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Back in Business … With a New Copilot!

It’s time!

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Sunset, Kingman Wash, Lake Mead Recreational Area

Actually, it’s long past time for another blog post. But I have to admit that I’ve been struggling over it. It’s taken a few months of trying to figure out how to move forward with the blog in order to get to today.

It’s not so much dealing with grief. Frank comes to mind all the time. And I’ve gotten to the point now that whenever I do think of him, it’s more with a sense of gratitude where the time he and I shared than it is about sadness. Still, there are the occasional little things that happen which hit me like a brick. Like today.

I’m staying for a couple of days at the Thousand Trails campground in Las Vegas, where we stayed just 3 weeks before Frank passed. One of the maintenance workers stopped by and said, “Weren’t you here just a little while back? You were camped over by the grassy area. I remember you and your little trailer. But weren’t you traveling with a different dog?”

Instant tears!

There’s something inherently wrong about seeing a 6’, 350lb, old, long haired hippie with tears streaming down his face. There are times when I just can’t help it, though. Fortunately it’s happening less and less over time.

But getting back to that worker’s comment … yes, I have a new companion. Let me hold off just a bit before I talk about him, though.

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Along the way, I’ve discovered That the New Mexico Roads Department has gone a bit existential!

Other things have contributed to my lack of blog posts, which really began months before Frank passed. Other than the “In Memoriam” post announcing Frank’s death, I hadn’t done a post since we went to see the eclipse back in August.

It’s funny, but I think it started when the blog received recognition with that award back in the summer. On the one hand, it was very much appreciated. But given my past bouts with low self-esteem, it gave me something to deal with. Quite honestly, I was shocked and overwhelmed by so many people appreciating our story. It was sort of like, “How the hell do I top this?”

I’m still stunned by the outpouring of love and support I received in the wake of Frank’s sudden loss. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it’s not really about topping anything. It’s just continuing on and telling a story. A story about forward movement. And experiences. And growth.

A few weeks after Frank’s passing, I woke up with a start in the middle of the night. It was a voice coming out of a dream that kept repeating, “Your journey. YOUR JOURNEY”, over and over. I thought about that for quite a while before coming to a conclusion about what the message meant. At least what I think it means.

Call it my guardian angel, spirit guide, inner self, whatever. I think the voice was telling me that this Vagabond Journey has been mine from the get-go. Frank was an important part in it, but ultimately, this journey is mine alone. Various people … including all of you readers … have been included and in some cases have played a major part in it. But when it comes down to it, the journeys we each take are ours alone. Frank’s journey on Earth ended. Mine continues. And hopefully I’ll still have plenty of experiences you will enjoy hearing about.

The other part of the struggle has been more about logistics. After all, the blog’s title isn’t relevant anymore. Hence the title change. And as the new subtitle indicates, future posts will involve a bit more discussion about the role this lifestyle has played on my healing of the depression and anxiety I had to deal with for most of my life.

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This photo says it all. Manny is the “manster”!

Now, about my new traveling companion. Let me introduce you to the “manster”, a nickname he was given by one of my dear high school friends, Margaret. I don’t think I could have come up with a more appropriate nickname! : o)

Manny is an Australian Cattle Dog. He and I met at a rescue place in Prescott, AZ. They gave him his name and he responded to it, so I didn’t see any need to change it. Besides, it has a special meaning to me, given that I am a longtime Boston Red Sox fan. It’s help me laugh off some of his bad habits as simply, “Manny being Manny!”

Their information said that Manny had been picked up on reservation land. He weighed less than 25 lbs, about half what he weighs now. He had been covered in burrs and pieces of cactus, one of his ears have been partially torn off in a fight and he had sustained hip damage. As an aside, I’m about to find out the extent of the hip damage tomorrow, when he has his first Banfield veterinary visit. I’m putting him on the same Wellness Plan that Frank was on, which includes his shots, a couple of x-rays a year, one teeth cleaning a year, and various other benefits. Knock on wood.

Manny is nothing like Frank! As sweet and calm and happy as Frank was, well how do I put it? To say that Manny is exactly the opposite would be the understatement of the year! He is one talkative, ornery, and scared little son of a bitch LOL

The first two weeks we were together, Manny reacted negatively to almost everything I did with him. If I called him? He’d growl and snarl. Same reaction when I would pet him, or if he had to move at night when I climbed into the Nutshell, for example. Even when I went to give him a treat … more snarling and more growling.

