Speedy trip to the frozen tundra

Texas to Ohio and back in just 3 days!

By: Kevin

First off….Yes, we are completely nuts!

We have been stockpiling outgrown children clothes and baby items for a few months now. All of this has been taking up room in the Annex, our box trailer. Since we are planning to head farther west this summer instead of going back through Ohio we were faced with the question of whether to pay to ship everything back or deliver it ourselves. If we made the trip ourselves we could also pick up the remaining beef that has been stored in a freezer at Heather’s mom’s house since our visit in May 2016 (when we took delivery of 2 cows from the butcher).

So we decided to make a road trip. I only have a limited number of days off between shifts at work, so it would be a speedy cross-country trip. After getting off work at 7am on Thursday we all jumped in the van and pulled out, leaving the truck and RV in Texas. According to Google Maps the trip should have taken us 19.5 hours without stopping, and with stops for fuel and bathrooms we arrived in Mansfield 21.5 hours later. Heather and I traded off driving while the other napped and we drove straight through. 

The kids were really wanting to see snow while we were in Ohio. We were not sure if they would get their wish or not. On arriving in Mansfield we found small piles of half-melted snow which they were semi-excited about. However, whike we were there the snow began to fall. By midday there was a decent blanket of snow and the kids rejoiced as they were able to sled ride down a hill on the farm. They also took the opportunity to eat snow and Bug had a snowball fight with Heather and his grandma.

We enjoyed hanging out with Heather’s family for a mere 30 hours before piling back into the van and headed south again. We made a quick stop in Columbus for lunch with some friends before continuing along our journey.

We arrived back at the RV around noon on Sunday, and after transferring the frozen beef to our freezer we flopped on our bed for a much needed nap.

All-in-all it was a good trip without any snags, but I would not choose to repeat the trip in the near future.

Return to west Texas

San Angelo, TX (round 2)

This spring we are, for the first time since starting to travel, returning to an assignment where I have already worked. It has proved to be both the same and different for me this time around. I was fully expecting to walk back in to the ER and find that nothing had changed, and for the most part I was correct in that theory. However, nothing ever stays the same, even if it has only been 9 months since my prior departure. The staff in the ER has changed slightly, and some of the processes are slightly different. I read on another RV family’s blog that while one may miss someplace they have worked or lived in the past, they do not truly miss the place, but the idea of what the place used to be for them. People move and businesses open or close in our absence. Circling back to San Angelo has, to a small degree, shown me the truth of that concept.

Our camping accommodations are different this year. Since we added the Annex to our mobile lifestyle in November, the KOA campground in town will no longer permit us to stay there without finding a storage lot to keep our small box trailer. Since, after discussion, we were not willing to make that accommodation we have landed at a new campground in town, Concho Pearl RV. It sadly does not have a playground or pool like the KOA, but life goes on and we are happy there. We have had the blessing of being parked next to another fulltime RV family with kids and the campground staff informed us that within the very near future another family with kids will be pulling in on the other side of us for a month or more. Like many things in life we may not fully understand the reason things happen the way they do, but God has a plan even if we don’t see it at the time. Maybe it was God’s will that we would find ourselves between two other RV families with kids at our current campground instead of being parked at the KOA, which was my plan for this assignment.

We have already explored the immediate area and town, which has made it easy to get around town as we already know where to get groceries and propane. We already know what restaurants are available in town, and what restaurants are not available. Even so, we were invited to an art gallery which we had never been to yet, and are planning to check out a new church in town.

This also affords us the ability to explore new areas of Texas. Last year we explored San Antonio, Dallas/Fort Worth, & Carlsbad, NM. This year we have plans to visit a few new places  including some National and State parks. It is exciting to see what new adventures we will find even in an area we have already been to before now.

Space Center Houston

By: Kevin

Yesterday we made the trip from Little Rock, AR to Houston, TX. For the next few days we will be parked in our friends’ driveway for a visit, but today we visited Space Center Houston (NASA). Houston is well known for being mission control for the multiple Apollo missions as well as multiple shuttle missions before the shuttle program was retired in the early 2000s.

We stayed at a campground within a few miles of NASA, and made the drive over, arriving about 20 minutes before the doors officially opened for the day. We realized once we were parked that there were an abnormally high number of school-aged children for being a Monday morning. A banner near the entrance showed us that it was Homeschool Day at Space Center Houston. How cool! We were among other homschoolers for the day, and the best part was that it was completely by accident.

Once inside there was plenty to see and do. There were hands-on displays for the kids such as lifting a weight barbell with the different gravity levels of the planets in the solar system. They could drive rovers around a surface via remote control, and there were tablets with interactive games on them. There were many educational static displays as well. They had mock-up as well as real space memorabilia and equipment. There were also additional hands-on activities such as building a “lander” with craft supplies and driving robots around a marker track that I am not sure if they are there all the time, or they were there for Homeschool day.

