Alvin's plea amused us, although the other brief message he
conveyed wasn't humorous: one of the EMTs had damaged an
emergency vehicle soon after Jim left town.
We were gone three days and Alvin already missed his closest
ally in the squad and (I'm guessing) the person on whom he could
most count for support and getting things done right. The
subject of the letter is even funnier, considering he knows Jim
will be gone three months: "Are You Back Yet?"
Um, no. We're in Texas!
Toto, we're not in Virginia any more.
There's a Longhorn.
And we got here in PR time, considering we're hauling a camper
and had a slow start in the snow Tuesday morning -- two full
days to Waco, a distance of 1,212 miles, and another 73 miles
this morning to our campground at the Belton Lake Outdoor
Recreation Area (BLORA) on sprawling Fort Hood, the
second-largest military installation in the world.
GO, OR NO GO?
When I signed off Monday we had decided to get a good night's
sleep and assess road conditions in the morning. We knew the
season's first snow storm was probably heading our way, although
we'd be near the southern edge of it if there was any
Our timing couldn't have been much worse to leave on this trip!
Just how adventurous would this new adventure be??
We turned on the radio and TV as soon as we got up Tuesday
morning. Yep, up to six inches of snow had already fallen in the
mountains in West Virginia. There was less in the Blue Ridge
just west of Roanoke, but 2-3" were on the ground in the New
River Valley along our route, I-81, south and west of town. We
were just starting to see flurries at our house 15+ miles east
of Roanoke. Should we leave now or wait another day for it to
We were more than ready to go, both psychologically as well as
logistically, that "all dressed up and nowhere to go"
feeling. It has been over nine months since we came back from
the Southwest in February, the longest period of time we've
remained at home since Jim retired almost five years ago. We
still regret our decision to stay home last summer.
We'd have been like caged animals if we postponed this trip even
one more day. The first six winding, hilly miles should be dry, we
rationalized, and the more heavily traveled roads through the
city and on the freeway should be clear with all the traffic
melting any snow that might have stuck (the weather had been
warm prior to the storm). News reports reassured everyone that VDOT was in control of the situation, ready and able to put out
sand or whatever chemicals they use on roads these days.
At 6:30 AM we shut off the water, turned down the thermostat,
finally allowed Cody to hop into the truck (like Tater always
stayed very close to the camper while we were packing it!),
locked the doors, and headed out the driveway.
DAMN THE TORPEDOES, FULL SPEED AHEAD
Road trip!!! (That's what one of us always says as
we head out on a new trip.)
By the time we got into Roanoke it was snowing more heavily.
About an inch of snow had already accumulated on the
ground, up to 3" an hour south of town.
Windshield shot a little bit south of
Roanoke on I-81 (11-18-08)
Cody had fun playing in the snow at a busy rest area near
Claytor Lake State Park. We haven't seen
this much snow since post-holing on the Colorado Trail two
We were in and out of blowing snow and sunny, clear skies the
first two or three hours.
As a consequence, the roads were alternately wet and dry.
We lost some time by
driving more slowly than usual but safety was paramount. We
didn't have any deadlines to meet. We saw only one accident the
whole way to Texas. About an hour south of Roanoke a jack-knifed
semi was on one side of the road and a pick-up truck hauling a
trailer was in the median facing the wrong way. Neither looked
very dinged up; hopefully, no one got hurt. Emergency
vehicles had not arrived yet.
That got our attention, of course, but it was the worst we saw
the entire journey west. That was the only short section where snow
and ice were on the pavement. I took this photo just down the
were having trouble with ice forming on the windshield wipers:
Soon after reaching Tennessee in mid-morning the weather cleared
and we had two beautiful, dry, warm, sunny days to Texas. In
retrospect, we're glad we left when we did.
This trip was more visually interesting through the mountains
and farmland than last year's trek to ATY. By leaving in mid-November instead of late December we got
to see more autumn leaf color through Virginia, Tennessee, and Arkansas.
These trees were somewhere in eastern Arkansas, I believe:
There were many prettier areas than that through the mountains
between Bristol, Virginia and Nashville, TN on I-81 and I-40 but
I didn't think to take pictures there.
TWO DAYS TO TEXAS
It was fun to be on the road again. Once past the snow in
Virginia, the weather was clear and we didn't run into much road
construction or heavy traffic. We covered a lot of ground on
Tuesday (673 miles in 12+ hours from home to W. Memphis, AR) and
Wednesday (539 miles in 9+ hours from W. Memphis to Waco, TX).
That included several stops at rest areas, Flying Js, and Steak
'N Shakes (Jim likes those and we don't have any in Virginia).
Another 70 miles on Wednesday morning got us to our first
camping destination at Belton Lake on Fort Hood.
In the last entry I mentioned the Visa gift cards Jim received
Monday night as reimbursement for his mileage running rescue
squad calls this year -- we used them exclusively for diesel
fuel at Flying Js all the way to Texas. With our free
member card we get a discount of one to three cents per gallon.
Flying Js are the most convenient and least expensive
truck stops/gas stations we've found on trips. Most of the ones we've used across the
U.S. have dedicated RV pumps, dump stations, free water, and
areas for campers to stay overnight.
Part of the Fort Hood, Texas welcoming
committee near Belton Lake
We were pleased when diesel fell to $2.75/gallon in Roanoke
before we left. We were even more pleased to find it getting
cheaper as we drove west! That may be because the cost is still
falling around the country, not that it's cheaper in Tennessee,
Arkansas, and Texas. Virginia's fuel taxes are fairly low,
comparatively. Last December it was $3.15/gallon in Roanoke and
more expensive the farther west we got, especially in
Arizona. This was a nice switch. This week we paid between $2.54
and $2.62 per gallon along I-81, I-40, I-30, and I-35 and "only"
$2.49 on post at Fort Hood. We have enough left on the gift cards to get
us to Arizona if we were going there directly (we aren't).
