Monday, June 27, 2016

Day five – Saint Louis Road Trip

June 27th, 2016, 7:25 pm, Ed Babler Memorial State Park, Wildwood, Missouri

I slept really well last night. The weather lightened up. If it did rain during the night, it was nothing stormy. I did have a lot of weird dreams which I am attributing to the Mexican Dinner. There were a series around a former Carson teacher, Darren Smith. He was becoming very successful. He took some new position and immediately started jumping up the ranks. One of the dreams was an actual slide show with his accomplishments. In what must have been lucid moments, I remember thinking how I needed to let Darren know right away. He needed me to tell him to take the position so everything would work out. I know. Pretty weird topic for a dream.

Anyway, I woke up totally rested at 6:00am. I didn't really appreciate that. I knew I couldn't leave for Babler State Park before ten o'clock, and I didn't really feel like laying around in the camper doing nothing. Remember, there were no trails. This place was a parking lot. I put my walking clothes on anyway and did circles around the place. Not very exciting, but I got a lot of steps in.

At 9:00, I called Babler to see when I could check in. I got a voice recording that took my name and number and promised to call me back as soon as possible. I started doing my departure prep, hoping for a call. 

At 10:00, I called Babler again. I got to leave another message. I finally decided just to hit the road. If I couldn't get into the park early, I would find a WalMart.

The trip up was very nice. I had more than enough gas to make it, so I never had to stop. I listened to the end of a really good book on Audible, and that really made the time fly.

When I got to the park, I couldn't find headquarters. I just drove around and around in the beautiful forest for a while, but nothing looked like a place to check in. I decided I needed to go back to the front entrance and try again. The only problem was that I had no idea how to get there. Then I thought of a plan. I told Siri to get directions to Annie Gunn's restaurant. I knew that it was pretty close to the park, and Siri would have to route me to the front gate to get there. It worked.

I pulled up to a bulletin board that I had missed before. There was a box for park maps, so I jumped out of the truck to get one. The box was empty. Then I saw a sign that said something like, "Sign in at the Campground Kiosk". I followed the signs with the camping symbol. They finally pointed to what I had originally thought was a walking path to the campsites. I pulled onto the tiny little winding road and ended up in front of a little guard shack with a stop sign near it.

There was nobody there, but a sign said to find the park host in site #35. That was right next to my truck, so I went over and knocked on the door. A lady came out, walked me back to the shack, and checked me in.

I got to my sight. I had to back in, but that hasn't been a problem for me lately. I have learned to make tiny changes to the steering wheel and just follow the trailer back. I hop out and make sure I am on course sometimes. (Maybe I should've backed in last night!)

The sight is large and very shady. I am surrounded by huge REAL trees. You get dizzy when you try to look up and see the tops of them. One has green peach-like things hanging on it. I think it is a hickory nut tree. I'm not sure. I'll ask Cousin Dave when I see him.

I plugged the AC in before taking the camper off the hitch. Since I am picking Rachel up at the airport tomorrow, I'm just going to do my regular camp set up. Besides, this is a two-nighter.

Once I was partially settled in, I changed into my walking clothes and hit the trail. The trailhead for the "paved bicycle trail" is right next to my site. It leads to all of the others. The funny thing, and I need to get a picture of it, is that there is a big sign that says, "NO BIKES". I'm sure there is a reason bikes can't use the bicycle trail. I just can't imagine what it might be.

I got back and stopped out of my soaked clothes. For those who don't know, St. Louis is the most humid spot on the earth. You Houstonians don't know from humid, so pipe down. The only place I have ever been that is more humid is Puerto Rico. Not even New Orleans. My clothes were dripping as if they had come out of the wash tub.

I cooled down pretty fast. It was about 75* in the Colby T when I got back from the hike. I sat here for a few minutes guzzling ice cold drinks made with electrolyte water flavoring. Have I mentioned how much I love the icemaker? After that, I ate a quick dinner.

