Monday, December 23, 2013

November 5-December 23: Low Profiles and Holiday Plans

December 23, 2013
Cederholm Compound, Peoria, Arizona

Ah, the joys of relaxing! We’ve been trying to do that ever since we got back to our winter “perch” in early November. Some days, we’re successful. Others, well, not so much. But, that’s life!

In our last episode, we’d just arrived back in Arizona and gotten our “rolling home” back in storage. As usual, the first few days back involve putting “stuff” away, clearing a mound of laundry (there always seems to be more laundry “ready” at the end of a trip), and getting ourselves (and the pups) back into a different routine.

This year’s shift was more pronounced than usual, since we’d just made the cross-country trek in a bit of a rush given the issue with the coach. But, within a few days, we were back in the saddle.

The next phase of our “welcome back” process involves doctors, dentists, vets, and groomers. Anything that gets done on a schedule gets bunched into mid-November. It gets a little hectic, but we’ve found that it’s better to get all of these kinds of appointments out of the way. We get new prescriptions good for a year, we identify any issues needing attention (thankfully minimal this year), and we can get on with the holidays.

Everything was pretty much on the “good” side of the ledger until Geri came down with a bout of bronchitis. This year, I guess I got a “sympathy” case, as I was under the weather at the same time, just to a lesser degree. We were coughing, sneezing, and feverish. It got to the “we need to see someone” point on a Sunday, so we headed for the local “urgent care” place. We were amazed when they didn’t have anyone on staff willing to help Geri and wanted to call an ambulance to take her to the ER. “Uh, no thanks”. We got her in to the regular doctor’s office as soon as possible, she got the normal Prednisone and antibiotic doses, and things were on the mend within a few days. Whatever we both got is one of those “hang on for weeks” diseases, though, as it was well into December before we felt better.

The pups checked out OK as well, with no lingering effects from Maya’s cancer and Merlin’s pancreatitis being observed. Merlin’s beginning to show signs of some dental deterioration, so we might have to address that in 2014. Doggie dentures?

The key thing we had to do was get Geri’s (now) annual MRI to check her kidney. Everything was normal, as expected at the 4½ year mark, and she won’t have another test until this time next year.

Once things settled down a bit, I took the motorhome in for diagnosis and, ultimately, repair. I had been very concerned that the issue was going to be a very expensive head gasket failure. Instead, it was only a moderately expensive fuel injector replacement issue and, several days later, things were running well again. Unfortunately, the past couple of years have been full of these kinds of expensive issues and projects, to the point where we’ll need to cut back on travel for a while to rebuild reserves. But, that’s a retiree’s life!

Just before Thanksgiving, we actually started a spell of bad weather. Rain measured in inches instead of hundredths! No sun! Cold temperatures! Film at Eleven! Yes, it was quite a spectacle, with rainfall totals catching up to “normal” (around eight inches year-to-date) after five years of drought conditions. Other than the idiots caught driving through flooding washes, most natives appreciated the change.

As has been our custom over the past few years, we were the recipients of holiday hospitality on Thanksgiving, sharing turkey day with the Pell clan. It was awesome as always, even if we were still a bit under the weather and couldn’t hang in until the last wine was opened!

In early December, Geri had to make a quick trip back to the periodontist for an abscess near one of her implants. (Dental implants!) It was easily addressed with some digging and more antibiotics, but the revelation was that her teeth have happy faces embedded in the screws!

So, by mid-December, things had settled down enough so that we could finally recover, relax, and get ready for Christmas. We were able to sit back and smell the flowers, enjoy a nice sunset or two, take a gin-and-tonic on the patio, and reflect on the year and how lucky we are. We decided to focus our holiday decorations on the outside of the Compound this year since, I’m going to start painting the bedroom any one of these days now. I haven’t started, of course, but I’m fixin’ to finish thinking through the process any day. WE did do a good job with the decorations, though, completing our conversion to LED lighting and emphasizing diversity in a rather homogenous neighborhood.

Geri loves these lilies, and I enjoy making weird photos

We are blessed with awesome sunsets quite often

The neighbors began decorating for the holidays in November...

...and we did a reasonably good job on our place!

I even managed to pull together a “holiday card”, which was delivered electronically this year for the first time.



Merry Christmas to all!


As always, please feel free to click on any picture to enlarge it.

Monday, November 4, 2013

October 31-November 4: The long trek back to Arizona

November 4, 2013
Cederholm Compound, Peoria, Arizona

It wouldn’t be RVing if there weren’t issues. We though the furnace replacement in the summer was enough, but we were wrong. Coming out of Gulf Shores, we started to see exhaust smoke from the coach, which got progressively worse. We talked it over and decided to bypass our last stop and head back to Arizona a few days early.

Like the Alabama coast, the Texas Gulf Coast is another area we’ve never visited. Strange, I know given that we’ve been traipsing all over the country 6+ months a year since 2005, racking up 112,000+ miles. But, it is what it is.

So, I did my research and decided that Aransas Pass was a reasonable place to stop for a few days as we traveled west. About halfway between Galveston and Mexico, we could explore the area in both directions on day trips in the Rover, then pick up I-37 in Corpus Christi for easy access back to I-10 for the trip home.

We left Gulf Shores mid-morning, billowing gray-black smoke like a steamer. When it didn’t settle down by our lunch stop, we both agreed that we should try to make it back to AZ rather than make another stop. I called to cancel our reservations and plotted a new course. Actually, the route wasn’t the issue as we picked up I-10 headed west near Mobile and just followed it to Phoenix. But, we needed to have an idea of how long we’d travel each day, know where we’d overnight, and schedule fuel stops.

As it turns out, we followed our original plan for the first day, stopping for the night at a Louisiana Rest Area right in the middle of the Atchafalaya Swamp. We’ve stopped here before and knew it’s a huge area with overnight security. Even though part of the facility was under reconstruction, we had plenty of room.

Thursday was a terrible driving day. In addition to the stress of whatever mechanical issues we were facing, the weather was awful. We drove all day into the path of a front that had dropped flooding rains on central Texas. Fortunately, the front passed, the rain stopped and the stars were out by bedtime.

The next day, we were on the road early and made the Texas line by late morning. Mile Marker 880 started the countdown across the longest stretch of road we know. By late afternoon, we made a fuel stop in San Antonio, then pushed through rush hour traffic for another 100 miles or so to Bourne, Texas. We aimed for the local Walmart, made sure it was OK to stay, picked up a few staples, and called it a night. It was a long driving day at 443 miles.

Now, some people assume we’re “roughing it” in a situation like this. Au contraire. We carry our own water and fuel, and made sure our holding tanks were properly emptied before we left Alabama. I ran the on-board generator for a couple of hours each evening to power the microwave and water heater, and charge up the batteries. We put up the satellite and had as much DirecTV HD as we wanted each evening. A quick generator run in the morning to power the coffee maker was all we needed. All in all, it’s pretty cool to move your house along with you as you travel.

Mile Marker 440. Halfway across Texas!
Saturday, we were up early and on the road before 8:00 AM. Our goal was to finish the drive across Texas, and we were successful in completing the 520 mile trek. We stopped at another known boondocking spot, the Flying J truck stop in Anthony, Texas, I-10 Exit 0 right on the New Mexico state line. We splurged with a dinner at Denny’s, even though we should have known better.

Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny, even if we didn’t. We again splurged on breakfast at Denny’s, which was better than dinner. We topped off the fuel tank and were on the road before 9:00 AM, and made the 414 miles across New Mexico and half of Arizona in just less than 7 hours. I’d arranged for our utilities to be turned on the 6th, expecting to be home on Thursday, the 7th, so we didn’t have water or Internet in the house. This wasn’t a huge deal, of course, since we had both in the coach.

We continued our tradition of heading to Grimaldi’s for pizza on our first and last nights in Arizona, and had another great New York-style pie and a bottle of Chianti. It was good to sleep in the “house bed”. On Monday, we were up early (having gained two hours with the travel from Central to Mountain time plus the end of Daylight Saving Time), and started the unloading process. Unloading always takes less time than getting ready to travel. At lunchtime, I went to the storage lot and paid for our usual 6-month stay. By mid-afternoon, we were done and moved the coach to storage.

Whew! We made it! It’s really good that we were able to get back to Arizona with the engine acting up. Trying to get it fixed on the road would have involved lots of compromises and probably a night or two in a dog-friendly hotel. This way, I can take it to places I know and have whatever work done at a more leisurely pace.

Some quick stats: we were on the road for 187 days, traveling about 7,315 miles. We bought 1,291 gallons of diesel for $4,865. We didn’t buy any propane this year. We spent $3,928 at RV parks and averaged $21.46 per night, although this is heavily weighted by the number of nights we “freeloaded”.

Anyway, we’ve completed another travel season, so our blog will turn more to life in the desert for a while and posts might be more sporadic (if that’s possible). Life continues to be good…

Just for fun, here's a picture from the yard when we got back. Where the seed for this corn came from, we'll never know!




As always, please feel free to click on any picture to enlarge it.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

October 24-30: Finally getting to the Alabama Gulf

October 30, 2013
Gulf State Park, Gulf Shores, Alabama

We’ve been visiting Alabama for years. With family and friends in Albertville and Birmingham, we’re honorary Alabamans. But, we’ve never been to the Alabama Gulf Coast so we made plans to stop this year.

There isn’t a whole lot of coastline in LA (Lower Alabama), but there are quite a few RV Parks in the Gulf Shores-Orange Beach-Foley area to choose from. After some research, I selected Gulf State Park. Now, we don’t often stay in state parks because of our size and power requirements, but this place was super. Large sites, full utilities, excellent power; what more could you ask for?

