Sunday, June 09, 2013

Catching Up and Moving On

The last time I wrote anything was MARCH 9 and here it is JUNE 9! A full three months have passed and a whole lot has happened, all of it good. Some even great! The last time I wrote we were in Georgia and today we are in Oklahoma. In between, we've been in Alabama, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Texas, Arkansas, Illinois, and Missouri. How's that for moving around?

Some of you probably thought I gave up on this blog. Uh uh. No way. I didn't. I just got distracted. That can happen quite easily, you know, when you are ADD and I know I definitely am!

There is no way I can catch up on everything that has transpired over the three months of my silence. I'd be writing for days and covering many pages to tell the full story. The best I can do is to give you a quick summary of our life in (and out of) the RV.

After stopping Georgia (mentioned in the post three months ago), we went up to north Alabama and stayed some ten days at the Mountain Lakes Resort on Guntersville Lake. Despite rain and cold, a good time was had. We got to visit some AL cousins and to visit some places of my AL family background (My dad was from Bridgeport, AL, and I visited Bridgeport and Scottsboro many times as a youth and a few times as an adult.)

From N. AL, we drove to Murfreesboro, TN, where cousin Janet and her husband, Doris, graciously let us driveway surf next to their "Garage Mahal". They provide us with electricity, water, and a bathroom with a nice shower. We couldn't ask for more!

We left the car in Murfreesboro and drove the car to Wisconsin to take care of visits to doctors, cpa (for taxes) financial advisor, friends and family. Just in our honor, Wisconsin arranged for an 18" snowfall in Madison where we were safely ensconced in a hotel. Ah! Winter in WI! I don't miss it!

Returning to Murfreesboro, we visited family for several days and then headed out on the search for the RIGHT motor home for us (I'll say more about that later). The trip took us to Nacogdoches, TX, to Motorhomes of Texas where we looked at a Newell brand motor home formerly owned by the Olivers whom we met this past winter while camped at Cedar Key, FL. As it happened, this was not the coach for us but we were glad we went and looked.

We returned to Arkansas where we spent nearly three magnificent weeks getting acquainted with parts of this delightful state. We stayed in Daisy State Park, Lake Ouchita State Park (pronounced Wash-a-taw) whence we also visited historic Hot Springs (and the Hot Springs National Park) where we indulged ourselves in a GREAT hot bath followed by a massage at the Buckstaff Bath House (if you go to Hot Springs, you HAVE to have the spa experience).

We also visited the edge of the Old West by going to Fort Smith, AR, where they advertise "our bordello still serves visitors" (it's the visitor's center for the city). We stayed at Springhill Corps of Engineers campground, toured the old fort, and, of course, checked out Miss Laura's Social Club, aka the visitor's center.

Finally, in Arkansas we went to Eureka Springs and had a delightful time in this charming town. It is historic and well preserved since all of the downtown is on the National Historic Register and has to be maintained as is. We stayed at the Wanderlust RV Park which I thought was an appropriate place given our recent travels.

While we were in Eureka Springs, The American Red Cross called and wanted to deploy us for disaster relief operations in the Peoria, IL, floods. Unfortunately, Mary had already scheduled some appointments and engagements in WI so she couldn't accept the deployment (and drove from Peoria to WI). I (Forrest) did accept the deployment and spent two weeks working in Logistics, Procurement and Supply, for the Peoria, IL, DRO (Disaster Relief Operation). Now that was an interesting, educational, and invaluable experience!

In front of my "home" with Dave, my Logistics supervisor in Peoria
This was my first deployment as a DOVE, Disaster Operations Volunteer, Escapees (Escapees is a national RV club to which we belong and DOVEs are a subset of the Escapees). That meant that for two weeks I lived in my motor home parked in the Peoria American Red Cross chapter parking lot and walked 50 feet to get to my work station for Logistics.

After finishing the ARC deployment in Peoria (Mary came back on my last full day there), we headed for Branson, MO, where we spent 10 enjoyable days. During this time, we enjoyed the sights and sounds of Branson. We took in several good shows and enjoyed being tourists in this very tourist-oriented city. For the last few days of our stay, we got to enjoy the companionship of brother, Ransom, and his dear wife, Helen, who had come to town for a few days. Actually, they were the reason we went to Branson. We learned they were headed there the last full week of May and decided to be there when they were there.

