Road Trip: Changing It Up and Lessons Learned

During all of our previous trips, we have kept interstate travel to a minimum. The idea of towing in high-speed, bumper-to-bumper travel didn’t appeal to either of us. All of that changed with our recent trip; with as many miles as we were traveling, interstate was frequently the simplest way to get from Point A to Point B. Of course, interstate travel also meant that I didn’t do much driving on this time around.

This trip was a learning experience for us in many ways and one of the things we were learning was just how far we could comfortably travel in a day. The most we traveled in one day was 377 miles; we started the morning in Blountsville, Tennessee and stopped for the night in Williamsport, Maryland. Biggest lesson learned: 377 miles in one day is bit much. Going forward, somewhere between 250 and 300 miles a day will be our goal.

Most of the 377 miles mentioned above was spent crossing Virginia on I-81. If you are ever traveling the same route, I have two things to say: 1) Bless your heart and 2) I’m sorry. Virginia is a beautiful state and I would love to spend some time there NOT on the interstate. What makes this stretch so bad? First, it’s the trucks; there are semis everywhere. Second are the rest areas. Or maybe I should say, the lack of rest areas. Many of the rest areas in Virginia are Cars Only, which rules out anyone towing a travel trailer. The rest areas that do allow trucks (and therefore RVs/travel trailers) tend to be overflowing with semis. It was often easier to just keep driving than to find somewhere to stop and stretch our legs (or get away from the trucks) for a bit.

Sunset at the Unadilla / I-88 / Oneonta KOA in New York

Much to our surprise, the day we “only” drove 282 miles on mostly non-interstate roads was the day that really took the wind out of our sails. We started the morning in Unadilla, New York and stopped for the night in Lake Winnipesauki, New Hampshire. I was so looking forward to a day without being on the interstate but driving the back roads of Vermont with road work around every other curve was not a relaxing experience at all, LOL.

Another thing we learned is how much the condition of the roads impacts your travel. As native Georgians, most of our trips are in the Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina area and its a running joke with us how bad the roads are in South Carolina. Seriously, as soon as you cross the border into South Carolina, the roads become absolute garbage. (Unless you’re near Clemson University; those roads are pristine.🙄) However, the roads in the south aren’t exposed to the same weather extremes as those in the northern states. Not only do the northern roads take a beating from the weather but there is a shortened season for repairing that damage so there was roadwork absolutely everywhere. (One of our neighbors at a KOA in Maine used to pave roads in the state for a living and he said that they were required to have all road surface work completed by October 1st or October 15th depending on the location.) Also, after a day of taking a beating from the roads sometimes you go to bed and still feel like you’re being bounced around, LOL.

I try to think of each trip as an opportunity to learn. Our trip out west in 2019 taught us to take the weather at our destination into consideration when planning a trip. (Some areas actually have winter weather that lasts more than a couple of weeks. Who knew?😂) This trip we learned not to over-estimate how far we can comfortably travel in a day and also that other things such as road conditions or other unexpected delays may impact our plans and that that’s okay. We haven’t quite made the mental transition from traveling while working, which meant that we had a limited amount of time available before we had to be back at work, to traveling while retired which means that our schedule can be adjusted as needed. We’re working on it.

Until next time, take care and happy trails.

Road Trip: The Wheels on the Trailer Go Round and Round

We have had our Micro Lite since January 2019; prior to our recently completed road trip it had less than 3,000 miles on it. In just under a month, we added almost 5,000 miles. Needless to say, this extended “shake down” revealed a few issues and we came home with a list of repairs to be made. However, the first – and biggest – issue was a major one.

