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Full Circle

March 29th 2017 , after selling our house, we headed off on our motor home adventure. On April 7th 2017 we moved the coach to The Yogi Bear RV park in Williamsport, MD. Twelve months later, almost to the day, we’re back where we began. It has been quite a ride, and an eventful year!

In that 12 months we’ve covered about 10,000 miles with stops in VA, TN, AL (Tiffin factory), KS, NE, CO, WY, SD, NM, TX and FL. We saw old friends and made new ones along the way. We saw spectacular parts of this Country, and a wide range of conditions. So, what were the highs and lows? How do I feel about the travels?  What are we looking forward to as we plan to head out again — and now that we have a sticks and bricks home again? You can browse back through the previous posts to see some of the highlights. This post is about our reactions, lessons and discoveries after living 24/7 in a moving home and confined to small space and constant contact.  Motor home living is not necessarily for the faint of heart!

When we began this adventure, I had been retired for 5 years and done extensive sailing, much solo, cruising the east coast. Denise only just retired as we were moving from house to motor home. Neither of us had ever owned or driven a motor home. We took delivery near Buffalo, NY and drove home to MD – 425 miles under some marginal conditions – a quick way to learn about handling a 38ft MH and tow. The next months would provide lots of on-the-road lessons which thankfully we survived and learned from.

So, what were the highs and lows…? Not easy to pick from a very long list. I loved the chances we had to meet up with old friends from my conservation career days – folks I had worked with and become lasting friends with. That clearly needs to be in my top five. Sharing some of the amazing western landscape and wildlife with Denise ranks right up there. The bison and donkeys in Custer, SD State Park were wonderful to experience, as were the Big Horned sheep in Creed, CO. I would add landing a 20″ wild Rainbow Trout in the headwaters of the Rio Grande was pretty special too!

 

Don’t ever miss the chance to experience the annual Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerqui, NM – despite the really cold, dark start!

 

 

 

 

Mesa Verde ruins, the train ride through the southern Colorado mountains, wading in the Gulf of Mexico, and finding great friends at our winter quarters at Sundance RV park in Florida all make the list of special memories.

Among the VERY few lows, was the incredibly sad loss of a good friend who visited and toured some of Colorado’s wonderful scenery with us. We remember those days and they will stay etched in my memory for a lifetime….

On a lesser scale, I said goodbye to Cricket who was not able to adapt to the traveling lifestyle. We become amazingly attached to these furry friends, and they are family. She went to wonderful home with good folks and other dogs to enjoy as well, but is still missed most every day….

Twelve months of travel was largely without issues – a good thing!  We made two stops at the Tiffin factory in Red Bay, AL – the first on the way west, the second as we returned to Florida for the winter months. Only minor issue to address on our 2017 Phaeton 36GH as well as a couple modifications to improve handling and ride. The miles built confidence in handling the beast, setting up and breaking down at campgrounds. I can now eat breakfast before heading out after an RV park stay! And kudos to Tiffin for their product and remarkable service. An AC unit failed in Cody, WY – it took only 4 days to receive and install the new unit they shipped to the local tech!

In January Denise lost her 98 year old dad. He lived independently till the very end and passed away quietly in his sleep. It was not a surprise, but difficult none the less. So, at the end of our first year we are now parked for a few months while renovating a house. Yes, after the year’s freedom of only the coach and the travel, we are house owners again with all the considerations that brings. It is a stark reminder of how quickly ones life can change, emphasizing the wisdom of the words I try to live by – ‘Nothing is more important that this day.’

Yes, we will be off again! the first year was a great teacher, and perhaps the most important lessons were how to live together in a small space and the value of time together, the magnificence of our Country, the importance of friends, and how to manage a complex machine. Clearly there is more to learn and see.  We will finish the house renovations, enjoy the blessing of having two homes, and  build more wonderful memories experiencing other remarkable places and people. It was a very good year!

 

Service time out — or fun in Red Bay!

Being on the road full time in our motor home continues to be a great life style. We enjoy the freedom to go on a whim to interesting places, and the minimal upkeep of a smaller living space. But every abode, whether sticks and bricks or rolling house, requires maintenance. Imagine for a moment loading a fully functional small house on a tractor trailer and driving a couple thousand miles down not so great roads — feels a bit like a minor earthquake. Things get loose, and engines need some care.

Thus, we find ourselves in Red Bay, Alabama, home of the Tiffin factory, for our semi-annual checkup and some minor warantee work. Given the season when many RVers (snowbirds) are heading south for the winter, including lots of Tiffin owners with the same plans as ours, the service campground is full with spill over into other sites around town. So here we sit among about 90 of our fellow travelers waiting our turn to get into a service bay — approaching 2 weeks and counting!

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What to do with time in a small Alabama town (in a dry county)?  Actually, quite a lot.

Well, we missed the Rattlesnake Saloon (out of County) the last time through.

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This time we made the trip with good friends. Because of its unique location in very rural Alabama, you park your car, climb into the back of a pickup and get taxied down a steep dirt road along a small cliff. The saloon is built under a large rock overhang – good food and assorted beverages.

And we enjoyed the live music entertainment!

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While we didn’t visit on this trip, we did last time…the Coon Dog cemetery is a one of a kind.IMG_3057

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wonderful canine friends have been interred here for many years. It is the only such memorial to these remarkable dogs.

Daisy was just one to many markers – the flag was behind her metal cutout head stone.

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With time to spare while waiting our tour, friend Hugh offered to take me for a round of golf…..given that I was in college the last time I was on a golf course, I agreed as long as I could ride in the cart and just take pics! No lie, he played a pretty good round finishing not far over par………

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Many of the folk that work at the Tiffin plant and service area also provide services after hours. Since we accumulated a significant amount of soil coming through the west Texas oil patch, it was time for a good coach cleaning. It needed a wash, wax and roof treatment, done for a very reasonable cost, and productively occupied a Sunday afternoon. She came out looking brand new!

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The other ‘must’ to do while here is the factory tour. This was my second time through and with so much to see it was especially valuable. First time is simply overwhelming. This time I knew what to look for to better understand how our home on wheels was put together. Here are some assorted pictures to give just a sense of the scale of this operation.

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….to building furniture…

….and stringing wire harnesses together … (each length of wire is printed every 6 inches with all the info telling what it does, where it goes, on what coach)….

…when the sides go up, and the roof goes on, it begins to resemble a motor home..058

They go offsite to a paint shop, and at the end of the line they start looking pretty sharp!

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True to Tiffin’s reputation for first class customer service, at the end of the tour you can take a self-guided tour back through any part of the process. And, many folks come here to watch their coach being built. It is remarkable, the free access that Tiffin provides to their facilities.

They’ve come a long way from the very first Tiffin RV…

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Lastly, I can’t forget to mention the campground ‘mascots’. They provide a very effective alarm clock, going off, persistently, about 4AM each morning…..

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We’ve thought of assorted names for them, but will pass on repeating them here in what I assume is polite company….

With our work nearly finished, it comes time to plan for departure and the trip to the next stop. In our case, that means a longish run to our winter quarters in Florida with maybe an interesting stop or two along the way……..more good times chasing this fun life style!

Stay tuned for more glimpses down the road……..

 

Mesa time out

Much of the western landscape feels like home, though not raised here. We have both been enjoying our sojourn, especially through Wyoming, South Dakota and Colorado, as well as visits with friends along the way.

We arrived at Mesa Verde RV Park, in the SW corner of Colorado, the beginning of the month placing us just ¼ mi from the entrance to the National Park.

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We’re situated here for easy days’ excursions to some remarkable nearby places, and also close to Cortex, Durango, Silverton and Telluride. On the top of my list was a visit to the Mesa Verde cliff dwelling.

However, a first stop was to Hovenweep National Monument which provided great information about many surrounding sites – too many to see all.

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But we followed the map to a few of the more interesting sites…

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,..including the Hovenweep Castle and on to Lowry Pueblo. Pit homes were the earlier developments before construction of  cliff and other dwellings began. It is impressive to see the stone work that was required to construct these buildings.

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We also went to Painted Hand … a bit more of a hike…

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We passed on the guided tour to Balcony House, but still got a nice view. I preferred to avoid the large tour crowd – and the crawl through a small tunnel to leave the site!

