PERMISSION GRANTED

Writers Hours today assembled an eclectic collection from our Prose Banks, those random thoughts that wake you up at 3AM, and if you don’t write them down quickly, they hide back in the recesses of your memory to await another early morning. They are worth exploring, in my mind, as a never-ending source of self-enrichment. If you were looking for something else, you can skip to the end now. But if you want to see what’s percolating in the corners of our memory banks, read on!

In the Permission Granted corner: Our building permit is finally in process for approval! It was applied for on July 2, and as of July 8 has received 50% of the signoffs needed. We are crossing all our fingers and toes (see the separate comments on Pointy Things nearby) that a shovel will turn some dirt in the next 2-4 weeks, and that we might cross our new front doorstep early next year.

In the Pointy Things corner: Living in an RV, which is basically a small box on wheels, has many challenges. You adapt over time to these, like learning how to conserve a relatively small fresh water supply, or 2 people showering with a 6-gallon hot water heater. I have had a particularly hard time adapting to the Pointy Things challenge. No, there aren’t knives and spears randomly placed around the rig to stick and stab me, I speak of the pointy things on my person: toes, fingers, knees, elbows, knuckles and such. These will find any hard surface or sharp edge when they are flung around with abandon in a tight space. I find it valuable to spend more time focusing on Mindfulness, to grant me the increased concentration to know where these pointy things are at any time, and what they might meet as I pass through a door or turn around. It’s a process that requires patience. Wendy will add a little more to this a little later.

In the I-Saw-It-On-The-News corner: While I was initially dismayed and head-scratching-befuddled by Vice President Kamala Harris’ word salad speeches, I find myself increasingly entertained and amazed by them. Wendy and I play Wordle as a team sport with my sister Mary and a few other partners, sharing a common first word and then comparing our success in divining the answer. It’s fun, but it is only a single daily game. To stretch us a little farther, I propose a new game: WordleSalad. Madam VP’s best effort of the week is presented in raw form, and you have 6 tries to guess the meaning.

In the Current Events corner: I think Elon Musk is a very interesting person. He and I share a fascination with space, so I pay attention to his words and actions to see if there are lessons to glean from them. With his latest maneuvers on Twitter, he is either bailing on yet another pursuit of a gargantuan passion (not something he has a history of doing) or is playing possum in order to get a better deal (something I can easily see him doing). My lesson from all of this: I’m not a Twitter shareholder and I don’t think I can lose here. I thank him greatly for both the entertainment of observing this whole catfight from the beginning, and any outcome of it. If, by throwing Twitter on the ash heap of hyperbole and hypocrisy, he tanks it and it goes away, he has done a service to humanity by removing at least one carnivorous social media app from the planet. If he prevails and tames the Tasmanian Devil of censorship to provide humanity with a true Town Square of Free Speech, bravo!

What, me worry?

In the Philosophical corner: On Tuesday July 12, we will get the first images from the Webb Space Telescope. I’m very excited about this. I see this newest orbital gadget as a metaphor for spirituality. Webb, much more powerful than Hubble with advanced technology and innovation, can peer far back into time (and Einstein would say therefore into the future) to the origins of the Universe, to see physical things that we humans have only imagined through the lens of faith. Religion and science, for as long as mankind has roamed the Earth, have related and conjectured our becoming. The images from Webb will further cement the reality that we are mere atoms, albeit highly privileged atoms, in a vast Universe. Our privilege derives not from class, or race, or anything other than our single shared trait: we are humans and share whatever history or future Webb displays to us. If the soundtrack from “2001: A Space Odyssey” has started playing in your head, you are where I’m at.

There are no words for what is coming

In the Horticulture-As-Family corner: When we set sail from Washington in May, moving our household goods and even our vehicles was a straightforward process. It was a lot of work, but virtually all of it was ordered over the phone or internet. The tricky part was what to do with our houseplants. They are fragile and can’t go in the moving van. We can’t use USPS Priority Mail to send them. Fedex didn’t seem like an option. We solved the problem by upgrading our flat pickup bed cover (thanks Undercover, you’ve been swell, but we’re dating someone else now) to a new Bestop convertible soft bed canopy.

And all the sides zip open for easy access!

Convertible because it can fold down, but also tall enough to allow us to put all the plants including our Avocado tree, our Money Tree (not a literal $$ tree, just a species), and our family heirloom, the Vineyard, in the back so they can travel with us. Of all of them, the Vineyard is Family, and the one we wanted most to survive, and for a specific reason (wait for it).

Way back in the 20th Century Wendy and I liked to tour the Napa vineyards and wineries in our RV as a weekend getaway. One of these trips brought us to Summit Lake Vineyards, situated high in the hills above Napa Valley. On what was otherwise a busy Saturday down in the flats, this off-the-beaten-track location just doesn’t get a lot of visitors. We wandered into the wine barn, all alone, and were eventually joined by one of the owners (a family) who informed us that the man of the house had just returned from a trip to the coast, and they were in the process of preparing dinner with his catch, abalone. Would we like to join? As a note to the reader: I will N E V E R turn down a fresh abalone fry. Full stop. Of course we joined! They were delightful people, sharing their delish dinner and a few bottles of their home brew with us. But they saved the best for last. They had, just that week, re-planted some acreage with “starts” of Petite Verdot, a deep red varietal. They had 3 lonely little vines left over in small plastic pots and they offered us one as a gift. We have been hauling that little soldier around for the last 20+ years from house to house, and even from house to RV and back to house. It has grown over the years, going dormant in the winter when it gets a severe pruning back to it’s sturdy main stalk, only to burst forth in the spring with new vining arms and always a small crop of premium grapes. We swear you can watch it grow once it starts anew each year. We refer to it as our Vineyard, or “The V”, because it’s only a single vine, right?

This year was a very cold and long spring in Washington, and the V stayed dormant much longer than ever before. By the time we left in mid-May, only a few small sprouts had emerged. Our weather and “climate” didn’t really improve until we headed south through Colorado, and that’s when the V woke up. By the time we got to our current camp, we had some 2-foot-long vines ready to spread their wings, and true to form the V has responded very vigorously to the super warm and humid days here. Our timing on the move into the new house might be perfect for our end game with the V. Our goal has always been to put this baby in some terra firma when we got a “forever home”, and a late winter planting will be perfect!

This blog is a team effort today, like a piano duet, from Wendy’s keyboard to you…

Within Warren’s theme of “a variety of things”, I couldn’t think of anything to write until I sat down at my sewing machine. My sewing machine is enormous and quite heavy. I didn’t want to pack it in the moving van because I was afraid it would get damaged, or worse, destroyed in the long journey. I found a place for it in the RV at the foot of the bed where it barely fit. After both of us banged our toes into it for the first couple of weeks, we finally started remembering it was there (see the previous reference to Pointy Things).

