2017  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

Lake McIntosh @ Line Creek Nature Area, Peachtree City, GA

 

   
 
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   2017 YEAR-END TRAVEL & ACTIVITY REVIEW

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 31

 
"Travel does not exist without home. If we never return to the place where we started,   
we would just be wandering, lost. Home is a reflecting surface, a place to measure
our growth and enrich us after being infused with the outside world."
 
~ Josh Gates,  Destination Truth: Memoirs of a Monster Hunter
 
 

"Wandering" isn't so bad, is it?

We had a lot of fun, for the most part, wandering around North America in an RV for most of thirteen years. We never felt "lost" the last three years of that when we were house-free. Our comfortable 5th-wheel coach was "home" no matter where it was parked.

Jim, our fur kids, and I are what make "home," not the permanent or rolling residence we are living in.

However, 2017 marked another significant change in our lifestyle as we temporarily gave up traveling full time in our RV and bought another house. It quickly became "home."


Our new "Home, Sweet Home"

My year-end reviews on this website from 2005 to 2016 have usually included a summary about the places where we traveled that year, the total camper mileage, and the average daily campground fee we paid. I often compared these figures from one year to the next.

We also traveled extensively in 2004 with our camper after Jim retired but we didn't start the website until the next year.

I'll just cut to the chase this time -- instead of listing miles and fees at the end -- and tell you we traveled far fewer miles this year than any time since we retired in 2004 and hit the road big-time. Our total distance with the camper in 2017 was a meager 288 miles -- from Kings Bay Sub Base in St. Mary's, Georgia to Uchee Creek Recreation Area at Ft. Benning, Georgia. 


Lakeside sites at Kings Bay Sub Base, where we spent part or all of four different winter
seasons during the years we traveled extensively or full-time in our RV

After that, we put the Cameo in storage at Ft. Benning until we decide to go somewhere else again.

Compare that with the years we drove to Alaska from either Virginia and back (2012 = 11,435 RV miles in five months, plus additional miles after spending the winter earlier that year in Arizona) or to Alaska from Arizona when we were full-time RVing in 2015 (10,738 total RV miles that year).


Magnificent bull moose on the Williwaw Lakes Trail near Anchorage, Alaska  (August, 2015)

[From 2004 to 2014, when we owned a house near Roanoke, Virginia, we usually made two lengthy trips each year, often out West. We racked up quite a few miles those years driving cross-continent in the spring and fall. Back then I counted miles for our "summer trips" and "winter trips," not for calendar years.]

Average camping fees per day this year were similar to other recent years when we mostly chose RV parks with full hookups over campgrounds with few or no hookups. We just spent many fewer days in the camper in 2017.

This year we lived full time in the Cameo at Kings Bay Sub Base from January 1 to March 25 (total of 84 days) at an average cost of $19/day (based on the monthly rate) for full hookups, WiFi, cable TV, a large site by a scenic lake, and all the amenities of the large Navy base:

Above and below:  our spacious site by the lake at Kings Bay Sub Base, GA

We spent four nights at the Uchee Creek Recreation Area campground at Fort Benning in Columbus, GA at a daily rate of $27 for the same amenities as Kings Bay, then put the camper in storage on base before closing on our new house in Peachtree City, GA.

That made a total of only 88 days in our camper this year.


Our site at Uchee Creek Rec. Area, Ft. Benning, GA

Those campground costs are typical of what we paid at various other military RV parks around the country during the course of our travels the last thirteen years. Most comparable private campgrounds/RV parks cost significantly more than this. We haven't done much free or inexpensive boon-docking (dry camping) in recent years.

WHY WAS THIS YEAR SO DIFFERENT?

Bottom line, after thirteen years of so much RV travel, including full-time RVing the last three years, we OD'd on RV travel . . .

. . . not because we ran out of places to go and things to do, but because it became too frustrating to continue. I explained in an earlier entry this year most of the reasons why we decided it was time for us to stop traveling and buy another house.

