FALL ‘99 TOM TRIP
This will be our first really long trip in Tom. (Tom is our Maverick motor home.) The trip serves two purposes; get us several places we need to be and build up a bit of confidence in the machine. We will go first to Denver for a brief visit and feed, then off to IWC for the Trustees’ meeting, Crystal Lake for an over-night visit with Betty and Tom Schmitt, a leisurely trip to Orlando for the Senior Olympics, and home via Phyllis & Bob Isban on the west coast of Florida.
We actually succeeded in getting out of Oceanside at 6:30 am, Friday Oct. 9th. Some of our early departure was wasted by not taking the rerouted state 76 which caused us to reverse course at a dead end. That, however, was only a small loss. We must get to Denver promptly since Beth has made reservations at Assignments Saturday night.
Our plan was to spend Friday night at the state park in Green River. We arrived at 7:30 PM to discover a "Campground Full" sign gracing the campground entrance. Jodie was driving and decided to pull in for an easier turn around. The ranger came out as we approached the entrance kiosk. Jodie said, with some exasperation, that we were just wanting to turn around. He asked if we had been intending to camp there. When she said "Yes," he said that he had just received a cancellation and that we could stay if we wanted. It turns out that the Columbus Day weekend is a really big deal in Utah. The schools close Friday making it a four-day weekend for celebration of the end of Summer. (Most other places consider Labor Day to be the end of Summer.) Our site was quite nice. Since we were still in the west, the site had no hookups. (Easterners must be shocked to find that western camp sites do not have any hook-ups.)
Before reaching Green River we drove through Glenwood Canyon. The fall colors were spectacular! The most spectacular view occurred in the deep reaches of the canyon when we were in shadows. There was a cleft in the canyon rim allowing a shaft of sunlight to spotlight a small stand of brilliant yellow Aspen trees.
Green River is the self-anointed watermelon capitol of the World. There were many road-side stands selling melons, however none were open at the late hour of our arrival nor were they open at our early departure so we couldn’t take advantage and bring melons to Denver.
We arrived in Denver in early afternoon, well in time for the dining reservations. After pruning some trees growing out from the fence behind Beth & Randall’s we parked and leveled the motor home. There is an outlet in the garage so we even plugged in. "Jose’" provided us with the key and we entered the house since they weren’t home. They were shopping.
Saturday night’s dinner was with their realtor and her husband. I spent a fair amount of time Sunday installing a new porch light. We had dinner that night with an old college friend Roger Campbell at the Washington Park Grill, conveniently located at the end of B&R’s alley.
Randall left early Monday morning for a meeting in some distant Colorado county in spite of the day being an official holiday. My only task that day was to install Windows 95 on their computer and then install dread Microsoft Office 1897, which is the state standard. In spite of all the possible problems all went well. 95 installed like a well-mannered program, as did office. Office put some sort of weird Icon group on the screen which I was able to remove by editing the start-up file. (I found out how to do this by asking Help! I was quite surprised.)
After breakfast at the new Gaylord Street Bakery Tuesday morning, Beth departed for work and we departed for Cheyenne. One of Tom’s nice features is a usual 10 mpg performance coupled with a 55 gal. fuel tank. This allowed us to drive to Cheyenne without having to gas in Denver. After visiting Flying J we visited Sierra Trading Post, our whole purpose for going out of our way.
The next stop was Cabella’s in Sidney, NB. We needed some insulated ruber boots for our polar adventures. After selecting the boots we wandered around this incredible outdoors man store. The size and variety of stock beggars description.
Since it was late in the day we decided to try the Conestoga Campground in Sidney. I thought that this might be a nice place to stay since it was well off of the interstate and therefore should be quiet. Being off of the interstate places it close to the railroad tracks. There were loud trains all night long. The campground itself is barren. It seems to be an old trailer park. Electrical and water hook-ups were available as was a limited cable TV connection. Oh well, it was an adequate place to spend the night.
We dropped from western Nebraska’s lofty 6,000 foot elevation to western Iowa’s more reasonable 500 feet the next day. By this time we had had our fill of rough, 18-wheeler plagued interstates so we bailed out before Omaha for the two-lane peace of US34. Our camp that night was a beautiful state park, Viking Lake. With electrical hook-ups we experienced our first display of decorative lights on RV awnings.
The fall colors reflecting on the placid lake made us realize that we had truly reached fall.
The trip across the gently rolling hills of Western Iowa made me realize that Iowa has many more small woods than I realized. The fall colors made that even more obvious. We arrived in Mt. Pleasant in early afternoon, much to early to take up our parking spot behind the library. So we shopped a bit and scouted out some place to have dinner. We finally settled on Jerry’s on the east edge of town. Then we parked and had a leisurely cocktail hour then went off to the restaurant. My pork chop was batter dipped and deep fat fried, not how it should have been. There was a salad bar which compensated, somewhat, for the total lack of vegetables on the plate. Iowa is meat-‘n-potatoes country.
