Summer Travel Map

Sunday, April 29, 2007

First Stop: McKinney, TX

Sunday, April 29, 2007
McKinney, TX

We left Albuquerque on schedule yesterday morning, and had another solid day of I-40 eastbound. The drive got off to a slightly nervous start, as there was a thick cloud bank hanging over the mountains that line the eastern edge of the city. Other than those dark clouds, the sky was a perfect blue. It was like we were entering Mordor from Lord of the Rings as we climbed out of town. On the other side, as we continued east through Santa Rosa, Tucumcari, and on into Texas, the clouds gradually dissipated so by the time we got to Amarillo it was all clear again.

Bonus for me during the afternoon: Geri put in almost two hours of "seat time" driving the coach. It was all Interstate driving, but I'm guessing (just my opinion, mind you) that she's actually more comfortable driving on city streets than the highway. Higher speeds and passing trucks (we stick to between 55-62 MPH for fuel economy and stress reduction reasons) were the primary factors, and those 6- or 8- or 12-mile long construction zones every 30 minutes or so where both lanes are shifted to one side of the highway and you're in the land of the orange barrels didn't help either. Of course, as expected, she did a great job and will get more comfortable with more experience.

I should have done my homework better, as we missed one of the quirkier (if that's a word) roadside attractions on the route: Cadillac Ranch ( It's about 10 old Caddies stuck nose-first in the dirt on the side of the highway. By the time I saw it and remembered what it was, we were already too late to exit. I've got to do a better job with this fun stuff.

Today, we took advantage of an opportunity to work on another resolution for this year's travels: "get off the Interstate"! We took US-287 and US-380 from Amarillo to McKinney. It was almost all 4-lane divided (but generally not "limited access") highway, except for all the little towns, some of which even have traffic lights. Most of the bigger burgs have bypasses, and Wichita Falls even has a segment of I-44 (I know, a technical violation) for about 10 miles. Actually, the road was in better condition than much of the Interstate network, and we made time right on schedule.

You would have had to grow up in the northeast to realize how difficult using the old "US Highway" system can be for me. In New England, the thought of getting anywhere in a reasonable time by using US-1 along the shore, US-3 from Boston into New Hampshire, US-5 along the Connecticut River Valley, US-6 through my hometown (Watertown, CT), US-7, US-202 -- you get the idea. In that area, these roads are slow, slow, slow. Out here in Texas, and elsewhere in the west, they're good, wide, fast, truck-friendly (and RV-friendly) roads with towns spaced way apart. In fact, they're the best way to get from point a to point b if an Interstate doesn't happen to go your way. I'm learning...

Anyway, we're all settled in at Motorcoach Designs (aka "MCD") where we'll have the interior window treatments upgraded starting tomorrow. At least, I hope we start tomorrow. We originally thought we'd be the only ones here this coming week, but we're actually in "Spot #5" in the parking area. Some of our new neighbors look like they've been here for a while, so we'll see tomorrow. The good news is that the 50 amp service works, there are water and sewer connections, the dish is up and working, and we can adjust our plans as needed if we're held over to the following week. Life is, indeed, good.

PS: Last night we watched "Casino Royale" (better than I expected) so tonight I'll download pictures and post a few that may be noteworthy.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Altitudes and attitudes

April 27, 2007
Albuquerque, NM

It was a beautiful day for driving today! Not a cloud in the sky, light winds, and only one path to follow: I-40 East. We left Flagstaff just about on schedule at 9:00 AM MST and rolled in to Albuquerque at 4:00 PM MDT (we lost an hour going from AZ to NM). We stopped for lunch at the last rest area in AZ, set amidst some beautiful rock formations. We saw a house for sale as we went through Grants, NM. Geri's been looking at this chateau from the highway, and on, for 2 years now. Still for sale. Unfortunately, a) we'd have to sell the coach to afford it and b) it gets cold in Grants in the winter. Nice, but "no".

