Almost All of 2023

Pictures can be found here

Our last update ended when we arrived back in Kemah, TX for the winter.  We arrived on November 4th and are staying at Brickhouse RV Park again this year.  As in years before, the park is almost full, and a lot of the people are construction or refinery workers who are working temporary contracts.  Some of the people are familiar faces that have been here every year that we have.  They are not necessarily snowbirds, like us, but rather they just live here full time.

During our stay we took our annual trip to the Texas Hill Country, Stonewall to be exact, for our friends Karen & Henryís Christmas weekend.  We stayed at Peach Country RV Park, about Ĺ mile from the house.  We enjoyed visiting with the friends who have been coming for years from AZ, FL, and TX, as well as new friends they have made since moving from Austin to Stonewall. 

Barbís son and his wife wanted to get together, so we planned to meet at the Lone Star Flight Museum at Ellington Field.  When we got there, we found it was closed for a private event.  So, we changed plans and instead, went to Space Center Houston at NASA.  We had been there twenty years ago, but it has been updated of course, including the addition of the 747 that carried the Space Shuttles from their west coast landings back to Florida.  Unfortunately, the shuttle that is mounted on it isnít a ďrealĒ one, but rather the mock-up that was used for training.  Back when the shuttles were retired, and locations for their permanent homes were announced, there was a huge uproar in Houston because one of the three real ones didnít come here.  After all, Mission Control is here.  On our visit, I was more interested in the 747, because I used to work for the company that altered its avionics to account for piggy-backing another aircraft. 

During the winter down-time, I caught up with bus maintenance things, the largest being some work on the generator.  The drive belt needs to be replaced, as it has started slipping under heavy load.  I have done this before, and while itís not that complicated, it requires reaching into a very tight place, with both hands and two wrenches.  It is made easier by removing the flywheel, and while I had the flywheel off, I saw that the starter was close to failing.  I removed the old starter, which requires unbolting the whole generator and sliding it a few inches.  I ordered a new starter, and when it came a couple days later, I installed it, put the flywheel and belt back on and tried to start it, but it wouldnít turn over.  I thought the starter must be bad so I ordered another one.  After swapping the starters, it acted just the same.  I pulled the flywheel off to take the starter out again, and noticed a shiny scrape mark on the inside of it.  It turns out the two bolts that hold the starter in are not the same length.  They are about ľĒ different, not obvious to the naked eye, and it matters which hole they go in.  I replaced the starter and put the shorter bolt in the hole that was behind the flywheel, and voila!  So, now I have a spare starter.

Barb has friends from the 80s that she has kept in touch with all these years.  We visited Michael and Connie at their home near Sacramento a few years ago when we were traveling up there.  Well, they have both retired and are in the middle of a year-long trip around the edges of the country in their fifth-wheel RV.  During the winter, we saw them three times; First, they stopped in Kemah for a week and stayed in our park.  From here, they took a trip to OK, then returned to TX and went to a park in Jamaica Beach, near Galveston, where they had their home in the 80s. We went down there one day to visit, look at their old house, and have lunch at West End Marina.  The third visit was only with Mike, when he joined us in Port Aransas for the Pirates & Poets music event.  Connie had flown home to go wedding dress shopping with their daughter, so Mike was on his own for the weekend. 

