Thursday, July 28, 2011

From Kevin - Wisconsin - Minnesota - South Dakota - Recap

Has it really been 12 days since my last post?  Sheesh.  We have been having so much fun and going so hard that I just have not had time for updating.  Not a good excuse, sorry....

When we last talked we had worked our way through Minnesota and were headed toward South Dakota.  We really did not do anything special in either Wisconsin or Minnesota, just traveled.   I do want to share our awe with the countryside.  Neither Robin nor I recollect each state being so beautiful.  Twenty-some years ago our travels through this area were in the cab of a semi-truck rather than family auto.  We were always too tired to take time to smell the roses or the livestock.

We have been blown away by the current green-ness.  There has been so much rain this year that the fields and prairies are beyond description. Sorry to all our Texas friends as they swelter and dry up :(

We feel fortunate that we are getting to see it in such a state of green.  It may happen again next year, but statistically, this could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see it this way.

I took a few pictures.  Hopefully, they will convey some of what I am unable to adequately describe...

This is what we have been seeing all the way across from Indiana, through Illinois and across Minnesota and Wisconsin.  The farms are beautiful.  I hope the increased moisture does not make it impossible for the farmers to get their crops properly dried for harvest.

Another thing we are seeing along the byways are hundreds and hundreds of wind generators.  These are kind of pretty in their own way.  The fact that we are finally taking advantage of the winds to generate power adds to their attractiveness.

Hmmm - I wonder when this free power will translate to lower utility bills?

South Dakota - We are tourists!
We crossed Minnesota and entered South Dakota.  Again, referring to our aforementioned life, we passed through here many times many years ago.  We saw it through the windshield of our 18 wheeler.  We knew it was a great state but never explored further.

Our first stop was Sioux Falls.  What a neat city!  We were thoroughly impressed.  Pardon me if I frequently repeat that phrase.  We are finding "thoroughly impressed" fitting for so many of the places we are seeing and experiencing.  The neat thing about words is that you cannot wear them out.  OK, ok. Everyone who knows me knows that I really do try to wear some out.  I've seen your eyes glaze over.

There really are falls in the city.  Usually they are docile and serene.  With the huge amounts of rain of late they are anything but docile.  Here are some pics:

I don't know if this fella is running from me, the camera or the falls.  I did shower that morning...
A while back there was a quarry developed here for a source of stone to build a prison facility.  The prisoners were a (willing???) source of labor.  They manually extracted the stone and moved it quite a ways vertically until it cleared the quarry depths.  Then it was in position to work further to form the prison walls and buildings.  I cannot imagine that kind of back breaking work.

There was once a huge grain mill located at the falls.  With the supposedly unlimited supply of power to run the operation, the "Queen Bee Mill" was designed to process 1200 barrels of flour per day.  That was about 4 times the typical Midwestern mill output.  One problem - remember those docile and serene falls I mentioned?  Seems they ended up being so docile and serene there was not enough flow to run a mill this large.  Sooooo.  It was sold a number of times and finally abandoned.  Who knows how much was lost over the years in trying to turn a profit.

Only the rock walls of the main building remain.  They offer some interesting photographic opportunity:
We intended to stop in South Dakota and get new driver's licenses.  You may recall (you did go back and read the entire blog didn't you?) that we changed our legal residence from Texas to South Dakota.  That means new driver's licenses.  My great trip planning skills came into play and we hit SD on a Friday.  I forgot that one must show proof of having spent one night in SD before qualifying as a resident.  That means we needed to spend Friday night.  Guess what?  Those government employees have the WEEKENDS OFF!!  And, many of the driver's license offices are open only one day per week.  Readers, you do know that I am a retired State of Texas employee don't you.  I mean, yeah, I had to have my weekends off, but golly, why can't those SD folks be there at my beck and call?

Anyway, we also found out that we need our official birth certificates.  And, the party of the duo who is of the female persuasion must produce her entire marriage history.  Hmmmm.  I really messed up.  I normally run around with my entire family background and history in my pocket; just in case I run into someone in need of a long snooze, but danged if I did not go off and forget it this time.  Rats.

Anyway, needless to say, we moved on from Sioux Falls still disguised as Texan drivers.  What a great city.  We agreed it is a possible destination when (or if) we ever decide to stop traveling.  The winters can be a bit on the chilly side we hear.

We had to hit all the touristy stuff.  We went over to Wall, SD.  You know it.  You've seen all the bumper stickers announcing that travelers have been to Wall Drug.  You can get a free glass of ice water.  A cup of coffee is a nickel.  That was an advertising ploy used some 50+ years ago to lure travelers off the road.  It worked and the rest is history.  This is one HUGE tourist trap.  We walked around and looked but did not buy anything.  Heck, we could not even find the free ice water or the nickel coffee. But, you know what?  We now have been to Wall Drug.  Yay!!!  No pics.

We spent the night in the town of Wall, SD.  We wanted to visit the South Dakota badlands and Wall offers a good stepping off point.

Bad Lands - Wow!
Directly south from Wall, SD lie the Bad Lands aka. Badlands National Park.  WOW!, even all-caps does not begin to describe it.  You can get an inkling of them from the interstate but if you ever have the time you must stop and visit this national treasure.

