Friday, September 20, 2019

Ta-da! Introducing...

September 20, 2019—Update. When we sold our 27-foot Class A Thor Axis a couple of weeks ago, I hinted we would have an update concerning our preferred mode of motel-on-wheels.

In May, as you know, we purchased a combination package from a private seller: a 1999 Dodge Ram 3500 “dually” long-bed truck with a 2003 Lance truck camper, with one slide. The seller, a rabbi, had purchased both the truck and the camper new, and had taken good care of them. At the time of purchase, the truck only had 90,000 miles on its odometer!

Despite the rabbi’s good care, however, the truck camper was beginning to show its age. Jim recently replaced the floor with tile planks (inexpensive), and we also installed a new flat-screened TV (inexpensive). His honey-do list of things to do on the camper included building and replacing the kitchen countertop, replacing the kitchen and bathroom faucets, and recaulking all exterior seams. 

We really like the truck camper. It gives us freedom to travel without towing a car, and when we aren't traveling, we have a truck available as a second vehicle or to use to carry our Porta-Bote. Eventually we want to get a boat trailer be able to tow the boat behind our camper--something we could not do in a Class A RV. 

Although the camper is small, it feels like it has more room than Thor, mainly because there is more room in the cabin area, where we spend most of our time relaxing. Our only complaint is that it lacks a comfortable way to stretch out—no room for easy chairs with leg rests as we had in the first two big RVs we owned. After dinner, Jim generally reads at the kitchen table, while I resort to lying in bed to read, or we sit outside in the tented canopy we purchased. On the rare occasions we watch TV, each of us sprawls across the dining table banquette. We can see the TV, but we aren't super-comfortable.

When the sale of our 27-foot Thor Axis was confirmed, we decided to see about remedying our discomfort situation: We looked at truck campers with two slides. (We actually found some brands that had three slides, but they were way out of our price range.) We found a 2019 Lance 1171 that met our needs. And fortunately, we were able to make a deal.

So here it is—our new home-away-from-home.

The “footprint” of our new Lance is essentially the same as the old one—just a tad longer. But its design is much better. It has a side entrance, which must be extended to get into the camper. This extension accommodates a jack-knife sleeper sofa that has built-in footrests. So now we can stretch out and watch TV or read.
Looking from the bed to the end of the extended cabin. The couch opens into a sleeper. 

The couch actually becomes two chairs with footrests. There is a coffee table, which is stored when the slide comes in. On the left side of the couch are two cabinets. The upper is a pull-out pantry; the slower has shelves for storage. There is also storage under the couch/bed.

The kitchen area has more counter space, with the addition of a drop-down counter. Alas, it does not have a real oven as our old Lance did, but it does have a combination microwave/convection oven, like our other RVs did.
The upper cabinets on the left have additional storage  toward the wall, which admittedly is difficult to access but can accommodate rarely used items. The microwave/convection oven is below the range. You can see a flip-top countertop to the left of the sink.

The banquette is not as high as in the other Lance, nor is the bed. (We will sleep well, because we had them swap out the manufacturer’s uncomfortable mattress with the memory-foam mattress we had purchased.)
The banquette turns into additional sleeping accommodations when the table is lowered. Two full-length drawers are available for storage under the bench seats. Also note that above the table is one additional bunk that is available for a child. We won't be using that and may decide to add additional shelving for storage.

We swapped out the manufacturer's mattress for the one we recently purchased. There is a closet behind the wall to the right, and some additional storage to the left, as well as a hamper-like bin. 

The bathroom is a huge improvement, too. Like the old Lance, it is a “wet bath,” meaning that it has a separate shower. (A “dry bath” means that the whole bathroom becomes a shower stall.) It has more storage and more legroom on the john.

The shower has a seat, as well as an adjustable shower head. This bathroom has much more room than the one in our previous Lance.

The camper also has larger water and waste tanks, all LED lighting, outdoor electrical plugs and shower, and good “basement” storage. We haven’t yet loaded it with our goods, but we think we will have plenty of storage inside.

We are eager to try out our new camper, but this will have to wait a couple of weeks. Right now we are dog-sitting Molly, while her “parents” are out of town. Molly is getting on in years, and although we have taken her camping with us before, she is now totally blind with cataracts, has bad arthritis, and doesn’t get around easily, so we don’t want to take her out in a new “home” environment.

Besides that, we had an unwelcomed surprise this morning: We arrived home from the dealer last night in the rain, so I waited until this morning to open it up. That's when I discovered that the drawer under the banquette seat had not been latched prior to our departure from the dealer. It had flown open during our trip home and smashed into the microwave door across from it. (The microwave is under the stove top, not above it.) The damage will be covered by warranty, but waiting for it to be fixed will delay our next camping trip. In the meantime, we are not allowing that to deter from the good feelings we have about purchasing this truck camper. We anticipate many good fishing trips in it.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,


P.S. Should you be interested, here are photos of our previous RVs. This truck camper--I swear!--is our last!
We are standing in front of our first RV--a 38-foot, 1998 Dutch Star that had one slide.