The main reason is that too many other people are embracing the RV lifestyle, a function of both a recovering national economy and more Baby Boomers retiring.

RV shipments this year topped half a million units. Granted, not all of those rigs were sold to people who are new to camping -- either for vacations or living in them full-time -- but many of them were. And an increasing number of people are renting RVs for vacations.

Therein lies the problem for us -- too many people wanting to use too few RV park and campground sites.


We found a nice private RV park 15 miles from Bryce Canyon NP and spent a month there three different 
times in the spring and fall of 2015-2016. We did day trips to other UT parks and national monuments.

We can no longer enjoy the spontaneity we had for the first nine or ten years of our travel adventures. That took a lot of the fun -- and adventure -- out of it.

Unless you're boon-docking, and we don't do much of that anymore, reservations are required for any decent campground or RV park and they must be made well in advance, sometimes as much as a year.

That's not practical for even a two-week vacation, let alone folks who travel in their RV full time!

In addition, campgrounds are becoming too crowded and it is very difficult to find a decent place to stay in or near popular national and state parks.


The only reason we got campsites at Riley Creek (above) and Teklanika campgrounds at
Denali National Park in Alaska in both 2012 and 2015 was by making reservations
early the first day they opened up online in December of the previous year.
Both campgrounds were more crowded in 2015 than in 2012.

I realize we were part of the problem ourselves. I get that.

Other veteran RVers are just as frustrated as we are, especially folks who've been traveling for a decade or more and have seen the discouraging changes in recent years.

We're just glad we had a good nine or ten years when it wasn't so frustrating to find nice campgrounds, and reservations weren't required so far in advance. At least we know how much fun it can be.


Cody enjoys playing in the snow in Segment 25 of the Colorado Trail during
a long hike in early July, 2011. I've gotta go back and do that trail again!

Ironically, a similar thing was happening to ultra-distance running when we had to stop running several years ago -- a proliferation of new runners testing their endurance levels, making it increasingly difficult for us to gain entry into some of our favorite races that didn't previously have participant maximums or lotteries.

However, in that sport many new race events have begun to accommodate the increasing number of participants.

It's still difficult to gain entry into iconic races like the Hardrock 100 or Western States 100, but at least there are well over a hundred 100-mile events now on the calendar instead of just twenty when I began running that distance. That literally helps to spread out the field of entrants. And there are many more new trail and road ultras at 50K, 50-mile, 100K, and other distances from which to choose.


Trail near Grant Swamp Pass on the Hardrock 100 course, Silverton, CO area  (6-27-09)

Can't say that about RVing -- there hasn't been a corresponding explosion of campsites to accommodate all the new RVers. It's just too complicated and expensive to build new campgrounds.

That means veteran travelers are competing with all the enthusiastic new RVers for the same campsites. The last three years, when we were full-timing, were increasingly frustrating and stressful as we had to compete with more and more people for the same coveted campsites in desirable locations.

It just wasn't much fun anymore, so we opted out for a while.

HOME BODIES

Now we're perfectly contented to be in our new home, learning more about our new community while we take a breather from traveling so much.

Fortunately we agreed mutually and at the same time last winter that we wanted to buy a house.

It took a while to decide where we wanted to settle -- that's been an ongoing discussion since we sold our last house in 2014 -- but once we narrowed it down to Peachtree City, Georgia through painstaking online and personal research, our next task was finding the perfect neighborhood, house, and yard in that area.


Our street at sunset; our house (middle of photo) is mostly hidden by trees in this view.

We didn't find the *perfect* house or yard but I don't know how we could have picked a better neighborhood. Our neighbors are welcoming. Our house is well-built, relatively small, updated, and -- with no steps inside or out -- it's great for aging in place.

I explained in a previous entry many of our criteria for choosing where to live out the rest of our lives -- climate, cost of living, taxes, housing selection, crime rate, medical facilities, shopping, recreational opportunities, scenery, and other things that affect quality of life.


