And Then We Were Thankful…

When we were in Pensacola meeting up with B and Jim they graciously invited us for Thanksgiving dinner at their place. We hadn’t planned on arriving at our winter spot until after Thanksgiving but not only did we want to enjoy dinner, Jim had to practice for his first Jam Band performance on Friday. So from Padre Island, we headed for the Rio Grande Valley.

B explained the logistics and menu: We all gathered for the first course of Jim’s famous oyster pie and champagne, a longtime tradition of theirs. And more oysters! After the first course we all dispersed to warm up our stuff, then reconvened for the main event.Cecilia and Paul brought a smoked turkey and everybody made a side. There were sweet potatoes, gravy, mashed potatoes, the best brussels sprouts and green beans. Cranberry and a Mexican relish. Stuffing, of course. Buttermilk biscuits. More gravy.

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The table
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The oyster pie
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All the yummy deliciousness

We had a great group of 10 for the day, all from the park except for Cecilia and Paul from Austin. They are Airstream people like B and Jim and parked right next to us so we got to know them in the week or so they were there. They had a little dog, Honey who almost met Carmella and played well with Maisy, B’s dog.
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Honey and Cecilia

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Paul dresses for dinner.

After dinner we relaxed over more wine. B played her harp for us.
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Their house is full of colorful and interesting things and a story goes with each one. It was nice to learn more about their lives and history.

After Maisy got a walk and our food had settled down, we walked across the park to Dona and Stan’s place for three fabulous desserts; a raspberry cobbler, pecan caramel tarts and pumpkin cheesecake. And more wine. And coffee. The raspberry treat with ice cream (!) was so good I couldn’t stop eating it.
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Fortunately, I did get a taste of the cheesecake as we reconvened for meal #2 on Sunday. We finished off the turkey and ate a few more sides and I got to enjoy a piece. Delicious!

The whole weekend was just what the doctor ordered; a relaxing and recharging weekend with friends, puppies, good food, drink and thoughtful conversation.

We are thankful.

 

Otra Vez: Padre Island National Seashore

Time to head for our winter spot in south Texas. When we got a Thanksgiving dinner invitation from B and Jim we had a deadline. And my Jim wanted to practice with the band he plays in at the park before they performed right after Thanksgiving.

We were already pointed west and stopped for a few last days of beach bicycling at Padre Island National Seashore. We went back to the same campground on the beach we were at in 2014 except now with our senior pass it was just $4 a night. We settled in for a few more days of bicycling, cat walking and eating fresh seafood.

The first day it was misting a little in the morning when we took off down to the beach. We had gone just a short way before the sky opened up so we turned around and went back to the bus. The next day was gorgeous and we got in about 25 miles in all. Riding on the beach takes more energy, not just because of the wind, but the sand although hard packed has more friction than the average road or trail. It’s pretty easy to just cruise along on some of the trails we’ve ridden. Not so at the beach. The panoramic views were spectacular.
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The beach
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The dunes

That evening we had a nice sunset and I decided to fool around with my new Layered Skies project. I have put these images together before but this was the first time I shot particularly for this technique I discovered by accident. The results. There are infinite possibilities.

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This will be a fun project to fool around with while we are parked for the winter since the sky is ever changing and it is about all there is to take photos of. More coming soon.

Tammany Trace & Biloxi Blues

After leaving Sumrall, we spent the weekend in Slidell, Louisiana at the Elks which was right on a lake and close to the Tammany Trace. We have ridden the whole Trace and it is a great trail. They need to make some new ones!

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The lake we camped on had fish to feed and lots of turtles. A bluebird nest was in a hollowed out tree and the heron came to visit. We were there for the supermoon but it was behind some trees until higher in the sky. We had the place to ourselves except for the caretaker. There was a kid’s playground and Carmella loved running around on that. She even tried to go up the slide and ran up the seesaw until it moved and she jumped off.

After a couple of days riding, we decided to continue our Gulf Coast seafood crawl with a stop at Darwell’s Cafe in Long Beach on the agenda. The shrimp creole and crab cakes did not disappoint.


We  landed at the Elks Lodge in Biloxi, right across from the beach and next to the old French Cemetery. Carmella loved the cemetery!

And, as the Elks Exalted Ruler (yes, that’s really what they call the Lodge leader!) pointed out, they have no problems with the neighbors. The live oaks draped with Spanish moss provided shade and atmosphere for the graves, some dating back to the 1700s. Of course, being right across from the beach, it saw major damage in Hurricane Katrina but a restoration project was launched and except for a couple glued-back-together tombstones, you would never know. Those live oaks must be tough because all along the coast we saw places where homes had been. The houses were completely gone but the trees remain. Toward Gulfport the land across from the beach was completely devoid of buildings and lots of property was for sale.

We didn’t get the bikes out here but instead walked to the Ohr O’Keefe Museum to see the work of George Ohr, “the mad potter of Biloxi.” In a career spanning about thirty years until 1910, he produced an astonishing amount of carefully crafted ceramics. Many had whimsical handles and others were formed then obviously imploded or deconstructed, making the viewer look twice. Mugs that you don’t notice at first have holes in the sides. Elaborate handles, some pieces with several handles. The museum is right across from the beach in a complex designed by Frank Gehry. So a double treat to see. A friend had told me about it on our way east, so we walked the few miles to take a look. Wow!

Unfortunately, George never achieved the fame or financial success he desired from his art so he closed his studio and his collection sat untouched for many years until his family sold it to a collector in New York. He was quite the character.

Afterward we were ready for some more seafood so we found the Half Shell Oyster House and settled in with some oysters and a couple of martinis. They go great together. These oysters, while tasty, did not measure up to Peg Leg Pete’s in Pensacola. We really got spoiled there. The martinis were good though and much appreciated.
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A live oak along the way in a lot empty of house.

We scouted out a laundry in El Campo, Texas and there was an Elks Lodge there too which was completely deserted that night. In preparation for our winter in Texas, we washed everything in the bus, blankets, towels, rugs, clothes, bike stuff, cat stuff, quilts and seat covers. The El Campo Super Wash was brand new and had three 6x size washers and plenty of 4x washers. I figured out we did the equivalent of 28 loads of laundry! I need to get rid of some clothes! Planning on that soon.

On to Padre Island for some beach biking.

Back in Sumrall, Y’All

Once we got the go ahead to park at the trail head we made the short hop to Sumrall, Mississippi so we could ride the remainder of the 41 mile long Longleaf Trace that we first found in 2014. That time we parked at Bassfield and rode the Sumrall-Prentiss section.

Herlon Pierce is the gentleman from the Longleaf Trace who OKed us parking in Sumrall at the trail. He has a trail head named after him! How cool is that?
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This is a really great trail, one of the best we have been on. They have lots of amenities and comfy little rest stops all along the way. The section between Hattiesburg and Sumrall is especially well appointed. One aspect we hadn’t seen before is the identifying signs of the trees along the trail.

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There were many varieties including:

  • Southern red oak
  • Longleaf Pine
  • Tung tree
  • Tulip Poplar
  • Mimosa
  • Sumac
  • Post oak
  • Water oak
  • Persimmon
  • Sparkleberry
  • Eastern red cedar
  • Ironwood
  • Sassafras
  • Eastern Dogwood
  • Flowering Dogwood
  • Wax myrtle
  • Blackgum
  • Chnese Tallow tree Loblolly pine
  • Crabapple
  • Poison Ivy (Yes! They marked it.)
  • Shortleaf pine
  • Groundsel tree
  • Hornbeam
  • Yupon
  • Supplejack
  • Southern magnolia
  • Chinese privet
  • Willow Oak
  • Muscadine
  • Cat greenbriar
  • Chinkipin
  • American Holly
  • Swamp Cyrilla “Tuti”
  • Black cherry
  • White oak
  • Cherry oak
  • Hawthorn
  • Devilwood
  • Sourwood
  • Huckleberry

There were probably more that I forgot. When I passed a sign I could ride until I had gotten about ten in my head, then I had to stop and put in my note before I forgot. I had never heard of several of them and Sparkleberry was my favorite.

We rode to Hattiesburg and back the first day, about 30 miles. The flag above the trail was a first. I don’t know James Moore’s  role in the Trace but we appreciate his effort toward a top notch experience.
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Some scenes along the trail.

We got misted on a little bit but no serious rain.

One of the rest stops. Even bridges got “adopted.”
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The next day we rode in the other direction toward Bassfield. When we rode that section before we came upon an exotic animal farm and wanted to see if it was still there. We saw some of the llamas up in another pasture but no prehistoric birds. Glad we saw them before.
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We also witnessed a beautiful incident. In a pasture by the trail were three magnificent horses. One was a very large draft horse. The others were smaller by not by much. I was going to try to get a picture when a truck pulled into the upper pasture and they started off at a trot toward the truck. It quickly escalated into a full gallop. As the driver went back to shut the gate, he waved his arms at the approaching horses. The others turned back but one of them, a beautifully proportioned tan and white beauty with a long mane, managed to slip past him and galloped into the adjoining field. We stopped to watch as he pranced and cavorted with his head high for a good ten minutes before allowing himself to be corralled. It looked like this has happened before. No pictures, you had to be there.

On the way back we stopped at this sign and decided to get some eggs.
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We headed down this drive and entered a whole other world, the world of Major Woodworking. There were chickens and kitties and piles of wood carefully covered.dsc_8787
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He makes custom counter tops and flooring and when a big tree goes down, they know who to call, Major. He and his helpers Jimmy and Scott uncovered something that he said would be worth taking a picture of.

These red oak planks are about 10 feet long, four feet wide and four or five inches thick. There were other piles he didn’t uncover; he had about a dozen planks this size. He showed us a picture in his phone of the tree before they milled it and was going to email it to me. It was a monster.

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Oreo guarding the planks once they’re covered back up.

And kitties.
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These two cuties posed willingly.
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Mom, not so much. We like those orange tabby females.

Scott and his 2002 Vette. He’s pretty proud of it and rightly so.
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Major took his time and we talked for quite a while. He went to the trouble to explain his work and we gained a real appreciation for his skill. We asked about the chickens and the local wildlife. He even cut us a piece of sugar cane.