From Branson, we headed back to Murfreesboro and cousin Janet's driveway where we stayed for a week. While there, we attended the annual Shelton Cemetery Memorial Gathering. It's held on the fourth Sunday of every May. We also got to visit cousins from TN and AL. Thanks, once again, Janet and Doris, for allowing us to park in your driveway and use your utilities. It is a perfect base for our Tennessee visits and you are such gracious and generous hosts! We'll be back (if you'll have us)!

After Murfreesboro, we headed out once more on the quest for the RIGHT coach. This time we were bound for Sapulpa, OK, near Tulsa, where we'd heard of a coach that just might work. All in all, we spent a week in the Tulsa area. On Monday, June 3, we went to Wade's RV Clinic to look at a 1996 FORETRAVEL U 295 40' motor home. Thank you, David VanAmburg (who we met on the Foreforums group) for coming down to Sapulpa and looking through the coach with us and telling us what was what about it. Your help was invaluable. The end result was that on Tuesday, June 3, we bought the coach and traded in our former motor home.

OK. Let's talk about the quest for the RIGHT RV for us. Last winter and this spring, it became increasingly evident that our beautiful 2012 Fleetwood Terra 34E (and it was a beautiful coach!) just was not going to work for full-timing. It was a good motor home with lots of storage (for a 34' coach) and had a great floor plan. However, construction-wise, it was an entry-level coach and wasn't made for the rigors which full-time living impose on an RV. For example, all of the cabinets were of pressed board construction and the screws in hinges kept working loose and stripping out and I had to keep tightening screws and sticking matchsticks and wood putty into the holes to tighten them up. In addition, it was cold most of the winter and, even though we were in Florida, we had to use a lot of propane heating the coach. Electric heaters just wouldn't do it. This was a COLD coach and we didn't want to go through another winter being cold.

As problems occurred and repairs were made, we began to talk about what we might do to replace the Fleetwood without breaking the bank.  We knew we couldn't buy a better coach new and we knew that we would not buy a new coach again since we simply had too many problems from day 1 buying a completely new construction. That's another story and if you want to know more, contact me directly and we can talk about it!

The answer to our question of what to do came from our January in Cedar Key, FL, where we were camped with several people with whom we share an online affiliation in the group NuRVers. At Sunset Isles RV Park, we were introduced to the virtues of old and solid built. There were people there with bus conversions and older luxury coaches that were purchased by their present owners long after they were brand-new on the lot.  There were a couple of Newells that were there and a bus conversion.

So we began to look for a Newell we could purchase. About that time, Forest Oliver traded his  Newell in for a new coach and we learned that it was at Motorhomes of Texas in Nacogdoches. Forest was one of those camped at Sunset Isles and so we had already seen the outside of the coach and knew it was in quite good shape. It didn't turn out to be the coach for us, mostly because of the floor plan, but we learned a lot on our  trip to TX to look at it. One of the things we learned was that a Foretravel is also a fine coach to find in its older models and can be quite reasonable priced. Thus, we began to look for Foretravel coaches in the mid-to-late 1990s age-range (that being our "affordable" price point).

That's when we found our new home, a 40' Foretravel U 295.  It's a diesel coach with no slides, but lots of room, splendid living arrangements and appointments, and excellent storage. Plus, it is built like a bus. Solid construction. Air ride suspension and leveling. Solid wood cabinetry throughout.

From this ...
... to this
I also have to say it was a pleasure to deal with Kevin Fredericks (salesperson) and Wade Reeves (owner) at Wade's RV Clinic in Sapulpa, OK. They treated us well, fairly, hospitably, and graciously. They went out of their way to answer questions, to get answers from the former owners (who we actually got to meet and talk to), and to let me satisfy myself that a 1996 coach really was a good choice. It is!

After a couple of nights to get acquainted with the new coach, we drove up to Grove, OK, and the Bear's Den RV Resort, which is part of the Ocean Canyon Properties chain in which we are members. This is where we are now (June 9) as I write this.

