Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Ok, so I’ve been binge-watching “Stranger Things” on Netflix, and I can’t get that Clash song out of my mind.  But “Should I Stay or Should I Go” perfectly describes the dilemma I faced when I left Fresno in my RV in early December.

As mentioned previously, my plan was to store the RV and car at my uncle’s house in Los Angeles.  My flight to Seattle was scheduled for December 14th, but since I had an appointment to bring the full rig to the Camping World in Fresno on the 7th, I decided to head for LA the same day.  I had to completely unhook and pack up the RV at the campground to take it to the shop, so it made sense to just keep driving.

The most direct route from Fresno to LA is via the “Grapevine”, which is where I-5 goes over the Tejon Pass.  It’s a long and steep climb – I’ve driven it with a car many times.  I was terrified of driving it with my rig, and preferred to avoid it at all costs.

Another alternative is to drive west to the coast, and then south along the 101 freeway.  It adds a few hours to the trip, but it’s worth the extra time to avoid getting stuck. So I carefully planned that route, studying maps and the Mountain Directory to make sure there were no big hills.

Two alternative routes from Fresno to LA (the coastal route continues to Ventura and then east, but Highway 101 is closed due to recent mudslides so Google maps would not allow me to finish the route).

I didn’t have reliable television in Fresno, but the night before I planned to leave, I happened to see an online headline about fires in Los Angeles, and thought I better check it out. I soon learned that a section of Highway 101 was closed due to the Thomas fire, directly along my planned route.

Reluctantly, I researched the Grapevine option, but learned that there were strong wind warnings,  especially for vehicles with high profiles.  That would be me.  Clearly, the drive to LA had to be postponed.

Not wanting to go back to the Fresno campground after the Camping World appointment, I decided to drive south, stay overnight in Bakersfield, and see how things looked the next morning.  Highway 101 had re-opened the following day, but the wind was fueling the fires and making everything worse.  Should I stay or should I go?  If I go, should I drive through the fires, or tackle the steep and windy pass?

Thomas Fire on Friday, 8 December 2017 (source: cdfdata.fire.ca.gov)

The campground in Bakersfield was lovely.  It had everything I needed, including cable TV so I could stay informed about the fires.  And it just so happened to be directly next door to an RV repair and storage place, which got me to thinking that perhaps I should give up the idea of driving the RV to LA, and store it in Bakersfield instead.  So, I checked it out.  It cost only $50 per month for storage, and they could do all the repairs I needed.  Best of all, storing the RV there would allow me to postpone the drive to LA until next year.  It felt like the right solution.

I spent the weekend preparing the RV for storage, and doing my packing.   I was able to wash the RV for the first time since May because the campground allowed it, which is rare.  I got up on the roof with my big push broom, a bucket and a hose, thinking constantly that this would NOT be a good time for an accident.

But it’s a good thing I did go on the roof, because I discovered a big hole in one of the vent covers.  Rain water would have poured in, creating a disaster inside.  I was able to buy a new vent cover at the local Camping World, and replace it.

Hole in the vent cover

My uncle’s house was a quick hour and a half drive over the Grapevine in my car, and I spent three wonderful nights in the warmth there before my flight to Seattle.  It was an exciting day when I finally got on that airplane with my two 50 pound suitcases, all ready for Christmas with my kids, and then 5 months in Europe….

 

Fresno – the Good and the Bad

My RV was in Fresno for about a month in November and early December, and during that time I had wonderfully high highs, as well as some challenges…so typical of life!

I spent Thanksgiving with my kids at my uncle’s house in the Los Angeles area.  I hadn’t seen my aunt and uncle in about five years, and hadn’t been to their home in decades.  My kids met my uncle when they were too young to remember much, so this was truly a family reunion.

The day after the holiday, my brother’s two kids rode a train for two hours each way to visit with us at my uncle’s house for four hours.  We hadn’t seen them in almost two years.  I can’t even describe with words how amazing it all was.  A fabulous visit!

The four loves of my life – the boys are 6’4″ and 6’5″ – my father and both brothers were also tall!

From Los Angeles, my daughter and I drove up to San Francisco to visit an old friend.   I lived there in my 20’s and early 30’s, and hadn’t seen my friend in 28 years – so many great memories!

My house in San Francisco in the 1980s

And, my father grew up in San Francisco, so we visited his childhood home as well.  From there, we drove back to the RV in Fresno, and Caitlin stayed with me for a few days before flying back to Seattle.

General Grant Sequoia at Sequoia National Park
Road to Kings Canyon National Park at sunset

That part of the past month was fantastic!  But, for the remaining three weeks of my Fresno stay, I was alone – two weeks before the trip, and one week after.  Unfortunately, I was able to do very little genealogy research, which was the whole point of being there.   I spent a few hours in the genealogy section of the library one day, and my daughter and I visited the cemetery together.  That was it.

Caitlin and I are fascinated with my great-great Aunt Elsie, who purchased a house in her own name in Barton, Wisconsin, where she lived with her mother until she died in 1895.  Then 45 year old Elsie went west.  On her own?  We’d love to know the details!

My time in Fresno was spent preparing for my trip to England, and taking care of a myriad of administrative details.  It was enrollment time for health insurance, which threw me into a financial tizzy for a week afterwards.  I researched trip insurance,  phone, internet and medical coverage overseas, RV storage options, car rentals in England, rental car insurance, how to get my prescriptions filled while I’m away, and what to do for a GPS.  I finalized lodging plans for England and researched options for my trip to Italy.  I did my online Christmas shopping and worked on my genealogy classes.  In other words, I was busy.  Not much fun, but all good.

When I was in LA, my aunt and uncle very generously offered to allow me to store my RV and car at their house while I’m in Europe, which will save me a ton of money, and give me peace of mind as well.  More good.

Moving on to my complaints, I truly did NOT like the Fresno campground.  I paid extra to be on the lagoon, but it was all dried up.  The site was sandy, which meant I tracked the stuff in to the RV and I was constantly cleaning.  There was no picnic table.  My fellow campers seemed to be more or less permanently there – perhaps seasonal workers – most of whom had dogs which constantly barked.  Either that, or there was loud music playing into the night.  Or both.

It was cold – the last day there, I woke up to 28 degrees – and the bath house wasn’t heated, so I had to wait until it warmed up in the afternoon to take a shower.  Not only that, but the bath house was disgustingly dirty.  Even my daughter said that she didn’t know how I could stand it.  I took really fast showers.

I had an infestation of ants and lady bugs.  I was under a tree which constantly dropped something hard, like a nut, which made me jump out of skin every time I heard it.  The tree debris also prevented my slide-out from retracting on the cold morning I packed up, so I had to get up on the icy roof with a broom to sweep it all off.

And, things started to break.  My brand new computer completely crashed and I had to send it back to HP for repairs.  My brand new microwave stopped heating food.  The hot water heater was emitting a horrible burning smell, so I turned it off and had no hot water for the last week there.

Oh, and let’s not forget the car.  I had a recall notice regarding the seat detection mechanism on the passenger side, which impacts the airbag.  There was no Mini dealer anywhere near Fresno, so I scheduled an appointment in LA.  Then, I had to jump-start the car with the RV several times the week before the appointment, so I asked the dealer to take a look at the battery.  The final bill was $1,200 – evidently the power steering lines were leaking and had to be replaced, which was completely unexpected.

For car repair news on the positive side, I took the whole rig into the Camping World in Fresno the day I left. They repaired the damage to the front end of the car at no charge.  The hitch shouldn’t dip more than 3″ between the RV and the car, and my level was something like 9″, they said.  They corrected the hitch by installing a down bar (which I understandably had to pay for), so it won’t happen again.

It was kind of serendipitous that as I was coming to the end of my time in the RV, things were falling apart and I was feeling very ready to move on.  I just felt done, and very much looking forward to the next chapter in my adventure.

Phoenix to Mexico to Fresno

As I’ve mentioned before, I love love love the southwest.  I hadn’t been there in so long that I’d forgotten how delicious the air feels to breathe, and how big the sky seems.  And a nice side benefit is that it completely takes all the frizz out of my hair!

View of Superstition Mountains from Lost Dutchman State Park Campground

I fantasize about wintering in Arizona, but I don’t think I’d want to be there in the summer.  The temperature was nearing 100 degrees in late October, and I came home one day to this:

Hot! Hot! Hot! Hot!!!

The outdoor thermometer must have been directly in the sun, because it wasn’t really 115 outside – more like 98.  But I’m sure the inside temperature was correct.  The air conditioner worked really hard to get that number down!  The desert is always much cooler at night, so there was some relief.

Sunset from my Arizona campsite

I only had a few days in Arizona, and I spent one of them with a genealogy friend, visiting the historic town of Wickenburg.  Then I caught up on personal business, and prepared for my trip to Mexico.  I put the RV into storage near the airport for a week (I would highly recommend Guardian Self Storage on Van Buren), and stayed at a park-n-fly hotel the night before the flight.

You may think that someone who’s retired doesn’t really need a vacation, but that’s not true.  Even though I’m technically not working, it’s still a great relief to take a break from the “real world”.  After seven months in the RV, it was truly terrific to just spend a week doing nothing but laying around the pool reading novels.  My good friend Sandra and her 28-year-old daughter joined me there.

View from our balcony in Puerto Vallarta
Sunset view from the balcony

Keep in mind that I’m still, and always will be, a Frugal Traveling Pensioner.  The timeshare week in Mexico was a gift from my ex-husband, back when I was taking care of my dying brother in 2013.  And the flight to Mexico was paid with frequent flyer miles.  So, my expenses were limited to food, drinks and incidentals in Mexico, storage for the RV, and a night in a hotel before and after the trip, all of which totaled less than $500.

Sandra flew back to Phoenix with me, and we made the two-day drive to Fresno together. I’d never had anyone ride shotgun in the RV before – what a difference that makes!  I mapped out a route which avoided any big hills, so we crossed the Sierras at the very south end, over the Tehachapi Pass.

During the second day of the drive, we noticed that there was a gap between the bumper and the hood of the Mini Cooper. The hood of the car was also slightly uneven.  I had no idea how or when the damage had happened.

Can you see the larger gap on the right under the headlight?

After more thought, my theory now is that it happened while driving along a road in California that had some unusually severe undulations (when I was off the interstate trying to avoid the mountains!).  When the hitch was originally installed last year at the Camping World in Lakewood, New Jersey, Eric was concerned that the height distance between the RV and car was too great.  At the time, the mechanic said it was on the outside of the range (we had read that there should be only a three inch height difference), but that it would be fine.  Well, it wasn’t fine.  At least, that’s my theory.

I stopped at the Camping World here in Fresno last week, and they seemed to agree.  I have a longer appointment scheduled in December to see what they can do.

As Eric and I often say to each other – IT’S ALWAYS SOMETHING!!  But that’s true of life in general, right?  In my retirement, in my quest to avoid stress and conflict, I prefer to take these blips in stride, deal with them, and move on!

Missouri to Phoenix

From Illinois, I headed to Marshfield, Missouri, where I met a first cousin for the first time.  People ask how it’s possible that I have a first cousin I’ve never met.  It’s because my uncle had a daughter in between his two marriages, and he didn’t meet that child until she was a grown woman.  Once I knew she existed, I just never made it a priority to get to Missouri until now.  I totally regret that, because Dixie is an amazing person and I wish she had been in my life all these years.

I met five of Dixie’s six children, seven of her ten grandchildren, and two of her four step-grandchildren.  I have never seen a family where every single person is so happy, grounded, bright and respectful.  It just felt good being with them.  I especially enjoyed having 5 year old Abby take a nap on my lap, and holding little 8-month old Ellie while she laughed:

Ellie’s laugh was totally contagious!!

One night, we had a “Show and Tell”, with my computer hooked up to their television so together we could see our family tree and pictures of our relatives and ancestors, and hear all the family stories.  That was great fun and definitely cemented our family connection for all of us.

I was sad to leave Dixie and her beautiful family, but I was also excited to head west.  I hooked up my car in Marshfield in the dark, at 5:30 am.  Last Christmas, Eric gave me a headlamp which I use all the time – hands-free light, wherever I need it!  I try to hook the car up the night before a departure, but sometimes the site configuration doesn’t allow for it.

About halfway to my overnight destination in Sayre, Oklahoma, I passed a police vehicle with its lights flashing on the side of the road.   The next thing I knew, he was following me with his lights still flashing.  Did he want me to pull over?  I certainly wasn’t speeding – the limit on I-44 was 75 mph, and I was only going 62.  The shoulder was very narrow, but I decided I’d better pull over.

It took about a half hour for him to give me a written warning because my right front headlight was out.  Sheesh, it was broad daylight and I didn’t even need to have the lights on – I wished I had turned them off once the sun came up.  On the bright side, all of my paperwork was in order, thank goodness.

So of course for the rest of the drive that day, I wondered whether I would be able to figure out how to change the bulb, or if I would have to take the RV to a repair shop.  I was planning to leave in the dark again the next morning, and knew I needed to take care of it before then.

I arrived at the Bobcat Creek RV Park in Sayre around 2:30 pm, and the owner says, “Looks like we’ll be gettin’ some weather tonight”.  So I asked what that meant.  Well, there was gonna be some heavy winds and rain, and possibly a tornado.  He pointed out the underground tornado refuge not far from my campsite, and said I would hear the sirens in town, and he would make sure all the campers were gathered together.   Holy Oklahoma!!  A tornado is not healthy at all for an RV!

My first concern was to take care of the headlight before the storm came. I opened the hood, and it was just not obvious at all how one would access the bulb.

 

Right headlight with truck hood up. The left headlight was the one that was out, but forgot to take a “before” picture!

So I checked the internet, and to my great relief a kind soul had posted photographs of exactly how to remove the casing and access the bulb, which I was able to do with the help of the incredibly nice campground owner (the trick is to pull up and back on those two little black tabs above the light).

Headlight after removing the casing

Then it was off to the auto parts store, where they had the correct bulb; I bought two, just in case.  Back at the campsite, I was able to install it and put everything back together.  Whew!

About a half hour later, I saw the owner wandering around, and went out to ask him what was up.  He looked at the sky and said, “Looks like some wind is coming – you better get inside”.  And seconds later the wind was so strong that I had to fight it to get the door to the RV closed – I flashed on Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.

It wasn’t a tornado, but the wind was so strong that the RV was rocking, and it was being pounded hard by what looked like white rocks.  I initially thought that the wind was stirring up all the gravel around us; the sound of those rocks on the roof was absolutely deafening.  It was frankly quite terrifying.

Hail storm in Oklahoma

It turned out to be hail – very large balls of ice. How does that happen on an 80 degree day??  My car now has little dents on the side that was facing the wind.

I was very glad to leave Oklahoma and head on to Albuquerque.

From there on, the trip was relatively uneventful.  I drove probably 200 miles out of my way to avoid going through the mountains.  The  direct route from Albuquerque is to head west on I-40 to Flagstaff, and then south on I-17 to Phoenix.   After referring to my Mountain Directory, which I acquired after overheating on a steep hill in upstate New York, I decided to go south from Albuquerque on I-25 through Truth or Consequences, and then west on I-10 though Deming and Tuscon.

I loved driving through the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona – it brought back many memories of the time I worked at the Grand Canyon when I was 19 and 20 years old.  The whole area has always been magical to me.  It quite literally stirs my heart to be there.

And at the end of the road, this was my reward:

Campsite at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

More about Illinois

I absolutely loved being in Illinois along the Mississippi, near the little town of Fulton where my Abbott ancestors lived.  In fact, it was probably my favorite place to date.  In my previous post about Illinois, I included a picture of a gorgeous sunset across the river – I saw many of those.  Here are daytime pics in both directions from my campsite at Thomson Causeway:

View from my campsite in Illinois looking left
View from my campsite in Illinois, looking right

Toward the end of my stay there, I connected with the very friendly and helpful folks at the Fulton Historical Society, who put me in touch with present-day Abbotts in the area.  I promised to provide the Society with my research on the Abbott family, which I first need to write up properly so others can benefit from it.

I spent a delightful afternoon with 91 year old Bill Abbott at a local nursing home.  It turned out that he is from a different Abbott line, but I greatly enjoyed hearing his first-hand account of the history of the area.  The next day, I had a great chat over coffee with a distant cousin, a descendant of my pioneer ancestor Clark Abbott.  Unfortunately, no one had any information on Clark’s parents, which has been a long-standing brick wall for me.

Amazingly, I also discovered some collateral Goodenough relatives who lived in Morrison, the Whiteside County seat.  My branch of Abbotts left Illinois in the late 19th century, while the Goodenoughs didn’t arrive until the early 20th century, so the common location was purely coincidental.  It was certainly thrilling to see my maiden name on all sorts of dairy farm memorabilia in the Morrison Historical Society’s Heritage Museum!

 

Model milk truck from Goodenough’s Dairy Farm 

On the “RV Living” side of things, my microwave got fried. I had decided to steam a bunch of vegetables in advance, so I wouldn’t have to do it in single servings every night.  After almost an hour of using the microwave, the breaker blew, and the skin inside the microwave was peeling off.

The microwave breaker is tripped and won’t go back up!
When I saw the tear in the liner, I knew the microwave was toast.

It was quite distressing because I use the microwave all the time.  I cook in batches, freeze serving sized portions, and then use the microwave to warm up a meal.  In addition to steaming vegetables, since I don’t have an oven, I often cook a baked potato in the microwave.  So it was basically a microwave emergency.

You would think that replacing a microwave is pretty straight forward – you just buy a new one and plug it in, right?  Not so.  The microwave in my RV is built in to a cabinet, so I knew there would be issues with venting, and with keeping it securely positioned.

The old microwave in the cabinet. What to do??

I thought about having someone install a new one for me, because I didn’t really want to mess with anything involving the electrical system.   I could contact a mobile RV technician who would come out to the campground, but it usually costs somewhere around $100 for the house call, and then the hourly rate for the work can be $125 or more.  And my experience with taking it in to a shop, like Camping World, is that they are booked out weeks in advance.  So, besides the timing of getting it installed, I didn’t really want to spend the money.

After much angst, I decided to try to replace it myself.  How hard could it be?  If I failed, I figured I could get help any time in the process.

My first step was to remove it from the cabinet so I could see what I was working with:

 

The empty cabinet after removing the microwave.

It looked do-able, with a simple outlet in the back for the plug.  After hours of research online, and of course consultation with my RV expert, ex-husband Eric, I figured out what I needed, and then found one specifically for RV’s that was the correct size for the opening, the correct wattage, the proper venting, and with its own trim kit.  So I had it shipped to my next stop – my cousin’s house in Marshfield, Missouri.

I’m skipping a lot of steps, but the short story is that I did it.  Here is the final product:

Fancy new microwave, installed!

This may not seem like a big deal to you, but for me it was a tremendous challenge.  I was SO GLAD not to have to spend the money on professional services, and it felt GREAT to complete a successful DIY project!

 

Random RV Tidbits

I’ve learned the hard way that evidently my credit card gets pre-approved for $100 at the gas station, before I start pumping. So when the pump ticker hits $100, everything shuts down.  I had no idea until recently – cause who spends over $100 on a tank of gas, ever?  I do.

Tolls can also be pricey with four axles.  The Pennsylvania Turnpike and the New York Thruway each cost about $55 in tolls when I was crossing those states. I paid $52 in tolls to get from Ohio to Wisconsin.  There are probably routes which avoid the tolls, but I feel much safer on the main highways, so it’s worth the extra cost.  I was glad when I got west of Chicago where there were fewer toll roads.

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I’ve learned that the gauges for my black (toilet) and gray (sinks, shower) tanks are completely unreliable. So I have to know my limitations in other ways.  The black tank can go a long time – longest I’ve gone is two weeks without dumping, and I’m sure I could go longer.  The gray is another matter.  When it’s full it overflows into my shower basin, so it’s very obvious.   That happens after about four days.  I have a strong preference for a sewer hookup and no worries.