Most of you know I’m a “sew and sew”, that I sew…a lot. Creating and sewing keep me sane because, as many of you also know, I do not sit still very well. Since we arrived here at our temporary home 4 weeks ago, I have made two dresses, a pair of shorts, seat covers for our “Midget”, repaired several items and now I’m making a summer dress for Samara, who turns 7 in August. I am so grateful that we found a place for it even if it caused us a little pain. And pain does sometimes happen in tight quarters. For example, last week I was working at the kitchen sink and had left the bottom drawer open so I could return the scissors I was using. With my focus clearly on my project, I stepped back and fell backward, in slow motion, over the drawer. I had enough time to thankfully fall over the drawer and not on it. Still, it left a couple of scrapes and a bruise that have since healed. A tough lesson to learn but learn it I did, and it didn’t require any stitches. I was lucky this time. 

And, as always, Tippy has random thoughts too, although some he appears to have randomly borrowed.

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THE EAGLE HAS LANDED

The Peanut Gallery has been getting more and more belligerent about the last 2+ weeks of “dark space” where the blog used to be. Well, here we are again!

Our first official stop in The Free State of Florida. Do we look tired from the drive? As if we have to ask…

The last couple of weeks have been consumed with getting settled in our RV campsite (more on that in a bit), doing all the administrivia to become residents of Florida (drivers licenses, register to vote, re-register all the vehicles, critical address changes, finding doctors, etc.). We have the bulk of that under our belt now and are eagerly awaiting the announcement from our builder that permits have been issued and ground will be breaking. We are deep into the original time window they gave us when we signed our building contract of 6-9 months to start but they have told us the start is imminent, and we might still finish in the original window of 12-14 months. Stay tuned for an announcement on that!

We have also been indulging in retirement. This is a time when you can finally stop to smell the roses (although there aren’t any around us), watch the world go by (or at least the cars and trucks barreling down the highway adjacent to the campground), and finally getting around to all those things you never seemed to have time for, like picking the lint out of the Velcro on your cargo shorts, or cleaning the grime off of your rear license plate. It’s important to savor the small pleasures of life, to better position yourself to manage the larger issues that pop up.

As previously noted, we witnessed ever-increasing levels of conservative politics almost from the moment we left the Seattle area, and the southerly slide into Florida has certainly followed that trend. The “I Did That” stickers are ubiquitous in nearly every gas station here, and people are very vocal about the price of gas and groceries.

Obviously taken before many more price hikes.

I acquired a tee shirt a couple of years ago that blares “Defund the Media” boldly on the front.

The s**t-eating grin really has nothing to do with the shirt.

It never drew comments near to the West Coast, but easily elicits at least 2-3 comments a day when wearing it here. I get the vibe that Ron DeSantis will have no problem getting his governorship ticket stamped again come November, and probably by a much larger margin than the 3% he won by four years ago. That will tell us all something.

We arrived in Florida on June 13, a sunny, very warm Monday. I made the reservation at 4 Lakes Campground in Hastings Florida several months ago, and because nobody vacations in Florida in the summer, I was offered a “Premium waterfront pull-through site” but opted for a standard back-in site that had several large shade trees and extra depth. We’re super glad we did because our stay here started at the beginning of an unusually long warm spell that saw daily temps in the 90’s. The shade has helped us to beat the heat without our air conditioner running non-stop. In anticipation of some more moderate days and evenings, we put up a screened cover over the picnic table and installed a box fan and a couple of camp chairs in our “back yard”. We have been adopted by Mr. Squirrel, who likely lives above us in the trees, and who loves to hang around, literally, looking in the back window of the rig.

We had Wendy’s Jeep shipped via transport a few days before we left, and 10 days later it was delivered to family (Hi Donna, Glen, Daniel and Kristen!) down south in Cocoa. The day after our arrival we drove the hour-and-a-half south to visit them and pick up her car. We brought our grandson, Daniel, a gift from Devil’s Tower (prairie dog capital of the world), a Lego prairie dog model, and he wasted no time in dumping it out on the floor and starting to build. We got to visiting and chatting and forgot all about it until he came to present his finished Prairie Dog. He has quite an imagination and is also a H_U_G_E Thomas the Train fan, so to everyone’s surprise the prairie dog had evolved into something else. Can you guess?

4 Lakes Campground is only a few years old and so has excellent infrastructure like 50-amp electrical, good water pressure, robust Wi-Fi and spaced-out sites to provide a little privacy. The downside is the distance to anything. We’re out in the country, 8 miles from the Interstate (and nearest T-Mobile cell tower), and about 14 miles from our build site. It’s close enough that we can make frequent trips to monitor the progress once it starts, but not quite “in town”. We plan an activity each day to keep us occupied, something that Grandma Wendy requires to keep her sanity. But one activity does not a day make, so we found other ways to occupy the remaining hours. We know we will have many hours to occupy before we get consumed with moving into the new house. You are reading the product of one of those efforts. We also raided our storage unit to extract her sewing machine, and she has already made a new sun dress and some shorts. Other grandkids will get some of her famous “Critter Stuffies”. I think if I stand still long enough, she will hang a new shirt on me.

We have faithfully kept to our Rock Project, wherein we paint and inscribe a pair of stones (one each) with an appropriate short quotation and illustration each day for 100 days. One of the pair will be deposited near to that day’s destination, the twin will be put into storage and eventually be placed in a garden at our new house to remind us of the steps in our journey. This project reaches the halfway point on July 4th we are happy to report. We have used quotations from luminaries as varied as Albert Einstein and Winnie the Pooh. Here is a short installment:

Our antique car, the MG Midget, couldn’t be shipped like Wendy’s car. Of course, it could go on a transport carrier like the Jeep, but because it’s old, British, and finicky, it couldn’t be received by just anyone. Plus, it’s a convertible and shouldn’t be stored outside where it can be ravaged by the afternoon thunderstorms of the Florida rainy season otherwise known as Summer.

One of my favorite Little British Car memes: “If there’s no oil under it, there’s no oil in it!” Because this is a family blog, I can’t print any of the memes about the Lucas electrical system.

We decided the best solution was to leave Eddie (temporarily) in Washington under the careful watch of our replacement Management Team, Debbie and Tommy. (As an aside: we previously named this little gem Eddie, a family tradition in naming inanimate things and occasionally animated things that defy any other naming convention. Eddie doesn’t have a defined gender or identity, although I have occasionally utilized “bitch” as a directive and Eddie uses the pronouns Life/Liberty/Pursuit of Happiness. I’m hoping this declaration isn’t perceived as pandering to a more non-traditional audience than I’m accustomed to. You’re welcome.) Then, on June 10th, we scheduled a transport to pick Eddie up (thanks Tommy for the assist!) and deliver 10 days later to us in Hastings at the campground. The transport driver, Alexy, is considerably larger than I am, and I barely fit into the driver’s seat, so it was entertaining for us to watch him squeeze himself behind the wheel and back down the ramp into the street. They don’t call it a Midget for nothing. Thank God Alexy has a sense of humor, and also that I had a fat wad of $100 bills waiting to give him when delivery was complete.

The video of Alexy is YouTube worthy. It ain’t called a Midget for nothin’. I don’t know much Russian, but I’m pretty sure some of the things he muttered aren’t fit to be translated for this blog.

We followed up the delivery with a 75-mile roundtrip to our favorite seafood restaurant, The Flagler Fish Company, and managed to escape any downpours before arriving safely back at camp. Following that we secured Eddie safely (and dryly) into storage with the rest of our stuff.

