2011 RUNNING & TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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   READY, SET, GO:
TIME TO HEAD BACK TO THE ROCKIES!

SATURDAY, MAY 8

 
"Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot
change their minds cannot change anything."
 
~ George Bernard Shaw
 
 
Here we go again! We're well on our way to Caprock Canyons State Park in the Texas Panhandle, our first destination on our summer trip.

In this entry I'll talk more about our plans for the next five months, what we did while in Roanoke to prepare for this trip, and special considerations regarding the devastating floods and tornadoes that have plagued the Plains and Southeast this spring.


Early spring flowers along the Wolf Creek trail  (4-12--11)

The photos in this entry are a hodgepodge from our yard, trails we've run/hiked/cycled, and other spring scenes from the Roanoke area.

MORPHING PLANS

I've mentioned numerous times, even joked, in these web journals about our adaptability.

Circumstances both in and out of our control often prompt us to change our plans -- factors like our personal health, extended family situations, vehicle problems, the rising cost of diesel fuel, the weather, or just learning about a new race or destination to explore.

Although it's probably easier for retirees like us to be flexible, I highly recommend that everyone stay as flexible as possible in all aspects of their lives. Going with the flow makes things easier than getting terribly frustrated or angry about inevitable changes in plans.


Beautiful dogwood tree in bloom along the Wolf Creek Greenway at Stonebridge Park  (4-13-11)

Our departure date for leaving Virginia for this trip has been a moving target for the past couple of months. You wouldn't believe all the possible scenarios we've considered. We play "devil's advocate" with each other all the time. Should we do this or that? go here or there? when? how long? what are the advantages? disadvantages?

The two biggest factors impacting our summer trip plans this year have been Jim's knee rehab and weather-related problems between Virginia and the Rockies.

We aren't letting the high cost of fuel prevent us from enjoying our RV lifestyle, at least not yet. We learned that lesson in 2008 when we had a "staycation" at our house in Virginia instead of enjoying what's becoming our normal Summer-in-the-Rockies. We've regretted that decision ever since.

Yes, we'll be spending more on diesel to get us where we want to go this summer. If necessary, we'll compensate for it by cutting costs in other ways.


Horses near the Blue Ridge Pkwy.  (4-12-11)

We have been 'round and 'round about exactly when to leave on this trip and where to go.

At first, it was a matter of even whether to go.

In early April we were still considering selling the house and staying home at least three months while it was listed. Once we decided not to sell (because the housing market is still too depressed) the decision rested more with our medical appointments and what Jim's first race would be.

Jim resumed running on April 12 but we were still debating the advisability of him running a gnarly, almost-33-mile trail race (at altitude, no less) in New Mexico on May 21.

Could he build up sufficient mileage in only 5 weeks, even if he walks a good chunk of it?


We live in the dandelion time warp . . .

Within a few days we decided what the heck, let's go. We can "camp" at low cost in Los Alamos, we can see lots of friends at the race, it'll give Jim a mental boost to run a race again, and we deserve it after all the hard work we've been doing on our house and in our yard.

See how easy it is to rationalize something you want to do??

We selected a date, then moved it earlier when I suggested we spend a few days at Caprock Canyons State Park on the way out. We really like that park and it will break up the four-day drive a little bit.

BAD TIMING

Then another glitch -- not intentional, but one of our own making so we can only blame ourselves.

We could have been ready to leave three days ago but our truck was in the auto body repair shop until Friday. We waited longer than we should have to make an appointment to get it repaired.

Word to the wise: if you need to get a vehicle (or your house) repaired, do NOT wait to make an appointment until after a tornado has hit a nearby community!!

Yes, we had to wait a bit longer than we wanted but the cab of the truck looks good as new:

Cave Spring Auto Body did a great job on it, as they did several years ago when we needed a repair on our Odyssey van.

It set us back over $1,800 for a new sliding rear window on the truck and repairs to the two posts on the cab. We didn't file claims (it was two incidents = two claims with high deductibles) with our insurance company because it wouldn't be cost-effective in the long run.

We did learn a "valuable" lesson or two about making too-tight turns with our too-short truck bed when we're hauling the Cameo . . .

A MEMORABLE SUMMER

So far we have made four campground reservations:  Caprock Canyons this week, the first of two stays at the USAF Academy in Colorado Springs (can't make reservations yet for when we want to be there in July), the Foothills CG in Dayton, WY (for the Bighorn race in June), and Reunion Flats CG in the Tetons in September.

We are unable to make advance reservations at our other intended campgrounds during the summer and fall but if past experience is any indication, we should be able to get into those OK on the dates we want. Some are military installations or state/national parks and forests that are first-come, first-served; others are dispersed NFS campgrounds where we'll boon-dock.

Our schedule this summer will look a lot like last year's agenda. We'll do enough different things in different places to spice it up a bit, but we enjoyed last summer's trip so much that it won't be boring if we repeat a lot of it. There are always enough things left un-done in each location to look forward to the next time.

We're always torn between returning to campgrounds (and races, and trails) we know we like versus rolling the dice and trying new places/races/trails/other experiences.

The biggest changes this year will probably be in the fall. We plan to stay out West longer this time and enjoy the mountains and/or canyons in October. We haven't nailed down specific destinations yet, but they will most likely be in Utah.

WEATHER WOES

This has been an absolutely awful winter and spring for storms all over the country.

  • Much of the West has been inundated with up to or more than 200% of normal snowfall.
  • Serious flooding plagues many areas in the North, Plains, Midwest, East, and South.
  • Ironically, Texas and New Mexico are suffering from drought and wildfires.
  • Records have been set for the number of tornadoes in one storm and the number of resulting deaths.

In light of all the misery in many other parts of the country, we can't complain about the crazy weather we had in Roanoke the last six weeks. When tornadoes ripped through Virginia in mid- and late April we were pretty nervous, but the worst we got was moderate wind and heavy rain during the two storms that wracked other nearby counties.


We had our own sky  drama on April 12 in the Roanoke Valley but no tornadoes that day.
I took this photo of the Blue Ridge Parkway bridge spanning US 24.

With all the big trees surrounding our house, I get real nervous when winds exceed 30-40 MPH. Just one big fallen oak could wipe out our camper, truck, and bedroom end of the house in one fell swoop. Wind damage to the house is also one of our concerns when we're 2,000 miles away.

We're high enough on hilly terrain that we don't worry about flooding. If the land by our house ever floods, the whole eastern USA is in trouble!

We have several concerns right now regarding our trip:

  • How can we avoid tornadoes between Virginia and Texas? We're going right through "tornado alley" during the prime tornado season regardless of our route.
  • How can we get across the badly-flooded Mississippi River? Our original plans to drive through Memphis and Little Rock on I-40, the shortest route, are not viable. I-40 was recently closed in Arkansas because of high water and the river is predicted to peak in Memphis this weekend.
  • What will all that snow in the Rockies do to our plans for camping, hiking, and running races in the mountains in NM, CO, and WY during the first three months of our trip?


Another shot of the fascinating clouds along US 24 on April 12.

For the past couple of weeks we've been tracking the weather in several cities on our way West to see if more large storms are developing. We wanted to find a three- or four-day window of time when the weather looked clear from Virginia to Texas.

It's one thing to be in a house with a basement where you can probably escape death if a tornado is coming; it's quite another to be a sitting duck traveling without a weather radio (yet) in an unfamiliar area in a relatively flimsy RV.

We found such a clear-weather window for the next few days. That was one reason we decided to begin our trip today instead of waiting until later in the week when things might change. We hope our  timing remains good in that regard.

100-YEAR FLOODS

Meanwhile, how the heck do we get across the Mississippi River?? Ironically, we were initially worried about tornadoes along this route. Who knew we'd also have to consider what freeways are under water?

Since I-40 isn't an option now, and we don't want to wait until the flood waters subside in Arkansas and Tennessee, we had to come up with an alternative that wouldn't add hundreds of miles to our journey west.

What about I-20? Can we beat the high water before it reaches Baton Rouge, Louisiana? (It's amazing how long it will take for all that water to travel down to the Gulf of Mexico.)

While plugging various routes into our Topo software, Jim came up with what looked like a better alternative than I-20 and it was only 80 miles farther than I-40, the shortest route -- I-64 through WV, KY, IN, and IL, then I-44 diagonally through MO to Oklahoma City. Then we could follow I-40 to Texas and New Mexico.


