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.