Oops. I don't remember "snow" being on our wish-list . . .  (12-9-17)

Even though we no longer run, we are still active, athletic seniors. One of the things we required in our new neighborhood was safe and easy access right out the door to safe, scenic paths to walk and ride our bikes. Almost every other house where we've lived required driving to reach suitable paths or trails.

Several potential locations had all or most of our criteria -- except the one about proximity to safe, interesting walking and cycling right out our door.

What put Peachtree City at the top of our list is its fabulous network of over 100 miles of hilly, paved multi-use paths through quiet wooded nature areas, past scenic lakes, parks, and golf courses, through handsome neighborhoods, and to many businesses in town.

The scenery is peaceful and attractive during all the seasons:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our short, wooded spur to that network of paths is about 250 feet down the hill to the end of our cul de sac:

That's actually better than having our yard back up to one of the paths because the folks who do, lose all or most of their privacy:

We expected to use the paths a lot for walking and cycling, and we have for the past nine months. We're out on them just about every day, rain or shine -- even new, wet snow:

We walk several miles daily with the dogs and on additional solo walks. Jim routinely logs 60-80 miles a week on his bike. I ride, too, although not as often as he does. We've both covered almost the entire network of paths by now on foot or by bike and golf cart.

We have had a lot more fun than we expected riding the paths on the golf cart that came with our house. All three dogs love riding in it, too:


Cody and Casey say, "Let's go!! "  (5-29-17)


Now Holly-pup loves to ride in the cart, too.  (8-27-17)

Over 11,000 golf carts are registered in this city of about 35,000 people. It's obviously a popular way to get around town and an activity for which Peachtree City is remembered by anyone who visits here.

People use the paths for recreational purposes, taking their young kids to school, going to the grocery, vet, doctor, church, WalMart, Home Depot, Target, etc. Although there are three golf courses in the city, most of the folks who own golf carts don't golf.

It's a kick to drive past MacIntosh High School on a school day and see more golf carts in the parking lot than cars! Many kids are happy to drive a golf cart instead of a car, and they can do it at a younger age.

Another new toy is the one-person kayak we bought in June so we can explore the three large lakes in Peachtree City. I took this picture while I was rowing on Lake Kedron:

Jim's arms are stronger than mine so he's been out on the lakes more than I have.

In the next picture, Casey wanted to follow him as he started out one time on Lake Peachtree, before it was partially drained in September to build a new spillway at this end of the lake:

We also know it's important as we age to do strength training. Although we've previously used YMCAs and private fitness centers regularly during our lives, we only occasionally used gyms on military bases after we sold our house in Virginia in 2014.

We recently joined a fitness center in Peachtree City that has a very low monthly fee ($9.95 per person) and no contract. Now we have access to nice Star Trac and Magnum weight machines, cardio equipment, and free weights. We aren't as interested in the pools or classes but can upgrade our memberships if we want to participate in those activities later.

Although we get cardio workouts when we walk and cycle, it's harder to get our heart rates up than it was when we could run. The machines help us get our hearts pumping harder and the weights are good for strengthening our muscles.

THE EYES HAVE IT

So do the knees and hands . . .

Another reason we're glad to have a stationary house this year is having good medical continuity again. As we get older we're having more medical issues, although none as serious as cancer, diabetes, heart problems, etc.

Other than poor eyes, teeth, and joints, we're in pretty good shape for our age. We try to stay as active, fit, lean, and healthy as we can.


Hiking with Casey (and Holly, not shown) at Line Creek Nature Area in December

We usually found good medical providers around the country during the years we traveled extensively, even when we were full-time RVing and it was no longer practical to use the doctors we had in Virginia.

Last winter while we were hunkering down at Kings Bay Sub Base in far southeastern Georgia we found a good orthopedist in Brunswick that gave me my regular knee injections and did Jim's partial knee replacement surgery.

