Saturday, March 24, 2018

Replacing Brownie's Innards, While Traveling Florida

Deer near my campsite at Clearwater Lake Campground,
Ocala National Forest

About a week-and-a-half ago, I found myself, with some unscheduled free nights and no campground reservations  during the tail end of "the season" in Florida.  It's a challenging time to find a campsite.  I checked for availability at Florida State Parks (I could snag a day here or there at the last minute, but I couldn't stay long) and at National Forest campgrounds.  Theoretically, there are no-reservation sites at Ocala, so I headed that way and spent a couple of peaceful nights (March 8 and 9) in a beautiful forest.  But the weekend was coming up, and my site was reserved.  To find another walk-up site, I'd have to cruise around the forest on Friday, and most of these sites get snapped up by people who can hang onto them for a while. 

I decided instead to return to Dixie County, where I'd stayed at Horseshoe Beach Campground the previous weekend.  This time I tried Shired Island, recommended by a fellow camper.  It was another awesome county park.  I commiserated with another full-timer that, when you don't have reservations, finding a county park or boat landing can be the best solution.  

Sunset at Shired Island Campground, a Dixie County Park

Shired Island, like Horseshoe Beach, is a campground that's right on the water, separated only by a little strip of nice beach.  There is also interesting tidal activity at Shired Island, but not the amazing bird-watching that I enjoyed at Horseshoe.  However, Shired Island is out in the boonies, rather than being urban, and I like that.  Not only is it in the country, it's right in the middle of the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge.  (This is the same Swanee River that Stephen Foster wrote of in "Old Folks at Home.")  This little parcel of county land is plunked here, and it's worth the $20 per night for non-locals.  I was camped without hookups, at the same price as if I had them, and that was fine.  There was plenty of sun for my solar and the water at these waterfront campgrounds is not potable, anyway.  

I stayed four nights (March 9-12), until it was time to go meet up with Steve, who was flying into Orlando the following Tuesday night.  

I spent a lot of this time dealing with health issues.  Before I left New Mexico in mid-February, I'd had a bad respiratory virus, and I was still coughing and blowing my nose as I zigged and zagged through Texas, heading for the Gulf.  I felt a lot better once I was in warmer temperatures and enjoying some consecutive days of beach camping, but this virus is a real hanger-onner.   

Then I got hit with some lower GI problem at Horseshoe Beach, and that took about a week to resolve.  It might have been due to using the water there at Horseshoe Beach.  I did not see the sign that said the water was not potable until I left.  I hadn't used the water very much--I usually use bottled water for drinking and cooking, and tap water just for dish washing and flushing, but I might have inadvertently drunk the water.  AND I'd put some of that water into my tank!  So, once I made that possible connection, I was better a few days later.  Coincidence?  I don't know.  Bad water is something I've heard of happening to other RVers, and why take a chance?  

Right when I was finally feeling better a week after the Horseshoe Bay gut problems, I had a food allergy hit me while staying at Shired Island.  It was severe.  I got hives on my hands and arms and a few other places, but mostly the arms.  I slathered the painful, itchy hives with Benedryl cream and took two Benedryl pills and went to bed.  If I'd been at home in Truth or Consequences, I think I would have gone to the ER, but I was a very long way from help.  It all turned out fine.  I woke up the next morning and am here to tell the tale.  I did have a lot of itching for days to follow, and I had a hard time eating.  The hives are just disappearing now, a week-and-a-half later.  

So, this has been the sickest I've ever been while traveling, and I have also had some personal things to grapple with.  Added to that are mechanical problems.  On my way to Ocala, I suddenly had power steering fluid leaking.  Argh!  I'd gotten a new power steering pump and lines in California in January, right before the RTR.  I cruised around to three mechanics before I found one who could help me (with frequent stops to pour in more PSF).  I needed another new power steering line.  Apparently the previous one, although new, was not exactly the right one.  Or so this mechanic said.  I may be jaded, but I am amazed by how often mechanics and other handy guys blame the last guy for doing it wrong or using the wrong product or part.  

 Sunset at Lake Whippoorwill KOA, Orlando

Anyhow, things got better once Steve arrived.  I got to the Lake Whippoorwill KOA in the Lake Nona area of Orlando in the afternoon and got the RV hooked up.  Steve flew in late at night and took a cab to the KOA.  We spent three nights there (March 13-15), mostly relaxing and enjoying getting to see each other again.  

 Got a haircut in the laundry room at the KOA by a nice lady who has been cutting people's hair there for 22 years!  I happened to show up on the right day.

We thought of going to Disney and either spending a day in one of the parks or just riding around the monorail and eating at a nice Disney resort.  But Gatorland sounded more like our speed:  an inexpensive, cheesy, funny tourist trap with thousands of rescued critters.  

