Monday, July 26, 2010

Home is Wherever We Are!

When we left Smith Mountain Lake we decided to drive up through Bedford, VA. We had both been wanting to go the the National D-Day Memorial which is located in Bedford and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Once we got to town we decided to find some food first, so we drove around until we found a shopping center with multiple restaurants. One of the choices was something called Huddle House. I had never heard of HH but Joseph was familiar and said it would be right up my alley so that is where we went. We asked our waitress about free internet (we are learning to ask now). She confirmed that they did have wifi so Joseph ran back out to the rig to get our laptops. We ordered breakfast foods even though it was mid-afternoon and our meal was EXCELLENT! We even got dessert which we don't normally have, but their key lime pie seemed too yummy to pass up.

When we were finished we dropped the laptops off in the rig and walked over to a Goodwill Store and then a Tractor Supply store to get some shopping done. Then we headed back to the Welcome Center and WWII Memorial. Imagine our surprise to see two other motorhomes not only parked on the grounds but hooked up! They actually have 3 RV sites there for overnight stays!!! You can only stay one night but it only costs $25! We enjoyed the Welcome Center exhibits and then headed back to the Memorial. It was a very bright, hot day and there was NO SHADE. I wished mightily that I had an umbrella to use as a sunshade. (I have since added two umbrellas to the permanent rig inventory.) There was so much to read, dozens of plaques with long involved descriptions of the people involved. We read all of them for a while, but then it became overwhelming as did the heat and we had to skip through to the "important" stuff. The whole time we were walking along we could hear simulated gunfire from part of the exhibit. When we got to the part where the statues of boys were climbing up onto the beach it became more and more emotional. Realizing that most of those boys who died were only a couple of years older than my son Miles made me very sad and emotional. After catching our breath and walking through the rest of the sculptures we made our way to the gift shop. I love museum gift shops because they always have a nice variety of items that can be gifts for others. This time I was thrilled to find a book about the Boys of Bedford. If you are not aware, the reason the National D-Day Memorial is in the tiny town of Bedford, VA is because more men (boys) per capita were lost from Bedford than anywhere else in the U.S. Bedford lost a total of 19 boys in that one day alone. We also found some Marine pins for My Marine.

Soon we were pulling out of Bedford and headed back north towards home. The further we got from the lake, the longer our faces got! We did NOT want to go home. We did not want our time in our Rallye Girl to end. We stopped in Staunton to get gas and just on a whim I decided to get out our GPS and see what she could find for us. One of the most wonderful functions on our GPS is that once she has found a satellite you can ask her for local restaurants, gas stations, hotels and CAMPGROUNDS!!!! So I asked Jill where the closest campground was and lo and behold there was one within six miles of where we were sitting! Now picture this, we go driving down a dark country road. We see the campground sign which is also dark. We drive down a long winding driveway still in the pitch dark and suddenly we round a bend and below us in a bowl of a valley is what looks like a city of lights. Compared to the tiny, quiet state park we had been staying in all week, this place was a bustling metropolis. We couldn't believe our eyes. There were motorhomes and travel trailers and tents in row upon row. Most of them either had interior lights on, or exterior strings of xmas lights, or bonfires or all three! We pulled up at the office to see if they even had space for us and while Joseph was inside I sat in the rig with the windows rolled down and marvelled at the spectacle before me. There was a karaoke contest going where one song was was country and the next hip hop, there were teens running in and out of the camp store buying ice cream and such, there were dogs everywhere and little Seamus was trembling with excitement on my lap. Joseph came out a few minutes later after securing us a spot, there were only a few left so we were lucky, but the funniest part was that the reason our particular section was still empty was because there were no cable tv hookups down there...okay, I know we are freaks for needing wifi where ever we go...but cable tv? Really? Our spot was right by the river and yes we DID have wifi!!!! We were so excited it took us several hours to calm down enough to go to bed. It was probably 2am before we got into bed and we laid there talking and laughing for at least another hour. Somehow it felt like a reprieve, we didn't have to go home after all! Our vacation didn't have to be over! Now what is REALLY funny about this is that we are retired, so we are technically always on vacation...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

We like to Eat!

