Celebrating three years on the road!

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It’s hard to believe we’ve been on the road for three years now.  It seems like just yesterday that we embarked on this journey to explore our beautiful country on March 1, 2012.  How time flies!  And here we are three years later, continuing to make wonderful memories along the way.

We are pretty much still on track with our set goals, and we picked up 10 new states during the past year.  But unlike previous years, our pace slowed down a bit and we stayed longer at most stops throughout the midwest.  On previous anniversaries I posted about our favorite hiking and biking trails.  Alas, we had fewer opportunities for those activities this past year.  It’s not that we didn’t stay active, but we just didn’t do enough memorable walks or bike rides to give a useful report.

So instead I will commence our celebration with highlights of what things come to mind as we review our third year on the road.  Note that the map below depicts our travels during calendar year 2014 – on March 1st we were in northern Florida and heading west:

Our actual route followed our planned route fairly closely, including a couple of detours. We began our third year in the Florida panhandle and traveled  to our farthest northern stop at Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Then, back down we went – about as far as you can get in south Texas – for the winter.

Along the way, we just had to detour for some time with the birds on our favorite Island at Dauphin Island, Alabama.  And even though it was a bit out of the way, our second detour was to have the excellent team at Freightliner do Betsy’s annual maintenance in Gaffney, South Carolina.

Highlights during our third year of travel:

Weather – Gulf Shores, Alabama

Looking back at what we endured while at Gulf Shores, Alabama makes us shudder.  A five-hour non-stop parade of severe thunderstorms went right over us, with the downpour, winds and thousands of lightning strikes forcing a sleepless night.  We got 15″ of rain that day, an all-time record for the area.  Being in the middle of an historic storm was not exactly what we had signed on for, but we really had nowhere to run to.  We were fortunate to not have any serious damage from that one, because other folks around us certainly did.

The full story is here.

Chiggers Attack – Peru, Indiana

How can I forget those nasty bites?  I was miserable for several weeks from the party those microscopic monsters had on my waist and tummy.  Non-stop itching and scratching reddened my skin and was very uncomfortable.  Oh my, I’m scratching myself right now just thinking about it!

The full story is here.

Adult Chigger

My number one arch enemy, the larvae of a nasty Chigger.  Look out you little monster, here comes my finger to crush you!

The Great Lakes

As we hail from California, the Great Lakes were just “big lakes out there somewhere” to us.  But after seeing and touching all of them I can easily name them now – with a vivid picture of each in my mind.  Now I know that the Great Lakes consist of five separate lakes, and together they form one interconnected body of fresh water.  Four of them are bounded by both the U.S. and Canada – Lake SuperiorLake HuronLake Erie and Lake Ontario.  Only Lake Michigan is entirely within the United States.

The full story is here.

Great Lakes

The Great Lakes on a t-shirt

Film Locations – Mackinac Island, MI and Dyersville, IA

Who doesn’t want to see a place where a great movie was set?  Biking around Mackinac Island was a must for us and our friends, and while there we stopped at the Grand Hotel. That’s where the 1980 film “Somewhere in Time,” starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, was filmed on location.  We just gawked at the grounds and outside of the majestic hotel, as $10 was a bit pricey just to step into the lobby for a picture.

The full story is here.

Grand Hotel, Mackinaw Island

The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, viewed from the ferry we took across

25 years later, the iconic phrases “If you build it, he will come,” and “Is this heaven?  No, it’s Iowa.”  are not forgotten.  We visited the site that made those words famous, the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa.  The cornfields and baseball field were just as they looked in the 1989 movie. To complete our experience, we watched the movies again and commented about how fun it was to be there.

The full story is here.

Field of Dreams

Field of Dreams – Dyersville, Iowa

Man-made Marvel – St Louis, MO

Yup, you guessed it – the 630 ft. tall Gateway Arch.  It is the monument to memorialize the role of St. Louis in the westward expansion of the United States.  Riding to the top of this awesome structure was on our bucket list, and we were amazed by the grand view of the city of St Louis and beyond.

The full story is here.

Gateway Arch, St Louis, Mo

You have to see this thing in person to believe it!

Fall Foliage in the Ozarks – Fayetteville, Arkansas

The south has its own version of Vermont for taking in the fall colors – the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.  If you can’t make it to Vermont for leaf peeping in Autumn, a great alternate would be the Ozarks.

The full story is here.

Yellow Rock Outlook

Vermont? No, but still gorgeous!

Birding Galore – Alabama, Wisconsin and Texas

Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting is so darn beautiful!