One of our favorite activities in any new spot is to scout out restaurants, and ice cream purveyors, both critical to our Pursuit of Happiness. On an excursion to the nearby town of Palatka, a historically significant agriculture port on the St. John’s River, we stumbled across Angel’s Diner, the oldest diner in Florida. We couldn’t resist, and I opted to dive into their Friday house special, Lou’s Famous Fried Chicken dinner. It was super yummy, as was the burger that Wendy had, and the chocolate milkshake we shared.

We previously showcased our newly acquired watercraft, Ginger and Mary Ann (see https://muddscape.com/2022/02/20/gilligan-and-the-twin-yachts/). We had, however, never actually wetted their bottoms (alright, alright, get your minds out of the gutter) prior to leaving on our trip. We discovered, on one of our daily explorations, the Princess Place Preserve. It is very near to our build site, free, and open every day to the public. It has evolved out of a very interesting history of this area into a state preserve full of hiking trails, historical displays, picnic areas, group camping, equestrian activities, and a very nice canoe and kayak launch on the edge of a very expansive estuary system that has formed at the confluence of Pellicer Creek and the Matanzas River Inlet. The preserve property is centered around a well-maintained summer residence of the wife of a Russian prince (hence the “Princess” title) who was quite the social fixture of St. Augustine in its early heyday.

The waters around the preserve teem with wildlife and are a joy to navigate with the new boats. More on the estuary in a bit.

I’ve been told by my better half that the heat might be getting to me. I ordered some sun protection as an experiment, and I’ll have to report back later on its effectiveness.

To better understand and explore the estuary, we signed onto a guided kayak tour with Ripple Effect Eco Tours (https://www.rippleeffectecotours.com) located adjacent to The Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience in Marineland Florida (not the Marineland you might be familiar with). The launch point for the tour is on the estuary, and our guide Sumo provided expert knowledge and direction for our 2 ½ hour tour through the many small streams and creeks that lace the area. The teeming wildlife display continued with sightings of feral pigs and what I’m sure was a small shark fin that briefly emerged a few feet from our tandem kayak. When asked, Sumo replied “Sure, why not?” Very reassuring, but also kind of cool. We learned a ton about the Mangroves (black and red), the different grasses that make the ecosystem possible, the vastness of the ancient 1-meter-thick coquina layer that underlies much of northwest Florida’s coastline, and because Sumo is also a career chemist, the richness of the different minerals and chemicals that make up the soil composition of the estuary and allow it to deliver a huge carbon-sequestration benefit to our planet. We give him 2 Thumbs Up and 5 Stars, our best recommendations.

Our next update will likely contain Breaking News about the house! So stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Tippy has found some appropriate wise words from Pooh.

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Final Pre-Floridian Fling

We finally hit the last stop before the finish line, Savannah Georgia. We stay 3 nights to give ourselves 2 full days, but without any plans. We have lots to do when we arrive in our temporary RV park/home in Hastings Florida, and this is a chance to rest up, have some fun, enjoy the local hospitality and food, and get another 20,000 steps on our exercise program. We were greeted by a cool-looking suspension bridge over the Savannah River that suddenly rose up out of the Low Country as we traveled south.

As we get deeper into the south, we have noticed a couple of standout things. First, there are churches literally everywhere. And signs telling you where churches are, as if you didn’t notice. We like to dig into the history of places, especially if it relates to early pioneers or the Civil War. Although it was primarily about slavery, religion played very heavily into the fabric of that era. Many churches (or more appropriately congregations) played key roles in aiding freemen (those who had gained their freedom by working off their debt to the people who brought them here) or escaped slaves to find shelter and safety. And that brings us to the other thing that stands out. Or more correctly, doesn’t stand out, it is conspicuous by its absence: The homeless.

Where are they? Where are the blue tarps, and the camp tents and shopping carts full of stuff and the piles of trash? For sure there is the odd person sleeping on a bench, or wandering around in a daze, but these are few and far between, nothing like we had seen in Seattle, Spokane, or Denver. Out of curiosity we have been taking a straw poll of folks we happen across, usually waiters or RV camp service staff, and they look at us funny when we ask, “Where are your homeless?” We had breakfast at a fabulous restaurant in Savannah called Two Cracked Eggs, a decidedly Christian establishment, and the answer given to us there came from a discussion on the local radio station that was playing. It seems like the local churches manage what small homelessness problem might exist. And that they are the primary reason why the problem, which has existed for decades, hasn’t become larger or unmanageable. Without any government intervention, the local congregations typically handle the housing, feeding, support services, and “kickstart” to get folks that have fallen out of a home (for any reason, but usually drugs) back on their feet and back into the community. It’s amazing but makes sense. The locals are the ones who best understand their local issues that drive homelessness and have the highest incentive to fixing it. So, apparently, it gets fixed on a regular, ongoing basis. Without a lot of taxes or apparently a lot of money at all. A lesson is there to be learned America.

In other news, it’s June in Savannah, and we were besieged by waves of bachelorettes in groups, many with matching or coordinating clothing, roaming the streets of Savannah in various states of party or inebriation. BRIDE sashes were on display and merriment was the word of the day. Savannah must be a huge destination for weddings, indeed there have been 2 at our campground (a barn wedding destination) in 2 days. And I imagine the pent-up demand from 2 years of delays due to Covid have probably packed the calendar this year. The Party Bus businesses in town are really banking it.

There was also a raucous protest parade in the downtown shopping district, with about 3 dozen marchers with signs and American flags, matching slogan t-shirts, and loud bullhorns chanting “USA, USA” and “Shame on You, Shame on You” in alternating cadence. They were protesting about fatherless homes, and specifically addressing deadbeat dads. I didn’t see them exactly protesting AT any deadbeat dads, but I liked the sentiment. Perhaps another lesson for America is available here.

Once we figured out their protest, it was kind of nice!

We also met Charlie the Shrimp King. Or rather, he met us. Charlie has a shrimping boat on Tybee Island just east of Savannah and sells his catch out of the back of his pickup truck. Our RV campground here, which is really a 200-acre farm with several businesses on it, is one of his favorite sales territories. He’s a “praise the lord” kind of guy. He sells big fat jumbo prawns that were wild caught. We bought a couple of pounds and made a very nice dinner out of half of them. The other half is in the freezer awaiting their future fate.

Jumbo and yummy, fresh caught white prawns. Sauteed with a little pasta and a salad, boom! Heaven.

We also ran smack dab into the middle of the Savannah Farmer’s Market, which takes over about half of Forsyth Park. Savannah’s downtown has so many greenspace parks that you can see at least 2 other ones from each of them. We walked about 4 miles Saturday morning and walked through at least 10 of them if you count the few we walked through twice. And we didn’t walk through them all. I felt bad for the half dozen stands selling local coffee because it was already in the high 80’s and quite humid by 10AM. We also saw several examples of Civil War statuary. Apparently they don’t tear down their history around here.

The Civil War era statues were all of people who were born or died in Savannah, and are frequently entombed beneath. Maybe that’s how they keep the statues standing?