We're staying at American RV Park on the mesa just west of Albuquerque. It's a pretty nice park that we've seen from the highway several times as we've passed though town. Compared to several other parks we've seen in the last few days, it's also pretty populated. There aren't many open spaces and quite a few coaches pulled in after we did. There are a few large coaches here (including a Featherlite Prevost conversion behind us). We're diagonally across from John Verretti, past president of Monaco International. We've been at the same park as John twice in the last year (also at Newport, OR last fall), but haven't had a chance to say "hello".

Just east of here, I-40 descends rapidly through the Rio Grande valley, with a beautiful view of the city. If you've ever seen the Rio Grande, you really have to wonder about truth in advertising. It's a pretty valley, but a relatively modest waterway for most of its course.

We took advantage of our familiarity with the area (we've stayed in Albuquerque a few time in the past) to make a Whole Foods run for dinner. After the 32 oz. Porterhouse at Black Bart's last night, I was more in the mood for a salad tonight. We picked up some nice greens, a few prawns, and planned a nice light dinner. We left the coach around 5:30 after walking the pups, and were back by ~6:30 in spite of "rush hour traffic" and two construction zones.

Our plan was a good one, except for the bottle of dumpling sauce that decided that the atmospheric pressure change between Phoenix and here was more than its cap could handle. And, it just happened to be on its side on a shelf due to the excess stuff we had to take from the house. Well, 45 minutes later, the inside of the fridge is cleaner enough to eat off (probably a good thing), and we were cooking! Another of Geri's great salads.

All in all, a "fabulous" day. Tomorrow, we're also tied to I-40 eastbound, heading for Amarillo, TX.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Willie Nelson's got nothing on us

April 26, 2007
Flagstaff, AZ

On the road again...

Well, departure day finally came and we're off! We had our final packing and shutdown tasks to do today, and we hit the road slightly earlier than planned.

In the morning, I finished up a bunch of house stuff and packed the car. The Range Rover is now officially our "garage" where all the excess stuff goes. In the back we have our two "big ass recliners" for relaxation, a large storage tub with coach/car cleaning supplies, our old inverter which has been sold to a fellow Monacoer (Fred Hengel) who's in New Jersey less than 10 miles from where we used to live, my mountain bike, the 12v cooler, and a battery booster, just in case. Once the car was packed and most of the remaining coach stuff was staged in the kitchen or garage, I took off to retrieve the coach from it's parking spot. After a quick stop for fuel to top off the tank, I was back home by 10:30 or so.

When I arrived, Geri had the freezer already staged for me to carry out. While she filled to coach freezer, I moved the rest of the staged stuff to the coach, then we tackled the refrigerator. Mary Ann (neighbor) stopped by and helped out a lot. In the meantime, I started draining the hot water heater (had never been flushed). Who knew that would take over 3 hours?

By about 1:00, we were pretty much ready to go. We spent a few minutes saying our "so longs" to Mary Ann, Clisby (across the street) and Karen (next door) and, after a couple of checks to make sure we had everything, off we went.

Merlin and Maya Lynn were so good today; they really are good traveling dogs. They hung out in the coach while we loaded, and didn't fuss at all. They "knew" we had things to do, and the also knew that we weren't going to leave them behind, so it was all good.

We left about 1:15 PM, about 45 minutes earlier than planned. Today's route was simple: Loop 101 to I-17 north to I-40 east. A couple of minutes after we hit I'40, around 3:45, we were at our destination: Black Bart's Steakhouse and RV Park. Like I could pass up a 32 oz. porterhouse. Yeah, right. The only trepidation I had was that the wait staff is the entertainment, mostly singing show tunes. Actually several of them were quite talented. We figured that Sandy would know which shows the songs were from (none jumped out at us). Most of them are music and/or theater majors at NAU (Northern Arizona University) here in Flagstaff. This reminded us that we forgot to ask Wendell what his son attending NAU is concentrating on.

