Saturday, November 17, 2012

No more hidey holes?

Cats are not good travelers. They don’t like to be in a moving vehicle. Dogs, on the other hand, love to travel. I remember saying to my dog, “Wanna go bye-bye?” and he would be lapping at me, excited to get into the car. I have no reason to believe he wouldn’t be just as excited to travel in a motorhome.

When we left on this two-week trip, we decided to pack the car, not bring the RV home to load with clothes, groceries and the cats. So, to take Charlie and Xena to Baby, we managed to hunt them down in the house (they have a knack for hiding under the bed or in a closet to avoid traveling) and put them in kennel boxes.

Oh, how they hated that 20-minute trip! They cried all the way. As soon as we let them out in Baby, they found their usual hiding place—behind the kitchen cabinets.

Charlie was a better traveler than Xena this trip. He came out of hiding within a few minutes, and he stayed out. Xena, on the other hand, stayed in her hole as long as she could—for at least 30 minutes after we arrived at our destination. With the slide out (and the kitchen drawers in), she had no place to hide, but she tried to find a way into the hidey hole many times, mewing to us that she didn’t like this RVing bit. (I think she is the true Reluctant RoVer.)

When we considered purchasing Junior, with its three slides and two extra feet in length (40 feet), we looked for cat accommodations. We would not buy anything unless we could put the litter box in a spot other than the living area, and place the cats’ food and water dishes out of the way. Junior met these requirements.

But, as we were considering the purchase, I observed to Jim, “No hidey holes.” It appeared to be true. The way Baby’s slide was built, there was an empty space behind one of the kitchen cabinets when the slide was in. That’s how the cats found their hiding place; they jumped into that empty space.

But in Junior, the slides are designed differently. When they are in, there are no hidey holes. Or so we thought.

Last night, we thought we were coming home. We pulled in the slides in preparation for our departure. Then we encountered some (shall we say) challenges. Jim hooked up the hitch and plugged the lights into their sockets, but we had no power to the car’s lights. He thought this might happen and was prepared to rewire the lights so they would go on. However, it was dark and late. 
So we decided to spend another night in Wekiva Spring KOA. (He fixed the lights this morning, and we are now home.)

Once we decided to spend the night, we put the slides back out.

Xena came walking out of the bedroom closet, where she was hiding. But we had no sign of Charlie. Where could he be? After a couple of hours, I thought I heard a mewing. Jim checked in the bedroom and found the little vagabond. Charlie had discovered that when the slide is in, there is a hidey hole under the bed. The only trouble was that when the slide went out, he had no escape route! The bed has two under-bed drawers, however, so Jim removed one, and Charlie finally joined us for a quiet evening.

Until later,

Your Reluctant RoVers—

Linda, Charlie, and Xena

Friday, November 16, 2012

Meet Junior

You knew it was going to happen--especially after our mishap on I4 last week. We bought a new(er) RV. For the time being, we are calling it Junior.

Junior is a 2005 Country Coach Inspire. Country Coach is a company that made high-end RVs. Unfortunately, it went out of the manufacturing business in, I believe 2010, due to mismanagement by a company that had bought out the founder. The founder, however, repurchased the name and all the intellectual property of the company and is back in business, providing service and parts. He intends to begin manufacturing again.
Junior has three slides. It has full-body teal-colored paint.

The motorhome we purchased is beautiful. It is 40 feet long (two feet more than Baby) and has three slides, which give it a lot of living space. It also has a lot more storage capacity. Like Baby, it has a washer/dryer, only this is a combo model, not a stacked unit. I prefer the stacked unit, but, that takes up a lot of space and adds more weight to the motorhome.

As you can see from the pictures, the cabinetry is cherry wood. The ceilings are higher, giving a feeling of spaciousness. The floors, we discovered, are a high-end vinyl planking, similar (but nicer quality) than the flooring Jim installed in Baby.
Kitchen area. Counters are corian. Cabinets are cherrywood.