One last hike at Explore Park  (5-7-11)

Our only concern with that route was having to cross the also-flooded Ohio River in Louisville, KY. Part of I-64 was closed on Friday when the river crested there; we crossed our fingers that the freeway would be open when we'd get there today or tomorrow.

The Mississippi River shouldn't be a problem with this route because it's north of the confluence with the Ohio River and has already peaked where we'll cross it in St. Louis tomorrow.

Or so we hope! I will still approach that area with a bit of dread. As much as we research road closures on the internet, we won't know for certain until we get there. I'll describe our whole trip to Texas in a couple days; so far, we've made it about one-third of the way.

Please don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining about having to go a different route. (In fact, I-64 is at least as scenic as I-40, if not more so.)

Our inconvenience is miniscule compared to the devastation thousands of people are experiencing from the massive flooding of numerous creeks and rivers through the middle of this country. The destruction of so many homes and businesses, the inundation of millions of acres of acres of farmland, and the serious disruptions in interstate commerce are bound to affect all of us in the wallet before long.

OTHER PREPARATIONS

No matter how many times we prepare to leave on a long trip in our RV, there are innumerable tasks we must do to ensure we can travel safely, have what we really need with us, and get the house ready for our absence.

I can assure other would-be extended travelers and full-time RVers that this process does get easier with time and our to-do lists get better and better.

Still, it's time-consuming and can wear you out, especially when you consider all the other things that you have to do to keep your life in order.


Shady road up Roanoke Mountain, which is located off the Blue Ridge Pkwy.  (5-6-11)

I mentioned in earlier entries about all the work we were doing on our house and yard to make our house show-ready to sell. When we decided (once again) that it was poor timing from a financial sense to do that, we continued with those tasks. It was all stuff we needed to do even if we keep the house another twenty years.

A million other things kept us busy during the six weeks we were at the house. Here's a sample:

  • We had several routine medical and other appointments.
  • We took Cody in for his annual check-up (doing great at eight!) and got six months' worth of heartworm and flea prevention meds.
  • We did as many runs, hikes, bike rides, and YMCA workouts as we could in order to maintain our fitness.
  • We spent entirely too much time doing our taxes (we start that process in December or January but don't finalize it until April because we always owe more money to Uncle Sam . . . ).


Expansive view of the Roanoke Valley and distant "blue ridges" from Roanoke Mountain  (5-6-11)

  • We spent countless hours trying to figure out our secondary health insurance with TriCare; we are convinced the government hires third-graders to process those claims! Thank goodness our *private* primary carriers are much more efficient and accurate.
  • I spent even more countless hours going through several decades of financial paperwork (mostly related to houses we've owned), a lifetime of photos, and 32 years of race memorabilia in an effort to organize and downsize.
  • We took umpteen loads of trash and recyclables to the local dump.
  • We took several loads of donations to Goodwill.
  • And did I mention all those house and yard projects we did??

Adding all of our prep work for a five-month trip to that mix kept us even busier.


Another view from Roanoke Mountain  (5-6-11)

Here's just a partial list of the things we did to get ready for this trip. Let's start with the vehicles:

TRUCK:  

  • repairing the dinged cab posts and broken back window
  • buying and installing two new tires; rotating the older tires; balancing all four tires
  • aligning the front end
  • installing new crank case ventilation and air filters (Jim did that job; he changed the oil and oil and fuel filters in TX)
  • cleaning the interior and exterior thoroughly (we did that, too)
  • reconfiguring the electrical connection to the camper (Jim did that); the auto body repair shop screwed that up when they took the bed off the truck to repair the posts and windows (temporary fix so far)


Jim elevated the camper on the Big Foot hydraulic levelers
when he was checking the tires, brakes, axles, etc.

CAMPER:

  • checking the brakes, axles, tires, battery, solar panels, generator, etc.
  • doing further research on whether to buy new camper tires and what size/brand
  • shampooing the carpet and washing the throw rugs
  • thoroughly cleaning the rest of the interior
  • washing the exterior, roof, and awning; waxing the front cap
  • making a new fitted protective cloth cover for the cherry wood dining table, which Jim uses as a desk for his computer

We also reviewed our insurance, adjusted it when we left (took collision off the van and added it back in for the camper), and signed up for a new emergency road service package with Good Sam when our AAA membership expired. The latter required quite a bit of internet research before we chose a new policy.

