(Nearly) 5 Months Gone

The Newsy Stuff

We wrote this post from Montana, our last US state before we crossed the border into Canada for the long drive through Canada to Alaska. We crossed the border just to the northeast of Glacier National Park into Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada. The two parks form the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park and it was amazing to sit in our campground at Waterton Townsite and face the back of the mountains that framed the Canadian border from the US side. Glacier is dramatic and the middle portion of the famous Going to the Sun Road within the park remained closed, since it is still being plowed out from the 30’ – 60’ (yes, feet) of snow that has fallen or drifted or avalanched (if that is a word) during this past winter. Fascinating photos of the plowing can be seen here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/glaciernps/sets/72157682348882366 and older YouTube videos show just how difficult an undertaking the plowing can be: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M-9l1PojA6Q.

Waterton Lakes National Park is also a beautiful park and there is a small village within the park called Waterton, complete with campgrounds, a few shops, restaurants and more. The glacial water in Waterton Lake and in the rivers and creeks within the park are stunningly lovely as is its Red Rock Canyon. Waterton provided us with up close views of mule deer and big horned sheep grazing within our campground, as well as a black bear (the photo below shows that not all black bears have black fur) and a moose that galloped away before we could take its photo.

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Along the Red Rock Canyon Road, this black bear was within 10′ of us.  Later in the day, we bought bear spray for upcoming hikes — a way of life here.

 

As of this posting, we are happily sited at Bow Rivers Edge Campground in Cochrane, Alberta, on the outskirts of Calgary, where we will spend the next several days before traveling to Banff and Jasper National Parks before heading to Edmonton. From Edmonton, it will be about a 2-day journey to travel to Dawson Creek, the official beginning of the Alaska Highway (also referred to as the ALCAN Highway). With Wolfie in tow, we typically try to limit our driving days to 4 hours of driving per day because towing Wolfie, particularly when it is windy (a near constant condition here so far) is more difficult than when driving without her. We are figuring on a couple of weeks on the Alaska Highway and have allowed plenty of time to travel, sight see, and for detours between here and Alaska. The miles between here and Alaska seemed like a lot when we first considered this trip but after 20,000 on the road so far, that number is much less daunting now.

 

When we started to think about this blog post, we were in western South Dakota. We arrived there believing that we would spend 2-3 days in the area and within a half a day of arriving, we swiftly realized that we would need a full week to explore the sights on our list. South Dakota was amazing and we packed a lot into our time there – the Badlands National Park, Wall Drug, the National Grasslands Visitor’s Center, Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument, Crazy Horse Memorial, Mt. Rushmore, Custer State Park, including the Needles Scenic Drive, visits to Deadwood, Sturgis (home of the famous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and the Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame), Spearfish, Spearfish Canyon, a historic fish hatchery, Devil’s Monument in Wyoming, Rapid City and more. We drove hundreds of miles touring the Black Hills area and loved each and every minute of it.

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Spearfish, SD historic trout hatchery
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Spearfish Canyon, SD
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Devil’s Tower Nat’l Monument
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Mt. Rushmore
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Custer State Park, SD
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The Needles Scenic Drive

 

We left South Dakota and headed toward Montana to avoid heavy snow forecast for Wyoming on our way to Yellowstone and the Grand Teton National Parks. We were lucky to avoid snow along the route but not so lucky when we arrived in West Yellowstone – the next several days were characterized by snow, below freezing temps, lots of road closures within the park and much larger-than-we-expected crowds. We have a fair amount of flexibility to come, go or stay longer or shorter than people constrained by airline tickets or school vacation schedules but still, we cannot just stick around a place indefinitely, hoping that roads will open or crowds will diminish. And so, like everyone else in similar situations, you just roll with it.

Our drive through Yellowstone to the south entrance to visit Grand Teton when the road finally opened was enhanced by an amazing audio tour on an app called Just Ahead that we learned about while in Yellowstone. The app allows one to download a guide to a single park or to subscribe for year to access guides for additional parks. Regrettably, when we downloaded the Yellowstone guide, we were unaware that the south entrance road had reopened toward Grand Teton (even though we were monitoring road closures on the Park’s telephone info line) and when we entered Grand Teton, we were unable to load Teton’s guide due to cell service. We LOVED the Just Ahead audio tour and took advantage of many suggested stops along our route. Sadly, we didn’t know about Just Ahead until after we visited many of the parks for which audio guides were available but we have the app now, complete with yearly subscription, ready for audio tours of parks that we will visit when we return to the lower 48 from Alaska.

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The Tetons
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Snow bank in Yellowstone
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Lewis Falls, Yellowstone

 

At a later date, we may attempt to list the places and routes along our travels that were our favorites. While it is premature to do so at this time, we can confidently report to you that among the places we will highly recommend are western South Dakota/Black Hills area and the drive from Yellowstone to Helena, MT along what we later learned was called the Paradise Valley (287 to 69 to 15 along the Madison River). The name says it all.

 

Here’s hoping for drives ahead as memorable as Paradise Valley – it proved that all roads along rivers and mountains are not just other hoodoos. (See previous bootsandcoffee.com blog post for explanation about hoodoo reference.)

 

The Nosy Stuff

 

Perhaps because our Facebook postings take the form of mini travelogues, filled with photos and videos but mostly devoid of personal reflections, we realized that this blog has become the primary (written) way for us to share our more inward thoughts about our life on the road and just how we are doing now that we have nearly 5 months (and 20,000 or so miles) under our (fan) belts.

 

Let us start by saying that we are good – individually and together. Let us follow by saying that the trip has had its challenges. All things considered, the challenges have been relatively minor – weather obstacles, regularly reaching our roaming data limits WAY before the end of our cell phone billing cycles, repairs needed for Wolfie’s roof and tire are just a few examples. We have learned that researching campgrounds along the road has taken a fair amount of time and energy and that the differences between campgrounds in state parks are interestingly startling. For instance, prior to reaching Colorado, nearly every state park visited had campsites for RVs with electric and water. From Colorado north, state park campsites rarely (if ever) supply water at the site – probably because state parks do not want to deal with the possibility of maintaining water pipes after long winters with many below freezing days. In Montana, few parks with RV sites provide a dump station for black or gray water – nearly unheard of in other state parks where we have stayed where dump stations are the norm. In some state parks, reservations must be made 2 or 3 days in advance and in others, one can reserve online on the day of arrival. Some parks have fees for residents and different fees for nonresidents; some states require daily entrance fees to be paid in addition to campsite fees (which, believe me, can really add up). Some states sell yearly park passes that eliminate the daily entrance fees. In short, it takes a lot of reading fine print to ensure that one is aware of the total cost for a campground stay and what amenities exist. (Here, in Helena, we are in a lovely lakeside campsite at Black Sandy State Park where we have electric at the site but no water and there is a dump station within the campground. There are restrooms with flush – versus vault toilets – but no showers anywhere in the campground. The nonresident campsite fee includes the daily entrance fee but we had to read the fee schedule at least 3 times before we figured it out. We arrived early enough to secure a first-come-first-served site, thankfully, because we missed the 3 days in advance online reservation window. Get the picture?)

 

All of this is to illustrate that it’s not so easy being foot loose and fancy free when it comes to securing a safe, affordable and comfortable place to place Wolfie for a night or so. On the other hand, it would have been completely exhausting to have made advance reservations for all of the myriad places we have stayed within the past 5 months to say nothing of how pressured we would have felt by such a tight and inflexible schedule and how little flexibility it would have afforded us. Good or bad aside, it has been a challenge to do this research along the way. And we think that it might get worse – in that we are already discovering that some Canadian campgrounds are not even reservable until the middle of June or later!

 

While we have met a large number of people, most of our encounters with others have been relatively brief – imagine our life as being one really long cocktail party filled with “camper small talk.” The “what’s your major” for us has morphed into a story of our journey and how we started in a tent before we acquired Wolfie, blah, blah, blah. It is a fun and interesting story to tell and we have developed story-telling skills that allow for a Mutt-and-Jeff routine and fellow campers are filled with interest and often provide us with great ideas and hints about things to see and routes to take, to say nothing of the valuable guidance we have received on maintaining Wolfie. Still, there are times we long for a good debate about current events, or about great movies seen or books read. Recent political events have left us with no lack of great articles to read and fascinating news to absorb as we travel but the 24 hour news programming gets old when we are on the second or third repetition of the same story even if it is a different newscaster/host and at times, listening to the news can be so disheartening and distracts from the beauty all around us.

 

There have been constant challenges with cell signals, Wi-Fi, TV stations and technology in general. We have hinted at this before and could write a book on how many issues we have confronted and our (mostly) botched solutions. In short, we have found nothing that consistently addresses our interests in having cell signals, adequate Wi-Fi and some access to TV – whether for news or entertainment. Most of the time, we have at least 1 of these (cell or Wi-Fi or TV) and sometimes we have none. At one point, we “voted” for choosing Wi-Fi over TV/cable when we researched campgrounds, believing that we could always stream news or Netflix, etc. We pretty quickly realized that nearly all campground-supplied Wi-Fi was not only inadequate for streaming purposes, it was barely adequate for email or web browsing/research. We have left a campground on more than one occasion to travel to Starbucks, McDonald’s or something similar just to use the Wi-Fi (such as we are doing at this moment). We have had issues with roaming data limits (even though our Sprint and T-Mobile plans have “unlimited” data – hah, a story for another day) but, fortunately no problems with our phones once we crossed the Canadian borders on either Sprint or T-Mobile. The data has been important not because we are unable to sit quietly and simply read a book or magazine, but to navigate, research, download books, news articles and the like. So far, we can mostly locate Wi-Fi in town and try to do what we need to do from those locations. It’s likely to get worse as we continue toward Alaska but the trade off is that our coping skills continue to improve.

 

One of the most difficult issues has been to embrace Wolfie and the trip as our way of life rather than one extended vacation. This little <100 square foot trailer is our home and it’s been a challenge to figure out how to make our life on the road comfortable at times. We are grateful for the inside kitchen but challenged by the limitations of its tiny space, tiny fridge, tiny sink and lack of oven. Our countertop measures about 2’x2’ and the workspace doubles as dish drainer where our tiny coffee maker and small 3 pot herb garden also resides. The dinette banquette that faces the TV is small and while we can both cram our butts there for short intervals, it is not accommodating for very long. It took a while to get comfy with Wolfie and living in this way – getting the storage cabinets arranged in a way that didn’t require removing everything to get to the spices, learning how to make the bed, figuring out how to keep sufficient pantry items on hand to allow for varied dinners . . .

 

It is worth noting that we have truly felt comfortable and have not perceived any real discomfort due to race or religion or the inter-ness of our mixed status as a couple. As we enter a new town or city, we usually read about the place, its history and its demographics. As we move westward, we have moved into areas with less racial and religious diversity but the lack of diversity has not signaled any lack of civility, cordiality and friendliness. If anything, it has improved. Universally, we have appreciated the friendly way we have been treated everywhere we have been.

 

Even with all of this, we can happily report that we are enjoying each other as much as we thought we would and have not tired of having each other as our primary companion. The trip has solidified so many of the things that we shared before we left and improved upon our collaboration in many new ways. And we are happy to also to report that naturally, without a great deal of conscientious work, we have started living more in the moment. The “can’t wait until” has been replaced, more often as not by “should we stay here longer.” Each day, there is more and more comfort in seeing what is in front of our eyes rather than what lies ahead in our journey.

 

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St. Mary Lake, Glacier National Park
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New friends — RCMP Officers Cst. Mitchell Rowland and Brian (whose last name we never learned) — in downtown Waterton
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The guys were just hanging out – the women were down the street.
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Red Rock Canyon, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
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Red Rock Canyon Road, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
Red Rock Canyon, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
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Red Rock Canyon, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
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Mountains reflected in Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park
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Waterton Lake, which straddles the US-Canada border, looking south toward Montana

 

It’s Just Another Hoodoo

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Holding up the Balanced Rock, Big Bend National Park

Reflections of 4 Months Gone

When we last wrote, more than a month ago, we were writing about a journey of 2 months in the making and here we are, double that time on the road.  Much has happened since we wrote on March 2, which was just after leaving New Orleans and Mardi Gras. In the intervening time, we have traveled from Louisiana to Texas to New Mexico to Arizona to Utah and to Grand Junction, Colorado where we are resting as of this writing.  Not only have we added 5 states to our US Sticker Map but we have added a lot of miles, learning, self knowledge and joy. We have also had some real adjustments to life on the road and we will share those later when our thoughts are more organized.

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Our US Sticker Map includes states visited from the date of retirement until present

Sometime between Louisiana and Colorado, we realized we had put more than 10,000 miles on Gertie since leaving Maryland on December 26, 2016.  Had we used those 10,000 miles to drive straight from Maryland to Alaska and then from Alaska to Panama, we would be in Panama by now.  Within those 10,000 miles (which are really 14,000+ at this time), we have stayed in a LOT of campgrounds in a LOT of places, and so on.

Since we were amused and somewhat surprised by some of what we realized about the magnitude of this undertaking, we wonder whether, you, too, will be amused and somewhat amazed by some of what we subsequently cataloged about this trip.  So, here goes:

  • Total Number of miles driven: 14,000+ miles
  • Total Number of States Entered: 15
  • Total Number of Places Stayed/Accommodations:  48 (5 Hiltons, 16 private homes/campgrounds, 5 City/County campgrounds, 17 State campgrounds, 5 federal campgrounds)
  • Number of oil changes on the trip (not counting one done pre-trip):   3
  • Number of observed snow falls: 3
  • Number of crossings into Mexico:  2
  • Favorite new purchases along the trip (in no particular order):
    •      Portable storage tank (dubbed the Honey Pot by a fellow traveler)
    •      Digital TV antenna (reliably finds local channels for news and weather)
    •      Small electric coffee pot (gave ours away pretrip and bought another one            to avoid the daily challenge of cleaning coffee grounds from the French press)
    •      Zero gravity lounge chairs
    •      Wolfie
    •      New mattress for Wolfie
  • Number of National Parks visited so far (not counting National Monuments or Presidential Libraries): Great Smoky, Mammoth Cave, Everglades, Big Bend, Saguaro, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capital Reef and Arches
  • Lowest gas price paid: $1.75 (Texas or Louisiana)
  • Highest gas price: $2.89 in Big Bend National Park and $4.79 just north of Moab, UT where the price didn’t display until Roque started to pump the gas (!)
  • Highest elevation with Gertie alone: 9100′ at Rainbow Point in Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Highest elevation with Gertie and Wolfie:  9612′ on Utah 12 en route to Torrey, UT
  • Number of time changes: 5 (2 time zones and 3 changes to and from Daylight savings time)
  • Number of post cards sent to grandchildren: 40+
  • Number of quarters used for laundry: approximately 270
  • Most challenging road: Utah RT 12 between Bryce Canyon National Park/Kodachrome Basin State Park and Torrey, UT (next to Capital Reef National Park). At points, the road traveled on top of a mountain ridge with drop offs in both direction
  • Highest temperature: 98 in Big Bend
  • Lowest temperature: 18 in Santa Fe
  • Holidays celebrated (not counting federal holidays such as MLK’s birthday and President’s Day): New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, Sharon’s birthday, Passover and Easter
  • Number of ice cream scoops: 0
  • Number of bagels consumed after leaving Florida: 2
  • Best grocery stores visited: H-E-B and Whole Foods in Austin; City Market and Sprouts in Grand Junction, CO
  • Number of bottles of body wash used:  2
  • Number of times we have eaten sushi: 0
  • Number of stickers on Gertie: 33
  • Number of hiking boot laces replaced: 4 (2 pair total)
  • Number of times shopped at Walmart: more than once

Note about shopping at Walmart:  We prefer to shop local and to avoid Walmart.  Despite this preference, there have been times when we literally had no choice BUT to shop at Walmart. Whether Walmart has driven out the local Mom-and-Pop’s or whether Walmart entered markets where no other competition exists, alas, there are times when they are the only game in town . . .

