"When I get to a place
for the first time and know it like home, this is when I know my journey
will be over"
"There are always two
people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer."
"I was born lost, and take no
pleasure in being found"
"The strongest reason for the people to retain
the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect
themselves against tyranny in
- Thomas Jefferson
"If I am fortunate, I will live 80 years on this amazing planet, so I will throw caution to the wind, strive to make a difference, and seek out adventure with every breath, as I am far more afraid of regret than failure!"
- Scott Brady
"A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any invention in human history - with the possible exceptions of 4x4's, handguns and tequila."
- Joaquin Suave
"The Sure Sign of Life is Death. Why Else Would humanity Thrive So Hard To Leave Its Mark on This World"
"A tourist does not
know where they have been, a traveler does not know where they are
"I Have Learned Something About Creating Art. People Do Not Want to Hear What You Are Going To Do, People Want To Hear About What You Done Did."
“Perhaps travel cannot
prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat,
worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand
each other, we may even become friends.”
“Voyage, travel, and
change of place impart vigor”
"Everything in life is
somewhere else, and you get there in a car"
"A Critic is a man who knows
the way, but cant drive the car"
“You lose sight of
things...and when you travel, everything balances out.”
“Never go on trips with
anyone you do not love.”
“I never travel without
my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the
“We may run, walk, stumble,
drive, or fly, but let us never lost sight of the reason for the
journey, or miss a chance to see a rainbow on the way.”
“Travel, in the younger
sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience.”
“Like all great
travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I
man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must
wait till that other is ready.”
“For my part, I travel not
to go anywhere, but to go.”
there is no path, paths are made by walking”
fool wanders, a wise man travels.”
change the past, but you can ruin the present by worrying about the
“We must go beyond textbooks, go out into
the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and
explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.”
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -- I
took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
“All journeys have secret destinations of
which the traveler is unaware.”
Pat's May 2009 Blog
If this is your first time here, you might want to start from the beginning of our fulltime RV Journey with our Past Blogs
Camper Check List - A list of things we do before leaving camp. Again, this isn't gospel, but its a good start for those who might not already have a list made up.
May 1st 2009 - Returning From our African Safari
I'll apologize for our absence the past few days, but we've just returned from a little excursion over to Africa where we finally notched out a true African Safari. This has been a dream for Cindy and I for years now, and it was everything we expected it to be.
Only difference was we saved something in the ballpark of $10,000 by only having to drive 15 minutes from where we're staying to the Global Wildlife Center in Folsom Louisiana.
Cindy and I have always dreamed of taking a true photo safari where you spend days in the back of a 4x4 roaming open savannah's in search of exotic wildlife. We've priced out packages and even going with a bare bones, no extra's tour, we're talking something around the $10,000 price range and this doesn't include airfare. Round trip Coach seats are a few grand each to Africa. A true African Safari will always remain a pipe dream I'm afraid, so we did the next best thing.
The Global Wildlife Center in Folsom is a 900 acre preserve dedicated to create a perfect place in which threatened and endangered wildlife, from around the world, live and flourish in a free-roaming natural environment. For photographers like Cindy and I it is a dream come true.
There are a few different ways to view the 4000 exotic animals roaming the open prairies and savannah's with no fences or barricades to keep them locked up. You can go the inexpensive route and board a wagon train that is pulled by a big Farm Tractor and has an experienced guide narrating the whole journey, or spend double the money, but still a steal in my mind and reserve a private tour in the back of a World War II era Pinzgauer. The Pinzgauer makes for a perfect vehicle to shoot photography out of for two people. You have plenty of room to lay out your camera bag on the floor and with full length bench seats along the bed and open sides, it's had to miss a shot.
Now when I say 'Double the Money', I'm only talking $35 an hour per person to be in the Pinzgauer. If you want to ride along with everyone else on the wagon train, it's a measly $17 for adults and only $10 for children 11 and under.
For photographers to be able to have a personal guide driving you around a private ranch at your leisure, with no time limit; this place is a gold mine for stock photography of some of the worlds most exotic and endangered animals. All just hidden a mere hour out of downtown New Orleans.
You should know there are no Predators on the Wildlife Preserve. No Exotic Big Cats or Reptiles that can do any harm with the simple reason being they would then have to fence in the animals to protect them from one another.
But to be able to see large herds of Antelope, Zebras, Fallow Deer, Pére David Deer, Watusi Cattle along side Giraffe's, Gobi Camels and crazy birds from far away places and not have to fight and shove our way through hordes of people was worth every single penny and then some.
Cindy and I spent two and a half hours riding with an experienced guide named Scott who knew so much about the animals, it was mind boggling to take in all the information he was telling us.
Scott would tell us stories about each of the herds, knew who the dominate males were in each herd and why that male might have certain marks along their hides from past fights or scrapes with fellow males trying to knock them off the hierarchy. Scott would go on to tell us specifics about the breed of any animal we would drive up on, the history about where they got their names and usually add some great Bar Trivia that I can bring up at a later date to impress some person along our adventure.
We asked why the Pére David Deer had the nickname of Father David Deer and he told us a great story which I cant remember all the specifics of, but after Googling Father David Deer, I found the exact same story Scott told us at this link. It goes something like this:
with a strange name should be extinct by now. Most of its ancestors had
become victims to relentless hunting centuries back. But some are still
alive today in a wildlife reserve in Bedfordshire, England. The very
fact that they are still around today is purely because of the efforts
of a single man 'Father Pierre David' of France and due to a series of
events he carried out.
1800's there was an Emperors Reserve Forest in China to which only the
rulers had access. It was mainly used for hunting and recreation. There
were rumors that this forest was home to many exotic animal & bird
species, but no one dared to enter the forest as it was banned for
common people. The punishment for the violation of trespassing was
He knew straight away that he was looking at an animal not found anywhere else in the world. He also knew that if he didn't do anything, the deer would soon become extinct in that forest by itself. He needed more information on it but the only way he could get it was through theft. He tried to bribe the guards of the forest, but no one was ready to say anything fearing the punishment they would get if they were found out. After a year he managed to get a pair of horns and the skin of the deer. He knew full well that if he was found out he would be hanged.
He secretly smuggled these pieces back to Europe where animal experts confirmed that this was the mythical creature found in the Chinese paintings and agreed it was not known anywhere else in the world. They started pressuring the Chinese to send a few of these deer to Europe. They feared that since the deer were found only in that forest, any natural disaster or epidemic or even indiscriminate hunting could wipe out the species completely.
The Chinese were initially reluctant, but Father David worked hard to persuade them. Finally the Chinese agreed to send only a few baby deer to a zoo in France. It was these few babies which saved this species from complete extinction.
Soon after this, floods arose in the Huang Ho river near Peking which destroyed most of the farms. A portion of the wall surrounding the forest collapsed & the deer stepped outside. The starving people were mad with hunger. As soon as these deer caught sight of the people their fate was sealed.
The local farmers neither paused to think how important these deer were, nor cared about the strict laws banning common people from hunting them. They more than likely didn't even knew these deer were an endangered species. It didn't take long before the deer were hunted down and gone for ever from this area.
nearly became extinct save for the 7-8 babies in France. Animal experts
were worried that even these may not survive so far away from their
natural habitat. A few of these babies were sent to a wildlife reserve
in Bedfordshire where they Surprisingly thrived. The number of these
deer which was only about 8 has gradually increased to nearly 200 now.
This is the only herd of its kind in the world.
The Global Wildlife Center has the largest herd of Father David Deer in North America and is also known as the largest Free Roaming Preserve in North America. Its herd of Scimitar Horned Oryx is 3% of the worlds population of the species.
We sat in the back of the Pinzgauer watching as two male Pére David Deer clashed their giant racks together trying to impress a female grazing only a few yards away from them. Funny part was these two bucks sat working their hardest to impress her while she barely noticed their antics behind her.
But just the fact that we were sitting only 20 feet from all this action was amazing. There would be times Cindy and I would just sit staring at the beautiful creatures with neither one of us snapping a single picture. After a long pause of beautiful silence, one of us would snap out of the dream and go back to filling the compact flash cards on the camera.
Today was also Cindy's first time to really use the Canon 400mm lens we got back at Christmas. She's tried to use it a few times since we've been back on the road, but always said it was too heavy for her to hold for any length of time.
I recently found a Gimball type head that allows the 11lb. lens to swivel atop our monopod or tripod so effortlessly, you only need two fingers to move it around. Best part was the name brand model of this Gimball head made by Wimberley was almost $300. But there is a guy out of India who is making and selling them on Ebay for a mere $90. With shipping and handling it only cost $120 and I had it 4 days after ordering it.
I figured I'd at least check it out before dropping the big bucks on a name brand. When ever dollar counts right now, I cant afford to always buy American even if I really want to.
Look for a full write up on this Gimball head soon.
Once Cindy started shooting with the 400mm, it was all I could do to wrestle it back out of her hands. I know I've said it before, but the lens is amazingly fast and produces some of the sharpest images I've ever seen.
Check out the Global Wildlife Center Gallery to see for yourself. This is a huge Gallery, but some of the images are the best we've ever shot. I honestly cant wait to get out to Yellowstone and start living this type of life every single day. Looks like we need to start selling some of our photographs in order to fund the purchase of another big lens since I know I've now lost that one to Cindy.
When the Pinzgauer Tour finally ended, I was bummed. The afternoon weather was picture perfect with a nice breeze blowing across the open fields and big fluffy clouds rolling in as a perfect backdrop for the large herds grazing before us. I dont even think we were out the drive way of the Global Wildlife Center when I was saying to Cindy "When can we go back? Please can we go back another time before we leave for Arkansas!?!"
If you're ever traveling through Louisiana or visiting New Orleans, make it a point to visit the Global Wildlife Center. If you're a photographer and have been dreaming of an African Safari, I've got news for you. It can be had for thousands less than flying to Africa. And I'll bet you'll come home with just as good of pictures as your friends did who blew their 401K on their African Excursion, and you wont have to get all the documents or inoculations that go with traveling to Africa these days either...LOL
The Global Wildlife Center can be photographed in a weekend and you'll still have time to party on Bourbon Street to celebrate all your photos that will be hung on every wall of your house when you return. Or just check out our gallery and buy some of ours....Hint..Hint!
Sunday May 3rd 2009 - Whole Lotta Research Going On
My back is killing me right now. It's been raining all day here in Louisiana and I think I've been on the computer since I woke up this morning. At least they've been good thunderstorms to keep my senses up each time the lightening crashes around the camper.
Cindy is in Destin Florida with Teresa and a group of girls that head there every year for a Girls Weekend Get-Away. It was Teresa's birthday present to Cindy to bring her along for the next few days, so I've been alone all weekend.
Yesterday I spent the day down at the New Orleans Jazz Festival. WOW was it busy. From the very beginning, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was envisioned as an important event that would have great cultural significance and popular appeal. The Festival was the culmination of years of discussions and efforts by city leaders who wanted to create an event worthy of the city’s legacy as the birthplace of jazz.
Over the decades, performers have come from around the globe to play at the Jazz Fest which brings in fans from all over the world. Walking around in the Fair Grounds, I was amazed at how many different languages I overheard.
For awhile, I felt like I was in another country. The Lt. Governor was there to attend the World Cultural Economic Forum with Ambassadors from Brazil, Croatia, the Grenadines, the Republic of South Africa, Sweden, Mexico, Panama and France. So that should tell you something about how multi-cultural this event is.
I got to see Blues Singer 'Deacon John' and another group called 'The Whispers' perform from the Lt. Governors Hospitality Sweet where I had cold beverages, catered food and ice cream bars all right beside the stage. It doesn't get much better than that. I wanted to say Thanks to Kristian from Peter Mayer and the Lt. Governor's office for the hospitality.
The Main Event for the night was Bon Jovi, but he didn't even come on stage till 5pm, and I was all by myself. So you can, or I should say, I can only have soo much fun listening to music by myself in 90° heat. I made it through the Dr. John performance before I called it a day and headed over to Magazine Street. Spending 4.5 hours wandering amongst thousands of people in sweltering heat was enough for me.
I did hear some awesome music and got to look at some really cool art work. It's the one thing I hate about living in such a small space. You can accumulate nothing due to not having anywhere to put it.
Just to rub it in, I thought I'd pay a visit to Magazine Street. I figured I might as well test my will-power the best way I know how. Visit a section of downtown New Orleans that is lined with Funky shops like my new favorite place called the Sputnik Ranch. Thank God Cindy wasn't with me because they have a selection of Retro Cowboy boots I know she would go crazy over.
You know the way I am with Camera gear? Well that's the way Cindy is with Cowboy boots. If she had it her way, she would have a different pair for every day of the week. And if we had the money, I'd let her buy that many pairs of boots. There is something about a sexy pair of legs in Cowboy Boots that drives me wild.
After a few hours of wandering amongst the funky shops with their eclectic antiques, I headed back across the Causeway for Folsom.
I stopped at a Books-A-Million to look through some Magazines to help with my next project and spent a few hours reading through the latest issues on the news stands jotting down notes. Sort of reminds me of the months building up to the adventure we're on now. I think I spent a few weeks straight in book stores and in dealerships taking notes and jotting down different ideas to research.
I've kept this quiet for some time now as we've been in the very early stages of putting it all together. But I've come to the decision to start talking about it hoping I might get some feedback or help from the fabricators out there who might be able to make some suggestions.
Since last summer, Cindy and I have been trying to figure out how to travel the way we do while using half the amount of fuel. We're both ultra nerds when it comes to recycling and energy consumption and our fuel usage has always been an issue for us.
After too many hours of research over the past few months on Veggie Fuel systems, Hybrid Technology and any other way I could think of to allow us to keep going without burning so many fossil fuels, we finally came to the decision that if we were to use the motorcycle for the majority of our driving, we'd save a ton of money. Most bikes average in the low 40mpg range and some will go much higher than that.
Problem is Cindy hates riding on the back of our little Dual Sport Suzuki. I dont blame her one bit as the bike isn't designed for two people and isn't all that comfortable for long trips with just me on it. I mean its just a dirt bike with street tires. It fits the purpose we brought it along for perfectly, but that's about it.
Talking with friends and kicking around some ideas, we've come to the decision that if we were to have a bigger bike, one that would be comfortable to ride for long distances, we'd ride it alot more.
I'm also in the process of trying to talk Cindy into spending weeks at a time, making little side trips on the new bike. I figure if we can get it worked out, by next spring, we might be able to go on a 2-3 month trip on the bike alone.
This is the part that we're just in the early stages of planning for. There are a few friends of mine from back in Michigan who have been talking about this for awhile now, and we're planning on spending a few months of traveling fulltime by motorcycle in the spring of 2010. So we have a whole year to plan, but I wanted to start kicking around ideas on our blogs to get some feedback from readers.
The big dilemma and what is causing all the research is I want to get a motorcycle with a Sidecar on it. It's always been a dream of mine to have a sidecar or Hack, as owners like to call them. I've been following along with one guy who travels solo on his BMW with a custom Hack built for him and his Pitbull Spirit. His website is called The Oasis of My Soul if you want to check it out.
Before I talked with Ara I was looking at Dauntless Motors and their models. After talking with Ara a few times, he put me in touch with Claude who built his sidecar for him. Claude owns Freedom Sidecars in Pennsylvania and makes custom sidecars and trailers for a living.
I talked back and forth with Claude a bunch of times before the chit-chat ended because of the next roadblock I hit. How to carry the sidecar with us while traveling with the camper in tow.
That's a picture of Cindy and I testing the Urals on the track at their secret test facility.
This is where my complaints of all the research has been coming from. It doesn't make since to get rid of our camper that we have so built up with amenities and extras just to spend more money to get a bigger toyhauler. That sort of defeats the purpose of saving money.
Another option is to get rid of our Truck Bed and A.R.E. Cap and find a custom flat bed that would allow us to keep the motorcycle and sidecar up there. This is expensive considering the extra money we spent on the custom cap, and in all honesty, the bed of the truck is filled with equipment we use on a weekly basis.
Not to mention the cost of a custom flat bed. I've been drooling over the Highway Products Flat Beds that are custom made from light weight Aluminum with boxes and custom features specific to your own design.
Again, the cost of the new flatbed outweighs the savings we get from riding the motorcycle more, but man doesn't that aluminum bed look really cool!
Then I was driving down the road a few days ago and saw a goofy travel trailer pass by that made me smack my forehead. DUH!! Why hadn't I thought of this?
I think there are a few different manufacturers who are making models like this Starcraft Type, but it shouldn't cost that much to have a fabricator extend my frame rails enough to hold a motorcycle and a sidecar up front.
I wouldn't put a deck as big as the one in the picture, but just wide enough to hold the bike with a few inches to spare. I could have it designed to ride up one side and when we're ready to take off, you just ride right down the other side.
The easier it is to load and unload, the more likely we are to use it. Since Sunline went out of business before we even got on the road, it's not like we are going to be voiding any warranties with chopping the frame up. And like I really care about that. I mean all you have to do is look around out coach and see the motorcycle mount off the back, the mountain bike rack bolted to the frame up front and the racks welded to the A-Frame to hold the bank of 6-volt batteries and know we're not too worried about attaching things to our camper.
Trying to keep the Sunline in Showroom Condition isn't a big worry for us. Heck, we screwed through the rubber roof to mount the solar panels within days of taking delivery of the coach from the factory.
What my worry is, is losing how nice it tows right now. Sunline was a stickler when it came to the placement of their axles to make sure their models were some of the smoothest towing RV's on the market.
I'm worried if I add another 5' to the front of the A-Frame, it might make it tow goofy and I'll hate towing the thing around.