As with most property owners along a rails-to-trails project, when first confronted with the idea, they are against it. As Major said, waving his hand toward the trail, “That’s our front yard.” They planted screening and it has grown up well but he may clear it out again. We said we hoped he and his neighbors have found that bicyclists are peaceful people. It took a while, he said, but he came around and now he gives us a look into his world and sells us eggs. We ended up with two dozen and they are delicious.

It was the best and most affirming experience of the day.

Buds, Bikes, Beaches and Bivalves

We spent a couple of nights at the deserted Elks Lodge riding the Fall Line Trace in Columbus, Georgia. It’s a short trail, only about 16 miles but a good ride and nice surface. In some spots it is really wide! Right by the Elks though. Next time we will do the Chattahoochee Trail that Linda recommended.

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We wanted to do some riding on the beach like at Padre Island a few years ago so we found a trail in Tallahassee, the Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail that looked like a good option. There is an Elks in Tallahassee but it is nowhere near the trail. So we decided on Gulf Islands National Seashore outside Pensacola. That sounded good too because we have friends from Texas in Pensacola but it turned out they were already back in Texas. They pointed us in the right direction for food though.

We used our senior pass to get four nights at a really reasonable rate. Right across from the beach! Low rate = more $$ for oysters. We rode in to Peg Leg Pete’s from Fort Pickens for lunch. We ate these oysters and some more, along with grouper nuggets. Washed down with margaritas. I found a pearl in one of mine; never had that happen before. Even after we rode the ten miles back to the bus we were still stuffed. In a good way.

We were right between the Gulf of Mexico and Santa Rosa Bay and perfectly situated for two mornings of flyover practice by the Blue Angels based at the Navy Base in Pensacola. Our own private air show!
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And the beach! White quartz sand that sparkles against the very turquoise water. We slogged our bikes down to the water one day only to discover that the sand was too soft to ride on. Not like Padre Island where we could ride for miles. After we pushed them back up the dunes to the road we saw the No Bicycles sign. OOPS.

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Sunset one evening.

Another evening. I took this with my phone riding in the back seat of a car!
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We knew our Texas friends and Airstream adventurers B and Jim were in the area and we started petitioning them to come on over, especially after we had eaten at Peg Leg Pete’s. Jim is a raw oyster aficionado and they are always posting pictures on Facebook that make us hungry.

It turned out they weren’t too far west yet so they came and camped right across from us. We started eating in earnest then. More oysters, of course.

And fish, crab cakes, key lime pie. All even more delicious when enjoyed with friends and good conversation. Our waiter at our second day’s lunch was a friendly sort and the subject somehow turned to politics. Imagine that! He said he wasn’t going to vote for anybody and we four, being of similar political persuasion, urged him and all his friends to be realistic and vote. And Florida… Let’s hope he does.

We saw a dog park on the beach and later went back so Maisy could get in a little beach time. They spent last summer as lighthouse keepers and guides in Oregon and Maisy loves the beach. She is always in motion!
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The next morning Jim and B went west. They will be back in Texas in just a few days! We will continue to mosey along our seafood/bicycle route, yet to be determined.

We found an Elks Lodge in Hattiesburg on a lake. We had called the city of Sumrall on the Longleaf Trace to see if we could park at the trailhead and ride the one section of the trail we haven’t yet. We were still waiting to hear back from them when we decided to stay at the Elks an extra night. Remote, quiet with lots of room for the kitties to roam. And right on the lake.
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We got the word that it was OK to park at the trail head for a few days so we made fuel and food stops before settling in right next to the trail. We will be here for a few days and had to make sure we had satellite coverage so we can follow the election. And football, of course.

 

 

Faith in Humanity Restored*

*See previous post.

We made our way back to the Chief Ladiga Trail campground and settled in for a few days of R&R. After being at the Choo Choo Garage for ten days we were ready for a change of scene so we returned to this campground right on the bike trail. We had been here in the spring, right before I got shingles on our visit to the Choo Choo Garage. I told Joel I was a little nervous about going back but reminded myself that I got the shot and it’s mostly over.

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Our view in the spring

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And in the fall

We told Terry in the spring that this was the best campground we had ever been in. Quiet and beautiful, it is a true hidden gem. We have our same site right along the creek but it is much drier now. They haven’t had rain in over two months and the leaves are crunchy underfoot. Even though there are no hookups here we planned to stay for several days now that we have a working generator.

Some scenes along the Chief Ladiga Trail.

We planned to sleep, walk the kitties, ride the trail and eat at the Solid Rock Cafe. I had my heart set on their Sunday buffet which we happened onto when we were here last. I also needed a haircut. The first day we rode to Piedmont and I found a salon. When I went in to ask about a haircut she said she was fully booked all day. Hmmm. She probably took one look at my hair and thought “I don’t want to touch that!” I asked if there was another place and she reluctantly sent me down the street to Michelle’s Beauty Boutique. As it happens, Beauty Boutique was the name of the place I got my hair cut in Kansas City for years.

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Michelle was working on someone when I went in but said in about 15 minutes she had time. We sat outside while she finished up. When it was my turn,she and I had a wide-ranging and interesting conversation all sparked by that old question, “Where are you from?” We get that in the south all the time because as Bobbie at the campground explained, “I could tell ya’ll not from around here because of your dialect.”  I explained about the bus and traveling and she remarked that we got to see and experience many things most people don’t. I told her I was well aware of that and felt extremely fortunate. She was complimentary and curious; a delight to chat with. Plus I got a great haircut!

When we approached the counter so I could pay her she said “Today is on the house. I just enjoyed meeting you and it was so interesting talking with you” That was totally unexpected! I protested and she refused. “I want to do this for you. At least she let me tip her. Best haircut ever. And a truly heartwarming experience that touched me deeply.
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With a little more spring in my step, we headed to the Solid Rock for lunch. It did not disappoint and we noted the time of the buffet on Sunday. Sadly, we went on Sunday and they were closed! Just every few weeks. We recalibrated and went to the Piedmont Diner and had a good barbecue plate.

Piedmont has lots of cool old/new signs all around the town.
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That evening some tent campers pulled in on bikes and we chatted a bit. Lonnie and Patricia were riding the Silver Comet and Chief Ladiga Trails from Smyrna, Georgia. And Lonnie was pulling a trailer. There is a section of the Silver Comet Trail between Rockmart and Cedartown that is very steep and hilly and they had ridden that section the day we met them. With the trailer. Yikes! I remember that part of the trail and we walked our bikes in several spots; it is that steep. Patricia said they had to leave her bike at the bottom of the hill while she helped push up the trailer then went back to get her bike. Several times. They were ready to ditch the trailer for the final leg.
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Lonnie and Patricia on arrival

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A couple days later they came and picked up the trailer to take back to Piedmont where they would retrieve it by car.

We told them we were going to be here for a few days and offered to keep it for them till they returned. Now these folks didn’t know us from Adam but they gladly accepted the offer. I made them coffee the next morning before they took off for Anniston, about 30 miles away. They are both 71 years young and Patricia explained that since they didn’t have too many years left so they were doing what they want now. Great plan. She said that they were the kind of people who just say, “We can do this!” And then they do. They love to kayak and paddleboard too and the trailer comes in handy there too. We always enjoy meeting like minded spirits and bike riders. When we explained to them about the bus and traveling Patricia asked “Well, what do you do about church?”

I hesitated before answering that we don’t attend church but I have always viewed gardening, nature, and bicycling as my church. And yoga. Spirit knows no bounds. We forget to ask if they had bus parking at their house but we have their contact info and an invitation anytime we are in their area.

We got in about 80 miles riding the trail. Jim played ukulele and the weather was perfect. The cats were able to go out unleashed for the first time in months and it was a real joy to watch them run around, up trees, chasing each other all around. I was filled with peace and gratitude just sitting by the creek reading my book and watching the kitties run around with Jim playing uke in the background. Like a sponge, I just wanted to soak it all up.

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Great spot for kitties and us too!

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Carmella and Astrid roaming around

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Carmella climbs a tree!

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Carmella, Astrid and Tikita

Some other tent campers arrived on the other side of us and we met Popcorn (really!) and Linda the next morning. They are apparently longtime friends who get together every year or other at a bike trail to camp, ride bikes and catch up.

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Popcorn and Linda

The next day we rode to the Silver Comet Trailhead where we were surprised to see six dogs lounging around in the sun. A guy was there and we figured he brought his dogs out to the trail to relax or something. When he took off on his bike the dogs stayed behind. Hmmm. I saw some plastic bowls and found a running log on the dogs at the trail marker. People had dated when they were there, fed and watered the dogs. Looks they were abandoned or dropped off there. Not good. There were three really cute pit bull mix puppies obviously from the same litter, the mom, and a couple other adult dogs, one who looked like he needed some veterinary attention. I wished I had some dog food to give them.

A short time later Ken arrived and we struck up a conversation. He apparently knew about the dogs, living in Cedartown just 10 miles away by bike. He had both water and food for them, a big bag of food. They devoured it in minutes. I asked him if he added to the log and he said this was the first time he had brought food but said he would bring more tomorrow when he hiked the Pinhoti. When he left I added to the log saying “Fed and watered. Someone please adopt them!”He is a retired physical education professor at a local college and as his retirement present to himself he decided he was going to hike the entire Pinhoti Trail, a nearby hiking trail that actually crosses the Chief Ladiga Trail. Michelle had mentioned this trail during our conversation and he alerted us to where the crossing was near our campground.  Little rough for bikes.
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Apparently armadillos are also born dead by the side of the bike trail.

A few days later I rode back to the trailhead with water and dog biscuits that we use in Texas to avert the packs of dogs that chase us on our bikes. No dogs that day but I was gratified to see that someone else left food and the log was updated to say that the puppies were adopted! I made another plea to adopt the adult dogs, especially the little black one who just didn’t seem quite right. Not sure what will happen from here on out but even though somebody did a bad thing dumping the dogs, lots of other good people chipped in and rallied around them. Thanks, Ken!
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And Popcorn was kind enough to photograph the beginning section of the log for me! I had meant to ask her to and she did it anyway! What a gal!

