Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Saturday, October 16, through Saturday, November 6, 2010: The Sprint to Texas:

After resting for two days at Gettysburg Farm, and sorting through our mail

we headed out on the sprint to Lake Whitney, Texas, where we will store our trailer for a long weekend and from which we will fly to southern California for our 25th Anniversary celebration in Temecula. The highlight of this stay near Gettysburg was a return to the restaurant (“Sidney” in nearby East Berlin) which we had enjoyed the last time through, in July. I had a huge prime rib, preceded by an appetizer of delicious pate of chicken liver and foie gras. Delightful, and very surprising to find in this remote, rural village.

On Sunday, we headed for Hickory Hollow Campground, in Rockwood, Pennsylvania (near Somerset), a trip of only 152 miles. (There is no point in jumping with both feet back into the RV travel thing.) It was an easy trip, and the campground (only 5 years old) is very nice, though not particularly exciting. Our two projects were: (i) to go into Rockwood to spend an hour walking on its local rail trail with Daisy,

and (ii) to head into Somerset to hit the Wal-Mart Supercenter for some much needed groceries. We accomplished both with alacrity.

Tuesday was a four-state travel day, from Pennsylvania, through Maryland and West Virginia, ending up in Racine, Ohio (a total of only 207 miles), at the Kountry (cute, huh?) Resort Campground, a nice enough campground with beautiful park-like grounds and too many trees for our satellite dish. Oh, well. We can cope for two days without TV. (It’s too much trouble to set up our backup dish for only a two-day stay.) We went through some magnificent country today in Pennsylvania. Rolling hills, well-tended farmhouses, stately silos, and forests of brilliant fall colors. Just lovely.

In West Virginia, there were visible a number of tributes to that old crook, Senator Robert Byrd, reminding me how much I dislike traditional politicians. He got a lot of credit for delivering pork to West Virginia. Apparently, it didn't include federal highway funds---their interstate highways are horrible; full of bumpy lanes that rattle your teeth.

We just relaxed on Wednesday, and headed for Salem, Virginia (nearest big city: Roanoke) on Thursday. No big deal getting there, arriving at 2:00 pm at the Dixie Caverns Campground. It's a fairly small, old park, with very long (but very narrow) pull-thrus, located just off the main highway. All things considered, it's perfect. That means our satellite dish works. I decided to follow up on the smoking problem with our truck. Friday I went to the nearest dealer, explained the ongoing saga, and asked them to confirm the diagnosis (glow plug relay) or find another reason for the smoke. After spending the entire day sitting at the dealer, I was told the glow plugs were the problem; that they all should be replaced; that GM would pay for most of the job; and the truck would be ready Saturday morning. I rented a car for the overnight, since we had plans. Saturday morning, we picked up the truck and returned the rental car. Following the rental car to Enterprise, I noticed that the smoke problem had not been solved! We returned to the dealer, who threw up its hands (pardon the mixed metaphor) and said they had no idea what to do. I asked for a referral to another dealer with diesel experience. They connected me with one a mile away, and the service manager said he knew from our brief conversation what was wrong---fuel injectors. He said they have been replacing them in this engine for years. The truck could be ready Tuesday morning. We authorized the zillion-dollar estimate and hoped for the best.

In the meantime, we have filled the unexpected time gap with the search for an additional Dalmatian---to keep Daisy company. There's a Dalmatian rescue place five miles from our campground. Saturday, we picked up Xander (short for Alexander) for a test stay with us. After about ten minutes, we decided it was going to be permanent. This is Xander looking at his image in the mirror.

Here are Xander (on the left) and Daisy relaxing after a hard day of play:

We finalized the adoption Monday night. On Tuesday morning, Becky decided that we needed to change Xander's name to Ramsey. She became fascinated with that name when we were at the Chevy dealership. The service manager's name was Ramsey Wells.

We picked up the truck Tuesday morning, emptied our bank account to pay for it, checked that it wasn’t smoking any more (Hurrah!!!), and headed for Crossville, Tennessee---where we stayed at Breckenridge Lake RV Park. It was a decent, but remote, park with only small, back-in spaces. It was a bit of a challenge to get in, but we made it---with the help of a neighbor who used to be a long-haul truck driver. We got there too late to do anything but settle in for the night. The next morning (Wednesday) we headed to Sevierville, Tennessee, and the Riverside RV Park, a beautiful place with huge spaces and large grassy areas.

Sevierville is next door to Pigeon Forge (there really is such a place) which is the home of Dollywood (Dolly Parton’s amusement complex), plus every national chain of hotels, motels, and restaurants, a zillion local hotels, motels, and restaurants, and any number of other oddball amusements. All of the buildings have cutesy exterior designs that underscore the fact that this really is hillbilly country. It’s kind of like a down-home version of Las Vegas without the gambling.

The weather was threatening, so we just had dinner (in a local Chinese buffet restaurant that was quite good and very reasonable) and settled in for the night. Right after dinner, the rain started. It was horrendous. At 3:00 am, I was awakened by Becky---announcing that our power was out and the battery backup wasn’t working. It turned out that a connection in our power cord got wet and shorted out the main power supply because it was completely under water, and the backup battery was simply dead.  So there I was, in the middle of the night, changing our power cords while standing up to my ankles in water. I was hoping my knowledge of electricity would guarantee that I would not be electrocuted.   I survived, and the next morning we bought a new battery while on the way to Great Smoky National Park---which was the reason we were in the neighborhood in the first place.   To get to the park, we had to go through Pigeon Forge and its neighbor, Gatlinburg, a smaller version of lovely Pigeon Forge.

Great Smoky is a very nice park, appropriately named

and the fall colors were spectacular.