I spent about an hour figuring out where I need to go to get Rachel tomorrow. I wasn't sure what terminal. Then I couldn't find an address for the cell phone lot.

OMG!!!! The park host just banged on the door and scared the HELL out of me. Nobody has ever come to my camper before. I thought I was in trouble for hanging my clothes out to dry like trailer trash. Some parks don't allow that. Instead, she just needed to tell me that there was a water leak and all of the water in the park is being shut down tomorrow at 7:30. They aren't sure how long that will take to fix. That's not a problem for me. The sites here don't have water anyway. I am using my fresh water tank that I filled up this morning. I am using my water conservation plan. That means don't use dishes that need washing and don't flush liquids. I can go as long as 5 days like that, if I have to.

Anyway, Rachel texted me and said that it its Terminal Two. I was able to find an address for that and feed it to Siri. She comes in at 7:10, so I will be driving in daylight, which is less scary for me. Over the years, I have actually only flown to St. Louis four times. We usually drove up in the summer. When I did fly in and out, someone else did the driving. When we came for the funeral, we took the shuttle to the rental car. Anyway, I'll survive it and get my Rachel to her Aunt Mildred's.

I'm going to relax and work on that box of Merlot now. I am really feeling worn out for the first time on this trip. I think it is the finality of actually reaching the end goal, St. Louis. 

I am going to post once more tomorrow. After that, I am going to wait until I start the trip home on the 5th. My blog is about the trip. Not all the fun I have in St. Louis. You'll see that on FB!!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Day 4- St. Louis Roadtrip

June 26, 2016, 8:08 pm, Marshfield, Missouri 

Well this has been a different kind of day. I woke up at around 7:00 am and knew that I wouldn't be getting on the road for awhile. I laid in bed for a while and read. Then, at about 8:00, I decided to try and get some steps in. I didn't anticipate getting many at the next stop. I walked around the RV park about four times before the sun started getting to me. I couldn't believe how hot it was for so early. After last week at Guadalupe River SP, I am starting to think that the heat is getting to me more in my old age. It has never been a problem before. I cover my skin and drink lots of water.

By 9:30, I was getting anxious to be on the road. My only problem was not knowing when I could check in at my next stop. I called and left a message asking when I could. Then, I went ahead and started packing prepping for departure.

Just before 10:00, I got a call telling me to come on up. My site was empty, and I could check in any time I wanted. 

I went ahead and did all of the outdoor things. I raised the stabilizers, disconnected the power, checked the tire pressure, etc. When I went to test the camper lights (something I do every time I'm about to pull the trailer), the driver's side tail light was totally out. I pulled off the cover and checked the bulb. It looked okay to me. I pulled it out and snapped it back in. It still didn't work. Just as I was about to get a new bulb out of the camper, I thought to unplug the power cable from my truck and make sure it was plugged right. That was it. 

I got in the truck and went over my checklist one more time before pulling out. I texted Rachel to tell her I was on my way and hit the road.

I was on Highway 69 for 88 miles, but miraculously, this stretch was smooth as glass. I was happy. It was an easy drive with a few slow downs to pass through some towns.

In one town, I saw a WalMart Supercenter, so I pulled in. I never thought to see what town it was. I needed a new box of wine. I was parked as far from the store as possible and hiked all over the store trying to find the wine/beer. This one was not set up like any I have ever been in. I found the beer and drink mixers, but the wine was missing. I asked a clerk, and he directed me to a liquor store right across the street. I hiked over there, but the store was long gone.

I considered getting gas at the Walmart, but it was pretty crowded, and I was already planning to stop in Vinita. There is a travel plaza there that is built right across the Will Rogers Turnpike. We used to stop there every year on the way to Grandma Jane's and eat at the McDonalds with the boys. Back then, it was called the Vinita Plaza. It was closed for a few years while they totally remodeled it. Now it is the Will Rogers Archway. I was totally blown away by how much nicer it is now. I was only there for gas, but I went up and looked around anyway. They even have a Subway now. That would have been great all those years ago. Everyone knows I pretty much detest McDonalds.