Yep. We had a blowout. These tires were the original equipment and one of the main recommendations in the travel trailer groups I’m in is to replace the original tires as soon as possible for a couple of reasons. First, manufacturers by tires in bulk and they may sit in a warehouse for 2-3 years before being placed on your trailer. Second, the original tires are frequently called “China bombs” for their supposed country of origin and propensity for blowouts. We discussed replacing the tires before our road trip but that discussion was as far as it went. I was driving on I-81 near Frackville, Pennsylvania when this happened. However, when I think back on this incident, I count my blessings:

  • This section of I-81 wasn’t busy and we weren’t surrounded by semis like we had been in Virginia
  • Our Micro Lite has two axles so we still had three tires to keep us rolling (slowly)
  • I was approaching an exit where I was able to get off the interstate and pull onto the shoulder where we could inspect the damage
  • There was a whole lot of nothing at this exit but we saw signs for a Cracker Barrel and limped our way there and availed ourselves of their RV parking while we changed the tire. (We also treated ourselves to lunch. At this point we both needed and deserved a break.)
  • While we ate, I did a quick internet search and found Ken’s Tires less than two miles away in Frackville. My Kenn gave them a call and they had a tire in stock that could become our new spare. Our server gave us directions (including drawing a map) and, once we finished lunch, we made the trip to Ken’s Tires and had the new tire installed on the wheel. They had us back on the road in less than 30 minutes.

So, with one disaster averted, we began a renewed discussion on what to do with the remaining tires: try to find somewhere to have them replaced while we were on the road or wait until we got home. We decided we’d feel better if we went ahead and got the remaining tires replaced. We were flying by the seat of our pants for most of this trip – the only reservations we had made in advance were in Lubek, Maine. We couldn’t afford to get off the road in search of new tires and miss our arrival date. Lubek is a tiny town but we knew one of our next stops would be in Farmington, Maine and there were several places to buy tires in that area. Kenn settled on Tire Warehouse in Farmington and the phone calls began.😂 (Kyle and Brandi deserve some sort of award for all of the calls from Kenn that they patiently fielded over the next several days.) The GE Endurance tires that we wanted are back-ordered and wouldn’t be available until February 2022 so it was onto another brand. After much research, Kenn settled on Hankook tires and Kyle was able to get them in prior to our arrival in Farmington. When we arrived at Tire Warehouse, the staff replaced and balanced our tires and had us back on the road in about 30 minutes. Oh, and as for our decision to go ahead and replace the tires while we were on the road… the technician changing our tires sliced his hand on the exposed steel belt on one of the other tires. So, we had at least one more blowout in the making. Yikes.😬

Stay tuned for more (probably not as exciting, LOL) posts about our road trip over the next few weeks. Until next time, happy trails and check those travel trailer tires y’all!

The Great Road Trip of 2021

I’m baaaaack! Did you miss me?😄 The Great Road Trip of 2021 is officially in the books. This trip was originally planned for the Fall of 2020 but with COVID and everything, including campgrounds, shutting down, we postponed it until this year. This was the longest trip we’ve ever taken with a travel trailer. We were were on the road for 28 days from September 7th to October 4th.

The map on our travel trailer at the beginning of the trip

Over the course of the trip we covered 12 states (including our home state of Georgia), and a total of 4,856 miles. States visited:

  • Georgia
  • South Carolina
  • North Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Maryland
  • Pennsylvania
  • New York
  • Vermont
  • New Hampshire
  • Maine

True, some of those states were only overnight stays but that all it takes for us to get a new sticker on the map. (My rule: if we don’t overnight in the state, we don’t get a sticker.) We changed our route back to give us a chance to overnight in a couple of states that we otherwise would not have. Even just overnighting in a state gave us a chance to see a new-to-us part of the country. Looking at our updated map makes me feel very accomplished, LOL.

Our map now

I took my laptop with me so I could work on blog posts and the short story release I had planned for October. (I write under the pen name Isabella Norse.) I never took the laptop out of the closet, LOL. I spent my time just relaxing and enjoying the trip. I’ll spend the next few weeks sharing details. In the meantime, I’m glad to be back home and am busily getting caught up on all of the things that accumulated while we were away.

Until next time, happy trails!

Reminiscing: Devil’s Tower, Wyoming

When I learned that Devil’s Tower was on our route to Glacier National Park it became a must-see destination. Devil’s Tower features prominently in Close Encounters of the Third Kind which is one of my all-time favorite movies. Needless to say, as soon as it came into view on the horizon we had to pull over so I could have a total fan girl moment.

There may have been squealing involved when Devil’s Tower came into view

Devil’s Tower is still considered a sacred place to Native Americans and others so, if you visit, please be respectful by staying on the trails and not disturbing the prayer bundles and prayer cloths you will see in the trees and shrubbery.

One of my favorite memories of The Great Road Trip of 2019 comes from our visit to Devil’s Tower. As we hiked the trail around the base of the tower we had one of those “it’s a small world” experiences; we met a man from the Atlanta area, just a couple of hours north of our hometown and a young man and his son from South Carolina. (We have family in both North and South Carolina so we were familiar with the area from which the young man hailed.) We all chatted, then went our separate ways. Each time our paths crossed, we would stop and visit again. Finally, the young dad asked, “Does everyone here keep apologizing to y’all for the humidity?” We all had a good laugh. Indeed, one of the park rangers had expressed concern that our visit was occurring during such high humidity. Y’all the humidity level was 25%. For native Southerners, 25% doesn’t even register on our humidity scale. As far as we were all concerned, the air was downright dry.😂

Sadly, no UFOs made an appearance during our visit but Devil’s Tower did not disappoint.🛸

Until next time, stay safe and happy trails!

Meals on the Go

I have a love/hate relationship with cooking. It doesn’t come naturally or easily to me and it’s never been something that I have particularly enjoyed. That said, I did the cooking for the first few years of our marriage; Kenn took over a few years in. (I think he was tired of watching me stress out over every meal, bless his heart.) However, once I retired, it was only fair that I take over the responsibility once again. Less than a year later, the pandemic hit and eating out was no longer an option. Cooking may not be fun for me, meal planning is even less so. We had used the Hello Fresh meal kit subscription a few years ago and decided to sign up once again. Using Hello Fresh works for me on two levels: one, it gives us a chance to try things we normally wouldn’t and two, that’s two less meals I have to plan each week. Surprisingly, I’ve also discovered that I enjoy the prep work; I don’t mind getting in the kitchen and zesting, chopping, an mincing up a storm.

Now, we are planning our first long road trip with the travel trailer which means meal planning without the assistance of Hello Fresh. It also means meal planning within the limited storage of a travel trailer. We sat down and listed a few of our favorite meals and the ingredients of each. I know we’ll eat out occasionally during our trip. After all, part of the travel experience is trying new/regional foods. (My love of all things huckleberry is a direct result of our 2019 road trip. It’s too bad we don’t have huckleberries here in the South.) However, we know that we have a tendency to repeat the same handful of meals over and over. Pasta also features frequently since it’s so easy to prepare.

Image courtesy of Depositphotos.com

So, dear reader, I need your help. What are some of your favorite meals to prepare when you’re on the road? Do you have any cookbooks or online resources to recommend? (Insert puppy dog eyes here)

Until next time, happy trails!

Reminiscing: Wall, South Dakota

“Where the heck is Wall Drug?” When driving across South Dakota you’ll see numerous signs asking this question. SPOILER ALERT: Wall Drug is in Wall, South Dakota. Wall is just outside of Badlands National Park so we decided to use it as our base of operations for a couple of days while we were in the area. Since our hotel was just down the street from the famous Wall Drug Store, we decided to have breakfast there before spending our day in the Badlands.

I thought the breakfast buffet was a little pricey but at least it was tasty. Wall Drug still sells coffee for 5 cents per cup and honestly, it was some of the best coffee I’ve ever had. I’m a big fan of rustic decor and the dining area has it in spades.

I love stained glass so I’m a sucker for Tiffany-style lamps
I snapped a photo of my favorite painting before I saw the sign stating no photos allowed. Oops,

Is Wall Drug a tourist trap? You bet. Is it a fun place to spend some time? Absolutely. There is actually a pharmacy at Wall Drug but it’s only the beginning. (You know the place is big when they give you a map.) We spent a couple of hours wandering around and buying souvenirs – including cowboy hats from the western wear store.🤠

The Traveler’s Chapel
A book store? Yes, please!
Rocking our cowboy hats from the western store at Wall Drug

Since Kenn was still working at the time of our 2019 road trip, there was a lot of go-go-go mentality involved. Our trip to Wall Drug was unplanned but it was not only enjoyable, it gave us some much needed downtime.

Until next time, stay safe and happy trails!

Friday Funnies

Image from scenicdakotas.com

I’m still journeying down memory lane with this post but, I’m also telling on myself. I had what is probably the biggest brain fart of my life while driving through South Dakota.😂 There are a couple of places you see a lot of signs for: one is Wall Drug, the other is 1880 Town (which is where the brain fart came in).

I was driving when a small town came into view on the horizon. Kenn said, “Oh, that must be the place we’ve seen all the signs for.” Additional signage confirmed that he was correct; we were approaching 1880 Town. My response was “Oh, it’s eighteen eighty town!” I then had to explain that for the entire drive I had been reading each sign as “1-880-Town”; I had even gotten a little annoyed, wondering why they didn’t just put the name of the attraction on the sign instead of a phone number. (Yes, I know that’s not enough numbers for a real phone number but that’s still how my brain was interpreting it.) *facepalm* Kenn got several miles of laughter out of my revelation. I hope you get a good chuckle too.

Happy Friday!🥳

Reminiscing: Sioux Falls, South Dakota

It’s hard to believe that our last big road trip was in July 2019.😮 Our post-retirement plans were to have 1-2 “big” road trips every year in addition to our smaller trips. Our 2020 road trip was to culminate in Maine with a variety of stops up and down the eastern coast of the US. However, COVID had other plans so, not knowing which states and campgrounds might be closed, we canceled our much anticipated trip and rescheduled it for September of 2021. As the time for this year’s trip draws tantalizingly closer (and life throws in potential roadblocks) I’ve been looking through my photos from our last trip and decided to share some of my favorite memories with you.

The ultimate destination of our 2019 trip was Glacier National Park. However, on the way, I fell in love with the entire state of South Dakota. Seriously, I was ready to pack up and move. (Kinda still am.) One of the first things we learned is that Oklahoma is not the only place where “the wind comes sweeping down the plains.” The wind started blowing when we crossed the Iowa/South Dakota border and didn’t stop the whole time we were in the state. At some point we lost one of the little plastic rain shields Kenn had installed over the windows and we had to pull onto the shoulder of the interstate so I could remove another one that had started flapping in the never-ending “breeze”. One of our first stops was at the South Dakota welcome center where a very friendly woman whipped out a map and marked several things we should see while we were in the state. This is where we learned that there are actually falls in Sioux Falls South Dakota. Who knew?🤦‍♀️ (I know, I know. It makes perfect sense, my brain had just never put two and two together.) We hadn’t been planning to visit Sioux Falls but we changed our plans and I’m so glad we did.

Sioux Falls

I was instantly in love. Kenn gets a kick out of the fact that I love rocks and Sioux Falls had them in spades. (I think I should have been a geologist.)

My favorite photo from Sioux Falls was a happy accident. I took the picture just as foam from the falls splashed up.

It was an overcast day and rain threatened the whole time we were at the falls. Fortunately, other than a few drizzles, it held off. There was a small gift shop and a few buildings to visit but the actual falls were my favorite part. I also liked the buffalo sculpture named Monarch of the Plains. It was difficult to get a good picture of the sculpture because of the construction going on behind it; I wasn’t crazy about having all of the cones, etc. in the background of my pictures. On another note, I loved all of the different colors that began appearing in the local rocks once we reached South Dakota and continuing all the way to Montana. Some of those colors are apparent in the Monarch.

