Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I'm Okay--How's Bayou?

Shorebirds! Sunshine! Humidity!

McDonald's, Galveston, Texas, 11:15 a.m.

My Verizon 3G/4G modem that plugs into my laptop has not been very useful down here on the Gulf Coast, so I've been spending a fair amount of time at McDonald's lately, catching up on email and finding out what's sold on eBay and needs to be shipped. I have not yet sat in a McDonald's and listed a stack of vintage designer scarves on eBay, but the day may be coming.

I left San Antonio on Saturday morning and headed south towards Corpus Christi. I hadn't even gotten out of the greater city limits yet when I realized that taking the freeway was no fun that day. It was windy, so I had to be especially careful to hold my Dolphin on the road at a low speed--I swear, some days it feels like I'm driving a billboard--and the only view was the rear ends of cars that impatiently passed me. So I took a left and found a smaller highway that headed south to Rockport, where I stayed at Bay View RV Resort for Easter weekend.

I don't recommend this RV park--it's under new management and there is a great deal of work that needs to be done on it. There were two swimming pools, but one is being rebuilt from the ground up and the other had water of a sickly shade of green that I'd never seen in a pool before. I also had no Verizon service there, neither phone nor Internet. Despite these disappointments, I had a really good, quiet weekend. I finished sewing the curtains for the other side of the Guppy; I worked on the faux marble finish I'm doing on the worn out old interior wood; I played my flute; I wrote poetry.

On Monday, I headed further east and stayed that night at the Walmart at Bay City, Texas, where the Guppy had its first 3000 mile oil change since getting the new engine in San Francisco. My friend HikerBob asked me if the engine is running strong, and I said I think it is, for a 4-cylinder engine that was overloaded from the moment the Dolphin was built.

I've stuck to the Coast pretty much since I got here, and yesterday I got to some really great beaches along the road from Freeport to Galveston. I got out and walked on beaches several times. I've seen huge numbers of shorebirds, including more pelicans amassed in one place (driving into Freeport) than I had ever seen in my life. I even saw a couple of big pink birds in a drainage ditch that I think may have been my first in-the-wild flamingos! I almost slammed on the brakes to take a picture, but, of course, I had traffic behind me, so I had to let it go and hope I'll see more. For a girl who has had the flamingo as her lifelong totem, it took all the patience I had to pass up that photo op. I could do an entire blog post on the role of flamingos in my life up to this point...

I joined another membership campground club recently, Passport America. I've heard it recommended by RVers all along my trip. For $50 per year, you get half-price stays at many RV parks that aren't included in the more expensive clubs (Thousand Trails, RPI, Coast-to-Coast, etc.). This has really increased my choices. So, about 3 pm yesterday, I was headed along the coast and expected to turn north to take advantage of one of these inexpensive RV parks when I saw Galveston Island State Park, where RVs were camped practically on the beach itself, and I was done for. I turned in and took a spot for $30. I was just steps from the sand and surf. I spent a good part of my late afternoon and evening on the beach. This morning, I got up expecting to spend a couple of hours doing eBay listings from my beachside campsite, but surprise! There was a big power outage all along the island. Even the bathrooms were closed, because they use some sort of electric valve to no shower, no power, waaah-waaah, poor me. So I took a bird bath and was on my way.

One of the really fun parts of my Galveston stay was meeting the folks next door, a couple from Texas and Chile (great love story!) who own a Vixen RV, an awesome vehicle that was made for only three years in the 1980s. They love it, and I can see why. It is extremely easy on diesel and it has sufficient battery power to not be very much affected by the power outage this morning.

OK, I'm finishing the free refill on my 50 cent Senior Coffee and it's time to shove off. I'm heading east to Louisiana this morning. I don't know how far I'll go or where I'll stay tonight. Exciting, huh? I just need to make sure it's someplace where I can sell me some scarves on eBay!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Back in the Saddle...So Long, San Antone

Lise (right) and me at the Alsatian Inn & Spa, Castroville, Texas

I have been so lucky to have a second great week of staying put for a while, spending time with friends. I spent the earlier part of this week making my way from El Paso to San Antonio, where I've been staying at the home of my dear childhood friend, Lise Larsen Pyles.

