ups and downs

Man I wish we hadn’t gone to Vegas.

The Grand Canyon was, to me, the epitome of what’s great about this trip.  An outstanding National Park, expertly run and managed, clean, easy to get around and enjoy – and so dang beautiful.  Part of this could have been my expectations, as I was assuming the Canyon would come up on us while we traveled along the same desert flatland we’d been in for days.  I hadn’t even imagined the forested environment at the park’s elevation.

Before we left I had people tell me all sorts of things about the places we were going.  “Mt. Rushmore is pretty boring.”  “Niagara is a five-minute stop, at most.”  “The Grand Canyon is ‘OK,’ but it’s really just a big hole, it would be hard to spend multiple days there.”  I tell you what, though: No place, not a single one, on this trip inspired me the way that one did.  Maybe it’s because we’re nearing the end and it was such a pleasant surprise, I don’t know.  What I do know, however, is that I’ve got to get back there and do so “adult” hiking.  I want to go rim-to-rim, want to raft… something about that place made me want to settle down and never leave.  Thanks Mike for the recommendation to stay a little while, you were spot-on.

And if the Grand Canyon was the epitome of what I wanted out of this trip, Las Vegas was the antithesis.  When I finally hit the pillow last night around midnight I told Sharaun, “I think it was a mistake bringing the family to Vegas.”  Don’t get me wrong, I think I could perhaps have a decent time here with a pack of friends – but as far as “harshing the buzz” of our current trip, this place was all about it.  One big commercialized, sprawling shopping mall with the worst of human proclivities on display at all times.  All glitz, glam, spray-tan and popped-collars, thudding bass and costume-jewelry and lipstick-on-pigs – it was the polar opposite of what I was seeking from the trip, and my personal nightmare in terms of “things to do” (shop, waste money, dance at a club, pay for sex, etc.).

Thankfully, it was just a one-night “miss” and we’re closing the whole thing down with another few days in God’s country.  And, really, we did have some fun… the Bellagio fountains were cool, the gardens inside too.  The volcano at the Mirage was neat; the Atlantis show was fun, and dinner was good.  Other than that, blech.  Maybe some other time, in some other context… who knows…

And then it’s over!  Keaton’s new video is uploading now, look for it soon.  See ya!

t-minus seven

A week from today and I’ll be pulling this RV into our driveway at home.  The next day I’ll return it to the rental joint.  The following Monday I’ll rejoin corporate zombieland and trudge among the cubicles groaning for reeeee-sooouurces, sche-duuuules, and the like.  I’m not looking forward to going back.

This week we stopped over in New Mexico.  On our route is a little winery run by a fellow I used to work with at the sawmill.  Only he doesn’t work at the sawmill anymore.  He makes wine in Mew Mexico now.  In his tasting room we had the talk again (I’ve had the same talk with him over dinners in Shanghai, Austin, and California).  Y’know, the talk about running away from corporate indentured servitude, about making your own road and tossing the paycheck for the passion.  One thing this trip impressed upon me, seeing so many old friends in so many places across the country doing so many different things: There’s a lot out there to do.

I almost covet my job, thanking God for the work and the income and the fact that I don’t hate it.  All those things are good to be thankful for.  But when I see so many people doing so many things and living just as happily and fruitfully it reminds me that my job isn’t the only job.  It’s not the only way to make ends meet.  Right now it’s working well, sure.  But sitting at that winery, walking around that cheese farm, riding in that fire truck – those are all good pieces of information to override the typecast poison of the modern cast of the American Dream.  It makes a guy think that there’s infinite mobility out there, and that nothing is good enough to be resigned to, y’know?  I mean there’s gotta be a middle-school math teacher position open somewhere in upstate New York… right?

Anyway, gloom aside – I’m really looking forward to our last week.  Sharaun’s driving us towards the Grand Canyon as I write in the passenger seat and we’ll spend two full days there  bumming around.  After that we decided to make one more last-minute change to the itinerary and toss Death Valley for an evening in Vegas.  The goal is to get in early enough to take in a show, wander around, and eat some buffet.  I’ve never been, and we’ll be at the Hoover Dam that same day so it just made sense.  I know, the only people who take a baby and a five year old to Las Vegas.  After Vegas we close the trip with a few much-anticipated days with friends for the Fourth down in the California high desert.  Can’t wait.

I’m off to edit together Keaton’s newest video, with luck I’ll get it done on the road and have it posted before we arrive at the Canyon tonight.  Until later.


RV: the best kind of V

Good morning from Greenwood, Louisiana.

We stopped at this park yesterday afternoon around 4:30pm and just about 350 miles.  We’re somewhere on our newly modified route through Dallas on I-20, headed towards New Mexico and Arizona – back into the west from whence we came, returning to the nest.  It’s not the nicest park… looks like the owner loosened the pursestrings for the pool and front office but maybe skimped on the pad grading and, for whatever reason, removed every single tree from the area.  Unless this lot was already cleared, this seems like a poor business decision for an RV park in Louisiana, where days like today are in the 90s.  Without any natural shade this place is more like a parking lot (a slightly un-level parking lot) than any kind of “park.”  For $25 a night, though, it’s been one of our cheaper overnights.

Sharaun and Keaton are off showering at the facilities.  I prefer to use the shower here in the vehicle.  Small as it may be, I just love the whole self-contained notion of being able to do everything I need to do within this little space.  Heck, I may not even put a shirt on before taking the wheel today… this thing is our home, after all.  Since my morning routine is done I thought I’d write a bit while I drink my coffee.  Cohen is playing on the floor; he loves Keaton’s Barbie laptop that she got from Grammy and Grandpa a Christmas ago or so, I’m glad it’s one of the limited number of toys she chose to bring along.  He’s working on crawling down there, too; pushing and scooting and grunting with effort.  I think it’d be kind of cool if he learned to crawl in the RV.

Last night I put the training wheels on Keaton’s new bike.  Acquired in Destin, FL on clearance for some $40,  it was meant to be.  I used my Leatherman tool (thanks Erik) to do most of the job, y’know, like the cavemen who put training rocks on their daughters’ bigger rocks before me.  Even though it’s a 20″ replacing her 18″, she claims to like riding it better – I think this may have to do with the fact that this bike is full-on pink instead of just pink-accented blue, but that’s one man’s opinion.

Last night I helped a guy fix his computer here in the RV park.  He was in spot #13 I think.  Let me tell you, RV folks run the gamut, and you should never pigeonhole these “trailer park” people.  A classically trained pianist and retired traveling nurse, he is now looking to start touring with a group of Celtic singers.  During the week he trades stocks online to keep his pockets fat.  In fact, fiscal month-end being nigh is what complicated his computer woes and made him desperate enough to wander the park looking for an “expert.”  When I told him it’s what I do, he exclaimed that the Lord had blessed him me bring here that one night.  So, we walked back to his rig, an amazing homey-feeling deal with slide-outs and full accouterments, and I did the magic.  Just another awesome road experience.

OK, the family should be coming back soon and I need to get this thing ready to go.  Until later then.

some things i’ve learned

We have two weeks left on our massive RV odyssey and I have to say it’s surpassed even my (likely inflated) expectations.

A lot of people asked me why I’d want to take a baby and a five year old on a cross-country RV trip, and I can understand the question.  Cohen will remember nothing of it, Keaton maybe snatches here and there.  The “work” of tending to an infant on the road, with a five year old in tow, might seem daunting to most.  It’s expensive; it’ll be hot; you can’t have any “adults only” nights out.  I heard a lot of it.  Not that it bothered me, the mule I am once my mind is made up.  I’m sure I’d ask a few of the same questions to a friend telling me about a trip like this.

I wanted to do it because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and I’ve been craving time with the family.  Simple as that.  Yes, it’s expensive.  Yes, doing it with young kids means things take longer and rules out certain destinations or activities (no Vegas this time).  Yes, it’s been hot here in the South.  But so what?  It’s also been amazing and refreshing and brought us together like I bet little else could.  Keaton is having a blast, Cohen is like the baby made for road-tripping; lucky for us we have decent kids who make this undertaking not only realistic but really fun. Anyway, I’m not scared of kids or heat or negative dollars; those things can all bite me.

And, because I’ve been wanting to do this, here are some things I’ve learned while on this trip:

  • The posted speed limit is always 5MPH less than the actual speed limit.
  • I’m not sure I really need more than a week’s worth of warm-weather and a week’s worth of cold-weather clothes.  This now seems more than a sufficient wardrobe.
  • Wind can be a really, really bad traffic hazard.
  • Less of a learning and more of a confirmation: People in the South are just “nicer” and “friendlier.”
  • Google Maps is hands-down the best navigation tool for road-tripping.  It gives better routes, clearer directions, better estimated timing, and overall out-performs the dedicated TomTom GPS unit we borrowed.
  • The gauge system on this RV is, at best, a finger in the wind.  The fresh, black, and gray water and propane levels could be better predicted by palm-reading.
  • Beach camping is the messiest (in terms of keeping the vehicle clean) camping you can do.
  • Staying with friends and family is every bit as good as seeing Mt. Rushmore or Niagara Falls.
  • Starting off the day driving with no idea where you’ll sleep than night is a fun removal of limitations, and leads to some good impulse stoppage.