A friend introduced me to a woman that had been a dog trainer before she retired. She billed herself as a dog whisperer. After spending about 20 minutes with Manny, she said that he had been trained using some very harsh techniques designed to break him. “That won’t work with this breed!” she exclaimed. “Any dog can herd sheep. Hell, a dachshund could herd sheep. But it takes a certain amount of swagger for a dog to herd cattle.”

She went on to say that all of his posturing was out of fear and gave me a few techniques to use to help him adapt to his new living situation. And that if I was patient and kept up with kindness … and more patience, that it would hopefully pay off.

It has! Manny has bonded quite well with me. He still has a lot of socialization work that needs to be done. But we’re making progress everyday. He’s even gotten to the point where he’s allowed a few other people to get close and pet him, although they’ve been few and far between. Still, it’s progress.

Now, on to other things.

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One thing I’ll say – Manny sure enjoys traveling!

A lot’s changed in the journey besides traveling with a new companion. A lot! For one thing, we’ve not been staying in organized campgrounds like we were last year.

During the first three months of 2017, I stayed almost exclusively in Thousand Trails campgrounds. In fact, with the exception of a weekend get together with other members of a teardrop trailer owners group I belong to, I hadn’t camp anywhere but a Thousand Trails campground. This year, that’s almost been reversed!

One of the biggest blessings that came in the aftermath of Frank’s passing, besides the realization as to how many people were touched by our story, was the opportunity to spend some time with Pat, a fellow who administers one of the full-time camping groups I joined on Facebook. I mentioned in the last post that Pat had invited me to stay with him over the holidays and I’m so grateful to have taken him up on his offer!

There are two people that were instrumental in giving me the confidence and ability to do what’s called boondocking, or dispersed camping … where you camp off-grid, without relying on any organized campground to provide electricity and water hookups. Michael, a friend that I made early last year and who I stayed with over the 4th of July holiday, gave me the confidence that I needed to say, “I can do this!” Pat is the one who taught me how to do it!

Over the two and a half weeks I spent camped next to him, Pat showed me everything from how to switch from a reliance on electricity for cooking to propane; what I needed to store and carry my own water; and what supplies and equipment I needed to make the switch … and so much more! It was like going to boondocking school and having a private tutor! I’m grateful to call him … and Michael … my friends and will forever be indebted to them!

The result? Since January 1st, I’ve only spent 11 days in Thousand Trails campgrounds. The rest of the time has been spent camping entirely off-grid. And what a difference! It’s one thing to use a campground is a home base from which you go out and see the sights. It’s another thing to be camping amongst this sites. LOL

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Our setup at Kingman Wash, Lake Mead Recreation Area

Since leaving Pat, Manny and I have camped in Quartzite, AZ while attending the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, an annual gathering of vandwellers, nomads and vagabonds that brought in almost 4,000 people this year; Tonto National Forest, first with Pat and then with a small group of other folks who belong to his Facebook group; in New Mexico, where I finally had a chance to visit Silver City, a place I’ve decided we will ultimately land if and when Manny and I leave the vagabond lifestyle; extreme Southeastern Arizona, where I had a chance to meet other full-timers with whom I had only recently made friends on Facebook; and finally in Tucson, where I got the chance to spend time with a 23 year old niece that I had never met!

The other big news is that we’re now outfitted with solar capability! Manny and I are now proud owners of a 100 watt solar panel, an 80 amp-hour solar battery, and a high-tech controller that interfaces between the two, automatically turning the power feed off from the solar panel when the battery is fully charged and turning off the power feed from the battery when too much of its capacity has been used.

Thanks again to Pat, who gave a huge amount of help in getting everything set up and to a different Michael – my niece Emma’s significant other, who helped quite a bit with configuring what I needed.

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Our first set up using solar – Tonto National Forest, an hour east of Phoenix, AZ

At the moment, the only thing I really need power for is to charge my phone and Wi-Fi device, but I have so much additional capacity that I’m actually struggling with trying to figure out what else I might need! In the near future, I’ll be adding some low voltage, LED lighting inside the Nutshell and possibly some similar lighting for outside. I’m also thinking about adding a 12-volt Crock-Pot or rice cooker, something that will augment using the propane stove. It’s just nice to know that I have additional capacity for down the road. Pun intended. LOL

So Manny and I are all set up for new adventures. It’s interesting how things work out. Especially when you let go a little bit and allow room for God, Creator, the Universe, whatever you want to call it, to step in and provide a clear view of the path you are walking.

