Category Archives: RVing

Winter is coming.

trip-south

For various reasons we decided to head south December 1 this year. We knew we were taking a bit of chance weather wise and we weren’t entirely lucky. We left Alonsa after freezing rain and our original planned path through Bismarck was quite literally shut down due to a heavy snowfall. So we were stuck trying to head south along the infamous I29 corridor. I say infamous for a few reasons. It is the most boring drive in the world. It bypasses just about anything neat fun or interesting in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Missouri. There are miles and miles of nothing but flat prairie. It is also infamous because in winter weather entire sections can be shut down. And if you are in a camper there is very little in the way of open campgrounds in December. It is also a major trucking corridor so you spend most of the drive wincing as the big truckers pass you by.

The first hour of of Alonsa was hellish because we were driving on sheer ice. I was so glad we had just put on new snow tires and had four wheel drive. Even then I could not go over 60km/hr (40mph) without the trailer starting to fishtail in a frightening way. So a drive we made many times over the summer in 20 minutes took over an hour. Once we got to McCreary the roads were wet not icy so we were finally able to hit 90k/hr (55mph). We made a pit stop to have our wheel re-torqued after the new snow tire installation and then we headed south. We took the Yellowhead into Portage La Prairie and then headed out joining up with with 75 in Morris.  We arrived at the border about 4:00pm. To our delight, this time we were waved right through. You never know what you will encounter at the border. Sometimes we get searched, sometimes we have to produce paperwork. This time all we got was a cheerful “Have a nice trip” and we were over the border. The road was clear and we were eager to get further south so we drove until we reached Fargo. In Fargo we joined about 10 other RVers parking in the Flying J. Apparently we aren’t the only snowbirds to wait for December 1. I actually like staying on truck stops. Most truck drivers are polite and professional. Always fun new stuff to see. The time it was the biggest dump truck I ever saw. We had a nice big American breakfast at the Huddle House.

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We then headed south to North Sioux City South Dakota where there is a year round KOA. We decided we needed an oil change before moving on so we had a side trip into Iowa to a service place before we continued south. It had still not gone above freezing so we arrived with ice and snow on our trailer. We rolled into another year round KOA in Kansas City Missouri about 8:00pm and finally it was above freezing. Our trailer began dripping as the ice and snow melted. We continued dripping and shedding ice and snow as we followed the I29 south and then veered off for a side trip through Oklahoma. It was a joy to finally leave the standard campground behind and stay at a state park. It was fun to see new territory in Oklahoma. I even felt a genuine Oklahoma earthquake, a gentle rattle and roll from a nearby 3.9. KOAs have their place in RV life and I do like them but not day after day. Plus the KOAs cost more and the campsite in Lake Eufaula State Park was huge, gorgeous and only $26 and we had a grand total of five other campers in the huge place. It rained all night. We woke up to find the ice and snow had finally melted away and the rain washed our trailer and truck clean. From there we travelled to Mt Pleasant Texas for a two day overnight break at another KOA. We had a breakfast meeting with a colleague, a much needed long walk on green grass with the dogs, laundry and quiet.

So that was it. Instead of a nice leisurely trip stopping to see sights along the way and taking our time, we did a straight flying trip south as fast as possible of 2300km running away from winter. And I woke up to news this morning that home has been totally socked in by a mega all out blizzard. So we didn’t leave ourselves a lot of room weather wise by leaving in December.

Will we do it again? I’m not sure. This part of our trip was not fun. It was all about getting south. We saved a lot of money by waiting an extra month and a half in terms of health care costs and our weak Canadian dollar against the American dollar. We got to enjoy our cosy home in Alonsa and the company of our friends for an extra month and a half. But it does take the joy out of the trip south. So we may not do this next year. We shall see.

Meaner than a Junkyard Dog.

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We stopped in Thunder Bay to visit our friends Bryan and Patricia. We had dinner with them and then we left to boondock at the Flying J. We had an incident in Thunder Bay. Our friends live downtown and the neighbourhood is a bit too close to some, shall we say, rougher areas of town. We left the dogs in the trailer and the alarm on while we visited. Part way through our very lovely evening I heard the alarm in the trailer go off. I ran outside in time to see someone moving off very rapidly in the opposite direction and I could hear Fred, in the trailer. doing his savage, junk yard dog impression.

Fred is normally the sweetest, gentlest, most easy going dog you could ever meet. We followed the advice of a dog expert who advised us to have both dogs very well trained in obedience school and very well socialized. (Both dogs have their level 3 certificate, I am proud to say. We did the classes with Trusty and I as on team and Fred with Hubby Dearest the other team.) 24 Thursday evenings for one hour with a dig whisperer training us how to be dog people. The dogs already knew how to be dogs. According to this dog expert, a well trained dog is confident and reliable is also well aware of what is normal behaviour and what constitutes someone who is a threat. So you end up with a very well bonded dog who is normally sweet, gentle, and easy going and but knows when some human is up to no good and when to respond with the junkyard dog routine.

