Monday, December 31, 2012

Houston, TX


Made it to Houston about 4:30.  The day held a little more dramatic tension than I bargained for.
Slept till 8:30 at Camp Wal-Mart!  So I hit the road this AM - later than expected which is to be expected, I guess.  I’m happy to report that I set the furnace at 65 last night and stayed warm with no noticeable drain of the batteries at all. 

Another day of rugged interstate miles.  It’s not so bad, if you’re training for the rodeo.  The chewed-up highways loosened all my circa-1966 fillings and I hate to think what it did to the GDB’s nuts and bolts.  This combined with a steely gray rain and endlessly ugly sprawl made for a challenging driving day.  I alternated between trying to avoid an accident and wondering why gasoline is so expensive in Texas.  $3.39 a gallon?  But isn’t this where gas comes from?   

The Texas Welcome Center had tons of tourist info.  This display alone contains camping info.

So I drive through the slog in order to stay overnight at Traders Village RV Park – northwest of Houston proper.  I choose it because it allows easy access to Hwy 290 – which I will want tomorrow.  And it’s a resort-type private campground, so I figured it would be pretty low-key New Year’s Eve-celebration-wise.  But also because they acquired a score of 10+++ on the bathroom facilities.  Important, because I longed for a quality personal grooming experience. 

I think my GPS is terminally ill so I'm not really sure how to get where I'm going.  I finally arrive and the patrolman on duty informs me that the office is closed till Wednesday!  What campgrounds close down for 2 days?  We chat in the rain for a while and he shows me a campground map with highlighted sites.  It’s clear to me, although not to him, that these are the unoccupied campsites.   

But he’s a very nice man so I don’t argue or insist. I ask if I may stay in the parking lot overnight.  He agrees and tells me to help myself to the bathhouse about 50 feet from where I’m parked.  Geez, do I smell that bad?  I race there in the pouring rain but the doors are fitted with combination locks accessible only to paying guests.  I run back to the GDB. 

I end up pulling the aisle rug back, opening the bathroom doors, leaning over the toilet, and shampooing/bathing using a plastic gallon jug of drinking water.  It’s a bit awkward but does the trick.  Note to self: next time, fill the water tanks.
It’s actually not a bad place to overnight, in this large parking lot between the campground entrance and a upscale flea market building.  The whole complex reminds me of a fairground.  And I have my very own security guard! 



My view.  Happy campers. 
Well, off to make dinner and read.  I head for Johnson City tomorrow.

                                

 

                                  

                                   Happy New Year!!!





 





Sunday, December 30, 2012

Layfayette, LA


My first Wal-Mart camping experience.  What a hoot!  I got here about an hour ago after several missteps which I’ll get to in a minute.   Right now I'm watching a beautiful sunset.  Over Radio Shack.  LOL!

Awoke at 3 AM this morning to discover that my head had frozen.  So it’s true that the heat pump is ineffective below certain temps.  I’m not sure how cold it was but the unit was churning out cool air.  So I activated the furnace and fell into a toasty slumber.  I find I actually prefer the furnace; it emits a comforting hum as opposed to the overhead unit’s Lockheed engine noise.    

Spent the morning lolling about cradled by the 360-degree view of trees in my campsite.  It was too cozy to think about doing much!  But it was 38-degrees with full-on sunshine and a nice day for a bus ride!

Arrived at the Blow Fly Inn in Gulfport, MS right before noon. 




We are Community Coffee zealots.  Turns out they made good tea too.

I have wanted to experience this place since I saw it years ago on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. 




The shrimp and grits didn't last long.  Lots of creamy goodness with the crunch of the fried grit cake.   

OMG!


After hearing my travel plans, the nice waitress gave me some complimentary banana pudding and french bread slices which I will have dinner tonight.  A dinner of …. wait for it …. she-crab bisque.  I’m so glad I went; it was a unique dining experience – one that I would never have known about if not for DD&D  


After lunch, I filled the tank ($3.07) and got in line on the interstate for 237 miles.  A nice day to be on the road – sunny in the 50’s.  I’m enjoying the Bryson audio-book so much.  It's fun to belly laugh at 70 miles per hour!  And it's so touching when he talks about his sweet, pathologically absent-minded mother.  
My gas mileage continues to improve.  When I bought the GDB, the onboard computer was reading 13.3 MPG.  I’m up to 13.9 now and feel it is destined to increase further.  I sometimes think the previous owners drove exclusively in gridlock, with full tanks, uphill all the way.   


I was longing for a nice hot shower tonight and intended to stay in a campground.  However, the one on my route that was reasonably priced turned out to be16 miles down a road that looked and felt as if it were recently bombarded by meteors.  We know from living here for 4 years that LA, of all the states, has the worst roads. (As residents, we were actually in favor of a property tax hike in order to improve the roads).  So I turned around quickly – I just couldn’t do that to the Good Deal Bus!

Next, I called the mega-Bass Pro Shop nearby but they don’t allow overnight parking.  Then I followed a sign to a Casino.  The Casino was rather a dump.  Looks like a place that loses money.  Hmmmm... maybe I should have stopped.

The sun was getting low by this point so I opted for a Lafayette Wal-Mart.  My GPS uncharacteristically misguided me to the first WMT (which didn't exist).  The next one I tried was in a very seedy area. 

The third looked questionable too.  I was about to leave when a Class A pulled into the lot and parked near the back.  I knocked on the door and a very nice man assured me that it was, indeed safe, and that he would be right there if I needed anything.  He also mentioned that tomorrow AM, when I wake up, we will have 3 or 4 other overnighting neighbors. 


My first overnight at Camp Wal-Mart


Later, these folks pulled in. 


Bet they've got an interesting story.
As a point of etiquette, I did ask permission from the manager and got the go-ahead. 


I probably won’t sleep much tonight.  But it will be an adventure.  A free adventure! 
I hear sirens nearby.  I’ll have to fire up my police scanner app and monitor the action.  Looks like the low is only supposed to be in the low-to-mid 40s, so if I bundle up with all my bedding, I may not even need the furnace.   
But I’m determined to stop earlier tomorrow and get that nice hot shower!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Gautier, MS


Day One is almost over and I’m tucked in here at Shepard State Park on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. 


Almost 5 hours of interstate driving.  D-U-L-L.  I’m not complaining!  If the interstate doesn’t provide a near-comatose experience, well, something must have gone terribly wrong.  And it got me where I needed to be to escape any overnight sub-freezing temps.  The low here will be about 35.  Good enough.

Left my overcast drizzly cold home town at 10 AM.  When I got to Mobile, the temperature jumped about 5 degrees and the sun came out.  Stopped to grab one of my favorite roadtrip foods – a roast turkey sandwich from Bates House of Turkey in Greenville, AL.  Should you find yourself on I-65 between Mobile and Montgomery, stop and order this sandwich that always makes the “best dishes in Alabama” list. 
gobbled it up.  Get it? 
I’m loving my Wi-Fi via Millenicom!  Getting 5 bars out here on the bayou.  I feel equal affection for my new laptop as well.   

The Happy Couple

All van systems are in good working order including the propane furnace which I’ve never even tested before.  It purrs like a happy kitten!  And puts out almost as much heat.  I hope to use the heat pump tonight in order to conserve propane, but the consensus is that it’s not very efficient below 40 degrees.  I’ll let you know.

It was great being able to Skype with John after I got settled into my campsite.  We had our usual cocktail time, just like home.  He could see the trees outside my window.  How lovely to see both John and Doris’ adorable faces!
I listened to an audiobook over most of the miles. 

                                               

Bryson reads his own work, recalling his childhood world of the 1950s that anyone over, say, 50 will recognize.  And, of course, he provides plenty of sly humor. 

Just finished some wonderful leftovers from my Bon Voyage dinner John made last night.  Steak Dian with scalloped potatoes.  John got a mandoline from Amazon the other day so the potatoes were paper-thin perfection. 
I’ll take my time getting out of here tomorrow.  I’d like to stop at the Blowfly Inn in Gulfport, MS for an early lunch. 

Then on to Baton Rouge for a late lunch. 


 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

T-Minus 2. Or Maybe 3.

Blasting off soon!  My original plan was to leave Monday, New Year's Eve, but the weather may hasten my departure.  The overnight lows have been flirting with dipping below freezing albeit briefly.  I haven't winterized (other than emptying the tanks) so I'm trying to dodge a bullet. 

