History Tour, part 2 – Gettysburg, PA

I wasn’t the greatest student in my history class when I was in school.  There were many names, dates and places that just didn’t get me excited.  I never enjoyed history.  Mike, on the other hand, loves history.  All of it.  It has always amazed me how much historical data is stored in his brain.  I would never want Mike on my spelling bee team, but if the game is trivial pursuit he’s your ringer.

Since our retirement over 8 years ago, we have been traveling the world and now the United States.  I am constantly impressed with Mike’s knowledge of the areas we visit and his desire to learn more about them.  While I desire to simply embrace the natural beauty around me, Mike feels the history.  And Gettysburg is ALL about the history.  The Museum at Gettysburg National Military Park is fascinating (and really sad).  The tour of the Civil War Battlefields, with many, many memorials and stories behind them,  brought this piece of our history to life for me as I tried to make any sense of it.

IMG_1652 memorialIMG_1646 memorialIMG_1643 Memorial IMG_1650 memorial IMG_1632 Picketts Charge IMG_1622 Memorial IMG_1618 Mike reads all signs IMG_1611 Civil War Monument

The Cyclorama is a 360 degree famous painting of the Civil War brought to life with lights and sound as you learn about the significance of and experience the battle at Gettysburg from the center of the theater.

IMG_3421 cyclorama IMG_3419 CycloramaIMG_3406 The Pub

A fun little day trip was spent in Hershey, Pennsylvania.  Mike is a total ‘chocoholic’, so this place was a must-see on the list.  The history of Milton Hershey was soooo much more interesting than I expected!  We took a tour of Hershey’s Chocolate World factory, which was more like a child’s ride at Disneyland.   Fun to see how the chocolate is made and watch the various candies produced into the familiar products we love right before our eyes.   Then we took a narrated trolley tour of Hershey’s town, including the entertainment complex, amusement park, golf course, corporate offices, and employee housing.  The Hershey Trust Company still owns a large part of the town which also supports The Milton Hershey Schools (K-12) and housing for 1,900 underpriveleged children.  It was originally established in 1909 as an industrial school and home for orphaned boys.  The story is impressive.

P1150303 Hersheys Chocolate WorldIMG_3432 hershey tourIMG_3468 Hershey Trolley works

We stayed at the Pine Grove Furnace State Park in Gardner, PA, following our GPS  to get there.   I usually double check the recommended route using different resources before we head out.  This time I didn’t do that and we ended up deep in the woods on a road that got smaller and smaller.  Then the narrow road turned to dirt and started to look more like a trail, twisting up and around with the trees brushing our topsides.  Then we saw a sign prohibiting our weight AND the name of the road changed to Snowmobile Rd.  We could not turn around, so we just kept going and finally got back to a real road.  OMG!  I will never forget to doublecheck my route in the future!  Anyway, once we found the campground and got settled in, we were very happy.  Other than the cold weather that kept us bundled up all week, it was a great site.  The campground was busy on the weekend, but it was all ours during the week.  We scavenged the empty campsites for any left over fire wood and built cozy campfires each evening with all that free firewood.  And I ate a s’more each evening (with our Hershey chocolate, of course)!

P1150300 Pine Grove Furnace campsite

We missed seeing a good friend when we passed through Washington DC.  Just so we don’t miss an opportunity to connect with other old friends, following is our travel plan for the next few months.  If you’re going to be anywhere near where we’re going to be, please give us a shout.  At the beginning of May, we’ll be in New Jersey and Rhode Island.  By mid-May, we’ll be in the Boston area.  Then at the end of May/beginning of June, we’ll be in Maine.  In June we’ll head to Niagara Falls and turn south again.  It gets pretty fuzzy at this point, but we want to visit the Mammoth Caverns and the Wild Turkey Distillery in Kentucky; Nashville, Tennessee; Branson, Missouri; Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills, South Dakota; Durango, Colorado (Sept); then Albuquerque, AZ for the hot air balloon festival in October.  I know it looks like a big zig-zag up and down, but we’ll see what actually happens.

History Tour – Washington, DC

April 14-18, 2013

Our next stop was Bull Run Regional Park in Manassas, VA.  It was as close as we could get to a MetroRail Station into Washington, DC.  The campsite was a little more than we like to pay, and it was only an electric hook-up (no water or sewer).  But spending a week touring the capital was a priority for Mike.  Plus it turned out to be a really nice campsite conveniently located near the showers and laundry.  Our site was large which really didn’t matter because the campground was practically empty anyway.

IMG_3346 Bull Run, VA campsiteP1150266 Mike and Lucy lovefest

Mike is a history buff and was looking forward to spending lots of time touring as many museums as we could.  We barely cracked the surface.  It would take many weeks to see everything.  Rather than rush through a bunch of them, we selected a few and then spent hours at each one.  We also did some walking and visited many of the important monuments and memorials.  The museums we toured were the Smithsonian Natural History, Smithsonian American History, Smithsonian National Air and Space, Bureau of Printing and Engraving and the International Spy Museum.  Our final full day was spent at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.  All of the previous days facts and figures were replaced with a heavy load of emotion.  It was a very full week and I’m looking forward to enjoying some downtime at our next stop.

IMG_3332 Washington MonumentIMG_3292 Mike at Navy MemorialIMG_3328 Vietnam MemorialIMG_3363 Hope DiamondP1150282IMG_3263IMG_3377 Forensic ScienceIMG_1576 Cherry Blossom TreeIMG_3306 White House

Blue Ridge Mountains – Virginia

April 9-13, 2013

On our way to the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, we stopped for a few days in Tennessee at the Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park.  Our campsite was right on the swift Nolichucky River.  The campground is located where the river turns a corner and creates rapids in this section.  So we got to listen to the wonderful sound of water rushing over rocks.

P1150215 hiking the Nolichucky RiverIMG_3139 Lucy in window at Davy Crockett Birthplace Campground, TN

Even though the trees are still bare, the ground has turned green.  I liked hiking along trails made of grass.  Spotted many beautiful birds and even saw a turtle with a baby turtle on her back.  We met some nice people in the campground and were invited over to sit around their campfires and make s’mores each night.

IMG_3162 grass trails next to Nolichucky RiverTurtles

We have been driving the state roads when we can.  They are more scenic than the Interstates.  I’m leary of getting too far off the beaten track because our rig is so big.  The state roads work well for us, particularly the scenic highways.


We camped at Stoney Creek Resort so we could be close to the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive.  Our campsite was on a peaceful lake and it was so serene.  It was a personal revelation to me to learn that I enjoy the serenity of the lake over the roar of the rapids at our last campsite.  I liked listening to the birds singing and all the other sounds of silence.

P1150243 Stoney Creek Resort campsite, VirginiaP1150261 me and Mike at Stoney Creek campsite fireIMG_1561 Mike and Lucy lovefestIMG_1497 ducks at Stoney Creek

We took car drives each day along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park.  Breathtaking views around every turn.  We even stopped for a couple of hikes.  One hike was classified as “moderately easy”.  They lied.  It was a couple of miles twisting and turning down the steep mountainside.  Our reward was an 85-foot waterfall which was great, but then we had to get back UP the mountain.  We were really feeling that one the next day.

IMG_1528 Rock Point OverlookIMG_1517 Greenstone TrailIMG_3222

IMG_1536 Old Logging Railroad trail

Peace, Love and Asheville – North Carolina

April 5-8, 2013

Our intention for spending the weekend in Asheville, North Carolina was to tour the Biltmore Estate.   The ticket for this grand home was expensive, but I was able to save a few dollars by reserving on-line.  We got the audio to go along with our tour so we could learn the history of the family and hear all the stories about how they lived as we walked through the 250 room home.  Construction on the house started in 1889 and took 6 years to complete.  The house covers 4 acres and is 175,000 sq. ft.!  It is the largest home in America.  It is truly amazing, but unfortunately we weren’t permitted to take any pictures inside.  I couldn’t back up enough to get the whole frontage of the house in this picture.  It didn’t occur to me to take a panoramic shot.  Duh.

P1150175 Biltmore EstateP1150182 me and Mike at Biltmore Estate

We didn’t realize what a fun little town Asheville would be.  We drove from our campsite into town to walk around and maybe grab a bite to eat.  We didn’t realize that we would be entering a time warp.  Asheville is described as a funky mix of hippies, New Agers, mountain bikers, antique lovers and farmers.  It is a charming town with a great vibe!  So glad we took the day to visit!

IMG_1414 Mellow Mushroom, Asheville, NCIMG_1416 colorful storefront in AshevilleIMG_1418 Love signIMG_1419 wall mural in AshevilleIMG_1447 street corner band in AshevilleIMG_1428 girl drinking from fountain in AshevilleIMG_1438 city squareIMG_1454 street band in Asheville

We camped at Wilson’s Riverfront RV Park on the French Broad River.  We were surrounded by Cherry Blossom trees and connected to a large park via the river walk.  The fantastic weather gave us the opportunity to take long walks with Lucy.  And there was a dog park several miles down the river.  We walked all the way there so Lucy could play, but she was shy and stayed close to us.  The only dog she has ever enjoyed playing with is her BFF Ruby in California.P1150165 Wilsons Riverfront trailP1150212 Wilsons Riverfront Campsite, Asheville, NC

North Carolina – Visiting Old Friends

I’m not sure how it happened, but for various unrelated reasons, several of our long-time friends from California have retired and relocated to North Carolina. We had a great time visiting each of them and seeing their beautiful homes for the first time. It’s weird to think that they’ve been here for a decade, and we’ve all visited and travelled together over these years, but Mike and I had never been to their new homes! All I can say is “Wow”. Your real estate dollar goes alot farther in North Carolina compared to California. And these are people who lived well in California, so you can imagine. LARGE homes on lakes or by the sea, with acres of trees and views, and natural beauty. So happy when friends can retire and live in comfort and beauty like that. Plus, it gives us great places to visit while we pursue our simple nomad lifestyle.

Our first stop was in Wilmington to see Ray. Ray and Mike worked together for many years (different agencies with coordinated efforts) before retirement. Ray also crossed the Atlantic Ocean with us in 2008 when we needed an extra crew hand. His wife let us keep him for a couple of months on our sailboat while we stopped to tour in Bermuda, the Azores, Portugal, Spain and Gibraltar. He would have helped us sail back in 2011, but he was doing a contract job in Afghanistan at the time. Not too many people are willing to cross the ocean in a sailboat (it takes almost a month). And Ray gets seasick, so he had to take meds (the patch), but he was willing to do it again if we could have waited until his contract commitment was done. What an adventurous friend! Ray also showed us some of his prized possessions. In his ‘man cave’ room was the guitar collection (he was in a rock band in his youth), in the 4-car garage a Pantera, a classic Mustang, Harley Davidson motorcyle, and in the marina his powerboat. Oh those boys and their toys.

Ray and Mike Mike and Ray outside Rays pantera with Linda and Lucy

Bill is another one of Mike’s retired agent buddies we got to visit. They have been the best of friends for many years. When Bill and Monika retired they moved to North Carolina where Bill has family. Their huge house with acreage is on a quiet secluded lake where we could watch the deer play near the water’s edge while having coffee on the deck in the morning. And all these birds, ducks, geese, squirrels, beavers and, of course, our doggies Lucy and Murphy having a grand time chasing them all! Billy took us out for our first taste of authentic North Carolina BBQ and we enjoyed relaxing at their house for several days, shooting pool, drinking, and the guys reminiscing about the good ol days.

BQ and Mike BQ Monika Linda Mike on deck BQs house BQs race car in trailer

Bill’s toys include his single engine 4-seater airplane (just sold, getting a new one), Harley-Davidson motorcycle, and most recently a race car that he is building. It’s almost ready for the race track and Bill will do the driving. Lawd have mercy.

Mike on BQs bike

Our close friends Larry and Mary live on Lake Norman. We lived next door to each other in California 20 years ago, and have remained close ever since. Together we’ve enjoyed vacationing around the world, from Australia (where they lived for several years), to St. Martin in the Caribbean and Mallorca in the Mediterranean Sea where we rendesvous’d in our sailboats. They currently split their time between this house and their 54 Hylas sailboat which is now in Sicily. They will be returning to the boat in a couple of weeks to continue cruising on to Turkey and Greece. We always have a fantastic time with Larry and Mary. Mary and I never have enough time to get “caught up” and we always feel like we should have planned for a longer visit.

Ivins beach view Ivins house from water Lake Norman group

It was warm enough on one of our days there to go out on their lake boat. We docked for lunch at the North Harbor Restaurant for a yummy lunch. Mary wanted me to stay a few extra days as the weather warmed up, so I could waterski. Uh, no. Mary is extremely fit (and much younger than me) and still thinks of me as her workout buddy from so many years ago. Hiking and biking is about all I want to do anymore. She and Larry still enjoy more extreme sports. I’m too scared of hurting myself! Mary absolutely won’t accept that from me, and if the weather had cooperated with her, I wouldn’t be typing this blog right now because both of my arms would be dangling out of my shoulder sockets! (Love you, Mary!)