But then again, maybe that might make us ride the motorcycle even more...LOL
So, unless we can find a RV Manufacturer who will donate a Toyhauler for a good cause, it looks like you'll see the Our Trailer Section of our website become a little longer in the next few months.
One other option I've been kicking around, but again would mean getting an entirely new camper would be to get a nice slide-in type camper that fits on the bed of the truck, then pull a small trailer behind for the bike and the gear to ride in. Just kicking out ideas here left and right. Now all we need to do is find that Money Tree we've been looking for and we'd be all set.
I figure once we get up to Wyoming and are sitting still for a couple of months straight, I'll start doing some more research to find a qualified fabricator who can take the coach for a week and add length to the frame if we cant find any other options.
I'd also like to ask anyone who reads our site to keep their eyes peeled for a motorcycle and sidecar combo for sale. They're hard to come by used, and we're way too broke to afford a new model off the showroom floor. I'm only really interested in two bikes. Either a Ural, like in the picture there, or a BMW GS series as they're both time proven for long distance riding with sidecars on them, although I'm up for options as long as they come from a reputable company. I'm not really interested in re-inventing the wheel here.
Tuesday May 5th 2009 - We Broke Down and Turned on the A/C
This past weekend with out Cindy has been awful. I'm not one to whine too much, but I hate sleeping alone and not having her around to cook for me. Without her here, I dont eat all that much and I surely dont cook awesome food like she does.
Don did make some steaks one night for he and I to share, but other than that meal, everything else was just little snacks here and there.
The heat the past few days has been unbearable. I remember why I left South Florida for a cooler climate. It's not the heat that's bothering me so much but the Humidity it so thick you can cut it with a knife.
Humidity is one of those things you cant escape. Even if you go in the shade to try and cool off, there really is no comfort or relief.
Working in the Greenhouse the past few days has been awful and the temperature in the camper has reached 90° almost every day. We have one of those thermometers that tells you what the high is and what the low is for the day.
I woke up this morning and the low last night was 80°. No wonder I didn't sleep all that good. So when Cindy got home tonight, I was telling her about how hot it's been and we decided to plug in so we could run the A/C while we're sleeping.
One other thing I wanted to mention because of how funny I think it is.
Luca is miserable right now in a bad way. You have to remember that these dogs are as spoiled as they come. They normally sleep in bed with Cindy or if she kicks them out of the bed, then Luca is either on the couch with his head on a pillow or in the Reclining chair.
They go for walks daily, but usually on grass and then come back to the camper where they relax and sleep for the remainder of the day.
Well since we've been here at Teresa's and Don's, they've been Outside Dogs. They have the Invisible Fence here and both our dogs are trained on this great invention.
We had it at both of our homes in Michigan and I think it's one of the best ways to let your dogs have access to the yard without worrying about them getting out.
So Luca and Lucy have been sleeping outside at night and spending the entire day roaming around the acreage here. Luca went from having very long nails that were impossible to trim to having short, well cropped nails like they should be.
Lucy stinks up to high heaven because she's a beagle and will roll in anything smelly she can find. This is one of the reasons they stay outside at all times. They both stink really bad and every time Cindy bathes them, which when we first got here was a couple of times per week till we realized as soon as they go back outside, Lucy finds something to roll in again.
So we just said "Screw It" and have let them stay stinky and happy and leave them outside at all times.
Luca is anything but happy right now. The pads of his feet aren't used to running around on Hot Concrete all day long and are tore up something awful. Then I noticed him licking his foot non-stop and went to see if he had a burr stuck in it.
What I found is a big bare spot that is raw and worn down right to the skin. It looks like road rash and is the size of a quarter but it's on the top of his foot. It must be from wrestling with the other dogs and always running as fast as he can across the driveway and sliding to a stop.
While I was checking out his feet, I noticed that, (this is going to be hard to talk about) his Cajones were all skinned up from sitting on the hot, rough concrete all day long. If I thought his feet looked like a bad case of road rash, well these fella's look like they'd been dragged behind him for a few miles.
We had spread pea gravel in the floor of the Greenhouse and Luca likes to lay in there while Jonathan and I are working. At one point, he was laying down in the cool gravel and when he got up, the little pebbles were all stuck to his family jewels. Jonathan and I got a good laugh out of his misfortune.
I feel pretty bad for him, but this will have to wait for Cindy since they're her dogs and I'm not about to go rubbing any ointment on his private parts. He's all beat up and got road rash all over his body from getting too wild on the concrete and this show quality pitbull is starting to look like an old junk yard dog.
Wednesday May 6th 2009
After a long hot day of working, Cindy and I took the truck into Mandeville to meet Donielle and Allan for a night out on the town.
We'll be leaving within the next few days, so we want to try and see them as much as possible. It was nice to drive the truck again as we've been driving the Mini Cooper for the past month.
It's amazing how big it feels after being in that little car for so long. I love our truck and it was good to be back behind the wheel.
Growing up, we always had a pool table in our house and it was one of our favorite things to do for fun. We didn't have a TV that was hooked up to anything other than a VCR, so during the winter when there wasn't too much to do at night, Donielle, Cindy and I would play games of pool for hours at a time.
Donielle and Cindy are both some of the best pool players I know (for girls) and Donielle really wanted to shoot some pool with us. I guess Allan is quite the Shark when it comes to running the table from what Donielle tells us.
Most of the night was spent with Cindy and I getting our tails handed to us by the two kids who made sure to rub it in that they were winning.
After a few games of pool, we switched to Darts. Allan said he had never played darts before, but it didn't take long before he was saying it was his new favorite game.
Probably because again, they were winning. After a few games of darts and Cindy ordering some pizza to be delivered to the bar from Dominoes, we all filled our bellies with good food and said goodnight.
I have to be up early to finish the Greenhouse, so tonight wasn't one of those all niters or anything crazy like that.
Thursday May 7th 2009 OMG!! Is it Hot Here!
The past few days have been brutally hot around here. Jonathan and I have been busting our butts to get this Greenhouse finished so Cindy and I can get back on the road. Today was the final push and I think we have it 90% finished.
As we got more Polycarbonate screwed to the frame, the hotter and hotter it became to work in there. On Tuesday, when most of the roof panels were up, the Greenhouse effect started taking place and just to be under the covered roof, you were probably in a 10° difference in temperature.
10° might not sound like much, but with the temperature right around the mid 80's and the humidity level around 65%, that 10° is pretty bad.
Then today, once we put up the full side panels, it got unbelievably hot in there. At one point, I looked at Jonathan and said "It's almost like I'm standing in the shower the water is dripping off my face so fast."
Both of our shirts were soaking wet and Cindy couldn't bring out the drinks fast enough. I had a bottle of water, a pitcher of iced tea and a juice drink concoction that Cindy always makes for me all going at the same time. Notice the amount of cups and different containers on the work bench in that picture.
I think I drank about 9 bottles of water and a full pitcher of iced tea and never pee'd one time today. I grabbed our little digital thermometer out of the camper and put it in the greenhouse today just to see what kind of temperatures we were working in.
From 11am till about 2pm, the temps hovered between 110° and 119°!!! Jonathan saw me taking a picture of the gauge and asked "Are you taking evidence so when we pass out, we'll have proof of why we have heat stroke?"
Once we finished for the day and put away all the tool, I crawled up on the camper roof, to start getting things ready for travel.
We got a new MaxxAirII vent cover to try out and see if it helps with the air flow in the roof vents. I know it sure does look alot nicer than the standard models. Another thing I noticed about the newer one is it's half the weight of the older model, yet it's larger in size? Maybe it's lighter because of all the vents in the back side?
One cool thing about these new vents is they come with the hinges in the package. It took me about an hour total to take off my old hinges and install the new ones. Probably wouldn't have taken that long if I wouldn't have had to drill new holes for the screws to go through, but I didn't like how the old ones fit, so I went and got the drill and moved these up a few millimeters so they'd fit better.
This is a real easy job and anyone with a few basic tools could get it accomplished in under a six pack. Try and wait till you come down off the roof before you start drinking through.
I always think about people that dont get the full walk on roofs on top of their RV's. That must make doing any repairs or maintenance so hard. I know it costs a little more upfront, but I'm up on the roof all the time it seems. Plus we have the storage bin up there so I'm always putting things in and out of it.
Once I got the new vent cover installed, I moved onto my next project. Replacing the fan motor in my MaxxAir Turbo Fan. I contacted the company a few days ago to ask some questions about the noise our fan was making.
We have this Turbo Fan above our bed and use it as our A/C while sleeping. It's nice and quiet and moves a ton of air. But in the past few weeks, the motor started squeaking.
When I spoke with their customer service, they asked if I could give them the Serial Number off the fan and after crawling up on the roof and writing it down, they let me know it was still under warranty and they'd ship me out a new motor right away.
We had it within a few days and this is why we also got the new vent cover at the same time.
I'll have to post a full review of how hard it was to remove the motor and replace it when I'm 100% finished, but it got too dark for me to be working on the roof and the mosquitoes were starting to drain me of my already dehydrated blood supply. I'll finish it in the morning before it gets too hot.
Friday May 8th 2009 - The Greenhouse is Finished!!
What was supposed to be a one week job turned into multiple weeks and a much bigger job than we had planned on. But in the long run, I've learned a ton of useful knowledge that I plan to put to good use at a future date. So all in all, the experience of rebuilding a 20'x40' Greenhouse was a good thing.
Next time I'll build it during the winter months so I'm not sitting in Triple digit heat trying my hardest to keep fluids in my overheating body.
Jonathan leaves early on Fridays and I dont think he was out of the drive way before Cindy had ripped off her clothes and jumped in the pool to cool off. It didn't take but a few seconds before I was in there with her and the cool saltwater was as refreshing as one could hope for on a hot spring day.
Funny thing happened while in the pool. I had yet to test the underwater capabilities of our new Olympus 1050SW Camera. It claims to be waterproof to depths of 10'. Don's pool is only 6' deep at the deepest section and it only took about 10 minutes before the camera stopped working.
Weird part was just the LCD screen went out. The rest of it still works fine but I still cant post any of the pictures we took. If you're savvy enough on the internet, you'll be able to find them though. Later in the evening when the camera dried up, everything came back on and it's now working fine, but I'm still sending it back to Olympus to get it fixed so it doesn't happen again.
I had planned on spending the afternoon replacing the fan motor I had put off last night due to it getting dark, but once we were finished with dinner, I laid down on the couch to let my food settle and was out like a light.
Cindy woke me up later telling me it was time to go out to the camper to go to bed and I probably looked like a drunk on a two day binge stumbling from the house to my own bed in our little camper. Funny part is I cant remember the last time I got drunk or even had a buzz. I'm thinking it's more from spending the day out in 100° heat that zaps the energy out of me.
Oh well, we have a few more days till we shove off for Arkansas. I can finish my work tomorrow. Hopefully everyone got a chance to see the full moon tonight. It was spectacular!! I snapped this last night with the 400mm and Cindy's Canon 30D.
Saturday May 9th 2009 - Brushing the Cobwebs off the Rig and Getting it packed up for the Open Road
With my end of the Greenhouse finished (Jonathan still has to finish with some electrical pieces), I had the day to catch up on computer work and getting things in order to shove off on Monday.
Spending the week working 10 hour days means I'm way behind with computer work and answering emails or arranging for photographers and writers to get access to show back in Michigan for The Lowdown.
We figure we're going to spend Mothers Day here in Folsom and leave some time on Monday once we get everything packed up.
During the hottest part of the day, I spent my time in the camper with the A/C running to keep it a cool 78° inside compared to the sweltering heat that was baking the outside of the coach. During that time I was able to upload a new gallery for last month. Sort of went through and put together alot of pictures that didn't fit in any of the other galleries we had posted. If you've got some free time, check out the April 2009 Gallery.
Once the sun started to set, I hurried to get my work done before it got too late and I'd lose my light again.
When I stopped taking apart the MaxxAir Turbofan on Thursday night, I was at the section where I was supposed to pull the fan off the spindle of the old motor. This should be an easy task, but nothing I do ever ends up being easy, so of course this took way more work than it should have.
I was pulling as hard as I could without breaking off the plastic fan from the corroded spindle. I'm thinking if you didn't use the fan 300 days of the year, the thing might have come apart as it was supposed to. But you have to remember if there was ever anyone who should be testing the longevity of RV parts, it should be Cindy and I.
Most companies we contact when we have a problem with a random part act like there is no way the part could be broken within the time frame we've owned the coach.
When I tell them about living in it full time and moving non-stop, most comment "Oh, parts aren't supposed to take that kind of abuse in that short amount of time."
I had sent an email to MaxxAir asking if they had any tricks for me to get this fan off the spindle. They replied back that it should slide right off with a fair amount of pressure applied, but if for some reason the piece has become stuck and I break it, they'll send out a whole new fan assembly.
I can say that if they hadn't told me that part, I would have never put the amount of pressure I did on this plastic fan. Just when I thought it was going to snap in half, the fan came flying off the spindle sending me cart wheeling onto the ground behind me.
Luckily I had taken it apart and came down off the roof of the camper to see if I could get some better leverage without worrying about landing on a solar panel or falling through a roof vent.
Once the fan came off, it only took me about 10 minutes to swap out the old motor with the new one and get it all put back together. Thanks MaxxAir for warranting that motor and hopefully I wont burn this one out. (It wasn't burned out but it was squeaking loudly which was keeping us from running it while we sleep, which is something we keep on every single night. It was till under warranty too, so I was lucky to get it fixed before the warranty ran out.)
On to my next chore. Getting the back of the truck all packed up and ready to move. We've been sitting still for a little over a month, so throughout this time I've taken quite a bit of stuff out of the back of our moveable garage.
Between working on the Greenhouse and using many of my own tools I keep in the truck, it took about an hour just to get everything back in the organized places I have set aside for them. Cindy calls me Obsessive Compulsive with the way I pack things, but I know where everything is and can find it within a few seconds if we need it while traveling.
I'm almost embarrassed to mention this, but Cindy and I are such Recycle Freaks that you'd laugh if you were to see the back of our truck right now. Folsom doesn't have curb side recycling or even a recycling center to bring your plastics, aluminums or cardboard to, which is just amazing and appalling to me. So since we've been here, any cans, water bottles or paper goods we've used have all gone into bags in the back of our truck.
I'll just carry them with us till we find a recycling center and load them up at that time. I just cant bring myself to throw away plastic bottles and aluminum cans at this stage of my life. It goes against so much of what I believe in.
Once that all was organized, I wanted to get the motorcycle loaded up and put on some new supports I've made out of scrap metal I recycled from the old Greenhouse. I'll post more on this once I get it all set up and get some pictures taken of my shade tree fabrication.
I say I wanted to do this, but I wasn't able to. Cindy had ran to the Grocery store to stock up the fridge so once we shove off, we'll be back to fully stocked and ready to go like the wind.
The way the camper is parked right now, I cant load the motorcycle by myself because of how short I am. Or maybe because of how tall the camper is sitting, either way, I needed Cindy's help and she wasn't here. Of course I tried to load it a few times by myself but this only resulted in me dropping the bike and cussing up a storm. Luckily I was here by myself, so I only made a good show for the group of dogs that were watching me eagerly and I'm sure laughing the way dogs do at this stupid, short bald guy.
Of course the entire time I was thinking how nice it would be to have a toyhauler with a drop down ramp that I could just roll the bike up and strap it down.
Since I posted my question about lengthening the frame in order to carry the new motorcycle we're planning to get, I've gotten some great responses from readers.
Our good friend Jeff Bettenga from San Diego sent me a link to something I have seen before but never talked to anyone first hand about how well it tows and works. Jeff's suggestion was to get a product called the Cruiser Lift that is a little trailer that holds the bike, yet tracks perfectly behind the camper.
So far that is the best option I think anyone has come up with beside the dozens of emails from people just saying flat out "Dont do This!"
Almost everyone is saying that we're just setting ourselves up for a headache and the cost to make it work the right way would outweigh the cost of just getting a used toyhauler which would solve all our problems.
Here are a few other comments given to our question about whether it would be worth the cost to lengthen the frame on our existing camper.
from New York Wrote: I would say it will probably tow amazing
with the weight of the "toys" so far ahead of the axles like that.
Tongue weight probably high for a TT that size, but high tongue weight
is good for towing. On the other hand, I wouldn't want to tow that TT
with NO weight on that forward deck. Tongue weight TOO light, with all
of the weight too far back.
Washington Wrote: Even empty, I'd guess that the longer tongue
would have considerably less leverage on the tow vehicle than a standard
Diesel Smoker Wrote: I suppose you driving the truck towing the Sunline, and the wife following on the DualSport Motorcycle is out of the question....? Just a thought!
from Washington Wrote: I can think of a few concerns . . .
from Pennsylvania Wrote: While it is a neat idea I don’t think
your Sunline frame will take the added stress… but I think we had this
same discussion when you decided to carry the dual sport… I don’t
believe mileage had much to do with the crack in your frame… I believe
they were caused by overloading the frame and maybe they type of use in
those 50k miles…
Wrote saying: Having built 2 camping trailers from the ground up
and many car/utility trailers I think I am qualified to chime in on
this. I think it can be done. Maybe not for $1000. My advice on how to
do it is to build a new frame from the tongue back to the axle and weld
the existing TT to the new frame. You may or may not need heaver
or additional axle(s). Simply adding 5' to the front is going to add
ALOT of weight, add another 1000lbs of motorcycle and you are going to
end up having a MAJOR stress point where the old meets the new.
and Finally our good friend Steve Bingham who we spent a week with in Monument Valley wrote to us saying what I think was the icing on the cake on the decision to NOT make this alteration to the frame with:
My guess (and I said guess) is that this would be highly problematic.
Added leverage plus added weight could cause problems in many areas.
