We're baaaack . . . not home, but what feels like our second home
by now. (I need to write an entry about "what is home?") This is our
camping here since last February and this time it feels like we've moved in for
I believe I neglected to mention that soon after
Jim ran Ghost Town three weeks ago he decided for certain that he wanted
to enter the Rocky Raccoon 50-miler, held in conjunction with the RR100-miler
on February 7 at
Huntsville State Park north of Houston.
Like Sunmart, which we ran here in December, Rocky essentially has no
limit to the number of runners who can enter the race. Both events are
popular, with hundreds of entrants enjoying southern Texas hospitality
and warmer temperatures than most of the rest of the country in the
winter. The only downside to Jim entering the race so late is that he
may not get a shirt. That deadline was a day or two before he
View of Raven Lodge from the dam
We'd already made campground reservations at HSP for the first two weeks
of February back in the fall when we were making plans for our winter escape,
just in case Jim decided to run Rocky. The campground fills to capacity during
race weekend so we needed to get our dibs in early. We probably would have come
back for two weeks even if neither of us ran Rocky. We'd still have fun in the
sun and get to see lots of friends at the race. We know a lot more of the
runners at Rocky than at Sunmart. That's an indication of how many 100-milers
we've attended the past twelve years.
What we didn't realize in the fall was just how long we would
stay at the park.
HITTIN' THE ROAD
The 313-mile drive from Mustang Island to Huntsville SP on
Monday was quite pleasant until about twenty miles from our
destination. That's when the truck demons struck again.
If you look on a map you can see the most direct way to get from
Mustang Island to the Houston area is to go north through Port
Aransas, the same way we began our loop around Corpus Christi
Bay last week. However, that meant taking the truck-camper combo
on the ferry across Aransas Pass and we weren't up to that
So we waited for morning traffic to subside and headed through
Corpus Christi to TX highways 77 and 59, nice four-lane roads
with more limited access than you'd think from looking at maps.
Except for a few towns along the way, we felt like we were on a
freeway. As on I-10 in southwestern Texas, I think we saw more
RVs and campers heading the other way than we saw semis. There
are lots of sunbirds out and about this winter.
All good things must come to an end, I suppose. Our idyllic
little journey started to unravel when we hit the I-45
construction north of Houston in the 'burb of Conroe. It was as
much of a bottleneck as it was back in December and we couldn't
see much progress on all the road work. I feel sorry for anyone
who lives near there and has to negotiate that mess on a regular
basis. It was stop-and-go for several miles.
But then the REAL problems started.
I'm glad we missed the heavy rainstorm that
rearranged the pine needles
on the trails a few days before our arrival
at Huntsville SP. (2-4-09)
I didn't realize until the overdrive light began flashing that
Jim had noticed some shifting defugalties (one of his favorite
words for "glitches") during the day. They weren't so apparent
that my gut or ears noticed as we were driving along. After the
light came on, with maybe twenty miles left to reach the
campground, the shifting problem became very apparent to both of
us and we were quite concerned that we weren't going to make it
to the park.
We knew it had to be the transmission. Not only would we be in a
real fix if the truck broke down with the camper attached, but
we knew from our Odyssey van's transmission breakdown last
summer that any of the fixes are extremely expensive. We lucked
out with the van because our extended warranty (the only one of
those either of us has ever purchased in our lives!) covered
most of the bill for a "new" rebuilt transmission. But we had no
such warranty on the truck AND we were stuck in an area where we
don't live. We'd be at the mercy of strangers.
It's always something. The F-250 has broken down at some
inconvenient times (e.g., half an hour before LT100 in
2007 and the day before ATY in December) but we have been very
lucky that it hasn't broken down in a remote or dangerous
place* -- or with the camper attached. It's a constant
threat, however, and we've been increasingly concerned about it
as the truck ages (a 2001 model, it's now considered eight years
old) and more things go wrong with it.
* The camper, however, has blown tires three times on busy
freeways, making for very unsafe tire changes two of those
Can we get there before the truck
Long story short, we did make it to the campground on Monday
afternoon and into a site we've used before (not our first
choice) but it was touch and go. We were nervous wrecks by the
time we got there.
Tuesday morning we drove about ten miles into town to run errands.
While I was doing laundry Jim took the truck to the local Ford
dealer to get it checked out. They were busy and asked him to
bring it in Wednesday morning.
Jim didn't make it back to the Laundromat. The transmission died
and he had to get towed back to the Ford dealer. The proprietor of the Laundromat
blanched when I told him where Jim was taking it, and highly
recommended an independent transmission shop "where all the
locals go." Jim ended up having the truck towed there and felt
comfortable with the business and personnel. Although the
estimate to rebuild the transmission on-site made us cringe, it
was considerably less than what we'd have to pay a Ford
Jim came back to retrieve me from the Laundromat in a rental
SUV, which looked ironic parked next to our 5th wheel camper at
the park. What's wrong with this picture??
Rental SUV parked in our original campsite
(first week at HSP)
I'm surprised no one stopped and asked us during the next four
days how we pull that camper with an SUV!