This is our second RV--a 40-foot, 2005 Country Coach that had three slides. It was as big as a New York apartment!

In September 2017, we downsized from the 40-footer to this petite 2016 27-foot Thor Axis. The size itself was not a problem, but its configuration was. We just were not comfortable. We decided to sell it and get a truck camper, which we could use to tow a boat, if we wanted to.

Even before Thor was sold, we found this truck and truck camper combination for sale by a private party, a local rabbi in Jacksonville. This 2003 truck camper affirmed that we liked this type of camping, especially if we could get just a little more comfortable...
And this is our 2019 Lance. It has two slides--one on the side (banquette) and one in the back (the couch). It is just slightly longer than the previous Lance, but offers a lot more space with its ingenious interior design. I believe we will be very happy with it. And yes...this is the last RV we are buying. I promise!

Monday, September 16, 2019

A two-day trip home: 1,232 miles

September 16, 2019—It was a L-O-N-G day. Actually, two long days. We drove 1,232 miles in two days, starting in Warwick, R.I. We passed through Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina before we hit the Florida border. That’s a lot of states!

On the way up to the reunion, we pretty much adhered to I95, only altering the course when “Garmina” (our GPS lady) told us to go a different way. I think we had programmed her to avoid as many tolls as possible, so she took us off the interstate through some areas we hadn’t planned on traveling—such as through Jersey City, the Bronx, and the Hutchinson River Parkway in New York and the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut. We were very glad that we were not driving our truck camper; manipulating it through the city would have been challenging enough, but on the parkways, we discovered that some of the underpasses were only about nine feet! (The truck camper is about 12 feet tall.)

One evening, Jim was talking about our trip to another reunion attendee. He said he never goes down I95, and he proceeded to tell us the route he takes when he drives south. When we got back to our room, Jim took out our atlas and planned a more scenic and less stressful (albeit a bit longer) route. We were glad we took it.

As a born-and-raised flatlander, I love to look at mountains—from a distance. (I have no desire to live in them. The closest I came to living in mountains was in the early 1970s when I lived in Connecticut, which has the Berkshire Mountains.) The route we drove home took us through the Appalachians, including the Blue Ridge Mountains. (See photos below).

Our first day of driving was overcast and a bit rainy. The second day, however, was clear. As we started out in the morning, we could see mist in the valleys. The vistas were outstanding. Lest we forget that we were, indeed, in mountainous country, we occasionally would see signs warning trucks to brake and if their brakes were to fail, to use the runaway truck ramp plowed into the mountain side.
The orange sign indicates a runaway truck ramp, which can be seen in the distance as a cut through the forest.
Two days on the road in a car traveling more than 1,200 miles is a test of relationships, but we survived it. We also survived some road rage: A woman entering the interstate pulled into our lane and almost sideswiped us. Jim blasted the horn and fortunately was able to pull out of the way. The woman then gave him “the finger” through her sunroof. She pulled ahead of us and slowed down. Jim tried to pass, but as he signaled, she pulled into the passing lane to stop us. This in-and-out went on for a while. And during it all, she smirked and kept giving us the finger. It could have been worse.

We both agree that we prefer traveling in our RV and taking our sleeping and eating accommodations with us.

We pulled into our driveway at 6 p.m. last night, after a 6 hour and 25 minute drive. We slept well in our own comfortable bed.

Until our next adventure,

Your Reluctant RoVer,


Friday, September 13, 2019

Old Ironsides, Boston, and the Cradle of Liberty

September 13, 2019—Boston. Birthplace of the nation, and home of the traffic jam.

Yesterday, the Destroyer and Leader Association (the group that organized this reunion; Jim’s ship was a DL—destroyer and leader) took us to Boston, which is theoretically about an hour from here. I say theoretically because traffic was bad—even worse than Jacksonville’s at 5 p.m. Traffic was compounded because it was a rainy, overcast day and quite chilly (although to us Floridians, the cooler air didn’t feel too bad).

Our first stop was the USS Constitution, a three-masted sailing vessel, is the world’s oldest commissioned sailing vessel still afloat. Named the Constitution by President George Washington, it is more familiarly known to us today as Old Ironsides. Launched in 1794, it is still manned by a crew of 60 U.S. Naval personnel. It is berthed at Pier 1 of the former Charlestown Navy Yard, and is a stop on Boston’s Freedom Trail.
The USS Constitution, also known as Old Ironsides. This sailing ship is open, free to the public to tour, even though it is still a commissioned ship in the U.S. Navy.