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Popcorn and Linda. As Linda said, Popcorn is very picturesque.img_3218
Meanwhile we were enjoying getting to know them better. They are a lot like us, except they are way tougher since they tent camp and the nights were chilly! They have a leisurely approach to life and took their time, like we do, having breakfast and taking off on their bikes every day. It was a real pleasure to camp beside them. We extended our stay a few days; it’s that nice.

As Popcorn said, meeting people is the best thing about camping. The sites are spacious with lots of privacy and they were best neighbors ever. They also know all about the bike trails in Georgia and when Linda heard that we were headed to Tallahassee by way of Columbus, Georgia, she alerted us to a trail right near where we were planning to stay at the Elk’s Lodge. She has a great book and I got the info for the trail. We hadn’t planned to stay over in Columbus but when we saw that the Elks was right by the trail, we demurred.

After a 150 mile drive through the mountains with the trees changing into glorious color, we stocked up in Columbus and headed for the Elks. I had called but the number was out of service. I Google Earthed it and it appeared to be closed. It still looked to me like we could park there; at the end of a dead end industrial street. Both the Walmart and the Elks back right up to the Fall Line Trace, which is not the trail Linda told us about but still a nice long trail in Columbus. We made it to the Elks and sure enough, it was closed and chain linked off. There was a spot in the front where we could back in but weren’t sure it was OK. What to do? Go back to the Walmart?  My vote was to try the Elks since way better for the cats.

Jim called the realtor on the sign and as he did, a guy pulled up. I thought OOPS! Busted! We shook hands and he introduced himself as Keith, the owner of the property next door. He said it was fine to park there and that the place across the street had been for sale for seven years! The realtor gave us the OK to stay too, not likely a buyer will kick us out in the next few days. And the best thing about closed Elks Lodges? No donation required! Friendly neighbors and resident cats.

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This kitty showed up immediately. He and Carmella had a hiss-off.

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We love the Elks because they are remote, right next to the bike trails and cheap. Even cheaper when closed.

We are thankful that our travels include so many nice people! How would we get to meet them all otherwise?

Thanks to Michelle, Lonnie and Patricia, Ken, Linda, Popcorn, all the dog feeders and Keith for restoring my temporarily derailed faith that most people really are nice.

After the incident in Kansas City, this stop was a welcome affirmation.

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I Blame Donald Trump

Earlier this summer when we were in Kansas City getting the house batteries replaced, Wholesale Batteries gave us VIP tickets to an outdoor concert at Sandstone Arena in KCK. We spent that much money. It was three tribute bands, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Eric Clapton and somebody else. Real memorable, right?

We had looked at the website regarding parking, cameras, smoking and food. After we got parked, we found our good seats and settled in. The first band was just OK. We had a $13 margarita (whar VIP?) and enjoyed the people watching during the show.

One thing we noticed and did not enjoy was that the people behind us were smoking. Heavily. There were smoking areas outside the seating they are supposed to use. Silly me, I thought maybe these folks didn’t know. I turned around and politely said to the girl behind me, “Excuse me, but it says No Smoking in the seats. There’s an area just outside. Thank you.”

She looked at me and said, “You better keep your mouth shut or you’re gonna get smacked.” She looked like she would enjoy it too.

What? Who says this? To a perfect stranger? At an entertainment venue? Where the rules are perfectly clear? I turned back around in shock. Such ugly and unpleasant behavior. Where do people get the idea it’s acceptable to act like this? Maybe she just came from a Donald Trump rally where it’s apparently not just OK, but encouraged, to denigrate and mock handicapped people, women and blacks. Not to mention Muslims and immigrants. And probably non-smokers.

Of course, she began smoking more and blowing it directly at us. This is not a nice person. I turned back around and asked her please not to blow the smoke at us. She said, “I told you to shut your fat mouth. I’m warning you.” I told her I was making a simple request and that most people would comply if they knew it was bothering somebody. She continued to smoke and smolder.

I got up and mentioned to one of the staff that people were smoking in the seats, and being extremely rude about it.The staffer immediately responded that they couldn’t possibly enforce that because they were so short staffed. Great.

Naturally our smoking friend saw me do this and when I came back to my seat, she started kicking the back of my seat. Not just a tap or two, but good solid, deliberate and continuous kicks. So I turned back around and asked her to not kick my seat PLEASE. Again, her response was rude and threatening. What to do?

The seat beside me was empty so I just moved over. Well, then she got her friend to kick the back of my seat in the same emphatic manner. I asked that person not to and she continued. By this time, the smoking girl had moved over behind Jim and was kicking his seat. It was like she was itching for a fight. How many times do you have to say PLEASE STOP THAT!?

Jim finally turned around and asked her “Why are you being so obnoxious?” She answered, “I told you to just turn around and shut up.”

They wouldn’t stop kicking so Jim said, “Let’s just stand up.” Ha! So we did. That quieted them down for a while because they couldn’t see anything. It was kind of difficult for us to enjoy the show though. I can’t remember the last time I was exposed to such unpleasant and threatening behavior. From someone I don’t even know…

A woman a few rows back came and asked us to sit down because they couldn’t see. We  apologized and explained the situation, gesturing toward our smoking friend, who glowered at us. What can you do?

Finally we sat back down. I’m not sure if our smoking friend was suffering from tobacco poisoning by that time but at least they quit kicking our seats. The atmosphere was poisoned for us though. We decided to leave before the third band started. The whole encounter made me feel sad, not angry.

On the way back to the bus our conversation focused on the question: Why do people think it is acceptable to act like this? The election, which I have followed closely, and not just on Fox News, has somehow fomented the idea among Trump followers that it is OK to beat up protesters, use the N* word, smear and threaten to jail, even kill his opponent and demean women who hid their shame of sexual abuse for years for not being good looking enough. I understand that Donald Trump’s main line of attack is based on stirring up peoples’ ungrounded fears and he asserts that people are sick of political correctness. What they call political correctness is actually just civilized behavior. Don’t be rude. Don’t be mean. Be thoughtful and kind. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Don’t interrupt. Listen, really listen to others. Be nice.

Anybody who knows me knows my political leanings. But this is about more than politics. This is about basic human decency, compassion and civilized behavior. Understanding others who are not like us and working with them . Realizing that only love will bring us into the light. We really are stronger together.

And in the end, only kindness matters.

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When It Rains It Pours!

We’ve had a string of ‘situations’ lately – I’ve been busy!  Where to start? I knew we had a problem with the generator before I knew our house battery bank was shot. We’d been having intermittent problems with the generator since we hit Laramie Wyoming back in July. That brought us to Cheyenne, WY  where we waited for a part that did not fix that problem. Then we needed new house batteries and then start batteries and then engine R&R? However, I’m getting ahead of myself. First, the batteries…

We have a 24 volt battery system (in fact we have two separate 24 volt systems) vs. 12 volts like most RV’s, mainly because it is more efficient and the invertor requires 24 volts. Well sometime in early September, probably while we were sitting at the Grandview Elks Lodge I noticed my battery monitor was indicating very low voltage on the house battery bank?   Like below 24 volts! Without going into too much detail, that is very low and especially concerning since we were plugged into 30 amp electric service and the invertor is supposed to keep the batteries fully charged. I spent several hours trying to figure this out including phone calls to the monitor manufacturer, Wholesale Batteries in Kansas City, KS and some internet research. The bottom line seemed to be that our house battery bank was aging out and would no longer hold adequate charge. We got 4 1/2 years out of them so they served us well, but sooner or later they just get worn out or start shorting out inside. Even though they were getting partially charged, most of the amps were just turning into heat and causing the battery cases to get hot and swell!

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Troubleshooting in a tight space!

 

I could have squeezed a few more months out of the set, but probably not another year. So new batteries were needed. The problem isn’t finding the batteries – you can buy them online! The real issue is they weigh 160 lbs a piece and there are six of them in a very tight space. Not to mention they are also very expensive. So I have to find a place that will give me a good price AND remove and replace the set.

I bought this set from Wholesale Batteries in Kansas City, KS while we still lived in the KC area and they were great to work with, gave me a good price and did the original install. So I gave my contact a call and they got the six new batteries on order. It was going to take several days, so we left KC for some more bike riding and a visit to friends at Lake of the Ozarks.

So from Jack and Linda’s place on the lake we headed back to KC for new batteries. We were able to park in their secured lot overnight and first thing in the am they got to work.

As you can see there Ain’t much room to maneuver and Brian is a big guy, but he got those bad boys wrestled out and new ones installed without a hitch. Each one weighs 160 lbs! Brian and Pat (sorry no pic?) were great to work with, worked quickly and efficiently and no smoke was released. Great job guys! Let’s not do this again for awhile.

Cool! We have a new house battery bank, 730 AH! We can run one of our roof top air conditioners all night on those babies and still have power to spare in the morning. We’re headed back out on the road and all is well!

Oops, spoke too soon. We left KC for Fulton, MO to visit long time friends. Our plan was to park at Wal-Mart for a couple of days and then move on. We got parked and called our friends and since it was hot we decided to fire up the generator and run the A/C for a couple of hours. Ugh, no generator! As I mentioned, we’d been having some intermittent problems, but whenever I tried to troubleshoot the problem, it would start running. Well, it finally failed completely. This is a problem, because if we are dry camping (i.e. without an electrical hookup)  we depend on the generator to keep our brand new batteries charged (and run our air conditioners)!

Now, I redesigned and rebuilt this generator and it has been trouble free since. At least I knew the problem was with the Kubota diesel engine. However, the more general problem is that the generator itself is essentially obsolete. I have no manuals, no wiring diagrams and tech support is, let us say ‘difficult’. It is also shoe-horned into a tight space.  I needed some help on this one too. While we were in Fulton, I started doing some research and making some calls. CK Power in St. Louis, MO  was recommended be a local Kubota dealer.  I gave them a call and they sounded competent so I made an appointment.

Curiously, we don’t have any pictures of our time at CK Power, but they quickly diagnosed the problem to be the oil pressure switch on the engine. Of course, they don’t have that in stock so we had to order it from PowerTech (the original mfg. of the genset). A couple of days later, we return to CK Power from Sundermier RV Park and the new switch is installed! Bingo, we have our generator back up and running and we’re headed back out on the road and all is well! Well, not exactly…

Unbeknownst to Wendy, I had noticed in Marthasville, MO  that as we stopped to fill our fresh water tank, the bus left a disturbingly large puddle of oil on the gravel lot. Fast forward to St. Louis, Wendy also noticed a disconcertingly large puddle on the nice clean concrete at Sundermier RV Park on our return from CK Power!  I was fairly certain we had another problem, but we decided to move to the Elks Lodge in Oakville, MO so we were closer to Wendy’s sister Cherie and friends Sandy and Carl. We had a great visit!

I told Wendy I’m afraid I see a re-visit to Chattanooga in our future. So I called Joel at Choo Choo Express Garage and described the oil leak. He immediately diagnosed it as a rear main seal. Great! the engine and trans has to come out!!

We prepare to depart south St. Louis for Chattanooga (Rossville, GA actually), but the Mighty Bus felt otherwise: it won’t start. Our start batteries are dead (that is the other 24 volt battery system I mentioned above)! Fortunately, Sandy and Carl brought us donuts and Carl took me to Advance Auto for four new start batteries.  Whew! I installed the new batteries and we were on our way, again.

Fast forward to arrival at Choo Choo Express Garage in Rossville, GA. We arrive on Sunday October 9. We’re parked on the wash bay and Joel starts the disassembly in the morning before we are even out of bed. It really doesn’t take that long to pull the engine and transmission from one of these busses. In fact, Joel had it out injust a couple of hours!

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Draining the fluids.

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Out it comes.

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Engine and trans are out. Dirty!

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Empty engine bay. Wow, dirty!

 

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Engine all clean!

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Trans clean and ready for reinstall.

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The rear min seal.

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The old seal and sleeve.

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Wear marks on the old seal.

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New sleeve and seal installed.

Detroit Diesels leak oil. That’s just the nature of the beast. Like Joel says, if you fix one leak it just starts leaking somewhere else! So we didn’t try to fix them all. Just the worst and least invasive. I think we got most of the worst. On our test run to Dalton, GA we had a little more unexpected excitement: the low oil pressure light came on in heavy traffic and shut down the engine. We managed to get back to the shop and diagnosed  a – can you believe it – a failed oil pressure switch! If you own an RV you have to learn to appreciate irony. Actually, I think that is a requirement for life as well. We also found a very leaky oil pan gasket on the transmission. So we’re here for a few more days waiting for those parts. In the meantime, we’re comfortable and in good company.

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Cracked engine cradle

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Previous half-ass weld.

We also discovered a previous weld on the engine cradle that was not correctly done. They tried to weld it without removing the engine. Consequently, there was a large gap in the back (unseen) which left a hole just waiting to fail.

Well, I’ll post later the final results. I have to replace the transmission oil pan gasket and that failed (I hope) oil pressure switch tomorrow. Keep your fingers crossed.

Home Is Where The Bus Is

We arrived in Chattanooga last Sunday with a rear seal leaking on the engine. Replacing the seal apparently is not a big deal but the engine and transmission had to be removed to get to it. Yikes! We have full confidence in Joel of the Choo Choo Express Garage; he is truly a master at his craft.

We got settled into our spot in the wash bay and plugged in. The work commenced on Monday and by Wednesday they had the engine back in the bus. Jim worked right alongside Joel, who is tireless.

I was able to get some of my magazine work done and all was going well.

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The next day Jim spent almost the entire day powerwashing the engine and transmission. It has never been so clean! Except maybe when it was new, back in 1981.

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You can actually see the Detroit Diesel now.

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Shiny

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Ready to go back in

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At least it wasn’t as gunked up as this one in the shop. Joel has to tackle that next.dsc_8587
And he discovered a spot in the support brace that needed to be welded. If that had broken off and given way it could be bad news. Joel is nothing if not succinct; he said “They didn’t know what they were doing.”

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Going back in

When they got the bus over the pit on Thursday to fix an airbag that somehow was no longer leaking, they discovered a gasket in the transmission that needed to be replaced. So we planned to spend another day at the garage so they can drop the pan and replace it. Not the most scenic spot we’ve stayed in but easy to close the blinds, mix a cocktail and just be at home in the bus.

Once they got everything back together, Joel suggested we take a test drive about 40 miles to Dalton just to make sure everything shook out OK. We went and had lunch. On the way back, we were in stop-and-go traffic and the Low Oil light came on. When this happens, the engine shuts itself down which can be interesting in traffic. It happened to me once while I was driving and you can’t steer or maneuver well at all. We limped off to the shoulder and Jim checked the oil. It was full. Hmmm.

He got it started back up and all seemed OK until we were  just about a mile or so from the shop and it happened again; Low Oil, engine off. We got it started and went back to talk to Joel. I’m sure this was just what he wanted to hear. The guy is swamped with work.

Joel thought it might be the oil pressure switch, which is ironic since we just had the one on the generator replaced. Jim thinks it may be the way it is wired and not the switch itself.

Jim also noted that he didn’t seem to be getting full throttle. We have had trouble with the throttle before but when Joel took a look he said the mechanism at the back end was put together wrong. Again, somebody didn’t know what they were doing. Joel got it put together right.

