Travel trials, tribulations and tidbits

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This is the final segment to wrap up the first chapter of our RV travels.  The previous segment with our statistics is here.

As we reviewed the 422 posts that we published along the way, we recalled many fond memories and also came up with some fun tidbits that we thought were unforgettable, surprising, scary, stressful or fascinating experiences.  Compiling this collection made us pause and reflect on how many wonderful experiences we’ve had while on the road.

We faced our first major challenge just as we started the journey at Pleasanton, CA.  A hydraulic failure left our jacks and slides extended, and we learned a lot about that system during the next 3 weeks that it took to get it fixed (under warranty, fortunately).  Since that time we’ve dealt with many minor water leaks, a dead video camera, an intermittent engine cooling issue, refrigerator problems and other things that we consider part of the joy of moving around in a big complicated box.

Here’s some upper-body exercise – over 300 turns to manually retract our hydraulic rams, then the same thing on the other side!

Most exasperating experience – Intense itching and a month of discomfort due to chigger bites.  I had never heard of chiggers until they attacked me as I sat in the grass for a picture in Peru, Indiana.  Here are the details of that nightmare.

Chigger Bites

Just part of one area – itch, itch, itch

Scariest moment – When I slipped and fell, hurting my knee – not while hiking, but just walking on level ground!  No hiking for a month!

Lowes Travels

Ouch!

Most stressful incident – We got locked out of our RV during a tornado watch while camped at La Grange, GA.  Surprisingly, this particular post has more hits than any other we’ve written.  Maybe the bad guys want to know how Steve broke into the RV?

Holiday Campground

Only one other camper was there that day at Holiday Campground, La Grange, GA

Most frightening night – Hunkering down at Gulf Shores State Park in Alabama provided a sleepless night, as a long line of violent thunderstorms passed over us and dumped a record-breaking 15 inches of rain and over 7,000 lightning strikes per hour in the area.  We’ll never forget that night.

Gulf Shores State Park

The morning after the storm.  The water had risen from 50′ away from Betsy to 10′ away

Most nerve-wracking drives Due to bad GPS data and heavy traffic on the I-10 causeway approaching New Orleans, we missed our exit and got lost.  Then panic set in as we had a close call with a locomotive while crossing train tracks.  Not a fun drive!

Another hellish drive was on I-95 S coming  from Connecticut and passing thru the Bronx, New York to the New Jersey turnpike.  Here‘s that story.

Atchafalaya Basin Bridge

This hours-long jam at the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge was the beginning of a bad day near New Orleans

Then there was the time when Steve heard a loud hissing noise coming from the back of Betsy as we drive into Halifax, Nova Scotia.  We couldn’t find the source of the problem and had to have our first repair in a foreign country.

Checking the cooling system

What the heck is making that noise?

Another scary drive occurred near our last stop in Kansas, at Sabetha.  We very nearly got stuck in mud as we approached the campground, then the owner directed us into a site where we got totally stuck.  Fortunately, the owner pulled Betsy out of the mud with one of his tractors when we left.

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This guy owned a bunch of tractors and just had to pick the right one for the job

One of our most stressful drives was the stretch between Salem and Bend, Oregon.  Not only was it a narrow and mountainous road, but a huge storm hit as we drove, sending rivers of water down the road as high winds tried to push us over.  And nowhere to pull off the road.  It was intense!

Bend, Oregon

A leak in the windshield required a towel during this nerve-wracking drive toward Bend, OR

Most spectacular drive – This one has to go to the Icefields Parkway between Jasper and Banff, Canada.  None of the 14 All-American roads we’ve driven can quite stack up against this one, and it should be on every traveler’s bucket list.

Ice fields Parkway

Its a wow driving on Ice fields Parkway

Proudest moment – Steve is quite the handyman, doing not only all of our coach repairs but also making changes and upgrades to improve our life on the road.  I was very proud of him when he completed the installation of our residential refrigerator, by himself, during our stay in Bonita Springs, Florida.

installing a residential refrigerator

Out with the old, in with the new

Most fascinating underground tour – Who knew there’s a huge salt mine 650′ beneath the plains of Kansas?

Strataca, Kansas

Most sobering historical guided tour – Having learned the Gettysburg address in school many years ago, we were amazed to actually be where Abraham Lincoln delivered the speech. Here’s a glimpse of our 24-mile, two-hour tour of the historic fields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Most distinctive waterfront – There is no other colorful waterfront town that we’ve seen like Old Town Lunenburg, Nova Scotia .