Shortly after passing through the Pinnacles Entrance we saw the "Sage Creek Rim Road" off to the right.  We were in our Prius and were a bit leery about a dirt road.  We are certainly glad we went.  In our opinion this was the most scenic part of the park.  It is easily navigable in a "regular" car.  We saw a lot of RVs and cars.

The road winds through the prairie for a short distance.  You see rolling grasslands like those depicted in the movie "Dances With Wolves".  We parked at the first viewing pull-off and OMG! (I hate that phrase, but is most appropriate here).  We walked to the edge of a drop off and were greeted with sheer walls a few hundred feet straight down.  The expanse went for miles.  Unbelievable.

I am seldom without words but I was actually dumbstruck when we walked up the edge and looked over. I could not say much of anything for a few moments. I will not even try to describe it. My pictures do not begin to do justice.

A Scary Moment - The sheer drop off is not obvious from the road.  While we were standing there a youngster of about 3 years came running at full speed.  He ran right up next to our spot and then SLIPPPED!  Had Robin's nursely, no, motherly, no, grandmotherly, no, great-grandmotherly, oh whatever, instincts not triggered and she grabbed him, he could have gone right over.  The parents were not concerned when we relayed the incident.  Please, please, please do not let kids run ahead into unknown territory.  Save that for more metaphoric situations.

The bottom lands were brilliant green from all the moisture.  The rock walls and formations were mostly white.  Spectacular barely scratches the surface.  It was breathtaking.  I'll post a few pics but believe me, they don't even begin to do justice.

Approaching the edge:

Looking over the edge:
Now these are Bad Lands:

Talk About A Small World - We stopped at the  main visitor center, gift shop, cafe, way station etc., after a long drive around the perimeter of the park.  We had ordered our food and Robin had stepped away for a few moments.  I saw a woman walk through the cafe who looked familiar.  I did a second-take and was certain we knew her.  I stalked her to the gift shop to get a better look.  I was sure it was someone we knew from Texas.

Robin returned and I asked if she had seen anyone familiar looking.  Nope.

I walked out to the front desk and caught her attention.  Sure enough, it was Barbara from Austin.  I said "Hi!" and we both were surprised at the coincidence of meeting out here of all places.

She and her husband, Jersey, are "Work Campers" and had worked a stint at the RV park in Austin, where we lived.  Jersey is a great cook.  He did a terrific job in the RV park cafe and is now the head chef at the cafe in the Badlands.  Barbara worked the front desk doing reservations and customer service in Austin.  She is doing the same in the Badlands.

Barbara came to our table for a brief visit.  Unfortunately, Jersey was off that day and unavailable for a visit.  Sure would have been fun to see him. Who knows, maybe we'll run into them somewhere else.  What a small world!

I tried the stalking thing with a cute 20 something but she just scowled when I got to the "don't I know you" part.  Man, was her boyfriend BIG!
Mitchell, SD - What A Corny Place:
After leaving the Bad Lands we headed west toward Mitchell, SD.  Home of the world famous Corn Palace.  We've heard of it for a long time.  We've even seen it a number of times on television travel shows, but we had never seen it live and in person.  We had to see it.

It is a venue for all sorts of entertainment.  It's claim to fame is that the facade is decorated with corn and other agricultural products.  Kind of neat and a bit corny...
Another shot giving a little bit better detail of the corn fed facade:

Speaking of corny:

It was so blasted hot that we did not tarry.  Our visit was as short as this entry describing it.  Fun to see but now "been there, done that."   Clark Griswold would have been proud!

Mt. Rushmore - Incredible but...
We got over to the Black Hills area near Rapid City, South Dakota.  We wanted to see Mt. Rushmore.  A long time ago we had gone to see it while we were laying-over on a truck load.  This was around 1987.  We got to the parking lot with our semi-tractor but the fog was so thick we could not see the monument.  We vowed to come back.  This was our opportunity to pull an Arnold and fulfill our commitment to "be bock".

Things are a bit different now.  This is a national monument that had been stressed to us a couple times by visitor centers as being "free" BUT, the parking is $11.  We ain't paying to park to see a "free" monument.  Sheesh.

We drove up to the monument entrance.  The cars were lined up 5 or 6 wide and 5 or so deep.  It was really hot.  We could see the monument over the entrance.  People were milling about and it was REALLY HOT!

We wondered what was the point of paying $11 to mill about among a few thousand of our new BFFs in this REALLY HOT heat.  Sooooo.  We pulled up to the booth and told the girl we had changed our mind and wanted to turn around.  Apparently, this is not an uncommon thing.  She was very nice as she explained how we could find the turnaround spot and exit the park.  We did that and bid farewell to all our new and very close friends.  It was so HOT!

We had seen all we needed to.  We headed down the road when low and behold, a turnout appeared offering an interesting profile shot:

I'm not sure that I don't like this better than the others showing the standard full face shot of all of 'em.  It would be kind of neat to try to get some other angles and views.  Maybe some time when it is not so dang HOT!

We left Mt. Rushmore and headed to the Crazy Horse Memorial.  Again we were met with a great view at the entrance and a hand asking for $27 to get in.  No thanks, the pics on the internet are free.  We've seen enough.  Did not even take a picture.

We later read about speculation that Chief Crazy Horse may have not appreciated the manipulation of a grand mountain for the development of a likeness of himself.  He may have rather had the area preserved in its natural state.  Who knows.  It is a overwhelming project.  Perhaps too grand.  I don't see how the family that is now working on it will ever finish.  It is a HUGE project.  Nearly as huge as the HOT temps while we were there.