The rest of the trip was about 144 miles on I 44. It was a really nice drive. There were a few times that the traffic got a little heavy, but nothing awful.

When I got to the RV Express 66 in Marshfield, MO, there was nobody in the office. I went ahead and pulled into site 16 and got settled in. They had told me the number when I made my reservation. Because of where the sewer hookup is, I had to pull pretty far forward, meaning I would have to unhitch. Not a biggie. However, when trying to get the camper as close to it as possible, I hit the curb with the truck. I knew I would have trouble backing in to hitch up tomorrow morning, so I decided to pull out and make a new approach. Of course the Colby T decided to take the same curb. I pulled forward as slowly as I could, but it still bounced a bit when it came off the curb. It ripped a whole in the grass, but the trailer wasn't hurt.

Once I had the AC on and the icemaker going, I saw that there was a car in front of the office, so I went and checked in. This place is just a parking lot in the middle of an urban area. It still has showers, a game room, and a pool. They provide the best cable TV lineup I have ever seen at a park (which I won't be taking advantage of) and free wifi. All of that for only $27. That's cheaper than most state parks. I really like this place. It seems like I am the only one here tonight for some reason. The lady at the desk said that was unusual for a summer night.

Since I was off the hitch, I ran to the Walmart and bought my box of wine. Yay! I was about to head back to the park when I realized I should get gas while I didn't have the camper attached. I got it for $1.02 per gallon with a $20 gift card a student gave me for teacher appreciation. It filled the tank. I should be able to get to my next stop tomorrow without gassing up. Once at Babler SP, I'll be off the hitch anyway. No problem getting gas without the trailer.

When I got back from Walmart, a terrific wind started up and the sky was so black it scared me. I went to the office and talked to the lady at the desk and she told me not to worry. Evidently, this is the normal look for storms here. She told me if I got overly concerned during the night, the bathrooms in the building are storm shelters. Goody. When I went to the Colby T, I had trouble with the door in the wind. It remind me of the Wizard of Oz when they are struggling to close the cellar door.

I decided I would rather be at the El Charro Mexican Restaurant before the rain started, so I went on over there. It is about a 75 yard walk. Just after I ordered my jumbo margarita, the sky let loose with and amazing downpour that lasted the whole time I was there. I could see the Colby T from the table. It seemed to be weathering the storm well.

After dinner, I came back to the camper. It has been raining on and off. There is some lightning and thunder occasionally. Weather Bug makes it look like it will be that way throughout the night. But, the winds haven't been back. That's the only thing that frightens me. I am purposefully not thinking about tornad... I won't even think the word.

Anyway, that was day 4. I'm going to relax with my precious box of Merlot and get to bed earlier. I need to dump my tanks and take on fresh water in the morning. Then, I am going to head on up to Babler SP. I am pretty sure I can get in my site early. You pick you sites in MO, and it is not reserved for tonight.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Day 3- St. Louis Road trip

June 25, 2016, 8:43 PM, Little Turtle RV

I'm going to try and dictate this post. I feel too lazy to get my Bluetooth keyboard out. We'll have to see how it goes. Anyway, Day three has come to an end. It wasn't the most exciting day, but it had its moments.

I started The morning just hanging out in the Colby T. Check in at Little Turtle is at 3 PM, so I didn't want to leave too early. I wanted to make sure I downloaded a book to listen to on the trip, since I finished my other one yesterday. I walked all the way to the bathhouse, which was farther away than usual, to use the Wi-Fi. But, the Wi-Fi at Eisenhower Park was sucky and wouldn't let me download anything. 

I hiked back to the camper, and stewed for a while. Then I decided to call Little Turtle and ask if I could arrive early. They said it was no problem at all. I told him I would probably get there around noon. Within an hour, I was on the road.

On the way out of Eisenhower Park, I decided to try the Wi-Fi at headquarters. It wasn't any better. I had to drive without a book. Now, that normally wouldn't be a problem. But, for some reason I have never understood Oklahoma has some of the bumpiest and noisiest roads I've ever driven on. The sounds coming from under the truck were driving me nuts! I kept thinking I had a flat tire or something. Besides that, it was making my teeth itch.

I actually arrived at Little Turtle at just about 1 PM. It is a really nice place. It has all the RV park amenities, and they plan on adding even more. After I got set up, and took the time to download two books for the rest of the trip, I took a nice long hike around the place just to see everything. I actually got to see the lake. They even have special campsites for a horse owners that have a pen at each site for the horse.

I was really hot when I got back from Matt hike, so I just relaxed in the camper and read for a while. I also played a silly game that I downloaded. It was so silly that I actually fell asleep playing it. So I guess I should say I had a little nap!

At about 6 PM, I decided I needed to get the rest of my steps in, so I went out into the heat again and hiked until I hit my 11,000. It was a lot cooler than earlier, but it still was not the most pleasant temperature for hiking. By the time I got back to the camper, I was soaked mess. I also was a little stinky. I decided it was time to hit the bathhouse. 

I stuck all my stuff in a plastic Walmart bag and headed on over. The showers were very clean. Unfortunately, somebody here is overcompensating for the heat. It was so cold in that bathhouse, that The parts of your body that weren't being hit with hot water got goosebumps! It was a quick shower to say the least.

I hiked back to the camper, and didn't see my shampoo. I discovered a big hole in the plastic grocery sack. Without any more investigation, I hiked back to the bathhouse to get it. Of course it wasn't there. When I got back to the trailer, it was sitting right there on the counter. I must've taken it out and not even noticed. The round-trip to the bathhouse got me hot and sweaty again. I had to do a sponge bath in the camper. Ridiculous!

While I was trying to dry off in front of the fan, I called Rachel to see how things were going in San Antonio. We talked for a while. Then, I started this post.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

2016 road trip to St. Louis Part 1

NOTE: I am going to add a daily summary of my trip to this post. I am not going to worry about editing. Just forgive typos and senior moments.

June 23, 2016, 7:54 PM, Mother Neff State Park

Well, this trip has been a long time coming. I started planning it right after Rachel and I got back to San Antonio after Jane's funeral. I went to work spacing out new campsites that would allow we to drive 3 - 4 hours a day. I wanted enough time to actually explore the sites when I got to them. I came up with an ingenious plan that would get me to St. Louis with six nights of camping along the way at 5 different places. I did the same thing for the trip home. I was ready to go.

Then the floods came to to Texas over Memorial Day weekend. Three of the parks I had planned on had to close. That sent me scrambling to find other ones that would still keep my driving stretches short enough. With a little work, I successfully came up with a new itinerary. Yay me!

Today was day one. Finally, after all of the planning, excitement, worry, and anxieties, I was actually getting on the road. I had planned to leave at around 10:00 am, but I was panicking over whether or not I had a 30 amp to 50 amp converter in the Colby T. I totally forgot to check on that earlier. I kissed Rachel goodbye and headed to Packrats. Luckily, and rather uncharacteristic for me, I did have one, so I was actually able to hitch up and leave early, instead of making a mad run to buy one. Two of the parks I am staying at only have 50 amp service at the pedestal. The Colby T runs off 30. That might sound like gibberish to you. Don't worry. You are not alone.

