New England Road Trip

By: Kevin

While working a contract in Rhode Island we decided we wanted to explore a few more of the New England states. We found a stretch of 6 days off in my schedule and started making plans. We pulled out of the campground that we had been staying at, leaving the van, motorcycle, and outside toys still sitting at the site, and headed north. We passed through Massachusetts and crossed into New Hampshire. Our first stop was the USS Albacore, a retired research submarine in Portsmouth, NH. As we walked around and through the vessel we stopped to listen to audio recordings detailing the design, use, and life aboard the vessel. While it never was directly involved in any conflicts,  nor did it carry any armaments, this vessel pioneered a number of technologies that were later integrated into US naval vessels and submarines. The kids enjoyed crawling around on the submarine and Heather was amazed at just how tight the living quarters were aboard. Since she now had a decent baby bump, it was entertaining watching her try to navigate the passageways. The normal instinct to turn sideways to fit through narrow passageways actually made her wider, not more narrow, so she kind of half-turned and wiggled through on an angle.

Our next stop was Portland, Maine. We pulled in to a nice little campground hidden in the woods and set up camp for what would be two nights. The weather was cool but pleasant, and slightly overcast. We called it an early evening due to the fact that I had worked the night before at the hospital and was still awake some 20+ hours later. It is noteworthy to mention that this was the largest RV site we have ever had. Yes, the entire area pictured was our site!

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The next morning we arose, feeling much more rested, and headed off to the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, ME. The museum is built on the site of an old wooden ship-building yard. While some buildings remain, many have succumbed to fire, weather, or being torn down for one reason or another. The tour guides were very knowledgeable, and we enjoyed our visit learning about the art of ship-building. They even had a kid’s program that allowed our two little ones to hammer, drill, sew sails, and caulk boards along the tour, which kept them engaged.

On our way down the street from the Maritime Museum we passed the new shipbuilding yards full of steel commercial vessels and one slate gray US Navy vessel nearing completion. After leaving Bath, we explored downtown Portland for a while, and finished the day by eating local seafood at a restaurant aboard an old Riverboat, now permanently docked (but still floating) in the Portland harbor. As seafood goes, our dinner was more expensive than I would opt for on any regular night, but I figured it may be a long time until we get to have such an experience again.img_2490

The next morning we headed off again, this time across the state line to upstate New Hampshire to the town of Conway, NH. There we boarded a vintage train pulled by a diesel-electric engine and started up the tracks towards the Crawford Notch State Park and White Mountain National Forest. It was cool drizzly day, but we enjoyed the scenic views up and down the valley as we click-clacked up the track. On the back of the train, instead of a caboose,  was an open-air car that we sat in for about half an hour and experienced the damp smells of the forest as we traveled along. Since it was fairly cool for our sun-loving family, we opted for some hot chocolate from the train snack bar. Our ride arrived at the turn-around point and we were allowed to roam the National Forest for an hour. We took a hike around Crawford Lake and explored a bit into the woods before re-boarding the train for our descent down the valley and back to Conway.

After our train ride had completed we drove a few minutes down the road to Diana’s Bath, a natural series of waterfalls and pools in the White Mountain National Forest. Against my initial objections, Heather convinced me to hike (in the rain) 1.5 miles into the forest to the falls. Once there Heather and the kids took off their shoes and waded into the cold water and played amongst the boulders. We spent over an hour exploring the falls before returning to the truck and heading back to Portland, ME.

The following day we hitched up the fifth wheel and pulled out of ME headed for Ben & Jerry’s  Ice Cream Factory in Waterbury, VT. While there we saw the famous Ben & Jerry’s cows, the production facility including a tour, and got a free sample of an ice cream test flavor that has not been released to the general public. We, of course, could not leave having only eaten a free sample, so we ordered a Mini Vermonster which entails 4 scoops of ice cream, whipped topping, nuts, sprinkles, chocolate and caramel syrups, a banana, chocolate chip cookie pieces, M&Ms, and brownie bites. So, it is basically a diabetic’s worst nightmare. We split this bucket of sugar-laden treat between the four of us, and it was still enough to give us all a sugar buzz for the next hour or so.img_2579

We toured the ‘Flavor Graveyard’ of retired B&J flavors, and the kids had fun creating spin art (spin white paper on electric platform and drop colored paint onto the paper creating neat swirl designs). I was also impressed at the size of the solar farm that was present on the grounds. I know B&J tout that they are an environmentally-friendly company, but they certainly back it up when you see the rows of solar panels to help reduce their electrical needs.