We left Destin West right on schedule, at the leisurely time of 10:35 AM. This wasn’t actually late, since we only had 71 miles to drive! We stayed on US-98 to and through Pensacola, then FL-295/FL-292 along the coast to the Alabama line. From there, AL-182 brought us to Gulf State Park. After consulting with the office staff, we picked a nice spot and were soon parked.

We had a huge back-in site with a large paved patio. Taking advantage of the space (and realizing that we’d have had more afternoon shade if we’d have parked facing the other way), we even deployed our “EZ-up” canopy in addition to the outdoor kitchen gear.

The next few days are a bit of a blur. Our friends Linda and Wendell were down from Birmingham, visiting their friends Pat and Clarence who recently moved to Foley.

We headed to Foley Saturday and had a great day and evening. Pat and Clarence had their friends Mary and Jack over as well, so we had a crowd. Brunch and Bloody Marys, catching up, a round of Redneck Horseshoes (bean bag toss), a road trip and a fantastic dinner (with wine, of course) made for a full day! Merlin and Maya Lynn came along and had fun wandering around the house and yard, and making new friends.

Our “road trip” was a mini bar crawl in the afternoon (you have to wait until afternoon, right?) down along the beach. We started at “The Flora-Bama Lounge and Package”, sometimes called “Americas Last Great Roadhouse”. It’s built right on the Florida-Alabama state line. Duh. We opted for beer instead of the famous Bushwacker ice cream cocktails and enjoyed the “ambiance” for a spell. After a bit, we continued on to “Happy Harbor Tiki Bar & Pizzeria” for another round calling it a day.

From the Flora-Bama deck, you can look straight across the Gulf to Cancun. At least part way...

No need for anyone else to buy a lottery ticket after Wendell picked the "winner".

In honor of the regulars at The Rez Bar & Grill in CT...

You know you're in a dive bar when...


Sunday was beach day. We met up in Orange Beach, planted umbrellas, and hung out for a while, until everyone deemed it “done”. We then retired back to Pat and Clarence’s for another dinner. We brought some wine, Linda and Wendell really brought some wine, and another good day came to an end.


Now THAT'S a bottle of Merlot!


On Monday, we rested. While the rest of the crowd made another beach run, Geri and I relaxed with the pups and got ready for hosting the evening’s dinner. Linda and Wendell have been taking a sushi class, so they brought some excellent rolls. We cooked and ate outside, and enjoyed some wine and after-dinner drinks before wrapping up just at the 10:00 PM “quiet time” start. There's a rumor that a group photo exists but, well, let's just say nobody's 100% sure...

Tuesday, we recovered. That’s all I’m gonna say about that.

Wednesday, we did our standard pre-departure tasks a bit early, and then met Pat and Clarence at a local restaurant, Cosmo’s, known for meal-sized appetizers and happy hour prices. Their reputation is well deserved! We had shrimp, tuna and probably something else I don’t recall, along with a couple of glasses of wine. It was nice to “hang” with Pat and Clarence and this made for a good close to our visit to “LA”.




As always, please feel free to click on any picture to enlarge it.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

October 17-23: Back in the Panhandle

October 23, 2013
Destin West RV Resort, Fort Walton Beach, Florida

After our great week in Cedar Key, this stop in Destin/Fort Walton Beach was quieter and less noteworthy. But, we had a good week nonetheless!

We’ve been to Destin, well west on the Florida Panhandle, before. Although we had a nice spot, the park we used had way too many rules and not so nice sites. So, my research identified another spot for us to try. Although it’s called “Destin West”, it’s way west, actually in Fort Walton Beach.

We had another easy driving day, this time with no Interstates involved. We headed back out FL-24 to the US-19 junction, then north to Perry where we picked up FL-20 heading west. We bypassed Tallahassee, had lunch at a roadside stop, and soon turned on US-331 back to the beach. A few miles through Destin on US-98 and we were at the Destin West RV Resort.

This is a nicely laid out, newer park. It’s on the bay side as opposed to the beach, and it was relatively quiet even though right on the “main drag”. I suspect that might not be the case during the summer season, but we were fine. Actually, the only noise we heard was from the “Halloween Fun House” next door.

We didn’t plan or attempt to do much, and all expectations were met nicely. We walked the pups around the park, watched the birds and fish by the dock, caught up on some e-reading and nap time, made a couple of shopping runs and ate well, and not much else. All in all, a relaxing week…

Tagliatelle with Sausage and Red Peppers...

...and Chicken Thighs with Yellow Rice made for nice meals!

This was the second place we saw cranes just hanging out.

And the sunsets just keep on coming!



As always, please feel free to click on any picture to enlarge it.