Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Getting rid of stuff

Until we went full time in our 26-1/2 RV, Jim and I lived in a 3,400 square foot home. The first year we owned the rig, every time we came back from a weekend trip, our living room felt like a gymnasium.  That much space seemed crazy for just two people, and I’ve been looking forward to living small as far as square footage goes. In our case, square footage = 140.

Our mantra was sort, consolidate, give away, recycle, toss. Repeat, repeat, repeat.   When it came to paper records, we got creative:  After what seemed like weeks of shredding, Jim actually dug a hole in an unused part of our garden and burned what was left.  Probably against city code, but we’ve got easygoing neighbors.

Lastly, we cut back big time on clothing.  Jim’s hardest task was trimming his sizable T-shirt collection down to 12. (And he’s only bought one more since we’ve been on the road.)  Eight baseball caps made the cut because, Jim says, you never know which one will best fit the ensemble.  My small wardrobe is just as casual but with only one hat.  Everything I won’t wear again or didn’t wear within the last year I gave away.   The rest fit in a few small boxes stored under our bed at home.

We may have cheated a bit, because instead of selling our house, we asked our daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter to move in, which meant we could leave some big items behind.   It also helped to have a basement with room for more storage shelves – plus kids who didn’t mind leaving some of their furniture in their own home (which they rented out.) 

The down side to all this is we won’t ever have a home like my mom’s where our grandkids can find all sorts of cool, old stuff.  Other than that, it’s all good.
With the exception of two drawers and a cardboard box at the end of our over overhead cab bed, this single closet holds all of our clothing.

One of Jim's extensive Oregon State T-shirts that is biting the dust because it's finally showing some wear.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Sunday I saw friends I’ve known since grade school, Sally and Chris.  Besides spending time together in school and at each other’s homes, the three of us were very active in Girl Scouts (thank you, Mrs. Dussel, world’s best Girl Scout leader!) 
Sally was diagnosed with MS (multiple sclerosis) about 30 years ago. According to the Multiple Sclerosis Society, MS shows up in about 1 in 1,000 people.  Our home town -- a village of 4,500 people -- has well over 30 people with MS, most of them living on or near just a few streets, and Sally has been an activist in trying to find out why there is such a high incidence of the disease.   Her persistence helped determine that contaminants called neurotoxins were released by several now defunct local industries.  Sally said this information probably won’t help those already diagnosed, but it might help our beautiful hometown and the younger people who live there.
As for Chris, in 1969 she went on a first date. Her date -- a man with good instincts -- asked Chris to marry him that very evening.  Chris, a more cautious sort, said no.  Along came date number two; said date asked for Chris’s hand again, and this time Chris said yes.   Her guy, Charlie, happened to be in the Army and within a month of that first date he was also in Vietnam, where he was for 11 months. When Charlie got home he and Chris got married, had three children, and were together until Charlie died unexpectedly two-and-a half-years ago.  
No one story defines a person and that’s certainly true of both Sally and Chris.  Sally, a music lover/musician with a wonderful husband/family/friends, is so much more than her MS.  Chris, who will never get over losing Charlie, is looking for her new normal and planning to move closer to her mom and sisters.  Thank you, Sally and Chris (and your families) for sharing my growing-up years and impacting my life.  Sara, I might not see you this trip, but you know that sentiment is for you, too.
Bev, Sally and Chris on Sally's deck and surrounded by Sally's beautiful yard. The three of us went to grade school, junior high and high school together.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Tribute in Fabric

