Sunday, November 20, 2011

Never leave home without toad

November 20, 2011—When we bought Baby last December, its odometer was just shy of 86,000 miles. When we came home today, it read 94,325 miles, so we’ve put on more than 8,000 miles trekking around the country. This last trip to/from Eustis, Fla., near Ocala, was only 258 miles, a mere drop in the odometer bucket.

Although we forgot some minor items this trip (an onion, flour), the only major thing we left behind was Toad—and we did not deliberately.

Toad, for those of you who are non RVers, is what we call our towed (get it?) car. We left toad in our driveway, for two reasons: No. 1, our instructions from the organizers of the Samboree said to unhook any towed vehicles before coming into the RV park. We assumed that was because it would be chaotic and crowded. Rather than deal with unhitching the car outside of the park, we would just leave it home. After all, we wouldn’t need it, would we? (That was reason No. 2.)

Technically, we did not need the car. We had sufficient food; and there were activities to keep us busy. As you already know, however, we participated in very few of the Samboree activities; they just weren’t our “thing.” The resort had a pool table, shuffle board, and heated swimming pool. But we did not use those either. It didn’t even occur to us to bring swim suits.

In hindsight, we should have brought the car. We had a good time, but we could have had a better time if we had been mobile. We were near the Ocala National Forest and several state parks, where we could have gone fishing. We were also near The Villages, where two good friends of mine live. We could have visited them and perhaps golfed, too.

But we couldn’t do those things because we didn’t have toad. Never again.

We did leave the cats home alone, with plenty of food and water and access to the outdoors, their favorite potty place. I don’t think they missed us at all, although they asked for their canned food almost as soon as we got in the door. We figure, though, that four days is about the limit of their being alone. Next time, in December when we go down to the Keys, they will come along with us.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,

Saturday, November 19, 2011


November 19, 2011—Whenever we go to a home show (twice a year in Jacksonville), we drool over certain items. One year it was kitchen cabinets; another year, flooring. We have replaced both in our house. At this “home show” (Samboree), we are again drooling—this time over newer motorhomes.

Because we are at a gathering of RV enthusiasts, several dealers have exhibits of new and used motorhomes here. It’s always fun (and dangerous) to look. Fun, because you get to see what’s new; dangerous, because looking gets you to wanting.

We toured probably a dozen RVs yesterday. Although the new ones are always pretty, we usually come away saying, “I’ll keep what I have.” But yesterday we saw a 2002 Itasca Holiday that gave us pause. It has two slides and an office area. It has a comfortable sleeper couch that opens electronically; a pull-out pantry; cherry finished cabinetry; wall-hugger recliner; and a shower that even has a seat in it! I think this RV could better accommodate the litter box and cat feeding paraphernalia.

It’s always fun to look, but as I said, looking leads to wanting. Who knows?

More on the Samboree…

This is really pretty boring. On the plus side, however, we attended a couple of vender-presented seminars in which we learned some things. We won a door prize (some wrenches). Jim bought a bicycle at a flea market. We got an excellent deal on a travel club membership. And we ate excellent barbeque at a local pub last night.

I would not go to another rally, although we will be going to Quartzite, Ariz., next January. That is not a rally per se, but it is a gathering of around a million RVers in one place at one time. We’ve been told it is something to experience at least once.

Going home tomorrow. I hope the cats survived all right without us and didn’t get into any mischief.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,

Thursday, November 17, 2011

On the road again and again

November 17—It’s a good thing home is where the heart is, because I haven’t been “home” for a while. Last week, I was not a Reluctant RoVer; I was a Squished Sardine, as Jim dropped me off at the airport to visit my Chicagoland family. Traveling by air used to be fun; now it is a chore.

A few weeks ago, we heard on the news that the TSA was no longer going to require shedding your shoes as your went through security at airports. That must have been at “selective” airports, because TSA still requires you to tread shoeless through the security zones.

The last time I departed through the Jacksonville airport, I was automatically sent through the full-body x-ray. Although I did not relish having some TSA officer see my naked body (or whatever they see), it was a lot easier to do that than to get patted down, which inevitably happens because my two artificial knees set off the alarms.