We attended our usual Trop Rock music events during the winter.  Pardi Gras was in January in New Orleans.  We flew this year since parking in the French Quarter is ridiculously expensive.  Southwest Airlines had their huge meltdown over Christmas, so we were keeping our fingers crossed that they were running smoothly now.  As soon as were through Security at the airport, we saw that our flight was cancelled.  Since this was early in the morning, that wasnít a good sign.  It turned out the FAA was the problem this time as they had a nationwide ground stop due to a system problem.  We scrambled to rebook another flight, but then saw that there was a flight that should have left earlier than ours, but was still at the gate.  We went to that gate and asked if we could get on.  This flight was late because of the ground stop, but not cancelled.  We were able to get on, the ground stop got lifted, and we ended up in New Orleans a few minutes before we were originally scheduled to.  Pardi-Gras was great and our flights home were ok.  In mid-February, we took the RV north of Houston to Lake Conroe and the Lone Star Luau.  We dry-camp at this event and while it was cold all weekend, it wasnít below freezing and there was no snow or ice like last year.  One of the neat things that happens at Lone Star Luau, is Operation Song.  This is where several veterans or family members of veterans are paired with a songwriter for several hours.  In that time, the veteran tells stories of their service, and the songwriter makes a song from the stories.  The songs are then performed by the songwriters the next day.  Itís not only amazing how the songwriting process works, but the stories were all moving and brought tears and cheers from the crowd.  Another veteran related initiative supported at Lone Star Luau, is the Red Guitar Campaign.  Fisher House is an organization that has houses near medical facilities that are places for veteran families to stay while dealing with a loved one in the hospital.  The goal of the Red Guitar Campaign is to have a guitar available at each house for anyone to play.  The story of how Thom & Coley Shepherd started this can be found here.  Our final music event, and our departure from the Kemah area was Pirates & Poets in Port Aransas, TX, near Corpus Christi.  Pirates & Poets is a small listening room type of event that has always included an afternoon stop at Shortyís, the ďoldest and friendliest barĒ bar in town.  Shortyís has been on the verge of closing because of losing its lease on the land for years.  This year, it finally had closed, but instead of going away, the owner has moved it to a new location.  While it wasnít open yet, a group of us stopped by to toast the resurrection to come.

After Port Aransas, we headed north to my sonís house outside Dallas, with an overnight stop at a Harvest Host called Dancing Bee Winery.  We have stayed at Dancing Bee before, and itís a great stop.  Mead and a charcuterie board for dinner, and easy, quiet parking. While in Port A we were still able to get the Houston TV channels, and we didnít watch much, so we didnít try to change the locals with DISH.  But while at Dancing Bee, we found that DISH had been the victim of a ransomware attack, and as a result they have ZERO customer service capability now.  That means there is no website, no app, no phone people, no changing locals, no paying bills.  Nothing.  The TV still works, unless you happen to be a mobile person like us who changes locals.  Itís not just a matter of wanting the appropriate local channels.  The locals are broadcast on what they call a spot-beam, so once you leave the area, you lose the signal.  It took DISH about a month before we could get our locals changed to Dallas while we were at my sonís.  In the meantime, fortunately from my sonís we could watch over-the-air, although that means we canít record anything.  When we needed to record something, we recorded it on his DirecTV and watched it in his house the next day.

At my sonís, I found the usual list of things to help him with while weíre here for a month.  Over the winter he had his driveway swing gate replaced with one that rolls to the side.  He saved money on the install, by just running an extension cord to the motor temporarily.  Now that Iím here, we rented a trencher and buried a power cable to the box.  I also put plugs on the fence so maybe Christmas lights will be on the fence in the future.  Another project was fixing several leaks in his RV.  He had not winterized it because he used it as overflow accommodations around Christmas, but the heat had been on all winter, so it shouldnít have frozen.  In finding and repairing the leaks, it was apparent that the designers didnít think things through when they heated the basement storage area, but then enclosed all the plumbing in an area isolated from the heated area.  They also used PEX compression rings on regular soft reinforced hose, which doesnít survive expansion and contraction well.  Several leaks later, all was well. 

While at my sonís we marked the passing of an important birthday for me.  Something about the ones that start a new decade that make you think.  Seventy sounded so old when I was twenty.

At the end of March, we left my sonís and headed to Arizona.  The first day we traveled to Big Spring, TX to a Harvest Host called the Hangar 25 Air Museum.  The parking here was easy, on a wide-open concrete apron outside the hangar.  We went inside to tour the small museum and found a nice lady who was happy to tell us all about the place.  (I think she was just happy to have someone to talk to.)  The most interesting thing I thought, was an entire B-52 cockpit.  We have an Alfa friend who piloted B-52s in Vietnam, so weíve heard his stories.  After the tour, we had a quiet night, although the wind was blowing very hard.  The next morning, we stopped for fuel at a Road Ranger truck stop, and found the largest discount we have ever gotten with our TSD card.  The pump price was $4.65, and our discounted price was $3.41.   The next stop was another Harvest Host, Pistoleros del Adobe Horseshoe Cantina & Grill in Elizario, TX.  This was a Mexican restaurant with a very large parking lot.  Elizario is a small town southeast of El Paso, right on the border.  There is no border crossing here, so there was no hint of the problems that we see on the news all the time.  We parked and took a walk around the little town.  We checked out the mission, a souvenir shop, and a little bar before going in the restaurant for dinner.  There were four more RVs parked here by dark, and we had a quiet night.  The next destination is Bisbee, AZ which is also on the border.  Instead of going back to I-10 to get through El Paso, we took a local street that paralleled the border.  This took us on the southern edge of El Paso and then right along the southern edge of New Mexica and Arizona.  We could see the border most of the way, and with the exception of right in El Paso, we didnít see anybody trying to cross.  We did see plenty of Border Patrol trucks, but no activity. 

We are spending a week in Bisbee, AZ at my exís house.  Barb(X) and Rick have sold their house in Phoenix and now live in Bisbee where she is originally from.  The house in is the Lowell section of Bisbee.  The streets are pretty narrow, but the houses were set back a little expecting parking in front as well as having an alley and garage in the rear.  The turns once I was in the neighborhood were a little tight, but once we took the car and dolly off, there was plenty of room to park in front of the house.  Getting the bus leveled was a little bit of a challenge, but with the addition of a few blocks under the jacks I got it close enough.  We will be able to hook up our power to a regular 20amp circuit, meaning running heat or a/c will not be possible, but April is the perfect time to not need either.  Weíre going to be here ten days, so rather than worry about water or sewer, we will just shower and do laundry in the house.  Most of our time here was spent just hanging out and relaxing.  One day we took a ride to Douglas, where we had lunch at the Gadsden Hotel.  The Gadsden is a historic place with a neat lobby (see pictures).  The Gadsden has a room that has been turned into a veterans memorial of sorts. There were tons of pictures and newspaper clippings honoring veterans from Douglas who served in all the wars since WW-I.  While there, we encountered a guy who was a local Vietnam vet.  He apparently came there regularly and engaged visitors with his stories.  Douglas is a border town, but apparently also not one that is having a problem with the surge of asylum seekers.  The other fun thing I did while in Bisbee, was overhaul the tow dolly.  When we unloaded the car, we found oil spots all over the driverís side.  My initial fear was that the bus was leaking oil.  But I looked under the bus and there was no sign of a leak.  I realized the oil spots were only aft of the dolly wheel.  Looking on the inside of the dolly wheel, it was apparent that the problem was the inner wheel seal on the dolly.  The dolly is ten years old and has about 90,000 miles on it, so itís probably time to just replace the wheel bearings and seals on both sides.  The manufacturer sells a kit that includes the bearings, seals, and brake rotors and pads.  So, I ordered the kit and sprang for expedited shipping so the parts got there with plenty of time to work on it.  The job shouldnít be that hard, but there are a couple of bolts involved that are very hard to access.  Later models of this dolly took this bolt access problem into account and made it easier, but that doesnít help me.  The one part that the kit didnít include was the outer caps that seal the oil in.  When putting it all back together, one of the old ones wouldnít stay on, so I made a temporary one out of a piece of aluminum and a clamp.  Iíll deal with replacing the caps with new ones later.

On April 10th, we left Bisbee and head north to Idaho.  Our first stop was Quail Ridge RV Park in Mayer, AZ about halfway between Phoenix and Flagstaff.  We spent two nights here and took the extra day to drive around and check the area out.  This area is where my son lived for several years, so we drove by the two houses he had to see what they looked like now.  From Mayer, we continued north through Flagstaff and Page, AZ, to Finney Farm, a Harvest Host in Hildale, UT.  Hildale is just into Utah a little bit from Arizona.  The entrance to the farm was clearly marked with Harvest Host signage and we got parked in an area that can easily accommodate several rigs.  This is a small family farm with about 40 Brown Swiss milk cows.  Their little store sells raw milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter.  We bought some milk and cheese, and walked around looking at the cows and calves.  Our next day was traversing Utah and stopping at another Harvest Host, Uinta Alpaca Farm in Willard, UT, north of Salt Lake City.  Driving through Salt Lake City on I-15 has been ugly the last few times we did it, because there has been major construction.  This year, the construction is done, and the traffic was still heavy, but not quite as white knuckled with the construction gone.  Uinta Alpacas was also easy to park at.  Other than a bit of a tight turn into the driveway, we were able to circle around their house and park along the driveway.  This host also can accommodate several rigs at once, and today there were two others besides us.  After all the guests were settled, we met the owner at the barn and she gave us a tour of the farm which included walking around inside the corral with a bunch of the alpacas.  We each were given a cup of feed pellets to feed the alpacas and most of them were polite in taking food from your palm.  The owner gave us quite an explanation of raising and showing alpacas.  They also had two Great Pyrenees dogs to protect the herd.  My son also has two Pyrenees, so we enjoyed saying hi to them.  Of course, the tour ended in the gift shop, where we each bought some alpaca socks, which are allegedly very warm.  Our next stop was intended to be a BLM campground where we stayed two years ago.  However, since we are two weeks earlier this year, there is still snow on the ground.  The BLM campground doesnít officially open until June, so it isnít maintained in the winter.  So, instead, we went a little further to Jim & Maryís RV Park in Missoula, MT.  This park is very convenient, being not very far off the highway, and Barbís parentís names were Jim & Mary, so we had to stop.  The park is very nice with easy pull-through spots so we didnít have to unhook the car since we are just staying one night.  As we drove through Montana, we saw lots of snow, not just in the mountains, but everywhere.  The next day it was on to Idaho.

Ravenwood RV Resort opens May 1st, but we committed to coming up a couple weeks early to help get things ready for opening.  After we had been here two weeks, we joked that maybe we came too early, as it snowed twice after our arrival, each time leaving just enough to cover the ground and look pretty in the morning, then melt off by mid-day.  When we arrived, we were greeted at the gate by Jeff.  (The gate is closed until opening day.)  We caught up a bit and then headed to our spot.  We are going to use a different host spot than last time we were here.  The spot we will use is a bit longer and further towards the back of the park than the one we had two years ago. 

During the first two weeks of being here, I worked almost everyday raking pretty much every inch of the park cleaning up pine cones and any other tree debris that had fallen during the winter.  The pine cones from whatever kind of pine tree are here are about the size of a dog turd.  Raking them out of the grass areas requires vigorous rake action, while raking the gravel RV spaces requires a lighter touch to get the pine cones without picking up the gravel.  I got the whole place cleaned up and mowed twice before opening day.

While we were the first to arrive, most of the other workampers came in the week before opening.  Randy & Jill, and Steve & Linda were both here last season when we werenít.  Tom & Jennifer were here last year and the previous year with us.  The other women who works in the office have all been here for years too, so the whole crew is returnees.  Thatís unusual for a workamping park, and is testament to how good Jeff & Cathy are to work for.

The park is primarily used by families that are in the area in order to go to Silverwood Amusement park.  Because of that, May is usually a slow month, since Silverwood is only open on weekends, and kids are still in school.  Come Memorial Day weekend, the park fills up and then stays pretty full until Labor Day.  Then the month of September slows way down again as kids are back in school.  During that slow month of May, we all got into a rhythm of working together.  There were a couple of special projects done; RV parks use circuit breakers as on/off switches on the power pedestals.  Circuit breakers arenít really intended to be turned off and on a lot, and eventually get weak, meaning they will blow when they shouldnít.  So, I replaced all 115 of the 30-amp breakers in the park.  The other project was to replace all the solar lights that are mounted atop each power pedestal.  The original lights had worn out over the previous eight seasons and most donít work anymore.  Randy & Steve attacked that project and once done it looked pretty cool to see them all lit up. 

Another large project that I took on and worked on all summer, was refinishing picnic tables.  There is a picnic table at each site, and a few extra ones at the shuttle bus stop and the playground area.  So as to never have a site without one, I took three from the shuttle stop and the playground and moved them up to the maintenance yard where the sound and mess of sanding and painting wouldnít bother anyone.  Most of the tables had been restained last year, but they apparently werenít prepped well, so they are peeling badly.  So, I am using an orbital sander to sand the tops and seat tops down to bare wood, then applying two coats of stain and a coat of clear coat.  With allowing for drying time, each batch of three tables took at least three days to finish.  Once done, I used the tractor with forks attached to the front-end bucket to swap them with others in the park.  I had gone through the whole park and ranked the tables with a 1 to 3 priority based on how bad they were.  So, I was swapping them out in order of badness.  In addition to refinishing, some tables had boards that had rotted too badly to be saved.  So, as needed I also replaced boards.  I worked on this project pretty much as fast as could be done and still only got through about 75 of the 115.  It will be interesting to see if they last any longer this time.

I did a few bus projects over the summer.  One was changing the oil in the front wheel hubs.  Iím pretty sure the Freightliner service recommendation is less than 130,000 mile and 19 years.  I also ordered new bearing caps for the dolly.  I had to drive to Spokane to get the new caps, but they solved the problem and I threw away the aluminum thing that I made in AZ.  I also replaced the thermostats and radiator cap on the engine.  We had been on the verge of overheating climbing the Arizona mountains, so this and cleaning the radiator hopefully will resolve that.

Ravenwood is about ninety miles from the Canadian border.  So, we decided to take a ride one day.  With passports in hand, we headed north through Sandpoint and Bonnerís Ferry, with a stop at Good Grief.  Good Grief supposedly has a general store that includes a restaurant.  However, we found Good Grief to be closed!  So, we continued on to the border and entered Canada on US95 at Kingsgate, continued north to Yahk, where we turned west through Kitchener to Creston, where we stopped for lunch.  Now of course you would think we would seek out some authentic Canadian food (whatever that would be), but we settled on Dairy Queen.  From Creston, we went south and re-entered the US at Rykerts.  That was about 36 miles in Canada and including lunch, about 2 hours.  Made the CBP guy in Rykerts chuckle when he asked us how long we had been in Canada. 

Speaking of Canada, we had an interesting guest encounter involving Canada.  A family was coming from Canada to take their kids to the park.  At the border, there was some reason that CBP wouldnít let the husband into the US.  So, we got a call from the wife asking if there was someone at the park who could help her back their trailer in a spot and hook it up.  We said we (me) could help her, so she left her husband at the border where friends came and took him home.  When she got to the park, she was ready for some help.  She had managed to drive the ninety miles from the border, but wasnít even comfortable driving through the park, let alone backing up.  So, I drove them to their spot, backed in, and helped her setup.  The trailer was a bumper tow and Iíve never dealt with a bumper tow hitch with stabilizer bars, but we figured it out.  She was very appreciative.  A few days later, I helped her again getting hooked up and on their way.

We only took one trip away from Ravenwood this year.  We went across Washington to Bertelsen Winery, in Arlington, WA, a little north of Seattle.  We happened to hit Friday afternoon traffic near Seattle, which added almost an hour to the trip.  Bertelsen hosts live music frequently, and there has been a Trop Rock event organized there.  We parked at Angel of the Winds Casino about ten miles away where we can boondock for free.  The event is Friday evening and all-day Saturday.  Friday, we saw Aubrey Wollet perform and met up with friends Eric & Gina from Radio Trop Rock, and some other folks we know.  We joined a few of them for dinner back at the casino after the show.  Saturday we were there all day and saw Donny Brewer, Thom Shepherd, John Patti, Eric Erdman, and Carrie Welling.  It was good to get a Trop Rock fix during our summer out west.  On the way back to Idaho, we stopped about halfway to visit Alfa friends Dave & Jane Petersen in Moses Lake, WA.  They have room to park a bus in their driveway, so we spent the afternoon and evening with them catching up.  We hadnít seen them in a couple of years.  Monday morning, we continued back to Ravenwood. 

Speaking of Alfa friends, we had a couple of other visits over the summer.  Rick & Dawn Hirst are former Alfa owners who now have a fifth-wheel trailer.  They are spending the summer workamping at Farragut State Park, not far from Ravenwood.  Sid & Barb Zilke were traveling back to their summer parking place in Twisp, WA and stopped for the night.  We all got together for dinner and had a nice visit.  Next, Keith & Diana Tucker stayed at Ravenwood for two weeks, right next to us.  We enjoyed a couple meals together and a game night.  We had planned to go to Farragut State Park to visit the Naval Training Base Museum there, and we found out that other Alfa friends Jeff & Linda Venable had just pulled in there.  So, before going to the museum, we popped in and surprised them.  After visiting awhile, we went to the museum.  Itís a small but interesting museum.  Why would the Navy build a training base here?  It was built during WW-II in 11 months, utilizing 22,000 civilian workers.  It only operated for 30 months, but trained almost 300,000 recruits.  It also housed a hospital and a POW camp.  There is still a small Navy facility on Lake Pend Oreille that does acoustic research involving submarines since the lake is very deep.  Our other Alfa friends visit was when we took a day trip to Sacheen Lake in WA to Brian & Carol Hoods home.  We spent the day with them including a boat ride around the lake.

Our musician friends Thom & Coley who lived in Sandpoint when we were here two years ago have moved back to TX.  However, they still have their house in Sandpoint which they Airbnb.  They were in Sandpoint to visit Thomís son for a couple of weeks and had a gig we went to while they were here.  We were going to get together again, but Barb tested positive for COVID and we didnít want to be around anyone then. 