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Wolfie’s sticker collection

What the Heck is a Hoodoo (and why it matters)

After we departed Dallas on the road toward Big Bend National Park, we entered a series of landscapes that were mostly characterized as dusty, arid, scrubby, and rocky.  Throughout southern Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, there were huge variations on this theme but the basic geology, at least to these untrained eyes, remained the same.  Our visits to the various state and national parks in these states have taught us about the events that occurred millions and millions of years ago to the land that became the Colorado Plateau – land that is located in Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.  The Colorado Plateau is the home of the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capital Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches National Parks and numerous other monuments, state parks and various other protected land within these states.  Through collision, folding, rising and erosion, the Colorado Plateau not only produced these park lands but the broad range of geological structures that include canyons, arches, walls and hoodoos.

“A hoodoo (also called a tent rockfairy chimney or earth pyramid) is a tall, thin spire of rock that protrudes from the bottom of an arid drainage basin or badland.”  Wikipedia Definition of Hoodoo.  Like most of you, we had never heard the term before we entered Arizona and Utah – at least with reference to rock structures.  By the time we entered Colorado, however, we could spot a hoodoo miles away and after weeks of exposure to the majesty of some of this country’s most dramatic and beautiful landforms, we may have become a little blasé about these magnificent scenes.  Of course, we have continued to take photo after photo (many of them posted and shared on our Facebook Boots and Coffee page if you are interested) and yet, we caught ourselves recently remarking, as we drove along the Colorado River scenic drive between Grand Junction and Parachute, CO, “Oh. It’s just another hoodoo.”

Whether the cataloging of “events” and “stats” above is remarkable or not, it is just our life on this journey.  Many people who we have met along the road are enthralled/amazed/excited by or perhaps even wary of us when we share our plans for this trip.  Many of our family members and friends reacted similarly as they heard of our plans.  To us, however, these “stats” and more are just how we are living.  It’s just another hoodoo to us.

 

 

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Hoodoos (galore) at Bryce Canyon
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Big Wall Climbers – Zion
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Boots and Red Rocks
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Navajo Loop hiking trail – Bryce

 

 

Our Current Location

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Reflections on Two Months Gone

Unbelievably, two months have now passed since we set out with Gertie packed to the gills for the beginning of our trip. As we wrote about earlier, the excess weight in gear packed into Gertie was solved by renting and hauling a UHaul for the first couple of weeks, storing the items in Florida in a small storage unit and solved again when we returned to Deerfield Beach to retrieve the stowed belongings after we acquired our new camper, Wolfie.  On one hand, it feels like forever since we were working in our jobs and preparing to leave; on the other hand, it feels new as can be – like an extended vacation. Still, in the back of our brains, we feel that we kind of know that it’s not a vacation and it’s our new life and with every day, this realization brings a contented smile.

We set out with a rough itinerary of places we wanted to see and a timeline with only a few fixed dates: New Orleans for Mardi Gras and summer to travel through the Canadian Rockies into Alaska.  Otherwise, we purposely eschewed making advance reservations anywhere, which we found to be somewhat challenging while in Florida for the 6 weeks or so preceding our scheduled arrival in New Orleans due to the abundance of RVers and other campers taking advantage of wintering in Florida.  While making reservations for campsites – tent or trailer – in Florida proved time-consuming and while we could not always stay in a particular location or stay at a campground as long as we may have wanted under ideal circumstances, making arrangements on the fly has its blessings. We ended up seeing parts of the country that we may not have otherwise selected and some of those have been among the most beautiful and surprisingly enjoyable and have met people we might have missed.

Life with Wolfie

Life with Wolfie, our trailer home for the past month, is good.  In him, we have all that we need and love the convenience of cooking without digging through the “bear box” housing pantry items, or without hunting for the spices within the camp kitchen as it is now all neatly housed within organized (mostly) cabinets in the trailer. With Wolfie, packing up camp and moving onward is a snap and we have that routine pretty much down pat.  Having an indoor bathroom is dreamy and being able to sit at the dinette to eat or work at the computer is easy and comfy.  We have places for our clothes, and our “office” equipment as well as our toiletries and sundry items that are accessible and don’t require digging through boxes to retrieve.

Technology needs remain a work in progress as cell signals and campground wifi (when it exists) can be quite spotty but we have learned new tricks to overcome these deficiencies when they arise (at least, thus far). We previously added a $30 digital antenna to our gear which often will allow for watching local network TV. We added an Apple AV cable that allows for our iPhones or iPads to connect to the TV if we have downloaded Netflix shows or movies in advance or if we have service strong enough to stream from an app.  The Apple TV, which we believed we would be able to use by connecting it to the T-Mobile data on Roque’s iPad, has proven to be largely useless.  The data signal on the iPad, which is sufficient often to permit internet browsing, does not appear to be strong enough to support streaming on the Apple TV.  And when our cell phone signals are strong enough to support streaming, if the Apple TV is using TMobile data, we cannot stream to the Apple through AirPlay since both devices (Apple TV and phone or iPad) need to be using the same data stream.  The AV cable solved the problem by taking the Apple TV out of the equation.  Now, it mostly collects dust and awaits its final home in Panama.

There are many ongoing adaptations still, though.  We wrote briefly of the limit of our gray and black water tanks in Wolfie and found it essential to add a portable waste storage tank to our gear, which allows us to empty the tanks on an as-needed basis to bring to the dump station, freeing up the tanks while we are stationary for more than a couple of days. The alternative, for those of you not familiar with the more unsavory aspects of life in a camper, would require hooking up Wolfie every couple of days just to tow him to the dump station.  The portable tank can be towed (I kid you not) behind the truck for emptying at the dump station, leaving Wolfie happily in his cradle of wheel chocks and stabilizers.  It’s not the most pleasant of household chores to bring the portable tank to the dump station but it is a small price to pay for staying put for a longer period and for the convenience of indoor plumbing.

And while we adore having a queen size bed without the obstacle of cot frames separating us while we sleep, we have realized that our trailer mattress is a piece of crap- hard as a rock and shorter than the conventional queen size mattress.  Its short stature is not much of a problem for me but Roque isn’t as vertically challenged as I am and while not an extremely tall man, finds that his feet stick off the end of the mattress at night.

We discovered, quite by accident, that the crappy mattress dilemma is universal.  While camping on the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain, where we took Wolfie to stay while we headed into Mardi Gras, we were included by our neighboring campers in a day /night of beach going and campfire relaxing.  With these 3 families the subject of the mattress arose and much to our surprise, we learned that they ALL hated their mattresses.  So, it seems that camper manufacturers install the most basic of mattresses in campers and slowly but surely, owners learn that they need to replace their mattresses with other ones IF they want to get a good night’s sleep.

Armed with this information and the new-found knowledge of not being alone in this island of misfit mattresses, we started to research replacement RV mattresses and happily learned (from website comments) that RVers – from high-end Class A motor homes to pop up tent campers – often need to commit to replacing their mattresses.  Through the internet, we also learned that the mattress we have is a “queen short,” explaining the feet-off-the-end problem that Roque is experiencing.  (It is interesting to note that RV dealers proudly boast of queen size beds in RVs without disclosing that while they are queen size in width, they are Sharon-sized in terms of length!).

We were also happy to learn that replacing the mattress with a gel foam mattress for Wolfie will not cost and arm and a leg and NOTHING like a conventional mattress for a conventional home.  The obstacle that looms ahead in this purchase, however, is being somewhere where the new mattress can be shipped to us or shipped to a store for pick up. When one lives on the road with a snail mail address in another state (Florida in our case), one cannot simply do the simple Amazon-thing since acceptance of  delivery of something as large as a mattress – even one that is shipped vacuum sealed for later “inflating” when the package is opened — is not something we want to impose on a relative or friend in an upcoming state (as we have with smaller items).  This means postponing the purchase and timing it so that it can be delivered when we are WITH the friends or relatives.  Until then, the sleep will just have to suffer and we will just have to remind ourselves that hard as it is, the mattress is an improvement over the two cots pushed together.

So, lest you think that we are sitting fat and happy in the comfort of our new home on wheels, we are still modifying and adjusting and I suspect that our future posts will have subjects similar to this one.  Yes, there are moments when we wish that the purchasing of stuff would end but mostly the moments are filled with appreciation for the quiet and peace of our life on the road. There is always a new path to walk and new animals to see.  There are bike routes to try and local foods to explore.  There are people to meet and internet radio stations to stream through the Bluetooth to the outside sitting area beneath our retractable awning while we enjoy our books, newspapers, Scrabble, Backgammon and Chess games or as background music to our conversations about where to explore today.  There are beaches where we sun and nap and new grocery stores to explore when we shop for the days’ meals. We have found that we can be as solitary or as social as we please and that suits us beautifully, as does each other’s company, which never fails to complete us (still).  Life is good.

Finding Our Stride

One of the greatest discoveries so far has been that we CAN slow down, so much, in fact, that we cut our time in New Orleans short and decided to return to Wolfie a day earlier than planned following Mardi Gras. Entering New Orleans on Lundi Gras (the Monday before Fat Tuesday), turned out to be perfect timing as we were able to watch Monday’s Proteus and Orpheus Krewe parades as well as participating in Zulu’s Lundi Gras festival on the waterfront near the French Quarter.  The parades were spectacular affairs and each Krewe brings a different spectacle to the streets. On Mardi Gras, the parades began at 8 am and we saw the “follows” floats from smaller Krewes still rolling down St. Charles Avenue onto Canal Street as late as 5 pm!  Many stay at their spots for all of these hours; we spent time wandering different streets, observing the differences in the crowds from one location to another.  Having amassed huge quantities of Mardi Gras beads at a parade in Ocean Springs, Mississippi on the Friday before Mardi Gras, we made little effort to collect new ones in New Orleans and were fascinated by the BAGS of beads and other “throws” collected by parade attendees (what do they DO with all that stuff after the parades???).  Still, we were thrilled when Roque caught beads thrown by hometown boy Harry Connick, Jr. from his float in the Krewe of Orpheus parade and when Roque caught a prized hand painted coconut from the Zulu parade on Mardi Gras, which coconut now graces our dining room table in a plastic Proteus cup also one-handed by Roque.

While in New Orleans, we dined at Mother’s for breakfast (The Katz’s — of sorts – of New Orleans), returned to Cochon for dinner (as memorable as our visit there nearly 4 years ago) and visited Compère Lapin which may have been the highlight of our trip, as the cuisine, a fusion of West Indian/Cajun/Italian prepared by a classically trained (French tradition) female chef from St. Lucia, was fresh, beautiful and so flavorful that had we had larger appetites, we would have tried everything on the menu.  Her menu expresses the following philosophy, which I found perfectly matched our meal : ” Meals aren’t about trends, shock value, or opulence. Meals are about moments, memories and those who surround you at your table. We believe in the complexity of simplicity, and the power of pure flavors. Our histories, vast and varied, deserve to be memorialized and romanticized by dishes that at once remind us of home and transport us to somewhere new.” These restaurants were wonderful treats and a lovely departure from cooking and we were thrilled with these choices although in New Orleans, we likely could have tried others with the same results as few cities honor food (or do it as well) as does New Orleans.

The two days and nights in New Orleans, through this season of revelry, were enough for us and we both decided – independent of one another – that we wanted to leave the city to return to the campground. We have nested in Wolfie completely and have added touches that make it feel like home. Our Zulu coconut. Our Cynthia-made, Strip Club endorsed quilt. Our yoga mat as floor runner. Our zero gravity outdoor lounge chairs.  These and more make Wolfie our home and we are loving it.

We now know that moving along the road with Wolfie should be done in smaller spurts, and unlike our last cross-country trip where we drove upwards of 8-10 hours at times, we are now trying to travel no more than 4 hours on a travel day.  While slower in pace, we are in no hurry to exhaust ourselves or to push onward when being here — wherever here is – is bound to bring more beauty, fresh discoveries, and new friends.  Our next stops — Lake Charles, LA, Galveston Island, TX, Houston and then Dallas – lie ahead with boudin, cracklin’ and crawfish and who knows what else to be sampled.  Whatever lies ahead, we look forward to it and will share it later with you.

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Bourbon Street on Mardi Gras
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New Orleans, here we come!
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Gallier Hall (former City Hall), St. Charles Avenue along parade route

Be Safe Y’All

We were told by our camping neighbors here at Fontainbleau State Park to “be safe” when we left to go to Mardi Gras.  We swiftly learned that the “be safe” admonishment was not to be taken literally as I was able to confirm with our hotel desk clerk that folk from Louisiana ALL say “be safe” in the way that we might say “see you later.”  So this blog will close with well wishes to you and hopes that y’all will be safe.

How We Will Roll

Why We Love to Camp

Throughout our years of planning for this road trip, we had considered many ways to camp including whether to buy some sort of camper. Most of the folks traveling the Pan American highway have some sort of self contained camper, whether factory or homemade. We opted for the truck and tent for many different reasons. We love tent camping and one night, when at the Flamingo campground in Everglades National Park, at the far southwest tip of Florida (and 38 miles from the visitor center), we slept with the tent rain flap open, allowing for an amazing view of the stars from our cots.  Since we were so far away from light pollution, the sky was spectacular and combined with the night sounds of insects and frogs, I was filled with a sense of peace and well being that made it clear why I love to camp in a tent — other than a thin piece of nylon separating us from the outdoors, we were as close to being a PART of the outdoors as we could be without sleeping outside (not a viable prospect given the mosquitos there!).

It was kind of a source of pride, at least for me, to think that we could tent camp throughout this trip, at least in the US and Canada, but we met some people from Alaska and Oregon while in the Everglades, who forewarned of the possibility of being prevented from accessing some national park campgrounds without a hardsided camper due to wildlife concerns.  Despite our efforts to research this online, we had been unable to find out much about tent camping limitations. It was a really horrifying thought to consider arriving somewhere – such as Yellowstone or Glacier or Denali- only to be told that they would not allow us to tent camp there. Combining that with many other considerations such as basic creature comforts like having an inside toilet and real bed, we again started to research camper trailers.

Kismet struck when we arrived in the Ft Myers area.  We thought that if we decided to buy one, it made sense for us to do it in Florida so we could ensure having it registered in our new home state. In the middle of our research into various small trailer campers, we learned there was an RV show in Ft Myers which we thought would give us a chance to look at many makes and models and to see many of the ones we had already researched online, saving us the hassle of going from dealer to dealer to see a variety of models.

Introducing Wolfie

We were only interested in a smallish trailer but felt that it made no sense to get anything unless it had a real bed and “full” bath including toilet and shower. I was intrigued by the little “pod” trailers as well as “teardrop” ones but they were just too small and impractical as most have just inside beds (and outside kitchens which are clever but we already have a full outside kitchen set up) so we had to go larger than a pod. We jointly liked one model much better than all the others because it had an”walk around” queen bed (meaning that one person doesn’t have to climb over the other to get in or out of bed) and a full bath. In the one we selected – the Forest River Cherokee Wolf Pup 16 FQ (photos of similar models and floor plan of our model here: http://www.forestriverinc.com/brochures/2017/2017wolfpupbrochure.pdf),  we have tiny tub (big enough for a grandchild) with a shower, toilet and even a sink with vanity. So within the whopping 16′ of trailer, we have a walkaround  queen bed, full bath, tiny dinette and kitchen (stove, fridge, sink and microwave). We also have ac and heat. The ac requires being at a campsite with electricity but the heat runs on propane.

All of this means than we now have a tiny camper that not only allows for a comfortable lifestyle when at a campsite but will also allow us to boondock (camping without electricity or water at a site) if we find ourselves in remote areas where we cannot find a “real” campground or hotel room, which I anticipate will be the case in the Canadian Rockies and Alaska.

Additionally, the storage space and cargo capacity of the trailer permitted us to return to Deerfield Beach for the stuff we had to put in a storage facility because it was too heavy to carry in the truck, which would save us the storage fees as well as have the gear we wanted for starting our life in Panama. And we also considered that once we get to Panama, having the trailer means that we won’t feel quite so pressured to find a rental home since we will have a place to sleep and we may ultimately be able to rent out the trailer as an AirBnB option like a casita on the property.

The downside is that towing a trailer is more difficult than just driving a truck and reduces our fuel economy. But it’s a fairly simple process to set up and break down the trailer when we are in a campsite and we unhook the truck for the duration of our stay and then hop into the truck or onto our bikes while the trailer stays put. We have reduced the camp set up and break down time to a third of what it took to set up our tent and screen tent with kitchen, cots, clothes and other necessaries.

Another downside of having a small trailer is the small holding tanks (to say nothing of learning the “art” of emptying out the holding tanks).  We have learned that we are likely to exceed our tanks’ holding capacity when we stay at one campsite longer than a couple of nights and that means that we have to find a way to get to a dump station in the park midway through our stay.  If this requires hooking up and moving the trailer, it’s rather self defeating when the beauty of staying put for longer than a couple of days requires moving just to dump the tanks.  Luckily, there are solutions for this dilemma: portable tanks that allow for us to empty excess gray and black water and haul it in this wheelie-device to the dump station.  So, it’s likely that we will be making a purchase of one of these today.

Researching Campgrounds

For any of you who are experienced RVrs, you already know that locating campgrounds with “full” hookups is the optimal choice; we have chosen to avoid RV parks for several reasons and thus, “full” hookups (water, electric and sewer at the site) are less frequently available and snatched up quickly when they exist.  Unlike my experience camping in Maryland, albeit in tents, we were delighted to learn that all Florida state park campsites provide electric and water hook ups, which were convenient as heck when in a tent and fairly essential – even if not critical – in a trailer.  The same appears to be true in many other state parks and the ones we reserved in Mississippi and Louisiana for the end of this month, will provide electricity and water (and in Mississippi, sewer as well).  Within federal lands, electric sites are harder to come by and few, if any, have full hookups.  Luckily, we located a resource on the internet that provides really comprehensive information about state campgrounds and their facilities within their state park system.

There is something of an art to researching campgrounds.  No two are alike, even within a statewide system.  (Further, no two sites are alike and many Florida state park sites vary tremendously in terms of size.)  Since we are trying to stay on public lands, we have located city, county, state and various federal campgrounds and in our 12 campgrounds so far, have stayed on county, state and federal lands  Alas, there is not one reservation system for all.  Some states use reserveamerica.com; most federal lands allow for reservations on recreation.gov.  Both of these omit county campgrounds (at least so far in our travels). Finding county campgrounds requires knowing the county where you are headed (oy! yet ANOTHER open tab in my browser!).  Some parks allow reservations online as well as “first-come-first-served” walk ins.  Sometimes, the online reservation systems shows no available sites but a phone call to the park results in victory!

Another drawback to the online reservation systems is locating a “good” site.  When we were in a tent, proximity to the bathhouse was a priority.  And while that is no longer as critical while in a trailer, other pieces of information rise to the top of the list:  Size. Drive in versus back in.  Width (helpful when backing in). Length.  Location within the campground (i.e., not next to dump sites, electrical transformers, trees/hedges for privacy, etc.).  It’s helpful to look at the campground map to try to determine better spots but it’s not always easy to locate where the dumpsters are, for example, to avoid living next to them.  Perhaps this explains why experienced RVrs often return to the same campgrounds year after year, armed with information on their preferred campsite location.  If this sounds a bit daunting, you are right – at times, it makes me feel like my head is about to explode with all of the mental checklists about what park and site to choose.  So far, however, we have been delighted with pretty much every campground we have selected and often have benefitted from having to move from site to site when reservations do not allow for consecutive night stays on the same site.

We have also learned that there are websites for boondocking locations (!) that include the somewhat famous “camping in a Walmart parking lot,” (sometimes allowed but not always), truck stops, rest areas and even on people’s private land!  There are also little known campgrounds located in Florida’s Water Management Districts and US National Forests that are managed by the USDA and not the Park Service.  I’m fairly sure that there are books on this subject and perhaps compendia on the internet but I’ve not located them (yet).  And before I forget, never assume that ALL US National Parks are reservable on recreation.gov: I learned a couple of weeks ago that Denali (and perhaps others) use a completely separate reservation system run by a concessionaire!  reservedenali.com. Bottom line: look, read, study, research and do it all over again to cover all bases.

Despite the mind bending work of researching and reserving a good campsite, the rewards are many, especially when you arrive at a park and learn that YOUR campsite is waterfront with its own private beach, as is the one we write from today.  Hard to beat and well worth the work!

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St Andrews State Park, Site 112

 

It’s been a little more than a week since we picked up our trailer, now dubbed “Wolfie,” and we have no regrets. Earlier this week, we awoke to 38 degree weather and we were able to put on the heat to get the chill out of the trailer even though we slept without it and with the windows open. We now have 2 fridges (one in the trailer which runs on propane while in the road and one in the back of the truck which runs off our solar panel and solar generator) and were able to empty out the backseat of the truck so we can now truly have passengers should people take us up in our offers to join us for a portion of the trip. If and when this happens, Roque and I will sleep in the tent and leave the trailer for any guests. (THIS MEANS YOU). We have an inside kitchen and one that we can set up outside. We have all of our clothes now in the storage holds of the trailer which may help when we get invited to some black tie event (unlikely) or wedding (possible?). We have a stereo system inside complete with DVD player connected to a wall mounted TV and while cable or satellite TV stations are unavailable, we have, on more than one occasion, had data or wifi connections decent enough to allow for streaming on our iPads or computers, and  sometimes through the TV!  We still wake to the sounds of the birds and often early enough to see the sun rise, always from the comfort of our own campsite.  And waking in the middle of the night to use the restroom no longer involves dressing, locating a flashlight and heading off to a bathhouse.