 Steve arrived in time for Pi Day (3.14)

Unfortunately as we were about to leave for Gatorland on a Thursday morning, Brownie was making a whole lot of racket.  Her noise level under the hood had increased some when she got the new fan clutch back in California in January, and she was making more noise when cold, but that morning the racket was much worse!  We headed to a mechanic instead of Gatorland.  He gave it a look and said the problem was just the muffler or exhaust pipe, not anything that would make it unsafe to drive, and he recommended we go to Muffler Man.  So we made plans to do that the following morning and went on our merry way.

 Visitors see the front of Gatorland--there are thousands more acres of gator rescue land as part of the operation

 Steve with parrots at Gatorland

Gatorland was everything we'd hoped for...tour guides cracking stupid jokes, close encounters with critters we don't ordinarily see, junk food and gift shops.  

 Brownie at Muffler Man

Brownie got a new exhaust pipe and some welds at Muffler Man on that Friday morning, and we drove up to our next destination, North Beach Campground, a few miles north of St. Augustine.  

 Highway 1!

The drive was pretty exciting to me.  After all this way, I finally saw the Atlantic Ocean, plus we drove along US-1 on the opposite coast from the other US-1 that I've driven several times.

  The first Atlantic Ocean beach we got to

North Beach Campground Resort was a really wonderful place, and I could see why some people stay for the whole winter.  We stayed just three nights (March 16-18), which wasn't nearly long enough to enjoy the campground or the many fun things to do in the area.  At the campground itself, there are two beaches, the Atlantic and the Intercoastal Waterway, with restaurants at each.  Our back-in site was beautifully private, surrounded by trees and palmetto.  We ate outside on the deck at Aunt Kay's, the riverside cafe, where we first tried conch fritters.  We ate them everywhere we could after that.  

 Our site at North Beach Campground Resort

We anticipated rain, and we are sleeping in the dinette bed or, as I like to call it, the nest.  That is exactly where rain water has been leaking in through the rooftop air conditioner, ever since I bought Brownie last year.  I usually sleep up in the cabover bed, so previously the rain came in onto the dinette table, rather than a bed, and it wasn't hard to just put out some towels to catch the drips.  Now it became critical to get it fixed, because we sleep right under the air conditioner.  Steve did it!  After taking off the covers both on the roof and inside the RV, Steve determined that the screws keeping the A/C in place had gotten loose, and the rubber gasket that's supposed to keep water out of the house was not held tightly in place anymore.  I'm sure glad Steve could fix it, rather than having to call an RV technician at $125 or whatever per hour.  

 Steve on the Red Train

We used a trolley service, Red Train Tours, to get into St. Augustine by van on Saturday morning.  Then we took their 90-minute tour of the city, which was informative and full of more bad jokes.  

 Our pirate, in front of one of only three authentic Jolly Roger flags still in existence

After circling all of the historical attractions, we went to the Pirate and Treasure Museum, which was a lot of fun.  Our pirate guide told us lots of interesting history some more bad jokes.  Is it a blessing to be 62 and not remember any of them?  Arr, I don't know, matey.  

 Historical reenactors at Castillo de San Marcos...I laughed as I passed by, because the guy in the middle was complaining about traffic.

Castillo de San Marcos, a 1600s fort which was originally Spanish, but changed hands between several countries, including the Confederacy, was very interesting.  We ate abundantly at the Florida Crackers Cafe, which is on St. George Street, the main tourist trap retail section of St. Augustine.  (Aunt Kay's conch fritters win.)  I bought a bamboo saxophone on St. George, something I'd never heard of, but knew immediately that I needed.  We wrapped up our day too late to use the Red Train to get home, so we took a cab and got a personal guided tour of everything we saw on the way back to the campground, which was really nice.  

The next day, we'd intended to sit on the beach, but I was a picnic table potato and never left.  A fantastic campsite can do that sometimes.

 Relaxing at Loughman Lake Lodge

Our next destination was to camp somewhere near Titusville so Steve could go see space stuff at the Kennedy Space Center.  We didn't have any reservations, but I'd talked to somebody at Loughman Lake Lodge in Mims, and she said no reservations were needed.  No kidding!  We got there on a Monday and there was nobody camping there, the lodge/restaurant/bar was closed, and there was nobody to take our money.  There is, however, a family who caretakes the place, so they called the owner and we paid them $30 to spend the night, with hookups.  It was a very pleasant stay, but not a place we'd go back to, because there is a corduroy road to get in there.  Loughman Lake is probably a really hopping place on weekends when people come to take air boat rides.  

 Rockets behind the tour buses, from the RV parking lot at Kennedy Space Center

The next morning, we drove over to Merritt Island for Steve's NASA Kennedy Space Center tour.  We parked in the bus/RV lot for $15, and I spent the day lounging while Steve went inside.  He liked the tour very much and probably got his $50 worth, but I knew all that science would just make my eyes glaze over within five minutes.  I did a little painting and reading instead.  I finished a book called "The Kitchen House" by Kathleen Grissom, which was one of the best historical novels I'd read in a while, and I am ordering the sequel, "Glory Over Everything."  

Since we didn't want to go back to Loughman Lake and we didn't have reservations anywhere else, we headed a little ways south, during a big wind and some rain, to the Walmart in Melbourne.  This store has a huge lot and was a nice place to stay.

 Brownie takes another ride

The next day, we were headed to our next destination, Phipps Park Campground in Stuart.  I was driving and I pulled over to turn on the navigation on my phone, and Brownie started smoking and steaming from under the hood!  So bad that a passerby called 9-1-1, and we had several police cars and fire trucks there within about two minutes.  However, we had already determined where the steam was coming from--the water pump, it looked like--and there was no real danger.  I called my roadside assistance provider, Coach-Net, and Brownie was towed to a garage that they found for me, St. Lucie Automotive in Fort Pierce.  

So, Wednesday was shot, and Brownie needed a new radiator in addition to the water pump, with parts arriving on Thursday.  Steve and I spent the night at a La Quinta hotel a few miles away, while Sonja was in her kennel inside the RV.  (It's big enough to be a kitty condo, with food, bed and litter box.)  

We had time to kill on Thursday while the repairs were being done, so we didn't check out of the hotel until check-out time at 11:00, and then we walked over to a Shake and Steak for lunch.  We took a cab back to the garage and waited there a few more hours until the work was done.  

There was a suspicious amount of blue smoke coming out of the exhaust pipe when we left the garage, but they said it would stop doing that once an excess of fluids burned off.  But they were wrong.  The smoke got worse.  We stopped at another shop, 20 miles down the highway.  They did some more work. They blamed the last mechanic, can you imagine that?  I called the previous mechanic, and he blamed the new one.  So much blame to go around, while my RV smokes.  

We did make it to Phipps Park in Stuart, finally, on Thursday night.  Driving here was such an embarrassment, I wanted to put a paper bag over my head.  (Steve was driving, so I guess I coulda...woulda...shoulda...)  We got situated and made arrangements to stay here all weekend.  The mechanic in Fort Pierce that did the major repairs has ordered the part he thinks Brownie needs (a module or modulator, we are clueless, having become overwhelmed) and we will drive a smokin' Brownie 30 miles back north on Monday morning, hopefully under cover of darkness.  

These latest repairs throw so many plans into disarray.  I've spent a month's worth of income on repairs this year, and it's only March.  My plans to go to Santa Fe to do pottery this summer are deferred to next year, I think.  It's also unlikely that we will get to the Everglades.  We'll see what happens on Monday.  Probably when we get Brownie repaired to where she no longer smokes, we'll just start heading back home, via Sarasota, where we have reservations this coming week at Myakka River State Park that we hope we will be able to make.  

In this moment, I am sitting in a beautiful campsite for the weekend.  We haven't shopped recently, so I'm making some very creative meals and am glad my pantry includes good basics such as canned and dried beans, evaporated milk, chicken broth, tuna, etc.  We have plenty of solar to power our devices so we can watch movies and read books.  I spent yesterday planning our return trip.  There are musical instruments and art supplies.  Some quiet relaxation is a good thing.       

View from our campsite at Phipps Park Campground, Stuart, Florida

Friday, March 2, 2018

I Have Gone Around the Bend (of Florida, That Is)

My last sunrise at Biloxi

Last weekend, I blogged from Biloxi's back bay, where I stayed free for two nights at the Palace Casino, in a lot that was right on the water.  I was about to leave town, when my RVing friend Lelia mentioned on FaceBook that she was sorry she had missed me while I was in Biloxi.  Well, I was still there!  

Me and Lelia

So Lelia, her husband Rick, and I had a really great breakfast at IHOP.  I love finally meeting online friends in person!  Lelia and her husband, whom she calls The Ole Vet, stay at those great family camps on military bases.  It was fun to learn about their life today and about the exciting careers they both had.  

 My Camping World campsite backed up to the woods, and this squirrel and I watched each other

My next stop after Biloxi was Robertsdale, Alabama, where I stayed overnight free at Camping World.  This Camping World store even has free water and electric hookups and a free dump station!  Also, free coffee, cookies and popcorn inside.  

 Pamela and me

Even better, it turned out that my friend Pamela, whom I've known for probably 10 years or more online from playing a fun word game, lives only about 10 minutes away.  So we had a super breakfast and great conversation on Monday morning.  

 Kadi and me on the beach

I had hoped to see more of the Alabama coast, especially Gulf Shores, but by the time I ran a couple of quick errands after breakfast, I needed to start heading east because I was meeting up with another friend, Kadi.  I had snagged a one-night reservation at Fort Pickens Campground at the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and Kadi was available to come camping with me.  We had a great time catching up since we had last visited in person in the Southwest.  

