Monday, April 29, 2013

Lake Erie

Odometer 31413
Trip 271 miles

It rained all night, but hesitated long enough for us to get hitched up and ready to go this morning.  We really like this area and the Wheel- In Campground- can't wait to see more.  We pulled out of the campground at 10 AM after studying maps for an hour or more, deciding on a path to take us to the Toledo area.  We ended up taking SR422 north and west towards Kittanning, PA.  When we got there we wanted to take on some diesel and maybe find a Dunkin Donuts as a bonus.  We took the most circuitious route into town, I felt like I turned in about 3 circles over bridges, through canyons- I totally lost my orientation- but we found both a diesel station and a Dunkin.  Only thing is- we couldn't get in to the fuel island with our motorhome.  So we parked on the street and got some coffee and wandered across the street to the Allegheny river bank to sip coffee and munch on our maple bars.  This is one interesting town- I liked it a lot (wish I'd thought about taking a picture or two).  In the early 1900's Kittanning had large steel and iron works, foundries, coal mines, glassworks, flour and lumber mills.

This is a picture we took of the Allegheney as an afterthought on our way out of town- sorry!

  All that is gone, and the population is around 4,000 now, but the old buildings are rich with history, and the waterfront parks are beautiful.
At the waterfront park, I asked one of the locals about a diesel station that would accomodate our bus and toad.  He thought long and hard and finally decided our best bet was to get back on SR422 and stop at the Gulf station near Butler a few miles further on.  After another series of left and right turns dircted first by the GPS and then by Joan with the iPad, we found SR 422 and did indeed find the Gulf Station and although it was easy in- easy-out, the price jumped from $3.89 in town to $4.10 on the highway.  We bought $200 worth of diesel and were on our way.

The topography is like driving on a rumpled up towel- up hill- down hill with almost no flat space in between.  For the next two hours, I swear we were either climbing a hill or descending one. And the rain started again.
Oh yeah, the airbrake warning light which has been behaving very well, decided to be an irritation today.  In a previous post I recounted how a bad solder joint in the VDU can make the air brake warning light and buzzer come on for no reason.  Did I mention that it is designed to be irritating and get your attention?  We recalled that stopping and restarting will sometimes put in back in order, so we found a good turn off for lunch.   When we stopped in Hubbard, Ohio, just over the state line from Pennsylvania, for our quick lunch- I just about couldn't recognize our towed car.  It was slimed, as was the bus.  Oh well!  We bought two reuben sandwiches and took them back to the bus to eat with a small salad and some chips.
When we started back up the bus had healed itself, and we heard no more from the air brake alarm for the rest of the day.  I keep telling myself- I'll have to fix that soon, but I need to be in one place for at least a day to get the job done.

I should mention that Joan picked up a bug of some kind in our tour of DC and has a scratchy throat and a wicked cough.  Last night she slept fitfully so I let her sleep in- hence the 10 oclock start this morning.  She sounds much improved today- but still feels generally miserable.

As we passed through the outskirts of Akron, OH today I had Joan snap a photo of the road sign.  I'm pretty sure my buddy Jim McNeil spent some quality time here as a youngster.

We took I-77 and then switched to I-71 both heading north towards Cleveland.  Near Cleveland we just about got snookered into getting on I-80 which is a toll road- but I did my famous (read highly illegal) U-turn and got back to I-71 to I-90 which is a freeway going the same way as I-80.  By now I-90 is taking us West along the shore of Lake Erie, and our destination is East Harbor State Park near  Port Clinton, OH.
Without too much fuss, we made it to the park and discovered two things.  A- there is no one at the office yet (too early in the season- they just opened 3 weeks ago), and B- they only have electricity- no water and no sewer.  However they do accept Passport America and the night is just $15.50.