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The adjacent Wetherill Mesa took us to Step house for a self-guided tour. The site was occupied from 600 to 1200 AD, the pit house being the earlier occupancy. A short walk, and the Park Service attendant at the site was very helpful.

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At least for the novelty of it, we drove to the 4-corners where the boundaries of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado meet… fun to stand in four states at the same time.

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A swing to the east on the way back took us past Shiprock which rises up out of flat desert land to a remarkable height.

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…and found yet a similar example (Flat Top Rock) on the way back to Cortez.

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Needless to say, the scenery in this part of the Country is unique and spectacular. The geologic and weather forces are evident everywhere you look. A few weeks visit just begins to scratch the surface, and the history of the peoples that survived in these lands is even more fascinating.

Took a day to make the drive around the ‘million dollar highway’ – miles of more spectacular scenery – and a great season to be here!

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In just two days, we’ll head east to Pagosa Springs then south to Albuquerque for the annual hot air balloon fest.  This marks the beginning of the turn back east after leaving home in Maryland last April –  a long and eventful 6 months or so … so far so good!!

Custer Country

We will be back! Two weeks in Custer was terrific, but not long enough. The town was great, people were friendly, and we arrived in time for Gold Rush Days – which meant another parade as well as in-town festivities! Don’t miss the Buglin’ Bull restaurant…

In no particular order (below,) I’ve included a few pix and brief descriptions from the highlights. Beginning with the end of our visit, we drove to Deadwood, just north of Custer through some very pretty Black Hills NF country. We met friends from my working days at the Iron Horse Inn.  The Inn has a particular connection to our family since it was owned and operated by our son-in-laws mother’s parents (the Wagner family).

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Seems the geology of the Black Hills is such that it contains many caves. In particular the Jewel Cave and Wind Cave.  We made the underground trek through part of the Wind Cave which is noted for its unique ceiling box structure unlike the usual stalactites. An hour and a half underground was sufficient, so we passed on the Jewel Cave. Something left for the next trip.

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A Balloon Fest was part of the town’s celebration…we watched from lift off to touch down. With 10 balloons, it provided a sampling of what we expect to see at the Albuquerque Balloon Fest in October.

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We were fortunate to have reservations at the Wagon West RV park and 7th Calvary Café. Can’t say enough good things about the Park or the Café…. super friendly owner/staff, delicious food – don’t miss the breakfast! And, a view out our front window that we never tired of. This was the site of General Custer’s encampment, and is so noted on the monument just across from us… We had many pleasant evenings and mornings watching the deer feeding, and the fawns playing, in the field in front of us.

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What to say about the donkeys? They wander wild in Custer State Park where we spent a lot of time wildlife watching.  That they wander wild, doesn’t suggest the degree to which they are friendly!  Stop the car, get out, and you will have a dear friend looking for a pet – or a scratch behind the ear!

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One of several day trips took us around the Needles Loop – by car NOT by RV – a beautiful drive and spectacular scenery of rock formations, vistas and narrow rock tunnels… one way and about wide enough, tall enough for a car or pickup truck.

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Of course, we couldn’t pass up the Crazy Horse Monument or Mt Rushmore. I have to say, of the two, the Crazy Horse Monument was much more impressive both in scale and in the visitor’s center. What the Korczak Zidkowski family has built in addition to the mountain carving he started (first blast) in 1948 is amazing.

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Coming back to Custer State Park – it wouldn’t be a visit without time spent watching the Bison. Now, I’d rather not be the guy on the motorcycle… but they passed him by without incident – lucky man. These are wild animals weighing up to 1,200 lbs. And mating season was underway. We watch old bulls fighting and chasing the younger ones out of the herd.  Females were tending calves, some of whom were still nursing. What a great time to be at the Park!

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As I noted at the beginning … We will for certain be back!

PUZZLES and more…

Puzzles are supposed to be fun. They offer mental stimulation and challenge without consequences. If only RV itinerary planning was just such a puzzle. Alas, there are consequences to failing to solve the puzzle, and the challenge is multiplied several fold by an assortment of other folks who get to decide, seemingly at random, whether you have a place to stop (i.e. park your home) for the time you plan. So, the simple task of routing our 38ft motor home, with tow, from point A to point B can take on a herculean quality. For the experienced RVrs, I’ll acknowledge upfront the Walmart et al options. So, yes, there are safe places to land that require little or no advanced planning. But, parking lots are not the scenery most of us are seeking.

