Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Itinerary

Just to bring you up to speed on our travels:  Last week from July 21 to 25 we were in Cumming, GA to visit a dear friend who used to go the same church we did.  Ila Martin lives with her daughter's family and they recently had to move from the Charlotte area to Atlanta.
 

Ila is a lovely, vivacious, creative person who has not let age slow her down.  She is as inquisitive and as vibrant as she has ever been.  Her stories of some of the things she has done would make an interesting book.  She is also an expert quilter who pushes the envelope of the media.


It was great to see her again.   I believe that God puts certain people into our lives at very specific times to help us.  Ila certainly helped us to make the decision to go full-timing by reminding us that we are only as old as we make ourselves to be and to keep on living life with all your energy all the time.

God bless, you Ila, and thanks.



Last Saturday we moved to Lexington, SC where we will stay until Sunday, August 3rd when we will drive to Sunset Beach, NC.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Campgrounds


Certainly all RV campgrounds are not equal.  We can make this statement even though we do not have years of experience under our belts but because, while we have probably only stayed in as many RV parks as you have fingers, we have stayed in enough to start to form opinions and have made judgments. I believe that our reviews would match the thoughts of most everyone else.  

We are just normal, very average RVers.  Yes, we have our preferences but they are not necessities like some may have.  We are moderate size, even modest by class A standards, so we don’t need extra-long sights.  We like to have full hook ups (water, electricity and sewer) but we have also boondocked (use water from our on-board fresh water tank, generate our own electricity and dump our holding tanks somewhere else) very comfortably.  There are certain amenities we would appreciate like cable TV and internet access through the camp’s WIFI but we have our own back-ups for those as well.  We don’t go swimming, neither do we play horse shoes nor miniature golf although we probably should. If a campground has a laundry with washing machines to handle large items, we might take advantage of those.  Some people must have or think they must have most of these things.

 
We have stayed at public campgrounds (city, county state or national parks) but mostly at privately owned RV parks which make up the vast majority of RV parks.  Some parks are old but have been well cared for and have made upgrades like longer, wider sights and 50 amp electricity to accommodate the bigger rigs that over the last 20 years have become more popular.  Newer parks are designed from the start to accommodate all types of RVs.  There are even high end "Resorts" that boast spa like amenities which we have visited. 

But all parks are direct reflections of the people who own or manage them. 

Some private parks are part of franchises like KOA or Yogi Bear’s Jellystone.  Some are part of camping clubs like Thousand Trails (which we feel is a rip-off business) and most belong to discount organizations like Good Sams, Pass Port America or FMCA, all three of which we belong to and are well worth the cost to join.
 

Franchise campgrounds usually cost more but claim to have more amenities and a better camping experience.  We stayed at a KOA in Wilmington, NC that was very much worth the premium price.  But we also stayed at one near Tallahassee that was awful!  It was so bad I had to write to the KOA organization to tell them how this neglected, junkyard campground was hurting their brand.  I never heard back from KOA. 
 

So far about 50% of the camp grounds we have stayed at have been fair to wonderful experiences and about half have been ”OK” to poor.  We can’t say that we have had a totally negative experience yet (I don’t know what that would entail) and hope we never do.

Because so many private campgrounds are Mom & Pop type businesses, you will encounter a full range of customer service from “I could care less” (and their campground shows it) to “5 star accommodation” attitude.  We have come across the campgrounds that try to cheat you out of your discount by telling you that “all the discount sights are taken” (they have learned that from the airlines) or play games with your camp sight so that you won’t get the weekly discount rate.  We have come to take with a grain of salt the advertising on a campground’s website (if it has one) and when talking to them over the phone (if they answer it), to ask specific questions and get specific answers.  We have learned how to judge and select an RV park based on what we find on the internet and what others have to say about it in on-line reviews and then we will look at them up close on Google Maps’ satellite photos.

We try to tell the owners or managers that our stay was good if indeed it was.   We think that if people deserve a pat on the back, pat ‘em!  And if our stay was less than nice, we believe that our payment gives us the right to tell them that, too.  After all, how are they going to know they should improve?

Joanie is keeping a causal journal about places we stay.  We may never pass this way again but if we do, we will remember.

 
We met Bob & Mary Lou here at The Barnyard RV Park in Lexington, SC.  This is their 40 foot American Tradition that is 12 years old and they just traded it on a new Tiffin Phaeton 40 AH which they will pick up in 3 weeks.  They lived in New Bern when we did.  They are headed to Lake Wiley, SC.  Small world!