 Very abbreviated information about Geronimo and the other 200 or so Apaches who were imprisoned at Fort Pickens

I stopped in to visit the museum at Fort Pickens after Kadi and I left the campground.  I knew I'd heard the name of the fort before, but it wasn't until I saw the museum displays that I realized where.  Fort Pickens is where the United States Army imprisoned Geronimo and about 200 other Apaches who had evaded being put on reservations.  It is really hard to imagine what life must have been like for these desert dwelling people, separated from family, eating what would have been very strange food to them, and living in the confines of a prison.  I don't imagine it was much consolation to them that they were at the beach.

 Andy never made any funny faces while eating oysters!  I kept waiting, but it didn't happen.

 Andy and me at the beach

From Fort Pickens, I headed up into Pensacola to pick up my nephew Andy from college.  We had a splendid afternoon.  We drove back down to the beach and ate lunch at Peg Leg Pete's, a very fun seafood restaurant.  The lunches were huge, but we managed to also tuck in an appetizer of a few oysters on the half shell and share a piece of Key lime pie for dessert.  

My lovely "campsite" at Panama Beach City

After I dropped Andy back at school, I headed east once more on the Coastal Highway (U.S. 98) and spent a restful free night staying at the Walmart in Panama Beach City.  There were Walmarts closer to Pensacola where I could've stayed, but those towns seemed very busy, so I waited until I got to a smaller, more relaxed town.  It was quiet overnight, and the next morning I got a lot of things done before leaving--paying bills, getting my check register up to date, etc.

 Sonja relaxing at Wright Lake

After visiting with friends and family along the Coast, I decided I'd take some quiet time to myself up in the Apalachicola National Forest.  I got reservations for Wright Lake Campground, near Sumatra, Florida.  After two weeks on the road, it was nice to stay in one place for a couple of nights.  And, in some ways, it was even nicer that I had no phone or Internet.  I finished one novel, completely read a second novel, played my flute, and worked on continuing to "debrownify" the interior of my RV, Brownie.

Painting and collaging Brownie's interior

When I left Wright Lake this morning, I really didn't know where I'd head next, so I just continued driving Highway 98 on a portion of the road that is called the Big Bend Scenic Highway.  This is a different Big Bend than the one I'm familiar with in Texas.  This is the Big Bend in the state of Florida, where the Panhandle and the rest of the state meet.   

 My Horseshoe Bay view

Personally, I think the Big Bend Scenic Highway would be far more scenic if it stuck to the Coast instead of going through forest.  But I was able to find the Coast again.  I took a right at Old Town, Florida, and ended up at Horseshoe Bay, where Dixie County has a nice tiny campground.  Arriving early today, a Friday afternoon, I was able to snag a site right on the water.  And I will stay the weekend.   

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Southwest Turista in Louisiana and Mississippi

I am continuing to avoid I-10 as I travel east to visit my sister in Sarasota, one of these days.  She points out that I am only nine hours away, and I tell her it might be more like nine days.  I am at the beach.  

If you read my previous post, you know I had a few difficulties getting through Texas.  I didn't mention then that it was also really cold, and that I was worried about a whiny sound that Brownie makes.  But enough whining.  The fact is, things have been better ever since I got to the Gulf Coast.  In one day, I was able to go from wearing long janes under jeans to wearing shorts.  The humid air (sometimes 98 percent!) made breathing easier, and my recovery from a virus leaped ahead.  I stopped coughing so much and I had a little more energy.  The humidity also makes my arthritis and peripheral neuropathy way worse, but I'm making sure I eat lots of chile or chili or whatever every day, and that helps.

So...after it turned out that the Bolivar Peninsula was uninviting, I drove east, some of it on I-10, to L'Auberge Casino in Lake Charles, Louisiana.  I have fond memories of L'Auberge from my first trip there in 2011.  It was a bright spot in a sea of difficulties.  Things have changed at L'Auberge since then. The beautiful RV park and fun outdoor lazy river pool are gone, a new Golden Nugget Casino in their place.  I didn't mind, though.  I've learned so much since my first RV trip across the country.  Now I'm perfectly comfortable staying at a casino parking lot, with no power or water hookups.  I have solar and I drive a lot, so my house batteries stay charged, and I have a nice little 100W plug-in inverter that allows me to blog and watch movies.  

Anyhow, I was so glad to be in a nice warm spot, I stayed two nights.  I enjoyed good food and I spent enough in the casino to constitute my rent.  

Boudin King

I stayed on I-10 for a little ways after leaving Lake Charles.  On the recommendation of my friend Chantel, I stopped for lunch at Boudin King in Jennings, Louisiana.  Oh.  My.  God.  It is well worth taking a few minutes to drive through this town.  I ate a fabulous meal (1/2 lb spicy boudin and a bowl of red beans and rice, which also had some great sausage in it) and had enough left over for another smaller meal later on that day.  The people were very nice, too.  The owner gave me a couple of samples before I chose the spiciest variety. 