I made a list of all the gas stations I want to stop at on the way. Pulling a trailer makes getting in and out of some stations a risky venture. My first station was the Flying J in Jarrell, Texas, just about 15 miles after I left the toll road and got on I 35. They are designed for trucks. I pulled up to the pump that is designated for RVs and smaller trucks. I filled up without a problem. Then, I accidentally pulled myself into a parking area that had no outlet. I thought I was going to be able to get out the other end. No such luck. I had to back the Colby T about 50 yards with a bunch of angry people honking and cussing at me. (They obviously we're not fellow campers!) I was having a little trouble backing past a truck that was just too close for my comfort. I stopped, closed my eyes, said a little prayer, and just did it without letting myself get to nutz about it. Trust me, I learned a lesson and will be much more careful from here on out!

NOTE: The sun is starting to go down. The camper is at 81 degrees. Ten minutes after dark, I'll be freezing. It is hard to cool the camper down when the sun is shining on one side with no shade. 

Anyway, I got back on the highway. I'm using Siri to get my turn by turn directions these days. I let go of OnStar as part of the "reduce the budget for retirement" plan. It does a better job than OnStar for FREE! Unfortunately, I couldn't get off at the right exit safely. I was going to go to the next one and circle back, but Siri rerouted me. I went about four miles and took another exit. Unfortunately, I got twisted around and ended up trying to get to Mother Neff from the south. I knew I couldn't get there that way because the bridge was washed out on the highway and the entire south end of the park is still under water. I had to call for directions, and that entailed going all the way back to Moody and approaching the park from the north. That added about 30 miles to my day. No big deal.

The park is beautiful. Since my visit in July of 2011, they have added a new headquarters building and a really nice full hookup RV loop. All the old trails are still there, too. It is a really nice blend of old and new. Fitting for the state's first state park. As I said before, the southern part of the park is under water.  This is the second time that has happened. They were recovering from a flood when I was here last.

It was really hot when I got into site #9. It is a pull-through site. I wanted one of those because I am not taking the trailer off the hitch for one night. When I got inside to put the AC on, the thermometer was reading 110 degrees. I settled a few things and plugged in the ice maker. Then I went and took two hikes while I waited for the camper to cool down. By the time I was finished, it was only 85 inside. Not wonderful, but okay with a box fan blowing on you. It is 79 right now. By bed time, I'll be reaching for Mom's crocheted afghan!

Anyway, that is a pretty full account of day one. I ate a Hormel Compleats spaghetti dinner. Now I am going to read until bed time. Oh... I forgot... I will also be snackng on pork rinds and squirt cheese and guzzling--- I mean sipping Merlot.

June 24th, 2016, 6:54pm, Eisenhower State Park

I woke up this morning at 6:00. My alarm was set for 7:00, but sometimes, it just isn't up to me. It was way too early to set off on the next leg of my trip, so I relaxed over two cups of coffee and some bacon jerky. Then I started packing up the interior of the camper.

I had already dumped my tanks last night. They were full from my trip to Guadalupe River SP last week, but there was a line with about five RVs waiting to dump, so I decided just to wait until I arrived at Mother Neff. I had full hook ups there, so it was easy to do. All I had to do this morning was top off the fresh tank and stow the sewer hose and water hose.

By 7:45, I was ready to hit the road. I wanted to stop at headquarters on the way out and use their WiFi. There was a free game I wanted to have for the trip on Apps Gone Free, but it would only download over WiFi. Unfortunately, Mother Neff's WiFi installation hasn't taken place yet. No biggie.

I got on the road an headed for my first gas stop in Robinson. It was an easy stop. The pumps were situated right and there weren't many people there. I was back on the road in a matter of minutes.

My next gas stop was supposed to be near Dallas. I thought I was going to bypass the city, but ended up going strait through downtown to connect with Highway 75 to Denison. There was so much construction and bumper to bumper traffic that I decided not to stop for gas until I was out of the city. Tonight I looked over the map and realized that bypassing Dallas was if I went to Lake Whitney SP, which is closed because of flooding.

