Monday, September 24, 2012

Outer Banks - September 2012

After my usual summer outings to music festivals and camping in Maine, I was looking for a new place to experience with my RV.  My RV, a 20 ft Roadtrek 190 van, is great road trip vehicle.  I was reading a travel article about the Outer Banks of North Carolina and it caught my interest as a place to see that was an easy drive from my home.  Late summer, after schools are in session and the tourists are gone, seemed like a perfect time to go.

I planned a route down the mid-Atlantic coast that would take me down thru New Jersey to Cape May.  I had seen pictures of Cape May and it looked like another interesting place to visit.  Also, there is a ferry that will take you across to Delaware and the Outer Banks are an easy drive from there.  I planned a nine day trip and just waited for a stretch of good weather to set out.

We had an easy drive out of Massachusetts into Connecticut.  With the RV, I now have to avoid most parkways, due to restrictions.  So we took I-84 thru CT, crossed the Tappan Zee Bridge in NY, and then took the Garden State Parkway all the way down to Cape May.  Prior to leaving I checked with the NJ Turnpike Authority and RV's are ok on the Garden State Parkway.

There were some good campgrounds to choose from in Cape May.  We stayed at Seashore Campsites, which is about 3.5 miles outside of the Cape May town center.  The campground caters to seasonal campers but has plenty of nice sites for traveling campers.

I planned a two night stay figuring we would spend a day biking around the town and taking in the sites.  Its about a 3-4 mile bike ride into Cape May.  There's a bike path that takes you part way and then you need to bike over a large canal bridge and then into Cape May.  Anne and I spent the day biking and taking in the sites.  Cape May is a popular vacation destination with lots of hotels, B&B's, and fine restaurants.  The signature aspects of Cape May are its beach and its colorful Victorian era homes - its loaded with them. 

The town is bordered by a nice white sand beach that has a boardwalk and several changing stations and public bathrooms.  Here's a short video of the boardwalk.

Washington Street is the center of the shopping district and on the day we were there, the shops were having there annual end of summer Side Walk Sale.

This was perfect for Anne.  We split up and she spent a good part of her day on Washington Street and I biked around the town.

The homes are really spectacular.  Most all have porches and are painted in multiple colors.  Some streets are quaint and lined with shade trees.  It also seemed like many of the homes have been built into inns or B&B's.  Here's a collection of some pictures of houses in Cape May.

After a day of biking, the next day we set out for the Outer Banks.  The first stop was the Cape May to Lewes Ferry, which departs about 2 miles from our campsite.  The ferry runs every hour and we were booked on the 9:30 am.

When we got to the ferry terminal, there were perhaps 50-60 motorcycles lined up for  the ferry.  It was Bike Weekend in Ocean City MD and the bikers were on there way to the event. It was a pretty loud when that all fired up and roared onto the ferry.

The ferry crosses the Delaware Bay.  Its 17 miles as the crow flies and takes about 85 minutes.  It added a little bit of adventure to our trip.  It was a nice sunny breezy day which made for quite a bit of rolling on the boat.

From Lewes, DE we made our way to Rt 113 and took that down to Rt 13 all the way to the eastern shore of Virginia. These are divided 4 lane highways that were good but had more stop lights than I would have liked.

We took the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel over to Norfolk.  This is the longest bridge I've ever seen - its 23 miles from shore to shore and has a $12 toll each way. It was windy as we crossed which required keeping 2 hands on the wheel.

From Norfolk, we took a beltway around the city and then got on Rt 168 which brought us down to the Outer Banks.

When I planned the trip, I had heard (and seen on Google Maps) that the northern part of the Outer Banks is quite commercial and developed.  I wanted to experience the more remote sections and be as close to the water as possible.  While camping in Maine, we had met a couple that had recently camped at Rodanthe, which is on the northern part of Hatteras Island.  In this area, the land is only about 1/4 mile wide and the town is bordered on each end by the National Seashore.  The National Seashore runs three campgrounds on the Outer Banks, but they have limited facilities (no hot showers or electricity).  I chose Camp Hatteras in Rodanthe that has sites on the ocean as well as the bay side. It also has full hook up, pools, laundry, and cable TV.

As we got onto the Outer Banks, we drove thru the heavily developed areas of Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head.  If you're looking for strip malls, mini golf, go carts, shopping centers, and lots of chain restaurants, then these three town have it all.  It reminded me of Route 1 in Southern Maine except a lot bigger.  But after you leave these towns, and enter the National Seashore, it becomes quite desolated - dunes and ocean on one side and bay marshes on the other.