After my last post about Smith Mountain Lake, I thought I'd write another one where I just discussed the restaurants we visited and the terrific food we ate. From the first time we drove through on our way to the campground I had my eye on a new place called Tuscan Tavern. I don't know why it caught my eye, it was in a strip mall and didn't look fancy or anything, but there was something about the name that called to me. At any rate, it was a couple of days before we actually stopped there, but it was worth the wait. We took the plunge for lunch one day, we were both starved and pasta was exactly what I was in the mood for. It turned out to be quite nice on the inside and was obviously new. Our waitress was an Italian lady of about 50 who was the owner's wife and the owner of all the recipes. I can tell you that her veal parmesian was the bomb! She took very good care of us and when we got to the register to pay we met her husband and found out the full story. I love family owned and operated restaurants like that where they feed you like you are family. They are very sweet people and we will definitely eat there whenever we return to the lake.

There were several Mexican restaurants in the area but the one that caught my attention was a brand new, huge place called El Torrito. We went there for dinner the evening after we had been on the water all day. We were hot and tired and sunburned and Mexican food seemed to just fit the bill. We drove the rig up into the parking lot and got ourselves dressed for dinner. On our way in the door Joseph noticed that they had free wifi! Since wifi had been hard to find this was good news, but we decided to worry about the computers later. We went on in and ordered our new favorite beer Bud Light Lime. We had bought one of the tall boys at the grocery store the night before and decided it was our perfect summer beer. Along with the beers came chips and salsa and our other favorite treat at Mexican restaurants...the white sauce! Does anyone know what this stuff is, other than yummy??? We love it, we discovered it at our local Mexican place and were thrilled to see it was available elsewhere! We each ordered chimichangas which have become my go-to choice these days thanks to my friend Wren. I don't know if it was the sunburn or the day on the water or what, but that meal was DELISH! The place was hopping so I'm glad to see they are doing a good business and will hopefully be around for a good long time.

When we were done eating we decided to see if the wifi signal reached all the way out to the far side of the parking lot where we had parked the rig. We were in luck! We were able to sit out in the rig with our puppy and relax in our own environment. We got some funny looks from patrons going in, I guess they thought we were weird for sitting there in a parking lot with our generator and lights on, playing on our computers. We didn't care, we were having fun! We love being at home where ever we are!

On our last morning at the lake we stopped into another place we had passed every single day and I'm so glad we finally did. It is called the Blue Bird Bakery and Grill and it is adorable. It is funny what you notice when you are on the road with no tv or internet for a few days. The first thing we look for now is free wifi, but we also hadn't seen tv in days and this place had big screens all along the walls and behind the bar. All the tvs were tuned to ESPN or CNN and we were getting our first news in days. The food was great and the waitress was very friendly and invited us to walk over into the bakery before we paid our bill...which of course meant we added some baked goods to our tab! Smart girl! We got some funny looks from other patrons for sitting there with our laptops. I'm sure they were shaking their heads at the fact that "some people" can't step away from the computer for five minutes...we have decided that before we hit the road on a long journey we are gonna have to install our own internet because we really do feel cut off when we can't get online.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Library Girl

In all my excitement about owning an RV and traveling all around the country with My Marine, I only had one big concern. Books! It sounds crazy, I know! The problem is that I have always been a library girl. I got my first library card from the Handley Library in Winchester when I was five years old. My parents took my brother and me to the library every 3 weeks like clockwork, we all got a large pile of books and plowed through them with glee. As a result of this early training in frugality, I very rarely buy books. There are three reasons for this, one of the reasons is that once I have read a book I'm done, I'm not the type to read and reread the same book over and over again. There are way to many books in the world for me to limit myself to stories I already know. Secondly is the expense, why would I pay for a book when the local library will let me borrow it for free?? I feel so lucky to live in a country that is blanketed with free libraries! Thirdly is the clutter. While I love books and love perusing shelves of books, I really don't want to have a houseful of them. I have always preferred small houses and right now I'm sharing living quarters with Mama and My Marine so we have enough furniture and "stuff"; that it is a blessing that I haven't bought every book I ever loved and toted them around with me.

But how can I be a library girl when I will have no fixed address and won't be in the same place for very long? This was a real concern for me and I brought it up to Joseph and everyone else that I discussed our travel plans with. Finally I asked my dad about it. He and his wife have owned a motorhome for several years now and he is also a reader and a library user, so I knew he'd have already faced the same issue. He had an immediate answer. Yard sales! Well of course! Used books. Once I started thinking about it, I realized that yard sales would be just one option, most libraries have used book shelves where they sell off duplicate copies of books, and there were also thrift stores, not to mention actual used book stores.