A comfortable and stylish leather sleeper sofa

Living area, looking from back to front. You can see the desk area on left in front of the recliner.

The bathroom is a split design. The walk-through area has a large vanity and a big shower with seat in it. It will be nice to be able to sit and shave my legs! This larger bathroom also gives up the opportunity to put the litter box in a more appropriate area than the living room.
View from bathroom, with separate toilet area 
Bathroom vanity. Lots of storage space with a big medicine cabinet.

The living room has a desk area, which I am finding not especially convenient, because of the seating. I am presently writing this with the laptop on my lap, sitting in the oversized recliner. (Why do they put such big recliners in motorhomes? Don’t the designers have a sense of perspective?)
Bedroom with Sleep Number bed (normal-sized, not RV-sized). The regular sized bed makes it a bit tight to walk around, but gives more options for bedding.

Dining area. We have two additional chairs. That oversized recliner is comfortable but too big! Someday it will be replaced.

The kitchen has more counter space than we had before. It also has Corian countertops. Nice. We also have a four-door refrigerator, much larger than the one in Baby. (More about the fridge later.)
A really nice feature is an upgrade the original owner purchased--an electrically operated footrest for the passenger seat. I like to ride with my feet elevated. This will make it easy!

The motorhome also has new tires, which is important, since tires (which we were going to have to buy for Baby) cost around $3,000.

Of course, this picture-perfect “home” isn’t quite perfect. We purchased it “as is”, which meant that the dealer only fixed safety issues. We went through it pretty closely, but we were still surprised.

The floor was one. Even the sales staff thought it was wood, not vinyl planking. The refrigerator was another surprise. The freezer worked, but the fridge didn’t. Our service technician thought it might be a computer board, and he was willing to swap it out with another from a similar refrigerator that was going to auction. When he looked at it, however, he discovered that a fuse was blown. A new fuse, and we should be back in business.

We also discovered that the LP gas detector didn’t work. Jim accidentally turned on a gas valve to the stove, and the motorhome filled up with gas, but the detector did not come on. (We’re fine.) The dealer is replacing the detector with a new one; it’s obviously a safety issue.

We talked with the service technician who assessed the motorhome’s needs. He said that the big awning (automatic, not manual) did not work. However, he told Jim how to fix it. Not such good news for a small awning over the door. It will have to be replaced. Fortunately, that awning is not critical.

You might be wondering about the cats and how they are adjusting to their new home. Well, yesterday when we introduced them to their new surroundings, they didn’t like it too much. They immediately searched for a hiding place. The only place they could find was the 8-foot wide closet in our bedroom (another nice feature). So, they hid in it for awhile. Charlie came out first; Xena finally followed.

Tonight, though, we wondered where Charlie was. Well, he found another hiding place, an opening under our bed. And he got stuck there! When the slide is open, there is no way to come out. Fortunately, we finally found him, removed one of the under-bed storage drawers, and let him out.

Oh, one more thing. We decided not to trade Baby. We are selling it on our own. I have to say, it looks impeccable, and once Jim gets the roof done and shines up the outside, we hope it will make someone else (an entry-level RVer) very happy. Know anyone who wants a good motorhome? It will be priced very reasonably.

Until later,

A very tired Reluctant RoVer,


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Art? If you say so

It's true. Art is in the eye of the beholder. Today, my eye did not see too much beholding, although I appreciated the opportunity to view "masterpieces" firsthand.

We decided to spend the day in Tampa/St. Petersburg, less than two hours from where we are staying. Jim acted as our researcher on what to do (an appropriate role, I think, for a former travel agent). His agenda consisted on three items: the Dali Gallery, the St. Petersburg pier, and Ybor City in Tampa.

I'll be honest: I was familiar with the name Salvador Dali, and I probably had seen pictures of some of his work at some time in my life, but I really did not know what to expect. The gallery contains more than 2,000 pieces of his work, most donated by one family, who was friends of Dali and knew him well.

The gallery documents Dali's artistic progress--if you could call it that. Dali, who was born into a highly dysfunctional family (he was a replacement son, also called Salvador, who died at a very early age), started painting when he was a boy. To me, his work as a teenager was his best. His was influenced by the impressionists and the cubists. Then something happened...he started to create what he called "anti-art."

And anti-art it was. He was a member of the surrealism movement. Surrealism is hardly adequate to describe the weirdness he created, mostly as a painter, but also as a sculptor.

Now, I will give you this: He was very gifted. The details on his paintings were very precise. He also was able to paint illusions. In one painting, a very large one, his wife (a frequent model) was standing in front of a window nude. But when the picture is viewed at 20 meters, a picture of Abraham Lincoln can be seen (if you look carefully).

We were not allowed to take pictures in the gallery. The one I have posted is from Wikipedia. The gallery, however, is a tribute to Dali.
The museum has glass walls. Every pane is unique. This is looking out toward Tampa Bay.

Spirals were important to Dali. The staircase in the museum is a spiral.

I know Dali's paintings are worth a lot of money, but if I were given one, I would sell it for the cash.

Like I said, art is in the eye of the beholder.

We spent several hours at the gallery, first with a docent, then walking around with an audio guide. After finishing our tour of Dali's works, we headed to the unique pier in St. Petersburg.

The pier is unique because it is built like an inverted pyramid. We intended to browse, but it was about a half-mile walk from the parking lot, and by this time, my feet were aching! I saw the uniqueness of the edifice, however, and that was what Jim wanted to share with me.

Our last stop was Ybor City, an old area of Tampa settled by Cuban immigrants who brought their cigar-making skills with them.

The main drag is Seventh Street, where many hand-rolled cigars are still made. I think the street probably comes alive after dark, since it had many, many night clubs as well as restaurants.

By the time we got to Ybor City, it was too late to visit the state-run museum. We had not eaten all day, so after a walk down Seventh Street, we found a Cuban restaurant. Or, we thought it was supposed to be a Cuban restaurant.

We made a bad choice. We really like Cuban food. We ordered the day's special, picadillo, which we have eaten many times, in many different Cuban restaurants, both in Jacksonville and in West Palm Beach.

What we got was terrible. It was like spaghetti sauce on rice. Terrible. The only thing we could taste was the tomato sauce, which tasted like it came out of a can. The name of this restaurant we will never return to? Gaspar's Grotto.

To make up for the disappointment, on the way home, we went out of way to go back to Webb's Citrus Candy Shop, where we had stopped last night on the way back from yesterday's adventures. Yesterday we bought some candy. Tonight we treated ourselves to some very, very fine ice cream. Yum!

It was a long day; tomorrow will be even longer. I'll tell you about it in another blog.

Until later,
Your Reluctant RoVer,
Seventh St. in Ybor City.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A bit of Old Florida

Sometimes it's nice to explore things in your own backyard. That's what we did today.

Florida is a big state, when you go from north to south (and back again). But when you travel from east to west, it's only about 150 miles across at the widest point on the peninsula. We are staying in a resort that is located between Kissimmee and Clermont. It is located on Lake Magic, a 160-acre lake, which supposedly has fish. (We tried fishing yesterday. Jim caught a little one and threw it back. I didn't even get a bite.)
Jim caught a little fish. I didn't catch anything!

The nice thing about this location is that it is very central. Today we decided to see some architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, listen to a concert at Bok Towers and Gardens, and see the eclectic Chalet Suzanne bed and breakfast.

Frank Lloyd Wright, who designed many beautiful buildings in Oak Park, Ill. (which I've never seen!), apparently designed a number of buildings on the campus of Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Fla.   I say "apparently" because I think we only glimpsed them. We drove around the campus looking for the information center. It was not readily apparent to visitors.

I tried finding it on my handy-dandy smartphone. Unfortunately, the phone wasn't fast enough to satisfy Jim, so we drove off without getting out of the car. Lakeland is a nice little town, however. And, as its name suggests, is situated on a huge, beautiful lake. Florida has a lot of lakes, especially in its center.