We got set-up and I took on the task of cleaning up the car and bus on the outside, while Joan did the inside.  It took a couple of hours with a bucket and a microfiber towel or two and they both shine again.  I have gotten good at the xerophytic shine.  Meaning I use a small canvas bucket and a cap full of rinseless RV wash in water.  I use the towel wet to rinse off the grime and wring it out- away from the bucket then damp towel the same area to remove the water droplets.  I didn't invent it, but I have perfected it.

As I finished the clean-up, Joan announced that dinner was ready.  We had a great taco salad and it was still light enough at 7 PM to get out and stretch our legs.  This is the biggest campground in the Ohio State Parks system, so we walked about 2 miles without even leaving the park
Look at the beautiful end to what started out as a very rainy day.  This is east harbor, a short walk from our RV space.  We are debating staying here another day to check out the area.  We have come north so early that the leaves are not on the trees yet.  In South Carolina the trees were all leafed out.  We're a little leary of going up the Michigan lower penninsula too early and having it be miserably cold.  We'd also like to take a side trip into Ontario, Canada to visit George and Shona, some friends we met in Rockport, TX.  We'll give them a shout and see what they are up to before we crash in on them.

We'll keep you posted.

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Last Day in DC and on to Pennsylvania

Odometer 31142- in Pennsylvania
Trip Meter 231 miles

Friday the 26th of April

Part of being on the road is being able to handle all the minutia of life's little necessities while constantly moving from place to place.  One of those necessities you've heard me expound on before is getting prescriptions filled.  We thought it would be easier than it apparently is- sign up with a pharmacy that has outlets nation-wide, a computerized data file that can be accessed at any branch store- like WalMart say.
In-network provider for our insurer- what could be more simple?  Joan and I figured on using today (Friday) to catch up on chores that had been postponed as long as possible.  We checked the internet for the closest WalMart and found one about 10 miles away in Laurel, MD.  We got there at noon and finally got the last of our prescriptions in hand, some time around 3:30.  Proving it is possible- but not easily done.  What was explained to us is that the pharmacist had to call 3 other stores where the prescriptions had been filled previously before she could get enough information to fill our order.  Different stores had different lunch closings and add in the time difference- and well- it took all afternoon.  What happend to having a central datafile that was accessible from any location?  Who knows.

Saturday the 27th of April

Rested and ready, Joan and I headed off to downtown DC one last time.  Caught the bus to College Park, then the train (MetroRail) to Arlington Cemetery.
 The weather was perfect and we had hoped that we would not have to compete with the tour buses and the large gaggles of people that tend to flood these venues.  We also decided not to take the trolley tours, and devised our own walking tour.  The changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier happens every 1/2 hour so we hustled up the hill to see that first.

 The ceremony  was very impressive with the absolute  rigidity and accuracy  with which it is performed.

We walked over to President Kennedy's grave next, and on our way we were reminded of two things.  One was that we were on a fairly high hill, and two, we were just across the Potomac River from the National Mall and downtown DC.
 They don't make it easy to get around on foot.  The roads loop an turn and meander a lot, and it makes for a very pretty setting, but we were so frustrated about being able to see Kennedy's grave and not being able to find a road or path to it.  After the third try- we walked on the grass.
Here is a photo of the Eternal Flame at President Kennedy's grave.  I took some closer up- but was frankly a little dissappointed in the over-all look of the site, with granite blocks laid with turf around them.  Looked rough and unfinished to me.

From Arlington we took the Metro to Gallery Place and hoofed it over to the Museum of American History.  The museum was very crowded with tours in large groups but we were patient and saw most of what we wanted to see.
We were surprised and pleased to see this vignette that shows downtown Portland, Oregon in 1949.  We were commenting on a sign in the background that says Fred Meyer and a woman next to us said "you must be from Oregon- I used to live in Ashland!"  Small world, she now lives with her husband in Pennsylvania.

From the Museum of American History we next wanted to see the Museum of  the American Indian.

We may have been a little too tired- the building looked too incongruous.  The exterior was very beautiful and reminded us of  the southwestern native Americans.  We had to search for the door, once found it- the interior was mostly a gianormous domed ceiling 5 stories tall.  The rest of the building was 25% stairs, and the first two floors were 50% restaurant, and gift shop.  Once we got to the art and artifacts it was very nice- and we did enjoy it.
We met a very nice couple from Seal Beach, California on the Metro going back to the RV Park, and ended up sharing a taxi home from the last stop on the Metro line.

Sunday the 28th of April.

Hitch up and move on- that's the life we've chosen.  Today we are heading for Shelocta, Pennsylvania, a tiny town north and east of Pittsburg.  The weather was overcast and 67 when we left Cherry Hill Park, and by noon we were heading over the state line into Pennsylvania and the clouds were hanging low and grey.  We pulled into a fabulous welcome center  just over the boarder and got a Penn state map and took a few minutes to make some hot dogs for lunch in the coach.  While we were eating the rain started to fall in earnest and we drove most of the afternoon in a steady drizzle. Why are we heading for Shelocta?  Well, we are tired of the hustle and bustle and noise of the big city, and Pittsburg will have to wait for another trip.  We want some country solitude and the Wheel In Campground is as rural as it gets. It's also a Passport America affiliate, meaning our rent is 1/2 price.
Passport America is like flying stand-by.  If they have space available, that would be otherwise going to waste- we can have it for 1/2 off.  $16 for tonight's stay, with water and 50 Amp electric.

We thought this was a tiny campground when we first drove up.  You pull into what looks like a farm yard, and pay at a small office in the house.

Once we turned the corner and proceeded into the park, it opened up into a beautiful, lush green bowl that incorporated 94 RV and 12 Tent sites along the banks of Plum Creek.

This site would not normally be a pull-through, but the owners encouraged us to use it as such, and we don't even have to un-hook the car.

Plum Creek is very beautiful. and there are probably 50 camp trailers here that are full season campers who will be in residence as soon as it warms up just a tiny bit more.  The water here is reflecting the grey sky, on a sunny day your would see that it is clear enough to see the bottom 6 feet or more deep.

Tomorrow we will head for Michigan and start our trip up the penninsula's west side.  We have appointments in Medford in June, so we have to keep the wheels turning or we won't make it.  We just know this is only the beginning of our trips to this part of the USA and we don't have to see it all the first time out.  Sure if fun seeing what we can- we'll definitely be back.

Your Travelling Friends

Jeff and Joan

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Museums and Galleries

Odometer 30911 miles
Trip meter 0

We missed the 9:40 bus by less than 30 seconds this morning.  Ok, we slept in just a little bit, but I was sure we could make it up if we drove from space #53, the quarter mile up to the front gate and left our car in the lot there.  I had just locked the door and we were both sprinting for the bus- when it left the curb.  Plan B went into effect.  We waited the 20 minutes for the next bus and launched for another assault on the DC.
We even mastered the ATM-like machine used to put more $ on our Metro SmarTrip cards!  Speaking of those- we had to purchase our two cards for $10 each at the park office, and, get this, they are loaded with $5 on them- not $10.  Aparently the other $5 of the cost is the sellers incentive (it's the same cost everywhere).  Joan and I figure on our last night here we should sell ours to an incoming visitor for $5 with whatever remains on the card that we haven't spent.  Win-win...

We got off the Metro at Gallery Place this morning, and walked down G street to the White House.  We got a late start, and then missed our first bus, so as we passed Jack's Salad Bar and Grill we decided to have an early lunch.  What a good decision!  Jack's has a fabulous salad bar- and a steam table full of hot entrees.  I had fried rice with spicy chicken, and fresh steamed vegetables, and Joan had teriyaki chicken on brown rice with cucumber/tomato salad.  We both had some stuffed grape leaves. Yeah!  It was all good.

All fueled up, we walked around the White House taking pictures.
 Here is a telephoto shot of the White House taken from the south lawn.

