Summer Travel Map

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Off to a good start in Albertville

April 29, 2008
Albertville, AL

We had a good day today. Geri got some laundry done, and I started a few projects around the house. Rick and Annette are planning to sell their current house and build another one, on the other side of town closer to Annette's parents. As a way to help out, I'll spend a bit of time this week on some simple projects that'll help get the house ready for the market.

I started out this morning with a quick trip to Lowe's. You can't start a project without buying some "stuff", and these projects will involve some painting. I picked up some trim paint and tools (roller, tray & liners, disposable brushes, masking tape, etc.) and headed home. I also priced pre-hung doors, as they have one that's installed backward and doesn't quite fit. I'm still researching this one, as the existing door seems a bit narrower than the standard 32" panel. I'll take the molding off tomorrow to see how badly the builder actually hung it before we decide on a fix or replace strategy.

Since it was a little cool and breezy today, and supposed to be better tomorrow, I decided to hold off in the painting and focus on another project, replacing the kitchen faucet. When I emptied the cupboard to create work space, I found a box with an under-sink filter that had never been installed, so I decided to add that while I was under there. Other than the fact that sink cabinets keep shrinking over time (why else would it be a tight fit crawling in there?) and these new-fangled faucets have nuts and connections that defy almost any wrench known to man (and metric, to boot), it was pretty straightforward.

For dinner tonight, we headed over to Annette's parents, Gerry and Lois. Gerry put on a quite nice spread with slow-cooked beef and pork, mashed potatoes, asparagus, and carrots - with ice cream sundaes for dessert. Needless to say, we all ate well.

Well, that's it for tonight. Tomorrow is "painting day"...

Monday, April 28, 2008

A couple of short stops

April 28, 2008
Albertville, AL

Let me catch up on a couple of short (too short, I suppose) visits we made late last week.

On Friday, we spent the day in Memphis with our friends Wayne and Eva. They were in town to see their granddaughter play in a soccer tournament, and we were passing through. Wow, what a coincidence! We met up at the downtown visitor's center and did some sightseeing before heading to Beale Street for lunch at Blues City Cafe. After that, we hung out a bit, killed some time having a beer, and headed for the Peabody Hotel to see the ducks. If you've never heard about them, you can check out the story here:

We relaxed in the hotel lobby for a while and met Eva's daughter, Tammy. After the ducks headed for their "palace", everyone decided that dinner was in order. I made a quick run back to the coach (about a 15 minute drive each way) to walk and feed the dogs, and caught up with everyone at a place called Alfred's, also on Beale Street.

We were in for a special treat since it was the last Friday of the month. At 6:30 PM or so, they had the monthly "Zombie Parade", where about 600 people of all ages (some even in strollers) do their best "Thriller" impression up Beale Street (the tourist area is only about 3 blocks long). It was quite entertaining. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures because the battery ran out back at the Peabody. Here's a link to the pictures from the Memphis visit:

On Saturday, we "broke camp" and continued our trip east, this time avoiding the Interstates and heading southeast on US-78 through Mississippi and into Alabama. US-78 is divided highway all the way to Birmingham (it'll be I-22 someday, according to the signs), so it was an easy drive. We exited just short of Birmingham, and took US-278 east to Smith Lake. Our friends Linda and Wendell have a place on the lake, which is man-made and managed by the Tennessee Valley Authority. We've visited them there before, and it's always fun to see how much they've done to improve their place.

This time, they had additional welcome visitors. Their friends and ex-neighbors, Pat and Clarence, we up for the weekend, and Linda's brother, Joe, came up on Saturday afternoon. Clarence is a wonderful cook and really did a great job putting together dinner on Saturday night and brunch on Sunday. We had quite a good time and came away stuffed (OK, maybe the multiple meals of Memphis 'que on Friday were still with us, too!) Here's a link to the pictures from the Lake visit:

We were lucky that the weather cooperated for the most part during all this visiting. We had rain overnight in Memphis and again at the lake, but it was pretty nice each day. On Monday, the clouds were dissipating all day as we packed up and drove the couple of hours over to my brother's place in Albertville. By late-afternoon, it had completely cleared up and turned downright chilly. Rick said that it was 36°F when he left for work in the morning. Yikes!

Once we were set up at Rick's, we set off to visit Mom at the nursing home. She was doing pretty well (having a "good day", I suppose) and seemed to know who we were, which is good. She's easily flustered and not sure at all where she is, but seems to be settling into a routine.

After visiting Mom, we picked up dinner for us, Rick, Annette, and Erik (Alyson's still at school for the rest of the week). We caught up with them for a while and called it an early night.

I'll close with a quick picture that Geri took before we left Arizona (it was in the camera when I downloaded the files). We're still new enough to the Arizona area and climate that we unsure of what plants bloom when and what types of plants we're seeing. We're learning a little bit, but it's still interesting to see different species. We've seen a lot of cactus blooms this year, but this one in a neighbor's yard really was unique…

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Tale of Two Highways

April 24, 2008
Horn Lake, MS

“It was the best of roads; it was the worst of roads”. Where else can I go with this? We spent today following storms through Oklahoma and across Arkansas. I-40 is a road with a Jekyll & Hyde “personality”. Parts of it were smooth as silk, and other parts were some of the worst road we’ve been on in several years. Since most highway maintenance in these parts in handled by the individual counties, whenever we saw a “county line” sign, we knew we were in for a change. The section that goes right through Oklahoma City was probably the worst. It’s amazing that the people responsible for these roads can actually keep their jobs. They should be embarrassed, and required to drive these roads every day…

In any event, we made it to Memphis (actually just south of the city, across the Mississippi line) without having the coach fall apart. In addition, we managed to avoid the severe storms that were impacting the Midwest for the last two days. Today, we followed two lines of storms traveling east through Little Rock and Memphis. We had rain most of the day, but stayed behind the lightning and strong winds for the most part.

When we got to the east of Little Rock, we started seeing the effects of all the rain this area’s had recently. Many creeks and streams were over their banks and/or running very quickly. By the time we got close to the Mississippi River flood plain, there was water everywhere. Flooding in this area is essentially an annual occurrence, so it’s not unexpected but still quite a spectacle.

We arrived at the chosen RV park about 3½ hours behind schedule, not bad for a 1,400+ mile trip, primarily because we slowed up yesterday because of the weather. We set up and took the opportunity to relax a bit after a few days on the road. Tomorrow, we’ll hit the town for some “que”!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

“Chasing” storms and pulling up short

April 23, 2008
Oklahoma City, OK

Today, it was back to reality. We’ve been so spoiled by the almost perfect weather in the Phoenix area that we knew we’d be in for a shock when “normal” weather crept back into our lives. Well, today, we went to the other extreme.

We started out a little after 6:00 AM from Albuquerque just before dawn. I’ve read that fuel is denser when it’s cold, although this usually seems to be in some sort of scam email. You couldn’t tell the way we climbed the 6-7% grades on the east side of town, never breaking a sweat with the cruise (working today) on 59 MPH.

Although the weather continued to be bright and sunny, we heard about the storms predicted for the plains on The Weather Channel on XM. We caught up to the clouds around Santa Rosa, NM. The drive from Albuquerque east could rival Montana for the moniker “big sky country”, as the landscape is flat with scrub brush as far as the eye can see. We saw a trio of mule deer quietly grazing along the side of the Interstate (on the wrong side of the fence), and a wild turkey poking around in the brush, but no other wildlife (a few “skid” animals, but enough on that).

Just as we came into the town of Santa Rosa (a whole 3 exits on I-40), I saw a truck pulled over to the side about a mile ahead. Custom (and most state laws) dictate that you pull to the left lane to give a breakdown a wide berth, so I did. As we passed, I could see that it was an 18-wheeler that had passed me about an hour earlier. He lost a whole rear wheel assembly from his trailer, and actually started two separate brush fires in the dry grass. One wheel was in flames by the side of the road, and the other, with the brake drum still attached, was burning about 100 yards off the road. He must have lost a wheel bearing or had a dragging brake to cause that much damage. This was a good reminder of why we check these things frequently while traveling!

As we continued in far northeastern New Mexico, it was interesting to see the increase in agriculture (many fields were starting to green or were recently plowed), juxtaposed with the number of abandoned and crumbling buildings along the side of the highway. It reminded me, in the extreme, of many of the older “highways” in New Jersey, where commerce has moved to the malls and new developments and the older plazas fell into decay. The only difference here is that there isn’t any new development around, just buildings that are falling apart along the Interstate. It’s interesting that they don’t even take down the billboards and signs advertising the services that are no longer available. You can see ads for repair services or dining options for miles (think “South of the Border” on I-95), and then find that the place is falling down when you actually get there. It doesn’t pay to believe that roadside signage!