"Camping" was free both nights to Texas, too. On Tuesday night
we parked near several other RVs at the Flying J just inside
Arkansas on I-40. There was a nice grassy area for Cody to run. The
parking area appeared safe but wasn't as brightly lit as most Walmarts are. We drowned out the freeway noise with ear plugs
and stayed warm even though it got down to a brisk 29 degrees.
The next morning I bundled up in fleece pants, jacket, gloves,
and ear warmers to walk Cody outside. I returned to the camper
and found Jim wearing SHORTS and a short-sleeved T-shirt! He
could see the sub-freezing temperature on our indoor-outdoor thermometer.
I looked at him like he was nuts and he declared, "I'm on
Ha! You could argue that folks who are retired are always on
vacation, but you'd be wrong. I used to think that, too. I know
better now. We are definitely more relaxed when we are traveling
in the camper. Yes, there are still some hassles when we're on
the road but there isn't something begging to be fixed or
cleaned all the time when we are traveling -- no home repairs, no yard work, no cutting
and hauling wood and keeping the fire going, no snow removal, no
EMS calls in the middle of the night to interrupt our sleep. We
almost always sleep better and longer in the camper than we do in our comfy
bed at home -- even in a Flying J, Walmart, or Sam's Club
Sam's Club -- that's where we stayed the second night. Jim
wasn't as crazy for wearing shorts on Wednesday morning as I
thought. By the time we reached the NE Texas border I was in
shorts, too. It was 80 degrees in Dallas mid-afternoon when we
drove through there. That's
51 degrees warmer than it was a few hours earlier. Kinda like
Roanoke's weather the last couple months: wide swings of
temps from colder to warmer than average, but not usually in six
More of the welcoming committee
We reached Waco about an hour before sunset on Wednesday and decided to stay
at Sam's Club instead of trying to locate a campsite in the dark
at Fort Hood. We were the only RV there and had several choices
of where to park (we asked first). We picked a darker, quieter
side of the building where trucks delivering goods wouldn't wake
us up. Sam's Clubs don't stay open all night so they are quieter
Jim's been eyeing various Garmin and Magellan GPS units for our
trips but hasn't found a real "steal" yet. One of those would be
nice to show us how to locate Walmarts and Sam's Clubs once we
exit the freeway. The main way we've been locating them in
transit is Walmart's version of the USA Rand McNally road atlas
that lists all the stores. Ones that are closest to freeways
give the exit number, but most just have the address. If we know
for sure where we'll want to stop driving for the day, we can
locate the address on our Topo software on the computer. But
we're usually in transit when we decide we've had enough fun for
one day and often have to guess which exit to use and
which way to turn at the end of the ramp.
Sometimes Jim sets his handheld GPS on the dash while we're driving but it
just tells us where we are, not how to get to our destination. We'll
consider getting a vehicle version if we find a good enough sale
during the holiday season. Heck, three or four free overnight
"camping" sessions and we'll have the GPS paid for! As the
economic depression deepens every company except Walmart is
hurting financially and predictions are for excellent deals on
consumer products this winter. We've already taken advantage of
great markdowns on a computer package and camera. What else can
DEFINITELY IN TEXAS NOW
Most of the drive through Tennessee and Arkansas looked similar
to Virginia: winding and hilly with colorful deciduous leaves. By
the time we hit Texas, we knew we'd traveled a good distance
even though we were only one time zone away. There are the oil
wells, the increasingly vast range land, the longhorns, the
different kinds of trees and shrubs, the
prairie-morphing-into-desert terrain. Fort Hood, between Waco
and Austin, appears to straddle that farm-desert line, with
features of both.
View of Belton Lake from our
Since we've never been to the camping areas at Fort Hood before
we weren't sure which unit we'd prefer, if there was still a
choice (you can't make advance reservations). The huge Army post
has two family campgrounds, one on the southwest edge near
Killeen and one at Belton Lake, above, which is ten miles or more from
the nearest towns or gates into the inhabited part of the post. Information
we found online and via
phone calls indicated Belton Lake would be the more spacious,
quiet, and scenic choice. Since it has three distinctly different
camping areas within it we wanted time to drive around before
making a decision, something we couldn't do after dark last
evening. That's why we hunkered down overnight in Waco.
This morning we awoke to another bright, sunny day. It took a
little more than an hour to maneuver through some road
construction on I-35 in Waco and Temple before heading west to
I took the cattle photos in this entry along Sparta
Road near the entrance to BLORA, the 800-acre Belton Lake
Outdoor Recreation Area. Cattle roam free-range on the massive
Fort Hood complex outside the main post, sharing the scrub land
with soldiers launching missiles and practicing war tactics.
There are cow patties all over the mountain bike trails where
we'll run at BLORA but the bovines can't get into the camping and
recreation areas. Neither fences nor cattle guards deter deer,
however, so those critters have free reign inside the park.
We showed our military IDs at the office and talked to the staff
about our campground choices. They gave us maps of the three camping units
in BLORA and indicated which sites were available. In the next
entry I'll describe the recreation and camping areas in more
detail. For now, the bottom line is that we chose the Cottage
RV Area where there are eleven camper sites with full hook-ups and
about the same number of wooden cottages for rent.
Home, sweet home
We like it
here; this will be our home for eleven days.
Now it's time to go explore the roads and trails!
Next entry: fun at BLORA and Fort Hood
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and
Tater (in spirit)
© 2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil