2010 RUNNING & TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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  HERE WE GO AGAIN!  FIRST LEG OF
OUR SUMMER TRIP = VIRGINIA TO TEXAS

SUNDAY, MAY 9

 
"When you're safe at home, you wish you were having an adventure.
When you're having an adventure, you wish you were safe at home."
 
~ Thornton Wilder
 
 
 

This time we had a fairly quick 30-day turnaround at our house in Virginia between extended road trips. We were happy to be there for about a week, then we were ready to get back out on the road in the Cameo again!

Four weeks gave us time to visit with several friends and relatives, conduct some business, determine that it's still nowhere near time to put the house on the market to sell because it's a total buyers' market, thoroughly clean the camper and house, install the solar panels on the Cameo and make a few other modifications to it, do some yard work, see our local medical providers for several routine appointments, and get out for some good trail runs and hikes.

Since I'm short on photos for this entry, I'll include some current pictures from our yard and Roanoke training venues.

April 7:  dogwoods, fruit trees, and daffodils (foreground above) were done blooming when we
got back to Roanoke but we saw the peak of redbuds (below),  azaleas, and irises before we left again.

Even a month in Virginia did not give me time to catch up on this journal, so some of the spring entries may be uploaded out of order. Check the topics page periodically to see if more March/April entries have been finished.

Packing for this trip was a non-event. Every time gets easier, as we purchase more duplicates and leave more things in the RV at the end of each trip.


May 6, last morning at the house: Jim washes the truck and camper before we hit the road again.
Note the difference in leaves and flowers in just one month: irises and peonies blooming now.

I didn't even use a list this time to be certain I didn't forget something important that isn't easily or inexpensively duplicated. After four days on the road, I haven't thought of anything I wish I'd brought. Jim's list was more about things to do than things to take; we followed it to the letter. (Those tasks involve utilities, mail, insurance, security, and such.)

We just can't resist the call of the road . . . or the lure of discovering some more interesting places in this beautiful country of ours!

WHERE TO NOW?

We just "landed" in the Texas Panhandle, specifically Caprock Canyons State Park southeast of Amarillo. We'll camp and explore here a few days before heading up the road a bit to an even larger canyon, Palo Duro. Since we want to see more of the Texas state parks, these two sounded like good scenic places to pause on our way to Jim's next race in Los Alamos, NM later this month.


Several of the canyons at Caprock, as seen from the park road near Honey Flats Campground

Jim's got an interesting list of races he plans to run during this extended trip and we'll return to Hardrock and Leadville to work those events. Our itinerary will take us to New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Utah, and maybe some other western states.

Between races and other commitments I've got my dibs in for a few scenic national and regional parks I'd like to visit, too. I may not be able to run any more, but I can still hike and bike with the best of 'em and I love exploring new places.

We hope you'll enjoy this summer's continuing adventures and photos.

A LEISURELY JOURNEY

The 1439-mile trip to Caprock Canyons from our house in southwestern Virginia was uneventful. The less drama on the road, the better! Our route was simple: get on I-81 west of Roanoke, follow it south to I-40, and head west until we get near Amarillo, TX.

Unlike most of our trips across the country, we allowed an extra day to reach our first interim destination this time. We had several reasons:

  • Jim wanted to drive more slowly to be sure the camper's solar panels didn't dislodge in the wind. They are mounted more forward on the front cap of the Cameo than they were on the HitchHiker. He also mounted the panels a little higher than they were before to allow more air flow under them; that keeps them cooler and increases the power output. We joked about "lift" and going airborne down the freeway but the panels rode just fine. Jim did a great job installing them.


Jim took this picture of the solar panels from the roof of the house.

  • Going slower would also give us better fuel consumption. Traveling west from Virginia to the Mountain Time Zone means generally heading into the wind and increasing elevation = lower average MPG than going eastbound. Diesel prices are 30-40 per gallon higher than when we began our winter trip in December and over a dollar more per gallon than when we drove this same route almost exactly a year ago. We kept the speedometer at 60-62 MPH most of the time instead of 65-70 MPH.
  • We had the time. Although we made specific reservations for the campgrounds at Caprock Canyons and Palo Duro Canyon State Parks, we were pretty flexible re: when we left Virginia. That almost unraveled, however, when our dentist told Jim he needed a wisdom tooth pulled "now" and recommended I get a root canal "soon." That was three days before we planned to leave! The dentist was able to pull Jim's tooth during that appointment. My tooth doesn't hurt, so I'll put off a root canal until it does. We've always been able to find suitable medical care while we're on the road, although sometimes we have to drive a good ways to find a provider that's in-network.

We roughly divided up the 1400+ miles into segments of one afternoon (I had my last medical appointment the morning we left), one full day, a second full day, and one morning on the road. Although we ended up driving farther the first two days than originally planned because of late afternoons in the 90s (too hot to park without electrical hookups), we stuck to that basic plan and just drove fewer miles the last two days.


Scenic view along the Canyon Loop Trail at Caprock Canyons SP in Texas

Distances of 286, 523, 416, and 214 miles made for a much more leisurely trek than covering the whole chunk in three days at an average of 480 miles a day. We enjoyed being able to start later three of the four days, stop earlier in the afternoon, and not have to rush so fast during our daytime stops.

I vote for future trips like this with less stressful distances planned each day!

DIFFERENT STROKES

We aren't the type to stop at obvious "tourist traps" when we're traveling across the country -- you know, the biggest this, the weirdest that. For one thing, we're usually in too much of a hurry trying to knock out 500-600 miles a day, which is more difficult hauling an RV than ripping down the road in a passenger vehicle.

We took our time on this trip and still had no interest in that sort of thing.

We got a laugh recently when one of the couples on a Carriage 5th-wheel internet list asked frequent travelers what "don't miss" places they'd recommend seeing on a leisurely two-month trip from Florida to Oregon in their Cameo. They are relatively new full-timers who haven't traveled much previously and are excited about all there is to see and do in this country.

 
Wolf Creek Greenway near Roanoke on April 7:  early spring leaves and flowers

What they failed to mention was what sort of things they are interested in seeing and doing. Of course, that left the thread wide open for other people to suggest things they are interested in seeing and doing!

There were some great responses (in my opinion) that included various national parks, scenic drives through the Rockies and along the California coast, cool cities with lots to see and do like Denver, Santa Fe, and San Francisco, and people's favorite restaurants and campgrounds.

The third response that was posted, before most of these more obvious suggestions were made, was simply, "Don't miss the Cowboy Hall of Fame."

Huh? We had to laugh about that. Not "Don't miss the Grand Canyon" or "Don't miss the San Diego Zoo," but "Don't miss the Cowboy Hall of Fame." Of all the things to do and see in that 3,000-mile cross-country tour, this was the ONE "most memorable" thing he chose to recommend. Either it is extraordinary in some way or this guy is really, really into cowboy lore -- or maybe he has some financial interest in the place!


Another section of the Wolf Creek Greenway three weeks later: 
dense leaves and shade look like summer already.

We didn't see a billboard for the Cowboy Hall of Fame along I-40 in Texas or Oklahoma (I don't remember where he said it is located) and wouldn't have stopped if we had. The only time we'd check out a place like that is at a location where we're staying for several days for other reasons. For some  folks, however, it's apparently more of a destination in itself.

Different strokes. That's one of the things that makes life so interesting. Wouldn't it be boring if we all enjoyed the same stuff??

A NEAR-PERFECT DRIVE

Like I said, this trip was a non-event and that's good. High winds or a tire blow-out along a busy freeway, for example, can really ruin an RVer's day!

Throughout our journey to Texas we experienced minimal road construction, few traffic slow-downs, and no wrecks that we know of. We avoided rush-hour traffic in the major cities through which we passed on Thursday and Friday; timing is everything.

Most of the rest areas we passed through Virginia on I-81 and Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas on I-40 were open this time. Several were closed on this route in May and December, 2009.


Spidorwort blooms next to barrel cacti in Caprock Canyons, TX.
At our house in VA, spidorwort mingles with bearded iris instead.

We loved all the bright green grass and new spring leaves through every state, as well as the numerous roadside wildflowers -- bright pink and purple phlox, nodding yellow and white daisies, cream and orange Indian paintbrush, perky blue spidorwort, sweet-smelling honeysuckle, and many others. The eastern half of Tennessee is especially beautiful this time of year. We thoroughly enjoyed the thick green forests and beautiful mountain scenery there.

I didn't take any pictures of the passing scenery until we got off the freeway and into canyon country on TX 70 and 86 near Caprock Canyons. The interesting metal cut-out signs throughout the little town of Turkey, Texas caught my eye, including this one at the town limits:

 

Turkey, Texas. Dontcha just love names like that? I found some good ones on the Oklahoma state map, too, like Alfalfa County. Most states have charming rural monikers like this.

The weather during our trip west was sunny, clear, and warm (hot, even) the first three days, then overcast this morning as we drove the last three hours to our destination. Headwinds were more breeze than wind, helping to keep us cool at bathroom/food/fuel stops and overnight stops at convenient Sam's Club and WalMart parking lots.

< groan >  WalMart again? you ask.

Yup, we stayed "free" at those fine establishments all three nights on the road. It's not like we're taking advantage of them. We bought several things in each store!

While I was purchasing some supplies and making sure it was OK to stay overnight Friday at one of the WalMart stores, Jim and Cody took a walk around the parking lot and found one of our very best Big Box parking spots yet:

No way I'm divulging where that one is!

We promptly moved from the much busier side of the lot with the Murphys fuel pumps to this quiet little corner with a huge shade tree and cool grass for Cody right out the door. Another bonus was discovering that the Murphys station had diesel fuel; that's not real common at Murphys or Sam's Club stations, in our experience. AND Jim even found a WiFi connection to "borrow." When we find an unsecured connection like that we do not do anything financial or confidential on our computers but it's useful for getting e-mail and surfing the web.

We really lucked out at that location. As always, we are very appreciative that WalMarts and Sam's Clubs are so amenable to allowing us to park overnight (not "camp") in their lots when we're in transit from Point A to Point B.