OK then friends, I’m done.  Writing this via a shared 3G connection with my phone while Sharaun pilots us down I-10 towards Louisana.  We’re gonna go out tonight and get a seafood dinner if we can find a place worthwhile.  Until next time then, happy travels.

the back nine

More than halfway, friends.

I’m not sad. In fact, leaving Florida after our multi-day stay I got a new shot of enthusiasm for the days that are still ahead.

We were a mite concerned that the time in the Sunshine State might leave us less than ready to retake to the road, but, for me, it served to refresh me and give me time to think about just how much fun we’ve already had and how much is still to come.

So now we’re driving (OK Sharaun is). We’ve done another slight rip-up and re-route, deciding we want to spend a few days camped beachside on the Gulf instead of in a forest in Mississippi. I think it’ll be a wise trade. Before that we’ll eat lunch with done old friends Alabama.

Look for a new video from Keaton tonight, until then I’ll try and do these phone posts more often. See ya.

american history (or, copious amounts of disgusting)

Been an awesome few days since my last post.

Our stops at Gettysburg, Washington D.C., and colonial Williamsburg were all successful – even if in varying degrees. In order, I’d say we enjoyed Williamsburg foremost, with D.C. second and Gettysburg bringing up the rear.

Our time at Gettysburg wasn’t exactly what I’d had in mind, but was still enjoyable. We spent the visit entirely in the visitor center / museum, and didn’t have enough time to do any of the self-guided driving tour of the actual battlefield sites. I was a little bummed, but then again when sandwiched between driving the RV and driving the RV, driving the RV isn’t exactly how I want to spend my “off” days. I sort of wish I’d done more research on the battlefield, I’d have known that it’s not really “centralized” at all and you have to drive around to see the various monuments and such. I could’ve then maybe chosen another site, Antietam perhaps, where we could have spent more time outside the car and still been able to see things close-up. That’s not to say that the museum at Gettysburg wasn’t cool; it really was – but adult-cool, not so kid-cool. Keaton, however, was able to earn her third National Park Service “junior ranger” certificate & badge there – so she walked away more than happy.

We had an entire day in D.C., which, as a good friend told me, isn’t a drop in the bucket to how much time you could spend touring that amazing city. What’s more, the heat on our chosen day was pretty much unberable by noon. We started out with a walking-tour map I’d printed from the web and got about half an hour into things before it became readily apparent that the kids (and the adults, I suppose) would surely die if we tried to complete the whole self-guided route that day. So we hopped on a “jump-on, jump-off” tour bus and rode around that way. Even still, the heat made it hard to stay long enough in any one place and therefore hard to gain the right appreciation for each spot we stopped at. Keaton and Cohen were both troopers, but in the end we only lasted about five hours before catching the train back to my aunt and uncle’s place.

Depsite the heat wave, we did get to see most of what I’d wanted to – even if it was more a series of photo-ops instead of the sort of “soak-it-in” kind of thing I had in mind. And we got to spend some time with my aunt, uncle, and cousin – all of whom I’d not seen in years and were met for the first time by our kids. I think Keaton enjoyed her time at their place, tucked away in a gorgeous wooded area of Virginia, more than she did our hot-coal-walk in the nation’s capital. And that’s OK with me; I want her to have a good time on the trip and it’s not for me to determine how that happens. I’d be lying anyway if I said that I didn’t think of their nice cool house once or twice atop the Lincoln Memorial myself.

Williamsburg, you might not know, wasn’t even a planned stop on our route. But after rolling into the sweltering southern east coast June weather we decided it might be a good idea to forgo the intended driving tour of the Blue Ridge Parkway (where the days would be spent winding along at 30MPH getting in-and-out of the vehicle and the nights would be hookup-less and therefore deprived of air conditioning unless we ran the generator) and instead head to Williamsburg (where we’d have full electric hookup and could run the AC to our hearts’ content). The re-route was a big success. We were able to stay cool and spend an entire day bumming around the 17th century streets. I think I enjoyed it as much as Keaton did, as it spoke to my inner caveman/pioneer.

I also had my first major “uh-oh” of the RV lifestyle as we readied to leave the Williamsburg campground. As usual I had planned to dump the black and grey tanks before departing. This is surely the worst job of RVing. It’s smelly, nasty, and no fun at all. There is almost zero chance you will not get liquid waste on your hands as you do it. No, there is… there’s zero chance. After this task you are befouled. Anyway, as much as I don’t like it I’ve become proficient at it. So you might imagine my horror when I’d attached the hose to the site’s sewer line and to the RV, pulled the black water tank release valve, watched the hose get thick with “stuff,” and then realized nothing else was happening.

I shut off the valves immediately; the entire length of the hose was filled, heavy and bulging, but not draining at all into the sewer. I couldn’t pull it without its contents spilling all over the campsite, and I couldn’t seem to will the drainpipe to start working either. In the end it took two campground employees about an hour to clear a pile of mud and rocks (very, very nasty mud and rocks) from the sewer’s trap elbow before I could drain the hose (and tanks). How did we three get the hose out to work on the clogged drain? Yeah we just yanked it out and minimized the spillage as much as possible. The whole ordeal involved a breaker bar, a fishtape, a ShopVac, a hose with an angioplasty-style balloon and high-pressure nozzle, and copious amounts of disgusting. Yuck.

You can check out some highlights of all the aforementioned (well, aside from the sewer incident, which, in retrospect, would’ve made good film) in Keaton’s latest video, which will be posted here as soon as I wing enough bits and bytes through the air from this moving RV to YouTube central.

Until later!

the filling station man

It’s a Friday night, although I had to check the calendar to know. Not knowing what day it is can be a blissful form of ignorance, know it?

Tonight we were supposed to be in a state park in Ohio about forty miles from here. “Here” is where we are; a KOA off I80/I90 east of Toledo. I was tired, and those next thirty miles were not “progress miles,” as I’ve come to call them. What that means, internet friends, is that they were thirty (times two) “diversion miles,” as I’ve come to call them. Sure it’d be nice to stay in a state park near the lake, but this KOA is right here and it’s the same exact price and I don’t have to take an hour hit to our arrival at the ultimate goal: Niagara Falls tomorrow. So this is one case where my pre-planning didn’t pay-off, since we had to take a late-cancellation fee for the state park no-show. I can deal with that. At this point those nickel-and-dime kind of costs seem like a $3,000 carpet upgrade when you’re buying a half-million dollar house; and seem to pale in order of magnitude.

This place is packed tonight; maybe holdover campers from the holiday weekend. Sharaun and Keaton are down doing laundry and I stayed back to get Cohen down for the evening. We drove in around 6pm and I promptly ordered a pizza to our “slip” (again, seafaring lingo seems approppo considering the purpose of this little strip of gravel in which we’re berthed). Yeah we’re those RVers… rolling up past suppertime in a dang rented RV and ordering a pizza to the door. We know how to rough-it, brothers and sisters; we’ve surely had our time in the wilderness. I’m now listening to some live Clapton (the year escapes me, I think mid-70s), drinking a beer purchased from a Super Wal Mart somewhere in Iowa, and writing to keep from falling asleep. The stupid time changed again on us today, losing an hour and putting is in the Eastern zone. At least we’re camped up in this timezone for the next couple weeks.

Hit some pretty bad traffic on I80 around Toledo today. No, scratch that, the interstate sucked from Chicago to Toledo. Funny that the two crappiest stretches of road I’ve driven have been the two toll-roads; there were some “free” roads in South Dakota that put this $8 pothole-ribbon to shame. Somewhere today I was in five lanes of traffic zipping along with tractor-trailers hemming me in on all sides, front and behind. It wasn’t as stressful as you might imagine; I’ve grown very accustomed to the girth of the rig and feel like I handle it pretty well. I do think it requires more dedicated concentration or something, however, making one more “tired” post-drive. Or that could be my imagination.

I gassed-up (and topped off the propane) at some place in Ohio today where the owner of the joint took care of us personally. In fact, I struck up a conversation with the guy, who’d owned and run his little filling and service station since 1973. His son now helps him out. I asked if he’d always had a repair shop and he said yes, that he was made to repair cars for a living and has never regretted the day he didn’t turn his store into a “quickmart” instead of an old-style gas & repair shop. He told me about when BP bought out Amoco in that area and they re-branded the place, but his name-emblazoned coveralls still displayed the Amoco logo on his left breast. We talked about our trip across the country and back, and he offered to drop our postcards into his outgoing mail rather than direct us to the post office in town. I’m serious people… this was something I found uniquely “American,” for whatever reason.

The guy declined my offered tip for the trouble (he had to fill the LP tank from the wrong side, and for the postcards, y’know), telling me instead to “get something nice” for my daughter on our trip instead. All in all I maybe talked to him for twenty minutes but I walked away betting he’d shed the shirt from his back if I’d rolled-up with none of my own, and that he’d do the same for any customer, really. Funny, but those kind of experiences are all “road trip” to me. Yes, of course Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone and visiting family and friends are road-tripping too… but that kind of Chevy truck commercial “heartland” Marlboro American vibe too contributes.

OK I’m tired. I don’t think I can even upload an image to accompany this post on the crappy KOA wireless, so you get text-only.