Linda and Mary in boattie up for breakfast

For all the years they have lived near Charlotte, they had never toured the NASCAR Hall of Fame. None of us know much about NASCAR, but we had a great time at this interactive museum. The racing simulator was the most fun. Below is a picture of the cars that each of us “drove” in the simulation. It’s so real that I got dizzy, but at least I beat Mike! It was a wild experience.

NASCAR Hall of Fame Us at the NASCAR Hall of Fame

I just returned from a week in California with my daughter, Kimberly, and her family. I left Mike and Lucy here in North Carolina while I flew to California for my dermotologist appointment, radiology appointment, got a facial and a pedicure with Kimberly, watched Paige at track, Blake at soccer, Garrett at baseball, ate Lance’s incredible homemade meals, and talked, shopped, and laughed with Kimberly until late into the night. A fun, fun week. Now I’m back in the Bear with my honeys and we are on the road again. Next stop, Asheville, NC for a few days to tour the Biltmore. Cherry blossoms are blooming all around, and the weather is finally getting warmer.

Until my next post, cheers!

South Carolina – Mechanical Problems

Our problem began when we noticed the electric slideouts seemed to be struggling when we were setting up camp or breaking down camp.  We called Technical Support and were told that our batteries must be weak.  We thought that was odd because we plug in our electrical connection BEFORE we do the slideouts, so that the load would not be pulling from the batteries.  What we learned is that the slides pull from the batteries whether we are plugged in or not.  The electrical connection feeds the batteries, but if the batteries are already low (due to us driving during that day), then the slides and jacks will pull from the batteries faster than the electrical connection can recharge them.  Our solution is to run the generator during the final hour of any drive, so that the batteries are fully charged when we arrive.   ….but alas, our problems proved to be more than a battery issue.

When we went to break camp at Crooked River State Park in Georgia, we were confident that our batteries were fully charged.  After pulling in the first of our four slides, we saw smoke billowing out of the front of the RV where the hydraulic pump motor is located.  Ohhhhhh, NOT good!  We spent the next couple of hours with our manuals figuring out how to do the manual override procedure.  We finally got the slides in and the jacks up and planned to look for an RV repair shop.  But the second that we started the engine and put the Bear in gear, the jacks went down!  What??!!  Another call to technical support walked us through the process of disconnecting another wire, and we were able to get the jacks up … but the fault alarm wouldn’t stop.  Another call walked us through the final disconnect which stopped the screaming alarm.

Realizing that this would most likely be a costly repair, we pulled out the paperwork for the overpriced Extended Warrantee that we paid for when we bought the Bear last year.  I wanted to be sure that we followed their procedure to the letter.  (Thank you to “Wheeling It” for their excellent blog post on Extended Warrantees)  I knew they would need to pre-approve any repair/replacement before the work was done.  But first we needed to find a facility that would look at us … and everywhere we called was booked up weeks in advance!  We were able to get Camping World to agree to squeeze us in for an analysis if we were there at the crack of dawn, before their scheduled appointments started.  So we drove there and spent the night in their parking lot in North Charleston, SC.

The mechanic determined that the coupler was leaking ATF fluid in the hydraulic pump motor which caused it to overheat and cooked it.  The whole thing needed to be replaced.  This is not a component that is kept in stock and they scared us with the warning that ordering parts could take from one to six weeks.  (6 weeks!!!  Nooooo!!)  After obtaining approval from the Extended Warrantee bandits, Camping World ordered the components from Lippert.  We paid extra for 2-day shipping and 3 days later we were good as new and on the road again.  Our warrantee covered about 2/3 of the total cost.

Lesson learned:

–Check the ATF fluid in the hydraulic pump often.  We always checked for any leaking from the jacks, but there was never any visible signs of ATF fluid on the ground.  I’m not sure we could have prevented this, and we were told that it was a very unusual breakdown.  But we will check the ATF fluid everytime now to insure it’s not disappearing!

–We now have hands-on skills in the connect/disconnect/manual override procedures for the jacks and slideouts.  We know the correct size of the allen wrench needed and where to use it.  We know the locations of the isolator valve, pressure switch, circuit breakers and each manual override valve.  And I just hope we never have to use this knowledge again because those places are NOT easy to reach!