I also found a good opthalmologist who removed cataracts from both of my eyes. After wearing prescription glasses or contacts to see long distances for 57 years, I'm very pleased to see clearly with my implanted lenses (IOLs = inter-ocular lenses). Now I only need inexpensive over-the-counter glasses for reading and other close projects.


Graphic from Mayo Clinic website showing removal of cataract
and placement of new inter-ocular lens where the natural lens used to be

However, I knew I'd need both knees replaced in another couple years or more and would prefer to have the convenience of living in a house and not just the RV at that time.

Little did I realize when we bought this house in late March that I'd need those knee replacements this year. That realization came about rather suddenly in May, when the gel injections that had been keeping me moving comfortably for the last eight years stopped working after only a couple of months, not the six or eight months they originally cushioned my knees.

It was too early for more visco-supplementation in June and the cortisone shots I got then from my new knee doc didn't last very long either. Rats.

I had finally run out of viable non-surgical options and scheduled my first of two total knee replacements for September. A few days ago I got the second knee done. My recovery is going well after four days and I'm looking forward to getting back to lots of hiking, cycling, and kayaking in the spring.


Very relevant cartoon:  Pearls Before Swine  (12-5-17 by Stephan Pastis)

I'm so glad I could do both of my my knee recoveries in our comfortable single-story house and not in the Cameo, like Jim did. I have no steps to climb up and down, a lot more distance to walk from one end of the house to the other (that's good for rehab), and a second bed to sleep in when I need to get up several times during the night to bend the knee and move around.

In addition, I can walk farther outside on our patio, in our grassy back yard, up and down the street, and on the nearby cart paths on smoother footing than Jim had in the RV park with nearby gravel and sand roadways at Kings Bay last winter.

I had another unpleasant surprise during the summer -- a retinal tear in one eye -- which necessitated finding not only a good opthalmologist sooner than expected in this area, but also a retina specialist.

I found both in the nearest office of the large Thomas Eye Group and had surgery that sealed up the tear in the retina and eliminated the weird lava-lamp and light-flashing effects. That was a new medical problem we weren't familiar with. We soon learned a lot about it.


Watching TV on the day of out-patient surgery in July for my retina tear

Another new medical problem was Jim's cubital tunnel syndrome and recent surgery on his dominant hand/elbow to release the ulnar nerve. He may need surgery on his other hand in the future for a "trigger finger."

<sigh> As they say, getting older isn't for sissies. Even if you try to stay fit, weird things can come up that you aren't expecting and never even heard of.

JIM'S NEW ULTRA-DISTANCE GOAL

Thankfully, Jim's second knee is in good condition and the one with the partial implant has healed fully in the first year. Now he's going to the same orthopedist who did my knee surgeries for periodic follow-ups on his knee implant.

Dr. Schmidt recently gave Jim the OK to train for ultra-distance walks/hikes -- as long as he does no running (i.e., pounding). He has entered Gary Cantrell's "A Race for the Ages" (ARFTA) in Tennessee next Labor Day weekend.

 

I highlighted Jim in this photo from the 2008 Across the Years race in Phoenix, AZ.
He participated in the 24-hour race that year. There are also 48-hour, 72-hour,
and 6-day races in the event, which is held at Camelbak Ranch now.

ARFTA is an event tailored to Olde Pharts like us who used to run ultras but can no longer make the cut-offs in fixed-distance races (e.g., 100 miles in 30 hours or less). ARFTA a fixed-time race where participants have as many hours as their age in years to walk and/or run as far as they can. Since Jim will be 70 just before the race, he'll have 70 hours to get in as many miles as he can muster, walking.

In the meantime, he's looking for some other fixed-time running/walking events he can use to train for ARFTA.

Jim hasn't found any cycling events he's interested in riding during 2018 but he might do one or more of those, too. He bought a new, lighter-weight hybrid bike (Specialized 2018 CrossTrail Expert Carbon) this year after having multiple problems with, and repairs on, his Specialized Stump Jumper mountain bike.

