Almost All of 2021
Pictures can be found here
My summer 2020 update ended when we got back to Kemah. Looking back at the past year, our plans totally changed due to the pandemic, but we still had a nice summer. As many people discovered this past year, RVing provides a way to travel and still do things while providing a natural social distancing. That and more people working and schooling from home, wherever ďhomeĒ may be, made the RV parks busy and the demographic different.
When we got back to TX from the Karavan To the Keys, we went to Gordy Rd. RV Park where we have stayed for the past five winters. We found the park fuller than last year, and the demographic here had changed a little also. The RV parks around here tend to be mostly populated with permanent residents and contract workers from the oil and construction industries. Snowbirds like us are the exception. Our stay at Gordy Rd. this year got off to a rocky start. The second day we were there, the park manager texted me and accused me of speeding in the park. I have always been very conscious of respecting the 10 mph speed limit in the park, unlike some others, including the manager herself sometimes. After receiving this text, I immediately went to the office to confront the manager, and letís say I wasnít happy. Had we not just paid for a month in advance, I would have left the park that day. Instead, we spent the next couple of weeks checking out other parks in the area. We already knew that where we were was the cheapest, but you get what you pay for. To make our decision to move easier, the demographic here has changed with even more contractors with loud trucks who go to work at 5 AM, and a new RV park is being built right next door with the associated sounds of equipment and dust. So, three weeks into our month, we moved to Brickhouse RV Resort, in Kemah. While only three miles away as the crow flies, itís a totally different vibe in Kemah vs. Bacliff.
Just as soon as we got to Brickhouse, we left, but not with the bus. My son in Dallas, sold his old pickup truck to my brother in NY state. While this might not make sense to some, the logic is this: 1. My brotherís current truck is rusting away around him. 2. My sonís truck has high mileage, but itís always been in AZ or TX which means no rust. 3. My son was going to trade his truck in for half what that truck would retail for in NY. So, we are flying to Dallas, driving the truck to NY, then flying back to Houston. In preparation for this trip, we have pretty much isolated at home since returning from the Karavan. Also, on the Friday before flying to Dallas, we got COVID tests done. We flew to Dallas on Monday, Nov 23rd and got our negative test results while sitting in the boarding area at the airport. We spent the night in my sonís new RV and left about 6 AM Tuesday. We drove to a little past Knoxville, TN where we found a cheap motel, had dinner across the street, and were asleep by 9 PM. Wednesday we were up at 6 again and on the road. We got delayed for over an hour stopped for a wreck in VA, but got to my brotherís house about 7 PM. We had a nice Thanksgiving dinner Thursday and watched football. On Sunday we drove down to Long Island to visit my daughter and her family. We had a nice visit and met her new chickens. Tuesday, my brother drove us down to the airport in Newark, NJ. The convenient airport ten minutes from his house has lost all service thanks to the pandemic. Our flights home via Atlanta were on time and not eventful. On both ends of the trip, it was kind of weird to experience the empty airports and how quiet it was in the planes with everybody staying in their seats and wearing masks.
For Christmas, we went over to Barbís sonís house. He smoked a brisket, some ribs, and some salmon. We enjoyed spending the afternoon with them.
I had a long list of things to do on the bus over the winter. During our traveling time, unless something is urgent, I keep a list and save the projects for when we are parked for a while. The largest of these projects started as a desire to do something with the ceiling. The ceiling is currently a fuzzy headliner material that was common in the era the bus was built. It has some water stains from leaks that have been repaired, soot stains from where exhaust used to get sucked in before we had the rear sealed, imprints where the old light fixtures were, and dirt around the ceiling fan. If I was going to do something with the ceiling, then the big plastic well in the bedroom where the old satellite antenna sat on the roof had to go first. I was planning to pay a lot of money to have the satellite well removed and the roof repaired, but after a lot of thinking about it, and seeing how another Alfa owner did it himself, I attacked the job. I planned it out so that I could do a lot of the work before actually cutting the three-foot by four-foot hole in the roof. With Barbís help, we only had a big hole in the roof for a couple of hours. Once the outside was sealed, I started on the inside. I covered the hole in the ceiling with wood, and used spray foam to insulate it. After a lot of online searching, we decided to use foam ceiling tiles from Antique Ceilings. The tiles are about ľ-inch thick foam, kind of like a grocery store meat tray. The ones we selected look like planks that are about three feet by six inches, so installed it looks like shiplap. The tiles glue directly to the fuzzy stuff, so there is no prep work. I did a lot of measuring and calculating so that I ordered enough of the ceiling tiles once, without ordering too much. When the tiles came, I started with the bedroom where the repair from the satellite well removal was. I found the tiles easy to install and it only took a couple hours to have the bedroom done. I did find that I used a lot more glue than the company estimated. I donít know if I was just using more than necessary, but I donít want them falling down as we go bumping down a highway. I ordered more glue because it is not something that Home Depot sells. Once I had the additional glue, over the course of a few days I completed the main living area, the slide, and the bathroom. We bought some small line from a marine supplier and glued that along the edges to trim the job. Weíre both very happy with the outcome. Another moderately large project was removing the stereo amplifier. It had a problem with one channel, which resulted in not being able to use the speakers in the bedroom or outside. The amp was located next to the driverís seat in a place never intended to be seen again after the coach was built. Once I had the huge, heavy unit out, I started to question why we even needed it. The stereo is only driving a maximum of four speakers at a time, and they are just regular car speakers. So, I just spliced all the wires from the stereo head unit directly to the speakers and left the amp out. It isnít audiophile quality now, but it never was. There were numerous other smaller projects done and the list is substantially smaller.