Since this revelation I have bought books at the Waynesboro Library, the Smith Mountain Lake Library and the Goodwill Store in Bedford. I have also been given piles of books by my dad and my friend Gramarg. I now have a lovely shelf full of books in Rallye Girl, at least 30 books and I have invested less than $20! The best part is that when I am done with them, I can trade them out for others or leave them in campgrounds or coffee shops for others to enjoy. This makes me supremely happy!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Smith Mountain Lake or RV trip #1

Our first real trip in the RV was set to start Sunday June 20th at Smith Mountain Lake, which is one of my favorite places on Earth. My grandparents had a house there when I was a child and I spent every summer there from the age of five until I was 13 or so. I booked a campsite at the state park there the minute we found our rig. Since we didn't want a repeat of our adventures in Linden, Joseph (aka My Marine) spent several days out at his dad's going over the engine with a fine toothed comb and replacing whatever needed it. He also learned the ins and outs of the generator so that we would have electricity when needed. The generator turned out to not have any problems at all, it just hadn't been run much by the previous owner and the battery was dead. I think his dad was impressed with our purchase but he would never admit it as it is a Ford and he is a Chevy man.

By this point we had named our rig Rallye Girl and gotten our title and tags and such. She is a 1986 Fleetwood Jamboree Rallye. She is 28 feet long and can conceivably sleep 6 and seat 7. As far as we can tell from her paperwork she was originally purchased here in Virginia and we are the 4th owners. We know that she has been as far west as Colorado as there was work done on her out there back in the '90's. She is in excellent condition considering the other rigs we looked at and the price couldn't be beat.

Sunday morning we packed our clothes and our computers and lots of snacks and drinks and cleaning supplies and anything else we could think of that we might need. We set out late in the morning with first goal being a stop at my dad's house. We were only 10 miles down the interstate when problems began. First she started running hot and before we could even get to the next exit which was less than a mile away she overheated. We pulled over and Joseph got out and lifted the hood. Evidently the cap hadn't been tightened enough on the radiator when it had been checked last, and it had come off allowing all the fluids to boil off. We let things cool down a little and then we we nursed her to the exit, riding about 5 miles an hour for about 50 yards at a time on the shoulder until we got there. Four gallons of antifreeze and we were back in business. We decided to take route 11 instead of 81 so that we wouldn't have to travel as fast and so that if the rig overheated again we could stop more easily. We made it to Dad's and then on to the lake with no further issues.

We didn't end up arriving at the lake until around 9:30pm. It was dark and quiet, but the office for the campground was still open and we got our map and site assignment and set off into the woods. Joseph parked and hopped out to set up the exterior systems while I rearranged the interior from "travel" mode to "home" mode. By the time he was finished so was I. This has now become a routine for us and we both finish our duties in under five minutes and are ready to relax. We did indeed relax. It felt so good to finally be "away" in our rig. We slept late, lazed around the campsite and took our good old sweet time on any errand or project. This was our first chance to really relax together and although we had plenty to do, we didn't really have deadlines...well, except for one, but more on that later.

We spent our time on Monday and Tuesday solving rig issues, fitting her out with new rugs and dishes and things to make her homey. By Tuesday afternoon we were desperate for internet, not only because we missed being online but because Joseph had a paper due that needed to be written and uploaded. We had yet to see any signs or advertising for free wifi. One of the lucky things was that I had spent enough time at the lake that I knew my way around the local towns, so we had been shopping at Walmart and Kroger and Autozone, we had eaten at several restaurants and we had passed tons of other restaurants and businesses, but not one mentioned free wifi. One of the lovely new buildings that we had passed every day was a library. Now I am a library girl anyway so I was curious to see this new library, but I was also pretty sure that they would have wifi. We pulled the rig into the parking lot around 4pm and we weren't sure if the library would be open past 5pm. As it turned out the library was open til 8pm and we had signal out in the parking lot, so Joseph wrote his paper and I played online to my little heart's content.

After he uploaded his paper we had accomplished all of the "work" that we needed to accomplish and we could finally play! We had been at the lake for 3 days and had yet to see the water except when crossing the Hales Ford Bridge, which we had done several times a day. I know, sad right? Staying at the lake but never enjoying the water! Wednesday was the day to change this. We rented a pontoon boat from Parrot Cove, which is my favorite marina, and I took Joseph to see the dam and my grandparents former property and just to enjoy the water, the boats and the houses. We had our cooler full of drinks and snacks and they even let us take Seamus on the boat which was a pleasant surprise. We were out on the water for 4-5 hours and although I spent almost all that time under the roof of the boat, I ended up with a TERRIBLE sunburn that turned into sun poison and still bothers me weeks later!

Thursday morning we had to contemplate moving on. We had to leave the campground for good by 2pm. We really didn't want to go, we wanted to spend more time on the water, we wanted to spend more time in the rig. We simply didn't want the trip to end. We moved very slowly that morning packing things up and putting the rig back into "travel" mode. We were very happy with our new little home though. We put her through her paces and she came through with flying colors.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Trial Run

Recently My Marine and I bought a used RV. It isn't big and it isn't fancy but it suits us to a T. We planned our first trip to be to Smith Mountain Lake which is my favorite place on Earth. Before we went there though we thought it would be a good idea to take a test run and see how everything worked. This turned out to be an excellent idea as you will soon see. We decided to drive to my Ex's and pick up Miles for dinner. This would also serve the purpose of showing off the rig to Miles. We also decided to take the poodle with us to see what kind of road dog he would be. My Ex lives about an hour away so this was an excellent test run of the engine. We got up there with no trouble at all, picked up the boy and went to dinner at Olive Garden which I had been craving. We had a lovely visit with Miles and Seamus the wonder poodle proved himself to be an excellent RV dog by not barking or whining or anything when we left him alone in the rig. We dropped the boy off and went to Wal-Mart, this errand had two purposes, one was to buy some "stuff" we needed to make the rig homey and the other was to see if there were any overnighters there and perhaps join them. Did you know you could spend the night in a Wal-Mart parking lot for free? S'true!! When we got there, there were already two rigs parked for the night, but they were dark and quiet so we didn't get to meet our neighbors. We did shop and enjoy ourselves and when we got back outside we had to decide whether to go "home" or stay put. When we tried to start the generator we had no luck, so that made our decision for us, no electricity, no thanks. We headed home. At this point it was around 11 or 11:30 at night.

While we were testing systems we decided to test our GPS. It has a menu choice to locate campgrounds so we decided to see if we could find one. The closest one listed was in Haymarket, VA. We followed the directions off the highway, through a neighborhood, out into the countryside, up a find a farm house that was dark. There was a sign back at the road saying it was a camp ground, but there was no evidence whatsoever that anyone was camping there and we were not about to knock on the house door as now it was after midnight. So we set off again towards home. About 20 minutes from home a belt broke. We didn't know what it was at first, all we knew was that the engine had lost power and it was 1am and we were on a desolate highway. Luckily we were close enough to home to know what was at the next exit so we got off there. We kept driving west but we were going much slower and we didn't know how long we would last or what damage we might be doing to the engine. When we got to Linden we pulled into the Post Office parking lot which was well lit and My Marine got out to assess the damage.

It turned out we had broken a belt, which was minor but certainly not fixable at that moment. Lucky for us there was a bathroom and a bed with fresh sheets available!! Also lucky for us, the parking lot was level, so we didn't have to worry about rolling out of bed or sleeping with the blood rushing to our heads all night. We climbed into bed and spent our first night in our new home. It wasn't a very peaceful night. I must say that the people of Linden, VA love their post office!!! It was visited all night long!!! There was a LOT of mail to go out and it had to be out no matter the hour! I never knew that country post offices had such night time traffic!

In the morning My Marine got out there and opened the hood and started doing what he could to get us back on the road. After a while a man walked up with a cup of coffee in hand and asked if we were "broke down". Nah, we always sleep in post office parking lots and play around under the hood. It is our favorite entertainment. He turned out to be a real nice fellow though, he gave us the number of his mechanic who lived down the road and made "house calls". We never got his name or the name of his mechanic, but the mechanic did come about 30 minutes later and figured out what we needed, ran to town for the new belts, came back and installed them and never stopped talking the entire time. He was just what we needed and I hope we are as lucky when we are somewhere far from home.

We got back on the road and made it home with no further incidents. We were so glad that we had practiced first!