Trip Summary: Fall 2010

We got home and got busy with the holiday season--almost forgot the trip summary. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Total miles: 8,088

Days: 40

Camping fees: $26.14 average. Not bad, thanks to our families and their driveways (plus one night free at the Oklahoma casino).

Fuel economy: 15.23 mpg. Very similar driving conditions as our spring trip this year—lots o’ wind.

Number of states: 19, with 8 new state stickers added to our US map on the back of Rocksie.

Time zone changes: Nine, count ‘em, nine times. Between time zones and the end of daylight savings time, we kept busy changing clocks and watches

Closest call: Missing the deer by a hair at Mammoth Cave, Kentucky. Followed closely by missing the tornadoes in Turkey Run State Park, Indiana.

Weather: Knowing that we were heading out during the season change, we packed shorts and tees along with sweaters, rain gear, and mittens. Good thing because we wore them all. We were in a tornado watch (temp dropped from 69 to 35 in just a few hours), wintry mix, high wind advisories, but mostly bright warm sun shining on gorgeous fall leaves.

Most brain bending trip ever: This trip not only had us change time zones and states all the time, but also cultural and geographic and social lines. We got down-home in Maryland and Alabama and Georgia, but also upscale in South Carolina and Indianapolis. We went to very serious places—the Supreme Court and the Carter Center—but we also laughed at the Rally to Restore Sanity, marveled at Graceland the International Spy Museum, and had a total blast at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We were in the Southwest, the Midwest, the Tide Water region, and the Deep South.

Family visits: This trip took the cake. We visited all immediate family on both sides, except for our Louisiana branch of the family—18 in all.

Notable grub: The crab cakes at Crabs to Go, fried hamburger at The Tune Inn in DC, the ribs at Fat Matt’s in Atlanta, the vinegar pulled pork in NC, and the pork tenderloin from the Pana bowling alley. Oh, and the mustard-based SC BBQ sauce we brought home is STILL good on top of turkey.

Such diversity of taste sensations. The 4 pounds I gained on this trip are finally off again. (A big downside to not taking the dog—not as may walks.)

Best surprise stop of the trip: Assateague National Seashore. We hadn’t planned to go there, but just “swung by” spur of the moment.

Most captivating stop: Charleston, SC. We’ve heard the stories, but seeing is believing. Beautiful place.

Most disappointing: South of the Border. Pedro was just more impressive back in the day….

Maintenance: We had a few maintenance issues—low tires (thank goodness we carry a compressor now), had to add 3 quarts of oil at various points, and we lost a headlamp (and some interior lights). 

More frustrating was when the TV antenna got stuck in the up position. We finally lowered it as far as we could and drove to our destination. We found a really great guy in Pana, IL, who showed us what went wrong and fixed it in 30 seconds for free and showed us how to do it ourselves in the future. (Of course, he knows my brother. Everybody knows my gregarious brother in that small town ;-)

Our major issue was a sudden loss of power while driving in the-middle-of-nowhere Arizona on a 75 mph freeway. It’s a bit scary to be dropping to 45 mph while the 18-wheelers are blowing past. We were so lucky that it happened right before the big pull up to Flagstaff and near the only open rest area in Arizona. We pulled in to turn off the engine, which often resets the computer. While we were waiting, we checked the oil (1 quart low, so we added). We stared rather helplessly at the hoses to see if something had come loose around the transmission. Nothing. So we started to leave.

We got just a few yards when the check engine light came on. We called Coach-Net and created an action plan. Because two other German-engineered vehicles we had owned lost power when given “bad gas,” we suspected that maybe we had gotten the bad diesel at our last fuel stop. Maybe it had water in it. We were sure that it was diesel, not gas (in case you’re wondering), but Rocksie did try to spit it out. (Fuel sprayed everywhere.)

So we nervously drove 2 miles to where we knew a fuel station was (the only one for many miles)—the place we stayed earlier this year: Meteor Crater.  The check engine light stayed on all the way to Kingman, but the mechanic said that as long as it’s a solid orange (not flashing, not red) and as long as we had power we were good to drive. So we did. Put in another ½ tank in Kingman and, voila, the light went out. Correct diagnosis! So glad we didn’t chicken out and trek down to a dealer in Phoenix.

