Beach Bicycling Bucket List

I don’t really have a Bucket List per se, but if I did another item would be checked off. Bicycling on the beach! How, in my many years of bicycling, have I never done this?

We rode on the roads in the Padre Island National Seashore the first day but it was hot! I know; boo hoo. The second day we decided to ride along the beach and take advantage of the breezes and cooler air. What an experience! We enjoyed it so much that we decided to stay another day so we could ride in the other direction. The sand is hard packed, the gulls and herons plentiful and the quiet all encompassing, except for the wind and the ocean waves crashing. We are parked between the dunes but some folks park right on the beach. They are few and far between so not crowded at all. We’re not really ready to take the bus out onto the beach. Like Mexico, some day we will, but just not now.

We thoroughly enjoyed our 30 miles of riding. At some point I wanted to ride to the end of the island but it is about 70 miles.

Jim rides the beach south.

Jim rides the beach south. This is low tide. 

We were staying over for Game Seven. Unfortunately, this didn't work.

We were staying over for Game Seven. Unfortunately, this didn’t work.

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They grow 'em big down here.

They grow ‘em big down here.

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Mackerel for dinner

Mackerel for dinner

Drying my feet so I could put my shows back on.

Drying my feet so I could put my shoes back on.

Beach selfie. My, what long arms I have!

Beach selfie. My, what long arms I have!

Beach riding makes you happy. Also hungry!

Beach riding makes you happy. Also hungry!

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When we got back to the bus, we took Carmella for her second successful walkabout. She is getting pretty good. Doesn’t stay out long, and knows where the door is when she wants back in.

Barbara and George

Barbara and George

We also met Barbara and George of Harry’s Travels. They are three years into full-timing and travel with their small gorilla, Harry and their four dogs! I thought we were crazy for having three cats! We always enjoy enjoy meeting others who have ditched all the stuff and hit the road. See where Harry Travels here. We are leaving tomorrow or we would enjoy spending more time with these two. Maybe down the road…

This is Harry

This is Harry

And these are the four dogs they travel with!

And these are the four dogs they travel with!

More pics on Flickr.

 

Padre Island National Seashore

We landed in Victoria, Texas for a few days to make sure we could watch the Royals in the World Series before making our way south and west. When we were setting up, we discovered that our leveler pads were missing! Wut? We didn’t have to level the bus the night before at the Elks Lodge in Beaumont so we didn’t notice until a day later that they were gone. Yikes! They were expensive.

Jim made a call and it turned out that the camp host at Fountainbleu State Park found them and is shipping them to us for a fraction of what it would cost to replace. Whew! Hope we don’t make that mistake again. So many things to learn by experience!

The park had cable, but as it turned out, we got better HD over-the-air reception from our antenna. We watched all three games and now they have to dig themselves back up tonight to get to game seven. When Jim and I started dating 29 years ago, we watched game seven in COlumbia, Missouri when it was the I-70 series. They won it that night and we hope they recreate that this year.

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We had a travel day in between and headed for Padre Island National Seashore. We knew we could boondock on the beach but weren’t sure about the TV reception. Score! Turns out we get the HD channel so will be watching the rest of the series here. Meanwhile we went exploring on the bikes. We rode over to Laguna de Madre to watch the windsurfers in one of the hypersaline lagoons in the world.

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It is HOT here! There is a good breeze but when you get out on the road, the heat really takes over. Tomorrow we are planning to ride on the beach with the breeze coming off the water. Rough, I know.

A few pics:

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Go Royals! Take the crown!

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Louisiana’s Gem: The Tammany Trace

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How can this even be possible? The trails just keep getting better and better! Ever since we rode our first fully paved trail, The High Trestle Trail in Iowa, the Average Speed on our bike computers has just been going up. It is easy to cruise along at 13-14 MPH, taking in the scenery and the breeze at the same time.

We headed for Fountainbleu State Park on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain to ride our latest discovery, The Tammany Trace. It covers 27.5 miles from Covington to LaCombe and we rode the whole trail twice. The surface was great, the trees very tall and the wildlife close-up and personal. We were hoping to see some alligators, but they are elusive and probably getting ready to hibernate. After all, the temperature was only about 70-75 degrees. Perfect biking weather. We were extra fortunate that we got good TV reception and were set to watch the next two games of the World Series while we rode the trail. BONUS!

It was an easy ride into Mandeville, where we carb-loaded big-time before setting out both days. An omelet with lump crabmeat, some potatoes and biscuits and gravy? Why not? I have to admit, it took hours to work off those breakfasts! They were good though. The first one, at Liz’s Where Ya’ At Diner was exceptional and they had cool restrooms.

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Those long pants came off before we started riding. We had to use both sunscreen and bug stuff. We rode to Covington through Abita Springs. Some scenes along the way…

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I always hate seeing these ghost bicycles, but did not think to ask the Rangers about the specifics.  Brain death from biking.

