October to December 2004

I Looked Up and We Were In...

Across the Northeast to Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, 

South Dakota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas; Whew!

Pennsylvania... no, Iowa... no, Oklahoma.... no, Texas...  

October:  3500 miles and 12 states; and still the geese keep passing us by

November:  1500 miles and 4 more states; when will it end?????

December:  end of the road for some of us

It pains me to say that between rushing around like crazy at the time and photo losses along the way since, we have only a few photos to share with this adventure. Our apologies.

The long, slow, lazy summer in Canada was replaced by the speed-demons moving south and west.  A long, long way south and west.  We’ve endured some very cold weather this fall, and tons of rain, but have managed to keep ahead of the snow.  We wondered, in September, as we lollygagged our way across Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and the days got shorter and the leaves started falling; we wondered if we’d stayed too long at the fair.  Would we be hit with nasty, cold weather?  Would the winter rains catch us too far north?  Would it, gasp, start raining white stuff?  

But we still wanted to meander; we had people we wanted to visit in the northeast; Rick wanted to have the motorcycle serviced (for ceremonial purposes, I guess…..) in the Green Bay area, where he had bought the bike; and we wanted to go to South Dakota to take care of some business.  And total truth time?  We would have stayed in Canada even longer if we hadn’t decided we wanted to visit a favorite aunt in New York who (smarter than we are) was very shortly leaving for her winter home in Arizona.

So we crossed over the border back into the States, early in October.  This was an adventure in itself. Ah yes, you say, they ran afoul of the US Customs guys.  No sirree, not us, not this time.  (Just some oranges and grapefruit.)  But the Canadian customs people and Rick had quite a discussion before we left.  It all has to do with that HST tax that’s added onto so many things in Canada; if you’re willing to keep track and provide paperwork and jump through a lot of hoops, you can get some of it back.  Well, we turned out to be a square body jumping through a round hoop.  And Canadian customs people, at the low end of the stick, aren’t any brighter than low-end government people in any other country in the world.  Even Rick was fuming by the time we left…without accomplishing anything… seems, sir, you’ll have to address that to our superiors, by mail.  So okay, whatever.  We’ve written and are waiting for a response.  Film at 11:00.  Ha!

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We finally popped across the border, and were in Maine.  Maine, where we now could get a whole long list of things (decent peanut butter for one) we’d been without for months.  Made a large contribution to the local Maine economy, and were on our way.  And something really cool happened.  For months we’d been without cell phone, etc.  Turned the phone on, made some calls to folks who might be in the area, including a call to someone who was probably in Florida but who had said they “might” be in Fryeburg at the fair, which was just starting up, and trucked on in that general direction.  And by golly, at just the moment we were about to go on past the turn to Fryeburg, she called.  Yup, they were there; so were a passel of other friends; come on down and hang out.  We did; it was great; the fair is still truly a hoot; a grand time was had by all; many surprised folks.

For us, this kind of adventure is one of the real delights of our way of life.  These were all folks we hadn’t known before we left California; folks who could be anywhere at any given moment.  Folks who sometimes don’t answer their phones for weeks; and here we were sitting down to dinner with them at the cutest ‘lil ol’ fair you ever did see.  Serendipity is a wonderful thing.

The Northeast in early October was incredible.  After we left the fair we moved further across, through New Hampshire and Vermont and into New York.  Everywhere the leaves were at their peak, and we cannot overstate how lovely it was even though the weather was generally cloudy.  After awhile, the trees became surreal.  Everything you’ve ever heard about New England in the fall is true, true, true.  And so is everything you’ve heard about the mobs of people, the “Leaf Peepers,” who come to see the display.  This was our first experience back in the land of masses of people, restaurants and campgrounds full to the brim, country villages crammed full of visitors, traffic jams on the weekend, you got it.  But it’s worth it; take the time one year and just go.  You’ll be glad you did.  

We had a quick but delightful visit with our friends who live on Lake Champlain in northern Vermont before spending several days touching bases with buddies in New York.  Down the Hudson River Valley, to see friends who are the 6th generation of their family to live in a charming farmhouse outside Albany.  Their home goes back to the mid-1800s, and they’ve done wonderful things to modernize it some but still keep the flavor of the original.  On six acres, it’s a lot of upkeep, and the next generation can’t see themselves taking over, so the house will be on the market soon.  We were glad we had a chance to visit them there, and, coincidentally, to see their beautiful new motorhome.