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“Wolfie”
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Our Yard
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Our dinette (for 2) or convertible bed (for 1 or 2 little ones)
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Walk-around queen bed with beautiful handmade quilt by Cynthia, gift from my friends, the “Strip Club”
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Our kitchen: microwave, sink, fridge and stove

 

The adjustments continue, as do the purchases for stuff.  But we have no complaints as life is so good (as the photos demonstrate):

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Sunrise from our campsite, St Andrews State Park
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Lake Kissimmee State Park
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Lake Kissimmee State Park
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Lake Kissimmee State Park
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St Andrews State Park Marina and Pier
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Another beautiful sky

3 Weeks and Still Going Strong

Greetings From Deerfield Beach, Florida

A lot has happened since the beginning of our road trip on December 26 and the passage of time since the last post, while not planned, has given us time for reflection on our constant learning curve over these past 3 weeks.  Had we posted the earlier draft of this blog post, it would have been filled with details of our departure and the packing and loading of the truck/rig (Gertie, for short).  This now seems like a distant memory, worthy of a mention but not of an entire post.  The learning curve has been constant and reminds us that this trip will teach us a great deal about many things, not the least of which is how to NOT over-react and how time provides the gift of calm reflection.

To Pack or Not To Pack

When we were organizing our belongings for the trip, we KNEW that we were going to leave on the trip with Gertie looking like she was on the set of the Beverly Hillbillies with items loaded inside the cab, the truck cap, the roof and a hitch carrier on the back.  We laughed about how we would look but patted ourselves on the back about how much stuff we would be able to transport: fridge and solar power system within the cab, camping gear on top with the bikes, emergency equipment and tools on the hitch carrier and loads of long term items, designed to start our life in Panama, stored within the truck cap (the bed of the truck within the cap).

Truck packed, we departed on December 26 and headed west toward the first of our planned stops. We were no more than an hour into our drive when we realized that even after 2 years of trip planning, we missed the obvious: did we load Gertie beyond her payload weight limits?  OMG – what were we thinking when we believed we could transport hundreds of pounds of belongings, secured in huge 55 gallon storage boxes, all the way from DC to Panama, when we wouldn’t even USE them for years to come??? In the 3 boxes were kitchen items (Kitchenaid mixer, Cuisinart, pots and pans and more), clothes (intended for use in our new home but not along the road), and general household items (TV, stereo equipment, tools, etc.). The boxes were so heavy that to load one on top of the other in Gertie, we had to use a piece of plywood as a ramp to slide on atop the other. (Later, we stopped to weigh Gertie at a certified scale at a truck stop and learned that we were nearly 50% over our payload weight rating).Panic set in and we immediately considered options such as stopping and returning to Baltimore to store these boxes for future shipping (rejected due to the sheer hassle of unloading and carrying/schlepping so many pounds of stuff to the basement) and shipping these boxes to friends in Mexico or Panama to accept them in our absence (rejected for multiple reasons). When emotions calmed and we (more “I” than “we”) were able to think more rationally, we resolved to rent a UHaul trailer to transport the boxes to Florida (since Gertie’s towing capacity greatly exceeds her payload limits) where we would rent a small storage unit to warehouse the belongings for future shipping to Panama.

The immediate solution had its downsides – schlepping a trailer up and down the mountainous roads in the Great Smoky Mountains and surrounds definitely affected our fuel consumption and hauling a trailer sure limits parking pretty much everywhere — but it did resolve the weight issue and we found a temporary solution to the “scheppability”problem by dropping the trailer at each campground along the route so we could travel locally freed of the additional appendage (thanks to the purchase of a bottle jack which allowed us to raise the trailer off the hitch when we were stationary). Whew.

Logistics solved, we traveled westward through stops in Louisville, Owensboro and Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, Nashville, Chattanooga and Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Great Smoky National Park and Asheville, North Carolina, Charleston, S.C., Savannah, Ga and then into St. Augustine, Cape Canaveral and Deerfield Beach in rapid succession at a pace that seemed like we were still traveling on a vacation with a finite beginning and end dates as compared to a pace that being retired should permit.  The problem was not our itinerary, which was intentionally open-ended in terms of dates and times, but mindset: learning to slow down was clearly going to be as much of a challenge as originally anticipated.  (Breathe, Sharon, breathe!).

In fairness to my hypercritical view of myself, the first week or so of the trip took us through locations where the weather would not allow us to camp so we were staying in hotels. Anxious to start our camping and avoid the unnecessary sterility of hotel stops, we were delighted when we arrived in Charleston, SC to weather that was nice enough to allow us to set up camp.  Without a fixed itinerary, we were making campground reservations on the fly as we approached our next stops and in SC and Georgia, we were extremely lucky in locating wonderful campgrounds that provided beautiful sites, equipped with electricity and water at each camp site (James Island Country Park in Charleston, SC and Skidaway Island State Park near Savannah, GA).  By the time we reserved our campsite in St. Augustine (Anastasia State Park), we were lucky to find one night’s availability but nothing longer so after joining (new) friends, Diana and Jack Rawle for dinner (Diana and Jack’s son, Andrew, was Sophie’s boyfriend at Drexel and following her passing, were great emotional support to me, via email, and we were excited to meet them face-to-face and thank them for their years of support and long-distance support) and walking in historic St. Augustine, we headed out for Cape Canaveral to visit the Kennedy Space Center.  The incredible KSC more than compensated for the shantytown feel of our campground in Titusville, FL (Mannatee Hammock County Park) so we were not unhappy to leave for our breakfast with DC-friend, Janet Samuelson, before heading south to Deerfield Beach and our home for the following 2 weeks at Quiet Waters Park.

Life here at Quiet Waters has been blessedly peaceful and relaxing. This county park’s campground is unlike any we have encountered before as each site is equipped with a platform tent, which is spacious and roomy, where each campsite backs onto ponds that provide water views.  The sites are large and well equipped and the campground and bathhouses are well maintained and clean and is conveniently located within easy bike or vehicle access to stores, movie theaters and parents (Phil and Naomi Benzil’s condo is in a community located right across the street from the park). The previous week was filled with “honey do’s” for Phil and Naomi, time spent with family, biking and easy-paced days.  This week will include more outings with friends, downtime and an opportunity to continue to practice slowing down.

It hardly feels like 3 weeks have passed since leaving on our trip and yet living in a brick-and-mortar home in DC/Baltimore seems like lifetime ago.  While the configuration of every campground is different and requires constant tweaking and adjustments for our nomadic camping life, every set-up and breakdown gets easier as we continue to shed ourselves of gear and add new things that we never thought about over the past 2 years of planning.  Some things have been much easier than we expected (among which were establishing our residency in Florida, complete with new drivers’ licenses and vehicle registration, was a breeze and took only several hours on our first day in Deerfield Beach and watching the season premier of “Homeland”) and some have been more challenging (slowing down among them). As of today, though, our spirits are high and our lodgings are perfect and we have retained our senses of humor and abilities to be flexible that have characterized us before and, we hope, into the future.