We finished up South Dakota with an overnight stay in Sturgis, home of the famous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.  There are a few weeks left until the rally so we only saw preparations.  It is amazing to think that about 100,000 motorcyclists will converge into this little community for a few weeks of craziness.  Looks like it could be fun, but not our kind of thing.

That evening we drove over to Deadwood and Lead.  We wanted to check out the Mickelson Bike Trail.  A 109 mile Rails to Trails route through South Dakota.  We were daunted by the 17% grade between Deadwood and Lead.  A great challenge and we hope to return and conquer it some day, just not now.  We ain't ready for 17%, nope, not now - did I mention it was HOT there?

We moved on toward Wyoming.  Can't wait to get there for another life's episode as we are Chasin' Our Dreams...

Saturday, July 16, 2011

We're On the Move Again!

We're finally on the move again!  Yay!!  We were in Goshen/Elkhart, Indiana a full three weeks.  That was a week longer than what we planned.  It sure feels good to be moving - but we are doing it a bit differently this time.   No pics today as we are in highway mode.

Thursday morning we packed up the RV and took it to a storage facility in Elkhart.  "What the heck was that about?" you ask.  Well, we are car-tripping to Wyoming and Colorado to visit family and friends.  Because we have friends and family we can mooch off of, we decided to leave the rig in Indiana and save LOT$ of $$$ by driving.

The RV gets around 7 mpg.  At close to $4/gal for gas, it costs about 50 cents per mile to drive.  It is a minimum of 1400 miles each way, so for easy calculations it would cost about $1400 in gas alone to go out there.  By the time you add RV park fees etc. and the fact that we have a Prius (can you say 50mpg?) it was a no brainer to leave it and take the car.  And, we are taking advantage of the no-rig opportunity to work on our tent camping skills.  Those skills we be in constant improvement mode as we have only tent camped once and that was at least 20 years ago.  It only seems fair that we get free camping at the various campgrounds along the way since we will be providing the evening's entertainment.  Lucy and Desi had nothing on us...

Speaking of tent camping, let me take a few moments to expound on Robin's comment regarding REI.  That is one fine company.  I did not ask for, nor anticipate any sort of compensation when I called them regarding the tent poles that were incorrect and/or missing in the tent we bought over a year and a half ago at one of their local "garage sales".  REI is very upfront at these sales that all sales are "as is" and final.

We did not even try to erect the tent until a week or so ago.  We had no idea that it was incomplete.  The tags from the sale said that it had only one blemish, and I quote - "Demo- Don't sell.  Kid peed in it."

At the sale they reassured us that it had been thoroughly cleaned so we were not concerned with that, and it was good fodder for conversation anyway.  So we bought it and went on our merry way.  Our original need for it did not come together so we never set it up and so remained unknowing of it's issues.

Flash forward to a couple weeks ago.  When we decided to take the car tip west we decided to see if we could set it up without killing each other.  It immediately became clear that something was amiss.  BTW- we got along just fine - neither party was injured in the attempted erection of said tent.

REI does not do their own pole repairs or replacement.  They refer you to another vendor, Tentpole Technologies, who handle all the polish dirty work.

I talked to TPT and was guided to order a specific pole.  We wanted it quick so I paid an additional $10 in shipping to get it to us in two days.  Two days later we had it - the wrong pole!!!  Sheesh.  To say we were a bit miffed is putting it mildly.

The ensuing calls to TPT to resolve the problem ended up with neither of us knowing exactly which poles were needed.  This was because I had never seen a complete version of the tent and TPT's expertise left me a bit wanting...  So, I decided to call REI to get their official readout on the exact model of tent and exactly what poles were needed.

REI was great.  They patiently walked me through the steps to identify which model of tent we have and exactly which poles are required.  Together, REI and I determined what was needed.  I was shocked when they offered to reimburse us the cost - remember this was purchased "as is" and final a year and a half ago.

I actually talked to the guy in the Austin store who originally cleaned the gift left by an still-unknown child.  He laughed as he recalled the situation.  He said that he knew that it was complete at that time but he also knows that during their garage sales people do a lot of picking through and assembling things from like models.  So, having said that and also because we did pay a pretty penny for the tent, he felt he should make us whole!   As I write this there is an REI gift card winging its way to my sister's house in Cody, Wyoming.  I am sure we will put it too good use.

Meanwhile, back at TPT:  With my new-found expertise in all things polish, I got the proper poles ordered and on their way.  I was miffed a bit again as TPT would only split the new-second-day-air shipping rather than footing it all.  Remember, the original purchase was based on their so-called expertise.   Had I not been so elated with REI's outstanding customer service I may have pushed it, but overall, we are way further ahead than I had expected.  The incorrect pole is on it's way back to TPT - snail mail - cheapest and slowest possible.

So far the trip from Indiana to Wyoming has been interesting to say the least.  I routed us along Interstate 90 through Chicago.  I had no idea what an ordeal it was to creep along their expressway, stopping periodically to pay the toll takers for the privilege of spending three hours of stopping-and-going until the skyline was in our rear view mirror.  I'll gladly drive 200 miles extra to route us away from that mess if we ever pass near there again.   Our way back to pick up the RV will take us the southern route on Interstate 70 from Colorado.  I've already made sure we do not get caught a second time.

