Category Archives: Fulltime RVing

Enchanted Surprises in New Mexico

If there is one way we can summarize our past week in New Mexico, it would have to be that it was full of surprises.  From the time we arrived in Santa Fe to the day we slid out of the state on US-60, the Land of Enchantment did its best to do just that.

We set up camp in Santa Fe at an old KOA that is now called Rancheros de Santa Fe Campground.  It was an unremarkable place, other than the fact that the camp scene from Every Which Way But Loose was filmed there.  That, and our first enchanted surprise…

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What the heck!  Just to let y’all know, this is the first snow that has fallen on the exploRVistas entourage since early in 2015.  We did see previously fallen snow in Oregon, but the temperatures were much warmer.  So rather than hunker down…

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…we chose to embrace it by heading above 10,000 feet to Ski Santa Fe.  🙂

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Here’s Diana after an exhilarating run down the Double Black Diamond slope.

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It was a tremendous place to spend a morning, indeed.

We found the city of Sante Fe to be charming.  The town’s pueblo architecture envelops visitors with a sense of warmth.

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Our NARM membership from the Foosaner Art Museum in Florida gained us free admission into the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

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If there is anything that speaks to southwestern art, it is this talented artist’s work.

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Images of New Mexico are the first thing that come to our minds when hearing her name.  With that being said, our next enchanted surprise came during this visit.  We had no idea that a vast portion of her career had been spent in none other than…

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…New York City!  She loved it there, as do we.

Santa Fe also has a couple of well known churches.

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One is the Cathedral of St Francis.  We were surprised to find out that this was once the seat of an archdiocese that covered the entire southwest, all the way up to (and including) Denver.

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And this is the famous miraculous staircase in the Loretto Chapel.  Our surprise here was not the staircase, but where the Sisters of Loretto came from.  You see, there was only one other place we had ever seen this name:  Loretto, Kentucky…home of Makers Mark bourbon.  Indeed, that is the area these pioneer women came from!

We also did a couple of hikes while we were based in Santa Fe.

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Our first was in Petroglyphs National Monument near Albuquerque.   We ventured into Rinconada Canyon to see what it had to offer.

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No this isn’t graffiti, in a modern sense of the word. The carvings into the rocks were left by early native people and also by Spanish sheep herders in the area.  The images were a ways off the roped-off trail, and I unfortunately had failed to charge my new camera’s battery the night before.  This trail and my iPhone did not work well together.  Thankfully, we had arranged our hikes in the order we did, as our next day was outstanding!  When Ingrid from Live Laugh RV heard we were in the area, she recommended we visit one of her favorite places, Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.

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With a fully charged battery at our disposal, we gave the new camera a workout!

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What an amazing place.  We loved the combination of desert and tall Ponderosa pine trees.

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The ‘tent’ rocks that give the monument its name look like they are from another planet.

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Nothing better than squeezing through a slot canyon!

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The desert environment was full of life.

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The view from the top was simply breathtaking.  Thank you Ingrid!!!

Next up, we moved south to San Antonio, New Mexico.  Our focus there was to visit Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.  We first became aware of this place while reading Life Unscripted, as Peter and his wife Peg volunteered here.  Our driving force to visit here was when fellow blogger, the late Lynne Braden, left a legacy gift to the refuge after her terminal cancer diagnosis. This was the first place she volunteered after her retirement and she fell in love with it.

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This is her photo that became the cover art for the latest Festival of the Cranes.  To our surprise, we were fortunate to be able to purchase the last remaining copy of the festival poster.  We will indeed treasure this.  Lynne was a sweet person who never lost her million dollar smile, despite the cancer she was forced to face.  She chose to view it as a gift.  Peruse through her blog, Winnie Views, by following the link.

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Touring the refuge, it was easy to see why Peter, Peg, and Lynne loved this place.

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What a variety of wildlife!

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Some just seemed to pose for the camera…

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…while others were more interested in fishing.

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Some were just out for an evening stroll.

The biggest surprise in this little blip of a town was a small parcel of land on the southern edge of the village.

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Pretty unremarkable, right?  Well, what you are looking at is the birth of one of the world’s largest hotel chains to which I owe a fair amount of my career.  That building to the right was the old post office.  Across the street from it was a little mercantile/rooming house, run by a person named…

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…Conrad Hilton.  It all began here.  And wile the building may be gone,…

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…the long wooden bar he worked behind at his dad’s place can be found just up the road at the Owl Bar, where it was moved to many years ago.  It amazes us at the history that can be uncovered in the small towns of this world.  🙂

Last up was a place we had wanted to see for a long time.

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The Very Large Array Radio Telescope.  These dishes span out in a “Y” pattern, 13 miles in each direction.

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Twenty-seven dishes work in unison to gather radio waves from distant galaxies to form images that aren’t visible to us though our eyes.  The dishes can be moved along railroad tracks to form different images.  The science behind this is WAY over our heads, but the massive nature of the project is amazing to look at.  While we were there, the dishes all moved in unison several times, eventually pointing straight up.  While we knew this facility was here, it was quite a surprise to crest the mountain pass west of Magdalena and see these antennas spread out before us.

We had a wonderful visit to New Mexico this time around.  The land of Enchantment revealed a bevy of surprises and a trove of memories we won’t soon forget.

Next up: Arizona!  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

 

 

Playing Catch-up

With our truck issues putting us a week behind, we had some serious catching up to do on our trip west. Part of the reason for that was we wanted to visit family in Texas, and we were fearful that window had closed.  Fortunately the people we were visiting were able to reschedule one day later, so all was good. With that, we were off to the races!

The new truck ran like a champ across Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.  Hank the Deuce has much more power than the 2008 F-350 and better fuel mileage to boot.  I had to learn about DEF and exhaust brakes, as my old truck had neither.  The other thing it didn’t have was a sunroof.

