Tuesday, November 26, 2013

My Travel Year in Review

As my camper sits parked and winterized in the driveway waiting for the new year, its a good time to reflect back on my travels over the past year.  2013 was another year that I was able to continue living my dreams (and some nightmares).  I was fortunate to continue traveling even though my health was a challenge for much of the year.  At times, it would have been easy to just stay home, but I was determined to not give in to those thoughts and let a disease deter me from getting out and living life.    

Taking a break at Gulf Islands National Seashore in March

My Roadtrek Class B RV helped make this possible.  I had a bathroom wherever I went and a bed a few feet away when I needed to rest.   I paced myself, sat when I needed, slept late, and quit early.  I took extra days to get places.  I wasn’t in a hurry to get anywhere and didn’t try to do things I knew I couldn’t.  Also, my wife accompanied me on several trips and offered to come rescue me if I found myself needing help and unable to continue.

At times, I was running on fumes, but here’s a summary of what I was able to do;

·         Took 8 trips visiting 19 states.
·         Spent 116 days away from home, 82 of which were spent camping in my Roadtrek van.
·         Drove over 18,000 miles traveling by RV and boat.
·         Drove across the Mississippi River and up to the top the Rocky Mountains.
·         Visited 13 National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, and/or Historic Sites.
·         Visited 11 State Parks.
·         Visited 4 Presidential Libraries.

I didn’t do a lot of hiking or biking, but did spend time sitting on some great beaches.  Siesta Key Beach in Sarasota and Bowman’s Beach on Sanibel Island were the best.  Watching the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico on St. Josephs Peninsula was also pretty spectacular.

Sitting on the beach in January instead of shoveling snow back home

Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico in March

On the Trail Ridge Road in June
I got easily winded walking up a flight of stairs, but the views from the Trail Ridge Road in Rock Mountain National Park took my breath away.  The 12,000 ft. elevation may have also had something to do with the shortness of breath.
I saw lots of wildlife and took lots of pictures.  There were grizzly bears, buffalo, coyotes, elk, deer, eagles, loons, hawks, egrets, dolphins, manatees, and turkeys.  Watching the manatees in Blue Spring State Park in Florida was pretty spectacular. 

With the manatees at Blue Spring State Park in February
I did my first “freegan” camping spending several nights boon docking at Walmarts, Truck Stops, Casinos, and Cracker Barrels.  I never had a problem at any of these places.  I always asked permission and was always welcomed.  The web site OvernightRVparking.com was a great find that paid for itself with one overnight stay.

Travel wise I had a fulfilling year. I explored more places on the east coast, spent the winter rambling around Florida, and took 35 days traveling out west in the Rockies. I did more than I thought I would be able to do and I’m glad I pushed myself to get out there and go places.
Boon docking at a Pilot truck stop in Missouri in June
The year also ended on a high note.  After battling progressively worsening IBD symptoms for the past 3 years, I found that one of the mainstream drugs I was taking was actually making things worse.  I was the victim of a rare side effect that only affects 1-3% of the people who take it. Thanks to the specialist who made the recommendation, my symptoms are almost gone and I’m getting back to normal.  Second and third opinions are worth every penny.

I have much to be thankful for. I got my health back, have a great supportive family, have great doctors helping me, and was able to travel and live my dreams.

2013 was a great year and I hope 2014 is even better. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Washington DC - Part 2

As a country boy, I live in a rural place surrounded by nature and open spaces.  My neighbors are cows and cornfields and the tallest things are the trees.  Whenever I travel to a big city, I marvel at the size and closeness of everything.

Washington exudes grandness.  The buildings, statues, and monuments are all huge.  The size of many building were purposely built to show this grandness.  The National Archive building takes up a whole city block.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Washington DC - Part 1

One of the benefits of being retired is that its easy to take a spur of the moment trip.  I'm the type of guy who could pack for a lunar expedition in less than 30 minutes.  Having an RV makes it even easier.  Such was the case for my recent trip to Washington DC in mid November.  With about a days notice and a check-in with my wife (she had to work), I packed up and headed south to visit the Capital.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Roadtrek DIY Modifications

Thought I'd share some of the small modifications I've made to my 2012 Roadtrek 190 Simplicity.  These aren't product endorsements, advertisements, and I'm not promoting the products or vendors.  I did all of these myself, but got the ideas from seeing what others had done.  It's in that spirit that I'm sharing the improvement ideas and things I've done.

This year, I added a stone / bug deflector to the front hood.  I found that the leading edge of my hood was consistently getting plastered with bugs and taking some chips from small stones.  I got the deflector from Weather Tech on the Internet.  It is a custom fit for the Chevy Express Van. Cost was $60 plus shipping and it attaches to the underside of the hood with two self taping machine screws and adhesive strips.  It took about 30 mins to put it on.  And it works.  No more bugs plastered to the hood.

Stone & Bug Deflector
I also added side window deflectors to the drive and passenger side windows.  These are also from Weather Tech and cost $60 plus shipping for the pair.  These are custom to the Chevy Express Van.  They fit snug into the window channel slot, no tools needed.  It took about 15 mins to put them in.  These cut down the wind flow into the van when you crack the window open. They also keep the rain out.