Traveling on the highways together in one vehicle has been fun.  Driving separately, Robin with the car and me in the RV is not fun for us.  The Prius cannot be towed "four-down" which means all tires on the ground.  This is do to the unique hybrid drive train.  We have opted to NOT buy a tow dolly just yet.  We want to know more about our travel habits before making that commitment

We stopped last night in Edgerton, Wisconsin.  A neat little town not too far from Madison.  We did not do much other than lounge around the hotel.  Nothing of note to report.

We left this morning and headed to Home Depot to get some bungie cords and velcro strips so I can better secure the bicycles to the rack.  That took some time but the end result is two bikes riding comfortably and secure without banging together and causing damage.

This afternoon the fun began.  We were in south east Minnesota when we ran into an incredible rain storm.  For a while it was coming down so hard that all the vehicles had their hazards going and slowed to around 30mph.  I was still not feeling too secure so we pulled off at the next rest area to wait it out.

Guess what!!   Minnesota is shut down!   Their leaders have not resolved their budget so the entire state government has been shut down for two weeks.  No rest areas, no state parks, and even more important, employees are off.  I must assume that no child support payments as well as other forms of aid are being made too.  BTW - I did hear that the legislators passed a provision so THEY WILL BE PAID!!  I have not verified this so I'll leave it at that.....

So rather than being at a rest area, we stopped on the exit ramp of said rest area.  I figured that would be the safest spot to sit as there were barricades blocking access in or out.  We sat there about 30 minutes before it let up enough to proceed.

We listened to the radio as they talked about man-hole covers being blown off sewers in Rochester, MN.  There was also a lot of power outages and the like in the area.

We were going to stop in Austin, MN for the night but as we approached the exit ramp to town, the through traffic was stopped in both directions on the interstate.  Fortunately, we took the exit and missed the mess,  Apparently there was so much high water on the interstate it had been shut down.  We meandered our way in a westerly direction hoping to hook up with the interstate and move on.  We had decided that it was too early to stop.  Apparently the authorities came to the same detour conclusion as we did because just as we were about five vehicles from our turn out of the mess, here came all the detoured vehicles from the interstate.  We ended up waiting a bit of time as the cops directed the traffic through town.  It was not too bad tho and we were kind of impressed with ourselves for having come up with the route on our own.  I must insert here that our friend Tom-Tom was driving me crazy as he repeatedly told me to "turn right and then turn right again"  Tom, would you just shut up as it is clear that neither of us knows where are going at the moment.

Anyway, we continued on down the road and are safely bedded down for the night in Jackson, MN.  We have only 73 more miles left in Minnesota.  Next is South Dakota where we will be in full-blown-tourist mode for the next few days - Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse monument, SD Badlands and who knows what else.

We are having a ball and hope you enjoy traveling along as we continue Chasin' Our Dreams.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

From Robin:
It has been such a beautiful day!  The temperatures have been a little lower today and it looks like we may be able to sleep with the windows open tonight.  We did have to use the A/C this afternoon but this evening we're just using the Fantastic Fan. 

This morning we toured the Newmar factory.  It was very interesting and we were impressed with the tour as well as the tour giver.  The factory was well run, very organized as was the tour and we came away with the impression of a very good product.  I can't say it was better than Carriage.  The quality seemed pretty equal between the two.  We were very disappointed with the quality of the Monaco/Holiday Rambler and the tour we got at that factory yesterday.  We have always like Monaco too so we were surprised.  We actually didn't see them building Monacos.  The tour guide showed us some of the towables and was not able to answer any of our questions.  This week and last week a lot of the factories were not in production because of the holiday. 

We are now getting ready for our trip to Wyoming.  Getting things ready to be loaded into the car.  We got the tent poles we needed for our bigger tent today so put it up to make sure everything was in order.  It went up beautifully and we were happy with the ease of putting it up and the size.  Didn't think about taking pictures while it was up but will post some later.  We sure have been impressed with REI.  We bought this tent at one of their garage sales.  This was a floor model that a kid had peed in and so was discounted.  We knew they would have cleaned it and we were not really worried.  At the garage sales there is a no return policy and that was a little daunting but it also said satisfaction gaurenteed.  I wasn't sure what that meant exactly but it made me feel a little better.  We bought this tent to use at Mustang Island at Christmas in 2009.  We decided instead to take the motorhome, which turned out to be a good thing.  So didn't even try putting it up until we started planning this trip.  We are planning to camp on the way to Wyoming so thought we had better try putting the tent up to see how hard that would be.  I'm glad we did because we found that we didn't have the right tent poles.  Kevin called REI and sure enough, they came through for us.  They really mean it when they say "satisfaction gaurenteed".  They told us what tent poles we needed and told us to go ahead and order them then they would reimberse us.  Our respect for the REI company escalated since we didn't expect anything based on the time lapse since we got it and the fact that we bought it in their garage sale. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Still in Goshen

From Robin: 
Still in Goshen.  Yes, we are still here.  Kevin had yet another surgery for kidney stones on the 6th of July.  He has since been given the okay to do whatever he feels like doing including moving on.  Yeah!  We do like it here in Goshen and have met some really good people but are anxious to head on to Wyoming.  Besides getting to see family and friends in Wyoming and Colorado, we are hoping it is a little less warm and humid there.
After being given the okay to do whatever he wanted, we immediately took to the trails on our bikes.  We didn't do as many miles for our first post surgery outing.  Just testing the waters.  We did 18 miles with no ill effects.  I think he is finally back to normal.  Kevin took some good pictures on our bike ride.  I will let him post them.