When Jim and I were in Lincoln, Nebraska, we visited the International Quilt Museum at the University of Nebraska.   It houses the largest publicly held quilt collection in the world with over 3500 quilts from the early 1700s to present from over 25 countries.  One of the exhibitions featured Nebraska quilts and quilt makers, including engineer and farmer Ernest Height.  When Mr.Height once commented on a quilt’s “lack of exactness,” his wife told him to “keep still” unless he could do better.   He quilted for over 50 years and made over 300 quilts.  
My grandmother was a quilter, too.  Margaret Bring Tran was born in Carlisle Township, Ohio in 1889.  She belonged to a quilting club and may have been making pieces for a future club project of a “flower garden” pattern quilt when she got sick around 1935.  Grandma Tran never finished her quilt because she died in 1937 when my mom was just 17 and my Aunt Helen was 15.  But before she got sick, Grandma Tran hand cut and hand stitched 798 hexagon-shaped quilt pieces from material used to make dresses for my mom and aunt, plus clothing she made for herself.    
My mom said she’s not sure where her mom got the fabric.  There was a store in Grafton, Ohio (where my grandmother, grandfather, mom, aunt and my two uncles lived) that Grandma Tran may have walked to because they did not own a car.  Or, she may have taken the trolley the 12 miles to Elyria.
My mom is not a quilter, but she hung on to those fabric flowers for 60 years.  Encouraged by my brother Don and his wife, Trudy, who live in Lincoln, Mom took the flowers with her when she visited them.  Mom washed each of the flowers by hand, pressed them, and then gave them to Don and Trudy, who in turn asked a Mennonite quilt maker to create a quilt.  From that came a beautiful tribute to my grandmother, Margaret Tran, and her daughters Alice and Helen.
The quilt Margaret Tran never got to finish herself.  Each “flower” of the flower garden consists of one yellow hexagon surrounded by six hexagons of  a complementary solid color.  Circling the solid color are 12 more hexagons made from leftover material from dresses Grandma Tran made from about 1926 to 1933.
My mom with her “Flower Garden” patterned quilt.  The pattern is also known as a hexagon or honey comb quilt, and was very popular in the 1920s and 1930s.  
These two "flowers" are made from similar-patterned dresses worn by my mom and her sister.

These two patterns are from dresses worn by my mom’s mother, Margaret Bring Tran.   Grandma Tran had colon cancer, but it was misdiagnosed and she died in November 1937 at the beginning of my mom’s senior year of high school.


Thursday, August 25, 2011


Jim says talking about money is unseemly.  Therefore:  Spoiler Alert!  Dollar details follow, so stop right here if information about someone else’s finances makes you squirm. On a more dignified note, there will be no link to our bank account.  
On this first leg of our RV extravaganza, which took us from Salt Lake City, Utah to Wellington, Ohio, we spent a total of $2140 or about $120 per day.  Our biggest expense was gasoline.  No surprise there.  For both our tow car (2004 Honda CRV) and our gas hog of a motor home (2004 Lazy Daze) we spent $1187 or more than half of our  total.  Next was food, at $420.  Camping fees were $252; entertainment (museum fees, a trip to the Omaha Zoo, a state park T-shirt, newspapers, etc) cost $165; repairs, $110;  and then a few dollars for laundry.
$420 for food seems high, but that cost does include the staples I purchased before we left Salt Lake, and we still have most of those.  Gasoline is always a concern; even more concerning is the trend illustrated to us today when we saw a man at a local gas station change his price sign from $3.59 a gallon to $3.75.  One thing that will help with gasoline:  Jim and I decided that we don’t want to travel any more than 150 to 200 miles between stops, and we want to stay at each location at least 3-4 days -- and less time on the road will lower our daily gasoline costs.  On this trip, however, we were in kind of a hurry (if you can call and 18-day drive from Utah to Ohio a “hurry”) because we wanted to get to my mom’s in pretty short order. Other than staying at my brother’s for 3 nights, we didn’t stay anywhere longer than two nights.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I need a fact checker