Mods: Got some gadgets to help make life inside the coach much smoother. What a pleasure it is now to not have to secure tissue boxes and soap dispensers each time we get under way. Thank you, Nashville Camping World!

Passage of Time: While camping in the RV, we got to see, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown; A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving AND the 1964 classic, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Holidays and seasons came and went on this fantastic trip.

Catch-Up Post: TN, IN, IL, OK

 Well, it's a new month with AT&T so we can upload data once more. We are now on our way home, a few days earlier than planned, since my 30th high school reunion--the reason for this trip--was unceremoniously canceled at the last minute. I felt a mixture of relief and keen disappointment, especially since I was going to get to be the DJ for the party. (Lisa just felt enormous relief.)

So, we hit the road Saturday and made it to western Oklahoma, where we were forced to stop by the severe cross winds (sustained 25-35; gusts up to 50 mph). We fought 'em for a while, but then jumped off I-40 in favor of a state park in a canyon, whose red rock walls have been sheltering us from the worst of the winds all afternoon.

While it is frustrating to lose 1/2 a day (we had been planning to make Amarillo), it's just dumb to ignore weather hazards when you clearly have a choice. Plus, we were out of water, hadn't had Internet for a week (lots of to dos to do), had low tire pressure, and road weariness. Best to address all these things. So, that's what we are doing. So, now on to the brief catch-up post.

We ended up camping right by Opryland in Nashville, after finding that the spot we picked right off the Trace wasn't our cup of tea. Pricey, but sometimes it's worth it to have hookups and a feeling of security.

In the morning, we drove into the Opryland complex (goodness, it's huge), trying to find the free museum. No dice. So, we simply took in the size of the hotel, got heebie jeebies, and drove off to our real destination...

...Andrew Jackson's Hermitage, continuing our presidential theme. Ended up spending almost 6 hours here. Gorgeous fall day, very good audio tour and costumed guides (rare to find both), and lots to see. Except for the Indian genocide part of his presidency (yikes), I have to say that he did get some things done that we could use with doing today.... Some photos of the day:

Then we cruised north, up through Franklin,

Bowling Green (no time for the Corvette or Duncan Hines museums), and on to our next tourist stop, Mammoth Cave.
We spent the whole day there (it IS mammoth, after all), taking the New Entrance Tour in the morning, having lunch at the authentically retro coffee shop in the hotel, and then taking the Historical Tour in the afternoon.

Something like 550 steps, 3 or 4 miles--good exercise! We were happy to get back in the RV at the end of that day.

But we had a VERY close call with a deer there. (I made eye contact with her as she jumped over the Sprinter's tiny hood.) Suffice to say, we ordered the deer whistles that day, recommended by Sharon and Mohammed of St. Augustine, and will install them on all our vehicles when we get home!

After the caves, we drove up through Louisville at rush hour (a much easier city than Nashville at the same hour!) and to our overnight in Clarksville, Indiana. This made an easy morning drive (albeit densely foggy) into Indy to visit with Lisa's parents. Cannot believe we forgot to take pictures! It was even an exact 2-year anniversary of seeing them in Florida on our Tioga trip in November 2008. We had a very nice visit, with Rocksie getting a safe resting spot for $20 at a brand-new storage facility. (We even squeezed in a trip to the movies to see Harry Potter 7/Part 1.)

Since Lisa's parents were heading down to Louisiana for Thanksgiving, we hit the road on Monday and took our time getting over to our Thanksgiving destination. We took the oh-so-familiar back roads of Indiana over to visit our alma mater. The campus has changed so much, but we enjoyed seeing some of our favorite places:

The academic quad, with the new gingko trees

East College, always beautiful, with a little bit of remaining fall foliage

The view down the street toward one of our favorite taverns (which is now a "pub"). Just says Midwest to me.

