As of 5:10am on Sunday, November 20th, I am officially sixty years old. Wow. How the heck did that happen?😮 Mentally, I’m still around twenty-five. Yes, my sons are in their thirties, but that doesn’t seem to have an impact on my mental age. Aging is one of those things that, until now, hasn’t really impacted me.
Kenn turned sixty in August. One day recently, he stopped and asked “Are you having a hard time with turning sixty?” I had to give the question some thought. The best answer I could come up with was “Maybe a little bit.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not huddled in a darkened room binging on Ding Dongs and baking shows, but turning sixty has been… thought provoking. Kenn said it was a little harder for him too – not necessarily his own age but the realization that our oldest son will be forty in a few short years. (My brain and fingers insist it should be spelled “fourty”.) Oddly enough, it was a similar situation for me in that it wasn’t my own age that was a bit of an eye opener. I’m the baby of my family; my sisters are nine and ten years older. In September of 2021, while we were on our road trip up the East coast, my oldest sister had a stroke. I was shocked to realize that she was only six months shy of turning seventy. Whoa. Before I know it, I’ll be the one turning seventy. (Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, as my Grandmama used to say.)
A couple of months ago, Kenn asked what I wanted to do for my birthday. My answer was immediate: I wanted to take the camper to Amicalola Falls State Park for the weekend. I was long overdue for a soul recharge in the mountains. Being the good hubby that he is, Kenn had gone online and made reservations before we finished our conversation. The trip was wonderful and relaxing, just what I needed. We did a little hiking and a lot of being lazy. We even caught part of a raptor show at the Lodge.
Due to the temperatures (forties in the day, twenties at night), we weren’t allowed to keep the “city water” connected to the camper full time. Instead, we had to put water in our fresh water tank for use at night. (We have tank heaters to keep the water from freezing.) However, this was when we discovered that something wasn’t working right. Instead of a steady stream of water from the fresh water tank, we only got spits and spurts. In addition to being frustrating, it gave us a problem that we needed to figure out before we take the camper to the Asheville, NC area for New Year’s. Kenn informed me last night that the problem has been resolved. (Yay!) Fortunately, it was something relatively simple; one of the valves was in “winterize” mode. Once he switched the valve, everything started working correctly. Whew!
Owning a travel trailer comes with all of the joys and pains that go along with traditional home ownership. However, unlike a traditional home, the travel trailer bounces around which puts unique stresses on everything. One of the things that drove our decision to purchase our Micro Lite 21FBRS was the amount of storage – especially in the kitchen. In addition to two small drawers for utensils and such, there are two deep drawers perfect for holding pots and pans and other larger miscellany. However, those large drawers have been problematic from the beginning.
Opening a drawer in your traditional home is simple, you place your hand on the drawer knob and pull. Easy peasy. Opening a drawer in a travel trailer requires a bit of a tug; that extra bit of tension is required in order to (usually) keep the drawers from bouncing open when on the road. Early into our travels with Serenity (our 21FBRS) I kept finding pieces of “stuff” in the bottom drawer. Obviously, something was malfunctioning, but what? The what became clearer when the top drawer got harder and harder to open. It turned out that the drawer slide on the top drawer was failing and that where the random pieces were coming from. Kenn replaced the drawer slide and we thought that was that. Wrong.
During one of our last trips, I was getting ready to cook supper but I couldn’t get the bottom drawer open. Without the pots and pans in that drawer, no cooking transpires. I assumed something in the drawer had shifted, preventing it from opening. Wrong again.
It turned out that the bottom of the drawer had collapsed. We had to remove the top drawer in order to empty the bottom drawer and then wrestle it out of the cabinet. In order to save weight, many drawers and such in travel trailers and rvs are made from thin wood veneers; while these materials are lighter, they aren’t always sturdy. Kenn has already replaced the “floor” of the closet next to our fridge because it broke during my month-long stay in SC earlier this year.
Rather than tack the chintzy bottom of the drawer back in place, Kenn decided to just rebuild the entire drawer out of plywood. Once that was done he decided to go ahead and rebuild the other drawer as well instead of waiting for it to fail at some future date. While the new and improved drawers should last for years to come they have created issues of their own. Due to the increased weight of the drawers, new slides were required along with some sort of mechanism to keep the drawers closed while traveling.
The first device Kenn purchased to secure the drawers didn’t work out, but we had a weekend trip planned. As a temporary alternative he installed some childproof/cat proof latches of the same type we use on our kitchen cabinets in The Cabin. (Our kids are grown, but Nyx, our black cat, is fixated on the kitchen cabinets and refuses to leave them alone.) However, the latches were not strong enough to contain the drawers. Fortunately, we always stop a few miles from the house to attach the weight distribution hitch so we discovered the problem with the latches early on. Cue the arguing.
If you want to stress test your marriage, or if you just like stress, buy a travel trailer! I’m convinced that getting a camper backed into a site has led to the demise of more than one marriage. Kenn and I don’t argue much, but when we do it’s more than likely going to deal with navigation or something to do with the travel trailer. When we discovered that the existing latches weren’t going to keep the drawers secured, my recommendation was to just remove the drawers, leaving the contents in place, and put them in the bed of the truck. Kenn wanted to use bungee cords to secure the drawers to the faucet. This was a big NOPE from me. One of the first thing we did after buying Serenity was to replace the default kitchen faucet with a nice gooseneck faucet with a pull-down sprayer. I didn’t want to get several miles down the road only to find that not only were the drawers not secure but that we also had to replace the faucet. Basically, I wanted to err on the side of caution. After several rounds of both of us repeating ourselves, Kenn emptied the drawer contents into a container and then stored the container and the drawers in the bed of the truck. This in turn was followed by several uncomfortable hours of little to no communication. You’d think after thirty-six years of marriage, we would have learned how to argue. Not so much.
A permanent solution for securing the drawers is still in the works. Kenn has some industrial strength magnets on order so we’ll find out how well those work on our next trip. Once the drawer issue is resolved we need to figure out why the oven door insists on being cattywampus and why the stove burners keep falling off.
How do you keep disagreements from turning into arguments/pouting?
Once we realized that Mammoth Cave National Park was only about an hour and a half from Louisville, we added it to our list of things to see during our trip. The day after the wedding festivities ended we packed up the camper and headed down the road. It felt great to arrive at the campground at noon instead of spending all day in the truck. Then I remembered that we had changed time zones so it was actually only 11am. Even better!
I’ve mentioned in previous posts that we still haven’t quite gotten the hang of traveling as retirees. We frequently forget that we can adjust our schedule as needed – and on the fly. So, I’m pretty proud of the fact that I rocked the retirement thing that day. I knew as soon as we got the camper set up Kenn would be asking “So, what do you want to do today?” so I headed him off at the pass. I told him “I don’t want to do anything today. I don’t want to go anywhere. I’m tired of being in the truck. I just want to sit outside and read.” Not to mention that we had spent three days people-ing. As much as I enjoyed meeting people and visiting with everyone, this introvert’s batteries were completely drained. I needed to recharge. And I did. All day. Kenn got in the truck and went out exploring later in the day. I stayed at the camper with my Kindle app. It was heaven.
The next day, well rested, we headed to Mammoth Cave National Park.
Now, there are two things to know about Mammoth Cave. (Well, more than two but I’m only going to list my top two here.)
Unlike most national parks, there is no entry fee at Mammoth Cave. According to one of the rangers on our tour, this was a part of the deal when the land was bought up by the state before being given to the federal government: the families who had lived on the land would never have to pay a fee to go “home”.
Mammoth Cave is named for the large size of the cave system; there are no mammoth fossils. (Fossil loving me was greatly disappointed, LOL.)
While there may be no fee to enter the park, visitors interested in touring the caves must purchase tickets (which do cost money) for ranger-led tours. There are a number of tours to chose from; we went with the Domes & Dripstones tour. We arrived at the park an hour or two ahead of our tour just to get the lay of the land. This gave us a chance to locate the stamp for our National Parks passport book and to buy the required souvenirs; in this case, a Christmas ornament. Note to self: check all gift shops before making a purchase. We bought an ornament in the first shop and I found one I liked better in the third shop which meant backtracking to the first shop to make a return. Not really a big deal but it could have been avoided with a little extra care on my part.