Back to the weather, we caught up with the storm around Amarillo, TX, running into patches of light rain and watching large dark clouds on the horizon. As we traveled across the Texas “panhandle”, we were in and out of the showers. We were running behind the computerized schedule (I may not have Microsoft Streets & Trips calibrated for average speed) by the time we stopped for fuel here at the Flying J truck stop in Oklahoma City, and when I went in to get my receipt, it all broke loose. We had heavy rain, thunder and lightning, small hail, and winds gusting to at least 35-40 MPH. Needless to say, we decided that we’d tuck in between some trucks in the “back lot” rather than drive further tonight. We’re about 3 hours short of our planned destination, but I’ll make it up tomorrow.

Well, even though the body says it is 8:15 PM, the clock says it’s after 10:00 and the 6:00 AM departure will be here before I know it, so I’ll call it a night…

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A beautiful day's drive

April 22, 2008
Albuquerque, NM

We had a great day for driving, with the sun and breeze at our backs (well, at least until late afternoon when we got a wicked cross-wind) as we headed east. We wrapped up the house close-up activities a bit early, and were on the road by roughly 8:30 AM. As planned, we headed north on I-17 to Flagstaff, then east on I-40. We stopped near Winslow (site of the meteor crater featured in the movie "Starman") for lunch, and rolled into Albuquerque in the early evening (losing an hour with the shift from MST in Arizona to MDT in New Mexico).

The ride was uneventful, except for a bit of technology with a hiccup. The coach has this neat feature in the cruise control that will automatically slow down if we get close to a vehicle in front of us. It matches the speed of the overtaken vehicle. Today, it "failed" (the "fail" light came on). Even though I turned it off, the basic cruise control wouldn't engage. It reset the next time I restarted the engine, but had to drive quite a way without it. It's amazing how much we can come to rely on the technology, and miss it when it isn't there.

We topped off the fuel tank (first diesel we saw all day under $4/gallon -- if $3.999 counts) and found a spot between the 18-wheelers for the night. I'll be up early and on the road around 6:00 AM if all goes well..

Monday, April 21, 2008

Ready to go!

April 21, 2008
Peoria, AZ

We’ve been extremely productive over the last few days, and we’re ready to hit the road!

Over the last few years, we’ve developed a couple of to-do lists to help us get ready to head out for the summer. I think we’ve got it down. The final positive aspect was when we realized that there’s nothing wrong with parking the coach in front of the house overnight. Initially, we really tried to avoid that, but we’ve gotten over it. The HOA rules allow overnight parking while loading, so we’ve really reduced our stress level by loading today and leaving tomorrow.

On Saturday, we staged things that needed to go in the coach, and finished up the yard preparation. It’s not like we worry about much in the yard, but it’s the brutal heat and sun that causes problems. Accordingly, most of the stuff from the yard goes in the shed. The patio table went in the garage; we’d hate to come home and find that the glass table was tossed about during the summer storms, when winds can exceed 70 MPH.

Saturday night, we went over to Ana & Larry’s for dinner. A good time was had by all, and we capped off the evening with a surprise showing of a video of their wedding, almost 30 years ago. I didn’t even know it was taped, as the technology was pretty new in 1978. At least we could recognize ourselves!

Yesterday, we finished up the departure preparation and relaxed a bit in the afternoon. This morning, we got the coach from storage early and had everything loaded by early afternoon. I flushed the water tank and changed the water filters (there are 2 – a sediment filter and a carbon block .5 micron one). I put in about 35 gallons of water, since that’s all we need to get to our first stop in Memphis. We’ve got everything except the last of the refrigerator stuff loaded, and we’ll be in fine shape in the morning. I’ll reset the air conditioning, turn off the gas and water, and lock everything up and we’ll be on our way!

Our planned route has us heading north on I-17 to I-40 in Flagstaff. We’ll follow I-40 all the way to Memphis, with overnight stops in Albuquerque and Arkansas en route. We should roll into Memphis Thursday afternoon. On Friday, we’ll catch up with our friends Wayne and Eva, as they’ll be there attending a grandchild’s sporting events over the weekend (they’re flying, not taking their coach). From Memphis, we’ll catch up with Linda and Wendell at their lake place before heading to Albertville to see Mom and Rick/Annette/Erik.