But that's probably because we pretty much had the place to
ourselves all week -- there were very few other campers until
the weekend crowd arrived on Friday. Some were there for the
race but I think most were Texas residents who simply love to
camp. The park is full most weekends throughout the year, trail
race or no trail race. Sunday afternoons to Friday mornings the
campgrounds are almost empty and very peaceful:
View on a weekday from our second campsite
(which we occupied for three of the four weeks)
We decided on Tuesday -- the day the truck died -- to extend our
stay in the park for four full weeks if we could. Usually the
Texas state parks allow reservations for only two weeks at a
time, but since this one wasn't full the last two weeks of
February we were able to reserve a site until March 2. We got a
total of four reduced weekly rates (seven nights for the price
of six), avoided paying $8 a day in entrance fees for the two of
us, and were able to use our remaining two coupons (of four) for
a further reduction of $16.
We really did well with that annual parks pass! Here's the math:
- We paid $60 last February 1. The pass is good until the end of
this month = thirteen months.
- We will have stayed a total of six full weeks and two
six-day "weeks" at three different state parks during this period of
- Our $4 (Huntsville, Mustang Island) to $5 (Galveston Island) per
person per day entrance fees were waived each of those days, for
savings of a whopping $414.
- We got an additional $32 off in half-price coupons (four stays of
at least two consecutive days).
- Grand total savings on our initial $60 investment = $386 ($446 - $60).
Too bad our mutual funds haven't done that well the past year!
Texas residents who frequently use their state parks or visitors
who stay longer than we did can do even better.
View from our campsite on a weekend = every
spot filled (one weekend it was mostly tents and tent-campers)
We didn't extend our reservation because of the truck problem.
It was more of an avoidance tactic! We decided it would be nice to stay one place for an entire
month. The weather is great in comparison to most everywhere
else, including Roanoke, in February (40s and 50s for lows, 60s and 70s for highs),
the trails are fantastic to run and ride, shopping and services
are fairly convenient, and it's a peaceful place to train as we
wait for our next race, the Mississippi 50.
Huh? Where did that come from?
Oh, that idea popped into our heads one day this week as we
tried to think of ways to extend this trip. We never started
with a date certain to return home. We wanted to play it by ear,
see what the weather was doing in Roanoke near the end of
winter, see how much fun we were still having, see if we were
ready to kill each other after three months in such close
proximity . . .
No, not really. There's not much privacy in any size RV or camper and we're
together pretty much 24-7. The most time alone we have is when
we run, walk, or ride by ourselves or go into town alone. Some
couples find they can't RV full time or for months at a time
because they don't have enough time to themselves. So far, this
hasn't been much of a problem for Jim and me. If we need time
alone, we go take a walk or run an errand.
A peaceful escape: the wetlands near
the Raven Lake inlet (2-4-09)
Anyway, recently we've been making more solid race plans for the
year. Since neither of us is in any hurry this time to get home,
we decided to add a new state to our list of marathons and
ultras we've run: Mississippi. The 50K and 50-miler on
March 7 are on trails somewhat similar to those at Huntsville
State Park, the timing is good for our schedule, and it's
literally on the way home. (I'll write another entry about our
other race plans for 2009.)
Now I have even more incentive to get out and train on these
WHERE'S OUR TRUCK??
Until we were relatively certain we'd get the truck back today we were glad we'd
made reservations for a month in case we got stuck here for a
What a great place to get stuck, though!
There was more stress after we took the truck in for the repair. The transmission place said
they'd have the truck ready by Thursday afternoon. Jim called
that morning and was told sorry, they had
to order another part: Friday around noon, they promised.
He called this (Friday) morning. Yep, it should be ready by
early afternoon. Jim returned the rental vehicle to Enterprise
at lunchtime so we wouldn't have to pay for any additional hours
or days. He walked three miles to the transmission shop to wait
for the truck, but it still wasn't ready. One of the guys drove
him about fifteen miles back to the campground and promised to
deliver the truck before supper.
All fixed?? Time will tell . . .
It was hard for Jim to concentrate on preparing mentally or
otherwise for his race tomorrow
but he got his clothes and supplies ready this afternoon, talked
to me some more about crewing strategy, and went to the pre-race briefing and
Five o'clock came. No call about the truck yet. Six o'clock.
Still no call. Jim called the shop and the owner said the two
guys who were delivering the truck should have been here by now.
It was dark and we thought maybe they couldn't find our
campsite. Jim went looking for them on foot.
Then he saw (and heard -- noisy diesel) our truck coming. Turns out, the young men were
delayed by park police who wrote them tickets for exceeding the
strict 20 MPH speed limit through most of the park! (They were driving our
truck and another vehicle to take them back to town.) No, we
didn't have to pay for that!
An hour earlier we had listened as Rocky Raccoon RD Joe Prusaitis
strongly advised runners and their
crews to adhere
to that limit -- the police were going to ticket anyone they
caught going faster. And they did.
Finally. The truck was fixed and back in our possession. And just in time, too. Jim has a
50-mile race to run tomorrow!! Not that he completely stopped worrying
about the truck, though . . .
Next entry: all about Rocky
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil