Sunday, March 25, 2012

Long live Garmina

March 25, 2012—I think we gave Garmina a nervous breakdown. At least, that's one explanation for why she has "died."

Throughout our journeys, we relied on Garmina, our Garmin GPS system, to get us from point A to point B or C. She did a fine job—for the most part. At times, though, she was exasperating and she would get confused.

Texas especially was trying for Garmina.

In Texas, at least in the metropolitan areas around San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas, Texas builds its interstates with a series of usually one-way access roads that run parallel to the main road. These roads are not called access roads, however. They usually have another name. And they usually run next to the limited-access highway for miles.

Despite the economy (or maybe in spite of it or even because of it), Texas has continued to build and "improve" its highways. So there was always construction, and that caused Garmina further confusion. Garmina would tell us to get on the highway (which we would do), then a few minutes later, she would "recalculate," believing that we were still on an access road!

Driving in Texas was tough on her.

Sometimes, too, we would deliberately change our mind about a destination, sometimes because we decided on the spur of the moment to go another way, or sometimes because we just needed to stop at a store we had seen. Again, she would "recalculate" until we shut her off.

There were a few times that she sent us in the wrong direction, like the time in Mississippi when we were looking for a specific RV park. She took us down a dirt road around an oxbow lake. I wasn't too keen on that trek, because there was no place to turn around. Fortunately, we came out on a highway and were able to get back to where we wanted to go.

On our last day of traveling, we noticed that Garmina wasn't feeling well. Although she was plugged in, she kept beeping at us, telling us that she was unplugged and that her battery was low. We initially thought perhaps the connection was just loose. Not so.

Yesterday while we were in the car, she just plain refused to work. She finally died. Cause of death: her battery.

I've ordered a battery to recharge her, but we've decided that Garmina would be relegated to local traveling only. We've ordered a new Garmina, which comes with live traffic updates and free map updates for as long as we own it. We'll get the new only next week.

Thank you, Garmina, for getting us around so well. We'll try to be kinder to your sister.

Until next time,


Friday, March 16, 2012

Re-entry into the real world

March 16, 2012—My good friend Amy was wondering what’s it’s like to re-enter the real world after spending two months in a tin can. I’ll try to fill you in…

First, let me assure you: Living in a motorhome is definitely not living in the real world. In my real world, every morning I get up, read my paper, do my crosswords, go to Curves, clean, cook, and write and edit.
Not so, in the motorhome. I get up, try to read the paper online (if I have access), do a crossword, then either get ready to be a tourist or to travel to another destination.

And everything in a motorhome is compressed into a very small space, which surprisingly can hide items very well. You’d be amazed! For example, we hunted high and low for our Wii games, and we finally decided we had left them home. Not so. We finally found them buried beneath something else in an overhead cupboard.

So, getting back to the real world—my very nice house with its view of a very nice pond—felt a little strange. The first thing I did was to check to make sure we hadn’t been burgled. We hadn’t been—at least not by people. A raccoon apparently had managed to get onto the porch and ate some food we had left over from the baby squirrel. He made a small mess, but not too bad.

After unpacking the motor home, we opened two months’ worth of mail. (My hand still cramped for two days from opening all of those envelopes.)

After a couple of hours, we began to try to settle down. We found we had to think about little things, like where do we keep the paper towels and how do you use the TV remote? I found myself standing up before flushing the john. (You have to do that in the motorhome because of where the flusher is and how the toilet operates.) I luxuriated in my first shower; I was able to shower front and back without bumping into the wall. And it enjoyed going to bed—and getting out of it! In the motorhome I had to walk sideways to go around it and get in. Here? I have plenty of room.

Tuesday morning, after enjoying a good night’s rest in my king sized bed, I got up early to have my coffee and read the paper. It felt really odd to read a “paper” paper. For the previous two months I had been accessing the newspaper online—a slow and often tedious process.

It wasn’t until yesterday afternoon that I was able to enjoy a swim in the swim/spa. Nice! The night before we took time to soak in it and look at the stars; we missed that a lot.

It was fun to watch the cats readjust. Jim had to pry Xena from her hiding place in the motorhome, but once he put her down in the house, she went about exploring every room, to make sure everything was where it was supposed to be. Charlie was more circumspect. He immediately ran and hid under the bed. We’ve found that although the cats can now outside to go potty, they are using the litter box!

Re-entry also means taking care of “Baby.” From the day we bought her until we left on this trip, we had been storing the motorhome rent-free at the dealership where we purchased it. However, when we left we knew we would have to find a new storage area for her; the dealership went out of business. Monday morning, I called a place advertised on Craigslist, on Leon Street, not too far from the dealership. The place where we now have her stored is on acreage owned by a local company. Not only is she safe and secure behind industrial fencing equipped with security cameras, she is also on property where the owner and his son have homes next to their place of business.  

Jim has a long list of to-do’s for the motorhome. I’m sure that one of those things is an oil change and lube job prior to our going out again. He hired a kid to wash most of the dirt off the RV when we were in Arkansas (I think)…or maybe it was Mississippi? He wants to give it a good wash job, then apply a special cleaner to remove the oxidation and shine it up “pretty.” He also bought some type of roof-repair material that will be delivered in a week or two. It’s time to recoat the roof, since we had a leak.

Jim’s to-do list also includes taking up the carpeting and putting down the flooring we purchased some time ago. We also want to build some type of desk area for me, and probably get new chairs. One of ours is OK; the recliner is very big, however. I would like something with a smaller footprint—possible a wall-hugger to give us more room…

We got home Monday. Today is Friday. I still have catching up to do, but slowly it’s getting done. I wonder how long I can put off moving that inch of dust around—another few days?

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,


Thursday, March 15, 2012

5,479 miles later…

March 12, 2012—We are home again! Yea!

I started anticipating getting home as soon as we crossed over the Florida border. At the sight of the first sign saying “Jacksonville” my heart started to beat a little faster. It’s not that I’m in love with Florida or with Jacksonville. It’s just that it is currently home. And home is where I wanted to be.

We spent two more nights traveling in Florida—the first (March 10) in Carrabelle, a Gulf Coast town, and the second (last night) in Green Cove Springs, about 30 miles southwest of here. (We did not have a place to park and store “Baby” so we stayed that in the RV park so we could find a safe storage place the next morning.)

Incidentally, most people lost only one hour’s sleep when they turned their clocks forward on Sunday morning. We lost two. Carrabelle is just over the time zone change (Central to Eastern time), so we lost one hour by changing time zones, and another because of daylight savings time. I’m still tired!)

I’m happy we’re home. Jim is not. He would rather be out on the road yet. I don’t think he has the “homing gene” in him. Instead, he has the “roaming gene.”

Some observations about our very lengthy trip:

  • We left on January 8 and returned today, March 12, for a total of 64 nights on the road. We spent time wandering around Texas, Arizona, a bit of southern California (not much), New Mexico, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Florida for a total of 5,479 miles. We took in a lot of sites. We had a good time.
  • Not including food or restaurant meals, we spent approximately $2,600 on RV resorts (not including the membership we bought) and diesel. That comes to roughly $40 a day traveling expenses for the two of us. I didn’t track food costs; we brought a lot of food with us, supplementing whenever we needed to. We probably ate out a little more often than we do at home, but not that much more, so the cost of food (home-prepared and restaurant) was about the same as if we had stayed home.
  • I also did not add up miscellaneous expenses, but I remember most of them: entrance to Sonora Caverns ($40), two coffee mugs ($16), tee shirts from Roswell, Carlsbad Caverns, and Quartzsite (probably about $60), a sweater from the space museum in Las Cruces ($20); sightseeing in San Antonio (about $60); ride up the “space needle” in San Antonio (about $10); admission to B.B. King Museum in Biloxi ($10), and a ride in a flight simulator in Biloxi ($8). We obviously don’t go overboard on souvenirs and mementos.
  • We learned that the adage “the best things in life are free” is true. Thanks to Jim’s Golden Passport (a national parks pass for seniors), we did not have to pay admission to many of the places we enjoyed the most, such as Carlsbad Caverns, Fort Pickens, and other places.
  • The cats finally became travelers—Charlie especially. After a week or so of traveling, he would come out of his hiding place behind the kitchen cabinets and would usually go into the bedroom. He had a favorite place to sleep, curled up under the back cabinet. Xena usually came out of hiding a few minutes after “take off,” and curled up in the living room. The last few days I was especially proud of Charlie. He would jump up and sit in my lap (or Jim’s) for long periods of time while we were traveling.
  • I’m going to have to figure out some way to fix up an office area in the motorhome. Working with the laptop on my lap is fine for writing a blog, but I have been commissioned to write a book within the next six months as well as to edit for about 15 hours a week for the next few months. I need a decent workspace. We’ll figure something out.
  • We’ll probably shop for a larger towable vehicle. We miss our Murano; it was the perfect size and a comfortable car. Our HHR is comfortable, but it is small. Jim wanted to park the motorhome somewhere in Arkansas, drive home, and then return in a few weeks. Since we want to go back to Arkansas and explore it more fully (as well as other states), that would have been a good idea—except that our current car is much too small to pack up food, clothes, cats, and golf clubs. So, we’re toying with the idea of trading it in for a bigger vehicle.
  • We are still married! (And plan to keep it that way.) It can be trying for two strong-willed people to be together 24/7 in what is essentially a tin can, but we survived. We had a good time (98% of the time)!

I call this blog the Reluctant RoVer. Am I still reluctant? Yep, but not as much as before. This is still Jim's dream, not mine (can't say I have any!). I wouldn't be RVing if it weren't for him. I still see RVs as hotels on wheels. I really would not want to live in a tin can full time. And I don’t understand people who just go out and camp. What do they do? Why do they do it? I prefer to have the small luxuries my house provides me, which include space, my swim spa, more space… you get it.

Everywhere we go, though, we meet people who do this full-time. Jim would like to; I want a house. If we sell our house, I’m willing to go full-time only until we find a new place to live…but only until that time. So, I guess you can say I am still …

Your Reluctant RoVer,


Thursday, March 8, 2012

In Florida...

March 8, 2012—I can almost see home. Well, not really. We’re outside of Pensacola, in the Fort Pickens Camping area of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Home is clear across the state—I would guess probably 375 miles to go. That’s a drop in the bucket, compared to the thousands of miles we have traveled since leaving Jacksonville January 8.
Gulf seashore at Fort Pickens

We left Biloxi around 9:30 yesterday and decided to take the scenic route (US 98), which runs along the gulf. (We may continue that route, in which case we probably won’t get home for a few more days.) Jim stopped at the Florida visitors’ center to get brochures on the gulf shores area. One of the things he wanted to see was the National Aviation Museum in Pensacola.

We searched our various directories for an RV park, and almost went to one about 15 miles from Pensacola. Before we headed out, however, I checked for camping areas in state and national parks. That’s how we found Fort Pickens, a really neat campground, where we were lucky (as walk-ins) to get a camping space for two nights. The price was right, too--only $10 a night for us old foagies. The campground is nearly full.

The Gulf Islands National Seashore actually includes barrier islands in Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi. The sanctuary where we are was built on a fortified barrier island, Santa Rosa Island. Fort Pickens was built in 1829 and was “relieved of duty” after World War II, in 1947. It was the largest of four forts built to defend the Pensacola Bay and its navy yard. Sadly (for our history), it was built by slave labor brought in from New Orleans. The slaves laid 21.5 million bricks to build the fort—most of which were made locally and barraged to the island.

Throughout the island you find batteries that housed cannon and big guns.
Jim walking toward the main part of  Fort Pickens

Jim standing on top of a battery

That's me, walking around a battery

One of the big guns, actually a cannon turned into a rifle, left on the property

Although the fort was built to defend against intruders, the only action it saw was during the Civil War. Fort Pickens was a Union fort; Fort Barrancas, situated across the bay in what is now the Naval Air Station, was held by the Confederates. They barraged each other in October and November of 1861, until the Confederates abandoned Pensacola in order to boost sagging defenses in north Mississippi and west 
Tennessee. As a side note, the fort also incarcerated Geronimo, the famous Indian warrior.

The National Air Museum is housed on the Pensacola Naval Air Station Base. It was built by donations and is run by volunteers, although the Navy provides maintenance on the facilities. With one exception, all displays of aircraft in the two hangars, which comprise 55,000 square feet, are original. Most are restored (by volunteers) to near-running capacity. They are truly beautiful to look at, even if you aren’t very interested in naval history and war (like me). Jim, of course, loved the museum.
Those are actual planes once flown by the Blue Angles

Jim loved the airplanes

I'm sitting in an ejection seat

Tomorrow we are off again. My personal wish is to head directly home so that I can begin writing the book I am commissioned to do and to begin working editing some articles I agreed to do for Reed Elsevier, a big publisher—and to do my taxes. But then, again, I am not driving.

Until later,

Your Reluctant RoVer,


Tuesday, March 6, 2012


March 6, 2012—Most people who do data processing are familiar with the acronym GIGO: garbage in, garbage out. How true.

The other day, when we were traveling from Arkansas to Mississippi, we decided to spend the night in an RV resort called Pecan Grove in Lake Village, Ark., a small town just shy of the Mississippi River (and the Mississippi border). According to the map insert in the directory we were using, the park was situated on the state’s largest oxbow lake. (By definition, an oxbow lake is formed when the u-shaped meandering of a river—in this case, the Mississippi—is cut off and a lake is then created.)