From Kevin:
Yup - what she said. We are still in Goshen. The medical thing was a nightmare. I have to borrow a word from another blog: "Sheesh!" Anyway, all is well and we are back to our normal craziness.
In the future, both Robin and I will be posting here. We will mark our contributions with our name to make it easier to keep track of whomever's opinion may be being thrust upon you. Up til now I just put what I was allowed to...

Here is a brief recap of our activities in the past couple weeks, minus any continued sniveling on my part.

LAST WEEK we visited the RV Hall of Fame and Museum in Elkhart. We had read about it on the Escapees forum and other RVer's blogs. With RVing being such a niche in our country, I think they have done an excellent job or preserving and presenting a great variety of vintage, unusual and important examples of RVing's history.
Our favorite was the 1931 Ford Model AA Housecar. We named it the "Pulaski" (locally pronounced puh-LASK-eye):

 The interior was incredible. Certainly the product of a dedicated craftsman:

Second on our list was the oldest existing RV. A 1913 "Earl" trailer pulled by a 1913 Model T:

 The interior is beautiful honey colored oak. The pictures give a good view but they do not convey the color adequately.  Blame the photographer picture taker:

Over the years, we have looked at literally hundreds of RVs. All manner of prices from the cheapest weekender to million dollar rolling mansions. Nothing compares to the obvious care and love that is present in these works of art.

We are not museum people. Having said that, we certainly enjoyed a couple hours visiting this one. If you ever find yourself near Elkhart, this is definitely worth the trip.

A FEW DAYS LATER the urologist released me. Yay!! We decided to see if he was lying about me being fit as a fiddle (maybe he was tired of my mournful screeching like a poorly played violin?) so we did a "short" 18 mile ride on the Pumpkin Vine trail. If you ever get a chance to walk or bike one of the many trails that are converted railways, don't pass it up. They are fantastic. This is no exception.
Fortunately, there is an access point about a mile from our campground. We have ridden to the trail three times since we arrived. It meanders past flower bordered corn fields and through tree shaded arbors:

This is a huge agricultural area. Many farms growing corn, beans and wheat. Probably lots more crops but if my life depended on being able to identify any of them, well, just dig me a hole.

There are a number dairy operations here too. Those dairy farmers, what a crazy bunch!!

CURRENTLY we are prepping to leave. Three weeks is way longer than we planned to be here. Our hitches are itchin'. We will leave here Thursday, but alas, without our motor home...
We are storing it in Elkhart as we car-trip west to visit Robin's and my families in Wyoming and Colorado. We also need to make our once-in-a-lifetime required visit to South Dakota to get our driver's licenses and complete our transformation (legally anyway) from Texans to South Dakotans. I'll explain all that in a future post.

Also, stay tuned, we have a BIG surprise in store in the next few weeks...

Before I close I want to thank everyone for the positive feedback on the blog. Those withholding "other" comments,thanks to you too! We are having a ball with it and look forward to hearing from everyone. Please feel free to share this with any and all. I've reached the point that being passed around is pretty intriguing.

'Til next time, we're just Chasin' Our Dreams!!!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Weekend Catch-Up

The past few days have been pretty uneventful. We remain in Goshen, Indiana for the time being. I feel much better following the kidney stone issue. Hopefully, the doctor will wrap everything up Tuesday.

 Happy 60th Anniversary
Richard and Norma!!

Robin's parents have achieved a remarkable milestone.  Today they celebrate 60 years of marriage.  Wow!  I hope we get a chance to experience the same thing someday.  We love you guys.

Sunday was movie marathon day / night. We watched three movies:
     Battle Los Angeles - Pretty good Sci-Fi with a lot of military action.
     The Little Fokkers - Lots of fun and laughs.
     Mao's Last Dancer - VERY good. We highly recommend it.

There were a lot of fireworks throughout the evening. Seems the majority of folks were celebrating the 4th of July a bit early.

**  Happy 4th of July!  **

Another quiet day. We slept in. Robin fixed breakfast and we hung around most of the morning.  We did take a short bike ride around the fairgrounds where we are staying. We couldn't stay away from the bikes any longer.

Robin found her dream tent. I guess as long as she carries it on her bike I won't protest...

(Click on pic for a larger image)

The fairgrounds are pretty empty.  Kind of the calm before the storm.  The Elkhart County 4H Fair is one of the top three 4H fairs in the country.  Over 300,000 people attend.  They are setting things up for it to begin on July 22.  Hard to believe this will be jam packed with RVs and people in a couple weeks:
(Click on pic for larger image)
It is amazing how fast a day goes by.  We spent a bit of time reading RV and bicycle tour blogs and catching up on emails.  The stories of people on the road right now make us anxious to get out there too.  In the meantime, we are enjoying our little slice of heaven:
(Click on the pic for a larger image)

The revelers are beginning to repeat last night's festivities.  I think it's going to be pretty loud around here.  We enjoy the fireworks and knowing that everyone is celebrating the greatest country in the world!!

Until Later......