Jim also regularly maintains our Odyssey van. It's our primary vehicle when we are in Roanoke but it remains in our garage when we're out of town. When we first returned to Virginia in late March Jim changed the oil and filter and took it in for a free tire rotation. Right before we leave for several weeks or months he adds Sta-bil to about half a tank of gas to keep it from going bad and puts a trickle battery charger on the battery so it doesn't go dead.

PACKING:

We have a master list of things to take on trips with us but that doesn't mean we never forget a thing or two.

Almost everything can be duplicated except some of the paperwork we may need, so we're very careful to be sure we have all of that. Forget the pasta drainer? Buy a new one! Forget our list of computer passwords and we're SOL.

We have a safe in our RV for important and/or hard-to-replace documents. We also take two file boxes with miscellaneous financial paperwork and travel/race information. Each trip we take fewer and fewer paper maps, camping books, and AAA tour books as we increasingly rely on the internet for travel information.

 
Pretty flowers on a shrub on Stewart's Knob  (5-6-11)

I am learning to take fewer clothes each time we leave. Jim's never had a problem with that.

Since I retired my wardrobe consists of my favorite race shirts and jackets, jeans, and zip-off pants that convert into shorts. I dress in layers to accommodate the wide range of temperatures we encounter on each trip. No matter how many clothes I take, I usually wear the same things over and over. It's stupid to take things I'll wear only once or twice. I can keep as many clothes at the house as I want; I don't have to worry about overloading it and causing an accident! Overloading an RV is dangerous.

I am also learning to take less food with us when we leave Roanoke -- or when we're moving from one campground to another.

It's the weight thing again. The only times we load up in transit now are when we won't have ready access to a Sam's Club or Walmart store for a while. It's amazing how much food and other supplies cost in out-of-the-way towns like Silverton or Leadville, CO or Griggs, ID, three places where we like to hang out.

 

The Cameo is loaded with storage space in the basement and interior of the coach. If we filled every nook and cranny we'd be dangerously overweight.

Our cupboards aren't exactly bare but since we've learned to live with much less "stuff" while we're on the road, we have to arrange breakable and heavier items so they don't move around while in transit -- there's that much empty space in each cupboard and drawer!

LAST-DAY TASKS:

It's easy to pack most things gradually over several days or weeks for our trips. The last 24-48 hours always get a little frenetic, however, because there are just some things that can't be done until then. Here are some examples:

  • Van prep, as noted above

  • Give the PO our forwarding address (we get very little mail in VA any more)

  • Check tire pressures on the truck and camper

  • Put enough fresh water in the camper for however many nights we'll be parking at Walmart or Sam's Club on the way out West

  • Hook the truck up to the camper and make sure all the signals work


It was still misty when we left this morning but we didn't run into any rain today.  (5-8-11)

  • Cool down the refrigerator/freezer in the camper so we can transfer food items the night before we leave.

  • Empty the house refrigerator and clean it.

  • Take out last-minute items like our computers to the camper.

  • Clean the house (it stays pretty clean while we're gone, even for months).

  • Call the Sheriff's office re: being gone; they patrol our road regularly and we tell them who has access to our house.

  • Let our main credit card company know we'll be traveling through other states (one time when we did that we still had trouble charging fuel at a gas station in Colorado; an automatic fraud alert was triggered because we'd made purchases in several states).

  • Give any last-minute information to the neighbor who takes care of our property while we're gone.


The flowers looked lush as I took one last picture of them
this morning. I hope the neighbors enjoy them!

  • Take garbage to the dump; we can leave paper trash in the garage but not food scraps.

  • Turn off the water and most electrical appliances (refrigerator, microwave, water heater, etc.).

  • Set the heat pump to a high temperature in the summer and a low one in the winter.

  • Turn on the dehumidifier in the basement (summer only; it usually rains a lot then).

  • Last-minute walk-through of the house to be sure all the windows and doors are locked and we haven't forgotten anything.

  • Make sure Cody is in the truck -- as if he'd let us leave him behind!

And then we pull out of the driveway and shout, "ROAD TRIP!!!!"

Next entry:  how did that road trip go?

Happy trails,

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

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2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil