Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Snowstorms in the Smokies—heading south

Oct. 29-31, Crossville, Tennessee to Summerfield, Florida

With news reports of Hurricane Sandy flooding the media, we paid much attention to the forecast for the Great Smoky Mountains in Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina. The edge of the storm brought high winds and snow to the mountains on Monday night with more snow forecast on the way.  We left Nashville on Monday with plans to visit relatives on the way to Knoxville, then off to see the Smokies and the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. The storm changed our plans. We knew we left Oregon at least two weeks later than we should, so we were prepared for colder weather, but not blizzard conditions!  One of the joys of living full-time in the motorhome is flexibility; we did not have any reservations to cancel, so all we had to do was turn right instead of continuing east.  We will have to catch this area another time. Along with the other places we have missed along the way, the Smokies will get added to the “another time” list.

We were, however, able to fulfill an important intention for me and that was to visit my ex-mother-in-law's siblings who are all originally from Oak Ridge, Tennessee. When my boys were growing up, we attended several Bryant family reunions at a resort called Fairfield Glade near Crossville, TE.  We also had a memorable gathering at the Cumberland Mountain State Park in Crossville.  I have not seen this part of the family for over twenty years, but they continue to hold a special place in my heart.  Twenty years ago, when I saw them last, they were closer to the age I am now—so again the dramatic passage of time and its effects were a most evident part of this reunion.

The first visit took place at a Cracker Barrel about ten miles outside Nashville where we met the eldest sister Pat and her husband Gerald for lunch.  This was Vic’s first experience in a Cracker Barrel so that marked a milestone in itself.  Gerald is 83 and Pat is 79 and although both have had some health challenges, they looked great and their minds were sharp as a tack.  Gerald used to work at the Oak Ridge nuclear plant, then known as the Clinton Engineering Works, as a machinist back in the 40s and 50s, so Vic learned all about the development of the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project that took place here.  My ex-mother-in-law’s parents worked at the plant and two of her sisters married men from the plant. They all lived in what is now described as the “secret city” of Oak Ridge that housed more than 75,000 residents back in the 40s. Today, the plant is a major nuclear research facility that includes a museum we hear is worth seeing.  Anyway, the history of that era which these folks lived through is pretty fascinating. While Vic was busy listening to Gerald's stories, Pat and I had a chance to catch up on all her family's accomplishments and challenges, including her own battle with lung cancer.  I felt so grateful to reconnect with this strong woman who inspired me with her optimism, faith, and wry sense of humor. It was a precious visit with two special human beings.

Our next plan was to head east of I-40 to Crossville, Tennessee where we would get the chance to visit two more of Pat's siblings and their spouses at a retirement resort called Fairfield Glade. We only planned an overnight stop here at a Passport America park called Deer Run RV Resort, so the best time to meet was for dinner. Aunt Deanie and her brother Gerry are twins and they both live here, so the plan was to have supper (southern term) together at the Assisted Living Center where Gerry and his wife live. Spending time here offered another stunning reminder to enjoy our relative youth and good health. The place was lovely though and we had a great visit hearing stories of their families and reminiscing about times together in the 80s with all the cousins and the shenanigans that went on when they were all together. It certainly speaks to the value of holding family reunions as these gatherings gave my boys a greater appreciation for their southern heritage and will always be some of my children’s fondest vacation memories. I am so glad we found ways to handle the expense of traveling all the way to Tennessee from Oregon when my boys were young to have these times with extended family.

When we woke up at the PA park in Crossville on Tuesday morning, it was decision day. Hurricane Sandy was hurtling toward the East Coast and its effects were forecast to be far-reaching.  Our next stop was to be Pigeon Forge, TE which we would use as a base to explore the Gatlinburg, Cade’s Cove locales in the Great Smoky National Park.  The weather app on my phone showed that it had snowed at the higher elevations in the park and they were experiencing sustained winds of 30-40 mph.  Not good travel conditions!


We took a moment to listen to our intuitions and agreed it was time to head south to the sunshine.  Florida weather has started to cool off with highs in the 70s and lows in the 50s and that sounded pretty darn good to us. The drive from Crossville south through Georgia went smoothly except for windy conditions with gusts up to 35 mph—challenging conditions in a “high profile vehicle.”  The only other challenge was bad timing in driving into Atlanta on I-75 at 4:30 p.m. The interstate looked like a parking lot, but Vic stayed patient and before we knew it we were past the stress of getting caught in a traffic jam on the freeway in a motorhome.