We listen to radio news a lot while we drive, and while we were in Iowa the news was All Iowa State Fair All the Time.  (Well, that and the-economy-is-going-to-hell-in-a-hand basket-so-we-hope-you-have-not-just-retired).   I was sure I heard that attendance is about 100,000 annually.
When I got to Ohio, the Lorain County Fair -- held in my hometown of Wellington -- was in full swing.  The fair guide said 131,000 people attended last year.  Now I’m thinking my Iowa State Fair stat must have been off. So I checked the Iowa State Fair web site, and one million people attend each year. So much for my hearing. Maybe I heard 100,000 people ate the new Iowa State Fair taste sensation, fried butter on a stick.  Or that the average fair goer consumes 100,000 calories, which is what I must have had today at the Lorain County Fair.
First, Jim and I shared sweet potato fries. Then I had some of Jim’s elephant ear, which is fried bread dough sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.  Then I had half of a funnel cake, a sweet dough poured through a funnel into hot oil. Then I brought home a true Lorain County Fair specialty:  donuts from the Wellington High School band booth.  In my defense, Jim and I walked six miles today (not including our fairgrounds stroll) but I doubt that counteracted the calories.  

Photo of the Lorain County Fair taken while we were walking at the Wellington Reservoir.  

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What's round on the end and high in the middle...

We're in O-H-I-O.  From left to right:  Bev; Bev's brother, Bob; Jim; and Bev's mom.
Bev and her Mom
The farm where Bev grew up.
Our first Lake Erie Perch.  Jim said I can't take any more photos of him.

Monday, August 22, 2011

It could have been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day

While in Nebraska, my brother helped me plan a route east that avoided Chicago traffic.  When I set it up on Map Quest, however, I must have done something very wrong, because my directions (which I didn’t look at until the night before our Chicago-avoidance trip) included 3 U turns in 2 miles.  Not a good thing when you are driving nearly 40 feet of vehicle and tow bar.   

JIm and I decided that on our way out of Bourbonnaise, we’d fill our ever-hungry RV at a gas station, stop at a Starbucks across the street so we could use their WIFI and look up Don’s route on both my laptop and Jim’s IPhone, and then hook up the tow car and rig in a nearby parking lot.  But we couldn’t find the Starbucks or the gas station.  Heading back to where we thought the Starbucks was, we turned down a dead end street;  luckily, Jim is good at the art of the 7-point turn.  Then, when we got to Starbucks, Jim’s IPhone died.  
Our luck turned when we found a Verizon Store where the IPhone was easily fixed.  And the trip was was pretty and easy (Thanks, Don -- you are the King of the traffic avoidance route)
So now we are at Chain O’Lakes State Park in Albion, Indiana, in western Indiana about 20 miles north west of Fort Wayne. The park is two miles wide and four mile long and has 13 lakes, nine of which are connected by channels. It would be fun to come back here with kayaks. 

Bev on a bridge over a channel connecting two lakes at Chain O’ Lakes State Park in Albion, Indiana.
Jim and Cooper in front of Sand Lake.  Moments after this photo was taken, Cooper jumped off this pier into deep water, moss and muck.  In the 9 years I’ve known Coop, he’s never jumped into water over his head so I’m not sure what the enticement was. 
Cooper modeling his mud bath.  Jim washed him off and put him in the Honda to dry before we let him back in the rig.  The Honda smells great.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

There’s no noise in Illinois

I can’t get Jim -- whose only foible is that he corrects my pronunciation -- to stop saying “Ill -i- noise.”   Now I think he’s doing it just to irritate me.  Or maybe it’s because we’re in Bourbonnais, Illinois and that’s just too many silent s’s to handle. 
Boubonnais is about 60 miles south and slightly west of Chicago.  It seems like a hopping little town and is the home of the Chicago Bears summer training camp.  Nearby Kankakee, however, which is mentioned in the song “City of New Orleans” by Arlo Guthrie,  has seen better days.   In 1999, it was rated last by Places Rated Almanac (actually it was all of Kankakee County and not just the city) so I guess none of those better days happened in 1999 or, maybe since then.
But the park we’re at -- Kankakee River State Park -- is nice. It’s big and shady and has a good walking/bike path.  And a nearby river is always a plus.