Side Window Deflector
I have an armoire behind the drivers seat.  I added a gallery molding to the top of the armoire so I could use the top of the armoire to store soft items such as bread, cereal boxes, chips, tissues, etc.  I got the gallery molding from Home Depot.  Cost was $20.  I had to cut the molding and screwed it to the armoire top.  The molding is maple, but I stained it to match the cherry finish of the armoire.  It took about 30 mins to put it in, not including the finishing time (staining and polyurethane).

Armoire top with gallery molding
In the picture above, you'll also see that I added a holder for a hand soap dispenser and / or hand sanitizer to the outside the cabinet above the sink.  I made it out of 1/2 scrap wood that I had in my wood shop.  I used 1/2 maple, which you can buy small pieces at Lowe's or Home Depot, and stained it to match the cabinet.

I added another towel holder to the top of the bathroom door.  I used a 16 in stainless steel cabinet pull that I got from Lowe's. Cost was about $39.  I needed to drill two holes in the top of the door to put screws thru to secure the pull to the door.  It took about 15 mins to put on and looks great.

Lastly, I needed a clock in the rear of the van to be able to see the time while in bed or while watching TV.  I made a small little shelf in my shop out of 1/2 scrap oak wood and got an inexpensive alarm clock from Walmart.  I put the shelf on the wall below the DVD player and just above the TV.  I used self adhesive Velcro strips on the shelf and the bottom of the clock to hold it in place.

Clock on small shelf
Total cost for all of these mods was just around $200.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Camping Around Other People

I recently read a blog article about how to avoid crowds and get away from other people during busy camping periods.  Not many us like traffic jams, long lines, and crowded venues and roads on busy holidays.  And no one likes a noisy neighbor.  But this article didn't sit well with me. I didn't agree with some of the authors views.  And as I pondered it more, I realized that most of my camping has involved doing just the opposite.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Wintering in Florida

As the leaves fall off the trees and the cold weather approaches, many RV owners begin the process of winterizing their RVs and parking them for the winter.  For me, I use this time to prepare for a migration to a warmer climate and the start of a new camping season.

Ever since I retired 5 years ago, I've been lucky to be able to spend part of most winters in Florida.  We started out trying it for a month, then two months, and last year we were there for almost three months.  We've mostly rented condos and houses in Florida but last year we spent about half our time camping in our class B RV.

One advantage of having a class B RV is that you can park it anywhere.  It will easily fit into a rented condo parking space as well as a RV Park camping site.  Extended stay-put camping can be a little challenging in a class B, especially on cold or rainy days.  But we've found that mixing up our trip south with stays at a rented condo and then doing some camping is pretty enjoyable and economical.

Last year we started out renting an oceanfront condo in St. Augustine Beach for the month of January.  Then we went camping to the Fort Myers and St. Petersburg areas for three weeks.  Then it was back to New Smyrna Beach in a rented house for three weeks and then two weeks of camping in the Florida Panhandle.

Fort Myers Beach

This year we're doing something similar.  In January, we're heading for the warmer parts of Florida first.  We'll be camping for a few days at Turtle Beach Campground in Siesta Key and then we'll do two more weeks of camping in an RV park in Fort Myers Beach.  This is a big mecca for snowbirds with many RV parks.  The weather in January is warm (in the 70's during the day) and the beach is wide and long.

San Carlos RV Park
Staying in a RV park can be challenging for some, especially in a small class B. You're parked shoulder to shoulder and dwarfed by big class A rigs or 5th wheels.  But RV parks have many amenities, full hook-ups, and I've found most snowbirds to be super friendly.  In Fort Myers Beach, we'll stay at San Carlos RV Park.  Its a small park about a mile from the beach.  Its an easy bike ride or trolley ride to the beach and restaurants.  Everyday, the snowbirds all gather at 4pm for cocktail hour at an empty site.  Everyone is welcome and its a nice chance to meet people and socialize.

The RV park rates are pricey compared to state parks.  We'll pay $53/night for our stay, but for me its worth it for having full hook-ups, a pool, TV, laundry, internet, and be close to a great beach.  Just a quick note about the state parks.  Florida's state parks are beautiful, but getting into the ones in southern part of the state during the winter can be challenging.  Many are booked 11 months in advance.

View from St. Augustine Beach Condo

From Fort Myers, we'll head north to St. Augustine Beach to spend the month of February in an oceanfront condo.  We like this area.  Its a little cooler than Fort Myers (day time temps in the 60's), but much less developed and the beach is one of the best.  Renting a condo is a lot pricier than camping.  The monthly rate for the condo with taxes and fees is $2,800 or about $100/day.  You can spend a lot more in other areas or somewhat less for not being near the ocean.

In March, we'll head to the panhandle for a week camping at Navarre, near Pensacola.  We'll stay at Emerald Beach RV Park, which is on the water.  The rate at this park is also $53/night with full hook-ups, TV, internet, laundry, and pool.  The Gulf Islands National Seashore on Santa Rosa Island is right across the causeway and about a 3 mile drive away.