Hitch weight, stress on welded joints, stress on suspension, maybe tire
stress, and for sure, complete mental stress! My Suggestions
So I think the decision has been made to keep our eyes peeled for a used toyhauler that will fit the bill for our type of traveling. Small in size, high in ground clearance, has to have a fulltime bedroom that we dont have to set up or take down when we move; a separated garage so when in the camper we aren't smelling or seeing the motorcycle and be built sturdy enough to handle the amount of miles we log year round.
Hopefully something will fall in our laps this summer and by the time we leave Yellowstone, we'll be in a new-to-us toyhauler with a cool sidecar in the garage and all our stars will be aligned. If not, well then I guess we go about our journey the same way we've been going about it for the last 3 years. Slow and Easy, like Whitesnake said back in the 80's.
Sunday May 10th Happy Mothers Day to all you Mothers!
I'm so excited for tomorrow. We get to shove off and get back on the road. I spent the entire day today getting things packed up and back where they belong. It is so flippin' hot here I think I've lost a few pound due to sweating alone.
I worked for a few hours on the motorcycle holder on the back of the coach, but in the end was just frustrated and eaten up by mosquitoes and it's now the same way it's been for the last 3 years. I guess if it aint broke, dont try and fix it. I just get frustrated when I have an idea, but cant seem to make it work without opening up a whole new can of worms.
Sometimes I wish I had money so when I want something done, I can just go pay someone to do it the right way rather than always trying to rig it up some hillbilly way like I usually do.
By late afternoon, I was exhausted and ready for bed. Then I went in the house to see what everyone else was doing and found the whole family in front of the Plasma Screen watching the season finale of The Apprentice.
I know that is sort of cheating to not have seen a single episode before and sit down to watch the finale, but I found it very comical. This is coming from someone who watches a few hours of television all year.
It was nice to just sit in the cool A/C surrounded by close family and relax. I knew we wouldn't have this for awhile, so I enjoyed every second of it. Sounds Cheesy, but little things like that are what makes you miss the comforts of home while traveling year-round.
Monday May 11th 2009 - On The Road Again (Sing it like Willie Would)
We were both up bright and early taking care of last minute packing rituals before we went into the house to take one last REAL shower. Most people dont realize how much a shower with unlimited water, and hot water can be missed. I know for the next few weeks, till we get to Yellowstone where we'll be in a Full Service Campground, showers will be back to the military type with a full shower maybe taking up one gallon of luke warm water.
I hooked up the truck to the camper, which took a little longer than usual, but I'm way out of practice by this point and made a couple of loops around the rig to make sure I wasn't going to lose any stabilizer jacks. I'm sure you remember the incident from Jeff's driveway back in San Diego, I know I sure do.
Then Cindy and I swapped places and she made a loop outside while I went to check her packing skills on the inside of the camper. We both agreed that it will probably take a few days till we're back in fulltime travel mode and packing up might take all of 5 minutes.
We said out Goodbyes to Jonathan and Don and loaded up the Dogs. They knew we were getting ready to hit the road and Lucy wouldn't move from her door outside of the truck.
Teresa wanted to take us out to lunch one last time before we left, so we met at a restaurant a few minutes down the road and filled our bellies before we said our last goodbyes.
Thanks Teresa and Don for the amazing hospitality and the use of your driveway, washing machine and pool for the last month. I know my physique thanks you for all the swimming I've been doing and God knows I needed the exercise.
Just to start off the journey the right way, we pulled out of the restaurant and got lost for the next half hour. Of course we were trying to avoid I-12 at all costs, but finally had to jump onto it because the maze of backroads just kept running us in circles.
Once we finally found the little road we wanted to be on, we both sat back in our big comfy chairs and sighed a big sigh of relief knowing the next chapter of the adventure is underway.
If I've ever mentioned how bad the roads are in Michigan (some of the worst) I honestly think Louisiana has them beat. Where Michigan has 2' deep potholes and stutter bumps like a Mexican dirt road, Louisiana backroads and even their main Highways have major bumps that make you bounce right out of your seat.
We exited off of I-12 West to I-55 North thinking the next HWY might be a little smoother, but it was even worse.
Lucy was getting car sick and we thought she was going to throw up she was bouncing around so bad till Cindy finally said "Ok, new plan, I'm getting us off this road and onto a new route or we're pulling over."
I can only imagine what the inside of the camper looks like!?!
She found us this little back road, LA-10 West, that wound through the little towns we love to see with rolling hills and green pastures on each side of us. Our destination was St. Francisville where we would cross the Mississippi and start our journey into the Western side of the United States.
Cindy told me LA-10 would bring us right across a bridge that would cross the mighty Mississippi River, but I kept seeing signs for the St. Francisville Ferry.
Luckily for us, when we pulled up to the ferry crossing dock, I got out and asked someone in line what the regulations and fee's were to cross the river. They told me as long as we were under 51' in length, the cost was $1 and the ferry makes trips every half hour.
We had no idea how long we were, but I'm thinking this is probably something I should know for situations like this.
When the Ferry pulled up and unloaded their Eastern bound passengers, one of the attendants came walking over and said I'd have to wait so they could get a tape measure and see how long we were.
While another attendant was retrieving the tape measure, I asked "If we're too long, where is the closest bridge to cross the river?"
He looked at me with a strange facial expression and I'm guessing he was thinking to himself "You came all this way and dont know how long you are or where the next place to cross is?" when he laughed saying "You'll have to turn around and head all the way back down to Baton Rouge!"
I was thinking to myself "Yep, its official! The adventure has started again!"
As the attendant came up with the tape, he handed the rolled end to the guy I was talking to who was leaning against our front bumper as the other guy walked to the back of the truck.
I was getting a bit worried when I saw him go past the 51' mark as he told the guy to stand still at the back of the coach. He pulled tight and I shit-you-not, the 51' mark was right at the tip of the front bumper, give or take a few inches.
We both looked at one another and sort of chuckled and he said "That'll be $1"
That my friends was the best $1 I have ever spent and saved us from having to burn a tank of diesel fuel to go around. If it wasn't so close to nightfall, I would have liked to spend some time in St. Francisville because the little, historic town is beautiful looking. But given that we're about a half hour from dark, we decided to head on out and put some miles behind us.
Crossing the river, I couldn't believe the size of the debris floating down the ol' Muddy Mississippi. We're not talking branches, no, were talking entire trees and giant ones at that.
We exited on the New Roads side of the river and made our way Northwest. The little town of New Roads looks like something out of a Southern history book with bright white Baptist churches overflowing with parishioners on a Monday night and Brothers sitting on the front porches in their easy-chairs with kids playing in the yards.
As we passed through town, the winds picked up and rain drops started to fall on the windshield. We had planned on making it to Marksville where there was a Wal-Mart with our name on it, but when the camper started blowing across the road, Cindy suggested we pull over and wait out the storm.
We found a truck stop with a big open parking lot and pulled in just as the sky gave us one of the most beautiful displays of colors Mother Nature has to offer.
From bright oranges to deep yellows rimmed with dark blues. A rainbow was shooting up from the horizon at one side and lightening was spider-webbing across the dark clouds approaching from the other side. Even if we had someplace to be, I would have pulled over just to sit and take in this awesome display of colors.
The two of us got out with cameras in hand and sat snapping pictures as the sun fell below the horizon and heavy winds brought in some huge raindrops which made us scoot into the camper for protection.
I love change. I get very bored with the same thing day in and day out, and today was all about change. A change in location, a change in scenery and a change in the weather. The hot, sticky, humid weather got pushed out by the heavy winds that brought in some cool breezes and strong rains.
First day out on the road in awhile and we're sitting in a truck stop with Mother Nature doing her best to give us a warm welcome. I'm not sure if a tornado passed by, but at one point I thought the camper almost lifted off the ground from the strength of the winds.
Yep, the adventure has begun again and I couldn't be more happy.
Tuesday May 12th 2009 Crossing Louisiana Via HWY 71
Crossing the state of Louisiana made me realize something. This state hasn't developed much in the past few hundred years. We never passed areas where there would be major construction, big subdivisions or upscale areas you're used to seeing while traveling in any other state.
New Orleans and the surrounding suburbs has some of that stuff, but the Northern section of the state is like driving back through time.
We'd pass towns that we'd be taking bets on whether the place was a ghost town or just abandoned when you'd see someone walk out from a structure. I use the word structure loosely because many of these places looked like they could fall to the ground at any second, yet people would be living in them like they didn't even notice. I kept saying to Cindy that I'd love to stop and go inside one of them to see if the walls on the inside were as curvy as the walls on the outside were.
HWY 71 is a little two-lane road that follows the larger Interstate 41, but who wants to drive on the Interstate? At various times we'd be able to see it and it always looked the same. Same 5 gas stations at each exit, same set of fast food joints and the same thing over and over.
By being a few miles away from all that hustle and bustle, we got to pass through towns like Cloutierville where vines have taken ahold of much of the towns buildings and are making them disappear into Mother Natures grips.
Towns like Grand Bayou where the entire length of our camper combined with our truck stretched from one end of main street to the other. We got to see the little rows of houses with locals sitting out on the covered front porches trying to escape the afternoon heat while they pointed and stared at this big goofy contraption that rolled through their town that looks like tourism is a word they've never used in their vocabulary.
When we finally stopped for the night, we were right on the border of Texas and Arkansas in none other than Texarkana. One side of the main street is Texas while the other side is Arkansas. One side must be dry while the other side has the ability to sell alcohol.
I say this because one side of the road is nothing but Liquor stores named things like State Line Liquor or Liquor on the Line. We remembered that the last we were in Arkansas, we ran into trouble trying to find anywhere we could buy alcohol. Not sure if you remember our stay in the Jasper area while we were Kayaking the Buffalo River, but we had gone for a few weeks of hiking, paddling and exploring and could never come back to the camper and enjoy an after dinner drink because there was no where to buy alcohol.
Not that we're that big of drinkers, but when you cant have something, you tend to want it all that much more. So Cindy went into a liquor store and grabbed a few bottles of Tequila and a bottle of Makers Mark just to be on the safe side. You never know when one might break down and need a good antiseptic to wash out a wound.
Our resting place for the night was a nice quiet Wal-Mart parking lot right on the border, and after such a long day of driving, I was ready for bed early tonight.
Luckily for us, the temperatures have dropped some since we've left the deep South and tonight I think I might actually be able to use a blanket to sleep. Hopefully tomorrow we'll find something to get us out of the truck for some exercise with good photos to compliment the day.
Wednesday May 13th 2009 - Getting Scared to Death in Arkansas
Before we pulled out of the Wal-Mart parking lot this morning, I ran in and bought us a new Hard Drive. Can you believe the cost of memory these days?
I remember buying 250 gig hard drives for a couple of hundred dollars a few years ago. 1gig thumb drives for $50 bucks and today I bought a 1 terabyte hard drive for $119 from Wal-Mart no less!!! Imagine That!!
Once we were on our way, we spent the morning rolling up HWY 71North through Arkansas, playing peek-a-boo with Texas and Oklahoma for much of the day.
Just after lunch time and a few very cool small towns we stopped in to snap some pictures, Cindy said "I'm sick of sitting in this truck, lets find a place to stop!"
We had both been noticing power lines that were down and roofs that looked like they had been tore off but werent sure if this section of Arkansas was similar to Northern Louisiana, or a storm had blown through and caused the damage.
Then we pulled through the little town of Mena, and right away knew something bad had happened. The amount of construction and debris lying around the town looked like a tornado had blown through here recently.
Whole city blocks were leveled with huge trees lying on the ground and big pieces of debris high up in branches of those trees that were still standing. Once we found out what had caused all the damage, we realized it was a whole lot worse than we had suspected.
I guess a month ago when major storms blew across Tornado Alley, a monster ripped right through Mena. 3 people lost their lives and over 100 homes were destroyed. The town is just starting to rebuild and looks like it will be a few years before it's back 100% with the amount of damage we saw.
We were headed for Queen Wilhelmina State Park which sits right above the town of Mena.
Mena is tucked at the foot of Rich Mountain and offers an abundance of untouched scenic beauty. Rich Mountain is part of the Ouachita Mountain range, the highest range between the Appalachian Mountains and the Rockies and offers the splendor of the 54 mile Talimena Scenic Drive, which is a national scenic byway which reminds me of the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Smokies. The Queen Wilhelmina State Park is at the peak of Rich Mountain and is a historic resort that has quite the history.
Named after a Dutch monarch, this renowned hostelry is a lodging tradition of royal hospitality since 1898. Today's lodge is the third inn to grace this same spectacular setting atop Rich Mountain.
Queen Wilhelmina Lodge, Arkansas's "Castle in the Clouds," offers breathtaking scenery of the surrounding Ouachita Mountains, peace and quiet, delicious food and delightful park trails to explore. Open year-round, the lodge offers 38 guest rooms including two "Queen's Rooms" with woodburning fireplaces, and two "Regent's Rooms" with spa baths - This little tid-bit was taken from their Website as I'm not that eloquent with my words.
Personally, I cant seem coming to stay in the lodge unless you're passing through on a scenic drive like we are and using it just as a stopping point for the night.
Once you turn onto HWY 88 and see the sign that says 'Steep Grade Next 13 Miles', you know you're headed up Rich Mountain. We're talking a 10% grade for 10 miles straight uphill. I know the Powerstroke motor was thinking "What are you doing to me?"
We pulled over at a few of the scenic overlooks, but the humidity is so high, the haze was blocking much of our long distance views. Not that the views offered werent spectacular, but I remember being in the Ozarks last time we were in Arkansas, and after a good rain being able to see for what seemed like hundreds of miles.
We pulled up to the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge and couldn't believe how strong the winds were up at this elevation. The temperature also seemed like it had dropped 10° in that short climb up the mountain.
We figured we'd stick around for the night and see if we could find a hike or two that would offer some exercise for the legs. The views were spectacular and the breeze was so strong, it sounded like a train off in the distance.
We grabbed a tent camping site for $13 which offered a nice level asphalt pad to park on, a picnic table and a fire ring. They offer campsites with water and electric, but we dont need to get all those amenities, so we just went with the basics and saved a few bucks.
The breeze was blowing so strong, I opened up all the windows to air out the stuffy, stale air that was locked in the camper from the lower elevations and got out the lawn chairs to sit out and enjoy the sounds of the wind through the trees.
It only took a few minutes for us both to say "Ok, these bugs are awful!" which was very surprising because usually the strong winds keep the bugs at bay. But these little knats were ferocious and wouldn't let up. I think they thought the OFF Spray I had lathered up with was some sort of aphrodisiac and they were getting all riled up.
There must be some sort of chemical my body gives off, because insects love me. Especially if they are the annoying type that bites or buzzes in your face and ears.
We moved inside and sat enjoying the sounds of nature while the sun set over the Ozark mountain range surrounding us. Ok, it's going to get really funny from here on out!!
Remember when I said I had bought the 1TB hard drive at Wal-Mart this morning? Well it's because our normal 500 gig hard drive we normally store all our photos on is down to its last few gigs of free space.
I hooked the two of them up to Cindy's computer so I could copy everything from the smaller one to the larger one and sat keeping myself busy on the other laptop. Cindy was making dinner while the dogs were sitting on the couch snoring away as usual. You know, one big happy family!
Copying that much data isn't a quick task, so I was quietly working on my laptop while the information was transferring from one drive to the next and couldn't help but think how perfect my office was today.
Cindy made me slide the computers to the side while we ate dinner, and as we were finished, I got back to work. It was while sitting here at my desk/kitchen table when I noticed Lucy, the little Beagle, lift her head off the couch with her ears perked up like she does when she see's something she's going to go after.
I looked away from the computer, watching her wondering what she was so interested in. Cindy was lying across the couch on the other side of the table with Luca snuggled up beside her like he always is, and Lucy was at her feet right across from the screen door. Cindy had her nose in a book she's been reading and never even noticed Lucy lift her head.
I watched Lucy for a few seconds then turned my head to look out the door to see if I could see what she was so interested in.
It was when I turned to look out the screen door that I put the tip of my nose right against the giant nose of a black bear that had his big round nostrils pressed against our screen door.
It only took about 3 seconds for my brain to tell me that this wasn't a huge dog and I let out a scream that shocked myself it was so high pitched. I had no idea my voice could go that high and I dont think I could re-create it even if I tried.
As soon as I screamed like a two year old girl getting her hair pulled, it made Lucy realize that this big creature looking into the camper wasn't supposed to be there and she went ballistic.
In the next few seconds, all hell broke loose while Luca and Lucy tried their hardest to bust through the screen door going after the black bear that was now racing across the campground, hightailing it back into the woods. I was half laughing, half shaking in my boots thinking I had just pressed my nose against the wet nose of a wild bear.
By this time, the bear was long gone and my brain was starting to work again and I reached for my camera that had been sitting beside me the entire time. It was way too late and at this point I think my hands were shaking so bad I wouldn't have been able to get a clear picture if the bear would have sat and posed for me.
I looked at Cindy who was laughing so hard she had tears rolling down her face and we both just sat and laughed for a few minutes straight. She just kept mumbling between her laughs "I've never heard you scream that loud!" When we finally came to our senses, she called the Park Ranger from the number on the receipt we had gotten and a few trucks pulled up within seconds of her phone call.
I sat talking with the ranger who said we were the second report of the night with a sighting in this area and yesterday some road workers had reported spooking a black bear from the woods while they were mowing the ditches.
All this time we've spent in Arkansas on our adventures and I always thought the stories I'd hear about Black Bears were just old wives tales. Well I'm here to tell you that those stories are true and I've got bear breath on my face to prove it!
It did cost me a few vocal cords that I'm sure will never repair themselves and a pair of underwear that I'll probably never get the skid marks out of, but I'm sure the story will be passed down a few generations and that's what it's all about.