You can also go to the Gator Chateau in Jennings, where they will offer you the chance to hold a baby alligator.  I touched it, but I did not hold it.  Steve accuses me of doing anything for a photo op, but there are limits.  

Tabasco tour, museum, store and cafe

My next goal was to do some sightseeing off of I-10, in smaller towns.  I headed down US Highway 90 for New Iberia and spent a quiet night parked near the garden supplies at Walmart.   The next day, I drove a few miles to Avery Island, the home of McIlhenny Co., which has been making its Tabasco pepper sauce since shortly after the Civil War.  I never realized until I took the factory tour that Tabasco was invented in order to enliven poor Southern diets after the War, nor did I know that the sauce is made of only three very high-quality ingredients, two of which come from Avery Island--the tabasco peppers and local salt.  The vinegar was imported from France originally--I'm not sure if it still is.  Anyway, I had a great time there, and I highly recommend a stop if you are at all interested in good food and how it's made.  They still have their own cooperage, and there is a rich culture amongst the workers whose families have worked for the company for five generations.  The gift shop had samples of many sauces, jellies, and even peppery ice cream!  I also enjoyed a late lunch at the company cafe, where I tried all of the sauces again on top of a gloriously messy pulled pork sandwich served in a bowl so you don't miss anything.  

 Sunset over the artificial lake at Cypress Bayou Casino

My plan (oh, Lord, when will I ever learn?) was to drive on a few more hours after the factory tour, but it was very windy.  I stopped at just about the next town, Charenton, at a little casino called Cypress Bayou.  It was one of those casinos that does not operate 24 hours a day and doesn't have a lot of restaurants or anything else to do, so I just relaxed and watched a movie.  I've been renting Redbox movies along the road.  There is always somewhere to return them, if not on time, maybe by the second day.  Still lots cheaper than the movie theater.

 Laura Plantation--hurricanes, fire, nothing can take down this possibly haunted place

The next day, Thursday, Day 10 of this journey, I had in mind to go visit a real plantation.  I had seen the plantation homes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson when I was about 10 or so, but that's a long time ago, and they told a rather sanitized version of how things were for "the servants."  I figured I could hear something more historically accurate these days, so I headed to Edgard, where there were once 600 plantations along the banks of the Mississippi River, each one of them a separate community, or as we would call it today, a blood-sucking corporation built on the backs of poor African Americans.  Whitney Plantation is a recently opened museum devoted to telling history through the eyes of the slaves, and I really wanted to go there, but they were pretty booked up.  So I followed another of Chantel's excellent suggestions and went to the Laura Plantation just down the road.  Laura was the name of a third-generation plantation owner who wrote a memoir about her childhood there.   

Creole Nativity scene at the Laura Plantation

These plantations are not like the ones I saw in Virginia when I was a kid.  The Laura Plantation was small, with very little separation between the house and the slave cabins.  It was a little hard to follow the docent's story because she was more interested in her own performance than facts, but I did get a little sense of what life might have been like.  

Afterwards, I bought a big praline in the gift shop, and my sugar high got me all the way to Pass Christian, Mississippi, the home of the world's greatest Walmart.  Well, the best one I've seen, and I've been to China.  It's on the beach!  Well, right across the highway from the beach.  Don't walk through the field, it's copperhead season.  But you can walk down the Walmart driveway and across the road and you are right in the sugary white sand.  

 At Palace Casino, my door leads to the beach

I could have stayed there at that Walmart for days on end.  I was tempted, but I've been watching the weather reports, and it looked like rain was on its way.  I figured, if it rains, I'd rather be someplace like Biloxi where there is beach plus other things to do inside.  So, here I am.  I have once again found the best free campsite possible, in a parking lot next to the Palace Casino parking garage.  I have been here since yesterday afternoon, and mostly it is used by locals who come down here to gaze at the beach or fish or catch crawfish.  Everybody loves Sonja when they see her in the RV doorway--I can't let her out because I've seen feral cats here, and apparently she doesn't like the beach, anyway.  

 Sunrise this morning at the Palace Casino parking lot

Palace Casino not only unofficially offers this free place to camp...they also have the most highly-rated casino buffet in town, so I had lunch there yesterday and ate my fill of Coastal and Southern food.  Yes, shrimp boil, boiled shrimp (not the same thing, duh), Creole shrimp, fried shrimp--oh, do I sound like Bubba Gump yet?  It was all delicious, every bite.  On top of that, Palace is the only 100 percent non-smoking casino in Biloxi. 

 This little Biloxi back bay peninsula is just outside my door

So, what's next?  I don't know.  Ever since I got through Texas, I've been able to slow down and take this trip one decision at a time.  I am getting to the part of the country where it's pretty essential to have campground reservations, especially since it's "the season."  I have reservations for Monday night near Pensacola, where I hope to get to spend a little time with my nephew Andy and my friend Kadi.  I couldn't get reservations at a coastal state park in Alabama, so until then, I believe I might just stay put.  I have waves 15 feet from my door, and I noticed some really appealing pastries at the casino's cafe yesterday.  