The Tammany Trace was very well maintained and the Rangers were all friendly and very informative. Cindy was at the Kids Konnection Playground Trailhead, a playground designed with disabled kids in mind where all abilities could play together. What a cool idea. These guys have the best job in the world; they can patrol the trail on bikes but most use scooters or Diahatsus. She offered us water, even ice and a detailed mileage map of the Trace. Dispensing friendly information and conversation, the Rangers and good restrooms made this trail unique.

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We saw lots of monarch butterflies on the trail, one collided with me while I was riding. no damage done.

After the first day’s ride, we explored Mandeville on the north  shore of the lake and discovered The Beach House where we enjoyed a cocktail (or two…) and early dinner. I got the Yelp app on my iPad and we have been eating like crazy ever since!

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The next morning’s breakfast of champions was at The Broken Egg. It was also delicious. Set in a small house right in town, the coffee and food were good and they went all out with the chicken decor. My sister Cherie would have loved it! This is for you, Cher.

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We picked up some kale salad and Sriacha chicken salad from Opal Basil at the Mandeville trailhead for dinner. It’s always nice to have something prepared when we’re done with riding. And the Royals were playing that night too. The food was seriously delicious and I could have eaten a pound of the kale salad myself. The Mandeville cemetery was like all the New Orleans cemeteries, everybody, mostly, buried above ground because of hurricanes and low water table. Makes for some interesting photos.

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Then on to the other end of the trail at Slidell. Derek was one of the friendly Rangers at the drawbridge, which they open every evening for the boats to pass through the bayou. Herons and alligators there too. We didn’t see any alligators. But the turtles were friendly. There were about twenty of all sizes gathered under the bridge. Derek told us later that one of the Rangers feeds them, so no wonder. Wish we had something to give them.

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Jim rides to the very end of the trail. Once back at Fountainbleu I rode around a little bit to get some pics of the live oaks there. They are old and gnarly and wonderful with the backlit Spanish moss. There were several large ones along the trail too. The park used to be a plantation. I bet those trees could tell some stories.

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Turned over 800 miles on the bikes here.

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The next day was scheduled as a travel day for the Royals and for us and we headed south to Beaumont to spend one night at the Elks Lodge there. Then on to Victoria to watch the next three games. Go Royals!

More photos on Flickr.

 

The Longleaf Trace

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We have had three totally gorgeous days here riding The Longleaf Trace, a Rail-to-Trail Hall of Fame trail. It certainly lives up to that designation. It runs 44 miles between Hattiesburg and Prentiss, Mississippi and per our usual Modus Operandi, Jim found a totally deserted campground almost in the center of the trail right outside Bassfield, comfortably ensconced at Davis RV Park and Campground. We proceeded to spend three days riding and exploring the area. This time of year is beautiful here, blue skies with wispy clouds, no humidity and temperatures in the seventies. Perfect bike riding weather.

Our spot
Our spot in the campground. We are the only ones here, 50 AMP, full hookup. Pasture and cows and large trees were part of the deal. And four nights for $42.00 total. Right next to the trail.

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In Bassfield, the driver asked me if I wanted him to move it for a better picture. People here are so nice.

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This part of Mississippi is beautiful with big rolling pastures punctuated with more very large trees, including the Longleaf Pine, for which the area is named. Like on the Tanglefoot Trail, the quiet is hypnotic. We rode along on its smooth asphalt surface for a total of about 100 miles. Most of the way there is an accompanying equestrian path and on the last day I actually saw some folks riding. On other trails we have ridden, they allow horseback riding on the bike path for short distances, but since this one was separate there were fewer obstacles on the trail. If you know what I mean.

The first day we rode to Sumrall, y’all. Sorry I couldn’t resist. We passed what must have been a small exotic animal farm, set in a beautiful meadow with large trees and a lake. The mules were friendly and so was the ostrich. The llamas kept their distance.

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In Sumrall.

Sumrall didn’t have quite as many boarded up storefronts as Prentiss, on the other end, which is the County Seat! I didn’t know there was a Mexican restaurant in Sumrall or I wouldn’t have packed our lunch. We got some tea, ate our sandwiches and rode a little further before turning around and heading back. We had smelled and scoped out Big Boy’s BBQ in Bassfield and spent our lunch perusing the menu since we decided to get carryout for dinner. It did not disappoint.  Big Boy’s also had a side we had never encountered before, loaded potatoes. When we asked what was in it, he said, bacon, cheese, onion… He gave us a taste and it was heavenly. Of course I ordered those, along with half a chicken and beans. Jim got brisket. We ate that for two nights.

When I went back the second day to tell him just how good it all tasted, they were closed with a black bow on the door. Oh no! Probably somebody ate too many of those potatoes… It’s good they were closed or I would have ordered more.

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Do you remember the Mississippi state flag?And we were parked (and riding) in Jefferson Davis County. The Confederacy still wields a heavy hand 150 years later. When I saw the flag, I seriously couldn’t believe it. What a Yankee I am.

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The branch that fell off this huge tree was about the size of an average large tree. It obstructed the equestrian trail but caused no harm on the bike trail.

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And this cow by Death Valley Blvd. How ironic.

Back in Bassfield.

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The next day’s ride was to Prentiss and back, about 30 miles. Prentiss is the County Seat with an imposing courthouse but a sadly emptied-out downtown. It is not hard to imagine the shops all full and bustling, supporting families. Before Walmart…

Now there is the grocery store, a Pizza Hut and a Subway along with a few local businesses. Very few. And one of the biggest trees we’ve seen yet.

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We took a short side trip to Jeff Davis Lake which was fun because it had some swooping curves and hills with 12-15% grades. Good momentum. The ice company went out of business when ice was 50 cents a bag. Like all the towns around here, they experienced a heady heyday when the virgin timber was ripe for the picking. Bassfield had five sawmills at one point and the railroad was booming. After they had cut all the timber, they were fortunate enough to take advantage of the rich soil to grow cotton. The towns were all named when the Post Office set up shop, Sumrall after a Union Army Officer who opened a cotton gin, Prentiss for a sawmill operator and Bassfield because when they delivered the mail, they dumped it in a field near a store owned by the Bass family.

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People in Mississippi are very friendly and nice. I just hope they don’t think we are rude; there were many times we had to ask them to repeat what they said. It wasn’t that we couldn’t hear them; we just couldn’t understand what they were saying! They understand us better but they always ask where we are from. Bag of ice? Bgic… The BBQ guy had to ask me three times if Jim wanted a bun or white bread. Huh?

We bought some fresh eggs in Carson on the way back from Prentiss and it took us a few tries to understand that he was asking us to bring the egg carton back if we could. First he said he would have to put them in a bag since he had no cartons, um, bikes. But he found one and asked us to return it if we had the chance. We finally got the point. The accent is alive and well.

And the price of a dozen fresh eggs? $1.50. I gave him $2.00 and refused change. Rode back with the egg carton the next day; it was the least I could do. Plus they were delicious with bacon and toast for breakfast, a bike riding treat for sure.

Also in Carson.
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From here we are heading toward the Tammany Trail in Louisiana, right outside New Orleans. Timing will be interesting since, of course, we must watch Kansas City win the World Series. We don’t have our onboard TV setup yet, so we rely on antenna or parks that have a plug-inski cable outlet. We will see if the reception is good over the air at Fontainebleau State Park and continue on if we need to. I am hoping to ride the nine mile bridge over Lake Pontchatrain. And back.

We love the great state of Mississippi.

More photos here.

Cooling Unit Redux

I have known for quite some time now that our refrigerator was marginal. So it was a frequent topic of conversation between Wendy and I re: what to do about it – if anything? The freezer compartment was keeping things frozen and the bottom side was keeping things cool, but not as cold as it should be. Besides, it was just not getting the beer cold enough!

If you know me, you know I had already done the research online and knew there was a good possibility that the ‘new’ cooling unit that was installed just a couple of years ago was not ‘quite up to snuff’. I also found out that the factory built cooling units that you can buy from Norcold or Dometic were also questionable due to the fact that they had all been recalled at some point in the past. It seems that they can overheat and accidentally release hydrogen gas! Since RV refrigerators are absorption-type they require a high heat source to remove heat and thus cool the unit. How’s that for counter-intuitive? We all know that hydrogen and a high heat source like a propane flame are not good things to bring together… Rather than actually fix the problem, Norcold recalled their products and had RV service centers install a small circuit box that simply shuts the whole thing off if it gets too hot! In the software business, we called that a kludge, not a solution.

A couple of years back, I discovered that our Norcold refrigerator was subject to this recall and even though it was several years old, it had never been ‘fixed’. So I set up an appointment at Olathe Ford RV over in Gardner, KS as they were the local designated Norcold service center. Our reefer was old enough that the recall involved an entire new cooling unit and their kludge. To say the least, we were not impressed with Olathe Ford RV Service. Nevertheless, as far as I know, they did replace the cooling unit. The refrigerator never worked too well afterwards, but at least it won’t catch on fire.

Which brings us right back to the here and now (more or less) with a refrigerator that works, marginally, but not as well we’d like it to. The problem is it was still working, so there was no definitive problem – just a subjective notion that it should be better.

Now I’ve had to pull this monster out of its cabinet several times over the years in order to work on various projects and it is a bear of a job. I knew there were two electric muffin fans on the back of the cooling unit. The first thing to check according to the experts was to be sure those fans were running – no  fans, no cooling. However, you can’t see or touch those fans when the fridge is in position and I could not hear or feel any fans running. Since we were now living on the road, I was very reluctant to pull that refrigerator out in a WalMart parking lot or RV park just to see if the fans were running! Besides, what can I do about it anyway.

During my online research I found the RV Cooling Unit Warehouse web site also provided technical support as well as selling – you guessed it – new cooling units! I discovered that the Amish make replacement cooling units for most RV refrigerators! How the Amish got into that business is a mystery to me, but apparently their units are well designed and don’t catch fire and thus don’t require the kludge and they are much better performing units. They aren’t cheap, but then neither are the factory units that catch fire and still need the kludge. So I decided if we needed a new unit, I’d buy one of these Amish ones.

It just happens that Memphis, TN is the only place you can both buy these units and have them installed besides the factory in Shipshewana, IN. Other places can install them, but the units have to be shipped. As you can imagine shipping and receiving is a problem for us. So when we finished up on the Tanglefoot Trail, it only made sense to do the 80 miles or so to Memphis.

David Force is the expert at the RV Cooling Unit warehouse and according to the tech, David has been working on these RV refrigerators since the 60’s. He knows his stuff. David referred me to Ron at R&C Mobile RV Repair and before we headed north to Memphis I called Ron to see if he would take a look at our Norcold. So we pulled into Southaven RV Park just across the line from Memphis and set up camp.

Ron took a few temp readings in the freezer and refrigerator compartment and confirmed the high readings I was getting: 15 – 20 F in the freezer and mid-50’s F below. The freezer should be closer to 0 F and the bottom end more like 38 F. We weren’t close to that. It seemed to work better on AC than propane, but neither was optimal. The first thing Ron checked was the fans and he determined that they were not running – thus explaining in part the high temps.

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Ron checks the wiring.

The question was why weren’t the fans running? After checking several items he determined that the fan switch was defective so he bypassed the switch and the fans still wouldn’t run. That’s when he noticed the wiring problem. Now this one is not on me. I have never touched the wiring on that refrigerator. However, Ron found the fans had been wired backwards and consequently could never have worked! The only time that wiring had been touched was when Olathe Ford RV replaced the cooling unit. The only thing to do was hard-wire the fans and AC heating elements to run full-time and see if the cooling unit recovered. If the temps don’t go back down where they should be in a couple of days, then the cooling unit was most likely damaged from high heat resulting from the miswired fans. So we sat at the RV park for two days hoping for the best.

Two days later, the temps had come down some, but were still marginal especially considering the mild temperatures we were experiencing weather-wise. So, we decided to bite the bullet and replace the cooling unit. While we were at that, we’d also replace the fans and fan switch and AC heating elements.

It’s now late morning Monday and the KC Royals are scheduled to play Game 3 of the 2014 ALCS. We wanted this job wrapped before game time! Besides that we were under a tornado watch and severe thunderstorm warning for 3 pm. Ron assured us it could be done in time so he took off in his truck to get his helper, Jessiah, and a new Amish-built cooling unit from David Force. Wendy and I emptied the fridge and prepared the bus.

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Floor and cabinets protected as best we can.

The first task is to pull the doors, disconnect the wires and propane and get the beast out of the cabinet and out onto the floor of the bus. It weighs better than 200 lbs, so you need a good plan and a strong back. Ron has this great rolling furniture cart with a built-in jack that is perfect for this job – too bad we couldn’t use it! Our fridge is too close to the floor. Fortunately, I’d done this job alone several times and knew how to do it with 2×4’s, a blanket and a goodly supply of foul language! The trick is to keep it balanced upright and don’t let it drop all the way to the floor – you’ll never lift it back up. Having three of us didn’t hurt and we had it out in short order. To get the cooling unit out, you have to lay it on the floor backside up. It’s a messy job so we had the floor and cabinets well protected. We had to move  everything out of the salon to make room on the floor.

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Slowly sliding it out onto a couple of 2×4’s. The towel allows the whole assembly slide on the floor.

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Its out and we slide it across the floor.

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Ron and Jessiah lower it face down.

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The old new cooling unit exposed and ready to remove.

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and out

We discovered the old (new) cooling unit had been shoddily installed with the wrong type of sealant that allowed hot air to leak into the insulated compartments. Right about now, the rain starts in earnest and continues the rest of the afternoon. Fortunately, most of the outside work is done.

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All that old sealant had to be removed and the area cleaned and prepared for the new cooling unit.

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This is the back side of those fins you see on the inside of your RV refrigerator.

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Ron preps the area with thermal mastic and spray foam just prior to installing the new cooling unit.

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The new cooling unit.

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The new cooling unit just prior to installation. Note the foam and thermal mastic in the recessed area of the refrigerator back.

A refrigerator is just a heat transfer device. In the picture above, those thin tubes on the cooling unit have to contact the  metal plates on the back of freezer and refrigerator compartment in order for that heat transfer to take place. The thermal mastic ensures good contact and the foam seals the area from other heat sources.

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Ready for installation.

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The new unit is in place.

Nothing left but to attach the new fans, install the propane burner, rewire and put it all back in place. Getting that beast back in the cabinet was much harder than taking it out as it is a very tight fit. If I ever have to do this again I’ll take a saw to the cabinet so this part of the job is easier. We had it all done just about the time it quit raining. We think the full rainbow was a good omen.