About 40 miles from Denison, there was an exit with both a Love's and a Flying J. both of them are usually pretty good for camper fill ups. I went into the Love's since it was on my side of the highway. It was really crowded and I didn't feel comfortable with the tightness of the turns I would have to make getting in and out from the pumps. 

I pulled out and used the overpass to get to the Flying J. I couldn't find the RV pumps that they claim to have on their website. I circled around until I found an accessible lane and just pulled in. I hate to do that because I am using the first pump to fill the truck, but the camper is blocking the other one. It is no big deal when it isn't busy. This time, I didn't really have a choice. I didn't know what else would be up the road.

The normal entrance road to the park is closed due to flooding (like Mother Neff). This time, I had pre-studied the way I had to go. Then the Siri took me that way anyway. The substitute road was the bumpiest stretch of paved road I have ever experienced. One of the rangers told me it was because of all the unusual RV traffic.

I checked in at headquarters and asked for a pull through site again. I casually mentioned that I wasn't taking the trailer off the hitch, so the ranger switched me to one that she said was really level. She also told me there would be shade, but I didn't see any until later in the day.

Fortunately, because I had started the morning with the AC cooling the Colby T to the low 70s, it was only 86* when I got to the park. I put the AC on and started up the ice maker. Then I changed clothes, grabbed some water, and headed off on a hike to see the lake.

The lake is HUGE! I only got to see a part of it. Coming back, I took a trail that lead me through the woods for about two miles without one single view of the lake. It was rocky and hilly. There was absolutely no breeze and the humidity was killing me. I should have gotten a video of my wringing out the paper towels I carried with me to wipe my face. I could have filled up a red cup- NO EXAGGERATION!

When the trail came out on a parking lot, I looked at the map and made a decision to hike back to camp on the roads. It was hotter than hell, but there was airflow. The sweat was evaporating off me in the cool breeze. I was grateful that I had carried water with me. Maybe two bottles next time- even on a short four and a half mile hike.

Back at the Colby T., I decided to put the awning up to shade one side of the camper. The other side wasn't getting sun anymore for some reason. it is a funny angle I guess. Then I stripped out of my wet clothes and hang them up from the awning like true trailer trash. They were just as wet as if I had been swimming!

I drank tons of ice cold water with blue raspberry electrolyte squirt stuff in it before getting a sponge bath at the sink. Then I put a towel on the bed, laid down, and took a nap. 

The nap ended when both of my thighs decided to cramp up on me. I walked it off as well as I could in the camper and drank more stuff. Then I ate a banana. It stopped just as suddenly as it hit. Thankfully!

I decided that after the cramping, I was done hiking for the day. I sat in the coolness of the Colby T and read for awhile. Somewhere in there, I snacked on some pork rinds and squirt cheese, my favorite snack! Not sure if it was before or after the nap. Who cares?

I decided a while ago that it was time to take the awning down. I didn't want to have dew on it in the morning. They need to be dry when you roll them up. For some reason, I couldn't get the support rods to come off. I tried everything. I even tried loosening the knob, just in case that was the problem. Unfortunately, I undid it too much and ended up holding the knob in my hand. I was able to find the two pieces that had come off and fallen to the ground, but I couldn't get the knob back on.

I decided that I would work on the knob later. Right then I was panicking over getting the awning down at all! I went in and got the user's manual, but, as I expected, I was doing everything right. After all, I have had the camper for 5 freaking years! I went back out to try again and the damned things just came off like normal! Do you remember the ghost in my window? I'm just saying.

I managed to get the knob back on. It took twisting a coat hanger up in there to hold the slider in place so I could screw the knob on. That was that. All is well in awning land.

I decided that wine service would start a little early tonight as a result of the awning fiasco. That just means it will end earlier, too. I have a set amount of wine that I can drink in an evening. Anything more, and I have a headache the next day. Not willing to travel with a headache that can be prevented.

Anyway, that's the day. I am going to update budget expenses, update my camping history file on Evernote for Mother Neff, read for awhile, and go to bed early.