We were able to attend the Clear Lake Christmas Boat Parade this year thanks to friends who have a waterfront lot to sit in, and nice weather. We participated in the parade back in 2001, and it remains one of the most stressful things I ever did on the boat. We won best in class, but I vowed never to do it again.
February brought what has been come to be known locally as Snowmageddon. For at least a week prior, the news had been predicting a severe cold snap (by south TX standards) which was to include snow and ice. Well, they werenít wrong. The storm came Valentines Day weekend. That Sunday night, we had a couple inches of snow and a rain/snow mix. The temperature got down to 19 degrees and stayed below freezing for several days. The power went out to the RV park, not due to downed lines, but rather due to the now well documented failure of the Texas power grid. We were doing fine as we had prepared for the event. We had plenty of food, we filled our water tank, emptied our holding tanks, and had plenty of diesel to run the generator. We were without power for most of three days, which was not really a problem with the generator running. Our only problem was that our main heat source is a heat pump. Most heat pumps donít make heat below about 40 degrees. That meant we had to run our propane furnace. Everything was working just as designed, except we were running low on propane. I had always been meaning to put an adapter in our propane system so you could hook up an external tank, but never got around to it. So, on Day 3 we had to pack us up and find a propane place that I could drive to, which was open. Many of the propane places were either out of propane, or they had no power to pump it. I headed to a place I had never been to before, and found myself at the end of a very long line. I waited in line for almost three hours, but I was able to get filled up. To their credit, the place was not charging any more than their normal price for the propane. They were only able to pump it because they had a generator. I was very thankful to have completed the mission, and we stayed warm for the next couple of days until everything was back to normal. I have since installed that adapter for an external tank, so weíre guaranteed to never be in that position again.
As with our summer, cancelled events are the norm. We usually have two large Trop Rock events during the winter, Pardi Gras in New Orleans, and Lone Star Luau in Texas. Pardi Gras has been postponed until April, and Lone Star Luau has been postponed until 2022. That left us with a lot of TV and sitting to do. One event that was not cancelled was the event that is usually the beginning of our travels for the year. Pirates & Poets Songwriters Invitational is a small event held in Port Aransas each year. Attendance is always limited to less than 100 people, but this year it was limited to about 30 due to the pandemic. The event consists of a couple of shows at Shortyís, the epitome of a dive bar, and the main event is a singer/songwriter show with three performers sharing the stories behind their songs in a small listening room environment. This event is always the last weekend in February. Port A is about 5 hours southwest of Kemah. In all the years we have attended with the RV, we have stayed at several different RV parks. This year, for the first time, we stayed at On The Beach RV Park which as the name implies, is right on the beach. The park is a little tight, but we got parked, nose in, and had a nice view of the Gulf out of the windshield. The weather all weekend was cool, damp and foggy. On the beach, we found hundreds of dead fish, the result of the freeze a couple weeks ago. Even in the Gulf waters, the temperature got too cold and killed thousands of fish. The city cleans them off the beach each day, but they are still coming ashore. Port A is still recovering after being almost totally destroyed by Hurricane Harvey in 2017, but it is coming back strong. The hotel where the primary show is held wasnít significantly damaged, and somehow Shortyís survived although most things around it were heavily damaged. Some might say it is hard to tell if Shortyís was damaged or not because of how it looks. As usual, the show was great with Kitty Steadman, Kelly McGuire, and Dan Sullivan giving us an intimate main show.
When we left Port A, we were heading to my sonís house, northeast of Dallas. Itís about an eight-hour drive, so we broke it up into two days. For our first day, we avoided the interstates and took US-77 north from the coast to Walker Honey Farm in Rogers, TX. This is a Harvest Host location, which means we can spend the night in their parking lot for free, with the expectation that we will visit their store and maybe purchase something. We parked in a gravel area between their production facility and the store/tasting building. After we were set up, we went to the store to look around. They have lots of honey related products as well as mead (honey wine). We had a mead tasting flight and a charcuterie board, and bought a small peanut butter honey spread. My brother is a bee keeper, so we didnít need to buy much honey. After a peaceful night, we resumed our trip to my sonís house where we will spend a few weeks.
As with my brother, my son keeps a list going of things for me to fix or help him with when we visit. I attended to a few of those things while we were there including building a raised-bed planter box inside an existing fenced area. Just before we arrived, he bought a new 5th-wheel RV. This is his first RV, so we spent a lot of time together going over systems and getting him familiar with how RV things work. One weekend while we were there, we took his trailer and our bus to Cooper Lake State Park. We got spots right across from one another and enjoyed ďcampingĒ out. During the past six months both of my sonís old dogs died, and just before we arrived for our visit, he got two Great Pyrenees puppies. It was fun wrangling them on the camping weekend. We celebrated my birthday at a local restaurant which included Key Lime birthday pie.
We are going west this summer, so we left my sons in late March and headed for Arizona. Our first stop was in Midland, TX at the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum, which is another Harvest Host. We planned on getting to the museum early enough to take a tour, but about an hour out from Midland, traffic on I-20 came to a standstill. We stayed parked in the traffic for 4 Ĺ hours. We learned later that the problem was a police chase that had ended on the highway ahead of us with an armed standoff situation. A lot of the cars in the backup were able to turn around and go back to the previous exit to take an alternate route, but we were left with the big trucks to wait. By the time we got to the museum, it was closed, so no tour, but I made an online donation to thank them for the overnight parking. It was very windy and pretty cold out, so other than a quick walk around the outside exhibits, we stayed in the bus.
The second day, we traveled to Deming, NM. On the way, we stopped in a rest area to use the bathroom. In rest areas, we park with the big trucks. As we pulled in-between two already parked trucks, we saw that the driver to our right seemed to be in distress. I got out of the bus and asked him if he needed help. Turned out he had an excruciating tooth ache. He asked if we had any pain relievers we could spare. All we had to help him was Aleve, and we gave him a few. I felt sorry for the guy having to continue his trip in pain like that. It reminded me of a time when I owned the trucking company and had a driver coming from LA to Phoenix with kidney stones. Our stop for the night is another Harvest Host, D. H. Lescombs Winery. They had a large parking lot, and we turned out to be one of eight RVs that spent the night here. After parking we went inside for a tasting, where we visited with some of the other RVers.
Our third day had us arriving at our destination for a month, Superstition Sunrise RV Resort. This park is a typical Arizona snowbird park. It has over 2000 lots and all sorts of activities and amenities that snowbirds want. Which is pretty much nothing we participate in, but they are reasonably priced, and near our friendís house. I was able to get the COVID vaccine in January and February, but Barb wasnít 65 yet, so she wasnít eligible yet. The 65-year age requirement got dropped while we were in Dallas, but we wanted her to be able to get both shots in the same place, so we had made an appointment for her in Phoenix the day after we got there. The place was a large outdoor drive-through setup that was executed very well. In the three weeks between her first and second shots, they changed the location of the shots to an indoor drive-through location. The new location was a brand-new huge warehouse that wasnít occupied yet. You still drove through, and again the process was very efficient. We were glad to have that behind us both now.
The second day we were in Phoenix, we were scheduled to get all of our window blinds replaced. We still had all the original, seventeen-year-old fanfold things that were all working, but showing their age. We had arranged to have them replaced by a woman in Phoenix who represents Irvine Shade & Door. The new ones are what they call Slo-Rise day/night shades. They are two roller shades, one that is a dark mesh you can see through, and the other a night-time solid vinyl. It cost about $1000 to replace every shade in the bus except the windshield ones. We were extremely happy with the result, and that goes in the ďmoney well spentĒ column.
The next day we were scheduled to get our windshield replaced. Two guys from Auto Glass Boss in Mesa showed up and replaced the driverís half of the windshield. We have had this company do glass work for us before and have always been happy with their work. This was the last of our appointments, so the rest of the month here will be for play.
We joined my ex and her husband for a long Easter weekend at their property in NW New Mexico. We have been here before with the bus, and they used to spend part of their summers here in their RV. But since we last visited, they have had a home built on the property, so this time we left the RV in Phoenix and stayed in their house, along with another couple they know from Bisbee, AZ. We had a fun few days, eating too much, playing games, and trimming trees on the property with the new long-reach chainsaw they bought. Another weekend, we went south to Bisbee, AZ to their other house. Yes, they have three houses at the moment. The one in Bisbee is an old duplex that they are renovating to be a rental. The couple we met in NM live in the house next door, and we spent the night at their house. Bisbee is one of those old Arizona mining towns that is enjoying a comeback. On our way back to Phoenix from Bisbee, we stopped at Rooster Cogburnís Ostrich Ranch in Picacho, AZ. This is right on I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson, and I canít tell you how many times Iíve driven past it over the years, but never stopped. Today we have no schedule, so we stopped. There is a lot more than ostriches here. They had donkeys, sheep, chickens, ducks, lorikeets, deer, bunnies, and of course ostriches. The fun thing is that you not only get to see the animals and pet some, but you get to feed them all. It was a fun stop.
We had several other get togethers with old friends from the area whom I had worked with at American Express. Many of these folks Iíve kept in touch with on Facebook, but havenít seen in years. It was good to catchup with them. We also stopped by two bars owned by my exís nephew Kreg. Pour and Flights are both beer and wine bars specializing in craft beers. We visited both and were very happy to see that they survived the pandemic.
Our month in Arizona came to an end just in time as they had their first 100 degree day in Phoenix the day after we left. We are headed to Idaho for the summer and our first experience workamping. The trip will be about 1400 miles and weíll split it into four days of driving. The first day took us north through Flagstaff and Page to Fredonia, AZ. Fredonia is right on the AZ/UT border. We stayed at Wheel Inn RV Park. This park is basically just a dirt lot with hookups. For our purposes itís fine since itís a pull-through and weíre just spending the night. Day 2 of travel brought a change in route. There had been rain overnight, but at higher elevations north of us, it was snow. The route we were going to take would have taken us over the mountains to where we would pick up I-15 near Beaver, UT. Instead, we went west and about 35 miles further and picked up I-15 at Hurricane, UT. This route went around the mountains on the two-lane road and got us on the interstate for the mountainous part. My logic was that if we encountered snow, I wanted to be on the interstate. The logic worked, as we went through areas that had gotten snow, but the road was clear and dry. Our stop for the second night was Willard Bay State Park in Willard, UT just a little north of Salt Lake City. This park was good because it was not out of the way, but when I say it was right on the interstate, I mean it was Right On The Interstate. We took a walk around and looked at the water, which is bay off the Great Salt Lake. Day three had us continuing north into Montana to Divide Bridge Campground, in Divide, MT. This is a Bureau of Land Management campground, which is similar to ones run by the Corps of Engineers or National Forest Service. The campground was a few miles off the interstate and then a mile down a narrow dirt road. These camp spots are first-come-first served, and there were a few pull throughs, but I couldnít have gotten the bus in them without worrying about trees scratching either the roof or the sides. So, we unhooked the car and I backed in a spot. We were one of three occupied spots. The payment at these places is often the honor system where you fill out an envelope with your info, enclose the money and drop it in a drop box. But there were no envelopes, and the secure part of the drop box was missing. Come to find out, prior to Memorial Day, itís free. It is dry camping, but free is free. When we arrived we noticed that to leave we were going to have to make a very sharp turn back onto the highway which was also very crowned. So, when we left on Day 4, to avoid scraping anything, and in case I had to back up, we didnít load the car on the dolly until we got to a wide spot in the road a few miles away. We proceeded north through Butte and Missoula, MT into Idaho and up to Coeur díAlene. In Coeur díAlene we got off the interstate for our last 16 miles to Athol, ID. Yes, the name of the town really is Athol. Makes them the butt of many jokes.
Athol is located roughly halfway between Coeur díAlene to the south and Sandpoint to the north. Coeur díAlene is on I-90 about 30 miles east of Spokane, WA. Coeur díAlene is on the northern end of Lake Coeur díAlene. It would be where we went to Costco or for a large choice of restaurants. You used to have to go to Coeur díAlene for groceries, but there is a new Super 1 and Ace Hardware right in Athol just a couple of miles from the park. Sandpoint is to the north of Athol on the northern end of Lake Pend Oreille (pronounced Ponderay). Sandpoint is a cute town with many nice little restaurants and shops, and itís where our friends Thom & Coley live.
We had stayed in this area back in 2016 and saw Ravenwood RV Park, although it was not where we stayed. Well, this summer, we will be at Ravenwood all summer, workamping. Workamping technically means doing any kind of working while living in your RV. Much of the time though it means working for an RV park in exchange for your site and utilities and possibly also cash. Our deal here will be to work up to 18 hours each per week in exchange for our spot and utilities. The park is only open from May 1st to October 1st, and we arrived on April 29th. They were expecting us, but the front gate was closed when we got there. I called Cathy the owner and told her we were there and she sent her son up to open the gate for us. We pulled in and met Cathy who walked us back in to the park to show us our choices of spots for the workampers. We chose the one that looked like it would have the best chance of our DISH antenna seeing the satellites over the trees and mountain. Cathy told us to take our time getting settled and that we would have a meeting of the workampers in a couple of days. Our first impressions of the park were great. The spaces are large, there are lots of trees in the park as well as the surrounding lands are primarily wooded. The park sits down in a bowl from the highway and the railroad on the other side of the highway, so noise from both is not as bad as you would expect. The first other workamper we met was Mike, who has been working here most of the previous six seasons since they opened. He was very friendly, welcomed us, and gave a high-level explanation of how things worked. A couple days in, we had a gathering where we met the rest of the crew and Jeff, Cathyís husband. The loose way things will work is that the women will work in the office/camp store, and the men will work outside. In the office, the things to do are answer the phone, check campers in, take reservations, handle purchases from the camp store, and clean the bathrooms in the office and pool area. The outside tasks were mowing, weed eating, tending to sprinklers, emptying outside trash cans, picking up any loose trash, cleaning spots as campers checked out, and any other general maintenance stuff that came up. Of course, everybody had the opportunity to interface with the campers. Cathy took the ladies one morning to train in the office, while Jeff took the new guys to show them around and tell them what he expected. There was a mixture of worker types. There were two women and one guy who live locally and are paid. Two couples live onsite in their RVs but only the ladies work for the park and the guys work outside the park. One guy lives by himself in his RV in the park and works for the park. Then there are four couples, including us, where both halves work for the park. Cathy and occasionally her kids work in the office too, while Jeff has a homebuilding business that keeps him busy most of the time, although he was usually available if needed. Jeffís words to us after telling us what he expected was to ďtreat the place like you owned itĒ. If you see something that needs doing, do it. If you need something to do the job, let him know. We didnít have a set schedule for things like mowing or anything, we just worked it out amongst ourselves to get everything done, and it usually worked. For the most part, all the staff got along well and we fell into doing the things we enjoyed. I liked mowing with the zero-degree-turn mower they had, but I donít like trimming. One of the other guys enjoyed trimming. One of the guys liked working mornings where he would be mostly cleaning sites as people checked out. I preferred working afternoons where I mowed and checked with new arrivals to make sure they were parked good and answer any questions. One special project we worked on was replacing thirty of the picnic tables. Each spot has a picnic table, and originally, they were all heavy, all-wood tables. These original tables were warping and were also hard to move to mow around. Thirty of the 100+ tables were replaced last year with metal framed tables with wood tops. These table are lighter, and can be slid with the lawn mower, so you can move them to mow without getting off the machine. This year we are replacing thirty more, but that means building the tables. A couple of us spent several days assembling, sanding, then spray painting the new tables. Once they were distributed, it made the mowing that much easier.
It was interesting dealing with COVID this summer. We are vaccinated. The group of workers here is probably 50/50. Idaho has relaxed mask and other restrictions pretty much entirely. A lot of the campers here come from Washington and Oregon where mask restrictions are still in effect, so we are constantly hearing them say how ďfreeĒ they feel here. We try hard not to get into any political discussions, and of course any discussion of COVID or masks, or vaccinations will quickly turn political. We were all doing ok, until early August when two of the women in the office got COVID. Ironically, they were both vaccinated. While they isolated with their illness, many of the rest of us got tested and tested negative. We assumed that the two women who got it were exposed to a camper who checked in coughing and hacking and then left early a couple days later saying she had COVID. Of course, weíll never know for sure.
As I said earlier, Ravenwood is only open seasonally, from May 1st to Oct 1st. The primary reason people stay at Ravenwood is that the Silverwood Theme Park is a mile away. Silverwood has its own RV park, but there is plenty of business to go around. In May and September, Silverwood is only open on weekends, so Ravenwood is similarly not too crowded in May and September even on the weekends. But, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Ravenwood was 98% full. There were 107 spots, and a high turnover. There were no long-term rates, so no long-term customers. One Fridays and Sundays it wasnít uncommon to turn over more than half the spots. Also, due to the proximity to the amusement park, the vast majority of customers were predictably families. That meant there were small children around all the time, often riding bikes or other wheeled contraptions on the paved portion of the park road. Remarkably, Iím not aware of any serious injuries all season. We joked at our farewell party that there had been no calls for emergency services all season.
While we had committed to working 3 6-hours shifts each per day, there were only a few weeks where we actually did that much. Our working days varied each week, but we knew what the schedule was two weeks in advance, and as long as we asked in advance, Cathy was very accommodating in working around requests for days off. Of course, we both always worked the same days so we were free to do other stuff on our days off.
We did a lot of different things on our days off. One of our first adventures was a day trip to Spokane. We got there and first found a place for lunch. We stumbled upon Frankís Diner which turned out to be at least locally famous and a good place to eat. After lunch we went right downtown where we found Riverfront Park which has several attractions. The Looff Carrousel was one of the attractions and we both rode it. It had just recently reopened after the pandemic shutdown. It was built in 1909, and is not only beautiful, but it was maybe the fastest carrousel Iíve been on. Riverfront Park is, as one might imagine, on a river. The Spokane River runs through the city here, and the park was built for the 1974 Worldís Fair. There is a dam here with a power plant that was built over 100 years ago. The Numerica SkyRide takes you from the street level out over the waterfalls and back. In addition to the waterfall, there are numerous metal sculptures along the river and visible from the skyride. Over the summer we took several other trips to Spokane to eat or just look around.
I mentioned that our friends Thom Shepherd and Coley McCabe Shepherd live in Sandpoint. Thom & Coley are musicians we know from Texas and their involvement in the Trop Rock world. They used to live in Nashville, then the Austin. TX area, but moved to Sandpoint a couple years ago to be closer to Thomís son while heís still in high school. For several years between Austin and Sandpoint, they lived and traveled between gigs in their RV. Since landing in Sandpoint, they have been renting the RV through a program called RVShare. It is kind of like AirBnB but for RVs. Since Thom travels a lot to gigs, it was hard for him to manage the RV rental too. So, I offered to help out with check-out and check-in and maintenance. When a renter was picking the RV up, I would meet them at the storage yard, give them about an hour-long tour of the RV, take them for a test drive, and do the necessary online paperwork. When they came back, I would check for any new damage, ask about any issues, and do the check-in paperwork. I also fixed numerous little problems along the way. Remarkably, nobody did any significant damage to the RV all summer. Only one made me a little nervous during the test drive. We also delivered the RV to renters a couple of times. Once we took it to and then picked it up from Kalispell, MT, once from The Gorge Amphitheater in WA, and once from Spokane. On the trip back from Kalispell, a moose started to run out in front of me. I thought for sure I was going to hit it, but at the edge of the pavement he turned around went back into the ditch. This work kept me busy on days off from the RV park, and of course made me a little cash. Also, while we were here, Thom sold his pickup truck to a guy in Denver who wanted it delivered. So, I drove the truck to Denver and the buyer paid for the gas, hotels, and my return air. Of course, we also got together with Thom & Coley several times socially over the summer, as well as attended the Sandpoint Songwriters Fest which featured a couple local musicians and a couple of songwriters that Thom knew from his Nashville days.
A few of our Alfa friends spend their summers in the NW, and we had the opportunity to visit a few of them. Dave and Jane Petersen have a home in Moses Lake, WA, and go south in their Alfa most winters. Moses Lake is about 2 Ĺ hours west of Athol. We drove the car there and spent a weekend with Dave & Jane. They have a very nice house right on the lake with lots of various types of berries growing in a terraced area between the backyard and the waterís edge. We enjoyed catching up with them and took a ride around the area. I was surprised how much agriculture is in that part of Washington. Washington is known for apples, but there are lots of other vegetables that come from there too. One of the very interesting things we saw was at the regional airport. Boeing has used this airport as a parking lot for hundreds of 737-MAX planes that are ready for delivery to their customers once they get upgraded to resolve the issues that caused the two well-publicized crashes. It was interesting to see lots of international airlines whose names Iíve never heard of. We also stopped at a wind generator farm that has a visitorís center. The inside of the visitorís center was closed due to the pandemic, but the outside exhibits were accessible and there was a handout available that described wind power generation. At the wind farm, there were two young people at a table and we asked what they were doing. They were catching and marking rattlesnakes in the area for research. They had one there on the table where they counted rattles and painted marks on the rattles to identify the snake in the future. Dave & Jane harvest lots of berries from their yard, and sent us home with several jars of various jams that they make from them.
Another day trip we took was to visit another Alfa couple, Brian & Carol Hood, at Sacheen Lake, WA. Sacheen Lake is about an hour west of Athol. Sacheen Lake is a fairly small lake with houses all around its perimeter. Brian & Carol took us for a ride around the lake on their pontoon boat, telling us stories about many of the houses, and the history of living here for a while. Brian & Carol also normally head to southern climes in the winter, but their house can be a year-round residence. It is a three-section manufactured home, and when you see their steep, twisty driveway, as well as the narrow road around the lake, itís amazing that it was possible to get it there.
The last Alfa couple we saw this summer, was Skip & Lexi Huffman. They were traveling and stopped in Coeur díAlene for a couple of days. We met them for dinner and spent a couple of hours catching up.
We took one trip away from Ravenwood in the bus. We went to Kalispell, MT for the inaugural Parrothead event, Montana Migration. Our friends Thom & Coley and James White from Florida were amongst the performers there. Kalispell is a pretty four-hour drive from Athol, all on two-lane roads. We stayed at an RV park north of Kalispell that we had stayed at back in 2016, although the event was about 45 minutes away in Bigfork, on Flathead Lake. Being the first time, they had tried to have this type of event here, it was small. There were about thirty registered attendees, but all the performances were in public places, so there was local interest. As I was preparing us to return to Athol, I must have moved wrong, because I experienced my first full-blown sciatic nerve pinch. I have heard sciatica described by many folks, most recently by one of the crew back at Ravenwood. This was just what I had heard described, and just as painful. I couldnít get comfortable sitting, so I wasnít looking forward to four hours of driving. About half an hour west of Kalispell, traffic came to a stop. While stopped, I stood and tried to stretch but the pain and numbness was there no matter the position. After about thirty minutes, traffic started to creep forward until we came upon a very bad accident scene that had been moved to the side to allow traffic to pass. That made my pain seem a little less serious. The next day, I still had some numbness down my leg, but the pain was mostly gone. I hope that doesnít become a routine.
We saw a number of interesting RV things during our summer. One was a semi-homemade RV, where the guy had taken a fifth wheel trailer, removed its axles, and mounted it onto a long wheelbase eighteen-wheeler tractor. It was actually a pretty good-looking rig and not as hokey as it sounds. We saw a guy hook up his fifth-wheel (he thought) and drive off only find the hitch wasnít latched right, dropping the trailer onto the bed of his truck. He was very lucky that the only damage was a small divot in his tailgate. This happened right in front of me as I was mowing, so I commiserated with him as he jacked up the trailer and tried again, this time double checking that the hitch was latched. We saw not one, not two, but three campers hook up their hose to the black tank rinse connection instead of the city-water input connection. In all three cases, they hooked up, turned the water on, and promptly left the property. The result was that the water filled their black tank, then overflowed the toilet and flooded their rigs. In each case, someone noticed water running out where it shouldnít be (like the door) and turned the water off. By then the damage was done, and even if the black tank had been empty, it wouldnít be a nice situation to come home to.
Being family oriented, we also met lots of peoples pets this summer. The park has a nice dog park where dogs can be off-leash, and many campers commented to us how much they liked that. One of the duties of the outside guys was to pick up any dog droppings that were not attended to by their owners. This didnít happen too often, but every now and then youíd find a present either in a camp spot after someone pulled out, or in the dog park itself. Hopefully somebody found them before the lawn mower did. We saw lots of different kinds of dogs, and the occasional cat in a window, but a few pets stood out. There was one motorhome, about the size of ours, that had three huge black Newfoundlandís. I had to wonder where they all parked when the slides were in. There was one pot-belly pig that acted just like a dog on a leash. Speaking of leashes, there was one cat who walked on a leash following his owner all over the park. When the owner stopped to chat, the cat sat down. But, if the cat got ready to go before the owner stopped chatting, he started weaving his way around the legs of the conversation participants. They usually got the message and the walk resumed.
One of the things we got as part of our job here, was a pass to Silverwood. We waited until September to go over there to avoid the crowds. The day we went was threatening to rain, and although it didnít, it kept the crowd away. We walked around the whole park, ate lunch there, and I rode all three of their roller coasters. The last one made me a bit nauseous, I think because you go backwards for half of it, so my brain couldnít anticipate the movement. While the park is nothing like a Disney or Six Flags property, it was nice for a regional park.
Also late in the summer, we took a day trip up to Schweitzer Mountain Ski Resort, just north of Sandpoint. We waited until a day when most of the smoke from wildfires had moved out so we could appreciate the views from atop the mountain. We took a ski lift to the top of the mountain where we enjoyed the views and a nice lunch.
The weather in northern Idaho gave us a wide variety of experiences. When we arrived at the end of April, everything was green and spring was well underway. The temperatures were in the 40s and 50s at night and 60ís to 70ís during the day. As expected, May and June warmed up a bit, but was still very pleasant, with lows still in the high 50s and highs in the 70s. But then July happened. Most of July saw temps in the high 80s and low 90s. The humidity was low, so it wasnít all that unpleasant, but that low humidity, combined with the fact that we had not seen any rain since we got here, made everything (except the sprinkled grass in the park itself) brown, and the fire danger very high. The whole NW was suffering from this drought and heat wave, and there were numerous wildfires, although the only one anywhere near us was put out the same day it started. Not being close to the fires didnít make us immune from the smoke though. Throughout July and August, we had lots of hazy days, a few so bad that you couldnít see across the park. To put the July heat wave in perspective, almost every day set records. It was the hottest July on record, and not by a degree or two, but by twelve degrees! In August, we got some rain and a break in the temps, although much of the rain came in one huge storm that dumped a couple of inches in a couple hours, including some hail and high winds. We had several moderate sized limbs come out the trees, a couple hitting RVs. By September, fall was already in the air as the overnight temps were again getting into the 40ís and 50s. Time to go.
We had committed to stay until Oct 1st, although Cathy & Jeff made it clear we could leave whenever we wanted the last week of September. The number of campers in the park dwindled from sold out Labor Day weekend to less than 20 through September. We stayed until Sept 30th because I had already planned our trip back to TX and had reservations lined up at RV parks along the way. Cathy & Jeff had a nice farewell party for the whole crew before anybody pulled out. We were asked if we wanted to return next summer, but we already have plans to spend next summer in NYS at my brotherís house. Maybe in 2023. One by one we said our goodbyes as a few of the crew left before us, and then it was our turn and we headed south on the 30th.
We arenít planning any sightseeing on the return to TX. Just five days of driving to my sonís outside Dallas. As soon as we pulled out of Ravenwood, we both noticed the smell of exhaust fumes. I donít know what I was thinking, but I said Iíd check it later and maybe itís just because we havenít driven it for months. Our first day we drove to Bozeman Trail Campground in Bozeman, MT. The second day, we made it to Riverís Edge Campground in Casper, WY. Again, we smelled exhaust, and again I ignored it. The third day, we stopped in Colby, KS at Colby RV Park. Again, we smelled the exhaust, but this day it was bad enough that Barb went back and cracked the bedroom window so it would draw the smell out. The fourth day was a Sunday, and beside driving, we have a plan. We are stopping in Pawhuska, OK and plan to visit the store and restaurant associated with The Food Network show Pioneer Woman. Before getting into Pawhuska, we stopped at a Loveís Truck Stop for fuel. For some reason I had to go inside and pay, and when I returned, Barb was outside the bus telling me we had no water. I also saw water dripping near the rear wheels that looked like fresh water and not anti-freeze. I opened the engine compartment and found the source of the exhaust smell was that the exhaust pipe off the turbo charger had broken and was blowing hot exhaust against places that shouldnít be that hot, and apparently it has melted a water line causing us to pump out all our water. In hindsight, weíre lucky nothing caught fire, and nothing melted that will impede driving. Most Loveís have service area, so I went there and asked if they had an exhaust clamp that would fit so I could make a temporary repair. They had one, but not quite the right size. It was a little too big, but it would get us to Dallas. We also bought a gallon of water to get us to Dallas. Back to the afternoonís plan, we are staying at a place called The Lodge at Taylor Ranch. This is place where a family has turned their ranch/farm into a wedding venue and they have about eight pull-through spots that are gravel and grass. It wasnít anything fancy, but it will do for the night. Fortunately, before we drove into town, we looked to see if the Pioneer Woman place was open on Sunday. Turns out it wasnít, but it opens at 7:00 AM for breakfast. So, instead of dinner, we got up early Monday morning and went to The Mercantile for breakfast. We had a very nice breakfast, roamed around the store and were back on the road with plenty of time to get to my sonís.
We got to my sons on Monday Oct 4th. The next day I started working on our problems. I ordered the correct parts to fix the exhaust system, but that is going to be the easy part of the project since I ignored the problem for two-thousand miles. At this point, we have no water in the bus at all. We have a bucket to flush the toilet from overnight use, but other than that we are using the bathroom and showering in the house. At least we have that option. I got under the bus and started looking at what was melted. Where the hot exhaust was blowing was against the front end of the box that the bed sits on. That box meets the floor we walk on. The box and the floor are 3/4Ē plywood. About three inches below the floor is a plastic sheeting that is what you would be looking at if you were under the bus looking up. In-between the floor and this plastic is fiberglass insulation, and wires and hoses. Where the exhaust system passes closes to this, it was all covered with a silver heat shield kind of material. Well, that heat shield was pretty much gone. An area at least two feet towards the front and a foot wide had all the plastic melted away from the insulation. And somewhere up in there must be a melted water line. Looking at all the damage, we were lucky that nothing caught fire. I couldnít get my foot around far enough to kick myself in the ass for letting this happen. I cut away a bunch of the melted plastic material and pulled a bunch of the insulation out trying to find the leak, but was not finding it. I consulted a diagram I had showing the layout of all the plumbing, but it is more of a schematic than an exact map of where the hoses run. I started wondering if I could narrow down what hose was melted and restore at least some water. I connected the water and turned it on then quickly went inside and started trying faucets. I found that all the cold-water faucets worked and none of the hot water ones did. That means itís the hot water line broken somewhere after the water heater bypass valve and before the first bathroom faucet. With that knowledge, I was able to disconnect a line at the water heater bypass valve and plug it, letting water go to the cold-water side of all faucets and not the hot side (and not the leak). This worked and now we could at least have cold water which would be better than nothing. Over the couple of weeks, I spent a lot of time working on trying to find the leak. I bought a pair of 10-ton jack stands so I could get us jacked way up and safely be underneath. Even with this clearance, I couldnít find the leak and I bent one of our jacks in the process. I finally gave up and decided I needed someone with more expertise to fix it. So, a call was placed to Ronnie Wolfe in Louisiana who works on just Alfas and can fix darn near anything. He could get us in in a few weeks when we would be on our way back from our annual Karavan To the Keys trip with our Trop Rock friends. So, until then, weíll just have cold water.
Where we park at my sonís house is on the far side of the garage. Last spring, he had a new water line run to near where we park. This year he had a new power service run to that side of the garage to serve both of our RVs and in the future take power out to his barn and chicken coop. So, on this visit, I installed a 50-amp receptacle for his RV, and moved the one we had been using on the side of the house which required the cord crossing the driveway and sidewalk. Now we can plug in right by where we park without any extensions. This will also remove the likelihood of us blowing the 50-amp breaker that we were trying to share between the two RVs and any lights and plugs in the garage.
On Oct 22nd, we left my sons for Kemah, TX where we join the Karavan To the Keys. The Karavan To the Keys is a rolling party of musicians and fans heading to Key West for Meeting of the Minds which is the annual national Parrothead convention. This is the 6th year of the organized Karavan. As with last year, they are starting this year at the Elks Lodge in Kemah where we can dry camp free. For the past six years, this has been our first reuniting with lots of friends we havenít seen all summer. We will be in Kemah two nights. The first night, Friday, the show is at T-Bone Tomís where we saw Drop Dead Dangerous. Saturday is an all-day event at the Elks Lodge starting on the outside stage at noon, and moving inside at 5:00. Sunday morning, we departed for Louisiana with a lunch stop at the Neches River Wheelhouse in Port Neches, TX. The Wheelhouse is right next to a public boat ramp with lots of parking and not a lot of use, so we were able to park RVs there while we went in for brunch and to listen to Bert Hebert and Jerry Diaz. About 1:00 PM, we continued on to Cajun Palms RV Resort in Beau Bridge, LA. Sunday evening, we went just outside the RV park to Crawfish Town USA, where we had a private party for 60 and entertainment from Eric Erdman. Monday is a rest day with some food provided by a couple of generous Karavaners, and some grinniní and pickiní by a few of our traveling musicians. Tuesday, we were off to Pandion Ridge RV Resort near Gulf Shores, AL. Tuesday evening, we went to the Flora-Bama, which as the name implies is right on the beach at the Florida/Alabama line. There we saw Wes Loper do his weekly gig there, although he was joined on and off by several of the other musicians traveling with us. In previous years, Wednesday has been a golf day, and since Barb and I donít golf we just hung out. But this year they changed it to a bowling day. The bowling alley they have found has ten lanes in a private area with its own bar, so we have taken that over. I havenít bowled in at least twenty years, but what the heck Ė nobody here was a serious bowler. We had a lot of fun despite our dismal performance. Wednesday evening was a listening room style show at the Orange Beach Community Center featuring Kitty Steadman, Donny Brewer, and Bryton Stoll. These are my favorite style of shows. Thursday we were off to a new location for the Karavan in Ocala, FL. This was at the home of a Parrothead who has setup a nice stage area for house concerts, and they just happen to have a friendly next-door neighbor with a large field that we can boondock in overnight. Aaron Scherz was our entertainment, and the hosts provided a taco bar for dinner. Next stop was Sebring, FL at another home that has been setup for house concerts. Little Key West as the owner bills it has been designed to look like many of the famous Key West venues that Parrotheads frequent. Last year the plan was to boondock in the back yard, but it was too sandy for the big rigs to get in and we ended up just staying along the road for two nights. The road is a lightly used dead end, but it still wasnít ideal. This year we are staying nearby at an RV park and driving the car to the event. Friday, we heard eight different performers, and Saturday we saw another thirteen acts starting at 11:00 AM and ending about 11:00 PM. Sunday saw us turning around and heading back to TX. We have not gone all the way to Key West for several years now.
Our return to TX started similar to previous years. Our first day took us from Sebring to Tallahassee, where we stayed at the Tallahassee RV Park and had a short visit with an old friend. The next day took us to Denham Springs, LA, outside Baton Rouge, where we stayed at a KOA and met up with an old Houston friend Barbara Salazar for dinner. We havenít seen Barbara in five or six years and had a lot to catch up on. From Louisiana, instead of heading to Kemah, we went a little north of Houston to Livingston, TX. Escapees is an RV club that has several RV parks and more importantly a mail forwarding service. Last year we changed our address from the UPS store we had used for years, to Escapees because the UPS store was getting too big for their own good. Our physical stop in Livingston is to get our mail, and more importantly, vote. We parked at the RV park and immediately went to vote and pick up the mail.
From Livingston, instead of south to Kemah, we went NE to Ronnie Wolfe in Choudrant, LA. Ronnie is an Alfa expert and we need his help to fix the water line and the bent jack. There are several full-hookup spots at Ronnieís place, and we got set up in one Wednesday evening. Over the next three days, Ronnie found and fixed the melted hot water line, replaced our bent jack and bracket, and fixed an annoying buzz we had in our heat pump. We were of course happy to have everything fixed, and ecstatic that it cost about half what I had mentally budgeted for. Now we could go back to Kemah for the winter.