Thursday May 14th 2009 - Going from one mountain to the other
After last nights scare with the Black Bear, we had an even better night with some crazy storms blowing across Rich Mountain. We'd be lying there in bed when Cindy would nudge me and say "What is that?"
It would seriously sound like a train coming up the mountain when all of a sudden a gust of wind would hit the camper like a shock wave. It rained with lightening and thunder for the entire night and the winds did there best to try and blow the camper over.
That silly bear could have been dancing out on our door step and we wouldn't have heard him because of all the wind and racket pelting the top of the roof. Not that it kept me from sleeping like a log. With the cool temperatures the storm brought in, it made for some awesome sleeping weather.
Cindy was up bright and early and went out by herself for a long walk to take some pictures in the morning fog. She came back with some stunning Wall-Hangers which started the day off great. I love when she gets as excited as I do with our photography. She's actually an amazing photographer, but doesn't have the O.C.D. problem like I do with it.....YET.
We packed everything up, which took all of about 10 minutes now that we're moving non-stop again and have our rhythm back and headed down to the dump station. I figure if we have to pay for a campground and they have the facilities to empty our holding tanks and refill our fresh water, we might as well take advantage of them. The whole process might only take a few minutes, so it's stupid not to.
With our adventure and our gypsy lifestyle, you never know if we're going to be in a campground or a parking lot or out in the boonies, so I always try and keep the fresh tank full and the black/gray tanks empty.
It was hard to leave, because the gossip of last nights bear visit had spread through the campground. Everyone wanted to stop and talk with us and laugh at my little girly scream...LOL Cindy was getting a big kick out of re-telling it over and over. I'm sure I'll here this story told a few hundred times in the next few weeks and each time it will get better and better. From talking with the fellow campers, I guess the ranger had 4 separate calls last night on bear sightings.
Last nights rain did one good thing which was knock that haze out of the air from the humidity that was following us the last few days. The views across the Talimena Scenic Drive were 100 times better than they were yesterday on our slow climb up the mountain. You could now see for miles upon miles across the mountain range.
Coming down was much easier and alot faster. Thank goodness for the engine brake to help keep us from riding the truck brakes the entire drive down.
Once back in Mena, we drove around a few of the side streets in awe of the clean up they have in front of them. It was weird how the tornado came right down main street and tore out some very stout looking buildings. Not just light weight trailers, but brick and stone buildings and the local hotel even had the brick built staircase collapse on them. Isn't that where they always tell you to go hide under?
After our tornado tour, we said some prayers for a speedy recovery for the town of Mena and headed north up HWY 71 towards Mount Magazine, the tallest mountain in Arkansas. We figured we'd come from the second tallest to the tallest and see which one had better views.
I had to stop at the post office and mail a CD full of pictures to a client and while I was tightening the straps on the motorcycle, a local pulled up asking me about our truck and what type of fuel mileage we got pulling our camper.
I guess he had just bought a new travel trailer and was looking for a new tow vehicle to pull it out to Colorado where he bought some property. Isn't it funny how guys will approach each other and strike up conversations out of no where when it involves trucks, motorcycles or just about anything with a motor in it. Male bonding at its best!
Cindy was laughing saying "How come no girls ever approach me and ask me questions?" I replied because "Girls are silly, and they would only comment on the fact that your shoes dont match your top or something dumb like that!"
Once you turn onto HWY 10 and start the climb up to Mt. Magazine State Park, you had better have a full tank of fuel and a strong transmission! This was a serious climb.
Right when you make the turn to start really climbing, you're passing through a very little town called Havana. Little is the KEYWORD hers. I pulled over to snap a picture of this old General Store that was sitting right on the side of the road with dozens of very cool antique advertising signs still hung on its walls.
A local woman from across the street came over to talk with me and sat telling me the buildings history and a few stories to go along with my photos.
She pointed out a sign on the inside of the store that had a bullet hole in it. She explained that her and her husband were in a fight when he took a shot with his gun and it came across the road and into that sign. She said she keeps bugging the family that owns the old building to give it to her, but she's yet to take rightful ownership yet.
The shelves were still filled with cans of food and it looks like you could unlock the door, dust everything off and have a turn key business. It was strange to see such a cool little store left in such good condition and the local woman's stories made it all that much more interesting. Most places like this have been raped of anything worthwhile by vandals. I guess we're too far out in the country to have thieves come looking for antiques.
Once we reached the top of Magazine Mountain, it was all I could do to keep my jaw closed from the breathtaking views in every direction.
Queen Wilhelmina State Park offered some beautiful views, but Magazine Mountain State Park is hands down the winner in this category of scenic, postcard vistas.
Cindy and I sat on the various look outs till the sun had almost set, even though we were getting terrorized by the gnats. And I even showered and used deodorant today thinking that might help. I also soaked my hat, ears and head in DEEP WOODS OFF, but I've found it has no affect on these little, annoying bastards.
There is nothing worse then a tiny bug buzzing inside your ear to make you almost drop a big camera while looking off a few thousand foot tall ledge.
We had parked the camper in the campground and taken the dogs for a walk to one of the lookouts planning on staying out there till the sunset, but we were home an hour early and eating dinner inside again. This time we had no visit from the neighborhood bears. Even though the park ranger told us there is a mother with a few baby cubs who wanders the campground every couple of days.
Hopefully tomorrow we'll get a chance to see her on one of our hikes we plan on taking. I also posted a new Product Review on the new CineCity Gimball Head we got a few weeks ago. Check it out if you're interested in a very inexpensive Gimball style head that is so worth the cost.
Friday May 15th 2009 Invasion of the Body Snatchers
We had planned on waking up early to get some sunrise shots, but looking out the window, I thought I was confused or parked beside a giant white wall.
The fog had us socked in so bad you could barely see your own hand in front of your face. Taking the dogs for a walk, Cindy would get about 10 feet ahead of me and I'd completely loose her.
We sat in the campsite working on the computers till around lunch time when the sun finally burned off the mornings haze and we were treated to a bright, sunny day.
When Cindy went in to pay for last nights campground stay, she came out saying there was a nice little hike along the North Rim Trail that left right from the parking lot of the visitor center.
We changed into hiking boots and threw the dogs into the camper. Well, we didn't throw them, but let them jump in on their own power. Although I'd like to throw Lucy around at times!
About an 1/8 of a mile into the hike, School Creek crosses the path and cascades down a series of rock ledges. We spent an hour or so hopping around the slippery rocks trying to get a good shot, but being as the sun was high and the glare coming off the water was impossible to work with, we packed up the equipment and hiked back to the camper for some lunch.
Coming down the mountain along Route 309 drops you right into Paris Arkansas. 180° different from Paris, France. There was a few cool looking shops that look like time forgot, but it only took about 5 seconds before we were through town and rolling North along HWY 23.
Cindy has now started calling me the Tic Magnet due to the fact that I've picked multiple ticks off of me today.
I'm not sure what it is about the insects that love me so much, but it doesn't matter if they're Gnats, Mosquitoes or Ticks, they want some of my blood. While we were in the Visitor Center, Cindy asked the woman if they had a bad Tick problem right now, and the woman said "Oh, the ticks aren't too bad, but the Buffalo Gnats will eat you alive!"
Buffalo Gnats! We asked if that was the name of the annoying bugs and she said "I dont know if its the technical name, but it's what we call them because of how big and aggressive they are."
Driving through the heat of the day, I felt a few more ticks crawling on me and would be able to grab them and throw them out the window. You know when you feel something crawling on you and it just makes your entire body feel like it has bugs crawling on it. Well this was how I felt all day long. It gave Cindy some great fun and she was having a blast laughing at me while I would keep checking various crevices and looking in my shirt to make sure I didn't have another one on me.
Then, we're driving along on a very steep, curvy stretch of road in the Ozark National Forest when I feel a sharp pain along my waistline. I tell Cindy to grab the wheel and steer for a second as I pull my pants down to see what it causing this pain.
Looking at my skin, I can see the ass end of a tick who has decided to burrow his head into my body. Its legs are all kicking like some ground hog who is too fat to fit into its hole.
Cindy lets out a scream and I look up saying "You're supposed to be steering, not looking at my new Tick!"
I grab the wheel back from her and she's just laughing away thinking this is real funny. It wouldn't be funny if she had one burrowed in her.
The section of road we were on was way too narrow to pull over so I had to drive for maybe fifteen minutes all the time having thoughts of this insect crawling deeper into my body.
Finally I couldn't take it any longer and pulled over at the first spot that had somewhat of a shoulder.
Cindy ran back to the camper to grab some tweezers because she was too afraid to pull it out with just her fingers. As we're sitting on the side of the road operating on my hip, Cindy looks up and says "There is a guy stopped beside us looking at us funny!"
I roll down my window and the guy, who is is holding a beer in his hand on top of the steering wheel says "Ya'll ok, need any help?"
I just grabbed the map off the dashboard and replied "Nah, we're just lost and trying to figure out where we are." I'm thinking to myself "Please dont get out of your truck and come over to show me where we are while I'm sitting on the side of the road with my pants down and my wife has tweezers in her hand!"
But luckily he just took a swill off his Busch Light and pointed in either direction telling us the towns that we'd run into if we were to East or West.
We thanked him and went back to removing the tick from my hip.
Later that afternoon, as we pulled into our little Wal-Mart we found, Cindy said with a big smile on her face "Want to take the dogs for a walk and see if we cant find any more ticks for you?"
What we did find was a monstrous Snapping Turtle who was sitting out in the middle of a dirt parking lot behind the store.
I walked up to him to get a picture and as I was lying in the dirt to get a head-on shot, his head snapped out with the speed of a lightening bolt which sent me running in the opposite direction. Cindy could barely hold Luca back once he saw that thing move so we had to get out of there fast.
I think he just thought I was taking a picture of a rock, but once he saw movement, he wanted some turtle meat for dinner. Something tells me this thing would have won the fight with this Pitbull too.
After a delicious dinner by our award winning RV Chef, we were doing one last Tick Check before we got into bed and when I dropped my trousers, another dam tick fell to the ground! Luckily this one was just riding on my clothes somewhere and hadn't burrowed in yet, but dang, what does a guy have to do to be left alone by some insects?
I know I'm going to have nightmares about being eaten alive by bugs!
Saturday May 16th - One of Those Lazy Days! Thanks Solar!
Arkansas is like no other state we've been in. What we've found is the residents of this state take their weekends seriously and head to the State Parks, Campgrounds and many of the outdoor areas this beautiful state has to offer.
Almost every campground we've checked into has asked us "Are you planning on staying one night, because we're booked up solid for the next few weekends."
So we decided rather than fight the crowds and deal with all the weekend warriors who flock to the outdoors on their days off, we'd just find ourselves a little parking lot and sit for the entire day.
Its days like these when I thank God we've spent the money to have our solar panels, inverter and bank of 6-Volt batteries installed.
Without these added luxuries, we would have had to find a campground, or else sit in silence for the entire day, and God knows neither Cindy nor I can go for long in silence.
So we wouldn't have to worry about running the A/C, we made sure we had driven far enough on Friday so we'd be high in the Mountains that the temperatures would be cooler than it was in the lower section of the state.
We found nice cool temps and spent the entire day either working on the computers, lying in bed watching some movies or just hanging out being lazy. I love days like these and they make the long days of driving or out exploring all that much more enjoyable.
Another thing we've found that makes life easier for the fulltime traveler is the Red Box DVD Rentals. Rather than have to have a membership to a rental franchise, you simply find one of the Red Box's and for only $1, you can rent almost any of the latest releases on your credit card.
We had seen these type of boxes everywhere, but it wasn't until we went and visited our daughter who suggested we run up to the Red Box at the corner store and rent a movie one night that we found out how easy these are to use.
Sitting in the Wal-Mart parking lot, and almost every single Wally World has a Red Box in their lobby, we rented 3 different movies throughout the day today. Two were some of the best movies I've ever seen, and one was just down right stupid, but the cast was nothing short of beautiful women, so it made it bearable to sit through.
Our first movie, the one that was very stupid, was 'The House Bunny', it shouldn't be at the top of your list unless you're a teenaged girl who wants to find out how to become a Playboy Bunny. I felt a little dumber after watching it, but there were a few parts that made me chuckle.
Then we watched the action, thriller 'Taken', if you enjoy suspense, action and a great plot, then this is a movie that should be at the top of your list. Liam Neeson plays an ex-spy who's daughter is abducted in Paris and he uses his learned talents to try and get her back. Maybe because we have a young daughter and these worries are always in the back of our minds, or just the fact that this plot seems so believable, shows like this grab ahold and have you from the opening lines. We both would recommend this to anyone.
Although, it has alot of violence, so you might not want to allow younger kids to see it.
When we finished these two movies, we hadn't had our fill of Hollywood, and the bed bugs werent setting in yet, so we went and returned those two and grabbed another New Release. We had heard so much about 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button', that we couldn't wait to see it.
There is a reason it won or was nominated for so many awards and to see Brad Pitt as a 80 year old man is just creepy. He plays it so well, and the movie is one of the best I've ever seen in my life.
There are some movies that are very far fetched, some that are just fantasy, and some you can relate too, and even though this story is a fairytale, it is very close to home as the story you get from it, is to go out and do what you want. Dont sit home waiting for life to come at you, you have to go out and find your adventure and see the world for yourself.
This movie will make you cry, make you laugh very hard and is an amazing story about life in general. At least that's what I took from it.
By the end of the night we had succeeded in not moving too many muscles, and had a great day of just hanging out in our little cocoon on wheels. Without our solar panels and batteries, none of this would have been possible. So thanks to Mr. Sun who decided he'd rise up once again and provide us with power, and the kind folks in the town of Huntsville who let us borrow their towns parking lot for the day.
Sunday May 17th 2008 - Getting Lost in the Ozark National Forest
After yesterdays day of rest, we were both up early this morning and on the road. Our days destination was the Devils Den State Park in the Northwest Corner of the state.
We still have a few days to kill before we need to be up at the Rock Bottom Chuck Wagon Races, so we thought we'd visit a few more of the beautiful Arkansas State Parks.
Cindy and I have both come to the decision that Arkansas has the best collection of State Parks we've ever visited. Each one has some scenic hikes, a lake, river or some sort of natural attraction for those that like to hike or fish and the folks who run them are always so friendly, it makes your stay all that much more enjoyable.
The camping spots are very clean and maintained and best of all, they're very inexpensive. Some states we've visited, if you stay in one of their state parks, they're expensive, they will be booked months in advance and once there, you're sort of wondering what all the fuss is about because you have to leave to go find something to do. If more states were to learn from Arkansas, maybe they're state parks wouldn't be shutting down and they'd have them booked solid like the Arkansas Parks are.
From Huntsville to to Devils Den, we had to come back South a bit and Cindy asked "Do you want to jump on the expressway and be there in a half hour, or do you want to take back roads and go the long way?"
You all know my answer to that silly question! And besides, it was only 9am, we didn't want to get to our days destination too early and deal with all the weekend warriors who would still be enjoying their Sunday off.
Little did I know the Long Way would be as long as it was.
I'm not sure if you remember the time we were in California and were trying to get up to Oregon without going the easy route on the expressways. That little excursion/shortcut cost us a few tanks of fuel at $6 per gallon and two days of back tracking.
Today wouldn't be that bad, but we did have to back track a few hours and dropped two sway bars in the process.
Let me do a little explaining about what happened. Cindy was guiding me along some little back roads that she thought would save us some time. If looking at a map, you know the roads are small when they're either grey in color or just have two grey lines. Well she told me to stop and look at the map because all the roads that would get us through the Ozark National Forest and to the Devils Den State Park were those type of roads.
I just said "Who cares if they're dirt roads, I dont mind going slow on a dirt road and besides, look at how beautiful the scenery is!"
We'll Arkansas has a different idea of a dirt road than most of us do. These are rough, forest roads at best. There were a few times I had to switch on the four wheel drive just to power through a few steep, muddy sections. At one point we were coming down a 12% grade at a pretty fast pace when a truck came around the bend and pulled to the side.
As we passed the two locals, one of them was yelling something to us but there was no way for me to bring this train to a stop and neither of us heard what he was saying.
Of course, Cindy said right away "I think he was telling us there was no way out" but then again Cindy is the proverbial pessimist and always thinks the worst is going to happen with each new adventure we take. It doesn't matter that she's usually right, it just means she's always worried we'll break down or get stuck in no-where's ville.
And then the road just narrowed down to a two-track trail. Of course I had to hear "I told you not to go this way!" about a million times. But I threw the truck in park, shut the big diesel motor down and got out to go see where this road/trail might lead us.
Of course a few hundred feet up it got even narrower which told me we'd have to turn around. We had just turned off a road that we werent too sure of, so we thought if we did one of those 100 point turns on this narrow trail we could go back the other way and see if that might get us to our destination.
A few hundred feet down that trail and it started to narrow and get very steep. We both got out and could hear water rushing down the hill, so Cindy suggested that she'd walk on ahead to see if it was passable before we got somewhere that we'd get ourselves stuck.
While I was waiting for her to text-message me with a reply (Our phones wouldn't work, but for some reason, text-messages will still go through when you dont have a normal signal), a local couple pulled up on their Sport-Ute to let me know the bridge was out and we'd have to turn around.
Just then I got a text-message saying "The bridge is out, no where to turn around, DO NOT come down here!"
I sat talking with the couple who told me the bridge got washed out last spring during some heavy rains and these roads are so seldom used, they haven't got around to repairing it yet. I had mentioned that I had tried the other road, but he just laughed and said "Oh that way is even worse!"
His wife said "We usually dont see anyone pulling a trailer even trying to attempt these roads! Its usually only 4x4's."