 And here is how far away it really was from the nearest approach!

From the White House we proceeded over to the Air and Space museum.  We counted 18 buses parked or letting off passengers as we approached the entrance- Rats!
 My favorite parts of the museum were the additions offered by Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites- the Voyager shown here which is the first craft to fly non-stop around the world without refuling, and...

Spaceship One, the first private spacecraft to reach outer space.  What a great inventor.  Burt retired to Idaho in 2011, but I hope he is still dreaming and scheming.

I was also impressed with the sight of the Gossomer Albatross- the first human powered aircraft to cross the English Channel.  Wow!

From the Air and Space Museum we crossed over to the National Gallery of Art.  We left the crowds behind and the noise level dropped to normal as we entered- what a relief.  The NGA is so incredible it defies my ability to describe it with words.  We had expected to see beautiful paintings and we were not disappointed, but we both were captivated by the exquisite sculptures.
This bust by Rodin I believe- I honestly can't remember.  The detail is incredible, the cloth looked real.

As we were moving around town we noticed this interesting parking job.
Now that's Smart!

As we were walking back to the Metro to come home, we wittnessed a motorcade with a police escort- lights and sirens- did the President return to DC early?  Sadly no, it was not POTUS.

On our way back to the RV park we stopped off at a Starbucks and relaxed in the sun with a couple of coffees, before resuming our bus ride back to Cherry Hill and our rolling home.

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Touring DC

Odometer 30911
Trip meter 0 miles

Our Nation's Capitol !

For Joan and me this has been a trip of firsts; first time over two weeks together in a motorhome (now going on 6 months), first time on the Gulf Coast, first time in Florida and the Florida Keys, and now to have Joan share the excitement of seeing the history and grandeur of Washington DC with me. Awesome!

We set-up in Cherry Hill RV Park in College Park, Maryland which is about an hour out of downtown DC.  This park is geared towards RVers who are here to see the Captiol, and they have really made it easy for us.  We can catch the #83 bus right at the front gate of the park, change to the Metro Rail at the College Park Metro link, and ride the subway to wherever we'd like to go in downtown.

 Once downtown DC all the stations are underground and well labeled and easy to navigate from point to point.  If you stop to look at your subway map, chances are someone is going to ask if you need any help.  We were a little befuddled when it came to adding more credits to our fare cards, but right away we had someone patient enough to show us the procedure.
 The main subway stations are all two level and provide a way to transfer to a train going 90 degrees from your present train.

We got off the Metro at the Archives building and started our walking tour at the sculpture gardens which border the Capitol Mall
 Heading up Madison Avenue to the east took us up to the Capitol building which anchors the east end of a 250+ acre green park called the National Mall.

We paused in front of a reflecting pond, with the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial in the immediate background, to take this photo of us.  Intrepid explorers -eh?

 The Capitol area is undergoing a lot of construction this Spring.  The steps to the Capitol building were closed due to all the scaffolding on them, the Washington Monument is over 3/4 scaffolded, and the east bldg. of the National Gallery of Art is still under construction on the NE corner of the Mall.
This is the building I was referring to, that will be the new East Wing of the National Gallery of Art.

Our Idea was to do most of our walking tour today as the weather is perfect, high seventies with sunny skies.  By the time we got 1/2 way around the Mall, it was 11:30 and we were looking for a place to eat.  I had read about the restaurant in the Museum of Natural History so we headed indoors to check it out.
 Just our luck, there were 5 to7 school buses that had just disgorged their contents into the building.  The screaming children made a deafening racket in the hard marble walled confines, and overwhelmed the dining area.  Un-daunted, we ate quickly and escaped to the outside again to continue our walking tour.

Since the Monument was under renovation all we were allowed to do was walk around the perimenter of the construction fences.  Awesome scaffolding job though- even has an elevator which you can see at the right hand top.