Masts on the Constitution

Jim, looking at cannon on the Constitution.
The 60 crew members of the Constitution would sleep in hammocks below decks.
The ship's galley lies just beyond the last row of hammocks.

Rows of cannon are below decks.

Old Ironsides resides in the old Charlestown shipyard. The only drydock remaining (for exhibition purposes) is this one, which was built in 1833. The Constitution was the first ship drydocked  here. 

After a ceremony by the DL Association to commemorate shipmates who had died during the past year, we boarded Old Ironsides. In addition to touring the topside, we were able to go below decks, to the level containing the cannon, as well as the lowest level, containing the mess hall and sleeping quarters of the crew. Their hammocks hang from rafters; I can imagine their being rocked asleep by the motion of the waves hitting the boat.
The DL Association held a ceremony in front of the USS Constitution, honoring deceased shipmates.

Unfortunately, we were not allowed enough time to visit the museum. Our next stop was Quincy Market/Faneuil Hall.

Faneuil Hall, we discovered, was built in 1743 as a British meeting place and market. It was the site of many speeches by patriots, including Sam Adams, and it was where the Boston Tea Party was organized. The upstairs of Faneuil Hall, also known as the cradle of liberty, is the actual town hall. It is still used for special political events and performances. We found the meeting place quite by accident: Our tour group stopped at Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market for lunch and shopping. After enjoying a bowl of overpriced clam chowder (everything is expensive in Boston), we wandered around and found the meeting hall. A national parks ranger gave an interesting 15-minute talk on the history of Faneuil Hall.

The downstairs of Faneuil Hall was always a dedicated marketplace. Quincy Market, across the street, opened in 1824. Today, both marketplaces are active, although not in the way they were more than a hundred years ago. Quincy Market, the larger of the two markets, has a huge food court, with restaurants catering to every taste—from sushi to barbecue, with many devoted to seafood, of course. We opted to try some clam chowder. It was delicious.

In addition to the food court, Quincy Market is home to many kiosks and apparel stores that sell everything from toys to tee shirts, all focused on the tourist trade and priced to match. ($19.99 for a tee shirt, anyone?)

Incidentally, Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market are just a stone’s throw away from the Boston Commons (park), where Cheers is located. The television program was never filmed inside the bar, however—only the cars passing on the street were Boston-authentic.

The day was not quite done: After lunch, we reboarded our buses and meandered on a guided tour of Boston. Although we did not stop (except once, in front of the baseball stadium), we caught glimpses of historic places, such as the old South Church, the state capital, Beacon Street. We even saw where Tom Brady used to live. (Who cares?) 

We finally headed back to Warwick, in (you guessed it) heavy traffic. Rush hour seems to start about 3 p.m. in Boston.

This afternoon we drove up to Providence, about 10 miles away, the state capital. Founded in 1636 by Roger Williams, a religious exile from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, it is home to at least a half dozen colleges and universities, including Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design. We did not have a lot of time, so we merely drove around the riverfront area, to see homes dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Very nice, and I am certain, very expensive.

Everything is expensive here. To compare, this week at home, Walgreen’s advertised “buy 2 Coca Cola 12-packs at $4.99, get one free.” Here Walgreen’s has the same offer—except the 12-pack is $5.99, a dollar more! Ah, well.

Tomorrow we head home. Instead of driving straight down I95, which takes us through New York City with all its traffic and significantly high tolls, Jim has plotted a course that may involve a few more miles but should be better on the driving nerves as well as the wallet.

Until later,

Your Reluctant RoVer,


Wednesday, September 11, 2019


September 11, 2019—We are in Warwick, R.I., at Jim’s naval ship reunion. Today the group went on two tours.
Jim is enjoying his reunion with shipmates. He served on the U.S.S. Norfolk from 1957-1960.
The first tour was to the War College. I guess I vaguely knew there was such a thing as a war college, but I had never really thought about military leaders actually studying war techniques. We didn’t go into classrooms or meet any students. Our tour was a stop at the War College Museum.

Because we had almost 50 people in our group, it was split into two parts, each headed by a volunteer docent who was going to guide us through the small, two-storied museum. (If we were on our own, we could go through the museum in its entirety in 45 minutes. Instead, we were there for two hours. And in our case, it was two hours of very boring lecture.)
The white building in this photo is the War College Museum. The photo is taken on the bus as it was leaving Newport.

Our docent, an extremely knowledgeable history buff, seemed intent on lecturing us on the entire history of the United States in a dull monotone. People (especially the women in the group) began drifting off. I tried to listen (Jim did better than I), but standing for such a long time was very trying and very tiring. I finally had to find someplace to sit down.