Gauges directly after dumping – note that the black (aka “holding”) and gray tanks don’t show empty, even though they are!

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My little Mini Cooper needs to be completely cleaned each time it’s towed to a new campground. Apparently, the RV spits dirt and all manner of gunk from its tires as it’s traveling, and it covers the Mini to the point where it would be embarrassing to drive it around.  Most campgrounds don’t allow car washing, and commercial car wash places don’t allow the Mini through with the hitch gismo in the front, so I do a lot of “wiping down” with a bucket of water and a few towels.  I enjoy the job, since it’s one of the few things I do that’s away from the computer.

Hitch Gismo

Speaking of the car, when I first started thinking about buying an RV, the different options were overwhelming: the size of the RV, the type (a trailer, or a Class A, B or C motor home), and whether or not to tow a car, among many other choices.  Now, after living with it and seeing lots of other options on the road and in campgrounds, it’s a good feeling to be able to say that I made exactly the right decision for my needs.  The size of the RV is perfect for me (26 feet), it was a great price, and I’m so glad I chose a Class C motorhome, towing a car.  I can’t imagine how I would function if my only vehicle was the RV.

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Going over a particularly rough road recently, a few of the unbreakable dishes in the cabinet above the sink flew out and broke. Ever since then, I use a bungee cord to make sure the cabinet stays closed.  And the first time I open any of the cabinets (or the fridge) after a day of travel, I know to be ready to jump out of the way of falling objects – because, like the airline attendants always tell you, things really do shift in transit.  Cans of food are especially painful.

Mini bungee cord on cabinet doors

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I much prefer the cooler nights of the fall to the heat of the summer.  And in case you’re wondering – yes, I do have a heating system when I need it, but so far I’ve only used it one morning when the temperature inside the my little house was 47.

Speaking of the heating system, I’m also learning how much propane is needed. Propane runs the heater, the hot water heater, the fridge when it’s not hooked up to electric, and the stove.  The propane tank has only been filled three times:  mid-November last year, after living in the RV for almost three months; late May, after only two months of use; and in early September, after roughly three months.  Probably it didn’t last as long in the spring because I had the fridge on propane for a week while I stayed at my cousin’s house in Virginia.  That doesn’t happen very often.  But it’s not a big deal as it’s not very expensive.

Propane tank being filled by Ohio campground owner

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Downloading movies and TV shows from Netflix and Amazon is a whole THING for me now.  Since my cellular data is limited, I don’t want to spend it on streaming – I need it for my research.  Actually my cellular data plan is Verizon’s definition of “unlimited”, which cuts the speed down so far after hitting a certain threshold each month that it becomes almost useless. And often, I’m not able to get television reception.  So I’ve learned how to download and watch shows offline, which first involves finding a place with good internet.

Through trial and error, I’ve learned that Starbucks has absolutely the fastest internet by far, and I can access it for the cost of a small cup of coffee, which is about two bucks.   This doesn’t apply to the Starbucks kiosks that are sometimes inside grocery stores.  I’ve had one hour shows take a full hour to download at some places, and that’s just a waste of time.  At Starbucks it’s a pretty reliable five minutes.

The Netflix app works on both the laptop and the kindle, but the app can be “buggy” and the rules aren’t clear – sometimes Netflix retracts shows off your device and you’re not allowed to download them again for a year.   The Amazon app only works on my kindle (not my laptop or Chromebook), but I like it better because you can download the show and a 48 hour viewing window starts when you begin watching it.  I plan ahead so I know if there is going to be a Starbucks near my campground.  If not, I download a ton of Amazon shows and movies in advance, and then I can watch them over several weeks without feeling pressured.  I’m a very happy Amazon Prime customer in general.

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I have a completely different relationship with possessions since I downsized to an RV.  I’ve never been a shopper – in fact, shopping is right up there with root canal in my top ten things to avoid at all costs.  But I marvel at the fact that when I drive by a shopping center these days, I ask myself if I need anything, and 99% of the time, the answer is no.

I drive right by the Home Depot – don’t need anything for the house or yard.  No home improvement projects, no mulch, plants, or tools.  I drive right by Bed, Bath and Beyond – don’t need any shower curtains, mops or other cleaning supplies, fancy coffee makers, or bath accessories.  Don’t need Pier One – no knick-knacks, no photo frames, no furniture.  I pretty much live in T-shirts and shorts or jeans, so I don’t need many new clothes.  I even saw a Camping World the other day, and didn’t need to stop.  Once I got all set up in the RV, I was done buying stuff.  It’s amazing to realize how little one needs to live a simple life.  I find it to be a great relief.

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My friend Peg asked if I get lonely and/or bored on my long drives.  Well, I’m certainly not bored.  Driving the rig takes all my concentration, even for hundreds of miles on an interstate.  I still grip the steering wheel so tightly that my hands get numb from my carpal tunnel – I try to remember to take Aleve in the morning on travel days.   Sometimes I turn the radio on for a little entertainment, but not often.

Loneliness is entirely another matter.  Before I started this new adventure, I figured I would probably be lonely, but that was nothing new for me.  I was living in a country setting and didn’t know my neighbors, I no longer had any single girlfriends, my kids were grown and gone, and after my mother died, I found myself quite alone.  Although I would prefer to have company, I wasn’t about to let “being alone” stop me from doing what I wanted to do.

What I’ve found is that I’m lonelier now than I was before, and in my opinion that’s the biggest downside of this lifestyle.  When I was working,  at least I had the company of my co-workers during the day, and I also had my genealogy friends.  Now, I can literally go days without speaking to another human being.  I’ve always been very independent and strong, believing that I didn’t need anyone else.  One thing this trip has taught me is that my attitude was kind of a false bravado, and I really do need other people.  I’m looking forward to the time when I can belong to a community again.

Meanwhile, it’s really NOT as bad as it may sound!  I’m perfectly fine being on my own and I’m SO enjoying the total freedom I have.  For the first time in decades, I don’t have to consult with anyone else about the schedule for the day, and I don’t have to concern myself with someone else’s needs.  It’s all about me.  And there’s a lot to be said for having that experience, at least temporarily!

 

 

 

Albany, New York

For the last two weeks, I’ve been at this lovely little campground on the Mohawk River in Schenectady called Arrowhead Marina and RV Park.  It’s about a half hour drive from Albany, my primary research target.  Here’s a visual:

View of Mohawk River from Arrowhead RV Park office.
My camp site at Arrowhead

The campground is beautifully maintained, with lots of grass and trees. The sites are a bit too close to each other for my taste, but thankfully the neighbors are all extremely quiet.  I try to take a long walk every day; there’s a nice little walking path across a bridge over to the other side of the river.  I took this photo of the campground from over there:

View of the campground from the other side of the river

The day after I arrived, I drove (in my car) to Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia for a follow-up lung scan, about four hours away.  It was excellent news:  my lungs are completely clear!  Whew!!  Now I’ll just have annual scans to screen for lung cancer.  After the appointment, I visited with my friends Agnes and Cindy in Bucks County, and then drove back to Schenectady the next day.

The agenda for the rest of the week included catching up on all kinds of things:  my online classes, my personal bookkeeping, my travel planning, this blog, scanning my genealogy files, and preparing for my Albany research.  It’s amazing how much time it all takes, and I’m so glad I scheduled a month here!  I tend to procrastinate on a few of these items (i.e. bookkeeping, scanning, classes), so I told myself I couldn’t do any more research until I caught up with everything else.

During the second week, I spent six full days going to various archives, libraries, courthouses and historical societies.  We have slews of ancestors throughout the state, but my primary research focus is to solve a couple of mysteries about ancestors on my mother’s side, who lived in Albany, Troy, Clifton Park, and various locations in Rensselaer County in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s.  Much more on that later!

I’ll be making another side trip to Bucks County again next week, which will be my last opportunity to offload excess baggage in the RV.  I won’t be back there again until next May, but I also need to consider the fact that my RV will be in storage in California until next October. So, if I think I’ll need something next summer and fall which is currently in the RV (perhaps for the cruise, for example), but that I won’t be taking to England, then I need to leave it in storage now.  Jeez, it makes my head hurt!

But here’s the real reason I’m going to Bucks County for another visit:  my son, Kyle, is moving back to Newtown!  He received an offer he couldn’t refuse – he’s going to be a real estate agent for The Cosack Team with Fox and Roach.  Kyle graduated from college last year and then drove out to Seattle, where his sister has been living for many years.  Although he enjoyed it there, it just wasn’t a fit for him.  He’s beyond excited to start this new career!

If you’re wondering whether or not Kyle’s news has an impact on my long term plans – you bet it does.  I’ve made no decisions, but I certainly need to consider where my kids are living when I ultimately settle down.  We’ll just see how it all plays out!

My Adirondack Adventure

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, this one sums it up:

Getting ready for a ride! Wheeeee!!

Yep, the truck overheated going up a 12% grade on State Highway 9N heading east into Elizabethtown, New York.  So it turns out that my anxiety and my hand-wringing were well founded, and I should have heeded those instincts more closely!

On the way up the hill, I knew the engine wasn’t happy, but the gauge wasn’t showing it was hot.  I was chugging along, trying to maintain 25 mph, and got to the top where I thought things would calm down a little.  Then the engine just stopped.  You know how the power steering and brakes go out when the engine stops?  Scary.  I felt lucky to be able to get over to the side of the road and park on the teeny tiny shoulder, before the highway made a big downhill run which might have been disastrous.   I have to admit that my heart was pounding.  Some of you have called me brave to do this?  HA!

And once I’d pulled over, I looked at my phone to make a call – and there was no cell service.  Murphy’s Law at work.

The good news is 1) I was able to unhook my car, which might have been impossible because I was on a downhill slope which can create too much forward pressure on the hitch, 2) I have a roadside assistance policy for the RV with Good Sam, which includes towing, and 3) I’m in a gorgeous part of the country – there are worse places to break down.  Always trying to look at the positive!!

