When a pine tree falls on your house, make campfire wood.
We did not expect to come home to a Ginko-covered garage after our maiden voyage in Big Bertha. The white pine that tumbled towards our home took half of a Ginko tree with it. The substantial deductible for the roof repair is a bit of a drag but, on the other hand, we will have sufficient outdoor firewood for our next RV journey. Yes, in spite of the number of setbacks on voyage number one, there will be a second excursion.
I need to tip my hat to Charm City Roofers, who immediately evaluated the structural damage to our garage. They were professional, proficient and efficient in replacing shingles, siding, and gutters.
After a problematic trip, filled with mayhem and misadventure, it was a relief to have reliable repair work!
We are feeling a bit of a void. There is a big, empty parking space where Big Bertha generally sits.
Yet, her absence is endurable, as warranties are wonderful things. Bertha’s city water inlet is being replumbed. Her windshield is being resealed. Her various valves and vents are being readjusted.
Bertha is a land yacht; adventuring is a lifestyle choice, not an investment.
Our adventure to the west coast has been planned, and now the anticipation begins.
“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than those you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain, Great American Writer
If you recall, it was windy when we arrived at Canaan Valley State Park in West Virginia, windy enough to rock the RV, even with the stabilizer jacks down. We tried to ignore it by watching a downloaded episode of Hinterland. As soon as the credits rolled, I said, “Let’s go stay in the parking lot, at least we won’t get crushed by one of these pulsating pines!”
To his credit, my husband went outside and surveyed the overhanging tree situation and declared us out of harm’s way. He said that there were no large branches overhead and no large trees that were likely to tumble down upon us. I was skeptical. I’m always skeptical but I was also thoroughly exhausted after my grueling 400-mile trek. So, I said my prayers, including a prayer to Attis, the Greek God of trees, and crawled reluctantly into bed. I took out my Kindle and tried to read myself to sleep. It was not working. I pulled my blanket over my head because everyone knows that a blanket pulled over your head will protect you from falling trees.
The sound was terrifying. WHOOSH, then, low whistle, then rattle, then tons of tiny twigs being hurled against the sides of the RV. Bang. Crash. Bang. I felt as if I were trying to sleep in a Sherman Tank whilst under enemy fire.
“WINTER PASSES AND ONE REMEMBERS ONE’S PERSEVERANCE.” – YOKO ONO
Perseverance. You’ve got that right, Yoko.
The winds had blown through and we thought that we were in the clear, and ready for an easy ride home.
Then the snow came. There was not much, but it was enough to turn the parking lots into a frost covered nightmare. Enough to cause panic about icy roads and skiing sideways, out of control, over the mountains, in an RV.
The gales had not completely subsided. With the wind chill factored in it was a balmy 15F. Everything was frozen.
The driver’s side door of the tow vehicle had not been completely shut during the night. I crawled in and sat on a cold, frosty seat. With a wet, cold posterior, I followed the RV to a spot where we could hook up the truck to the tow bars. There was a constant beeping coming from the truck and a dashboard display that said DOOR AJAR. Upon further inspection, I discovered that the mechanism that keeps the door closed, was frozen solid. After running the heat at full blast for 10 minutes, and thinking that we may never get back on the road, the door finally thawed and thankfully closed.
Harvesting the energy of wind.
A mobile home has a large profile, and like a boat with a fly bridge, the wind wants to change your course.
It is no small wonder that there were dozens of windmills atop West Virginia mountain ridges. The wind is plentiful, strong and unrelenting. I’ve had a death grip on the steering wheel long enough to cut of circulation to my fingertips.
I had a premonition.
As I yanked my blanket up over my head last night, I had visions of a tree falling on our home on wheels.
Surprise! The tree was actually falling on our garage at home!
This is the sight that greeted us after a 4,000 mile journey. What a crazy end to Big Bertha’s maiden voyage.
Was it all smooth sailing? Far from it, but there were valuable lessons learned along the way.
And now, to tackle the tree, and get a few roof repair recommendations….
400 miles is a long way to go in my sporty, Subaru. It seems endless in a motorhome with a “toad” (tow vehicle) attached. Many miles coupled with a myriad of mountains is a challenge. Throw in copious cloudbursts and gusty winds and a challenge becomes an arduous adventure. We are learning that shorter distances between stops is a wiser choice.
West Virginia roads are either under construction, or are steep, narrow and filled with switchbacks. The scenery is spectacular, and perhaps worth battling the byways, but we won’t have the chance to enjoy it during this trip. The weather is atrocious and getting worse.
I cannot command winds and weather. ~Horatio Nelson
The winds are howling and the RV has rocked my husband to sleep. Lucky him. This swaying makes me feel as if I am at sea. I am watching tall timber all around me, dancing crazily with the clouds. I’ve been simultaneously typing and praying.
We have not yet eaten dinner. Getting the grill out would be foolish. I will have to rely on good, old fashioned ingenuity to come up with something edible, now that my husband is stirring.
There’s no place like home.
It’s definitely a night to stay inside. We are warm and dry and as cozy as one can be in gale force winds.
Another camper just pulled in. I somehow feel better about sharing this experience with other road weary travelers. Other crazies…
The birds were singing, the sun was shining, we had good, 4-lane divided highway ahead, and we did not have to stop for fuel. All we needed to do was to take state roads for 15 miles, then we would be off and running to our next stop in Bardstown, Kentucky. Nothing was going to raise my anxiety level today. Until, we made a right hand turn onto a very narrow lane, and right before us was a large, orange, sign. ROAD CLOSED in 1 mile. Narrow does not adequately describe this street. It was a raised alley with ditches on either side. The only option for escape was a dirt driveway in front of a sketchy, double-wide trailer. Even that alternative was not workable unless we unhooked the tow vehicle in the middle of the road. I was terrified but felt a little giggle gurgle up in my chest.
While I backed the tow vehicle out of the way, my husband attempted to make a quick, several-point turn. I did not have time to blow the horn as he backed towards the ditch. The tow bars were sticking straight out behind the bumper. The RV looked like a knight, prepared to joust the hill behind it. It was a gentle bump into the vegetation. The tow bars emerged, completely covered in clods of dirt, grass, and dangling weeds. I did not know if it would still be functional but at that unlikely moment, that gurgling giggle turned into full blown, hysterical laughter.
I had faced my biggest fear and lived to laugh. My husband was not amused.
Fortunately, after removing soil and sumac, mud and milkweed; the tow bar proved to be dirty but undamaged. We reconnected the vehicles and moved on.
When the sun goes down, on my Old, Kentucky Home….
A golf course was not exactly what I expected to find at our next campsite. Instead of water views, I was gazing at golfers.
Good thing I wasn’t on the tee box. I would have hit a hook right into someone’s house trailer. I was prepared to duck, but did not hear “fore” one, single time.
“Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an ever smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose” ― Winston S. Churchill
Actually, our RV “Big Bertha” feels very at home here.
The campsite was rather cramped and more like caddyshack than a state park but it was a one night stay. No hiking here. I did walk to the park’s main attraction, which was the home of Judge Rowan, and the plantation that inspired Stephen Foster to write My Old Kentucky Home, the state song that is associated with the running of the Kentucky Derby.
I was a city kid. My playgrounds were parking lots. Until…
One day, my dad brought home a pop-up camper. We hitched the trailer to our trusty station wagon, loaded it with luggage, sleeping bags, flashlights and lanterns. Then, off we went to destinations unknown. It is when my love affair with mountains, rivers, lakes, forests and seas began.
Nature became my cathedral and I have worshipped in it ever since.
Now, as a retiree, I hope to marvel at and muddle through Mother Earth’s sanctuary on a regular basis.
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
Life is full of strictly measured moments. We become slaves to schedules, deadlines, calendars and clocks. But there are those flashes, those twinkles, those winks of time in which we are free of burdensome agendas. During these infrequent, too short periods of downtime, we allow a world with no timetable embrace us. This is the essence of freedom.
Because of this, we all tend to look forward to retirement, at least the sane individuals do. Yet, the leap to retirement is not an easy one to make. Will I be financially secure? Do I have sufficient interests to occupy my time? Will I grow old, really old with foul temper and rickety bones, too quickly? Will I be able to tolerate my spouse 24/7? All reasonable questions, and yet a future with no concrete itinerary is enough to make me vault into a world without bosses, meetings or dissatisfied employees.
Thus, this blog. I know that I am not alone in a world full of freedom-seeking baby boomers. I want to compare notes with aging wanderers and share adventure with maturing meanderers.
Come along on this journey. I promise both bliss and bedlam.
Sweet Home Alabama!
March 15, 2021
I’ve mentioned that I am a neurotic mess. Right about now I could use a double, Xanax Martini.
I think I need to explain my fear of gas stations. Our rig, complete with tow bars and tow vehicle is probably about 55 feet long. Not all gas stations have easily accessible diesel pumps and a whole lot of them do not have enough real estate to allow wide turns. Furthermore, our tow system does not allow you to back up. Not one inch. Not one centimeter. If you find yourself unhappily crammed between an island of pumps and a storefront, you are stuck. If there is no room to move forward, and your towing situation prohibits backing up, you have to disconnect your RV from your tow vehicle. I imagine it is not easy to do when truckers are sniggering, horns are blaring and everyone is pointing at you. This has not happened but it is a nearly debilitating fear for me. Because I envision this scenario every time we need gas, our fuel stops are rated R for profanity. My husband is yelling “RIGHT”, “NOW”, “SPEED UP”, “LEFT”, “TOO LATE” and I am grinding the enamel off of my teeth while trying to maneuver through a petroleum themed maze. It’s unpleasant.
I need a Zen navigator. “Breathe deeply and keep to your right, breathe out the angst.” Inhale deeply and go around the building. Breathe out the nervousness.”
And then the rain came.
Not like the April showers that bring May flowers. It was more like the stuff that made Noah decide it was time to build a boat. We pulled into our site just in time for the cloudburst from hell. Getting an RV backed into the correct location means getting outside to make sure there are no obstacles and that the water and electric are accessible. Even with umbrellas we were drenched to the bone, which is uncomfortable when it is breezy and 50 degrees.
For those of you who are wondering, I drive, not because my husband is not an excellent driver, he is! I, however, am an absolutely incorrigible passenger, one who ALWAYS needs a double-Xanax-Martini when riding shotgun.
God Bless my husband.
Sunshine sure has a way of turning things around.
When I was dry and comfy, I was able to see how truly beautiful this site was. It was situated on a lake that was teeming with ducks and the trees were budding. The daffodils were already past their peak. Ahhh… promises of Spring!
The sun came out long enough for us to take a quick, 2-mile walk through the park. We were delighted to find some real, old-time playground equipment, the kind we played on as kids, the kind that have no safety features whatsoever. If only those tall, metal sliding boards, and see-saws could tell tales, I am sure that they would recall a few broken arms.
It’s raining again.
March 16, 2021
Only this time it is raining inside the truck. The torrents of rain were intense. Blinding rain. Now I’m saying naughty words that I usually reserve for gas stations. I’m not yet sure how the rain got inside but there has to be a malfunctioning seal somewhere. Something else to add to the warranty repair list…
On the good news front. The wrench symbol on the dashboard has gone away, and I got a HOT shower. I played around with the stove to make sure that the propane was flowing, and VOILA, the on demand water heater ignited. After all of this rain, you would not think that water would make me happy, but HOT water makes me giddy.
And, of course, add some tornado warnings to the mix…
Again, this Mississippi site was lovely, right on a river, with new greenery and old, Spanish moss surrounding us. No time to enjoy it, though. The National Weather Service issued very serious warnings about tornadoes in the immediate area. So, we packed up with the intention of leaving before dawn to get as far west as possible before the storms materialized.
This is actually a bit more anxiety provoking than gas stations.
Did you know that GPS is really an acronym for Getting People Stuck?
March 17, 2021
We stopped for gas, and although still R rated, there was slightly less angst. A step in the right direction.
We were cruising along, in a bit of a hurry, trying to outrun the line of storms that were sweeping into Mississippi. For the most part, it was dry and sunny. We were making record time until we saw the sign: Low Clearance 12” 3”. All twelve-foot-six inches, 55 feet of us had to turn around and find a new route into Texas. Damn the Sabine River.
Everything is bigger in Texas.
It began to rain about ten minutes before our arrival at the new, Lake Livingston campsite. But the rain was short-lived. Setting up for a two-day stay in the warm sun made us believe that the tide had turned and our luck was changing, until we saw the cord. There is a cord that extends between the RV and the tow vehicle. It wires the brake lights, turn signals, etc. Both ends are supposed to be plugged in. You are not supposed to drag one end for several hundred miles. At least there is an RV dealer in Livingston, and my friends, we will deal with that tomorrow. Today is too pretty to waste.
They say everything is bigger in Texas. There must be some truth to this adage. The lake Livingston is gigantic and the campsite is enormous.
The park is fantastic. So far, Texas State Parks get an A+ rating. We managed a 4.5 mile walk this afternoon and are ready to light a campfire and celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day with a Guiness.
A bend in the road is not the end of the road… unless you fail to make the turn. ~ Helen Keller
March 18, 2021
There have been a few tumultuous bends in the road during the initial journey of Big Bertha but we are beginning to get more comfortable with our new mobile mansion.