The address of the park was given as an intersection—something that Garmina (our GPS) does not understand too well. However, the ad also gave longitude and latitude coordinates—something we could enter manually to find our way.

Well…we entered the coordinates (very carefully). And then we began to follow Garmina’s directions. When she told us to turn down a very lonely looking country road, I instinctively felt that something was wrong. But Jim wanted to continue going where she told us to.

I wish I had taken pictures. It was pretty lonely out there.

The two lane country road turned into a single lane dirt road that followed the banks of another oxbow lake (Lake Wallace, if I remember correctly). We saw a number of fishermen. A truck came toward us and passed us. And we continued on.

Actually, we didn’t have much choice, because we had no place to turn around. This little trek on the dirt road along the banks of a lake formed by the Mighty Mississippi was reminiscent of our journey along the levee last August. We had virtually no choice but to continue, slowly, bumping our way to wherever the road would lead us.

The trek had a good ending. The dirt road came out on a fish camp. It also intersected with a paved state or county road. Unsure of which way to turn, Jim at first turned into the fish camp, which had a large parking lot. When he saw there was no exit, he managed (with some skill to avoid hitting a flag pole) to do a u-turn and head on out to the intersection. That road eventually led us to the main highway.

We didn’t know exactly where we were, but we kept following the highway, until we finally saw a sign that pointed to Lake Village. And we eventually found the RV park.

Why did the misadventure happen? No, we did not enter the coordinates incorrectly. We were very meticulous about entering those numbers. But, remember what I said about GIGO? Well, the published coordinates were wrong. Garbage in, garbage out.

Today was sort of a GIGO day, too. It was much too windy to go shrimping (something we wanted o do, but sea sickness does not appeal to me), so we programmed Garmina to take us to a number of local attractions.

We were able to find the first one, the Seabees Museum, with little trouble. However, we found out it is located within a Naval Station, and in order to get in required getting a background clearance and that would require a wait of almost an hour. We opted not to wait to see a museum that might interest us for 10 minutes.
Then we went to what was called the “Sentinel Museum.” Turns out it was a museum dedicated to rail history in the area. Only problem: It was closed for renovation.

Next we drove to a museum dedicated to area firefighters. It was closed—only open on Saturdays.
Garmina then led us to a local maritime museum. Apparently it had been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina; they were rebuilding. (Incidentally, as we drove along Highway 90, called Beach Blvd., we saw many, many prime building lots empty, most of them with vestiges of foundations showing—all victim to Hurricane Katrina.)

For the most part, Garmina was accurate, although she often had trouble “recalculating.” I think we have challenged her too much (especially while we were in Texas, which is not GPS-friendly) and her brains have become scrambled.

Days like today and the day we went meandering along the banks of an oxbow lake are frustrating when they happen, but funny when you look back at them.

I’m laughing now.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,


Monday, March 5, 2012

Hard knots

March 4, 2012—Anyone who has traveled to Arizona and visited the Painted Desert has heard of (and probably visited) the Petrified Forest. That’s the only petrified forest I had ever heard of, so we were surprised when we discovered the Mississippi Petrified Forest outside of Jackson, Miss.

We’ve been taking scenic routes instead of interstate highways. As we pass from one state to another, we stop at the visitor’s center and glean it of information on the state’s attractions. Some we won’t see this trip; we catalog them. But others are on our way home. That’s how we found out about the Mississippi Petrified Forest. Although it is privately owned, it was not “commercial.” The admission charge was only $7 per person ($6 for us old farts), which gave us access to a six-block walking trail that showed off many examples of petrified wood, including giant sequoias as well as other trees, some of which are now extinct.

As we started our walk (we were the only visitors at the time), we were greeted by a small calico cat. Jim can’t pass by a friendly cat. He bent over to pet her, and she turned over onto her back for a good belly rub. That did it! She kept us company for our entire little trek. She’d be a pace behind us, then hop up onto the fence and walk for a while. At one point, as we looped around the lane, she lagged behind. Jim stopped and called to her. We wondered if she would follow the path or cut across. She took the shortcut to join us as we finished our walk.

The petrified forest was really interesting, especially when we learned some of the history. This area was known as the bad lands for years. We saw a picture of it as it appeared in the 1960s; it truly was badlands—huge rocks sticking out of the ground. Nothing would grow on this land, which was formed when a raging river tore through the area and formed gullies and ravines.