This time, however, I was herded through the security line, thinking I would be going through the x-ray scanner. Nope. Turns out, now you have to ask to have that done. I guess they had too many complaints. So, I ended up getting patted down. (On the return trip out of O’Hare, I asked to be scanned; it went much more quickly.)

My visit with my daughter and her family was great. The kids are growing so much, and they are smart as whips (as are my other grandchildren, too). We played games and read books. Ben, who is in first grade, read me a book, and I learned that one of his (and Campbell’s) favorite pastimes is to play “office”. I started to read The Secret Garden to Campbell, who is 8 and in third grade. The book was on my e-reader. When Jennifer and I saw a copy at a store we were shopping, I bought it. That night Campbell said, “Grandma, let me read it to you!” And she did. I thought it would be too advanced for her, but not so. My visit also included watching Campbell skate in a solo competition (and winning third place) and watching Ben practice with his gymnastics team.

Yesterday, barely 24 hours after returning home from Chicago, Jim and I hit the road again, in our Baby. We are in Eustis, Fla., north of Orlando, at a Good Sam Rally, called a Samboree. The place where we are staying has room for more than 900 RVs. I believe this rally has about 400. It is wall-to-wall RVs as far as you can see.
Good Sam’s is a club for RVers. We joined primarily for the discounts it offers at RV parks, as well as its insurance program (which is actually through GM). The cost to join is minimal for the benefits you receive, including a monthly magazine.

Since it is a club, Good Sam’s has state organizations, and they, in turn, have chapters. RVers can join one or more chapters, if they wish. Why they would want to do this, I’m not sure. None of these appeals to me. But, apparently, some people (a lot of people) like to do things in groups—travel in groups, play games (not my thing), and have dinners together.

OK, I’ll admit it: I am not a social person. I don’t like group activities. It is painful even to go to parties. I get my social needs satisfied on a one-on-one basis. My idea of having fun is to play golf or curl up with a book or do something on my own or with my husband or family. Once in a while I like to have lunch with “the girls,” but to join a group and do “things”? Not for me.

So, we’re having “fun” at this Samboree, if you consider spending two hours at an opening ceremony last night listening to people thank other people fun. We were told we had to wear a “first timer” ribbon and to go to a meeting at 8 a.m. this morning. Another 90 minutes wasted listening to people tell all of us “first timers” about their chapters…how much fun they have playing cards, games, going camping once a month, and eating together. Not my idea of fun at all.

But the time is not all a waste. The Samboree is next to a fair grounds, where every Thursday there is a flea market. We walked around the market and picked up some sweet oranges, nice tomatoes, and a bicycle! We’ve talked about taking bikes with us as we travel, but Jim’s was an old three-speed with skinny tires that needed to be replaced. Now he has a nice 18-speed bike with nubby tires that are good for off-road riding. We picked it up for a song—$35. I bought a new bike when I moved to Florida in 1998. I haven't ridden it since, well, about 1999. It's hanging in the garage, waiting for Jim to put on a comfortable new seat.

So, that purchase in itself has made the Samboree worthwhile. And, of course, being out on the road with my husband makes it worthwhile, too.

Me? Give me a computer, my e-reader, and a golf course and I’m a happy camper.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Fishy disappointments

Oct. 29—We have talked about visiting the Georgia Aquarium almost since the day it opened. Every advertisement we have seen shows a completely immersive experience, as visitors walk through one of the largest sea-water tanks in the world and spy sharks, manta rays, and other fish swimming overhead.

We planned this vacation, which started with a visit to Rob and his family in Raleigh, to have its highlight at the aquarium.

Our plan was to stay at an RV park that was supposedly a few miles outside of Atlanta. As we drove, however, Garmina (our GPS) kept telling us that we had more than 60 miles to the RV park, yet the signs said that Atlanta was only 50 miles away. How could that be? The map in Passport America showed it on I85. I finally double checked and discovered that the campground directory had misplaced the location of the campground. It wasn’t on I85; it was north of Atlanta on I75.

Obviously, that would not do for us. Since the day was early, and Garmina told us we could be in Atlanta at the aquarium by about 11:30 a.m., we decided to take in the tanks today.

