Saturday, January 31, 2004

The 2004 Adventure, January 31 2004, Lake Charles, Louisiana

A quiet morning, we tend to have slow days in the rig, slow breakfast, sitting around, reading, a little TV, some computer, more reading, time with the dogs and just hanging out. In the afternoon the sun came out, and we took the dogs for a long walk. The campground is built around cedar swamps, pretty now, but has to be mosquito heaven in the warmer weather.

This cedar swamp was just across the street from our trailer, it is very beautiful.
Don't think I would like camping here in the mosquito season tho.

Friday, January 30, 2004

The 2004 Adventure, January 30 2004, Louisiana Close, and I Mean CLOSE, Parking

It starts raining at 4:20 AM (I was out taking the dogs potty when it started). By 8 AM it is a steady rain, Al is trying on raincoats. Now that is really newsworthy, as no one I know hates a rain coat like he does. He will carry an umbrella in a little drizzle, but hates rain coats. I on the other hand, have no use for a umbrella, but have no qualms about donning a raincoat on appropriate occasions. We have to hookup and get out of this campground and head west, but first I want to check my email. I don’t think he is too happy about this, but relents, and oh, goodie, when I have finished, the rain has stopped. We get to hookup sans raincoats, high and dry, thank you very much.

We have no interest in repeating the push and surge of I 10, so, having discussed this with others around the campground, decide to go south by southwest, and then north by northwest on Louisiana 90 (some day to be I 49). This takes us over the Mississippi River, through bayou country. There are cedar swamps that run for miles. The road, in places, is in reality a long long long bridge. Miles and miles of bridges, I believe they call them causeways. Very interesting. We marvel at the engineering of all these bridges and what effort it must have taken to build the roads.

We join I 10 back at Lafayette, Louisiana, heading due west. Along this route we see rice planting. There are fields surrounded with low borders of dirt, the fields are flooded. I don’t think we have ever seen rice growing before, so this provides another interesting site.

But, as usual, the event of the day, is arrival at the new campground. We have chosen a Louisiana State Campground. (Just for the record, we have been calling all campgrounds we visit to be sure that this rather large 5er will fit on their sites. Better safe than sorry, specially at the end of a long travel day!) When we arrive, they tell us, if we cannot get our rig in the site, there are no other sites available, their attitude is a bit stinky. The campsite is long enough for us, and surrounded by LOTS of huge trees. It is hard to get the rig in the site and not hit trees on the way in, it is so narrow that we have to move the trailer around a number of times to get to the point where all the slides will open and not hit trees. We barely have room to park the truck, in fact, one door on the truck cannot be opened as it will hit a tree. At one point between the trailer and the tree I can barely walk through, only about 2 inches to spare at my shoulders. Tomorrow we will take photos. We will laugh about this soon, but tonight we are tired and a tad stressed.

I think it took us 30 to 45 minutes just to back into the site, if it did not take that long, it sure felt like it! We actually put the slides out before we unhooked, to see if the living room slide would open, or hit a tree. Why unhook if we are gonna have to hook back up and move it. The other campers were very nice and helpful, one even moved his picnic table so we could pull forward, he laughed, said we could pull right into his rig’s front room, and we almost did! Pulled right under his awning and about 5 inches from his side wall. We have parked in other spots through our camping years that were more of a challenge than this one, but this ranks in the top 5 for difficulty. From what we saw, the campground and state park are very pretty.

So ends another day of the ADVENTURE of 2004. Rather aptly named we believe, as a day can turn into an adventure quickly.

Here is Al standing between a tree and the side of the 5er.
Note his shoulders are touching on both sides.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

The 2004 Adventure, January 29 2004, Riding the Mississippi and Street Cars, New Orelans Style

Campground shuttle downtown, leaving at 9 AM, went directly to Cafe du Monde for coffee au lait and more of those sinful beignets. AHH, YUM

Did some more window shopping and real shopping, got a couple of New Orleans t-shirts, and Al bought some spices (cajan, etc, but of course), and I bought a purple scarf with red hats! G> Now, I need a red hat to wear it with, and oh, what fun! We even saw a few Mardi Gras floats being pulled around down in the French Quarter.