We traveled about 325 miles yesterday to the small town of Perry, Georgia, about 35 miles south of Macon where we stayed at a lovely Passport America park called Fair Harbor RV Park. Great layover park with huge pull-throughs, full-hook-ups, less than a mile off I-75,  no noise from the interstate, and lovely grounds—all for the cost of $18 plus tax.

And so today Florida welcomed us with clear blue skies and swaying palm trees.

We are happy to be here with many options for places to go, friends and family to visit, and water adventures in our kayak. Happy Hallow’s Eve to everyone.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Gettin' a little taste of Nashville

Oct. 26-29, Nashville, Tennessee

We arrived in Nashville with ambitious plans to go walk around downtown to the see the local honky tonk scene on Broadway Friday night, but we underestimated how chilly it was going to be here. With temps in the low 40s and damp winds blowing about 15 mph, we chose to stay cozy in our motorhome the first night hoping for warmer temperatures that were forecast for the rest of the weekend. Neither of us had been here before and our main goal was to get a taste of the music scene, see the Grand Ole Opry and visit the Country Music Hall of Fame. (Vic is big on Halls of Fame as he has been to the baseball and basketball halls of fame and we have been to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.) Based on a suggestion from some folks from Nashville we met at the Crown Villa RV Resort in Bend, we decided to stay at what they said was the best park in Nashville—the KOA. We typically don’t like KOA’s but it turned out to be reasonable compared to other parks in the area ($34) and in a great location just a couple miles from the Grand Ole Opry.

After researching our sightseeing options, we decided not to splurge on $55 tickets for a show at the Grand Ole Opry and we even nixed the plan to do a pub crawl on Broadway in favor of catching the local talent scene in a few less touristy venues.Thanks to a tip from bloggers John and Sharon (On the Road to Retirement), we decided to make going to The Bluebird Café on Sunday night a high priority and checking out the scene at Mr. A’s club, another place where local stars supposedly show up, which was only a mile away from our park.
During the day on Saturday, we made a quick visit to actually see the Grand Ole Opry building and found it a little disappointing. The Opry is part of a huge complex including a hotel and extensive shopping mall. We had both imagined it to be downtown in a grand old building with southern architecture. Instead it looks like a fairly new building that is obviously designed to draw in convention attendees and lots of Grayline tourist buses.

Our next stop was downtown, about a 15 minute drive, to the Country Music Hall of Fame, for a two-three hour self-guided tour. We felt the cost of the tickets, $20 each, was worthwhile even though neither of us is an avid fan of country music. The best part of the display was following the historical and technological developments that led to changes in country music styles from the folk roots of the nineteenth century to the present. My step-father was a huge country-western music fan. He played a 12-string Gibson guitar and sang many of the songs we heard in the tour, especially those by Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins, Ray Price, and Eddy Arnold. Listening to these artists’ records made me nostalgic for the times he would play the guitar and sing at family gatherings with my mom years ago in their restaurant in Upper Michigan. Music sure has the power to transport you back to a particular place and time—almost as much as the way smell can trigger a memory. Time marches on and now my mom too is gone, but the memories of those times together never fade. Sometimes it doesn’t feel real that certain parts of one’s life are gone forever. Somehow reliving the popular songs of each decade made the passage of time more distinct and dramatic.

On Saturday night we followed a tip from the RV Park office that there was good local talent nearby, so off we went to John A’s—“where the stars come out at night to enjoy good food.” John A’s was a spin-off from the more famous Nashville Palace, which looks almost defunct now. The place reminded me of some of the bars with shows in Mazatlan, Mexico—a little cheesy, a little touristy, and a q-tip crowd. We did enjoy the music and cheap drinks but decided we should check out at least one other place before calling it a night. Just down the road was a place called the Opry Backstage Grill which also advertised live music on the weekends. The fun part about this place was the waiters and waitresses got up and performed impressively well.  Again, being so close to the Opryland Resort, the place was definitely touristy, but these tourists had a good time listening to a variety of talent. 

We saved the best for last: Sunday songwriter’s night at The Bluebird Café. The Bluebird’s website describes their place as “one of the world’s pre-eminent listening rooms.” The only challenge for this no-cover charge show on Sunday is seats are on a first-come, first served basis. The doors opened at 5:30 for the 6:00 p.m. show.  We arrived at about 5:45 to find a line streaming out the door. We made it to spots #5 and #6 in line when they declared the place full.  Being so close in line, we thought the chance of getting in eventually would be pretty good–it was—but we ended up waiting until the first show was over at 7:30 before some seats opened up. I am not one to wait in lines and it was quite chilly out in the 40s with a biting wind, but we were entertained by outdoor speakers letting us hear the live music from inside and by visiting with others in line.

The other reason this place has gained more popularity is the new tv show called Nashville where one of the main characters works in The Bluebird Café. The wait in line turned out to be totally worth it. We snagged two seats at the bar where a highly attentive bartender took care of us throughout the show for the next three hours. The up and coming songwriters each played three original songs and then moved on for the next guy or gal. As a “listening room,” the audience was asked to be turn off cell phones and refrain from having side conversations, but somehow the wait staff managed to mingle among the crowded tables taking orders and quietly delivering them while the music played on. We thoroughly enjoyed the acoustic guitar playing and varied styles of the performers. Near the end of evening, the emcee of the show said we were in for a special treat as an established songwriter, Paul Sikes, recently featured on the Today show, was going to close the set.  His songs were highly entertaining, especially one that Billy Dean was about to release called “A Seed.”  (He was also easy on the eyes—ha-ha.) The song chronicles the many ways a piece of wood that started as a seed ends up being used in the world. I am a sucker for lyrics that make you appreciate the small miracles in life. What a great way to wrap up our first experience at The Bluebird; now we are interested in seeing how the cafe is portrayed on Nashville.

Monday marked departure day with plans to head east to the Smokey Mountains and on to Asheville, North Carolina. One major crimp in the plans involved the megastorm, Hurricane Sandy, which was about to hit the whole eastern seaboard with effects ranging as far as 500 miles inland. The western edge of North Carolina looked like it was going to be on the edge of the storm and possible snow was forecast for the Smokey Mountains.  We decided to leave Nashville and head east as far as Crossville, Tennessee, where I wanted to visit with some relatives I hadn’t seen in twenty years. We are sad that we may not be able to get to the mountains but, considering what the residents of New Jersey and New York are facing with this storm, we are lucky to be able to change plans so easily.  Until then, y’all be good now hear.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Taking a countryside break with the best harvest hosts

October 23-26, Newton, Illinois

The Big EZ rolled into the driveway of our friends’ rural farm in Newton, Illinois, right on schedule at 4 p.m. Tuesday. Our motorhome site with full hook-ups was all ready for us with rubber mats marking the space and wooden blocks set aside to put under the jacks. Mike greeted us as I opened the door by handing me a glass of Seagram’s Crown dark honey blended whiskey on the rocks. The party was about to begin. In spite of the on and off again rain showers, we had a picnic around campfire ring with protection from the weather nearby in one of their three barns. Let the fun begin. Our dogs excitedly ran around sniffing the place that held fond memories for them from our visit here last April (mostly they remember the bones they scored here). To add to the festive atmosphere, BJ and Mike’s three grandchildren who live nearby were here for dinner around the campfire. Before long, the children’s father, Kent, joined the group, and another truck pulled up with our friends Steve and Diane. The next thing I knew the whole table was full of snacks, salads, several bottles of wine, and all the condiments for hot dogs roasted on the fire. A party was a-happening. A short while later, another couple pulled up and we had the pleasure of meeting Mike’s brother Bob, the vet, and his wife Carol. More wine and more snacks showed up; the occasional rainfall did not dampen anyone’s spirits for enjoying this seemingly spontaneous gathering. The piece de resistance came when BJ brought out her freshly baked apple pie with ice cream for dessert. Welcome to life on the Shafer farm and--check out the giant log with the flame coming through the middle.

We ended the evening with a good soak in their awesome spa. Boy did we sleep well that night. We melted into our pillows only to awake with the soft ding of a text message that said: “Fried or scrambled?” You gotta love this kind of hospitality.

After a hearty country breakfast and lots of storytelling around the table, we headed off on separate errands for awhile. With many chores to do with the fall harvest and lots of leaves to rake, we had good intentions to pitch in but somehow most of the day slipped away. We made plans to visit Steve and Diane at a Mill Creek County Park in their Monaco motorhome that night about an hour away, so BJ and I went to the local IGA to purchase ingredients for our meal: her amazing homemade beef vegetable soup and my chili. A soup buffet rounded out by cheese and crackers sounded perfect.  Vic and I did manage to help with a little raking, but Mike made it easy by just having us pile the leaves in the yard where he could run them through the mulching blade of his riding mower.  By 5 p.m. we were off to the county park for another evening around a campfire. It still seems pretty amazing to us that we have made such good friends from a chance encounter when we parked next to these folks just one night in a campground. Speaks to the need to stay open to possibilities, especially when they are least expected.

