We’ve towed over 2,300 miles from Bakersfield, CA, since our last writing, to arrive in Newport, TN, this afternoon. I was just thinking, “Hey, this is the longest trip we’ve made with no campsite reservations arranged”. Since leaving Bakersfield, Ca, we haven’t called ahead or emailed any campground. Instead we tried to arrive early enough to find available sites each afternoon. We arrived today where we thought our overnight campsite would be. Gates were locked, we found no sign of activity whatsoever, and it appears Sherman Oaks (nee Jack Benny Campground) in Dandridge, TN is kaput. Hmm, next plan?
We drove a few miles to find a pull-out by the highway and checked our camping directories. Hooray! Another campground is six miles east of us and from the same highway. We pulled in, found a storage site for Jerry’s rig and a campsite for ours, and set up. Five hours later we had gin & tonics, checked and replied emails, showered, and dined on a freshly grilled rib eye steak, creamed spinach, and potato salad, completed with a homemade ice cream sundae with a cherry on top.
The truck and trailer stayed hitched up overnight and we only connected electrical power from the campground to the trailer. We save time not connecting water hoses or drains, and aren’t even cranking down the four corner stabilizers. Most evenings we had time to hike, swim, or read before supper. After supper we showered, read awhile, and went to bed. In the morning we would prepare snacks and hot tea “to go” and drive out of the campgrounds by 7 am each morning. (sorry about the early morning diesel noise, neighbors :-( ) This became an easy routine for us and simply worked out really well.
The first night we stopped for our hottest camping ever. We stayed overnight in a county park in the Mojave Desert, Moabi, and enjoyed a swim in the Colorado River there. We thought it would cool down eventually to the forecast low of 75 degrees. I finally climbed out of bed at 0300 hours, closed the windows and vents, and turned the A/C on to get some good sleep.
Beautiful lake, nice campsites, quiet area
We camped in a Passport America campground, Root 66, and spent the afternoon exploring nearby Petrified Forest National Park. We stayed at three state parks on lakes, Santa Rosa Lakes SP in NM, Foss Lake SP in OK, and Natchez Trace SP in TN. Each of these afforded nice swimming, great sky views, and quiet refuge away from highways. We had our camping loop to ourselves at Foss Lake State Park so decided to enjoy an extra day of reading, relaxing, recovering, and a little bit of routine maintenance. Any of these last three are on our special list for return visits.
New Kenwood TM-D710a on dash
The mobile radios in both trucks have worked out even better than we anticipated. Debbie and I each intermittently used amateur radios during the past two years. She has very rarely, before this summer, made use of the radios. During this drive Debbie has become proficient in 2 meter operations talking with me and with other hams along our route. You may remember I bought another mobile radio and antenna on our way through Portland, Oregon and when we stopped in Bakersfield I unpacked it all and figured out the basic operation and installation. We adapted the power cord to Jerry’s cigarette lighter outlet (limiting our radio power output), put a magnet-mount antenna on his roof, and put the radio on the dash. Isn’t this a nice looking radio?
Debbie and I had already, this summer, experimented with the amateur radios for one person to guide the driver while backing into a camping space. On this cross-country trip, I have used a hand held radio to talk Debbie into her camp sites at each campground as she learns backing the 26 feet long trailer. It has worked wonderfully. The mobile radios in both trucks have worked out even better. We are able to maintain clear and ready communication between the trucks at much greater ranges than our CB radios afford us. We don’t have nearly as much interference as the CB radio channels often experience. Mobile ham radios helped us get through many interchanges and some boring stretches, too.
We’d heard I-40 was treacherous through Oklahoma City. Our friends traversed this stretch a few weeks earlier and reported it was severely bumpy and also undergoing a lot of repairs. We didn’t really know what we could do about it or the best way to go around. As we approached Oklahoma City, I heard two hams talking on the radio. I asked if they would mind advising us on towing trailers through their fair city. One of them, Jack, strongly advised us against staying on I-40 East. He stayed on the radio with us for over 10 miles as he guided us through each turn to I-44 then I-240 and back to I-40. His directions were precise and clear, Debbie and I could each hear them and confirm back to him, and also chatted a little with Jack along the way. Thanks, Jack, KE5KR!
We were driving through Albuquerque a day or two earlier and wondered aloud, on the radio between each other, about the concrete viaduct between east-bound and west-bound lanes of I-40. On a hunch I said, “We’d appreciate if any local hams in Albuquerque area can help answer us on the viaducts’ purpose”. Quick as a wink an Albuquerque ham radio operator answered us back, told us the viaducts are for flood control, and wished us a safe journey.
We had local chats also in Memphis from Jeff AJ4GY, in Jackson, TN with Ray WB4MLP, and Joe WA4OVO (mobile) east of Jackson, TN. This trip would have been a lot longer and more difficult for us without ham radio. The best $14 dollar investment we ever made is our license fee. Well yeah, there is a cost for the radio and antenna equipment too. But ham radio purchases are really similar to other hobbies like golf, backpacking, bass fishing, or weaving, right?
Room for an extra rig and plenty left over
We’ve been blessed with perfect weather, open roads, excellent availability of fuel, perfect mechanical operations, and great camping. Today we had our first rainfall of the entire trip. No road construction delayed any part of our trip. We selected “rv-friendly” fuel stops only, using The Next Exit interstate guide book, and this worked out beautifully. Two of the fuel stops were crowded and a little difficult to negotiate but none were any problem. The Airstreams followed everywhere they were towed, and both trucks (Chevy Silverado 2500HD gas, and Ford F-250 Super Duty 6.0L diesel) performed flawlessly and were very comfortable.
We planned not to use Wal-Marts or Cracker Barrels for overnighting, and we much prefer state parks over commercial campgrounds. Both these choices relate most to suitability, for us, of camping location. We prefer grass, trees, open water, and sky views to concrete, asphalt, buildings, and security lighting. Sometimes we might not have this choice. We were lucky to find state parks in good driving distances and close enough (but not too close) to Interstate 40 almost all the way across the country.
What a great trip this has been! We could not have planned or hoped for the trip to work out so well as it has. We’re glad we’re back in North Carolina tomorrow and we’re looking forward to being around family again. We’ve been gone four months and towed the Airstream eleven thousand miles since we left High Point, NC, on June 6. As great a cross-country trip as this has been, and as safe and enjoyable and full as our travels have been, we think we’ll enjoy settling in with family a couple of months before we head out again.