 

Thursday, July 24, 2014


Being Crazy


I have been asked, “You’re doing what?!” and “How do you drive something that big?” and “Isn’t it scary? I could never do that” and “Why would leave a perfectly good house and live on the road at your age?” when they might have been really thinking “They’re crazy!”
Yeah, we are. 
I guess we are doing this because it is exciting and to “play it safe” is not what we are about.  “If you are not living on the edge, you are taking up too much space” is one bumper sticker I have seen around the internet.  It is about LIVING.  Living means taking risks, doing things differently, being creative.  It means sharing with others our own faith and the joy, life, grace and peace we have been blessed with.  It means listening to what they have to say and see what they have done.
Each morning brings with it a promise of something new.  The light breaking on the horizon dispels the dark thoughts and frightening emotions that may have crept into the loneliness of our bed. The light brings with it the truth that we are not alone and reveals to us a creation that expands out beyond our perceptions and makes us want to explore it.
Each time we “break camp” I get excited and anxious because we are doing something different and new and going to some place we have never been before.  Once we are on the road I breathe a little easier and calm down a little and relax a bit.  The highway is familiar.  Phaeth dutifully responds to my touches the way she should.  I am comfortable doing this.  This is what we are supposed to be doing.
As we get closer to our destination I become more anxious.  Will it be what I expect?  Will I be able to maneuver into our spot?  Will everything work OK?  What will I be called upon to do?  Will I be able to handle it?  It’s new.  It’s different.  It is risk.  My heart beats a little faster, I become more alert.  Then when we have set the parking break, the jacks, the slides, hooked up electric, water and sewer and put out the awnings and door mat and walked the dogs and Joanie has done the thousand things she does to un-store stuff, we sit back with a cold drink and take a deep breath and grin with satisfaction and give each other a good fist bump. 
All is right with the world!
So this is being crazy...
 
 
 
Another First

Last Monday we arrived in Cumming, GA at Twin Lakes RV Park.  This is an established park with good paved interior roads, gravel pads and a powerful WIFI.  It has no pool, bath house or laundry but because we aren't swimmers and are totally self contained we don't need those amenities.  It does have two small lakes with catch and release fishing. 


One thing that they did not make clear in their advertising was the fact that they have no 50 amp electric hook up in any of their pull-throughs. We had to "back-in" to our spot. I have always asked for and received a pull-through.  I have never executed a back-in before.  You don't back a motorhome like you do a car because of its length, its turning radius and it has no rear window.  But for my first time, God was watching over me and gave me the biggest, easiest back-in anyone could have, a back up camera and big mirrors.  He also blessed me with Joanie and as she was my outside eyes, she guided me in to our spot perfectly.
This shot shows all the room out in front of our spot in which I had to maneuver. Whew!


 Man, I'm cocky now.

***
 

I don't want to disparage the really good RV park but the owner's attitude reveals that he had no real interest in his customers.  He could not care less for customer service because he doesn't care at all.  He totally lavishes all his attention on an old hot rod that he either acquired or restored himself.  I have to admit it is pretty cool and sounds great!





Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Spelunking.

Last Sunday we went to Cathedral Caverns State Park in Woodville, Alabama.  Beautiful rolling hills, farmland and woods betray the fact that under it all is a series of caves formed by millennia of water flowing through huge limestone deposits that were once the bottom of an ancient ocean.
The entrance is very large and has a natural limestone roof that is almost perfectly level.  I estimate the opening is 100 feet wide and 30 feet high.  Things get a little tighter after you go in.  The State of Alabama bought the cavern and some surrounding land in the 60's and made it tourist accessible.
 
The tour guide called this "flowing rock".  It is actually water flowing over a limestone formation.  Water carried dissolved limestone over the edge of this horizontal rock and slowly re-deposited the limestone in the shape of this curtain.

 

In reality the stalactites and stalagmites are not this colorful.  They use cool colored lights for the blues and greens and warm colored lights for the yellows and the oranges.  In natural daylight, of which there is none in the cave, it would all be gray limestone colored and perhaps a little white calcium carbonate.  
I needed a bit of a rest after that hike.
 
 
 
Monday we broke camp in Woodville, AL drove to Twin Lakes RV Park in Cumming, GA.
 
 

 
 
 
 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Time.