We thought we would just stay two nights in Newton, long enough to catch our breath after our push to get east of the Mississippi, but there’s something about being around Mike and BJ that makes one wonder, “What’s the hurry?” Our decision to stay was certainly rewarding as I had a little mishap with a drawer getting caught in the driver’s side slide on our way across country and Mike used his woodworking skills and shop full of every imaginable tool to erase the incident from my mind forever.  (Thank you so much for your painstaking efforts to make our drawer good-as-new!)

cabinet drawer
A small payback was my opportunity to help him set up and learn how to use his new Droid Razor phone. Vic thought I was a little overzealous in playing the teacher role, but I was glad to be useful. There is a saying that you learn by teaching and this was true as I realized I knew more than I thought I did considering I didn’t even know how to turn my Droid off and on when I first bought it.
Spending another day also gave us the chance to see the progress Mike has made in building a cabin on their pond. What we imagined would be a small little outbuilding has become a cozy retreat that could sleep a small family. The interior is not yet complete, but we were very impressed with the plans, especially for a big fireplace like the ones they have in Cracker Barrels with a wide open cooking hearth.

They better be careful or they are going to have overnight guests on a regular basis when word gets around about this “party” cabin. I am originally an Illinois girl who could be persuaded to spend more time here on a regular basis.  Ha-ha.

The daytime temp the first two days In Newton was in the low 80s, and coming from the Oregon desert, on the humid side. A weather system was coming in bringing high winds, rain, and much cooler temperature with highs in the 40s. BJ encouraged me to pick some fruits and vegetables for our travels before the rains came, so she and I loaded up some baskets with pears, apples, tomatoes, and hot banana peppers. Lucky us! We finished off the day by sitting around their kitchen table with a bottle of wine, some snacks, and my obsessive tutorials on how to use the Droid Razor.

Morning came too soon, but we felt a readiness to move on so we could be in Nashville for the weekend offerings of music venues. With a drive of only about five hours, it seemed like all we had to do was coast straight south to Grand Ole Opry land. We do, however, need to keep an eye on the weather with news that a mega storm, Hurricane Sandy, is hurtling toward the east coast with winds that reach over 500 miles inland.  We may choose to keep all four jacks on the ground in Nashville for awhile. Stay tuned for notes on the Nashville scene, this pre-Halloween weekend.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

From the Oregon Cascades to Illinois farm country

Oct. 19-22, Cross Country Trek, mostly on I-80

We finally pulled up stakes (jacks?) last Friday and left Bend for our five day sprint across the country. Apparently, we left just in time as the WeatherBug app on my Droid posted this alert for Bend on Sunday: “Central Oregon is expected to see the first significant snowfall of the season by Monday morning.” Vic made a promise to the Big EZ that it would never be driven in snow, so that is part of the reason why we are not exploring any attractions along the way as we head to the three villes: Nashville, Knoxville, and Asheville. 

Vic carefully planned out our route and stopover places with daytime travel of about 300 miles a day, a little more than our typical 250 miles, so we could arrive in Nashville on day seven. The most direct route from Bend took us through Boise to I-80 in Utah, just east of Ogden.  Not the most scenic drive, but definitely good in terms of the least mountain passes to get to the Nebraska plains—and certainly limited distractions in terms of sightseeing!  You know the scenery leaves something to be desired when the clouds steal the show.

The Bend to Rock Springs, Wyoming leg was a first for me. I had often heard about the desolation of Eastern Oregon, but having seen it firsthand, I can’t say I would be anxious to do a repeat performance.  I am, however, willing to be more open-minded about learning to appreciate desert environments, but ones with more color like in the Southwest hold more possibility for me.

Our destination for day one was to make it to Boise, about 350 miles from Bend. We discovered a Passport America park, Garrity RV Park  just east of Boise in Nampa for the discounted price of $12.  Well, it was a good price, but what a sketchy place. I regret not taking any photos of the eclectic range of RVs that inhabited this park. I told Vic that it looked like it could be an outdoor vintage museum, except most were in complete disrepair with all kinds of homemade add-ons and humble repairs. I actually did not feel safe wandering around the park taking photos for fear that someone might confront me.  Aside from the price, the only other good thing about this place was that we were in the pull through section with a couple other Class A motorhomes, set apart from the perimeter of permanent residents.  I must not have felt too comfortable sleeping here, because I awoke to sounds that made me imagine someone was taking our bikes off our car and maybe even the kayaks. It turned out there was just a group arriving home at 2 in the morning making a bit of noise on their way.  About an hour later, I saw lights flashing across our bed, thinking it was the police, I investigated further only to discover it was a flashing strobe from the nearby airport.  Oh the joys of having such a fertile imagination.

