the trailer and truck ready for the westward ho migration.  An historical note…..Westward Ho is when the eastern “feature ladies” migrated west to more fertile grazing grounds.  We tend to follow their well-worn wagon trails. As noted earlier, our Cold Water Heater does not heat up on the electric side.  So doing a little poking around on the Internet I discovered a $43.00 RV element is the same as the $9.00 Lowes element.  Speaking of Lowes…..they have a very nice selection of Texas brand Chain Saws.  Don’t work as well as the Maine brand, but a heck of a lot quieter.

Also on the Internet I discovered that the gas line has a service loop to allow unbolting the burner tube and bending it out of the way.  Other than locating a 1 ½ inch socket, the replacement was pretty straight forward.

Out of curiosity, I did inquire at the local RV shop for an estimate to do this repair…..approximately $200.00 the guys said with a straight face.  I’m providing all this info for my benefit as well as that of our fellow RV friends.  Bottom line…..it was an easy repair and now Bill can once again get himself into hot water! On yet another beautiful 80 degree day, we headed south to New Braunfels and the famous Gruene Dance Hall (pronounced “Green Dans Hal”), the oldest continually operating dance hall in Texas.

This venue has seen all the major country and western stars on her stage and has launched the careers of Lyle Lovett, Hal Ketchum and George Strait. But before the foot stompin starts we needed some vittles so off to The Gristmill Restaurant we moseyed.

Enjoyed a great meal as we relaxed by the Guadalupe River and watched the sunset through the shoreline vegetation.

Before heading back to the dance hall, we walked the historic district where I was able to try on some cowboy hats in order to give a western flair to my Hawaiian shirt, shorts and sandals.  I think this one will allow me to be accepted by the cow pokes and sod busters.

Not sure what a “cow poke” is…..not sure I wanna know either. Back at the hall, the music started the cowboys and cowgirls were on the floor, and some of them were even upright and dancing.  I tried my darnedest to get my two left feet to do the two step…..not gonna happen.

I did get a shiner……no, not what you think, regardless of my attire…..a Shiner Bock beer, an incredible local brew. The girls enjoyed a drink as well.

Actually…..I think those were their third or fourth…..notice the silly grins.  Also note the chicken wire covering the windows.  I think that was a safety precaution to prevent beer bottles from flying out into the street. Don and Char are considering joining the RV brotherhood so on one day the girls went to the local RV dealer to poke around.  They discovered that the owner was an avid old car collector, having more than thirty antiques and classics in an attached garage.  Upon discovering this, I had to pay a visit.  There, amongst the Model A’s, Cadillac’s, Corvettes and a very rare Plymouth Super Bird was a little Isetta.

My mother had a 1956 BMW Isetta when I was a kid and I marveled at its simplicity with its front opening door.  The 13 horsepower motorcycle engine and chain drive power train would scoot this lightweight microcar to a max speed of 47 MPH in a very long 58 seconds. It would, however get over 50 miles per gallon from its 4 gallon fuel tank.  The thing was a real “chick magnet”…..chickens would sit on the roof for hours hoping it would hatch.

Well….let’s see, what else did we do.  Oh yea, we ate some more…..had a really nice Tex-Mex meal at Luviano’s in Kyle.

Where if you leave hungry…..it’s your own darn fault.

And after the Margaritas were consumed, we all enjoyed listening to Char telling funny family secrets.

Back at their home we endured the Republican debates where Newt and John King traded jabs and the electorate became more confused than ever.  The CNN comedy was interrupted when the neighborhood owl lit on the roof and started calling to its mate.  Wanting a photo, Char with flashlight and I with my camera snuck into the backyard.  Trying to get the huge bird to face me I called “me…..me”.  I barely made it back into the house!  Yikes…..that was a close call!! Kit’s Corner:  As in past years, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay with Char & Don.  We were able to do a bit more sightseeing than we’ve done during previous visits, which was nice.  We also met up with some friends from Maine, Ray & Darlene.  They have relocated to Kyle, TX and we try and catch up with them while we are in the area.  They, in turn, try to catch up with us when they come to Maine during the summer.  Now, it’s REALLY time to head West….

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Bill and Kit’s 2012 Excellent Adventure-Journal #1

Latitude: Wherever ••• Longitude: Who Cares

Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything

Charles Kuralt

 

Monday, January 9, 2012: Up, dressed, hitched, loaded (well Kit was loaded…..I tried to stay sober) and on the road by 0415!!! What an ungodly hour on a winter’s morning to be up and about, you say? Well we discovered last year that leaving early allows us to miss the commuter traffic in Boston (AM) and in New York (PM). So why today, you ask? Well, we had some very enjoyable social engagements this weekend. And it’s likely that tomorrow would have been a madhouse on the roads, what with all those republication candidate’s exiting New Hampshire and heading to South Carolina…..so today is our window of opportunity!

Speaking of politics…..I’m no student of the silly game; however we should think about that former Massachusetts governor who was honored by having a prestigious technology institute in Cambridge named after him. That dude’s got some clout…..or at least a lot of money!