We decided it would be a good idea to pick up a couple of bottles of water to take with us on the tour. (When my throat gets dry, I start coughing and my throat gets dry a lot during allergy season. It’s not COVID people, it’s just allergies!) While Kenn was in line to get water, I noticed that the shop also sold soft pretzels. Since I never like to pass up the opportunity for a soft pretzel, I asked him to get one. Y’all, this was the biggest soft pretzel I’ve ever seen! I couldn’t even complain about the $8 price once I saw it.
By the time we finished sharing pretzelsaurus (including scraping off most of the salt) the rest of the tour group had arrived at the shelter. Ranger B arrived to give us the required safety briefing, we loaded up onto two buses, and were on our way. Ranger Alex regaled us with information about the park on the way to our destination. One interesting tidbit: Although the park is forested, there are no old-growth trees since it was predominately farmland for many years. Planting trees was one of the functions performed by the workers of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression.
The tour began in a sinkhole where Ranger B reminded us not to touch the rocks. Due to the fact that the caves do not receive rain, wind, etc. they don’t want the oils and lotions on our hands to damage the delicate ecosystem. Admittedly, I did touch the rocks a couple of times. In my defense, for once, it wasn’t a matter of me being contrary. (Shocking, I know.) In one spot it was just reflex to put up a hand to keep from bumping my head on a rock. (I had already banged my head when getting on the bus, LOL.) The second time I was navigating a section with a low ceiling and narrow path; my foot slipped on the damp floor and it was either touch the rock with my hand to catch my balance or touch it with my face. I chose the least painful of the two.)
The group stopped at two or three areas while the rangers gave us more information regarding the early days of the park. And, as always on a cave tour, there was a point where the lights were turned off just to show what true dark actually looks like. I have the utmost respect for spelunkers, especially the ones who did their scouting without modern equipment; I wouldn’t want to be exploring a cave system with nothing better than oil lamps.😬
In my opinion, the most spectacular scenery was in an optional section near the end of the tour.
The original entrance to the caves is still in use but we just missed a tour group and weren’t interested in waiting around for the next one so we just snapped a couple of pictures and went on our way.
White-nose syndrome, a fungal disease, has wiped out 90% of the bat population of Mammoth Caves. One phase of fighting this disease is that, at the end of each tour, all participants must walk across bio-mats soaked with disinfectant to remove any contamination possibly transported out of the caves on footwear.
All in all, a visit to Mammoth Cave National Park is a pleasant way to spend a few hours. The next time we find ourselves in the area, we’ll probably stop in and take a different tour.
We overnighted at a KOA Holiday in Manchester, TN on our way to Louisville. (It was one of the nicest KOAs we’ve stayed at.) Once we rested a bit we decided to take a walk and discovered a huge field behind the campsites with a walking path around the edge. (A small herd of deer kept an eye on us from the far side of the field.) There are all sorts of interesting “statues” lining the trail and the edge of the woods starting with two gigantic squirrels. Kenn said “Please don’t touch the squirrel’s giant nuts,” so of course I did because that’s how I roll.🤷♀️😂
Even though we had begun the journey home, we still had one planned stop to make – the Flight 93 Memorial. We arrived in Lubek, Maine on 9/11/2021; watching some of the annual documentaries reminded me that the Flight 93 Memorial was in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. There was no way we could be so close and not add it to our itinerary.
On our way north, we traveled through eastern Pennsylvania; I wasn’t a fan.🤷♀️ Our journey to the Flight 93 Memorial took us through middle and western Pennsylvania, which I loved. We stayed overnight at Black Moshannon State Park, located in the middle of nowhere. It was absolutely beautiful.
We arrived at the Flight 93 Memorial with our travel trailer in tow. The parking area was smaller than what you might find at other memorials but there was parking for at least 10 RVs/buses. At the time of our visit, masks were still required inside all federal buildings, which included the visitor’s center.
