Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Our 2015 RV Travel Season Started With A Bang – Hey, It's Déjà Vu!

And now, here's the story of our 2015 RV travel season, which started ominously on August 21. First, a bit of a backstory: This year, we had one planned event, an RV rally at the annual Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, which would take place the first nine days of October. Since we were headed west, we figured we'd check out Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks in southwest Utah, so we could see for ourselves tremendous natural beauty we'd been told we shouldn't miss. I also wanted to go to Mesa, Arizona to check out a very interesting attraction I've been wanting to experience for the past decade. (More on that in an upcoming blog entry.) As far as where we would go before and after the Balloon Fiesta, in the spirit of adventure, we decided to fill in the blanks and figure it out as we went.

With the desert southwest as part of our trip, being there any time from June to the middle of September was pretty much out of the question. Sure, sure, it's a "dry heat", but 120 degrees is a tad excessive, low humidity notwithstanding. Thus our late-August departure from Fort Myers. (O.K., so while we avoided baking in the southwest desert sun, we were drenched by tropical rain and humidity while being eaten alive by mosquitoes in a typical southwest Florida summer. We simply traded one form of misery for another!)

With a long trip in the offing, back in the spring, Janet came up with the idea of getting a small, lightweight travel trailer (the kind that attaches to a ball hitch at the back of a pickup truck), which would make traveling much easier than it would be hauling our home, the big Jayco 5th wheel trailer, across the continent. To that end, we bought a used 2011 Keystone Outback travel trailer, a.k.a. "The Shuttlecraft".

Our vacation home.  It's 22' long and has a 6-foot rear slideout with a king bed.
It even has an outdoor kitchen!

The quarters are tight compared to the Jayco, but large enough to accommodate Janet, Kiko (the poodle), Elkay (the cat) and me without being too cramped for space. (Don't get me wrong, if we were stuffed in The Shuttlecraft for more than three months at a time, one of us wouldn't make it out alive – namely me!) At the end of May, we took the diminutive trailer on a three-day, 400 mile shakedown cruise. It was smooth sailing all the way. (When not in use, The Shuttlecraft is parked in a storage area at the back of our campground.)

On August 20, the day before our departure, I did a full safety check of The Shuttlecraft. To my dismay, I noticed that all four tires had small cracks in the sidewalls. (There were no tire cracks back in May.) Not good. I looked at the date codes on the tires – oops, they were all over five years old. As someone who likes to learn from experience, and not wanting a repeat of the blowout scenario that inaugurated our first travel season two years ago, I decided to get new tires before hitting the road.

At 8:00 a.m. on opening day (August 21), we went to our local Camping World to get new shoes for The Shuttlecraft. The guy at the parts counter said the tires were not in stock. They would have to be shipped to the store and wouldn't arrive until about 1 p.m. Add an hour for installation, and our departure would be delayed by six hours. So as to not waste all that time waiting in the lounge, we came up with what seemed like a fine idea at the time: Let's call the Camping World in Ocala to check if they had the tires in stock. That store is near the interstate we'd be traveling on, 210 miles to the north. They had the tires in stock, and could install them when we arrived (around noon). We would be back on the road at about 1 p.m. Instead of waiting around in Fort Myers, we'd already be 210 miles and several hours ahead of the game.

We were cruising along on I75, about 130 miles south of Ocala, when we heard the dreaded loud BANG sound that could mean only one thing: A blowout! Haven't we been down this road before? The force of the shredded tire cut a hole in the floor of the trailer (which, fortunately, did not penetrate all the way through to the inside) and tore away part of the right fender skirt from the side of the trailer.  As luck would have it, three things went our way: We were right near an exit, there was a Goodyear tire store a mile and a half away, and the emergency roadside service showed up and put on the spare tire (which worked O.K.) in just thirty minutes.

It was before noon when we pulled in to the Goodyear tire store in Bradenton, Florida. It should go without saying that the tires we needed were not in stock, and had to be shipped to the store. Estimated time of arrival: 3 p.m. Time we actually left the store with the new tires installed: 5:30 p.m. And where do you suppose we spent the night?  Ocala!

