Bill and Kit’s 2013 Excellent Adventure-Journal #1
Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.
Saturday, January 5, 2013: Departed this morning for parts southwest. It’s 0405 and yep…..really, really early and really, really darkly. However at 30 degrees it isn’t nearly as cold as departure mornings in past years. The sky is clear, stars are bright and there is a half-moon to the south east casting a cool glow on the snowy landscape of our dooryard. The lure of warmer climes, new and interesting places to explore, the renewing of old friendships and the discovering of friends yet to come excites us about this, our Fifth Annual Excellent Adventure Winter RV trip.
It is symbolic that there is a half-moon hanging in the sky on this morning. Considering that the word “moon” is a euphemism for derriere, and we really have no fixed agenda or itinerary for these trips, one can say, and many frequently do, that our approach to travel is “half derriered”.
We leave at a ridiculous hour of the morning as it usually allows us to miss the heaviest congestion around Boston and New York City. And against our normal path of travel we stick to the Interstates the first few days in order to get south, and warm, as quick as possible. However, staring at a multi-lane ribbon of asphalt and hundreds of taillights buzzing about our slow moving escape vehicle soon becomes quite monotonous. In addition, pulling 5000 pounds of winterized trailer knowing we will have to seek overnight accommodations in a hotel makes the task a bit more onerous. However that is the price we gladly pay to stay in Maine late in the snowbird season to enjoy family and friends during the Christmas holidays.
On a brighter note, I learned from our travels through Canada last year that kilometers are shorter than miles, so…..we will be making this year’s trip in kilometers! Pretty smart, huh…..saves time and fuel.
I like to stop at the Kennebunk rest area after an hour on the road to check for anything amiss, or missing, on the truck or trailer. I pay particular attention to the wheels and hitch, walking about the rig as I look and feel for anything that doesn’t look or feel right and pretend that I know what I’m looking at or feeling for. However there is no one to impress with my diligent looking and feeling as this massive rest area is nearly deserted at this time of the morning.
Yep, Fifth Annual Excellent Adventure! Hard to believe! That’s a grand total of 497 days on the road, traveling 51,512 miles while living in a 176 square foot box. And so far we are still talking to one another…..sometimes even civilly!
New this trip is Kit amusing herself by sending out tweets as we cross state lines. So not wanting to be left out, I sent out a couple of toots…..Kit was not amused.
As in past years, we travel the eastern traffic corridor, better known as “El Routeo de Rubbisho” (that’s Spanish…..heading to the southwest I’ll once again be using my Spanish a great dealeo). By sticking to this route we get south as quickly and efficiently as possible and see very little of the frozen northeast beyond eyesight through the roadside detritus. Not that I mind this area, after all we live here in the upper right hand corner of the US for a reason. It’s just a lot more pleasant ambling about the area in shorts and sandals in July…..sometimes even in August.
Oh, in case you haven’t heard…..Lucy finally retired! After four years the old girl needed serious updating. Our new GPS has lots of new, high tech features which allow us to get lost more elegantly. So, we had to come up with a new name. We really liked the name Lucy, however this baby is so sophisticated I think we will call her Lucille!
A somber moment of remembrance as we passed Newtown, Connecticut. Sure hope some good comes of this American tragedy…..maybe we can figure out how to protect our children at school like we were able to do the traveling public in the air.
Trundling south on I-95 near Orange, CT we noticed a sign for the Pez Factory and Visitors Center. Well, there’s another must see for the old Bucket List! I’ve often wondered about the appeal of a cheap plastic limbless body capped with a grotesque head that regurgitates inedible candy. Is it a toy? Is it a candy? Is it some kind of tongue torture device? The Chinese are laughing all the way to the Bank of China…..also known as the US Treasury.
Hey Katie…..we just passed Iona College in New Rochelle, NY. Looks like it might be a really nice place and by our calculation, only 6 hours away! The schools name sounds about right…..after tuition one’s parent can proudly boast, “I own A College”!
Since it was a Saturday, and since Lucille strongly recommended it, we decided to hug NYC a bit closer and cross the Hudson River on the George Washington Bridge, rather than crossing further to the north, like say……Nunavut.
See Kit waving from her side of the truck? See all those houses on both sides of the river? Well they all have cars and they all decided to take a drive across the George Washington Bridge at precisely the same time we did. And, oh yeah…..a few of them decided to run into each other snarling traffic for a while. Now Lucille, with her newfangled Traffic Alert System, warned us of a slowdown ahead and even computed a few detours around the mess for us to choose from. However leaving the interstate and pulling our 8’ x 22’ foot box through Manhattan didn’t seem like a good idea so we played bumper cars in the traffic along with all the other hapless souls. Well, except for those who figured they could back up the on ramps and escape. Basically, the whole experience was like playing naked Twister with a porcupine!
Once successfully on the Jersey shore (no, not that one) we had a decision to make…..south through Philly and DC or more westerly through the Virginia’s. Worried that we didn’t know exactly where that Fiscal Cliff was that everyone is talking about we decided to give Washington a wide berth. I guess the cliff turned out to be a bluff. Anyone else wish that our senators and representatives would all do the Thelma and Louise thing right off that there cliff?