The birding experiences I had during the past year were rich and varied, from Alabama to Wisconsin to Texas. We were very fortunate to be at Dauphin Island, Alabama when spring migration was underway.  It seemed to be just raining beautiful birds!

At Gulf Shores, Alabama I joined Laurel and Eric to observe bird banding and do some bird watching as well.  In Baraboo, Wisconsin I visited the International Crane Foundation, whose stated mission is to work worldwide to save the endangered Whooping Cranes.  It was here that I saw all 15 species of cranes in the Gruidae family.

Coastal birding with Ingrid in Port Aransas was so much fun – I think the birds knew our names and tried to hide from us!  Then at the birding mecca, also known as the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas, Birdie and I were involved in finding and identifying our feathered friends.  Many of them are Texas specialties.

Full stories of my birding escapades:

Dauphin Island is for the birds – Dauphin Island, Alabama

The blogger’s biking and birding bonanza in ‘bama – Gulf Shores, Alabama

If you’re into Cranes, read on! – Baraboo, Wisconsin

Two Birders of a feather – Port Aransas, Texas

Winged Wonders Abound – Rio Grande Valley, Texas

Hiking

We did lots of hikes, but the best of them were in the Great Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina.  Those mountains provided a beautiful scenic backdrop for some heart-pumping, lung-busting hikes.  We’d love to go back there!

Full stories on the Great Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Mountains

Family and Friends

Family and friends, old and new, always make our journey fun and exciting.  Reconnecting with old buddies from my hometown and some of my family is always a joy.  Best of all, I got to spend quality time with my super-cute grand niece Hattie in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

The connections we made with fellow bloggers continued to flourish.  We met new friends Laurel and Eric of Raven and Chicadee; Carla and Jerry of CozybeGone and Faye and Dave of the Wandering Camels.   Reuniting with Ingrid and Al of Live Laugh RV and Bob and Susan of Travelbug in Texas was icing on the cake.  Bloggers are all fun-loving people who shared travel stories, a few drinks and some home-cooked meals and outdoor activities.  Having a grand time with these lovely people created memories that we’ll always cherish.  Somewhere, someday we’ll meet again.

Health

While in Port Aransas in January, we kept several doctors busy as we were pronounced alive and well.  But come February, shortly after our birthdays, I had some scary symptoms that prompted two visits to emergency rooms.  For unknown reasons, my blood pressure had spiked like crazy.  Much to my disdain, I am now taking daily medication and everything seems to be fine.

An eye exam for Steve showed early traces of glaucoma, which was not unexpected since his dad had it when he was in his 50’s.  He decided to be proactive and underwent laser surgery.  This was the best option for our nomadic lifestyle, since it should lower his eye pressures for quite a while with just daily drops and fewer follow-up appointments.

Now we are in good health, and Steve determined that we can haul our new medications around without exceeding Betsy’s weight limit 🙂

Steve said he’s glad his heart is in good shape, because the medical bills should start coming in any day now!  We’re glad to have Betsy and ourselves “good to go”, and excited to start heading back north to get back on track with some serious hiking!

Finally, the stats for the past year:

My wonderful hubby and recorder of all things travel-related has this to report:

Miles traveled:  5,631

Diesel burned:  729 gallons

Average mileage:  7.7 mpg

Average price per gallon for diesel:  $3.66

Number of campgrounds we stayed at:  46

Average campground price:  $29/night
(we budgeted $35/night, so we’re happy with this)

In closing

Blogging is sometimes a chore 🙂   But with the connections we have made during the past three years, sharing our experiences in the blogosphere is so worthwhile and satisfying.  I thank all of our readers and followers who have been with us for the ride.  I hope you are still enjoying it, for we are not done yet!  Whether you’d like to drop us a line or just read through our stories, we appreciate you stopping by.

We have 10 states to go, and estimate that we’ll have them all completed by the fall of 2016.  Then we’ll start traveling more like “normal” adventurers, taking long trips to places we missed or just want to spend more time at.

 

Next up:  Where to in 2015?



 

“Nothing Runs Like a Deere” – and much more in Iowa

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Field of Dreams

This is a two-part post – first Steve’s account of our factory tours at John Deere, then back to me for our other excursions.

[Steve]

John DeereOur first stop in Iowa got me to thinking about what kinds of tours we might want to take while staying in this part of the country for the first time.  I use FactoryToursUSA when we get to a new state, to assist with locating available tours.  It’s kind of a crude site and not updated regularly, but I have found it to be useful on several occasions.  Anyway, I learned while looking there that John Deere is a major employer in the state of Iowa, and they have several good tours available. I think I’m excited!

