Blocks and Sunblocks – New add-ons for Betsy

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Tire Covers

[Posted by Steve]

In between our bursts of travel to new areas throughout the country, we like to occasionally settle down for a while to not only vegetate a bit, but also to take on some of the little projects and upgrades that have been added to our “wishlist” along the way.  Of course, I do all the actual work, but only after Mona Liza gives management approval!

A couple of our most recent upgrades involved:

  1. Building a set of nice, strong jack blocks to assist with leveling Betsy, when needed. These blocks sit between the jack base and the ground to reduce the distance the jack has to extend, and they offer a larger area to distribute the coach’s weight.
  2. Installing some cool tire covers that we heard about from Gay and Joe of good times rollin.  We didn’t really like our old tire covers and have been hoping to find something better.

Jack Blocks (set of 2) –

We have tried a couple of the “indestructible” jack block products available out there, which Betsy promptly destroyed.  With Betsy’s rear jacks holding up close to 22,000 pounds, those products can either flex badly out of shape or aren’t tall enough to allow the jack to gain the needed additional height.

Jack Blocks

My finished blocks – the handles make them easy to carry

I wanted something that was tall, wouldn’t buckle, was fairly light and wouldn’t take up a lot of room in our compartment.  Here’s what I did:

Each set of 2 blocks required a half sheet of 3/4″ exterior plywood.  I’ve built only 2 blocks so far, to see how they work and determine if we need 2 more.  The plywood can be purchased in half sheets from Home Depot, which is nice if you have a small car like ours and can’t fit a whole 4’x8′ sheet in it.  While at the store, get some construction glue, about twenty 3″ galvanized or deck screws (and the bit to drive them) and 2 cheap drawer handles like the ones in the photo.  That’s all of the materials, and it shouldn’t set you back more than $40.

Jack Block

Home Depot (and probably Lowe’s) carries these half-sheets of 3/4″ exterior plywood. One of these will make two blocks

Cut the half sheet into eight 12″x12″ squares.  Stack them into 2 stacks of 4 squares and drill a couple of starter holes into each of them.  Drive two of the deck screws into the holes – this step just keeps the stacks square and together while you drill the rest of the starter holes.

Building a Jack Block

Using 3″ galvanized or deck screws worked out just right

Drill the rest of the starter holes into the squares.  I figured 9 screws on each block would be plenty, so that’s what I did.

Completed Jack Block

I used 9 screws in each of my blocks – these aren’t going to fall apart!

Take the blocks apart, but be careful to lay them so you’ll be able to stack them back together the same way.

On one block, squirt or brush the construction glue liberally onto the mating surfaces of the four pieces of wood, then stack them back together as they came apart.  Now screw all of the deck screws in until they are flush with the surface and wipe off the excess glue.

Assemble the other block, then install the handles.  I offset my handles toward the “ground”, thinking it would be easier to pull them out with my awning rod.  I’ve heard of folks attaching a length of rope to each block so they can pull it out without using a rod, but I didn’t want muddy rope that I would have to store away when it rained.

This is a simple and inexpensive project, but you will need to own or borrow a saw to cut the plywood and a drill to drive the deck screws.  After several uses, my blocks are holding up well – even on uneven surfaces.  Although I realize they won’t last forever, they’re so cheap and easy to make that I won’t mind doing it every few years.

Tire covers –

This upgrade requires only your wallet and knowing what size tires are on your coach.

We owned a set of typical fabric tire covers for years, but we were never happy with them. They were bulky, got dirty and full of bugs, and they allowed condensation to build up on our nice wheels in humid conditions – not a good thing over time.

Tire Wheel Cover

Typical wheel covers – anyone want to buy our old ones for cheap?

As soon as I heard that Magneshade started offering tire shades, I picked up the phone and ordered four of them.  This small company makes everything custom, and the quality is excellent.  We’ve enjoyed a full set of their exterior magnetic window shades for years, and these tire covers are attractive, compact, and just plain cool.