From B&J’s we traveled just a 5 miles down the road to Cold Hollow Cider Mill which is also in Waterbury, VT. The smell of cinnamon and apple greeted us at the front doors, which was very pleasant. We watched a video about the cider press operations, and would have been able to see at least some of the process in action behind glass panels, except that it was a weekend, and the production line was closed down. We tasted fresh-pressed apple cider from a large steel holding tank and purchased a dozen apple donuts, which had come highly recommended from some coworkers at the hospital. The donuts were all of 3 minutes old as we were able to see them from batter to donut along the fryer conveyor separated from us by only a sheet of plexi-glass. They were very good. While there we also purchased a gallon of cider. The nice thing about towing your fifth wheel with you is that the cider went straight into the fridge instead of riding on the floor of the truck cab until we got back to our campground.

 

That evening we were planning to stay at a campground in Waterbury, but since it was raining and gloomy, and we really wouldn’t have done any additional exploring, we opted to bypass the campground, cancel our reservation by phone, and started the trip back to our regular campground in RI. We figured we would grab some dinner along the way whenever we got hungry. Well, let me tell you that between Waterbury VT and Providence RI, and without going too far off the freeway in search of small towns, there are exactly ZERO restaurants along the freeway. We were surrounded by trees, and trees alone. I knew that Vermont and New Hampshire are somewhere around 75% forest, but never have I seen such a void of civilization as we experienced that evening. Sure we could have stopped anywhere along the route and used the gas range to cook ourselves some dinner, but we were more wanting to simply grab something; and without the generator with us, using the microwave was not an option. We ended up making the entire trip back to Providence and got takeout Chinese food from a place just down the road from our campground at 10:00pm.

We were not thrilled at the prospect of trying to back the fifth wheel into our site in the dark and in the rain, so we opted to spend the night in a strip mall parking lot across the street from the Chinese restaurant so we could park the RV in the daylight the next morning. This would make the second night we had spent in that particular lot, and thereafter the kids would comment as we drove past it in the future that “right there is where we slept in the RV”. I guess we are making memories…one parking lot at a time.

Rhode Island & WaterFire

May-October 2016

By: Kevin

Our two-week whirlwind visit in Ohio had drawn to a close and we were off to our next adventure, Rhode Island. The trip between Ohio and Rhode Island was uneventful except a rather nerve-racking hour as we plowed through New York City and the Bronx at 70MPH with a 22,000 pound 50-foot long rig. My stopping distance required was much greater than what NYC drivers would allow me to keep in front of me, so I was just praying nobody tried to stop too quickly in front of me.

We got settled in our campground and the kids were quick to make friends with other children around the camp. We had a spacious corner lot with a wooden deck hidden among tall trees that kept the summer sun at bay. It was peaceful. However, being separated from the hustle of modern life did have some draw-backs, like a lack of high speed internet. Our phones struggled to hold even a 3G connection even outside, and the local cable provider did not offer service within the campground. Since we did not want to pay for a super-expensive satellite solution that we may only use for a few months we limped along on our cellular connections. The nice thing was that we only needed internet for pleasure as I had completed my BSN and could check work email at work during my shift.The satellite dish pictured below was not actually ours, but rather a camper about 6 lots down from us, but due to the heavy tree cover, that was the closest location from which they could get a clean signal.

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As we started to explore the area we found the Providence Place mall, a 4-level mall that actually spanned a river that traveled through downtown. The river was also host to WaterFire, a Saturday evening activity during all but the winter months. There were floating fire baskets placed along the river and someone in a boat would light the baskets of firewood with a torch as they quietly floated by them. There was an array of outdoor speakers on adjacent buildings that filled the air with music from all directions. The aroma of wood smoke, the flickering light of the fires, and the music created a wonderful outdoor atmosphere to relax and socialize on a warm summer Saturday night. There were also many street vendors with everything from blown glass creations to paintings to food.