We took a tram tour of the actual Johnson Space Center facility including stops at the historic Apollo mission control center, the Building 9 Vehicle Mock-up facility, as well as Rocket Park, home of a real Saturn 5 rocket.

Of all these I think I enjoyed building 9 the best as we could see where astronauts trained to perform tasks on the International Space Station (ISS) as well as the new Orion space platforms. They had rovers, robots, and walking artificial intelligence robots that the tour guide claimed could help perform maintenance on the ISS to alleviate humans from doing it. After 9/11/01 access to the Johnson Space Center was closed for a period of time, but has since reopened, albeit movement of the public is closely monitored and directed while on the facility. When I was in Houston in high school (Pre-9/11) I was able to walk around the facility with very minimal oversight. That is no longer the case due to security restrictions, but I appreciate that the space center was able to come up with a solution to allow access for the public to see specific areas of the facility.

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We were able to walk through a replica of the space shuttle Independence as well as a real Boeing-747 shuttle carrier aircraft. The kids enjoyed the shuttle, but I enjoyed the carrier aircraft more since we got to see the real inner-workings of such a massive plane.

Among the cutting-edge technological projects NASA is working on, I found it interesting that they were trying to figure out how to grow plants in space. Currently there is a research program on the ISS that focuses on growing plants under specially-colored LED lights. A special box, similar to the one pictured here is used to grow the plants in soil ‘pillows’. The pleated sides of the box get taller as the plants grow.


Hot Springs National Park

By: Heather

Today we visited Hot Springs National Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. It was quite a chilly day (in the 50’s) for people who had just spent the last 4 months in Florida. We all wore hats and long sleeves. We started out walking by beautiful blossoming trees on the way to visit Bath House Row where we could visit the Visitor’s Center and Historic Fordyce Bath House. img_4047Bug and Pie were quite surprised when they stuck their hands in a fountain outside and the water was HOT! It was also surprising to see steam coming off the fountain due to the cool outside air.img_4040 Inside the bath house we visited many rooms where patrons had once come for baths, medical treatments, and massages. img_4028Bug asked us if the water was heated by lava deep under ground, which sounded possibly feasible to us. Apparently though, the water is heated by radioactive isotopes deep under ground, and still is around 140 degrees when it comes to the surface. That was a bit harder for him to understand. After visiting the many rooms of the bath house and the natural spring in the basement, we went and had lunch. img_4038When we came back we were ready to tackle the trails on Hot Springs Mountain and the observation tower at the top. We could see quite far from the top of the tower, including bath house row where we had just explored. img_4050img_4562Afterward we went hiking on the trails. Kevin had a map but Pie was leading the way. Both kiddos were quite excited to be running through the woods. Little Miss Kicky Feet slept through most of the hike, snuggled warmly in her Tula carrier. I especially liked the flowering trees along the trail.

Once we were back down off of the mountain we stopped at a couple of water stations where we filled up water bottles with spring water to drink. One station was from a cold spring and another was from the hot springs. The water was quite good and there were some people filling up there that had many many gallon jugs to fill. All in all it was a very nice relaxing day spent together. 🙂

Little Rock, Arkansas

By: Kevin

Today we explored the Little Rock, AR area and downtown. Our first stop was Little Rock Central High School (LRCH), the first integrated public school in the United States. I knew about the Little Rock 9 (originally 10), but we learned additional details about the court cases leading up to the crisis, as well as the events surrounding the riots and necessity for the 101st Airborne to be deployed to protect the school and children from the hatred of their peers. It was neat to see in person a location that one has only read about in history class until now. We also learned about the significance of the Magnolia/Mobil gas station across the street from the school. These are places where history has been made. I also found it interesting that the school, while being a National Parks site, is also a fully functional high school. We were not allowed to go inside the school today because classes were in session and I had not submitted a request early enough to pass the security requirements to be inside the school while in session. I wonder if the kids attending school at LRCH ever stop and think about those who walked the halls before them.

Bug also discovered this old telephone with a rotary dial. He exclaimed that it would  “take forever” to call someone using the rotary dial phone! I remember making calls on such a phone growing up.

After LRCH we explored the Little Rock River Market District. There is a riverfront amphitheater, Arkansas River Trail, Junction bridge, and the market itself. The market is similar to the North Market in Columbus, OH or the Quincey Market in Boston, Mass. There were food vendors with cuisine from around the globe. Heather, the kids, and I all had different nationalities of food for lunch. Bug even got a free T-shirt from one of the vendors, which was pretty neat for him. The kids enjoyed the pig statue on the river bank side of the market.

Junction bridge is an old drawbridge converted into a pedestrian bridge that spans the river. It was a bit windy up on top, but a nice vantage point from which to view the area.

This afternoon we went to Burns Park, a 1,700 acre park in North Little Rock. The kids loved playing on an old military tank and a rocket ship themed playground. Pie made a new friend, who she will most likely never see again, and enjoyed playing tag until she and her friend had to part company. The park offered many hiking trails, rec facilities, a RV park, and even a small amusement park (which appeared to be still closed for the season).