Some Interesting Unofficial Trip Stats to Date:

Miles driven: 2328

Driving Hours: 83

# of cities/locations visited: 14  (Hurricane, WV, Louisville, KY, Owensboro, KY, Mammoth Cave National Park, Nashville, Chattanooga, TN, Asheville, Great Smoky National Park), Gatlinburg, Charleston, SC, Savannah, GA, St. Augustine, FL, Titusville, FL and Deerfield Beach, FL)

# of friends/family Seen/Visited Along the Way: 7

# of PBJ sandwiches consumed for lunch: approximately 50

# of fuel stops: approximately 20 (mostly caused by tugging the trailer behind us and lots of highway travel during first 2 weeks)

# of propane canisters for lantern: 3 (or, at least portions of the 3 we brought with us)

# of items left behind accidentally: 1

# of times we’ve entertained at our campsite: 1 (dinner for Phil and Naomi last week)

# of laundromat stops: 1

# of times I’ve applied any make up along the trip: 2 (mascara only)

# of campgrounds with wifi: all of them (so far)

# of times we have shed/organized/reorganized gear : too many to count

Best along-the-road purchases: digital TV antenna (allows for viewing of local news and network shows when wifi is spotty), bottle jack (invaluable for dropping the UHaul at our campgrounds) and new bike rack (that allows for bikes on the back of Gertie – a plus after our roof-racked bikes picked up more than a little Spanish moss from low hanging trees in SC, Ga and northern Florida)

Best Experiences to date (not counting visits with friends/family): Kennedy Space Center (truly amazing) and the Mohammed Ali Center in Louisville (similarly amazing and awe-inspiring).

Best local foods eaten: ribs at 12 Bones in Ashville, she-crab soup at Roadside Seafood in Charleston, rock shrimp at Dixie Crossroads in Titusville, FL and fried catfish at Catfish Deweys in F. Lauderdale.

Some of the best photos along the way: (see below)

 

Clockwise from top left:Louisville Slugger Museum, Mammoth Cave historic entrance, Waterfront Park (downtown Charleston), Congregation Mickve Israel in Savannah, Kennedy Space Center, biking with Phil in Deerfield Beach, FL, Quiet Waters Park view from tent, alligator in Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Delray, FL, Deerfield Beach, FL, view from Site 27, Quiet Waters Park in Deerfield Beach, FL, St. Augustine, Fl house lights, Charleston, SC architecture, downtown Asheville, NC and Great Smoky National Park.

 

In Between Here and Gone

DDay: December 26, 2016

Our departure date of December 26 looms near. In some ways, it seems like eons ago that we finished work and began the “final” preparations for departing from DC for the start of our road trip. At the beginning of our retirement, we dedicated weekdays for work on trip preparations, leaving the weekends for “play.”  We thought that this would provide some structure and leave ample time for packing up the house.  In short order, we learned that the time allotted for packing was much more than adequate and we were about 80% done by late October, still facing nearly 2 additional months before our departure with little on our “to do” list.  On top of finding ourselves with “extra” time, we were also learning to adjust to our new retirement budget.
This period coincided with the period just prior to and after the US Presidential election, a time when we found ourselves tied to watching and listening news to the point where it was difficult to extricate ourselves . . . I started to feel like I was tied by a gigantic magnet to CNN, the New York Times, 538 blog, Facebook postings and more.  It was difficult to pull away and yet, it was just as difficult to stay put.  Folks commented to us about why we even cared since we were soon to be “out of here,” not acknowledging that regardless of our residential address, we are and will remain US citizens, with friends and family here and deep care and concern for the future of this country.

Our DC Swan Song

 We determined to break away from the election coverage and turn our attention back to the twilight of our time in DC, one of the best places to spend time without spending lots of money. So we took advantage of drives through Shenandoah National Park to see the foliage, bike rides when the weather permitted on the Mt. Vernon Trail along the Potomac, eating at new restaurants, visiting various Smithsonian museums and more.
The time was also spent beginning our farewells – an amazing party in early November, hosted by dear friends, gathered many of our closest friends for a beautiful evening of Panamanian food, conversation and the sharing of memories as well as wishes for safe travels.  Shortly after, Thanksgiving became a celebration of the holiday, of birthdays, and retirements as well as a family bon voyage to us, shared by 40+ family members from all over the country: California, Texas, New York, Cleveland, Chicago and more.
November, with farewells to friends, family and DC, was a sweet time. We edged closer to departure but with little time spent packing since we were in stasis – hovering between here and gone – and needed to keep our home mostly intact until the final push to pack and prepare the house for our furniture to be picked up by A Wider Circle, a local nonprofit which houses homeless and the displaced.  We opted for donating our furniture and furnishings over selling for many reasons, not the least of which was the opportunity to have our life-long collection of belongings go to those who needed them.  It was so gratifying to hear the good folks from A Wider Circle tell us that our things were in such good condition that they were sure the items would likely stay on their warehouse floor (where clients can make their selections) for only a day.

Packing and Moving

For the days between Thanksgiving and the pick up by A Wider Circle, nearly all of our time was spent packing and culling, and culling and packing, followed by schlepping and hauling both inside the house and to various locations outside. By the time were were finished with 4412 15th Street, NW, Washington, DC on December 8, we had made a minimum of 12 separate donations to Goodwill, the Priceless Gown Project (black tie dresses), A Wider Circle, Habitat for Humanity ReStore, The Animal Rescue League of Washington, DC. (linens, towels, etc.), Center for Urban Families (suits, coats and professional clothing), Edgewood/Brookland Family Support Collaborative (Wii system, TV, home theater sound system) and the Salvation Army.  We also rented a UHaul truck and, on a separate occasion, a UHaul trailer, to haul items, arranged for bulk trash pickup, filled huge trash and recycling bins (multiple times), and surreptitiously tossed the last 2 items that remained in the truck – rejected by Goodwill – in a dumpster (not ours).
(Note: donation lists and receipts were scanned immediately upon receipt on our phones using the Genius Scan app and uploaded to Dropbox for ease of access when completing our tax returns for 2016).

Our Interim Crash-Pad

Since we were renting our home in DC and because I have parents who winter in Florida, we were able to avoid the challenge of precisely coordinating the departure from one residence to the beginning of a massive road trip. The beauty of having an interim place to crash and organize final trip gear was an enormous offset to the days of dawn-to-dusk physical work of the weeks leading up to the move. Thankfully, my parents have a large garage where we have plopped our trip gear and further culling and packing continues,  largely by Roque, who has been tireless in his efforts, earning him many praises and the well earned title of “Packing King.” (The guy has this scarily uncanny ability to scan piles of belongings, sort them into organized and related piles/packages, and find room for them in every nook and cranny available to us inside and outside the truck – a skill set he has used on many occasions, to similar praise from others less biased than me).   What started as tons of  miscellaneous stuff thrown hastily into whatever last minute containers I could find (among which were 5 or so laundry baskets) evolved into neatly organized and practical bags and containers of things to be taken with us or left behind.  Meanwhile, we were finding our way around an unfamiliar home, doing laundry, cancelling accounts, changing addresses, arranging for mail forwarding, attending social events, and making last minute purchases.
Perhaps this explains why I have not had time to post on this blog for weeks.

The End is Near

The physical demands have been great and the emotions we are experiencing as we begin our nomadic life are difficult to neatly express.  Yes, there is growing excitement and some apprehension – just yesterday, I realized that if we chickened out of the trip now (or shortly into it), we would  have very little in terms of possessions with which to begin a new brick-and-mortar-life, for example.  Typically, Roque and I experience real excitement when we hit the road, whether it’s en route to an airport or getting on the road in the car/truck so I figure that the excitement will hit, in earnest, when we set out on December 26.  For me, the major (identifiable) part of the swirling mixture of feelings as we near D-Day is gratitude.  I am so grateful for the chance to take this trip and to have a life partner equally as keen on taking this trip and attending to all of the details needed to make it happen. I am grateful for the opportunity to see this country, to pace ourselves in whatever way works for us on a moment-by-moment basis, to visit friends located along our path and to make new friends, to be with my best friend and love of my life for uninterrupted days on end, and to visit places with names I don’t even know yet.  I am grateful for our health – physical and financial. I am grateful for the many hours of planning, shopping, exploring, reading, and researching undertaken to prepare for the trip and our life on the road. I am grateful for the generosity of my parents’ loan of their home while we pack up the truck (and I believe that they are grateful for the things that we are bringing to them, forgotten when they left for their winter sojourn south).