This is his new CrossTrail bike:

He still uses the Stump Jumper to ride with Casey:

If I get the same go-ahead after both of my total knee replacements have been in for a year, I may decide to participate in the 2019 version of the ARFTA race, when I'll be 70.

Many of the race participants are in their 70s and 80s, and many of them are folks we knew from ultra running events many years ago but haven't seen since they, or we, stopped running.

AND BABY MAKES THREE

In late July we adopted a new little Casey clone we named "Holly." She's a yellow Labrador retriever from the same kennel in northern Virginia where we got Casey and has some of the same paternal genes. She'll be seven months old on January 2.


Holly at six months of age


It looks like Holly, in the foreground, is daring Casey to come get her.
They love to chase each other around and through the tunnel in our yard.

No one was more surprised than I was when Jim casually mentioned in June that it would be a good time to get a puppy for Casey to play with. Casey loves other dogs but Cody won't play with her any more. In addition, we now had a house with grass and a large fenced back yard, and no plans to travel any time soon.

A good time for a puppy, I thought?

Those points made sense but that would make three dogs in our house. Neither of us has ever had three dogs at one time. Could we handle the chaos?

We both decided we could, despite my eye surgery before getting Holly at the end of July and my first knee surgery when she was only three months old. She's been a handful, as most puppies are, but her main fault has been her high energy and waking us up too early in the morning, not being destructive or "bad."


Cody, Casey, and Holly soon after we got the puppy


Holly kissing Calvin the Golden retriever during a recent doggie play date at
a nearby farm with a large fenced pasture where the dogs could run around.

Holly's great fun to have around, always doing something to amuse us. She's also a good match for Casey, who turned five in August but still has a puppy's brain and energy. 

Cody tolerates both of "the girls" pretty well for an old fella with arthritis and doggie dementia.

He's almost 15 now but can still hike on trails with me for about a mile. He has lived longer than we ever expected. It will be a tough decision when we have to put him to sleep one of these days. We need to do that before his quality of life deteriorates too badly. For now, he doesn't seem to be in pain, his appetite is as good as ever, and he appears to enjoy life.

2018 PLANS

We currently have no set RV travel plans for the coming year but we are just as likely as ever to make a surprise decision to go somewhere. As my brother used to say, "You can do that!"

After scheduling my second knee replacement for late December, we cancelled our tentative reservations for an RV site at Kings Bay Sub Base in St. Mary's, GA and the Blue Angel Recreation Area in Pensacola, FL for December, January, and February. I'll still be rehabbing my knee in February and neither campground allows three dogs, just two.

But mainly, we're still happy just hanging out in our house, neighborhood, and community!

Jim has gotten involved doing various volunteer jobs with several military groups, including working on the electronics of old Huey helicopters from the war in Viet Nam. The aircraft are located in a hangar at the Atlanta Motor Speedway:

 

He has also joined the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Another thing he'd like to do is play the trumpet at military funerals -- but he has to learn how to play his new trumpet first! If that doesn't go so well, he'd at least like to volunteer in some other way at the funerals. One of his brothers does that in Illinois and derives a lot of satisfaction from his participation.

I'm pretty sure we'll get the urge to travel again but neither of us knows when that will be.

Above and below:  The fall leaf color in Peachtree City was gorgeous in November and December. This
area along the cart path about a mile from our house was spectacular with red Japanese maple leaves.

Tentative plans include traveling to northern Ohio sometime next year to see Sue's brother, his wife, and other family members, and to the Philly area to visit her sister.

We also plan to go to that foot race I mentioned in Tennessee in late August, and perhaps one or more additional events Jim wants to use as training for it. We miss a lot of our ultra running friends so it would be good to see them in person again.

Next year's web journal may have even fewer entries than this year's. Meanwhile, I've still got most of the 2016 journal to complete. That will be fun, vicariously re-living our last full year on the road to great places in Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado.

Next entry:  ????

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, Casey, and Holly-pup

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2017 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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