Time to Bolt!

Our coach is an amazing creature which provides us with mega comfort.  No matter where we explore in the U.S., we always come home to our comfy pillow and pick up where we left off in our novel or watch something on one of our satellite TVs.  No more hotels for us.  We LOVE this lifestyle and we love our coach.

Bedroom

The sleeping quarters of our comfy little castle.

But when our coach has a hiccup, solving the problem can be a real adventure.  Anyone who has a coach knows that there is always a list of things to be looked at or repaired.  Early on, most of our issues were “How in the world does this widget work?”

Let’s face it, this is a complex machine.  A house that rolls down the bumpy road.  Someone once said that if 80% of the stuff works 80% of the time, be happy.  That’s the approach we take.  We fix what we can and live with things that aren’t perfect until we get back to the factory for maintenance once a year.  But sometimes something really important requires that you change your plans and get it fixed — stat!

Uh Oh.  Big Problem!

In February we had such an issue.  Our furnace went out.  Not good when you’re wintering in the Pacific Northwest!  Our furnace is an Aquahot system.  The Aquahot circulates hot liquid to provide:

  • heat to each of five zones (front, middle, bedroom, bathroom and basement of the coach)
  • Engine pre-heat
  • Continuous hot water for ultra-hot, endless showers

The Aquahot can use either electricity (from our generator or a 50-amp service pole) or diesel (from our 238 gallon fuel tank), or both to heat the water.  It’s a complex, whiz-bang system that we absolutely love.  But after 12 years, she had sprung a leak and the Aquahot factory told me — “gotta replace it.”

Shower

We can stand in our shower all day long with our endless hot water and de-stress from our stressless life.

So we patched her up as best we could and headed to the factory to have the furnace replaced.  One thing we have come to realize is that, although it is never convenient to go to the Newell factory in Miami, Oklahoma, it’s where she was born.  And those folks are the only ones on God’s green earth who really know how to fix her and provide the right maintenance.  Since Newell only makes 24 custom coaches each year, no other maintenance shop has seen enough of them to really know what they’re doing.  And the longer a shop takes to figure out this beast, the more we pay for their service.  It seems that anything we have ever had done to our coach by someone other than Newell, had to be undone and redone by the Newell factory.  And the factory hourly rate is lower than most other service shops we’ve been to.  So I think we have finally learned our lesson.  We go to the factory.  It’s cheaper.  They provide better customer service, and they’re much faster because they know what they’re doing.

Time to haul rear!

Up until now, we’ve not had a reason to drive hard.  We typically get on the road by 10am and off by 3pm, with a lunch in between.  Why hurry?  But in this case, who wants to lally-gag across Wyoming in the wintertime?  It was darn cold and we had furnace issues.  So we covered 2,400 miles in four days.  We can really haul when we need to!Hurry to the Factory

It was actually a fun trip.  Quite an adventure.  Our big concern was Wyoming, land of the big winds and snow.  And, true to form, we had to stop in western Wyoming for the night at a truck stop (Little America) because I-80 was closed across Wyoming.  First thing in the morning I checked and I-80 was open again, so off we rolled, passing trucks that had skidded off the road from the prior storm.

Driving all day is really pleasant as we roll along and listen to our books on tape (We borrow audiobooks from all the libraries we belong to in Maine, Florida, and Washington.).  Each morning we were up with the sunrise and we would find a place to stay the night before the sun set at a casino, Walmart, rest area or a truck stop.

Newell Factory.

We actually enjoy our visits to the Newell factory.  They must have close to 30 service bays.  It’s quite a site to see 20 or 30 of these big beasts lined up in the service bays.

As a Newell owner, you are free to walk around the service bay, climb in your coach while they work, watch them work on your coach, ask questions, and inspect what they do as they work.  After three years of owning our coach, we now know these Newell technicians.  And they know us and the coach.  They even remember the first owner of the coach (We are the second owners.).  Our electrician helped build our coach 13 years ago.  The technicians are the best Newell has, having worked in the factory for a decade or two before they are hand-selected to work in the service area.  I think they must select them not only for their technical knowledge, but also for their ability to work well with customers.  Amazing customer service!

Factory Tour.