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The Tanglefoot Trail, Y’all…

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After we left Howard and Ellen’s, we headed west toward Cullman, Alabama. We rode out a storm and hail in a well-positioned primo Walmart parking spot and settled in to be happy we had half inch hail instead of the golf ball size and lightening that disabled areas right near us. Plus I made a delicious rotisserie chicken/avocado salad. Yum! Thank you, Internets, for the recipe. We will be making that again.

Our next few days were planned for Pontotoc, Mississippi, riding the Tanglefoot Trail. No wonder they call it that, the kudzu is unbelievable in places. I have seen lots of kudzu along the bike trails in Missouri and Virginia, but in Mississippi and Alabama, it is epic. Like if you stand on the  trail for too long, it might ensnare you.

Jim didn’t have any luck finding a spot mid distance to park, but we found a Walmart that was perfectly positioned on the trail. We tucked ourselves into the back corner of the parking lot and managed to stay there three nights, hidden by trucks most of the time. The Walmart parking lots are always entertaining with police action, people meeting up and folks coming and going. There was another RV that was there most of the time too. He sort of came and went and we figured he might work there. Of course we bought some stuff too.

The first day, we rode to New Albany, the end of the trail and back, 40 miles. This part of Mississippi has landscape similar to western Georgia, with open meadows and very large trees and sprawling bean fields just beginning to turn colorful for fall. And kudzu, of course. Everything was so quiet. That is one of the nicest things about the trails; when you are  away from the towns and the roads, the silence resonates. It’s nice. Some of the trees were monsters!

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We ate our sandwiches and some iced tea in New Albany before heading back. Rain was predicted for later in the afternoon and we rode through a brief and refreshing shower but didn’t get dumped on. There was a very nice grocery store in Ecru, McCoys,The Real Meat Market. They took our picture for their Facebook.

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When we did get back to the bus, it was super hot and muggy, but the forecasted rain blew in some cool air and came at just the right time.

The next day we headed in the other direction where we were amazed to see even more kudzu coverage. I read up on it a bit and of course it is an introduced plant. The government actually paid farmers to plant it because it was supposed to hold the topsoil down. Now it is holding all the trees down too. It is also edible and good for livestock which probably explains these goats we encountered.

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Pontotoc itself is yet another small southern town with a square, a statue and many boarded up storefronts. It is sad to see this all across America.
Some sights along the trail.

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Algoma, MS. The little building is the Police Department.

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Looks like this RV has seen better days. I always wonder what the inside looks like when I see one like this.

After a solid 70 miles on the Tanglefoot, we are moving on to Memphis where we need to get our refrigerator looked at. It just isn’t keeping the beer cold enough!

More photos on Flickr.

Bus Maintenance and Best Friends

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Georgia cotton everywhere!

After leaving Asheville we headed southwest for Georgia. Wendy wrote up our adventures on the Silver Comet Trail in the previous post. From Rockmart, GA we had a short (20 mile) drive to visit our good friends Howard and Ellen Best.

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Max, Ellen and Howard.

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Max is very cute, as you can see. He’s friendly, loves pets, climbs ladders and catches squirrels, rabbits and leaves.

Howard has been my bus guru since we met in 2009 and what a wealth of knowledge and wisdom he has to share! He loves to share his knowledge of the RV lifestyle and he knows buses as well.  When I have a particularly vexing problem, I call Howard. He’s always got a suggestion and he’s always right! Well, I had a short list of ‘issues’ that needed attention on the bus and since we were in the vicinity, we arranged a visit.

Howard and Ellen live in their bus 24/7 year round. When they aren’t on the road, they park at their new bus barn in Georgia near their children and grand-children. Howard is always juggling several project besides helping his son in his trucking business, but I knew he’d put that aside to give me a hand. He’s a gem.

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Our parking spot at Howards place.

I’d noticed that whenever I try to plug the bus into a GFI outlet for a little power, the GFI would trip. Now that alone is not a major problem, but presents a nuisance if we’re parked at a friends house or in a park protected by GFI outlets. Up to this point, I’d worked around the issue by wiring in a standard receptacle or finding an unprotected outlet or just doing without. I knew, however, that sooner or later I’d regret not correcting the problem and most RV park owners would not appreciate me taking their electrical pedestal apart. Besides the future embarrassment and/or  inconvenience, tripping GFI outlets also pointed to potentially more dangerous problems with the bus wiring. So I resolved to find it and fix it. I just didn’t know how to chase it down, so when I described the problem to Howard, of course, he knew exactly what we needed to do.

It only took us two and a half days to find the problem!

Without getting too deep into the gnarly details of RV wiring, I suspected from postings I’d made on the bus forums that I had either a neutral-ground bonding problem or a ground fault or both inside the bus wiring. RV’s AC wiring code handles the neutral and grounds a little differently than your standard brick and mortar home. It’s important that it be done correctly so you don’t accidentally electrocute yourself or someone else by inadvertently making the chassis and shell of the bus ‘hot’!

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Howard and I run down those pesky grounds and neutrals.

The first thing to do was to check the incoming shore power wiring to be sure the neutral and ground were properly installed – and it appeared that they were. The next step was to test the neutral and ground on each electrical circuit in the bus. Through a tedious process of elimination, we finally found one circuit that seemed to be the culprit! I had a small Makita air compressor in the engine compartment that I use to air up the bus. It was plugged into a GFI outlet. So, we unplugged the air compressor and voila! the GFI did not trip!  Hurray we fixed it! Sorry, not so fast.

I had the inverter turned off, but as soon as I tried to turn it on, the GFI tripped. So we turned our attention to the inverter – assuming that the ground problem must be there. In the process of examining the wiring into and out of the inverter, Howard discovered a bad connection in my transfer switch and purposely yanked the offending wire out. He said ‘you have to fix it now’!

That required a trip to the hardware store and pushed the project into the third day. We got that corrected, but it seemed that the inverter was still causing the GFI to trip. We could find no obvious wiring problem, so Howard told me to call Tech Support for the inverter. After explaining the problem, the tech suggested that we simply try a different GFI outlet! If it still tripped, then the inverter was defective and would need to be serviced. I really didn’t want to go there, but we didn’t think there was anything wrong with the GFI – it was brand new and never used! Well, we gave it a try anyway and IT HELD!

Conclusion: There was noting wrong with my bus wiring. Yea! Somewhere in the air compressor wiring, the ground and neutral must be connected. Simply unplugging it removed that ground fault from the system. The new, never used GFI outlet was defective. So simple, but so much time to find!

Next up was the Aqua Hot. This problem turned out to be a self-inflicted wound – or so I must assume. The AH burns diesel fuel to heat water. It’s a great addition to an RV as you have an endless supply of hot water, you can heat the bus in cold weather and it will also warm the engine coolant on those early mornings when you need that cold, two-stroke diesel to fire up. It works best on diesel fuel, but it will also work on electric.

Now, I’m always making ‘improvements’ to stuff in the bus. So back in the spring I decided I needed an hour meter on the AH so I could keep track of how much diesel it uses. So I did my research and went to work. I just needed to add a couple of small wires to the existing AH wiring harness, run them up to the kitchen and connect up my new hour meter. Simple. NOT! After I got through with that little project the AH didn’t work anymore. Somehow I broke it! Darn, I hate it when that happens. Assuming it must have something to do with the new wires, I took the new wires out and the AH started working again. I decided to postpone that little project for a future date.

Flash forward to a rather cool night in the Virginia hills. We were boondocked and needed some heat. I fired up the trusty AH and went to bed. In the morning I discovered the AH had shut itself down?! So I just flipped it back on and – nada. No AH, no heat, no hot water, no flame, no nothing. So I told Wendy the AH was down and added that to my growing list of chores.

A few days go by and I’ve got time to take a look at the AH. I’ve got my troubleshooting flowchart on the ipad. So I start pulling it apart and testing circuits. According to the flowchart, if it fails a certain circuit test, the control module has failed. Great! Somehow I’ve blown the control box (relays, circuit board, etc.). New ones are $800 #%@*&^#! I find a reman online for half that and place my order. When the box arrives, I pull the AH apart, plug in the new control box and … nothing! It doesn’t work either!

Now, we are moving every few days, so shipping and receiving is complicated to say the least. Nevertheless, I persevere and decide to  return the reman to Nebraska and my old control box to another AH expert in San Diego for testing. Imagine my surprise when I receive emails from both: there’s nothing wrong with either control box – they work just fine for us!

Flash forward again to Howards garage in GA. I decide to tackle the AH once again. I have the reman control box back in my hands so I pull the AH apart, plug in the reman controller and start at the beginning of the flowchart. Still nothing.

Now I do what I should have done a long time back. What did I mess with when I was installing the hour meter. Well I knew I had to have popped a few wire terminals out of their plastic plug connector to install those new wires. Maybe one of those is loose? Sure enough, not only is one loose, I’ve replaced one wire in the wrong position in the plastic plug! So, I fix that loose connection, move the terminal to the correct location the AH starts working. STUPID!

Now I’m thinking – hey, I bet I could get that hour meter working now…

Next project: Howard tells me I need to make some changes to our patio awning so it is more robust in the wind and rain. I’m sold on that idea since we lost an awning to rain back in June (see Storms). We’re headed for south Texas and Howard tells me the wind never stops down there.

Howard has done this a dozen times and he knows exactly what we need to do. One of the critical weak points in an RV awning are the friction clamps on the upper arms that hold the awning roller tube out away from the RV. As the wind blows and the awning rocks up and down, these clamps slip. That allows slack to develop in the awning fabric and eventually it starts behaving like a big horizontal sail. The more slack, the more it billows and pulls and slips. Another weak point are the bottom braces. These braces are adjustable and held in place by a small metal pin that protrudes into a series of holes in the bracket. The problem here is that with enough slack in the fabric the arms start shaking and the pin can work loose. The arm can suddenly collapse and allow even more slack in the fabric! Enough slack and that horizontal sail will just fold the whole assembly up onto the top of the bus. That’s not good as it usually breaks things.