Really, why go anywhere?

Friday, February 23, 2018

Shunpiking Through Texas--El Paso to the Gulf

I was really sick when I left on this trip.  I'd been sick with a virus that started out with just a few sniffles and then turned into something that made me wonder, three times, whether I might die.  But, as you will see from this story, I sometimes freak out, and things aren't always as bad as I think.  Anyhow, my big smile was a ruse.  Look at my glassy eyes.  I still felt like crapola.

But I left, anyway.  For one thing, I'd gotten stuck staying behind my gallery for a few days when I was too sick to go anywhere else, and I was really tired of being there.  I'd holed up and slept.  Steve brought me soup and took me to soak in the hot springs.  I packed when I could.  Packing meant storing winter clothes in the studio space behind my gallery, and retrieving the shorts, sandals, tank tops, etc., that I'd stored there earlier.  

For another thing, mid-February felt like time to go.  It was almost seven years to the day since I'd become a full-time RVer, leaving Oregon for who-knows-where.  And this time, I planned to travel some portions of my 2011 trip, but spend a lot less time on I-10 and do more sight-seeing along the way. I have never purchased any of the ShunPiker's Guides, but I embrace the idea of eschewing interstate freeways and living the slow life.

As so often happens, nothing went as planned.  I left Truth or Consequences on Tuesday, February 13, intending to spend the night at Leasburg Dam State Park in Radium Springs.  I figured a short drive of an hour or so was about right for a day when I left late and felt ill.  But the campground was full!  (Why?  It is just a wide spot in the desert, and I've never understood the attraction.)  

Well, I had always been curious about Sunland Racetrack and Casino, near El Paso, so I headed there.  I was surprised to find out that they have about eight RV water and electric hookup sites, and that's the only place RVs are allowed on their lot.  So, I paid my $15 to stay on a parking lot using utilities I didn't need.  I was happy to be off the freeway, after an extra hour's drive.

 Approaching the Guadalupe Mountains on U.S. Highway 180 east of El Paso, Texas

The next morning, I used my phone's maps app to find my way through El Paso and get on U.S. Highway 180, which took me east to the Guadalupe Mountains.  It was a much more beautiful drive than I-10, with mountains and other pretty things to see all the way to Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  Although I enjoyed a couple of paved trails intended for mobility impaired folks like myself, I did not stay at the National Park.  I had read online that their campground had a nice tent loop, but that the RV portion was just a parking lot.  I drove through to confirm this.  It was worse than any Walmart parking lot that I have ever seen.  I can't help wondering, WHAT were they thinking?  The National Park comprises millions of acres of wilderness.  Certainly they could've used a few of 'em to make a decent campground.  

Fortunately, Texas has wonderful rest stops and picnic areas, and state law allows you to stay up to 24 hours in any of them.  I found a rest area just beyond the National Park that was a very nice place to stay overnight.  

Photos I took in Carlsbad Caverns

The next day, I was quite excited about going to Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  (Highway 180 goes from Texas to New Mexico to Texas again.)  I was so sure I would have a good time.  And I was so surprised to find out...well, let me put it this way.  If I ever mention "cavern" and "self-guided tour" in one sentence again, just shoot me.  I did not like being underground by myself!  I was not entirely alone, but it was a weekday and there weren't a lot of folks down there with me.  I had intended to take the shortest route through the caverns, but I missed the shortcut and took the longest.  I sometimes went 10 or 15 minutes without seeing anyone, and I spent most of that time walking, walking, walking and crying.  It was too much for me.  I couldn't wait to get the H-E-double hockey sticks out of there!

I told a young ranger about losing my bearings and feeling confused and scared, and he said I had a genuine cavern experience.  I guess so.  Thank God I have the gimp pass and didn't have to pay for it!

So, then I left Carlsbad Caverns, and went through the towns of Carlsbad and Hobbs.  Did the Devil himself come up from the underworld and design these oilfield towns?  I was so glad I had enough energy left, even after getting stuck in a cavern for too long, to make my way back into Texas on Highway 180.  Things got prettier again, and I stayed overnight at a picnic area just over the state line.

The next day, I continued along Highway 180 as far as Anson, which is north of Abilene, and then started heading in a southeasterly diagonal through the state, mostly traveling on Texas Highway 36.  I had picked Cross Plains as a destination for the night, mostly because it worked with my phone map app for getting me around the outskirts of Abilene.  I was so surprised as I drove into Cross Plains to find that there was a free city park, Treadwell Park, on the outskirts of town.  I stayed there overnight.  It was shady and green and on a dry river.  