But it looks like I may be leaving as soon as Saturday and going as far south on I-10 as I can the first day in order to escape the cold temps.  So much for my plan of Wal-Mart camping en route - looks like I'll need hookups after all.    

However, that gives me plenty of time to arrive in Austin by Thursday in order to coincide with my friend Sharon's work schedule. 

Fortunately, my engine battery died on Xmas Day. 

Fortunately as in I-wasn't-at-some-rest-area-when-it-happened.  We jump-charged the GDB and took it in the next morning.  The load-test indicated a new battery was in order.  I'm hoping that the battery just died of old age (the chassis is a 2009 and wasn't driven much at all in its past life).  The alternative - that something I can't locate is draining the battery - is too gruesome to contemplate. 

So I've made my packing list and checked it twice.  Time to start loading up! 

I'll miss John and Doris like crazy but I'm also looking forward to the sunny Southwest. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Lost-And-Found Friend


On my way out west, I’ll be stopping in Austin for several days to visit my old pal, Sharon.  No, she’s not old but our relationship is.  Friends across time and space, we call ourselves. 
Sharon and I think we first met in 1st or 2nd grade at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota circa 1964. 



Our classroom seating was probably alphabetized which would have put our desks right next to each other.  Not only were we classmates, we were neighbors.  Our families lived on the same street.  Both our dads were officers – hers a fighter pilot, mine a missile- man. 

Sharon was that friend who made you laugh so hard your abdominal muscles were sore the next day.  I’m happy to report …. she still makes milk come outta my nose!

We lost touch in about 6th grade when my Dad retired from the Air Force and we moved to Alabama in 1969.  Her family later moved to California then Texas.   

Fast-forward 32 years to 2001 and the age of the internet.  I had just discovered militarybrats.com and began entering the names of all my little military pals to see if there was a match.  There was Mary Lundy, Karen Cussenberry, Nancy Wells and, of course, Sharon.  A match!  I emailed her right away.  She remembered me as well as I remembered her.  In her first response to my email she said, “I seem to recall some recurring mischief with an Easy-Bake Oven”.    
So began a correspondence that continues to be one of the highlights of my life. 
After reconnecting, we made plans to meet in 2 months in Minot.  We wanted to get reacquainted (we had a lot to catch-up on) and also to visit the base, our former homes and school. 

It would require another post to describe what a wonderful trip it was.  The nice people now living in our houses allowed us to tour both homes.  What a thrill!  The colonel who lives in my former home took our photo in an attempt to replicate the only one I had of Sharon and me from our childhood. 

My dad took this photo in the summer of 1969 at our comic-book stand in front of my house.  That’s Sharon’s little brother Jeff, probably our only customer, giving me his milk money.  

July 1969
July 2001

Since our reunion trip, we have visited each other’s homes.  And now I get to see her again in a few weeks!  I just gotta remember not to drink any milk. 


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

GDB Maintenance and Apps

26 days until my next road trip!  Can you tell I’m excited? 
 

 

Road Readier


The GDB got an oil change today.  I like to visit Express Oil Change on Tuesdays - Ladies’ Day.  Women get patronized for $5 off! 

Just kidding!  The crew was very nice today, even when I asked pesky questions.    

The GDB got new wiper blades too.  Fluids topped off, tires aired up too.  I took a photo which should go here.  But I lost it in Picasa.  I'm having trouble mastering the new photo editing on Windows 8. 

Free Apps

I promised to share some free apps (I'm generous that way).  Click on the photos for the amazon link if you want more info.  Whether they will be helpful on the road remains to be seen.  I’ll update after I’ve had a chance to really road-test them.

XClinometer.  This will serve as a level.  The reviews state the tool is extremely accurate. 
 


Scanner Radio.  Listen in on police, ems, fire, amateur radio, and several other types of broadcasts.  You can find the busiest stations out of the hundreds available.  Hear what the criminals are up to in Chicago! 


The most helpful travel feature is the weather station.  This would be invaluable if you're tracking bad weather but don’t know where you are.  The app picks up your location, assuming, of course, you have to have a wi-fi connection.   I was able to unpack the weather radio from the GDB and free up a bit more space in the rolling library.  (My sister-in-law calls the GDB the Bookmobile).     

