Feb 13 2010

Day 307: The End of Nowhere

by andrew

Two months or so ago I was out driving around near Denver with my 4 year old boy Zach. He was having a rare turn up in the front seat, and looking out through the windshield towards the mountains he suddenly piped up with an epiphany: “Dad!!! I know how to get to the end of nowhere!” he exclaimed rather passionately.

How else can a father reply? “Oh yeah?” I said – not at all sardonically. “How’s that?”

To which Zach confidently replied, “You just keep driving that way and don’t stop!” while pointing straight ahead out the window.

Well, today I made good on my promise to take him to the end of nowhere some time. We spent the afternoon on the furthest SE point of the United States to which one can drive – the southern end of Hwy 1 – the edge of Key West, FL. We have literally driven the entire length of Florida now, entering about a month ago on the far western tip of the panhandle and driving first east and then south along the coast, and then cutting over through alligator alley along the Everglades, and then down Hwy 1 across all the keys. WOW.

What a beautiful place. 75 degrees F today and we played in the ocean in February. Crazy. I’d love to stay longer but it is Expensive with a capital E. Here are some shots from the day (keep reading below the gallery to get caught up on the rest of everything).

Our next plan is to head up for Georgia where it’s still not all that cold, but away from the majority of migratory retirees which improves the campground rates; hunker down for maybe a month and knock out a ton of work that is looming. Which reminds me I still need to hit some of the highlights from the last month in my typical, inadequate bullet fashion. Here are the primary memories:

  • Gabe and Heather’s wonderful southern hospitality and opening their home and land and lives to us for a couple weeks
  • The kids playing endlessly together with nary an issue that needed adult mediation; from building robots out of a busted, rusted out 8-track player they found in the woods, to planning their treehouse, to whacking golf balls all over the yard, to jumping on the trampoline and playing in the dirt… it was country bliss like I grew up in
  • Early morning hunting adventures
  • Bennah’s first lesson on a real rifle
  • Tinkering in the studio, recording the band’s first recording, writing a song on Gabe’s old guitar over the course of 2 weeks in the short 2-3 minute segments of time that I was in there each night to monitor my children during their pre-bedtime potty rituals
  • Getting overloaded on baby girl cuteness in one place
  • Shifting gears in the work arena when our project with La Vie Labs and Clairte did not work out like we had planned and hoped; and focusing all my energies on a new, exciting project
  • Golfing in a cow pasture with Gabe and our two oldest boys (the “hole” was an old rusted out washing machine in the corner of the field)
  • (And for those who have not noticed my not-so subtle title change on the blog yet) FINDING OUT WE ARE GOING TO HAVE A BABY #6 probably some time in October. Blessings upon blessings (and a bit freaked out at first) but children are a gift from YHWH and He has filled our quiver to be sure.

And that was just northern FL. Then we headed south and landed in Bradenton for a couple days and were extremely well cared for by dear (new) friends – parents of friends that we had grown very close to in Colorado. In fact, if you love garlic, they grow a whole bunch up in Ohio every year and it is absolutely¬†incomparable to what you can buy in the store: Charlie’s Gourmet Garlic! You can watch the video that I edited a while back to get an idea of what Charlie and his farm are like – it’s the 2nd one down on this page: http://doctorbeautiful.com/blog/?page_id=48 So, while we were with them, they gave us and helped us pickle about 2.5 quarts of garlic! In about 3 more weeks the heat will be gone, but all the yummy healthy goodness will be intact. Thanks again Charlie!!!

They also hang out in FL for a few months in the winter so we were parked in Bradenton near their home down there. The tricky thing was that it was just a parking lot designed for RV visitors, and fine for sleeping, but with no electric, water, or sewer not well suited for working or living very long. With some critical work that came up we had to relocate. Ironically, one of the absolute nicest campgrounds in the overall area was also the cheapest (although it wasn’t all that cheap). So, we headed back up north about 30 miles and ended up managing to stretch it out for a week at the Fort De Soto Park Campground. That’s where the last five photos from the previous post were taken. 5 of those days we had a beach-front site. Fabulous. During that time:

  • I worked my tail off and got a lot accomplished on a new work project
  • The kids got sandy and wet pretty much every day
  • We had to fend off the raccoons
  • We met two other amazing families who live in that area and are close friends of close friends. They also opened their home and lives to us and we had a wonderful time getting to know them and their children, hitting the hot tub, feasting and fellowshipping together. It never felt like we had only just met.
  • We explored Fort De Soto and the beaches there; and I managed to get a few pictures in… still way under quota right now.

And I’m probably forgetting something else important, but then we headed down here on a mission to get to the End of Nowhere. And so here we are. Tomorrow we head north once again.