Newell recently completed construction on a new factory, which replaces the old one.  So we got a tour of the new factory.  It’s mind-bending to see a coach go from the early stages of creation, to the ugly guts-hanging-out almost-done stage, to the finished gleaming product.

Newell - Early Stage

You’re looking at the south end of a north-bound Newell in an early stage of production.

Newell - Missing Technology

This is the — guts hanging out ugly stage.  Left front view.

Newell - Needs Paint

Almost ready for paint.  Still a homely beast.

Newell - Final Touches

There’s a newborn getting her final touches.

The list price on a 2017 Newell is just shy of $2 million (and they always sell for list here).  Wendy and I just smile at each other when we consider that we get the same level of service for our 2004 coach as the owner of a $2 million dollar 2017 coach.  Sweet deal!

Everything works now!

We arrived at the factory with our gripe list.  We always keep a list of issues so we don’t forget anything at our annual factory visit.  Topping our list was to replace our Aquahot.  Here’s our newly installed Aquahot.

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The Aquahot 675D.  Our endless hot showers make us happy, happy, happy!

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The Aquahot gets neatly tucked away behind these two stainless steel doors.

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Everything disappears, neat and tidy behind the basement door.

This adventuring thing is not for the faint of heart.  It can lighten your pocket book in a big hurry.  There is a reason we call her Zane.  Because you have to be “in Zane” to roll down the road in this castle on wheels.  But we are happy and off on new adventures, nice and snugly-warm as we see new wonders from our coach.

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Americana Emersion

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Jackson, Wyoming

Ahh, we are drinking deeply in Americana this week as we meander along the Oregon Trail on our way to the Northwest.

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Can’t seem to get enough of the famous pioneer trails! Oregon Trail, Baker City, Oregon.

We are camped at Mountain View RV in Baker City, OR.  This town is ready for Halloween!  The city streets are decorated with hay bundles and scarecrows.  The gold and orange leaves are falling in the neatly manicured old neighborhoods where, in just 24 hours, children will giggle with the thrill of knocking on doors and asking for treats.  What fun!

As I sit here writing, I can hear the distant train whistle.  The other day, we had lunch at a prototypical diner, Inland Cafe.  Wow!  Step back in time!  We had the sweetest waitress, a magnificent turkey dinner and a take-home cinnamon roll that melted all the way down. All for $22.  Don’t you love a diner where the town folks come in to talk about whatever comes to mind?

We just returned from attending the local LDS church, which you can see from our motorhome window.  One couple knew us because they had just been through the Martin’s Cove trek leader training program we helped lead in Wyoming.  We love to attend church each Sunday everywhere we go.  The Baker City 1st ward congregation is chuck full of children. These parents are doing an excellent job of raising their young ones.  It gives us hope for the future.  We enjoyed the Sunday School interactions.  Where else can you get this kind of wisdom and good feelings even though we have never met these people before? The church, it’s teachings and programs are the same all over the world.

Before we were full-time travelers, it was hard to tell the difference in our lives from one week to the next.  But now —- stuff is happening!

We started the week Monday morning by reeling in the electrical cord and leaving our 6-month home at Missionary Village near Devil’s Gate, Wyoming.  Our mission responsibilities there had ended.  But we couldn’t get out of the campground because some rogue missionaries (Elder Crist — repent!) had blocked the gate with detour signs.

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Road crew was busy preventing our departure

 

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Even the wood-working team got in on the shenanigans!

It was bittersweet to leave that place that stores so many memories for us now.

The weather was favorable, so we chose to head west via Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  We followed the Wind River Mountains northwest.  There was some snow at Togwotee Pass, but the roads were dry.  Pine trees!  Tetons!  Snake River!  After 6 months in the dry, sage-covered sand, we were ready to drink in the cool mountain scenery.

After window shopping and dinner in Jackson, we found a wide spot in the road and slept soundly that night.

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I don’t know many places that sell genuine triceratops fossils other than Jackson. At $300,000 it was a bargain! But, since it wouldn’t fit in the motorhome…

Although we considered a jaunt up to Yellowstone, all the animals Wendy wanted to see (moose and bear) are in winter disappearance mode and it was a rainy,cloudy day so we decided to continue on west instead.