View our the back window of our rig at Kankakee River State Park.  We've had a request -- make that a demand -- that we start posting more photos of ourselves.  OK, OK, we'll start doing that with the next post.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pearl Button Capital of the World

Were still near Muscatine, but moved from Fairport State Recreation Area to Shady Creek, a campground run by the US Army Corps of Engineers just a couple of miles up the Mississippi.  The Corps has 26 campgrounds along the Mississippi River and it only cost us $9 to stay here.  One crazy rule at the Corps campgrounds is that you can’t just take a non-reserved spot by filling out a reservation card and putting it in a metal container, or “iron ranger” as Jim calls them, and then putting a reserved sign at your campsite.  Instead, you have to register in person during a specific couple of hours each day.  We were only second in line and it took 45 minutes to register.  By the time we left, there was a big line behind us, but they were all talking about the local sights and didn’t seem to mind.  Oh, the more relaxed life of the retiree.  
We took a hike at Wild Den State Park which is just a few more miles up river.  Our hike started at at the Pine Creek Grist Mill, built in 1848 by Benjamin Nye, one of the area’s first settlers.  Attention post office folks:  He also built the first post office in Muscatine County in 1838.   The forest is full of oak, walnut and maple trees and has lots of underbrush.  Jim, who was a forest ranger in Oregon for 20 years, said deciduous forests “creep him out.”  We were trying to pin point why, and decided it’s the  underbrush (you don’t have much of that in a pine forest and it’s easier to get off the path if you have to) and the moldy/musky smell from all that organic decay that makes the soil so great.  The crazy cicadas sounding like a hundred electric high-tension wires buzzing at once don’t help either.   Jim will either get used to it or be creeped out for a good many more hikes. I’m betting on the former.
Fact about Muscatine:  The MIssissippi River near here was once so filled with mussel shells that the bottom of the river was like a cobblestone street.  In the late 1880s, a German immigrant and button cutter names John Boepple thought the mussel shells made great shiny buttons, and by 1905, 1.5 billion buttons --- 40 percent of the world’s supply -- were manufactured out of Muscatine.  The industry declined by the mid 1900s -- tourist literature says the mussel beds were over fished and people preferred “new, more durable materials” --- I’m thinking plastic buttons and metal zippers.  

View of the Mississippi River from the back window of our rig.
Wikipedia says there are 2,500 species of cicadas around the world.  I think there’s a family reunion in Muscatine and most of them made it.  For those of you who live in the west and aren’t familiar with cicadas, as they mature they molt, literally climb out of their old skin and often leave their former shell on a tree -- and that shell is what you see in this photo. I read where their “song” can be as loud as 120 decibels. Fortunately, they don’t often sing right next to your ear.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

On the banks of the Mississippi

Wow.  I’m writing with a beautiful view of the Mississippi River, and it's just a softball toss away.   Admittedly, my underhand pitch is still pretty good, thanks to my grade school baseball coach and now current mayor of my Ohio hometown.  But that river is close.  And it’s big. And beautiful.  And a little scary to someone whose lived in the desert for 37 years.  Again:  Wow.
We’re just outside of Muscatine, Iowa.  Jim and I drove here from Stuart, Iowa, where we spent a night for free at Dale Valley Winery thanks to an organization called “Harvest Hosts.”   That was our second stay at a Harvest Host place: I’ll do a separate post on them later.   
Near Stuart, we did our first search for “biggest ball of twine” types of things.  We saw the “Friendly Gas Station Man,”, a huge, waving gas station attendant commissioned in 1934 by the Kalbach Oil Company, and a bank Bonnie and Clyde robbed of $2000 on April 16, 1934, just one month before they were shot in Louisiana.
We also saw “Freedom Rock,” a 56-ton boulder and canvas for a local artist who has painted the entire rock in a patriotic theme around Memorial Day for the last dozen years.  At the request of friends and relatives, he’s incorporated the ashes of 16 veterans in his paint.
We’ve stayed off of I-80 for most of our trip so far, but took the interstate from Lincoln to Stuart to Muscatine.  Jim said Iowa reminded him of the Willamette Valley in Oregon where he’s spent much of his life, as it’s rolling, green, and has lots of trees.  The section of I-80 about 75 miles before Des Moines also has a lot of wind turbines.  And, as we got closer to Des Moines, the traffic really picked up, in part to the Iowa State Fair, which gets over 100,000 visitors each year and is celebrating the 100th year of the Butter Cow.
View of the Mississippi River from the back window of our rig.
The Dale Valley Winery in Stuart, Iowa let us stay overnight for free as part of a program called "Harvest Hosts."  You can barely see our rig through the trees at the far left.