Today's travel was generally uneventful. Similar to Dave's bicycle ride, we climbed from 1,200 feet in Peoria (Phoenix) to 7,000+ feet near Flagstaff. The only difference is that we're propelled by the 515 hp Detroit Diesel! The only "incident" we had was some road debris (looked almost like a piece of a metal step-stool) that we couldn't avoid in the middle of our lane. It caught on the electrical cord for the tow lights on the Range Rover and broke the metal housing for the plug. It didn't cut the wire or even break the connection, but did leave part of the plug dragging on the ground for a short while. Fortunately, I had a replacement plug I'd picked up in Oregon, so I spent 1/2 hour reconfiguring the wires after we arrived. I'd been meaning to clean up the wires and cables on the tow bar anyway, so today was as good a time as any!

Tomorrow, we're off to Albuquerque, a short 6-hour day.

It's time for CSI, so that's it for today...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Final Preparations

April 25, 2007
Peoria, AZ

Today was the day for having a list and checking it twice. I packed the roof pod on the Range Rover, knocked a bunch of to-dos off the list, and finished up the rest of the yard stuff, so there's minimal stuff to do tomorrow before we leave.

My camera upgrade arrived late yesterday, so I spent some time shifting old and new stuff in the camera bag. I've upgraded to the Nikon D200 from the D70. When we get back in the fall, I have a minor repair to make to the D70, then I'll put it on eBay. I'm loving the D200 already.

In the afternoon, Geri had a Doctor's appointment (don't get me started about having a 1:15 appointment and seeing the Doc at 2:30), then we drove up to Wickenburg (about 50 miles northwest). We walked the downtown (it doesn't take that long) and I was able to snap a few photos with the new camera, then we caught up with Dave Thompson and his friend Bill Reenstra for dinner before heading home. This was "day 3" for Dave's bike ride and they're off to a great start. Details at

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Almost ready to head out

April 24, 2007
Peoria, AZ

Yesterday was a productive day. We had dentist appointments in the morning (cleaning plus some perio work for Geri on a problem tooth we hope to nurse along until the fall), then ran a few errands (bank, Post Office, Home Depot, grocery). I had to run to W.W.Williams, the Phoenix Detroit Diesel dealer for some parts on order.

The Post Office was a fun experience. This summer, we're using the "Premium Forwarding Service" to have our AZ mail sent to our South Dakota mail forwarding service. We're doing this because you can't do a vacation hold for >30 days. Last year, we used a "temporary change of address" (same form as when you move, but with an end date) but that didn't work well since the PO couldn't handle our full address (street + suite + box number). Well, the one postal clerk on duty didn't know how to account for the "premium" service, the manager was little help, and the growing line behind me was getting restless. He finally figured something out after about 15 minutes. Was I glad to get out of there!

Sandy Thompson arrived in the afternoon, on her way back from California seeing Dave off. We had an adventure at UPS as she was shipping his bike box back to PA. It weighed more than expected (54 pounds), but the issue was the dimensions. The clerk measured it wrong, and it came out at twice the expected price! We made her re-measure and got it back to the right $$$.

We had a quiet dinner at home and called it an early night because we all needed to get up early. Sandy will leave for the airport around 8 AM, and we'll keep working on getting the house ready for our departure.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Trip Itinerary - April-July

April 25, 2007
Peoria, AZ

We have half of our trip planned out so far.

AZ to McKinney, TX
Our first leg will take us north on I-17, east on I-40, then southeast on US-287. Since we've got a lot of stuff to clean up at the house before we leave, we'll only get to Flagstaff on the first day. From there, it's an easy day's drive to Albuquerque (which I learned to spell last year when we stopped there for the annual Balloon Fiesta in the fall. Day 3 will take us to Amarillo, TX, and the following day we'll go "cross country" to McKinney. We're going there to have the interior blinds/drapes in the coach upgraded; we'll post pictures when it's done.

Texas to Alabama
From McKinney, we'll travel to Memphis for a few days. I've always wanted to visit there; when I was working I went there many times but didn't get to see much other than the airport, Embassy Suites, the office, and taxicabs. It should be fun to see the sights and have some 'que. From Memphis, we'll head to my brother's place in Albertville, AL. We'll visit with Rick, Annette, Alyson, and Erik, and my Mom and her pup "Lady". We'll attend Alyson's high school graduation (we just got the formal announcement in the mail this week), and we'll hope to find a few days to visit with Linda and Wendell while we're in the neighborhood (assuming they're back from their extended RV trip :-) by then!). We'll be in Alabama through Memorial Day.