However, our challenge was to find a place to park. We asked a couple of attendants at parking lots; they wanted between $30 and $50—way too much. We began driving around trying to find street parking, where we would leave Baby and drive back to the aquarium in “toad.”

Atlanta doesn’t have much street parking.

Our final solution? We found a Target, where we were given permission to leave the motorhome for a few hours. Thank you, Target!

Onward to the aquarium, and a series of disappointments.

Disappointment No. 1—parking. The parking garage adjacent to the aquarium does not post its price, and you don’t find out how much until you are ready to leave. The cost was $10. We could have parked in a lot across the street for $5.

Disappointment No. 2 —cost of admission. Overpriced, for sure. Adult tickets are $24.95 (plus tax, of course); kids, $18.95. We seniors get a break. It “only” cost of $20.95, which was about $10 too much, for what the aquarium offered. (These prices are only for general admission, not the special dolphin show, 4D movie, or other “specials.”)

Disappointment No. 3—the aquarium itself. Yes, the tank is huge. Yes, they have four huge whale sharks. And yes, the tank is built so that you walk through it and the fish swim above you, simulating a diving excursion. All of that is nice, but it wasn’t worth the price of admission.

The aquarium has several themed areas, and many smaller tanks. We saw a few fish we had never seen before. But all-in-all, it was a big disappointment. If you have never been to an aquarium, I guess you would like it. But I’ve been to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago many, many times. I don’t know how much they charge, but whatever it is, you get more value, including several shows, at no extra cost.

After the aquarium, we considered visiting Underground Atlanta. Garmina found it for us, but again, parking was an issue (just the car, not the RV). So we forfeited that opportunity, headed by to Baby, and headed out of Atlanta.

Tonight, because of a lack of campgrounds, we are boondocking (dry camping) in a Walmart parking lot in Warner-Robins, Ga., where we will visit an air museum tomorrow. We also anticipate visiting the Andersonville Civil War memorial, which is just a couple miles up the road, near Macon.

I have a hunch we won’t be disappointed in either of these visits.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,


Home again

Nov. 1—All good things have to end, and our vacation did yesterday afternoon. All that is left of it is a pile of dirty clothes to wash and put away, as well as the memories and pictures we took and the blogs I posted.
Every trip we take (OK, this was officially only our third), it gets easier. But we still continue to learn things.
For instance:

• Unplug the garage door opener. Our neighbor came over as we were unpacking. He told us the day after we left, we found our garage door open. He knew we had not left it open (it had been closed just a few minutes earlier). He went into the garage, pushed the button to close the door, and ran out. Since nothing was disturbed, the only thing we can figure out is that somebody else has a door opener on the same frequency as ours.

• Create a to-do list. We had put together a list of things to make sure we take with us (such as our pillows), but we had not created a to-do list for closing up the house. I have begun one now. This trip we forgot to turn off the water to the washer and the electricity to the hot water heater. Those things will be on the list, as well as things such as plug in lamp timers, adjust sprinkler settings, stop mail and paper (all of which I did, incidentally).

• Buy some extras. We weren’t going to buy a second set of dishware, pots and pans, etc. because, as Jim put it, “We’re going to go full-time…why have duplicates?” Well, it’s a pain to remember what to bring and what to leave at home. It’s much more convenient to have two of some things. We already bought a small mixer and a new coffee grinder. Now we have to add a couple more knives, a potato peeler, jar opener, and other similar items. Much easier.

• Pack an extra set of towels and sheets. We have a washer/dryer, but it’s only convenient to use them when we are in an RV camp with full hookups. I intend to put an extra set of linens away, since we find that dry camping while traveling isn’t too bad and saves money.

• Camp at state parks. They are quiet and usually offer a discount to us old geezers. That’s the good part. The downside of staying in state parks is that cell phone/internet reception may be nil, and the sites do not usually have full hookups, meaning we can’t use our washer.

There are probably other “learnings” but that is all I can think of right now.

