Wednesday, December 21, 2011

We Don't Carry Hitchhikers

As we approach departure date (1/13 or 1/14), I'm getting serious about planning the route and possible stops -- looking at a couple of new options in Louisiana before we head over to Texas.  We have gathered a lot of information and it is fun to look over used birding checklists and campground maps -- and to read Mary's diary for the highs and lows of past trips.

Today, I am working on the Airstream a bit -- got the heat on this morning and decided to move it into a better position in the driveway with my Kubota tractor.  Not the brightest idea I've had this week.  After slipping and sliding and making thing worse, I got the truck set up and gee's and haw'd around the icy driveway, getting the trailer positioned for loading.  Our driveway is tough -- steep, little room for turning, with a ditch on one side and ledge outcroppings on the other.  It's one reason we stay with a 25 foot trailer and even then, it's quite a challenge.  I ripped a long pipe holder off the bottom departing last year when I cut a corner too tight.

About half way through the process, after a lot of jostling with the tractor, I spotted a little deer mouse departing from underneath and scurrying across the frozen ground to under the front deck.  "Well," I thought, "one less traveler to take along."  I went on with my business but just as I finished unhitching the truck, another mouse did the same thing. 

So, it's time to set the mouse-traps.  I hope they like Smucker's peanut butter, even if it is low fat.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Waiting to Launch

For the first time, I've had our Airstream at an RV dealer for repairs and maintenance -- in the past I've done it myself.  However, with cold temperatures, the prospect of repacking wheel bearings lost any appeal it might have had and I also knew that I needed to get the unit inspected.  So I dropped it off at a local outfit, Mekkleson RV in East Montpelier, VT who service a handful of Airstreams out of the many hundreds of RV's they handle each year.

To make a long story short, they did a fine job.  They found problems in the electrical system which they fixed through better grounding and work on the plugin -- and more importantly, found that one set of brakes was not working.  An electrical line had parted, probably in the awful trip up our driveway last March, so they got those working and a fresh new inspection sticker in place.  We are ready to go.

A full moon sets over the snowy/frosty Airstream as the winter sun rises behind us.
We've got a month to go before departure and we are starting to gather gear and think through our trip options.  I'm thinking of hauling both or one of the kayaks this time since we are so often near water.  Given the need for a dog-sitter, it's unlikely that both of us would paddle together so I think we'll end up taking Mary's boat, which I can cram into and take both sets of paddles.

It's not too early for me to start worrying a bit about the first couple of days of travel -- getting below the snow zone.  I just sent Mary a picture of our final day last year during our return, and I can hear the groans from the other room.  We need less excitement this trip.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Traveling to Mosquitoville

The trip down our driveway (see last post) without swaybars as uneventful and the Airstream’s back bumper did not dig into the road and the bottom dip as it usually does (thanks for the tip, brother Barry).  We navigated through busy downtown Montpelier at noontime and soon were laboring up the long hill on I-89.  Always forget how tough that is to climb with a trailer in tow.

The trip down was rather easy, with a little construction here and there and moderate traffic.  We stopped for a Subway sandwich at a mini-mart in Warner, NH where we often pause enroute.  Of course, with the trailer behind, it’s a challenge to find parking.  I pulled up in front on the highway, right next to a “no parking” sign, and jogged in to order a sandwich, leaving Mary and the dog in the truck.  Just as I entered, I noticed a police car sitting there.  The officer was in side chatting and I said, “I just did a quick illegal park out there - but my wife’s in the truck and I’m just grabbing a sandwich.”  He deadpanned, “Well, I guess I’ll have to write you a quick ticket!”  Then with a grin said, “You’re all right there.”  He had me for just a minute.

We found a shaded spot to eat, sneaking into the Airstream so the dog didn’t hound us for food.  She ended up with some tasty leftovers and we were on the way.

Penny's not completely convinced that this will be a good stay.
The driveway into Jennifer’s is a challenge -- just a back-in off a rather busy road and the driveway is winding.  I had been game-planning it for the last part of the trip and with Mary’s help, we did fine.  However, like Vermont, this area is experiencing a major outbreak of mosquitoes spawned by all the excess water from Hurricane Irene.  They were all over Mary in a flash, and we put on bug dope a little late.  We did get leveled off in our rustic parking space and look forward to a good stay here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Getting Ready

The grass is growing up between the wheels of the Airstream and there are cobwebs under the back bumper.  The trailer has sat in the yard for a couple of months, surviving Hurricane Irene, and now we're ready to take it down to Massachusetts for a week of family visiting.  We'll boondock in the woods outside our daughter's house so the battery, which is been slowly draining from phantom loads, is plugged into house current.  I've got the extra battery charging as well.

We want to get the refrigerator ready -- it's been sitting with the doors open -- and it's always a hassle to purge the lines enough to get it to light on the gas system.  I run the gas stove, then light off the water heater, and after many tries, get the refrigerator going.

One of our problems has been getting out of our steep driveway without pulling off the back bumper.  I'm going to try something my brother mentioned and not hitch up the sway bars, thus leaving the trailer rear a little higher, until we have negotiated the bottom of the driveway.  We'll see.

The foliage in Vermont is turning color around here and the area is full of tour buses and tourists.  We'll get out of their way and be back in a week and it will probably be at peak then.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Naturally Curious -- Book Review

There's only a limited number of books you can keep in an Airstream library but here's one to carry, especially if you spend time in New England.

Naturally Curious is a wonderful book given to me for Father's Day upon the recommendation of the owner of a local birding supply store.  It is set up by month so I started in June but then realized that the warblers were in May so I backtracked.  I then read July and August and loved the detail and all the factoids on a variety of natural items.  Naturally (pardon the pun), I gravitated to the birding sections but learned a lot from the insect and plant sections as well.

This is not a book you can't put down -- I took a break for a few months and started again in late August, re-reading August and then doing September.  I kind of savor the content -- not wanting to get too far ahead but rather following the months as they occur.

