Monthly Archives: March 2012

How We Left The West

We arrived Lake Junaluska NC early this afternoon after a fun drive through the Great Smoky Mountains on Interstate 40. Our weather is fourteen (14) degrees cooler than our previous stop, Chattanooga TN. Today’s high in Lake Junaluska was 70 and it is 53 outside at 10pm.

Our cross-country road trip started last Saturday morning in Mesa AZ and ended this afternoon after seven nights, 1,900 miles, 186 gallons of gas, two dinners and overnights at Cracker Barrel Country Stores, two private RV parks, and three state parks (AR, MS, AL).

Total camping costs were $84. Gas costs ranged from $3.48 (Knoxville TN with our $0.20 per gallon Kroger discount) to $3.85 in a Shell station on Highway 72 west of Huntsville AL. We also bought a couple of cups of McDonalds coffee, one five-pack of AGC 30a fuses and a can of MAF sensor cleaner.

Our Pressure Pro tire pressure monitoring sensors became intermittent. We expected this and will trade them in for fresh ones through the manufacturer for approx $35 per sensor. Our check engine light came on soon after leaving Mesa AZ and again this morning between Chattanooga and Knoxville TN. It self-cleared both times and we think will be happier once Jim cleans the MAF sensor tomorrow afternoon.

Our refrigerator quit in Las Cruces NM, the same day we had the first check engine light issue. Jim removed, cleaned, and reinstalled the refrigerator’s gas jet and the fridge has operated flawlessly since.

The newly tightened weight distributing hitch settings are more difficult to manage. Jim increased the tension on the bars to compensate for the additional 135 pounds battery weight on the trailer hitch. The truck and trailer are perfectly level and handling was perfect for the entire 1,900 miles.

Previously we could lift the hitch sufficiently to slide the bars onto their brackets. The weight distributing bar brackets are up another inch or two and sometimes a little too high to swing the bars onto. We are, for the first time in five years, using the swans head pry bar supplied by Equal-I-Zer to lift the WD bars into place. The lever works well so not a problem, just a different strategy.

The four new batteries did fantastically on solar charging alone every day crossing the country. We never used the converter/charger. The little bit of current from the truck’s alternator would probably have been offset by driving with the running lights on all day. We had at least 12.6 volts by the time we called taps every night, so plenty of battery power to get on the ham radio the next morning if Jim wanted.

All our RV and truck systems worked really well, aside from the minor concerns with the engine warning light and the fridge gas nozzle wanting a little attention. Those aside, the truck and trailer were perfect and a delight throughout the entire trip. Kinda makes us want to go somewhere again tomorrow, you know?

This trip was probably our easiest and overall most relaxed pace of any in the past four years. We allowed eight driving days and figured on needing six and having two zero days. Instead we had two short driving days between the latter two state parks and so used up all eight driving days. We were slow to start each morning and early off the road most days, allowing afternoon time to loaf the last five days of the trip.

The first two days were a little long but we were ready to get out of the arid dusty western area and get back into green country. It’s sort of fitting our first two nights (Las Cruces NM and Abilene TX) were on asphalt in Cracker Bbl parking lots — the campgrounds would have been about as dry and hard anyway. Sure enough, our third night was on freshly mown grass in Mt Pleasant TX at Rambling Fever campground.

The only unresolved problem from the trip is the Cradlepoint CTR-500 router and Verizon Pantech UML290 modem. In Mesa they behaved very well together, displaying full signal from the Verizon tower and giving us reasonably good wifi in the trailer. Currently we are getting one to two bars only from Verizon although our 4G MiFi is showing full signal. Small stuff, but below our expectations.

These were our seven one-night stops in this cross-country trip:

Cracker Bbl, Las Cruces NM
Cracker Bbl, Abilene TX
Rambling Fever Campground, Mt Pleasant TX
Chicot Lake SP, Lake Village AR (the largest oxbow lake in the U.S.)
Tishomingo SP, Tishomingo MS (on the Natchez Trace Parkway)
Joe Wheeler SP, Rogersville AL (on TVA Lake Wheeler)
Raccoon Campground, Chattanooga TN

Tomorrow we’ll tell the three best things we’ll really miss about the West and why we’ll look forward to getting back there this autumn.

Jim and Deb
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©2007-2012 Dreamstreamr

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Terrific tennis in Tennessee

No hurry leaving Joe Wheeler State Park this morning — it was raining hours before we awoke and we gave it a chance to subside before we even climbed out of bed. Finally left and started east on hiway 72. Way too many stoplights, not a good start on the day until we hit I-565 around Huntsville AL. Smooth sailing from there on to Chattanooga.

We arrived early afternoon in Raccoon Mountain Caverns and Campground, Chattanooga, TN. Changed clothes quickly, packed some food and drinks, and hustled off to pick up Jim’s sister in Lookout Mtn and drive together to Manker Patten Tennis Club on the river.

Prettiest tennis club in the world, and we are so very lucky to play here once or twice a year. Paul, Jim’s brother in law, has to play here three or four times weekly — poor tortured soul. Whenever we’re passing through, Paul always manages to arrange a challenging doubles match for himself and Jim.

Today was no exception — they split sets against Don and John, then eked out a win against Don and Dan. What a guy has to go through just to get a cold beer! It was worth it, the best tennis Jim and Paul have played together in three years. Jim suggested Paul arrange hard courts from now on — it worked great.

We joined Candy and Don and Emily and Paul after tennis for dinner at the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club. We didn’t see any historic buildings, sadly, but had a fantastic dinner and evening in this 116 year old club. Started on the deck overlooking the Tennessee River but clouds rolled in and rain drove us indoors. Noisier inside but worth it, we weren’t prepared to dine in the rain tonight.

Tomorrow we head across the Great Smokey Mountains to Lake Junaluska, the largest Methodist conference center in the US. We’ve visited it often over many years, but this will be a different perspective for us. We will be working, with four other NOMADS couples, at the direction of the conference center’s maintenance supervisor. The conference center is sure to appear differently.

We hope you and your families are safe, warm, and dry. See you tomorrow!

Jim and Deb
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©2007-2012 Dreamstreamr

Surrounded by Crimson Tide fans

We reluctantly left the Natchez Trace today after a really nice visit and a very quiet night and morning in Tishomingo State Park campground. We were one of no more than a dozen campers in the campground. Very peaceful.

We drove a couple of hours to north Alabama to Joe Wheeler State Park Resort. Who knew this is Alabama public schools spring break and every fifth wheel, tent, and bass boat in Alabama would be here for the weekend?

The gal at the campground office asked us, “Just one night?”

“You’re in luck” she said. “I’d have to turn you around but someone just cancelled. I can let you check in. You can take any site that isn’t occupied.”

We cruised all the loops, found no more than four unoccupied spaces. Two of them were sanwiched between high-density kiddie sites. Skip those. The fourth one we didn’t notice until later in the day after we had parked. We found ours, an end of row site just waiting for us.

Our hitch jack has started blowing circuit fuses. This began yesterday at Tishomingo. I was going to raise the hitch enough to release the weight distribution bars so I could oil the very squeaky hitch joints. Never got there, couldn’t raise the hitch enough and blew the fuse for the hitch jack. We’ll oil the hitch later.

We have lots and lots of fuses from 1 amp slow-blow agc to 30 amp atc. But I needed a 30 amp agc (the tubular glass ones with metal ends) and have none. Maybe I’ve had this problem before and wasn’t thinking about how many fuses I burned? “Hey hon, I just used the last one, you wanna add them to the grocery list?”

That would have been a good idea but didn”t happen. Fortunately the hitch jack will raise and lower, within limits, with 20 amp fuses. I’ve only gone through three of these today. “Hey hon, . . .”
We’ll keep an eye on this, hoping the hitch jack doesn’t want to get cranky. Time to do a little reading on hitch jack maintenance. And buy some more 30 amp fuses.

We hopped into the truck to drive over to the tennis courts after lunch. The tire pressure monitoring system (tpms) was alarming frantically, showing only eighteen (18) pounds in the trailer’s front right tire. This is the same tire we have, over the past three days, given up on monitoring.

Our tpms is five years old and the sensor transmitters’ little batteries apparently are weakening. The front right tire has, over the last week, reduced from intermittent non-reporting to constantly failing to report. Really it was surprising to see the low pressure alarm.

We hopped out of the truck and checked the tire. Full pressure, so we turned off the tpms for now. The tpms sensors are replaceable and we had planned on swapping them for new ones later this year. This is a good time, we’ll do it while we’re encamped at Lake Junaluska over the next three weeks.

We took a walk around the camping loop this evening before supper. We seem to be the only ones not from around here. All, every single one of them, have at least a U of Alabama license plate frame. Almost all have school front plates, school flags, yard pennants.

Several have five gallon buckets emblazoned with the school crest or mascot and “CRIMSON TIDE” hanging from tree limbs. We could see these because they have a light bulb in each bucket and are using them to not only show their school spirit but also to illuminate their (and several adjacent) campsites.

I’m tempted to (but probably won’t) post our school colors tomorrow morning, We’re not in their conference and, in football for sure, not in their league at all. Do they even play basketball? Our soccer team probably whips theirs, right?

This is a nice campground and the people camping here are wonderful. It’s nine o’clock pm and the place is amazingly quiet for a capacity crowd campground. And how many campgrounds have marina, lodge, cabins, golf, tennis and basketball courts? Only Joe Wheeler State Park Resort.

Jim and Deb
The Dreamstreamrs
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©2007-2012 Dreamstreamr

I learned today the Natchez Trace was . . .

a lot of things to a lot of people over as much as 2,000 years and counting. Native Americans used it first and longest. It much later became commercially important to our young nation as a haul road, then fell into disuse to be re-discovered and celebrated.

The Trace’s history goes back, way back. I read something a week or two ago about early settlers in the 1800s into some part of the U.S. and caught myself thinking, “they mean European settlers, right?”

Pharr Mounds

How do we seem to forget we weren’t the first peoples here? So it goes with The Natchez Trace — native Americans probably used this natural travel corridor in their migrations and buried their dead at places along the Trace like the Pharr Mounds, dating to over 2,000 years ago.

Early native American settlers (the real settlers) lived, farmed, and traded in this area 800 to 1,000 years ago, according to archeologists. The Choctaw, Chickamauga, and Natchez lived here and traipsed the paths of the Trace.

The old road was an important trade route from the early 1800s for farmers and other producers. They could load freight onto barges and follow the river’s current south to markets. They would follow the Trace home from Natchez north to as far as Nashville.

The mail carriers used the Trace too — President Thomas Jefferson in 1801 designated it as a national postal road. But by the mid-1880s steam-powered paddle boats were in use to haul cargo up the might Mississippi River. The paddle boats could make the trip far faster than oxen or horses drawing a wagon along the Natchez Trace.

The Natchez Trace became a cause célèbre after the September 1905 publication of an article by John Swain in Everybody’s Magazine. Swain wrote, “The Natchez Trace itself, even if it were not so picturesque and delightful in its whole length, has played so great a part in our country’s history that it by right demands attention and a visit from us.”

Swain’s magazine article awakened historical interest in certain circles, notably Daughters of the American Revolution. They successfully campaigned for legislation to restore and protect the Trace. Some years later President Roosevelt approved inclusion into the National Parks System in 1938. The National Park Service’s current brochure states the Parkway was “officially completed in 2005” and that it “commemorates the most significant highway of the Old Southwest.”

The Natchez Trace is 444 miles in length, from Natchez MS to Nashville TN. The Trace has six bicycle-only campgrounds, thirty-four picnic areas, thirty-six history exhibits, three Parkway campgrounds (no hook-ups) and at least nine more public campgrounds including state parks and Corps of Engineers.

much like the Blue Ridge Pkwy

If you’ve driven parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway, driving this may seem very familiar. The road has no shoulders, the speed limit is a relaxing 50 mph, there are no billboards, no businesses are fronting the Parkway. The Natchez Trace Parkway is a scenic two-lane highway and is only for non-commercial uses.

damage from April 2011 tornadoes

We had a big surprise soon after turning onto the Natchez Trace Parkway. We saw a tremendous amount of deadfall for perhaps ten or twelve miles along both sides of the Parkway. Trees were variously broken off ten to twenty feet above the ground or were uprooted and heaved over, roots and all. A sign explained, “Tornado damage April 2011”. Do you remember the tremendous tornadoes that assaulted Tuscaloosa AL just last year? They apparently traveled for miles up this Parkway, leaving an ugly autograph.

Nice exhibits and helpful folks

We stopped awhile at the Visitor Center near mile 264 (north of Tupelo). They provided us a brochure and map, a long listing of campgrounds private and public, and helpful inside info about three nearby campgrounds we might try for tonight.

Nice new sign for the State campground at mile 304

Their recommendation was excellent — we chose Tishomingo State Park for the nice views around the lake. The state park is directly along side the Parkway, access is easy, and the sites are nicely laid out. Except for one detail — they missed on the elevations! Our pad, and apparently many others, drops off on three sides by a foot or more. There’s not room for anything but the trailer on the pad. Not a huge deal but you sure would hate to back up a little bit crooked and . . . fall off.

Another time we can survey the entire 444 miles from Nashville to Natchez for an enjoyable two weeks. This trip we are grateful to take in the scenic road, interesting historic markers along the way, and have an entire afternoon’s driving along at 50 mph without any zoomy trucks, without any stop signs or traffic signals, without any hurry. “Destination unknown” was just fine with us — we enjoyed the drive.

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©2007-2012 Dreamstreamr

East coast Arkansas

We are finally on the east coast – of Arkansas, that is. We are camped at the west bank of a former main channel of the great Mississippi River, but separated now and named Lake Chicot. Sunlight is filtering through the four oak trees shading our site. Birds are singing from 360 degrees around us. We occasionally hear powered boats on the lake. And nothing else. Just gorgeous.

Yesterday we stopped at Rambling Fever RV Park in Mt Pleasant, in eastern TX. Wow! We had completely forgotten pollen, dew, wet grass, and annoying insects. All remembered too well now, after yesterday evening and this morning.

Rambling Fever Park was plenty nice, but we will get used to bringing bug spray outside with us. The entire winter we saw zero none no mosquitoes and precious few flys or gnats. We saw (and I felt the bites of) a year’s worth of skeeters last night while grilling our salmon.

My fault – so this evening I have my whiskey on the rocks at my left hand and my bug stuff at my right. Guess which one is more fun? Reminds me when I used to bicycle the countryside through farming communities west of Chapel Hill NC. Dogs would hide along the road behind chain link fences as tho I couldn’t see them, then zoom they would tear after me. They never caught me but did terrorize me a bit.

Until I bought a small can of HALT with a handlebar bracket. Would you have thought they could read the label? Must have – I never pushed the spray button. Had is so long it probably was dead, but they didn’t know and I didn’t either. Perhaps it’s the same with this bright orange and yellow can of bug spray?

First night in Las Cruces NM, second in Abilene TX, third in Mt Pleasant TX. And tonight, our fourth night, we are in east Arkansas. Our first day we left Mesa AZ on US60E instead of I-10, for a little change. It was nice, but ran us back into 10 then 20 then I-30 through yesterday evening. Enough of the traffic, urban congestion, and bland sights!

We spent today almost exclusively on red highways. Interestingly our gas mileage didn’t seem to suffer (or maybe we would have gotten even better than on the interstate highways days previous?). Our average for the past two days is 10.4 mpg. Our speed was also almost the same although our overall average for the day certainly would be less since we frequently slowed to 45 and 35 for the dozen or so towns we traversed.

Driving the red highways versus the interstates seems analagous to parking in a state park versus a high-line moho resort. The state parks (and red highways) are just . . . more interesting, less predictable. Suits us great when we don’t have to make time. Lake Chicot State Park is much nicer than Cracker Bbl.

A follow-up to our fridge problem in Las Cruces — I removed the fridge’s gas nozzle (3/8″ wrench), soaked it in denatured alcohol then blew it out gently. Reinstalled it (much more difficult to start the threads than to remove it) and restarted the fridge. Works perfectly on propane again. How cool is that?

When I was in high school we has an across the street neighbor, the Mitchells. Mr Mitchell worked for a gas appliance company and so his kitchen had what kind of appliances? YES! He had gas appliances, including a gas-fired refrigerator.

You didn’t know this about me, but at ages 13 – whenever I was an avid reader of Popular Mechanics (thanks to my dad having it around). I thought a gas-fired fridge was just way cool. Only I didn’t realize just how cool it really is — fridges are supposed to be gas-fired. Who knew?

More than fifteen years later I started working in maintenance and physical plant for hospitals and learned about gas cycle cooling and heating – stuff I should have learned in high school if only I had been paying attention. My life might have been severely different if only . . .

Here’s the neat thing: our little house refrigerator doesn’t have a compressor, almost no moving parts (one, an electrically powered gas valve), and uses battery power for controls only. We can heat the regrigeration gas with electricity or propane – guess which one is more effective? I hope y said gas.

What’s not to love about this simpler system? If your home fridge stopped cooling, yu would check the plug and the breaker, hopefully, and then likely would have to call the appliance guy. With a gas-powered fridge, there is a 110 vac plug but we don’t need it if we have propane. All we need is a battery for controls and a flame for the gas refrigeration cycle.

We didn’t have flame. Cleaned the nozzle, reinstalled it and restarted the fridge. Perfect! I love it when I get lucky. The nozzle might have had nothing at all to do with the problem, maybe I just bumped into something that needed bumping into and now it works. Who cares? It works, makes no noise, and is so simple.

Tomorrow morning we leave Arkansas, cross Mississippi, and land in northwest Alabama at Joe Wheeler State Park where Jim’s parents celebrated their 50th anniversary, with maybe fifty family members, sixteen years ago. We’re looking forward to the visit.

See you there!

Jim and Deb
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©2007-2012 Dreamstreamr

The Abilene Paradox means this to me

When I was in grad school in the 90’s I came across a book, The Abilene Paradox and Other Meditations on Management, by Jerry Harvey. It helped me understand the seemingly illogical decisions often made by companies, governments, gangs, any groups. And The Abilene Paradox is a good primer to help managers and execs avoid some pitfalls of group-think.

The story Dr Harvey tells starts with his wife and her parents, in Coleman TX, sitting and sweating in the hot hot day. Pop suggests they get in the car (unconditioned) and drive an hour or so up to Abilene for some BBQ. No one opposed the idea so they take the hot drive in the car, eat, and make the return trip.

Upon returning to the house an argument ensues — Pop, if I recall correctly, isn’t acting too pleased with having made this big trip on a hot day. And Jerry calls him on it saying, “But it was your idea”. And pop says, “Sh__, I was just making conversation.”

And so it goes with groups, Dr Harvey contends. A group will go along with an idea they wouldn’t individually support but they will agree “for the good of the group” — even though the idea very often isn’t good for any group.

A couple of examples Dr Harvey provides include driving up to Abilene for BBQ and America going to war in Vietnam. I could remember more but it was over 15 years ago — time to read the book again. Great lessons for members AND leaders of groups.

Thanks to Richard for remembering! It’s one of my favorite stories.

We’re in Mt Pleasant TX, heading for somewhere in northwestern Alabama tomorrow on the red highways. You can find where we are by clicking on the “locate us” link below.

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©2007-2012 Dreamstreamr

Have you read The Abilene Paradox?

We drove today from Las Cruces NM to Abilene TX. We were the only RV behind Cracker Barrel last night and tonight we are one of eight or ten between the Cracker Barrel and Wal-Mart joint parking areas. Unlike last night when we were in the company of several Albertson tractor-trailers, tonight the big rigs are half a block away behind Wal-Mart’s gas station.

Last evening, after returning to the trailer from dinner, our fridge wasn’t working. We tried to restart it and it made a loud belch and the fridge’s check engine light turned on again. Changed propane bottles and tried again and after a few tries it’s working fine. We think. We hope.

And the fresh water tank resumed its leaking from near the drain valve. Last known as a problem in January, we’d forgotten it entirely. Another future project, it’ll wait until we’re finished with next week’s driving.

Otherwise a perfect day with a nice picnic in a roadside area. Deb fixed us a Caprese salad and we ate with one hand while firmly keeping a grip on our paper plates. The wind was blowing steadily and fairly strongly. We think it reduced our gas mileage by approx 10 percent, we made just 10.5 overall today.

I’ll get back with you on The Abilene Paradox — it’s one of my favorite books.

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©2007-2012 Dreamstreamr