We're only here for four days, but we stumbled onto the American Heritage Music Festival being held at the Grove Civic Center and we attended 2 days and nights of its activities. We saw clogging contests, dobro and other instrument contests, and LOTS of fiddle contests. This is a national-level fiddle contest and attracts some excellent musicians. We even met a woman from near Nashville, TN, who had brought her two teenage daughters to compete in the contests. They each went away with checks in hand from winning one of the top three places in different categories.

Well, that kind of brings you up-to-date with the peregrinations of Forrest and Mary. I've left out a lot of interesting details but if I'd tried to include all of them, this post would not be done for weeks. We have seen a lot of beautiful scenery, met wonderful people, learned a lot of U.S. American history, and had a whole lot of fun. Plus, we now have a new home for our travels.

Stay tuned, however. The summer is just starting and, after a short visit to WI to see a friend, we'll be heading WEST! You're welcome to take the ride with us.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Long Time Passing

It's been a LONG time since I've written anything at all. I can't plead that I've been too busy to write. I haven't. I can't say there was nothing to write about. There was. There really is NO excuse for my lack of writing. I just didn't do it. So I've decided to do a whirlwind catch up and then comment on today.

I'm going to start with today. Mary and I are in Unadilla, Georgia. Yep, I said Georgia. This is a short stop at the Southern Trails RV Resort. We're gradually heading north with the anticipation of being back in Wisconsin (briefly) by March 24. Today, however, we took a trip to the Andersonville National Historic Site in Andersonville, GA. Andersonville, or Camp Sumter as it was officially named, was the largest of many Confederate Prisoner of War camps during the most uncivil Civil War. It is not a pretty story nor a nice one. Unfortunately, it was a story common to both sides in that awful conflict.

As it happens, we picked a Living History Weekend to visit the park. Many reenactors were giving their time to recreate life at Andersonville in 1864-5. We saw a demonstration of artillery, of Civil War era troops drilling and firing their rifles, and of life for the prisoners at Camp Sumter. All in all, an interesting day to be there.

In addition, the museum is a commemoration of all U.S. troops who have been POWs in any of the wars and armed conflicts of the United States. As Mary said, of the museum, this is depressing. Indeed, it is a depressing place, yet it is also inspiring to hear the story of life and death for Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen of the United States who have had the great misfortune to become Prisoners of War. I'm glad we went.

We also drove over to Plains, GA, to visit the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site (which seems to be the whole town of Plains). Jimmy Carter, of course, was the 39th President of The United States. We toured the museum (which is the former Plains School, grades 1-12). That was all we had time for, but it was interesting to see. As with any President, history will make the final judgment as to the way in which President Carter's term in office is remembered, but there were many things of which it was good to be reminded, good and bad, during those years. I will always appreciate the man for his personal integrity and for his commitment to a life of faith lived out in a pubic office. If we wanted to return to Plains tomorrow, we could go to the Sunday School class with President Carter will be teaching at the Maranatha Baptist Church there in Plains. He teaches Sunday School 2-3 times per month.

So how did we wind up in Georgia? Let me back up. When I last wrote, I was at the Sunset Isles RV Park in Cedar Key, FL, and Mary was on Red Cross deployment in New Jersey. She did come home on time the very next week. We finished our month in Cedar Key enjoying new friends in the NuRVers group and making other friends as well. We did some kayaking, took a boat tour of the islands around Cedar Key, and visited a shell mound of the prehistoric native American residents of the area.

From Cedar Key, we moved to Rambler's Rest near Venice, FL, spending two weeks there. There we visited beautiful beaches, saw delightful sunsets, and visited Spanish Point, a historic site with many connections over the centuries of life in Florida. We also visited the SunCoast Cathedral of the Metropolitan Community Church. It was a special day of worship for us and we have rarely been as welcomed in a church of any kind. If you'd like to know more about that experience, feel free to contact me directly. I know that not everyone who follows this blog is interested in my religious thoughts or experiences and that's fine. See me on facebook (Forrest Shelton Clark) or write me on email.

While we were at Rambler's Rest we took several days and went over to see brother Ransom and his wife, Helen. They live in Lake Wales, FL, but we all ran over to Daytona Beach to enjoy a few days at the beach on the east coast of Florida. On the way home, we stopped off in the city of Celebration and went to the Columbia for a magnificent lunch. Thanks, Ransom and Helen, for the hospitality and the fun. It has been a delight to get to spend some significant amount of time with my brother during this winter in FL.