Let me give you example of the type of information I just find fascinating, this from a writeup on yellow-bellied sapsuckers:
"By far the most frequent visitor to sapsucker wells, other than sapsuckers, is the ruby-throated hummingbird. Like the sapsucker, it is in search of sap as well as insects that are attracted to the sap, and has been seen following sapsuckers as they visit their wells. Tree sap is similar to flower nectar in the amount of sugar and nutrients it contains.  When hummingbirds first return to New England in early May, flowers are few and far between, so tree sap, available to hummingbirds thanks to yellow-bellied sapsuckers, is a lifesaving substitute. It seems more than coincidental that the spring arrival of the ruby-throated hummingbird and the height of yellow-bellied sapsucker drilling occur at the same time."
This is one of those "read a little, absorb, read some more" type of book.  It's focused on New England but has a lot of information that is applicable in other sections of the U.S.  It's one of those books I'll go back to, time and time again once I finish it.  I'll likely read it monthly next year as well.  I highly recommend it as a book to have on your Airstream bookshelf.  What a perfect gift from a wonderful daughter.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Brazos Walking Sticks

Everyone needs something or someone to lean on for support once in a while. Backcountry explorers are no different, whether it is a pair of Walking Sticktelescoping hiking poles or simply a thick stick picked up along the trail. A pole or stick can assist with a wide range of backcountry situations from crossing a beaver dam to descending a mountain. This extra support becomes even more important as one gets older when the knee and hip joints need relief from the stress caused from hours of hiking over arduous terrain.

Although most hikers use the typical high-tech aluminum telescoping poles, there still remains a few who prefer the old-school wooden hiking sticks. These sticks are often found along the trail, especially near tricky wetland or beaver dam crossings. Occasionally, a hiker might develop an attachment to one of these sticks, removing the stick from its native habitat to live out a life as a trusty object of support and balance.

An alternative to these options is to buy a wooden hiking stick from Brazos Walking Sticks.

Brazos Walking Sticks makes a wide selection of walking sticks, canes, and accessories. The company's walking stick line are an attractive alternative to the high-tech hiking poles for anyone but the most aggressive mountain climber.
Brazos products come in a wide variety of wood types including oak, cedar, ash, maple, cherry, pine and others. Each walking stick or cane is handcrafted by one of their gifted artisan craftsmen in central Texas, not far from the company’s namesake, the Brazos River. 

Read complete review by Dan Crane in Adirondack Almanac

Photo by Brazos Walking Sticks

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Waiting through Hurricane Irene

Living in a rural area in the path of a hurricane (or tropical storm) with hundreds of miles of power lines and thousands of trees, combined with heavy rain and wind, make losing power almost a certainty.  Our power has already flickered so all the clocks are blinking and showing the wrong time - but we’ll find that manual for setting the oven stove yet.  Once electricity goes, we lose the water pump, the stove and oven, and the refrigerator and lights.  But we have a nice backup plan sitting in the yard, our Airstream travel trailer.

So yesterday, in pre-storm preparation, I added water to the ‘stream for ballast, checked the gas stove, started the gas refrigerator, and checked the battery charge.  The pads are down and it should ride out the storm nicely -- and allow us to make coffee in the morning.

When I walked the dog early this morning, the trails were already flooding in places, but the birds were singing in the light steady rain.

They have been stoking up on thistle seed and sunflower chips all morning and in between downpours, a couple of hummers tanked up at their feeder.  We’ve had soggy Chickadees, Song Sparrows, American Goldfinches, and Hairy Woodpeckers and a Downy.  A placid Mourning Dove has sat through squalls in the crabapple tree, watching it all.

Hey I'm wet and molting -- ditch that camera!

Wet but hungry Hairy Woodpecker

Momma Hummer tanks up in the rain

Man, it's wet up here.  How about some room service?

The birding blogs are full of hurricane-related activity, starting with the wonderful story of the radio-equipped Whimbrell who made it through a few days ago.  Birders are looking forward to post-hurricane birding -- here’s an article from Connecticut and one from Albany

Here’s what Brian Pfeiffer, one of our top birders just wrote:
"Hurricane Irene's passage through Vermont is an opportunity for rare birds. Increasing winds today may deposit odd birds nearly anywhere in the state. Please use common sense out there; this is a dangerous storm. We need not lose anyone to high water, falling trees or downed power lines. Common sense is a far better thing than a Sooty Tern.

But do take note of what may be flying over or floating in large waterbodies. The Connecticut River will also be worth investigating. So will flooded fields for that matter. Monday morning may also be a fine time to search for the rare stuff. The hurricane of 1938 brought Cory's Shearwater (Wheelock), Greater Shearwater (Rutland), Leach's Storm-Petrel (Barre, Norwich, Rutland, St. Johnsbury), White-tailed Tropicbird (North Danville and Woodstock) and other delights to Vermont that particular September. When your neighbors call to report "a strange bird" in the yard, take it seriously. Go investigate if it's safe to do so..."
 So, today's a nice day to curl up with a birding book and think about possible new birds in your area.

I plan to check our nearby reservoirs tomorrow to check for wind-blown vagrant birds.  Be safe and tonight, most of us can hum, “Goodnight Irene.”

Friday, June 24, 2011

Shakedown Cruise

After several months of repairs to the underside of the Airstream damaged last winter in our dramatic arrival  (belly wrap aluminum sections, plastic bannana wraps on front and back, and the replacement of the steps and step light), we started cleaning the inside.  I won’t mention the condition of the refrigerator.
Loaded up and ready to go camping
Having made reservations over at Groton State Park’s Stillwater Campground, we hooked up and launched Tuesday mid-day and gingerly worked our way down the driveway and road.  The trip is only about an hour and the traffic was light.

Vermont parks don’t have electric or water services and seem to be more set up for tent and lean-to campers.  The sites are generally pretty small and close together.  However, we chose an empty site which was spacious and being mid-week and before the major family camping season, was pretty isolated.  It even was level.

It felt good to settle into the routines of the Airstream even though the temperature was in the 80’s -- quite hot for Vermont.  We got the kayaks set up and went for a short paddle before supper.  Groton Pond is dark from tannic acid and lined with camps -- it’s crazy on the weekends with a lot of boats on a small body of water.

We opted for a movie on the computer instead of a campfire Tuesday night.  Everything on the camper worked fine although the noisy water pump could use some muffling.  We checked out the campground showers (two quarters for four minutes) and rated them excellent.  In fact, the overall appearance and cleanliness of the restrooms, the sites, and all facilities was exemplary -- the staff and volunteers do a great job.

Wednesday was cold in the morning -- 49 degrees or so -- and I lit off the propane heater for a while.  I got an early morning paddle in -- freezing my hands -- and later took the dog for a long run alongside the bike.

Rain later in the day cancelled any campfire plans but we were snug in the ‘stream and glad to be in such a beautiful setting.  We decided to pack up the next morning and head home a bit early since the weather forecast was not good.  Another easy trip and except for dragging the back bumper on the driveway turn (another repair job), it was excellent. 