Magneshade Tire cover

You hardly know the tire covers are there, and I can show off my nice wheels (when they’re clean)

Dressing up a Motorhome Tire

Installing the covers is easy, if we do it prior to dumping our air bags which makes tire-to-wheel well clearance very tight

For our large 22.5″ tires, the cost was just under $200 for a set of four, shipping and tax included.  It’s hard to tell they are even on our rig, and I can attest to the fact that they will stay put even in tremendous winds – as we found out a couple of weeks ago.  You might want to check these folks out!

 

Up next:  Back to our travels, the hikers paradise – Great Smoky Mountains



Our favorite beaches – Final 2nd Anniversary Post

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Dauphin Island Beach

This last installment of our 2nd year anniversary celebration week postings is a new category that will appear only once.  We jammed along the coastlines of both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic ocean last year (Mar 1, 2013 to Feb 28, 2014).  I thought it would be fun (and possibly helpful to others) to share our favorite beaches during that journey. Walking on the beach, enjoying the smell of the salt air, the sounds of the water, the hypnotizing rolling waves, the crunching of the shells, and the birds entertaining us made the saying ” life’s a beach” a reality for us.

Our selection is obviously colored by the fact that we visited many of these beaches off season, hence the overall experience was enhanced by the lack of noisy crowds.  Many times we enjoyed the solitude with just the birds keeping us company.

So, in no particular order – since it was too difficult to pick a favorite – below are the beach experiences that we will miss and remember most fondly as we travel the midsection of the country this year.  As before, the blue link with the location name is a link to more information about that spot, and the month we were there.  The “Click our related post here” goes to our blog about it.

Dauphin Island, Alabama – March

Betsy was parked across from the public access to the beach, so we had no issues with parking or entrance fees.  The water was blue and calm with small waves.  With no huge attractions or condo buildings lining the beach, it was a very quiet, unspoiled place to just enjoy walking the stretch of white sand and dunes.  We loved watching the birds and gorgeous sunsets so much that we’re going out of our way to spend a couple more weeks there at the end of this March!

Click our related post here

Dauphin Island Beach

Dauphin Island Beach

Rosamond Johnson Beach – Perdido Key, Florida – April

This beach is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and is considered among the whitest, most beautiful sand beaches in America.  It is considered an excellent example of a pristine Florida Panhandle beach.  With no commercial buildings or residential homes, it remains unspoiled and beautiful.

Click related post here

Gulf Shore National Seashore

Kitty Hawk Beach – Outer Banks, North Carolina – October

Betsy was parked just across the street from the beach, making it a pleasure to jump out of bed in the morning and run over to get sunrise photos and hang out, or to take a long walk.  There were no tall condos or hotels along the beach and the area was characterized as low to medium density, single-family residential developments – mainly running small businesses.  Our memories are of sunrises painting the sky with colorful pastels of orange, pink and yellow.

Click related post here

Kitty Hawk, Outerbanks, NC

Kitty Hawk Beach

Glorious sunrise at Kitty Hawk

Bonita Beach Park – Bonita Springs, Florida – January

The beach got crowded with snowbirds as the day progressed, but not early in the morning when we arrived to take our walks.  The shorebirds were plentiful and fat, hanging around and waiting for the equally fat tourists to feed them.  Although the beach is not known for shelling, we could hear our steps crunching as we walked on piles of sea shells.

Click related post here

Bonita Beach Park

Bonita Beach, FLorida

These guys ignore anyone who won’t feed them – and we never do!

Marconi Beach – Cape Cod, Massachusetts – September

This gorgeous beach is part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, and the moment you look out from the bluff you become mesmerized by the miles of white sand beach and the huge steep sand cliff located behind the surf line.  The beach is beautiful and serene, providing an unbroken, pristine natural scene in all directions.

Click related post here

Marconi Beach, Cape Cod

Marconi Beach looking north

Marconi Beach, Cape Cod

Marconi Beach looking south

How about you?  What’s your favorite beach to spend time at?