After Rambler's Rest, we moved to St. James City and the Pine Island KOA RV Resort. Pine Island is down in the Fort Myers area, but is an isolated island and it took lots of driving to get anywhere. We enjoyed ourselves, however. While we were there, we got to reconnect with a couple, Danny and Cindy Colbert, we befriended at Sunset Isles on Cedar Key. We had a fun dinner together and a good evening of conversation on a cold and blustery day.

One of the real highlights of our Pine Island time was a one day trip on a fast catamaran from Ft. Myers to Key West, FL. We did not get to see or experience a lot of Key West, but we were there, had lunch at a restaurant on the dock, got to visit the southernmost point in the continental United States, and walked by the Hemingway House. The boat trip takes four hours each way so even a long day doesn't give as much time in Key West as is spent in the traveling. However, I would say that I'd love to take the same trip on the Key West Express and stay overnight for a day or two in Key West.

Oh! The other significant event while we were at Pine Island was an evening trip to Port Charlotte's HAM Radio club where I took and passed the FCC test for a Technician class license in the Amateur Radio service. I am now KC9YMH, portable 4 (that means my license is based in Wisconsin but I am in the southeastern part of the country instead of WI).  My radio enables me to operate on the 2M and 70cm HAM bands. If you're a HAM operator, I'd welcome a call. I try to monitor the national calling frequencies as we travel (146.52 MHz and 446.000 MHz). And if you're not a HAM, all that may mean nothing and that's alright.

We left Pine Island on Feb. 28 and headed into the central part of the state. We spent 8 days at Bee's RV Resort in Clermont.  Part of the trip was a return visit to Lake Wales to visit Ransom and Helen. More good "brother time" for me. I also ran over to Amateur Electronic Supply in Orlando to purchase my first HAM radio. It was a good choice of a place for the purchase because I got some valuable advice from the salesman who helped me. I'll be glad to recommend them for their customer service!

The other highlight of our time at Bee's was completion (I hope) of all the paperwork for 2012 tax season. Two and 1/2 days of our eight days there were spend on this project. We got it all compiled and mailed to the CPA in Madison who will do the hard work for us. Tax paper compilation is not a fun job, but it is a necessary part of life.

We'll be here at Southern Trails until Monday and then we'll head for Mountain Lakes RV Resort, Langston, AL. We'll be there March 11-21.

I won't promise to do a better job and write more often, but I do intend to try to do so. I enjoy telling our story and I hope some of you enjoy reading it. We've been on the road for six+ months now. There are still learning experiences before us, I'm sure, but we've learned a lot and enjoyed a lot and made some new friends that we will look forward to meeting again on our travels.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Atsena Otie Key and back ... and more

Saturday was a great day here at Cedar Key!  It was a day full of activity, friends, and food. My only regret was that Mary wasn't here to share the day with me. But she is in a special place too and doing something special to help people every day in her Red Cross deployment.

My next door neighbors, Tom and Mary Stevens, mentioned on Friday that they were planning to take a kayak trip on Saturday and asked if I'd like to join them. Of course, I was ready! The plan was to kayak across the channel west of Cedar Key to the old island of Atsena Otie. This key was the original site of the settlement that today is named the village of Cedar Key and is located on the next island inland in the chain. Atsena Otie is an interesting island and is today a part of the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge operated by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

This kayak trip wasn't nearly as long as our first trip of the week when we had traveled quite a few miles going all the way around the islands from the RV park back to the RV park coming in on the other side of the watery route. Saturday's trip was maybe five miles, which is a good day on the water. The plan was to leave about half way into the rising tide and to arrive home by about half way through the ebbing tide (a plan that worked well, by the way).

We were able to find the right channels to get out of the mud flats around our RV park and to cross the main channel and skirt the northern side of the island to get to channel no. 2 and go under the bridge which put us on the south side of the island. From there we swung around the southwest corner, paddled up along the town and then crossed to the west to the island of Atsena Otie Key.