All in all, a successful re-entry after months of letting the Airstream sit.  It’s nice to have it ready to go as we look at the rest of the summer.  We also need to start thinking about winter travel for 2011-2012.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Last Mile

The trip home was long but easy -- until the last day. All we had to grumble about were the school breaks in Texas and Louisiana which clogged the state parks on weekends. We cruised up the Natchez Trace, enjoying great weather, and survived I-81 through Knoxville and spent a wonderful evening at Lake Claytor State Park in Virginia. Sitting under a tree in shorts watching the lake, we knew that this was the last time for this in a few months. Little did we know....

Tuesday, we decided to cut a day off the trip and made a rather long drive to a Walmart in Pennsylvania where we had stayed before. It was cold and windy but we had a restful night although I did awake once and here a little sleet or something on the roof. Early that morning, we noted that the windows were fogged up and opening the door, saw about three inches of wet snow with snow coming down hard. Of course, all our winter boots and coats were buried in the back of the truck.

After walking the dog -- who like us could not believe the conditions -- we did some online checking and it didn’t look good. The Walmart folks had big plows going all around us but traffic was moving and the temperature was about 29.

At first, it looked like we’d have to stay. With no wifi, we were checking weather via our IPhones and the forecasts further north looked better. We decided to give it a try.

The first hour or so on I-81 was dicey with tractor-trailers driving like it was July spraying us with slush. We chugged along on wet roads as the salt did it’s thing. After an hour or so, we pulled off in a rest stop -- to encounter a jammed exit. A truck had broken down and another, trying to get around it, had got hung up. It looked like we’d be spending hours stuck in line. Fortunately, after about 30 minutes, the drivers got things cleared and we were heading north, into improving weather.

It was a long drive and we were tired when we hit Vermont. The temperatures were just under freezing so I thought (wrong!) that the dirt roads and driveway would be frozen.

We have a tough driveway even in good weather. It’s a situation where once you start up the road with an Airstream, you are committed -- there is no place to turn around on the whole road. Well, we started up, regretting it at once as we saw the mud and ruts. We only have to climb several hundred yards and then make a sharp right turn uphill. I got to the turn and knew that we were dead meat - it was way too narrow. Committed, I gave it a try in four wheel drive but soon was completely hung up, with the Airstream completely blocking Wood Road and the truck stuff in the driveway. We were sick.

Soon, traffic began backing up on both sides of us as I tried to find our shovel -- which was, like our boots, buried in the back under all sorts of gear. Several guys who live up the hill offered to help and I got my Kubota going and tried to clear out the banks. It was too tight and I came very close to hitting the truck with the bucket, several times. I thought we might be stuck for hours or longer.

Someone suggested trying to pull with the Kubota which does not have chains but is 4WD. We got my logging chain hitched to the front of the Ford, and a neighbor got in the truck to drive it, and very tentatively and slowly, we pulled the truck and trailer out of the road and all the way up the driveway to the top. I couldn’t believe it -- and didn’t worry about some bent stuff under the trailer -- we can fix that in the spring.

So, after driving 6500 miles or so, the last quarter mile was the worst. We are fortunate to have good neighbors and a tractor that earned its keep. We also learned a good lesson -- either leave the Airstream elsewhere or come home later next year. So it may be April in 2012.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Why Penny Stays on Leash

In Texas, we dealt with feral pigs and javelinas, so it was very unusual to let Penny off-leash. Armadillos were something to chase but not to fear.

Here in Louisiana, there are signs posted warning of alligators and since it is March, I was a little skeptical. Until today. We did some great birding (see birding post) at Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge and I saw a pair of eyeballs looking at us while we drove a birding trail loop. A refuge volunteer, in response to Mary's question about problems with 'gators, told her in a great Louisiana accent that "we lose a couple of dogs now and then..."
At the Sabine NWR, as I stepped on the observation platform and raised my binoculars to look up the channel for birds, this guy, almost at my feet, nearly stopped my heart. He just laid there on the bank -- but he was big -- and likely pretty quick. Penny was in the truck and will be on leash until we get back into less hostile territory.

Mosquitoes, 75 degree temperatures, and a stiff breeze off the Gulf made it feel like July in Vermont. Trees have leafed out, flowering trees are doing their thing, and this weekend, everyone seemed to be starting their yardwork and early gardening. Another day here and we start slowly north to Natchez.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Adios, Texas

After nearly a month in Texas, we just crossed the Louisiana line and are going to spend some time at Sam Houston Jones State Park in Lake Charles where there is warmth and wifi.

From Goliad State Park, we went back for a great stay at Goose Island State Park. We then traveled north to a little park at the City of Navasota which turned out much better than last year. It was windy but warm and aside from the fact that we had three dogs right next door on one side, and one on the other, things went well. We stayed hitched up and headed out in the morning.

Last night we stayed at Martin Dies State Park in Jasper, Texas. It's spring break for Texas schools and all parks are packed with families. While it's wonderful to see little kids fishing and biking, it seems like most Texans have little yappy dogs that just annoy the hell out of Penny .. and me. They would not even be a mouthful for her. Again, we stayed hitched up and made an early getaway for the short yank east and south to Lake Charles.

We've been here before and like the place. Louisiana parks have great wifi throughout the park -- the first we've seen in over a month. There are some good birding places not far from here that I want to check out before we start wending our way home.

Watching the weather and not in a big hurry to trade 70's for the 30's. Off the take Penny on a hike before dark, although with the daylight time, it will be better. Saw two new birds yesterday -- hoping to do the same this stop.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Aluminum Envy

While camping at Goliad State Park, which we like for its history and access to town, I spotted an Avion travel trailer -- sort of an Airstream spinoff -- and stopped to ask the folks the age of their rig. Turns out that Jim and Katy have a 1983 34’ Avion which, when I looked briefly inside, showed me how classy some of these older units can be. It sort of looked like an old Pullman train car, with polished dark wood, and got me thinking about future options for us.

They have owned quite a few older rigs over the years, starting with a tiny Airstream. Unlike my brother Barry, who tends to tear them down to barebones and rebuild the trailer, Jim noted that they look for rigs that require some TLC but not major work. Lacking Barry’s skills and patience, it sounded like a better plan for me.

So, who knows. Once we get home and situated, we may put the 1999 Safari on the market and look for something older with more character. While the Safari is rather lightweight and thus easier to pull, I’ve never liked the tackiness of the interior. It’s very much cheap plywood throughout.

On the other hand, I can’t get a 34-foot unit up our driveway -- even once the snow melts -- given the sharp turns off the road. I don’t want to have to buy another truck to haul a heavier rig. So we will be checking load capacities and give it some thought. Meanwhile, since Jim and Katy live here in Rockport, we’re going to try to have coffee with them and pick their brains a bit.