I just said "Well it looked like such a short cut, that we figured we'd give it a try."
"If the bridge wasn't out, it would be a major short cut" He told me, "but I hate to say that you're gonna have to turn around and go back out to HWY 59, then back around to HWY 220."
So with a big "I Told You So!" from Cindy, we had to backtrack an hour or so to get back out to passable roads. In the process of doing another 100 point turn on a really odd angle, one of the sway bars popped out of the receiver and was dragging along behind us.
Something tells me if I contacted Reese, the manufacturer of our sway bar set-up, they'd tell me I'm not supposed to Jack-knife the truck and trailer while having the truck at a 10% roll in one direction while having the trailer at a 15% roll in the other direction. I stopped and leveled us out and re-inserted the sway bar and we were on our way. I should probably unhook the sway bars when traveling down roads like this, but I'm a bit lazy.
Once we found the HWY, we made our way back around the swollen river on paved roads and found HWY 220 which would bring us up to Devils Den State Park the back way. The nice couple who had come to let us know we werent going to make it on that road had told me "HWY 220 turns back to dirt, and its a county maintained road, so its nice and smooth, not anything like these rough roads."
Well I'm not sure if she had only driven them in her Sport-Ute, but we had to maintain a 10mph average due to the bumps, ruts and rock sections on the road.
When we did finally make it into the Park, it was early in the afternoon and the place was filled with campers packing their stuff up ready to head home for the work week.
We pulled up to the visitor center so Cindy could check on availability and she jumped out so I could find a place to turn around. The visitor center is situated right on the side of a steep mountain and they dont really have a parking lot suited for RV's.
I saw a little road heading up a hill that said 'Cabins' and thought I'd pull up there to turn around. What I didn't see was a little, tiny sign that says NO LARGE TRUCKS OR TRAILERS.
This is because of a 180° turn that has some big rocks right in the apex of the turn.
With Cindy not in the truck with me, this meant that while my hitch was sitting on the ground in the back of the camper and my tires were riding up the rocks in the middle of the turn, I had to keep getting in and out of the truck to reposition the wood blocks we carry with us to level us out so I wouldn't pop the tires on the rocks.
Once up on the rocks, my only option was to let the tires drop off a 10" ledge they were sitting on hoping I wouldn't catch the rear section of the camper on the rock.
I'm sort of glad I was by myself due to the amount of cuss words flying around.
When I finally made the turn, I was ready to tear the Park Services head off for not having this labeled as Impassable by large trucks when I noticed the small sign hanging at the bottom of the road that said NO LARGE TRUCKS OR TRAILERS.
So I guess it's my own dumb fault for not looking and reading all the signs. It will probably cost me two tires in a few days when the bulges show up from having the entire weight of the coach sitting on the edge of those two tires that were on the rock. But you live and learn, right? As soon as the rig was straightened out, I head something dragging again and got out to notice the sway bar was dragging behind me again! WTF!! It's just a little past 90°, cant this thing handle the limits of the hitch!?! JEESSH!
Once I made it back down and picked up Cindy, we went and found our campsite and dumped off the rig. We got down the motorcycle and spent the rest of the afternoon zipping around these roads the way they're meant to be traveled....On Two Wheels!
The roads in the Ozarks are made for motorcycles. It's also the reason you probably see 3 motorcycles for every car you pass and is why Arkansas and the Ozarks are a major riding destination for motorcycle clubs.
When you're approaching a turn that says '15mph limit' and you're in a vehicle or worse yet, towing a camper behind you, you had better slow it down to that 15mph or else. But when on a motorcycle, 15mph is almost impossible to stay upright.
30mph feels much more comfortable and will allow you to lean into the turn and take it the way it was meant to be ridden.
Cindy is so much better on the back of the bike now and knows to lean with me keeping her knees tucked tight against my legs. She no longer squeezes me tight yelling for me to slow down. Now she just leans into my back when approaching a sharp turn and we roll through it like we're one body on the bike. It makes riding the twisties all that much more enjoyable when you're with a passenger who knows how to ride.
As the sun was starting to set and the cool mountain air was biting at our bodies, we made our way back to the camper where we set up the hammock between to stout trees and spent the rest of the evening listening to the water flow over the dam while the birds serenaded us into a coma like mood.
While Cindy got up to grill some Chicken on the Weber, I jumped back on the bike with my camera gear to go try and capture some cool images of the waterfall made by the CCC that is one of the parks attractions.
I spent a half hour with fast fading light before I rode back home to camp. On my way back, I couldn't believe how much different the park had become. When we pulled in this afternoon, this place was wall to wall people.
Almost ever campsite was full and the parking/picnic areas were jammed with people. Riding home along the twisty roads in the dark, except for a few eyes along the edges of the road my high beam was illuminating, I had the entire park to myself. There was maybe 4 campers besides us now and once I shut my motorcycle off, the only sound you could hear was falling water over the dam and the wind blowing through the trees.
Some 5 star food, a warm shower and I think I was asleep within seconds of hitting the pillow. What an Amazing day, even with all the antics of getting lost, getting stuck and backtracking for so many miles.
Its all part of the journey right!
Monday May 18th 2009 - Hiking the Devils Den Trail System
After spending the morning getting acclimated to the cool Ozark Mountain temperatures, we filled up the backpacks and decided to go give the Devils Den Trail a look.
The visitor center has a bunch of cool photos showing caves, slot canyons and beautiful waterfalls all on this rugged 1.5 mile hike. They say it should only take a few hours to complete, but they obviously have never hiked with Cindy and I.
As we were leaving the camper, Cindy said to me, "They suggest two hours, I bet it will take us more than double that time!" It took us 6 full hours! But we did hike from our camper along the Lake Trail and spent some time at the waterfall/dam fooling around taking more pictures on our way home.
This Devils Den Trail is a short loop, but has lots of steep inclines and rugged descents with plenty of big boulders and rocks to climb on and around. Make sure you have some good hiking boots and dont just wear tennis shoes or God-forbid flip flops like we saw a few other hikers in. They looked like they were in some serious pain.
The rock formations along the Devils Den Trail are like nothing I've ever seen before. You have giant boulders, stacks of big slabs piled higher than you can imagine and what looks like Sandstone mixed in with some of the various types of rocks.
There are huge cave like stones that remind me of giant geodes and then there are the caves and the slot canyons. I never knew there were slot canyons this far East. All the slots I have heard of are in Arizona, Utah or out in the Desert of the Southwest.
When we reached the first Cave, I was sitting at the entrance deciding if I could talk Cindy into venturing down into the dark hole. For some reason she claims to be Claustrophobic, but if I pry enough, I can usually get her to look past that silly fear, and she always thanks me afterwards.
As we were sitting there, a group came hiking up the opposite direction who had just left the other side of the cave. We asked them a few questions and found that we wouldn't be able to explore the entire cave due to the size of our camera backpacks.
They told us there were a few sections that are a very tight squeeze and you have to get down on your belly crawling along to make it through. They did say we could walk in the first few hundred feet and get a feel for what the cave would be like and that was all we needed to hear.
As we were getting the flashlights out of our backpacks, two more guys walked up and one of them said he wanted to hike in the cave a ways to see what he could see.
We let him go ahead of us while Cindy made me go in first so incase she got freaked out, she'd be able to turn around and run out.
I was maybe in 10 feet before I needed to switch on my flashlight because it gets pitch black, real quick.
As I was standing there waiting for Cindy to climb down in the entrance hole, I started to walk in a little farther. I was goofing around shining my light around at Cindy when I felt a thud on the bill of my favorite Coors Banquet Hat.
In a matter of a few seconds, I felt something flutter right against my face and either crawl or fall down my shirt and stop on my pant leg. I let out a loud scream thinking a giant spider had fallen from the ceiling.
I'd rather wrestle that bear back on Rush Mountain than have a big spider on my body. For some reason spiders creep me out in the worst way.
Cindy was yelling back at me asking what I was screaming about when I shined my flashlight onto my pant leg and calmed down a bit. Right below my knee was a tiny bat that was clinging to my pants.
Reluctantly she came further into the cave and grabbed my camera so she could record this event. This wasn't the first time I had ever seen a Bat, but it was the first time I ever had a bat land on me and just sit there.
After she snapped a few pictures, we both said "Ok, now how do I get it off my pant leg?" I wasn't about to touch it with my bare hand!
Cindy handed me back my camera and said "I'm outta Here!" and as she stood up from her crouched position, she clobbered her head on a low overhanging rock. OUCH!! I could hear the thud from a few feet away and was surprised it didn't knock her to her feet. That was all it took and she was hightailing it out the narrow entrance hole.
I just figured once I started moving, the Bat would jump off my leg and fly back to its perch, where ever that might be. But as I crawled up and out of the cave, the little red haired bat was still clung to my pant leg.
I threw my camera to Cindy and told her to get some more pictures now that we were out in the light. She was able to snap off a few more and was ready to get some of me trying to pry it off my pants with the bill of my hat when it took off and flew right at her face.
If you can imagine blowing into a dog whistle and hearing that super high pitched noise, well that was the scream that came out of Cindy's mouth as the bat flew towards her before turning, coming right back at my head and finally going back into the cave.
I knew any cave exploring was out of the question by this point, so we just went on and followed the Devils Den Trail and bypassed the cave. Thank God I was wearing a hat and pants because if that little thing would have landed on my bald head, or worse yet clung to my bare leg, I would have plowed right over top of Cindy running out of that cave.
We laughed about this for the next few minutes till we reached our next obstacle. The Slot Canyon or Vault as the trail map calls it..
Standing at the top of this narrow slot, it almost looked like it was too narrow to climb down into. The walls were covered in a light green moss that gave it an eerie glow and of course I was sent down first to see if it was do-able for Cindy.
Climbing down a thick root system from a neighboring tree that was growing right at the entrance, I was afraid that if it was impassable, I wouldn't be able to slither myself back up this slippery root.
But once I got to solid ground, I couldn't believe how big the slot actually was. I coached Cindy down into the cool, damp air of the vault and we made our way around a 90° bend. The entire slot is only maybe 100' long, and at the deepest section, it might be 30' deep. There was another hole in the middle of the vault that looks like it would lead into another deep cave, but Cindy wouldn't even consider going down into that dark hole even if I said there was a set of 8 carat diamond earrings at the bottom.
We moved through the vault where we had to balance across a muddy log bridge and climbed out the other end and back into the afternoon heat. Believe it or not, in the short time we were in the Vault, I had started to get chilly because the temperature was that much colder down there. When we passed the hole that led to the cave in the vault, it was like standing in front of an open freezer with cold air just blasting out at you.
Its no wonder the next big point of interest was called the Ice Box. This is a huge section of cave/slot canyon that has little slots going off in various directions with a few different holes that led to who knows where.
Cindy was exploring one slot while I was wandering down another narrow passage way when we'd be yelling to each other to come quick and see how cool each others new find would be. The whole time I had an Indiana Jones movie playing in my head and was waiting for a giant boulder to come rolling down one of the slots like in 'The Temple of Doom' classic.
Each time we would exit one of these giant slots, we'd find another one to crawl down into that was just begging for us to explore its nooks and crevices. I couldn't believe when we'd have hikers pass by and just look in the slots and walk on bye? Where is your zest for adventure? How could you possibly walk past a giant cave big enough to drive a bus into and not at least walk into the entrance a few feet?
Cindy and I are running around like a couple of 10 year olds and having a ball, and here are people just walking right on bye only glancing in our direction. Oh Well, they'll never know what they missed and all the cool photo op's they passed up.
While standing under a giant geode, we could hear a waterfall off in the distance, and I scrambled up a pile of rock slabs stacked the size of a house to see if I could see where the sound was coming from.
Once at the top, I could see a tiny waterfall maybe 10' tall dropping off a wide lava rock looking ledge. I think in the mile or so we had hiked, I had seen almost ever type of rock known to mankind.
Cindy scrambled up the pile of boulders and we sat enjoying the sound of the falling water interrupted only by the sounds of the the birds that were fluttering all around us.
Up to this point, we had only passed 7 other hikers, and it was all right around the cave entrance. It was almost spooky to be in this beautiful of a setting and have it all to yourself. Normally when you find something this amazing, you're dealing with a line of people all trying to capture the same scene to bring home for the photo album.
I'm sure if we would have tried to take this hike on Saturday or Sunday, it would be more like I was talking about, but being as today was Monday, it felt like the park was all ours.
Once we had rested our legs and allowed our bodies to cool down, we got back on the trail and hiked over to the Twin Falls area. Waterfalls are some of my favorite subjects to photograph. Problem is in order to get them to turn out good in a picture, you have to have a few things in your favor.
You first have to have the right light in order to get a good picture. This means the waterfall has to be in full shade or in an area where direct sunlight doesn't hit any part of the waterfall. Otherwise you'll have some hot spots that will ruin the picture.
You also have to make sure you can shoot the waterfall at an angle that will allow you to not include the sky in the image unless its almost dark outside. This is why almost any time we go to shoot waterfalls, we do it either in the early morning, late in the evening or try and line it up on a day that is stormy or raining which almost always guarantees you a nice, dark sky.
The Twin Falls area of the Devils Den Trail is beautiful. But if you hit it late in the afternoon like we did, getting a usable shot of the waterfalls is all but impossible. I think I might have snapped four or five shots and said forget it. The rest of the time I just sat and took in the beauty. While we sat there, we noticed a bunch of humming birds that were darting in and out of the crevices and feeding off the blooming wild flowers all around the lush landscape.
What we did notice was the sun was setting with the late afternoon light against the face of the falls. This meant if we were to get up at Sunrise and hike back here, the entire face of the falls would be in dark shadow which is exactly what you need to get a good, long exposure shot of moving water.
We made a few mental notes for this and hiked on past this section of the trail. From the Twin Falls section, the path winds its way down to Lee Creek and brings you back out to the main road.
We decided to follow the Lake Trail which follows Lee Creek back to our camper and see if we could find any more cool images to capture. It wasn't hard as this State Park offers some beautiful vistas in every direction you look.
We met a couple fishing and while I was talking with the woman, Cindy started yelling for me to come quick.
I ran back to where she was standing and saw a 5' long snake trying its hardest to get its small mouth around a fish. I've never seen a snake eating a fish in the water, so I was trying to snap a few pictures of this spectacle as the woman pushed me aside and reached her hand in the water.
I thought the ol' gal was a little nuts reaching for that big snake when she pulled up a stick that had a string line attached to it with not one, but 3 fish on it....one was the fish the snake was trying to eat. The snake let go when she pulled the whole line out of the water, but only backed off a few feet.
Cindy and I were cracking up as she put her dinner back in the water and the no sooner did she turn to walk away when the snake was back on the fish.
This time she picked up the entire string line and carried it about 20' down the bank to where she was now fishing. Not that the snake didn't have his head out of the water watching her the entire time.
We wished her luck and said if she wanted, she could probably be having snake for dinner rather than fish, but I dont think she thought our joke was too funny.
We spent another hour at the CCC Dam before Cindy was starting to dose off. Something tells me 6 hours of hiking after her morning jog with the dogs and her workout was more than she could handle for one day.
We climbed back up the hill to our camper and she let me know "All you're getting for dinner is hamburgers. No vegetables, no fixin's, just burgers!"
After dinner she apologized saying "I'm sorry that's all you had to eat, I'm just too tired to cook an entire meal." But I let her know "I could have eaten the left over beef jerky we brought with us on the hike and the can of mixed nuts in my backpack and been fine with that." I think she thinks I worry about what I eat when in reality, as long as it's something edible and I have food in my stomach, I'm happy. My wife is one of the best Chef's I've ever met, and I absolutely love her meals she conjures up, but she doesn't have to make Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner all be 5 Star events.
I know after a long day of hiking and with this cool, clear mountain weather we have, sleeping is something that comes easy for the both of us. We were asleep and sawing logs quick this evening.
Make sure to check out the Devils Den Gallery for all the shots from today's hike.
Tuesday May 19th 2009 - Waking before the Sun to Hike Twin Falls
Going to bed last night, we had both planned on waking up early this morning to hike back out to the Twin Falls area and try and photograph it before the sun ruined the scene.
Come 6am, I tried to wake Cindy up, but she just shrugged me off saying "I just went to sleep!" I'm thinking she needed her sleep more than I needed to deal with a grumpy hiking partner, so I got up and dressed as quiet as I could.
A spoonful of peanut butter and a handful of beef jerky for breakfast and I was out the door ready to go see what the Devils Den Trail might have in store for me today.
As I walked out of the camper, there were two White Tail Deer grazing beside our campsite. They just looked up at me and went back to eating and I paid no attention to them. We have enough photos of White Tails to fill four books from all the deer that hang out in my parents yard in Michigan. Around those parts, the deer are more of a nuisance than they are anything else, so I just pushed the motorcycle down the road a bit not to wake Cindy and was on my way.
The trail head is only a mile from the campsite, but my legs were a bit tight from yesterdays hike, so I thought I'd be a wussy and ride the motorcycle to the trail head and a early morning bike ride is always more fun than an early morning hike.
It didn't take long to get to the Twin Falls area because I wasn't paying too much attention to any other part of the trail. I figured I had photographed every section of this hike yesterday, and only had one mission to accomplish, good pictures of the Twin Falls area to make it complete.
Hiking up the narrow trail in the cool morning air, I could see my breath the entire way and had to keep my riding gloves on to keep my hands from freezing on the cold aluminum of the camera bodies and the tripod.
Once at the gulch where the falls cascaded over the ledge, I spent the better part of two hours climbing up and down the slippery rocks trying to find the best angle to get the picture that would make me say "Ok, that was it, I can go home now." Just to let you know, that almost never happens. Every time I think I have that shot, I take a few steps to the side and think this is going to be even better than the last shot. This is where I say "Thank God for Digital!!"