Next stop: Uncle Earl and Aunt Sandy White’s place.

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You should see their garden in the summer- I’m coming back for the strawberries and raspberries.

Wendy has some amazing relatives. They live on the Snake River in a little Idaho town called Heyburn.  Here they have a small farm (White Cloud Ranch) where they raise a bobcat, cheetohs (exotic house cats), dogs, fancy chickens (Silkies, Frizzles), quail and peacocks.

 

We gathered multiple kinds of delicious fresh apples off the trees and took home a carton of multi-colored exotic chicken eggs.

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White Cloud Ranch is a treasure trove of fascinating hobbies and we’re always welcomed with great food (including purple fried breakfast potatoes, Sandy’s eggs, home canned pears and grape juice) and loving kindness.  We so loved the peaceful, fall scene looking out over the Snake River as the roosters crowed, chickens clucked and the peacocks strutted.

If you ever need any down-home therapy, head for the White Cloud Ranch!  Having family is a wonderful thing.

The next morning we rolled on to Boise, Idaho.  This was my first time visiting the city and I must say, I was surprised and impressed.  The economy is healthy and it’s a beautiful place with nice weather. They call it the Banana Belt as it remains relatively temperate in the winter.  So for those of you who would like to live out west, Boise should be on your possible’s list.

We arrived Wednesday afternoon and tracked down our friends, Chuck and Tonya King from our college days at Brigham Young University 33 years ago.

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We raised our first babies together at the Provo laundromat and thrift stores. They’ve been hard to catch up with over the years as they were living Hong Kong and Mexico City. We had a delightful dinner with them and reminisced and caught up on children’s lives and future plans.

Next day we visited Great-Uncle Cecil and Aunt Elsie Grow (Wendy’s relatives on her mother’s side).  It just happened to be Uncle Cecil’s 89th birthday.

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These people are endless!  They’re fit!  And they were so kind to us. We also spent time with Orri Grow (Grant’s son) and his daughter Natalie, who were visiting their grandparents. Wendy had fun quizzing Cecil and Elsie about their genealogy.

Wendy has fond memories of spending time in their home as a child and hanging out with their sons Craig and Grant.

Cecil and Elsie have served five missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We hope to have that much energy to continue serving over the coming decades.

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Missionary plaques for Riverton California, Mongolia, Kenya, Nauvoo Illinois, Monterey Mexico

Friday was another 130 mile drive to Baker City, Oregon.  (You will notice we don’t go far each day.  What’s the rush?  The joy is in the journey.)  Saturday we were able to grab the last jet boat of the season with 15 delightful German high schoolers to go down the Snake River through Hell’s Canyon.

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Hell’s Canyon, Oregon- deepest canyon in North America at 7900 feet.

The canyon is formed by the meeting of two techtonic plates and not from the river carving its way into the earth.

We boated through level 4 rapids down the Snake and had lunch on the grounds of a remote, off the grid cabin at Sheep Creek. A bald eagle soared past us as we returned upriver. It was a wild ride intermixed with peaceful scenery.

And here we sit comfortably in our home on a Sunday afternoon.  One of the best things about this lifestyle is we can travel without pushing hard to get somewhere.  Plus, we’re never exhausted and rarely uncomfortable — because we bring our home with us including our couch, recliner and the most comfortable bed we’ve ever owned. (We also like the dishwasher, washer and dryer.)

Anyway, that’s what we did at our house this week.  It was a great time full of new insights, scenery and ideas.  How much fun!

-Clay

The Blue Hole

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Look up!  That’s what we pilots call a sucker hole.  Hope this one turns out OK.

We’re headed for the Blue Hole!  (Yes, I’ve been known to fly my airplane up through holes in the clouds to get on top and fly in the clear air above.  But that’s not what I’m talking about.)

The Blue Hole I’m referring to is a rain shadow on the Olympic Peninsula.  The Olympic Mountains block all the heavy rain that soaks the Seattle area and keeps a little town by the name of Sequim (pronounced Skwim) dry and basking in blue skies during the winter.  (So we’re hoping this Blue Hole isn’t a sucker hole.)

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Here’s the science

Sequim, Washington is also strategically placed for ferry rides across Puget Sound and the Strait of San Juan de Fuca to such fun destinations as Vancouver Island in Canada, Seattle, and any number of unique islands in the strait.  Plus there are all kinds of hiking and biking trails on the Olympic Peninsula, walks on the beach, and the opportunity to watch the huge container ships coming in from Asia.

 

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Rainfall: Sequim-15 inches, Seattle- 38 inches, Olympic National Park- 200 inches.

Who would have thought we would be headed for the northwest corner of the United States for the winter?  But after six months spent outdoors every day in the sun of Wyoming, we’re ready for pine trees and a cold weather port.

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Our next great adventure!  We get a happy little tickle in our tummies when we plot out a course like this.

We expect to leave Wyoming on October 24th and head northwest 1,242 miles.  stats-to-sequimWe calculate this will take at least 21 driving hours and around $500 in diesel fuel.  How many days will we be on the road?  Who knows.  If it were earlier in the season we would go by way of Jackson, WY and climb up into the mountains through Idaho.  But this late in the season we’ll probably stick to the interstates and hope to avoid winter weather.  Plus there are people on our route that we would like to visit.  So this journey could take us a while.

The way we travel, we typically start to roll at 9am and come to a stop no later than 3pm.  We like the no stress approach.  So this trip could take a week or two — or three.  Suffice it to say, we should arrive in Sequim, Washington before Thanksgiving.

Do you have any suggestions for places we might explore on our route?

-Clay

The Mighty Mississippi

The Long Way to Wisconsin

When you start out from Crestview, Florida and intend to wind up in Wisconsin, the shortest route is through Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois.  But nay, nay, my friend. Been there, done that.

It was one of Clay’s dreams to watch the barges slowly make their way up and down the Mississippi River and not be in a hurry.  Just sit on the bank and contemplate one’s navel.

So, we left Crestview and drove due east, making it to Vidalia, Louisiana on the first day.  The AllStays app is amazing- showing us both real time location on a map, then you can flip to a satellite view to make sure the beast will fit (65 feet with toad attached). This works well for rest areas and truck stops as well. Since we boondock (stay overnight without hookups and live off our generator, batteries, water and dump tanks) on the way to longer stays, we need to know if truck stops have pull-through parking, as we cannot back up in the RV with the toad (towed vehicle) attached.  Not all truck stops are created equal, but you need to know this ahead of time.

Riverview RV Park, Vidalia, Louisiana

 

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We stayed at the Riverview RV Park on the Mississippi River.  The GPS voice pronounced it “Muh SISS a pee”. Being a word nerd, I giggled at that and kept repeating the mispronunciation. Clay has to put up with a lot.

The RV park is smack dab next to the river. You have to cross the levee to get to it, and sometimes it is closed due to river flooding.

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Sideways tug blocking part of the Mississippi River– I wonder if they ever got it turned around?

We got situated and then walked along the river.  I also floated in the pool on my super duper Swimways Spring Float ($15 from Target online). A delightful floaty thingy with a small blow up rim and pillow and a mesh bed. Folds up into a small circle. Small is good in an RV basement (the bay doors you see under a rig).

Natchez, MS

The next day, we crossed back over the river and toured Natchez, MS- the start of the Natchez Trace, an overland route which ran from the river through Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. Flatboatmen would sell their goods and boats (as lumber) in New Orleans or Natchez then make their way back by cart or on foot over the Trace. Plantations shipped their cotton south to New Orleans or upriver to St. Louis or Cincinnati.

Industrial progress sometimes has unintended consequences. The cotton gin (a simple machine used to separate the fluffy cotton from the prickly seed) allowed an increase in speed of processing cotton which then caused the planting of more cotton to keep up with the mill’s need for product. But this meant buying more slaves to do the unmechanized planting and picking.

Before the civil war, Natchez had more millionaires than any other city in the U.S and most of the antebellum mansions were spared during the war.

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Stanton Hall

Longwood was an interesting octagonal mansion that was started right when the Civil War began and never completed inside. The succeeding generations of owners lived in the basement level and the rest of the top four floors were left open and unfinished.