The visitor’s center features a small gift shop (of course) and a walk-through display. The display features a timeline of the attacks on 9/11/2001 along with items found at various locations. One section also features audio clips from various cockpit recordings and voicemail messages, etc. I skipped this section; I’ve heard enough of those heart-breaking clips in the documentaries I watch every year. I moved on to the section that displays some of the items that have been left at the memorial through the years. The one that ripped my heart out was a printed on a standard sheet of printer paper; the text is on the image below.
This is where I discovered that ugly-crying while wearing a mask is less than ideal. At this point, I got out of line and went in search of Kenn. Once we finished in the visitor’s center, we moved outside. (Note: if you are looking to stamp your national park passport, the stamp is not located in the visitor’s center. There are a variety of stamps located in the visitor’s shelter at the Memorial Plaza.)
Unlike other National Memorials (I’m looking at you, Mount Rushmore) the Flight 93 National Memorial is quiet, peaceful. We chose to walk from the visitor’s center to the memorial plaza; the walking paths were level and the walk was easy, even for Kenn’s bad knees.
There are marble memorials for each of the 40 passengers and crew aboard Flight 93. This one tugged at my heartstrings the most because it also commemorates Lauren’s unborn child.
The Tower of Voices is located near the entrance to the park and has its own parking area which includes spaces for RVs and buses. The Tower of Voices was dedicated in September 2020 and serves as “a visual and audible reminder of the heroism of the forty passengers and crew of United Flight 93.” The tower stands 93 feet tall and holds 40 wind chimes, one for each of the passengers and crew. The wind wasn’t blowing hard enough to activate the chimes the day of our visit but there are audio clips available online.
There you have it, dear readers. We have now reached the end of our 2021 road trip – with the exception of a few miscellaneous things I may post about later. So, what does 2022 hold for us? We were planning a trip to Utah this autumn but have put it on hold until next year, primarily due to the increased cost of gas. (Filling up Ruby’s 38-gallon gas tank is no joke, even at the best of times.) However, that doesn’t mean that we are just going to sit around the house and do nothing. We will still be traveling, just differently. We will still be going to South Carolina to help out with the twins and taking day trips and visiting attractions/locations in the South. We’re also planning to visit friends and family that we haven’t seen in ages. And you know what? I’m not even mad about the change. I’m actually looking forward to doing something a little more low key.
Prior to our Vermont decision to head home, Kenn had wanted to visit the Adirondack mountains in New York state, which I was fine with. Once we decided to begin the journey home, he changed his mind so, we began plotting our return route – which turned out to be easier said than done. There were very few places to cross over from our location in Vermont into New York state. We saw a ferry location on the map but weren’t sure that it could handle travel trailers so, we headed for southern Vermont planning to cross into New York there. However, in a moment of serendipity, just as we reached the road leading to the ferry another truck towing an even larger travel trailer turned that way. We said “what the heck” and followed them; if travel trailers weren’t allowed, we’d find some way back to civilization.
It turned out the the Charlotte, VT ferry does indeed allow travel trailers which meant we were able to cross Lake Champlain in style and it made the transition into New York state much easier.
I’m not a big city person so New York city is not on my list of places to visit. But, New York state? I’ll go back to eastern New York state any time. It is absolutely beautiful and is one of the many places I have fallen in love with during our travels.
Of course we had to pose with the iconic sign.
Next time: Pennsylvania. Until then, stay safe and happy trails!
We left New Hampshire and headed to Vermont. While I had been looking forward to the trip as a whole, Vermont was to be one of the highlights for me. Kenn kept asking me what I wanted to see in Vermont and my answer was always “I just want to see Vermont.” What’s not to love? Rolling, tree-covered mountains reflecting the changing of the seasons. Perfection, right? Alas, not so much.
While I enjoyed the scenery, our stay in Vermont got off to a rough start. Our arrival at the campground we selected was a comedy of errors. The directions provided by the manager left a lot to be desired and her gruffness rubbed me the wrong way. I also wasn’t thrilled with our campsite but we were only going to be there two nights so it wasn’t the end of the world.
It was an overcast day but we headed out to get the lay of the land. While Vermont was every bit as gorgeous as I expected it to be, I just wasn’t feeling it – not even when the sun came out and the clouds started breaking up.