From Navarre, we're heading across the country for a 2 month road trip to Arizona and New Mexico, but that's a posting for another day.

For our stay in Florida, the expenses not including food (which is almost the same as being home) or gas to get there are as follows;
    • Camping fees     $1,156
    • Condo rental       $2,800
    • Total                    $3,956
So, its about $4,000 for our stay in Florida.  Cost for avoiding 2 months of snow and winter: Priceless!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Hyde Park and West Point, New York

Not all travel adventures need to entail long journeys to far away places.  As I recently discovered, sometimes there are interesting places nearby that we discover accidentally or through casual reading.

Such was the case when I read a recent travel article about the lower Hudson River Valley.  In the past few years, I've read a few biographies of past presidents (Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson) and started visiting Presidential libraries in my travels.  Having enjoyed Doris Kearns Goodwin's book "No Ordinary Time", I was pleased to learn that the FDR Presidential Library and Museum along with FDR's home was in nearby Hyde Park, NY.  Looking at a map, I learned that Hyde Park is also home to the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site and the Culinary Institute of America.  Another 20 miles down the road from Hyde Park is the US Military Academy at West Point.  If you're passing in or out of New England via I-84 over the Newburgh bridge, Hyde Park is about 25 miles north of Newburgh.

All of this was just 3 hours away.  That was sufficient to spark a spur of the moment 2 day road trip.  It was easy to pack the Roadtrek for this short trip and my son Cavin was eager to join me. 
The FDR Presidential Library and Museum and FDR's Home sits on 265 acres over looking the Hudson River.  Its now managed by the National Park Service.  FDR's father, James, acquired the site in 1867.  What started out as a small farm grew to over 800 acres and became an estate called Springwood.  The original farm house was enlarged over several years to become a small mansion.  It included carriage house and horse stable with much of the land being used for farming and grazing.

FDR was born at Springwood and it was his life long home.  His mother, Sara, inherited the estate upon her husband's dead in 1900 and she continued to live there until her death on 1941.  In 1945, FDR donated it to the Department of Interior but retained rights for the family to live there.  It is now maintained by the National Park Service.

The FDR Presidential Library and Museum is on this site as well as the Henry A. Wallace Visitor Center.  It costs $7 to visit the library/museum and another $7 to take a 1 hour guided tour of the home (free for Annual, Senior, or Access Pass holders).

Main Living Room

FDR's Bedroom


Cavin and I spent 3 hours taking the tour and going thru the museum.  Even though I had learned a lot reading the Doris Kearns Goodwin book, I learned a few new things about FDR.

  • He was home schooled at Springwood until he was 14 when he was sent to attend Groton Academy on Massachusetts.
  • He attended Columbia Law School upon graduating from Harvard but dropped out due to boredom.  He ended up studying the law on his own and passing the NY Bar Exam.
  • He became paralyzed due to polio at age 39 and was initially paralyzed from the chest down.  With rehab work he regained the use of his upper body but was permanently paralyzed from the waist down.
  • He continued to believe he could regain the use of his legs and continually walked with crutches dragging his legs up and down the long driveway at Springwood.  
  • He served two terms as governor of NY and the public never new that he was paralyzed and couldn't walk.
  • He would get to his second floor bedroom at Springwood using a manual luggage lift (a large dumb waiter) and pull the ropes to lift himself up to the second floor.
  • Eleanor hated living at Springwood.  After finding out about his affair with Lucy Mercer (her former social secretary), she soon moved out to her own cottage in Hyde Park called Val Kill. During FDR's presidential years she kept an apartment in New York city.
  • FDR suffered from high blood pressure, angina, coronary artery disease, and congestive heart failure yet he continued to smoke up until he died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 63.  His last words were "I have a massive pain in my head".
Most of us are still benefiting from his many legislative accomplishments that include;
  • Federal Minimum Wage Law
  • FDIC Insurance
  • Social Security
  • National Labor Relations Board
  • Soil Conservation Service
  • Repeal of Prohibition (21st Amendment)
Cavin and I really enjoyed our visit.  The park service does a great job with the tour and facts of FDR's life.

Cavin with Eleanor and FDR
There is a state park nearby that offers camping.  The Mills Norrie State Park is about 5 miles away and sits on the Hudson River north of Hyde Park.  There are 55 campsites with no hook-ups but it does have showers, restrooms and a dump station.  The camping fee is $15/night.

The Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Park is 2 miles north from the FDR home.  Its also run by the National Park Service and offers tours of the home and grounds.  Cavin and I ran out of time and were not able to visit this site.

About three miles south of the FDR Home is the Culinary Institute of America.  This has been called the Harvard of culinary colleges.  You can visit the college campus and there are four restaurants that are open to the public and staffed by the students.  We chose to just get an afternoon snack and drink at the Apple Pie Bakery Cafe. I can attest that the chocolate mouse was very good.