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Life's Like a Rolling Stone

Well, this has been an interesting past few days. I have a history of kidney stone issues. Coincidentally with our drastically increased bicycle riding I saw some symptoms indicating another bout in the offing. Fortunately, there was no pain. We called our previous urologist in Austin for a recommendation. He ordered x-rays and suggested we contact a local urologist.

Sure enough, there was a huge stone in there. In fact it was so big that it would not fit in the ureter and so did not cause the excruciating pain normally associated with a stone. BUT, it needed immediate attention.
The X-ray tech suggested local urologist, Dr. Bolduan. We took her advice, and just as everything else has gone so far, this was an excellent suggestion. He saw me immediately on Thursday and scheduled the lithotrypsy for Friday afternoon.

The outpatient clinic was super. The nurses were professional, attentive and friendly. The procedure went without a hitch. They are so proud of their facility they invited Robin in to see their operating room. Robin was impressed. We could not believe it is 12 years old. They are so meticulous with its maintenance it appears to be brand new.

That has been the focus of our time here recently. No bike riding for a while. Hopefully, Tuesday we can get back in the saddle. We discovered another marvelous trail that goes from Goshen to Elkhart. Can't wait to explore it.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Intro - Three Month Wrap Up...

This first post is a long one as we recap the last three months since we retired and hit the road.  Grab a sample of your favorite beverage, sit back, and ride along as we recount or adventure.

Robin and Kevin retired on March 31,2011. Robin was a Registered Nurse and Kevin worked in the IT world for the Texas Attorney General in Austin, Texas. After two rewarding careers we were ready to hit the road as full-time RVers. We had been living in our 1999 Dolphin motorhome since 2007 in anticipation of our escape from the 9-5 world.

We spent the six weeks following our workaday departure wrapping up projects on the motorhome and spending time with our friends. Leaving our friends in Austin proved harder than we had anticipated. We know we will return.

Those weeks were a flurry of selling things on Craigslist and to friends. We also donated a bunch of stuff to a local church for their annual rummage sale.

Our motorhome is a Dolphin model built by National RV. The dolphin theme was prevalant throughout: blue decals of dolphins, water and sky on the outside. Blue carpet, walls and window treatments. We felt like were were living in a kiddie pool. We spent the time prior to retirement completely remodeling the interior. No more blue. Now we have comfortable earth tones throughout.

The dolphin decals on the outside had to go. We spent many hours with a heat gun and decal removers getting them off. When we finished the result of 12 years of weather exposure were heavily oxidized walls with ghost images were the decals had been.

We investigated a paint job but every quote started at $10k and just went up. That was clearly out of the question.

Kevin found an auto detailing forum on the internet where he learned a bit about polishing vehicles. If we were to polish it we would save a BUNCH of money, so we ordered the equipment. What an ordeal that turned out to be.

We spent the last three weeks polishing with a coarse polish, wipe off, repeat with a less agressive polish, wipe off, polish with a final polish and wipe off.

THEN we waxed the entire coach. We covered every inch of body four times. The results surpassed our expectations. Observers have asked if we have a fresh paint job. We just smile and say "Nah, we just polished the heck out of it!"

May 13 arrived.  We were ready to head toward Hot Springs, AR for a few days with Robin's family. All seemed great - until the engine devoured its serpentine belt in Rockdale, TX, not even 100 miles from Austin.

Here is a post Kevin put out on the Escapees RV forum describing our first few days:

What an introduction to full timing on the road. We have been living in our '99 Dolphin the past 3 1/2 years in anticipation of retirement and full time traveling. Well, we are retired and traveling.... Kind of....
We left Austin, TX last Friday. We made it 80 miles to Rockdale, TX before the serpentine belt went out. This is a recurring problem but I thought I had it fixed last time it happened.


After many attempts to find a replacement belt I finally got to Carquest Auto Parts in Rockdale where I met Doug Wilde. He was great. He helped get me a replacement belt and suggested the tensioner may be bad.
I took the new belt and tensioner back to the MH for a looksee.

I determined the problem was that when I had Fleet Maintenance in Austin replace the alternator a couple years ago they put on one with a pulley that was too narrow - Hence it was chewing off the edges of the belts. We have taken the MH out on the road just a couple times in the past few years and each time it gnarled a belt. Now after two very expensive belts and help from Doug, we got the correct 8 rib belt and a new alternator with an 8 groove pulley (Fleet Maintenancce had installed an alternator with a 6 rib pulley) all was in order. (Anybody want a great deal on a nearly new alternator with a 6 rib pulley?)

The great thing about Doug at Carquest was that I got back to the store after the discovery of the incorrect alternator exactly at 5:30. They close at 5:30. Rats - but no problem for Doug - he told me that he would stay at the store until midnight if necessary to get us on the road. Incredible small town hospitality. Remember Doug at Carquest in Rockdale, TX if you need anything.

Saturday night found us at the Clear Springs COE park at Wright Patman Lake in Texarkana, TX. It is beautiful. Our fist time at a COE and we will certainly be looking for more. The park was terrific. Our spot overlooked the lake. Saturday night with a near full moon, our propane campfire, fresh hot lattes. Doesn't get much better than that.

Sunday - on toward Hot Springs, AR for a small family get together. More problems.

15 miles west of Malvern, AR on I-30 we lost the bearings on the passenger side tag. (the tag axle is a third axle behind the drive wheels.  It just carries weight)

That started an 8 hour stint on the side of I-30 with about two feet of clearance to the right of the white line and 70+ mph traffic zooming by. Kind of scary.