We had to learn some new vocabulary while in the New England region and adjust to the heavy Bostonian accent that was prevalent in the area. Nobody pronounced their Rs, and hospital gowns were referred to as ‘Johnnys’. Instead of elephant ears (dough deep-fried and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar), they offered dough-boys, which were effectively the same thing, although you had to sprinkle your own cinnamon and sugar from a shaker near the fryer.

While in Rhode Island we took a number of side trips around the New England region, which can be read about in our other posts. We also welcomed Miss Kicky Feet, our third child, into the world.

Since we had now been on the road for over a year and I had received gifts from different hospitals along the way, I found myself sitting on a deck in Rhode Island…in my chair that I had received from Fisher-Titus hospital in Norwalk, Ohio…while wearing a t-shirt I received from a Shannon hospital in San Angelo, Texas…while drinking from a cup that I picked up from a restaurant in Daytona Beach, FL…and reading a Facebook post by a friend in Greenville, OH (my first travel assignment). I am a travelin’ man!img_2349

Visit to the Homestead & RV Repairs

A two week whirlwind of events

By: Kevin

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I had completed my contract in San Angelo, TX and we were headed to Rhode Island for the summer. But first, we planned to make a two week stop in Ohio to visit friends, family, and make some needed RV repairs while we had the space to do so. After making the trip in two days from TX to OH, we pulled in after dark to a full house of relatives awaiting our arrival, and after many hugs we were off to bed for the night.The next two weeks were comprised of visits with friends, a feast of meals with the extended family, and a few bits of down time.

However, there was also work to be done. On our trip to Carlsbad, NM one of the legs of the kids’ bunk beds had fallen through the floor signalling the water leak that we had been dealing with for a few months but had finally located and repaired had done more damage than we realized and a partial gut of the back of the RV would be required. With the assistance of Heather and Grandpa Beer we unloaded everything from the back section of the RV into the barn and began ripping up the sheet vinyl, half the floor, and part of the wall to expose the damage. After removing all the damaged and rotten wood we began to re-frame, re-insulate, and re-install the wall and floor. Once that was done we installed new sheet vinyl flooring and with the assistance of Grandma Stricker and Karla (Heather’s mom) a top-to-bottom deep cleaning of the RV was completed. Only then did we reload the bunk beds and all our stuff into the tail of the RV again. This project took a few days, but the end result was a floor and wall that are now arguably more sturdy than when the RV rolled off the assembly line. I did learn more about how the RV was constructed and what to watch for in the future during the repair. We also re-sealed the front corners of the RV as well as the seam where the roof and walls met, which had not yet started leaking, but an ounce of prevention could save us from the fate of another partial rebuild on the front end of the RV in the future.

While we greatly enjoyed our visit in Ohio, by the end of the two weeks we were exhausted and were looking forward to resting a little once arriving in Rhode Island. We made the trip from OH to RI in a single long day of driving without any issues along the way.

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Carlsbad, New Mexico

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By: Kevin

While on assignment in western Texas, we opted to take a few days and travel to Carlsbad, NM. With RV in tow we headed across the oil fields of TX and across the border. The next day we went to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The hike down into the caverns was steep, but well worth what awaited us underground. I remember that the kids, who were told where we were going ahead of time, exclaiming that they thought we would walk down, look around, and come out. They did not expect the expanse of the caverns that took us about 5 hours to fully explore. If you are in the area, I would definitely recommend stopping and exploring the caverns. My favorite picture is of the entrance to the bathroom within the cave. Not because it is a stellar photo, but because if one thinks about it, we were about 1,600 ft below ground. So, when you flush, does the water go up or down? And no matter which answer is correct, how did they engineer it to do so?

The walk back out was a challenge. In 1.5 miles we came back up 1,600 ft of elevation. Add to this that Heather was 22 weeks pregnant, so she tired more easily than normal. I led our tribe back out of the caverns, and at one point I looked back to find Heather holding on to my backpack, and Bug hanging on to Heather’s pack creating a train of people that I was now ‘towing’ up the path. Pie was up ahead wondering what was taking us so long.