Rodanthe is at mile marker 40 and we rolled into Camp Hatteras just as the sun was setting.  The campground is nice.  Each site has a concrete pad and picnic table but there is no shade.

In August 2011, Hurricane Irene came thru and flooded the campground and most of the surrounding area with 3-4 ft of water.  It also took out most of the road leading into Rodanthe.  Camp Hatteras has done really well at rebuilding.  The KOA campground down the road is still rebuilding.

This section of the Outer Banks looks like its pretty prone of getting washed out when a hurricane comes thru.  Its very narrow and there's not a lot of vegetation to hold back the sea.   All the houses sit on high stilts so the ocean water can pass under them.  I think it also explains the lack of businesses in this area.  In Rodanthe, there is a couple of sandwhich shops, two restaurants, and two gas stations.  I guess getting wiped out every few years makes it tough to maintain a business.

Our campsite was about 150 ft from the beach.  We couldn't see it because of the high dunes, but could sure hear it and feel it.  While we were there, the surf was high, the wind blew a steady 15-20 mph and the air was filled with salt spray.  It covered everything and you had to shower at the end of each day to wash it off.

I spent the next day doing a little biking around town and just relaxing on the beach.  The waves were huge and mesmerizing to watch.

On our third day we drove down to the end of Hatteras Island to see the famous lighthouse and to go over to Ocracoke Island.  There are two towns that border Rodanthe to the south, Waves and Salvo, then there nothing until you get lower on the island toward Cape Hatteras.  Here's a short video that shows what it's like between Rodanthe and Cape Hatteras.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was neat.  We climbed up all 268 steps.  Its 208 ft tall and is the tallest lighthouse in the US.  I did fine, had no panic attacks even though I am terrified of heights. Anne even got me near the edge for a picture.

When we got to Hatteras Village there was a large line for the ferry to Ocracoke.  The ferry is free and usually runs every 30 mins.  We had to wait 90 mins to get on.  The ferry ride is about 40 mins and is a nice trip.  It goes thru some shallow water and and we hit bottom and kicked up mud a few times.

Ocracoke Island is small, about 13 miles long and 1/2 mile wide.  It's got more trees and vegetation than Hatteras Island and the structures are older.  There's a National Seashore campground and a small village on the south end of the island.  The village is a small artist colony with shops, bars, and a few motels.  Nice, but I was disappointed with it.  I though it would be more quaint and less commercial.

The only noteworthy thing about it for me was learning that the pirate Blackbeard (Edward Teach) was killed in a battle with two British Navy ships off the tip of Ocracoke Island in 1718.  Blackbeard was caught by surprise and fought to the death - shot 5 times and suffered 20 stab wounds.  Arrgh!

Howard Street Ocracoke Village
On Tuesday, we hung around the campground and did laundry.  We got some showers, threats of severe thunderstorms, and a tornado watch but nothing much materialized.

On Wednesday, we headed north to check out the Wright Bothers Memorial at Kitty Hawk and to drive north to the towns of Duck and Corolla.

The Wright Brothers Memorial was interesting.  I never knew why they chose Kitty Hawk, but learned that they needed the winds and the soft sand for landing.  It was a pretty remote place back in 1903.

We drove north on Rt 12 to the small town of Duck.  We were told that the northern sections of the Outer Banks above Kitty Hawk were very pretty and that advice turned out to be correct.  Duck was a very nice little town with several upscale shops and restaurants.  We didn't make it up to Corolla but were told that was also very nice.

On Thursday, we decided to head home.  It was overcast and the wind was still blowing pretty hard - not making for a nice day to spend outside.

Over the six days we spent on the Outer Banks, we pretty much saw it all.  It was a pretty place to visit, but the weather and conditions can be harsh.  While we were there there were severe rip currents in the water.  We saw the beach rescue get called out a couple of times for rescues.  At Rodanthe, the beach is narrow, steep, and constantly changing.  One day there was a nice 20ft flat shelf section to sit on and then the next day it was gone.

The place is also at risk being severely impacted by weather.  The damage caused by Hurricane Irene was extensive and my guess is that a few more years of bad hurricanes could cause more inlets to form and separate sections of Hatteras Island.  I'm glad we got to see it while it's still accessible.

Overall, we drove 1,560 miles, burned 86 gallons on gas, and averaged 18.1 mpg in the RV.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Gaspe - June 2012

On my bucket list has been a trip to northern Quebec to drive around the Gaspe peninsula.  The main road hugs the shoreline of the St. Lawrence River and goes all the way around to the Bay of Chaleurs.  I had seen pictures of the dramatic scenery and some of my family members have done the trip.  Timing was the key.  I wanted to do it before the road and campgrounds got busy during the summer travel months. I also wanted to wait for it to warm up so the camping would be comfortable.  I had a window of time at the end of June with a stretch of good weather forecast.  Anne wanted to go up to Maine and visit her Mom for a few days and wasn't up for a long road trip.  So I made some quick plans and took off.

My plan was to drive up through Vermont and into southern Quebec via I-91 and then proceed along the St. Lawrence River at a leisurely pace.  My plan was to drive about 150 miles/day which would be about 3 hrs of driving time and allow me several hours to explore and stop along the way without having to rush.  I wanted to see some of the national parks in the province and planned to camp in some of them.  I planned at least 6 or 7 days for the trip, but could stay longer if I wanted.

The first day I intended to do a big drive and get up near Quebec city.  The plan was to drive about 400 miles.  The drive up I-91 was pretty with Vermont living up to its name as the Green Mountain State.  Once I crossed into Quebec at Derby Line, Vermont.  The scenery in Quebec was much different from Vermont with lots of commercial development along Rt 55 and Rt 20.

I planned to stay at a campground in Levis which is right opposite from Quebec City.  I got there about 6 pm and got set up in a nice grassy site.

Camping Transit
The campground was small but had several seasonal campers and about a dozen other campers.

After dinner, I met my neighbors, Dennis and Jean from Granby, QC.  They were there to do some biking on the network of biking paths along the St. Lawrence River.  The bike paths were pretty extensive and had routes that went into Quebec City.  The campground, Camping Transit, was a good location to use because it was in a rural setting but only few miles from the ferry over to Quebec.  I wish I had brought a bike as I would have stayed an extra day to do some biking.

I sat around a campfire with Dennis and Jean for about 1 1/2 hrs.  Dennis could only speak a word or two of English and Jean could speak only a few words more.  With my limited French skills we were able to piece together conversations.  It was fun and the beginning of the cultural experience of traveling in Quebec.  In Quebec, all the road signs are in French and French is the dominate language.  I had traveled to Quebec City before and found that most people would speak some English if you asked.  On this trip, I would find that as I traveled north of the city very few people spoke any English until I got back closer to New Brunswick.

Day 2 was really the start of the Gaspe experience.  I headed north east on Rt 20, which is a 4 lane highway up until I reached Rimouski.  From there Rt 132 takes over and is a two lane road that hugs the shore line.  The terrain started out as gentle rolling farm land along the river.  Farming is still quite prominent in this area and at this time of year hay was being cut in most of the fields.  I saw a fair amount of campers and touring motorcycles on the road signaling the start of vacation season.  I felt good to be out on the road with them.

My destination on Day 2 was Parc national du Bic (Bic National Park of Quebec).  This park sits along the St. Lawrence River and encompasses a collection of coves, bays, and mountains.  The park is relatively new being established in 1984 and relatively small covering 12 square miles.  I rolled into the park at around 12:30 pm after having driven 160 miles and was greeted by a friendly park staff that spoke a few word of English.  I got a site in one of three campgrounds that are located in the park.  The campground was pretty empty but would get about half full by the time darkness came.

I spent the afternoon exploring the park.  I hiked up to one observation point that overlooks the main bay.  I then did a shore line hike that passed several coves and beaches and took me out to the main channel of the river.  The network of hiking paths were excellent.  The park also had a network of hard packed biking trails, which was another reminder that I should have brought a bike.  I could have spent another day exploring the part, but felt I had seen the best of what it had to offer.

For Day 3, my destination was Mont-St-Pierre, another 160 miles east on Rt 132.  After passing the last major town, Matane, the road hugged the shore line and the views were breathtaking.  Around every corner was an "Oh my God" view.  I went through the towns of Cap-Chat and Saint-Anne-des-Monts which were very picturesque. 


Saint-Anne-des Monts
I came to Mont-St-Pierre after rounding a corner and was hit with a gorgeous view of large mountains.  The small town sits on a beach that is nestled between large mountains.  It was the prettiest view of the trip so far.

There's not much in Mont-St-Pierre, just a couple of restaurants, a local marche (market), a motel, and a small number of houses.  There's also a municipal campground which was where I was spending the night.  The campground sits about 3/4 of a mile inland from the beach.  It had just opened the for the season a day before I arrived.  When I checked in I asked he lady if she spoke English - "Vous parlez Englais?" I asked.  "No - ne parle pas Englais" she responded.  So I fumble my way thru asking for a campsite with hook-ups in French and paid the fee.  I tried to ask about firewood -"avez-vous firewood?"  "Oui" she responded.  "La que (where)?" I asked.  "Over there in the bin" she said in perfect English.  So much for her not speaking English.

My campsite was wooded and there were only 3-4 other campers in the campground.  Being inland, the mosquitoes where out in force.  A few got into the camper and I spent part of the night swatting at them as they whined by my head.

Campground at Mont-St-Pierre
For this trip, I had prepared 4 days of meals and took stuff for beak fasts and lunch.  This worked out great as I wasn't sure what the market availability would be along the way.  Also, since I eat mostly organic and gluten free, having my own food made it easier to stay on diet.  I ate lunches at road side rest stops, which were every few miles along the road.  For dinner was able to use the microwave to heat up the dinner items I brought.  I didn't buy any food until Day 5 in Carleton-Sur-Mer.

As far as other amenities, I lost cell phone service once I passed Saint-Anne-des Monts and would not have any service or WiFi until I got to Gaspe.  For entertainment, I had a DVD with 20 classic westerns, a book, a mandolin, and campfires.

For Day 4, my destination was the town of Gaspe, which is near the eastern most end the the Gaspe Peninsula.  After leaving Mont-St-Pierre, the road continued to hug the shore line for a few miles.

It then turned inland and became very hilly with lots of sharp turns.  With the RV, it became an uncomfortable drive having the chug up 12% grades and then slow to a crawl to make it around a hairpin turn.  This went on for at least 20 miles and was not fun.  At Riviere-au-Renaud, I'd had enough and decided to turn south on Rt 197 and bypass Cape Rosier.  Rt 197 was a nice smooth ride into Gaspe.

I decided to check out Forillon National Park and got back on Rt 132 driving east along the shore.  I went into the Information Center for the park,  got a map and recommendations on where to go.  I would have liked to do the hike along the Graves trail to the very end of the peninsula, but didn't have the 2 hrs needed for the hike.  I settled on going to Cap Bon Ami, which is on the northern side of the park.  The road into Cap Bon Ami was a little scary being narrow and with a couple 15% grades.  The RV did fine, but anything larger wouldn't have made it.  When I got to Cap Bon Ami, the small parking lot was pretty full.  It was a brilliant warm sunny day and the views were outstanding.

Cap Bon Ami

I hung around for several minutes and just took in the beautiful vista's.  This national park is as pretty as any that are in the US.  It has three campgrounds (only one was open), several beaches, and many hiking trails.  It warrants at least two days to see everything and is on my list for a return visit.

I left the park and made my way back to Gaspe and to my campground for the night which was in the small town of Haldimand, south of Gaspe.

The private campground, Camping Gaspe, was right on the water and I had the pick of any site.  The owners where very friendly and spoke English very well.  The only downside was that the place was loaded with ticks and I had to keep brushing them off.

For Day 5, I would follow Rt 132 south to Perce and then the road would start to head westward around the Bay of Chaleurs.  My first stop was the town of Perce, home to the famous Perce Rock.  The town is very summery with lots of shops, motels, and restaurants.  The dominant feature is the Parc national de I'ile-Bonaventure, a national park of Quebec.  The park include Perce Rock and a small island about a mile off the coast.  The island, Bonaventure Island, is home to many seabirds and has a network of hiking trails.  The island is accessed by a park ferry from the town dock.  It takes a day to explore the island, which I didn't plan to do, but would like to return to spend more time in Perce.

Perce Rock
The road south of Perce flattens out and becomes more rural going through several small towns.  It runs a few thousand feet inland from the water and doesn't have the vista's that exist on the northern side the peninsula.  I stopped in Chandler to have lunch and change some more US dollars into Canadian.  The exchange rate was about 96%, for every US dollar, I got back 96 cents Canadian.  The town of New Richmond was nice with its tree lined streets.  My destination, Carleton-Sur-Mer, was by far the prettiest town on the south coast of the peninsula.  My stop for the night was the municipal campground at Carleton-Sur-Mer.

The campground sits on a sandy spit of land that juts out into the Bar of Chaleurs.  There wasn't much shade but its one of the nicest campgrounds I've been to.  I had a site with the ocean at my back and a view of the towns and mountains to my front.

The weather was hot and sunny when I arrived and was forecast to be the same for the next few days.  Since I was so near the ocean, with a nice site and great weather, I decided to spend two days.