Alabama to Connecticut
This will be a long leg with several stops. From Alabama, we'll make a quick trip to Orlando, FL, to have an alignment done on the coach. There's a shop there (Josam's) that's supposed to be the best in the country. We'll then head north with stops in the DC and Philly areas where we'll catch up with friends, and eventually make it up to CT. While there, we'll attend Alicia Demers' high school graduation, and do more catching up with family and friends. We haven't seen Alicia and her sister Britt since we were there last summer. We're hoping that Geri's oldest son, Michael, and his daughter, Jackie, can visit there as well. Mike lives in Illinois and Jackie in Maine; they're the only members of Geri's clan to move away from CT as Pat/Al, Paul, Pete, Chris, Tony, and Melisa all live in the Hartford area. We'll be in CT through Independence Day.

And then?
It's really not like me to not have a plan, but there you go. Maybe retirement is finally kicking in. We're thinking about traveling up the coast to Acadia National Park (Maine) and then into the Maritimes. Depending on what we find, we might visit Atlantic Canada as well. On the way back, we'd like to stop in Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto (to visit with Brian and Jeanette Mills, and to have dinner at Rain, a restaurant Geri's seen on TV), Loring with Dave and Sandy (and maybe we could convince Wayne and Doris Guymon to join in like last year). Then we'll head southwest, ending up back in AZ some time between mid-October and the beginning of November.

Preparing for "our summer vacation"

April 24, 2007
Peoria, AZ

Preparing for an extended trip should be simple, right? Pack the coach, lock the house and go. Well, let me tell you, it isn't that simple!

We're doing pretty well, though, and will be hitting the road on Thursday afternoon (4/26).

In addition to all the warranty and upgrade work done on the coach, we have to make sure that routine maintenance is kept up. Today, I had a service guy come out to do the annual furnace maintenance (it's just like an oil furnace in a house). I brought a load of stuff from the house, adjusted the custom under-couch-wine-cellar to hold two cases, replaced the fluorescent light over the sink (who would have thought that interference from a light could cause a thermostat 10' away to act funny), rearranged a series of cabinets, found a bunch of stuff to leave home (we're almost at the point where something has to go for every new thing brought on board), vacuumed, and cleaned the remaining carpet. We'll finish loading the coach on Thursday morning; we'll bring it to the house for that (even though, at 45' long, it's about 5' wider than our lot). It'll be mostly food from the freezer and fridge; food, toys, and medications for the pups; and the last of the clothes. This year, we'll take a look through what we have on board before we leave, though, since we carried a lot of stuff around last year "just in case".

For the "stick house", we've also gotten quite a bit accomplished over the last couple of weeks. On the food front, we had a lot of help from our friends eating down the inventory on hand :-) -- thanks! I got all the yard stuff and most of the patio gear in the shed. The stuff that will travel in the car (chairs, bike, cooler, etc.) is stacked in the garage. Dave helped me put the roof pod on the car last week, so that's a relief for Geri. I'll put maintenance items in there (Alan and I will do a coach maintenance cycle in June or July while we're in CT). I've made arrangements to have the water/sewer/trash and gas services turned off and the cable (TV, Internet, phone) minimized. We have to leave the phone on for the alarm system, and they keep our email accounts (not that we really use those) active.

On the day of departure, I'll go retrieve the coach first thing in the morning and we'll move the last-minute stuff out. I'll turn the gas and water off, drain the water heater (it's overdue), and unplug a lot of electrical devices. I usually unplug the cable connections as well, as there may be a potential for them to carry a charge in an electrical storm -- and there are big storms here in the summer monsoon season, even if it doesn't rain. We'll put the patio table in the foyer for the same reason; a wind storm could blow it over and break the glass top. I'll close the blinds, lock the shed and breaker box, secure the slider, set the alarm and run for the door.

Then, we'll do it all in reverse when we get back in the fall!

Good thing I keep checklists...