An Arkansas State Trooper, Zach Owens, stopped and made sure all was safe and discussed options and gave phone numbers of emergency assistance if needed. He was with us for about an hour. What a great guy. Ladies - if you need help from the state police in Malvern, AR, hope that Zach responds. Terrific guy and he could be a poster model for State Police ads. Robin was impressed. It was pretty warm standing in the sun but he refused my offer of an ice cold beer.

After repeated calls to Coach-Net explaining that the rig could not be towed conventionally because the tag was out, they finally were going to send a service truck to repair it on the side of the road. The only caveat was that CN's policy is one response per incident. If the repair truck could not effect the repair we would be on our own. I asked to have the repair truck guy call before coming out the 125 miles from his shop to our location. Now understand: we were only 50 miles from Little Rock, why they were going to dispatch a repair truck 125 miles away is beyone me...

Anyway, the repair guy calls and we talk about the issue. He says "Heck no, I cannot replace a bearing on the side of the road. I will come chain up the axle and drive the rig 125 miles to my shop and fix it tomorrow."

Huh??? I think we'll pass on that opportunity. But the light went on. I drove our car to the nearest Walmart and got my own chains and chained up the axle. If he can do it, I can. And chained it up I did.

By then it was dark and we needed to merge into the 70+ mph traffic with a limping coach. Not safe.
Zach had given me the direct phone to the State Police Company K office. I called and asked if we could have an escort for safety. 30 minutes later Hot Springs County Deputy Phillip Calhoun arrived on the scene. Another of the finest we have encountered. He escorted us for 15 miles with lights flashing until we reached Walmart in Malvern. Thanks a lot Phillip!!!!

After our safe arrival we talked RVing and local information regarding Arkansas for bit before Phillip went on his way.

We asked the manager at Walmart if we could stay the night. No problem - Thanks WM!!

The next morning I called Connie at Dexter axles. We have a Mor/Ryde suspension with a Dexter axle on the tags. Connie was the epitome of customer service and a wealth of information on the axles. She gave me the exact numbers for the bearings, seals and races. I was armed with all the info I needed to effect a repair.

Monday arrives and we began searching for parts. Let me add here that the rest of the family had arrived last night and were partying without us - Rats!!

Our search took us to the local NAPA store in Malvern. They had the inner bearing but not the outer - Rats again!!

We went on up to Hot Springs and made contact with the family and continued our search for bearings. No luck. These must be very unusual common bearings. Finally, a call to the NAPA distributor in Little Rock yielded results. We zoomed over and bought two sets of everything - just in case I goober up something as I attempt a repair job I have observed but never done.

Did I mention that my knee has been acting up lately? It is quite painful to kneel. Hmmm... Kneeling hurts - I have to kneel to clean and replace bearings - I'll be kneeling in order to mount the huge and heavy spindle and tire. Perhaps it would be a good idea to have the repairs done by someone else, maybe even by someone who knows what he is doing.

BTW - This is the second night and were still at Walmart. I almost started standing at the door welcoming folks. I emailed our friends and told them to send care packages to our new address of Walmart, Malvern, Arkansas.

As the evening rolled on I began looking for mechanics in Malvern. I found a site for "RJC & Sons - Mobile Mechanics" at 501-732-9632. Looks like a possibility.

Tuesday morning at 7:30 I called. I left a message which was returned within 10 minutes. We discussed the situation and Rich assured me he could handle it. He arrived some time later. Clean, organized, articulate and quick. He taught me how to do the repair should I ever need to do it (hopefully not!) and his rates were better than any garage I have dealt with for cars or MH in the past few years. He didn't even charge extra for my help!

His work was so good Robin and I decided to stick around Hot Springs after the family leaves and have a couple more items worked on.

We drove on up to Hot Springs. The bearings were barely warm. Rich did a great job.

Everyone is happy and we are safely ensconced with our family at Bartee Meadow in Hot Springs. All is well. I cannot say enough about Rich. If you ever find yourself in need of mechanical assistance within a 50 mile radius of Malvern, Arkansas, give Rich a call at 501-732-9632.

That got us through the family visit and on the road again. We decided to have the mobile mechanic, Rich, do a brake job on the coach so we opted to stay in Hot Springs a few days.

Here is a second post to the Escapees forum:

Holy Crap!! I promise I have NOT been watching too many episodes of COPS!

It's a quarter to 3:00am as I write this. I am waiting for the police to return to our site at Gulpha Gorge Campground in Hot Springs, AR after taking a man into custody who had woken us at 1:00am pounding on our door and pleading for help because someone was trying to kill him.

Trust me, I wish I was making this up. Heck, maybe I could make a nickel with it.

He scared the crap out of us.

He said he had picked up a hitchhiker earlier in the day. They were in his tent smoking and drinking beer when the HH told him to have his last cigarette because he was going to kill him. He HH told the young man he was going to be the HH's 15th victim. The man said the HH was momentarily distracted and he made his escape.

Believe me, I was not concerned with him leaving a present on our chair. He was scared poopless. I ain't having much of an urge to go right now either.

He said he had approached a tent seeking help and was run off. We just watched some people in a nearby tent furiously pack up and leave. I'm having similar thoughts.

I immediately called 911. The police promptly arrived and took him. Holy Moly - add this to my earlier post. Are we getting an introduction to being on the road or what??

We've had more contact with Law Enforcement in the past week than both of us combined in the past 30 years. I'm glad I have hundreds of previous posts here so I have some credibility. If I didn't, you'd think I was some kind of crackpot writing this stuff. Sheesh!!
What's next?????

After those episodes, we wondered what else could happen....

The next day after the murderer incident, we were sitting outside watching TV when a stranger walked up. "Aw, jeez. What next?" we telegraphed to each other as he walked up.

He explained that he had been out hiking and gotten turned around on the mountain trails and was not sure where his car was. He asked if we could give him a ride to his car.  Hmmm.  First he does not know where he is and then he wants a ride to his car???  Fishy.  Come to find out, he just needed a lift to his car.

Kevin told him no, but he would call 911 and get him some assistance, to which he readily agreed.

Soooo -- "Hello, 911? This is Kevin Herber. I am he guy who called you this morning with the scared murder victim call...." How many people can say that the 911 dispatcher recognized them?

Anyway, 911 sent a deputy over to give the guy a ride to his car. While waiting we visited a bit. He was very nice and legitimately in need of assitance. We were glad we could help.

The following day we were returning a Red Box movie when a man approached us in the parking lot. He had a cell phone in his hand and was nicely groomed, not the typical image of a panhandler.  He said he was stranded and need some gas. He began to ask if he could borrow $5, then corrected himself and asked outright if we could give him $5.

Kevin immediately responded "No, but you can get some help by calling 911 or contacting the Red Cross or Salvation Army." He thanked us and walked to his car. Robin watched as he walked away.

We are used to panhandlers and usually turn them down. For some reason this guy struck us as truly ib need. We briefly talked and decided that we would help. Robin took $5 over to his car and gave it to him. He was on the phone and was very gracious when she gave him the money.

We are certainly encountering our share of those in need, as well as being on the needy side ourselves recently...

On down the road...

We wrapped up the brake job in Hot Springs and headed to Indiana to see our girls, grand kids and great grand son. We also had a surprise visit from Robin's parents while we were there.  Sort of a mini-reunion.  We really enjoy their company and cherish every chance we have to see them.

The coach ran fine. We ran fine too.

We had a splendid visit with the the three generations of kids over the past month. We have not been able to spend this much time with them in many years.

Muncie, Indiana has a wonderful hike-bike trail. It is a converted rail bed that runs approximately 80 miles from Marion to Richmond. We took advantage and put some miles on our bikes.

One day while riding we looked at each other as virtual light bulbs popped over our heads. We have dreamed of riding bicycles cross country for many years. We are retired and free. There is absolutely no reason to NOT pursue this dream.

In the weeks since, we have sold our old bikes and outfitted ourselves with Surly Long Haul Truckers, which are the standard of touring bikes. We are nothing if not spontaneous.

We have been having a ball riding. We do 25 to 35 miles per ride. Robin says her bike is the best fitting and comfortable bike she has ever ridden. She loves it. Kevin is glad it does not easily fit in the RV. He could get a little jealous.

While in Muncie, we had the motor home's transmission checked. It did not feel right and recently started slipping severely when backing up. Uh - Oh...

We were referred to a transmission specialist in Gas City, Indiana, which is about 20 miles northwest of Muncie. We drove up and met Dan and his wife Sharon. They are a great team. 

Dan spent about an hour test driving the motor home and analyzing the transmission with his nifty computer. His diagnosis was that it needed to be replaced. We did not question his determination one moment. We knew even more emphatically that he was a good guy when he said that unfortunately, he could not do the work because his shop was not equipped for a vehicle the size of our rig.  He recommended that we put in a Jasper transmission. He also recommended an RV dealership in Richmond to do the swap.

We did some research and decided that the Jasper was the way to go. Unfortunately, the RV dealership does not do that sort of repair, but they turned us to a local garage. "The Garage" turned out to be a great place and the price was way better than we had anticipated.

After the trans swap we had the front end inspected and aligned. We were glad to learn that the steering components are fine. They did do a bit of adjusting to the alignment. After all the work the rig is driving better than it ever has.

All of these expensive delays have been somewhat anticipated. We know this is an old rig and it will have issues once we begin moving. Fortunately, we had prepared for them. We have one more thing to be worked on before we leave Indiana. Once that is done, we will have gone through the entire drive train and improved it all.

This last thing is what finds us in Goshen, Indiana right now. We are having the rear axle inspected and brought up to snuff as well as a full brake replacement on that axle. The rear axle is a separate item that was added to the chassis by the original motor home manufacturer when they built the motor home. It did not come from the Ford factory with the original chassis. The manufacturer of the axle and suspension (Mor/Ryde) is located in Elkhart, Indiana the undisputed capital of RVs in the world. Elkhart is approximately 20 miles from Goshen. The "tag" axle will get the go over on Tuesday, July 5, 2011.

We have been in Goshen for a week now. We have been riding our bikes a lot and visiting with cyber-friends from RV blogs that Kevin follows. Lots of fun and good people.

That pretty well brings us up to date on our travels. In the future, we will strive to keep our blog current. Also, we will be concentrating on getting pictures. We have seen so much already that we regret not getting pictures.

Keep following us as we continue Chasin' Our Dreams!