I went out to eat for the first time at Carleton-Sur-Mer.  I ate at a pub style restaurant that had won awards for its food.  It was a Monday about 6 pm and I was the only customer.  I had pan seared sea scallops with lentils, saffron rice, and green beans.  I sat at the bar and talked with the bartender as I ate.  It was delicious.  But I found that restaurant food in Quebec is expensive.  My entree was $26 and I had a $3 soda.  Quebec has a 10% goods and services value added tax and a 5% general sales tax.  Add a 20% tip and my bill was $41.  Ouch!

While in town the next day, I noticed that there was a local fish market, a poissonniere. In fact I noticed signs for these in most of the towns.  I went in and saw they had a large selection of fresh and frozen seafood.  I order some sea scallop (petoncles) and fish cakes for a total of $5.75.  I got some local asparagus from the local marche and cooked myself a great meal for under $10.

On the extra day at Carleton-Sur-Mer, I did a bunch of chores (laundry, washed the van) and walked on the beach.  I was a nice relaxing day and I enjoyed the break form driving.

On Day 7, my route took me through New Brunswick and back to the USA at Van Buren, Me.  The road through New Brunswick (Rt 17) was boring with only one small town in over 40 miles.  I held off getting any more gas in Quebec since it was so expensive (over $5/gal).  My border crossing was amusing and frustrating.  Van Buren is a small town and there was one border agent.  I gave him my passport and he asked me about where I was from and where I'd been.  He then asked about what I had with me for food.  I rattled off what I had in the frig.  I mentioned I had some salad greens.  He seemed interested in that and came out of his booth and rested his arms on my open window.  "What's in the salad?" he asked.  I said "Ah - baby spinach, maybe some arugula, some romaine?"  He seemed to be getting frustrated and said "Any scallions or onions?"  "No" I said.  "Any tomatoes?"  "No" I answer.  With that I got a "Okay, have a nice day".  No questions about weapons, bombs, guns, money, or drugs.  At the Canadian border they welcomed me with a smile and have a great trip.  At the US, there was no welcome back, just a government employee trying to protect the US from foreign scallions and onions.  Another example of how screwed up our Homeland security is.

On my way back to Mass, I stopped in Presque Isle, Me to visit where I had gone to high school.  Much had changed since I'd been there in the late 60's early 70's.  But some of the landmarks like the high school, ski slope, town swimming pool, and theater were still there and brought back memories.
I drove down to Houlton and spent the night there at My Brother Campground.

From there I drove 250 miles to South Portland to visit with my parents.  I spent the night at Bayleys Camping Resort in Scarboro, Me near Pine Point Beach.  I treated my self to a lobster dinner on the beach - a fitting meal to end my trip with.

Pine Point Beach

Overall, I had a great road trip.  I saw some great scenery and got to experience a different culture just 400 miles north of my home.  I drove 1,768 miles over 9 days.  I spent $310 on camping fees and $414 on gas.  I used 107.6 gals of gas an averaged 16.4 mpg, not bad for an RV.  If I go back I would spend more time at Levis to bike in Quebec City, at Forillon National Park to hike and in Perce to see Bonaventure Island.  I did not go into Parc national du la Gaspesie, where some of the big mountains like Mont Albert and Mont Jacques Cartier are, due to the cool weather. Most of that park opens at the end of June.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Blast From the Bayou Festival - June 2012

I took the RV down to Preston, CT to attend the annual Blast From the Bayou Festival.  This is a three day music and dance festival that focuses on Cajun and Zydeco music.  Most of the bands are from Louisiana and most of the attendees are there to dance.  This was my 5th year attending, but it was the first for taking the new RV.  Anne had to work so I went solo – using it as a test voyage for the new RV and to shake the rust off my dancing mojo.

Preston is about 90 miles south from our home.  It’s a short drive and the venue, a nice full service campground, is about 5 miles from the Foxwoods casino.   The lure of the casino and some good food options pulled me into Foxwoods for a few hours the first day.   I should have left after the first hour when I doubled my money, but greed and too much time to kill made me stay longer.   The roulette wheel took back my winnings and then some and I left with only a good dinner in my stomach.  

The new RV was easy to set up.  I had a nice level site with full hook ups (electricity, water, sewer, and cable).   Plug in the power cord, hook up the cable and water and that’s it.   The weather was nice and mild with temps in the mid 70’s.  No need to use the A/C, I just opened the windows and put the ceiling fan on the thermostat.

 The first night had just three bands – one Cajun and two Zydeco.  I hadn’t done any dancing since December, and was a little anxious since I hadn’t done any serious dancing for over 10 months and it had been another year before that.  But it’s like riding a bike.   After a couple waltzes and zydeco two steps all the timing and moves came back.  It’s amazing how something that took a few years to master and doesn’t get used for several months comes right back. 