Treadwell Park in Cross Plains, Texas, where I nearly lost my mind, again

The next morning, I had another anxiety attack, this time over The Lost Wallet Incident.  The last time I remembered seeing my billfold was in Snyder, Texas, where I had bought gas and a cup of coffee.  They didn't have real half-and-half, so I doctored up the coffee myself inside my RV before leaving.  I remember setting down my wallet to open the door to take my coffee inside.  I could not find the wallet the next morning, and I thought it was back in Snyder, at the gas station.

I called Steve and started to make arrangements for him to wire me some money so I could give up this trip and go back home.  I was in a really sad state.  Still not really well from the virus, and still a bit shaken up from getting scared in a cavern, and now this.  

I decided to look in all of the places it couldn't possibly be, and that's when I found my billfold, under the passenger seat.  I must have placed it carelessly on top of my purse rather than in  my purse, and somehow it wound up under the seat, which must have taken a bit of doing.  But there it was.  

I called Steve and told him, "Never mind."  And I went on my way.

It was more driving diagonally through Texas on Highway 36 most of this fifth day of my trip, and I stayed at another free picnic area, this one near Milano.  This time, it rained, and rain came through my rooftop air conditioner, which needs to be cleaned out so it will send water off the sides and back.  It is probably full of years of leaves and muck.  It's one of those things I never remember until it's raining inside my RV.  I've gotta get someone up there!  Fortunately, I had bowls and towels and was able to deal with the situation.  

Seen near Comanche, Texas

The sixth day, I was so ready to be all the way down to the Gulf Coast.  So I programmed my maps app to get me through Houston, and I left early.  I was down on the Bolivar Peninsula by lunch time.  I had intended to spend the night or possibly several nights down there, on one of the free or low-cost beaches, but the entire peninsula was socked in.  So it didn't attract me like I'd thought it would.  After spending the afternoon driving the length of the peninsula and back again, I headed to Louisiana, where I will pick up the story next time.

 Gulf Coast at Crystal Beach on Bolivar Peninsula--see the fog?



Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Rubber Tramp Rendezvous Retrospective, as Told By an RTArt Camper

Getting there was the hardest part.  There was all the wrapping up of business and life in general in Truth or Consequences, and then the multiple instances of overheating (usually the RV, not me) in Palm Springs, which, in my reckoning, is always on the way to Quartzsite.

My December 26th sale was good--many large and small things left the gallery, and that was the goal.  Although I was leaving town soon and still had all of the remaining Christmas tchotchkes to put in storage, somehow it made sense to go pick up a couple of truckloads of furniture, musical instruments, and really interesting collectibles from a friend.  So Sun Gallery was packed when I left town, to go buy more brilliant stuff in Palm Springs, which has some of the West's best thrift shops.  

Brownie had overheated a time or two during our return trip from the Midwest this past summer, but it made sense.  She's an old girl, and we'd pushed her hard.  On this westbound I-10 trip towards California, the temperature gauge began rising a little occasionally, but all I had to do was slow down a bit and it was back to normal.

It wasn't until I was actually in the Coachella Valley, shopping the fabulous thrift stores for California pottery and other Midcentury Mod goodies, that the real overheating began.  

Brownie being towed, again!

The first time, I was close to an auto supply store, so I let the engine cool, bought some coolant, and then topped it off myself.  That "fix" only lasted until my next thrift store stop, after which I had to get Brownie towed to a Palm Desert gas station on a Sunday night, with no assurance that the mechanic would help me the next morning.  I stealth camped illegally in the parking lot, which was kind of exciting--not something I can usually achieve in a vehicle which is so obviously a lived-in RV.

The mechanic arrived on Monday morning and said he doesn't work on vehicles like mine because they won't fit in his garage.  But then he got intrigued by the problem, and he did what turned out to be only a temporary fix.  It got me back on the road, though, and I didn't break down again until I got to Ehrenberg, AZ, on my way back towards Quartzsite for the RTR.  I was chasing rainbows along eastbound I-10--really an incredible afternoon, until the breakdown.   

At one point I actually saw two full rainbows, but that was when the engine was overheating, so no pics ☹

As luck would have it, when I saw that the engine was overheating and pulled off, I was in a little unused RV park across the street from a laundromat/convenience store.  They let me dry camp overnight where Brownie died for $3, and they recommended an excellent mechanic.  The next morning, I was able to limp Brownie about eight miles to the mechanic, back in Blythe, CA, after filling the radiator with water, as all of the coolant was gone again.  The solution to my problems was a new fan clutch.  Brownie has been running really well ever since. 

When there were no classes in session, RTArt Camp had Open Studio time each day, with lots of fun donated materials.  I made fun postcards.