As planned, I had taken the scenic route, which starts on Route 3 out of Carthage, NY, and winds through the Adirondacks to Saranac Lake.  From there, I took Route 86 and then 73 to Keene, and then got on 9N to Elizabethtown, headed for Vermont.   I was doing really well and feeling rather cocky that I’d made it across the Adirondacks, when I hit that steep grade.   I thought I would at least be able to make it to the town to stop and get checked, but it was not to be.

Actually, I made it to Elizabethtown with my car, and fortunately, Verizon cell service worked great there.   It was probably about 10:30 am when I broke down, and about 3 pm by the time the tow truck got to my rig and hooked me up, ready to head about 40 miles to Saranac Lake – back the way I came.

The RV arriving at the shop.

I felt fortunate to find a room at a cheap hotel right near the garage.  There was no mechanic on duty yesterday, but I walked over to the shop this morning (Monday).  The long-awaited call came at 6 pm this evening, reporting that they had to replace a clamp.  The engine had severely overheated, and the old clamp failed, which released the hose and all the anti-freeze.  They test-drove it, and the engine is just fine now.  Whew!!  It certainly could have been far worse.

So now the question is:  which route do I take to Vermont?  Well, I did my research, and found a terrific resource – an e-book  for $25 called Mountain Directory which outlines all the above-average grades on roads across the country.  And yes, that little stretch of road where I got stuck is in the book.  So I was able to plan my 100 mile trip tomorrow to avoid steep grades, and I’ll know better for next time.  Wish me luck!!

Breaking New Ground

When I left Pittsburgh, I realized that from then on, I’d be traveling on roads and staying in campgrounds which are new to me.  Most of my routes this year  – Georgia to Bucks County to Pittsburgh – have been routes I’ve traveled before, and I’ve even stayed in the same campgrounds.  But now, I’m breaking new ground, going into upstate New York and Vermont.  And this makes me just a little anxious on travel days.

The thing is, I never want to get into a situation where I might take a wrong turn, and get stuck.  I have to study my route closely to avoid it.  And Eric taught me that I always have to know my escape route – I can’t pull into a place without knowing how I’m getting out – so I work very hard in advance to minimize the possibility of a mistake.  Thank goodness for Google Earth!

For every trip, I plan where I’m going to stop.  If you’re in a car, you just go until it’s time to stop for gas, and you find a gas station, right?  Not so for me and my rig – I have to know EXACTLY where I’m going to stop.  You can’t always tell from the road whether or not there’s an exit route once you pull in to the pumps, so I need to do major reconnaissance.

I know about how many miles I can comfortably go on one tank of fuel, so I plan my gas stops accordingly.  And, my general rule of thumb is to drive about 120 miles (2 hours) before I need to stop for a stretch and a bathroom break.  So when I start out a day of driving, I have to know how much gas is in the tank, and how many miles I can go before needing fuel. Then I can decide whether that first stop should be a rest area or a gas station, or if I’ll need gas sooner than my normal two hour stretch.  Once I know that, I search my route on Google maps to see where I’ll be in about that many miles.  And then I look in that area for a place to stop.

This process is more difficult and time consuming than it sounds.  My objective is to find a gas station near the highway with an approach to the pumps which is parallel to the station’s building rather than perpendicular.  Or, if it’s perpendicular, it has to have a pump at the end of the row which would allow me some sort of exit strategy – either going around the back of the building, or another driveway to the street.  Here are some examples:

Gas station with poor RV access

Above is a gas station layout which I would never want to stumble into by accident!  I would have to enter the pumps nose first, perpendicular to the building, and then pull up pretty far to get the RV’s gas tank to line up with the pump.  Then when finished,  I would have to try to turn sharply enough so I miss the building and any cars parked in front of it, while at the same time hoping that the RV’s rear end and towed vehicle don’t crash through the pump.  Not a good option for me!

Below is one that would be OK.  The pumps are perpendicular to the building, which isn’t ideal, but the gas station is roomy and on a corner.  I could probably pull into the far pump and then exit out the other driveway.

Perpendicular approach with an exit

The configuration below is the one I prefer.  See how the entrance and exit is so easy when the approach to the pumps is parallel to the building?  But it’s amazing how long I have to search sometimes to find one like this on my route.

Parallel approach

Rest areas are easy – as long as they’re available along the way, they’re perfect for me.  They always have an area for trucks, and I pull in right there next to them!

That’s me feeling very safe at a rest area between two trucks!

In addition to scoping out rest stops and rest areas, I carefully examine the map to make sure I know exactly what exits to take, and where to turn.  No wrong turns allowed, cause I can’t easily un-do it!   I download campground maps from the website so I’m very familiar with exactly where I need to go to register, where I can unhook my car (need a straight and flat spot), and where to find my campsite.

Sometimes a campground is remote enough that neither Google Maps nor the GPS can find it.  For example, the address for  my campground in Lowville, Lewis County, NY was a highway name and a town, and, alternatively, latitude and longitude.  Google Maps recognized the campground name, but when looking at the satellite image, there was no campground to be found.  When I plugged in the latitude and longitude, there was still no campground.  After playing around with it for a while, I found it up a side street, two turns off the main highway.   So I don’t just rely on the GPS – I spend the time to do my research.