After leaving Lakeland, we headed to Bok Towers and Gardens. Jim had told me about the gardens, and I'd read about them over the years. I had never visited them, however.

The tower and gardens are located in an area that once was entirely filled with orange groves. Sadly, few remain today. A number of years ago, this part of Florida began to be troubled with occasional killer freezes. That drove orange growing farther south, and the land that once was acres upon acres of orange and lemon trees have been turned into housing developments. Some groves remain, however, including a number around Bok Tower and Gardens.
Bok Tower, which houses a carillon. 

Bok Tower and Gardens was the gift of Pulitzer Prize-winning author and world peace advocate Edward Bok. He owned land on the highest point in Florida, Iron Mountain (elevation 298 feet). He took such pleasure in the area that he decided to build a nature preserve/garden and a singing tower, for everyone to enjoy.

The tower is home to a 60-bell carillon, which plays a bit every 30 minutes. Garden visitors can enjoy a 30-minute concert at 1 and 3 p.m. each day. We caught the 3 p.m. concert, which (unfortunately) was not live, but was prerecorded.

Jim is standing at the highest elevation in Florda, 298 feet above sea level.

A koi pond encircles the tower. Jim captured a picture of this large koi just as it moved through a reflection of the tower.

This statue was gift to honor Edward Bok. It made a good prop was a picture. 

To listen to a sample of the carillon, click here. (You'll be sent to the carillon page and can click on several different songs.)

After the concert, we headed home, but detoured when Jim was a sign for Chalet Suzanne. He had visited this eclectic bed and breakfast many years ago, long before the area was built up as it is today. We went into the restaurant building to get a taste of the architecture. I didn’t take pictures, but the word eclectic doesn’t do the buildings justice.

Both the B and B as well as the restaurant, erected in 1931, look roughly like a chalet. However, they are built on many different levels. It is as if the owner built one room, then decided to add on another, and another, etc.

Apparently in its day, it was quite a place. The restaurant has a huge book of photographs of celebrities who has eaten and/or stayed at Chalet Suzanne.

It was a long day. Tomorrow may be even longer, since we are tentatively planning to go to St. Petersburg and see the sights there.

Until later,

Your Reluctant RoVer,


Thursday, November 8, 2012

The long, long day

Have you ever seen the 1953 Lucille Ball/Desi Arnaz film, “The Long, Long Trailer?” 

It’s a hilarious slap-stick comedy in which newlyweds Nicki and Tacy buy a 36-foot trailer and travel over the Sierra Nevada mountains. Tacy (Lucy) collects rocks as souvenirs. Of course, the rocks weigh down the trailer. Disaster after disaster strikes the couple—. Tacy tries to cook in a moving trailer; the couple pulls the trailer over a logging road and nearly sends it down the mountain; Nicki tries to level the trailer in a muddy quagmire during a raging rainstorm; and Nicki backs the trailer into a porch.

When I saw this movie years ago, I laughed out loud. I want to see it again; it’s that funny.

Of course, when those disasters happen to you, they lack the humor of the movie.
Yesterday, we didn’t experience any of the classic "Long, Long Trailer" disasters, but we did have one nevertheless. And it resulted in a long, long day.

We stayed at the Lazy Days campground outside of Tampa for two nights. We didn’t do anything special—just relaxed and worked on some projects in the motorhome. (Jim started to clean the water stains on the ceiling, using a formula we learned about in one of the seminars at Daytona. It really works—better than Oxiclean. The ceiling is looking good.) Jim also went to some of the free seminars Lazy Days offers to campers.

We left Lazy Days Wednesday morning about 10:30, enroute to an Encore resort in Claremont, Fla. At mile marker 43 on I4, Jim shut off the radio and concentrated very hard on his driving. What happened? The power steering stopped working. Jim had to manhandle our 38-foot rig off the road onto the grassy area. Thank goodness he was driving in the right lane.

A quick look at the engine told the story: A hose to the power steering broke, spewing oily fluid all over Toad (our car) and rendering the motorhome undriveable.