Time, or at least the measurement of it, is totally an invention of man.  God didn’t invent time as we know it because God is eternal, there is no time in eternity.  Because man invented time, it is imperfect and thus, sometimes an obstacle.

Yesterday, we were in the “Central” time zone.  Today we are back in the “Eastern”.  Because we move a lot we changed some of our clocks so we would know what those around us  know – the correct time.  Other clocks we kept on our old time so we would know not to call at such a late hour, or call too early or calling ahead to a campground to see if they have room for us.  Other than being on time for Mass or being at an attraction when the tour starts or when a store opened or closed, which they do more frequently in small towns, we don’t really live by the clock.  We don’t let the clock run our lives but we still have to be aware of it.

Now we have Direct TV that adds to the time miss-mash.  Because we set up our satellite service in the Central time zone and we have now moved back to the Eastern, the program guide is an hour off.  It will take a phone call to change it. 
All this "what time is it really?" can be a bit confusing.

Natural Time.  Just moving from the beaches of eastern North Carolina to the mountains of North Carolina you notice a change in when the sun rises and sets.  You can even notice it in Florida when moving from the east to west coasts.  I don’t have a watch or an alarm clock so I can awaken and get up whenever I want, or so I tell myself.

Dogs, on the other hand, while they can’t tell time, always know what time it is.  Our motorhome has a skylight that tells Lobo and Juniper when morning arrives and that human guy called “Bob” always takes them out to relieve themselves and check their messages left by other dogs and critters. They don’t care what it says on the microwave or on my tablet computer.  Nor do they care if I happen to be sleeping.  “Hey, bud, it’s time to move it!  Let’s go!”  They do the same when it’s dinner time.  Oh, yeah; they can’t talk either but they communicate very well.

Sorry, no pictures, you all know what a clock looks like.

 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Doing the Huntsville ...

We found this interesting antique store along side a railroad track.  The proprietor was a real character and was a bit confused as to why I was wearing a Notre Dame hat.  Evidently the Fighting Irish are big rivals to the Alabama Crimson Tide.  Joanie had me get a new hat at the Space Center and now I have a nice NASA hat.

Looks sorta like the Smoky Mountains.

Things out the front window of Phaeth look very different from when we were in the Keys of Florida.

We had a super time visiting Jim and Pat Dubil who have just moved to Huntsville and live right on the edge of the Redstone Arsenal.  They haven't heard any booms yet.
 
We have already told you about or visit to the US Space and Rock Center.
 
We visited the Historic Huntsville railroad museum which is on the site of the 1860 depot.  
 
 
 
45 Years Ago This Week

July, 1969.  Three US astronauts road the biggest rocket man had ever made to the moon and pride to be an American has never been greater.  This was greater than Columbus setting foot on San Salvador in the "New World".  Greater than the discovery of electricity or even the wheel.  Humans became EXTRA TERRESTRIAL.  We were ET.

I backed up as far as I could to get as much of the Saturn V engines in the picture.  The immensity of the rocket that sent men to the moon is breath taking!


Some day we may again go back to the moon.  They are working on that very adventure now at the US Space Center in Huntsville, Alabama among other places around the world. 





For two kids who grew up while all this history was taking place, we were reminded of it all again this week as we toured the US Space and Rocket Center, located at One Tranquility Base, Huntsville, Alabama and looked at each other and said out loud together, "We are having too much fun!". 





The huge museum complex is on the Huntsville city side of the large Redstone Arsenal and Rocket Test Center.  Here the captured World War II German rocket scientists gave birth to human kind's greatest adventure.
This is the original test stand that was put together with "borrowed" parts that Dr. Warner Von Braun tested the original Redstone rocket.  This the one everyone has seen in film clips and caused the citizens of Huntsville to replace some window panes.  It is now a national historic sight.  The trees were not there when it was active.
 
 
Knowing that what we were viewing was "historic" put my life into a perspective I had not experienced before and, yes, I felt old but proud again.
Improvements, changes and enhancements

Living in a motorhome is different from living in a stick and brick house.  It is pretty much move-in ready when you purchase it.  Just bring bed linens, towels, pots and pans, dishes and flatware some food and you are ready to go.  Along the way you put in some clothes and cleaning things.  But it still looks like it just came from the factory.  It doesn't look like people live it yet.  So in the last couple of months we have made some minor modifications that now make it look like people live in Phaeth.