Vic set the alarm for 6:30 and we were off before 8 a.m.—pretty early for us. His next planned stop was supposed to be Tremonton, Utah, but after I discovered that leg was under 300 miles, we agreed to push on to Green River, Wyoming—a whopping 470 mile day, but we figured we could still arrive before sunset—another goal of ours—to avoid driving in the dark. Staying somewhere new required me to investigate parks (we have never stayed at a Flying J or Walmart), but in the interest of keeping expenses to a minimum, we entertained the possibility of boondocking somewhere. In checking RV Park Reviews for the Green River area (no PA parks or Harvest Host sites near here),  I discovered a place to boondock at the Little America Travel Center. The place was a real find!  I went in to the hotel to ask where we could park and they gave us plenty of options all for no cost. We were able to put our slides out and even run our generator as much as needed. The best part was their café which had a cozy little bar on the side where we ate delicious quesadillas and salads while watching Alabama pummel Tennessee.  The bar was full colorful characters, mostly long range truckers and weekend hunters.  In fact, at some point I realized I was the only woman in the place. Funny feeling.

When we retreated back to the motorhome, it was time to watch the Oregon State University football game against the University of Utah—but, alas! The game was broadcast on ESPN2 and all we could get was local channels off our antenna. We settled for listening to the game on the TuneIn Radio app on my phone. The Beavs beat the Utes 21:7 and broke a 105 year record for starting the season 6:0!  Good way to wrap up a long day.

Day three started with a rare treat. I had read about the Little America café’s famous cinnamon rolls and the warning to get in early before they ran out. I walked in just after 7 a.m. only to discover they had four left. My plan was to get two, but when I saw the size of them I settled for one giant roll that filled an aluminum pie plate. I just had to have good coffee with this indulgence, so I fired up the Barista in the motorhome and made myself an Americano and Vic his favorite Mexican hot chocolate. We were off and running on sugar and caffeine before 8 a.m. with another long day ahead. Wiith clear skies ahead and dark threatening skies behind us, we were happy to be following the good weather. 

Again I messed with Vic’s detailed itinerary and convinced him we could probably make it all the way to   North Platte, Nebraska, 514 miles.

This distance tied with our longest day last year as we made a similar run across I-94 from Oregon to Michigan. The only glitch was we forgot about the time change to CST so arriving at 7:00 p.m. put us about twenty minutes past sunset. Our overnight plan here was to stay at the one of two Passport America parks—the other had closed Oct. 15.  The RV Park Review site had mixed ratings of this place but since we had set a new low at the last PA park, this place looked great—and it was—$17 for a nice pull through in a well-maintained park. Plus as we rolled into the Holiday RV Park in North Platte, I saw a neon sign for a place called the Whiskey Creek Café—a name that called to my tired and thirsty self even though I had the laudable goal of not eating out at all on this cross country run. (Whoops did last night count?)  I convinced him we would benefit from the half mile walk to the café and getting a break from the motorhome after such a long day. The place had a wood fire grill and was well-known for its BBQ so we broke our sometime vegan lifestyle and tried the pulled pork with an Oktoberfest beer at the bar while watching the SF Giants tie up the playoff series against the Cardinals. One of my weaknesses is a penchant for finding local spots that have character and serve good fare and this place did not disappoint. We rarely patronize any chain restaurants. Consistency is overrated when the décor and menu is the same whether you are in Seattle or Memphis.

Day four, Monday, took us from North Platte, Nebraska to Kansas City, Missouri, a mere 390 miles! We had stayed at a Passport America park before in KC-Platte City, Basswood RV Resort, last April when we were traveling to South Dakota to establish our residency, and we thought it was a good stop for under $20, so we made this place our destination. We arrived well before sunset and were surprised to experience warm and humid weather—the high had been 82 and the low 68, with 85% humidity. After wearing warm socks and layered clothing the past few weeks, we had to adjust and even ran the air conditioners well into the night.  Part of my hot flashes also could have come from watching the last of the three Presidential debates, but I try to keep politics out of my blog commentary. After the debate, we switched over to the Giants game excited to find them ahead 7:0 in the bottom of the 7th. (Vic is originally from San Francisco and was even able to attend game one of their World Series two years ago.) Go Giants and defeat those Tigers—uh-oh, my Michigan relatives will be all over me for rooting for SF.

On another topic altogether, the price of diesel has been a bit of a concern on this trip. Once we made the decision to spend our winter in Florida again, we knew we were in for another big fuel expense but this is the first time we have had to pay more than $4 a gallon for diesel.  I use the Gas Buddy app to seek out the best prices but sometimes we don’t like having to venture too far off the interstate or we don’t like going to stations that may have lesser quality diesel or fuel that has been sitting in the tanks awhile. We like busy, cheap truck stops with easy in and out access the best.  Most of the interstate stations in Nebraska were advertising prices in the $.4.25 range, but we managed to find one with diesel for $4.13 and yesterday in Missouri we found a Shell truck stop with diesel for $3.89—yay!  What I have to keep reminding myself is how seldom we need to fill up once we get to Florida and do some monthly stays. We have a 100 gallon tank and Vic rarely lets the needle fall below the 1/4 level, so it is a little unnerving to be pumping out $250 worth of gas on almost a daily basis.  (See why we should be eating beans and rice.)

Speaking of beans and rice, I had this great idea of making a rich vegetable soup with lentils in my crockpot while going down the road. I guess we need to understand our electrical limits better as having it on without the generator blew out the GFCI plug and may have permanently shorted out the crockpot. We do sometimes run the generator going down the road for an hour or so to give it regular use, but I wouldn't want to run it all day, so I guess that nixes my cooking while going down the road plan. (Has anyone else out there tried such a thing?)

As I write, we have just crossed the Mississippi River near St. Louis, so we are officially on what we Westerners consider the East Coast. In keeping with my random need to alter Vic’s carefully laid out itinerary to Nashville, we are now headed to Newton, Illinois. This diversion from his route is an unplanned stop to visit with our cherished motorhome friends Mike and BJ and Steve and Diane whom we met over a year ago in a tiny little campground in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. It is apple and pear harvest time at Mike and BJ’s farm and Vic, for sure, cannot resist the lure of a homemade pie.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Filling our days in Bend, Oregon

Oct. 10-18, Bend, Oregon

We have reached the last day of our seven-week stay in Bend and it is just in time as the first big rainstorm came through earlier this week. Today is clear and chilly (55 degrees) with lows in the 30s predicted tonight. This campground, Crown Villa RV Resort, stays open year-round and those who are staying the winter, for the bargain price of $399 a month, are busy winterizing their RVs or motorhomes to prepare for the cold weather. This process minimally includes installing a heated water hose, adding a non-toxic antifreeze to the traps, and plugging in a light bulb in the water bay. Vic has promised The Big EZ that it would never spend a winter in the cold, so we are not going through any of these preparations—other than turning off the water and removing the hose each night the temps are predicted to be at or near freezing. We also had to have our 35 gallon propane tank filled for the first time in a year—not bad! We were happy to find propane here for only $1.99 a gallon.  Much better than the $2.79 we paid per gallon last year getting the tank filled at a campground in Bonita Springs, Florida last year.

Other preparations for hitting the road have included some motorhome repairs. Vic is super diligent about meeting service recommendations so we took the motorhome to the local Onan dealer for the recommended fifty hour service on the Onan generator for the cost of about $90. The much bigger expense was the annual Freightliner service we had done in August for the cost of $900.  It does give us peace of mind to stay on top of these things before heading across country. Another major repair we just had done was the replacement of all four HWH leveling jacks.  Since we bought the motorhome 18 months ago, we have had trouble retracting the jacks.  They were very inconsistent about going up, often requiring Vic to wipe them down and spray them with a silicone lubricant each time. When we were at the Tiffin Service Center in Red Bay, we requested that the jacks be repaired, but all they did was use some WD40 on them, run them up and down several times, and say they were good to go. That has not been our experience in the last five months since we were at Red Bay.  Finally Vic pressed the issue with HWH about getting all four jacks replaced. They agreed and sent the jacks to the Beaver Coach Sales and Service Center here in Bend where they did the work with HWH picking up the cost of labor and new parts. Three days after they were replaced, we both noticed the motorhome listing to one side. Apparently, the right rear jack had a leaking O-Ring seal and it retracted.  The result was basement doors that wouldn’t shut properly, a swinging bathroom door, and water running to the back of the sink counter. It’s amazing how much being level contributes to the proper working of so many parts.  We survived the weekend being off kilter (no jokes please) and were able to take it back to Beaver Coach yesterday where they replaced the O-Ring. The mechanic admitted he tried to re-use some of the original O-Rings, so now we are feeling a little leery about how well the other jacks will hold up. Vic checks them daily to see if there is any leakage of fluids from any of the jacks as that was another telltale sign for this problem. So far, so good. 