I've tried to get to the point where I'm not just snapping away blindly, but I've found that when ever we get to a new area to photograph, I usually delete my first 50 or so pictures. As I'm taking them, I think they're going to be good, but once you sit and just wander around a site looking for every possible angle to photograph it from, you find that the first few shots you take are usually the worst of the bunch.
I remember back in our film days, this meant our first few rolls of film were usually just trashed on test shots and finding the right angle and you had to pay for all this research. Now, I can snap a few dozen shots, sit down and go through them and see what I've got and whether I like anything I see and can build off of it or know if I need to start fresh from a completely new angle.
When the sun was fully up, I had shot almost a full 4gig card and my stomach was growling, I packed up my gear and hiked back to the motorcycle.
Before heading home to my sleeping wife, I decided to make a few runs up and down these beautiful roads when I could really open it up and not have to worry about Cindy yelling for me to slow down. And this early in the morning, there was absolutely no traffic to worry about.
Once up the mountain before I turned around a flew back down dragging a knee into the tight corners wishing I had a set of full leathers on so I could really ride these roads to their full potential.
I pulled back up to the camper with Cindy sitting there giving me one of those looks like I had done something wrong.
Apparently she had gone out for her morning jog with the dogs and I had locked the door when I left this morning.
I'm not sure if this happens with all campers, but on our door, you can walk out with the door locked no problem, but once the door closes, it's still locked. She never grabbed the extra set of keys because she didn't even think of me locking the door, so I guess she had been sitting outside for a few minutes....OOPS!
We have a set of keys hidden, but the hiding place must be so good, she forgot where they were.
The rest of the day was spent working around the camper, lounging in the hammock outside in the cool mountain air and just loving this picture perfect weather. Make sure to check out the Devils Den State Park Gallery I put together and let us know what you think of our shots. We always love to hear from readers, fellow explorers and travelers on what they think of our interpretation of the outdoors.
Right before we were getting ready for bed, I walked outside to the water spigot that is by the road for General Use. We opted to get a more rustic campsite without full hookups and we keep a 3 gallon jug of water that we drink from that is filtered.
Well when I stepped outside, there was a small coyote in the middle of the road right in front of our truck. We looked at one another before it bolted down the center of the road running into the night. Sort of eerie since we're the only campers in this campground right now and I'm staring down a coyote by myself.
Wednesday May 20th 2009 -
Waking up this morning to cool temps and a nice breeze, we ate breakfast before leashing up the dogs and going for a few hour hike around the creek.
By the time we got back to the camper, we had worked up a sweat and were ready for some lunch. After a nice meal, Cindy got into Clean Mode and went to town on the camper.
She knew this would be her last chance to have some down time in the next few weeks. With the Chuck Wagon Race this weekend and racing to Yellowstone from there, the next few weeks are going to be a whirlwind of activity.
So while she wiped down all the window sills and cleaned ever nook and crevice in the camper, I got out all the camera bags and organized the piles of lenses, bodies, batteries and accessories that seem to get thrown in the wrong places after each hike or new adventure.
I spent some time cleaning each lens and paying attention to the mirrors on the bodies themselves. There is nothing worse than going out for a day of shooting and finding out when you return that you have a dust spot right in the middle of the frame of every picture.
Luckily for us, the check out time at this state park wasn't till 3pm, so we were in no rush to get on the road.
By the time 3 rolled around, we had everything spic and span with everything in the right places and the coach was clean as the day we rolled out of the driveway.
It only took us pulling out of the campsite and onto the main road, which was a really odd angle turn and elevation, like all roads in Arkansas, and we dropped another Sway Bar.
I threw on the flashers because we were basically right in the middle of the road and just took them both off and threw them in the back of the truck. I figure while we're in Arkansas, I'll just tow without the added stability of the sway bars.
Our destination for tonight was the largest Wal-Mart I've ever seen in my life. Remember the little one we spent the night at back in Huntsville, well that entire store including the parking lot could fit in the food section of this monster alone.
Best of all, we had a lightening fast Internet connection so we could upload the blogs and a new gallery from our stay in the Devils Den State Park.
While Cindy spent a few hours of Alone Time restocking our food supply, I worked on the CPU and got everything caught up on the tech side of the adventure. We make a pretty good team dont we!
Thursday May 21st - Making our Way to the Rock Bottom Chuck Wagon Races
Rolling out of the Wally World parking lot we started the day off with a wrong turn thanks to Dora, the woman who lives in our GPS device. Cindy hates this woman and claims she gets us more lost than she helps.
I know that our next GPS will be a version that is able to be updated regularly so newer roads and attractions can be added. Something that isn't available with this budget model.
Well this sort of set a theme for the day. But then again, getting lost seems to be something we're experts at.
I had looked up the directions of the Chuck Wagon Races online last night and had it plugged into the GPS, but Cindy wanted to take a shortcut through some back mountain roads. No big deal, you know I'm always game for a shortcut.
These roads offered some beautiful rolling vistas and it reminded me of why we both love Arkansas so much. Lush green hills that roll to the horizons, dotted with small farms and cattle wandering along the steep inclines and a small creek flowing along the bottom of each gulley.
When we pulled into Green Forest, which is the nearest town to the races, we stopped at a laundromat to replenish our small supply of clean duds and were on the road in an hours time. Five loads in commercial washers doesn't take but a short time.
I was really low on diesel fuel, but this small town only had one gas station and they didn't offer diesel. Hopefully I'll be able to find some on one of the farms, or I'll have to break out the 12 gallons we keep for emergencies in the bed of the truck.
Driving along these narrow back roads, you have some odoriferous areas that drive the dogs wild. Luca will snap his head up from a deep sleep with his nose in the air trying to suck in as much of the glorious smells as he can.
Cindy and I are usually holding our breath as long as we can while the dogs are trying to claw their way out of the truck. At one point, Luca was rubbing his face on the door jam trying to work the smell into his fur or something crazy like that.
Lucy, the Beagle, who normally can find something dead or awful smelling to roll in where ever we are is rolling on her back in her seat thinking the awful smells that have filled the truck are now going to stay on her for the rest of the day.
This goes on for some time till we have to turn down a narrow dirt road and the smells go away. Cindy makes me stop because she doesn't want this to be another one of those hours of getting lost and backtracking when we're almost out of fuel to begin with.
She's going to call Mike Fowler, the owner of the property the races are on, but has to go back to the camper to make the call. Our Wilson Amplifier doesn't reach the truck, but if you're inside the camper, then your cell signal will be boosted and you'll get a clear call.
While she's in the camper, a friendly cowboy pulls up along side of our rig and asks if we need some help. I tell him "We're headed to the Chuck Wagon Races and were not sure if this dirt road will get us there?"
He says "Yep' it'll get ya' there alright, but yer' gonna have to cross a stream to get onto the property and I dont know if I'd risk it with that trailer." He went on to say "It might be better to go the long way around which is quite a bit longer, but yer' on paved roads the entire time."
I forgot to mention that part of the risky stream crossing to Cindy, but I thanked him and went and grabbed her out of the camper. She was on the phone with Mike and he was saying he had no idea where we were with the directions she was giving him anyways.
The neighbor who had offered me directions said we'd have about 4 miles of dirt road till it would dump us right into the ranch. We thought it was funny that he said "Oh I know the Fowlers, I'm their neighbor" when in reality he lived over a mile away. But he was the closest neighbor, so I guess he wasn't lying.
Luckily these dirt roads werent in that bad of shape, they just werent oiled so we were kicking up one hell of a cloud of dust in our wake. When another truck came in the opposite direction, the only vehicle we'd pass, the dust was so bad from the two of us that we had to come to a complete stop to wait for it to settle before we could even see the road.
When we finally rounded the turn and came to the creek crossing, my stomach dropped out like I had just been kicked in the gut. This area has been getting alot of rain and the stream that we crossed no problem last time was now flowing probably a foot higher and much faster.
Cindy said right away "There is no way we're crossing that with the camper!"
Just to add to the stress of the situation, as we're sitting there pondering the fate of our house towed behind us, the fuel light comes on telling me we're about to run out of Go Juice.
The last time we had crossed this stream, Cindy got out of the truck to snap some pictures because it looked so cool. This time she said "I dont even think I can walk across that water its moving so fast so I wont be able to snap any shots of the camper tipping over and floating away!"
She also told me "I'm not putting on my seat belt because if the truck starts to float down the stream, I'm jumping out!"
There was no way we could turn around now and just then, another truck pulled up behind us which sealed the deal. I switched it into 4 wheel drive, dropped the hammer and we raced across the water as fast as possible.
At one point when the water was about up to the bottom of the door sills, I gunned it faster hoping water wouldn't come in the truck and flood the floorboards.
Bucking and bouncing like we were riding an angry bull, we plowed through the stream and made it to solid ground without losing the camper. Cindy let out a good, loud "Yeee Hawww!" as we pulled up the other side and that was how we made our entrance into the Rock Bottom Chuck Wagon Races.
Pulling in, Lou Fowler, Mikes wife was working the entrance and greeted us with a warm welcome of "Well Hey Pat and Cindy! Welcome back!!"
We sat talking for a few minutes before a few trucks were piling up behind us and we needed to get the line moving.
Pulling up along the side of the oval race track, we knew this was why we wanted to get here early so we could get a prime parking spot right along one of the turns.
I shut down the truck and we gave each other a big High Five for making our days destination. This was when we found out that Cindy had left the back window open.
Now we normally leave the back window open with the MaxxAir Turbo Fan on high at the opposite end of the camper. This helps to keep the inside of the camper cool by drawing air through the coach and recirculation any stale air that might build up.
Think back a few paragraphs when I said "We were kicking up one hell of a cloud of dust in our wake!"
Well that cloud of dust was being sucked inside the camper from the strong suction power of the MaxxAir Fan. We opened up the door and both of us just started laughing.
Cindy just grabbed a beer out of the fridge, handed it to me and said "Let me handle this, you go set up the stabilizer jacks and get your outside stuff set up."
Every few minutes I'd hear a cuss word come flying out from inside the camper and I finally heard the fan on the inverter kick on and the Vacuum start up.
Remember when I said yesterday that Cindy sat for a few hours wiping down every nook and crevice and dusting EVERYTHING in the camper, well all that hard work was now covered in a inch of thick Arkansas dirt.
It took her an hour to get the layer of dirt off of everything and for the rest of the night, we'd go to pick something up and you'd see the dust ring left underneath of it. So much for the clean bedding she had just washed!
Oh Well, I guess if you live like a couple of Gypsies, a little grit in your sheets is expected. I'll just look at it as a day in the spa getting a good exfoliation.
Once everything was cleaned as good as we were going to get it clean, we were sitting out in the lawn chairs relaxing in the late afternoon air when some Rodeo Riders rode up on their horses to say hello. Scott and Glenda had partied with us the last time and told us they follow along with our blogs and travels.
We sat talking and catching up on the last few years before they rode away inviting us down to their camp for some dinner on Saturday night.
While Cindy was grilling up some pizzas on the Weber we heard them announce over the PA System they were about to start the Open Roping Competition for tonight's activities.
I grabbed the cameras and headed over to the arena while Cindy said she'd bring my grilled pizza over to me when it was ready.
Tonight's event was just a warm up for the weekends activities. There were only about 50 RV's camping on the ranch right now being as its still Thursday and many people still have to work tomorrow.
But the team roaming event was some good fun and made me respect the Cowboys heritage all that much more.
By the time it ended, the night air had cooled off enough that Cindy and I were both freezing and couldn't wait to snuggle into bed. Needless to say, after all the excitement we had today, we slept very good.
Friday May 22nd 2009 - Rodeo's are the Best!
Most of the day was spent just lounging and watching all the cowboys/cowgirls set up their camps and pile into the Rock Bottom Ranch.
Luckily Cindy and I had gotten here a day early and got one of the best spots, so we just got to sit and watch everyone else argue over where they wanted their camp set up. Not that there was any arguing, Cowboys are laid back people and everyone was here to have a good Memorial Day weekend.
We wandered around and mingled with the crowds of people flowing in and we both were very surprised at how many people remembered us from the first year we happened upon this wild event. I guess our goofy rig with Kayaks and all the camera gear made an impact.
Mike and Lou had even went as far as to have a advertisement laid out in the Event Program for this years event that says "We'd like to thank Pat & Cindy of Every Miles A Memory for including us in their adventure!" and had our logo and email address in it.
We thought that was very nice of them and we really were super bummed when we couldn't attend last years second annual event. So far we've heard some crazy stories of the wild antics we missed.
After a picture perfect day weather wise, right around sunset we headed over to the rodeo arena for the ACA Rodeo that was going to take place there tonight. Now except for a few small events around the country and the last Rock Bottom Event we attended, neither Cindy nor I have ever photographed a Rodeo. So we were both really excited for tonight's action.
It would take me too much time to talk about how awesome of an event this was, but I'll tell you right now that after this summers stint at Yellowstone, we think we're going to follow the rodeo circuit because of how much fun we have with it.
Between Mutton Busting, which is kids riding sheep and probably one of the funniest things I've ever witnessed, Bronc Riding which is grown up kids riding bucking broncos, to the wildest stuff I've ever seen in my life, Bull Riding, I'm not sure who's adrenaline was pumping more, the riders or mine.
By the end of the night, Cindy and I, who had been on opposite ends of the arena for most of the night except for the odd intermission where we'd both sound like a couple of little kids showing one another our images we had captured, were exhausted and couldn't wait to download the pictures to see how they looked on the computer monitor.
Here's the problem, normally when we attend an event, we have a few days afterwards to clean all the Compact Flash image cards and work on them, but with the main Chuck Wagon Race starting in the morning, we worked late into the evening to clean the CF cards and get all the gear cleaned and charged for the mornings big event.
Once we had everything finished, it was well worth it because of how happy we were with our images. Give us a few days and we'll have the full galleries posted, but here are a few of the images just to wet yer' whistle.
Saturday May 23rd 2009 - Rock Bottom Chuck Wagon Race Day
Today was the big ACWRA Chuck Wagon Race, and the weather was perfect. Big fluffy clouds in the sky, a nice breeze blowing and the smell of manure in the air.
Sleeping last night was interesting because of the Mule Team from Sue's Pawn out of Arkansas, that was camped right beside us. John and Sue, the super nice couple that owns the team just seem like really good people when they spent a few hours on Friday talking with us and making us feel very comfortable here in Arkansas.
Throughout the night, Sue's team of big mules tied to the stock trailers all around us made sounds like the creatures from the Canteen Scene from the movie Star Wars. These sounds went on all night and each time we'd hear it, we'd both let out a big laugh.
The people camped on the opposite side of us were from the Killer Buzz Race Team which is an Energy Drink company based out of Arkansas. Let me tell you about people who are partying with energy drinks all night long. At 3:30am, with their outdoor speakers as loud as they could go blasting some good country music, something tells me the Killer Buzz energy drink works to keep you going.
Around 9am this morning while I was working on getting the cameras ready, we heard the door from the Killer Buzz fifth wheel open and some cowboy comes stumbling out. He holds onto the fender of his big dually, ejects the contents of his stomach for a few minutes into the tall grass, wipes his face with his arm and crawls back into the camper.
It wasn't but 11am when we saw them all toasting to more beverages and drinking it up with the music back on and the holiday weekend back into High Gear. This would also set the theme for today. Killer Buzz fit the days activities.
With non-stop action from the ACWRA Chuck Wagon Races, more wild, high-speed wrecks and accidents than a weekend NASCAR event, and high strung horses and mules racing around an oval track, it made for some adrenaline packed fun.
Imagine a few big horses or mules pulling a two person team behind them and either the rider goes down or the chuck wagon being pulled flips over. Well this happened more than once and never usually ends well for the humans involved. One woman was taken away in an ambulance and another couple of lucky cowboys were limping around with bandages and ice packs on their bodies by the end of the day.
Just as the Chuck Wagon Races were wrapping up, some black clouds moved in with thunder, lightening and strong winds, but it only ended up raining for a few minutes. I guess the brunt of the storm must have blew right around us. We did take in our awning because of how high the winds got.
During this storm, we had just enough time to charge up the camera batteries and clean the CF Cards for tonight's action which would take place back in the rodeo arena. Tonight was the famous Rock Bottom Ranch Rodeo. This my friends is entertainment at its best.
Here are a few of the events these rugged cowboys raced around the dusty arena, in all in the name of fun and non-stop action for our viewing enjoyment.
One event was called, The Milk a Wild Cow Race. This would be a team of four cowboys that would have to find a cow with a number on its ear from a herd of 20, get that one cow singled out, rope it and hold it still while the four men would get a measured amount of milk into a plastic bottle.
Once they had the milk in the bottle, one of the cowboys had to race across the arena to hand off the bottle of milk to a judge who had to decide if they had the correct amount. Most of these rugged guys were getting all of this done in under a few minutes time.
Another event was called , Ride a Wild Mule. This one was hysterical. They had four wild mules in the staging area. Four cowboys brought out saddles and placed them on the other side of the arena.
When they let out the mules, the cowboys had to run around chasing the mules on foot, rope one to get ahold of it and while trying to hold down a wild mule, they would saddle it up with the object of racing it back to the opposite side of the arena.
This sounds like a piece of cake doesn't it (Yeah Right!!). Well once the rider got onto the mule, it was like watching the Buckin' Bronc Event from Friday night. These mules were not used to being saddled, and definitely were not used to riders on their backs. It made for some awesome entertainment!
Another event involved roping calves, wrestling them to the ground and holding them there while one of the team members raced to the opposite side of the arena to grab a fake brand and brand the calf.