Old Town Lunenberg

The “I’ll never do this again” experience – I learned that one while Halibut fishing in Ninilchik, Alaska.

Halibut Fishing

Deep-sea fishing with the other tourists/anglers.  Do I look like I’m having fun?

We’ve hiked so many trails that at this point we can’t really pick favorites, but we agreed these stand out:

Most challenging – Among the many trails we followed around the country, our climb to the top of Picacho Peak in Arizona may have been the most challenging.

Longest – Sometimes we get in over our heads when hiking or walking, and the one to Hoover Dam in Nevada from our campground at Lake Mead clocked in at 14.1 miles.

Most exhausting – Hiking on a rainy day is never in our plans, but when we’re halfway through our trek and the clouds open up we just have to grin and bear it.  Our hike on the Flat Top Summit Trail at Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina was one of those.  We looked like a couple of drowned rats when we got back to the car.

Extreme points we’ve reached in North America

Farthest north – Arctic Circle, Alaska.  To get here we endured a 19-hour guided bus tour, and what an adventure is was during our many hours on Alaska’s Dalton Highway.

Pose at the Arctic circle sign. We made it!

Farthest south – Key West, Florida, lots to do here and what a party town it is!

Southernmost Point of USA

Farthest East – Louisbourg, Nova Scotia  and we happened to be there on its 300th anniversary of its founding in 1713.

 Fortress of Louisbourg

French guard at the Fortress of Louisbourg

Farthest West Anchor Point, Alaska, what a great time we had here on the Kenai Peninsula.

Anchor Point, AK

Northwestern-most point in the contiguous U.S. – Cape Flattery, Washington.

Cape Flattery

Highest point in North America – we landed on the flanks of 20,320′ Denali Mountain on skis, a totally thrilling trip not to be missed!

Glacier landing

Steve chats with the pilot after a glacier landing on Mount Denali

Lowest point in North America – One of the lowest places in the world at 282′ below sea level, Badwater Basin at Death Valley National Park was fascinating.

Death Valley National Park

Largest National Park in the U.S. – At more than 13,000 square miles, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park requires a plane ride just to get to the middle of the park in a reasonable amount of time.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Yukon Alaska

We flew into Wrangell-St. Elias NP, it could take a lifetime to explore it all

Largest lake in the U.S. – Lake Superior made us feel like we were on the shoreline of an ocean!

Most awesome gondola ride – We took a thrilling ride aboard the Peak2peak Gondola in Whistler, Canada, which holds two records; the longest free span between ropeway towers at 1.88 miles, and the gondola with the highest point above ground, 1,430′.

Peak2peak Gondola

The 1.8 mile gondola is the only one in the world that connects two mountain peaks

Just for the heck of it fun tidbits – Mile zero’s

Ice field Parkway

Mile 0 of Highway 93 – Jasper, Canada to Wickenburg, AZ

 

Mile 0 of US 1

Mile 0 of US-1 in Key West, Florida

And the beginning and end of Alaska Highway.

And that wraps up almost five years of our RV travels!

What’s next?

We’re opening a new chapter in our RV life in 2017.  After visiting all of the states, our goal will now be to narrow our search to one or more places where we’d like to stop and park Betsy for long periods of time.  Our travels will be more laid back and less structured, likely focusing more on the western states.  At least that’s the plan as of today, but who knows?  Our blogging will taper off somewhat, and we’re pondering a format change or something for our site.

As we look forward to another year of adventures, we want to THANK YOU for “jamming on down the road” with us!



 

Wrapping up our three-week sojourn in Kansas

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Scissor-tailed flycatcher

As of this writing we have already departed Kansas.  I got behind on my blogging, because for the first time we used up our monthly data allocation on our Verizon plan.  I’ve been surviving on campground WiFi service, but that’s what I get for downloading a huge Mac OS upgrade and eating up all of our data!


We are on our last stretch out of Kansas, inching toward the northeast corner of the state and making our final stop at Sabetha.  As if to remind us again that Kansas is not all flat, our GPS, “Randy”, took the fastest route to our campground and we darn near got stuck in the mud on a hilly dirt road that had been rained on the night before.  What was Randy thinking?  With no traffic in either direction we unhooked the car so I could search for our campground while Steve recovered from the experience of sliding sideways down a hill in a 17-ton motorhome.

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Hey, that road doesn’t look too bad, does it? Wrong!