Two years ago, we didnít have any wildfires anywhere near us, but we had a lot of smoke days because of the way the winds blew.  This year, we didnít have a lot of smoke days, but we had two fires pretty close to us.  The first fire near us started at the north-east end of Hayden Lake, about five miles from us.  Fortunately, the winds took the smoke and fire away from us and any other populated area.  It burned away from the lake, where there are houses, and into the national forest.  Because of it burning in a remote area, the priority to fight it was low.  It was still burning a couple months later when we left.  A closer fire started about eight miles west of us.  It was burning directly towards the town of Athol, and an evacuation of the town was ordered.  Even though it wasnít burning right towards us, we were on high alert.  Since it was threatening town, it got high priority and was attacked from the air very quickly.  Before dark, they had it contained and the evacuation order was lifted.  There were two large fires further away from us that each burned many buildings a resulted in some loss of life.  While they didnít threaten us, we had smoke from them a few days. 

On September 1st, we learned of the passing of Jimmy Buffett.  Parrotheads all knew that this day would come, but it still took most by surprise.  Jimmy had been fighting melanoma for four years, but he had kept it very private, so even though everyone knew he was dealing with something, due to cancelled concert dates, the general public didnít know exactly what was going on.  It will be interesting to see how the Parrothead/Trop Rock worlds evolve from here.

As in the past, Labor Day weekend brought the mass exodus from the park.  About 80% of the full park left that Monday, and the park remained sparse until closing on October 1st. We stayed until the 1st, when we bid farewell to our workamping friends.  Once again, we had a great summer, and are worried that if we ever workamp somewhere else, it wonít be as good. 

Our first travel day isnít long.  We are only going to Missoula, MT, where we are going to get new tires on the bus.  At the suggestion of fellow workamper Steve, instead of taking the interstate over the mountain from Coeur díAlene to Missoula, we went north to Sandpoint and then took Hwy 2 southeast along Lake Pend Oreille.  This route goes around the mountain range instead of over it.  Although it was about thirty miles longer, it was a pleasant drive and avoided the big hill climb.  We spent the first night at Jim & Maryís again.  In the morning, we headed to Les Schwab Tires.  I had already arranged for our tires to be there, and we didnít have to wait too long before they were working on us.  The reason for buying our tires in Montana is because like Oregon, there is no state sales tax.  On a $3700 purchase, thatís roughly $500 saved.  Also, Les Schwab is a great tire store and they are all over the northwest.  After the tires, we went to Big Sky Brewery, which is our Harvest Host stop for the night.  Big Sky is right off the interstate, so itís very convenient.  We have been here before but that was before they were a Harvest Host.  We got parked and went inside for a beer.  They have dark beer called Moose Drool that you have to love just because of the name.  In the morning, we took off for a six-hour drive to Hardin, MT where we are staying at a KOA.  There isnít much to Hardin.  This KOA is pretty long in the tooth, but itís a pull-through so I donít have to unhook, and itís not nearly full, so the fact that the spaces are too close together didnít matter.  The next stop was another Harvest Host.  The Memphis Bison Ranch is in Carr, CO, a little north of Denver.  There was about ten miles of gravel road between the interstate and the ranch, but it was mostly smooth.  It was very dusty though.  The ranch itself had a nice big parking area, with one other RV there already.  After we were settled, we met the owners, browsed their little store of bison products, and chatted about the ranch.  After being near highways or railroads all summer, this stop was deafeningly quiet.  Next day took us through Denver, which is always a treat (not!) and then off the interstate on onto US-287 to Amarillo.  We are spending the night at a Loveís truck stop, but this one has a 15-space RV park attached.  I didnít know this until recently, but Loveís is embracing RVers by putting these RV parks in so you donít have to park with the trucks.  They have hookups and are reasonably priced.  We found it to be a good alternative for traveling.  The last travel day for a while was to my sonís outside Dallas.  We got there about 3PM and it was good to park for a bit. 

We are only going to be at my sons for a couple of weeks this time, but there still is a list of things to help him with.  Monica, his wife, has been in Arizona visiting her family, but returned a couple of days after we got there.  The list of things accomplished were putting in the wiring for two ceiling fans on the patio, putting an exterior outlet on the patio, and installing a couple of outlets in the pasture horse shed so he can install fans.  There were a couple of bus projects to accomplish while here also.  I changed the oil in the bus engine and the generator, washed the bus, and rewired the lights on the tow dolly.  Two weeks went by quickly and we bid goodbye until next spring. 