We immediately called the Good Sam road service. Because of where we were stranded, it took almost two hours for the mechanic to get to us. After he figured out which hose had to be replaced, he had to go into Orlando to have it made, then returned and put it on. The total time? Around seven hours.

We were quite comfortable, of course, since we have all the comforts of home with us. What wasn’t so nice, though, was the bill for this emergency service: $950. Ouch!

When the mechanic finally finished, we continued on our way. By this time, it was dark, and Jim didn’t want to try to hook up in the dark at the resort. We discovered that the local Walmarts did not allow boondocking. However, we finally found a Cracker Barrel that allowed us to park overnight. Of course, we enjoyed a nice dinner at the restaurant.

So, we had a long, long day, in some ways reminiscent of “The Long, Long Trailer.” Only it wasn’t too funny.

One thing is for sure: There is never a dull moment when we travel. Maybe that’s why we do it.
Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Smart Good Sam

Yesterday I was walking across a courtyard at the Daytona Speedway, enroute to meet Jim, who was attending a seminar on electrical systems. At the time I was passing by, Marcus Lemonis, the dynamic young (under 50) CEO of Good Sam/Camping World was addressing a group of RVers gathered in the courtyard. I think this was a meet-and-greet of some sort. I didn't stop to listen to his talk, but I did hear him say something interesting...that these Good Sam Rallies would be offered free of charge to people who were customers of Camping World.

I didn't linger to hear any how much someone would have to spend to be admitted free. I did hear him say that he wanted to continue promoting the RV way of life, and he felt that a $200 fee, plus the cost of driving an RV, stopped a lot of people from participating in the rallies.

Me? Well, you know me well enough to know that I don't give a hoot about the rallies and all the "camaraderie" that they are supposed to engender. I agreed to come to this one because (a) it was a national rally; (b) it featured name entertainers; (c) it promised to have a lot of useful information through seminars; (d) it would have a large exhibition; and (e) it was free.

Yep, free was the clincher. If it hadn't been free, I probably would have nixed the idea. (I did say OK to going to the national FMCA--Family Motor Coach Association--meeting last August, but only because it was in Indianapolis. Unfortunately, we had to cancel because of Jim's recovery from hand surgery.)

Everything was free--even the evening meet-and-greet especially for life-time members. (It was a Candyland theme. Except for a few chocolate bars, we had to look and lust after the gluten-filled desserts that were available--cherry cobbler, various types of brownies, cakes, and cheesecake.) Although everything was free, Good Sam was smart: I'm sure we were like many thousands of others. We spent more than $400 on RV stuff, specifically a water softener and some microfiber cleaning components.

If that's not enough, now Jim is drooling over later-model motorhomes. Our friend Ed, who sold us Baby, was at the show. He'd love to upgrade us to a newer model with more room. Well, we'll see.

Probably half of the people who were camping here at the rally left sometime today. We are leaving in the morning. I'm glad we stayed the evening. The rally ended with a spectacular fireworks display. My camera wasn't good enough to capture the spectacle; it was one of the best fireworks displays we've ever seen!

So, Good Sam is smart. It gives away a lot of stuff--from merchandise (like the in-motion satellite dish and the Fantastic Fan that we won last spring), to dessert receptions, to name entertainment, to a spectacular fireworks extravaganza. But it gets back a lot, in return.

Will we go to another national rally? Well, if it is free, there is a good chance we will. But we will bring our credit card anyway.

There is no such thing as a free rally.

Until later,

Your Reluctant Rover, Linda

After 7 months, on the road again—for a short trip

It’s been a long (and short) seven months since we returned from our extended winter trip out West. The delay in getting out on the road was caused by a combination of events: Jim had hand surgery. It took eight weeks before he felt he could do any work on the RV. Then, just as he got started tearing out the carpet, he experienced troubles with his shoulder, which required more therapy (both PT and chiropractic). Finally, he recovered enough to (almost) finish the floor and inside.