Recap of a great winter season

April 23, 2007
Peoria, AZ

It was a pretty good "winter season" for us in Arizona this year, in spite of the fact that the weather was much colder than last winter. Or maybe last winter (our first here) was warmer than it was supposed to be! In any event, we had a good time catching up with neighbors, family, and friends.

We arrived back here at our winter place in late-October. The house was in pretty good shape, with the only start-up issue being "exploding toilets" (both valves needed to be replaced -- $10 each at Home Depot). We caught up with our neighbors and friends Clisby Crook and Mary Ann Baraban, who kept an eye on things for us while we were gone, and Raymond and Antoinette Kasparian, who returned from their summer place at the Delaware shore.

In November, we caught up with our friends Ana and Larry Pell, and their puppy Molly. Food and wine always flow when we get together. Ana and Geri have been friends for years, "BG" ("before George"), and we attended each others' weddings in 1978 (A&L) and 1980 (G&G). We also had a 2-week visit from George's Mom, Alice, over Thanksgiving. She enjoyed the warm weather and was able to get out for a couple of walks.

December brought the holidays, and George's birthday. Our favorite son-in-law (OK, our only son-in-law) Alan Demers came out to visit from CT for a few days to help us celebrate. This was only fitting, as we'd helped him celebrate his birthday twice last year, in CT and Las Vegas. We stayed in AZ for Christmas for the first time, primarily because we could use a break from being on the road, and because the cost to drive AZ-CT-AZ would have been quite a bit. We had a quiet time at home, and caught up with everyone by phone.

In January we were back on the road again. We left AZ right after New Year's and spent a good part of the month in California. We visited Geri's sister Kathy and her honey Lloyd in Lompoc first. We stayed at our usual spot, Flying Flags RV Park in Buellton, and were able to use that as a base for visiting several vintners in the area. We especially enjoyed a personalized visit at Sea Smoke, and we picked up wines from Foley, Foxen, and Longoria while we were there. An area east of Lompoc and west of Buellton is called the Santa Rita Hills AVA (wine growing designation) within Santa Barbara County, and is becoming quite well known for their Pinot Noirs. We also had a chance to have dinner at two of our favorite restaurants: Hitching Post in Buellton (how Sideways of us) and Los Olivos Cafe in (duh) Los Olivos.

Next we headed to Indio, CA, for the FMCA Western Area Rally. Indio is just east of Palm Springs, in the desert. On the way from Lompoc, we caught up with our friends Wayne and Eva Gilbert, and their Yorkie Abby (ie?). They have a Monaco Dynasty, and we met them at a rally last year and have caught up several times since then. We had a good rally even though it turned cold! I had new shocks (Koni FSD) and a performance muffler put on the coach, and we picked up a bunch of stuff we absolutely needed from the vendors. We also got to see the house Wayne and Eva were buying near where the rally was held -- beautiful place with an attached RV garage.

As we left Indio on the way to Yuma, we stopped to weigh the coach and found that our drive axle was over weight, so I had to adjust tire pressures and try to shift weight to the steer and tag axles.

We stayed a couple of days in Yuma on the way back to Peoria. We wanted to stop there because we wanted to see how people with RVs use their land out there. And there are a lot of RVs! It was interesting, but still a little too remote for us (no Whole Foods).

After about 3 weeks, we ended up back home in Peoria. In mid-February (right after Geri's birthday), we headed back to Yuma (about 3.5 hours drive). This time, Geri was scheduled to take a 2-day driving course with the coach. I'll let her post details but, suffice it to say, she did an excellent job. She even drove most of the way home after the class was over!

Later in February, we had a nice visit with Geri's oldest daughter, Pat Demers (wife of Alan, who visited in December). On the way to pick them up, we had dinner with Bob Lopes at one of our favorite Italian spots in Scottsdale; Bob was in town for his annual golfing vacation. Pat came out with her friend Lynn Bower, and (I think) had a relaxing visit (except for the "Citrus Caper", but you didn't hear about that from me).