The next morning we got to sleep in a bit while waiting for the gasket. Then Joel came over to say they sent the wrong one! Of course it is a Friday so we won’t be able to get another one until Tuesday! Oh well. We thought about going to a state park or someplace with a little more scenic view but decided to just put down the blinds and relax here. We can work, play ukulele, read, watch football and go on our way after the repair is complete. They have lots of Garage kitties and some of them let us pet them. Joel lives behind the shop and they have kitties too. It’s nice here.  We will probably rent a car for the weekend and go explore (translation: eat and drink) around Chattanooga.

Oh yeah. It’s also our anniversary! Happy 26th sweetie!

 

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The Tunnel Hill State Trail

We got the generator fixed in St. Louis but we discovered when we got back to our spot in St. Charles and backing in that the engine was leaking something on their super clean concrete pads. Oops. When we had the bus worked on in Chattanooga in the spring, we thought that problem was resolved with the miter box fix..

Jim called Joel at the Choo Choo Garage and from his description Joel figured it was a rear main seal in the engine that needs to be replaced. We made a plan to have the bus there mid-October so we positioned ourselves to mosey that way. Jim found the Tunnel Hill State Trail in southern Illinois and picked Vienna, Illinois as a good spot to explore it in both directions.

When he called City Hall to see if the city park allowed camping the lady on the other end said, “Well, I can’t tell you that you can park there…but…” Kind of like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. We decided to give it a try. We arrived on Sunday after what looked like a big event set up in the park. Good thing we dawdled in St. Louis a day longer.

We found a nice level spot beside the river and kinda behind the recycling bins. You know, to try to fade into the background. The cats have a good, fairly quiet spot to roam around by the water with lots of large trees and shade.  We got in a couple days of riding and planned another couple after a day off. This is a nice trail.

The next morning during breakfast, the police showed up. Busted! The woman officer was nice enough but stated that there was no camping in the park. I asked if we could stay the night and she said no. I mentioned that lots of city parks allow camping but she was resolute. She said that we could call City Hall but it sounded like a no-go. We took to our iPads to see if we could find a park or boondocking spot further up the trail but we really wanted to make sure and ride the section with the tunnel.

While we were preparing to depart Jim decided to go ahead and call City Hall. Never hurts to ask. He got connected with a nice lady, Aletha, and explained that we just wanted to ride the trail and spend some money in the town, not move in. She promised to ask the higher-ups and call him back shortly. She did and we got the go-ahead to stay another couple of nights! Awesome!

What happened next was even better. A couple of hours later, there was a knock on the door. I thought, Oh no, we’re getting kicked out again. I opened the door and a gentleman with the name “Jon” on his shirt was there. I said “Hi Jon!” He laughed and introduced himself as Jon Simmons, the Mayor of Vienna!
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He told us that we didn’t have to park back where we were and that we could move anywhere in the park we wanted. Wow! We explained that our spot was good for the cats and thanked him profusely for paying us a personal visit and being so welcoming. He wanted to assure us that we could stay for a couple more nights. We assured him that we wouldn’t be moving in and suggested that the city collect fees for camping. The park is right on the trailhead and they could make some money for the city. We offered to pay and he shrugged that off. What a great turnaround!

Later that afternoon I saw another small Class C drive into the park. I thought they would think it was OK to camp when they saw us there. Pandora’s Box. They parked by the trailhead and a little while later we had a visit from Mike and Nancy, when they wanted to look at the bus.  They happen to live in Chattanooga and we told them we were headed there. They are folks who RV with a cat and they are also Burning Man aficionados so we had a great conversation and even know some of the same people, the Technomads!. We told them we were planning to be in Chattanooga and they will show us the bike trails around town. Super cool! We are looking forward to seeing them again soon.
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The next morning there was another knock on the door at about 7:00 AM. Oh no! This time a city worker told us we had to move because they were going to move the recycling bins back into place after the event. We told him we had permission to stay and he was cool with that; we just had to move out of that spot. So we moved the bus about 100 yards to an even more level spot and went back to bed. About an hour later he knocked again and apologized for any inconvenience he had caused. Astrid is still hiding. What a town!

This is another really good trail. We rode to Karnak the first day, about 28 miles. The weather is beautiful,  fall, cooled off and colorful. Today we rode past Tunnel Hill, and we saw the tunnel. It’s not as long, dark or wet as the one on the Elroy-Sparta Trail but it is 572 feet long and you can ride through it. You can see the light at the end too.

The town of Tunnel Hill itself, has not aged well. Many towns along the former railroad simply disappeared after rail traffic slowed down. The automobile really changed a lot of things in America.
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Look closely and you will see a formerly splendid building with arched windows and unbroken glass. A real fixer-upper.

Vienna turned out to be a really special place. After not being sure how to handle us, they decided to be warm and welcoming. As Jon said, you just gotta use common sense. Faith in humanity restored. We are so grateful for the goodness of people.

Tomorrow we will have four days to get to Chattanooga and prepare for the engine deal. Gotta find some trails along the way.

A seal, right? It sounds small, but apparently they have to pull the engine and transmission. Whut?! At least it won’t be like the last time we were there.