TENNESSEE FLOODING

Despite recent tornadoes and over a billion dollars worth of flood damage in and around Nashville five days previously, we didn't see any structural damage from the storms in the western half of Tennessee on Friday. I was driving when we approached the city around noon and decided at the last minute to take the bypass south of town to avoid lunch-hour traffic hassles downtown. We probably would have seen some of the damage to buildings if we'd gone straight through on I-40.


It has taken many thousands of years for the Red River to carve its way through the Caprock Canyons.

Out in the country we did see plenty of muddy creeks and rivers that were still higher than normal (including the mighty Mississippi River) and lots of uprooted or flattened trees along streams. Debris and mud way up in remaining trees along streams showed just how high the water really got.

Many fields were muddy or still held standing water. We could see low places on I-40 between Nashville and Memphis that had been under water. Parts of the freeway were closed right after the storm but we encountered no detours late in the week.

We are glad we missed these storms by several days and hope residents who were seriously affected by the devastation (and too many deaths) are able to resume normal lives as quickly as possible.

RUMBLE GRUMBLE

The main downsides during our trip were the higher fuel prices I already mentioned and bumpy roads here and there, especially through Oklahoma.

There weren't many potholes on I-40. What I'm griping about is a particular type of concrete freeway construction with frequent expansion joints that become rougher as they get older. As the surface deteriorates, it looks like asphalt or another black material is spread into the widening cracks as a temporary fix until the roadway is so awful that it's finally dug up and replaced. The thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump every second gets really, really old and we worry about the camper bouncing so much. That can't be good for the frame or components -- or our computers, TV, and other sensitive technology inside.


Explore Park near Roanoke, VA  (4-10-10)

These sections aren't that big a deal in a comfy passenger vehicle but in a pick-up, towing a camper, it is very obvious when we enter and leave these annoying stretches of pavement. We both breathe a big sigh of relief as soon as the surface is smooth and quiet again.

Mississippi has a lot of rough pavement like this, too. It's not just in states like Oklahoma with harsh winters. I'd guess it's more of an economic thing, not having sufficient state or federal funds to make repairs sooner.

Still . . . I'm glad I live in an era when the freeway system is so efficient and convenient in our country. 

This year is the 100th anniversary of the RV industry. The first motor home was built in 1910. Fifth-wheels and travel trailers came a few years later.


Lots more leaves at Explore Park by May 2

You can read a short history of the industry and see photos of several early models of campers at this link for the May, 2010 Good Sam Club's online version of Highways magazine. This is a pdf. file that downloads quickly with WiFi or broadband but will take a while to load if you have a dial-up connection. Check out pages 4-5 and 30-32 for information about RV history. There's also a travel feature on Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick.

Can you imagine how difficult it was to travel across one state, let alone the entire country, back in 1910 when very few roads were paved -- or several lanes wide??

I have to remember that whenever I'm annoyed by rough pavement in 2010 . . .

SIRIUSLY?

So . . . when we got a fantastic deal on our Dodge Ram truck in February, 2009 . . . we also got Sirius satellite radio free for one year. That wasn't a factor in our decision to buy the truck because we'd never had Sirius service and didn't know much about it.

Sirius? OK. That's nice.

Sirius was a handy thing to have on remote stretches of road where we couldn't get anything that interested us on local radio stations, but when the freebie expired at the end of February we ignored all the company's appeals to renew it for another year at $12.95/month. It wasn't worth that much to us.

We joked about how cheap it would have to be for us to subscribe and actually pay for the service. We agreed that maybe we'd do it at $5/month but we were so busy while we were at our house in April that we totally forgot about Sirius until we got a call this past week, only a couple days before we were leaving on this trip.

I was at the other end of the house when Jim answered his cell phone. I could hear him dickering over the price of something but had no clue what the conversation was about. I kept doing what I was doing.


Our spacious, green campsite with a shaded picnic table at Caprock Canyons SP

A few minutes later Jim came into the study with a big grin on his face. He'd been talking to a sales weasel from Sirius. Every time the guy offered a lower price, Jim told him the service still wasn't worth that much to us. I mean, we have plenty of CDs we can play if we can't find a radio station we want in the middle of nowhere!

Finally the guy came down to $5/month, if only for five months. That sounded pretty cheap. Jim said he wanted to see the details in writing, though. That cost us an extra dollar total ($26 for five months) but we had the deal in writing, we knew for certain that it really was Sirius with whom we were dealing, and we were able to conduct business with our credit card on a secure internet site.

Always gotta be careful when someone else initiates a sales call, you know. Of course, we wondered if we could have gotten the guy to come down even more if we'd held out longer!

We appreciated having satellite radio on some long, isolated stretches between cities the past four days. There will be more desolate areas like that before we head back East. Our five-month subscription will last about as long as this trip across the country. Then we'll let it expire again until 1) we're ready to start our next trip in November and 2) the price is right!

You just have to not be desperate for a service like this, then try to wear 'em down to a price you're willing to pay.

Next entry: exploring Caprock Canyons State Park

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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