It also helps to be more comfortable in general. The sun has emerged from behind the clouds and with it, a much yearned for rise in temperature. It is breezy but warm enough for a comfortable bike ride and hike throughout Lake Livingston State Park.
Gratitude can turn a meal into a feast. ~Melody Beattie
We opted to celebrate the sunshine with preparing some food on the grill. There is nothing better than Old Bay Wings (if you are from Maryland, you will understand and concur.) Sadly, my can of Old Bay is tucked securely in my spice cabinet at home. I had to improvise. A little garlic salt, some cayenne pepper, some paprika, and some jalapeno popcorn salt for good measure. Definitely not Old Bay, but still quite lip-smacking.
What a joy to be able to dine outside for the 1st time on the journey.
Love is sharing your popcorn. ~Charles M. Schulz
We topped off the evening with a big bowl of popcorn, cooked over an open fire.
Funny how the simplest things in life can get you back on the right track. We found a power cord, to replace the one that was dragged across the state of Louisiana and stripped bare, that seems to work
Not having to amble down the highway was the reprieve I needed.
Tomorrow, off to Austin to see my sister.
A sister is a gift to the heart, a friend to the spirit, a golden thread to the meaning of life. ~ Isadora James
March 19 & 20, 2021
This is the reason for the voyage, a chance to spend time with my sister. The Covid-19 pandemic made it impossible for us to be together when our mother passed after a long, struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. Both my older sister and I really missed having our “baby sister” with us during this painful period.
Seeing her has filled an emptiness and brought some joy back into this crazy, bleak, Covid-World.
We were masked up for our ventures into the general public but did manage to see more than just halves of faces when we were out and about in less populated areas.
Lady Bird Lake
The hike around Lady Bird Lake is a fabulous urban hike with spectacular views of the city of Austin.
It was a picture perfect day for a walk around Lady Bird Lake. Austin is such a clean, modern and vibrant city. I almost forgot that we were in the middle of a pandemic as we basked in the sun and enjoyed the scenic walk. The seven-mile trek provided views of skies, sky scrapers, vegetation and vagrants.
We worked up an appetite and headed to the Salt Lick outdoor Bar-B-Que. The spicy rib platter was very tasty and very Texas!
We returned to our campsite at La Hacienda RV Resort for a few libations, plentiful tall tales and a lot of laughs. So good for the soul!
We prefer camping in State Parks, as the campsites are generally spacious and private but La Hacienda is a nice, quiet place to hang our hats.
The devastating, arctic weather that crippled much of Texas also did a great deal of damage to the vegetation. The palm trees were hit hard. Rumor is that some of them will make a comeback. I hope so. The cactus, however, were returning from brown to a healthy green and the bluebells were emerging in all of their glory.
No trip to Austin is complete without a visit to Ski Shores Waterfront Cafe.
Ski Shores is right on the Colorado River. If you want waterfront dining or an amazing spot to sip on a cold beverage, this is the place.
Just peek over the side of your picnic table and you will see Texas-sized carp, turtles, ducks and swan swimming gracefully by, or leaping for bread crumbs and French fries if they manage to make their way into the water
“If you mess with the big sister, there is always a younger, crazier sister behind her… that’s who you don’t want to mess with!” – Unknown
Has anyone noticed that this is the first stop on the journey in which disaster has not befallen us?
I’m going to credit our good fortune to the crazy younger sister that you don’t want to mess with. Or maybe we were all just having so much fun that we would not have recognized problems if they were there.
March 22, 2021
We made it to Tyler State Park! The sites are enormous and there is a promise of good weather for tomorrow BUT we have to make it through the severe storms that are forecast for this evening. We will hunker down, say our prayers and hopefully, wake up nice and dry in the morning.
Alas, our city water intake is not functioning properly, so we have to use the water tank for out water supply. Not a big deal, but the water pump wants to cycle continuously, so we have to shut that off and use it only on demand. Sigh. We left our luck in Austin.
March 23, 2021
The storms did materialize last night but they were not of the magnitude that flights to Oz are made of. In fact, the rain, thunder and lightening ushered in an absolutely picture perfect day. It was already in the 60’s and sunny when we began out hike through the Big Pine Forest this morning. As we began our hike, we took note of all of the charred wood along the trail. We speculated that perhaps there had been a brush fire that had (luckily) been extinguished on time. As we progressed deeper into the woods, the odor of burnt wood became stronger. The trails were not well traveled, in fact we had not encountered a single soul until we had the good fortune to stumble upon a Park Ranger who was able to educate us about the controlled burns that were staged in the Spring. The forest floor, apparently, can be knee-deep in pine needles and leaves, which is a tremendous amount of fuel for an errant ember. I was amazed that they could keep even a ‘purposeful’ burn under control in a dense forest. They manage the flames with dirt-paths acting as fire-breaks, and more dirt used as a retardant. Fighting fire with fire.
“Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better.” – Albert Einstein
After a 9.77 mile hike, we decided to jump on our bikes to get a look at the rest of the park. The roads are curvy and steep, we had forgotten our helmets, and I was hopelessly stuck in 3rd gear. There were no shoulders on which to pull off and I wound up taking my bike for a walk up a hill or two.
When I was a kid, I had a bike accident that resulted in a cast on my leg and subsequent knee surgery. As a result, I have a fear of speed and hills and loose gravel, and bike brakes.
I need training wheels and flat rail trails.
March 24, 2021
Back on the road. Hated to leave our little piece of heaven in Lake Tyler State Park. There are some sites that you will go out of your way to return to. This is one of them.
It was a long drive to our next stop in Greenbrier, Arkansas. We managed to gas up without disaster but the tank was flirting with empty by the time we found a suitable stop. As we were driving down the highway, however, we entered the NO-GPS twilight zone. Suddenly, none of our GPS options were working. We were in a directionless Bermuda Triangle, no navigation other than the annoying voice that repeatedly demanded, “Proceed to the route. Proceed to the route”.
We did eventually emerge from the dead zone, only to succeed at nearly running some poor motorist off of the road. The highway split, and perhaps I did drift just the teeniest bit into his lane. He was blaring his horn, and undoubtedly flashing a finger. I just looked sheepish, cringed, and rolled forward offering mea culpas as I nervously headed East, which, thank God, was the correct direction.
The weather was ideal for outdoor activities when we arrived at Woolly Hollow State Park. As soon as we were able to get set up, we donned our hiking clothes and took a 6-mile hike through the surrounding hills. It was warm and glorious. When the endorphins kicked in, I nearly forgave myself for trying to sideswipe the sedan.
Arkansas State Parks have outstanding RV camping sites. They are wide, level, clean and have updated grills, picnic tables and fire rings. The sites are not Texas-sized but they have adequate space and are situated to allow for a reasonable amount of privacy.
Our site is right on the lake. It is an ideal spot for canoes and kayaks. The trees around us are littered with bobbers. I guess not all campers are fishermen.
March 25, 2021
March 25, 2021
Some thunderstorms boomed through last night but we were warm and dry and comfortable, and grateful that we were not in a tent. Plus, staying put in the rain is far better than facing a day filled with 18-wheelers.
The temperature has taken a dive and the skies are cloudy and threatening, and will remain that way until later on today. Still, we were able to get out and hike the Huckleberry Trail. The park is built on an aquifer and natural springs are abundant. The water features along this path were breathtaking.
March 26, 2021
FOG everywhere. It looked like I was driving right past the pearly gates as I ascended a mountain into the clouds, but this ride was the furthest thing from heaven…
The route between Greenbrier, Arkansas and Columbus, Kentucky was like a carnival ride from hell. There were endless miles of curvy, 2-lane roads, most of them without any shoulder. It was imperative to be attentive as there was no room for error. In the meantime, Car Play is giving me directions, the RV-Friendly map is also giving me audible directions, my husband is telling me where to go and NONE of them are on the same page! If that is not enough, there is also a podcast playing. My brain was close to bursting from sensory overload and the roads just kept getting narrower and more frightening.
I was praying for an Interstate. But no, what I got was a sign that said bridge out in 11 miles. Naturally, I had to go 12 miles. I stopped at a convenience store and the clerk assured me that the bridge was open, since it was Friday. I’m not sure why a bridge is only closed Monday through Thursday, especially since no work was being done on it. When I saw the bridge, over the Mississippi, to Cairo, IL, I wished that it had been closed. It was old, really old… and really narrow… and really long. My side view mirrors were playing pat-a-cake with the vertical cables.
East of the Mississippi
I had a true attitude of gratitude when we pulled into our site at Columbus-Belmont State Park. We had the perfect view of the Mississippi River.
The park is the site of a Civil War battlefield and Fort Quinby. You can hike through the trenches that were built by Confederate soldiers in an effort to protect themselves from artillery fire.
The earthen works are impressively large.
Sadly, this park is slowly crumbling into the Mississippi River, as earthquakes, mudslides and directional changes of water flow have taken their toll.