Future Apps (Not free)
Audubon Birds: A North American Birding Guide.  Then I could jettison my bulky birding book from the GDB.  Reviewers like it because of the searchable database, the photos (versus artists’ renderings), and the bird calls.    



Camp Finder.  I visit their website occasionally.  I’m not sure if the app is comprehensive enough to replace the thick Trailer Life Directory.  And, again, you would have to have a wi-fi signal. 
 
 

Free e-books

The only problem with my Kindle Fire is that now, when I get in settled in to read, I end up browsing the web instead.  Because I can!  That ability is wreaking havoc both on my battery life and my literary life.  Anyway, there are some helpful free e-book websites out there but I find it’s easiest to just go to Amazon and search, for example: free kindle cookbooks. 

Got any favorite apps to share?

 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Getting There


Here are my metaphorical irons in the proverbial fire.

Gadgets

I’m still awash in the technology upgrade that I blogged about in my last post.  I’ll be reaching the end of these tasks soon.  All that is left now is to test drive out the Millenicom Mi-Fi device that arrived in yesterday’s mail.  I’ll try to do that today.
 
As for the new HP laptop, I'm still trying to figure out stuff like the intricacies of Windows 8.  And how to edit photos. 


But I’ve transferred files, photos, and software I’ll need for the road.  My dream of having a mobile office gets closer to reality every day.  Fingers crossed it all works out.

Upload.  Download
 
Carb Load

I’m enjoying the Kindle Fire and have found some free apps that should be useful on the road.  I’ll share these in a later post.

Employment


With the exception of teaching my last class this past summer, I haven’t worked for 12 months.  The time has zipped along at a rather scary pace! 
Note: For those of you who have joined me recently, my career plans changed suddenly, irrevocably, and without warning when I lost my job teaching nursing.  Faced with this new set of circumstances, rather than taking a traditional academic role, I decided to get that RV I'd been saving for and launch an online teaching career.  My reasoning is that this would combine two favorite activities: teaching  and traveling.  It looks good on paper! 

Surprisingly, snagging an online position has been more difficult and time-consuming than I imagined.  Since May, I’ve applied to 14 different graduate and undergraduate programs resulting in only 1 interview. 

Things are looking up though.  I don’t want to jinx it but I’m hoping to have good news in the next several weeks.  Stay tuned.

The Future

Best fortune cookie prognostication ever!



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Amazin Amazon

How do they do it? 

I ordered the Kindle Fire and accessories yesterday morning.  My order arrived at  3:25 PM today. 

What's next?  Astral projection?

Track your package

Date Time Location Event Details
November 27, 2012 06:55:00 AM Opelika AL US Out for delivery
November 27, 2012 01:48:00 AM Atlanta GA US Shipment received by carrier
November 26, 2012 03:43:13 PM Chattanooga TN US Shipment has left seller facility and is in transit to carrier

There's little doubt, for better or worse, like it or not, we are living in the Golden Age of Consumerism. 

Of course, people probably said the same thing when the first Sears-Roebuck Catalog showed up in the mailbox.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Tech Upgrades Galore!


I've been busy!
 
New Computer.  I upgraded my 2008 HP Pavilion to a new HP Pavilion G6.  The newer version weighs less than half what the old one does and has a much longer battery life – 2 important considerations when traveling.

Mine's the super-cute blue one!
 
New Kindle.  I’ve had the Kindle Fire on my Amazon Wish List for a while now.  But today, Cyber Monday, Amazon had a smoking deal (get it?) on the Fire for $129.  I got it along with the accelerated charger, and the leather cover. 

I absolutely love my current Kindle 3G but …..

 
 

I also added the Prime Account (cost = $59 for the year as opposed to the usual $79/year).  My order should arrive on Wednesday.  That’s another nice perk from Prime – free 2-day shipping.  I just set up our Roku so I can stream movies and TV for free at home too.  Well, not free exactly, but for less than $5/month.   That will be nice on the road as well.    