The trip across West Texas was interesting. I spent one night in the desert near the Pecos River at Seminole Canyon State Park, out of cell phone range on a night when it seemed like all of my friends wanted to talk to me, and, heck yeah, I wanted to talk to them, too. It was an eye-opener to realize how much I take instant communications for granted. Wow, people used to have to write letters and wait God knows how long for a response, and I get twitchy just going one night without my phone.

Driving so far south, close to the border, was hot. I got out to look at the Roy Bean museum and historic buildings in Langtry, but I didn't want to leave Sonja in the motorhome for very long in the heat. Usually I pack my own snacks and beverages for a driving day, but I had to stop frequently in West Texas for ice cold drinks, fresh fruit, and once for ice cream.

It's been a joy to spend time with Lise and her family. Lise and I lived across the street from each other in Minneapolis, from second to eleventh grades, and we spent a lot of wonderful times together and have lots of shared memories. We lost touch for a while during the years that I moved to the Pacific Northwest and Lise traveled all over the world as a federal employee and spouse of Bill, another federal employee. Lise found me quite a few years ago when she read an article I'd written for a website, and we got to reconnect once in Waco. That time, though, Lise was traveling solo, having flown in from Australia to visit her parents. So a big part of my enjoyment of this visit has been to spend time with Lise and her husband and two grown up sons. I have felt so at home and cared for.

Another total surprise was that I got to meet Kay Clarkson ("AuntKay" from the PseudoBabblers of the World), who lives on a farm south of San Antonio. I didn't realize Kay lived here until I posted on FaceBook that I was headed this way. So it was fun and unexpected to get together. Kay came over to Lise's house and hung out with me for several hours, and we got to talk all about our lives and families, and I showed her a bit about how to sell stuff on eBay. So many people in our generation have inherited so much STUFF. And we already had our own! Kay is going to make a bundle and then I can say, "I knew her when."

I've had a fun time doing some sightseeing in this area. Yesterday, Lise and Bill and I drove to Castroville to do some junkin' and eatin'. We lasted a couple of hours in the antique shops before having our way with the Mexican lunch buffet at the Alsatian Inn & Spa, a beautiful spot that looks like a south European vineyard. Then today Lise and I remembered the Alamo, took a barge tour of the Riverwalk and...hmm...what else? Oh, yes, of course, we ATE!

The amazing thing about this trip is that, even though I indulge in eating whatever I want, whenever I want to, the pounds keep dropping. I bought two new pairs of Lee Riders just before I left Oregon, and they are at least two sizes too big now. My diet plan has two elements, and they aren't, "Eat less and exercise more." Freedom and happiness are what I've needed to shed these last pounds.

Tomorrow morning I'm gonna saddle up and move out, heading south to Rockport, on the Gulf of Mexico. I'll spend the weekend there and then keep heading east to Georgia, where my housesitting gig starts in about three weeks.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

10 Thangs I've Learnt in Texas

Last night's sunset in Marathon, Texas

So I've spent one day driving in West Texas and have already learned a lot, to-wit:

1. Up north it’s always easy to find a small town Post Office because it’s usually the only building that’s flying the Amurrican flag (that’s how they say it here). In Texas I have to get directions to the Post Office because there are so darned many Amurrican flags flying.

2. Those dead piggies on the road are javalinas.

3. The beautiful black eagles that hover over the javalinas aren’t eagles, after all, they’re turkey vultures.

4. Rest stops don’t have bathrooms, so it’s a good thing I brought my own.

5. Grass fires here can be every bit as devastating as forest fires in other parts of the country. The winds here can gust up to 60 mph and make a fire jump a highway like the one I was traveling yesterday, where the ground on both sides was scorched.

6. Here they let their cows roam all over the place, instead of keeping them in the barn and giving them cute names like we do at home.

7. When you need something to eat here, you are “hongray.”

8. Texas is NOT flat and boring like I thought it was going to be. I have never been out of sight of a mountain since I got here.

9. The Texas State Department of Road Signs must be a creative place. Seen along the way: “Talk, Text, Crash” and “Littering is (unl)AWFUL”

10. Very few people here smile at my old hippie motorhome, and I probably need an Amurrican flag decal on the back to fit in.

I'm moving on to Judge Roy Bean country today and plan to learn at least 10 more things on the way...