Planning around distance/time calculations, costs, clearance and weight limitations, road conditions, weather, scheduled events and seasonal availability, AND available/suitable campground space is but part of the puzzle. In some instances, RV park reservations need to be made months in advance. And, it takes only one of those conditions to completely alter the route and/or timing. The more you travel, the greater the complexity.

Now the good news. It is all worth it 🙂 We are blessed to have the ability and the time to travel across our Country. There are so many remarkable places to experience, and we are working our way to see as much as we can, and to visit many friends along the way. Since we sold and left our Maryland home last April, we have travelled through Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, and South Dakota. At each stop, whether for a day or a week or more, we have created memories to carry with us and experiences to share with family and friends.

Catching up a bit… since about the end of June, we’ve travel through Wyoming to our current ‘home’ in Custer, South Dakota. It took us to Rock Springs, Pinedale, Jackson, thru Yellowstone NP, Cody, and Casper. Wyoming is such an amazing area of the Country with spectacular scenery around every bend. In addition, we got to meet good friends along the way, several of whom we had not seen in about 10 years. The following captioned pix will provide just a taste of this part of our journey.

  

In Pinedale I had the fun of showing Denise Trappers Point and the story about Pronghorn migration patterns – and the ‘wildlife overpass’ constructed to move the thousands of animals safely along their seasonal path between summer and winter range.

We made a brief stop in Jackson to visit a former boss and friend – had a delightful breakfast conversation before heading up thru Yellowstone. The YNP plan was to drive through to Cody with the motor home, then return to tour by car.

Found some late Spring snow along the way …

Way to much beauty to try to capture in a few photos…and assorted wildlife along the way – more about bison later …..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazing hot springs, but the summer tourist crowds made a visit to Old Faithful impossible….couldn’t get near the parking areas for that and other sights. But we found beauty everywhere…

Then came Cody…. If you want a good ‘western’ time, come to Cody for the 4th of July!  But make your reservations early….

We got VERY lucky to get a spot at an RV park in town. With all the folks in for the celebration, and the traffic through to YNP, it is a busy time.  We did two rodeos (Denise’s first), two huge parades, fireworks and other assorted activities. In addition, we spent a great evening and breakfast with good friends. Visiting with them was way past due and made for a beautiful ride up the canyon …

The parades – all three, but we only saw 2 – we’re great, and quite different from what you would see back east….

Sat up on the hill overlooking an amazing fireworks show…

..and a spectacular sunset..

And then there were the rodeos…. What great fun!

 

 

They even got all the kids in the act to try to catch the ribbon off the tail of a calf – sorry I missed that action…

Visits to Cody, and with Cody friends always are too short! We had a great time, but needed to move along. Next stop was Casper. Interestingly, at the Izaak Walton League Chapter’s RV park. Made interesting since I had worked as the National Conservation Director for the Ike — different to come to a chapter as a visitor…and paying guest.  Casper was in part a work stop. We got a minor recall service at the Freightliner shop, as well as general engine service having just turned 5,000 miles.

The Casper RV park folks were great and it made for a good rest stop.

Lots left out, but on to Custer, SD …. and promised bison pix …. See next post!

Dam fun !

We made a few stops on the way from Kansas to Cody, Wyoming, including Rock Springs, Pinedale and Jackson as well as a pleasant trip through Yellowstone NP. With a little extra time, we made a quick day trip to the Flaming Gorge Dam from Rock Springs.

The dam captures the Green River and creates a huge and beautiful reservoir. For the geology buffs, the associated canyon walls, cut by the Green River, expose rocks over 1 billion years in age.

 

Apart from the remarkable engineering feat required to construct the dam, the beauty of the area is well worth the visit. The Visitors Center provides the fascinating story of its construction and the surrounding geology. For those interested, it also created a wonderful fishery.