I’ll stop now. Over the next few blog posts, I’ll catch you all up a bit. I’ll go back and talk about the adventures that Frank and I had traveling from Kentucky to Arizona. I’ll also fill out the details about what’s gone on so far this year … what I glossed over a few paragraphs back. It’s been such an incredible time, what with all the beautiful places we’ve stayed and all the wonderful people that we’ve spent time with.

Stay tuned.

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Manny and me. By the way, a 105lb LIGHTER version of the “me” who started out nearly three years ago!

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6 Comments

Posted by on March 21, 2018 in Itinerary

 

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From Doctor Rants to Itineraries

This was supposed to be a long, angry diatribe about the medical profession.  Everything  I hate about doctors, insurance companies, Big Pharma and the like was going to be addressed in one endless rant.  At least that’s what I threatened on Facebook a couple of days ago.

Then my buddy Mike … the same Mike from Houston that helped us navigate around the toll road fiasco last week … offered one of his short, to-the-point, smart ass replies to that threat.  It resulted in a phone call and a realization that ranting just wasn’t worth it. Especially after having made some real progress towards letting things go over the past few months.

Mike’s first words after seeing my number come up on caller ID were (with a laugh), “So did I piss you off?”  I laughed back and said, “You are a piece of work … you know exactly what to say to ground me, don’t you, you S.O.B.?”. Or something to that effect.  And we both started laughing all over again.

The discussion went from doctors to title offices to gospel music to coffee beans to CNC machines.  A complete non-sequitur from start to finish.  So y’all should thank Mike big-time that we’re moving on to something else.  Say it with me now – “Thanks, Mike!”

As an aside, the finger is so-so.  Looked good after the doctor visit.  But later that afternoon, as the skies got dark and the wind picked up, I tore the scab and opened up the gash while lifting a heavy supply box off the top of the Nutshell. No blood or anything. It’s just that the skin’s no longer together on half the wound.

I reapplied some gauze, splinted and taped it so that I can’t move it. If the skin’s not healing together in a couple of days, I guess it’ll be time for a superglue approach.  In the meantime, I’m reduced to using my index finger on the left-hand part of the keyboard. Such is life, right?

And yes, I typed “y’all” a couple of paragraphs ago.  The aftermath of being in Texas for almost five months.  When I first moved down here in 1968, “y’all” was the first thing I picked up.  It’s just too damned easy to let slip out of your mouth … at least it’s a lot easier than “youse guys”.  But I digress … (face it, what would a “Frank and Jeff” blog post be without a digression, right?)  :o)

Anyhow, on to better things …

The Nutshell’s opened up some travel possibilities that weren’t really practical in the tent.  Setting up and breaking camp is nothing compared to what it involved only a few weeks ago.  What took hours and hours can now be accomplished in 20 minutes.  Very cool, indeed.

So with that, I decided to purchase a membership in Thousand Trails, a camping service that was first introduced to us last summer by Donna, one of my New Jersey friends.  The two main issues I had with the program aren’t a problem anymore:  1) you can only stay at one of the member camps for a maximum of two weeks; and, 2) you must stay somewhere else for seven nights before returning to the same, or another, member camp. I can handle that now, given how easy it is to pack up the Nutshell!

The service has five regions throughout the country, with anywhere from 15 to 25 member campsites per region.  The user buys a region and then has access to all its campsites for a year, subject to the above constraints.  The main consideration was whether we could find places to stay during the in-between weeks that wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. I spent yesterday afternoon researching the Passport America campsite list and think I addressed that pretty well.

I was also able to negotiate a couple of concessions from them that sealed the deal.  Where they normally do not allow reservations more than 60 days in advance, they’re going to reserve my stays for the next six months. They’re also going to throw in an additional region for only $100 (additional regions normally cost about $800, with the first region costing $550).  Based on that … along with what I figured out on Passport America campsites … I’ll be able to cut my “rent” expense to a little more than $325 / month for the next 14 months.  That’s about $100 less than what we’ve averaged since leaving Charleston last May.  That’s a big deal for us!

So here’s the plan through April 2017, which mostly sees us up and down the east coast:

March 2016:  We’re at Triple Creek until the 24th, after which we’ll head to Dallas.  I’ve reserved a place on Lake Lewisville for two weeks.  A lunch date has already been planned with the same guys that got together in July and there are a lot of other folks I’m looking forward to seeing.  Two weeks is going to open up a lot more opportunities for that compared to the two days we were in town last summer.