The solution is to pin those upper arms and lower brackets so they can’t move. The upper arms are fairly simple as they are usually deployed to the same length. We simply determined how much extra material we had in the telescoping portion of the arm, made some measurements and drilled a 1/4″ hole through the arm above the friction clamp. A 2″ steel safety pin inserted through the hole ensures that arm will never slip.

The lower arms are a little more complicated because their length needs to be adjustable according to the angle or height desired for the awning. The other critically important aspect is to be sure that one end of the awning is always lower than the other. Keeping the awning slanted sufficiently from one end to the other will ensure that rain will run off the lower end rather than accumulating in the center of the awning – like a big bath tub! That was the mistake we made and I hate making the same mistake twice. After all, there are so many other mistakes to make, why repeat yourself? Life is an adventure.

The idea is to drill just a few holes through the lower brackets to allow a 1/4″ safety pin to be inserted. You don’t want to drill too many holes since you will usually keep the awning at a certain pitch. You just need enough holes to allow you to raise or lower the awning and slant it to one side or the other depending on the layout of your campsite. We decided to go with four holes on each brace: A high setting and a low setting with slant options. Once the holes are drilled, we pitched the awning and set the slant. I couldn’t find 1/4″ x 4″ steel pins at Lowes or HD, so I plan to do some research online.

Well, there you have it! Three little projects completed. One self-inflicted wound healed, the bus is even better prepared for boondocking and we have an awning that should stand up to that southern Texas wind.

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Howard directs us out of the compound.

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I’m just really glad to know you!

The Silver Comet Trail

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After we left Asheville, it was time for more bike riding. We found the Silver Comet Trail, a gem of a superhighway of trails in northeastern Georgia that goes from Smyrna to the Alabama state line, 61 miles.  It is about 30 miles from our next stop, Howard and Ellen Best‘s, in Kingston. Howard is Jim’s bus guru, since the beginning, literally. Jim has a few things on his mental list that he wants to run by Howard and Howard loves sharing his knowledge of RVing. He and Ellen have been living in their bus and traveling for like 25 years! Yikes. Anyway, we’re headed there next.

But now we are in Rockmart, Georgia in a practically deserted, widely spaced campground that is like a minute from the trail. We planned to ride in both directions on the 61 mile Silver Comet Trail.

This trail is our eighth in our recent tour and it was like a dream come true. The entire surface was paved concrete with divider lines. You can roll along at 14-15 miles per hour. Like a superhighway. The first day we rode from Rockmart to Dallas. This portion of the trail is beautiful, well maintained and well-patrolled. In 2002, a girl was raped and murdered on this section of the trail and in July of this year another girl was brutally beaten close by. Her attacker has not been apprehended. It is sad because it is such a beautiful spot; to be violated there seems like extra punishment. We normally don’t necessarily ride together all the time but on this section, we decided to. There were plenty of other riders, but not a lot for a weekend, and a cute little Sheriff Smart Car patrolling. Everything was all OK.

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This section was a pleasant 30 mile ride. The next day’s ride to Cedartown was to prove more challenging.

I had seen the maps warning of “steep hills” and figured they would be more challenging than even the Virginia Creeper Trail. That was a correct assumption. About five miles out of Cedartown, about 20 miles from the bus, the hills got interesting. We were used to cruising along at 14 MPH.  Ha!

It is a really good thing we got new bikes. Neither of my old bikes (with me on it anyway) would have made these steep climbs. The climb was rewarded with a swift and effortless downhill segment, but lots of zigs and zags and road crossings to slow the fun. To me, it seemed like the section toward Cedartown was the worst, the steepest. On the way back it seemed like the path let you pick up enough momentum to just fly downhill. That part was fun. We ended up with a 40 mile day.

The terrain was different too. Instead of being arched in with pine trees and sycamore boughs which was a treat in itself, the pastures opened up and we saw some magnificent old trees in the fields. The weather was perfect.

In Rockmart.
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This was right before the steep section to Cedartown.

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Scenic Bog Overlook

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In Cedartown. There is a nice restored depot there. Many empty storefronts, like almost every small town…
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And on the way back:
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This section of the trail meets up with the Chief Ladiga Trail at the Alabama state line. We may pick up there after our Howard and Ellen visit.
Stay tuned.

 

Kindred Spirits & Asheville Wrap-Up

We ended up spending a week in Asheville. The first few days we did some housekeeping around the bus. I ended up washing all the windows, inside and out. They really needed it plus the screens were really dirty. When Jim got the ladder out for me, unfortunately he wrenched his back pretty badly. Ouch! So we ended up renting a car for our adventures to the Biltmore Estate instead of riding our bikes as planned. That turned out to be a good move, with the ailing back and all. Plus it was a Dodge Challenger; handled a lot differently than the bus!