May 10 2009

Day 25-29: Over the Appalachians

by andrew

We are surviving our first bout of hard-core travel and campgrounding, but it hasn’t been without … um … “events” shall we say? I think I have previously lamented the fact that there are not enough nanoseconds in the day to do these tales justice with the flowing, detailed narrative they deserve. But let me recap the last few days of adventure in bullet form lest current events overtake the record and press it with their own need to be captured.

Day 25 (Wed, 5/6/09):

  • Intended day of departure from PA… slow going with all the final preparations even though we had done most of it the day before…
  • 3:00pm, still planning to leave and make some progress, final checks on the truck… needed oil change badly… likely not going to get on the road after all…
  • 3:30pm, Jaiden (age 2) falls in the creek and gashes the back of his head open, Reayah (age 5) was right with him when it happened, watching him like we’d asked her too; she got Bennah (age 7) right away because he was close by; Bennah pulls Jaiden out of the creek and stays with him (he’s soaked head to toe, his head is bleeding, and he’s screaming from the shock; knowing Bennah is with him, then Reayah runs to the the trailer (just a few hundred feet away) to get us; I run down there, scoop up my little brave soaking wet explorer and hustle him back to the trailer; Renee cleans him up, and we get ice on his head; he shows initial symptoms of a mild concussion; we pray for him, battle our fear, and the symptoms clear… at that point we were obviously not going anywhere that day… wanted to watch him closely and make sure he would be alright.
  • Jaiden was quiet for a bit but was his old giggly self before too long and the delay worked out to let us go visit some other dear friends about an hour away who we hadn’t seen in a long time.

Day 26 (Thurs, 5/7/09):

  • On the way to get some errands done in the morning (one of which was getting the oil changed) I got stuck behind some SLOW traffic with no passing lane. There were alternate routes I could have taken into town, but I was keenly aware of YHWH saying that the situation was an example to me: He is slowing us down, every part of our lives… our previous life was lived in such servitude to schedules and TIME… always trying to get things done in a rush or having to be somewhere quickly… we are learning to slow down and become more aware of the NOW.
  • Of course, that approach leads to things like 2pm departures. But we were finally on our way.
  • And our first real mountain driving across I-80… what another example of slowing down… pulling 17,000 lbs total up some climbs brought us down to 30 mph in a couple spots to keep all the gauges in the mostly happy zones. Average maybe 45-50 mph. 60 mph on the downhill. Slowing down like that was HARD (for me because I much prefer the speed limit +5 rule of thumb). But I learned how to ride my gears on the auto tranny based on the precise position of the pedal and the current RPMs, speed, and incline of the road.
  • How do I know we were pulling 17,000 lbs? Because we finally found a scale that worked. For $5 I found out that:
    • my front axle was carrying 3140 lbs (GAWR 4250)
    • my rear axle was carrying 5380 lbs (GAWR 6000)
    • my trailer axles were carrying 8760 lbs (GAWR > 8800)
  • What a relief – we were under ALL our limits, which up until then was actually quite doubtful. We are pulling more than the overall recommended weight for the stock make / model / year, but we’re not driving a stock vehicle… and we can always sacrifice speed to make sure we don’t overwork the engine.
  • We rolled into a Wal-mart in Ohio at 10:30pm only to discover we had NO power from the trailer battery. I knew I needed to replace it, but it had never been totally drained before. This meant no tongue jack (to relieve some weight off the truck for the night and stabilize a bit) and no slide-out (which means the kids room is barely accessible and the bathroom is inaccessible – except to Jaiden and Zach who can squeeze through). Then, after getting the kids to bed doubled up on the pull-out couch and fold-down dinette, some initial checks on the wiring suggested that the trailer outlet on the truck wasn’t wired right and maybe hadn’t been charging the trailer battery during travel. It was a project for the morning, but it was going to mean a LATE departure.

Day 27 (Fri, 5/8/09):

  • Renee entertained the kids in Wal-Mart the next morning while I discovered that positive cable connector had completely snapped off the terminal (hence, no juice). Battery also needed replacement. Not satisfied that the trailer plug on the bumper was resolved, but it could wait; new battery and cable rewired, we pulled out around 1:30pm, gassed up and hit the interstate once more.
  • We entered Sabbath with an Indiana sunset and a spectacular visual reminder of what we love so much about traveling.
  • For whatever reason, I was determined to get to Chicago that night, and be done with it. But wondering if we shouldn’t heed the lessons of slowing down I tried to stop at a Flying J around 10:oopm but it seemed to be rigged only for trucks (or cars) but there didn’t seem to be anywhere for RVs to park… which was very strange… but we pressed on…
  • YIKES. 90/94 W through Chicago at 10:30pm on a Friday night… talk about some serious prayerful towing driving… that is an experience I’d rather not have to repeat… ever…
  • 11:01pm pull into Wal-mart on the other side of Chicago and join the ranks of a couple trucks and a couple motorhomes.
  • Stabilized on the tongue jack but still not using the slide-out after confirming that the new battery did not charge during the day of travel.
  • Settled in for a crazy night of some of the most insane wind we’ve half-slept through ever. The Windy City’s way of greeting us I suppose. The trailer rocked and shook like a dingy tossed around at sea, and that next morning Wal-Mart’s array of plants outside the Garden Center in the parking lot had suffered the damages of a tornado through a trailer park on a botanical scale.