West Point Museum

On our second day we drove down the Newburgh, crossed the river and proceeded about 17 miles south to West Point.  At the entrance to the Military Academy, there is a Visitor Center and the West Point Museum which are free and open to the public.  The Visitor Center highlights the Academy and Cadet life.  The Museum houses collections on historical warfare, US military history, US wars, firearms, and the Military Academy.  Bus tours of the academy are available for $13.  These are the only method of public access to the Academy grounds.  We spent 2 hours going through the Visitor Center and Museum, but skipped the bus tour.

Some interesting thing I learned and saw at the museum;
  • Geronimo's rifle that he gave up when he surrendered
  • Herman Goering's pistol and baton that Hitler gave him when he promoted him to Reichmarshall.
  • Patton's Thompson Machine Gun that he kept in his jeep during WWII.
  • Eisenhower's small .38 caliber pistol he kept in his jacket.
  • A copy of the Japanese Surrender document signed on the USS Missouri.
  • Robert E. Lee was Superintendent of the West Point Military Academy from 1852 to 1855.  
  • Douglas MacArthur was also Superintendent of the West Point Military Academy from 1919 to 1922.  He was nominated for the Medal of Honor three times and was awarded it for his defense of the Philippines
Here are some more pictures from our trip.

Cavin with Churchill

At the Library Museum Entrance

FDR's Oval Office Desk (he kept Hoover's)
Roosevelt's edits to his famous speech on Dec 7, 1941

Friday, September 20, 2013

Long Island East End Adventure

My wife and I took a few days in the Roadtrek to do a road trip to the east end of Long Island, NY.   The East End comprises the North Fork and South Fork and includes Shelter Island, the Hampton's, and Montauk.  It's an easy two hour drive south thru Connecticut for us to reach New London, CT and take the Cross Sound Ferry to Orient Point on the North Fork.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Rhythm and Roots Music & Dance Festival

One New Years Eve (I think it was 1998), I was watching a couple dance to a group called the ZydeCats.  The group was a Zydeco band and the couple was doing a dance that sort of looked like a stationary version of the 2-step.  The only other people dancing were me and my wife.  We had just learned to dance and every so often the group would play a song that we could Swing to.  At the band's break, we walked over to the couple and asked them what type of dance they were doing.  They said they were doing the Zydeco.  That didn't register much with me.  But the woman added the following comment; "If you want to learn how to do this dance and dance to this music, then you need to go to the Rhythm and Roots Festival in Charlestown, Rhode Island."

Festival Food Vendors

Well, its 15 years later, and I just returned from attending the festival for my 14th consecutive year!  This is an annual music and dance festival held for 3 days over Labor Day Weekend.  It focuses on roots music with a big tilt towards dance music from Louisiana.  The promoters import several bands and music artists from Louisiana, with many returning year after year.  This year there were four performance stages and two large dance pavillions.  Its held at a large municipal park in Charlestown, RI which accommodates about 1,500 campers and twice that many day visitors.  Its a popular festival with people coming from all over the country to listen and dance to Cajun and Zydeco music.  And its not all Cajun and Zydeco music.  There's also usually some blues artists, country, string band, and rock a billy. 

Zydeco Dancing at Rhythm and Roots
I learned how to Zydeco dance at this festival as well as learned the Cajun 2-Step and Cajun Waltz.  Zydeco dancing is like doing a 2-step "in a bucket".  Its a partnered dance that is led in a closed ballroom position but also has an open freestyle position.  Its a lot of fun and can be infectious. I know because once I learned it, we started going to monthly Zydeco dances in Rhode Island. That led to going on two Zydeco dance cruises to the Caribbean.  Then there was the week long Cajun / Zydeco music themed bicycle tour thru the Cajun country in Louisiana.   And we started attending an annual Cajun / Zydeco dance festival in Connecticut. 

This year, attending the festival was somewhat uncertain for me.  I had been feeling poorly most of the year due to my IBDs getting worse and being anemic.  I'd lost another 10 lbs and hadn't done any dancing for almost a year.  I bought a festival ticket early in the year out of habit, but wasn't sure I'd have the energy for any dancing or be able to stay on my feet for any duration.  But in mid August, I started to get some energy back and started feeling better.  At Labor Day approached, I was apprehensive and undecided. It would be easy to just stay home, but then again I could try to go for maybe a day or two, follow a slow pace, try to stay off my feet, rest when I needed, and head home early if my energy waned.

But the music was a big pull.  This year, there was a great line of top Louisiana bands which included Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, Geno Delafose and French Rockin' Boogie, The Red Stick Ramblers, Preston Frank, and Corey Ledet and his Zydeco Band.  They also had some great artists I hadn't seen (Albert Lee, Carolyn Wonderland, Amy Helm) and some other blues artists (Steve Earle, Bill Kirchen, Jason D. Williams, Marcia Ball) that I hadn't seen in a few years.

Seeing my friends was also a big pull. Going year after year, I've gotten to know several people who love this music and like me, return each year.  They've become an extended network of friends who I look forward to seeing each year.

My wife had to work part of the week-end and with my uncertainty, she decided to pass on attending.  So, after vacillating a bit more, I decided to go solo.  I took my Roadtrek van (equipped with its own bathroom), took a bike so I wouldn't have to walk so much, packed some healthy food, took plenty of toilet paper, two bags full of medications, extra clothes, a cowboy hat, a pair of dancing boots, and headed for Rhode Island.