Mostly, though, I am grateful for the support, love and well-wishes from our friends and our family who have created the opportunities for farewells that were nothing short of perfect.  We may not know what lies ahead but we sure know what we have here and that will sustain us for the miles ahead and the distance between visits with the people who make our life here sweet, rewarding and fulfilling.

Conjugating the verb “to test”

To Test

Shortly after Roque finished work in mid-August, I received the news that I was able to retire as of October 1 rather than wait until November 1. Initially, this news left me with anxiety rather than a shout of celebratory delight. I was conflicted by the news: Wouldn’t we benefit by additional salary? Didn’t my clients expect me to stay through the month of October? Would this affect our schedule for packing and departure? Drawing from lessons learned from Roque, I decided to sit with this news over the Labor Day weekend and at the end, concluded that leaving work a month early had more pros than cons. My clients were already in good hands with my replacement; reducing work by a month mean fewer nights spent in the sea of brake lights that has been my commute for many years; and having an additional month to pack, organize, prepare and spend time with friends, city, and family was welcome. I decided to make the plunge and have been instructed not to look back.

Having some vacation time to burn, I left work at the end of September and shortly after, we headed out from DC on a road trip planned several months earlier to Chicago, with stops contemplated with family in Cleveland, then onto Toledo/Detroit, Pittsburgh and a visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater before returning home. The trip had multiple purposes for us since we could visit these northern cities while the weather was still hospitable (these destinations were on the original road trip plan for Alaska-to-Panama) and it provided a perfect opportunity to test more equipment acquired over the past several months.

Testing

The initial part of the trip (Cleveland and Chicago) was spent in homes (family and AirBNB) and the other parts were planned for camping. On board, for the first time, was gear accumulated for the DC-Alaska-Panama and 5 of the 9 nights on the road would be spent in campgrounds, testing gear as well as seeing the sights.  It would give us practice with urban stops, where we needed to bring much of the gear inside to prevent against theft, and rural stops with proximity to places we wanted to visit.  It seemed a perfect opportunity for testing our gear and road-readiness.

Testiness

After visiting in Cleveland and Chicago, we traveled back eastward toward Toledo with the goal of spending some time seeing some of where Roque spent his residency some 30 years ago and touring some of Detroit’s sights. We chose a campground at Maumee Bay State Park, just outside of Toledo and on Lake Erie and stopped in to chose our camp sight once we arrived in Toledo. We had experienced intermittent rain on the road from Chicago but were lucky to have a break in the rain as we began to set up camp — a break that, regrettably, didn’t last through the entire camp set-up. We were lucky that the rain was light but by the time we set up the tarps, screen house and tent, we were fairly wet and the sun had set so the dampness of our clothes meant we were pretty chilly.  My McGuyver husband, knowing that a campfire would be fairly futile at the time, lit the camp stove and there we sat, darkness around us, making PB&J sandwiches by the fire of our propane stove. We moved from testing to testiness in the span of a few short hours but the warmth of the 2 burner stove helped, creating enough heat to renew our senses of humor and gratitude that we were, at least for that moment, dry beneath the tarps and about to become warmer under the sleeping bags and the dryness of the tent.

This,too, was not long lasting, and we awoke in the early morning hours to the knowledge that the overnight rain and wind was so fierce as to have allowed for the tent and tarp stakes to come up from the soggy ground and caused the tent to nearly collapse upon us (to say little of the now-collapsed tarps that came crashing down on our kitchen and dining area). Unflappable and ever-positive Roque pulled on clothes, ventured outside and secured the tent adequately enough to allow for another couple of hours of sleep, notwithstanding the leaks that we were experiencing in the tent, wetting portions of our sleeping bags and pillows in ways that made us contort toward the dry areas where we could continue to catch a few additional zzzz’s. I fell back to sleep composing some of this blog post in my head, wondering how I would explain our continued willingness to camp while traveling en route to Alaska and then to Panama, having just experienced the misery of rain soaked tents and uprooting of support stakes.  I admit to some feeling of dread as I considered the days and months to come.

The dread left me during my sleep but the testiness returned when we awakened fully for the day to inches-deep puddles in the tent, soaking my hiking socks past wearability, and requiring us to remove all of the tent contents to sweep out the puddles and begin, again, the task of setting up our campsite – with new tarp placement, many efforts to re-stake the tent and tarps to securely hold these items in place, and to try to dry out various pieces of our camp gear (thanks to momentary breaks in the the rain).

The rain continued through much of the day but we remained dry and warm while touring the Toledo area, by car, and the Toledo Museum of Art, a fabulous (and free) museum that few cities are lucky enough to boast of, by foot. It was a great day, even if not a dry one, and it was topped off by a cooked meal at the campsite that far exceeded the culinary skills required of the previous night’s PB&J sandwiches.  We retired to our tent with full bellies and an optimism amplified by some liquid courage imbibed with dinner.

Retest

Waking after night 2 in the rain, we found more puddles in the tent and our bodies achy from the nocturnal contortions created by our sleeptime avoidance of the drips caused by the leaks in the tent seams.  Over breakfast, we talked about the day and built into the plan a trip to the store for deeper tent stakes and how we might try to re-seal the seams of the tent – the obvious source of the leaks.  As we left the campsite for the trip to Detroit, the rain of the previous several days turned into glorious sunshine, immediately brightening my spirits and reminding me of why I love to camp: living in the outdoors, dining next to the trees, with the sounds and the smells of the fresh air around me, makes me happy and the simple act of sitting with a book, the quiet broken only by the sounds of nature, fuels my spirit.

Spirits fueled, our day in Detroit, spent at the Motown and Henry Ford Museums, ended with a trip to the camping goods store for more tent stakes and while there, we relented and opted to buy a new tent rather than attempt more repair/restoration of our tent,  recognizing that it had served Roque (and later me) well and couldn’t be begrudged for the previous decade+ of service.  Arms filled with the new tent and additional heavy-duty stakes, we quickly set up the new tent and immediately appreciated having an entry “foyer” into the tent that allows for floor mat and entry stools where we can now sit and remove our boots/shoes before entering the tent. Having never had a mud room, I was beside myself with happiness about our ability to keep the tent floor clean and dry.  Ah, the little things that make me happy!

Testiments to Testicular Fortitude

Nights 3, 4 & 5 in the new tent were dry and comfy and secure, spent at Maumee Bay and then Ohiopyle State Park in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania, a short couple of miles from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. Through the trip, we continued to refine campsite placement and design, adapting to the change each campground/park presents, tweaking aspects of living that made improvements in comfort and ergonomics. Each camp set up and break down becomes easier, faster, more organized and streamlined. Our gear worked beautifully – our solar-generator-refrigerator set up were HUGE improvements over ice cooler and the charging of devices in the vehicle and permitted us to cook while stationary and picnic while moving. Armed with new heavy-duty stakes, the putting up of tarps, tents and screen room was improved and strong. Our cots kept us off the ground, with no mid-night need to reinflate the mattress, and the foam on the cots made for comfortable nights of slumber.

Comforted by the adequacy of our gear, we returned home feeling that we had survived this test with adequate grades. This trial run reassured us on many levels and prepared us, at least some, for the flexibility and fortitude that will, no doubt, become essential linchpins for our overlanding travels. Once home, we discarded extra gear, focused on the packing that will be needed to ensure space for everything once we leave, and have begun the task of wrapping up our DC life in exchange for the nomadic existence we are excited to start and a life in retirement that we have yet to embrace.

Will these be the end of our tests?  Surely not but we are no longer untested, detesting the contests that make us grown in protest.

Whose groaning now? 😉