Yesterday, I removed a wreath from the house next door and affixed it to the rear of our trailer.

When it turns brown…..we have found our winter home!

It is a clear cold morning with a full moon, perfect to begin our fourth annual winter RV trip. We generally stick to the Interstate Highway System the first few days to get south and warm as fast as possible, hence the quote selection for this issue. We follow the traditional New England Snowbird Route and whiz (well not continuously…..however at our age, we do stop often) through New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and on into Pennsylvania.

The crew of the Bill and Kit 2012 Excellent Adventure consists of Bill, the driver:

And Kit the Navigator:

Not to be alarmed…..she wakes from time to time to tell me how to drive, or to contradict Lucy. (Remember Lucy the GPS?). Well the old girl is showing her age and is beginning to suffer from CRS. Lucy, not Kit…..Kit’s still as perfect as ever……honest, just ask her.

Just heard on the radio that today would have been Elvis’s 77th birthday, wonder how he would look today…..you know, had he lived.

On I-15S traveling through Connecticut as we pass the exit sign for Yale University, the finest institution in the country…..if you seek an advanced degree in hollering.

A few miles further we spotted a topiary sign on a hillside that spelled “Hubbell”…..at least I think it said Hubbell, couldn’t be sure as it was a bit out of focus.

At 1108 we crossed the Hudson River by way of the Tappan Zee Bridge. The river looked a bit funny, as if people had been polluting it for hundreds of years. Wonder if that is where the NY folks dig their clams…..could account for the unusual look of the Clam Chowder sold here about. A rather unique toll collection scheme has a tool booth only on the eastern side of the Tappen Zee Bridge. Since we are heading west and will likely return in 5 months through Canada…..we make out!

At 1325, we decide to pull off the highway in Clinton, NJ for lunch. Since Kit has been such a trooper about getting up early I treated her to a fine meal at a nice Irish restaurant. Ron, the owner, agreed to sit for a photo op. Nice quiet fellow, however he had a rather plastic personality and was flashing a fake smile. And check out his Afro and bright yellow Leisure Suit…..so 70’s!

At 1630 we entered the town of Carlisle, Pennsylvania and decided to call it a day. Couldn’t call it a night as it was still daylight. After picking up some Subway sandwiches we locate a very nice Fairfield Inn and scored a military retiree discount. In addition, they assigned us a room overlooking where we parked the rig for the night.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012: Up and on the road at 0825 under clear cool skies. Had to scrape some frost off the windshield with my ID card. No ice scrapper onboard…..removed it and the snow brush last week….no sense tempting fate.

Jumped on I-81S where we continued down Pennsylvania and then rolled through Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and on into Tennessee. It always amazes us that we can travel 11 states in the first 2 days of these trips. Out west it might take 11 days to travel through 2 states!

We are enjoying an easy day of traveling; however there are reports of a storm system to the south of us. At 1730 we pull into the small town of Blountville, Tennessee and since it is 53 degrees we decide to try camping. Finding a nice little grocery store, we stock up and head for the Rocky Top Campground (yep…..that song stayed in my head for days, if you must know). In years past we stayed in motels for 2 or 3 nights due to cold temperatures. However with overnight lows predicted to be in the mid 40’s we decided to re-commission the trailer and go for it. The campground was sparsely populated and we were able to score a special “winter rate”.

The trailer is a four season unit with heavy duty insulation, thermo pane windows and heated holding tanks. However since I winterize her in October we usually don’t start camping until we reach Georgia, Alabama or Mississippi. The unseasonably warm temperatures allowed us flush the anti-freeze from the pipes and start a few days early.

 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012: I am up early and took a walk around the campground and into the surrounding woods. I soon came across this neat cabin high on the hillside.

Fearing a shotgun welcome, I didn’t approach any closer. However it looks like cabins you would find along the rivers of northern Maine.

Returning to our campsite I noticed a shiny penny lying on the ground which I picked up and pocketed. Not being overly superstitious, this discovery had little meaning…..however the events of the day caused me to think otherwise.

Left the campground at 0910 under cloudy skies and a temperature of 49 degrees. The roads were wet, so it must have rained at some point overnight. Before getting back on the Interstate, I pulled into the lone gas station and general store. Being low on fuel, I was nervous when I saw a paper sign taped to the gas pump. However it read: “Out of unleaded, help yourself to the premium, same price”. In talking to the store clerk, she mentioned that delivery problems cause that to happen every few weeks in these parts. (Stroke of good luck #1)

Back on I-81S we merged onto I-40W toward Knoxville, Tennessee. The temperature had risen to 56 degrees and the sun was shining below dark and ominous looking clouds.