Oh, by the way, I made a temporary patch in the the trailer floor and reattached the fender skirt to the trailer with good old duct tape. (As any RVer knows, always travel with lots of duct tape.)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Memorable Moments 2014 - Part 2

It's hard to believe we've been full-time RVers for two years and two months!  We are already planning our 2015 travel adventures.  Meanwhile, here are some more memorable moments from our 2014 RV travel season, shown photographically (in chronological order):

Two-fisted beer drinking at the Hop Cat brew pub in Grand Rapids, Michigan. YUM!

A moment of tranquility at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Sculpture on a grand scale at Frederik Meijer!

The Jolly Green Giant's garden at Frederik Meijer. (No trick photography or Photoshopping!)

A large sculpture taking a nap at Frederik Meijer!

The greenhouse complex at Frederik Meijer. Big doesn't quite describe it!

Pondering world affairs in the Oval Office
(Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan)

The 6 a.m. temperature in Traverse City, Michigan on July 16, 2014.  Brrrr!

Who ever heard of a herd of buffalo in Traverse City, Michigan?  We did; saw them too!

At the Traverse City, Michigan downtown waterfront.  The music in the flowers must be Cherry Baby!

Working his way through college in Traverse City, Michigan – the cherry capital of the world.
Best cherries we ever tasted!

One of the most enjoyable things we did, as well as the most physically demanding activity of the year, was the dune climb at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, in Glen Arbor, Michigan.  Located about 28 miles west-northwest of Traverse City, the dunes abut Lake Michigan.  The trek from the parking lot to Lake Michigan and back is "only" 3.5 miles, yet it took us about three hours to complete it!  We started out right as the park opened at 8 a.m. on a beautiful day in mid-July.  (You wouldn't want to start much later in the day.  Although cool breezes off Lake Michigan are nearby, by afternoon in the summer, the sand and the air temperature in the dunes can get very hot.)

The sand is very slippery; getting a good footing can be difficult. There is one dune after another to climb and descend until, at last, one reaches the holy grail: Lake Michigan.  Descending a steep dune can require almost as much exertion as ascending. As you'll see, it's worth the effort for the view alone.  The initial climb, shown in the photo above, is 130 feet, with an incline of 15 degrees.  (If you can't make it to the top of the first dune, forget about doing this hike – the initial climb is relatively easy compared to some of the dunes that follow!) There were lots of kids doing the dune climb (where "kids" is defined as folks much younger than we are), but not many fellow young geezers.  We were elated to have been in good enough shape to do the dunes.  (As a side note, after about a third of the way to the lake, there is no cell phone service, which is great for peace and serenity, but a problem if you'd need to call 9-1-1.)

As each successive dune peak gets higher, the view gets more dramatic.  Here is a panorama of Glen Lake, which is to the east of the dunes.  The parking lot (right of center) and the people on the right give you a sense of distance and height.

From one of  the highest dunes in the climb, at a height of 260 feet, the view is breathtaking.  In this panorama, you can see Lake Michigan in the distance on the left, and Glen Lake to the right of center. (From this location, there is still lots of up-and-down hiking to get to Lake Michigan!)

Rugged landscape as we trudged on toward Lake Michigan.  Good thing we took lots of water!

Here we are at the end of the dune trail.  Lake Michigan, at last!  The lake water was very cold (no surprise), and very clear (a pleasant surprise).  

Lots of  people write their name on a rock at the Lake Michigan shore to commemorate their dune climb triumph.  Can you see our rocks (outer edge of the pile, at about 5:30)?  Janet wanted to take some rocks back with us, so we loaded about ten pounds of them into her flannel shirt and took turns carrying the payload on the return trip across the dunes.  Ten pounds never felt so heavy!

Photographic proof that we were way up north!

In the next Memorable Moments installment, it's on to the upper peninsula of Michigan.