We’re ready to go!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Almost ready to leave

April 18, 2008
Peoria, AZ

We’ve made good progress on our preparations for our “summer vacation”, and we’re almost ready to head out.

We’re at the periodontist’s office as I type, as Geri’s having a hyper-cleaning and her final check-up before we’re back in the fall. Everything continues to heal well, and she had a permanent crown put on the damaged tooth that had a root canal and pin inserted last month. Hopefully, everything will stay fine over the summer!

Yesterday (Thursday) was allocated to cleaning the outside of the coach. It was a fabulous day, the best we’ve had in a couple of weeks. Temperatures were in the upper 70s and there was a light breeze under a cloudless sky. It took all day to clean the outside, starting with the roof. I power washed the roof first, and then applied a coat of Mop-n-Glo. Usually used for kitchen floors, it helps keep the “gunk” coming off the roof from making streaks on the sides. Once that was done, I tackled the rest of the outside. I use a spray-on cleaner/emulsifier called “The Solution” with 4” x 18” pads on extension poles for the large areas, and then micro-fiber cloths on the tight spaces. Last month, I picked up a 10’ stepladder, and that really helped a lot. Of course, the coach will probably be all covered with dust again by the time we pick it up next Monday for loading, but that’s the nature of the beast. We’ve had a string of “PM-10” warning days for 10-micron particulate matter in the air due to the winds.

This morning I sprayed the yard for weeds for the last time before we go. I started putting some of the yard stuff away, and will finish that up over the weekend. I’ll put the roof pod on the Range Rover (with Geri’s help), and we’ll use the garage for some of the stuff (like the patio table, which might be damaged by the winds we get during the “monsoon season” during the summer).

That’s it for now…

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Now, what did we do again?

April 16, 2008
Peoria, AZ

I’ve been meaning to sit down to update the blog for the last few days, and every time I think about it I run into some other task that needs doing. Or a nap that needs taking (just kidding). I suppose it’s a normal part of the countdown to summer departure. I won’t bore you with all the details, but will share some highlights.

First and foremost, Geri’s dental work is healing very nicely. Slower than she’d like, of course, but healing nonetheless. And we have good news and bad news about how the dental work will impact our travel schedule. The good news: it looks like she can start the process of getting the crowns put on the dental implants earlier than we thought, in early September. The bad news: we’ll have to be back way earlier than we’d expected, and it’ll be hot! It’s worth it though, since the summer will be pretty difficult for her. We’ve got appointments set up starting September 2, the day after Labor Day, and she should have at least half of the crowns done by the time we head to Albuquerque in early-October for the Balloon Fiesta.

My eBay project is winding up, as the last of the items I posted just ended their auctions. This season's "stuff" was mostly computer networking and audio/visual stuff that's been collecting dust in the spare room since we moved here in 2005. It's always amazing what people will buy -- and how much they'll pay you to ship it to them. I've cleared enough to pay for 2, almost 3, fills of the coach fuel tank, so it'll get us to Alabama I suppose. And, we've cleared out our supply of empty boxes (I had to "borrow" some from our friend Mary Ann) and used "popcorn" in the process. There must be an increase in the number of people doing this, since the price of packing materials has gone through the roof in the past year.

On the planning front, we’re in excellent shape. We’ve got our route plan for the trip east done, and we’ve staged many of the things that’ll go in the coach for the trip. I’ve redone the wiring in for the DirecTV receivers so that we’ll be able to get OTA (over-the-air) HD (next year, we’ll upgrade the dish on the roof to get DirecTV HD as well). We’ve thoroughly cleaned the inside and tomorrow I’ll seal the roof and polish the outside. We’ll load some pantry items as well tomorrow, although the majority will wait until we’re ready for final preparations since the air conditioning isn’t on during storage and it’s starting to get hot. We had temperatures in the upper-90s over the weekend, and it’ll be hot again this coming weekend.

We've also had a chance to catch up with our friends Paul and Dorna for dinner, and we'll get together with Ana and Larry once more before we leave.

Our current schedule calls for us to finish loading the coach on Monday. We’ll finish up the house close-up activities on Tuesday morning and be on the road by 9:00 AM. Our first stop will be a couple of days in Memphis, with overnights in Albuquerque and Arkansas (this assumes that weather concerns don’t send us away from I-40) on the way. From there, we’ll head to Alabama for a week or so, then Philadelphia for a few days before we get to Connecticut. We’ll stay there longer this summer (saving on fuel and RV park costs), and head back this way in late-July or early-August. We’ll probably spend some time in Colorado and/or northern Arizona (the cooler part) in August before rolling into the Phoenix area right before Labor Day.

There’s not too much new to report on the culinary front, although we had a nice Shrimp Alfredo the other night and Geri’s making a new recipe (Cod Stew with Leeks, Chorizo, and Tomatoes) tonight that smells delightful as I type. We’ve got our “everyday wines” ready to go for the next couple of weeks, and I pulled a “six pack” of “special” wines from the wine box to bring with us.

Once we’re on the road, updates will be more frequent, as there will likely be more to say. I’ve noticed several other Rvers who blog using a component called “zeemaps” that I’ll try to set up; it allows for a dynamic map to be added to the blog with travel points highlighted. Sounds cool!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Counting down the days

April 6, 2008
Peoria, AZ

There’s nothing much new to report, as we’re counting down the days toward our departure for the summer. Geri’s dental work is healing well, if slowly. We’ve started organizing things that need to be moved into the coach, which we’ll do over the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday was a “coach day” as planned. We brought it over to the house and I was able to knock off a half-dozen things on the to-do list. We’ve got a lot to do before we go, so we’ve blocked off 1-2 days/week for that. I’ll save the cleaning tasks, especially the exterior, for closer to our departure since the storage place is pretty dusty.

Thursday turned out to be an “inside day”. We both tackled projects that we primarily driven in the study. I was able to develop a schedule for estimated taxes and set up laddered CDs to fund taxes, as well as Geri’s fall dental work and my HCSA (health care savings account). I also spent time managing the eBay process. Once you get the hang of it, invoicing, packaging and shipping is a kind of assembly line operation. I’ve been saving packing materials for a while (yeah, the UPS guy does stop here), but had to buy a few boxes and a bag of “peanuts”. Prices for this stuff are through the roof! In the afternoon, for a change of pace, I went to the dentist for cleaning. Thank goodness everything is OK; we couldn’t stand having both of us “under reconstruction” at the same time.

Friday, we did some more packaging in the morning and Geri had a follow-up with the dentist in the afternoon. We used the opportunity to tie in some shopping in that area (have to save gas where you can these days).

Over the weekend, we relaxed and tried to tie up loose ends. Things are looking good, although I need to get back to the travel schedule and plan to get us to Connecticut via Alabama and the Philly area. I also need to wrap up the eBay stuff since everything sold needs to be shipped before we leave. I’ll post the last of this “batch” tomorrow.

That’s it for now…

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

No “April Fool” Here

April 1, 2008
Peoria, AZ

There’s nothing much new to report, so I’ll just post a quick update.

Sunday was a quiet day. Geri was suffering more than usual with the after effects of her dental surgery. She made meatballs for sauce and did up a batch of ground meat for burgers. She took a page from our friend from Indio, Wayne, and mixed in an olive tapenade. It was quite good, but we should have split it into two batches. She had hers straight up and I had mine on toast. Too much!

Yesterday (Monday), was for unplanned activities. Even though she was scheduled for stitch removal on Tuesday, Geri ended up calling the dentist and was able to get in early because she was in so much discomfort. They ended up taking the stitches out, and determined that the healing process is proceeding, but not as fast as hoped. This is due to the amount of work done (2 implants, 1 extraction, bone graft, skin graft) and the location. As a result, we’ve had to rework our schedule for the next couple of weeks, and have deferred our departure by a few days to allow for a couple of extra appointments to make sure everything is OK. Since we didn’t have a definitive plan in place (i.e., no reservations made anywhere), this change was fine.

Geri made pasta and sauce last night, so we had a nice dinner with plenty left for a second meal. I spent several hours working on the “eBay project”, posting some additional items, responding to questions, and packing and shipping things that were paid for. It’s nice to get some $$$ for things just sitting around the house, but it’s almost like a full time job.

Today was more eBay stuff (international shipping is more complicated but still relatively easy with the tools they provide) and then off to the groomers for the pups. They really needed to be cut, and they have been suffering from allergies, so we hope this will help. For dinner, Geri had quiche (soft foods), so I grilled a steak and made a few parmesan fries to go with. With a 2000 Chateau de Bedat Bordeaux, we were quite satisfied.

Tomorrow is a “coach day”, when I’ll put in a few hours on loading and maintenance tasks, after I pack and ship a few things. It should be fun…