Once above ground we found a scenic trail that started along the paved road to the caverns. It warned that the trail was only for use by those with high-clearance vehicle and that trailers of any length were specifically prohibited. We felt daring in our F-350 dually, so we accepted the challenge and took the scenic trail. It was very beautiful as we traversed through the national park on what was basically a dirt/gravel path. An hour later we emerged back onto the paved road. I do agree with the warning signage, and would not try the trail with a low-sitting car.

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San Angelo, TX

Feb-May, 2016

By: Kevin

We started out at another campground, but after 2 weeks and a muddy sewage mess we decided to move to the San Angelo KOA. While not as green as the last campground, the lack of sewage at our site was a pleasant change. The kids enjoyed the camp playground, pool, mini-golf, and little pedal vehicles. We all made use of the nearby 2-mile loop of road that the locals regularly used for walking/running/biking/exercising.

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We also discovered a nice metro park along the river in downtown San Angelo complete with walking trails and a visitor center. The kids learned that San Angelo has sheep sculptures all around the city that are painted in all different ways. We picked up a listing of where each sheep was located, and the kids loved to go “sheep hunting” around the city.

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While in Daytona Beach over the winter season we had re-coated the RV roof with liquid EPDM rubber. Now that we again had some free time we wanted to remove the air conditioner from the roof, clean and coat the roof under it that was previously inaccessible, and re-secure the unit on the roof. Our plan was flawless. We had a new roof seal for the A/C, we had the liquid rubber, and we had a dry Texas day with a 0% chance of rain according to the NOAA weather center which was 1/2 mile down the road from the campground. Perfect!

We removed the unit, cleaned, coated, and allowed the rubber to start to dry. Since it had been a beautiful day with clear blue skies we opted to leave the unit off for the night to allow the coating to cure a little longer. We were eating dinner (with a 2-foot square hole in our roof) when Pie commented that she thought she saw lightening outside. I looked outside, but saw nothing, so we continued eating. Again she commented that she saw lightening, and I heard a very low rumble that one may POSSIBLY contribute to thunder in the distance. I made a check of the local radar map, and much to my dismay saw a large thunderstorm quickly approaching our RV.

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It was now All Hands On Deck. I went to the new RV next door and knocked on the door, introduced myself, and asked our newly-acquainted neighbor for assistance getting the A/C re-seated before our RV became an expensive rain gauge. Heather and I were on the roof and our neighbor was inside our RV helping to guide it into the proper location. We got the bolts tightened down and were just walking into the RV when the hail and then rain came down. And man did it pour! It pounded the roof, and we could see the waves of water blowing across the campground in the haze of the security light by the office. We literally got the unit secured just in time. As for the weather forecast center….we never really trusted them again while in TX, even if they were only 1/2 mile down the road from us.

For any of you that were wondering, once the EPDM rubber is applied to a dry roof, it is instantly waterproof, so we did not need to re-reseal the roof after the storm.

San Angelo is also home to a railroad museum along an active railroad track. We, and our friends from Houston, visited the museum and climbed through a locomotive and caboose that were on display along the side of the museum.

In Texas, for those of you who don’t know, the state police wear Stetson cowboy hats as part of their official uniform. While in TX, we figured we needed to see what all the hype was about with these hats, so we gave them a try. We look pretty good if you ask me.

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Another absolutely amazing place is the Santa Fe Western and Rustic Furniture store in San Angelo. They have a stuffed horse right inside the door that starts talking when you walk by and made my wife just about jump out of her socks. We all love this place as it is filled with so many amazing and interesting things. It also had a free margarita machine that dispensed alcoholic and non alcoholic margarita mix. If we every have a normal sized house again, Heather has her heart set on getting a dining room table from here.

I really did enjoy our time in Texas, and plan to return this coming year. We are declaring Texas as our legal home, if nothing but on paper, as we like their home school laws and nursing licensing system.