Festival Campsite on an old tarmac
Camping the first night before the festival started, my colitis flared up and I wasn't sure I'd make it to the start.  Perhaps I would just head home before things got worse. But I took it hour by hour, toughed it out, and told myself I'd feel better once I heard some music, saw some friends, and got couple of dances under my belt.

It was a prescription that worked.  The next day, I got a good nights sleep, ate all the right foods, and things quieted down.  I had some butterfly's in my stomach on my first foray onto the dance floor.  But after a couple slow Cajun Waltz's my confidence spiked. I hadn't got winded or light headed and didn't have to run to the bathroom.  A good feeling set in that kept improving over the week-end.  The dance steps all came back, friends hugs and warm greetings lifted my spirits, my bowels stayed quiet, my energy was fine, and the music was great. I took is slow but was able to Zydeco, Waltz, Swing dance, and Two Step through out the week-end.

Carolyn Wonderland

The best music is always the stuff I haven't heard before.  For me, the best were blues guitar player Carolyn Wonderland jamming with Bill Kirchen at the workshop stage.  I was amazed at these two artists trading lead breaks with each other on songs that they just picked out the blue having never rehearsed or played together. There was lightning fast finger picking guitarist Albert Lee, who has played with Eric Clapton, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, and Bill Wyman, playing rockabilly tunes.

Albert Lee

There was country singer Yvette Landry's soulful singing.  I really liked the new songs that Steve Earle sang along with some of his older material.  And then there was the honkytonk manic piano player Jason D. Williams driving the audience crazy with his antics.  New Cajun bands The Revelers and Feufollet played some great dance tunes.

Jason D. Williams

Thank you Elizabeth, Jane, Jeni, Shelly, Syd, Tricia, and Vicki for the greetings, hugs, conversations, and dances.  I'm so glad I went and got to see / dance with most of you again. Also, it was nice to see friends Peter, Janine, Whitey, and Jim again.

Several years ago when I had a temporary bout with depression, a therapist told me I needed to force myself to do the things I like doing.  He told me it would be hard but assured me that if it got back doing those things, it would help me feel better.  It worked back then and although the circumstances where different, it worked again this time.

 I'm so glad I made in back to Rhythm and Roots again.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Travel Technology

We all travel with technology these days.  It’s pretty amazing what we now have in a small device  to help us find our way, stay in touch, find a camping spot, fix a problem, entertain ourselves, and help cook a meal.  I can’t even think of not traveling with some of these items. 
I know each will have their own preferences and things they have found that works for them.  I thought I’d share what I’m currently using to help me while I’m on the road.
  • Midland Portable CB with NOAA Weather Radio to get local weather broadcasts.  This unit is about the size of a wallet.  There’s not a lot of CB traffic these days but it good when there’s a tie up and for weather info when I can’t get on-line.  Its also good for when NOAA issues alerts for the local area you're traveling in.
  • Garmin Nuvi 550 Motorcycle GPS – I bought this for my motorcycle and also use it in my RV.  Its water proof and fairly indestructible.  It has a windshield mount, does audio instructions, and I can program it to tell if I’m a motorcycle, car, or truck.  Tells me what's nearby for services (gas, ATM, stores).  I have the latest US maps installed on a SD card.
  • ASUS Eee Netbook PC – I got it before smartphones and tablets became the rage.  I primarily use it for off line writing and blogging.  It runs MS XP, has wif-fi, a 5+ hr battery, has a very small footprint, and still good for basic stuff when a keyboard is needed.
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 Tablet  - My main web access device.  It does wifi and 4G LTE mobile data.  It also functions as a mobile hotspot when I want to connect my netbook.  It has a 7.7 inch LED screen and can even watch movies on it.  I use this in lieu of having a smart phone.
    • Travel apps (all free unless noted) 
      • Standard stuff –access to all email accts, Google Maps, Weather, internet
      • GasBuddy - to find the lowest gas price based on your GPS location 
      • Skype - for long distance and video calls with family
      • RadarNow! – instant access to the current NOAA radar image based on your GPS location.  No adds, just the current radar image
      • Compass – turns your screen into magnetic compass (good for finding which way the sun will be setting / rising) 
      • Allstays C-RV Lite – free app showing camping spots
      • Sanidumps Lite – where to find a local dump station
      • iTriage – all in one medical app to diagnose an ailment, find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals, medication info and for first aid procedures.
      • RoadNinja – shows what’s near your Interstate exit
      • myPilot - Pilot/ Flying J mobile app for travel planning and finding tuck stops in your area.  Shows the facilities at each Pilot and Flying J truck stop. 
      • Recipes – mobile cook book app 
      • Flashlight – turns your rear camera sensor on bright to use as an emergency flashlight.  Comes in great when you loose power and can’t find a flashlight 
      • Games – Scrabble for playing remotely with friends and family while on the road (better than WWF IMHO) and Cribbage for playing against friends or the computer.
      • OvernightRVParking.com – web based site.  Cost $25/yr. but shows you where you can park overnight based on recent user feedback. Shows, Wal-Mart’s, Cracker Barrels, Cabelas, Casinos, Truck stops, etc.  It was accurate and up-to-date on my recent western road trip.  It pays for itself with one stay.
  • LG Octane Cell Phone – basic 3G phone using Verizon Family share plan for mobile calling and text.  Has all my contacts and contacts are synced with my tablet.
That’s my list.