These type of rugged, man against animal events, using nothing but raw strength and some amazing amount of stamina was what the night was all about. There were many times I couldn't even take pictures because I would be laughing so hard and these are only a few of the events that kept us entertained for the evening.
The filled bleacher seating and the hundreds of pick-up truck beds, that were backed up to the arena and filled with patrons whooping and hollering on their favorite team only made the cowboys try harder. This was despite the drizzling rain and fog that was settling in.
Some cowboys would get pulled around the arena being drug by their own rope when a bull wouldn't want to go down easy or without a fight, as most of them did. I cant begin to imagine what these cowboys must feel like in the morning after a night like tonight. And remember, many of these studs had raced in the days earlier events.
This my friends is why other than a Soldier, who is always my number one hero, the Cowboy is and always will be my second most favorite job title. These guys just emanate manliness and ruggedness and is something normal guys like me can only dream of living on a daily basis.
All of these Ranch Rodeo Events lead up to the Main Event, the one so wild and down right idiotic, it had to be saved for last. This event would be the Second annual and was a crowd favorite for its over-the-top audacity. What could be this wild?
Well none other than the Porta-Potty Race!
This is where one member of the two person team gets in a porta-potty that is placed on one end of the arena. The other member of the team is on the horse or mule, depending on which steed he chooses, and his/her job, yes there were women riders in this event, is to race down to the porta-potty, lasso it with their rope, and pull it past a chalked line on the opposite side of the arena.
Sounds easy and like good watching doesn't it. Well it was anything but easy for the teams, but it was as wild as you can imagine to watch for us patrons screaming and hollering the night away.
Just as you'd imagine, the porta-potty's aren't that easy to maneuver behind a big horse and they tip over real easy when being pulled. When the first plastic enclosure tipped over, it got the crowd worked up when they could see the goop spewing out the sides. But the crowd went nuts when they watched as the team member who was inside the Plastic Shit Capsule came stumbling out covered in what ever was inside the holding tank.
You heard the crowd go crazy with screams and whistles as this team member raced back down the arena flinging dirt and muck in his wake.
By this time the fog was so thick, it was hard to see the opposite side of the arena, but it didn't keep the crowd from letting the teams know they were rooting them on.
At one point when there were 3 porta-potty's tipped over in the arena with team members trying to get out, I turned to the cowboys on horses all around me and asked, "What do they win for this event? Please tell me its a $1000!"
One guy just laughed atop his saddle and said "Winner gets $100 and a free t-shirt!"
I'm thinking that's why they kept this event for last. It was a great way to end the night, and as we walked across the wet, fog covered racetrack to our camper, I realized just watching these events left me exhausted. I cant imagine how the participants must feel. I'm sure that's why the barn where the live band was playing and the party had moved to was going till the wee hours of the morning.
Something tells me there must have been some serious amount of liquid pain killer being served to calm the sore muscles and get them ready for Sundays events where it would start all over again.
Sunday May 24th 2009 - Mud Wrestling at the Rock Bottom Ranch
Waking up to a hard rain let us know today would be very interesting to say the least. I wondered if the Chuck Wagon Races would still run with the wet, muddy conditions.
After a stout breakfast, I went and asked our neighbors from Sue's Pawn, who told us they will run no matter how wet it is, they only stop if there is lightening. Today's rain was nothing like yesterdays storm when it first blew in.
Today was just a steady rain with no wind to speak of and the sky was just a mute gray color. So it looked like the events would go on without any problems, we'd all be just a tad bit wet.
We covered up the cameras and lenses with some OP/Tech Rain Sleeve's that I always keep in the camera backpacks, and threw on our rain jackets ourselves. Looks like we were gonna get a bit wet.
The Chuck Wagon Races were uneventful today when it came to crashes or any nasty wrecks. This was really good for the participants and their animals racing, but wasn't nearly as fun to watch as the high speed carnage like yesterdays races. I guess when you're used to seeing Extreme Sports like Bronc' Busting and the Mean Bull Riding events, going back to normal Chuck Wagons is like turning the volume down a bunch of decibels. But it was still a great day and fun was had by all.
With the track as slick and muddy as it was today, I think alot of the teams were playing it safe and not pushing the animals too hard.
Once the races ended, there was a quick awards ceremony that had to take place in the Hay Barn due to the torrential downpour that was passing over at the time and it seemed like within minutes, the ranch was clearing out at a lightening fast pace.
I was worried that the rain would cancel the Bull Riding event for tonight and I went to speak with the Fowlers to see what the game plan was. Luke and Jake reassured me that not only would the night time festivities would still take place, but they said the rain would only add to them.
They filled me in with some stories from last years event that we werent able to attend about how it had ended up raining on Sunday much like this year. They said that they had offered up a cash prize for any women who would like to get into the muddy, sloppy arena and go at it in the mud.
They said if for some reason it was to stop raining tonight, they were going to bring out the fire hoses and create some mud because of how fun it was last year. Well it never stopped raining and wait till you hear how wild it got at the Rock Bottom Ranch.
Getting Ready for the evening, we had only enough time to clean a few of the CF cards from today's race before we had to head back out.
While Cindy and I were in the camper, we could hear what sounded like a woman and man yelling at one another from the Killer Buzz camp. I looked out to see a guy carrying a woman over his shoulder out into the road and proceeded to throw her in the thick, sloppy mud of the roadway.
Apparently the woman had been telling the man how tuff she was and when he called her out on her strength, he made the comment that he could whip her no problem and would even use her own belt to do it.
Remember, this is all in good fun and they werent actually throwing punches or beating one another. Just a friendly game of mudslinging and trash talking that always takes place on a good camping weekend.
When I saw them actually start wrestling in the mud, I grabbed the camera and ran outside to get some of the action recorded.
When he finally had her belt off, and was giving her a good spanking with it, he picked her back up, carried her down to the stream and tossed her in so she could get cleaned off. Again, I'm going to have to try me some of this Killer Buzz to see what it does to you.
This would also set the mood for this evening which got wayyyy out of control.
If I spoke like Friday nights Bull Riding was fun to watch, which it was, then tonight's SRCA Rodeo would be ten times better. The SRCA brought in bull riders from across the country with many of them being ranked PBR Riders.
Not only were the riders of the highest caliber, but the bulls were also some of the biggest, meanest suckers I've ever seen.
Being as it was pouring rain the entire night, as the event drew out, the arena became sloppier and sloppier. There was a Pro Rodeo Clown, Porkchop, that was vertically challenged if you know what I mean. He kept joking that his one foot leg length was making it very hard to walk around in 8" of deep muck.
They were also advertising that they were collecting money for the nights Mud Wrestling Match and teams needed to sign up. I figured there would be a few drunk girls and guys that would have the balls to get down and dirty, but I never imagined that 15 teams would sign up.
When the Bull Riding had finally ended, we had been treated to some of the top riders in the country and had seen an amazing night of action. Then the real fun started.
They called out the teams and got the Major League Wrestling underway. I thought a few people might slide around, but we're talking good, down home country girls. These girls could wrestle better than most men I've seen, and they looked a million times better than any men I've seen wrestling.
One team of two beautiful women even wrestled Porkchop to the ground who was screaming into his wireless microphone "Have I ever told you how much I hate me job!"
When the night finally ended, there wasn't a person who was dry, and many were covered in thick Arkansas mud. I figured since there was no bands tonight performing, and this was the end of the Rock Bottom Chuck Wagon Race, everyone would mingle around for awhile before heading back to their camps. I mean it was pouring rain still.
But as we sat around talking to Luke, Janice and Jake Fowler, the After Hours party started. This my friends is where it got good.
Cindy and I have rubbed elbows with a few big names in our travels and attended a few after hours parties that I thought were pretty wild. Back stage with Kid Rock, Uncle Cracker and Lynyrd Skynyrd, after game parties with the Detroit Red Wings, drinking with Pete Coors, Geoff Molson, Michael Andretti, the cast of Miami Ink and too many wild nights to mention throughout our years of owning a bar back in Michigan.
But the After Hours Party following the 2009 Rock Bottom Races will go down in history as being one of the craziest nights of my life.
It started with everyone mingling around below the announcers booth when someone commented that one of the girls could probably take down Luke Fowler. Luke joked and said "There is no way she can take me down."
Another cowboy said "I'll put $25 on it that she can!" and that was all it took. The two went at each other like a Lion to a Gazelle.
When these two were done and there wasn't a clean inch of skin on their body, two other girls were getting worked up with all the wrestling when one grabbed ahold of the other woman, slammed her into the mud and the games had begun again.
Now you have to remember, this was all in good fun. I said to Cindy later "If any two people I grew up with were to go at it as hard and as rugged as these people were this evening, they'd be enemies for life."
But these Arkansas Cowboys/Cowgirls would be beating the shit out of one another, filling their faces, pants, bras and any open cavity with thick mud and both would be laughing hysterically the entire time.
The two girls that were fighting only stopped when one picked the other up over her shoulder and suplexed her to the hard earth. The entire crowd let out a loud moan. I was standing ten feet away and could feel the thump of the shockwave hit my feet. It was then and only then when the girl who was on the bottom of this WWF Wrestling move heaved out a big laugh and said "Ok, I give up!"
They got up, hugged each other and were back toasting Silver Bullets a few seconds later.
This one little kid who was right in the thick of the mud slinging was instigating major battles with the grown men. He was running around throwing handfuls of mud and because he was probably one of the only ones sober in the crowd of muddy people, had amazing accuracy.
A few different times I'd see him land a hand full of muck square across someone's face from 20' away. This would usually result in that person chasing him around till they were exhausted. Granted, this young buck was maybe 7 or 8 years old, so his stamina wasn't going to give out anytime soon.
When someone finally snuck up behind him and grabbed ahold of this Mud Sniper, he got the full brunt of 3-4 grown men who filled his shirt, pants and hair with thick slop. He was screaming with laughter the entire time and I'm sure will remember this party as long as he lives.
This was probably one of the things I liked best about this after hours party. Age was no factor in the amount of fun one could have. There were fathers slinging mud at their children, mothers wrestling with their husbands, daughters and sisters. One guy who had a hip replacement 6 months ago was being drug across the ground by 3 of his best friends.
At various times new people would wander up to where the loud music and screaming was coming from probably thinking they were going to see what all the noise was about. It would only take a few seconds before someone would notice they could see the color of their clothes before they would yell out to the crowd "Why are these people clean!?!"
Like a tribe of hungry cannibals on a fresh tourist, the wild mud gang would pounce on them to bring them to the muck and make sure they didn't get up before they were covered from head to toe.
Luckily our cameras are big and expensive, because everyone would shout out, dont get Cindy or Pat, we dont want to hurt their cameras. Not that everyone wasn't trying their hardest to get us to put our equipment down, but we both clung to them like they were some sort of life vest.
By the end of the night, my cheeks hurt from laughing so hard, and even though we never went down, we were pretty much covered in mud from the splattering of wrestlers going down all around us. The cameras were soaking wet and had mud all over them and something tells me that they're going to need to be shipped to Canon for a serious cleaning before we get to Yellowstone.
Cindy had said to me the other day when I mentioned I wanted to get a new Camera Body "Well if you want a new one, why dont you sell your old one?"
I just laughed saying "How could I be honest with anyone when they ask 'How do you care for your equipment'?"
Am I supposed to say "Well lets see, they say the shutter is only good for 200,000 actuations. Ours have probably double that! They've been drug around North America for the last 3 years, in rain, snow, sand and mud. They've been in the bottom of the kayaks on both oceans and dozens of lakes. Hung from my neck while riding at break neck speeds on the motorcycle and are stored in the back of a truck with two dogs!"
Something tells me I'll have a line of people who will be waiting to buy our used equipment.
She just looked at me and said "Well you do have a point. And we're not liars, so you would have to tell them the truth if they asked."
When we finally called it a night, we slopped our way back to the camper and proceeded to strip naked right at the front door. There was no way we could bring any of our clothes in the small coach.
We showered off and hit the sack laughing ourselves to sleep about various antics that we had witnessed tonight. What an amazing Memorial Weekend!
Monday May 25th Happy Memorial Day
We woke to the sounds of pouring rain and cows mooing. The Rock Bottom Ranch was almost back to it's quiet life of a Cattle Farm.
There were a few campers packing up their soggy gear and heading out for home, where ever that might be.
Cindy and I spent the morning cleaning off the camera equipment, cleaning out the mess from the weekend of non-stop coming and going, and getting things packed up and ready to drive to Wyoming.
I had to get out one of the Honda generators because we've had out inverter on now for 3 days straight.
With the non-stop action, it seemed like we were always charging batteries, downloading images onto one of the hard drives or working on one of the computers when ever we had a free minute.
There were times one of us would run back to the coach between events to grab a few CF Cards that might have been left in the computer to clear the images off of them.
Another reason was I wanted to see how long the inverter would go before it would kill the batteries. I guess I'm dumb like that and just like to test the equipment to its max.
The Xantrex 2000watt inverter ran for 36 hours straight before our batteries started to get low enough that I thought it might hurt them. You never want to run them till they die, or you might do some irreversible damage.
I honestly think if it wouldn't have rained for the entire day on Sunday and we would have had a nice sunny day like Thursday and Friday, I probably could have left it on another few days.
So we got out the generator and let it run all morning to bring the batteries back up to 100%.
Mike and Lou Fowler came by to say 'Goodbye' and make sure we had a good time.
I think these are two of the nicest people we've ever met. They went out of their way to feed us, get us drunk, make sure we had anything and everything we needed for the weekend and did it all while hosting a top notch event.
To the entire Fowler Family, our hats are off to you for everything you did this weekend and how well you pulled it all off. Cindy and I will do our best to make sure the Rock Bottom Chuck Wagon Races are an annual stop on our travels.
I'd also like to say a huge Thank You to our men and women who serve this country. I'm a bit patriotic and tip my hat to any man or woman who gives their service to keep the rest of us living in a free world. Thank you for what you do and thank you for the tremendous job you perform.
Thanksgiving is a day when we pause to give thanks for the things we have.
Memorial Day is a day when we pause to to give thanks to the people who fought for the things we have! Thank You!!
Pulling out of the Ranch, we had to switch into four wheel drive just to get across the sloppy field. There were a few seconds when we were crawling up an incline that was pitched to one side when the entire truck and camper just started sliding down the hill sideways while still gaining forward momentum.
The rest of the afternoon was spent crossing Missouri and finally pulling over in some heavy rain in Kansas. It'll take a few days before we get all the galleries posted from the weekend. But we already have some of them up if you want to check out the fun times. Rock Bottom Chuck Wagon Galleries
Tuesday May 26th 2009
After such a long eventful weekend of fun and photo taking, we've been bombarded with emails asking us when we are going to have all the galleries posted.
I worked into the early morning hours last night deleting and editing photos and posting them to our galleries. This morning the emails continued so we spent most of the day parked in a Wal-Mart parking lot uploading and editing.
Its funny because it looks like Cindy and I are playing a game of "Who Sunk My Battleship" with our two laptops back to back at our small table in the camper.
Boy how I'd love to have one of the new Lenovo ThinkPads where the screen rotates/swivels so when one of us wants to show the other one of the images we're working on, all we have to do is swivel the screen, rather than get up and walk around the table every few minutes.
By mid-day, the heat of the camper was getting annoying and we thought we had better log some miles today. So we packed everything up and headed out.
We found a Flying J truck stop and emptied the black/gray tanks and refilled our fresh water. Topped off the diesel and were finally on the road at 4:30pm.
If you ever want to look for some cool abandoned cars, follow Route 166 West through Kansas. We'd pass homesteads, forgotten farms and even towns that looked like they were straight from the movie set of Grapes of Wrath.
Sometimes we'd be rolling through a town (think four-way intersection with a General Store and a few trailers) and we'd never have even realized it was one of the towns on the map and our speed would usually never drop enough to even see if it was still functioning.
Other towns would look completely abandoned, but there were a few lights on in a few of the old structures. We saw lots of deer along the edges of the roads, hundreds of armadillo's, opossums and snakes that had gone to that big zoo in the sky from trying to cross the road, and except for the odd long-haul trucker, it seemed like we had the blacktop to ourselves.
Right after it got dark, we moved a ways North to Route 160 West and finally pulled over for the night when a Wal-Mart appeared out of nowhere. Cindy was actually trying to type it into the GPS when we came over a small hill and I told her to stop typing and look up.
She looked up and said, "Oh, well I guess it found us this time."
Cindy walked right in the camper and said "I'm going to bed." I spent the next few hours trying to work on a few more galleries to quell the emails we keep getting wanting to see last weekends fun.
Problem is, we're in the middle of nowhere and our Broadband connection is slower than Dial-up, even with the Wilson Amplifier. Being as the nearest town is Wichita, and that's a few hours behind us, something tells me the Cell Towers are few and far between out here.
One thing that Kansas has alot of is wind. A few different times the camper would be rocking and shaking so bad Cindy would wake up and make some funny comment about clicking her heels together and wanting Toto to come to bed with her before she'd be sawing logs again.
Another thing that happened with driving West is we're headed back into early spring. Long gone are the hot, humid temperatures we were experiencing a few days ago. It looks like tomorrow I'll be breaking back out the winter coats and sweatshirts. It's a treat though and I enjoy cool weather much more than I do muggy, humid stuff.
For some reason when I'm sitting here late at night with only the sounds of the wind whistling through the camper, it makes me feel like some explorer camped in the cabin of his small vessel waiting out a storm. It usually makes me fall asleep with a smile on my face knowing tomorrow will bring new memories for us to cherish.
Wednesday May 27th 2009 Are You Kidding Me? Kansas Again!
Driving like we have for the last few days, it reminds me of road trips we'd take when we only had a few weeks per year to take off from work and 90% of the vacation, we were racing to get to our destination so we could have the most amount of time to see the sights.