Having attended this festival for a few years, I’ve gotten to know several people who also attend.   This festival has a large following of regular attendees from all over the country.  It has groups from New York, Providence, and Philadelphia.  I met dancers from California and Florida.  The attendees are also mostly older, with most folks being in their 50’s and most having grey hair.   

One of my friends, Peter, made this comment as I greeted him and his wife on the dance floor. “Look at these folks, Jim – they all have grey hair like us.”   He was right.  On the dance floor in front of us were no 20 somethings or even 30 somethings.  No gen X’s or gen Y’s.  Just a bunch of folks from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s who never lost their love for some good dance music.

On Friday, we had 11 hours of non-stop dance music.  The Pine Leaf Boys and Geno Delafose were the big draws.  The Pine Leaf Boys take the sound of traditional Cajun and Creole music and jack it up on steroids.   They have a unique sound and it is infectious dancing music.   

Geno and his band French Rockin Boogie are one of the best Zydeco bands in the country.  They have a tight sound and with heavy rhythms.  When Geno’s playing your feet don’t stop tapping.    

Geno Delfose and French Rockin Boogie
On Friday, I paced myself and took a break every few dances to rest and rehydrate.  I quit early (8:30 pm) because my feet and hips were sore.

A few comments about the RV and some things I acquired to help with comfort.  The first is packing for my clothes.  On another blog site, I had seen a review for packable cube bags from eBags.  These are small briefcase size nylon bags you use to pack your cloths.  Instead of a large suitcase or duffel bags, I use 2-3 of the packable cubes for my clothes.  They work great in the RV because they easily fit into any of the storage compartments.  Instead of a large bag, you’ve got 2 or 3 smaller bags which fit anywhere.

The other accessory is the RV Superbag.   This is a large sleeping bag made out of two comforters that are zippered together with sheets that fit inside and are Velcro attached to the comforters.  One side is made out of a light weight comforter and the other side is a heavier weight comforter.  In hot weather you use it with the lighter weight on top.  In cold weather you just flip it over and use the heavier weigh on top.   It’s perfect for the RV because with the AC or heater its easy to manage the temperature in the unit so you don’t need anything  heavy.    And it’s easy to set up – you just unroll it and the bed is made up.  Roll it up in the morning and its put away. 

Saturday was mostly spent dancing.  First with Geno again,  Keith Frank Soileau Zydeco Band Family band, which had Kieth’s sister brother and kids in the band.  The little guy on the accordian played every song in the set.

Keith Frank Soileau Zydeco Band
There was L’il Wayne & Same Ole Two Step and Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys.  Steve Riley has a great sound with lots of good melodic waltz's and two steps.  His band is always a favorite with the dancers.  I made it another early night so I could watch the Celtics play.  Too bad they lost.

Sunday was more ancing, but I only danced a few numbers as I wanted to get packed up and headed home in the early afternoon.   

Overall, it was a good trip.  Everything worked fine with the RV and I got comfortable with a daily living routine.  The dancing was also great.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Louisiana Cajun Prairie - May 2000

In May 2000, Anne and I went on a biking vacation.  It was the first active adventure trip we had taken together.   We had recently got into Cajun and Zydeco music and I thought a trip to Louisiana would be a chance to experience the music first hand.  We went on a five day trip with a tour company that specialized in biking thru the Cajun country of southwest Louisiana.  

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Biking in Montana - August 1997

In the summer of 1996, I had the idea for my son Liam and I to take a trip together.  My desire was to do something physical and unique that we would remember for many years.  I’m not sure how I discovered the biking trips thru Backroads, but I picked one that was 5 days of biking and camping thru Glacier National Park in northern Montana.  It looked to be demanding and was in an area of the country that I had never been to.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Florida - March 2012

For Anne and me, 2011 was the year from hell.  I suffered from uncontrolled colitis flares.  Had one drug that made me sick as a dog, another drug gave me a burning blistering rash all over my arms and legs, and another gave me drug induced hepatitis.  But I recovered from it all by the summer and had a pretty good year.  It was going pretty good until Anne got diagnosed with uterine cancer and had to have surgery.  We had made plans to go to Florida for the winter but had to cancel everything at the last minute.  She came thru the surgery fine and was pronounced cancer free with no other treatments needed.  She recuperated during January and by the end or February was feeling well enough to travel.  With all that we had been thru, we were anxious to get away and just clear our heads.  With about a weeks week notice, we decided get the heck out of winter, jumped in the car, and headed south to Florida for the month of March.