 

Then there was the Buffalo Bill Dam. Built on the Shoshone River after rather remarkable technical and other struggles including the first labor dispute/strike. The dam, just West of Cody, was named for William “Buffalo Bill” Cody. Completed in 1910, it was the tallest concrete dam in the world – and no steel rebar was used in the construction. Nearly 90,00 acres below the dam were opened to agriculture as a result of the irrigation waters it provided.
The visitor’s center allows for a trip down the inner workings of the dam to the thundering spillway, as well as an excellent video describing the construction. Keep in mind there was little in the way of mechanical help at the time of its construction – enormous human labor was all that was available.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you look carefully at the top of the dam picture, you will see a small human figure providing a sense of scale.
In addition to this amazing structure, a visit to nearby Cody is always worth the time – a step into western culture and history.

 

New times, new places

It’s just days now before we move on. Full time RV living is on the very near horizon. Scrambling to sort, pack and move to storage those things we intend to keep – that is, what we will want if/when we move back into a house. Working our way through the list of all the last minute preparations: set up bills for auto pay, changing address to our mail service, stopping home electric, fuel, internet/tv, pest control et al …. and all that needs to be timed with our scheduled settlement on the house – just days away as I write this.  Then, it’s all just mechanics. The real ‘moving on’ isn’t about this.

How to balance the sadness of leaving a long established home and removing an ‘anchor’ for your adult children who still think of this place as home against the excitement of new adventures. After gathering the family here for so many holidays and other celebrations, it’s time to pass such traditions on. Many have done this.  We certainly are not alone. Yet each finds their personal way forward. Getting past the highs and lows can be a challenge. The highs feed the energy that’s essential to keep the processes moving, and encourages the planning for visiting new places, revisiting old favorite places and looking up distant friends. Inevitably, the lows arrive about 2 in the morning and you begin racking up a troubling sleep deficit amid all the second guessing. There are much deeper, personal issues that nag and come to the surface unbidden, often unwanted, at not always convenient times. This is the real stuff of ‘moving on’.

Lest friends worry about some apparent depression, rest assured we’re finding that balance, and are focusing on the exciting times ahead. Having been retired for several years, I am soon to have my wife join me. We will have the precious commodity of time together – a gift, we know only too well, that lacks any certainty.

If you’ve read this far, you will recognize the emotional aspects of the leap we are about to take. Writing this for me is but one piece of the balancing. And, perhaps it shares something of value for others who find themselves in similar transitions. In any event, it helps to know that we will look back on all this at some point with a good ration of humor – so, you’re welcome to laugh now either at or with us later!

Here are a few pictures of our beautiful motor coach, and we will have good times making it our home for however long it works…… you’re welcome to follow along here!

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Winter waiting

Well, it’s winter. The calendar said so on December 21st, but the ground was clear and unfrozen, and temps were still in the 60s. Sure didn’t feel like winter, and it wasn’t a white Christmas regardless what the music said. It feels like winter now, January 10th, after several days in the teens or below and daytime highs still below freezing. We fired the wood stove for the first time this season….

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As for enjoying our new motor home, we can only watch and wait for warmer weather and the time to get away.20170110_111607

It’s the waiting. I’ve never been a very patient soul – my wife will verify that. We have this beautiful escape machine sitting in the driveway all prepared for the cold. Then we read all the FB posts from friends and others who are traveling through the southern regions or settled in sunny, warm RV parks. I try to maintain a generous, happy sense for their good fortune – operative word here is ‘try’.

In any event, the clock moves inexorably toward Spring, due this 2017th year on Monday, March 20th – just 69 more days as I write this. Meanwhile, the S&B home will go on the market soon – step 2. Step 1 was the purchase of our Tiffin Phaeton 36 just a bit over a month ago. Step 3 will have us wandering with our new home being far more mobile.

As a firm believer in the adage “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey”, we have only very loose plans as to where we will first head. But we have friends and family scattered about the Country, some fixed, some mobile. And, we have beautiful places we want to visit again or for the first time. The time and ability to do so is a gift we both treasure.

So, keep a close watch. You may see us somewhere down the road in our new home christened Fawkes – you know, the phoenix that keeps being re-born of Potter fame. Feel free to track us here for stories and musings from the road.