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This one makes up for that in a big way!  While this wasn’t something we were looking for in a new truck, the fact it was on it wasn’t going to keep us from purchasing the vehicle.  Turns out, it’s a handy way to keep an eye on Ketchup and Mustard!

We rolled into Waxahachie, Texas on Saturday, quickly set up the rig and headed into town.

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Once there, we met up with Thomas and Marlana.  Thomas is Diana’s first cousin-once removed on her father’s side of the family. He is her cousin Nancy and David’s son. It is always wonderful being able to spend time with them.  🙂

The next day we headed to Waco to meet-up with Seth, Diana’s first cousin-twice removed on her mother’s side of the family.  He is her cousin Deb’s grandson.

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We visited Waco Mammoth National Monument. This is an interesting place where flooding along the Bosque River drowned an entire herd of Columbian Mammoths during the Ice Age.  The find was discovered in 1978 by two men looking for arrowheads.  During their search, they found a femur protruding from an eroded bank.  Between that time and 1997, twenty-two mammoths were unearthed, and more continue to be found to this day.

After that, we ate lunch at Rudy’s.

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Seth recently joined the Army and is being trained to drive Bradley tanks at Fort Hood.  It was great to catch up with him and hear about his experiences.  He will be deploying to Korea soon.  We wish him well and are appreciate his service to our country.  🙂

Once we arrived in Vernon, Texas, we were back on schedule!  Vernon is the hometown of both Roy Orbison and former Federal prosecutor, Kenneth Starr.  The area was once named Eagle Springs by the Tonkawa Indians.  When settlers applied for the name Eagle Flats, the U.S. Post Office nixed the name as Texas already had too many towns with the word Eagle in it.  They chose Vernon instead, in honor of George Washington’s Mount Vernon home.

From Vernon, we moved on to Amarillo.  First stop: Cadillac Ranch!

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Something about this kitchy art installation spoke to us that we were finally on our way west.

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Or maybe we had entered the Twilight Zone!

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Anyone who has ever driven an early 1950’s Cadillac will know that this is where the gas goes in the tank.  My grandpa owned a couple of them, and I would have great fun pulling into a full service station in the 1970’s and asking for a fill-up.  I’d let the attendant walk around the car in frustration, looking for the cap.

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When they finally gave up, I’d jump out and push in the reflector, lift up the taillight and reveal the gas cap.  🙂

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We doubt these cars will ever rust away, as there are hundreds of coats of spray paint on them.

We also went to dinner at Saltgrass while we were in town.

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Two things about this photo:  One, it isn’t very often that a restaurant serves warm gluten-free bread with my meal.  Much appreciated, believe me.  Also, my new glasses are on the table, immediately to my right and out of the photo.  While trying to clean them, the screw came out for the second time.  I’ve also had the screws pop out of my new prescription sunglasses multiple times.  Moral of the story is: while the prices at Costco Optical may seem enticing, be aware that there may be a trade-off in the quality of the product.  I’m only saying this because I had previously recommended their service on Facebook.

We also found a great place to do laundry, the Tornado Laundromat.

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Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the size of the folding tables!

The facility was spotless.  Diana commented to this attendant that she had “never seen anyone do that”, in reference to her cleaning out the soap dispenser with a paint brush.  She quickly replied “What….clean?”  We all got a chuckle out of that.  🙂  We really appreciated her hard work.

From there, we explored Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

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This is actually the second largest canyon in the United States!  A road was extended into the canyon by the Civilian Conservation Corps back in the 1930’s.  While our visit on Wednesday was during a high wind event, the winds seemed to go over the top of us. That made our day an enjoyable one.

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The facilities in this park are top-notch.  This is the patio at the conference center. They also offer several campgrounds, some that can accommodate large RV’s.

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The views within the park are outstanding!

With that, we headed west towards Santa Fe.  Stay tuned for what we find there and beyond.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

 

 

We Have Liftoff!…Sort Of

With the arrival of spring, our ambitious year of travel found us poised on the launch pad, awaiting the go for liftoff.  In the lead up to that moment, we spent a good two weeks finalizing both our trip west and our UK trip in the fall.  I also helped our friends Ron and Nancy with their kitchen project, offering my cabinet layout and installation skills I had acquired throughout my career.  In fact, my 5-year retirement anniversary occurred during the course of the project on March 21st.

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Not bad for a couple of old guys, huh? Once the last cabinet was mounted, Diana and I proceeded to shift from our lazy beach lifestyle to travel mode. Thursday, March 28 found us packed up and ready to roll.

After hugs goodbye with our friends, we were off!

Being stationary for over 5 months, our first travel day was not overly ambitious. As we normally like to do, we headed north up I-95 to visit our mail forwarding service in Green Cove Springs. After an uneventful journey, we quickly set up camp at the local marina.

Not too many campgrounds can boast that they have a space shuttle external tank on the property. 😉 We grabbed our mail, renewed our tags on our vehicles, stopped at General RV for a few supplies, and finished up with pizza at Mellow Mushroom. After getting our library cards renewed the next morning, we were all hooked up and ready to head west.

Well, our truck Henry had other plans….

As we headed out of Green Cove Springs, we passed Garber Auto Mall. Diana and I make an effort to patronize the businesses in town as we are appreciative of their graciousness to domicile not only RVer’s, but also marine cruisers and military personnel. I literally looked at the Ford blue oval at Garber and thought, “We should buy our next truck from them.” I think Henry heard my thoughts rattling around in my brain, as we were but a few miles past the dealership when the Check Engine light came on, along with the dreaded “wrench” symbol on the truck’s information center. Things seemed amiss under the hood, so we pulled over and called Garber’s service department. It was Friday and they were not going to be able to service the truck until Monday. We called to check for availability and were able to limp back to our previous night’s camp. Within a half hour, we were back on the campsite we had just left and disconnected.

During the trip back, I reviewed the money we had poured into Henry over the past couple of years. I came to the conclusion that we were attempting to put a shiny new saddle on an old horse. He had served us well, but as I thought about our journey ahead, I felt Hank was better served to retire to the green pastures of Clay County.

Diana can more accurately attest that I was a man possessed, as I unloaded the contents of the vehicle to the inside and underside of our fifth wheel.

This is my ‘let’s go truck shopping’ look. Not long after, we were at Garber, weighing our options. Our sales associate, Tom Perkins, located a vehicle for us in Charlotte, NC that fit our needs perfectly. Mr. Perkins has the distinct honor of being the fourth Tom we’ve bought a truck from, with Toms Campbell, Tasker, and Elliott before him.  🙂   After negotiating the terms of the deal, it was determined the new truck would be in our hands by the middle of the next week. Luckily, we had built some time into our trip that would allow us to catch up. The delay also allowed us to explore Green Cove Springs, Fleming Island, and Jacksonville a bit more. While we found the latter to be a bit too crowded for our taste, our love for our adopted domicile did nothing but grow. Green Cove Springs is a great little town. Did you know that Frank J. Canova, Jr., is from here? You may not know his name, but I’ll bet you use his invention…the smartphone….each and every day.   🙂    Another interesting tidbit has to do with the former naval air station that was located here. Now transformed into a deep water port and air park, the station was once home to Marine Corps aviator and eventual Tonight Show announcer Ed McMahon.   Heeeere’s Johnny!  Also, if you’ve ever wondered where the name of the town came from…

…over 1300 gallons a minute of 77 degree water flows from a spring in a park in the center of town into…

…and out of a swimming pool…

…and down into a beautiful green cove along the St. John’s River. Now you know!

A couple of other things we needed to consider in this transition were the fact we had a folding tonneau on Henry, and we were going to be needing the hitch installed in the new vehicle. Ford has come up with a new feature called the ‘puck’ system that wasn’t going to work with our current hitch. On the surface, it appeared that the new truck didn’t have it, but there was a chance that the hardware for it was under the bed. That would have interfered with the installation of industry-standard bed rails. Kudos to sales manager Darren Mathews for getting the North Carolina dealer to snap some photos to confirm that was not the case. Also, seeing that the tonneau cover /storage box I had was not readily available in Jacksonville (it’s made in Grand Rapids), I was going to need a different method to store stuff and support the front wheels of Diana’s TerraTrike.

This is how the Fold-a-Cover stacked on Henry. There is a large storage bin below it that is part of the system. We quickly determined that a behind-the-cab toolbox would (at least temporarily) foot the bill for our journey, providing both storage and a platform for the trike. We can deal with the tonneau when we get to Grand Rapids in June. As far as the hitch, Tom suggested we talk to Rick Baker, owner of Rick Baker’s RV Center in Green Cove Springs. After explaining our situation, Rick ordered our parts and agreed to have the hitch put on as soon as we could get the truck to him.

Tuesday evening rolled around and we headed to the dealer. The truck had arrived from Charlotte and the gentleman who brought it down to Florida raved at how well it ran for him. From what we could see in the evening light, it was absolutely beautiful.

Wednesday found us at Garber bright and early. After a test drive, some paperwork and a license plate change, we were pretty much good to go. The only thing left to do was get the truck to Rick Baker for the hitch installation. Tom sent a driver in Henry, so as to drop off the old hitch. Tom also set up our Ford Pass in the truck and synced my phone with it. In the process, he asked if I wanted to give the truck a nickname. I replied quickly with a spirited “Oh YES!” With that, I introduce to you our new truck…

Hank the Deuce! That’s a tip-of-the-hat to Henry Ford II, grandson of Henry Ford, who succeeded the founder as the president of Ford Motor Company. Here we are with Tom Perkins, who is as happy as we are that this all worked out so well. It was a pleasure working with him, Darren Mathews, and the crew at Garber, and also with Rick Baker and his crew at Baker’s RV. If you find yourself in Green Cove Springs, be sure to pay either of them a visit with your automotive or RV needs.

Hank the Deuce, Clara, Edsel 2, Ketchup and Mustard are all loaded up and ready to go. We hope to catch up with you this travel season, so be sure to give us a shout if you see we are in your area. Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

2019 Spring and Summer Plans

In our last post, we jumped ahead to what we were planning for in September and October of this year with our trip to the United Kingdom and Ireland.  After quite a bit of trip routing, we are ready to reveal our spring and summer plans!

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Like these pelicans along the shore, we will soon line up with everyone else and fly northward.  Once we get to Jacksonville, we are turning westward for a journey to the Grand Canyon and the surrounding area.  It will be a very busy slate. Look for a spring full of posts about that trip.  We have three months before we have to be back in Michigan to start our volunteer gigs at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  We will be there for two months before heading overseas for a month.  And after that???

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Well, the fact that I installed a flagpole sleeve in the ground at our site in Florida, I guess that’s a pretty good indication of where we will be next winter!  We’ve really come to love it here.  Good friends, good weather and…

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…rocket launches!  This particular launch was the Crew Dragon demonstration mission that SpaceX sent to the International Space Station last week.  The capsule safely returned on Friday about 200 miles off the coast.  Future splashdowns will be within 25 miles of shore, so we should be able to get some photos of them parachuting down.

And an update on our genealogy work:  Diana is finding a plethora of information on her roots that will ensure that we have plenty of places to visit when we get overseas.  She has been able to go way, way back in her lineage.  On my search, I’m currently working between my sixth and tenth great grandparents on my dad’s side.  To let you know how involved that is, every one of us have 256 sixth great-grandparents.  By the time you get to your tenth great-grandparents, that number balloons to 4096 people!  Thanks to the Catholic church records in Canada, there is a record of most every one of mine.  And I know that there are several hints waiting to take me beyond that level.  Time will tell what I find on my mom’s German side.

We’ve also found time to have fun with our friends in the area.

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We checked out the St Katherine’s Greek Festival one day with Fred and Bonnie.  It was fun to see the dancers doing traditional Greek dances in their costumes.