Meanwhile, I’m already reading the Airstream forum want ads and “watching” a couple of Avions for sale on eBay. Stay tuned.

Have you read my vtbirder blog?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Turning the Corner

Sitting in Fort Davis, Texas in an Airstream rocking from 60 mph wind gusts and then enduring a dust event that reduced visibility dramatically and made one think of what the settlers endure, we confirmed that for this trip, we’ve gone just about far enough west. We had thought about New Mexico (no plans for Arizona with their craziness) but opted to head 250 east to Junction, Texas where we are enjoying a small quiet state park called South LLano River.

It’s a big hunting area (in deer season) and the hills are dotted with hunting blinds and jeep trails. The deer are plentiful but very small, even by Vermont standards. This area is also host to nearly a thousand wild turkeys who roost here every year along the river. Roosting areas are blocked off during nesting season but the turkeys come out to forage every day and are lovely.

Yesterday we went to town for some needed laundry and groceries and for me, a haircut. I love these little Texas barbershops -- this one was owned by a good ol’ boy who has been cutting hair since 1950 -- that’s 61 years. His shop on Main Street is festooned with all sorts of photos and memorabilia and he was great fun to talk with -- and a good barber. No politics or sports -- just local history.

He and I found that we had a thing in common -- we had both served aboard the U.S.S. Hancock, CVA-19. He was aboard it as a barber during the Korean conflict and told me some interesting stuff about the installation of the steam catapults. (I had over 200 cat shots off that ship 15 years later.) He told of how the “Limey engineers” (the Brits developed steam catapults) help install them and how the ship spent nearly a year test firing them -- shooting cars and trucks into the waters off San Diego -- before they tried planes. It was a good visit and good haircut for ten bucks.

The local supermarket -- a Super S -- is the only show in town. This western chain, according to my sources at the park office, comes in and buys up the competition and then charges what the traffic will bear. One of the rangers told me, “Most folks go to Kerrville for groceries.” Knowing it was a ways off, I asked the distance. It’s 55 miles one way.

When I told him that I was continually amazed at the distances people in Texas drive for most everything he said, “Heck, when you can go 80, it’s only 45 minutes.” (And I-10 speed limit is 80.)

We decided to shop locally -- we’ve got plenty of driving ahead of us. Goliad tomorrow.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Farewell to Big Bend

Afternoon temperatures approach ninety degrees finally got to us and as much as we loved the spectacular scenery of Big Bend National Park, we decided to move north to slightly cooler climes.

It was also frustrating to be constrained so much with the dog -- since she could not go on trails even with a leash. And, the long drives and gas at $3.75 got old after a bit. Still, it was a wonderful place to get to know a bit - and well worth the drive. (The photo of Mary was taken at Sotul Point, and also shows the gap for the Elena Canyon of the Rio Grande far off.)

Right across from our campground is the Mexican village of Boquillas Del Carmen -- a very small community that is quite isolated. Years ago, before 9/11, it was a common practice to cross the river and have dinner in one of the informal cafes -- usually in people’s homes -- and get a taste of authentic Mexico. Now, the closest legal border crossing is 100 miles away or so.

Mexicans -- probably youngsters -- cross the river nightly and leave items for sale on rocks where Americans will see them -- usually with a note listing suggested prices and a small jar for money. Carved walking sticks, simple jewelry -- all illegal as can be. It’s tempting and as Mary said, she’s tempted just to leave some money. We bought our walking sticks, from the town through some special legal arrangement by the Park Service, at about three times the price on the rocks. If only the extra money went across the border. (The sunset photo shows some of the items in the foreground.)
We left Big Bend and drove close to 100 miles before leaving the park -- then headed north through some tough country up to Alpine -- where the famous Cowboy Poetry Festival is taking place this weekend.

Just twenty miles north is Fort Davis, named for Jefferson Davis, who was Secretary of War when the fort was built back in the middle 1800’s. It’s a cow town -- the largest community in the county -- but likely not an Obama hotbed. We are camping at Davis Mountains State Park, which is just out of town and at elevation 5,000 or so, is ten to fifteen degrees cooler than big bend. Some good birding here and it should be a good stay.

In a “small world” happenstance, we are camped next door to a couple from Barre, Vermont who we briefly met at Big Bend.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Big Bend Adventures

As Big Bend State Park visitors know, it’s about 70 miles of desolation from Marathon down to the park headquarters, and then another 20 miles of desert to the Rio Grande Village campground. But what amazing vistas as you head south -- just breathtaking. Photos don’t do the landscape justice. Geological features - incredible formations - give a real sense of the millions of years of history that precedes us.

Yesterday’s high was 96 degrees and we arrived, hot and dusty, and set up. There’s no air conditioning (no power or water) but we were doing fine -- until I learned that I had set up on a site already reserved by someone else. So, it was stow things, hitch up once again, and move about 100 yards up the road to another site. I wasn’t a happy camper and Mary was overheated from the heat and dryness. Great start -- Big Bend.

Once things cooled down, it was a lovely evening. It went down to 44 this morning and we ran the heater for a bit while having morning coffee. I found out that the little store here has WiFi (you can forget AT&T coverage for cell phones) so we could get email and post stuff. Still, with no electricity, battery usage for the computers needs to be monitored as well.

I took a little hike this morning on a short trail and saw a few birds, the Rio Grande, some cool rock formations, the Rio Grande, and Mexico. Above is an early morning shot of the campground and the scenery.

They warned us about wildlife here -- particularly coyotes. Well, as we were leaving this morning to do some sightseeing in the truck, what should wander right in front of us, in the middle of the campground, by Mr. (or Ms.) Coyote. Took the picture through the windshield.

We drove up to the Chisos Basin which is just about impossible to describe. It’s high elevation for down here and has some spectacular mountains and vistas. I’ll get some shots next visit -- we just took a “I’ve Been There” shot at the visitor center.

We have hung out reading this afternoon underneath the trailer’s awning. It’s about 88 degrees but there’s a nice breeze. I had Penny’s leash anchored by my chair leg. I left to fix a couple of seltzer drinks and from inside the trailer heard a bark, a yell from Mary, and a upsetting of the lawn chair. Mr. Coyote (or a sibling) had just crossed our road about 25 feet away and Penny was in attack mode. Fortunately, the leash got caught -- or she got smart -- and I grabbed her and all was well again -- once Mary’s heart rate settled down.

This is a tough place from noon to five or so -- you can see why siestas so popular in the Southwest. After May, things essentially close down here due to the extreme temperatures. However, we saw scenery today that just blows you away. Now, to keep the coyotes, mountain lions, and javelinas where they belong.

P.S. On guidebook we have, in talking how park animals have gotten too used to human foods, said that the crinkling of a potato chip bag opening can draw javelinas. I knew junk food was not good for you.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Seminole Canyon State Park

Less than an hour away from Amistad National Rec Area, where we stayed two days, is Seminole Canyon where we have enjoyed a couple more days enroute to Big Bend. Seminole -- I thought they were Florida tribe. Well, they were until they were moved west, along with the African-Americans who had assimilated into their ranks, in a “Trail of Tears” forced resettlement. The U.S. Army formed a unit of Seminole-Negro Indian Scouts who protected this area from marauding bands of Apaches and Comanches. Four scouts earned the Medal of Honor. Thus the park name.

There are some nice bike/hiking trails out to the Rio Grande which Penny and I have taken advantage of. It’s rocky or dusty but pretty flat and dry. I carry water and we stop every so often. They cloudiness of the last couple of days helped a great deal. What amazing vistas along the canyon -- well worth the ride. Penny sleeps well at night.
Today, Mary and I each took a tour (hers was in the morning and mine in the afternoon) of the prehistoric rock art -- rock painting called pictographs. This two-mile, guided, walking tour descends into a limestone canyon where we saw Lower Pecos River Style pictographs. We went up to the Fate Bell Rockshelter (named for a former owner) which contains pictographs which are 4,000 years old -- among the oldest, most colorful, complex and distinctive ancient paintings in all of the Americas. It was educational and thought-provoking.

Of course, my small tour group included two instructor pilots from nearby Laughlin AFB who were camping with their young sons. They were both former F-15 pilots and humored a former Naval Aviator as we talked about their T-6 trainers, their students, and other aviation stuff on the way back. Nice guys -- and their sons running along ahead up the steep staircase reminding me of our two guys years ago.

We had snacks this evening looking west as the sun was setting with Lark Buntings and Black-throated Sparrows hopping around the picnic area. A Sage Thrasher commenced a wonderful series of songs and calls. It was a nice Saturday evening in West Texas.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Are We There Yet?

Are We There Yet?

Today was a “round them up, move them out” travel day through hot, dusty Southwest Texas.  If I never see another thorn shrub or natural gas pipeline, it won’t break my heart.  Of course, the speed limit is often 75 mph but I keep below 70 while hauling the trailer.

Laredo was awful -- traffic lights, depressing fast food joints and rundown businesses -- and Eagle Pass and Del Rio were not a lot better.  It’s interesting -- you can look up ahead near the border and see this massive Mexican Flag just across the border.  We had at least two situations where you needed to turn right to stay in the U.S. and not head to the International Bridge.  

Of course, have two American immigration guys shot yesterday adds to the “stay out of Mexico” mindset that most of us have.

Just west of Laredo were these amazing highway overpasses, all stucco-colored and lovely looking.  I was trying to figure out which Congressman/Senator brought that pork home when we came to the Laredo Welcome Center.  It makes the Williston and Brattleboro sites in Vermont look like poor cousins -- to say it was ornate is an understatement.  Here’s a picture of Mary in front of it.

I got to watch a Border Patrol stop at the site.  They had a pickup hauling a trailer stopped and were apparently also using it as a training because four or five extra guys were there.  The interesting thing was the Xray truck -- a big van which slowly drove closely past one side of the stopped trailer and then past the other side.  Obviously, they have gear that can look through metal side of vans.  I think they let the guys move on after going through the items in the trailer.

Shortly thereafter, we went through a Border Patrol stop.  Of course, Penny saw the drug dog, a Doberman, and started to go nuts while I reached back for her and her collar came off -- all while trying to talk sanely to the young guy asking me questions.  We’re pretty white bread tourists -- he just waved me on.

We are at Amistad, a national recreation area on the shore of Lake Amistad which is formed by the dammed Rio Grande.  No one here besides a host camper and one other family.  We have a site overlooking the water and while there’s a little noise from the highway not too far away, it’s a nice location.  We are going to a “Cowboy Coffee” in the morning where they make coffee the old way, over a campfire -- and the park superintendent is going to talk some about border issues.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Remembering Falcon

I’ve talked about the people of Falcon State Park and their cordiality. We will recall with fondness Bud and Charlotte from Enid, OK who befriended us last year and were our neighbors again this year. Married 64 years, they are a wonderful couple - who also love Penny.

We’ve met a number of Canadian couples, including Bert and Maryanne -- fellow beekeepers and many mid-Westerners. The people are a big part of the attraction of this facility.

The sunrises and sunsets are often spectacular -- especially the sunsets over Falcon Reservoir. We went down tonight to watch it and see how fast the sun moves as it approaches the horizon. Western skies are just amazing to Easterners like us. I recall years ago when I was flying in the Navy out west and returning to Vermont briefly for an event. How closed in I felt -- in spite of being a Vermonter I’d gotten used to the openness.

Falcon is one of the top fishing lakes in the country. With hundreds of miles of coastline, it attracts many bass tournaments -- from local clubs to national events. It’s not unusual to see fifty or more truck/trailer rigs in the parking lots and they fish from sunrise to twilight.

And of course, the birds here are wonderful. A western birder told me yesterday, “I’ve birded throughout the west but never down here. I’m amazed at all the different species.” We tend to get a little blase’ about one more Green Jay or Altimira Oriole. While we didn’t have the rarer birds that sometimes frequent this place, it’s easy to pick up 40 species or more in an hour walk.

So we leave what has become one of our favorite places. It was in the 80’s today but has cooled down with a nice breeze this evening. The coyotes tuned up a while back and the three-quarters moon and starlight will light up this place tonight. I’d hate to be here in July but it sure is nice in February.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Heading Westward

Last year, we stayed here at Falcon State Park for some time and then, because of issues with trailer lights, decided to forego going out to Big Bend National Park. This year, figuring we are this far and may not get here again, we are pressing onward in a few days. We'll go to Amisted National Wildlife Area (Del Rio), stay a couple of days at Seminole Canyon, and then hit Big Bend.

The stay at Falcon has been great. The weather has finally warmed into the 70's and we have enjoyed the birding and the campers. This is quite unique - many folks come here for a month or more - and have done so for years. There is a very active recreation center with many social and education activities. Neither Mary nor I am big on sitting around talking about whatever, but we have gotten to know some of the regulars. We went to a Valentine's ice cream social/ Yankee swap (they had some other name for it), and actually danced a little. The kids think we're losing it.