Fortunately the campground was only a mile away, and the owner had spotted us and came over to escort us to our spot.  Steve was very skeptical when the owner guided us into our site, but he drove in and Betsy immediately sank into the mud!  Well, with the rear tires sunk 3 inches we were perfectly level, so we put out the slides and decided to worry about it later.  We were actually laughing about the whole thing, and Steve came up with:

You might be in Kansas if…your campground host says, “Hey, looks like you’re stuck there, I’ll go fetch a tractor and pull you out.”

And that’s exactly what he did when we left 3 days later, as you’ll see below.

The campground turned out to be quiet and beautiful, but a bit crowded over the weekend (Steve’s review is here).  It’s certainly one we’ll remember!

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Better times as the sun comes out and the ground dries

We ventured out of the campground and walked up a dirt road to see if there was anything interesting around.  Steve stopped on a bridge and was excited to see a beaver swimming along Pony creek.

Beaver

On the way up the hill, we spotted a lone deer walking on the road:

Deer

The top of the hill rewarded us with a vista of rolling countryside covered with cornfields and occasional dense forest.

Sabetha, Kansas

Sabetha, Kansas

The campground is behind those trees to the right

When Steve left me behind, this beautiful Scissor-tailed Flycatcher flew up and perched on a wire.  It just made my day – this bird has been on my watch list since Dauphin Island in Alabama!

Scissor-tailed flycatcher

Check out that long forked black and white tail!

Back at the campground we enjoyed a non-stop symphony of birds singing and male cicadas serenading the females.  Their buzzing and clicking noises, amplified by the thousands, turned into an overpowering hum.  It got me curious, so I went searching for them in the grasses.

Cicada

Cicada checking me out

When we weren’t exploring we just sat outside amidst the humming of the cicadas.  It was during these moments that we looked back and contemplated all of our experiences here in Kansas.  We felt fortunate to have seen parts of the state that many travelers never do.  We’ve met friendly people here, visited inspiring natural hidden treasures and experienced historical and educational places.

The state has a sampler of things to do, called the 8 Wonders of Kansas.  It’s meant to help the world get to know the state and to encourage the public to explore it.  We were happy to learn that we had experienced 3 of the 8 wonders, and if you missed our posts they are the Monument Rocks, the Underground Salt Museum, and the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.

Some other wonders of Kansas are architectural and art related; we admired the architecture of the Chase County Courthouse, and the Keeper of the Plains statue in Wichita.  We also enjoyed the John Steuart Curry Murals at the state capitol.  He was a famous Kansas artist whose depiction of abolitionist John Brown was seen as too fierce, as he depicted him holding a bible in one hand and a gun in the other.

Tragic Prelude by John Steuart Curry

Tragic Prelude – interpretation of John Brown and the anti-slavery movement in the Kansas territory

The Keeper of the Plains sculpture in Wichita  honors the region’s original citizens and has become a symbol of Wichita.

Keeper of the Plains

Keeper of the Plains – Wichita

The five-ton sculpture was placed at the confluence of the Little and Big Arkansas Rivers, which is considered a sacred site by Native Americans and was home to the Wichita tribe for many years.

Keeper of the Plains

Little and Big Arkansas Rivers converge

There were other uncommon structures that we saw along the byways:

Grains elevator in Hutchinson, Kansas

1/2 mile long, this grain elevator is the second largest in the world – Hutchinson

Welcome to Emporia

Porta-potty welcome sign – hey, we’ll do some “business” here!

We still can’t believe we spent three weeks exploring Kansas.  And it sure helped that we didn’t hear a single tornado warning siren!  We won’t complain about the heat and humidity, it’s just a fact of life here.  Our initial plan of making 2 stops morphed into 6 great discovery stops.  So, next time you’re traveling through Kansas, get off that featureless interstate and discover the unexpected pleasures of the state!

Kansas

Divided regions of Kansas, according to physical geology.  Our stops are marked by the yellow stars

OK, back to our drama of leaving the park.  Even after 3 days of sunshine, Betsy was just too deeply rutted to get out by herself.  True to his his word, the owner got one of his tractors and made quick work of pulling us back onto terra firma.

We’re used to getting helped into our site, but this was the first time we had help getting out!

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This tractor had no problem pulling us out

We noticed a lot of very noisy pickup trucks while in Kansas, so Steve wanted to share one other observation:

You might be in Kansas if…the luxury model pickups are the ones that come with an exhaust system!

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…and off we went to continue the adventure!

Up next:  Heading into the Cornhusker State!