Friday, June 28, 2013

2013 Western Trip Summary - Day 34

Honey, I'm Home!!!!  My five week journey has come to an end.  I was on the road for 34 days, traveled thru 15 different states, and logged almost 6,600 miles.  I had a very good time.  I saw some great aspects of this country that I had never experienced.  I got to travel at my own pace, stop when I wanted, and change my route and itinerary as needed.  But it sure feels good to be HOME!

My trip is all chronicled in the previous blog entries so I won’t attempt to repeat or summarize.  But I will outline some observations and high points.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Waukee, IA - Day 30

At Kearney, the land was flat and mostly under cultivation in corn.  I can see where the University of Nebraska football team, The Cornhuskers, get their name.  I stayed overnight at the Fort Kearny State Recreation Park. It was a nice state park campground with 6 small ponds for fishing.  Next to the campground was Historic Fort Kearny.   The fort is all but gone, but there is a small museum and one building left from the 1848 fort.  The fort was built to protect the travelers on the Oregon and Mormon trails, which followed the Platte River west.  Once the railroad was built in 1869, the fort’s importance was diminished and by 1871 is was abandoned.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sandhills Nebraska - Day 27 and 28

I left the Black Hills and proceeded south to the western panhandle of Nebraska.  Before I left South Dakota, I stopped in Hot Springs to see the Mammoth Site.  In 1980’s, a developer who was putting in a housing project unearthed some large bones.  He got some scientists involved and determined they were mammoth skeleton bones.  They proceeded to do an archaeological dig and discovered numerous mammoth skeletons. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Custer City, SD - Day 25 and 26

I left Sheridan and continued my eastward trek to the Black Hills of South Dakota.  I enjoyed Wyoming and now it was time to see some new terrain.  I stopped in Deadwood to check it out and see what it had to offer.  Deadwood was established 1876 once the US government had taken the Black Hills away from the Sioux.  Deadwood sits in a gulch and was the center of the Black Hills gold rush craze which began in the 1870’s.  It was a rough and rowdy mining town with lots of saloons, opium dens, and brothels.  Wild Bill Hickok was killed there after being in town for less than 3 months. Once the gold rush was over, it focused on general mining but suffered a steady decline.  The brothels were finally shut down in 1980 and gaming was tried in the late 80's as a way to revitalize the area. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Custer Battlefield National Monument - Day 23

I left Cody and drove west across the Big Horn Basin.  Its 47miles of nothing but rolling scrub land interrupted by gullies that sits between the Abrasoka Range and the Big Horn Mountain Range.  I saw some prong horns along the way but that was about it. I stopped at a historic maker for the Bridger Trail.  Jim Bridger led wagon trains north to Montana in the 1864 time frame.  He took the route through the Big Horn Basin as an alternative to the  more easterly Bozeman Trail.  His trail wasn’t used that much due to lack of reliable water.  But today, almost 150 yrs later, you can still see the ruts left by the wagon wheels.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Cody, WY - Day 20 and 21

I left Yellowstone  looking forward to getting back to some civilization.  I went out the northeast entrance and planned to take a northerly route over the Beartooth Scenic Byway to Red Lodge, Montana and then turn south back to Cody.  The Beartooth Byway tops out at a little over 10,000 ft.  The northern section to Red Lodge had just opened.  I started out climbing up to Beartooth Lake.  It was a beautiful sunny day.  There were some ups and downs and I noticed my antilock mechanism on my front brakes was kicking in every so often around the corners.  I‘m not sure if there was some gravel in the road or if my brake pad were glazing from over heating.  But with more climbing to go and more downhills, I decided to turn back and take the easier route into Cody over the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Yellowstone National Park - Day 18 and 19

The only advance reservations I made for this trip were at Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park and at Canyon Village in Yellowstone.  It was a good move.  Canyon Village is central to the park and is one of five campgrounds (there are 12 in the park) that offers full services like flush toilets, laundry, showers, and a dump station.  It has no hookups but does allows generators.  The campground had only been opened for 10 days and it was full each day that I was there!  The sites are set out in loops and are fairly close together.  The largest RV they can accommodate is about a 30 footer. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Yellowstone National Park - Day 16 and 17

The next stop of the Rocky Mountain Ramble was Yellowstone National Park.  Driving north from Grand Teton, its a short 20 miles up the road.  I came in at the southern entrance and for the next 22 miles there is not a lot.  The scenery is pristine coniferous forest with streams and ponds.  It reminded me of northern NH and northwestern ME.  I turned west at the West Thumb junction and did the Old Faithful to Madison loop.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Grand Teton National Park - Day 14 and 15

The jagged Teton Range sprang up abruptly on the horizon.  Very different from the Rocky's in Colorado.  I'll let the pictures do the talking.  The mountains dominate the landscape.

I stayed at Colter Bay Village Campground (not the RV park) in the National Park.  I can say I was very disappointed in the campground.  Especially since its in the National Park.  Sites were just pull-offs on the side of loop roads.  The bathrooms looked (and smelled) like they hadn't been cleaned in weeks.  It costs $21 per night and you have to pay for showers ($3.75).  The truck stops I've stayed at along the way were nicer.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Laramie and Lander Wyoming - Day 12 and 13

I said goodbye to Colorado and made my way north to Wyoming.  Rocky Mountain National Park had been spectacular and now it was time to more on.  Wyoming gave me a new landscape to marvel at.  It has pateau's, mesa’s, and canyons.

You see large jagged mountain ridges and sharp peaked mountains.  It has lots of wide open vista’s with little sign of development.  The terrain is rugged and rocky with scrub and sagebrush.  The terrain strata goes from green rolling hills, pale sandstones, jagged red rock cliffs and white capped mountains.  Livestock dots the landscape.  Ranching is a key occupation.  You don’t see any farms or cultivated land.  Its too rocky and the growing season is short.  It’s still at a pretty high elevation of 7,200 ft

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Rocky Mountain National Park - Trail Ridge Road

I drove the Trail Ridge Road today.  Its the highest road in the US at over 12,000 ft.  I did the first 20 miles to the Alpine Visitor Center and then retraced my route.  All I can say is that it is spectacular.  I happened to have a good day on which the road was opened (it gets closed for any bad weather, which happens a lot). Temps were low 50's at the high elevations and 70's down at 8,100 ft.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Rocky Mountain National Park - Day 7 and 8

I made it across the high plains and the Rocky’s appeared on the horizon the morning of Day 7.  From 30 miles away, purple mountains majesty rose above the fruited plain.  As I got closer, they just got more spectacular.  I had an extra day before I could check into RMNP, so I decided to take a easy day checking out the Sheplers store in Denver, re-supplying some food, and washing the van.  My overnight stay was the parking lot at Sam’s Club in Loveland, CO.  OvernightRVparking.com said it was ok as did the manager when I checked with the store.  Another freebie boon dock that was nice and quiet.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Abilene, KS - Day 5 and 6

I left Independence a day early due to a another bad weather forecast (more tornado, hail, and severe thunderstorm watches) and I had seen everything I came for.  When I left it was pouring.  There were blinding downpours all the way to Topeka.  It was pretty bad.  I heard that 3-4 inches of rain fell and there was some flash flooding along some creeks and rivers.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Independence, MO - Day 4 and 5

After visiting the USAF Museum, I left Dayton and drove about 75 miles west on I-70 to a truck stop in Spiceland, IN.  I quit early so I could take a nap and catch up on some sleep.  The truck stop was outside of Indianapolis and there wasn’t much in the surrounding area.  There was a threat of strong thunderstorms so I kept checking the sky, weather radar, and NOAA radio.  All we had were some off and on showers, which was ok with me.  There was a lot of traffic in and out of the truck stop with lots of RV's filling up and dumping out on there way home from the long week-end.  I was the only RV in the lot to spend the night.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Dayton, OH - Day 1 thru 3

After two long 400+ mile days, I made it to Dayton Ohio.  The drive out of New England is getting rote and boring because I’ve done it so many times.  I left in the rain and had a fairly uneventful drive down across CT, around NY on the outer thruway and over into PA.  My destination on Day one was Carlisle, PA.  It was a good spot to catch the PA Turnpike to get across the state.  My EZ-Pass continued to work great on all the toll roads in NY and PA.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Rocky Mountain Ramble 2013

I’m getting ready to head out on my biggest journey yet – a 6 week road trip out to Colorado, up thru and across Wyoming, into Montana, over to South Dakota, and down across Nebraska.  I know others have gone further and longer, but for me this will be my first road trip out west and 6 weeks will be the longest.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Winter Sojourn 2013 - Santa Rosa Island and Pensacola

After 4 days, we packed up and headed west again on Route 98, through the “Red Neck Riviera”, Panama City Beach and all the beach towns along the panhandle coast.  What a change from where we had come.  Miles of congested traffic, high rise condos, motels, mini golf, bars, eateries, scooter rentals, retail outlets, beach supply stores, etc. After 30 minutes of driving through this “development on steroids” I had more appreciation for The Forgotten Coast.  There are some nice small towns along Rt 30A like Seagrove, Rosemary Beach, and Watercolor that hug the water, but traffic just crawls at a snails pace.  Miramar Beach, Destin, and Fort Walton Beach are all heavily developed and look no different any other large developed areas in Florida. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Winter Sojourn 2013 - New Smyrna Beach and The Forgotten Coast

After camping for 15 days, it was back to more space and modern conveniences.  At New Smyrna Beach we had a house rented that was right off the beach near the Canaveral National Seashore.  I chose New Smyrna Beach because it was close to Daytona and I wanted to be there during Race Week.  New Smyrna Beach is very developed with lots of mid-rise condo’s all along the beach.

Monday, February 25, 2013

My Roadtrek RV - A Year In Review

************  UPDATE  ********************
Thanks for finding my blog!  You're welcome to read the content on this site.  I have moved all of the content from here to a new site at:  http://jdawgjourneys.com/.  There's all sorts of great info and new travel adventures posted at my new site.!  My Roadtrek was great, but I've upgraded to a Winnebago View Class C motorhome and like it even more than the Roadtrek. Head over to my new site to see what I've been doing and where I've been going.

At about this time a year ago, I purchased my Roadtrek 190 Simplicity RV.  While I had been camping for numerous years and owned a pop-up tailer, this was my first motor home purchase.  I was very excited about owning a motor home.  I was ready to undertake a period of travel and saw the motor home as the resource that would allow me to see and experience new parts of this country.

Overall, I can say that the Roadtrek has allowed me to travel to and experience new places.  Over the course of the last year, I took eight trips traveling to Maine (4 times), Connecticut, Quebec, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Florida.  I traveled over 14,000 miles and spent 70 nights in the Roadtrek.  New places I got to see included, The Gaspe Peninsula, The Outer Banks, Cape May, and the Florida Panhandle.  A good start for my first year.

Things I like about the Roadtrek are the following;

- It has a bathroom.  I have colitis and when I have to go, I HAVE TO GO!.  Having the Roadtrek gives me a bathroom where ever I go.  It really has helped get me out more.
- I can take it pretty much anywhere.  It can fit in most parking spots, drive on most roads, and fit in any campground.
- Its self contained and has everything for camping and travel.  I can boon dock on the road or at a music festival, stay at a state park with limited facilities or plug in at an RV park.
- Its a great road trip vehicle. Its easy to drive and handles well on the road.  Its easy to pull over and have lunch or take nap, park at a scenic turn out, or boon dock for the night.
- Its pretty efficient. I average about 18 mpg on the highway and around 15 mpg driving around.
- Its easy to maintain.  I've been able to do most of the routine maintenance like oil and fluid changes myself.
- Its been very reliable.  I've had one minor issue with the frig not lighting, but I fixed that myself by re-aligning the propane ignitor.  Everything else had worked without incident.
- Its comfortable to sleep in.
- Its easy to just take off and go on an impromptu trip.

I wouldn't say it has any short coming because I knew what I was buying.  But there are somethings that I have found can be a challenging;

- Stay put camping can be a challenging with such a small living space.  If it rains or is cold it can be confining.  Its not something you would want to take to Florida and spend the winter in.
- Moving around inside takes coordination - usually one person moves at a times.
- Its great for one or two people.  Not sure you want to try more.
- Cooking inside can be very limiting.  There's not a lot of space for food prep or extended cooking times.  Its also very easy to set off the smoke alarm.  Simple meals are best and we tend to eat out more that normal when we're traveling.
- Space is limited, so you have to take less.  Forget the golf clubs, gas grill, and multiple outfits.  I was a minimalist camper prior to getting the RV so this was easy for me.
- I wish the holding tank was a larger. I "go" a lot and tend to fill it up within two or three days.
- The generator is noisy when you use it since its not enclosed in a compartment. 

Some of the key add-ons and purchases I made to help with my travels include;

- The RV Superbag for sleeping.  Its more comfortable than a sleeping bag and easy to make up.
- The Yakima Doubledown 4 bike carrier. Fits in the hitch receiver and the bikes clear the spare tire.
- eBags Packable Cubes for holding clothes. They fit easily in the Roadtrek's storage shelves.
- Quick dry towels and face cloths from JC Penny.  Added grommets to all face clothes and towels for easy hanging.
- Added a plate rail molding on top of the amoire for added storage of soft items.

Overall, I've been pleased with my Roadtrek.  There are times I'd like something bigger.  Perhaps someday, but so far the Roadtrek is fitting my needs just fine.

I've already got several travel plans made for the upcoming year and looking forward to the next few years of traveling.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Winter Sojourn 2013 - Gulf Beaches

The second part of our winter sojourn was a camping trip to the southern gulf coast of Florida.  I'm now calling this our gulf beach tour because of all the beaches we're visiting. Our destinations were Fort Myers Beach and Fort Desoto Park in St. Petersburg.  We got everything repacked into the RT.  Balancing what we needed for a 12 week trip along with the bare minimum needed for some extended camping in the RT was a challenge.  Every cabinet and storage space was full.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Winter Sojourn 2013 - St. Augustine

For the first part of our winter sojourn, we spent the month of January at an ocean front condo at St Augustine Beach. We had a lovely 2 bedroom townhouse unit that had recently been renovated.  The beach was less than a minute walk.  We spent many days on the beach being near the water and enjoying the warm sunny weather.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Winter Sojourn 2013 - Journey South

I have been looking forward to this trip since October.  I was anxious to avoid winter and the cold, to get a change of scenery, and to be traveling again.  I did a lot of preparation and planning for the trip.  First, I had to plan our itinerary and make the necessary reservations.  I had to get the house ready, get everything put away for the winter, get the vehicles serviced, and get packed.  It seems to take longer each year, but maybe I’m starting to operate at a slower speed.