So, that brings me up to the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, and, of more interest to me, the new RTArt Camp.  My friend Blaize and I had arranged to meet and set up camp a day before the RTR was scheduled to begin, but when she arrived several hours before me, there was no space for us anywhere near the main camp.  So, she chose a spot one road over from the main camp, near where the RTR Musicians were camping.  We were the quiet buffer of introverted artists that protected the main camp from the music, except for that one night when the karaoke got really out of hand.  ("OMG, take that microphone away from that guy!," we all screamed quietly to ourselves in our separate vans and RVs.)

Felted soap, one of the things we learned to make at camp!

The walk from Art Camp to main camp was tough.  I needed to use my cane anytime I ventured out of my campsite and sometimes within my campsite, too. But I made the walk over there and back almost every day, in order to make announcements about RTArt Camp's events at the morning meeting.  I figured the walking was good for me.  I found the best path, which was fairly flat and invaded several people's campsites, but I gave them cookies and they were nice to me.  (Having an oven at the RTR makes you a queen!)  I only fell once, and that was on flat ground right at the main camp morning meeting, where people had me back up on my feet in no time. 

Burning Van--burned at the main camp's fire on the last night of the RTR.  In Tom Sawyer fashion, I tricked two men into constructing this for me, so all I had to do was conceive it and paint it.

Next year, we will work with the organizers (Bob's helpers, NOT BOB!) to get a site for RTArt Camp that is more convenient for everyone, especially the people who want to participate in some fun classes.  Also, so we at Art Camp can get to the events at the main camp.

A drone photo of the roads going through the main RTR camp, published with permission of luckyweliveinavan

It was actually kind of nice to be remote from the main camp this year, because there were something like 3000-4000 people at this year's RTR.  It was incredible. There was even a New York Times article about the event that was published today, "The Real Burning Man" by Priscilla Green, NYT 1/31/18.  Check it out!  My name is in the article, with a link to my previous blog entry.

People were really jammed into the main camp area, but RTArt Camp, three washes away, was a nice quiet place to hang out and occasionally it became a real beehive of activity.  Our first event was to have a little Meet-and-Greet with anybody who wanted to teach an art class.  Out of that meeting came a full schedule of classes that filled up a few hours on each of the next eight days.  We had soap felting (who knew this was a thing?), poured acrylic painting, beading, crocheting, making Voodoo dolls (a Bob Wells joke!), collage, mandala drawing, realistic drawing, and even a finger painting class which grown men tried and enjoyed in spite of themselves.  We also constructed the Burning Van for the campfire on the last night of the RTR.  Too bad the reporters never showed up during the busy times!

My Voodoo doll, which I have since stuffed with a little catnip for Miss Sonja to play with

For me, the best part of RTArt Camp was meeting the people who chose to camp with us.  We had no idea when we arrived whether anyone else would participate on a regular basis, but we got a nice cadre of interesting, fun people.  We began by doing artwork together, and then we began having campfires and shared meals and running errands in town together.  I met such awesome people and hope that our plans to stay connected work out.

Acrylic pouring was VERY popular--dozens showed up and a repeat class was offered

A wonderful thing that came out of this initial year of RTArt Camp, in my estimation, is that some of the solo travelers who hung out together decided to form an intentional community of nomadic artists.  The plan is to determine as a group where and when they will travel together, and, of course, some folks will peel off from the group sometimes for personal trips or jobs or whatever.  But there will be a core group, and I can go visit with them sometimes!  

So long til next year, RTArt Camp!

This new intentional community is important to me also because I'm no longer going to be spending as much time in Why, AZ, as I have the past seven years, ever since I met Steve.  He has sold his RV to one of our friends and has an apartment in TorC now.  We can certainly go back and visit with our many friends in Why, but we'd be staying in my much smaller Brownie rather than the fifth-wheel (which Steve somehow never named, although "Brownie" would've worked for that one, too).  

A chilly morning in Why

After Quartzsite, I went to Why for one last short stay in the fifth wheel with Steve, and then back to TorC, where I have been hooked up behind my gallery for several days.  I was kind of unexcited about returning here.  I wanted to go camp in a van down by the river with the other artists.  

Devotion.  Acrylic, 20 x 20 inches, possibly available for sale at Passion Pie Cafe as of 2/1/18

But life in Truth or Consequences is not boring, and I got back into the swing of things rather quickly.  There's a ring-tailed cat living in the ceiling of my gallery, and a whole series of events planned for him in the near future.  Steve is helping me get my Class A out of storage and onto my mechanic's nice big lot on the main highway through town, where it will get attention and get sold.  I've torn up the gallery so I can fit in those estate pieces that I took in just before I left for the RTR.  I delivered a painting to Passion Pie Cafe's annual Sacred Heart contest.  I paid my 2017 sales tax, and determined that I'll have to sell about 1000 items on eBay between now and April 15th in order to pay my Federal Income taxes.  However, I'm planning a trip to Florida instead.  That's what we people who are famous enough to be in the NYT do, I guess.  I'll let you know, once I meet the others.  Maybe they're in Florida, too. 

And Happy New Year from the cat.