I was able to make reservations for two tours on the same day at their Tractor Assembly Plant and Engine Works Plant in Waterloo.  Unfortunately, we just didn’t have time to visit the Drive Train Division, Product Engineering Center or the foundry, which are also in the area.

These plants are huge – the Tractor Assembly Plant is one of the largest buildings under a single roof in the U.S.  As usual, no cameras or cell phones were allowed at either plant, so I was unable to capture any of the fantastic things going on there.  My jaw ached at the end of the second tour from having my mouth hang open so long.  Folks, this is heavy-duty manufacturing, and anyone coming into the area should try to do some of these tours.  And they’re all FREE!

Tractor Assembly Plant

On this tour, we learned that every tractor built has been ordered and paid for before assembly begins – the same “Just in Time” concept we’ve seen at so many auto assembly plants.  None of these big companies want inventory sitting around, especially when times turn bad.  And with computer and communication technology being what it is now, they don’t have to.  Each tractor is custom ordered, and all of the 20,000 parts required to build it come into the plant from outside vendors within one or two days prior to assembly.

John Deere

One of the large tractors built at this plant

Speaking of technology, John Deere harvesters can now be ordered with state-of-the-art GPS built-in.  Accuracy?  How about within 1/4″ over 6 miles!  It’s no wonder the corn fields out here are so perfectly straight.  The tour guide told us a tractor can be programmed to go down a field, lift its accessory, turn around, put the accessory back down and continue down the next row – without the driver touching anything!

A tractor can be built in about 8 hours, and they are churning them out fast and furious for customers all over the U.S. and around the world.

Corn rows in Iowa

Perfectly straight rows of tightly-packed corn, courtesy of GPS technology!

The Engine Works Plant

The Engine Works Plant was awesome.  Hundreds of gorgeous completed engines sitting there ready to be shipped, and the tour took us through every step of machining and assembling an engine – as we watched the workers.  From engine blocks that had just come out of the foundry to final assembly and paint, they do every machining and assembly operation on the larger engines right here.  Engines are available in a myriad of colors – green for agricultural, white for marine, yellow for industrial and red for fire trucks. Absolute works of art, I was in engine heaven!  Wait, haven’t I heard someone say that about birds?

John Deere equipement at work

We spotted the finished product at work in a nearby field

I would have loved to go back to tour the foundry, but the 150-mile round trip prevented it on this stop – too many other things to see and do.  Maybe on our way back north next summer?  We’ll see!

Iowa Corn fields

Most of the corn you see growing in fields across Iowa is field corn. Very little of it is Iowa sweet corn.

[MonaLiza]

I was not exactly in heaven like Steve but I did enjoy these tours.  They were a bit different than the usual airplane or automobile factory tours.  To me it was just fitting to tag along, as we are in the midst of Americas number one corn producer, Iowa.  I learned the secret of how the farmers plant their corn in a straight line and how efficient they are, using the advanced technology available to them now.

Field of Dreams

“If you build it, he will come.”  “Is this heaven?  No, it’s Iowa.”  Remember those phrases? Well, we visited the site that made them famous, the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa. It’s been over 25 years since the movie was made, and we discovered that the baseball diamond carved out of a corn field to pursue a dream remain unchanged.  The place has been preserved exactly as it was in the movie, and it’s not over-commercialized – just a quiet little field next to a farm house out in the country.  I suppose the simplicity of it is what made the film so endearing.  Although I’m not a baseball fan, I thought the movie was quite inspiring.

Fields of Dreams, Iowa

My lame re-enactment of the ghost players in the movie

Field of Dreams

Field of Dreams, Iowa

Field of Dreams from a distance

 Basilica of St. Francis Xavier

On our way back home from the Field of Dreams, we observed two steeples standing out in the distance.  We made a turn toward town to investigate and found that they belonged to the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, one of only a few Basilicas in the United States.  It is unique, in as much as it’s the only one in a rural area; all the others are in metropolitan cities.  This is considered one of the finest examples of true medieval gothic architecture.  The Catholic church confers the title of Basilica on churches of unusual architectural or spiritual significance.  This church was raised to the rank of Minor Basilica by a proclamation of His Holiness, Pope Pius XII on May 11, 1956.

As some of you have commented on my previous posts, there are many hidden treasures out there in small town America.  We are always on the lookout for them, but many times we’re just pleasantly surprised to stumble on something unusual and delightful.  We are so thrilled to be traveling this way and taking in the scenery and simplicity of life that can’t be experienced in the big cities.

Let me leave you with this amusing sign we saw along the road 🙂

wpid30455-2014-09-11-IA-1410456-.jpg

Well, this one made me laugh!

 

Next up:  Pelicans – in Iowa?