We also found out that riding 40 miles a day on the bikes does not translate well or prepare you for all the walking and stair climbing involved in our two days at the estate. After doing the house tour, the architectural tour and the Butler’s tour, plus all the walking around the extensive gardens, our legs and feet were talkin’ to us. So we took a couple extra days to recover and I needed to get some work done too.

While we were at the Bear Creek Campground, we met up with Nerds on the Road, who are friends of our friends, the Technomads, Cherie and Chris.  They said hello and it was fun to find their pics of our bus on Facebook. We were also parked right across from this very cool green mid-70s GMC Palm Beach model.
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It wasn’t until the morning we pulled out that we had a chance to chat with these folks, but John and Annie turned out to be kindred spirits, fellow crazy people who sold everything and hit the road. In their case, they sold their 95 acre farm in West Virginia when they became surrounded by the natural gas companies. John said he felt like his land was being poisoned by all the fracking and they decided to bail.

They did things a little lot quicker than we did. They bought their RV in July and hit the road in August after 30 frantic days getting out of their house. Props to them! It took us a couple of years to divest and get everything ready to go. I wish we had had more time to talk because Annie and I immediately bonded over scenarios like waking up in the middle of the night thinking about stuff at “home,” missing our gardens and general new RVer angst. Everything is working out well for all of us, it was just really nice to meet up with someone who “gets it.” A lot of the people we talk with, even old friends, kind of gloss over the details of the actual divestment part of the deal. I think that may be because it is really too much to wrap your head around; we know; we did it! We gave them a card and hope they keep in touch (Hey guys, email us!) and we hope to meet up down the road somewhere.

Safe and happy travels, Annie and John! Keep in touch!

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Vanderbilt Biltmore. Yes, He Did.

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George Vanderbilt was an amazing guy who lived in an incredibly unique time. The Gilded Age. He had vision, aesthetics in mind, loved beauty, art and sport and apparently was a very good shopper. He fell in love with the western North Carolina landscape and, except for 60 or so trans-Atlantic trips,   many of which were to choose plans and accessories for Biltmore, he made his home in the mountains of North Carolina. And the main thing? He had LOTS of money. Too bad he died at age 51 from complications of appendicitis. He certainly made the most of his short life.

When he began building his family home, Biltmore,  in 1889 the surrounding landscape, of which he eventually bought 125,000 acres including whole towns, was barren and eroding due to extensive logging of the old growth forest. The railroad was a key component in the denuding of the landscape; once it was in place, the trees and wildlife were gone. Ironic, since George’s father, Cornelius, turned $100 into $100,000,000 in a short time building the railroad.

George could have, and did have, the best of everything. The vision it took to plan and imagine this eventual 8000 acre estate is phenomenal. The house is designed by the premier architect of the day, Richard Morris Hunt and the gardens by Frederick Law Olmstead,  the father of American landscape architecture. If you have ever been to Central Park in New York, you have a taste of Olmstead’s  work. Or Boston Commons. Many other distinguished venues. Olmstead considered the gardens he designed at the Biltmore his crowning glory and indeed, he died soon after their completion. He was designing them for us, 100 years later and the vista was breathtaking in all directions.

Father of the managed forest system and basically the founder of the U.S. Forest Service, his estate sold over 100,000 acres to the National Forestry Service. He used to have a 5000 sq. ft. hunting lodge, Buckspring, on top of Mt. Pisgah, with a private road leading to it.

Vanderbilt’s  philanthropy seems extensive. And it is. Until you see the lengths he went to in designing and decorating his own house. And glorifying himself… I think when the whole self-glorification thing hit me the hardest was when I went on the Architectural Tour and they took us out onto the roof where copper plates lined the various parapets and gargoyled roof intersections. Each tile was stamped GV, for George Vanderbilt of course, and the guide pointed out the last vestiges of the 22 Karat  gold that coated the corner embellishments of acorns. Really? On the roof? 22 Karat gold? You can see the last vestiges on the lower left of this copper plated tile.

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I had already been on the house tour where you walked you through his bedroom, the walls of which were covered with 22 K gilded cloth. Who does this? The more I learned, the more I appreciated the energy and art appreciation he exhibited. Treasured artworks from the National Gallery in Washingon DC were hidden in the house during World War II. He  had several Albrecht Dürer prints, along with Renoirs bought before the artist was famous. He had 15th century Flemish tapestries in several rooms. Ming Dynasty bowls for indoor koi gardens. A 23,000 volume library. Custom made everything. Many John Singer Sargent paintings, some of which the artist traveled to Biltmore to paint. The Gilded Age is a good description.

We took two full days to tour the grounds, the entire first day touring the house. You only go to so many houses that have 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, indoor gardens, onsite conservatory, winter garden, salons and throne rooms galore.

Anyway, if you are interested, and I was, you can read plenty online although I am seeing a dearth of ebooks so far.

Some pics from our tour. Oh yeah, no photography allowed… Except outside.

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More photos on Flickr. Some inside, Yeah, I cheated.