There is not much wall space on which to put personal items but we found some.

Keeping the keys next to the door has always been a habit of ours no matter where we have lived and Phaeth is no exception.
We have always had a crucifix in our home and we found a place for it over our bed in the motorhome.

Another personal item over Joanie's sink next to the rear thermostat.  We also added a soap dish and Joanie wanted a tooth brush holder.  We found this suction type holder at WallyWorld.  We also replaced the robe hooks that the factory installed with towel rings also made for Tiffin that match our d├ęcor. The towel rings work a darn site better than hooks that dropped the towels on the first bump out of the campground.
 
The one enhancement that we are not so proud of is the addition of Direct TV satellite service.  We really thought we could live off campground cable or free over the air TV.  We would read books when we did not have free TV.  But alas, we have found that campground cable is not common and unless we are in a city that has broadcast TV stations, free O-T-A TV is nonexistent.  We seem to camp in small towns away from cities or in valleys where the signals are blocked.  For example we were in Red Bay for almost a week with no TV at all and now, while we are just a half hour outside Huntsville, in a valley where the surrounding mountains block signals.  The Russians shot down an air liner and we didn't know about it until we saw a news paper in a rack in the grocery store.  We realized we were becoming out of touch.  Therefore, Direct TV.
 
 
 
 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Trip to Mecca

For owners of a Tiffin Motorhome, Red Bay, Alabama is Mecca - a place to get wrongs made right.  In other words to get things fixed that have broken on their motorhomes either due to the owners negligence or the lack of quality control by Tiffin. 



When we were in Lake Worth, Florida last month, we were parked in a terrific campground for two weeks.  As everyone knows, it rains almost every single day in that part of Florida during the summer.  Rust set in on our already weakened condition entry steps.  Rather than trust the work to an untried RV tech in Florida, we decided to make the trip to the Tiffin Service Center which is near their factory in Red Bay.  On the way we thought of a few more things they might work on.

Motorhomes are big and service centers for motorhomes are big, too.  There are 50 service bays there to get work done that ranges from plumbing and electrical work to body repairs and even room modifications and furniture improvements.  No work is performed on the engine or transmission.  The Tiffin Service Center leaves that up to Freightliner, Cummins and Allison.  Some of the work that is done here is warranty work on new and even-not-so-new coaches.  Tiffin stands behind their product as well as any RV manufacturer in America.  It is one of the reasons that they are a market leader in motorhomes.  Many Tiffin owners are fiercely loyal just like Ford or Chevy owners.  For that reason Red Bay, Alabama becomes their "Mecca". 

They come from all parts of the country to a place that really has little attraction other than to have work done by expert RV techs.  Red Bay is the size town where it is said the "roll up the side walks.  For people with sophisticated tastes, there is nothing in Red Bay except the fine gray/white powder dirt that gets all over everything and into everything.  Rain is a welcome relief that removes some the dust churned up by vehicles.  They literally line up to have work done, though.  Camp Red Bay is the waiting room at the service center that can hold a hundred motorhomes with full hook-ups; each motorhome is plugged into 50 amp electrical service, water and sewer.  There is plenty of room for overflow dry camping, also known as boon docking.

There is no Catholic Church in Red Bay, no Walmart, no movie theatre, you cannot get any TV stations but still it has a charming town square park.  We waited 5 days to have just 3 hours by two RV techs. Does that give you some idea of how the work they perform is valued? 
 
A dog's walk from Camp Red Bay is a farm.  The observers were casual to the goings on.  Red Bay is in farm country and most of the business in Red Bay is agribusiness.  Bob Tiffin started out with a hardware store and in his spare time built an RV.  He got requests to build more and so he got out of the hardware racket to start a motorhome company.
 
On week days work starts early as
the lucky motorhomes move to their designated bay even before the doors open.
 



 
This is a slide out from an Allegro Bus removed to have work done.  These slides can weigh 2 tons or more so use of heavy equipment is necessary to move them.
And still more wait. 
Including us.
 
This fellow was at Red Bay for 74 days having work done on a brand new coach.  He tows the white pick up with a golf cart in the bed and a refrigerator strapped to the golf cart.  You have to really trust straps.  He and his wife will drive straight through to South Dakota.
 
 
Work completed, we left Red Bay yesterday and headed to Woodville, Alabama which is just east of Huntsville to see friends and do some touristy stuff at the US Space and Rocket Center.  I will let you know about that later.