Heather gets to drive

By: Kevin

Typically when we travel with the RV I am driving the truck with the RV and Heather is following along behind me with van. Or, if we are taking a side trip, I drive while Heather conducts home school along the way. On our way back to San Angelo from our trip to San Antonio Heather got up the courage to drive the dually with the RV in tow. She did a good job. Although I must say it was strange to be seated in the passenger seat of my truck. I do like that, while she may not be 100% comfortable doing so, if needed Heather can in fact drive the truck and RV somewhere.

San Antonio & The Alamo

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By: Kevin

While on contract in San Angelo we decided to make a side trip down to San Antonio, about 3 hours south of San Angelo. We took the RV with us and stayed at the San Antonio KOA, which was pretty nice. We were supposed to have a site along the river, but the office told us the river was in flood stage and they were unsure how much higher it may get before cresting and instead put us on a different site away from the river. We did look at the river when we arrived and the river was up about 8 feet from normal with quite a current to it. Before leaving the KOA we looked at it again and were shocked to find a bike trail which had been underwater on our arrival. To see the difference in river height in just 2 days was rather impressive.

We had planned to take the truck into town and find a lot to park in for the day, but as we were checking in at the KOA they informed us that the city bus line stopped right outside the gate of the campground and that they suggested we leave the truck at the camp and take the bus into town. They gave us the bus schedule and told us what bus to take into town, and when ready, what bus number to take back to the campground. This proved to be very beneficial to us!

We rode the city bus into downtown and explored the area on foot. The kids both had a day pack with water and a packed lunch to carry around as well as any other little items they elected to bring with them.

I would like to take a moment to venture on a bit of a tangent and tell you that riding the bus was a new experience for the kids. They had never been on a city bus before. We were among the first passengers to board the bus and elected to sit toward the front of the bus. A few stops later a young male African American boarded the bus and elected to sit toward the rear of the bus. Upon seeing this Bug, our son, leaned over to Heather and I and asked if the black man had to sit in the back of the bus like on the movies he watched. Apparently Bug and Pie had recently been watching Sounder, Pollyanna, and any number of older movies with some of them based in historical eras where segregation was still the norm. Needless to say we had a learning moment and explained that while that used to be the case, nowadays people of any color can sit anywhere they want. Now that we look back at the situation I find it slightly humorous, but at the time I was mortified.

So, we made our first stop at the Alamo, a very important Texas landmark and toured the buildings and grounds. Pie loved the fountain on the grounds and wanted to throw some change into it like she saw on the bottom of the fountain.

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We also lucked out at the Alamo because it was Army Day at the Alamo and an Army band was playing music in front of the wall, there were reenactors in period costumes present, and they even fired off a cannon. To cap off the day’s celebration the Army Golden Knights, a parachute team, jumped out of a plane a few thousand feet above us and glided in, landing on a large orange and black X laid out on the ground in front of the Alamo. We really enjoyed it.

alamoarmyknightsAnother attraction in San Antonio is the River Walk, a man-made river that winds through downtown complete with walkways, bridges, and shops that border the river. Riverboats offer floating tours of the area and people are free to walk and explore the many shops and restaurants along the banks. We started with a boat tour, then explored on foot. There is a 3-story mall with large glass windows on one cul-de-sac of the river that we roamed as well. The kids also enjoyed dipping their hands in the water along the way. The weather was warm that day, but the trees and buildings created enough shade that our walk was quite pleasant.

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After exploring the River Walk we boarded the city bus and rode back to the KOA. We decided to have dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. Heather and the kids seemed to enjoy their meals, but I was sadly disappointed at the quality, quantity, price, and temperature of my food. It is safe to say I will not be returning to that restaurant in the future.

The next day we pulled out of the KOA and headed north. We stopped at REI, which over time has received more of our money than they probably should and we stopped at Bass Pro Shop on the way out of town. We stopped at Rudy’s Barbeque for lunch on the recommendation of a friend, and it lived up to the recommendation. The meats were flavorful and juicy. The sauce is their own and is a nice mix of spice and sweet. We ordered creamed corn, barbecue beans, coleslaw, and bread as our sides and shared them around the table. All of them were very good and there were no leftovers at the end of the meal. While the outside of the building doesn’t look like much, the food more than makes up for their humble appearance, and is worth a stop if you are in the area.