Now it is time for a late afternoon nap to catch up on lost sleep and hopefully improve the attention span of Bug. Tomorrow is another day of exploration.

Goodbye Florida

By: Kevin

We are on the road again! We have enjoyed our time in Florida, but the time has come to explore elsewhere. The final destination of this trip is somewhere we have already explored, but the journey can be as fun as the destination. On our way to San Angelo, Texas we are making stops in Little Rock, Arkansas and Houston, Texas. You can read about those adventures in posts over the next week and a half.

We pulled out of Largo yesterday morning and headed North. It was a gray rainy day, so we were very thankful that we prepared for the trip by buying new windshield wipers and reapplying Rain-X to both vehicles. It rained most of the day with some glimmers of sunshine in the evening.

One advantage of towing your home behind you is that you have access to everything in it while travelling. The whole family made use of the toilet, which we preferred over using (sometimes questionable) gas station restrooms. We pulled food from the fridge for lunch, and when dinner came around we “ate in” while relaxing on the couch as the RV sat in a semi-truck parking lot beside a gas station somewhere in Alabama. Heather baked a tuna noodle casserole in the RV oven which was quite good. We all had second helpings. Since the range/oven/refrigerator all run off of propane and the lights run on 12 volts, we were right at home, even without firing up the generator or plugging into shore power.

Last night we slept in a Cracker Barrel parking lot (which are notorious for being RV-friendly) after pulling off the road a mere 566 miles from where we started yesterday morning. Our sleeping location also gave us a pretty easy decision on what to eat for breakfast this morning.

We were back on the road after breakfast and stopped to prepare bagged lunches in a Lowe’s parking lot in New Albany, MS. We tried to go to the Wal-Mart just up the street, but I could not even pull into their parking lot. There were large metal barricades across all the entrances prohibiting vehicles taller than 10 feet tall from entering. Since the RV is 12’ 9” tall, I guess this Wal-Mart does not want our business. I have seen Wal-Marts that prohibit overnight parking, but none to date that prohibit large vehicles from coming to shop.

Shortly before dark we arrived at our home for the next few days, a KOA Kampground in Little Rock, Arkansas. We even squeezed the RV, truck, van, and the Annex (box trailer) on one site, much to the surprise of the office staff. We have travelled just under 1,000 miles since we pulled out of Largo yesterday, and we are ready to go exploring for a few days instead of sitting in our vehicles all day. Tomorrow we explore Little Rock!

Mother-approved flooring

By: Kevin

When we purchased our RV back in the fall of 2014 it had a leak. The leak was a challenge to track down, but I found it and fixed it. However, there was some rot and damage done to the wood in the wall and floor of the RV. I have, over a few work sessions, completed the repairs needed including replacing some sub-flooring in the kitchen/common area. This area had cheap sheet vinyl flooring and at the time of the repairs I simply cut it back to complete the repairs and used staples and duct tape to keep the edges from becoming trip hazards, leaving the newly repaired plywood sub-flooring exposed. It has been in this state of repair since …Spring 2016.

Well, Heather has been reminding me that the project needed completing, but I really dreaded dealing with sheet vinyl in an area with SO many edges and corners to trim around. However, with Miss Kicky Feet learning to army crawl and increasing her mobility swiftly, we needed to have a floor that was safe for her to crawl across.

We were looking at laminate flooring, but with the vast differences in climate and humidity across the U.S. as we travel, as well as its susceptibility to swelling when moist, this was not a good option for us. Instead we found interlocking vinyl planks with a color scheme and variability that we loved. Once assembled the interlocking planks would form a waterproof floor just like sheet vinyl, but since it comes as 6×48″ planks, it would be vastly easier to work with than sheet vinyl. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a winner!

The removal of the sheet vinyl went quickly with a sharp utility knife and I was soon ready to start laying down the underlayment. Underlayment is a thin layer between the sub-floor and the vinyl that acts as a cushion for the floor, gives it some acoustic dampening, provides a moisture barrier, as well as providing a bit of insulation. This is taped together with aluminum tape to create a seamless layer. The new floor is a floating floor, meaning there are no screws, nails, or glue to hold each plank in place, so the underlayment integrity is maintained, instead of many nail holes punched through it. This is an added benefit in an RV setting because as the RV shifts and adjusts rolling down the road, the floor is able to float across the underlayment instead of binding.

The planks went down quickly as I snapped them together and tapped them tight with a rubber mallet. The only real problem with installation was that I started it after dinner and at 11:00pm the neighbor knocked on our door and kindly reminded us that he could hear my rubber mallet thumping from his RV. Therefore, work was halted for the evening and resumed this morning. The rest of the install went smoothly and with a little bit of trim around the edges the new floor was complete. We love the color, durability, and the slight cushion  in the floor as one walks across it. Heather loves that the floor is complete and safe for Miss Kicky Feet.