Next up:  Real fun in the “Real Florida”…

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Our Top Ten Favorite Hikes – 2nd Anniversary

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Stone Mountain Trail

We have crossed another milestone.  Two years ago today, on March 1, 2012, we embarked on our new lifestyle of living on the road.  One of our many goals was to continue to exercise and be active.  Building on what I began last year, and to commemorate our 2nd year of full timing, I have compiled our new set of favorite hike/walk trails.  This top ten list covers the trails we explored between March 1, 2013 and Feb 28, 2014.  It does not include the dozens of beach walks we took while on the east coast.  Although we love long walks on the beach, they tend to be fairly similar and we decided not to try to rate them. Continue reading

Betsy’s “ferryfull” adventures – Outer Banks, NC

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Hatterras to Ocracoke Ferry
Outer Banks, NC

The Outer Banks, NC

Leaving Virginia behind, we were looking forward to our next destination – the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  Our friends Joe and Judy (who are North Carolinians) gave us heaps of information about the Outer Banks.  But what and where exactly are the Outer Banks?  Referred to as OBX by locals – it’s a long string of narrow barrier islands that run along most of the North Carolina coastline.  Over 130 miles long, it arcs into the Atlantic Ocean like a taut bow, forming many beautiful pristine beaches.

We made two stops on the OBX, one at Kitty Hawk and the second at Buxton.  To get back onto the mainland, Betsy had to take two ferry rides.  First, a 40-minute free ferry transported us from Hatteras Village to Ocracoke Island.  The second was for a reasonable fee and took over two hours to go from Ocracoke Island to Cedar Island.  But I am getting ahead of myself a bit here.  Let me tell you about the fun things we did after reading Judy’s excellent suggestions.

She didn’t have to tell us to take long walks on the beaches – we figured that out all by ourselves!

Kitty Hawk RV Park

Betsy was parked so close to the beach that we could hear the waves at night from Kitty Hawk RV Park – loved it!

Of course, our major goal in the Kitty Hawk area was to visit the site where air travel was born.  The Wright Brothers National Memorial encompasses more than 400 acres and marks the spot where brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright made their first four powered flights.  And lucky for us, we had just seen the actual plane they built while at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in DC.

We climbed a hill to a 60-foot granite monument which is perched atop the 90-foot-tall Kill Devil Hill.  It commemorates the achievements of the Wright brothers, who conducted many of their glider tests on the massive shifting dune that was later stabilized.  Then we drove around a loop to a display of bronze statues that re-enacted the first flight.  While there, I asked first flight photographer John T. Daniels to take a picture of me.  He was very accommodating, but sort of a quiet chap 🙂

Wright Brothers Memorial Monument

The Memorial Monument sits on the hill behind the bronze sculpture of photographer John T. Daniels

As if our morning walk on the beach and hike up Kill Devil Hill were not enough, we continued to Jockey’s Ridge State Park  and climbed sand dunes topping out at 80 feet. The park boasts that the dunes here are the tallest natural sand-dune system in the eastern United States.  Upon reaching the top, we were rewarded with unparalleled views of the central Outer Banks and the surrounding area.

Jockey's Ridge State Park, Sand Dunes

Hiking up one of the tall sand dunes – where is everybody?

Our days here were spent catching the sunrise in the morning while walking on the beach, and enjoying watching the surfers, fishermen and hundreds of shorebirds.  We listened to and watched the relentless swells of the Atlantic Ocean pawing away at the beach.  Oh yeah, life is a beach indeed.  Do we have to leave?

Fishermen at Outer Banks

Beats working!

Kitty Hawk Beach

Kitty Hawk Beach

Some crazy woman wandering aimlessly around the beach…

Kitty Hawk Beach

We watched an endless parade of pelicans gliding inches above the water and swooping down on their prey, while other shorebirds scurried along the beach looking for food…

Pelicans

Pelicans gliding above the ocean

…and the unobstructed sunrises were just gorgeous.  Yes, I got many pictures of them each morning!

Sunrise at Outer Banks

Sunrise at Kitty Hawk Beach

Sunset at Kitty Hawk

Sunset at Kitty Hawk Beach

From Kitty Hawk we move just 60 miles further south to enjoy more beaches along the OBX.  We also checked out a few historical sites along the way.  We believe this is a great time to be here – the “shoulder season” – as the summer tourists (and their noisy little brats) have already gone back home.

Highway 12vOuterbanks, NC

Cruising along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore- Atlantic Ocean on the left, Pamlico Sound on the right

Cape Hatteras National Seashore covers all of the coastline from Nags Head to Ocracoke, seventy four (74) miles of unpopulated, unspoiled, and always open beaches.  Cape Hatteras Campground would have been a great place to park Betsy, but it had already closed for the season. 

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Instead, we parked Betsy at Cape Woods RV Park in Buxton (Steve’s review is here).  We found the iconic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse a few miles away.  At 208′ tall, it is distinguished as the tallest brick lighthouse in the nation.  Its unique diagonal black and white striped pattern really make it stand out.  Folks can climb to the top during tourist season, but it too had already been closed for the winter.

Beach erosion forced the relocation of this venerable landmark in 1999.  The lighthouse was moved 2,900 feet to its new location, the tallest brick structure in the U.S. to ever be moved.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

2,900 ft distance of lighthouse relocation, a huge and interesting project

Moving on to Ocracoke Island, we discovered it’s well known for wildlife attractions, especially its herd of ponies.  The ponies are called the “Banker” horses of Ocracoke, believed to be descendants of Spanish Mustangs that were unloaded in 1585.  Physically, the Ocracoke ponies are different from others – they have a different number of vertebrae and ribs, as well as a distinct shape, posture, color, size, and weight – that sets them apart.  The park service has been taking care of the herd since 1960, and only seventeen remain.

Ocracoke Pony

Ocracoke pony

The highlight on Ocracoke Island is the Ocracoke Lighthouse, the oldest (1823) and shortest (75 feet tall) operating lighthouse in North Carolina.  It is one of four that dot the main stretch of North Carolina’s Outer Banks.  Over the centuries, some 1,500 ships have perished in this area, earning the Outer Banks the moniker “Graveyard of the Atlantic”.

Ocracoke Lighthouse

The “guard kitty” at Ocracoke Lighthouse

At this time of year, thousands of migrating birds can be seen resting on the great Atlantic byway.

Migrating Birds

Migrating Birds, Ocracoke Island

Thousands of bird taking a break from their southward migration

On our way back to the mainland, Betsy was prepped for a long day of ferry rides – not one but two in a single day.  We always unhook the car and remove the tow bar when going on ferries, to avoid possibly dragging our hitch and to be more maneuverable on the vessel.  The first ride was easy and comfortable, as there weren’t too many folks going from Hatteras to Ocracoke Island.

The second ferry was a little different, for there were many more cars and RVs taking the 2+ hour ride from Ocracoke Island to the mainland, disembarking at Cedar Island.

It was a long day of ferry riding and driving – fortunately the forecasted high winds did not materialize.  We experienced a slight rocking and rolling on the ferries, but not enough to bother our tummies.  We loved the Outer Banks and plan to come back in the future to spend more time.  We learned that the best time to go is late summer to early fall, because everything is still open and the huge crowds have already departed.  But we still came at a good time – the weather was mostly nice and we had the beaches pretty much to ourselves.

Next up:  Lots of relaxing and socializing at Myrtle Beach!

Our upcoming stops – tell us about any “must do” tours, excursions,
restaurants, etc. you’ve enjoyed at these places, so we can check them out:

Charleston, SC
Savannah, GA

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Back on the road – Blue Ridge Parkway

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Rhododendrons

After surviving my jet lag and cooling down from the sweltering heat of the Philippines, we’re rolling down the road again.  My first order of the day is burning off the poundage I gained from guzzling those delicious, greasy Filipino foods.  Fortunately, the Lake Norman Motorcoach Resort is only a few minutes away from Lake Norman State Park, where entrance and usage are all free.  That is one four-letter word we love.  We are so used to paying park fees that we felt a little guilty using their beautiful hiking trails on several occasions.

Lake Norman lake

View of Lake Norman from our rig

When we were in Alaska we met adventurous and great people from all over the states.  One couple was Joe and Judy, whom we first met during our 18-hour Arctic Circle Tour and consequently bumped into again several places in Alaska.  We eventually exchanged addresses and they promised to host us when we got into their neck of the woods in North Carolina.  Fast forward a year later, here we were knocking on their door.  The door of their brand new class-A motorhome that is, as they met us at the lovely Bandit’s Roost COE Campground for a few days.  We’re so glad we took them up on their offer, as they gave us a wonderful tour along part of the Blue Ridge Parkway and also provided us valuable input for our trek to the northeast this summer.  They even celebrated their 32nd wedding anniversary with us.  Congratulations, and thanks again Joe and Judy!

Bandits Roost Campground

Happy hour at Bandits Roost Campground

While driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway a ribbon of highway, we learned that the Blue Ridge Mountains are noted for their bluish color when seen from a distance.  The Blue Ridge Parkway is a great scenic mountain drive that extends 469 miles along the crests of the southern Appalachians and links two national parks – Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the north and the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina to the south.  There are nine campgrounds along the parkway, if you are so inclined.

Blue Ridge Mountains

Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina

Blue Ridge Parkway Stats

Blue Ridge Parkway Stats

Construction of the Parkway  began in 1935 as part of  FDR’s New Deal to stimulate the economy during the Great Depression era.  The Blue Ridge Parkway, also known as Americas Favorite Drive, was designed especially for leisurely enjoyment of the scenic wonders along the way which can be enjoyed from many overlooks.  There are several worthwhile attractions along the way, including short and long walking trails which give folks even more viewing opportunities.

The area of our drive between Mile 275 and Mile 316 is considered the High Country of NC.  It was tempered with fog, rain and overcast skies during the first part of our day, but things cleared up nicely later on.  For us, the crowning point of the Parkway was at Mile 304, the Linn Cove Viaduct.  It is a 1,243 foot long elevated roadway engineered to wrap around the mountains to minimize impact on the fragile environment.

Linn Cove Viaduct

Linn Cove Viaduct traverses Grandfather Mountain’s boulder fields

The S-shaped structure consists of 153 concrete segments, only one of which is straight.  Weighing 50 tons each and joined by epoxy and massive steel tendons, the segments form a deck nearly one-quarter mile long that is supported by seven piers.  This is an amazing achievement when you consider the technology at that time, and the effort required just to access this area for construction.

Linn Cove Viaduct

Underbelly of Linn Cove Viaduct that skirts around Grandfather Mountain

At Milepost 306 is Grandfather Mountain, best known for its “mile-high swinging bridge” that connects two of the mountain’s peaks.  Heavy fog shrouded the mountain that day, so we’ll save that stop for another visit.

Grandfather Mountain

If you believe me there is a Grandfather Mountain hidden by that thick fog.

Just off the parkway at Milepost 316.3 were trails that led to various overlooks for a wonderful view of Linville Falls, which can be seen roaring through a dramatic rugged gorge.

Linville Falls

Linville Falls

Linville Falls

Joe and Judy with the you-know-whos

There are plenty of stopping points, and everywhere you look there’s something else amazing to appreciate.  Each season provides an ever-changing appeal, and in our case we were just a little early for the blooming of the Rhododendrons that adorn the Parkway.  I captured a few early blooms along the way, but we will be driving other sections of the parkway during the next week and hope to see many more of these beautiful blooms.

During this stop we stayed at Bandits Roost Campground, a COE park at Wilkesboro, NC.  Click here for Steve’s campground review of Bandit’s Roost and the Lake Norman Motorcoach Resort.

Lastly, these Wood Thrushes were rustling on the leaves while Steve and Joe were busy planning.

Wood Thrush

Next up: More of the Blue Ridge Parkway on the Virginia side.

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