Our trip was fairly uneventful, but Baby did have a couple malfunctions. The third night we stopped to camp, we were unable to put down the jacks. A couple nights we slept at a slight angle. The other problem was our slide-out. Our 13-year-old Baby has a bit of arthritis, it seems. The rollers on the slide, apparently covered in rubber, are crumbling and when we put the slide in and out, Baby groans quite a bit. The last two nights we went without the extra room. Jim will be investigating how to fix both the brakes and the slide before our next big trip.

Back to normal now.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,

No tricks, only treats

Oct. 31—Trick or treat. Today we had no tricks, only treats.

After spending the night Georgia’s Stephen Foster State, which lies within the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, we took a boat tour of the swamp.

Okefenokee Swamp, the land of the trembling earth, according to the Seminole Indians who lived there, consists of 402,000 square acres. It has three entrances; we were at the Fargo, Ga., entrance on the western side of the swamp. Several years ago we had visited the southeast entrance as well as the north entrance. The swamp is so big, each side differs considerably in wildlife and habitat. We did learn, however, not to visit in the heat of the summer. That’s when deer flies bite, and the strongest of insect repellants is no match for those pests. That’s one reason we decided to take a tour in the fall, when biting insects were few, and we wouldn’t perspire under the sun’s blare.

The 90-minute boat tour of the swamp was very peaceful. The guide explained that Okefenokee means “land of the trembling earth” because of the floating islands of peat. These islands grow grasses, even trees, when they are large enough, and animals as well as people can walk on them. However, when you tread on the these patches of earth, they sink slightly—hence, they “tremble.”

We did not see too much wildlife on this cool morning, aside from a couple of alligators that were sunning (including one that had lost its foot), a hawk, some blue heron, and deer.

We actually saw several deer, when we entered the park the night before, as well as this morning, when we neared the ranger station. But when we were on the boat tour, the guide turned off the motor at the end of the “trail” so we could quietly appreciate the silence of nature. Suddenly we heard branches snapping nearby. When we looked for the origin of the sound, we found an eight-point buck staring us in the face! He seemed as curious about us as we were about him. We watched each other for at least 15 minutes. During that time, he was joined briefly by another buck. Our eight-pointer, however, dominated his territory, and the intruder left.

The ranger said that she had never seen a deer stay in one place for such a long time. I believe her.
The tour over, it is time to go home, which is less than three hours south of here.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,

A time to reflect

Oct. 30—It always amazes me how inhumane we can be. I was reminded of this face this morning when we visited the Andersonville POW Memorial.

Andersonville was the site of a Confederate POW camp housing 45,000 Union troops. Those troops were confined to only 26 acres within a stockade. According to what we were told, the prison was in operation only 14 months. However, almost 13,000 men died of malnutrition, poor medical treatment, and terrible living conditions.

The POWs had to find and build their own shelters. Some were lucky and were able to put together makeshift tents. Others used branches or whatever they could find to build some shelter from the weather. (It gets cold in Georgia; it even snows sometimes.)

Water came from a small stream, which was quickly polluted from human waste. Water, of course, was essential for life; the prisoners took to digging wells throughout the site to find water. Some did; many did not. Although the Confederates were supposed to provide food, they did not complete a kitchen in time for the first inmates. Food that was given to them was often uncooked and ridden with vermin.

The stink from the camp was so bad that the people in Americus, Ga., 10 miles down the road, complained about the stench.

It was no wonder that so many died.

I read the book Andersonville many years ago; I intend to reread it soon. I remember feeling the atrocities of the war in the pages of the book. What I did not know until today was that these atrocities were not confined to this southern prison camp. The Union prison camps up north were just as bad. The one in Chicago, for instance, was so bad, that when it was emptied of prisoners, it could not be salvaged for any other use. It was burned to the ground.

The Andersonville Memorial is dedicated to the memories of all POWs, in all wars. It features exhibits about U.S. prisoners who suffered in camps in WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf Wars. The sad thing is that essentially nothing has changed. History repeated itself, time and again. Only the methods of conflicting inhumanity have changed.

I’m glad we went to Andersonville. It was worth the trip.

Oh, yes…I forgot to mention. There was no admission charge.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,

Back home again...

Rob and I hit the road about 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 15. The movers were incredible: They had everything loaded into the huge moving tru...