At the end of February, I packed up the coach, said "see you later" to Geri and the pups, and headed for Oregon. I had appointments at the Pacific Power Detroit Diesel shop (to program the "smart cruise") and at the Monaco Service Centers in Harrisburg. I spent several days at the Peoria Road (what a coincidence!) paint shop having some touch-ups done under warranty. While there, I had them buff/repair most of the "self-inflicted" scratches I'd put in the coach since we got it. Then I spent 3 weeks at the Diamond Hill facility getting all of the remaining warranty work done. We also had the carpet in the front of the coach replaced with tile (looks very nice) and added a gray tank flush. Monaco couldn't handle a couple of other things I wanted done (updating the entry steps with Corian, and extending the galley drawer for additional storage), so I had those things done by a local cabinetmaker. In between, I found time to visit with Bob and Jane White (we met them at the FMCA INTO rally in Gillette, WY, last July), meet a few new people, get the Range Rover's tow lights fixed, and get all the coach tires balanced. This last work was done at the Les Schwab tire shop in Junction City, and their expert also tuned my tire pressure monitoring system. While balancing the tires, we found two that were badly out-of-round, so they put new ones on the steer axle and moved the front tires to one side of the drive axle. While all this was happening, I finally had the braided valve stem extenders removed and "alligator valves" (they allow you to check and adjust tire pressure without removing caps) put on.

In all our years together, the time I was in Oregon was the longest that Geri and I have been apart, through all the business travel and relocations over the years. So, naturally, I was ready to hit the road back to AZ when everything was done! Well, I got about 25 miles down I-5 when The "low oil pressure" alarm sounded. I pulled over and called Pacific Power/Detroit Diesel, who said it was probably a bad sensor and to bring it back. I tried to get off the next exit and
head back north, but the pressure kept dropping so I knew I wasn't going to make it. I called Coach-Net (our roadside assistance provider) and they sent a tow truck almost as big as the coach. Of course, by the time we got back to the shop, it was 3 PM on Friday afternoon and they said "see you first thing Monday". All wasn't completely lost, though, as I had another chance to catch up with Wayne and Eva (they just arrived for warranty work). It turns out an injector froze, which caused the rocker arm to snap and raw fuel to head for the crankcase. So, I ended up with an unscheduled oil change after everything was put back together. It was all covered under warranty, but I lost 4 days (Saturday-Tuesday) in the process. I was able to head out late Tuesday afternoon, and was back in Phoenix by 8 AM Thursday morning.

When I got back, we parked the coach at the Cotton Lane RV Resort because I'd decided to give up the storage sopt (they wanted >$2,000/year, in advance, even though we're gone for months at a time). This was OK, though, because we got to catch up with Paul and Dorna Kuhn, which is where this blog started.


Great visits with friends

Peoria, AZ
April 22, 2007

The last couple of weeks have been a lot of fun. First, we caught up with Paul and Dorna Kuhn at Cotton Lane RV Resort. We parked the coach there for a few weeks this month and, since our coaches are the same year, model, and colors, we had people doing a few double-takes.

We had a nice visit with Dave and Sandy Thompson, who stopped by on the way to California for the start of Dave's cross-country bicycle trip ( Dave was able to make sure the bike was all in one piece from the plane trip out here and get in a couple of 50-70 mile rides. We had some nice dinners and an interesting visit to the Frank Lloyd House, "Taliesin West" in Scottsdale.

We also spent a few days with Linda Whitley and Wendell Burdick, friends from Alabama. They're on their first cross-country RV trip, and having a great time with their new-to-them Class A coach. They brought their dogs, Jackson and CJ, along as well.

Last night, we had dinner with Linda and Wendell, and Ana and Larry Pell, long-time friends (see, I didn't say "old friends") who live in Phoenix. I'm pretty sure a good time was had by all.

We'll finish out the visits with Sandy on Monday night as she flies back to Philly Tuesday, and then we'll catch up with Dave on "day 3" of his ride in Wickenburg on Wednesday. Wickenburg is about 60 miles northeast of here, along US-60. It'll be our first chance to visit there, although we've been through there several times in the car or coach.

In between, we'll finish up our packing for this summer's excursion and preparing the house, as we head out on Thursday, April 26. I'll post more on that process and the plans for the trip later.