Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Times change and so do circumstances

In late January of 1978, my wife and I, along with our only son (six years old) at the time, set off on the second leg of our year-long odyssey of vanning around the US.

We had purchased a 1973 Chevrolet long-wheel-based van a number of years earlier and used it to not only travel in, but also to sleep in.

The first leg of our trip started the day after Labor Day in 1977. We covered states in the Midwest and then headed over as far as Bar Harbor, ME before heading back down south, arriving at home just before Thanksgiving.

The second leg was a three-month odyssey that had us hanging along the Texas Gulf Coast and then along the border with Mexico all the way to California.

Back then we were young and somewhat carefree, not thinking about anything bad happening.

But nowadays, I would have second thoughts about taking that same route.


All one has to do is read the news.

There is a lot of gang-related activities occuring south of the border and sometimes filtering into the US.

Back in 2010, Mexican pirates reportedly murdered a Texas fisherman on Falcon Lake. That brought back memories of the fact that we had spent a night camping at the reservoir.

In 1978, we made our way to Big Bend National Park, then farther west to El Paso before heading south once again into New Mexico and then over to Tombstone and by Fort Huachuca, AZ where I had spent eight weeks in advanced basic training.

We visited Nogales, Mexico and then headed over to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument before heading up to Death Valley and then into California.

During the course of that trip, we took precautions for our safety, although it was mainly trying to evade would-be homegrown thieves.

As previously stated, things have changed. I think about “would I take that same trip today.”

If by myself, yes, I would. But If I were responsible for others, I would think twice.

But since I’ve made that journey, and there are other places to visit, I don’t have to worry about it.

Next post: Feb. 7, 2017

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

286,000 miles and showing its age

Wife, van and popup camper in Smoky Mountains National Park

Showing sigs of wear and tear

I keep wondering just how far our  Chevy van will go.

My wife and I purchased it some 16 years ago this month from a dealership in Pensacola, FL.

We had numerous vans before but were looking for  a high-rise so that we could stand upright inside when needed.

And it was nice to have. Four captains chairs and a bench seat for three more provided space for seven. Occasionally we had that many in it.

But basically, it was our day-to-day vehicle whether it was intown travel, hauling stuff around  or traveling to see family.

We liked to use it for camping. Sometimes we reconfigured the inside and slept in it. Other times we pulled our popup camper on our many jaunts to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

But its showing its wear. Well, its been showing that for a number of years, but now other things have cropped up.

After the vehicle started whining (the transmission) during shifting, I decided to see if it needed to be rebuilt. Well, I knew that it did, but I just had to talk to someone about it.

The owner of the shop told me I had been very blessed to have a vehicle where the transmission lasted 286,000 miles before showing signs of trouble.

I felt that I had been blessed, although over the course of the van's lifetime with us, the radiator had been replaced, we had two water pumps installed and a fuel pump replaced.

The most major problem was the replacement of a gasket that went bad allowing water from the radiator to co-mingle with the oil.

Luckily I managed to find that before any major problems developed.

During our years of travel, the vehicle has been to the Atlantic Coast and the Pacific Coast and too many times to count to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

All in all, its been fun having it and we just can’t decide on whether to purchase another vehicle or get it fixed hoping it would last another five or 10 years.

Our used van already has the small dents, rips and tears in the upholstery that we would worry about happening in a new vehicle.

We have managed to own three additional long-wheel based vans and what at the time was called a mini-van (a down-sized van), not the kind they refer to today.

We like vans and the space they provide. Any maybe soon, we will have to make a decision.

Next post: Jan. 31, 2017

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

DC, it's just not the place for me

There’s one place that I have visited twice, but it’s a location I don’t care to see again — especially if it were this weekend.

And that is Washington, DC.

Why? One may ask.

For one thing, if one doesn’t want to take a taxi, it is just more walking than I would like to do.

My first trip to the area was many years ago when my wife and I were sponsors of an Explorer journalism post that was connected to the newspaper on which we worked.

There are two things I remember most about that trip.

One, the landing approach to the airport was so rough, even seasoned travelers appeared to be a little uneasy.

A weather front had moved into the area causing a worker to die when the wind blew him off the top of a building. A tree was blown over at the zoo killing another person. Well, that’s the way I remember it.

The second incident was when our young son got away from my wife and disappeared for a few minutes. We were frantic.

Some well-meaning individuals noticed he was too young to be by himself and helped return him to us.

He told us they were all friends because they knew his name.

It just so happened that his name was written in big letters on the back of his T-shirt.

The other time, we were visiting family in Virginia and took a day trip into the area.

I don’t remember everything we saw, but one incident remains to this day.

We were eating lunch in a  museum cafeteria and had just about finished up.

Someone on the end of the table still had a slice of pizza that they didn’t want.

The same son who got lost years earlier, and was sitting on the other end of the table, asked if he could have the pizza.

We all said yes, and as it was passed down to him, each individual managed to take a bite out of it.

He did manage to get a little bit, I mean bite.

And that brings me to this weekend.

I don’t like crowds, and there’s going to be a lot of people there.

I don’t like confrontation, and from what I am reading, someone its offering money to people to get them to make trouble at Donald Trump’s inauguration.

It is going to be interesting and I’ll just catch it via TV.

Next post: Jan. 23, 201?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Well, there's always next year

Jackson Square artists and interested tourists

Miscalculation, mistiming, mis …. whatever, we didn’t follow through on plans to see Christmas lighting in new places this year.

Didn’t see the zoo in Montgomery. Didn’t go to the Rock Ranch in Georgia. 

Didn’t go to Bellingrath.

We did’n’t do a lot of things, but did a lot of traveling making it to Baton Rouge there times during the holiday period and once to Georgia.

But, of course, we did manage a side trip to the Big Easy. 

Years ago, we ventured to New Orleans and managed to experience the Miracle on Fulton Street. It was great. Fake snow, plenty of lights and lighted Christmas trees and some real life “reindeer” along with some entertainment.

We drove past the venue this time, and it wasn’t quite the same. 

Apparent homeless person
sleeping through holiday crowds

But we did manage our beignets, cafe au lait and chocolate milk at the Cafe Du Monde.

That’s always followed by a walk around Jackson Square and then off for a two-hour drive home.

Maybe next year we’ll see those other things we missed. Now that we know they are out there, we can plan better.

Next post: Jan. 17, 2017

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The familiar is oh so comfortable

Where is 2017 going to take you?

That is the big question this time each year when my wife and I try to get a handle on where we want to go.

As usual, we will be heading to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

It’s likely this will be a three-trip year to the area, if not four.

Already we had set up a small two-day reservation at Elkmont campground hoping to catch a glimpse of the annual firefly extravaganza.

I knew that the first two weeks of June was the optimal time. But I waited a little too long  to make a reservation and had to settle for a two-day stint at the end of the second week.

Maybe we will get lucky.

Prior to that planned visit, we may be making a pass through the area sometime in May on the tail end of a two-week trip that will have us visiting the last few states in the lower 48 that we haven’t been in yet.

And then sometime in late June or July, we’ll have a family get—together with our children and grandchildren camping at Elkmont  which is always a lot of fun.

As we age, our desires to do the so-called jet set thing has diminished. 

A number off years ago our goal was to see at least a few new countries each year. The lofty goal has sort of gone by the wayside.

Nowadays it seems that what we already know is what we like. There’s comfort in the familiar, and that’s not bad.

Now and then we may venture out, but those days don’t seem to be as enticing as they once were.

Anyway, have a Happy New Year, and may your travels take you to parts unknown so that when the time comes, you’ll have more familiar and comfortable places where you will enjoy returning.

Next post: Jan. 10, 2017