Visiting Atsena Otie Key was interesting. There are a few ruins of the original settlement, an old pencil factory, and a cemetary. Trails are in place, beaches are white sand, and it was an enjoyable hour or so with Tom and Mary on the island. While we were there, two young men swam across the channel from the town of Cedar Key. They seemed to have made the trip across in fine fettle. But it also seemed to be dawning on them that now they had to make the swim back across. I assume that they made it since there has been no local news story about two young men being missing or perishing in an effort to swim back from Atsena Otie to Cedar Key. I sure hope everything went well on their trip home.

On the trip back, we were blessed by sighting a pod of dolpins! As we headed out, we noticed a sail boat with its sails down just sitting still in the water and the occupants were staring intently at the water. It was clear that there was no problem and that they were very interested in something going on around them. It was a pod of dolphins they were watching. There were at least three or four of them and we could see the graceful arches of their backs as they swam along the surface of the water, undulating up and down. At one point a pair of them surfaced half way between Mary Stevens and me no more than 15-20 feet away! It was beautiful and delightful! The pod of dolphins stayed in the general area where we were paddling for most of the trip across the channel. In the channel around the islands, Tom was able to help a woman who had been out fishing who had snagged a crab trap in her propeller. She was grateful for the assistance.

If you are wondering where the pictures are, I did not take a camera. When I am on the water, I don't trust myself with Mary's camera, so I just decided to record the scene with my eyes and to enjoy what I could see for the moment. Maybe I'll get a waterproof camera sometime to take on our kayaking excursions. That would be good, wouldn't it?

As we were returning from our outing, someone shouted at me from the dock at Low-Key Hideaway. Even though the motel was closed for the week so the owners could take a cruise, a group had gathered there with the people watching over the property in the owners' absence and they were awaiting the arrival of the spectacular sunset that is one of the features of the area. So, after I brought the kayak back to our camping site, I hoofed it over to Low-Key Hideaway and joined the party.

Just after another beautiful sundown, Clarke Hochwald, his wife Elaine, Pace and Kylie Smith, Cherie Ve Ard and Chris Dunphy came walking up. They were on the way to the Blue Desert Cafe for supper. So Bill and Debbie Kasson and I joined them and walked on up to the cafe. I had heard that service was slow. It was. But the food was good and the companions were fun, so the night was very, very enjoyable. I had a chicken burrito and some cajun shrimp. Mmmm. Tasty. All of it.

We came home just in time for my (almost) nightly call to Mary at 9 p.m. It gives us a chance to touch base on how our days have been and to help ease the loneliness a little bit. I certainly look forward to a few minutes of time together and I know she does too!

Sunday morning, I went into the Cedar Key United Methodist Church and enjoyed worshiping with them.  After that I went down to the Big Deck grill and had a black and blue burger for lunch. It was deliciously messy but I think the blue cheese might have been a little too rich for my system. The rest of the day was spent quietly watching football. I'm sure there will be more from Cedar Key in the days to come. Our month here just about half over and there is a lot yet to experience.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Cedar Key

We enjoyed our month in Crystal River. I wouldn't mind going back there. And I know Mary wouldn't either. It was beautiful, quiet, and had lots of interesting things to see and do. But time came to move on to our next spot, Cedar Key.

Just before we left Crystal Isles RV Park in Crystal River, we got a call from the American Red Cross. Mary and I both continue to be disaster response volunteers with the American Red Cross through the Badger and South Central Wisconsin Chapter (Western Wisconsin Region). After I retired and before Mary retired, we both received training and were involved as members of a Disaster Action Team for Rock County, going to fire scenes and wind storm victims to help people who were displaced due to whatever disaster had befallen them to find a place to stay until longer term arrangements could be made for them. I highly recommend volunteering with the American Red Cross in your area as a way to make a meaningful contribution to the well being of your community!

After we started full time RVing, Mary and I joined a group called the DOVES (Disaster Operations Volunteers, Escapees). It is a chapter within the RV club Escapees. All of us are Red Cross volunteers and we can be deployed from our motorhomes. I think it's even possible for us to be asked to drive to the scene of a disaster in our motorhome and set ourselves up to do some form of volunteer service through the local Red Cross chapter. We're still new in figuring out how this all works.