Freedom Rock is repainted in a different patriotic theme every May and finished on Memorial Day.  The artist is Iowa native Ray "Bubba" Sorensen.
 In 2006,  veterans on their way to the Vietnam Memorial with the ashes of recently deceased Vietnam vets stopped at the rock while the artist was working on it.  They asked the artist if they could sprinkle some of the ashes at the base of the rock; artist suggested the ashes be incorporated into the paint so the ashes would not blow away.  Since 2006 more ashes have been added and 16 Vietnam veteran's ashes are now part of this helicopter scene.
Wind turbines and farms in Iowa.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Just the Four of Us

Near Victor, Iowa:   Jim and I are traveling with our dog, Cooper, a Blue Heeler mix.  We also have a fourth traveling companion:  A Philodendron named Phil Junior. 

Phil has been Jim’s sidekick for over 40 years; the two of them have lived in over 14 homes in three states, several time zones and large changes in altitude.  The longest Jim and Phil have lived in any one house was our home in Salt Lake City.  The itch to move is probably one of Jim’s motivators to live in a motor home.
But back to Phil.
Just days before we left Salt Lake City, we were giving Phil a haircut when I tugged on a vine and pulled out the only part actually attached to dirt.  OMG.   We hastily reburied Phil’s apparently minute root system and tasked my daughter and son-in-law with heavily watering said root system until Phil re-established.  We also discovered part of Phil on the floor, plunked that part in an empty spaghetti sauce bottle filled with water, and named him Phil Junior.
Phil Junior travels in the back of the rig near a big window while secured with wire to a beverage holder.  When we park, he moves to the bath room for close access to both a window and a skylight.  My Google research says it takes 5-6 weeks for a Philodendron to establish roots.  We’re waiting.  In the meantime, Ashley and Shad: Keep watering Phil Senior.
Cooper sleeping between the the driver and passenger seats.
Phil on the way to Stuart,  Iowa.

Monday, August 15, 2011

When in Nebraska, eat as the Nebraskans do

A Nebraskan epicurean delight (and it really is good) is the Runza sandwich.  Runza is a Nebraska restaurant chain featuring a Russian-inspired sandwich of the same name made of ground beef, cabbage, onions, spices, stuffed in dough and then baked. Runza also serves Polish dogs, chili, burgers and other fast food. A story  appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star  the day after our Runza visit; it said there are 82 Runza stores with 76 in Nebraska.  A new store recently opened in Mission, Kansas near Kansas City (the second biggest Cornhusker enclave outside of Nebraska other than the Denver metro area, said the article). The restaurant was so busy the police had to cut off the drive through line because it interfered with neighborhood traffic.   

Jim, my sister-in-law, Trudy, and brother Don right before we dove into our Runza sandwiches.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Oh No! We're in Lincoln, NE

Bev and Don at Don's house in Lincoln, NE in front of his hydrangea "Mr. Bill."  More blog to come after we are done eating and talking.  Go Big Red and Big Scarlet and Gray.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Detour and a lesson in floods