A highlight of this stay is the puma I saw the other morning while walking the dog - the big cat was just sauntering across the road. I had binoculars but no camera with me.

The night sky here is amazing. There is no air traffic at all - which is too remindfull of the post-9/11 days. We get nothing but Mexican TV and radio but keep current with our iPhones. The campground is very quiet - all I can hear as I write is a coyote. Sounds like a young one trying out his voice. Penny gives a little growl just to let us know she's on top of things.

So we've got some laundry and camper stuff (propane, parts, etc) to do before launching Wednesday morning. Got a couple of birds I'm looking for as well so Penny and I will be out looking for the Say's Phoebe that's supposedly here. Weather up ahead looks great so Wagon's Ho!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

What’s That White Stuff?

They say that the last time this area had snow was five years ago on Christmas Eve. Somehow, we didn’t find the snow/ice mix covering the roads and ground this morning that exciting. It was 85 degrees a few days ago -- WTF?

We’re already dealing with frozen water pipes back home in Vermont when the furnace was off during the -25 degrees spell. Now we have to worry about the lines in the Airstream freezing -- and keep a little water dripping.

Of course, there’s no sand or salt trucks in the County so it’s a good thing that the winter sun was strong and melted the coating by about 10 AM. The wind was strong last night and our trailer temperature, in spite of the heater, was 50 degrees this morning. We do have an auxiliary propane heater we lit off to raise the temperature this morning and all in all, have been very comfortable. Just whining.

I know how much other parts of Texas and the country got whacked with this system. We know that in a day, temperatures will be back in the 60’s -- that we wait a couple of days instead of a couple of months, for shirtsleeve weather.

Of course, after we hit about Mississippi, we put the parkas and warm mittens in plastic bags and tossed them way up front in the the truck cap, along with the snow scraper. They would have come in handy.

We had Cabot Cheese for supper tonight -- would you like a little whine with that? Our neighbors here are from Ontario, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. We are all taking heat from family and friends for whining -- and look forward to the weekend and normal Texas temperatures.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Nature Encounters at Falcon

The first afternoon at Falcon State Park, I was reading in the shade (it was 85 degrees) with Penny lying next to me. Suddenly, she exploded into barking and lunging on her leash, startling me. I looked at across the road and a mama wild pig and six piglets were trotting through the underbrush, driving our Vizsla nuts.

We’ve seen feral pigs down here before and seen the amazing damage they cause with their rooting and trampling. They are a major nuisance in much of Texas and some, with their nasty tusks, are pretty mean-looking critters.

The first night here, the coyotes started yowling just after dark -- that eerie sound that make you glad you’re not sleeping out in the open.

This park is looped with nature trails that provide a wide variety of flora and fauna. You never quite know what you are going to meet around the corner. We’ve seen a number of rabbits that drive her crazy -- forcing me to put a harness on her instead of just a collar.

Yesterday, after spotting several deer, we came upon a roadrunner who, in “beep-beep” fashion, kept running up ahead to where the trail turned, waiting and running again. Penny was going nuts and I was trying to hold her, and the camera -- this going on for a bit. I dropped the leash and stepped on it while taking the photo, but must have missed it for Penny was off like a flash, as was the roadrunner. I’m sure it flew for she came back shortly, panting, and we continued our walk.

Last night, we took a walk late on the roads and it was black. I had a small flashlight but remembered, about half way around the loop, of the pictures of puma-like cat that has been spotted around here recently. I thought, if I see two glowing eyes up ahead, I’m out of here. The walk turned out to be uneventful although the night sky was spectacular.

Today, we rounded a bend on the trail and came upon an armadillo. Penny saw one in Louisiana last year but this one was right in front of her, waddling away. She lunged as I shot the picture but never got loose.
Tonight, she is “hunting” inside the Airstream -- fixated at an opening under the stove where I suspect a mouse is residing. It may have ridden from Vermont or joined up here in Texas. If it reads the forecast for the weather ahead (nothing like the north or northeast but still below freezing), it is looking for a warm abode.

The other “nature” factor here is the small thorns that are everywhere you walk. I usually ride the bike so that Penny can run on the greenery beside the road. I noticed that she stopped running and was limping and checked her pads, finding many of the little thorns. They hurt just brushing them off. I’ve been wearing sandals and they wedge into the space beneath my feet, and smart. It’s just part of the exercising in the Southwest.

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Farewell to Goose Island

We leave in the morning for Falcon State Park after eight days here at Goose Island. It’s finally shorts and T-shirt weather and we’ve enjoyed getting out to walk, bike, and run. Penny has become pretty well-known with her running alongside the bike. Lots of little yappy dogs here which tend to drive her (and me) a bit nuts.

The first morning we were here, the roar of airboats awoke us about 4:30 A.M. It was the last day of duck season and all the good old boys were out. It calmed down considerably after that although guides take out anglers about every morning -- with the resulting racket.

The birding has been wonderful -- and we’ve met several interesting folks. Last night we went on an owl prowl -- which turned out to be a walk along an oyster shell filled trail through the puckerbrush with Mary and fifteen others -- but no owls. The night sky through the trees was quite something -- these Texas nights can be quite spectacular.

This morning, after coffee, scones, and wifi downtown, we went to say goodbye to the whooping cranes. Three flew over as we approached and later, as we watched, a male from the group of three that reside there drove the newcomers off.

We met a guy today with a Bates sweatshirt so we had to query him -- and learned that he and his wife moved down here from New England about five years ago. He’s a photographer -- shooting birds and and scenery -- and loving living in Texas. I’ve seen the temperatures for this area in the summer. Mary and I, while enjoying the area a lot, have too much Yankee blood in our veins to move south. However, getting down here for part (or most) of the winter is enticing.

Falcon Lake got some bad press six months ago when the guy was killed by “pirates” on the Mexican side of the lake. That story always has had a phony ring to it -- no debris, no body -- so it will be interesting to hear the local version of the story. We hope to erect and launch the kayak but will be staying close to the U.S. shore for many reasons. I think it’s likely safer than it was when we were there last year.

Temperatures down there are forecast in the low 80’s just as the rest of the country is getting ready for another big storm. One side of me feels guilty -- but I suspect as soon as I see a Green Jay and three types of orioles, I’ll get over it.

Seriously, we will be thinking of our friends/family dealing with this tough winter.

Take a look at my latest post on the birds of Goose Island.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Settled In at Goose Island

The trip down on Saturday was uneventful and traversing Houston on a Saturday morning was relatively easy - although the Houston drivers must have trained in Boston. We did go by hundreds of school kids working along one of the Interstate exits and Mary remarked, “They are planting stuff.” Sure enough, sort of a Green Up day in January in Texas.