This system has worked very well for me so far.  Since leaving Pittsburgh, I traveled about 300 miles to Hamlin Beach State Park near Rochester, New York, for four nights, and then another 200 miles to Lowville, Lewis County, New York where I’ve spent the past week, all without incident.

Today, I’m planning my 200 mile trip to Salisbury, Vermont.  I have a GPS which is specifically programmed for RV’s.  Supposedly, it will put me on the best route to avoid low bridges and other big-rig hazards, and it has a preference for interstates.   The GPS tells me that the best route from here to Vermont is along Route 3, which is a scenic route through the Adirondacks, past Lake Placid.  I’ve gone through much hand-wringing, trying to decide whether or not to take the chance that my rig will struggle with the hills on that route.  The other alternative is to go way south and then north to stay on interstates, which is longer but seems much safer.

Well, I’ve decided to be brave and take Route 3.  I’m leaving at the crack of dawn tomorrow morning (Sunday, July 16th).  I’ll report back and let you know how it goes!

 

Back in the 215/609

I’m just about wrapping up a two week stay in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, my former home.  I’ve had ties to the 215 and 609 area codes since I was 16, when my family moved from the south shore of Long Island, New York to Pennington, New Jersey.  I left at 18 for college, went west, and then returned in 1997 at age 41, settling across the river in Bucks County.  So it’s natural that being here stirs up lots of memories.

Like, my father and my brother Jamie died in the 609.  My mother and my brother Chuck died in the 215.

I really AM trying to dwell on the positive.  This is where my children grew up – there were certainly many happy times.  And I’ve SO MUCH enjoyed seeing friends I’ve missed greatly over the past nine months.  I’m truly thankful for the many warm relationships I still have here, but those sad thoughts creep in just the same, triggered by familiar landmarks in the area.  It’s definitely been bittersweet.

One of the highlights was a three-day side trip to Long Island to visit my lifelong friend Carol.  No RV, just my little car.  We went to the resort-y town of Greenport, way out on the east end of the island, to visit her new grandson, and then had a wonderful night out.  I love her like a sister!

My beautiful friend/sister Carol with her grandson, Michael
Chris and Carol out on the town!

Another highlight was getting back together with my friend Agnes.  She was my BFF for twelve years, and then we had a falling out around eight years ago.  Now we’re just looking forward, and it feels soooo comfortable, natural and – well, just fantastic all the way around.  She took me out to dinner on my birthday last week, which was a real treat – any time spent with Agnes is special.  Here we are, “back in the day” –

Agnes and Chris, circa 2009

Speaking of birthdays, I was excited to turn 62 and qualify for the National Park Service senior pass…well, kind of excited…  But you should know that the price for a lifetime pass is increasing from $10 to $80 sometime this fall – so if you’re 62 or older, get yours now!

I also spent time with friends from my former workplace, my genealogy buddies at the Bucks County Genealogical Society, and my girlfriends Cindy, Denise, Kim, Else, and Nancy.  It was wonderful to be with them all, and I hope it made them feel good to be with me, too.  I’ll carry that feeling with me for a long time.

I’ve done so much socializing that I’ve hardly done any work – that’s a good thing!!  But even with all the hugs and kisses going around, I did still have to get things done.  I met with a genealogy client, and a new one came along that I’m very excited about.  I completed some of my online self-paced genealogy classes, but I’m still one class behind (I take two per month – I haven’t finished one of my May classes, and it’s already June!).

I was also hoping to do a bunch of scanning of my genealogy research files while I’m here near my storage.  I need my files with me as I do my research, but of course I don’t want to lug them around.  I did get SOME scanning done, but not all.  I have a little reprieve because I’ll be making an unexpected (but brief) trip back to Bucks County at the end of July, so now my plan is to scan the rest of them over the next two months, and return a box of files to storage then.

I was able to off-load some stuff from the RV back to storage: a couple of tubs of genealogy files which I’ve already scanned, and a huge tub of books which is VERY heavy (what was I thinking??):

Tote full of HEAVY books!

There are several genealogy books which I need to have and will keep, but for pleasure reading I’ve started buying used paperbacks at book sales, and will recycle them back to Goodwill so I’m not carrying around books I’ve already read.  I also installed an Amazon Kindle on my laptop, and I can get free or very inexpensive downloads from Amazon and other sources.  Slowly trying to change my habits to accommodate my new nomadic lifestyle!

I love the campground here, and except for Memorial Day weekend, I had it pretty much to myself:

A nice, quite campsite
Empty campsites all around

But now it’s time to say goodbye to the 215/609 – except for that quick trip at the end of July, I won’t be back until May of 2018.  Returning to a place I used to call home after being away for so long sure puts a different perspective on life in general.   I’m expecting that next year, with more time behind me, the acute sadness I’m often feeling in this place more than others, will dull a little more.  I’m hoping I’ll be able to simply enjoy the good memories, and all the people still here who I love.  Now, on to the many adventures in store for summer of 2017!!