We took northern Nebraska’s Highway 12, called “The Outlaw Trail” from Valentine toward Niobrara State Park, about 150 miles due east.  The road goes from Valentine to Sioux Falls and was said to be a hide out for Jesse James and other bad guys.  About 40 miles east of the park was a big “road closed” sign; we called the park, found out that the recent Missouri River floods still covered Route 12 both west and east of the park, and took a 70-mile detour.  Lesson learned: always check a Department of Transportation web site before heading across a state.  But the bigger lesson is just how devastating a flood can be to a local economy.
Near downtown Niobrara’s mall (a big, low building housing the post office, a grocery and hardware store, bar, and a couple of other small shops) we met the owner of the grocery store.  She said she was down five employees; she’d either let them go because of lack of business, or they quit because they could not afford gasoline to make the detoured drive.  She and the remaining employees are working extra hours to make up for the staffing shortage -- no time off for even new grandchildren -- and the store has a third fewer customers.  She told us of a day care center owner who declared bankruptcy, people whose homes were still under water since the flood hit Memorial Day weekend, and the high financial cost the flood caused the locals.  
We were going to wait until we got to Lincoln to buy supplies, but Jim and I decided to support the local economy and bought groceries.  Then Jim went to the “carry out,” where selection was limited and my IPA-loving husband bought a six-pack of Budweiser (if it’s really cold and you drink two of them, he says, the third one tastes pretty good.) 
The grocery store owner said the local cafe owners had lost their home in the flood, so we decided to support them, too, and purchased a restaurant meal for the first time since we left home.  The fiancee of the owner’s son waited on us; she said their home -- which was 50 feet away from the river -- still had three feet of water inside.  They plan to burn it when the water recedes and the house dries out (which could be a long time, she said) and maybe rebuild. Or maybe not.
View from the back of our rig:  Where the Niobrara River meets the Missouri.  The campground at Niobrara State Park in Nebraska has 76 RV spots but only 11 were filled.  Highway Route 12 -- the only way to get to the park from the east and the west -- has been flooded since Memorial Day.  The only way to get to the park is a single highway from the south, or a gravel road from the west, and town has been severely hurt by the lack of tourism. 

The Missouri River as seen from Niobrara State Park in Nebraska.  Notice the house in the middle of the photo.

A similar shot as above, but wider. 

The Sage Cafe where we ate lunch.  Piles of sand that protected the building from the flood circled the building everywhere except the entrance.

 Jim and Cooper at Highway 12 just west of Niobrara. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Blinkers, bloopers and brake lights

If an electrical cord is involved, instructions often say something along the lines of “Important!  Do not disconnect by pulling on the cord.  Remove only by grasping the plug!”  Apparently there are reasons for that.  One of them is if you pull the cord that makes your toad brake lights and turn signals sync with your rig lights, you’re likely to rip the whole thing apart and have to spend an extra half day in Chadron, Nebraska. 

The Chadron Home Center in Chadron,  Nebraska.

Not that we don’t like Chadron.  We do.  We spent two nights at Chadron State Park and everyone ... and I do mean everyone ... who passed us in a vehicle when we were walking on the park roads waved at us.  Old folks, teenagers in pick up trucks, young adults with kids.  Everyone.  Chadron is Nebraska’s oldest state park (established in 1921); I wonder if it’s the friendliest one, too.  Plus, they have a great hike to a Black Hills overlook.

View on the way the the Black Hills Overlook.

View at the overlook.

Our camping spot at Chadron State Park in Nebraska.
We also got a chance to really explore the town while looked for a place to repair the result of the afore mentioned no-bodily-injury mishap (this time from unhooking the toad instead of hooking it up) and Chadron State College looks very big considering that Chadron has less than 6,000 residents.  We found a great repair place in the Chadron Home Center and their mechanic, Scott (shout out from Jim and Bev to Scott!) as Scott spent over an hour trying to find out why our sync lights are so screwy.  He kept saying “I don’t know why it’s not working” but kept trying until he figured it out.  
After Chadron, we made our way to the Fishberry Motorhome Park just north of Valentine, NE ( located in the Nebraska Sandhills, the largest tract of grass-stabilized sand dunes in the Western Hemisphere says my AAA book) and just a couple of miles from South  Dakota.   

Monday, August 8, 2011

You spell tomato...