Wish we had gone for lunch here, instead of Marvin's. I was all prepared, camera and all, to do a Roadfood review of Marvin's famous (as in, shipped all over the world) Garlic Cheeseburger (GCB), but we were so disappointed. Bland and personality-less.  Should have gone to Moore's for the pork tenderloin, but we knew we had at least 2 of those in our future. 

Rocksie in front of our old sorority house. Never thought I'd say that!

 Then we carried on west to Turkey Run state park, a park I remember from my childhood. (Not camping, of course, just for day use.) Turns out there was only one other camper there, a trailer that looked like it'd been there for quite a while--lights, awnings, all manner of outdoor set up. The weather was turning ominous and by 6PM we were in a tornado watch. Very nerve wracking. The ranger finally stopped by to, we thought, collect the $17.42 fee (yes, that's right), but instead, he told us to pay at the office in the morning. I was at least able to ask him where we should take shelter, if necessary, since the bathhouse near us was locked up for the season. He assured us he'd come get us if the watch turned to warning. But it was a very tense night--some gusts made me jump out of bed, ready to do who knows what.

We detoured through my home town of Mattoon and completed the Thanksgiving grocery shopping, scoring the hard-to-find fresh Brussels sprouts, and having a pork tenderloin at the Coles County airport. They are famous for these "elephant ears" but, again, memory trumped reality.

On the way to Pana, I had to show Lisa the very famous tourist attraction in Gays, Illinois:

Yes, that's a two-story outhouse....

We arrived at our 4-night stay at my brother's house and settled into his driveway at the back of the yard. Great spot! We only had 10 amps, so we had to be careful with the heater, but we managed 4 days of showers and freezing temps just fine. He also brought us a take-out tenderloin from the Pana bowling alley that was just to die for. Wish we'd have reviewed THAT one.

Here are some scenes of the festive celebration for a dozen of the Cason clan (both of my brothers, their wives, the granddaughter and her family):

Lisa and I cooked much of the feast and our hostess did all the shopping ahead of time and the very impressive decorating. Team effort!

Sharpening our Grandpa Cason's knife

I'm finally getting this posted from 16-degree Albuquerque. It is time to get home (although we've heard that home has had some hard freezes, too!). Time for some of those great free pancakes at our Bernalillo campground and then west to Arizona.

Next post will be the trip summary!

Sweet Home (Northern) Alabama

We headed west out of the Atlanta metro area (whew) via gently rolling 2- and 4-lane US routes (our favorite), lined with fall-hued trees. The kind of drive where you can pull off and buy local produce from a guy and his jerry-rigged, tarp-covered stand. We got apples, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and vine-ripened tomatoes (yes, they're still coming in here). Delish.

We made it to our destination of Decatur, GA early afternoon. Now, we'd picked Decatur because of this Wikipedia article on barbeque. I had found this article as we were driving across the U.S. at the beginning of this trip. (The iPhone makes long drives positively bearable.) This led us to make a point of trying the vinegar-based BBQ in North Carolina, the mustard-based BBQ in South Carolina (we had to resort to buying a bottle of sauce for this, though, but we love it! Great on chicken and far. Going to try it with the leftover Thanksgiving turkey next week), and (drum roll) the mayonnaise-based BBQ of Decatur, AL.

Well, folks, Decatur is a great place to visit, but I don't ever need to try Big Bob Gibson's again. This place is chock-full of enormous trophies for BBQ competitions, but perhaps they are now resting on their laurels. Very, very disappointing. And the white sauce? Let's put it this way. It's got eggs in it. It should be refrigerated, right? (It even says so on the bottle.) But every table had a room temperature kinda nasty looking bottle of the stuff on it. I had the tiniest of tastes (fearing salmonella or worse) and checked that off the list. Lisa had an unusual entry--a "loaded" baked potato.

Now, the ribs were pretty good, but we still think Fat Matt's Rib Shack in Atlanta sets the bar.

Now, on to happier topics. After lunch, we did a bit of shopping and headed to our campground, Point Mallard.

A very nice city park for the amazing rate of $20/night--large sites, very wooded, full hookups, nice store. We looked up the weather forecast and decided to stay two nights. Boy, were we ever glad we did.