Our next big destination is Gulf Shores, AL to attend the national Parrothead convention, Meeting of the Minds, which has moved from Key West to Gulf Shores this year.  We have to make a stop in Choudrant, LA first to have Ronnie Wolfe, one of the well-known Alfa repair guys, fix our heat pump.   It seems to have lost itís freon again.  We got to Ronnieís late in the afternoon and parked in one of the several spots they have for customers to stay overnight.  First thing in the morning, Ronnie got there and we moved to the work area.  Ronnie got the unit out and he and Dick (who owns the place) found the tiny leak in the system after much searching.  They got the leaking part replaced and the unit back in and working.  We spent the night again, then left early the next morning. 

On the way to Gulf Shores, we are stopping in Baton Rouge to join the Karavan (formerly Karavan to the Keys) that we have participated in six of the last seven years.  We have missed the southeast Texas start, but there will be two nights of music at Buddyís Backyard in Baton Rouge.  We parked at a KOA about 10 miles from Buddyís, since Buddyís is, shall we say, ďremoteĒ.  We enjoyed two days of music from nine different Trop Rock friends at Buddyís as well as catching up with numerous friends that we havenít seen since last winter.  Since Meeting of the Minds has moved to Gulf Shores, the Karavan has changed too.  Instead of the week-long trip from TX to Key West, it was now four shorter legs from each direction to Gulf Shores. 

On Monday, Oct 23rd, we moved on to Gulf Shores, heading for Luxury RV Resort, right on the main drag (Hwy 59) and walking distance to the main MOTM venue.  As we were making our way south on Hwy 59 through Foley, just north of Gulf Shores, we were in slow, heavy traffic.  We were in the left of two lanes approaching an intersection when our lane came to a stop.  I stopped short of the intersection so I wouldnít be blocking it if the light changed.  A car waiting to turn left started to turn since I was stopped, but there was a pickup coming in the right lane that they didnít see.  I could see the whole thing unfolding, but there was nothing I could do.  The turning car almost made it, but the pickup hit them in the passengerís rear corner and spun them around into the first car sitting on the side street waiting for the light.  When the dust cleared and the traffic in front of us was all gone, I pulled through the intersection and to the shoulder.  I walked back to the wreck, where there were other people out making sure everyone was ok.  It seemed the two girls in the car that was turning were freaking out, but I think their only real injury was from being air-bagged.  In a few minutes, several police cars and then the paramedics arrived.  One of the cops asked me to write down my account of what happened, which I did and then we got on our way.  We have a dash cam in the bus, so once we were at the RV park, I took the card out and edited the accident out to a separate file to save in case they ever call me about it. 

The official start of Meeting of the Minds isnít until Thursday, but there are events starting tonight with a Karavan-only show with Donny Brewer at a place called D-Macís in nearby Orange Beach.  Tuesday was a Welcome to the Island party at Luluís.  Lulu is Lucy Buffett, Jimmyís younger sister.  Weíve been to Luluís many times in the past, but never when there was a special event packing the place.  We claimed our spot to sit before the show started and the place got packed.  We had a few drinks and cheeseburgers and enjoyed the show that included a number of acts.  We were however reminded of how clueless some people can be when gathered in a large group involving alcohol.   Wednesday, there was a small show with Donny and Eric Erdman called Musicology 101, where they played some songs but also explained a lot about guitar techniques, songwriting, and how a song comes to fruition.  While Iíve never had any musical talent other than listening, Iíve always been interested in knowing how it all works.  After that show, I picked Barb up and we went to The Hangout, which is the main venue for MOTM.  The show there this evening is a tribute to Jimmy Buffett.  Lots of the performers who will be here all weekend rotated through, each singing a Buffett song.  After that we went to a late show called Fools on Stools.  Itís an in-the-round style singer/songwriter show, where they take turns talking about and then singing their original songs.  This particular show also includes a lot of hilarious and often off-color banter between the artists.

Thursday brought the first official day of MOTM.  The Parrothead motto has always been to ďParty With a PurposeĒ, and one of those purposes has always been to do a blood drive.  So, today there are three bloodmobiles setup for donations.  I had signed up for first thing in the morning, so I walked to the bloodmobile and got there at 9:00 for my appointment.  Once I was there, they asked if I would be willing to donate platelets instead of whole blood, which takes a little over an hour.  I said sure, and texted Barb that I would be longer than expected.  Since I was going to take longer, Barb walked to The Hangout and picked up our registration stuff and waited for me at the entrance.  When I was done with my donation, they gave me a little bottle of juice and some cookies and sent me on my way.  I have donated many times before, and felt fine, as I always have.  I walked the two blocks from the bloodmobile to the entrance and found Barb waiting for me.  The music had already started, and the first act was our friend Jerry Diaz and his band.  The place was pretty crowded, and we found Jerryís wife and daughter in the back of the seating area at their merchandise table.  It had been at least half an hour since I left the bloodmobile, but suddenly as we were standing there talking, I started to feel lightheaded.  Recognizing the feeling, I moved to the edge of a small stage nearby and sat down.  Barb came over to see if I was ok, and about that time I passed out.  Since Barb and others were right there, they laid me back gently when I went out, so there was no fall.  Jerryís daughter Danielle was immediately on the phone to 9-1-1 as Barb was trying to wake me up.  I came to briefly, but went out again as soon as I tried to sit up.  I came to again in a minute and the paramedics were already there.  The paramedics quickly were taking my blood pressure, hooking up an EKG, and starting an IV.  I was awake and alert by now, and able to talk to the paramedics.  When they first got there, one took my wrist and after a few seconds said to the other that ďI donít feel a pulseĒ.  I replied ďThatís not good, is it?Ē  We all had a laugh, since obviously I did have a pulse, it just wasnít strong in my wrist because my blood pressure was very low.  The paramedics were convinced I was not having a cardiac incident, and this was probably just a combo of dehydration and the blood donation.  But of course, they wanted to transport me to the ER to be sure nothing else was going on.  This was my second ambulance ride in my life, but they didnít run with lights and siren this time, so it wasnít as exciting.  At the ER, they hooked me up to another EKG machine, started another IV, took blood to test, did a head CT scan, evaluated me for stroke symptoms, and asked me lots of questions.  After an hour and a half or so, I was free to go and felt fine.  Barb had ridden to the ER in the ambulance with me, so Jerry & Mary Diaz had gotten our car to the ER so we had a way home.  We were supposed to go the Trop Rock Music Association awards show this evening, but given the dayís excitement, we opted to stay at the bus and watch the livestream of it instead.  We learned later that I was only one of five people we know who had ER visits this weekend, fortunately none particularly serious.

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning were filled with shows at The Hangout and, The Gulf.  Overall, we were pleased with the shows and the venues.  The MOTM move from Key West to Gulf Shores was caused by the fact that the host hotel and main venue in Key West had closed for a year-long renovation and couldnít host it this year.  There was lots of worry about how people would react to the change.  In our opinion the change is for the better.  Key West in general, and the old host hotel in particular, were very expensive.  Gulf Shores is not as far to drive either.  It seemed that overall, the change was well received.  The final show of the weekend was not an official MOTM event, but a separate show at the Flora-Bama.  The show opened with Katrina Burgoyne who is new to the Trop Rock scene from Australia.  The headliner was Kristian Bush who was half of the duo Sugarland.  It was a great show to close out the week.

While we were in Gulf Shores, we noticed that once again the air conditioning wasnít working right.  I pulled the cover off and did some electrical measurements then called Ronnie.  He apologized and said to bring it back and he would work on it again free.  After thinking about our schedule, and the driving distance, we opted to live with the problem until the spring when we can go to Ronnieís from my sonís house.

Monday morning, we left Gulf Shores heading back to Kemah for the winter.  We are breaking the trip up with a stop in New Orleans to meet up with old friend Sheila, whom we havenít seen in a few years.  We stayed at the KOA west of the city and met up with Sheila for dinner at a nice seafood/Italian restaurant called Mr. Edís.  Wednesday, we continued our trip to Kemah, and Brickhouse RV Resort where we have stayed the past few years.  We were surprised how many empty spots were here.  The park is maybe 50% occupied.  Good for us in picking whatever spot we want.  In past years we have always faced east, getting the morning sun through the windshields.  This year we are trying facing west instead. 

That wraps up this yearís update.  Our plan for next year is to go to my brotherís in NY, with a 10-week trip to Europe in the works.  Until thenÖ