As in the past we adorn the rear of the trailer with a Christmas wreath.
This is our winter home finder….. “When it’s brown, we slow down”! This particularly fine specimen was liberated from the doorway of a local meeting house. We can usually get all the way to Arizona before the thing dries to its flashpoint and spontaneously erupts in flames.
At 1745, after 13 hours on the road covering 541 miles (a whole bunch when towing a trailer!), we pulled in for the night at a nice comfortable Fairfield Inn just south of Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Sunday, January 6, 2013: Up after a restful evening we tanked up on the Continental Breakfast (wonder if anyplace ever serves a Coupe de Ville Breakfast?). By 1000 we are on the road under sunny skies and a temperature of 31 degrees. Back on I-81 South we continued our trek toward warmer weather and our first opportunity to commission the trailer for camping.
We passed into Maryland, through West Virginia and on into Virginia within the first 30 minutes. Not much to see and or do at this time of the year so we just continued to motor south and Kit decided to take a kat nap (pun intended).
Sounded like a great idea, so I put the truck in cruise control and followed suit.
Everything was going fine until Lucille’s chattering woke me! Then I couldn’t get back to sleep what with Kit’s snoring and Lucille’s jabbering!!!
As the sun was setting in the southwestern sky we decided to call it a day, you know, before it got too dark and then we would have to call it a night, then…..well, you get the picture (see below).
Since the overnight temperatures were predicted to be well below freezing and the trailer pipes were still filled with anti-freeze we decided to stay in a hotel for another night. We found another nice Fairfield Inn near Christiansburg, Virginia.
Monday, January 7, 2013: Another restful evening…..gotta love the Fairfield Inn chain, and they give substantial military discounts!
On the road by 0915 under cloudy skies and temperatures in the upper twenties. If this part of the US is the Bible Belt, then Christiansburg, Virginia has got to be the buckle. There were many large crosses along I-81 each trying to outdo the other for sheer size and prominence.
Not a church in sight…..just these huge white crosses! And occasionally displayed beside an American flag…..must drive the ACLU nuts!
Pulling off the interstate for fuel I noticed that in Virginia that Ethanol isn’t mandatory…..a motorist actually has a choice!
And appropriately, the gas station was called Liberty Service Center…..kind of appropriate I’d say. Somehow the Corn Lobby missed this corner of America and we have the choice of ruining our engines the old fashion way. Being Virginia, I guess I’m surprised the gasoline isn’t blended with tobacco. However then the tailpipes would really smoke…..I mean really smoke…..get it?
After an hour on the road we crossed into Tennessee near the town of Bristol. And an hour later we moved over to I-40 heading west for a short time to connect to I-75 which we took toward the ????. Any guesses?
The afternoon temperatures were in the 50’s and all indications were that it might be a mild evening weather wise. Decided to try our first night of actual camping and began to look for a suitable spot. Using her Apple iEtch A Sketch, Kit found a Tennessee State Park that was open for camping so we made our way to Harrison Bay SP near Chattanooga, TN.
Of the 163 camp sites in the park only 6 were occupied at this time of the year. We had little problem finding a nice secluded spot near the lake.
Harrison Bay SP is located on Chickamauga Lake and was created in the 1930’s as a Tennessee Valley Authority Recreation Project when the wild Tennessee River was damned (pun intended).
The state park features a 198 slip marina, owned and managed by the state of Tennessee which can accommodate boats to 60 feet in length.
It looks like the most popular watercraft at the marina were houseboats. I noticed a for sale sign on the board near the marina offering a 55 foot houseboat with two bedrooms, full kitchen, one and a half bath, air conditioning, heat, washer and dryer and a bunch of electronics to make life on the water pleasant. Now that’s an RV!
The campground was very old, being designed way before large RV’s came into vogue. Most of the sites were not level or very well laid out…..fortunately our little trailer fit just fine. The overnight rate with full hookups was $8.00. The park ranger that came by to visit said that the campground was to be totally rebuilt this year and will be the showcase of the Tennessee State Park system. Bet the overnight camping rate goes up!
Tuesday, January 8, 2013: Since today marks the official start to the 2013 Bill and Kit Excellent Adventure, we quickly converted to casual travel mode. Lounging around the campground enjoying temperatures in the 50’s, we pulled chocks around noon and slowly made our way via a variety of local and state roads toward Huntsville, Alabama. At one point we crossed from Tennessee to Georgia, then back to Tennessee, then on into Alabama……all in less than 40 minutes. And, at some point we also converted to Central Standard Time!
Why Huntsville? Funny you should ask. Well last year, after traversing this very same area of the country we received an e-mail form a friend of our Vermont days that we passed within a stone’s throw of her house, and we didn’t bother to stop, wave, or even throw a stone! Well this year we are making it a point to see Debbie, and her southern gentleman husband Sam, and accept their kind offer to door yard surf at their very nice home in Meridianville, a bit north of the city.