After skirting the monument, we came to the Word War II Memorial- which was under renovation.  This is doublely agrivating, because last time I visited DC in 2004, it was weeks from being finished, so I missed it then too.
 Normally the reflecting pool in the center would be full and fountains would be spraying all around the perimenter.
From here we visited the Vietnam Memorial.  The wall always evokes a heavy feeling in my heart, but the piece I like the best is this bronze by Frederick Hart

From the Vietnam Memorial  we scooted across 23rd to the Lincoln Memorial, which anchors the west end of the Capitol Mall.

 I've seen this memorial about 4 times in my life and it never ceases to impress me.  Seeing it here again some  46 years after first seeing it as a teenager, I am still moved by its grandeur and significance.

I am especially happy that I got to share this experience with the love of my life.  We stood in awe of the sculpture and the setting.  

We were pretty much walked out by this time, we saved just enough energy  to walk to Foggy Bottom to catch the Metro back to our home.  What we were wondering as we hiked up the hill on 23rd street past the State Department and into The George Washington University, is why,  if it is on a hill- is it called Foggy Bottom- it should be Foggy Hill!

Best thing ever is to be able to get on a subway  and let someone else do the driving.  Whisking us at nearly 75 mph under the chaos above.  We arrived back at the RV by 4:30 PM and kicked off our tired shoes.  
Home Sweet Home!

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff  and Joan

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Washington DC

Odometer  30595- Wytheville, VA
                  30911- College Park, MD

Joan and I left Asheville, NC and headed West on I-26 up the French Broad River and over the Appalachian Mountains.  We got our first taste of mountain climbing (in the MH) since I took my Freightliner class, and I was anxious to put my new knowledge to use.  Our instructor, Mike Cody,  told us he was determined to get us better fuel economy by having us climb hills at 1750 to 1900 RPM.  Mike said most of us lug our engines by not gearing down to stay at max torque.  Our trip took us through the northeast corner of Tennessee near Johnson City, where we caught Interstate 81 and paralleled the Appalachians going north to Virginia.  I got lots of practice with the hill climbs and descents, following the wrinkles of the Appalachians took us up and down a lot.
Coming down one of the steeper grades I was startled when the rear air pressure gauge plummeted to ZERO and the warning light and buzzer sounded.  On a vehicle that uses air for braking- that's alarming!
Even though the front air gauge still read 110 PSI I pulled off the road and stopped as soon as I could.  Moments later the gauge sprung up to 110 PSI and the light and buzzer turned off.
Now here is the interesting part- we had just covered this in our class at Freightliner.  A quick phone call to the Freightliner help line- (answered by techs in Gaffney, SC) confirmed that it was an indicator problem and not an actual air pressure failure.  Apparently this is a well documented problem in chassis made in our era, and is caused by a bad solder joint in the Vehicle Data Unit (VDU).  I will have to fix it ASAP- but for now it will just be a distraction.
We were very impressed with the scenic overlooks in Tennessee.  We pulled into this overlook around noon to stretch, and have a bite of  lunch.
There was a maze of trails and scenic lookout points showing row after row of ridgelines.

Joan and I had a quick lunch, then decided to exercise it off on this 800 foot trail that rises 150 feet up the hill behind the overlook

Luckily the air pressure alarm did not sound again this afternoon and we cruised the rest of the 250 miles to Wytheville, VA without incident.  We stayed at the Fort Chiswell RV park, arriving at 3:30.  We noticed the motorhome two away from ours had Oregon plates- so we hurried up there to introduce ourselves.  We met Mahlon and Becky from Grants Pass!  They are on their way to visit family in Virginia and then in Pennsylvania, and like us were just here for the night.   We were joined by Bob and Debi, our neighbors on the other side who are also heading to Penn. where they have a home.  We talked until well after dark, and the air took on a definite chill- sending us scurrying to our warm RVs.   This is the best part of traveling by RV- you meet the nicest people!