Today, as I write this blog, we are having the motorhome washed by the pros through a mobile service. This is a first for us. Vic usually does all the cleaning, but with the colder weather he is less inspired to do it himself and it is also getting waxed—another first on our one year adventure.  It will be good for the motorhome to have a thorough cleaning before we go. Just hope we don’t get on any dirt roads on the way.

On the way to where?  Our decision to spend an extra three weeks here in Bend has changed our itinerary to be a fairly direct one across country with our first destination being Nashville.  By destination, I mean a place we are staying for more than an overnight travel stop.  Our major winter destination involves a plan to spend Nov-March in Florida, preceded by a two week exploration of the Smokey Mountains and the North Carolina hills before heading to my brother’s home in Marathon, Florida, in the Keys.

In the meantime, we have managed to find fun ways to fill the days.  Two weekends ago, Vic was offered a ticket to an Oregon State home football game against WSU. With Corvallis only two and a half hours away, and with friends who were happy to have us and the dogs for the weekend, we jumped at the chance. It was a glorious fall weekend in the Willamette Valley with temps in the low 70s and crisp fall nights.  I was also thrilled to travel back over the Cascades to have another chance to see my son Jesse, so that four-day weekend was a great little getaway from our motorhome—something we rarely do. Vic forgot to take photos of the game so I stole this one from the internet. They played BYU last Saturday pushing their record to 5-0, a first since 1939. Go Beavs!

We had also planned to participate in the Bend Film Festival last weekend, but discovered it was rather cost prohibitive for us to fully experience as a festival pass was $125 per person or you could purchase individual tickets for $11.00 on-line. Another fun opportunity presented itself which ended up diverting our attention from taking in a few films. Some folks we met from Corvallis, who now live here, invited us to go to the Elks club for a free dance lesson followed by two hours of dancing. The promise was a great dance floor and cheap drinks.  We took them up on it and had a great evening doing something we love but don’t take the opportunity to do enough—dance together. We learned that the next night was Octoberfest at the Elks and they were having a ten piece swing band with German food all for $10.  Such a deal we couldn’t pass up, so we donned our ballroom dance shoes a second night for another chance to twirl around the floor.  We both had to acknowledge we are sorely out of practice and look forward to getting back into dancing on a more regular basis. Luckily we know there are several ballroom dance places in the Ft. Myers area so our commitment is to take advantage of it this winter when we are there.

Inspiring 93-year-old dancer in white sportcoat

Another kind of dancing has also been an important part of my stay here: going to Zumba classes.  I discovered there were several studios and fitness places here that offer Zumba so I made it my mission the last three weeks to try some out.  I ended up going to the Juniper Swim and Fitness Center here in Bend first, and liked the class “okay” but it was crowded and the music wasn’t my favorite. I then went to a place called Dance Central and liked the class real well except it was only offered in the early evening. The best time for me to get up and move is in the morning. So off I went to a studio called Get a Move On which turned out to be my favorite Zumba studio as the music was invigorating, the instructors enthusiastic and easy to follow, and the dance floor was an amazing sprung wood floor.  Not only that but the first class was free with each different instructor and there were classes in the morning and the evening. I went about five times before I actually had to pay $6 for a drop-in class. This is a form of exercise that doesn’t seem like work to me and I really want to keep it up as we continue our travels.  May have to get a DVD and try it in the motorhome! I know the park we are staying at in Feb and March in Ft. Myers offers Zumba classes so it is becoming a fairly popular exercise option for Florida snowbirds at the RV parks.

Last night we were invited to Eagle Crest Resort, about thirty minutes from here, to have dinner with old friends at their vacation home. Elaine and I were curriculum and assessment specialists in the Corvallis School District central office several years ago and our husbands knew each other from coaching high school athletics in the valley. We spend a lovely evening in their rustic vacation home overlooking the golf course, sharing about our recent adventures and future plans. Elaine was more than a little surprised to hear we are now South Dakota residents, love spending the winter in Florida, and are thinking of joining the Elks!  I couldn’t have predicted anyone of those three myself for my retirement years but having an open mind is a central tenet of this full-timing in a motorhome lifestyle.

We sure are appreciating all the special times we have had with friends new and old in our stay here in Central Oregon.  Even though we are ready to leave in terms of the cold weather soon to drift down across the northern plains, we are leaving with a long list of things yet to do and explore in this special part of Oregon.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Exploring the parks of downtown Bend

Oct. 1-9, Bend, Oregon

drake park

In addition to day trips out of town, we also like to discover urban walks with dog friendly eateries as a mid-way destination. Bend has many beautiful parks in the downtown area and they publish a local map which shows different options for walking and biking trails that take you from park to park. I learned there are 37 developed city parks here which include the more well-known Farewell Bend Park, Drake Park, Brooks Park, Juniper Park, and Mirror Pond Park which is also famous for the local brew called Mirror Pond Ale, a Gold-Medal American style Pale Ale crafted by the Deschutes Brewery.

 Mirror Pond Pale Ale

The Deschutes River flows through the downtown area and is the main attraction in most of the city parks. I only recently realized how much rivers running through my hometowns have been an important element in my life. From the age of 5-10, my family lived in McHenry, Illinois on the Fox River. Hard to believe now, when I see the pollution and overuse of this river with jet skis and all kinds of motorboats, but we used to swim in the river and ice skate on it in the winter—fond childhood memories. I did also learn to waterski on the Fox River, so even back in the 60s boating was the major pastime on the old and dirty Fox River. Later in life, I went to college in Missoula, Montana—the setting for the Norman McLean novel, A River Runs Through It.  Actually three rivers run through it, converging in the downtown area not far from the University of Montana campus: the Clark Fork River, the Bitterroot River, and the Blackfoot River (where most of the movie was filmed). My biggest geographic love affair happened in Missoula and the rivers played a major role in offering my heart to the Big Sky country. The place I lived the longest in my life, almost 30 years in Corvallis, Oregon, is home to the Willamette River, which was always an important feature of my life there. Notably, the river also has much to do with creating the valley that is so famous for growing the much-coveted pinot noir grape and is now home to over 300 world-class wineries. So, it is no surprise that I am so attracted to the Deschutes River in Bend with its abundance of trails and beautiful vistas

colorado street dam

Walking on the downtown trails, we especially enjoyed looking at the historic homes and cottages in what is known as Old Bend. Many of the cottages were originally mill houses in the 1920s when timber reigned supreme in these parts. As a result, there is a healthy mix of small cottages and grand homes that look like they may have been built by the lumber barons.

drake park home

Homes on Mirror Pond

dog friendly park

Tourism is the leading industry here now—with Mt. Bachelor ski area as a major attraction in addition to several area resorts that promote golfing, hiking, biking, rafting, fishing, and lots of beer drinking. Bend is coming to be known as the microbrew capital of the United States with fourteen breweries and counting.  Here is how the Visit Bend website describes this phenomenon: “Bend is a "Beervana,” with one brewery for every 9,111 people beating out our nearby neighboring city of Portland, Oregon. Bend celebrates this achievement with what we call the Bend Ale Trail.”  The Ale Trail involves getting a passport card which is stamped as you visit nine breweries that are within walking or biking distance in town. You can also choose to travel the trail by trolley, pedi-cab, brew bus, or cowboy carriage. The prize for getting all nine stamps is a free commemorative Silipint—an earth-friendly flexible pint size “glass” made of silicone. They seem to be all the rage here and are sure motorhome friendly as they are heat-proof and unbreakable.

We have yet to get our Passport book, so we better get going as we leave in ten days. We have been to the Deschutes Brewery, Crux Fermentation Project, Goodlife Brewing, and 10 Barrel Brewery. The amazing part to me is that all four of these brew pubs were dog friendly (with outdoor seating areas) and one even had Silipint dog water bowls. 

yard art

This weekend we are looking forward to experiencing our first indie film festival: BendFilm, a celebration of independent cinema, a four-day event with seven film venues featuring over 100 films. We have to do some serious planning to figure out which films to see and the after-parties are supposed to be even better than the films—ha, ha. Even though the weather is getting on the cool side (low 30s at night with daytime highs in the 60s), we are enjoying the crisp fall air and the abundance of things to do in Central Oregon.

autumn color in park