As you can see it began to rain, which didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for reconnecting with an old friend. Debbie was actually a friend of our son Joe and future daughter in law Ann’s back in the mid 1980’s. They, with a gaggle of other locals used to run the roads of rural Vermont in Joe’s old Chevy Van. Oh, the tales that van could tell. As is customary with us when we dooryard surf, we treated Debbie and Sam to a meal out at their favorite steak house.
Then we retired to their home and continued reminiscing, learning what our son and his cronies were really up to way back when…..is there a statute of limitations on youthful indiscretions?
Wednesday, January 9, 2013: Pulled out of Debbie and Sam’s dooryard at 0945. It is in the mid 50’s with a persistent rain. One of the spots I had wanted to explore in this area was the US Space and Rocket Center and the Marshal Space Flight Center. However with the steady downpour, and the fact that a lot of the exhibits are outdoors we decided to delay this bucket list item for enjoyment at a later date.
Needing fuel, we pulled into a local BP service station and immediately noticed something quite odd.
That BP oil spill had a bigger effect than we were led to believe! Oh, and in case you’re wondering, that wet pavement is indeed rain and not gasoline.
We meandered our way south on a variety of back roads toward Montgomery, Alabama. Around 1500 we found our way to a campground on Maxwell Air Force Base and decided to stay over a few nights for some downtime and to take care of a few chores.
Thursday, January 10, 2013: Well, the rain has stopped. However the heat and humidity has taken over. Broke out the shorts, t-shirts and sandals for the first time this year!
Maxwell AFB is a major Air Force training facility. Yep, only Majors……all the rest of the Air Force officers go untrained. Even though there is a large 8,000 foot runway the only aircraft based at Maxwell are C-130 transport planes, I guess to carry the large Majors around in. There is an interesting historical fact that ensured the long term viability of this base. When threatened by the BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure Commission), the US Air Force had Maxwell AFB merged with nearby Gunter AFB, then intertwined their operational missions and both bases were spared the BRAC Axe. Pretty smart!
The campground is across the runway from the main base and one has to pay particular attention to the signs warning of active barriers ahead when the lights are red. You just wait for the aircraft to pass and the light turns green and the active barriers lower back flush with the roadway. Still a bit disconcerting crossing those imbedded pogo sticks.
The place is a pretty basic military campground but neat, clean and well run.
Yep, it’s on a lake and yep, the lake is square…..gotta love that military precision and uniformity!
Maxwell AFB campground was a convenient location to clean the road grime and salt off the truck and trailer, do a few loads of laundry, stock up on necessities and vitals at the base exchanges and just goof off…..so, that’s what we did!
Before closing this, the first issue of Bill and Kit’s Excellent Adventure a brief personal note:
The year 2012 brought some great times to the Tucker family and some that were not so good. In the latter category we experienced the loss of a number of close friends and neighbors. In addition my 87 year old father passed in September after battling a number of health challenges. Dad led an interesting and purposeful life and passed away at peace and under his own terms.
For much of my teenage years and through mid-life we had a very strained relationship and an isolated existence. About 15 years ago, Kit convinced me to make positive overtures to him and we reconnected. Those last years of his life we said the things that needed to be said and learned a great deal about each other.
Growing up poor during the depression and living in the segregated south, my father never exhibited a prejudiced attitude. Graduating in 1941 from Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, Alabama he wanted to join the navy, but at 17 was unable to do so. On December 6, 1941 he turned 18 and was on the recruiter’s doorstep to enlist. The next day was December 7th and his life as well as many from the Greatest Generation was changed forever.
Following recruit training and technical school he was assigned to a destroyer which deployed to the Pacific Theater of Operations. Dad saw combat in Truk, Iwo Jima, Wake and The Philippine Sea while earning 12 battle stars. After VJ day, my father met my future mother while on shore leave in San Diego. They were married and transferred to Hawaii were I was born. Following 22 years on active duty, dad retired as an E-9 and immediately started work with Sperry Univac building new computers for the Navy using the new NTDS technology. Later he was hired at 3M Corporation in Saint Paul, Minnesota where he worked on a number of technical innovations before retiring in 1985 and remaining in Minnesota.
My father was a brilliant man, very talented and able to see any project through to a successful conclusion. He really loved to read these journals and anxiously awaited our arrival in Minnesota as we traveled back home. In addition to Kit and I, three grandchildren and 5 great grandchildren, dad is survived by his longtime companion Henrietta.
I regret all the lost years but will forever cherish the time we spent getting reacquainted. Love you, dad.
Kit’s Corner: Back to my editing duties. Little did I know, we were now using kilometers, and speaking in Spanish! You would think that, after being married nearly 50 years, you know each other like a book, cover to cover. I am still learning things about Bill that I had no clue about. He’s always full of surprises! So far, the trip has gone well. The highlight for me of course, was seeing Debbie and meeting Sam! We were so comfortable with them; you would never have thought it had been 25+ years since we’d seen each other. Sam is quite the Southern gentleman, with his heavy southern accent. We loved getting to know him! Also, fun remembering out time in VT, 1980-1985.