I say almost, because there is a small area around the driver’s seat that remains to be done. He found some dry rot when he pulled up the carpet. He wants to find out where the chassis is leaking and repair it before putting the floor down. Probably a smart move.
New flooring, looking toward front.

New flooring, looking toward bedroom.

But, it looks great! More than great—it looks brand new, especially with the addition of the desk/storage area. This gives us a lot more room and the layout looks very pleasing.
The kitchen table sits between two new cabinets, with the desk under the window.

This is the new desk/storage area. It adds a lot. We can add a leaf to the table to make it bigger.

On the opposite site of the room, where the sofa had originally been, we are considering putting in another sofa. The original was very uncomfortable and, frankly, ugly. So, we took it out. One reason it was so uncomfortable was because it fit into the 28” area of the slide, allowing for a very small seat pan (depth of the seat). Yesterday, we learned how we could put a deeper sofa in that space. The secret? Allow its front legs to sit on the floor in the front, and shorten the legs in the back! We learned this trick from a sofa maker, who has a booth here at the 2012 Good Sam Rally. (More about that later.)

We have found that time is not kind of RVs. We’ve had Baby stored in a lot behind a business on the south side of Jacksonville. Except for starting the generator, it hasn’t been moved several months, since we took it there in July. We didn’t expect any problems when we hitched up to start on our current trip. But, of course, we had some.

Minor ones, though. We experienced a dead battery. Jim found the cause—a fuse that didn’t look bad but tested bad. Problem solved. Then the generator didn’t want to start. He fiddled for a while (I don’t know what he did), and we haven’t had any other problems with it. (We needed the generator; we are dry camping.) Finally, when we hooked up the brake lights, we found they didn’t work. My job, when we hitch the car, is to give a thumbs up when he checks all the lights.

Every one of them was a thumbs down.

About 20 minutes later, after much head-scratching, deep thought, and experimentation, Jim got them to work. I think the contacts were dirty. Anyway, we finally got on the road with everything working.
You might be wondering about Charlie and Xena. They hated the trip to the RV. Because the RV is stored on the south side of the city and we were traveling south to Daytona, we decided to packs suitcases and take our groceries and cats by car instead of loading at home. This actually worked out well, except that the cats do not like to travel. They cried in their carriers the entire 20-minute trip to the RV.

As soon as we let them out of their carriers, they jumped into their “hidey hole” behind the kitchen cabinets. It has taken Xena until today to stop asking to go back into her hiding place. Charlie has been better. He even came out and wandered about while we were driving. 

This will be a relatively short trip. We don’t have it completely planned (the nice thing about being retired!). We started by going to Daytona Beach (about 90 miles from Jacksonville), and we will head over to Tampa tomorrow, for a couple of nights. Then?

A view of Daytona Speedway Good Sam Rally, taken from the bleachers at the concert.

Another view of the rally taken from the bleachers at the concern. Thousands attended.
We were invited to the 2012 East Coast Good Sam Rally in Daytona, free of all charges, so we decided to attend. It’s been OK, not hokey like that little rally we went to in Eustis last winter. This one had many seminars, a big exhibit hall, and lots of RVs to drool over. It also had Kenny Rogers and Reba McIntyre for entertainment.

I enjoyed Kenny on Friday night more than Reba last night, because I knew his music, not hers. Kenny’s voice is about gone, though, while Reba can still belt the tunes out. They both related to the audience well. I wouldn’t pay to see either one, but this was included in our admission (which was free!).

We ran into Ed, the fellow who sold us our motorhome. He’s coming to dinner tonight, after the show closes. He asked me if I was still the Reluctant Rover. I said yes. I still don’t understand why people like to get together at rallies, join clubs, or do this full time. I find RVing an enjoyable way to travel from one place to another: I don’t have to drive; I can get up whenever I want to get a snack or use the bathroom; and I sleep in my own clean bed each night. But, to me, it is a means to an end—a comfortable way to travel, nothing more. I would not want to do this full-time.

So, with that, I remain 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...