Next, heading into the Rochester area, we had a lovely, lovely day driving across the state; New York is really beautiful, particularly along the Mohawk River Valley, quiet and bucolic.  Still didn’t stop to check out any of the Erie Canal sites; I’ve been promised a visit next time through.  He’s been saying this for years.  (Ed: I also keep saying we need to stay in the states some summer to see more of these areas when we don’t have to be just passing through; but Kathy is drawn north to Canada even more strongly than I.)

We passed a used car lot:  “We love bad credit – your approved.”  Rather sell than spell?

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After a splendid, but short visit with beloved aunt outside Rochester (including a piece of grape pie, which she knows I adore), and a trip up near Niagara Falls to spend a night chatting with some buddies who were holed up in a campground near there, we moved south into the Alleghany Mountains of western Pennsylvania.  More incredible, incredible color in the trees.  We were hitting prime “color” all the way along.  One perfect village:  Ellicotville, the epitome of a small town, with leaves in the streets and all the trees in yellows and oranges and reds.  The countryside is all rolling hills, with drying cornstalks adding to the lovely color.  This is an area we would like to revisit at much greater length.  The Alleghenies are beautiful.

Another surreal, serendipitous phone call.  Hello?  It’s Steve, a buddy from San Luis Obispo; going to be in Columbus, Ohio in a few days.  Where are we?  Well, not that far away, actually.  We can go to Columbus.  So left turn baby, here we come!  We had a grand reunion, and an introduction to a truly awesome Italian restaurant, Buca di Beppo; be careful, that place is dangerous! (And, unfortunately, they have them in other places, too.)

Waving good-by to Steve, we lit out for Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, like a couple of nuts.  Why not south?  Well, we had things to do, we were tough, and besides, we were enjoying fall.  By now it was mid-October.  Scarecrows and black cats are everywhere, to say nothing of the pumpkins.  The whole world must buy their pumpkins in the Midwest, there are so many piled at the edges of the fields.  Heaps.  And the colors of fall are so varied.  Beyond the leaves and the pumpkins and the cornstalks, there are at least a dozen different shades of brown.  The clear dirt fields, dried corn stubble, drying hay, remains of pumpkin patches, low fields of grain, sienna-colored drying soy; the richness of the colors is striking.  

On to Indiana:  long straight roads, John Deere dealers along the way, silos being filled with corn and grain.  The fields are flatter now, and larger.  We spent a lovely evening catching up on the news with friends in the small town of Portland (and saw their lovely new motorhome…); then, the next morning we had a very nice late breakfast at Karen’s Café in Hartford City.  Still on back roads, we were headed towards the Chicago area.  As we traveled on, we noticed that we had missed the chicken noodle supper at the North Church in the village of Converse, and were sad to see that the season was over at the Gas City Speedway nearby; but in Peru, along the Wabash, there was going to be a sauerkraut dinner at St. Johns Church.  And in Pisgah they would be running Outlaw Winged Midgets at the raceway the coming weekend – their season wasn’t over yet.  All on a misty morning in Indiana in the fall.  Delightful.  And oh, I almost forgot, outside Ida is Willie Mote’s Used Cars and Auto Parts, the neatest, cleanest junk yard we’ve ever seen.

By the way, have you heard about Indiana’s great quasi Central Time Zone caper?  We never know what time it is when we’re in Indiana.

We crossed over into Illinois, where we could understand the time better, finding ourselves in Iroquois County – the Buckle of the Corn Belt; we drove through the Village of Iroquois: “Welcome to Bunkum” (???).

We looped up and around Chicago, where we had some work done on the coach, then headed for Woodstock to see some more friends.  No not Woodstock, New Hampshire or Vermont  or New York (the REAL Woodstock) or a bunch of other Woodstocks, but Woodstock, Illinois.  Don’t ask me why…..  Woodstock, Illinois is very near Wisconsin.  Our friends have lived there for zillions of years, and we could see why.  A delightful, small town with a lot of class; an area where a person could settle comfortably, knowing Chicago was close enough by train to get to for a visit; with soft, rolling hills (moraines), corn and soybeans drying in the fields.  Peaceful and great.  Oh yes, and we saw their new fifth wheel trailer; seems everyone but us is getting new wheels.