I went into the trailer and checked it all over and saw no reason for the alarm to go off. Fred was also very upset, not his “Why do you have to test that stupid alarm?” upset, but his “Danger! Danger! Bad Guys! Alert! Alert!” upset which I have only seen four times before during the ten years we have had him in our life. I shut the alarm off and reset it. I calmed Fred down.

Trusty was also agitated but she depends more on Fred in such situations, preferring to be his back up rather than the first responder. A soft word and a pat on the head and she went right back to sleep.Which is not to say Trusty does not have her moments. We once had a black bear decide to check out our barbecue and Fred did his alert thing and then ran and hid behind Hubby Dearest. Trusty on the other hand parked herself halfway between us and the bear and just dared him to try getting at that barbecue. The bear decided to get dinner elsewhere. So I suspect Fred is the brighter one of the pair but Trusty is more, well Trusty.

The cat was also agitated but it could have been from the dogs, the intruder or the alarm or just his usual general feline peevishness. So he got a head pat. Fred, however remained agitated. So We took our cue from Fred and the rather scuzzy types wandering about a block or two over and decided to move to a safer location for the night after our visit. Now to be fair, between Fred and the alarm we were probably quite safe. These passerby looked like are rubby dubs, drunks and druggies not savage sociopathic killers. We left anyway.

As we got ready for bed we did one final inspection of the trailer and we found the reason the alarm went off. One window was partly ajar. We got some amusement imagining some human tick thinking he had found an unguarded treasure to abscond and then abruptly finding himself facing a junkyard dog and a screeching alarm instead. Ha! Got you, creepy human parasite type.

It was very nice to be out of the city and into the countryside again, safely parked at a Flying J. Fred took a long time settling down that evening. We take about it before we fell asleep. Fred is getting old. I had been thinking once he was gone we should give up having dogs. They are a pain in a lot of ways. However we both agreed when Fred’s time comes, we will be getting another dog. This life on the road is mostly great but there are dangers and it is a good think to have a sweet, gentle, easy going Fred type around who knows when to act like a savage, man eating, junkyard dog.

Back in Manitoba and all is well, except the weather.

We returned to Manitoba April 17th and we have had a hectic few days. There are only two campground that are open and offer service this time of year. One is south of the city and one is west. The western one is marginally closer to our family so we went there first. However we arrived to find that because of all the contraction they had after last years flooding they are open but do not have water or WIFI. So we are at Arrowhead Campground which is open and has full services. This is actually quite a nice campground, very clean and well run. My only complaints are the lots are small and they are a lot fussier about dogs. We prefer to dean up the dog droppings by keeping them on a very short leash outside the door at night and when we go out in the morning we clean up. Everything is right near the trailer so only our own lot is affected and this works in most places. However at this place, you are expected to somehow get your dog to hold it until you can race with it off the property and then have it go. If the dog doesn’t hold it or needs to go out at 2:00am you must catch it basically before it hits the ground or risk complaints. Oh well, every campground has its peculiarities and you adjust and this one is a minor. They get around the low temperatures by having a network of hoses all over the campground and they come back and fill your tank at every time you ask so the service is great. Plus it’s hard to find a campground open for us snowbirds in April.

After getting settled we began the seemingly endless run of stuff to catch up on. Visit the son who receives our mail for and go through a huge pile. Even though we have converted to every possible coming by electronic mail, we still found ourselves with a HUGE stack. Most of it junk or stuff we could really do without. And then there are a large number of things to be dealt with. Income tax by April 30th (just sent that off). Off to the doctor to renew regular prescriptions since most of them only allow you 6 months at a time maximum. We both had dental checkups. Dick came through clean which is great considering all the trouble he had the last two years including a $3800 bridge. I have one small cavity and will be going back in a couple of weeks but otherwise everything is fine. Last two years I have had cracked molars to fix and I was dreading that again.

Also because of the house purchase, we had to run to the Credit Union, sign papers, run to the lawyer, sign papers, run to the insurance company, sign papers, and so it goes. We have visited with all the kids now, hugged all the grandkids, distributed books, gifts, duty free booze and stuff. All our assorted families look great and the kids are all grown handsomer and bigger. We keep in touch all year of course but there’s nothing like a hug, smelling their scent, and seeing them all looking so good. We are blessed. Even the youngest, who is 18 months, remembered me after a few minutes.

Naturally Manitoba needed to make sure we continue to plan to go south each winter. We were greeted with bitterly cold weather and snow, several centimetres of it blowing like it can only blow on the prairie. Last night the temperature was down to -10C and we have had to do all the cold weather stuff with the trailer, UGH! Monday night the highway was even closed due to blowing snow. The dogs have been giving us dirty looks before going out. I can almost hear them thinking “Why did we have to leave the south too soon?”

Today is the first day we have had no running catchup to do. We can breath and relax. Tomorrow we go shopping to stock up for our extended stay in the country with a decent store hours away and hubby dearest gets a blood test just to check things. We meet the real estate agent Monday 10:00am to get our keys and finally get into our house. Then the real fun starts as we do a full inspection to decide what renovations we want/must do now, what can wait, measure all the rooms to decide what furniture, curtains and stuff we need and a bunch of other things that go with a new house.

This morning the cold is finally breaking and more temperate weather is back. The sun is warm through the window and the sky is finally blue blue Manitoba blue under the wide open sky. I can hear a meadow lark. I joke about how I as born in Winnipeg due to sins of a past like but Manitoba is my home. It’s good to be home.

Florida is in full bloom.

It’s getting to be far too hot and I am counting the days until we head north to escape the heat (32C) 89F yesterday with 100% humidity so the sweat just rolls off instead of evaporating and cooling. I will miss Florida when we leave, but not this heat. The locals are just now coming alive and have stopped complaining about the bitter cold of temperatures that require more than a T shirt. They haven’t started sweating yet either. They just laugh at me when I complain about the heat.

One thing that has just astounded me with the arrival of heat has been the way everything has suddenly decided it’s spring and now is the time to start blooming. There is so much that is green year around here in winter that I didn’t notice it’s drab for most the time we have been staying here. Now we have this positive riot of passionate colours that could teach the north a little about blooming. I took pictures of just the flowers on my two short blocks walk from our parking spot to the Marine Lab when I went to pick up the mail. Wow. I recognize fuchsia (pink) and wisteria (purple) but the rest are unknown to me. It’s just lovely.

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Storm Day

Looks like we are in for a nice day of storms with thunder and lightning, heavy rain, hail, high winds and possibly a tornado or two. There is a cold front crossing a warm front and it is currently three counties west of us moving east. We are staying indoors watching the radar, ready to move to a more sheltered spot if anything close by is threatening. Travel trailers do not take severe weather very well. In fact, statistically speaking, you are better off outside lying on the ground than sitting out a severe storm in your trailer. Meantime I have a bunch of figures for our book that need doing so I will flip back and forth between Compisitor and NOAA until this front passes. If you are in the way of any nasty weather, stay alert, stay safe.

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Gathering Bryozoans

Bryozoans are a neat kind of ocean creatures that look like plants but are actually animals. They live attached onto things and they are of great interest to scientists. One of their more interesting aspects is they contain natural compounds used to treat cancer. Gulf Specimen Marine Lab supplies lots of things to scientists. Jack told us he needed to run out and collect some for an order and asked if we wanted to come along. Did we ever! Any collecting mission is always a fascinating lesson. It’s also fascinating to see Jack’s years of experience in action. He glanced out at his dock and muttered that the tide is high, so we can likely find them off marina dock at Alligator point. And we did. Of course we also got a lesson on a bunch of the other critters living on the dock while we were at it. “The Living Dock” is of course one of Jack Rudloe’s many books. It is such a privilege to have him for a friend. I added a tube clip on the bottom about “The Living Dock.” You can also get a feel for the lovely scenery and warm temperatures we are enjoying.

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Sirens Sounding

We are sitting in a Milledgeville restaurant in downtown Milledgeville called the Local Yolkal. I woke up and saw an approaching storm system and it was aimed right at our little, totally vulnerable, camper. We were also under a tornado watch. The storm seemed to me to be increasing in intensity and I could see the beginning of the radar hook. So we decided to abandon our home and move to a safer location in downtown Milledgeville where the buildings are sturdy and there are basements. Just as we entered the cafe the sirens began to sound. The locals are calmly alert and ready. One fellow told us to move indoors now and suggested the Local Yolkal for breakfast and storm shelter. The waitress told us the place has a shelter big enough for all the staff and guests so if it gets ugly we can move downstairs. And so we now wait out the tornado. On its current track the storm will go between our present location and the trailer to the north. The biggest problem we may face is getting home if it damages stuff on the highway.

This challenging weather is why America will never be defeated. There is nothing any ISIS or Al Qaeda can produce that is as bad as what Americans regularly deal with from Mother Nature. Listen, react, take shelter, wait and then deal with it when its done.

Epilogue: The storm broke into two cells and one went between the town and the campground. The cell with the tornado passed to the southwest of us, veering that direction as these storms so often do. We saw a lot of heavy rain and a lot of wind but that’s all. Locals watched closely but made no move to head to the shelter so we just watched as well. There are some reports of an eighteen wheeler blown over and some reports of minor damage but not affecting us here in the restaurant.

We returned to our trailer to find the area littered with pine needles and pine cones and lots of running water on the hills and in the ditches, but otherwise no damage. Score one for Mother Nature.