New Wi-Fi.  On my past trips in the GDB, I used free wi-fi.  It was only slightly inconvenient but sometimes I missed being connected in the evenings while camped.  During the day, I used locations from libraries to Starbucks to hospitals.  My favorite wi-fi spot was Lowe’s.  But, because I’ll be teaching online, I need the capability to access the internet immediately and often.  After a lot of research, I’ve decided on Millenicom.  Many of you are using this service and the feedback is overwhelmingly positive.  Here’s the opinion of fellow blogger Wheeling It:

Millenicom

Whew!  All of this gadget switch-over is time-consuming.  For example, I’m slowly transferring all my files to the new HP - that’s 4 years of photos alone.  Not to mention learning how to operate Windows 8.  And when the new Kindle arrives, I’ll be busy learning all its features.  After that, I’ll tackle the Millenicom hardware.    

Especially nice is the fact that our older HP can stay home with John so we can Skype!  We tested the system yesterday and it worked beautifully.  Doris joined in showing up on camera and adding some audio as well.  It’s gonna be nice to see her sweet little face every day.  John’s too! 

Another improvement to life on the road will be having my local library’s audio books on the Kindle.  Much more convenient than discs.  Plus, I can return and renew easily, unlike books-on-CD. 

Do you ever feel like we are all caught up in some technological rip-tide?  Yet aren’t we fortunate to have access to all these gadgets that make road tripping easier?  GPS, digital cameras, smart phones, wi-fi, e-readers ….

IMO,despite the price of gasoline, there’s been no better time to be a gypsy! 
 
 

 

 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Book Give-Away

                                       

                                        Happy Thanksgiving!


Update: Debra was the first to contact me.  I hope she enjoys it as much as we have.  I also hope she will pass it on. 

I got this wonderful book from MeriKay (who got it from Judy) with the promise that I would pass it on.





It contains a soulful, deeply reflective account by a 50-something year-old woman who through-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 1994. It's one of the best books I've read about the Trail experience.

I'll send it to the first person who emails me with contact info. 

Who wants it next?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Florida Roadtrip Wrap-Up


My first trip to Florida's east coast was even more fun than I expected.  More expensive too.  First, here is my route and camping spots.

Note to self: this is a great time of year to visit the coast.  You are in-between the summer crowds and the snowbirds.  The weather is ideal because the heat and humidity are gone.  So are the screaming kiddies. 





Here is the breakdown of my travel expenses.  I wanted some numbers to analyze so I can determine how to cut costs.  I'd like to keep it down to $50/day max.  If so, this trip would have totaled $750 - a savings of almost $200.

    
Expenses
15 days/14 nights
1347 miles
Gas
    $ 310
Food      
     $163
Camping
(13 nights)       
   $384
Sightseeing
     $50
Misc.
     $28
Total        
   $935
Average Cost
$62/day


The one category I may be able to improve upon is camping fees.  I averaged $29/night for 13 nights. 

Ideally, I should dry camp every other night and save roughly 50% - I'll try that on my next trip but every third night might be more my style.  Although $385 for accommodations for 2 weeks isn't so bad.  That's the equivalent of 3 nights in a decent hotel. 

I think the food costs were reasonable at roughly $10/day.  I had 3 dine-in restaurant meals and 3 fast food meals.  And the occasional grab-and-go tourist bites (i.e. that tasty empanada).  The remainder was spent at grocery stores. 

And, of course, I could save a lot of money on gas ..... if I never left the driveway! 

I find that the numbers at the pump don't hurt as much if I ignore the cost per gallon or cost per tank and focus on the cost per trip.  I'm willing to spend $300 for 2 wonderful weeks on the road.

My strategy is .... don't look at the pump!

                             Put the receipt away and reach for the camera!


I'm open to any cost-cutting ideas.  How do you save $$$ on the road? 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Day 14 - November 17th - Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge



Uh, roger that.

Spent a good part of today looking for gators.  I don’t say that very often. 

I staked out Alligator Pond from the comfort (and safety) of the GDB.  Sadly, I didn’t see a single large reptile.    

The sun showed up!


After breakfast I took the pretty drive to the Refuge’s Visitors’ Center. 
They had some interesting exhibits.  This was my favorite. 


It gives the perspective of being underwater looking up at a big ole alligator belly.  And lots of other flora and fauna further down the food chain. 



This refuge encompasses a massive piece of land at over 400,000 acres.  I’ve not seen a habitat like it before.  It’s not really a swamp but more a “liquid prairie”.  Land of the Trembling Earth, as it's known.  If you ever find yourself questioning the diversity and tenacity of life on our planet, come see.  It’s a complex eco-system, and all about adaptation and survival.

Next, I followed Judy’s trail to the Cane Boil at the Chesser Island Homestead.  This is a restored homestead that gives a glimpse into the life of swamp people.  (I’m sure there is another name for folks who inhabited this area, but you get the idea). 




The home has a traditional syrup shed that was put to good use today.  The process is pretty simple, really. 

The cane gets crushed

It's so easy a little girl, a horse, and two government employees can do it!

The extracted syrup then goes in a large vat and is heated by a wood fire until it’s a big bubbly cauldron.  After a few hours, the process of evaporation leaves you with just syrup. 





We got to sample some of the cane syrup on biscuits.  Sorry no photos - it all happened so fast!  

There was a bluegrass band



playing that haunting tune There Is A Time For Us To Wander.   Here's some audio. 



Then the 4th generation Chesser ladies broke into song.  They had impressive harmony!


Built in the 1920's, the interior of the house is evocative of that era. 


It reminded me so much of homes I was in as a kid in North Alabama. In fact, it smelled like my grandmother’s house. 
By now I was in the mood for some veggies and the Okefenokee Restaurant in Folkston serves them up southern/buffet-style. 

Not my first trip to the buffet line

Really hit the spot!  I wish I had the recipe for that broccoli salad. 

About 3 PM I returned to my campsite and just relaxed.  Sometimes that’s the best part, isn’t it? 


There is a meteor shower in the wee hours of the AM, the moon is crescent, and there is no light pollution here.  (It’s 7 miles to little Folkston, the nearest town).  However, I fear the cloud cover that moved in this afternoon will preclude any viewing.  But maybe some of you can see the show?    

I start the journey home tomorrow and, while I can’t wait to see my family, I dread putting the GDB in dry dock even though it’s only for about 5 weeks. 

Have I mentioned that I love it?  


So long from Okefenokee Pastimes Campground





 


  



Saturday, November 17, 2012

Day 13 - Friday November 16th - Folkston, GA


Settled in for the night just outside the entrance to the Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge in Southeastern Georgia. 
 I stopped here for a couple of reasons.  One is, of course, the great opportunity to view wildlife and the second was the chance to meet Judy (who is not wild at all).  She was kind enough to drive over and make sure I had arrived. 


Judy has a very popular blog, Travels with Emma, that I’ve been following for a couple of years.  This amazing woman fulltimes in her motorhome, along with adopted mutt Emma, as she volunteers at Wildlife Refuges across the country.   

 It was a real thrill to meet her!  As we were talking, Judy spotted a pair of red-headed woodpeckers. 

Check out the locations she's traveled to over the years. 





Well, tomorrow should be a lot of fun even if the sun doesn't show up.  The refuge is hosting an “Old Fashioned Sugar Cane Boil”.  I don’t know what that is, but there will be biscuits …. that’s all I need to know.  And Bluegrass!  I’m looking forward to driving the loop and perhaps spotting some Cranes. 

I can’t tell you how these dreary skies of the last few days has changed the whole vibe of this trip.  The #1 topic of conversation among local folk seems to be about what happened to the sun.  It’s just gone!  The passengers boarding the ferry for the Cumberland Island National Seashore looked glum and I don't blame them.  Is there anything more dampening to the spirits than a gray blustery day at the seashore?  People keep saying that this is an aberration for this time of year.    

Here is a shot of Amelia Lighthouse taken over the expanse of salt marsh in the Fort Clinch campground as I left this morning.  It's hard to get a pretty photo with this sky as a background. 



And here are a few photos from later in the day at St. Mary’s, GA.  Another lovely small seaside community where the Visitor Center for the Cumberland Island NS is located. 

I observed my morning coffee ritual parked behind this pretty church.



 I stopped for some internet at the town library. 

 All in all, another fun day on the road.  With the promise of more tomorrow!