April 2016: I wanted to see Colorado this year, if only for a quick stop.  We’ll risk the chance of snow and head back to Pagosa Springs in the first part of the month.  I discovered only recently that one of my New Jersey classmates lives a mile or so from the campsite we stayed at last summer … he even knows TJ and Stacey, the Last Resort’s owners and buys his eggs on a regular basis from them.  He sent an email about the time I was looking for help acquiring the Nutshell and offered up his home. After talking with him on the phone a few times,  I’m going to take him up on that offer and spend 10 days.  Looking very much forward to visiting with you, Keith!

After that, we’ll head north to Colorado Springs for a week to visit another friend. This time it’ll be Warren, who spent some time with me when I was in Colorado last summer.  This will give us more chance to visit than the two brief afternoons we spent together back then.  I’m looking forward to that as well, Warren.  :o)

May 2016: I intend to make a quick stop up in Denver to visit the Hiker Trailer plant where the Nutshell was built.  After that, we’re going to head east.  I’ll stop in Fort Wayne, IN for a couple of weeks to see my brother and hopefully meet a niece and nephew that I’ve never seen before.  After that, we’ll start in with alternating between the Thousand Trails and Passport America campsites.  The first one is in Amish country, near Lancaster, PA.

June 2016: It’s a return to New Jersey, first time I’ll be back since leaving in early 2014.  It’ll be in the southern part of the state, unfortunately … not near my old stomping grounds in Passaic County. Hopefully I’ll still be able to see some old friends. Perhaps they’ll be interested in a day trip “down the shore”.  Knock on wood.  We’ll stay at two Passport America camps along with a club camp near Cape May.

July 2016: We’ll start the month out at a club camp in the Poconos.  My uncle used to have a place there and I’ve always loved the area.  From there, we’ll head to a Passport America campsite in the Hudson Valley (another favorite place) before heading east to a club camp bordering on Cape Cod for a couple of weeks. It’ll be close enough to Boston that I might try to take in a game at my beloved Fenway while we’re there. Hopefully Frank won’t bitch too much about being baby-sat for that first Sunday when the Twins come to town!

August 2016: We’ll head north, with a visit to the club campground on the Maine coast, sandwiched between two Passport America campsites – one in New Hampshire and the other in Vermont.  The leaves won’t be turning before we head back south. Still, it’ll be wonderful to see that part of the country again.  The odds of any future visits to New England are pretty low, so I’d like to make the most of it. I’m planning on doing some lake fishing while we’re there, too.

September 2016: With Fall approaching, we’ll start heading back south … first to a club campsite in the Catskills.  After that, we’ll spend a few weeks in New Jersey again.  I’ve found a couple of Passport America sites that are less than an hour drive from Passaic County. Hopefully that’ll give me a better chance to have breakfast with some of my old Cornerstone brothers from the Wayne Parish and perhaps catch a Pompton Lakes High School football game before leaving.  I wonder if they’ll let an old fart bring his beagle in for the game?  Knock on wood.

After that, we’ll head back to the Cape May campground for a couple of weeks. I’m hoping it’ll be nice and quiet, seeing as how school will be back in session. I’d like to take a couple of rides over to the coast and spend a day or two staring out into the Atlantic!

October and November 2016: Frank and I will gradually work our way down the east coast, continuing to alternate between Passport America and Thousand Trail campgrounds.  The plan is to stay:

  • On the Delmarva peninsula (1 week)
  • The Williamsburg, VA area (2 weeks), visiting the home of my ancestors
  • A yet-to-be-determined site on the North Carolina coast.  Hopefully it’ll work out where I can see old friends Dave and Val from Pompton Lakes, who have retired to the area. (1 week)
  • The mountains in west South Carolina, near the Georgia border (2 weeks)
  • The Daytona Beach area.  Hoping I’ll be able to take old friend Jeanie out to lunch one day.  (1 week)
  • Central Florida (2 weeks)

December 2016: We’ll start heading back to Texas for the rest of the winter.  I plan on staying at two Passport America campsites along the way: one in the Florida panhandle and the other one yet-to-be-determined … either near Biloxi, MS or New Orleans. Someplace within easy access to the Gulf of Mexico.

After that, I plan on staying at a Thousand Trails campsite outside of Houston, where we’ll be for both Christmas and New Year’s. Knock on wood that it won’t be too cold!  I’ve already figured out how to put a little shelf in the back of the Nutshell, on which to place the little heater we’ve been carrying around with us.

January – April 2017: I’m not planning on heading back to extreme south Texas like this past winter.  There just wasn’t enough to see or do down there.  We’ll spend January in campsites within a couple of hours of Houston, maybe even going back to Goose Island State Park.  February will see us return to Triple Creek.  This place has been fantastic!  Even though we’ve only been here a week, I know I’d like to come back.  This time, I’ll be able to join in the music festivities and am really looking forward to that.

Frank and I will head back up to north Texas in March. We’ll hopefully stay on Lewisville Lake again, along with stays at two Thousand Trails campsites – one just west of Fort Worth and the other on the Texas side of Lake Texoma, which shares a border with Oklahoma.

So that’s it. Those are our plans for the next year, barring any health issues that force us back to Texas or hurricanes that chase us inland from where we currently plan on going.  Hopefully we don’t have to deal with anything like that over the next 14 months.  Based on what’s happened to us so far, I know something unexpected is going to crop up, but I’ll just have to rely on that sign on the dashboard:  “It’s all worked out before. Trust that it will again!

If our travels take us anywhere near you and you’d like to get together for lunch (or would like to spend an afternoon sitting out in the fresh air at one of our campsites), drop me a line. I know Frank would love the extra attention.  I’d enjoy the company, too.  :o)

 

 
8 Comments

Posted by on March 3, 2016 in 2016, 2017, Itinerary

 

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Out in the Boonies

As we were driving down the rutted dirt road, dodging mud puddles and big dirt clods that might have hit our newly-replaced oil pan, I turned to Frank and said, “If this goes bad for us, you may be forced to start hunting rabbits. Sorry about that!”

To backtrack a bit …

We had planned to stay at the Escapees RV park in Livingston, TX. I mean, it made perfect sense. After all, I’m a member and they manage my mail for me. They’re a short drive from the office where I am to register the Nutshell, having driven it all the way back from southern California. I had even spoken to them about staying there during the last visit in July (when they told me, “Sure you can camp here in a tent and have access to electricity … no problem!”) So when I called to make a reservation last Monday morning as we were headed towards Houston, I wasn’t expecting the woman on the other end of the phone to hesitate after I answered her question about what type of rig I was driving.

Me (quite proudly, after spending the last 9 months in a tent): “I have a teardrop trailer.”

Dorothy: “A teardrop? What’s that?”

Me: “It’s a small camper, about 8 feet long. I just bought it and have to register it in Polk County.”

Dorothy: “Oh … a teardrop. So it’s not self-contained?”

I ran into that question before when I called about another park. This is not going to end well …

Me: “If you’re asking if it has running water or a bathroom, no. It doesn’t. Is that a problem?”

Dorothy: “Well, um …. no, not really. It’s just that I can’t reserve a spot for you with the other RV’s, where you have electricity. We’ll have to put you in the dry camp area with the tents.”

Me: “That’s not going to work for me. I sleep with a C-pap and don’t have battery power for it. Last year when I asked, I was told I could camp with electricity, even if I was in a tent. Why should it matter if I don’t have a bathroom. Don’t you have restroom facilities there?”

Dorothy: “Well of course we have facilities. But we had an … ummm … incident … a couple of months ago, and we changed our policy. You’ll have to stay in the dry camp area.”

First off, I did not want to get the details about the “incident”, given it involved someone who was camping without their own bathroom. That can be left to the imagination as far as I’m concerned. I asked to talk to the manager and discovered, unfortunately, that that was Dorothy. And nothing I said over the next five minutes of the phone call would change her mind.

Had this phone call happened when we first started out last May, I would have been totally rip-shit. Think Samuel L. Jackson in “Pulp Fiction”. But rather than strike down upon Dorothy with great vengeance and furious anger … and noticing that a State Trooper was sitting alongside the road up a ways and I wasn’t on Bluetooth … I glanced at the “It’s all worked out before” sign on the dashboard and just hung up the phone. Frank gave me a, “What’s going on?” look and I waved to the Trooper as we drove by.

That screwed things up. I hadn’t planned on NOT staying at Escapees and didn’t have a fallback position. We pulled into the next rest area and I started looking up RV parks, but didn’t see anything that was particularly interesting. They either were way more than I wanted to spend or, if reasonably priced, had pretty lousy writeups on RVParkReviews.com.

The only place that looked interesting was a listing on Passport America: Triple Creek Music and RV Park. Interesting writeup – the park hosts “music weekends”, alternating between gospel, country, open jam and bluegrass. The only problem was that they were well east of Livingston and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it that night.

I gave them a call and spoke with a woman named Karen. She said, “Well, we’ve just had a pretty good rain, so the road is awful muddy. Just watch yourself coming in!” I asked, “I’m not gonna get stuck, am I????”, to which she replied, “Well, just give us a call if you do and we’ll send someone down to get you out!”

Okay. Got it. Alrightee, then.

I told her that if we were going to make it there, I’d give her another call when I got close and left it at that. As it turned out, Houston traffic and Gertrude, the woman who lives in my Garmin GPS, had other plans.

We hit Houston a little before rush hour. Before I could realize what was happening, Gertrude had dropped me onto a tollroad heading north out of town. Now I travel with my debit card and never carry cash. I might have stopped at an ATM four times since leaving Charleston, usually so I could buy quarters for laundry.  But I had nothing on me as we drove towards the toll booths. I pulled over on the side of the road and scrounged up the $3.75 toll by rummaging through the ashtray, under the seats, and lying on the floorboard of the Hyundai … just enough to get us onto a nearby surface street.

You now how when you veer off the course set by your GPS and it adjusts its route? Well, Gertrude’s idea of adjusting was to tell me at each intersection that I needed to turn around and get back on the tollway! I have to say, I hate that bitch! I don’t think she knows anything about selecting the best route or anything like that. It’s become personal between us: there have been times when I’ve cancelled a route and said, “Voice” a few minutes later to try something else out. And you know what? She won’t answer! It’s embarrassing to be screaming “VOICE, GODDAMMITT” at your Garmin and realize people in the next lane are looking at you.  More than that, it’s infuriating!

What I need is a Scotsman GPS. A guy who understands me and what kind of help I want from him. Someone that will say, “A tollroad??? FOOK the tools, mon! I’ll get ye wherrre yerrr be wantin to go. And we won’t need to FOOKIN toll road. Don’t you be worrrrrrryin’ now, laddie!” Okay, digression. Big time. Anyhow ….

I called an old friend who now lives in Houston. Not sure of his heritage, but Mike figured out where I was, helped get us around the toll road and headed back north towards Livingston. By this time though, it was past 6 o’clock and there was no way I was going to risk getting stuck on some dirt road out in the middle of nowhere in the dark. I started looking up Motel 6’s near Livingston, where we could stay the night and regroup. After having driven almost non-stop for 8 days and then dealing first with Dorothy and now Gertrude, all I wanted was a nice bed and a shower.

I found one in Cleveland, about 20 minutes south of Livingston. Coincidentally, my PCP was there and I was going to have to make an appointment for them to look at my finger anyhow, so that’s where we stopped. We actually wound up staying there two nights because the earliest available appointment was Wednesday afternoon.

Tuesday was uneventful. On Wednesday, Frank and I drove over to the doctor’s office and sat in the car for a couple of hours. Once I got in to see him, everything went fine. He said the stitches look good but that my blood pressure was too high. I knew that from the readings they had taken at the ER in California and told him I was willing to get on blood pressure medication. He said he also wanted to do some blood work, just to check on other things like my blood sugar and cholesterol levels. (As an aside, I got the results of the tests a couple of days ago. Everything was fine. No diabetes. Cholesterol and everything else was “normal”. As it turns out, the only thing I am is fat!)

We left the doctor’s office and headed north. And that brings us back to the start of this post – headed down this old dirt road out in the middle of the east Texas nowhere. My thoughts were all over the place. I din’t know if we were going to end up in a scene from “Deliverance”, or if we were headed into a white supremist compound or something else. Hence, my warning to Frank that he might have to take up hunting if they buried me and decided he might prove useful.

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Home for the next month.  Our campsite is behind the big tree and to the right.

The road took a turn and finally emptied into a big open area with live oak and pine sprinkled throughout. There were three buildings up ahead, past a few RV’s that looked like they had been there forever. I got out of the car and noticed a young man sitting in a golf cart. After asking me if I was, “fixin’ ta check in,” he directed me to one of the buildings and said I should ask for Rick.

I walked in to find about 25 people sitting around a few long tables, having dinner, cafeteria-style, while chattering and laughing away. As soon as the door shut behind me with a little bang, the room went silent and everyone looked straight at me. Some stranger stumbling in on a secret society meeting. At least that was how I felt.

I sort of let out a weak chuckle and said, “A young man out there said I should ask for Rick?” A small guy stood up with a smile, wiped off his mouth with a napkin and ran over. “I’m Rick. You looking to stay for a while?”

I knew from the accent that Rick wasn’t a native. As it turns out, he was from Boston. My anxiety lessened right then. “You’re talking to probably the biggest … literally, the biggest … Red Sox fan in east Texas,” I laughed. Rick took me around the camp on the golf cart, showing me everything while talking about Mookie Betts, David Price and the “mother effing Yankees!” Yep, this place was going to turn out okay.

Looks can be deceiving, and I’m grateful I didn’t let my anxiety keep me away. Sure the two flags on top of the open air music pavilion are for Texas and the Confederacy. But the people here couldn’t be more friendly! (I just know that I’m not going to get into any political discussions while I’m here.)

They have potluck dinner Thursday through Saturday evenings and a “contribute what you want” breakfast on Saturday morning. Bob, a retired engineer from Tulsa, stopped by on Friday evening with his dog Rufus and wanted to know how come I hadn’t come for dinner. When I told him that I was concerned about Frank’s howling when I was away, he replied, “Sheeee-it, that sound is probably music to the ears of most folks in the park. Brings back good memories of squirrel hunting! You best be coming for breakfast, otherwise you’re gonna be hurtin’ people’s feelings!”

I wasn’t about to make any enemies this far off the beaten path, so I showed up for breakfast (having driven into town first to pull $20 out of the ATM). I have to say, it was the best breakfast I’ve had since leaving Charleston, complete with biscuits and gravy that brought me back to mornings at my grandparents’ farm in Tennessee! Bob introduced me around and we had some great conversation, matched only by how great the food was!

Sure enough, I could hear Frank howling as I left the meeting / music / dining hall and apologized to the folks sitting on the porch about it. They all laughed and said how much they enjoyed hearing him. I think half of them had beagles when they were younger, and said so! All Saturday afternoon, people stopped by to talk. Actually, I think the talk was just a guise for wanting to come over and pet Frank! He’s made quite an impression on everyone here.

Saturday afternoon brought mixed emotions. Sitting at the picnic table, I could hear folks inside playing Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson songs … and here I was, with a guitar sitting on my back seat and unable to play! It was a special kind of torture.  We’ll see how things go after those stitches come out tomorrow afternoon.

So yes … looks can be deceiving. I think Frank and I have found a place where we’re going to enjoy ourselves over the next month. I might even make it out alive! Of course, that’ll depend on how well the blood pressure meds do their job. :o)

It’s Bingo night … I’m off to join the neighbors.

 
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Posted by on February 29, 2016 in Travels

 

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The Grand Tour

Okay folks!  Here’s what you all helped Frank and I acquire for our new home. (I’ll speak for Frank and say, “Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the generosity you showed in helping us!”)

trailer1The Hiker-Trailer is different from the standard teardrop design, as you’ll see from this first photo of the port side.  While the teardrop arcs down towards the back, the Hiker is “boxy”. There’s no tapering of the roof.  From my perspective, this is one of the biggest selling points for this camper … especially for big guys like me.  The cabin has a lot of head room from front to back.  Granted, I still can’t kneel without bending my head to one side, but it’s a lot easier to move from front to back than what I’d imagine was the case in the classic teardrop.  I can lie with my head at the galley side as easily as if it was near the front of the cabin.  The only “cramped” feel I have is when I’m trying to change positions from front to back. Or if I’m sitting in the door (which is a perfect height off the ground for my feet to be flat on the ground) and want to pull my legs into the cabin.  In those cases, the extra foot of width provided by the 5′ x 8′ model would have been ideal.  But that’s a luxury at his point.  Besides, I can address that issue simply by losing weight – something I seriously need to move forward with now.

From this angle, you can see the electrical port at the back of the trailer.  It’s nothing fancy – you connect the exterior power source and it feeds a 5-outlet power strip that’s affixed to the interior wall.  It’s primarily situated so that you can power a few appliances in the galley as well as things like a your laptop and phone that might be inside the cabin.  The only minor issue I had was powering my C-pap machine at the front of the cabin … something that was easily taken care of with an extension cord.

trailer2This one has two doors – the standard model comes with only one.  So far, I’ve pretty much used only one door, but it’s nice to have both of them. That way, you’re not worried about clearance issues when you park.  No clearance on the right?  Use the port door.  Nosy neighbors on the left?  Use the starboard one.   I took these photos at the campsite in Hemet, CA, where the starboard door opened to a lake view.  I’m using the port door at our current location because of clearance issues.  I would have never bought a new one with two doors, so we have yet another reason to be grateful that it worked out so that this one is our new home!

While the door height is perfect for sitting, it’s proven to be a little tall for Frank to easily jump in.  I’ve converted one of the now-empty storage boxes into a step for him. Works like a charm! As you can see from his smile, Frank’s digging our new abode.  :o)

As an aside, I’m not yet sure what we’re going to name the trailer.  At the suggestion of one of my Facebook friends, I’ve taken to calling it the “Nutshell” … quite appropriate given who’s living in it.  I’m certainly open to suggestions from any of you.  Feel free to spit out names as you come to them.  (My idea of the “Coffin” was already  rejected out of hand by everyone.)

trailer frontThe front interior has a couple of shelves at the top.  Shelley, the former owner, was gracious enough to leave the IKEA storage units behind.  They’re affixed to the wall with velcro and accordion out to provide some nice storage space.  I’ve actually removed one of the top units and am using the bottom unit as a shelf for the C-pap, which has worked great!  The other three units currently house towels, toiletries and small eletronic gear.  I discovered the hard way that the top shelves need to have a brace running in front of them … otherwise, the contents empty onto the floor when you’re moving.  Another friend, Cheryl, suggested a spring-loaded rod, similar to a shower curtain.  Great idea … and I’ll be picking a few of those up before we head out to our next destination.

By the way, I took this shot from behind the trailer, looking through the “pass-thru” from the galley to the cabin. I just bought a coffeemaker … if I can figure out how to program it, it’d be pretty cool to be able to open up the pass-thru door and pour myself a cup without having to go outside, don’t you think?  :o)

Shelley also left behind a thick, foam mattress for us. It’s perfect! Definitely better than some of the other mattresses I’ve tried out.  For additional padding, I’ve laid down the two comforters underneath the sleeping bag. I actually have enough room to lie flat without having to scrunch up my knees to fit!

interior rear lowThe mattress folds up into a little sofa … you can see the headrest bent upwards in this next photo.  When the mattress is fully laid out, it acts as a buffer that keeps things anchored in the lower storage area under the galley.  Right now, it’s holding a storage box with assorted tools on the left, while the Nikon camera and the SiriusXM box sit on the right.  I’ve stretched out the antenna and have it running through the back hatch right now to get better reception.  I’m probably going to have to change this around a bit to maximize access to stuff.  I’ve figured out that I don’t need to have those tools stored so handily since I don’t have to use them all that often.  It’d be much better to simply store them under the camper and then bring them back into the cabin when we up and move.  Hopefully I’ll figure all that out before we leave on March 24th.

The two side windows are really nice!  They both have screens.  Actually, we have to leave them open at night, otherwise condensation forms on the frames of the windows and the doors.  I’ve always slept with a window open anyhow, so it’s really not that big of a deal … especially with our -0- degree sleeping bag.  Frank and I have both slept incredibly well since the Nutshell has become our home.

interior rear highThe shelves at the top of the back wall open into the galley.  Again, I made the mistake of putting a bunch of supplies up there, only to discover them all lying on the sleeping bag at the end of our first day on the road!  I have a feeling those things will wind up being stored where the tools now are.  Most of that stuff is either excess (like extra storage bags, for example) or cleaning supplies anyhow.  No need to have them right there when you first open the galley, right?   (The only other “would have been nice to have” thing … besides another foot of width … would have been a taller galley opening so that the bottom storage would have been more easily accessed through the galley. But again, that’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. Please don’t take that as a complaint – I love our new home!)

I love the galley! Right now, it’s a mess … even messier than in this photo.  Like I mentioned earlier, the first thing I did after settling in at our current campsite was to go out and buy a coffeemaker along with a crockpot. They don’t leave much room for all the dishes and stuff on the right.  They’re probably going to be moved to the top shelf where the supplies are.  That way, I can also buy a small electric griddle.  The idea is to minimize when I have to use the propane stove (which also sits on the top shelf right now).

galleyIdeally, I’m thinking about getting a small fold-up table that can be used for the stove.  That would require some additional protection from the rain, of course … but once again, my friends have come through with some great suggestions.  Shelley shared a photo of a guy using a 12′ x 12′ canopy to cover almost all of his teardrop!  In thinking about that, I could situate a canopy like that at the front corner of the Nutshell and it would provide about 5 1/2 feet of cover on one side of the camper and about 3 foot of cover in the back.  That’d be plenty of room for a table.  The one I’m looking at allows for optional side panels, which would offer protection from the rain … certainly enough room to take off my shoes and clean Frank’s feet before entering the cabin.  I could even use the tent carpet as a floor!  Knock on wood that this approach works out.

So that’s it – the grand tour.  I’ll do another post tomorrow about our current location. This post turned out to be a little long (what else is new, right?)   :o)

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2016 in Travels

 

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