After some time, Jim and I decided to go off on our own. As we were browsing the exhibits, we ran into the other group, led by a docent who was also knowledgeable but who focused on telling the pertinent history as it related to the War College, in an engaging manner. We stuck with him until the tour was over and we went to lunch.
After lunch, the group was taken on a tour of the mansions of Newport, the summer haven of the rich and famous, both “then” and “now.” Most of the tour was by bus; the only stop we made—for about an hour and a half—was at The Breakers, the summer home of the Vanderbilts. Wow! The amount of money that was spent on that summer “cottage.”
Front of The Breakers, the Vanderbilt "cottage" in Newport, R.I. This house has 70 opulently decorated rooms, including 25 bedrooms.
Backside of the mansion. The outdoor patio overlooks the ocean.
The outdoor area of the Vanderbilt mansion, overlooking the ocean. 

Think Downton Abby—the Breakers is the American version of that mansion. In 1893, Cornelius Vanderbilt II commissioned the building of this 70-room summer home, which was inspired by the 16th century palaces of Genoa and Turin. No expense was spared: For example, one room’s wallpaper was ingrained with platinum, another with gold. The house was a case of conspicuous consumption. The intention was to create an American palace. Literally.
Jim and I have toured other mansions, most comparably the Biltmore, in Asheville, N.C. I think the Vanderbilt mansion was bigger and perhaps more ornate, but the tour we had at the Biltmore was more comprehensive, since we were able to see the servants’ quarters as well as the opulent living quarters of the main part of the house.
We might have been able to see or at least learn more, but we were not allowed enough time for the tour. Oh, well. We had a good time anyway.
Although visitors were allowed to take photos, my hands were full, holding the self-guided tour electronics, so I didn’t bother taking out my cell camera. I did take a few photos of the outside of the mansion, which fronts the ocean, with its breaking waves.
Tomorrow the group tour is to Boston.
Until later,
Your Reluctant RoVer,

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Rhode Island--a very long drive from Florida

September 10, 2019—Warwick, Rhode Island, is a long way from Jacksonville, Florida—1,205 miles, to be exact, according to our odometer. After leaving Jacksonville early Sunday morning, we drove the first leg of our journey—576 miles to Colerain, N.C., where Jim’s cousin lives. After an excellent dinner and a very pleasant evening catching up on family news, we left Monday morning on the second leg of our trip. After 12 hours of driving, we arrived within a 100 miles of Warwick.

It was an interesting journey, especially as we drove around New York. (I should quickly mention that we are driving our car—not our truck with truck camper.)

We planned our route so that we would not go through New York. Trusting “Garmina” (our GPS system), we followed her orders as she spoke them. As we approached the city, she directed us toward a bridge, where we had to pay a hefty toll. The view allowed us to see the new World Trade Center in the distance, as well as the Empire State Building (or was it the Chrysler Building?). After the bridge, however, Garmina somehow took us into Jersey City, through the Bronx, and eventually back onto I95, then onto some parkway that finally led us into Connecticut. We couldn’t understand why she was being some circuitous, especially since she had us exit I95, which would have been a more direct route. I guess the moral is, “don’t trust the GPS; trust your instincts—and a map—instead.” Of course, we weren’t exactly in a position to pull out the Atlas to challenge Garmina. There wasn’t anywhere to pull off the road.

It was a long day of driving that included a couple close calls by idiot drivers. We finally stopped somewhere in Connecticut, about 100 miles shy of our final destination, Warwick, R.I., the site of Jim’s naval ship reunion—the reason for our trip.

The good thing about our route was that it took us to areas of the country I had never seen before, such as the peninsula shared by Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware. We were driving through this area around lunch time, and stopped at a local seafood restaurant. The fried oysters were delicious!
A view of Mystic, Ct. 

We arrived in Warwick by early afternoon today. After getting settled, we decided to drive around town and find the local tourist office, which was located in the city courthouse building. There was no sign anywhere directing the public to the office! After asking someone, we were told to go upstairs (no elevator that we could find), where we found a sign of the tourist-office door that said “employees only” and “knock before entering”—not very tourist-friendly. We scoured the brochures rack and found only two we thought were relative to Warwick. One turned out to be about Rhode Island, in general. Would you believe that it teased the reader with beautiful photographs of places to see and listed things to do—but did not tell where these things were located?

The second brochure was merely a list of some restaurants in Warwick. I guess this city doesn’t have much to offer. Perhaps Providence has more; we’ll find out Friday when we have time to ourselves.
This evening we went to a hospitality mixer for the reunion goers. Tomorrow we will tour, as a group, the Newport Naval Base War College Museum, the city of Newport, and the Breakers Mansion. It should be a fun day.
Warwick City Hall, where the local tourist office is hidden on the second floor.
Before I close, I want to add that this vacation is a shortened version of the one we had originally planned. We wanted to spend several days in Washington, D.C., and another couple days in Delaware. However, we had to cancel those plans when Hurricane Dorian blew into town. Well, almost into town. Fortunately, Dorian was a non-event. We will have to "do" D.C. some other time.

Until later,

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...