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.