While Jodie saved IWC I puttered in the motor home. Prior to leaving Oceanside I had built a shelf for the DSS receiver and the antenna controller. It sagged quite badly so I had to brace it a bit. I strolled up town to pick up the parts and then fixed the shelf. In the course of the day, the temperature rose to 91o. I changed to shorts and Tevas. When Jodie and Lowell arrived from the meeting, I had to change to sports coat, long pants, dress shirt and tie so we could go to the new president’s reception. Afterwards we went to the Iris Court for dinner, more pork with no vegetables. This pork, however, was quite good. I guess it should be with pork being the official dish of Iowa.
That night we were serenaded by rain drops pounding on the roof. The only problem is that the interior was quite warm and we had to close the windows to keep the rain out. We left early the next morning for Illinois.
The interstates in Illinois are in terrible condition. I assume that is a combination of overweight 18-wheelers and poor construction resulting from the usual Illinois graft. At any rate, we eventually reached Crystal Lake and Betty and Tom’s beautiful home in the woods. It was a delightful visit which featured a sumptuous dinner and a wonderful shower the next morning. Betty and we strolled through their woods before breakfast. Breakfast was another sumptuous meal. We departed around 11 and headed south on a small state road. (See the previous mention of the Interstates.) The small road was in fine condition so we decided to follow in almost to the southern end of the state.
That night we camped in Kickapoo State park, very close to the Indiana border. We discovered the next morning, after getting lost getting out of the park, that Indiana interstates are very much better than Illinois’.
After looking at the remaining distance to Orlando and time available to get there, we decided to change our route a bit and headed off towards West Virginia, a state we have never visited.
Our route lead us across Ohio. We spent the night at Shawnee Lake State Park. Our selected camp site was across the road from the "service" building. The services included hot showers and a Laundromat. We took advantage of both! Before we left the next morning we hiked a trail through the woods to the lodge area and then did a bit of shopping at the campground shop when we got back.
As we left dry Utah we began to encounter trees, and along with trees, fall colors. New England has no lock on spectacular fall colors. The Aspin were especially brilliant through Colorado. As we drove through Glennwood Canyon the sides were covered with reds and yellows. The colors have continued to grow and intensify as we have reached the hardwood forests of the east. The intense reds and yellows and more faded pinks not only grace the trees; the ground is carpeted with Mother Nature’s rug of many colors. As we have turned south we have passed through late fall to early fall to no fall at all.
Although most interstates are in better condition than those in Illinois, we have chosen, for various reasons, to stay mostly on smaller roads. Our travel is not as fast, given the 55 mph speed limit on most of these roads, however, the frequent small towns are interesting. These small towns are also an impendent to rapid travel.
Crossing Ohio lead us to our goal: West Virginia. It is truly a mountainous, scenic place. We have been concentrating on the roads designated with paralleling dotted lines by the auto club, indicating a scenic road. We drove along the Ohio river for quite a ways. There is a lot of barge traffic, much of it coal. This coal traffic continued on the Kanawha River in West Va. until the river became too shallow.
We decided to stay in the Kanawha State Forest, near Charleston, West Va. It turns out that it was almost in the town. The route led through narrow twisting streets of luxury housing areas. We missed one sign, since it was covered with tree branches, and wound up in a high school parking lot, packed with parents waiting to pick up students, With some difficulty we got out and eventually found the campground. It was located in a narrow, winding canyon with mainly small campsites. Eventually we found a suitable spot and settled in for the night. There was a gentle rain during the night.
We made a token passage through Virginia and spent the night at a commercial campground, Carrolwood, near ? The nights have been quite cool, since leaving Iowa, and the days fairly cool with clouds. We awoke to scattered fog that broke up as we descended the 2,000 feet to the Piedmont.
Georgia has been warm and pleasant. We have stayed in two beautiful state parks. Last night was Magnolia Lake State Park and the final camp prior to the Orlando week was Stephen Foster State Park.
Magnolia was the site of a Confederate POW camp, selected partly for the 8 million gallon a day spring there.
Stephen Foster is deep in the Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge. We have left fall behind and are now in the deep, warm south. One interesting contrast in the various parts of the country involves Halloween. Decoration in the west is not terribly elaborate. In the Midwest it rivals the elaborateness of Christmas. In the south it is not generally present although there are the occasional jack-o-lanterns on porches. The campground hosts, or VIPs (Volunteer In Park), at Shawnee Lake State Park had an elaborate display set up next to their 5th wheel.
While back to Shawnee Lake State Park, I need to mention the activities of the VIPs. As I have mentioned, the fall leaves were in full display. At this park quite a few had fallen. The host and his wife seemed to be trying to clean them all up. She was out with a rake, primarily cleaning up trash. He had a power mower and was blowing them off of the road and the parking pads. I was surprised that they hadn’t cleaned up the trails, but, thankfully, they hadn’t.
We have finally reached Walt’s world. As compared with Disney Land, this is a world. It has its own freeways. Without too much difficulty we were able to reach our hotel, the All-star Movies resort, as contrasted with the All-star Sports or All-star Music resorts. We checked in promptly but were told that our room wasn’t ready. Jodie needed to go to the Disney Wide World of Sports complex to pick up her credentials so we went to the shuttle bus pick-up point and waited a half hour until it showed up.
From the resort the ride is about 20 minutes to the sports complex, and what a complex it is! There is a huge gym. The side where volleyball will be played has generous room for 12 courts. There is also a very large baseball stadium that is used by the Atlanta Braves for Spring training. After a long hike we found the place to pick up Jodie’s stuff. We then had to go to the housing desk to pick up the rest of her stuff and mine. Then it was back to the shuttle and back to the resort. We called a special number and were given our room number, 1956 in the Dalmatian complex. Within the Movies resort there is the previous mentioned Dalmatian complex, the Mighty Dicks, Fantasia, and ?
When we checked in we were given two credit card-like room access keys. These are tied to a credit card and can also be used to charge purchases throughout the park, or should I say "World?"
After all the running around and hauling our stuff in from the motor home, we didn’t feel like going out for supper. The resorts feature fast food courts. We ordered a pizza and brought it back to the room. There are large insulated plastic mugs that you can purchase for $8.99 that allow you lifetime fill-ups from the soft drink and coffee dispensers in the food court. We bought two and filled them with coffee. We had wine from Tom with the pizza, which wasn’t too bad. We enjoyed the coffee later with cookies we also brought in from Tom.
We will use the cups to get coffee each morning for breakfast in the room. (When dining at one of the other resort complexes we discovered that the mugs cost $7.99 there!)
Sunday was a ghastly day, although it started out well. After a leisurely shower and in-room breakfast, we took the Disney shuttle over to Downtown Disney, basically a shopping and entertainment area. We shopped until 11:30, then had a very good lunch at Fulton’s Crab House. Then we returned to our room, changed clothes, and boarded the bus to the Citrus Bowl for the grand opening ceremony. It was an awful afternoon. Jodie stood from 2:15 until 6 PM in the Sun until it was her turn to walk in. I sat in the Sun in the bleachers. The marching of the athletes was overly long and boring; there were far too many boring speeches; the entertainment was inane; and it got really cold after the Sun went down. When I met Jodie on the baseball diamond after the thing I was shivering uncontrollably.
Eventually we boarded the bus and eventually departed for The Magic Kingdom. There was, of course, a huge traffic jam so we didn’t get there until after 9 PM. Three of the park fast food restaurants were open for our included meal. They were mobbed! We finally were able to get a meal and got out in time for the reinstituted Main Street Electrical Parade. It was quite good.
Since Jodie’s team doesn’t play until Wednesday, we have two days to visit some of the theme parks. Our "package" includes admission to three attractions. On Monday we visited Animal Kingdom. I believe the creators of this park spent a lot of time at the San Diego Zoo Wild Animal Park. There are some nice animal displays and the usual hokey rides. The bird show is quite good. There are two stage shows, one based on the Lion King and the other Tarzan. Of the two, Lion King is much better however both seem to have borrowed from Cirque de Soli.
We returned to our abode in late afternoon for cocktails and then boarded the bus for Downtown Disney to meet niece Cathy & family for dinner at the Rainforest Café. When we arrived at 8 PM, the place was mobbed. I went looking for Cathy while Jodie joined the line. While there she encountered one of the hosts who asked how many there were in her party. When she responded, "Perhaps six or seven," he said to mention his name when we reached the podium. When we reached the podium they were quoting waits of 1:15 hours. He found us there and took us in for immediate seating.
We have now departed Walt’s (or should I say "Michael’s,") wonderful world and are parked in front of the Hamel residence in Margate. Safely tucked away is Jodie’s GOLD MEDAL! Her team won every match, losing only one game on their way. The team to which they lost the one game was the Texas team that the wound up playing in the gold medal game. They were the champions from the previous Olympics.
Disney World is quite a place. It is quite large and seemingly monolithic. Things seem to run on automatic however when something is not right, there is no one to ask about it. For example, the bus system frequently malfunctions. None of the Disney people who are publically exposed have any idea why or whom to ask. Management seems to be magnificently isolated from the guest.
After the last game and the medal ceremonies we waited over 45 minutes for the shuttle bus that is supposed to run every 15 minutes. The driver of one of the Disney buses called on his radio to try to find out what happed to the bus. Since the shuttle is provided by Meers, not Disney, no one knew anything about it. We suspected that it had been discontinued, even though the signs were still up. So we boarded the Disney bus which was going to MGM. When we got there we boarded another bus for the All Star Resorts. Between waiting and the inefficient Disney shuttle rides, it took us 1:15 to get back.
Our last dinner was at Niccoosee’s, a restaurant in the Grand Floridian Resort. With our previous experience with the evening buses, we allowed 1:30 to get there. After looking at the map we decided to try going to the Magic Kingdom and then riding the monorail from there, if the Magic Kingdom bus arrived first. It did and we got to the restaurant about 45 minutes early. We were eventually seated, 15 minutes ahead of our priority seating time. The resort is quite elegant, as it should be at $650 a night. The restaurant is nice however very noisy. Our meal was enhanced by viewing the Magic Kingdom fireworks show across the lake.
It is now November 11th and I must try to remember anything salient from the intervening period. We departed Mike’s World Saturday morning and drove down the center of Florida to Margate. Our two day visit was uneventful, with the exception that I left the vents and the side windows open slightly while we went shopping. There was a driving rain which got our sleeping bag and pad wet.
We left Monday morning and drove across Alligator Alley to the west side. Since the Isbans weren’t due back until Tuesday we needed a place to spend the night. After grocery shopping, and a Laundromat session, we drove over to Ortona Locks on the Inland Waterway. This was a lovely Corps of Engineers campground.
After a leisurely departure the next morning, we met the Isbans for lunch, then set out for home. We decided to stay on the west coast rather than going back to the interstate that runs up the center of the state. This was a bit of an error since the highway goes though urban area and is quite congested. Eventually we reached open country and made some progress.
We wound up driving rather late and were not pleased to find that the state park we were planning to use closes its gates at sunset. Where to camp? We went back to the highway and were headed toward a rest stop when I spotted a small, blue camping sign at the side of the road. After some false turns we found a commercial campground, Otter Springs where we spent the night. Although the camp seemed tacky at 9 PM, in the fresh light of morning it turned out to be quite nice. There was a large, screened in swimming pool right near where we parked.
We left the camp and returned to the main highway. As we were heading north a passing logging truck honked a lot as it was passing us. Jodie looked in the rear view mirror and saw that there was quite a lot of smoke coming from the left underside of the coach. As she was looking at it, it ceased. We pulled over as soon as possible and inspected the underside. There was nothing to be seen however there was a fairly strong hot brake odor. While looking for the source of the smoke I noticed that the front tires were very badly worn on the inner edge.
We stopped at a Chevrolet dealer at the next town. He said he couldn’t do anything with something as heavy as our coach. The dealer in the next town, however, could. The dealer in the next town was quite helpful in that he got out his creeper and checked out the underside. He couldn’t do more than that since the area of the garage where his heavy lift is located was being re-paved. He told us that the dealer in Pensacola had just put in a new motor home service area and could surely help us.
After some searching we found the dealer, Champion Chevrolet. The service writer I talked to couldn’t have been less interested and offered no help other than a bored stare.
In disgust we got on I10 and stopped at the first rest area for lunch. While there we researched Chevrolet dealers in the service book. The dealer in Mobile was listed as being able to handle large motor homes. Since we had no idea where he was located we called as we approached the closest campground on the outskirts. The man I talked to was quite helpful. He said they couldn’t do the alignment however they took all their truck alignments to a Goodyear truck tire dealer and told me how to reach them. He thought we could look for smoke causes while it was on the alignment rack.
So we spent the night at the Hilltop Campground, within ¼ mile of the ABC-TV transmitter for Mobile/Pensacola. This was our first opportunity to use the automatic DSS dish. All campgrounds so far had been delightfully tree covered. Hilltop was quite barren.
We arose early the next morning and arrived, without breakfast, at the Goodyear shop in time for our 7 am appointment. They immediately started work. There was no obvious cause for the smoke. Since by now we had driven several hundred miles with no further smoke, I decided to press on home. The alignment and tire rotation was finished by 10:30 and we headed off to a nearby Hardees for breakfast or brunch.
In quick succession we polished off Alabama and Mississippi. It took a bit longer to "do" Louisiana, partly because the roads were quite rough. Then it was just a long, boring drag across Texas. We found the Texas interstate in as bad a shape as those in Illinois. We diverted to lesser highways and found terrible traffic around Houston and Austin. Eventually we found a nice park in Texas, Llaro River State Park. It features a large winter population of turkeys which wandered through the campground, along with a lot of deer. It took two stops to get out of giant Texas, the second was at Oak Leaf Park, near ? TX.
Our last stop was a commercial campground in Demming, NM. The final haul to Oceanside was 700 miles however we made it by dusk.