I was fortunate to find a condo rental at St. Augustine Beach, which is an area we really like and have stayed before.  We took three days to drive down doing about 450 miles per day.  I didn't want to push my luck with the colitis and wanted to take it easy on Anne.

View from our balcony
Our unit at St. Augustine was right on the water.  We had a nice ocean view from the balcony and were near all the restaurants and attractions.  The beach was just a short 1 minute walk from our door. We like this area because of what seems like endless miles of beach.  and no high rise development.  There's about 12 miles of beach that stretches from where we were down to the Matazas Inlet.  Most of it wide and flat enough so you can drive on it.

St. Augustine Beach
We spent a lot of our days on the beach, usually taking a 1-2 mile walk each day.  Anne spent a lot of time beach combing for shells and sea glass.   My other daily activity was biking.  I hadn't done any biking since getting diagnosed with colitis in 2010.  I had biked extensively in this area in prior years, so it felt really good to get on the bike and log some flat miles on Rt A1A and into and around the city of St. Augustine.
But hanging out at the beach and people watching was our main activity.  This time of year the beach was pretty busy with lots of young people on spring break.  There we also lots of surfers.  It was very relaxing and refreshing to spend so much time near the water and to be in such warm weather.  Our temps were pretty close to 80 each day.  Daily attire was shorts, tee shirts, and sandals.
The other key activity entailed lots of eating.  There was barbecue lunches at Smokin Dee's, the worlds best key lime pie for desert at the Sunset Grille, Italian Gelato and Custard at Rita's, Smoothies at Stir it Up, Hush Pups at Bubba Gump Shrimp, and seafood at the Lion's Seafood Festival.  With all the eating, my weight held pretty steady.  All the walking and biking was a good offset.

Live Oak @ Washington Oaks SP
We visited Washington Oaks State Park, one of may favorites for all its flowers and flora.   We drove down A1A thru Crescent Beach, Bulter Beach, Marineland, Flager Beach, and Ormond Beach on our way to Daytona.

Crescent Beach

I brought Anne down to experience Bike Week, which was going on down in Daytona while we were there.  We saw thousands of bikes and bikers.  Anne even got to sit on her "dream trike", which she has alluded to wanting from time to time.  We had a fun time and but some of the few not wearing denim and leather.

Anne wanted to do a bonding experience while we were here.  One of her ideas was a Segway tour on the beach, which sounded pretty lame.  Swimming with the dolphins at Marine Land was good but pricey.  I suggested the zip line over the alligator pit at the Alligator Farm (Anne thought it was too scary).  We settled on kayaking in the estuary off Anastasia Island.  It was a good choice.  We had fun and the weather was perfect. 
We bought an RV while down thee, but that's a whole other story.  We spent St Paddy's walking around St. Augustine, taking in the sights and visiting the Irish bar Anne O'Malley's.

We finished up our visit with a concert at the St Augustine Amphitheater.  We saw Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt perform an acoustic set together.  We had seats right down front, which made it very intimate.  Here's a sample of what they sang.  The video is a little jumpy at the start but it settles down.  This video was shot the day before at their show in Savannah, but the set up and music was the same.  Had always wanted to see John Hiatt perform.  He is such a great song writer..

Overall, it was a great trip.  So glad we went and everything felt so good after the year we had been thru.

New Dawg House with Wheels

After much researching, looking, hoping, and agonizing, I purchased a recreational vehicle (RV).  It was a big decision given the costs involved, but I now have something that will help me to continue living my dream.   It’s my new dawg house on wheels - a 2012 Roadtrek 190 Simplicity model that I got while in Florida.  I am thrilled with it and can’t wait to start traveling.

Camping is not a new endeavor.  I’ve been camping since the early 1980’s, usually in tents or a pop-up trailer, and usually at a stay put destination like a music festival or state park.  I’ve gotten pretty seasoned at it and have assembled a good collection of gear to make a comfortable stay.

But I wanted to do more.  More traveling to points further away, more extended stays, more time on the road.  More spur of the moment travel without having to do a lot of packing and planning.  I’ve been to a lot of places in this country; road the cable cars in San Francisco, seen the sunset in Key West, danced to Cajun music in the small dance halls of Louisiana, been down into the Hoover Dam, saw the Cubs play at Wrigley Field, driven the Skyline Drive, visited most of the big Civil War battlefields, biked across Iowa and the Rocky Mountains, hiked the Grand Canyon, ate chilies in Santa Fe, rode the white rim in Canyon lands, swam in the surf in Hawaii, and been a snowbird in Florida.  But there’s still a lot more I want to see and experience.  