So, we got a call from the American Red Cross seeking to deploy both of us to the NY/NJ post-Hurricane Sandy disaster area for service. After discussing the request, we decided that only one of us should be gone from the motorhome at a time and since I'm more comfortable at this stage in handling the mechanics of the home we decided that Mary should be the one deployed. After we drove up to Cedar Key and got ourselves established, Mary flew to Newark, NJ, where she is deployed in the Monmouth, NJ, area doing Client Casework with the American Red Cross as a volunteer. Her deployment is expected to last for two weeks, January 3-17. I get to talk to her almost every night and she is working hard and long hours.

We did get to celebrate New Year's Eve with a whole bunch of new friends. There is a group of RVers called the NuRVers. They call themselves the next generation of RVers and many of them are younger folks who are full-time RVwea and working on the road. And a few of us are young-at-heart retired folks who enjoy the presence of the younger RVers in the discussion groups of NuRVers and in the gatherings. Anyway, Cedar Key has become a convergence of NuRVers. Back some time ago, I saw that Cherie Ve Ard and Chris Dunphy were going to be spending the month of January at Cedar Key at the Sunset Isle RV Park. And their description made this sound like a very special place. Simply stated, it is!And we had a delightful New Year's Eve celebration with this new group of friends. I think it was the first New Year's that we've actually made midnight in a long time!

I've (Forrest, since Mary left for NJ on Jan. 3) had several other enjoyable evenings with our NuRV friends. Watching sundowns is one of our favorite activities and the Sunset Isle RV Park is well named. We get a beautiful sunset almost every day. We also had a salsa cookoff (what a fantastic variety of salsas!). I made fried corn cakes to "cleanse the palate". They had a secret ingredient that even I didn't know they had until I told Mary what I had used to make them. We'll keep it our secret, though. Then a few nights later we had a chili cookoff. I made a passable chili to take, anyway, although it wasn't as good as that which Mary can make.

I got to do some kayaking in the waters around here with my next door neighbors, Tom and Mary, and to hear some good bluegrass music (played in the clubhouse on the weekends). Tonight (Friday) we had a potluck in the clubhouse (I took my left-over chili and now it's all gone.)

And I've put some pictures below. They are all of Cedar Key/Sunset Isle sunsets.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

A Quick Visit to Wisconsin and Christmas in Florida

On Dec. 17th, Mary and I flew from Orlando-Sanford Airport to Rockford, IL. We were returning to Wisconsin to visit family and friends before Christmas. I have to say thanks to Thom and Judy Petree for putting us up (or was that putting up with us) for three nights during the trip. I've known Thom and Judy since my seminary days, 1968-74 (NO, it didn't take me six years to go through seminary! I graduated in 1971 and went to work for the seminary as a staff librarian for three years. Judy even worked for me in the library for a while.) It was delightful to get reacquainted with them during our Beloit years and we continue as friends through our travels.

Another reason we flew back to WI was to see our new granddaughter, Zamaya, born to Karla and Jonah, her significant other. Zamaya is a beautiful baby and I'll let you look at my facebook page for pictures of her, rather than posting them here.

While we were in WI, we were "blessed" with a true winter snowstorm. Madison had 14+" of snow and blizzard conditions. Fortunately we were snuggled in a hotel and just stayed warm and comfortable. Digging out the car required over an hour of shoveling by Mary. Where was Forrest? Doing the wash in the hotel laundry room. Mary thought she should do the shoveling so who was I to argue with my dear wife?!

We spent time with each of our children, saw our grandchildren, and enjoyed a family Christmas dinner with Vini and Krista hosting us. Almost everyone was able to be there, although Karla just couldn't make it. We missed you Karla and family!

On Christmas Eve, we flew back to Florida where instead of going to our home at Crystal River we headed for Lake Wales where my brother Ransom lives. Thanks, Ransom and Helen, for sharing your Christmas with us! And thanks to Helen's daughter, Rhonda, and Rhonda's husband, Brad, for sharing a family Christmas Eve with us. This was the first actual Christmas I can remember sharing with Ransom in decades. I simply was never back home for Christmas since I was always leading a Christmas Eve service at the church I was serving. We might have overlapped our time in the week after Christmas, but it wasn't the same as sharing the celebration of Christmas Day. That made it a very special day.

After Christmas, we went back to Crystal Key for a few days and then on December 31 we moved north up the coast of Florida to Cedar Key.