After two days of being in Casper, Wyoming, I finally understand (I think) that the town and fort (that was there before the town) are both spelled Casper with an “e”, while the museum next to the old fort and  the campground we stayed at are  Caspar with an “a.”  The Army wanted to name the fort after Caspar Collins, a 21-year old lieutenant from an Ohio calvary killed in a battle along with four of his soldiers in 1865,  but had already named “Ft. Collins” in honor of Caspar's father.  So the army went with the young man’s first name ... and a paperwork snafu changed the “a” to an “e” and Ft. Casper was born.  Ditto the city.  The museum corrected the mistake -- and apparently the RV park, which is right next to the museum, followed suit.  Adding insult to injury, a portrait of young Lt. Collins in the museum was based on a misidentified photo.
View on the Platte River Parkway in Casper, WY.

View out the back of our rig ... not the usual scenic beauty we like,  but it was clean, quiet,  and had a laundry.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Hey, hey we’re the monkeys

August 4, 2011 ---Today was one big RV learning experience.  Maybe that’s why the cheapskate in me didn’t mind paying $36 bucks to stay in an actual RV park for one night and have electricity, water and TV.  At this point, I don’t feel like driving around looking for a free spot.
I once read a story written by a family who were new to RVing, bought a brand new rig, and took off on a three-month trip right from the RV store.  I remember thinking “These people are crazy” because too many things can go wrong.  In their case, a major appliance went out almost immediately, and they had to drive back to the RV shop and wait days for it to get replaced.  And while I can’t remember all the other issues, plenty more followed.  That’s the reason we knew we had to have our RV at least a year before we left on our trip.  If we hadn’t, we probably would have accidentally driven it off a cliff.
The same thing might be said of a tow vehicle.  In February, we bought a used Honda CRV, which is highly recommended on line by lots of folks as a “toad” because it’s all wheel drive and fairly light weight. We bought the Honda from Chris, the son of our good friends John and Debbie (Hi John and Deb!) But we didn’t get it to it’s full pimped out and expensive toad vehicle glory until a few weeks before we left, and only towed it behind the RV three times before the big trip.
Unfortunately, you just can’t just tie a car to a motor home with baler twine and take off, like my mom used to secure her luggage before a plane trip.  You have to attach big metal pins to the car, hook a bar with y-shaped, flexible “arms” to the pins, attach safety cables from the rig to the car, hook up an electrical cable that allows the “blinkers” on the rig to also turn on the toad blinkers, attach a big box over the toad brake that somehow makes the toad brake engage when you press the RV brake, and attach a breakaway cord that signals the aforementioned big box to engage the toad brake if the worst case scenario actually happens and the toad is no longer one with the RV.

And if any of that makes sense, you are obviously smarter than we are.
We seemed to have all that down, but were having trouble getting the y-shaped bar correctly attached to the toad.   The directions say the y-arm is correctly in place when “the locking handles are engaged and locked.”   But we could not always get both of the “locking handles”  locked, which in our minds meant if you pushed on them they would not move.  After a few hundred miles of driving, and repetitive reading of the tow bar instructions, we now think by “locked,” the instructions are actually referring to the arms of the Y bar and not the handles --  the handles only have to pop up when you first start to tow, and that we can get to happen consistently.
Another lesson learned today:   Don’t park your rig anywhere except a big open space or a designated RV campsite.  Downtown Lander has large parallel parking spaces, and we thought we’d just pull our RV into one of them, go to a coffee shop, get coffee and download our first blog entry.  JIm pulled into a parking space and asked me if he was going to clear a street sign.  I said “yes” because all I could see was the pole -- I didn’t even notice the actual sign.  A clearer head (Jim’s) prevailed and I got out to the rig to make sure we would clear the sign.  We could not.  In fact, if we kept going we’d put a big scrape down the right side of our rig.  Because we were inches from the sign and right on the curb, Jim made a hard left turn; the front Honda tire got caught in the curb and started to turn right instead of left.  A scream from me followed and Jim stopped.  So now our rig was partially in a traffic lane on Lander’s Main Street and our tow car was stuck.  Funny how quickly you can unstick things when you have to.   I’m thinking we will get the Honda’s alignment checked when we get to Ohio, but for the most part we got away unscathed.  And it was back to the casino we stayed at the night before to hook up he rig again in relative privacy.  Without coffee.
Then we got to the Ft. Casper Campground, paid our $36 bucks and started to hook up the electricity, dump hose, TV, water, etc, only to find we are missing a few parts needed  for hook up at an actual RV park. So we got to see a lot of Casper scenery on our way to the Home Depot. On the plus side, you can see forever around here.
Also on the plus side:  JIm is still happy as a clam, and I’m glad to be with Jim.  By the time we get to Ohio we will be  pros.  But today, we felt like monkeys driving a motor home.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