I want to see the mesa towns in northern Arizona, see the Navajo land in Canyon de Chelly, gaze over Monument Valley, drive the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Natchez Trace, see the Outer Banks, ride the Slickrock trail in Moab, go to Merlefest and see the bluegrass festival in Telluride, see Old Faithful and the Tetons, go to Graceland and the Grand Ole Opry, see El Capitan in Yosemite, and drive the Gaspe in Canada.  And that’s just the start.  

Being retired, I don’t need to worry about fitting this all in to vacations.  I can go anytime and stay as long as I want.  After reading “Governor’s Travels” by Angus King (former governor of Maine), who took his family on a 5 ½ month cross country RV trip, I realized I had to get out there and start traveling.  The key was getting a vehicle that would take me comfortably to the places I wanted to go, sustain me while on the road, and provide comfortable living quarters when needed.

The key factors for me in selecting a vehicle were the following;
  •  It had to have a bathroom – having colitis, when I have to go, I have to go and a bathroom needs to be nearby.
  • It had to be comfortable and safe to drive.  I didn’t want to drive a bus or something that was big and boxy, have to  worry about clearances and bridge heights, or have it cause white knuckles while driving .  I also wanted to be able to park it anywhere.
  • It was going to be more of a traveling vehicle versus a park and stay vehicle.  I was probably going spend more time behind the wheel than sleeping it
  • It had to be fuel efficient as possible – I wanted something that would get close to 20 mpg.
  • It had to be well made and have  a good track record for reliability.
  • It had to fit my budget – I was willing to spend $50-$70K for a vehicle, but no more
After a lot of internet research and going to RV shows.  I settled on a Class B motorhome.  A Class B is basically a van that’s been converted to an RV.  They’re a lot smaller than Class A’s (buses converter to RV) or Class C’s (truck’s converted to RV’s).  I also didn’t want to have to tow something that required set-up and take down time and a special tow vehicle.

Living in New England, I didn’t see a lot of used Class B listed anywhere and only a few dealers who carried them.  I had also decided I wanted one of the popular Class B brands – either a Pleasure Way or Roadtrek.  Both are made in Canada and each has very positive customer feedback.  I noticed that of all the used Pleasure Way’s or Roadtrek advertised on-line, most (about 60%) where in Florida. I was heading to Florida for part of the winter and decided that I would checkout some units while down there and potentially buy one if I found the right unit and the right price.

While in Florida two things happened that steered me towards getting a Roadtrek.  First, while staying in St Augustine, I happened to meet a Roadtrek owner and got to spend about an hour taking with him about his experience with his Roadtrek.   Ron, the owner, was very forthcoming about his experiences.   He was on his second Roadtrek (a 2010 190 Popular model).  We talked about road handling, tire pressure, macerator pumps, gas mileage, reliability, Roadtrek service, and modifications.  After my talk with Ron, I was very positive and comfortable with Roadtrek.  Second,  I went to look at a used 2008 Roadtrek at a dealer near Orlando.  Turned out this dealer was the largest dealer of Roadtrek’s in the US, selling units to customers all over the country.  They had a large inventory of all the various Roadtrek models, so I was able to look at all of the new models, in addition to the used one. 

The used one was ok (it was a 2008 Model 210 with 35K miles), but while waiting to take a test drive, I happened to look at a new 2012 Roadtrek 190 Simplicity, which is a less fancy, striped own version of their flagship Popular model.  It had everything I wanted, but was listed at $85K.  While test driving the 2008, I asked the salesman about any incentives they had going on for units.  Turned out Roadtrek was offering up to $10K in rebates but I needed to purchase by the end of the month, which was the current day.  When talking price on the used unit, I asked about what they could do on the new Simplicity model.   When they said they could possible do something close to low $70K that got my interest, because they were asking $65K for a 5 year old model.  I made them an offer - $70K with an awning added and I’d buy it that day.  After a couple back and forths with the sales manager and a call to Roadtrek  headquarters, they accepted my offer.

I was thrilled.  I got a new unit with everything I wanted.  Its got a bathroom, refrigerator, microwave, A/C, extra battery for DC electricity, water heater, furnace, cherry cabinets, outside and inside showers, closets, digital TV, DVD player, sink, generator, and a sofa that turns into a king size bed.  It all came with a 5 year warranty on everything, and at the price I wanted.

 I picked it a couple days later and spent about 2 hours with a technician going over how to operate everything before we drove off.  We drove it back to New England a few days later, smiling most of the way.

Now I’m getting it outfitted and planning trips. Can’t wait hit the road this summer and keep living my dream.