Summer Travel Map

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Escapees Hospitality

December 30, 2009
Wauchula, FL

After we wrapped up in Port Charlotte, we headed inland for an hour or so, and made our way to the Escapees park in Wauchula, the "SKP Resort" ("SKP" is the way we abbreviate "Escapee"). We were able to grab one of the last open spots for a five-day stay. Escapee parks don't accept reservations; it's first come-first parked. This is a nice end spot, with an easy angle for the back-in and full hookups for $14/day plus electricity (shouldn't be too much since we need no air conditioning, but we did run the heat pumps to take the chill off this morning). We'll chill here for a few days, making a side trip to visit friends who live in Brandon, just outside Tampa, on New Year's Eve.

It's been an interesting trip so far. Even though Mom passed away in March, the process of placing the ashes has a finality to it that brings a lot of emotions to the surface, and provides a sense of closure.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Mom's Final Resting Place

December 29, 2009
Port Charlotte, FL

Today was the day scheduled for Mom's interment. My brother and family (Rick, Annette, Alyson and Erik) arrived last night, and they were joined by Annette's parents (Gerry and Lois) and sisters (Brenda and Chris). Rick had made arrangements with the church and everything was all set. After the 8:00 AM mass, Father Len led us to the Memorial Garden where Mom's ashes were placed. It was a nice, simple service, and we were very grateful for all Annette's family members who took the time to attend.

After the service, we all retired to the local Cracker Barrel for a brunch, which was good as usual.

Alice Cederholm ~~~ 1926-2009

Monday, December 28, 2009

On to the Sunshine State

December 28, 2009
Port Charlotte, FL

We left Albertville on schedule Sunday morning and had a reasonably comfortable trip south to Florida. We followed US-431 south to Anniston, then I-20 east toward Atlanta. Taking the I-285 bypass to I-75, we started running into traffic. It was pretty heavy and construction areas were slow, but nothing terrible. We were in the midst of two "migrations": snowbirds from the Midwest making the post-Christmas trek toward warmer weather, plus Florida cars making a mad dash back after a holiday visit.

We made a couple of rest stops along the way, and found working dump stations in most Rest Areas. We'd planned to drive to the Georgia-Florida line, but decided to pull up just under 50 miles early since we were running behind due to the traffic. We had a pre-made dinner of pasta and sauce (is it "leftovers" if you planned and packaged it for easy reheating?) and a good night's sleep.

Monday dawned clear and cold, with a heavy frost. We hit the road early, found that traffic, particularly the folks from Florida, had subsided quite a bit. We made good time to the Flying J near the state line and took our time, having breakfast and picking up a couple of things (a replacement CB antenna, plus cheap replacement hubcaps for the steer axle on the coach - one had fallen off somewhere in Texas) in addition to fueling up.

We took our time driving in the Florida sunshine and arrived in Port Charlotte late in the afternoon. We got the OK for overnight parking (in spite of the signs) and settled in for the night.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A great Christmas visit

December 26, 2009
Albertville, AL

We've just wrapped up a great family visit here in Albertville, AL. Tomorrow, we head for Florida, a trip we'll do in two segments.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were easy days with a simple pattern. We slept in, had "coffee and" in the morning, relaxed in the afternoon, had a nice dinner, and turned in early. Not a bad life. Tuesday evening, we made wings and margaritas, with the wings in four different sauces (Buffalo, barbeque, "Dreamland", and teriyaki). Margaritas were on the mild side (not George-a-ritas) as we didn't have all the liqueurs, but they were good nonetheless. Wednesday night, Rick made a pot of Chili.

Merlin and Maya Lynn also got to meet new friends. Rick and Annette have a new dog, Abby, who is a 9-month old English Springer Spaniel (I think that's right). Abby is a great dog but doesn't quite realize how big she's gotten in the last few months. We also met Dozer, a black Cocker Spaniel who is nominally attached to Alyson & Henry (her boyfriend) but living for now with Annette's mother and father. Dozer had a "sleepover" with Abby while Annette's parents headed to Florida for Christmas, so it's been a foursome most of the week. They've been getting along reasonably well, all things considered.