Day 28 (Sabbath, 5/9/09):

  • 9:00am on the way to our final intended resting spot for the area – Illinois Beach State Park – another hour north.
  • 10:00am pulled in, found a site, set-up, registered, Jonathan (my brother who lives in the Chicago area) arrived, and we thought to ourselves – smooth sailing from here!!!!
  • or not
  • Discovered that the fridge wasn’t on and wouldn’t turn on.
  • Zach (age 4) found a small bead the exact size of a 4-year-old ear canal and he had not been previously, properly trained about what things (i.e. everything) should NOT be inserted an inch or so into one’s ear.
  • Between Zach lying on his side on the couch, ear hanging over and down, Jonathan holding his head level, me underneath looking up from the floor with a headlamp shining like some sort of mechanic pulling his ear down and forward while squirting water into it with a syringe while Renee consulted her mom (a nurse) on the phone regarding the correct angle to pull a child’s ear when it has become the container for a foreign object… and MUCH prayer… we finally got the crazy thing out. I’m not kidding, initially you couldn’t even see the bead without pulling the ear back first and shining some light.
  • I finally found the access panel (on the OUTSIDE of the trailer) to check if the fridge was even plugged in… which it was not (shaken unplugged in our travels) and that was working again so we could finally explore the campground a bit.
  • Came back and headed to Jonathan’s (an hour a way) for an awesome home-cooked meal (thank you Jonathan!)
  • Back to the trailer after that only to discover NO power – AGAIN! Even though we were plugged into the campground 30 amp service. No matter what I did, every time I plugged in, I tripped the 30 amp GFCI breaker….

[historical background digression]: there is a story here. When we first got the trailer, I discovered that the ground pin on the main 30 amp shoreline cable was broken. Now I suspect that this was done by the previous owners intentionally after having some frustrating electrical issues with GFCI circuits at campgrounds, but at the time I was thinking… this is not right, it needs to be fixed. So, I cut off the old broken plug and wired in a spiffy new 3-prong 30 amp plug… and I immediately started tripping the breaker in the garage that I had previously been plugged into without any problems. Safety = Pain in the Bum. Just like in the programming world. (Security = Pain in the Bum). In fact, the overkill in both arenas of Safety and Security largely result from the moronic behavior of a few individuals who make life much more complicated for the rest of the human race. My solution a few months ago – plug into a different outlet in the garage that was not GFCI protected, and forget about the whole thing.

  • Ah… the GFCI incident came back to haunt me didn’t it, here months later, in the up-until-2-am-with-a-multimeter-and-internet-forums kind of way. Current theory: electrical systems in RVs can be a Pain in the Bum. Solution so that we could have heat, keep the battery charged, and I could go to bed: break the ground prong off of an extra 30 > 15 amp adapter and plug into the 15 amp service (also GFCI) for now. [THIS IS NOT SAFE. DON’T DO THIS. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED…. but if it comes down to survival… ;)]

Day 29 (Sun, 5/10/09):

  • Renee and the kids out for a walk while I narrowed down the electrical issue at least to a specific circuit in the trailer… the one that has most of the receptacles (outlets) and the converter (which converts the AC to DC for charging the battery and running the DC appliances). Now if I can just dig up a little more electrical know-how than I currently possess I might not have to pay someone to fix the whole mess for me. I get the feeling that it could get involved. Especially if most or all of the outlets on that circuit were wired with the ground and neutral bonded. Ugh.
  • Met Jonathan for a tasty lunch, because life must go on.
  • Got some grocery shopping done and other errands.
  • Including a couple outlet testers from Home Depot that ended up telling me nothing I didn’t already know (they say all the outlets check out just fine, so the mystery continues).
  • Took the kids to an amazing playground. There will be photos of it posted somewhere eventually.
  • Brought them home, fed them, got them to bed.
  • And here I am typing this.

Congratulations, you have passed the very useful course: Reading Andrew’s Long Winded Posts (Even When They’re Written in Bullet Format) 301.

For further entertainment:
Updated Trip data
Updated Map

I also have a bunch of photos queued for upload (and more that I have to sort and queue) but I have to wait for a decent hard connection to get the upload done.