Once we got south of Victoria, the traffic was very light and the road Texas straight. The trip by Aransas refuge to Goose Island was familiar and it was good to have an easy 270 mile trip done.

Goose Island is very busy so we were smart to have reservations. Texas parks don’t reserve specific sites -- just a slot -- so it is take what you find when you get there. We were bummed that our favorite site from last year was taken but we found a spot nestled under some trees on Bayberry that will do fine. We have other campers a little too close with too many dogs but it is quiet -- I can hear Cardinals singing loudly as I type -- and we’ve already seen some nice birds.
Yesterday was laundry morning so Mary logged some time feeding quarters and I went looking for birds and coffee. We have a couple of little repairs to the Airstream for which I got some bolts and parts. We are settling in for some good birding -- there’s a raptor expert here this week. Penny has had some good runs with the bike setup and yesterday we saw three Whooping Cranes a few miles from here. Since we’ll be here for a week or so, I’ll likely be mostly blogging about birds I see. I’m including a Brown Pelican shot that I took yesterday as a teaser. Visit vtbirder.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Village Creek State Park, TX (Days 6-7)

We launched from Louisiana mid-morning and soon joined the west-bound travelers on I-12 north of New Orleans. A major east-west thruway, Interstate 10 drops down to New Orleans and splits off 12 north of the lake. It’s a fast-moving collection of trailer trucks, pickup trucks, quite a few RV’s, and many autos. The speed limit most of the time is 70, and that’s the pace in the right lane. The left lane is moving from 70-85.

There’s a twelve-mile long bridge/causeway that we recalled from last year. Nothing but marsh and water as far as one can see, and pity the vehicle that has a breakdown. We cruised along at 70 when we could (there was quite a lot of construction) and approaching Texas, we saw ominous black cloud up ahead. After a quick stop for maps, we were back on the road in light rain but lots of wind. The spray from the trucks was tough for probably fifteen minutes and then we we out of it. We turned north at Beaumont and navigated up to Village Creek State Park outside Lumberton.

Village Creek is a small park with only about twenty sites with electricity and water. However, only two were occupied. We checked in, showed our Texas Pass*, and picked a site. The park has a wonderful network of hiking and biking trails so Penny and I were off before dark on a long jaunt. With no one around on the trails, I let her run freely.

The weather is cold for Texas. The temperature dropped after the cold front and was about 34 this morning. The electric heater kept us snug. It took a 5 mile walk with Penny this morning and it was chilly at first, warming as the sun broke out.
Today we got Mary’s bike going and she took her first ride since last time in Texas. With no traffic and smooth roads, it’s a perfect place to get comfortable again. Meanwhile, the dog and I took a long bike ride this afternoon down along the river. It’s challenging bike riding with the soft sand on parts of the trails and the dips and climbs through sloughs. I missed my mountain bike tires although the hybrid did pretty well. We went all the way to the end where there is a beach and Penny took a little wade and chased some shorebirds. She’s a tired pup tonight.In the morning, we hook up and head to one of our favorite spots, Goose Island State Park. The trip will go right through Houston but since it is Saturday, I’m hoping it won’t be too difficult. The weather looks to be cool for the next week but nothing like our friends and family in the Northeast are putting up with.

It’s been a week on the road and it will be nice to settle down at one place for a while. We plan to be at Goose Island for over a week and visit one of our favorite coffee shops, The Daily Grind, in Rockport.

Check out my birding blog here

* If you plan much camping at state parks in Texas, you need to buy a $60 annual pass. Otherwise, it is $5.00 per head each day you stay at a park. The pass also gives you some half-price coupons for the first day so it doesn’t take long to pay off. We bought one last year and it is good until the end of February.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Biking With The Vizsla

One of the challenges of traveling and camping is too eat healthy and get enough exercise. Fortunately, with the Airstream we can manage our food choices and not be stuck with the fast food options that seem to be everywhere.

On the exercise front, it often boils down to walking the dog -- which isn't aerobic (unless she slips her collar) but is one good alternative. We take two or three ten minute or often longer walks per day just to keep sanity -- for her and for me.

I've written before about biking with Penny. I did it long before we started traveling and have used a Springer system which works well for me. I was riding a high-end mountain bike until last year but the geometry was to0 radical for a 70-year-old back -- so I sold it on Craig's list last Spring. My friends at Onion River Sports -- one of the northeast's best bike shops -- sold me a hybrid which is comfortable and perfect for riding with the dog. I got it set up yesterday for the Springer.We went out again today on a long ride to look at birds and explore the nature trails at Fontainebleau State Park in Louisiana. We probably went about 8 miles on a combination of grass, gravel, and mucky trails. We passed a "Don't Feed The Alligators" sign and whisked by something posted about Cottonmouths. The combination of surfaces was perfect for Penny's pads and challenging enough for my early-season riding form.

Of course, coming back to the park, we passed several dogs with whom Penny seemed to have issues. I gave up on the "break-away" tabs when she snapped them while lunging for dogs so now, I just tie a leash tight and she can back and tug all she wants. Picture this -- a Vizsla going sideways down the road talking trash while her owner peddles the bike straight ahead. I'm sure campers don't forget her -- although it's over fast.

She starts out runs at top speed and I hardly have to pedal for the first half mile. Later, it's sort of even-steven and then, at the end of long rides, she's pooped and we walk it in. The trick is to give her rest breaks and carry enough water -- although she'll opt for puddles when available.

Our other exercise option later will be kayaking. Somehow, I don't see a role for Vizsla -- although I'm sure she does. A tired Vizsla is a good Vizsla.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Great Weather and WiFi

Any day that starts with seeing a Great Egret on an early morning walk and ending the day with a bike ride with the dog alongside is a good one.

Yesterday (Day 4) was a "get it together" day at Clarko State Park in Quitman, MS. I got the water system operating after winterizing it. You always worry about problems due to freezing and we had one split spray nozzle -- which was easy to replace. I washed the truck and the Airstream, taking off months of salt and crud.

There were only a few campers at the state park so we had the place pretty much to ourselves. The birding was wonderful (see my birding blog) -- and the dog could run free on the miles of back trails and roads. She went nuts with the many squirrels around -- chased a wild turkey, and had her nose down in an armadillo hole until I pulled her away.

Today, we had an easy trip down Highway 59 to I-12 and ended up at Fountainbleau State Park in Mandeville, LA. It sits at the northern end of Lake Ponchartrain on an old sugar plantation. Louisiana parks have WiFi which is a big help -- we can only do so much with our iPhones.

I got the bikes unloaded from the chaos that is the back of the pickup, hooked up the Springer system, and took Penny for a spin around the park. She gets a wonderful workout and is snoring beside me on the couch.

We are going to stay here for a couple of days -- do some bike riding and birding -- and then head on to Texas. Weather is nice -- today got up to 70 but it will be in the 50's tomorrow. However, reading the weather forecast that my Vermont friends are facing, mid-fifties sounds pretty good.

This state park is about half full with many people who stay for weeks -- with big rigs. We are the only Airstream here.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

3 Days on the road & gonna settle down tonight

After waiting out the storms and dealing with the electrical problems noted in my last post, we launched early Friday morning with the temperature holding below 10 degrees. The first trick was to get down our snowy driveway. I took it easy, in first gear, but halfway down, the truck and trailer all started sliding with brakes full on and I just got it down and around the corner and could then slow down on the sanded Wood Road. Fortunately, it was very early and no one was coming down the hill in the dark. Once our heart rates slowed, we trundled down through sleepy Montpelier and had an uneventful drive down to Bethel, Killington, and up over Mendon Mountain. Roads were dry, snow flurries were minimal, and traffic was light.

The first day brought us down to Albany and then down I-88 to Binghamton. We then join the rat race south with truckers headed home on Friday and driving like crazy. With gas stops (we paid $3.30 a gallon at a ripoff joint on I-88) every 180-200 miles, my debit card was getting a workout. We made it as far as Chambersburg and stayed at a Walmart in very cold conditions. There was a Hoss’s restaurant on site so we ended up having a good dinner storing up calories for the night ahead.

The Airstream, when operating on battery power, is heated with a propane heater up at one end. It’s not easy to get the sleeping end heated when it’s 15 degrees so it was not the most comfortable night we’ve spent. We tanked up on coffee in the morning and were again on the road before seven.

Saturday is a good day to travel. The truck traffic is reduced as is commuter travel. We were out of Pennsylvania at once and zipped through the ends of Maryland and West Virginia and then spent a lifetime in Virginia. I-81 has some pretty scenery through this stretch and we thought we’d got out of the snow cover -- but after an hour of bare ground, we came back into where last week’s storm had dumped a lot.

Knoxville is a tough city to negotiate, even on a weekend. The merging of interstates, the ever-present trucks, and some event at UT made this trip through town stressful. We decided to stop at the Walmart in Athens, Tennessee, having called ahead for permission.

I had talked to a local cop patrolling the parking lot -- just letting him know we would be there overnight, with permission. We had a nice chat about Vermont and he told me to call them if we noticed any problems. Well, for a bit, I thought we’d have to take him up on it. For an hour or so, several hot cars seemed to be doing laps around the parking lot with loud engines, tire squealing, and lots of sitting, idling, and whatever. The scene quieted about 9:00 and I later figured that the kids were waiting for buddies working in the tire/lube section of Walmart.

Today was a relatively easy Sunday drive -- if you call driving 370 miles hauling a trailer easy. The traffic was ok and we negotiated Chattanooga and Birmingham and then encountered a stretch of concrete highway that was hell. It reminded me of the NY Thruway where decades of truck traffic had trashed the right lane, leaving the left lane relatively smooth. The road was horrible -- I was very concerned about the trailer tires. So, we drove 20-30 miles primarily in the left lane -- watching the mirrors as best we could. Of course, we then hit construction and had a twelve mile stretch with only one lane -- the right one -- and it was painful. The truck and trailer did ok in spite of the thumping.

The rest of the journey, through Tuscaloosa and into Mississippi, was easy. We have stopped at a state park in Clarksdale where for the first time, we can activate the water system and have power. There’s no one here -- just a couple of families -- and it’s a good place to bird and run the dog. We’ll catch our breath for a few days before moving on to Louisiana.

The park in just south of Meridian, Mississippi. I learned to fly jets at NAS Meridian many years ago and we live in Meridian during the height of the civil rights movement. We were sort of insulated from the events but did get a taste of southern attitudes from our neighbors -- so the airfield has good memories for me but the town still leaves a bad taste in our mouths. We may check out the air station while we are here -- just for nostalgia’s sake. And find a wifi hotspot.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ready, Set, Wait Another Day

As is the case before most major trips, we were up very early this morning. I had plowed the driveway yesterday (we got nearly a foot of new snow), and cleaned off the trailer. I had a lot of trouble getting it into place and whacked a piece of ledge submerged in the new snow. Finally, we spent all evening finishing loading.

We were ready to launch at 6:15 A.M. In a last minute check, we found that the trailer lights didn't work. Shades of day one last year -- except it wasn't along I-81! I realized that in the struggles to extricate the trailer and get it moved into the driveway, I had trashed the electrical connector to the truck. It was at first depressing, especially since it was dark, snowy, and windy. Then the truck lights were wacky -- brake lights staying on, turn signals inoperative. That improved once I disconnected the broken connector.

I was able to back the trailer on to flat land in front of the garage and get unhitched. First, I tried to tape the broken connector up with electrical tape -- in 15 degree temperatures and wind with Mary holding the flashlight. No way, Jose.

So after thawing out, I went downtown and bought hand warmers first (enough frostbite the last few days) and then a new plug and some truck fuses. The next several hours was spent wrestling with 7 frayed leads and set screws -- plugged it in and.... nothing. I dug out the Ford manual, studied the fuse layout, and replaced a 20 amp fuse. Running lights! The right turn signal worked, left not. Aha, the fuse -- I replaced it, tried again -- nothing (but a blown fuse.) I knew I would have to take the plug apart again so I went to to warm up and have coffee. I wrestled the plug apart, got the left turn wire reconnected and carefully put it together. Tried it .. nothing. Oh yeah, the truck fuse was blown again. I took the cover plates off, found the fuse .. which was again blown, and replaced it. Finally, after about four hours plus, things were working.

By now, it was approaching mid-day and I had not been impressed with the road conditions during my earlier trip. We were tired, stressed out by the hassle, and decided to wait until tomorrow morning. The forecast is better, we'll double-check everything once more tonight - and should be good to go. Now I've got to haul in some more snow-covered firewood and take Penny for a long walk. She's been "clingy", knowing something is up but not completely sure she's going. She'll go if we go -- and tomorrow the internet/cable gets disconnected so we'll be out of here.

I guess I'm glad that all my learning last year on systems and replacing stuff helped. However, doing electrical work in biting wind is above my pay grade. We need to get the Airstream, and ourselves, south pronto.