It is the most visited national park and the only major one that doesn’t charge an entry fee. (Becky asked how they count the number of visitors if they don’t collect a fee from anyone? Excellent question.) The park is located in the center of the lower 48 states so that might partially explain why so many people visit it.

We were able to spend only two hours there, since we had to get back on the road to stay on schedule. At noon, we left the RV park and headed for the Diamond Caverns RV Park in Park City, Kentucky---the gateway to Mammoth Cave National Park. The RV Park was quite nice, having large spaces and rolling hills with extensive grassy areas. We visited the national park that afternoon. We hurriedly bought tickets to the next available tour of the caverns, which was leaving in ten minutes. At the Ranger briefing

I decided not to stay on the tour---instead cashing in my ticket and relaxing for the next two hours. Mostly it was because, after hearing the Ranger describe the various elements of the tour, I determined that my claustrophobia would not allow me to enjoy even a minute of the actual tour. There were also the elements of: (i) hiking two miles underground, (ii) having to stoop-over while walking through hundreds of feet of tunnel, (iii) climbing 400 steps, and (iv) going two hours without a bathroom available.   On her return from the tour, Becky confirmed that, while she enjoyed the tour immensely, my decision to stay back had been sound.

The next day we were back on the road, this time heading for the Vanderburgh 4-H Center & RV Park in Evansville, Indiana. The RV park was old and the spaces very small, but we didn’t care particularly---since the people were nice and, for the 4th straight stop, we were staying only one night, anyway.

The next morning, with the temperature at 34 degrees, we left Evansville, went through Illinois, and arrived at the Lost Valley Lake Resort near (i.e., 16 miles from) Owensville, Missouri (and about 60 miles west of St. Louis---where, in just a few mnutes, we passed the arch,

the headquarters of Anheuser-Busch, and Busch Stadium), a trip totaling 242 miles.  It is magnificent resort with some dazzling new facilities, but the RV area is old, therefore having small and hard-to-get-into spaces, but we managed---and we will be here for two whole days!!! The temperature was 88 degrees when we arrived, quite an upgrade from the morning. This place not only allows children, but encourages their being here. They were everywhere, and since it was unofficially Halloween, they were particularly noticeable (and noisy) wandering the streets Saturday night. We bought a lot of candy for them, but forgot to put out the sign that said trick-or-treaters were welcome, and we had no takers. We’ll have to eat all the candy ourselves.   Drat!   Sunday morning, we had breakfast in their very nice restaurant and visited Owensville to hit the Wal-Mart for groceries.   It was nice not having to hit the road immediately.

Monday morning we left for Branson, Missouri, for a two-day stay. It was an easy 200-mile drive, and the RV park (Treasure Lake) is huge, with, though, a lot of small and poorly designed RV spaces. It's strange how often we find that RV park designers apparently have no experience RVing, and therefore design difficult parks.   We made it OK, though.   Monday, and most of Tuesday, we mostly relaxed.   To avoid for three hours the endless predictions of the election results on TV Tuesday night, we attended the Jim Staford show at one of the many theaters/showrooms in Branson.  (Branson is Pigeon Forge Lite in architectural terms and has a zillion theaters/showrooms---which is responsible, of course, for its popularity.)  The Jim Stafford show was fun and very entertaining---in a relaxed, down-home way.   He is a veteran of showbiz (66 years old, having spent the last 21 years in Branson) and, as a result, does a good job working the audience.   Branson also has a lot of steep hills (it's deep in the Ozarks, after all) and parts of the city have narrow streets---both of which make it hell on RVs.   Our poor truck worked very hard getting around because of the hills, and some RVs almost got stuck trying to negotiate the tight historic downtown area.   But I'm glad we came here; it's something to experience.

The election results were, of course, exciting, though I had hoped for more of a Republican sweep. Oh, well. There's always 2012.

Wednesday, we headed for Oklahoma, the Hidden Valley RV Park in Muskogee, to be specific, for two days.   It's a nice, small park right on the highway (and adjacent to a train track on which we did not hear a single train in two days, thank you).   For some unknown reason, our GPS thought the park was 2 miles past the actual park and the only reason we found it at all was spotting a small sign for it next to the highway.   Again, it was a restful time, with trips to Wal-Mart and a Chinese buffet for excitement.

Ramsey has now been with us for almost two weeks, and is adjusting nicely.   He's really a nice dog; he just has more energy than we are used to.

Friday, we headed for Thackerville, Oklahoma, for another two-day stay.  Because we went through Indian reservation country, there were no direct roads, and we had to first go south into Texas (Gainesville), then west for a bunch of miles, then north, back into Oklahoma to get there.  The RV park (Red River Ranch Resort) is nice, but unexciting.   That's OK.   On the way, we stopped to get our vehicles inspected.  (Our current Texas inspections expired in August, but we were out of the state, of course.   Now, it was mandatory to get them renewed ASAP.   Otherwise, a policeman could ticket us for not being current.   I don't know what they look for in these inspections, but it only takes a few minutes.)   We passed.   Whew!

Saturday morning, Ramsey shot out the door and played "catch me if you can" for a few minutes and then disappeared under the building that housed the office---chasing the local cat.   It took us about an hour to get him out, removing several wooden steps in the process to give us access and allowing Becky to try to reach him.   He finally came out on his own, and didn't even apologize.  He apparently didn't realize how close we were to calling the fire department for help.   It all ended well, thank you.

Saturday night we went back to Gainesville to have dinner at a local joint that served barbecue and other country stuff.   The place was not crowded, and the waitress was not well-trained (she completely blew the wine presentation), but the food was excellent and inexpensive.  Altogether, it was a nice experience.

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