Having caught up on the news, a yummy supper, and a good night’s sleep, we popped up into southern Wisconsin, a lovely area.  You may have heard of the Wisconsin Dells, with pretty streams among high cliffs; there are also many fallow fields as well as corn and soybeans.  Bucolic again.  We were heading into the Green Bay area, Green Bay on a Sunday with the Packers playing at home.  A unique experience.  Green Bay is a great town, small enough to quickly become familiar but kinda cosmopolitan; very kinda, actually.  But we like it there.  We didn’t stay long; had the bike serviced and a growl-y noise looked at (oh, and two new BMW tee-shirts and a hat, ALL FOR RICK).  We have a favorite restaurant in Green Bay that’s right across the street from the stadium (that frozen tundra place….); we had lunch there on Monday, to celebrate the Packer victory of the day before.  The restaurant is full of memorabilia, info on the games, stuff like that.  And damn fine food.

We’re now seeing more and more Canadian geese every day, all headed you-know-where; and Rick saw what the bird book decided were Egyptian geese; tres cool.  

Traveling between Woodstock and Green Bay, you have to decide whether to go through Oshkosh or Oconomowoc.  Leaving Green Bay and heading westerly, you have no such fascinating decisions; our road was well defined.  Mid-Wisconsin has bogs, run by Ocean Spray so you know what’s in them, and we saw plenty of them.  These bogs aren’t nearly as interesting as those in Newfoundland, but they would have to do.  This area has very few red maples, and the fall color is mostly yellows; still pretty.  We came through during the Halloween season; less frantic in this area than the true Midwest; more mellow.  In the Midwest, you cannot go fifty feet without encountering a ghost or pumpkin or pile of hay decorated with scarecrows.  

We happened to be traveling along and listening to “Prairie Home Companion.”  It has more significance when you are in the neighborhood.

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Leaving Wisconsin, we were heading for Iowa; oops, thought we had a real coach problem and nearest place was St. Paul, MN, so took a right turn.  No, everything okay after all; left turn, down  across the Mississippi River (again?), through the surprisingly lovely southeastern corner of Minnesota (past Elwa, she of the Memorial Day Weekend Broiler Festival – chickens, we presumed), and into Iowa.  And there we were.  Iowa is a state where we had never spent any time.  So wow, let’s travel slowly and see some new stuff.  And we really did.  Iowa is traditionally covered with corn and is very green.  In October, it’s covered with drying corn stalks, and not so green.  But the hills of northern Iowa roll along, filled with tiny little towns, mostly where two roads intersect.  Iowa was laid out by plat, and it’s square up and square down with very few curves.  Boring on a motorcycle, that’s for sure.  But there’s an appreciation for the perfection of the line.  

Everly, Iowa is the home of the Cattlefeeders (but not, apparently, the Everly Brothers).  Riceville is home to the North Iowa Boar Semen facility; for those of you pining for boar semen.  Spillville, where Dvorak spent one lovely summer, is a pretty little Czech community that honors him with a museum and annual festival.  We went through Hartly, where the Hawks are #1, past many snowmobiles for sale along the side of the road.  Iowa is the home of Kum & Go gas stations, snow removal ordinances, pretty parks in each and every little town, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder memorial Highway (boy did that lady get around!).  We also found time for Rick to stop for a visit at the Winnebago factory and later on at the Born Free factory… hmmm.  In western Iowa we drove along through the Loess (luss) hills near the banks of the Missouri River, past St. Joseph, home of the Pony Express.  It was cold at night, getting down to 23 degrees, and we kept on trucking, following those geese.

On into November, and we’re in Missouri, in Independence at the Truman Museum.  This is a very exciting place for us; having recently read David McCullough’s biography of the great ole guy, we were anxious to learn more.   We spent several hours wandering around touching history in the best way possible.  This is a fine museum, in a charming old town; regardless of your political leanings, do try and visit it one day.  

We were now heading for Texas, slowly and gently.  We moved south through Missouri; the grass is still green now, crops still being harvested, and there are still some leaves left on the trees.  Pecans for sale beside the road, and it’s a bit warmer again.  The outskirts of Kansas City are really pretty; this is horse country.  A nice place to visit further, another time.  Kansas City calls out for a whole day or two for itself, but it will have to wait.   