The weather was pleasant and mild, but we knew it wouldn't last. Thursday dawned cloudy and the wind kept increasing during the day. By late in the day, the rain began, and it poured for hours, before it turned cold - ouch!

It being Christmas Eve, Rick focused us on a "traditional" holiday dinner as done in our family when we were growing up. Since our father's parents were from Sweden, the "big" celebration was always Christmas Eve. We had Swedish Meatballs (Geri pitched in here), ham, mashed and scalloped potatoes, slow-baked beans, and a special dessert of pineapple tort. OK, we didn't have the pickled herring and "silta" (a pressed, cured pork dish), but we did pretty well.

Christmas was low-key for the most part, with gifts in the morning after coffee, snacking on leftovers in the afternoon, and another team-effort dinner with Rick making a stuffed pork loin to match with Geri's famous "Grandma Reds" potatoes. Things got a bit boisterous in the evening as Geri and I learned to play "Push-Pull Rummy", a six-handed, three-deck, cutthroat game with no mercy. We also learned that spouses and siblings must be separated during these games.

Today, we wrapped up our visit since we'll be heading out early tomorrow for Florida. We played with Skype (Rick and Alyson got webcams as gifts), lost a few games of Scrabble, and made another major dent in the leftovers for dinner. After another game of Push-Pull Rummy (total domination by Alyson), we called it an early night.

Below:  Abby finds some sanctuary, Maya and Dozer are ready to go out and chase the cat, and Merlin crashes on Christmas night...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Birmingham to Albertville

December 22, 2009
Albertville, AL

We had a great visit with our friends Linda and Wendell at their place in Birmingham.  We arrived mid-day on Saturday, after a restful night at the Alabama Welcome Center.  We woke to another crystal clear day, but caught up with the clouds we'd been chasing after about 20 miles on the road.  Fortunately, we had no rain, either liquid or solid.

We got settled in their driveway parking spot and spent the afternoon catching up.  Dinner was rack of lamb (woo-hoo!), and we were joined by Linda's parents, Til and Bob, and friends Pat and Clarence.  A good time was had by all.  Linda cracked open a double magnum of Coppola Merlot - mmm.

Sunday was a quiet day.  We relaxed, Wendell shopped (anti-relaxation), and then he smoked a whole pork loin.  We managed to have half for dinner; boy was that good!  After dinner, we caught up with pictures from our Alaska trip, at least some of them, until everyone was tired.

Yesterday, it dawned to another crystal clear day.  I made a quick run to the local Land Rover dealer to pick up a couple of wheel inserts, little plastic circles with the logo on them.  We lost the third one before we left AZ; unfortunately, I can't get them replaced under warranty any more.  Now, they go on with a touch of glue.  Once I was back, we readied ourselves for travel, turned the coach around, hooked up the car and made the short trip from Birmingham to Albertville.  It was a beautiful day for a drive.  We made a quick stop at a rest area on I-59 to take advantage of the dump station, and arrived at brother Rick's place mid-afternoon.  We caught up with the family (Annette, Alyson and Erik).  Rick made a pot of sauce, and Annette's parents joined us for spaghetti dinner.

Today is another beautiful day.  We're making a list and checking it twice - for a quick trip to WalMart for fixin's for wings and margaritas for tonight's dinner.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A great trip east so far

December 18, 2009
Cuba, AL

We have had a great trip east, leaving Arizona on Wednesday morning and making it to the Mississippi/Alabama border tonight.  We've had good weather and mostly trailing winds; haven't seen a cloud since we left AZ!

Day 1 was an easy drive, I-10 east out of Phoenix, to and through New Mexico, and to the Texas border.  There's a truck stop we know at "Exit 0", and we fueled up and parked in the RV parking section for the night.  It was reasonably quiet but chilly in the morning.  We were up at 7:00 and on the road a little after 8:00.

Day 2 was a long day.  We had a little over 11 hours of driving to do, 12 hours with rest/meal breaks.  Plus, we lost an hour with the time zone change from Mountain to Central.  We made the transition from I-10 to I-20 in West Texas.  Our destination was the WalMart in Weatherford, TX, just west of Dallas/Fort Worth, and we rolled in just after 9:00 PM.  We'd stopped for dinner (pre-made pasta) a couple of hours earlier, so we were content to just pick up a few things in the store, verify that it was OK to stay the night (there were 2 other RVs in the lot but they looked like residence-challenged folks as opposed to "WalMart Campers"), and hit the hay.  We slept well, since the store was off the highway and pretty quiet.

Today was another long day, but not as much as yesterday.  We stayed on I-20 all the way, stopping for fuel in Dallas and crossing Louisiana and Mississippi to stop just over the line in Alabama.  We'll have a short 3+ hour drive to Birmingham tomorrow, where we'll visit with friends before heading to Albertville for Christmas with family early next week.

It's interesting to see the differing road conditions in the various states.  Western states have generally good roads.  West Texas roads are all 80 MPH zones; the US AutoBahn.  By East Texas, things start to deteriorate somewhat.  Louisiana has some of the worst roads in the country, with lots of concrete slabs where the expansion joints are uneven, even if the concrete was paved over.  It's just 190 miles of thump-thump-thump.  Mississippi isn't much better, with the "thumps" localized to the major cities (Jackson, Meridian), but the "country" sections of I-20 have heaves (can't be frost heaves this far south, but they're the same thing) that rival what we had going to/from Alaska last summer.  The people who are responsible for maintenance should be ashamed of themselves.

On the other hand, Interstate Rest Areas are a whole different story.  Arizona has closed almost all of theirs (budget cuts).  New Mexico and Texas have a mix of old and new sites.  Louisiana and Mississippi appear to be rebuilding theirs with stimulus money and the results are great - large parking areas set back from the road to minimize traffic noise.  The I-20 Welcome Center here in Alabama is one of our favorites, with the truck/RV parking completely blocked from the road; we should have a quiet night.

OK; enough for now...

Monday, December 14, 2009

A clean machine

December 14, 2009
Peoria, AZ

Today was day 1 of our two-day trip preparation.  We're in great shape for travel.

We got up early (well, 7:30 AM is early for us) and headed for the storage lot.  Geri dropped me off and headed back home for her coffee.  I went to the nearest truck stop and topped off the fuel tank so we'll be ready to leave Wednesday morning. 

Oh, and in the "it figures" department, the Fed-Ex package we were expecting to be delivered tomorrow which led us to change our schedule:  yep, it was delivered at 9:00 AM this morning.  So much for the accuracy of the online tracking system.

We'll stick to our revised schedule anyway, and today's tasks involved cleaning.  I washed the outside, starting with the roof, and Geri tackled the inside.  Once clean, I loaded routine stuff in the bays (cleaning supplies, spare filters and fluids, tools), so we'll be ready to load clothes, food, etc. tomorrow.  Then we'll hit the road first thing Wednesday. 

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The best laid plans...

December 13, 2009
Peoria, AZ

...are subject to change!  We're pretty much all set to head out, with one key exception.  The cover for the front of the Range Rover isn't back from the manufacturer yet.  It was supposed to be shipped Thursday from Southern California, and should have arrived Monday.  Well, I got an email from Fed-Ex with the tracking number and found that it was actually shipped out late Friday afternoon and won't arrive here until Tuesday.

So, after getting fussed about this, I needed to break it down.  Was I ticked off that they didn't ship it when they said?  Sure, but there's nothing I can do about that.  While I'm at it, I might as well be perturbed that they had the thing since mid-November and didn't do anything with it because it was too dirty to work on (or was it that they just wanted to charge an extra $30 to have it washed?).  And I could be ticked at myself for not following up with them sooner, knowing that nobody gets back to you any more and you have to be a "squeaky wheel" to get anything done.  All valid points, but also water over the dam, under the bridge and out to sea.

Next, I thought about how we'd be once again relying on good neighbors to handle another package for us while we're away.  This happened the last time we were gone, and all that does is create stress all the way around.  And this package will be bulky and heavy; the cover weighs over 20 pounds.

Finally, I settled on what the real issue is:  we have the cover to protect the front of the Range Rover and we really shouldn't tow it without the cover on.  We learned this last summer, when I decided to start using the cover one day too late on our trip north, and we got some rock damage.  Now, all that incidental damage was fixed during the repairs covered under insurance after the great hedge calamity, so we should be thankful for our good luck and remember to always use the cover from now on.  (Full disclosure: We had the cover for several years but didn't use it because it's an extra step to put it on and take it off, and we had the dings in the front of the Rover to show for it.)

So, this was another one of life's reminders about lessons learned.  In this case, I learned last summer not to be a slave to a plan.  For all intents and purposes, it'll be very easy to change our plan and leave on Wednesday, one day later.  We can cover the same distance in three days as we would have in four (I had two short 6-hour days planned anyway), and all will be fine.  It took me all of 45 minutes to update my map files so the GPS will track properly, and we can use the extra time today to stage a few more things that'll go with us in the garage and kitchen, which will make loading easier.

There, it's all rationalized and I feel better.  Rod and Bob would be proud.  Now, it's off to Best Buy to get the newest version of the mapping software (might as well put the time to good use!)...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

'Tis the season - for travel

December 12, 2009
Peoria, AZ

We spent much of the last week finishing up preparations for both the holidays and for our trip east. So, what else have we been up to in the past few days?  Other than seeing bits and pieces of every Christmas movie ever made as we troll the DirecTV channels, that is...

Well, we've continued to eat well. Monday was Geri's famous Chicken Pot Pie with a 1997 Beaux Frères Oregon Pinot Noir. On Tuesday, I made a pot of sauce so we'd have some in the freezer for our trip east, and we had pasta with veal parm and a 2000 Damilano Barolo (this bottle was reasonably good, compared to the last one). Wednesday was grilled steak and baked potatoes and the wine was a surprising find: 2004 Rock Hollow Cab Franc from California's Santa Ynez Valley - great match. Thursday was leftover pasta/veal, and another bottle of the Damilano Barolo, which was completely corked, went down the drain, and was replaced by a nice 1997 Notarpanaro Salento. Next up on Friday was Geri's sautéed pork medallions with mushroom risotto and another pleasant surprise, a 2002 El Molino Napa Pinot Noir that was exceptional. We finished the week of tonight with Chicken & Brie and a 2002 Nebbiolo; our neighbor, Mary Ann, helped us polish this meal off.

Other than that, we've been pushing through a list of things to do before we leave. In addition to the coach maintenance done last week, I've finished off the trip plan so I know where we'll stop each evening and where we're plan to fuel up. I've made appointments for coach alignment and repair of a fogged window at places we'll be near in Florida. Our vehicle insurance is updated to handle what we learned about coverage gaps after the September mishap with the tow equipment. Bills are paid, unless they need to wait for the next billing cycle. The mess in the study is all cleaned up, except for the remaining filing (I hate filing like Geri hates ironing). Most of the stuff that'll go back in the coach for the trip is queued up in the garage or in the house.

The next couple of days will be busy. Tomorrow morning, I'll get the coach early, swing by the local Flying J to top off the fuel, and we'll start loading. Since the forecast is somewhere between isolated and scattered showers, we'll focus on loading tomorrow and I'll wash the exterior on Monday. Who knows how long it'll stay clean, but at least it will be when we start out. Longer-range forecasts seem to indicate that we'll have reasonably good weather as we head out and travel I-10 to I-20 in West Texas, and through Dallas, across Louisiana and Mississippi, and into Alabama. Things are predicted to turn colder during Christmas week, but who believes a forecast that far out anyway. We'll be fine...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Another productive day

December 6, 2009
Peoria, AZ

Well, we had another good day. Geri made a great breakfast, with two different kinds of French Toast, sweet and savory. I ran a few errands in the morning and then we all headed over to the coach. For whatever reason, I like having someone else around when I'm planning to spend time crawling around under the coach.

Today's project was to lubricate the chassis on the coach. There are something like 33 different fittings that need to be found, cleaned, and greased. Some are easy and others are complicated. For example, the kingpins on the front end are easy to get to, but you have to take the weight off the axle to get proper lubrication. Think about jacking up each wheel on a car, then remember that we carry over 14,000 pounds on the front axle. Fortunately, a 20 ton hydraulic jack that connects to the air compressor does the job. Next up, other parts of the front end require the wheels to be turned to the side to get at the zerk fittings.

Front done, it's time to move to the rear. Here, there are two basic items. Brake slack adjusters get 2 shots each; you don't want to get grease in the brakes. Then both u-joints, making sure that all four points on the joint yield grease. This time, one of them doesn't want to cooperate, so I'll have some follow-up to do on that one. Then, the hard one: the slip joint on the drive shaft. This is always the toughest one, since it requires three hands. You have to hold a finger on a hole in the end of the yoke, hold the grease gun tip on the zerk, and pull the trigger. Hmmm. Well, you do the best you can, trying to do two things with various fingers. I think I got it; I know I used a lot of grease.

With another one in the "done" column, it was back home to get cleaned up and walk the pups.  When we got home, I found a whole flock (is that the correct term?) of pigeons sitting on the wall in the back.  Maybe they were looking for Uncle Al (birds showed up every afternoon when Al visited a couple of years ago)?  No matter; Merlin and Maya Lynn quickly chased them off.

Then it was time to settle in for some dinner while checking out football on TV. The Giants beat the Cowboys (always a good thing) and now the Cards are leading the Vikings right down the street in Glendale. It was interesting to see the blimp video, since the roof is closed at the stadium. Didn't they know it's cold out? It's 55°F for crying out loud! There's a lot of thin blood out here in the desert.

Dinner was fantastic. Leftover pork from the rotisserie a few nights ago, plus baked sweet potatoes and one of Geri's wonderful asparagus recipes: sautéed with an egg cracked over the top and covered with crispy prosciutto. Oh yeah. With a 2004 Longoria (no relation) Grenache, it made for a fabulous meal. I'm such a lucky guy...

Countdown to Departure

December 6, 2009
Peoria, AZ

Wow, the past week has flown by! We've begun our preparations for our trip east over the Christmas and New Year's timeframe. We've started packing up a few things that "belong" in the coach, but somehow ended up in the house. We're working on having some "travel meals" in the freezer, so Geri made up a batch of her famous pulled pork, which I'll vacuum-pack today.

Yesterday, I tackled one of the key maintenance items needed before we go: oil and filter changes. It's not complicated just time-consuming, as a change takes 9 gallons of oil meaning that there are multiple catch basins to fill. Then there are two oil filters and two fuel filters, plus one filter each for the hydraulic and coolant systems. And then there's the process of doing most of this lying on your back. The things I do to save $100 by doing it myself.

We've had mixed results from the "overdue" wines we've started working through this week. We had a 1995 Zaca Mesa Pinot Noir (last year it was made, I think) with our beef short rib leftovers on Tuesday and, while it was good we both agreed that we were glad we drank it when we did. We made wings on Wednesday and found a 2003 Red Sancerre to be corked, so that went down the drain and we opened a young Zin. Thursday, we did a pork roast on the rotisserie and it paired extremely well with a 1994 Zaca Mesa Syrah that was good but also showing its age. For openers mid-week, we sipped from a 1990 Ampeau red Burgundy (Pinot Noir) and a 2002 Santa Barbara Winery Chardonnay that were in similar shape. Friday was pizza night, ordered take-out from Grimaldi's (there's nothing like coal-fired, thin-crust, New York-style pizza) and it went nicely with another older wine, a 1996 Ravenwood Wood Road Zin. Last night, we whipped up some sautéed shrimp with linguini simply done with olive oil and garlic, and opted for a younger wine for a change, a 2005 Curran Tempranillo from Santa Barbara County. Most of the wines we had this week were from California; they're not designed to age like many European wines so we'll probably have more of a focus there over the next few weeks.

Just to show that it's not all eating and drinking at our place, I spent some time mapping out our route east. We'll plan to head out of Phoenix on I-10 and pick up I-20 in west Texas. I-20 will take us right into Birmingham, where we hope to catch up with our friends Linda & Wendell; from their place, it's a short hop to Albertville. After Christmas, we'll head south to Florida in a 2-day trip (Rick and Annette will make it in one day in the car, I'm sure). We'll overnight at a combination of Flying Js, WalMarts, rest areas and Escapees parks on this trip (Rod and Bob would be proud).

That's it for now - Geri's making French Toast!