Our first 2 weeks in Texas were great. Got reacquainted with some long-time friends in Dallas and Houston and found a promising place to return to another time in Port Aransas outside of Corpus Christi. Seemed like a nice place but the weather didn't cooperate.
Now it was on to the Big Bend area, where some prime Texas golf had been planned for quite a while. I had read about a really nice (and really expensive) golf course as part of the Maverick RV Ranch down in Lajitas, Texas. It's in a very remote area along the upper reaches of the Rio Grande River, literally a stone's throw across from the Mexican border.
But first we had to get there.
Leaving San Antonio after a 2 day visit, we head as far west as we've ever been in the RV to Ft. Stockton, TX. It's going to be our jumping off point to the Big Bend area. We stay at a nice, no-frills park called Hilltop RV. $27 a night if you pay cash. Taz is beginning to have some reservations about staying in Texas, as there are very few grassy areas at many RV parks out here, and she likes to do her business on grass – not gravel; but she muddles through, even as I have to spend extra time outside with her in order to make sure she is emptied at the proper times during the day and night.
We head south the next day towards Lajitas, passing through the small town of Alpine – which will fit prominently in our future dealings with Texas. It's about a 3-hour drive in the RV, only hitting a couple of steep inclines on the way out of Alpine. The rest is very desolate and fairly flat – and very beautiful in places. Two notable places along the way are the Kokernot Mesa and Cathedral Mountain, about as majestic a set of views as we have seen on this trip so far.
Arriving at Maverick RV Resort, we do the obligatory check-in, finding out they do something we hadn't yet seen in RV living – back-in and pull-in opposing sites. Actually not a bad way to maximize your social space by putting your utilities up against one neighbor, and opening up the other side to enjoy a larger area to meet your other neighbors.
You're surrounded by a beautiful set of very colorful mountains on one side, and prairie on the other. They're trying to make something of a destination down there in Lajitas, and they're marginally successful with golf, zip lines, shooting, riding, a spa and some shops, but it all seems a bit too contrived at times. And expensive. But if you like to hike, ride a bike or kayak down the Rio Grande, this could be a nice place for you. Not so much for us as yet.
I golfed early on, and Black Jack's Crossing was everything I had hoped for. It's a long course from the black tees at 7413 yds, and even a bit long for those who usually play from the whites at 6858 yds (they don't have white tees there, but maroon for the “average” golfer. I played from the gold tees (senior) which brings it down to a manageable 6111 yds in length, and avoids many areas of carry that I would never have cleared with my limited tee game. Beautiful undulating greens kept in championship shape with just enough sand guarding the greens to make it worth your while to be accurate. Even though I didn't play my best it took a 10 on the final par 5 18th hole to finish with a crowd-leasing 113 for the round. Still, it's a great course and one I would return to someday, if it wasn't located in Lajitas, Texas.
Barbara had been fighting a medical problem for the past few days, and it wasn't getting better, so the next day we head to Alpine (almost 2 hours away) to what looked to be the nearest competent medical facility (there is nothing but a nurse practitioner in Lajitas, who wasn't going to be taking calls for the next week). After picking up her prescription and heading back another 2 hours, we hoped she was on the mend, but the prescription knocked her for a loop. Two days later, I develop flu-like syndromes (obviously picked up in my visit to the clinic in Alpine) and I'm down for the count. As bad as Barbara felt, she was the healthiest of the two of us and was assigned Taz duties. We extended our stay in Lajitas to recover from each of our maladies, but as was detailed in our earlier post, Taz became sick and died. Having had enough of what was turning out to be a cursed place called Lajitas, we head north to drop Taz off in Alpine to be cremated and to grieve. This was on a Sunday.
Hoping to pick up Taz's remains on Tuesday morning after the promised 10 am time frame, we drive the hour down to Alpine (we were back at Ft. Stockton at Hilltop RV) only to find out Taz would not be ready until after 4 pm that day. With nothing to do in Alpine, we head back to our RV with plans to pick her up the next day. HOWEVER, a winter storm was coming into the area the next day! Thought we'd have to stay TWO days because of the roads and delays, but the folks in Alpine were able to get Taz taken care of mid-day Wednesday. WE still had to endure the 2 inches of snow, two days of below freezing temperatures and two nights of turtling in our 36LA to conserve heat, but on Thursday morning we FINALLY headed westbound on I-10 for a relatively short 360-mile drive towards Deming, NM, where we planned to spend the next week resting, recovering and getting our physical and emotional strength back.
But the great state of Texas wasn't through with us just yet. For the entire drive we were hit with 15-20 mph winds and up to 32 mph gusts, coming in mainly from the front but occasionally from the drivers quarter, slowing us down and absolutely killing our gas mileage. After 6 hours of fighting this I was wiped out, but at the 5 hour mark we FINALLY entered The Land of Enchantment for the first time.
The upshot of this past 5 weeks is that we love Texans; but we're not enamored of the state itself. So except for a speed-run back east once we experience New Mexico and Arizona, it will be off our list of places to visit for a long, long time.
Saturday night at around 10 PM, we lost the light of our lives. Our beloved fur baby, a German Shepherd / Yellow Lab mix we had named Taz, crossed over the Rainbow Bridge unexpectedly. And all too soon.