We also met our friends Jim and Sue, who were down from Alton, Illinois to see their son Jake pitch for Fontbonne University.

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He didn’t end up pitching that afternoon, but he did start today.  He got the win, and the team is 10-0 on the year so far.

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The four of us rented a nice home on Airbnb which worked out extremely well.  What a great time!

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So as our time winds down for the year in Melbourne Beach, be sure to keep an eye out for our upcoming posts as we head west.  Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

 

 

 

Fun in the Hudson River Valley

May 12, 13, 15 & 16, 2018 – Hudson River Valley, NY

As we stated a couple of posts back, our base for seeing New York City was Newburgh, New York.  Located about an hour-plus north of NYC by rail, this charming area nestled in the Hudson River Valley is as if you are in a totally different world.  The rolling hills are dotted with small farms and little towns, in contrast to the metropolis to the south.  With us being in the vicinity for the better part of a week, we decided to explore and see what hidden gems we might find!

Saturday, May 12 was a cold, drizzly sort of day, we decided it would be a good opportunity to do some grocery shopping.  On the way to the store, Diana did a little Google search and informed me that Angry Orchard Hard Cider was located near there in the town of Walden, and that they had live music that afternoon. Seeing that this cider is available across the nation, I had always assumed Angry Orchard to be a fictional place.  Apparently, this wasn’t the case.  I made a quick U-turn and we headed to the cidery.  Groceries can wait until later!

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This very real place is filled with gnarly-looking apple trees.  According to the company, the angriest trees produce the best cider.

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It is here that they have what is known as their Innovation Cider House.  This is where they offer new flavors and blends to their guests, before sending it out to the masses.

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Everyone of drinking age is given a free flight of three different ciders, and the bar offers several other flavors for sale.  As you can see in the photo above, the complimentary pours are a decent size!  Diana also tried their Rose.  I had a pint of their Maple Wooden Sleeper, which is aged in bourbon barrels.  It has a somewhat dryness to it, with hints of maple, vanilla and bourbon. At 12% ABV…double their normal offering…it also earns the name ‘sleeper’!

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They had a duo that afternoon, which made for a great atmosphere!  We were sitting at community tables with several locals, which was a lot of fun.

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They have a self-guided tour that ends with this showcase of the awards they’ve won.  Most were from the Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition.  Hmmmmm…..never heard of that, but it might be worth checking out sometime!

Sunday, May 13 was another rainy day, so we decided to head across the river to Hyde Park.  We had visited this town back in 2007 to see Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s home and Eleanor Roosevelt’s cottage, Valkill.  Both were amazing and are recommended by us, if you are in the area.  This time, we visited FDR’s neighbor, the Vanderbilt mansion.

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Frederick and Louise Vanderbilt had this estate built in the late 1890’s as a summer escape from the heat of New York City.  These are the people who owned the New York Central railroad and are responsible for the beautiful Grand Central Terminal we love so much.  When Frederick passed in the 1930’s, he willed the mansion to his niece.  After unsuccessfully trying to sell it, FDR convinced her to donate it to the National Park Service.  It has been in their care since 1940.

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This is the dining room.  The table actually looked small in this room, but our guide explained that the couple only entertained a few guests at a time.

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This is Louise’s bedroom.  Lots of gold leaf adorning the walls.

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This is the man cave, so to speak.  I’m sure there were plenty of cigars smoked in this room!

Tours are offered at $10 each. Although it doesn’t state it in their literature or on their website, NPS Interagency Annual Passholders are admitted at no charge.  We didn’t check, but that is probably the same at the Roosevelt sites, so be sure to ask.

On Tuesday May 15, we decided to check out the nearby town of New Paltz with our friend Kathy.  We met her while working at Amazon in 2016 and we’ve been fortunate to see her twice between then and now.  Check out her new blog called Wonder Woman Wandering.  After checking out a few stores, we grabbed a drink at a local watering hole.  While there, everyone’s phones went crazy as there was a tornado warning.  We looked at the radar and it appeared we were OK where we were, but we decided to head back to camp, just in case.  Later that evening, a nasty storm hit.  While it was bad by us, it was much worse just to our south.  Huge trees were toppled everywhere and a couple of people were killed when they fell on them.

The next day, the three of us decided to do some more exploring.  On a stop at Walgreens to pick up a prescription, we saw this:

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I guess this is why it’s a good idea to have a backup generator.  All of their dairy coolers had lost power in the storm.

We headed to Minnewaska State Park on a quest to do a little hiking.

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This is Awosting Falls from above.  We continued down the trail to see what they looked like from below.

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Very pretty!  These falls are located on the Peters Kill River, which was flowing rapidly with the recent rains.

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Diana and Kathy spotted this interesting boulder across the river with trees growing over it.  🙂

We then drove up to Lake Minnewaska to see what that looked like.

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Kathy read a sign that told how the quartz that underlies the lake prevents the acidity from being filtered out.  As a result, this body of water doesn’t have any fish.  It is a picturesque scene, nonetheless.

On the way back, we made a stop at Kelder’s Farm in Kerhonkson.

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Kathy had spotted this garden gnome in Roadside America, as the largest in the world when it was made in 2006, and said “Now THAT’S a selfie moment!”  By golly, I believe she is right!

To cap the day, we stopped at Tuthilltown Distillery to sample what they had to offer.  They had some excellent bourbon, but their prices reflected their small size.  We did enjoy the tasting, though!

That wraps up our time in New York and the Hudson River Valley for the time being.  Next up, we visit with friends in Connecticut and Rhode Island.  Be sure to stay tuned for that.  Until then, safe travels to all!

Serendipity Along the Grand Strand

Have you ever been put somewhere by what seems like sheer luck?  Maybe it’s that, or maybe it’s meant to be.  We had that situation last May when we were put in a campsite next to a guy who I had a Facebook friend request into for ages, as we had 11 friends in common.  Turns out our now great friend Rick wasn’t big on checking his Facebook account.  🙂  Neither of us had any connectivity at the campground we were at on the Oregon coast, and our mutual friend Tracy (who figured out we were both there) was frantically trying to get in touch with us.  By the time she did, Rick had met us…even though we hadn’t made the mutual friends connection yet.  Thinking back, it was as if we were supposed to be there.

Such was the case on April 16th at Myrtle Beach State Park in South Carolina.  We really didn’t have any plans for what we were going to do once we got there, only that we wanted to see what the place known as the Grand Strand looked like.  We pulled in and got ourselves set up and prepared to settle in for the evening.  As I kicked back in my recliner, I could see a Bighorn fifth wheel passing by.  A few minutes later, I saw the back of it peeking out from behind the motorhome next door.  The woman that was helping direct the rig back looked really familiar to me.  I thought ‘Hmmmm….that looks like Sharon’, a fellow RV-Dreamer who we had yet to meet.  Before I could totally grasp that thought, her husband David popped into view.  Neither of us had any idea the other was going to be coming to Myrtle Beach. Here were two people that we had long wanted to get to know, placed just two campsites away from us.  We had been following their blog Two Lanes of Freedom for years, as they had with ours.  Dumb luck?  We choose to think it was more than that.  We were out of the rig and headed over to meet them in a flash!

They recognized us right away.  🙂  We talked for a bit and then called it a night, as we were all tuckered out from traveling. The next day, they invited us to go to Brookgreen Gardens with them, as they were meeting longtime RV-Dreamers, Bill and Nancy there.  Oh my goodness…two more people we had wanted to meet!

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Here we are gettin’ cozy on a park bench.  We slowly wound our way through Brookgreen’s trails, admiring the sculptures, landscaping, and animals.  All the while, we were learning more about each other.  🙂

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Here’s David admiring the gardens from the shade of a huge Live Oak tree.  Nancy and Sharon are in the background.

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This red fox had other plans for the lazy afternoon.

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Diana, Nancy, and Sharon are headed towards a sculpture of…

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Diana of the Chase.  This amazing work was created by Anna Hyatt Huntington in 1922.  She and her husband, Archer Huntington, founded Brookgreen in 1931 on four former rice plantations.  Close to 1500 works are displayed throughout the gardens.

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Their former winter home, Atalaya Castle, is located across US-17 in what is now known as Huntington Beach State Park.  Anna had an indoor and outdoor studio in the home.  She kept live animals in the courtyard, so she could study their muscle structure as they moved about.  What an amazing day with Bill, Nancy, David, and Sharon!

The next day was a beach day for Diana and I.  The temperature climbed above 80, which was perfect for putting our toes in the sand….except when the wind would shift and the cooler ocean air would roll in. David and Sharon stopped over for a bit, and we made plans for a campfire that evening.

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They were wondering who the couple was all bundled up on the beach, when they realized it was US!  Hey, our Michigan blood has thinned to a Florida viscosity.  🙂  That night we enjoyed a nice campfire and some excellent company, complete with several songs from David and his guitar.

The next morning was our travel day, but not before a sunrise meetup on the beach.

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I spotted them taking photos, so I took a few of my own.  We all headed back to camp, and Diana and I packed to leave. As we stopped by to say our farewells, David greeted us with his guitar.

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He sang us one of his ballads to see us on our way.  What a fitting and perfect ending to our time together.  Travel safely friends, we will see you down the road!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charles Who?

As we were exploring Charleston, we kept coming upon a name that sounded familiar to us:  Charles Pinckney.  That was due in large part to our Michigan lineage, as there is a town in the Wolverine state named Pinckney.  I remember it well, as I did a 50 mile bicycle ride there one day with some friends.  After some research, it turns out that the South Carolina Pinckneys appear to not be related to the Michigan clan.  But who was this Charles Pinckney, and why does he have a national historic site in his honor?  Well, it turns out that there were several people by that name in Charleston.  In this post we are going to focus on the one who is honored at Charles Pinckney National Historic Site.

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Charles Pinckney (October 26, 1757 – October 29, 1824) came of age in a wealthy family as the people of the English colonies in America prepared to declare their independence from Britain. As a young man he fought in the Revolutionary War.  He was captured during the battle of Charleston and was taken prisoner until after the war ended.  Over his career, he was a four term Governor of South Carolina, a U.S. Senator, a U.S. Representative, and an ambassador to Spain.  But his biggest claim to fame was as a member of the Continental Congress when the U.S. Constitution was drafted.  On May 29, 1787, he submitted a plan to the convention that was called the Pinckney Draught.  It was similar in many ways to the Virginia Plan, calling for the following:

  • Three branches of government: Congress, Judicial and Executive branches.
  • A separate House and Senate.
  • A President shall inform Congress the conditions of the nation (State of the Union).
  • The President shall be Commander-in-Chief.
  • No state shall coin money, establish tariffs, keep troops, or enter into a treaty.
  • Only the House shall have the power of impeachment.

He also exclusively came up with the idea that no person should be held to a religious test to hold any elected office in the United States.

Eventually, ideas from all of the plans presented were woven into what became the United States Constitution.  Pinckney spoke often during the convention that was responsible for the creation of the instrument, and his signature is on the final document.

So how did his country plantation become a national historic site overseen by the National Park Service?  At first glance, the answer to that is a bit confusing…as the 1820’s era home that occupies the site was built by a subsequent owner.

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It turns out that the property had been sold to developers in the latter half of the 20th century.  Most of the original 715 acre estate was turned into a golf course, homes, and such.  US-17 even runs through it.  When the builders began to prepare the final 28 acres for development into 42 individual home sites, a group of local preservationists led by two women came to the rescue.  In 1986 they negotiated a $2 million purchase price, and proceeded to raise the money to cover it.  In 1990, they donated the property to the National Park Service.  The park opened to the public in 1995.

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The grounds are beautiful, with several paths winding through the property.  Over 150,000 artifacts have been unearthed from the site, along with the foundations from the original buildings.  The visitor center has many displays regarding Pinckney’s life of service, several of the found artifacts, and an interesting display on the Gullah culture along the lower Eastern seaboard.  Gullah is a language developed by the slaves that has an English base with West African influences.

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A fantastic example of the language is this Bible they have on display.  The English translation is on the sidebars.  I found it mesmerizing.  They actually let visitors page through it.

As with our other recent National Park visits, we completed our Junior Ranger books and earned our badges.  Having to search the displays for answers really makes sure we read each display carefully.  While the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site wasn’t a major attraction, we were glad we made the effort to go there.  We now have an appreciation for the man and his contributions to our nation.  As we see his name in the future, we will have a better understanding of who he was and where he came from.

Next up: A serendipitous assignment of campsites in Myrtle Beach.  Be sure to see the amazing meetup that resulted from that, and the friendships that came about as a result!  🙂

Jekyll and St. Simons Islands

When we left you last, we had explored northern Florida in an area that had been contested by the French and the Spanish back in the 1500’s.  On Thursday, we moved a mere 70 miles up the road to Brunswick, Georgia.  Here we found stories of the pre-Revolutionary British, the Civil War, the early 20th Century elite, and modern day foreign trade.  With only a few days here it was not only a lot to discover, but it was hard to keep it all straight!

We began by pulling into our first Boondockers Welcome location.  This is a program where people allow you to camp on their property for free.  This particular location was hosted by Leslie and Skipper, and they were just super to us.  We even hung out with them one evening around their fire pit, and got to know them and their neighbors over cocktails.  To show our appreciation for their hospitality, we gave them a small gift bag with some goodies from Michigan.  🙂

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They lost several trees during Hurricane Irma.  Fortunately, they all fell across the driveway when no one was home.  Thank you again, Leslie and Skipper!

On Friday, we headed out to St. Simons Island.  This particular barrier island is home to Fort Fredrica, an 18th Century British outpost and townsite.  The settlement was put into place under the watchful eye of James Oglethorpe; a soldier, member of Parliament, and a visionary.  His plan was to establish somewhat of a Utopia for people in debtors prisons back in England, all the while creating a buffer between British colonies to the north and the Spanish to the south.  A fort was erected along the Altamaha River in 1734, and a fortified town was laid out just behind it.  There were 84 lots, most of which were 60 by 90 feet.  Each family also received 50 acres in the surrounding countryside to raise crops.  As the town began to spring up, the Spanish to the south took notice.  Sensing the rising tensions, Oglethorpe sailed back to England and brought back a regimen of over 600 soldiers.  In 1740, the British went on the offensive and set sail for St. Augustine.  The ships bombarded the Spanish fort for two weeks straight to no avail.  Details as to just why that was, can be viewed in our post on St. Augustine by clicking here.  The British headed back to Fredrica and the Spanish followed not too long afterwards.  They brought an army of 2000 men with the intention of taking the fort and town.  Unfortunately for them, the British were more familiar with the area and their troops and townsfolk  used guerrilla tactics to chase the Spanish soldiers back south.  Without too much bloodshed, the skirmish ended and order was restored.

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When we arrived we requested our Junior Ranger materials, and enjoyed the movie and displays in the visitor’s center. Not letting the fairly steady rain deter us, we headed out through the town-site to the fort.  The river has changed course, so much of the location of the fort is now underwater. A couple of magazines remain above ground. The foundations of many structures have been unearthed by extensive archaeological studies, including the storehouse which John Wesley lived above.  We were able to make out the earthen berms that were the base of the fort’s walls, as well as footings of many of the homes.

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The town’s streets were well marked, as were each of the foundations.  After we received our badges, we went to explore the rest of the island.

Across from the fort is this monument and memorial garden to John and Charles Wesley.

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John Wesley is the founder of the Methodist Church. Diana is United Methodist and was pretty excited to walk the same ground as John Wesley, especially on Good Friday.  He made five separate trips to Fredica from England in 1736 and 1737.  It was after leaving Georgia for the last time that he began the Methodist Church.  There is a large Methodist conference center and museum on the island.  We drove around the beautiful campus, but were too late to tour the museum.

We also visited the St. Simons Lighthouse.

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This impressive structure looked very familiar to us.  It turns out that the engineer responsible for it was a man named Orlando Metcalfe Poe.  He was General Sherman’s chief engineer who accompanied him on his March to the Sea near the end of the Civil War.  After the war, Poe became the chief engineer of the U.S. Lighthouse Service. He developed this style of lighthouse and St. Simons was constructed in 1872.  Just prior to that, Poe was promoted to become the Great Lakes lighthouse chief engineer, as the region’s burgeoning shipping industry required sentinels to keep them safe.  He oversaw the construction of 8 lighthouses on the Great Lakes that used this same design.  He also designed the first of the Soo Locks, which was named after him.  He was injured during its construction and died of a subsequent infection in Detroit shortly afterwards.  He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. His lock, which he never saw completed, was totally rebuilt in the 1960’s to allow 1000 foot freighters to pass between Lake Superior and the lower lakes.  They kept his name on it. 🙂

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The view from the top is outstanding!  The original 3rd order Fresnel lens is still in use.

While we were at the top of the tower, we asked a local woman about the ships pictured above.  Brunswick is home to a huge port that deals with ‘roll off-roll on’ cargo, in other words…vehicles.

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This is a screenshot of the port from Google Maps.  The five rows in the area circled in red contains over 3000 cars and trucks.  Considering all the other vehicles in the lots, there has to be well over 50,000 of them there!  We saw several of those ships coming and going while we were in Brunswick, so they must really employ a lot of people to move those cars.

On Saturday, we made our way to Jekyll Island for a bike ride.  We had scoped it out on Thursday evening, and we found the paths on the island to be favorable for our TerraTrikes.

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That day, we visited Driftwood Beach.  In the photo, I am looking across the water at St. Simons lighthouse.

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We also toured the historic district that was established in the late 1800’s.  The Jekyll Island Club attracted the wealthy elite; names like Rockefeller, Morgan, and Vanderbilt.

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Here is the Rockefeller ‘cottage’.  🙂

So on our return trip, we set out to circle most of the island.

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We rode through the historic district…

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…over the marshes…

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…and along the seashore.  It was good to be back on the trikes!

That wraps up our time in Brunswick.  Our next destination is Savannah, but not before a quick stop to see a good friend.  Stay tuned for that adventure!  Until then, safe travels to all.

 

 

 

The ‘To Do’ List

Every fulltime RVer accumulates a list of things that need to be done around their rigs, in hopes of finding a place that they are sitting still long enough to do them.  For us, Florida ends up being our place where we are able to get things done.  The weather in Melbourne Beach is favorable from November through March, and we have plenty of stores in the area to pick up needed supplies.  We usually write our items that need to be done on a 5″ x 8″ lined notepad as we travel, but it quickly became apparent last year that we needed to transfer that to a legal pad.  Granted, the list included clerical items like taxes and budget, most were little things that had either cropped up, were general maintenance,  or that we wanted to upgrade.  The ‘to do’ list grew to 61 items by the time I finished up at UPS after New Years Day.  Clearly, it was time to focus!

A couple of the items on the list were to have the transmission filters and fluid changed in both vehicles.  After we had the truck serviced, we scratched 4 items off the list by simply buying Edsel 2, our new Escape.  (Wash, Wax, Transmission filter, Oil)  Wow…that was easy!  Other items were small jobs like giving our bearing buddies on our new axles a couple shots of grease and replacing the batteries in our tire pressure monitors on our valve stems.  Most jobs were small enough that we were able to do more than one a day.  With that being said, there were two exceptions to that this year.

The biggest job was waxing the rig.  This is an annual job that I prefer to do myself, as the Fiberglas on our 2007 fifth wheel requires the use of oxidation remover before waxing. If it isn’t done carefully, it can leave swirl marks and end up looking worse than if it had been left untouched.  Go ahead, call me persnickety….I will own that.

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As you can see in the photo above, there is a big difference in the part that is done and not done.  That is only the oxidation remover in that photo…no wax had been applied yet.

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Here it is after waxing.  Our neighbors needed sunglasses after that step was completed!  Needless to say, the waxing process was tackled over several days….

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…with trips to the beach interspersed in between.

The other major project we completed was something our neighbors Mark and Val had done two years ago. As you can well imagine, several months at the beach means several months of salt air wreaking havoc on any exposed metal.  Mark and Val leave their rig here year-round, so they really noticed the wear and tear.  They replaced every screw on their rig with stainless steel, and dabbed a shot of clear silicone in the hole before driving the new screw in.

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The white painted screw heads were rusting, and even the threads were beginning to rust on some of them.

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Six hundred screws and three days later, we finished that job!

Back before we went on the road, we had noticed that our black tank would leave an odor in the rig after we had driven all day.  We found a product at Camping World called  Cyclone RV Plumbing Vent, which swivels with the wind and draws the odors out through the vent on the roof.  It worked wonders on the black tank.  We had also noticed a similar problem with our bathroom grey tank, so we purchased an additional Cyclone for that vent also.

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Even sitting still, we’ve noticed a big difference.

Another little upgrade we did was to replace our CH751 locks on our compartments.  Most every rig before the advent of slam latches used the same lock, meaning anyone that wanted to could get into our trunks with their CH751 key.

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A few years ago, Howard and Linda Payne from RV-Dreams replaced theirs with uniquely keyed locks.

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I contacted Howard and asked if they were still happy with them and who the supplier was.  He told me the company was called Industrial Lock and Hardware and that they were very satisfied with their locks.  We purchased enough of them from ILH to secure our big compartments.  While not making the door completely theft-proof, the new locks at least keep the honest thieves honest. 🙂

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‘Who are you talking about ….ME???’

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‘Well, he certainly wasn’t referring to me!’

We are currently at 42 of 61 items complete.  Most things will be finished before we leave at the end of the month, but a couple of them can wait until later.  It never hurts to have a few items on there to give the pad of paper a purpose.  😉

When is it that you find the time to tackle your ‘to do’ list?  Any cool upgrades that you’ve done this past year? We would love to hear about it!

 

Golf Cart Delivery – The Scoop

A few posts ago, I mentioned that UPS had taken me on as a seasonal delivery driver.  You may recall that I use a golf cart to distribute packages that are brought to a central pod that is located on the edge of my route.  Today I am going to detail the job as it has unfolded, as some of you may be considering doing this in the future as a way to bring in some holiday cash.

On the surface, driving around a gated community on a golf cart and bringing parcels to homes sounds easy, right?  Well, for the most part, it is…

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…except when you are zipping along at 20 mph on a 50 degree rainy day.

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On days like this, I am reminded of the U.S. Postal Service motto:

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

That motto applies to UPS and FedEx also.  But most days are sunny and warm here in Florida, and weather has not been a major factor.  What has been interesting is the reactionary nature of this business.  By that, I mean that UPS has to react to whatever is thrown at them, which means that they need to be flexible.  That ability to switch gears at a moment’s notice occurs at all levels of the company, including my job.

When I started out, they had me deliver packages from my pod only, which is designated by a three letter code.  (For security purposes, the codes I use are not the real codes.)  My pod is ABC and the pod next to mine is AB-2.  I would deliver my packages and finish up by around 1 PM, depending on the day.  On a weekday, a route is somewhere in the vicinity of 85 stops, with some houses getting multiple packages.  The package count is right around 130. AB-2’s driver also works nights at the terminal, so he shows up at noon.  If he has a lot of deliveries and requests the help, I can log onto his manifest and help him out.  That has worked extremely well.  On occasion, I’ll get a call from either my trainer or the terminal, requesting me to go to another pod after I’ve finished mine.  I’ve always accepted the challenge, as the variety keeps it interesting.  The first time I did this, I was beachside (as in, I was on the barrier island, instead of the mainland where ABC is located).  The neighborhood was not gated, and could best be described as ‘beach funky’.  The previous driver had quit. Coming in cold without knowing the neighborhood wasn’t a huge problem, as it was 5 east/west streets with 7 cul-de-sacs descending off of the southern road.  We will call this pod BCD.  There is a GPS map feature on the phone they gave me to use…which works well…but I also like to print myself a map for quicker reference. That way, I can pre-sort my packages into the order I am going to deliver them.  That is actually faster than fumbling with the phone on the route, as we are told to put the phone down when the cart is moving.  Going to a new route mid-day doesn’t allow me to print that map, but I have learned to print one if I know I’m going ahead of time. Also, my friend Rod taught me an invaluable trick that he used last year.  With all of the writing on a label, it is sometimes hard to find the address quickly.  What he did was to write the address on the top of the box with a Sharpie, using the first two letters from the street.  For example:  2180 Maple Street would be written as ‘2180 MA’.  That makes finding the correct box a breeze, especially when you are peering under a tarp in the rain.

Pod stacks
Approximately 50 stops worth of parcels.

On Saturday, December 2, they had us come in to deliver any parcels that were in the pipeline for Monday.  That amounted to two cart-and-trailers worth of stuff for ABC (around 30 stops), and I was done in less than two hours. AB-2’s driver texted me and asked what his pod looked like, so I stated it was light….25 stops.  He asked if I would run it for him…which I agreed to, just to make my trip to the pod worth it.  I finished his and then got a call from my trainer, asking if I would go to another pod (CDE), as the person working there also quit on them.

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CDE was a really nice neighborhood.   The homes were older than ABC’s and the community wasn’t gated.  Also, the landscaping was more established, offering me plenty of welcomed shade.  The downside was, it was a huge route with 55 stops…a LOT for a Saturday.  The roads were twisty-turny, and there were a lot of small cul-de-sacs interspersed throughout.  Remember, I came in cold without a map.  Luckily, the cart was extremely fast, as someone must have removed the governor.  About 4:30, I received a call from the terminal asking if I was going to get the job done…as I think they lose a lot of people at the end of the day.  “Don’t worry, I’ve got this!” I said.  The last package was delivered as the sun hit the horizon.  🙂  I ended up logging 7.25 hours that day…which is all time-and-a-half, regardless of how many hours you have during the week.

This last week, I returned to BCD on Tuesday, then was sent to another new route, DEF.  That route required patience.  Again, a person had quit…and this time, I sympathized with them.  The neighborhood was decent, but it involved a busy two lane connector road with no cart path…and it was under construction.  The pod door was facing south, and it was 85 degrees.  Needless to say, sorting was a cooker!  Also, it was located at the back of an apartment complex in a storage area, so it was not very convenient.  While the cart was fast like CDE’s, it had a major issue getting started.  Every time I pushed on the gas to take off, it would squeal for 10 seconds before the engine would start and I could begin to move.  That cut into my time a lot.  I informed the terminal and they sent a driver out to take some of the work off my hands, but there wasn’t any way of fixing the cart yet that day.  To be fair, if the cart would have worked well and the connector road had been fully opened, the route would have been somewhat decent.  I even stopped for a minute to compliment one of the homeowners on her landscaping, which she was busy draping Christmas light on.  After all, I was getting paid to ride around on a golf cart. 🙂  As far as all the folks quitting; I guess they would rather receive packages than deliver them!

On Wednesday, the terminal texted me before work and asked me to start at BCD, then head over to ABC.  10 minutes later, they switched me from BCD to a new route, EFG.  This route could be best described as ‘funky…without the beach’.  Luckily, I was still at home, so I printed a map.  I got there and saw I only had 45 stops…which for a weekday, was very light.  I sorted the pod, loaded the first run and took off.  Two stops into the run, my trainer called and said they had a glut of drivers that day, and that I needed to take the cart back to the pod and let someone else complete it.  So that is what I did.  I went to my ABC pod and completed that in my normal amount of time and called it a day.  Of course, my rate of packages was really low for the amount of time I was clocked in, so I was called on it by the afternoon dispatch.  I explained what happened, and that whoever was fortunate enough to run EFG, probably had a great rate, as I had completely sorted it for them.  Once dispatch realized what had happened, she breathed a sigh of relief.  🙂

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Since then, there has been enough drivers to cover all the routes.  The driver at AB-2 and me have been doing our trade-offs, but that’s been it.  I get to enjoy the Christmas decorations on the ABC route and….

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…the wildlife!  These two Sandhill cranes were standing a few feet from where I needed to walk, so I calmly talked to them and they let me pass by.  🙂

A few other things I wanted to mention:

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Amazon boxes hold up extremely well, while…

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…a particular competitor’s boxes do not.  I see it time and again.  The competitor uses much lower quality cardboard and tape.  Also, delivering packages is a dirty job.  By the time those pretty boxes come from the packers at Amazon and make their way to Florida, they’ve picked up a fair amount of dirt, which transfers to me and my clothes.  In addition, some of these boxes are quite heavy.  I delivered a Schwinn Airdyne and a Total Gym, both of which were too heavy to lift.  I slid them to the edge of the pod and tipped them into my trailer, then reversed the process at the home.  My hands and low back definitely let me know they are hurting after a day’s worth of deliveries.

So there you have a rough idea of what’s involved in my fun little job with UPS.  Will I do it again?  Most definitely.  Any job I’ve ever done has had its pitfalls, and this one has had a few of its own.  But the people I am working with are dedicated and very nice, and like I said two posts ago, the people receiving the parcels are happy to see me at their door.  That makes for a very fun day, indeed.  🙂

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