Today- Wednesday the 23rd just about all of us were packing to leave and get on the road.  We said goodbye to Bob and Debi as they pulled out just ahead of us, and waved to Mahlon and Becky as we drove out to the highway for the trip north.
Normally we are not freeway drivers, but being unfamiliar with the area we just could not find a road that was a reasonable alternative to I-81. 
 We stopped only once in Woodstock to eat lunch in the Wal Mart parking lot and then go inside to stock up on groceries.  The traffic was heavy and got even more so as we approached the Washington DC area.

Then about 10 miles from our destination- it stopped altogether.  We have no idea if it was normal grid-lock or a collision, but it worked it's way out within about 30 minutes and we arrived at Cherry Hill RV Park in College Station at 4:30 PM.

We got checked in, set-up, cleaned the bugs off the front end, had dinner, then went for a walk around the park.  The park is fairly large with 400 or more spaces, and conveiently it is on the bus/metro route to downtown DC.  We are getting excited about our adventure into the capitol tomorrow.  The Smithsonian (great name by the way) the Capitol, the Whitehouse, the Monuments, the Memorials- Yeah!

Your Traveling Friends,

Jeff and Joan

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Asheville, NC

Odometer 30344
Trip 0

Joan and I are in Asheville, North Carolina, the home of the Biltmore Estate, 8000 acres of land and at 178,926 square feet, the largest privately owned house in the US.

We were not prepared for how popular this estate tour is.  Before we had made our way to the front door the shuttle buses started arriving... We also found out that we are free to take photos of the exterior and grounds (non-commercially) but no photos of the interior at all.

This was very interesting to me.  The windows follow the contour of the stairway and there is an opening casement at each level to allow workers to exit to the small balcony and clean the outside of the windows.  We were shown some of the hidden areas of the home- many more remain un-revealed.  One decorative panel at the base of the stairs hinges in with a push- allowing access to a hidden electric panel.  I spent a lot of time in the basement where there were displays of  photos taken durning the build 1889-1895.  The majority of the house is built of brick made on site, and coated with a veneer of limestone.  The mansion was built with electrical circuitry from the very inception. Fewer than 8% of homes had any electrical lighting at this time in the US.  Initially the electricity was from a DC generator in located in the basement, by 1901 it was converted to accept utility power.
Part of the estate that was open to the public is the lake and boathouse which is only a short walk from the main house.  On the way down to the lake you pass through the formal gardens seen below.

Interestingly the Biltmore estate became home to two early foresters each of whom were responsible for the future of forest management in the US.  Before the house was even completed Gifford Pinchot was practicing forestry on the 100,000 acre estate.  When Pinchot was called away to head the early stages of the US Forest Service, he was replaced by a German forester named Carl Schenck who established the first US school of forestry, using the Biltmore estate.

After 5 hours of tourning the Biltmore we were ready for something else.  We both wanted to check out the Blue Ridge Parkway, and specifically to drive to the highest point around here- Mount Pisgah (pronounced piz-ga).
The Blue Ridge Parkway is 469 miles long and  follows the ridge-tops of the Southern Appalachian Mountans starting in North Carolina/Tennessee and ending in Virginia (or vice versa).

The road is a paved two lane highway,  and the maximum posted speed is between 35 or 45 mph depending on the section.  That's because it is not intended as a freeway, and no commercial trucks are allowed.  We wanted to know if we could take our motorhome, and were told we could- but to watch the tunnel heights- some were too low.

Great place for a motorcycle ride and I was wanting to have my Goldwing with me today

This photo doesn't do the vista any justice, the season is too early for leaves on the trees at this elevation (nearly 5000' ).  Looks wintry.  Asheville is at the bottom of the canyon about center of the photo. A great activity for Earth Day.

Although the weather is much more temperate here than we'd hoped for mid April (high today 61) we have decided to head north towards Washington DC and hope for moderate temps, and no snow!

Your Traveling Friends,

Jeff and Joan