Of course, we had to stop and take pictures of covered bridges.
Our campground was only a few miles from Stowe, Vermont. A lot of the “iconic” Vermont photos that I have seen were taken in Stowe. We did a drive-through of the town in preparation to spending time there the next day. Once again, I wasn’t feeling it. After two trips to Bar Harbor, I did not have another trip to another touristy town in me. Later that evening back at the camper, Kenn went out to put the satellite dish on the roof and came back in wearing his “I’m injured” expression. (I have become well acquainted with this expression over the years.) When he was coming down the ladder, his wedding ring got caught on a screw; he was lucky he didn’t deglove or lose the finger. It took some work and some of the oil I put on my dry hair but we managed to get his ring off and put it on the necklace he always wears. (It was a couple of months before the swelling in his finger went down enough for him to get his ring back on.)
Later that evening I had to admit that I was done. I was ready to go home. At that point we had been on the road for three weeks and even if we drove non-stop it would still take us another week or so to get home. During the course of our trip our then pregnant daughter-in-law was admitted to the hospital with gall bladder issues, my oldest sister had a stroke, and our youngest son’s girlfriend’s mom died from COVID after several months in ICU. I needed to see and touch my people and know that they were okay. Kenn admitted that he was ready to head home as well so we cancelled the second night of our stay and hit the road home the next day. (In spite of my first impression, the campground manager was nice. She sent us on our way with some extra sharp cheddar cheese and maple syrup, both products of Vermont. We even got a Christmas card from her.)
Next up, New York state. Until then, happy trails!
Since we were in New Hampshire, the Mount Washington Auto Road was pretty much a must. Kenn has had a fascination with Mount Washington for many years; he frequently checks the conditions at the observatory at the top of the mountain. (Mount Washington held the record for the “fastest wind gust ever recorded on the surface of the Earth”, 231 mph, for almost 62 years. The record was broken in 1996 at Barrow Island, Australia during Typhoon Olivia.) As you might have guessed based on some of my earlier posts, the Appalachian Trail crosses Mount Washington.
Our initial plan was to ride the Cog Railway to the top of the mountain. However, since we didn’t make reservations in advance, there were no seats available. We looked into riding one of the non-cog trains but I wasn’t interested in spending almost $200 for the experience. So, it was time to decide if we could handle the drive. Now, driving up a mountain generally isn’t that big of a deal but the Auto Road isn’t just any road. As much as I love the mountains, windy/twisty roads with steep drop-offs and no guard rails are not my idea of fun – and that is pretty much a description of the Auto Road. I went online and watched a few videos of the drive and was comfortable that it was doable. So, it was time for one of those heart-to-heart discussions that are occasionally necessary in all relationships. I assured Kenn that I could handle the drive with no panic attacks and that if (when) I freaked out, I would grit my teeth and keep it internal so that I didn’t distract him while he was driving. He, on the other hand, had to swear that he would keep his eyes on the road. Now, this may seem like a simple request but it is a common issue for us; the whole time Kenn is driving it’s “look at this” and “did you see that?” with my answer being “No, because one of us needs to watch the road!” Kenn promised to focus on the road and not the scenery and we were set. We planned our drive for our first day in New Hampshire but it was closed due to the rain so, of course, we went the second day.
When you arrive at the entrance to the Auto Road, you pay your fee and get a bumper sticker that says “This vehicle climbed Mount Washington”. (When we stopped at the gift shop after our drive I bought a smaller magnet that says “This truck climbed Mount Washington”.) You also pass a sign stating “If you have a fear of heights, you may not appreciate this driving experience.”😬 The drive starts off pretty much like any mountain road: windy, narrow, two lane, trees on both sides. The higher you climb, the fewer the trees. Once you get above the tree line, the road becomes more “exciting” eventually becoming two-way traffic on what is basically a one lane road. The Auto Road is paved – except for the steepest stretch, which is dirt. (I haven’t been able to find any explanation for the unpaved section. I’ve decided it’s because it is so steep and that vehicle tires may get better traction on the dirt rather than pavement.🤷♀️ If you know the answer, please enlighten me!)
The closest I came to not keeping my freak out internalized happened not too far from the top of the mountain. There were a couple of vehicles coming toward us so Kenn and Ruby were hugging the right side of the road. The only problems with this were the hillside that was right outside the passenger door and the narrow drainage trench at the side of the road. I was terrified that we were going to get a wheel caught in the trench or break off a mirror on the hillside. When we met up with the truck coming toward us, both Kenn and the driver of the other truck rolled down their windows and folded their mirrors in to prevent a collision. Yes, the road is that narrow. Once we reached the parking lot, I was tempted to be overly dramatic and kiss the ground, but I refrained.😂
The area above the treeline is an alpine region where vegetation is scarce and fragile. The landscape is stark and beautiful.
The rocky areas had a “lunar” feel to me.
We spent an hour or more roaming around the top of the mountain before heading back down. I knew the “down” part of the drive was going to be the worst part for me since the passenger side of the truck would be on the side of the road featuring the drop-off and no guard rail. I told Kenn that I was just going to keep my eyes closed until we got below the treeline, at which point nature would provide a guardrail of sorts. I kept my promise except for when Kenn said “Oh no!” or something of the nature that you don’t want to hear when dealing with a two-way-traffice-on-a-one-lane-road situation. Remember the drainage trench I mentioned and how I was afraid we were going to get a wheel stuck in it? Well, some unfortunate driver headed up the road had done just that. Poor guy was stuck. So now, we had the addition of the traffic behind him having to pull all the way to the left side of the road to continue their trek which made the traffic flow even more thrilling. When we reached the base of the mountain, we passed the tow truck headed up to the rescue. I’m glad I wasn’t there to witness that scenario; my freak outs probably would not have remained internalized at that point.
So, yes, it is possible to survive the Mount Washington Auto Road even when you have a fear of heights and anxiety issues. And, I’m glad we did it. Oh, if you’re curious, the Auto Road is 7.6 miles long and the drive up the takes around 30 minutes; the drive down takes 30-45 depending on how often you stop to cool your breaks. The grade averages around 12%.
During our travels, whenever we ate out we tried things we had never had before. After we finished the Auto Road, we decided to eat a late lunch/early supper (what we call “lupper”) at The Public House Eatery in Gorham, NH. Best. Decision. Ever. Everything we had was delicious. Their signature pizza was seriously the best pizza we’ve ever had. Who knew teriyaki-glazed steak tips and mashed potatoes on a pizza could be so good?
Next week, Vermont and New York state. Until then, take care and happy trails!
We finished our stay in Millinocket, Maine and journeyed to New Hampshire. Due to his interest in the Appalachian Trail, Kenn has read many books by through-hikers and the White Mountains were on his bucket list. Now, I love the mountains – any mountains; the mountains are where my soul feels most at peace. However, I knew nothing about the White Mountains and wasn’t sure what all of the fuss was about. Y’all. Holy cow. The White Mountains are… breathtaking. Sadly, none of my photos did them justice.
We planned to spend two days in the area and made reservations at the Lincoln/Woodstock KOA Holiday, which was a fortunate choice; this was hands-down the best campground we stayed at the entire trip. You can read my review HERE. We planned to use the first day to drive the Mount Washington Auto Road, but it rained which meant the road was closed. However, the rain was a good thing in that it forced us to take a down day. We spent the morning doing laundry at the campground. (I was impressed by the laundry facilities; the equipment was commercial-grade and there was a working change machine.😮) Once the rain let up a bit we ventured into Lincoln for food and souvenir shopping. We ate at the Gypsy Cafe, a charming restaurant where both the decor and menu are eclectic. If I lived in the area, I’d eat there at least once a week.
By the time we ate and completed our souvenir/Christmas shopping, the rain finally let up and the clouds began to clear so we did a little exploring on our way back to the campground. This is when I was able to take my favorite photos from the area. I even made Kenn drop me off on a bridge so I could get a shot that I wanted.😂
There’s a lot of this beautiful country that we have yet to see, but I would return to the White Mountains in a heartbeat.
Next week, the Mount Washington Auto Road. Until then, take care and happy trails!