It poured all night and most of the next morning. When a sunbreak happened, we went out for an hour-long walk in the pretty neighborhood nearby. Large, lovely homes and fall leaves. Lots to look at.

(Now, we didn't take photographs of the McMansions! That wouldn't have been nice....)

But we had to cut it short because the weather started to change again. A cold front started to blow through. Temps dropped and winds were 20-30 mph. Again, a good idea to be off the road.

So, I worked on a project for my HS reunion next week, Lisa cleaned the coach, and I got the Crock Pot humming all day. All in all, a very nice, recuperative day. That is, AFTER we first awoke.

You see, it was just pouring and if you haven't been inside the metal can that is an RV when it rains, you have no idea how loud rain can be. (Let's not even revisit last May's monster hail storm.) At any rate, we got the kettle going and were awaiting the morning caffeine jolt (at least I was). We then heard, distinctly, over the rain noise, claws scratching in what sounded like our pantry cabinet over the dinette. Yikes. So, I banged on the cabinet door. The creature ran the other way. I banged again. More scampering. Ick! Could a rodent get INTO the pantry? I know it would like to, as that's where we keep our nuts, granola, crackers, and other such foodstuffs.

Lisa, being the brave one (and being a decaf drinker who doesn't need to wait for her beverage), threw on some rain gear and went outside to investigate. Her theory, which proved to be correct, was that a squirrel (and there were tons in this wooded park) sought shelter from the pouring rain under the cloth canopy above the slide room. That would be right ABOVE the cabinet, not INSIDE it. Whew. Mystery solved. But I was all ready to go hire some kind of critter getter....

After our day "off," the sun came out and we headed back out on the road. Over to the Shoals area, where there looked to be all kinds of interesting attractions. We ended up not seeing Helen Keller's birthplace in Tuscumbria because time was, we thought, short. Instead, we had a wonderful tour of the only Frank Lloyd Wright home in Alabama, given by the woman who is head of the site preservation committee and who was personal friends with the woman who lived there for almost 60 years.

This is the "front" which is really the back.
And vice versa:
The living room:
The study down the hall from the living room. (Mr. Rosenbaum was an English professor. The bookshelves continue in the same line from the living room to the study--a very cool design feature.)
A truly special tour, as the family's furnishings (of which Mr. Wright approved) included original Eames chairs. I couldn't get a good photo because of the sunshine, but suffice to say that each is worth probaby north of $3k (times 6 chairs). One of the best parts of the tour was learning about how items were loved and used, not "collected" or protected. Mrs. Rosenbaum was quite comfortable in her "famous" home for those many, many years.

The other unique aspect of this Usonian design was that Mr. Wright reluctantly agreed to add an addition to this 1540-square foot home after Mrs. Rosenbaum had 4 boys.

The hallway connecting the addition--all storage.

For the first 8 years, this tiny closet of a room was her kitchen. (It was turned into a wet bar later, which is what you see here.)

With the remodel, she got a larger kitchen and a dormitory room for the boys. (Turns out the two oldest went away to boarding school as teenagers. Can't imagine how this room would work for 4 older boys! This is one set of bunkbeds for all four of them....)

After our lengthy tour, we took what turned out to be a very scenic drive through the historic districts of Florence (there seem to be a lot!) to find a Roadfood lunch. No photos of this fun and funky old grocery store, but you can see some here. A very good burger for $2.95 and some fancy parking in this old neighborhood. Had to head-in angle park, which wasn't a problem until it came to backing out in very busy traffic. Glad I had a good flagman outside.

After lunch, we headed onto the northern most stretch of the Natchez Trace, stopping to pay our respects at Meriweather Lewis's death and burial site, given our Lewis and Clark tour from 2008....

The day went slightly awry when we got to our targeted campground at about 4PM. Their policy is for you to pick a site and then they'll "come over to see you." Without Nick, we didn't feel comfortable having someone knock on our door in the dark, in a very remote place, so we moved on.

Now, the one real drawback of traveling in the fall (our favorite camping season) is how early the sun sets. We managed to finish the Trace at dusk, but we then hit Nashville in the dark, at rush hour. Lisa masterfully negotiated that mess and we ended up at a campground near Opryland (!). Stay tuned for how this day turns out....

Catch-Up Post: To FL and NW on to GA

We've been offline for almost a whole week, mostly because we were visiting my parents and that activity requires our focus. But we do have some catching up to do on the day before and day after that visit.

Last Monday: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (and the rest of the Islands of Adventure at Universal Studios). We had a (pardon the pun) charmed day. Arrived just as the gates opened, left just as they closed, and we had very good luck in timing the rides such that we got to ride the 3 HP rides each twice, have lunch at the Hogs Head tavern/Three Broomsticks before the rush,

and have the entire RV parking lot to ourselves. Goodness, off season travel is fun. Plus, the county park where we stayed was so very close (about 4 miles) to Universal (and only $16/night) that the quick visit was just a joy. Much better than the Disney shenanigans we did last year, with the $100/night camping and the miles and miles of Orlando travel.

We only took in our iPhones (and mine has gone wonky), so the photos aren't great, but the little videos we took (but I can't upload) of the Hogsmeade shops are rather fun. There was a mandrake crying in one, and a Quidditch quaffle and bludgers trying to break out of their cases. I'd say the WWOHP part of the park was definitely worth a visit, but I sure wouldn't have wanted to make a multi-day resort vacation out of it.

The "town" part (shops, post office, restaurant/pub, wand store), Hogsmeade:

Platform 9 3/4 with the Hogwart's Express:

Hagrid's Hut at the Flight of the Hippogriff

The towers of Hogwart's Castle (really cool ride in there, based around the TriWizard's Tournament):

Lisa, picking out some of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans at Honeyduke's Candy Store. (I've had a few; there are some doozies.)

I didn't get a picture of the Dragon Challenge--the twin racer coaster that we actually rode two times in a row. We felt just like 7th graders, running off the ride and around for a second time. Had to ride each of the 2 trains.... But that did my tummy in for a few hours, so we explored other, non-HP parts of the park--Spider Man (great ride), Jurassic Park, and of course, Dr. Seuss.

Thing 1 or 2?

Then it was down to St. Augustine and our "regular" RV park for the rest of the week. The RV highlight of this visit was finally getting to meet Sharon and Mohammed (but unfortunately not Mello, their yellow lab) from the V/N list. It's been a running joke how every time we're in St. Augustine--their home town--they're somewhere else. Once they were even in OUR home town in CA when we were in FL. Great people and Sharon was even kind enough to bring some home-baked pumpkin muffins for us to enjoy that day and as we travel down the road. Yum! But, doggone it, I forgot to get a picture of them....

After treating Dad to his birthday lunch (it's #88 this month), we headed north and then made our big turn back west. We stayed at a ho-hum I-75 RV park because it was just getting too dark to get to the state park we were headed for, but that was just fine. We were able to cruise into Atlanta by noon on Sunday on a gorgeous fall day and pull right up to Fat Matt's Rib Shack 5 minutes before they opened. We were only about 6 people back in the line of hungry people waiting for the doors to open. My, oh my, we now understand why the nice Atlanta couple we met in Charleston, SC told us to go here. Melt in your mouth pork ribs, with a sauce that seems to combine the nice peppery vinegar of the Carolinas to the east with the tomato base found just to the north in Memphis.

Then we headed just 4 miles away to the Carter Center and Presidential Library. He was only 56 when he left office in 1980; his accomplishments post-POTUS are really impressive. And the $10 million renovation of the museum completed last year was quite impressive.

And the required Oval Office shot. Very Georgia-peachy.

A statue called "Hope" in the rose garden:

Our mission tonight was to stay in a COE campground (of which there are tons around here), but we noticed at the last minute that most are closed for the season. So, we're at a commercial campground, a little early, enjoying the wifi and cable TV as we are both still fighting colds. Best to be off the road when you're tired (and it's raining). Gotta get rested up for our fun week heading north, via the Natchez Trace, Nashville, Mammoth Cave, and who knows what other scenic KY/TN hamlets we might find on our way to Indianapolis. (Suggestions welcome!)