Oklahoma was calling, too, so we wandered across the line to say hi.  In the little town of Fairland, we passed Wild Irish Rose’s Antiques, Rustiques and Uniques, unfortunately sporting a “Quit-N” sign.  Increasingly, we saw open cattle range, and horse pastures.  We went through Berneice, home to Vicky’s PVC birds, for sale all over her lawn.  We did spend a few days in the northeastern corner, near Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees.  What a moniker!  Lot’s of low-key resorts, and a quiet campground which we had all to ourselves, out in the middle of nowhere (including no phone coverage…..again).  

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We were getting a LOT of rain, but on one fine day we ventured out on the bike and went over to Bartlesville.  Bartlesville, Oklahoma?  Why, you might ask?  Well, it seems Frank Lloyd Wright built his one-and-only skyscraper there, Price Tower.  It was really cool; very FLW-ish, and under preservation.  Bartlesville was built on oil, and the tower was built for someone who made his money in piping for oil wells.  The tower was later sold to Phillips Petroleum, who has recently donated the property to the city.  The building contains an art museum, part of which is devoted to the furnishings FLW designed for the offices in the building.  A very complete experience.  As we walked away we noticed the offices of the OK Mozart Festival, stopped for a chat and a plug for our own festival, and went to lunch.  We ended up at Murphy’s Steak House (best fries around), next to the Git & Split Mini-Mart.  A delightful day.

Oklahoma only has two cities, ya’ know:  Tulsa and Oklahoma City (sorry, Ann Aronson; and sorry, too, to Bunnie and Dean).  The rest is all superfluous.  But somewhere out there is Wagoner, where you can sign up for concealed gun training classes; this is near Mazie, home of Johnnie Ray.  Wagoner is also home to Tommy Biffle, world champion bass fisherman.  We beat feet past Muskogee on the turnpike and headed for Arkansas.

Ah, Arkansas; now you’re really in another neck of the woods!  You cross that state line and you have entered THE SOUTH.  Stopped at the visitor’s center just across the border and it was a different world.  Sweet syrupy voices, friendly folks talkin’ ‘bout catfishin’ holes. It was great to be back.

The fields were still green and lush, the trees were in full fall color; western Arkansas is a pretty place.  The most developed area in the northwest part of the state is Fort Smith, unfortunately suffering from urban sprawl.  But it did have a Panera Bread and we were interested in stopping.  Panera Bread has free Wi-Fi access.  You know about Wi-Fi?  It’s like, man, like totally cool.  We have an antenna we bought for the laptop.  You put up the antenna and it links onto the broadband inside the restaurant, you’re on the internet, and you can just go for it … all for free.  There are more and more free sites all over the country; we’re trying to keep a list going.  This is going to help us solve the problem of no cell phone coverage sufficient to send/receive e-mail, and no ability to get on-line to use that tremendous resource.  Oh, yes, and Fort Smith is the home of Dora’s Pies, specializing in meringues; not bad.

We drifted south, spending a couple of nights near the big resorts at Hot Springs, although that area leaves a lot to be desired – waterslides ain’t us.  Going through the little burg of Y City (yes, the road does fork there) we could have purchased concrete razorbacks for a song.  No takers?  You must not be University of Arkansas fans.  We visited an extremely nice automobile museum nestled in the hills nearby.  It contained a very good collection, in part because of several donations from Winfield Rockefeller; his ranch was nearby.  We saw our first dead armadillo of the season beside the road.  Getting close to Texas.  Further south; more and more wooded; this is Weyerhauser country.

And then, and then, we were in... Texas.  Crossed the state line in Texarkana (there’s a hoot for you:  half the town is in Arkansas, the other half in Texas; inquiring minds ask:  Why? Why? Why?  You can straddle the line and have your picture taken… We passed.)  First thing we saw was a Dallas Cowboy Pro Shop; bet they aren’t doing much business this season.

Eastern Texas is forested, green, and next to Louisiana, and they have had a ton of rain this fall.  We passed cypress swamps, bodies of water called bayous, and landed in Nacogdoches.  We like this town; it’s the oldest town in Texas, and very proud of that fact.  A good place to hang out for awhile, but we were on our way a bit further south, to Livingston, where we hung out for a week or so (good Wi-Fi connection, for one thing), taking advantage of the facilities at the home base Escapees park.  As it turns out, we’d be back in Nacogdoches in December, and get to know it very well.

In Livingston we made some major, difficult decisions.  It was time for a change.  While we loved the kitties, Kathy was getting REALLY tired of cleaning up after them.  For some time we’d been nosing around, hoping to find someone who would enjoy having them be a part of their lives instead of ours – all of you were given an opportunity, but no takers.  But then, we struck pay dirt in a really interesting fashion.  In checking various animal shelters in east Texas, Rick happened to talk to a very nice lady who said she normally could not be too optimistic about placing four-year-old cats, but she had just that morning taken a call from people traveling in their motorhome who were looking for a mature cat or two who could travel with them.  Wow; call it fate or chance or just plain good luck for us.  Jeremy and Agnes are now living in a much larger motorhome that travels part time; otherwise they can be visited at home in Othello, Washington;  near Spokane.  They were adopted by a lovely couple who travel part of the year and who’s favorite hobby is riding the rails in their speeders; these are two-person rail buggies powered by small motors (they have several of them, both regular and narrow gauge).   These are the little cars you see right on the railroad tracks used for repairs and such.  There is a large organization (naturally) of people who do this for fun; they cart the speeders on trailers to a piece of track they want to ride and have themselves a fun weekend.  Bet it’s a gas! 

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We had an extra impetus to find homes for the cats -- NOW:  we’ve also said good-by to ‘Arvey, and have found ourselves a new motorhome, a cat-fur-free motorhome that we intend to keep that way if at all possible.  Maybe a little wheel-envy, after visiting three different sets of friends with new rigs?  Or maybe just another fortuitous circumstance.  Anyway, to make a long story very short:  When we first started looking at motorhomes back in ’99 we (especially Rick) almost immediately fell in love with the coaches built for the past thirty some years by a small company in Nacogdoches – Foretravel.  They are expensive (when new) coaches with all the money going into the mechanical and functional basics, not into glitz and glamour like so many competitors.  They have a great reputation for holding up over the long haul and are just really, really well built – one of those ‘the closer you look, the better we look’ type things.   Well they make a 34’ model that we have always thought would be what we’d want if (a) they came down into our price range, and (b) we were ready to move up from the Trek.  Sure enough, sitting on a lot here in Foretravel country was just such a model, coincidentally from 1999.  Owned by a 93 year old gentleman who’d kept it in his barn down in Louisiana and hadn’t driven it too much, just under 25,000 miles on it.  We couldn’t resist.  We spent a couple of weeks getting things done to the new coach and preparing to move out of the Trek.  A lot more work this time than when we moved into the Trek out of the motorcycle.  We’ve attached a picture; no doubt more pics will be forthcoming.  It is a really lovely coach and we’ve named it Fred; nicknamed “The Plaza”.

We are getting used to our new wheels, and are also looking forward to the holidays, which we are spending in the San Antonio area.  One daughter, Lauri, will be joining us for several days, and we are excited at the prospect of seeing her and showing her around one of our favorite areas.  San Antonio is west and a bit south of Nacogdoches and Livingston, and drier.  At Christmas time it is a visual treat, with the lights along the Riverwalk; we’re going to have FUN, FUN, FUN.  After the holidays we aren’t sure where we’ll be – hopefully someplace warm and dry.  We’ve endured plenty of rain this fall, and are ready for it to stop, already!  Even though this area is drier, they’ve had record rains here this fall, like much of Texas.  The Guadaloupe River is over its banks, and the road from our campground into San Antonio goes along it for several miles; sometimes there is water over the road, and many nearby areas are under water.  

The trip across from Nacogdoches to Austin and San Antonio in the Foretravel was without problem; boy it rides nice.  We passed the small town of Hutto (around here, probably pronounced “Hut -2”), and circled many medium-sized towns that had loop roads or belts.  Hmmmm; belts and loops and … belt loops?  Hay bales on the side of the road are now being used to make snow men and reindeer.  We skirted the burg of Thrall, not wanting to be caught “in …”

It sometimes surprises us that we have both begun and ended this year in Texas.  While we like the state, very much, we might have expected to be elsewhere in December.  But this is just fine, too.  We’re trying to slow down a bit, and in Texas you can cover a lot of ground without going very far.

And so we end another year on the road.  We are now at three years and counting in this wonderful new life of ours.  This year we’ve covered just under 24,000 in the RV(s) and another 12,000 on the bike; visiting thirty states and five Canadian provinces.  This is down somewhat from ’03, but not from lack of trying.  Our very best wishes go to all of you for a lovely holiday season, wherever you may be.  Glad tidings, don’t eat too much (put DOWN that box of candy), and may all your wishes come true.

Rick and Kathy, alone at last.

 See more photos from the US in 2004

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