It was about 8 years ago, when Taz was only about 2, that she entered our lives. Our daughter's boyfriend was trying to take care of three dogs; 2 males and 1 female. The female (Taz) kept going into heat as no one had bothered to have her spayed, and the two males would attack each other when she went into heat, so our daughter volunteered to mind Taz. It was thought to be a temporary situation. But as time went on and she went into heat two more times (this time at OUR house), Barbara stepped in and told our daughter that we were going to pay for Taz to be spayed, and that she was now our dog.
We named her Taz because she was a bit excitable at the time, being cooped up in our daughter's room a good portion of the day. She wasn't naturally excitable, but you could sure get her going if you wanted to!
Taz was the original cuddle bug. She had to be in contact with one, or both of us at all times. If I was sitting in my recliner watching TV, she was pressed up against my side. In bed, she staked out her spot between the two of us, either above the covers or under them if she was cold. If friends came to visit, she was either laying on their feet or leaning up against them on the couch, making sure they got the full Taz experience.
Once we started RV-ing, she would stake out her spot at Barbara's feet, looking out her doggie window as the world went by; only lifting her head when I would occasionally stray onto some rumble strips (as if to say, “Hey Dad, you wanna keep it between the lines?”), or if (Heaven forbid!) Barbara left her seat to get us something to eat or drink.
Taz was not very good with other dogs. This is not to say she was mean or anything; she just didn't know how to do anything calmly and got too excited to meet new friends, usually turning them off. We were really hoping her time on the road would have allowed her to get better at that. She was also extraordinarily patient around kids, especially our 3 year-old grandson Jace.
Taz was full of love, adoration, laughter and life. She had a huge soul, and you could see it in her eyes.
Saturday morning in Lajitas, Texas began as any other, with one exception. I was sick with the flu, so Barbara had Taz duty during the day. As Taz was taking her usual time to find just the right spot to do her business, she apparently spotted something on the road beside our campsite. Could have been some bone from someone's trash, or maybe even a scorpion that got Taz's attention; we'll never know. She lunged for it, crunched it up and swallowed it before Barbara could do anything about it. For the rest of the day Taz was fine, until 5 o'clock rolled around and she began to get lethargic. She wouldn't eat, even when her favorite (cheese) was offered. Not a whine or a peep out of her. Laying on her side around 8, she pooped on the floor (something she would NEVER do), and she couldn't get up on her feet.
We found a vet nearby in Terlingua who thought she might have suffered a stroke and gave her something to increase the oxygen in her system (don't get me started on vet services in the Big Bend area of Texas), and we brought Taz back to the RV. Carrying her up the 5 stairs, she immediately collapsed on the floor. We cuddled with her while her breathing became more labored and wrapped her in a blanket to keep her warm; but we knew we were losing her. And still not one noise out of her throughout the night of moving her back and forth in the Mini and in and out of the RV. She pooped again while lying on her side, and there was blood in her stool. Our sweet baby was dying. She rolled over to try to get into a more comfortable position, and as I helped her, Taz let out this long, plaintive wail – her first sound of the long ordeal. Her tongue stayed out, her breathing stopped. Our Taz was gone.
At first I thought she was in pain at the very end, and maybe she was. But maybe – just maybe – it was that giant soul of hers leaving her earthly body to begin her journey over the Rainbow Bridge.
I don't know if there is a Heaven. I do know that if there is, Taz is waiting for Barbara and me to join her there.
There's a quiet in the RV now. Too quiet, in fact. We don't have to worry about a giant tail sweeping a drink around the floor or off of a table. There's no race to see who gets to the door first, whether Taz needed to go out or if I just had something to do outside of the RV. We have room to stretch out now without 70 lbs of dog jumping up on us. We don't feel guilty leaving the RV without being able to take her for her much anticipated rides in the Mini.
Will we ever get another dog? It's too soon to tell. The pain is certainly too raw right now to consider that right now. We're not as young as we used to be, but given our family histories we certainly have plenty of time if we chose to do so, but an RV isn't the same as a house. It can be a cruel environment to bring a strange pet into, and we'll always try to do right by our pets. Time will tell.
For now, we'll grieve and celebrate the life of a magnificent soul – Taz.
After Houston, the thought was to head a bit further south for a couple of extra degrees of warmth, and hit the Gulf of Mexico coast for a change of scenery. The drive itself was a short one, but was almost exclusively in drizzle, some rain, or really low hanging clouds (like, 200 feet low). And the closer we got to Corpus Christi, the foggier it got.
Port Aransas is located on a barrier island to Corpus Christi; specifically, Mustang Island. To get there, you have to cross over a relatively short, but fairly high bridge leaving Corpus Christi, then take a left onto Mustang Island. As you can see from the photo below, those low hanging clouds completely obscured our visibility going over that bridge!
Grateful to be at the end of our drive that day, we settled into Pioneer RV Park, just a few short miles away from Port Aransas proper. We chose it because it had beach access just a short walk over some dunes. Our spot ended up being about 200 yards away from the gulf, which meant we heard the surf constantly. Really nice when you have the vent covers open at night. Good park. WiFi was OK, nice cement pads (a bit narrow for my taste) and they picked up your trash every morning if you left it out for them.