Monarch of the Plains

Thank you for joining me on my trip down memory lane. Be sure to join me again next week for more. Until then, stay safe and happy trails!

Review: Tallulah Gorge State Park

Tallulah Gorge State Park is located in Rabun County in extreme northeast Georgia. Tallulah Gorge is one of the parks that we have made many day trips to through the years but September 2020 was our first time camping there. We stayed in Site 36 which I dubbed “the worst site in the park.” This site itself was fine; it was a corner site with access from two directions. So, what made it so bad? The tiny clump of trees at the corner which meant that no matter which direction you chose, the travel trailer would have to be at a ninety degree angle to the tow vehicle in order to back into the site. We’ve had a travel trailer for several years now but backing into a site can still be a test of the strength of our marriage; this one stressed both of us. However, in spite of our stress levels – and the guy who decided he had to drive through our site while we were backing in (seriously, dude?) – the process went easier than we expected. The campground host came over after we got set up and told us that we had done a good job; I really appreciated that.

There are lots of things to do at Tallulah Gorge and they all involve hiking/walking. There is a suspension bridge, a rim trail with several scenic overlooks and the gorge floor. Gorge floor hikes require a free permit that must be picked up from the interpretive center on the day of your hike; permits are limited to 100 per day. Also, those planning to hike the gorge must wear proper footwear, meaning no Crocs or flip flops. I highly recommend the gorge hike if you get the opportunity.

We did the gorge hike with our boys when they were young. Close to the end of the hike we had to work our way across the river so we could climb out the other side. Our oldest son still insists that we almost let him “wash out to sea”. He was actually safely tucked away in a small pool. It was his younger brother who was headed over a small falls. We snagged him before he went over but life was exciting for a few minutes, LOL. Ah, memories! On another note, I wouldn’t trade being a “boy mom” for anything.

One thing to remember when visiting Tallulah Gorge or any outdoor location in Georgia is to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Our visit was in September which is when the brutal temperatures of August are behind us and things begin to cool off. However, “cool” is a relative term. Temps in the 80s (Fahrenheit) with a humidity level of 60-80% is brutal for those of us who live here much less those who aren’t used to such high humidity.

Note: For some reason, WordPress decided not to let me caption my photos. (insert eye roll here) The first photo is, obviously, Tallulah Falls. The second one is from underneath the suspension bridge. Why? Just because I like geometry of the supports.

Until next time, happy trails!

A Change in Plan(ner)s

I didn’t get to travel much when I was young so Kenn and I wanted to make sure our boys had a chance to see a little more of the world. We couldn’t afford to take them on cruises or jet off to international locations but we could at least get them out of the house and introduce them to the sort of places that we love. (They would probably say we took them hiking far too many times, LOL.)

Time and money management were always important on our trips so I planned everything down to the nth degree. I researched the locations we were planning to visit, booked the hotel rooms/cabins, and planned out our activities for each day. Looking back, I may have occasionally over-planned, but it was a labor of love.

Keeping up with details, planning, and organizing are just a part of me and have served me well both at home and at work. However, I think the last four years of my day job sort of burned me out. I enjoyed what I did but it required an extreme amount of organization; my days were ruled by a schedule that was usually booked at least a week in advance. Now that I’m retired, I’m enjoying having flexible days without having to account for every minute of my time.

Somehow, without our even discussing it, Kenn came to my rescue because he is now the one doing most of the planning for our trips. We decide together where we are planning to go and when and he handles making the reservations. I’m still the money manager but I’m happy not having to deal with all of the details.

We cancelled our road trip plans last year due to the pandemic but this year we are fully vaccinated and ready to hit the road. We’ll be taking a trip up the east coast this fall. This will be our first time traveling long distances with our travel trailer so I’m sure we’ll be learning many lessons along the way which, of course, I’ll share here. 🙂 As proof of his new role as Chief Trip Organizer, we already have reservations at a campground in Maine. Go, Kenn!

Until next time, happy trails!