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Longwood

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Four stories of unfinished faded glory- looking up through the central gallery

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Longwood – bare bones

Vicksburg, MS

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Vicksburg National Military Park

After a few days, it was time to head upriver to Vicksburg, the site of one of the most crucial battles of the Civil War- where the Union Army staged a brutal siege of the town and finally captured control of the Mississippi River, dividing the Confederacy in two parts: east and west eliminating their ability to re-provision over the river.

But, we didn’t want to spend the night in Vicksburg, and didn’t want to leave Zane unattended in a WalMart or rest area, so we got a satellite view of the Vicksburg National Military Park and saw there was bus parking. We’re as big as a bus, right? No problema.  I was driving and, as you enter the parking area, there is a sharp right turn, then a guard shack on the driver’s side and a stop sign planted in the center of the two lane road on the left. About 10 feet apart.  Eight foot wide Zane towered over the guard shack as I crept past it, trying not to bump my mirrors on the shack’s roof, and trying to keep that pesky stop sign in mind. It was a tight squeeze. Then an immediate sharp left turn into the parking lot, where we slid into the first spot we could find.

Whew.  Yay for satellite views and nerves of steel (or at least really tough nylon cord).

A guy walked up to Clay later and said, “How in the world did you get that huge RV in here?”  Clay replied, “I didn’t. My wife did.”

We took a quiet drive in Squirrel (our toad) through the battlefield. The signs of where each regiment was stationed along the battle lines (blue for the Union, Red for the Confederacy) as well as marble monuments at each state regiment’s position illustrated the tragic story of the long and dreadful battle.  One child born in the caves the residents of Vicksburg lived in during the bombings was named Siege.

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Union cannons

We also saw the ironclad boat, USS Cairo, which had sunk during another part of the war, and was dredged up in the 1960’s and reconstructed. It was a feat of engineering and its ironclad sister ships were responsible for securing the river for the Union.

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USS Cairo Ironclad

Heading North to West Memphis, Arkansas

Then it was back on the road, part of the way driving on the Natchez Trace, a lovely two lane road through quiet woods and cotton fields.


Across the river from Memphis, Tennessee, we found another cool riverside camping spot called Tom Sawyer RV Park. Watched mighty tug boats with huge engines, smoke billowing out the exhaust pipes, fighting the current and sandbars going upstream, pushing 24 barges lashed together. At one point, they were probably only moving 2 miles per hour. Awesome to watch.

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Tug boat barge

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Tug boat barge struggling up river

I quickly got groceries and rushed back to Zane to get ready to attend the Friday night session at the Memphis LDS temple. We drove about 40 minutes and noticed: no cars in the temple parking lot. What?? I checked the schedule on line and everything. What??

Oops. It was Saturday, not Friday. Temple closed at 1pm.

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So, I guess I am officially retired. Cannot keep track of the days.  My phone gets misplaced too now.  For over 20 years, it has been constantly at my side, no matter where I was (and yes, it was near the shower, too) because I was on call for the hospital and my patients.

No longer. My phone is now just a great way to talk to family and text friends and check the internet. How wonderful is that?

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Peace on the river

Wendy

Maiden Voyage: North Georgia – NOLA – Gulf Shores – RTB

2004 Newell #671

Zane (Our 2004 Newell Coach)

The Plan

Our first great adventure with our 2004 Newell coach (Zane) was to be a trip from our home in the mountains of North Georgia to spend 4 days in New Orleans and 2 days at Gulf Shores State Park, then RTB (that’s military talk — Return to Base).  Start date Christmas Eve, December 24, 2014.  RTB January 3, 2015.

Given that this was our first trip together in our new coach, the first time Wendy would be driving with a toad (our Jeep Grand Cherokee attached at the tail), and the first time she had slept in it away from home (although we live in Zane full time) this was a big deal.  And so began the questions.

What if?

  • What if she breaks down? Well, we’ll unhitch the toad (Jeep) and Wendy will drive home while Clay sees to the repairs in Timbuktu.
  • What if we get off the freeway and find ourselves in a “too tight to turn” scenario? Well, we’ll unhitch the toad and back out, then re-hitch the toad.
  • What if we get mugged? Everyone I talked to about going to New Orleans looked at me with the bug eye and then proceeded to tell me of their experience of a mugging or smack down while in NOLA. Hmm. OK. We’ve been in some dicey places outside the U.S. and managed to use our heads to stay out of trouble. So we’ll just go with our eyes wide open, watch our backs, and avoid walking alone at night.