But we didn’t see badlands. We walked through a forested area. The owners of the land allowed the land to reclaim itself, and within 40 years, most of the ravines have disappeared; tall trees have grown; and the area is serenely wooded. It is remarkable what nature can do when left alone.

We are now in Biloxi for a couple of days. We picked up literature on the local attractions. Stay tuned to find out what we discover on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,


Friday, March 2, 2012

Extreme recycling

March 2, 2012—I’m not a tree-hugger, but I believe in recycling whenever it is reasonable and possible. At home we recycle our newspapers and aluminum cans, and glassware, faithfully putting them out in their blue bins by the curb.

As we were driving down the highway yesterday, we saw recycling done to the extreme: An entrepreneur apparently bought a number of old railroad box cars and turned them into apartments! The name of his venture: Railcar Apartments.

We had to take a picture of them.

Our RV resort is in a very rural area, near a huge lake where fishing and water sports abound. I’d love to fish in that lake, but it didn’t make sense to buy a license for a couple hours of fishing. Instead, we opted to try our luck in the small lake and the pond on the resort property, where we don’t need a license.

We stopped at a local convenience store/tool store/barbecue hut/bait shop called Smokey Joe’s to buy some bait. A local woman told us what was biting down by the dam. When we told her we would only be fishing in the RV park’s ponds, she laughed. “There ain’t no fish in those ponds…except maybe some catfish.”
We decided to try anyway. Catfish would be good.

The nightcrawler I pulled out of the bait box at first did not want to cooperate. It seemed to sense it was going to go for a swim. I prevailed, though, and got it on the hook and cast into the pond.
Something took most of my bait within a couple of minutes. The excitement of that nibble quickly ebbed, though. We think the “fish” might actually have been a turtle.

After drowning a few more worms (and having no more nibbles), we decided that local lady was probably right: There aren’t any fish in these ponds. No wonder you don’t need a license!

Ah, well.

We’ll be home in a few days. Maybe we’ll finally do some fishing there.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,


Diamond Jim

March 1, 2012—Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, or so they say. Me? The only diamonds I have (and want) are those on my engagement and wedding rings. I’ve never been “into” jewelry. Nevertheless, the opportunity to dig for diamonds was too good to pass up.

Arkansas’ Crater of Diamonds State Park is dedicated to public diamond mining. The diamond-mining area is 37 1/2acres, which are plowed periodically to help bring the diamonds to the surface. The diamonds themselves were formed about 100 million years ago; they lie on the surface of an ancient volcanic crater.

Three colors of diamonds are found in the park: white, brown, and yellow, in that order. Along with diamonds rock hounds find semi-precious stones, such as lamproite, amethyst, banded agate, jasper, pendot, garnet, quartz, calcite, barite, and hematite.

The first diamonds were found by a local farmer who owned the land, which is near Mufreesboro, Ark. Although there were some commercial ventures to mine the gems, they were not profitable. The site became an Arkansas state park in 1972.

Driving to the park took about an hour down winding two-lane highways and through gorgeous scenery. (Every day more flowers appear.) We brought our own shovel and bucket, but we rented screens to sift the dirt.

There are three ways to find diamonds:

  • Walking up and down the rows of plowed fields. If the field is newly plowed or if a heavy rain just occurred, this is apparently a good way to find them.
  • Dry sifting. You can dig up areas, put the dirt into a sifter, and see what kinds of gems might be left behind.
  • Wet sifting. In this method, you use two sifters (one finer than the other). You put dirt in the larger-meshed sifter and dissolve it in water. Then you put the remains in the smaller sifter, get rid of the rest of the dirt, and spread it out to dry. Once it is dry, you may find something valuable.

Jim opted for the wet sifting. I opted to walk up and down the plowed fields. I also sat on the ground and played in the dirt, breaking apart clumps to see if I could find anything.

I didn’t. At least, not any diamonds. I found some pretty agate, but that’s not really what I wanted.
Diamond Jim didn’t find anything either, at least at first blush. The park allows you to take home up to five gallons of dirt. We took home the washings. We’ll spread them out to dry thoroughly and then try to identify the pebbles.

A man and woman who are veteran rock hounds were helping novices like us use the equipment and identify the stones. The lady especially was good at this; she did not espy anything worthwhile in our cache. (Although her hunt didn’t turn up anything worthwhile, in the years she has gone to the park, she has found 11 diamonds.)

It’s a lot of work, mining diamonds. We would do it again, though. It was a lot of fun. However, I think I’ll keep writing to earn extra cash. I wouldn’t count on a mining venture to pay off.

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...