Made the Mississippi River Boat tour on time, it was not crowded, not sure what we expected, but it was not exceptionally spectacular. It was pleasant, and some parts pretty interesting. Saw a few Navy supply ships, lots of river barges and tug boats, saw them dredging the river near the docks (the dredge is piped out to the center of the river and dumped back in to be carried down river by the current).

Rode the street cars and bus back to the campground. The street car system is the oldest in the world, and the street cars were made around 1920-30. It was fun to ride, and you could really see the houses along the road, wow, some of them were really fancy, the architecture is varied to say the least! There are Mardi Gras beads hanging from the trees from years past. They get stuck there during the parades and the locals believe it is bad luck to pull them out of the trees. They also believe it is very good luck if you find some that have fallen out of the trees (unassisted).

Made a grocery run, filled the truck with gas and had a quiet evening. Oh, we found “King Cake” at the grocery. It is a local specialty only sold around Mardi Gras time (so we were told). It is filled with tons of cream cheese filling (there are other flavors too) and has icing and sprinkles on top, in Mardi Gras colors, but of course, gold, green and purple. It reminds us of a breakfast pastry, but with extra filling. One of the food joys of traveling!

New Orleans Street car, this is one of the oldest ones.

Moving Mardi Gras floats around New Orleans

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

The 2004 Adventure, January 28 2004, New Orleans, Plan XYZ

Well, ya know what they say about best laid plans of mice and women?? We estimated that the 12:15 bus with connection to the streetcar, with a few minutes of walk time and we should be at the boat dock with oh, 20 minutes to spare, give or take. Course, not configured into our master plan was the possibility that the 12:15 bus would not run cause it was broke down. Let me tell you, that the 12:42 bus will NOT get you to the boat on time, we were about 7 minutes too late.

OK, fall back to plan “X”, “Y” or “Z”. We now have about 3 hours to spend downtown until the shuttle bus from the campground is due to take us home. HMMMM. Ok, lets just start walking, it is not as cold as the day before, but still a bit brisk. We have to eat, Al needs more Louisiana food, more spices, more something!

We wander around checking out menus and finally find a charming garden/eatery. We walk by, thinking it is too cold, but see others eating, and decide to go back and check it out. They were warming the area with propane heaters hung on the surrounding walls. Oh, what the hay, lets give this a shot. Good decision, as the food was pretty good, the coffee was even better (course, it helped that the coffee was just a little spiked with bourbon and kalua and the most wonderful real whipped cream).

The rest of the afternoon was spent just wandering around the French Quarter, taking photos, window shopping, enjoying. Tomorrow we will try once again to take our Mississippi River boat tour.

A hotel in the French Quarter of New Orleans, decorated for Mardi Gras.

View in cemetery, this particular cript was for local nuns, there were a lot of burials, up to 5 or so a year.

In sharp contrast, is this street mime, he held this position for who knows how long. Notice the left foot position. The dog is fake, but the man is alive and talks and must have great muscle tone! AMAZING!

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

The 2004 Adventure, January 27 2004, Touring and Dining New Orleans

The campground shuttle picks us up at 9 AM, delivers us downtown New Orleans to the Grey Line Bus tour office. We have several hours before our tour begins so we walk around and eat! Al will prove my prediction that he will eat his way through New Orleans before the day is over! We start at Cafe du Monde for coffee au lait and hot chocolate and beignets. Oh, lordy, those things are good. Sinful is more like it.

By the way, we are starting to see a pattern we are not sure we like, but, you have to laugh, or cry??? When we toured the Florida Space Center a couple of years ago, it was cold. I mean COLD! As you have read from this years report, when we toured the Space Center in Huntsville Alabama it was COLD. Guess what the weather is today in New Orleans? Yep, COLD! I did not expect this, but they have wind chill numbers in their weather reports! I think the wind chill here is about 20 degrees.

After our warming breakfast, we tromp back out to the sun and chill. We don’t go far, end up eating again. Al had crawfish, I had a hamburger. Then some more shopping/walking, etc. OK, I did buy some Mardi Gras beads. And a small face mask. Al bought HOT peanuts! (Does that surprise anyone??) Anyway, our tour is about to begin, we board the bus.

They drive us 40 miles around New Orleans, telling us numbers and facts, history and stories. Something about 4200 bars in New Orleans?? WOW! Later we find out why, some of the bars are smaller than my master bathroom at home! They are tucked in everywhere. There are many beautiful churches, homes, and of course, the above ground cemeteries. They stop and give us some very graphic details about burials in these cemeteries. Very interesting, and of course, a photo opportunity!

After the 2 hour tour, we walk around the French Quarter again, and we eat AGAIN! Al has jambalaya, more spicy food! We walk Bourbon Street, shall we say it was “interesting”? The music was loud, the drinks were 3 for the price of one. We opted for a beer in plastic cup and kept on walking. Some of the homes and businesses are starting to decorate for Mardi Gras. The predominant colors are green, purple and gold. Large ferns hang from many of the balconies. The architecture reminds us of Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia. There are historical markers on many of the buildings, making for some interesting history lessons.

Our bus is not due to pick us up until 5:45, a very long day for us (and for the yorks, back at home in the 5er). By about 4:45 we are back close to our pick up area, resting. We have walked quite a long way, the weather is brisk, and enough is enough!

Bus trip home is quiet, we are not the only ones tired!

Tomorrow we will go back downtown for a boat tour via the Mississippi, however, we will take the city bus and trolley system down, the campground bus home, we won’t be gone quite as long, and will have a few hours in the morning to do a few errands.

We have been watching the weather reports on TV, see that the midwest and northeast and even North Carolina and South Carolina have been hammered with horrid weather. Kerry wins the New Hampshire primary.

Monday, January 26, 2004

The 2004 Adventure, January 26 2004, Locked IN Tana in New Orleans

The day starts sunny and warm, we are both in short sleeved shirts. It ends, cooler, gray, overcast and as a pure example of why when you live the Rver life you need to be handy with your hands, creative, careful, always on guard for the unexpected.

We stop for lunch at a Cracker Barrel and fill up personal engines. Food was great, and later in the day we were glad we had loaded up on protein and carbs (to deal with the stress).

The roads are rough, only road we have had the 5er on that was as bad or close to being as bad was I-94 from Jackson Michigan to Kalamazoo Michigan. The ride is not bumpy as in holes in the road, but rather is a surging type of motion, pushing forward, pulling backward. This continues for miles and miles. We slow down to 50 MPH and get in the left lane, which is marginally better (smoother). The traffic is rather light, so, we figure, let em pass us on the right.

We stop one time and check inside the trailer, of prime concern is the large TV. The trip on I-94, resulted in sheared screws holding it into the cabinet, it all but fell out. We are concerned that even tho we put it back with 4 screws instead of 2 that this road may have sheared the 4 new screws. Happy to report, that is not so.

We have reservations in a nice campground on the south side of New Orleans. In no particular hurry to set up, we are just plugging along at the process. We have learned from many years of Rving, that to hurry is to invite trouble.

This trip, I have for the first time, loaded a lot of books in the cabinets over the desk (in the rear of the unit). I am not sure why, but, I did not secure the doors. Other doors in the 5er that tend to open while under way, we have secured with long strips of velcro (thanks Mary and Larry). Anyway, the rear desk cabinets were not secured, as you can probably guess from the sounds of this report, they will be secured from hence forth!

One of the lessons we have learned from reading the Montana’s Owner Club forum is that if these doors come open, there is a chance you can damage the slides, IF you open the slides without closing the doors first. One of the safety checks we do BEFORE we open the slides is to check around all three slides for anything that has moved, fallen, or jammed. I check the desk doors by standing in the bedroom and looking over the slide. This time I saw that one of the doors was open. I had Tilly in my arms (the other 3 were in the truck) and Al was outside. I called him inside and showed him the door.

Solution, Carol climbed over the kitchen cabinets and sink and closed the door. I now see that several items have fallen OUT of the cabinet and are on the floor. And, yes, if we had moved the slide, those items would have jammed when the slide went out; we would have had big trouble. Al handed me a pole we use for opening ceiling vents and I used it to slide all the items on the floor to a safe place under the desk.

We put the slides out, all is well.

UNTIL - - - - - - - - - - - - - we try to go outside to finish setting up. Now mind you, 3 of the dogs are in the truck, as is my purse, computer, camera and other stuff. The truck is not locked! We cannot get OUT of the trailer. The door handle is broken. We are locked IN the trailer.

We put the slides back in, thinking that possibly, the door is jammed somehow. Nope, that did not help.

We open the emergency window behind the couch to note that to jump out we would land on the sewer hose and that it is a really long drop and that unless the 5er is burning, we really don’t want to JUMP! UGH.

Next, Al asks me, do you have the cell phone, we can call the office. Well, yes, I have the cell phone, but the phone number is IN the truck!

So, running out of options, we creatively (?) decide to set off the alarm on the truck. I do have my truck keys in my pocket. And, that is exactly what we do. We set the alarm off several times until the owner of the campground came over to investigate.

Al explained the situation, and the owner gently, but easily opened the door from the outside. Yes, HUGE SIGH OF RELIEF goes here. Another fellow came along with a terrific little pocket knife, with other kinds of tools packed in. With that, we examined the situation. Boiled down, there is a pin that holds the inside door handle together. The pin had slipped out, in effect making the inside handle inoperative. We could not get to that pin while the door was closed due to the screen door. Al pulled the pin all the way out, adjusted the handle so that it would function, replaced pin, and then put some silicone caulk on both ends of the pin, hoping that would hold said pin in place FOREVER!

Got to say, we have been locked out of the trailer at least once, and now we have been locked IN the trailer. In a way, I think I prefer being locked OUT! But, my preference is to never have to repeat either experience!

We purchase tickets for a tour of New Orleans (N’Awlins) tomorrow, so, the rest of the evening is spent collecting our nerves, setting up, a small dinner and rest.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

The 2004 Adventure, January 21 thru 25, 2004, Research in the Mississippi Archives

January 21, 2004

Today we get laundry done, lots of errands, fill one of the propane tanks, general housekeeping items that need to be done. I prepare a to do list for my research at the Mississippi Archives and we recharge our personal engines. The rhythm of life, the necessities of life continue, the day is full but not hurried.

January 22, 2004

Research the Darden lines at the Mississippi Archives. Al does not feel real well, some little bug got him. Spend the evening revamping my to do list for a return trip to the Archives tomorrow.

January 23, 2004

Second day of research at the Mississippi Archives. Solved the mystery around Alfred T. Darden, brother to my great great great grandfather. The weather has been sunny and nice while I have been inside the Archives for two days. Al is feeling better, we have lunch both days in downtown Jackson eateries, where the food is good, but expensive.

January 24, 2004

Gloomy and wet all day, tonight it will rain and then rain some more. We spend the afternoon shopping. The frig is now filled for the next week or so.

January 25, 2004

Sunny, warm, what a nice day. I groom 4 dogs, Al plans the next several stops on our trip, New Orleans is next. We take a stroll around the campground. We just wile the day away. NICE!

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

The 2004 Adventure, January 20 2004, Destination Jackson, Mississippi, Tana's Monster Ice Cubes

We are gonna start heading further south and west. Destination is Jackson Mississippi. I can do a little research there and hopefully it will be warmer.

It is about 23 degrees on our thermometer. BUT, no wind chill and it is sunny and the skies are a beautiful blue. Today will be a day of thrills, not always so welcome, but so fun to tell about!

First thrill was putting the slides in. We did not realize they were filled with water, NOW ICE! When the kitchen slide was about half way in, the ice on top came crashing down! Luckily we were not standing below when it came rolling off that slide topper! Al thought that a window had blown out on the slide. That ice was at least 1.5 inches thick!

Next thrill was when we were supposed to get off US 65 at Birmingham Alabama and get on 20/59 west to Mississippi. They were cleaning the exit ramp with a street cleaner, but had not posted any warning. Basically all they did was block the entire ramp with state work vehicles and all their blinking lights. We were almost into the ramp when we discovered we could not enter! With a lot of fast reactions, a few purple words of horror and angst, and some fast map reading we continued on I 65 yo 459 west (which connected us back with 20/59 west).

On 459, I ask Al, “What is that noise?”. I look in the rear view mirrors to see if the step on the trailer has fallen open, NOPE. That was good. Then I thought maybe the landing gear on the front of the trailer had dropped. Could not see that. I turned around to look out the rear window of the truck to discover the source of the sound. The cover for the truck has a piece that is designed to come off so that you can clean. One of the screws had come loose and that piece was flopping around. We pulled off to the side of the expressway and fixed it.

Enough thrills for one day. Whew. The rest of the drive was pleasant and uneventful. We had lunch in a truck stop, easy on, easy off, easy gas fill up, good food, great service.

We arrive in Jackson Mississippi about 5:30, having driven 353 miles, we are again exhausted. We prefer to drive about 275 miles per day, and every drive day this trip, so far, we have done well over that. We can tell the difference in that extra 50 or more miles we have been doing.

This campground is a new experience for us, it is entirely paved with black top. It is part of a mobile home park, very clean and well kept. We have cable TV, full hookups, and the most beautiful holly bushes we have ever seen. We are working in the dark setting up, but there are a number of lights and we have the old trusty flashlight. We have a quick dinner, a drink and turn up the heat, find the weather channel and RELAX! We also watch part of the State of the Union address by Bush.

We have decided the research day can be delayed a day, tomorrow we are going to lick the wounds, do laundry, lay around, do a little cleaning and collect our thoughts and plan the next couple of weeks. It is supposed to go below freezing, so we leave the cold water running in the bathroom sink, very slowly, just to keep the hoses from freezing.

Here is the ice!! YIKES!

Monday, January 19, 2004

The 2004 Adventure, January 19 2004, Space Center, more brrrrrrr

Spend another day with Bob and Pat. We go to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center Museum in Huntsville. What a nice museum. We spend several hours examining the displays. It was great being inside because outside it was nasty! Cold, and a wind, combined to make bitterness. We went out to look over the mock up space shuttle and rockets, and could not stay long. Hurt your body cold. Brrrr, we figure we are not far enough south yet!

Dinner is at a bar-g-que. Very good food! VERY GOOD!

Tonight it got colder yet. They say the low in Huntsville was 19 degrees. There is a lot of frost on the pumpkin Tuesday morning, and most ponds and puddles are glazed with ice.

Iowa caucus vote today provides a surprise winner, Kerry! Interesting.

Space Shuttle and rockets, WOW!

Space clothing?? very neat stuff

A little power and Al could fly like the dude above him!!

We are laughing, but we are freezing!!

Sunday, January 18, 2004

The 2004 Adventure, January 18 2004, Huntsville Family Time, still brrrrrr

We spend a very very nice day visiting with Al’s cousins, Bob and Pat deHilster. Pat fixed us a wonderful one dish breakfast and a great one dish dinner. YUM. Such good eats! We tell stories, share photos, Carol got the scanner running and copied a number of photos and documents for her family history project. We watched part of the old movies Bob and Pat had converted from 8mm to video. Bob’s mother had voiced over a part of the total project, what fun, listening to Hilda tell about her children and family vacations and family get togethers. We enjoyed this so much!

Temps dropping, the rain finally stops, but it is collllddddddd!!! We run the propane heat and two electric heaters, and have the electric blankets running too. Brrrrr outside, toasty inside.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

The 2004 Adventure, January 17, 2004, arrive Huntsville, Alabama, brrr

Breakfast at the Waffle House, yum, Carol gets grits!! We both have southern country salty ham. More YUM!

It is rainy a lot of today, the drive is pretty uneventful (that is a good thing), except for the occasional idiot driver. We run across one interesting thing. We got off the expressway, we were contemplating a short side trip to the Jim Beam distillery in southern Tennessee. When we got off we discover that there is no indication of how far we might have to drive, so decide this is not the time to go on a “jaunt”. So, we look around for food. It is rather late in the afternoon and we have not had any lunch. Imagine our surprise to find that the entrance to every restaurant at this expressway exit blocked for tall rigs. Unless your total heights were less than 9 foot 6 inches, you could not get in, or out. Only thing we can figure is they had had considerable trouble with big rig drivers???? Seeing that we were not welcome, we made a U turn on the 4 lane highway and got back on I 65 and left!

Arrived Huntsville Alabama about 5 PM, we finished setting up in the dark and drizzle. We are very tired again, but we think it is marginally warm enough to have water. This is always a good thing!! Bob and Pat deHilster had suggested the campground, Ditto Landing, and we find it to be quite charming and it suits us just fine!

We hear that the temps below freezing, so, we fill the fresh water tank and drain the hoses. This turned out to be a good decision, as it just keeps getting colder and colder.

Friday, January 16, 2004

The 2004 Adventure, January 16 2004, Load it up and head er out

The weather is frightful, 3 degrees above zero. No wind, for which we are thankful, sunny, for which we are also thankful.

As usual the trip actually begins several weeks before the moment of departure. Actually began stacking required items before Christmas. The parlor is our “staging” area. The piles of required items grew day by day.

The weather can make or break ya. We had several snow storms in the weeks before we hoped to leave. We wanted as much snow as possible moved as far as possible away from the rig and truck. Makes trailer loading easier, as well as hooking up. And, who wants ice all over the drive, ice skating is fine for limber youngsters with ice skates; it is not so wonderful for loading heavy items into the rig. So, every time it snowed we scraped, blew it, swept it, shoveled it. Kept the drive pretty clean and dry.

For several months we had been getting doctor visits, and vet visits for the 4 yorks out of the way. We have all 4 yorks on special diets, so we purchased a LOT of dog food to take with us, thankfully yorkshire terriers are small dogs. We figure we have loaded about 75 pounds or more dog food for the trip. We have been unable to purchase prescription dog food before during our travels, so take what we need with us.

On Monday the 12th, we put the slides out on the rig, turn the heat on and start loading. Al installs the new door to cover his Autoformer installation. He also works on installing the new clothes dryer he purchased which mounts on the ladder on the rear of the rig. We start loading, dog food, people food, clothes, my research books and files, CD’s, DVD’s, books, craft projects, and so forth. We have 4 boxes of gear/freezables from the rig that we take to the basement each fall; these are brought back up; taken to the rig and loaded.

The loading and organizing continue through Tuesday and Wednesday. No, it does not take us that many days to load the rig, we had other commitments to fulfill several of those days. Thursday, we finish loading, and start cleaning the house. Thursday evening late we winterize the house, drain the water, turn off the water heater. We leave one toilet to use and winterize that early Friday AM before we leave. Dishes are done, house is sorta cleaned, plants watered, cats fed and watered. We are as ready as we can get.

Friday AM we have breakfast; empty the few food items still left in the frig, turn it off, stuff it with newspaper; and get ready to hook up the trailer.

Now, comes the moment of truth, will those slides REALLY go in at 3 degrees above zero?? There was a little snow on them, we have been told it will roll right off as the slides go in. We have had the heat on in the rig for several days now, and turn it up to about 70 degrees to try and warm up the slide mechanisms (heated basement) as much as possible. Still the slides run very slowly. The bedroom slide goes in without a burp, a little slow, but it goes in. The kitchen and front room slides start coming in at the same time (usually the kitchen moves first, when it is in, the front room comes in). When both rooms are about half way in, they basically stop moving. So as to not damage anything, I stop the process. Go out to talk to Al, who watches from outside while I am inside pushing the “button”. He tells me to go back and push that button again. So, I do, and much to our delight both slides start moving again and after a few more tense moments they are in and we are sighing!! OK, we are doing little happy dances!

We hook up the rig, it is so cold the electrical plug from trailer to truck is frozen, barely will straighten out. Al has trouble even getting it to “plug” in. After a lot of fussing, pushing and pulling, he accomplishes that. Load the computer gear, camera gear and dogs in the truck and before 9:30 AM we are ready to pull out.

The trip out was as could be expected, we drive slow on the snow and ice covered gravel roads we live on, take the path of least hills, and off we go.

The rest of the day was rather uneventful, we hit a few snow squalls around Coldwater Michigan, but the roads were not slippery. By the end of the day we have seen the temperature climb to 44 degrees. It took a while for the snow to melt off the trailer and truck, it was well after Indianapolis before we lost it all.

We drove 380 miles by the time we pulled into the KOA south of Louisville and we are beat. We have a pull through site, so we have little set up to do, we turn on the heat, have a drink, have some dinner and collapse. No water on board yet, so we do picnic style camping.