Saturday, April 16, 2011

I'm Going Back to Truth or Consequences

Wow, did I ever have a great time in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. I stayed there over a week, at a humble old RV park and hot springs spa built in the 1930s. The little downtown in TorC, as everyone here calls it, has a historic hot springs area with many little hotels, rental cabins, RV parks, etc. You can go sit in a nice hot mineral water bath for as little as $2.50 an hour, or much more if you choose one of the fancier spas. I've been meaning to email all of my friends up north and say, "Hey, this is the place to vacation! Inexpensive, relaxed, warm, nice people, etc., etc."

I also got to spend time with new friends in TorC. I'd previously met Brian, a member of the VanDwellers Yahoo group, online and we'd exchanged emails and phone calls. It was really great to meet him in person, and to also get acquainted with Brian's friend Paul, who was visiting from Colorado. We shared some great meals and conversation.

Of all the places I've visited so far in my 2-month journey, TorC has the most "Come Back Next Winter" appeal to me. I could definitely see myself setting up a new mosaic studio under a carport in the sunshine. Also maybe helping some of the many creative folks in town get their artwork sold online. And definitely sitting in those spas every day! I checked out the local AA meetings, and there are a surprising number of them for such a small community. I guess that's part of what I like about TorC--the surprises of it. Like accidentally walking in on a reading by local poets at the bookstore, which is only open on weekends. I kept asking myself all week, how can this little town be so sleepy and yet so vibrant at the same time? And it's surrounded by a great deal of natural beauty, plus it's a great base for exploring some national parks and other nearby destinations.

One of the nice things about being in one place for a while was getting a little more interior decoration done on the Guppy. I had plain foam rubber cushions on the dinette until I got to TorC, but now they are covered with a bamboo pattern fabric. Slowly but surely, things are coming together, and I continue to get more comfortable with the mobile lifestyle.

I left TorC this morning and meandered down to El Paso, stopping to shop at a swap meet, a gas station, an antique store, and a Camping World before parking at a Walmart for the night. Tomorrow I start my way east across Texas. I plan to stay off the main freeway, I-10, as much as possible and take a more southerly route on Hwy 90. My next major stop is San Antonio, and I definitely need to call my dear childhood friend Lise to let her know my arrival is a few days hence.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Four Days at The Kiva

Rescue Burros at the Kiva RV Park & Horse Motel

I last wrote on Monday morning from the Route 66 Casino just west of Albuquerque, after having spent two nights boondocking in parking lots. That morning, I drove into Albuquerque and visited a few of the thrift stores along San Mateo Boulevard, then headed down I-25 to the Kiva RV Park & Horse Motel in Bernardo, NM.

This is an interesting place where they rent RV sites and horse stables, as well as operating a burro rescue operation. There were all sorts of animals around to look at and interact with, including a bevy of Bassett hounds. I could imagine how much fun it would have been to stay at a place like this when my kid was little. Someone at Kiva gave me some horse cookies to feed the critters. It was a little scary to have those huge mouths taking cookies from my hand, but lots of fun. (The foal was too young for cookies, but it sure was interested in them, anyway!)

It was also cool to see how much work they had done to make this flat piece of land more interesting. There was a beautiful meditation garden with a pond that I liked very much.

I'd planned to spend two nights at the Kiva, then pick up my general delivery mail at Bosque, a larger town about 10 miles up the road, but my mail didn't come as soon as I'd expected, so I spent an extra night. So I got some time to figure out my income taxes and get a lot of eBay stuff done. I mailed out about a dozen eBay packages this week from Bosque.

Overall, it's been a quiet week, so I don't have a lot of stories to tell, but I do have a great appreciation to express for New Mexico. I like it the best of the states I've visited so far. Everyone I've met has seemed really down to earth, with no pretensions, and the communities I've visited so far seem that way, too. It's also beautiful country, and there are lots more places that I'd like to explore here...Santa Fe, Taos, Roswell, Carlsbad Caverns, and all the beautiful back country places. I'm definitely gonna have to come back sometime when I'm not on my way to Georgia, the Midwest, and other places I have commitments.