Unfortunately, while the park and location were both nice, the weather refused to cooperate for the entire week we stayed there. Rained just one night, but foggy and misty until our departure morning when the sun finally peeked up over the dunes. One night we had winds so fierce, I almost brought in the slides to keep our toppers from being damaged! And even though we had hoped for some warmer weather, it remained cooler than normal throughout the week. Only had the top down on the Mini Cooper one day, which when you find out about what is so cool regarding Mustang Island, ended up being a huge disappointment.
This is not to say we had a bad time; just that it could have been soooooo much better.
Taz got to see and walk on her first beach, even if the big chicken wouldn't put her paws in the water.
We spent a day touring the retired aircraft carrier U.S.S. Lexington, now based out of Corpus Christi. Nice self-paced tour up and down lots of ladders, a $5 sort of-kinda-almost F/A-18 “simulator” ride, and a good collection of Navy planes on deck that show the progression of U.S. Naval aviation.
We used our new Texas State Parks Pass to check out potential camping sites at Mustang Island State Park for visits later this year.
But the coolest thing we found out about Mustang Island is the driving beach. Yes, you can actually drive onto the beach for about a 12-mile stretch. In fact, it's the only legal roadway in the U.S. on a beach. There are 3 access roads from in-town Port Aransas to almost the state park where you can just drive your car, truck or even RV onto the hard packed sand. Free to drive, $12 to be able to park on the beach if you're going to rough it in a tent, and $40 will allow you to camp for up to 3 nights once per month for a full year – IN YOUR RV! Just pull onto the beach, keep your RV 25 feet away from the dunes, and 50 feet away from the water, and you can wake up on the beach for 3 successive mornings. Definitely on our to-do list!
Since we already had a spot at Pioneer RV Park, we weren't going to shell out the $40 bucks for the beach RV experience, but it is sure on our minds for a return trip to take advantage of this unique opportunity. We did, however take the Mini for a spin on the sandy track.
Met some nice people while we were there, but didn't do too much socializing as Barbara was under the weather for the last 3 days of our visit (she's better now, thank you). All-in-all, Port Aransas is a potentially really nice place, but we just had a run of bad luck for the week. Otherwise, it's on our list of places to return to in the future.
After three great nights in Frisco, TX, we head south towards Houston. It's not supposed to be a long drive, but our GPS program (CoPilot RV) has been set to avoid toll roads, and unfortunately Houston is overrun with toll roads. So instead of a direct drive down I-45 with a quick run across I-10 to our campground, we end up taking some smaller back roads through rural Texas. This ended up turning our 5 hour trip into more than 6 hours, including some very slow sections running through small towns.
But the drive was worth it. We ended up staying in Stephen F. Austin State Park in San Felipe (once known as San Felipe de Austin), but that's a story for later.
Stephen F. Austin is a wonderful state park, with plenty of sites big enough for the largest rigs down to primitive camping. The RV sites are pull-thru semi-circles with full hookups, and the only downside is that they just have 30 amp electric available. It wasn't a problem this trip, but I'm sure during the scorching days of summer when high amounts of air conditioning is needed, this would be a problem for bigger rigs like our 36LA. Level sites (typical of Texas in general) with a large circle of mowed grassy area, fire pit and grill and a picnic table at each site. If I had to estimate, our site #11 was at least 60' wide by 80' deep. Past the mowed areas the rest of the park is left natural for deer, coyotes and other wildlife to inhabit. Two or more hiking trails for visitors to enjoy.
There is a golf course adjacent to the park, but it was closed for renovations while we were there. It used to be associated with the state park, but is a private concern now. Looked nice. Would have liked to play a round there.
But as good as the park was, we were there to visit with an old friend I hadn't seen in more than 40 years; Bob Johnson and his wife, Susan. Bob just recently retired from the ministry, and he and Susan bought a Ford F150 pickup and a new Lance travel trailer. They've been enjoying it for short trips over the past year, and we've both been looking forward to meeting up once Barbara and I finally got around to retiring to full-time RV living. Really, really nice people who introduced us to things around Houston, including Galveston, while we introduced them to nightly mini ice cream cones for dessert!
We got to experience a bit of early Texas history not generally taught. Everyone knows all about the Alamo, Sam Houston and Texas' fight for freedom from Mexico, but many people (ourselves included) didn't know much about how Texas was founded BEFORE the nasty business at the Alamo. The guy who got it all started was whom the park we stayed at was named; Stephen F. Austin. He was responsible for receiving land grants from Spain (via Mexico) in order to bring immigrants from the U.S. Into the territory of Texas. These people would, in turn, receive grants of land from their local “empresario” (Stephen F. Austin) and they would build, farm and generally make a new life for themselves while developing the land for commerce and paying taxes to Mexico. The Stephen F. Austin museum, located just a few minutes away from the state park in a plot of land that was once part of San Felipe de Austin (the original settlement of Americans in Texas), is an excellent way to learn about early Texas history and a very interesting man. Even if you don't stay at the park, it's a good day trip to take on it's own.
A sculpture outside of Stephen F. Austin museum depicting the flight out of town in advance of Mexican troops. The fleeing Texans burned the town of San Felipe de Austin in order to deny the invading troops anything to make their stay comfortable. Interesting fact: The sculpture initially didn't include the dog I was posing with. It was determined that a blind person trying to access the museum with a cane could possibly hit the woman with the lantern, so the dog was added to block that part of the sculpture!
One big plus from our Houston trip was finding the last couple of skeins of yarn in the right dye lot for Barbara to finish her crocheting project. I was getting pretty tired of hitting every Walmart at every stop we made to find the right dye lot!
A day trip to Galveston got us our first view of the Gulf of Mexico, and even though it wasn't a great day weather-wise, whetted our appetite for our next destination – Port Aransas – a barrier island between Corpus Christi and the Gulf.
We didn't have time to see NASA's space center this trip, but we'll be back another time.
After a quick dash to Texas, it was time to spend some quality time with friends and former co-workers of mine from many years ago at Xerox; people we hadn't seen since 1996 during the Atlanta Olympics.
I used to work FOR Rhonda Lea. I used to work WITH Allen Lea. Rhonda was usually working hard to keep Allen and I from committing professional suicide with our sometimes quirky sense of humor – always funny (to us), but not always understood by others. Fortunately we both survived and lasted many years at Xerox. But we hadn't seen each other for many, many years. So when in Texas, it was a natural thing to head to the northern suburb of Dallas known as Frisco, TX. We don't usually pay as much per night ($60) as we did for this campground, but there is a dearth of available campgrounds in decent places north of Dallas, and as it was also situated on Lake Lewisville we felt the three days there were worth it.
The nice thing we discovered about Texas is that it is very flat, therefore there is little trouble finding level sites upon which to park the motor home. Our levelers have always done a great job of leveling our 36LA, but the more it needs to level, the harder it is to get it just right so that the shower door doesn't slide open while in use, or that the half bath door doesn't fly open when using it. An added benefit is that the lower step is always very low, making it easier for us and our guests to get on up into our home.
The campground we stayed at was Hidden Cove Park and Marina. It's quiet, with very little light spillage due to it's remote location. But it's also close enough to Frisco to get food (I can recommend the Nolan Ryan beef at Kroger) and meals if you want to. Warning signs for this park included being on the lookout for coyotes and bobcats. Didn't see or hear either, which was fine by me. The sites, as you can see by the attached picture, are fairly large; either pie shaped to the back or to the front due to the curves of the roads onsite. Our back-in site was just long enough to tuck our tow dolly underneath the back of the 36LA and still have room to park the Mini across the front of the coach.
Texas features many strange and quirky places; none more strange than the Toxic Waste Dump Farm, featuring the tag line: “Beef To Die For”. OK, so it's not a real cattle farm (or any farm for that matter), nor does it contain any toxic waste on the property. It DOES contain a very disgruntled owner whose next door property is being developed as a pretty posh neighborhood of brand new and expensive homes. Doesn't sound like a big problem, unless you're the guy next door who didn't want the property developed but didn't want to buy it on his own, either. So in his own fashion, he's finding a way to protest development on his terms. Not sure how effective it will be, but I give him high marks for creativity!
After a little sightseeing in historic downtown Denton, TX, and a couple of really good meals where some tall tales were swapped, we headed to our next destination; Stephen F. Austin State Park just west of Houston in San Felipe, but not before we encountered our next Texas institution: Buc-ees.
If you have never experienced Buc-ees before, well – it's hard to describe. The first thing you notice is the unbelievable number of gas pumps. Nearly 100 at the Melissa location, and that's not even the largest Buc-ees in the state! The interesting thing about Buc-ees is that tractor trailers are NOT allowed in any Buc-ees; it is NOT a truck stop. But it can accommodate our 37 ft RV just fine. Diesel is available for pickups and RV's as well, but NO 18-wheelers! But that's only part of the Buc-ees experience. Spotless restrooms (a miracle given the huge number of customers who stop by). A bakery, a sandwich counter featuring real Texas brisket, homemade candy and fudge, an incalculable number of flavors of jerky, and enough souvenirs to make any traveler happy. Think of your average CVS or Walgreens store, quintuple it's size, and stuff it with all of the above. It is a sight to behold, and their gas prices are the lowest around.
Full of gas, we point our RV south towards the port city of Houston.
Unencumbered with family issues and the occasional drama, it's time to head out on our first big official travel. Time to head to Texas for the month of January, New Mexico for the month of February, and Arizona for the month of March. The early part of the trip has some scheduled stops to visit friends, but beginning the second week we're back to winging it. No reservations; no plans. Just travel and take in the sights.
But first we have to get to Texas; a great state with lots to see and do, and one where Barbara and I have limited past experience. Back in the 1950's, Cunard Cruise Lines had an ad campaign with the tag line “Getting there is half the fun”! This post will show you the “other” side of RV-ing; the part that most people won't tell you about.
We'd already heard about the legendary poor condition of I-10 going through the southerly route to Texas, and fortunately our initial travel to Dallas means we get to enjoy I-20 across Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi before we get to Texas. They'll be no sightseeing on this initial leg of our journey, as we have reservations in the Lake Lewisville area north of Dallas for three nights to visit with Rhonda and Allen Lea, former co-workers of mine during my time with Xerox.
In keeping with the 330 rule of leisurely Rv-ing, we try to look ahead to about a 5-6 hour drive each of the three days it will take us to get to Dallas. This will mean we drive about 330 miles per day, and try to arrive by 3:30 in the afternoon at our campsite for the evening.
The one observation I'll have about this dash to Dallas is the elevation. We've been used to hills and mountains living in North Georgia for the past 28 years, and there are a LOT of elevation changes to be had in Georgia.
Not so on this trip. It's flat. Really, really flat. Good for gas mileage, but nothing much for the scenic side of the trip.
Since this is a speed run to Dallas, we're not interested in any amenities in our campgrounds, so price becomes more important. Enter Passport America. We joined them for their 50% off campground fees that take the program; very important for the one or two night stays we'll need when heading from one place to another. Generally, they are older parks, limited in creature comforts. Usually just a pad and hookups for the RV, but a cheap way to get from Point A to Point B for under $20 per night. They also tend to have more pull-thru sites available for folks like us who are just passing through; enabling us to keep the tow dolly and Mini hooked up to save us time and effort.
Leaving our comfy spot in Cleveland, GA at Leisure Acres RV Campground (and leaving our duck friends to fend for themselves), we travel at a sedate 62 MPH on cruise control west through Georgia and Alabama, stopping at Benchmark RV Park in Meridian MS just over the border from Alabama. It consists of basically a couple of loop roads in order to facilitate the large number of pull-thru sites they offer. Cement pads separated with narrow grass that holds the hookups. The ONLY amenity is a “dog park”, which is a chain link fence where dogs can leave their droppings when owners refuse to pick them up, and a propane filling station. Power is sufficient for our RV using 50 AMP service, but there is a strict NO SPACE HEATERS warning in the office, leaving me to believe that the grid is a bit taxed due to age. But it's a short drive off of I-20, so at $20 for the night, it will do.
Since we have a shorter than usual trek the next day, we leave around 10:00 AM in a heavy rain. I'm glad that our destination is less than 300 miles away, because we have to drop down to between 50-55 MPH due to the varying nature of the rain, alternating between a heavy mist and a heavy downpour. Crossing the Mississippi River is always a thrill. The “Big Muddy” was not as wide as it would be closer to New Orleans, but it is still impressive, especially covered in a morning mist. We arrive at our next overnight stop in West Monroe, Louisiana. The rate is even better at $17 for the night, and that's a good thing. It's a park loaded with full-time residents; normally not the worst thing, but unfortunately full-time residents tend to ignore the rules that are written for the rest of us. Therefore, our site bordered a number of spots where people had more than one vehicle parked, making it difficult to maneuver our way out of the spot in the morning. We also heard constantly barking dogs all night long (another rule violation) in at least 2 sites. Frankly, we were happy to depart for Texas then next morning.
The interesting thing about Texas and I-20 is the condition of the interstate. Very, very good. It's in stark contrast with the local roads we encountered in and around the Frisco, TX area north of Dallas where we stayed for 3 days. Very, very poor.
Fortunately, the park we stayed in, as well as the company we enjoyed with good friends, made up for all the poor local roads.
We'll be spending 3 nights in Hidden Cove Marina and RV Park on Lake Lewisville. Beautiful concrete padded site on a spacious level lot within sight of the lake. A bit pricey at $60 a night, but in better weather worth the price when you can enjoy more of the park and it's amenities. But there's not a lot of RV parks in that area, so choices are limited.
Our dash to Texas completed, it's time to enjoy some Texas food and friends. But that's for another post. Stay tuned!
So we've been encamped at Leisure Acres RV Campground in Cleveland, GA going on 4 weeks, with another week to go before heading out on our longest trip since becoming full-time RV-ers in August. Three months beginning in Texas, then heading to New Mexico and finally to Arizona; taking up all of January-March of 2020.
In one way, it's been nice to not have to set up and break down every couple of days (not that it's that difficult in these Class A motor homes), and it's been nice to reintroduce our grandson, Jace, to Christmas. But Barbara and I bought this Tiffin 36LA to travel – not sit around.
It hasn't been all idle time, however. In addition to the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas, it's been a time to order and install upgrades to make our RV perform better and give us more flexibility as we head across country.
Some upgrades that worked and why we did them:
Maxxair II Vent Fan Covers. These allow us to open our existing Fantastic fan covers no matter what the weather. Open, they allow heat to escape if the RV gets too hot, but also keeps rain out of the RV They also cut back on sunlight (we got the smoke color) so they keep us cooler when we get into hotter weather.
Camco Heated Water Hose. Winter is still here, and even though we'll be heading to Texas and New Mexico, there might still be some freezing temperatures overnight. Keeps water flowing into the coach down to -20 degrees. Of course, if temperatures are going to go THAT low, we're heading further south!
Nutrichef Double Burner Induction Cooktop. This is by far Barbara's favorite upgrade! Our propane stove top works great, but in wintertime propane is best used for our furnaces to keep us warm. Since our Magma cookware is induction capable, we had always intended to get one, but colder than normal temps accelerated our need for one. It also helped us tremendously on Thanksgiving when we suddenly had to host dinner in the RV and needed those two extra burners.
Camco 4 Port Tee. Allows us to “T” off of our main tank to cook on our Weber Q grill. Saves on buying those small green bottles.
Not everything worked out as we had hoped for, however. We had heard a lot about the Oxygenics family of shower products which had been designed to provide for a more refreshing shower. RV showers are typically weak, mainly due to pressure regulators which are recommended for most campgrounds due to campground pressures that can blow out the flexible plumbing usually found in RVs. However, the RV Fury model we tried was disappointing at best. Provided less pressure than our standard Tiffin-installed shower head. I'm sure it provides a wonderful experience at higher pressures, but I'm not missing a high pressure shower in exchange for my plumbing.
As for prepping for travel down the road, our extended stay allowed Barbara and me to reorganize storage; her on the inside, and me on the outside. Gained a whole bin of space underneath, and made things we'll need in campgrounds and parks more accessible without crawling under a slide.
Installed our Sani-Tube underneath the rear of the RV so that our “stinky slinky” (sewer hose) can be stored OUTSIDE of our wet bay, keeping things nice and sanitary around our fresh water supply.
I also ran around the RV today, checking tire pressures and making sure they matched our Tire Pressure Management System. You'll remember an earlier post where our TST system saved our tow dolly on our very first trip, so making sure these two systems match is very important. It's also good to make sure tires are inflated properly; not only for safety purposes, but also for a more comfortable ride.
New Rain-X wipers were added, reducing the size down from 34' to 28”. This is because the wiper motor on these RVs are notoriously under-powered, and they get seriously strained when trying to move that much rubber across a dry windshield (when you're trying to use the window washing feature). Even though you lose 6” of sweep, there is still more than enough clearing done on the windshield. Filled the windshield washer reservoir (nearly empty), and checked the oil.
Installed a bunch of gas apps on the iPhone to make it cheaper, easier and more secure to fill up this rolling behemoth. When you typically spend about $100 a fill-up, anything to make it easier and cheaper is good! It also gets rid of the security issue of swiping a card at the pump where scammers steal your number.
So when next Wednesday rolls around, we store chairs, bring in slides, retract jacks and disconnect from water and electric. It will be good to get back on the road.
After almost 3 weeks on the road following one month in Blue Ridge, GA minding our grandson, Jace, it was time to put jacks down and slides out for the holidays here in North Georgia with our daughters and grandsons.
Making the run up to Lafayette, IN to the home of Liquidspring for repairs in some nasty downpours and wind, and the ensuing plunge in temperatures was stressful enough, always hoping I wouldn't have to crawl under my chassis to swap out ride height sensors. Fortunately, the system worked as advertised all the way up and back down to Red Bay, AL. It is truly amazing the difference in ride Liquidspring makes, and when in windy conditions (as we seemed to have for the five says it took to do the loop up north and back down south) the Sport mode - I know, it sounds really weird to write "Sport mode" when discussing motor home driving - made handling this RV much easier and didn't tire me out at the end of a day's drive.
I've written extensively about the Tiffin aspect of a visit to Red Bay previously, but I'd be remiss if I didn't cover the personal side of the Red Bay experience. And I don't want the comments I make here to be construed as a knock on Red Bay in any way, shape or form. It's a quaint little town in the upper left corner of Alabama, and it is the very definition of a company town. Frankly, it's hard to believe that 4 of the best-selling motor homes made in the world are made in this one small town. If a business in Red Bay doesn't say Tiffin on it, it's supporting that company in one way or another.
If I covered this before I apologize, but Tiffin doesn't take appointments for their service center. You show up, get in the queue for a full-service bay for serious problems, or in line for an express bay (2 technicians for up to 4 hours and then you're done) for smaller issues. This system is frustrating to many who are not full-timers like us who can spend as much time needed to get everything fixed, and truth be told it even frustrates some full-timers as well, but because people used to make appointments and then not show up, Tiffin instituted this policy and it works for them.
So you hurry to get to Red Bay, check in, and wait for "the call" . . . And you'd better be ready to scoot over to your assigned bay at the time of the call or you get replaced by the next customer in line. We heard of four people who missed their slot because they strayed too far from the service center to get back in time.
What does this have to do with decompression and reflection? Decompression first.
Waiting in Red Bay can be stressful. You're sitting in a parking lot with full hookups (when the water isn't shut off due to freezing temperatures), you can't go far if you want to keep your spot in line, and there's not that much to do to pass the time in such a small town. If you have satellite (we don't yet) you can watch TV, but if not, there are 5 OTA (over the air) stations that can be received in Red Bay - and they're all Public Broadcasting stations. And Tiffin doesn't provide cable. You just sit and wait for the Tuesday and Thursday priority lists to come out at 3:00 so you can have an idea of when your number will be called. If you're way down the list, say, #10 or higher, you can feel confident enough to venture away from the service center. If lower, you'd better stay put.
Once called though, it can be a great learning experience, as Tiffin allows owners to sit in their coaches while they're being worked on. It can be a great for the owner as you get to see they guys doing the work and ask them questions about the work being done.
Unless you have a dog like Taz.
Tiffin (rightly) doesn't allow pets to be in attendance while the coaches are being fixed. The technicians might make an exception for the little travel dogs many RVers seems to have these days, but a 70-lb shepherd/lab mix is a no-go. Now, you can take your dog to the pet friendly lounge Tiffin provides, unless your dog is a jerk.
Taz is a jerk.
We're working with her, but she gets too excited around other animals because she's never really been socialized around other dogs with few exceptions. She's not nasty or mean - just excitable and a jerk. So now either Barbara has to keep Taz occupied at some nearby park (there are none), and only if the weather is good, or we have to take her somewhere to keep her busy (hours in the Mini Cooper are NOT conducive to a happy dog) thereby keeping the owner (me) from interacting with my expert technicians.
Five days of trying to strike that balance is STRESSFUL. We managed to find a couple of places an hour or so away from Red Bay when we knew the coach was going to be in the service bay for the entire day. Tishomingo State Park on the Natchez Trace was a hidden gem, and Taz got some running around time. But otherwise, we waited. Mostly Barbara waited. In the Mini. With the dog.
Once finished, it's just a 1 day drive back to Georgia, specifically to Blue Ridge to pick up a Snap Pad we lost on our way out the previous month, and stay a night until our site is available in Cleveland, GA at Leisure Acres RV Campground. Not wanting to go through the construction zone at I-65 and I-20 in Birmingham when leaving Red Bay, we take an alternative route offered to us by our GPS program - CoPilot RV. It's supposed to be the shortest route mileage-wise, and doesn't look too bad. It's a 5+ hour drive, with some rural roads near the end. Everything is great for the first 4 hours, and then we hit the rural aspect of the trip. Our GPS decided, even though it knows we're in a 37 ft RV with a tow vehicle programmed into it's settings, that it would be fun to take us meandering along the Oconee River for over 25 miles. Now don't get me wrong; I'm sure it's a lovely drive in our Mini Cooper. One lane each way curving sometimes not so gently around every curve and sharp bend in the river. Not so lovely trying to reef that motor home around those curves in the last hour of a 5 hour drive!
As to the Reflection part, we're in an absolutely lovely spot next to a small pond populated with ducks, who serenade us each morning in hopes of getting fed by us. Barbara bought a nice duck blend of food to keep them happy, and Jace loves to come by and feed them. We sit outside and goof off; Barbara with her crocheting, me napping. We take walks.
I think back to the friends we met while in Red Bay. Jamie and Bob, Jennifer and Harry, and especially Ron and Teri; our next-door neighbors. Ron is retired Air Force and loves to golf, so we have two things in common in addition to RVing. We celebrated our last night together before leaving Red Bay with a dinner down the street, and talked and laughed like people who had known each other for years instead of just meeting each other 2 weeks previous. It's part of the RV experience we had hoped to find, but hadn't up until then. These are all people we hope to see again on the road in the future.
Posts might be few and far between for the next month until we get back on the road, but you never know. Some upgrades are being ordered to be installed before our next trip, and there may be a post or two on those. If not, Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas from Barbara, Taz and me - the Parental Parolees!
A quick walk to Cabinetry was on the docket for 7:00 AM to talk with Dennis. It was supposed to be our next stop on the way to completing our list of issues at Tiffin Service, but a full day had gone by with no call, and we were concerned we had fallen through the cracks in Tiffin's process.
Good news was that our paperwork was sitting on Chad's workstation, and we were called to Bay 25 within 30 minutes. He couldn't fix the minor defect in the woodwork to the left of the residential refrigerator, because to do so meant the entire cabinet had to be removed. It's relatively minor, so we just had him smooth out the finish on one of our closet doors, and we were back in Site 8 waiting for a call from Paint.
Not 5 minutes after jacks down, slides out and power hooked up, there was a knock at our door. The Tiffin paint supervisor got a look at our dimple on the driver's side front cap, showed me another Phaeton down the next row with a similar dimple on the passenger side, and said that Dustin in Bay 23B was waiting for us. Okay!
Dustin has certainly seen this anomaly before. No one has yet figured out why it is happening, but it appears that when they spray the foam inside the front cap, when it sets it seems to pull the fiberglass back into a dimple. Doesn't happen all the time, but depending on the severity of it, they can remove the foam insulation, heat it and push it out, brace it, and foam it back up. If not successful, it's a 4-day process which requires removing the Diamond Shield, fixing it, and waiting 3 days for the clear coat to set before Diamond Shield can be reinstalled.
Thank goodness ours was the former, and in about 45 minutes Dustin had pretty much removed the offending dimple to where if you didn't know we had one, you couldn't find it. These guys at Tiffin are special craftsmen and women.
After a five minute checkout and being presented with four pages of detail regarding our two week visit totaling zero dollars, we're one night away from heading back to Georgia tomorrow morning. A quick checkup of our headlight alignment is being done tonight by the folks at A+ Lighting, an oil change for the engine and generator tomorrow morning at Bay Diesel, and Red Bay will be in our rear view camera, hopefully until we head back here at the end of our first year of warranty.
For those who are unwilling to travel to Red Bay for Tiffin service because you think it's too far away, you need to rethink your objections. It's worth every penny and every minute of your time to experience the exceptional quality and professionalism of the people here, as well as the information you get from the technicians and fellow Tiffin owners during your stay. It is invaluable.
Just do it.
So long, Red Bay! We'll be back next year!
Our second week in Red Bay Alabama at the Tiffin Service Center came to a close with more things being checked off our list, and a feeling that we have less time here in the future than we have been here.
A minor but almost expected setback occurred when I woke up to my 6:00 AM alarm, and headed outside to discover lots of water in our new wet bay and on the ground beneath us. We had planned to go right back into Bay 4 that morning anyway, because David wanted to make sure there were no leaks as a result of the wet bay repairs he and Dave performed the previous day. Not unexpected given the total rebuilt they had to do, so as long as it wasn't a black tank leak (it wasn't – just the gray tank) we could handle it and head back to Bay 4.
Dumping and wiping everything down, we're ready for the March of the Elephants; 40 or more 33' to 45' Tiffin Class A motor homes all starting engines and heading to their respective bays at the same 7:00 hour. It's a sight to see, and even more exciting to be part of.
The two Dave's attack our immediate problem, spending most of the next 4 hours replacing some parts that apparently had more damage than first appeared, and reworking some hard rubber plumbing to prevent cracking or breakage when heading down the road. As 11:00 approaches, the wet bay has been repaired, improved, tested and dried. One final fix of the silverware tray and fortifying the rail system on our main galley drawers (needed due to the pounding we took on the road), and we are released from Bay 4. From fixing everything on our general repair list, to improving things not on the list, to recommending great restaurants to try, we've made new friends and trusted advisers in the two Dave's.
We've experienced first-hand why so many Tiffin owners insist on coming back to Red Bay each year for their service.
Not that we're done and ready to head back to Georgia, mind you. Once released from Bay 4, we head back to Site 8, our home for nearly 2 weeks, and wait for the call to Mechanical. David had said that we were next on their list, so don't hook up anything but power and keep our slides in, because we'd likely get a call when the next mechanical bay became open. Now understand, Tiffin employees work from 7:00 until 11:00 and take their lunch until 12:00, meaning that as the afternoon wore on I was expecting less and less to get our call, so I decided to take a nap.
So of course I get a call about 30 minutes after closing my eyes to get over to Bay 41. Right now. Ahhh, nothing like the retirement life I always say!
Fortunately, there were only 2 things on the Mechanical list; check all our welds of the house to the chassis, and the all-important replacement of our temporary exhaust extension and heat shield lost somewhere on I-85 southbound back in September which had caused so much damage to our wet bay. This next picture is something pretty cool, but also something that, as an owner, you never really want to see; our 37' long, 14.5 ton motor home suspended nearly 6 feet in the air.
Yeah . . .
Right after THAT sight, our 36LA is inexplicably lowered to the ground for about 15 minutes while a conference ensues in our driver and passenger area. For some reason, our home has been powered on at the key level, because our front headlights are now on. Don't know what they're doing and can't ask them, because Mechanical is (rightly) one bay where customers are NOT allowed due to safety reasons. I mean, what isn't safe about a 37' motor home up on jacks, right? The guys exit, and it's back up in the air to have the exhaust extension and heat shield installed. By 3:15 we're back down on all 6 tires with an officially-approved Tiffin heat shield and spot-welded extension. Paperwork is completed to be sent to our next stop – Cabinetry – and day 4 is in the books. I'm told by the technician that they've re-calibrated our Liquidspring system in the process, and I ask him why. He doesn't know; they just did it. “Okaaaayyyyy”, I said. “Thanks . . . ?”
But my day isn't quite done.
Starting up the 36LA, I go to power on my Liquidspring interface to set it for normal ride mode and see something I haven't seen in almost a month; the dreaded warning light and error code saying my ride height sensor needs replacing! Now it dawns on me what they were doing in the drivers area of my home, and while it was nice of them to try to make sure our Liquidspring systems had been set properly before sending us home, they are not privy to the new procedures in power on and powering off the Liquidspring interface. Fortunately, they had our system in normal ride height mode when they shut off the motor home WITHOUT shutting off the interface (a big no-no), but even so, I gingerly drive down the incline away from the building, hoping that my jacks don't bottom out on the way.
Parking the motor home back in Site 8 and powering off my Liquidspring interface before shutting off my engine, I immediately take out the tools of my trade over the past 3 months; a 1/2” socket and wrench, screwdriver, work blanket and a replacement ride height sensor that I might have forgotten to send back to Liquidspring when they fixed our problem last time. I run the jacks up and explain to Barbara what has happened, and get to work. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I've become pretty adept at changing out a ride height sensor since September, and since I now know the right sequence of events I can work underneath with jacks extended, giving me enough room to change this out in about 10 minutes flat.
Lowering the jacks, I start the engine and power up our Liquidspring interface, and I see a beautiful set of normal lights shining brightly. IT'S ALIVE! In an abundance of caution I re-calibrate the system, and after about 2 minutes I'm able to power off, shut down my engine and extend jacks and slides once again in order to enjoy another relaxing evening in Red Bay, Alabama.
I'll be speaking to the guys in Mechanical bay 41 tomorrow morning and handing them an updated Quick Reference Guide from Liquidspring . . .
Next up, the final 2 items on our list!
We're Dave and Barbara Richard, and we're planning the ultimate retirement experience - travel the U.S. and Canada in style in a Tiffin Open Road 36LA Class A motor home, play golf and stop at every weird and wacky roadside attraction we can find.