East bound and down

After three days of major preparation -- if you don’t count eight years of talking about it,  14 months of figuring out how to drive/operate a motor home, and seven months of getting the house ready -- Jim and I left Salt Lake at about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, August 2 on our retirement extravaganza RV trip.    We both retired Friday, July 29 and Jim wanted to leave Monday, August 1, but I got a one-day reprieve and we really needed that extra day.  So we’re heading east toward Ohio via Wyoming and then Nebraska.  First stop:  Fossil Butte National Monument in south east Wyoming.  We’d been to Fossil Butte, one of the least visited national monuments, a few years ago and really liked it.  Fifty million years ago a huge lake covered the area; today, it’s semi arid with flat topped buttes that contain some amazingly preserved fossils.  The visitor center brochure says the fossils are  “remarkable for their abundance”  and include plants, insects, reptiles, birds, mammals and over 20 kings of fish, and that millions of specimens have been uncovered.
After a trip to the visitor’s center, Jim and I started to hike an interpretive trail; about a half mile in we ran into a family from New Hampshire who told us they’d just seen a mountain lion; that shortened our hike.  Actually, they said they saw a mountain lion and a fawn, and we didn’t want to see carnage or be carnage.  With all the hiking we’ve done, I wonder how many many times we’ve been close to mountain lions and bears without knowing it.

 Where we spent our first night:  A Fossil Butte ranger told us we could stay on BLM land near the park, and a flat space recently used to stage equipment used for resurfacing the road might be  good bet.    It was perfect.
Jim and Cooper hiking.

View out the back of our rig.
View while driving to Kemmerer, about 8 miles from Fossil Butte.

August 3, 2011

It rained hard last night.  The bottom of our “sleeping loft” is about three feet from the top of the rig, so that made the rain seem even louder.  I thought we’d wake up with mud over our wheels, as we spent the night parked on a flat space at the side of a county road near Fossil Butte.  But all was well.  Before leaving the Fossil Butte area, we took a 2.5 mile hike called he Old Quarry Trail, near the no-longer-in-existance town of Fossil, where we saw an “A frame” shack used by fossil-farmer David Haddenham, who eked out a living mining fossils for 50 years. 
We planned to camp near Atlantic City, Wyoming, a funky town 4 miles off Rt 28 via a gravel road, but didn’t see any good spots, so we decided to drive to Lander.  What a nice town and a beautiful area.  We visited Sinks Canyon State Park.  Water from the Popo Agie River rushes into a limestone caverns; two hours later the same water (they’ve actually done dye tests) appears in a much more peaceful pool just a quarter of a mile away.  Why the water takes so long to get that short distance is still a mystery, said an interpretive sign, but there was some thought that it just travels much more slowly through rocks and crevices of the limestone.
Bev at David Haddenham's summer home of many years.
Where the water enters the sink hole...

And where the water comes out two hours later just one-quarter of a mile away.
Jim and Cooper at the Popo Agie River just outside of Lander.

Our second night home:  Jim called a casino on the Wind River Indian Reservation just a few miles out of Lander and asked if we could stay there over night.  Really, another perfect spot and also free.