A half hour south of Knoxville we merged onto I-75S and then all heck broke loose…..rain, wind, thunder, lightning, hail and reduced visibility. I was able to tuck in behind an 18 wheeler that was traveling at about 30 MPH with its 4 ways flashing…..behind us was another prudent trucker content to travel at the same speed. Feeling somewhat safe cradled between two professional drivers, we caravanned along as less cautious travelers zoomed past on the left. I-75 has a speed limit of 70 MPH which, on clear days, is often exceeded. This morning most folks had lowered their speed however. At one point the truck in the lead stopped…..right in the travel lane of the Interstate! Realizing he was having mechanical problems and not wanting to sit idle in such a vulnerable position we carefully passed him in the breakdown lane with the trucker behind following suit…..all in all, a bit scary. However all ended well as we drove out of the storm within the half hour. (Stroke of good luck #2)

Arriving in Chattanooga, we moved onto I-59 crossing the northwest corner of Georgia and entered Alabama at 1355, where we confronted the Central Time Zone.

About an hour later, Kit noticed a billboard above the trees that indicated a Wal*Mart close by. She felt an overwhelming need to support the protestors in New York and decided we needed to stop so she could Occupy Wall*Mart. Bill walked laps around the parking lot as Kit gathered up all the must have things that apparently aren’t sold in our hometown Wal*Mart.

Just north of Birmingham we stopped for fuel and coffee. A nice elderly southern gentleman manning the counter noticed our camper and asked where we were from and where we were traveling to. After some great conversation he treated us to the coffee. (Stroke of good luck #3)

It is now nearing 1745 and we are both very tired. I started looking for a campground, or even a safe wide spot in the road to pull in for the night…..nothing. However, within 15 minutes we enter the town of McCalla, Alabama and spot a Flying J Truck Stop sign and take the exit. Of all the nations many truck stops, the Flying J Company caters to RV travelers the best. Not only do they feature a complimentary dump station but they have designated RV parking away from the big trucks and close to the offices with plenty of lighting for security. Pulling in we find a spot open and we park for the night…..within the hour the remaining RV spots fill up with other travelers. (Stroke of good luck #4)

Needless to say, I’ll pick up every penny I encounter from now on. Besides, as pensioners, we need the extra cash.

 

Thursday, January 12, 2012: After a restful evening, we are on the road at 0705 under cloudy skies and a temperature of 47 degrees. Pulling back onto I-59S, we cross into the state of Mississippi a few hours later.

In years past we head to the Mississippi gulf coast and then travel US-90 west through Louisiana and points west. However since the weather is so temperate, we decided to travel more southwesterly. So, just outside the thriving town of Chunky, Mississippi we merged onto I-20 heading west. At 1030 we stopped for fuel and a break and I was able to acquire my first treat of regional cuisine on this trip. However, I couldn’t decide between the Cracklin, the boiled peanuts or the salt and vinegar pork rinds. The gas pump jockey recommended the pork rinds and a wise selection it was. A flavorful bouquet escaped as I opened the plastic bag and the subtle flavor of dried pig skin dusted in salty vinegar danced on my palette as I enjoyed each and every morsel. The experience was so complete that I immediately lost three front teeth and had an overwhelming desire to date my sister. In addition, living in a 22 foot trailer for the next few months all of a sudden seemed normal!

Rolling through Vicksburg at noon we encountered a brisk headwind which lasted the rest of the day. Our average MPG of 10.5 at our average speed of 55 MPH dropped to the mid 7’s…..Yikes!

We soon crossed the Mississippi River and entered the state of Louisiana. Stopping at the welcome station we enjoyed some complimentary coffee and retreated to the trailer for lunch.

Hours later, as we neared Shreveport, Louisiana we were both getting a bit tired. It was 1600, it has been a long four days of constant travel, and we needed a break. Fortunately Kit noticed a sign for Barksdale Air Force Base so we took the next exit, parked and looked up their number. Sure enough, they have a campground and had a few spaces available. Pulling in we set up for the night and just might stay another.

Oh, and before we close, it turns out that Charles Kuralt wasn’t completely right…..there are things to see as one travels the nations Interstate Highway System. Items I guess I’ll call “objets d’art”…..various human belongings that have been lost or cast off by the motoring public. We are keeping a list of these unusual treasures and will publish it at the end of the trip.

Also, of course, we encounter many mortal remains of hapless woodland and desert creatures that have tempted fate by crossing the road. These we will not keep track of in deference to their families and to our readers sensitivities. Suffice it to say, if it slithers, crawls, walks or flies…..it has met its doom on the nation’s highways. Actually I have a theory…..a couple of critters are standing alongside the highway, one sez “bet you can’t make it”, the other sez, “Oh yea, here hold my beer and watch this”.

 

Kit’s Corner: So, we’re off on another fun winter getaway! How is it that most people go to fancy resorts with nice duds and we make our way around the US noticing all the weird things? Must be due to the pilot. And, he can pretty much make anything funny! One thing I did see along the way that he missed was a huge Santa Claus in a cluster of trees, it looked like it was made out of paper mache but it had to be something different. Anyway, his head had been knocked off and was sitting on the ground. Didn’t get a picture but it was a funny sighting.