OK, worst fears dealt with because we have a plan. So let’s do this thing. New Orleans French Quarter — Gulf Shores Alabama — RTB.

We left the mountains of North Georgia on Christmas Eve with Wendy at the helm. Her first time driving our 45′ 7″ behemoth with our Jeep attached to the tail. No problema. The RV driver training we got in November paid off in spades.

So what do you do when you’re not driving?

Co-Pilot

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The co-pilot’s job is to put their feet up on the dash and look calm.

Additional duties may include:

    • scouting ahead on Google Maps to see satellite views of the next stop (truck stop, rest area or RV resort) to strategize the approach plan. Driving something this big requires fairly detailed planning for turns.
    • answering navigational questions that may occur. Our Garmin GPS (for RV’s) gives us warning “dings” when there’s upcoming heavy traffic, a speed limit change, a curving road, etc., usually 1/2 mile before the event. So the usual pilot question is “What was that ding?”
    • starting and stopping the audio book (Audible.com, Overdrive.com) playing on Clay’s i-phone, which is connected to the whole house stereo. How much fun to hear a great story while you’re tooling down the road.  Overdrive is a digital download of books and audiobooks attached to your local library card downloaded to your phone. We like free.
    • wander around in the kitchen, bring up snacks, use the facilities, take a nap in bed. Goof off.

As you can imagine, the co-pilot job rocks!

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Captain Clay at the helm of the good ship Zane

Travel Attitude

Wendy and I made it a point to set very low expectations. We never got up until we wanted to on this trip (there were some epic sleep ins!). We planned it out so we drove only 4 hours a day, max. Some days we traveled only 1.5 hours. We changed drivers every 1 to 1.5 hours. We love this relaxed attitude. We typically had the wheels rolling between 10 and 2pm. And we typically parked for the day between 1 and 4pm.

Yes, there were some anxious moments. Even with the best laid plans, we missed our turns twice. Once with Clay at the helm and once with Wendy. The result? Some very tight turns with nary a foot to spare. The lesson? As we got more comfortable and confident, we got more relaxed with our planning. Not good!

New plan? Be vigilant about every detail of the satellite map when planning our entry and exit from stops (truck stops, rest areas, and RV resorts). Planning is not hard or unpleasant. It’s fun. The electronic tools we have for planning our trips are amazing. So don’t get lazy. Use them to their fullest.  AllStays is our favorite app for where we are now.

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French Quarter, New Orleans at Christmastime

Damage Assessment

How far did we go and what did it cost? 1240 miles in 26 hours of driving. We used 177 gallons of diesel at $2.71 for a total cost of $480 at 7.1 mpg. Hmm. We couldn’t have flown two people on that 3 legged trip as cheaply, either commercially or in my small plane. And if we had driven our car we would have had much higher expenses with hotels and meals. As I look at what we typically have done on a 10-day trip, this was by far the cheapest vacation we have had in a good long while.  (Of course, there’s the cost of the motorhome, but let’s pretend that budget-buster away for our little financial fantasy.)

 

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The condo might not be haunted, but the St. Louis 1 Cemetery is hauntingly beautiful

There’s just something amazing about sleeping in your own bed and eating out of your own fridge at all these places, whether you’re in the French Quarter of New Orleans or a rest area or a sandy campground on the Gulf. This bed of ours is by far the most comfortable bed of our lives. And waking up and opening the blinds to see a new view is amazing.

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Gulf Shores, Alabama

And driving in Zane is fun. Unlike all the new RVs we test-drove at dealerships which squeaked and groaned in their joints with every bend in the road, this 2004 Newell, which is built of aluminum around a massive steel chassis that looks like it belongs under a locomotive, this thing is quiet. The Series 60 Detroit Diesel is some 40 feet behind you in the back. You can hardly hear it humming away. And the view out the massive front windows is — shazaam!

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Bridge to Nowhere

So this first trip gets a big thumbs up.  And we love Zane.

What did we see and experience on our trip? That will need to wait for another post. Soon.

Clay

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RTB- Crossing Creeks RV Resort, Blairsville, Georgia