I'm also definitely going to have some stories to tell about Truth or Consequences, where I arrived today! I am staying here at least a week and have a spot at an RV park/hot springs spa for $65 a week. Whoo hoo! I'm meeting up with two of my VanDwellers online friends here. I'm looking forward to hitting some AA meetings, trying some different spas, and just generally having fun before I get serious about heading east.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Meandering East to New Mexico

Today's Sunrise at the Gallup, NM, Walmart

When I left Williams, Arizona, the Gateway to the Grand Canyon, on Wednesday morning, I planned on just taking the short drive down to Camp Verde, south of Flagstaff, and settling in for a couple of days at an RV resort where I had reservations. However, an interesting phenomenon has occurred a lot lately. I've been getting to the place I planned to stay fairly early in the day, and I still have energy, daylight, and a tank of gas, so I decide to keep going instead of settling in for the night. This happened at Camp Verde--I arrived early in the day and kept driving south to Prescott, a great little mountain town that I've wanted to go to ever since I was a high school student and knew someone going to college there.

I was very pleasantly surprised to find that there was excellent eBay shopping in Prescott, and also on the drive up and back! Lots of thrift stores, antique stores, and one particularly good vintage clothing store. I did almost as much vintage designer brand shopping in that one day as I did the whole time I was in San Francisco!

The drive down Hwy I-17 from Flagstaff to the Verde Valley was beautiful. I had wondered why anyone would name a mountainous part of Arizona "the green valley," because I have a misconception about Arizona being all desert. The Verde Valley was full of light green spring leaves popping from the trees. In fact, one of the places I stayed in this area was idyllic...right on a lazy bend of Oak Creek. The Guppy was parked right on a bank of the creek. Lovely! My neighbors and I all sat outside in the evening, reading our books and watching the water slowly flow by.

When I left the Verde Valley, I drove north on Hwy 89A through Sedona. It was incredible. I only had a chance to take pictures at one scenic viewpoint as I was approaching Sedona from the south. The most fantastic pictures could have been taken from within Sedona itself and just north of Sedona--but I was busy driving then and couldn't take photos. Sometimes it would be good to have someone riding shotgun with a good camera, or maybe if The Guppy was rigged to take photos like one of those Google Earth cars...

North of Sedona, I saw a sign for the Walnut Creek National Monument. I'd never heard of it, but I recently bought an America the Beautiful pass that gets me into just about every sort of federal recreational lands, so I stopped. I'm glad I did! It was a fascinating, more close up view of cliff dwellings than I had seen before.

Yesterday I had another one of those days when I got to my destination early and then decided to keep going. I'd planned to stay somewhere along I-40, heading east from Flagstaff to the Arizona-New Mexico border, maybe stopping somewhere around Holbrook. But I got to Holbrook in the midafternoon, stopped at a Native American owned cafe for a delicious Navajo taco, and decided to keep driving. I made it all the way to Gallup, New Mexico, and did my first night of boondocking at a Walmart! I got there around 6 pm before the lot had filled up with semis and RVs, so I got a nice little corner, where some little Airstreams later joined me.
Last night I went into Walmart and got myself a Verizon modem so I can have Internet access wherever there is Verizon 4G or 3G coverage (so long as I can plug in my laptop or its battery still has power). I used it in the Gallup (3G) area and it seemed to work fine.

Right now I'm using the free public WIFI at the Route 66 Casino just west of Albuquerque. I had no particular itinerary in mind when I left Gallup this morning. It was an extremely windy day and I saw the first sandstorm I've ever seen in my life. Keeping The Guppy on the road during gusty winds is a challenge, so I got off the freeway every hour or so to take a good break, and finally decided to get off the road for the evening when I came to this particular casino.

I've covered about 400 miles in the past couple of days...much more than I have previously been driving. Except for the wind that I experienced across New Mexico today, the driving has become easier. I have more confidence that The Guppy is going to be okay, now that she has almost 2000 miles on her new engine. There are fewer mountains--actually, plenty of mountains to look at, but fewer to have to drive up and down, since the freeway runs through the valleys and flat rangeland, so I can really get some miles behind me.

I'm also less wedded to having plans about where I'll spend each night. Now that I've boondocked a few times (although not yet anywhere really out in the boonies, such as BLM land), I'm pretty confident that I'll be able to find a decent place to stay, so I just get in the RV and drive and see where I end up. This seems to be working for me, and, as you can see from the photos, Sonja is pretty comfortable with things the way they are going right now, too!