Those long days of driving were treacherous on the back, the legs and on the mind. Sitting for so long, ones back tends to stiffen up and become uncomfortable really fast. The mind tends to wander and you can only listen to the radio, talk to one another about the sights out the window or fidget around in your seat and become aggravated and short tempered.
It might be different if we were traveling across any other state. We never travel like this, or at least try our hardest not to. But spending the Memorial Day weekend in Arkansas meant we'd have to race across the Plains States to make it to Wyoming in time for our Orientation.
For anyone who has ever driven across Kansas, you know how boring it can be. For those who are planning a trip across North America, do yourself a favor and try your hardest to bypass this state.
Not that some of the vistas aren't beautiful, but its just that they go on for hours upon hours. Some of the little towns you pass through have beautiful character and help break up the monotony, but they are few and far between.
Approaching one town, the metropolis of Ness City, we had seen some billboard signs advertising the Skyscraper of the Plains and thought it might be something worth getting out to see.
Cindy made the comment that the building on the billboard looked to only 3 stories tall. I told her that was probably all they could fit on the sign, 3 stories isn't a skyscraper by anyone's stretch of the imagination.
But when we pulled into Ness City with it's brick paved streets, what did we find? A 3 story skyscraper! We both laughed and just kept driving.
By the time it got dark, we were almost through, but it was late and we had spent way too long just sitting. We found a Wal-Mart parking lot to help save money on campground fees and called it a night.
Since I hadn't gotten any exercise the entire day, unless you call the little wrist squeeze device thingy I keep in my door pocket that strengthens my forearms, my body needed to do something other than fill the fuel tank repeatedly.
So as Cindy made dinner, I went around the parking lot and gathered all the shopping carts and pushed them up to the store. I figure it was the least I could do for all the nights they've saved us on camping fee's.
I've started to wonder if I could apply at Wal-Mart and work at a different store each night as security guard or a janitor or something like that. Something to put some fuel in the tank, and keep me busy while Cindy sleeps. You know, when the A.D.D. medication isn't working.
I know that driving for this long is wearing on Cindy and I and we're ready to beat the hell out of one another. Its no wonder weekend warriors hate to camp in RV's and would rather just fly to their destination or stay very close to home.
We thought it was funny after the first few Historical Markers we stopped at to see what they were about and get us out of the truck. One said something like "Home of a Genius" and explained that a man used to live here that was a Certified Genius.
I guess if you have nothing else to get people to stop for, you have to pull out all the stops. Another one was a road side pull-off that said something like "At one time a regiment from the Army slept here during some war...ya...da...ya...da."
So we stopped pulling over for the Historical Markers and would just blow past them making up stories for what might have taken place there at some point.
Here lies a man who once boiled a cup of tea for his mistress
On this spot in 1743, a cow gave birth to a calf
Maybe we are starting to go a bit mad, or maybe we just need to do something other than drive. Soon my friends, soon we'll be out of Kansas, and hopefully into an area that will offer something to awaken the mind.
Thursday May 28th 2009 - Kansas, Colorado & Wyoming in 1 Day
Today was our day. We threw caution to the wind and went against our better judgment and got onto an Interstate. I couldn't take another day of driving across Kansas.
This morning I received an Email from our good friend Jeff Bettenga which simply said "3 DAYS in Kansas!!!, you do realize normal people would have driven across it in 6-7 hours right? You probably could skip at least a couple of the gravel roads and PRETEND you saw the ENTIRE state mile by mile."
We had parked in the town of Colby last night which happened to be right along I-70. So we jumped on I-70 West and made some good time into Colorado. Once in the 'Centennial' state, we noticed the landscape start to change pretty fast.
First of all this state has decided that trees are something that is good for nature and has planted lots of them along the roadways. Unlike the state of Kansas who must hate trees with a passion and leaves their roadways bare from horizon to horizon.
Eastern Colorado isn't much different than Southern Kansas which surprisingly offered some beautiful, rolling vistas.
Buzzing along on I-70 West, we hit the town of Limon and turned North on HWY 71. Now we were back on one of our beloved two lane backroads which offers so much more when it comes to character.
Our entire day up to this point had been nothing but blue skies with big fluffy clouds that reminded us of the backdrop you see in an episode of 'The Simpsons'.
That was till we passed the town of Last Chance. I pointed up ahead and told Cindy to check out that line of nasty looking clouds. We both talked about what we would do if we were to drive into or near a Tornado, which had us wondering what we would do?
This road wasn't too busy and I was able to stop a few different times right in the middle of the road to get out to snap a picture of the funky cloud patterns that were like something straight out of a Stephen King movie.
Then while driving along this narrow road, Cindy yelled out "Whoa, what the hell are you doing!?!"
I had both hands on the wheel and it was all I could do to keep the truck and trailer on the road. We were blowing around something fierce and the coach was swaying all over the road behind us.
I slowed way down and at the first little pull-off, we came to a stop to wait out the high winds. Getting out of the truck was hard enough and I could barely push open the door because of the strong crosswinds.
By this point the black clouds were all around us and lightening was spider webbing across the sky. I grabbed the camera and ran across the street into the knee high grass.
I figured if the camper was going to blow over, I might as well make sure we're clear of it.
I really wanted to try and get a picture of the clouds with the lightening so I sat with the camera pointed towards the storm and held onto the shutter. The lightening was coming so fast that we could almost predict it.
We would see a few small flashes in the clouds before a big bolt would go shooting across the sky. Cindy would sit there yelling "Ok, here one comes, get ready!"
Of the 50 or so shots I snapped, I was able to get one recorded. Although not as crazy as some of the ones we witnessed today, beggars cant be choosers.
The rain was what drove us back into the truck and by the time the downpour was washing off all the bug juice, the winds were almost died down to nothing. I guess the brunt of the storm must have been the face of the rain and now that it was here, the winds were behind us.
So we started up and drove on through the rain. The truck and front of the camper needed a good washing anyways. Traveling along all these farm fields, the bugs are plentiful and juicy.
It only took about a half hour of driving before we drove out the other side of the storm and back into blue skies and just like that, the majestic Rocky Mountains appeared before us.
They looked so threatening with their dark clouds hovering above the 14,000' peaks still covered with a thick layer of snow, but God do they look beautiful.
I cant imagine how daunting it must have been for the settlers to be traveling along the Plains in their horse and buddies and have those monsters rise up out of the grasslands before them. Talk about some true adventurers.
The sun was setting fast and Cindy wanted to pull over around Greeley, but we had both talked about getting up early tomorrow morning to go explore the Medicine Bow National Forest near Cheyenne. When I saw the sign that said Cheyenne 29 miles, I said "Come on honey, lets just get up to Wyoming and we'll be that much closer for in the morning."
Cindy wasn't in a good mood at this point as she was hungry and ready for bed. This many days in a row being cooped up in a truck is wearing thin on all of us.
As soon as we crossed the Wyoming border, I spotted a little gravel pull-off along the side of the road and with the Rocky Mountains off to our West, a line of Turbines generating power for the local towns and the setting sun behind that mountain range, I locked up the brakes and we called it a day.
While Cindy made some dinner I let the dogs run around in the tall grass without their leashes on which is like heaven to them. I had to run in the camper to get my jacket and knit hat as the temperature is about 60° outside and I was only in a t-shirt and pants.
With the boring Plains behind us, the Rocky Mountains to our immediate West and the rolling beautiful Laramie Plains in front of us, we're basically surrounded with nothing but Gods beauty and I couldn't think of a better place to wake and see the sunrise. Even if it is along the side of the road.
Friday May 29th 2009 - Experiencing the Wonders of Wyoming
What a long day it was and filled with so many beautiful sights I dont know if I can even describe them all. I will say that I never knew Wyoming was so diverse and had so many beautiful sights to offer. It's almost like we traveled through multiple states with the vast differences we saw in landscapes.
Then again, how many people travel from the bottom, most Eastern section on a diagonal line through the entire state, and do it all in one day?
Our morning started in Cheyenne where we woke up at sunrise camped beside the road and below the silent energy makers. A couple of Protein Shakes for breakfast would give our bodies some of its energy and we were on the road.
We stopped at a Flying J in Cheyenne to top off the fuel tank, empty out any extra weight that might be in our black/gray tanks at their free dump station and headed North by North/West.
Our good friend Luca Diana, who is a fellow photographer and lives in Jackson Hole had sent me an email offering some suggestions on scenic routes and mentioned that HWY 287 was probably the most scenic route across Wyoming. He said it offered a wealth of photographic vistas and if we were lucky, might even see some of the wild flowers. He hit the nail on the head with that route suggestion but I think we're still a few weeks too early for the wild flowers. We were able to see the start of the season, but nothing like the last time we were here and saw miles upon miles of fields filled with the Lupines.
Pulling out of Cheyenne, we jumped on I-80 West till we hit the town of Laramie, where we found HWY 130. This little two lane road would bring us up through the town of Centennial and some of the tallest, most spectacular peaks in Wyoming. The seasonal route had just been opened last week and when we stopped to ask this question, the local I spoke with told me we'd still encounter some serious snow drifts, but the road should be clear the entire way.
Taking this route wasn't the best option for fuel mileage, but traveling through the Rocky Mountain Range with the steep inclines around every bend, there really is no good way to drive to get better fuel mileage in this state.
Once we started the climb, which is known as the Overland Trail, named so by some Fur Trappers who used this route back in the early 1800's and was followed by adventurers on their Western Migration, we knew we had made the right decision.
The road is as curvy as one could imagine and the vistas it offers of the Rocky Mountain Range are some of the best in the state.
Passing through the little town of Centennial, we noted that we'd have to come back on another trip to spend some time in this eclectic little mountain town. With a few rustic saloons, a General Store named 'The Friendly Store' which had a giant dog sitting on the bench outside waiting patently for its owner who was eating breakfast inside, and a charm that you can only find hidden in the mountains, this was a very neat place.
One of the reviews of this road I had found when looking to see if the seasonal road would be open had warned "When passing through the town of Centennial, there will be a police car parked right along the side of the road in the middle of town. Dont worry because the town has no police, the car is just parked there to deter speeding."
Two things - 1. Why would you speed through a town this cool? 2. The car is from the early 70's and looks like the police car Barney Fife drove!
One look at the car and I laughed thinking "Who in their right mind would think that was a real police car?"
From Centennial, you climb straight up for miles upon miles and it didn't take long before we started seeing snow along the edges of the road. The random piles of snow soon turned into a blanket which turned into drifts towering over the camper as we climbed up over 10,000 in elevation.
The views out across the Rockies are enough to bring tears to your eyes and you can easily see all the way into Colorado.
At one pull-off, we got out to let the transmission have a break after 20 something miles of a 8% grade we had been climbing and to let the dogs play in the snow.
Luca loves to run and play in the cold white stuff and he was having a riot. I think he was a bit confused at first, especially since a few days ago he was panting in the mid-day heat and 80° heat. Once he realized it was real snow, he was running and jumping off the banks like a little kid. Every time he would stop he would take a mouth full of the cold snow to cool him down.
At one point, me and the dogs had climbed high up on a bank to get a cool view when Luca noticed Cindy across the road. Like a typical dog and their 'Live in the Now' mentality, he just thought, "Oh look, mom's over there" and went bounding across the snow drifts.
Pay no attention to the fact that the first drift he jumped off of was probably 8 feet in the air, but the second drift that landed him square in the road was well over Cindy's head.
I was yelling for him to stop just as Cindy was, but he just came bounding down the hill and landed squarely in the middle of the road without ever even noticing that he had just jumped that high. Gotta love the mind of a dog.
Thank God that in the time we had traveled up the mountain, we had seen maybe two other cars and one amazingly fit older fella on a road bike who had just climbed up this road for his daily workout. So there wasn't too much of a worry about him being hit by a passing motorist, but I did get scolded by Cindy for letting him run free around the mountain side.
But come on, the dogs gotta love being able to just run around off their leashes from time to time. I've got no kids on the trip with me to spoil other than these two heathens who take up so much of our time and space.
Back on the road, forget burning out the transmission, after this route alone I'll probably need to replace the starter. It seemed like ever few minutes one of us would be yelling to 'Stop The Truck' so we could jump out and snap a few pictures. It just seemed around every turn the views got better. And this would set the stage for the rest of the day.
We both made notes to come back along this route in warmer temperatures because of all the mountain lakes that were right along the base of the rugged peaks. Passing them now they are all still frozen, so a beautiful reflection is out of the question, but with a little imagination, we were drooling at the thought of the photo opts.
After a few hours of driving, I finally pulled over and pulled out my little note pad I keep beside me in the truck to write down all the cool things we had seen. Normally when driving, if we pass something really neat that I want to talk about in the blogs, I jot down a note or two so I wont forget.
By the end of the day I had a full page of notes and these were just short sentences to remind me of the key points.
Coming down the back side of the mountain we dropped into a wide open expanse of a landscape that reminded us of New Mexico and the volcanic region you pass through in the lower section of that state.
The roadsides were loaded with Prong Horns, Prairie Dogs and Painted Horses and after a few hundred of these blonde bucks, we stopped counting. It got to the point that we wouldn't even stop talking, one would just point in the direction and we'd go on with what ever we were carrying on about.
Cindy mentioned that the ass end of a Prong Horn looks like a bullseye and it would make for one easy target. I told her that you NEVER shoot anything in the butt when hunting, but she was correct, it does look just like a bullseye.
HWY 130 dumps you back off onto I-80 which we took West for a few miles into the town of Rawlins. This is where we would pick up HWY 287 North which would be our roller coaster ride for the rest of the day.
HWY 287 should probably be on the list of anyone planning the most Scenic Road Trip and make sure you bring plenty of hard drives to hold all the photos you're going to take.
We pulled off the road in Rawlins and as Cindy was making us some lunch in the camper, I had to hold the dogs back as 3 Prong Horns crossed the road right in front of us. Luca was drooling from the mouth wanting to chase one of them, but it just looked at us from 100' away and kept on its merry way.
If you do travel this route, make sure to top off your tank in Rawlins, because the little towns on map above Rawlins are long dried up. We stopped in a few of them, but Jeffrey City looks like the movie set for a scary film, and offers no services. Sweetwater Junction consists of a closed down gas station/bar/general store and a home selling 'Old Books and Fresh Eggs'.
These towns are loaded with character and offer plenty of photo opportunities if you dont mind getting out and wandering around someone's yard. I personally dont, but Cindy is usually yelling at me to get back in the truck thinking someone is going to be pointing a shotgun in my face for trespassing.
It's not like I go walking right up to their house, but I might walk along the road and shoot pictures towards their house. Sorry, if you have a house that looks interesting, I might stop and take a photo of it. It's one of those sicknesses I have. I cant pass up cool looking photos.
Lander is the first place you'll be able to fill up, and the fuel was the most expensive along the route. They probably know this and can charge what ever they want.
It was also somewhere in Lander when we lost one of our Reese Sway Bars. Not sure of when or how it happened, and I only hope it didn't come off while we were driving, that would cause some serious damage to whom ever was behind us, but we lost it.
I went to back up at one point to turn around and noticed the camper didn't want to back properly. I got out to see what the problem was and found it was due to the fact that only one Sway Bar was on and it was causing some serious tension.
Oh Well, I knew it was loose back in Arkansas when it kept falling off, but I thought when I swapped them to different sides, it would fix the problem. So from here on out, we're towing without the sway bars.
Right above Lander is the Wind River Indian Reservation and the Grave of Sacajawea. We tried to stop and see this Landmark, but the one sign on the side of the road with only an arrow didn't tell us much.
There were two Shoshone Graveyards we looked around in, but none of the grave stones said anything about this amazing woman who helped navigate the western exploration of the Lewis & Clark Expedition.
Passing through the Wind River Range is like being on Sensory Overload. If we said "WOW" one time, we said it a million. I'd be telling Cindy to look over in this direction as she'd be telling me to look over in that direction.
We pulled over so many times, I think I'll need to replace the brakes after this day of driving alone. We saw hundreds upon hundreds of Prong Horn, Mule Deer, Big Horn Sheep, and some of the most amazing landscapes this world has to offer.
The Wyoming landscape is so diverse it reminded me of almost every other state we've been in. We saw volcanic areas like in New Mexico, red sandstone like in Sedona, painted desert landscapes like in the Vermillion Cliffs of Utah and snow capped peaks of the Rockies like in Colorado.
Big Sky Country is breathtaking and truly offers some of the best scenes I've ever viewed in my short life.
When we finally pulled over in the cool little town of Dubois, with its wooden sidewalks and bustling saloons, we found a laundromat so Cindy could have some clean clothes and called it a night.
I was exhausted from all the energy I had used being so excited about the next turn. But that a few thousand turns ago. Cindy made some dinner and while she was typing away at her daily blog, I think I fell asleep on the couch. I know it was only around 9:45 at night, but I had watched the sun come up over the Rockies and had watched it set on the opposite side a few mountain ranges over. We'd crossed the Continental Divide and were now in the True West.
What a day our first day was. I cant imagine what the rest of the summer is going to be like.
Total Miles Traveled for the month of May = 2697.3
Total Water Used in Coach = 155 Gallons
Total Fuel Used in Truck = 250.64 Gallons @ a Cost of $580.53
Campground Costs - 5 Days total in a campground $81 total - These were the few days we spent in Arkansas and enjoyed their campgrounds so much we felt it was worth it to spend the money and use them.
No Propane Tanks Used this month, but then again, it was a warm month and we never had to turn on the heat. At the end of the month, neither bottles were showing empty.
Of the 31 days out of this month, all 31 were spent in the camper. 26 of those days were spent either Drycamping or Boondocking and 5 of them were spent in a campground.
That brings us to 110 days so far this year spent in the camper and a total spent on campground fees at $118.