In other Breaking News: Georgia must hold the record for Amber Alerts. Since we arrived Friday night, there have been at least 6 by Saturday afternoon, and there were 3 more Sunday morning. We had the 10th one coming home from the beach at Tybee Island on Sunday afternoon. A few were repeats, but I don’t think I’ve had a total of 10 Amber Alerts in my life, much less 10 in 2 days.

There don’t appear to be a lot of Jews in Savannah. There are, like other southern towns and cities, churches on every corner, and sometimes in the middle of the block. But in Savannah, only one synagogue, Mickve Israel. While it isn’t unusual to have a temple in a town, it is very unusual that it would rival any of the churches in stature. The Jews, however, played a very instrumental role in the development and survival of early Savannah. Shortly after its founding, the local Catholics found themselves struggling to survive the rigors of growing a new city amid the humid climate and the hostile natives. Medical issues abounded and would have done in the early population were it not for the small cadre of Jews, all doctors, that came to their rescue. For this mitzvah, they were granted significant rights of township and license, and the Jewish population descended from this act of humanity thrives to this day in an obvious harmony with all the other history of this place. America, are you listening yet?

Did I mention that it was nearly 90 degrees at 10AM? When my internal thermometer starts to read a little high, I like to turn to ice cream as my preferred cooler. We found a small shop, Locally Made, that had not only very good ice cream, but the coolest counter I’ve seen yet.

For having no plans, we managed to make Saturday a very busy day. So, on Sunday, we rested. At the beach. Tybee North Beach on Tybee Island just east of Savannah. It was warmer on Sunday than Saturday, but the beach is right on the Atlantic, and the breezes that blew were cooling and comfortable.

We got there shortly after 9 and it was already crowded.

We wound up our beach relaxation with a crab boil lunch at the Crab Shack, an area favorite that is extremely casual (I didn’t even change out of swimsuit or tank top) and has great food. We got a platter of goodies, and ate the whole thing: corn, potatoes, sausage, crawdads, snow crab, shrimp and mussels. They even have a gator pond so you can see what your backyard might potentially look like if you are moving to Florida.

On our last day as Pre-Floridians, we are excited to get to our new home and get started on getting settled. There is a lot to do, and we already have 2 trips away planned, so stay tuned! We break ground pretty soon!

Tippy is feeling a bit more full-blown-hippie, like me after my 5 weeks without a haircut or shaving.

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THE MUDDURBAN TRAIL

Asheville North Carolina became a waystation for a 2-night rest-up because there are 2 things there we were interested to see, the Biltmore Estate and The Asheville Urban Trail. Both are rich in history. We know for a fact that one actually exists; we cannot say for sure the other is anything more than urban myth.

We stayed 2 nights at Wilson’s Riverfront RV, a very small RV camp that fronts the French Broad River. It wasn’t apparent that the woman this river is named after was either French or a broad, and besides I thought it impolite to hang that old-school description on her. Full disclosure: I may be somewhat misinformed about the origin of the namesake of this particular body of water.

The view from our site. That’s the Biltmore Estate across the river.

The campground was very nice except for 2 anomalies: it is located midway between 2 interstates, thus a fair amount of road noise seeps in; although it is easy to drive FROM, it isn’t easy to drive TO when transiting back and forth to the city itself. This is due to the fact that the entrance to the campground is at the foot of an offramp, and if you can’t stomach the high-speed Evel Knevel U-turn at the bottom of the ramp into the driveway, you have to drive past and make the U-turn farther down the road. In any event, our GPS navigation on our phones was very happy to find a short way out of the park and into the city, but not so smart about finding a short way back. It always routed us back to the Interstate to make another aircraft carrier landing back into the driveway, even though there is a much tamer way to do it.

There is one more nice thing about the campground, it’s adjacent to the French Broad River Greenbelt walk, in fact the walk goes right through the center of the campground, right down the middle of the drive. It’s a very lovely 1 mile each-way walk to Hominy Creek Park and back. Spoiler alert: we added a piece of it to our MuddUrban Trail (details to follow).

First up was the Biltmore Estate. Because the directions to the entrance aren’t all that clear, and our tickets for the estate tour had a specific arrival time of 9:30AM, we went early to make sure we didn’t miss a window of opportunity. This worked out very well for us! The advertised opening time for the entrance gate to the 8000-acre estate is 9AM, and the website advised us to arrive early to make sure we would have time to drive several miles inside the estate to the house tour location, park, and then walk another distance to the actual tour start. We left the trailer at 8AM, arrived at the entrance gate at 8:13AM, and they had just swung it open early for some reason.

The 2 cars in front of got turned away because they didn’t have tickets. We early birds were first in.

They scanned our tickets and let us in, and we arrived at the parking a few minutes later. We walked from the parking to the tour entrance security shack (where we got scanned for the first of 3 times) in another couple of minutes and found ourselves on the estate property before anyone else except employees. Just like Carlsbad Caverns, we had the place to ourselves.

Walking in to the estate house. Note the lack of people!

So, we cooled our jets walking the very extensive gardens (there are 5, and they are very large) until we could queue up at the door to the massive house for our 9:30 AM start time. By then, a couple of hundred other guests had joined, but we still felt special.

The Italian Garden, one of 5, and The Conservatory

The house tour was impressive, and we highly advise that if you ever do this make sure to get the Audio Tour option. It would be wasted without the little device you hold to your ear to get the lowdown at each numbered feature. The tour itself is pricey, $94 each (audio tour included), but it’s the only time in our life we will do it, for sure. We did notice several couples that must have an annual pass who park in a different lot and just walk the dozens of miles of paths on the estate without going on the house tour. It’s such a beautiful place to walk.

One thing stood out during our time at the estate. I opted to wear one of my political statement t-shirts (mostly because it was on top of the stack) which reads “DEFUND THE MEDIA”, and this caught a lot of eyes. We almost couldn’t walk 50 yards without somebody commenting on it, in a positive way. This same shirt got a total of 3 such responses in the 3 prior weeks, and all of a sudden, every tourist in Asheville thinks it poignant. It certainly is a conversation starter.

Taken on The Veranda, those are the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background.

After the roughly 2-hour tour, we popped over to the Stable House and enjoyed an ice cream, then took a long leisurely drive around the estate back to the exit and onto the Interstate for another carrier landing shot at the RV Park. We rested for an hour or so and headed for the city proper to check out the Urban Trail and some lunch.

Our GPS and the Asheville website took us exactly to the “First Stop” of the Asheville Urban Trail, which featured a brass plaque affixed in brickwork. Except it doesn’t exist, at least as far as we could see. We found, at that exact spot, a small square (Pack Square) where there apparently used to be a Civil War statue that was found to be objectionable by the city council 2 years ago. The monument celebrated a war general (not sure whether he was Union or Confederate) that apparently was a slave owner, so they tore it down and removed the commemoration plaque. We think this also did the First Stop of the Urban Trail in, and it was key because it also gave you instructions on how to find the Second Stop, and so on down the line. Without that key guidance we couldn’t navigate to the next stop, so we decided to strike out on our own (pioneers we are!) and started the MuddUrban Trail. And we didn’t confine our scope to the city core either. Our First Stop was way back on the French Broad River Greenbelt path, midway between Wilson’s Riverfront RV and Hominy Creek River Park. There’s no guarantee that this feature will be here for any substantial period of time, but when it finally comes down everyone in the United States will be made aware of it, because it’s part of the support structure for Interstate 40 directly above it.

Interstate 40 is just above. We agreed we would never drive over this when we saw it, but not 12 hours later our GPS put us right on it.

Next stop on the MuddUrban Trail is Chicken Alley. We have no idea how this name got applied (note the plethora of dead chickens hanging), but the mural earned it a spot on our roster.

The chickens all look down the alley (well not the dead ones), but we have no idea what they are looking at (or for). Note the maniacal woman to the right.

In fairness, each of our highlight spots won’t provide any navigation to the next, you will literally need to have a printout of this blog to have even a slim chance of traveling this trail.

Our next feature is Gnome Row. Along one of the streets leading away from Chicken Alley, some witty local has fashioned a bunch of small facades on bare spots of the building wall, giving the impression of a block of gnomish brownstones.

In a nod to the richness of agricultural history, our next stop features a couple of pigs. Editor’s note: the pig wearing the t-shirt isn’t actually a part of the local agricultural history.

Do I make these pigs look fat? I was going to saddle up on the big one, not realizing how hot the midday sun makes solid brass. The boys weren’t happy.

Showcasing entertainment, Wendy introduces us to our next stop, the Dancing Brass.

Shake it up Momma!

In a plug for the religious cultural past (and very likely present) of Asheville, our next stop is the St. Lawrence Basilica, a Catholic construction from the late 1800’s that was not only beautiful inside, but cool as well with some impressive air conditioning.

Very exquisite in its detail, the altar commands the room.
This panorama gives you a feel for the size.

Sharing the only actual Urban Trail marker we saw is our next stop, a plaque commemorating the architect of the St. Lawrence Basilica, Rafael Guastavino.

We literally stumbled across the Actual Urban Trail marker, and decided to adopt it into the MuddUrban Trail.

By now having worked up one heck of an appetite (11,000 steps for the day and counting), we add our last stop on the MuddUrban Trail, Mountain Madre, found almost by chance in a back alley, and serving fabulous Central American cuisine where we dined ala patio.

Mountain Madre serves up super yummy Central American and Southern Mexican fare.

While we couldn’t easily find it, I’m sure the Urban Trail exists. After all, we did find a marker, even if purely by accident. But you don’t need a formal trail to have fun exploring any city. You need good walking shoes, and an adventurous spirit. And water. Plenty of water.

Tippy is a big believer in remembering the past so you don’t repeat the mistakes.

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HONKEYTONK HIGHWAY

Our first ever visit to Nashville coincided with, unplanned, preparations for CMA Fest, the largest gathering of country music stars and fans on the planet. We spent 3 nights in Nashville in order to have 2 full days to explore, again signing up for a walking tour of historical and interesting sights. Given a few days in any new city, we always try to opt for a walking tour on the first day to hopefully scope out things we want to spend more time exploring on subsequent days. But this time we didn’t book early enough and could only garner a spot on the second day. So, we had the first day to explore on our own.

We imagined Nashville might have some of the same qualities as Memphis, both being southern towns heavily influenced by music and barbeque. Boy, were we wrong. Maybe it was just all the hoopla and preparations for CMA Fest, because the entire waterfront along the Cumberland River was fenced off, almost all the public squares in town were fenced off, large trucks blocked entire city blocks in the central core of downtown, all unloading pallets and cases of equipment, bleachers, portable stages, food equipment, and even portable gift shops. And even though it was a Monday, the streets were packed with redneck tourists decked out in cowboy hats, short-shorts and boots. Yeehaw! I felt like I’d been dropped into a remake of Urban Cowboy and could only ponder to myself “look at all this loose money just walking around!”. PT Barnum would’ve gone nuts. We had to go to 3 different Starbucks to get our chosen flavor of Frappuccino, Green Tea. And the cowboys (and girls, and kids, and babies) were lined up 3 deep to order. And, to boot (pun intended), they ran ½ out of our favorite flavor and had to blend with another to deliver. Sheesh!

 We parked at the Nashville Farmer’s Market, open 7 days a week all year, only to find out that not all of it is open 7 days a week. Actually, a very small portion of it is open 7 days a week, and that’s mostly prepared food. But the parking was free, even if it was ½ mile northwest of downtown. We did a self-unguided tour on foot, meaning we didn’t have any direction to go or destinations to reach, we just walked.

Nashville has 2 prime tourist areas, Broadway and The Gulch. Broadway bisects downtown, leading straight away from the river, and The Gulch lies southeast of downtown about ½ mile or so. We didn’t make it to The Gulch, but it wasn’t very hard to find Broadway. When you get within a city block of it, the ambient sound level starts to climb. At first, the traffic noise picks up, amplified by tour buses, trucks, cars seeking parking, and dozens of “golf cart tours”, gas powered 6 and 8 seat golf carts stuffed full of tourists with a bullhorn blaring driver roaring out the significance of each establishment they scoot by. Closer in you start to hear the honkeytonks, live music bars already cranked up to 300 decibels with all their street-side windows open and going like gangbusters at 10AM. On a Monday. I kid you not. It was surreal, and deafening. We’re not big “club people” mostly because we don’t drink, and I wear hearing aids and there wasn’t a setting I could find that could deal with the din. We walked on, and on, and on because the honkeytonks are stacked shoulder-to-shoulder for about a mile along Broadway, starting with Legends.

Walk around this corner onto Broadway, and the sound level goes up about 300 decibels

Kid Rock’s place (the same one he famously foul-mouthed Oprah and Joy Behar in a drunken rant in 2019), Blake Shelton’s Big Red bar, shadowed by Miranda Lambert’s new bar. Blake and Miranda, a big-time country couple, divorced and she decided to open a competing bar next door just to get under his skin. They both got into my ear drums, let me tell you!

We wandered and dodged folk for a couple of hours, and then decided we had enough. We popped into Jacks BBQ on Broadway (exquisitely good) and got a massive platter to take out, headed back to the truck, and made our way back to the quiet of the RV park, and the coolness of the pool. Monday was in the low 80’s, but with low humidity, and it wasn’t too uncomfortable walking our 10,000 steps. We even found a cool magnet to add to our collection. We thought the weather wasn’t unbearable, and that we would be fine for another 2-hour walk with the tour on Tuesday.

That was before the Monday night thunderstorm spectacular. Several hours of one storm after another, with huge booming thunder followed by a torrential downpour that gave a few more much needed baths to the trailer and truck. Behind that weather front came the humidity.

Those aren’t UFOs in the picture, they are reflected interior lights. The lightning is real, and very close. Very.

Tuesday morning, with the humidity in place, the temp ratcheted up another 8 degrees or so, and downtown Nashville started to feel like a sauna at 9AM. We had a big group of about 15 folks, and our tour guide Ryan corralled us all into a group and we set off. Ryan’s shirt didn’t start the tour out very dry, and within ½ hour it was all one color again, totally soaked.

Ryan, what a character. And the Southern Turf, after Skull was stabbed to death, is no longer a house of ill repute.

He didn’t seem to mind and pumped out the historical stories laced with humor like a tape recorder for 2 hours. Above he is giving us the rundown on Skull’s, an original building whose basement level had a wide variety of adult-only entertainment. Skull, a real guy, was best friends with many of the Mayors of Nashville over the years. Ryan is a very colorful guide, and our tour was highly interactive (he made us all sing Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” on one street corner). Did you know the Tennessee State House is the last state capitol building built by slave labor? Did you know there is a Greyhound Bus atop the Bobby Hotel? Did you guess it’s a bar? Do you know who Bobby is? Nobody does, it’s just a name they pulled out of a hat and threw in front of a focus group when they planned the hotel. The bus is cool, though.

Cranes got the bus to the top of the Bobby.

Johnny Cash is ubiquitous in Nashville. He has a museum (we didn’t go, it seemed too expensive) and next-door a bar and grill (also didn’t go), and his face is painted or postered all over the town. And there are countless venues, almost all in cavernous buildings, that either celebrate Music or Sports.

Giant arenas and venues, like the home of the Nashville Raptors hockey team, are everywhere!

One that was supposed to celebrate music is the new AT&T building, designed to look like a radio receiver but instead ended up looking like what it is now nicknamed: the Batman Building.

The tallest building in Tennessee, and still standing!

This is the very same building that some maniac tried to blow up with an RV full of explosives on Christmas morning in 2020 because he thought 5G cellular signals were spreading Covid. It didn’t dent the building but blew the hell out of all the historic buildings on the rest of the city block. And blew up the guy too, they never found all of him. They are still working on demolition and repairs. Well, I suppose he did much of the demolition, but the repairs are a different department.

Next up: Asheville North Carolina, the Biltmore Estate, and The Urban Trail.

In the first episode of the Ted Lasso series, brand new soccer coach Ted advises a player with a pronounced anger problem that goldfish are one of the happiest animals on earth because they have a 10 second memory. Tippy was impressed with his simple advice to turn an angry player into a star…

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BINGEING TED LASSO

I’ve posted a few times how surprised and delighted we are at the very widespread availability of 5G cellular signals across our path, even in the vast central “outback” of our great country. We both have 5G capable iPhones and use T-Mobile as our cellular provider, and this has proven to be the highest value RV accessory we own. It has given us some freedom from notoriously crappy RV campground WiFi systems, letting us instead connect our devices to our phone hotspots. We have 3 such devices, 2 laptops and our Vizio smart TV. When we bought the rig in 2018, I immediately replaced the “stupid” Furrion TV that the rig came with (I’m sure at exorbitant expense, because it’s made for an RV) with a $250 42” smart one. It has built-in apps that are WiFi dependent, and the 5G with hotspot has made it very useful. I added in the YouTube TV app, and it’s like we never left home.

A couple of things collided with that scenario when we pulled into our campground in Nashville, the Nashville RV and Cabins Resort. First, we are sitting in the shade of a T-Mobile 5G tower, thus enjoying the pinnacle of cellular service. Second, I finally responded to the Vizio reminding me that I have a free trial of Apply TV+ pending and installed it. Why did I do that? I remembered that our daughter-in-law, Rachel had started watching the Apple TV+ created series Ted Lasso when it first came out (years ago by now) and suggested that it was something we would like very much.

As an American, he’s a better Brit than even he believes!

She was spot on. Since we pulled into Nashville on a Sunday, and many of the shows we watch don’t air on Sunday, we went looking for something to veg on after a dip in the pool and dinner. I clicked on the Ted Lasso icon, and there we sat for 5 episodes. I glanced twice out the window at our neighbor who was outside in the heat fiddling with his portable DishTV antenna, trying to perfect the signal capture, and thought, “how old school, why doesn’t that old fart get into the 21st century?”. This, of course, before realizing that I was probably older than him, and only happened on this happy slice of TV technology that we own because we have kids in a younger generation (duh, by default) that have clued me into it.

Wendy has been keeping a prose bank on RV Living, gathering thoughts on what it’s like to move into a box on wheels after living in a “stick house” for so long. Ladies and gents, Wendy’s Pearls of Wisdom!

RV LIVING from Wendy’s Prose Bank

There’s much talk in the media about going green and being good stewards of the earth so it will be available to our children and grandchildren. As RVers, we have many opportunities to put many of these words into actions.

While washing dishes I often think of how good it would be for everyone to experience RV living for a couple of weeks or longer. Efficient water usage is key throughout your rig: washing your hands, taking a shower, flushing the toilet, or washing dishes. We’re usually hooked up to a “city water” supply so we have all we need, but that water goes down the drains and fills our 30-gallon gray water tank and the 20-gallon black water (toilet) tank. You can’t just let the water run. We can empty it into the sewer most of the time but when you’re boondocking or there is no sewer hookup at your site, it presents a problem…usually a stinky one!

We practice water conservation by necessity in our rig. A small amount of water in a bowl and some dishwashing detergent serves to wash the dishes as we place them in the sink. Using a slow stream of water from the faucet we rinse the dishes and let them drain. Washing your hands requires a little water and soap, water off, soap up and rinse in a small stream of water. Showering is the same, wet yourself all over, soap up and rinse. These things could be done in your home, but it does take mindfulness and practice.

We live in a small space but there is a place for everything. Organizing helps so that you have the things you need on a regular basis easily available. We have storage under our bed and under the dining room seats to store the things we need for restocking our vitamins, extra TP, paper towels or other bulky items. Grocery shopping is always a challenge since freezer and fridge space is precious. We shop only after we have freed up space and have room for more eggs, lunch meat, cheese or veggies and fruit. We do have a basket of fruit that I stash in the sink as we travel so it stays put. With limited space for a wardrobe, you need to be selective and often wear something for more than a day.

 We have learned little tricks about living in a moving home through mishaps and through other RVers. Our roads have only gotten worse over the years with little of our national budget going to repairs. This trip has been like a roller coaster at times, especially in Colorado. Things tend to go flying around inside the trailer as we travel so they need to be stowed. Recently, we lost a couple of small Corelle dessert plates, which jumped out of an overhead cabinet on a rough stretch just south of Cheyenne. Thanks to our RVer friend, we got a quick and effective solution. A pillow is now stowed in the cabinet with an expandable pole to keep it in place. So far so good! A big shout out to Becky…thanks!

We use wall space by attaching small baskets of different sizes to keep at hand all the items we reach for every day. You would be surprised how many times a day I reach for a Ziploc bag.

Grab ‘n Go, tissue, ziplocs, notepads, even our daily rocks for painting

Other wall spaces, doors or corners make ideal spots to hang hats and coats, to organize your undies and socks, or put an expandable rod shelf system in for bathroom necessities.

And closet space is at a premium too. Organize for efficiency!

We installed wire shelves, a hanging shoe bag for clothes, and keep a small “pop on” LED light in there too

When we pack up and get ready to take off, I ready the inside as Warren empties the tanks, unhooks the electrical, water and sewer and hooks the truck to the trailer. I finish the breakfast dishes, put things away, like the coffee maker and toaster oven. I wipe things down, vacuum the floor, pull in the awning and the kitchen and sofa slides. Laptops and other heavy items go on the bed. I check to make sure the water heater is turned off (and lately that the Norcold fridge is switched over to 12V) and everything is secured. It’s a synchronized ballet as we hustle through our tasks and finish together.

We had some very boisterous thunderstorms today, and Tippy wants to remind you…

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4 SQUARES IN MEMPHIS (not what you think)

Since the last posts from Texarkana we’ve traveled on our last “single night” leg, a stretch of driving followed by just an overnight stay at an RV camp followed by another driving day. We only have 4 more RV camps left in our trip, and 3 of them are for 3 nights each. Much more camping, much less driving. Yay! We did make it to Duke’s truck stop for some barbeque just before departing Texas.

Do these cattle make me look thinner?

We are currently in West Memphis Arkansas staying right on the shores of The Mighty Mississippi River at Tom Sawyer’s RV Resort. This is perhaps the nicest place we’ve camped yet because of the spectacular views, the fabulous sunrises and sunsets, the absolute quiet at night (and even during the day), and the close proximity to downtown Memphis.

The sunrises were great. The sunsets were equally satisfying

There is always something pleasant about camping on the water. The river flowing by incessantly is mesmerizing, and we are constantly entertained by the traffic of river tugs pushing barges up or down the river. I had no clue as to the workings of the “barge rafts” that the tugs push and found online that they are allowed to push up to 42 at a time. Mind you, these are large steel floats, up to 200 feet long and 50 feet wide each, loaded with liquid (frequently petroleum) or solid (frequently coal, gravel or grain) products making their way to another distribution point in the supply chain. Wikipedia tells me that about 5 million tons of these products are pushed up or down the Mississippi River in a year. The campground provides a bid of a grandstand for this parade, with campers lining up along the shore to gawk at the largest of the rafts. One guy claims to have seen a 56-barge raft (seemingly illegal) that was “7 wide and 8 deep”, spotted at dusk making its way downstream. There isn’t a lot of drinking going on here in the campground, but there’s always that one guy.

More commonly, we have seen 35 and 40 barge rafts. It’s a fun section of the river with a sharp 90 degree turn at each end of our campground “straightaway”, and watching the tugs maneuver their gigantic loads into and out of the curves is entertaining. Yesterday we saw 2 rafts, one very large and one medium sized pass each other in a bend, and I speculated through my binoculars as to whether the large one would go aground trying to swing wide around the short one, who took the inside track. The river is medium-wide here, but is very shallow on the east side, so only half the channel is available for navigation, bringing the barges close to the shore. I would think they would attempt to pass each other in the straights, but I’m not a river barge captain.

Headed downstream, this is a 5 Wide 5 Deep raft of smaller barges, and one of the larger tugs.

Truthfully, we stopped for 3 nights in Memphis only for 2 reasons. First, I figured we would be ready for a recharge stop with plenty of downtime to smell the roses. Second, it’s Memphis, a town we know very little about except that it is Elvis-centric. We aren’t Elvis fans, but it seemed like a good idea to check it out anyway. We decided the best way to start was one of our favorite methods, the Walking Tour. Sometimes these can be found for free online by downloading a guide map to your phone and self-directing your walk. We opted for an in-person guided tour, at about $25 a pop, so we could get a curated history lesson. It was well worth it as we learned a ton about Memphis! Our guide, Shannon, is a native local and theatrical, so her stories were colorful.

For instance, Memphis (named after the ancient capital of Egypt because the Mississippi is the fourth largest river in the world behind the Nile) was founded by 3 men who acquired the property in what has been called “the largest real estate rape of the Indians”, a tribal and US Government settlement that ceded 6 million acres of land from the Chickasaws to the Feds at $.04 an acre. In this giant chunk of land, 3 investors, John Overton, James Winchester and Andrew Jackson found the only spot on the river between Natchez Mississippi and St. Louis and known as “Fourth Bluff” that would resist annual flooding and founded Memphis on May 22, 1819. Only one of these investors, Overton, would be pivotal in the development of the city, the other two either never or rarely visited. Jackson only visited twice in his life but made one demand as an investor. The river front must have a “grand promenade” (which barely exists anymore), and 4 town squares. When the city was mapped out, 4 squares were included: Court Square, Exchange Square, Auction Square and Market Square, but these names didn’t necessarily designate the primary usage of the space:  the Court is in Exchange Square; the Exchange is in Market Square; Market Square never had a market; and there were no auctions in Auction Square. Today, only one square survives, Court Square. Here’s Shannon giving us the lowdown.

Court Square, partially funded by the town Madam, is the only surviving square of the originally plan.

Beale Street is the entertainment center of Memphis. The birth of the blues (BB “Blues Boy” King included) is here. It’s like Bourbon Street, loaded with clubs and bars. “Go Cups” are allowed, with one walk up bar proclaiming “Last cocktails for 30 feet”. We took the brief tour of Beale Street, which is only 4 blocks long, at 8:30AM waiting for our walking tour. There was only one other couple, also waiting for the same walking tour, doing the same thing. It was a little eerie, no cars, quiet, nobody but “us chickens” strolling around reading all the historical signs.

You can see almost all of Beale Street from right here.

And we found an employment opportunity and some colorful sidewalk “notes” commemorating musical starts that have graced the stages locally.

Here’s a good tip for walkers in Memphis: the Memphis Main Street Trolley. $2 gets you an all day pass, and it travels the entire riverfront length of the town with trains about every 12 minutes. We rode it north to The Pyramid, which has been taken over by Bass Pro Shops (the largest in the world), then back south to the Lorraine Motel, site of Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968. The Lorraine has been converted into the National Civil Rights Museum.

Adjacent to the Lorraine, we found Central BBQ, touted to us by Shannon (a local, remember?), and we stepped in for lunch. Deeeeelishous!

Dry rubbed ribs and 4 sides, more than a lunch!

We were advised by many fellow travelers and a few travel blogs “not to miss the Peabody ducks!”. The old historical hotel in Memphis, the Peabody, has a tradition on display twice a day of The Duck Parade”. There are ducks kept in a pen on the rooftop that are paraded at 11AM and 5PM everyday through the lobby of the hotel and into the central fountain, where they happily swim until they are herded back to their pen for the next show. As a tradition, it’s quaint. As a show it’s a dud. Lots and lots (and lots) of front-end hype and pageantry, followed by 4 ducks waddling up some steps and jumping into a fountain. Tourists jammed shoulder-to-shoulder craning their necks to see. The lobby bar doing a land office business selling Bloody Mary’s and Mimosas before lunch. Phooey.

All this for four ducks? The little girl was cute as the Guest DuckMaster.

Here’s a quick update on the painted rock project, with some entries from Texarkana and Memphis. If you are a traveler, and you find a rock, send us an email at warrenmudd@gmail.com and tell us where you found it!

And finally, Memphis being a huge Cotton Town, we discovered, and will share with you, the origin of the word “middling”, as in “How was it?”, “Oh, just middling”. As far as we can tell, middling was one of the terms used to describe the quality and value of a crop of cotton. You’re welcome.

The Cotton Museum on Main Street takes all the mystery out of it

Tippy has a tip for farmers (and the rest of us).

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BIG OL’ TEXAS

You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again. Texas is big. Really big. I don’t think you can appreciate how big it is until you have driven across it. 14 hours it took us. Mind you, we aren’t driving straight through, we do have to rest. And we had some urgent business in Odessa that needed tending to, but we didn’t dawdle except to sleep and eat, and took a pretty straight path as our goal was to get to Memphis via Texarkana. We went the “short way” across the north through Dallas on Interstates 20 and 30. 14 hours for the short way says it all. The last time I drove across the Lone Star state was decades ago, on Interstate 10, the Long Way. That was 24 hours of driving.

At least the landscape is more interesting on The Short Way. The Long Way is what feels like a never-ending belt of brown flat terrain, like driving on a big treadmill with the same picture outside your window. We had a little bit of that at the start, diving into Texas from New Mexico across the Permian Basin, studded with oil rigs as far as the eye can see. The rigs were still for the most part, with only an occasional lone “grasshopper” pump jack pecking the desert floor amongst dormant neighbors. I would think with gas at $5 a gallon, those puppies would be jumping like teenagers at a rave. That’s how much I know about the oil business.

Image courtesy of sciencing.com

It seemed strange to see the idle oil rigs when the wind, which had been plaguing us for days, was blowing up to 25 mph straight out of the south. Where were the windmills? We got our answer a couple of hours later when we rose out of the Permian and into Texas Hill Country. Suddenly there were wind turbines as far as you could see, hundreds and hundreds, perhaps thousands, we couldn’t see to the horizon. For 50 miles or more. The turbines were spinning busily, churning out green energy, and white knuckles (mine) on the steering wheel. Driving a billboard on wheels with a cross wind is tiring work.

Imagine this looking in any direction, for dozens of miles along the road. Some politician’s brother-in-law must own a wind turbine company!

Even the temperature is big in Texas, well over 90 degrees each of the 2 days. When you are towing an RV in that kind of heat, your mind dwells on the myriad of things that happen in the heat, mostly regarding tires and cooling systems. So, if you are smart like us, you are up and gone at sunrise to get as many miles under your wheels as you can before the dragon breathes on you.

The Dragon awakes

We originally planned a route as direct as possible, from Carlsbad through Abilene and Texarkana to Memphis. 2 overnights across the great stretch would be rewarded with a 3 night stay in the Midwest BBQ capital. But, as we are in the throes of getting our house plans and financing completed so we can move into our new digs by the end of the year, we had to plan a detour off that straight route through Odessa Texas because we needed a notary, a Chase bank, and a Fedex office all precisely on one specific date, May 31. Our title company had delayed the close of our construction and mortgage loan past our departure date, much to our disappointment, and now they had called to tell us we needed to be in Florida on May 31 to sign all the docs, wire transfer the fees and costs, and close the loan. That obviously wouldn’t work for us, so we negotiated a compromise. They don’t use Docusign, which would make this a simple transaction that we could literally do on the road with a smartphone (we currently have both a road and 2 smartphones). They needed “wet” signatures on the docs, about 40 of them, with notary stamps on 6 of them. From our vantage point in Cheyenne Wyoming, the only path forward we could see was for them to overnight the doc package to us in Santa Fe, where we would be for a full Saturday, then for us to side-track to Odessa on Tuesday the 31st since it would be the only city within 50 miles of our path with all three necessary institutions. And the docs were all dated May 31, so that had to be the day. We arose on the 31st at 3:30AM, put in some writer’s hours, got some breakfast, and hit the road before sunup. We got to Odessa at 9AM, hit the UPS Store to make our notary appointment, walked to the Walgreen’s Fedex Center (5 minutes), and then drove down the street to Chase to send money on its way. What a relief!

Alex, if you are seeing this, we don’t pay any royalties. Thanks for the photo op!

At the same time, our great relatives in Florida, Donna & Glen, were supervising a crew that was unloading our moving van into our storage unit. With all these details taken care of we could now focus on the shorter side of our journey, once we get through Big Ol’ Texas that is.

You never realize how much stuff you have until you have to move it

As we were already in Odessa, and as we also have previously established a Stonehenge vibe (see the previous post Carhenge), Wendy discovered that the University of Texas at Permian Basin had created a duplicate of Stonehenge on their campus, so we had to see it.

I’ve seen the original in Britain, and this re-creation just doesn’t do anything for me. Not that the original did either, but we are splitting hairs here. We did take the opportunity to place on of our own stones, a painted rock, on the display in the hopes that some soul will find it and share it.

Finally, back on the road, we set our sights on the eastern border of Texas and let the horses run. The Short Way landscape beyond the Permian gave way to some beautiful countryside with trees and rolling hills. Even though it was still 90+ degrees outside the windshield, the scenery helped to take my mind off impending mechanical failures enough to let me just fight the wind and enjoy the ride. I will say one thing for the wind, the mental concentration required to deal with it sure helped me sleep well at night!

The winds finally eased up, our drive got smoother (and faster), and the miles peeled off like a bunch of old hippie’s clothes at a hot spring. (You won’t get that picture out of your mind for a while). We soon found ourselves seemingly on the doorstep of Memphis.

Tippy has some exercise advice.

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FROM HIPPIE TO CAVE MAN

The main event, Carlsbad Caverns, is why we took this detour, about 800 miles out of our “as the bird flies” route. After hearing all our lives about the famous Caverns, we took the plunge figuring we had no way to guarantee we’d ever do it again. We also have friends, Joe and Barbara, who have a second home in Santa Fe, and they had advised us “if you are ever in Santa Fe come by and visit”. When we got our schedule all finalized, and all our reservations made, we called them to set a date, and they weren’t scheduled to be in Santa Fe that weekend. At least we tried.

The Visitor Center is about 30 miles outside of town (no BUMP signs though!)

Partly as a result of the pandemic, the Caverns now requires a reservation in advance that specifies a time window (one hour long) during which you can purchase your ticket and enter the caves. That can only be done 30 days or less in advance but must be done before you arrive. We decided on the earliest start time we could get, 8:30AM, to both beat the crowds and the heat, not remembering that the year-round temperature inside the caves is 62F. Period. Anyway, writer’s hours get us up early. Our planning paid off, we got there early, flashed our Senior Pass, and rode the elevator 800 feet down to the start point of the self-guided tour.

It was surprising to see how inviting the underground Big Room Tour station was.

You get 2 options to enter the caves. The “hike” which enters through the Natural Entrance and continues 80 stories down steep ramps and stairs to the bottom of the same cave chambers that the bats live in, although they live much farther back into the cave complex than the public is allowed. You can tour a few of these chambers until your path joins up with the Big Room tour path, which is reached easily by your second entrance option, the Elevators. The photo above is where the elevators let out. It is also where the restrooms are, a very important factor for a couple of septuagenarians.

Our first impression was how dark and how quiet it was. The darkness was partly a result of riding in the very well-lit elevator, and our eyes gradually got accustomed to the dim lighting as we strode off onto the tour path. The quiet was because we had the cavern nearly all to ourselves; there were maybe a dozen people in there at the time we arrived. It was like a church inside, and we highly recommend an early start if you ever make the trip.

There is a lot of lighting inside the complex, all of it muted and very focused on features. Professional photographers have published many long-exposure shots online that lead you to believe the interior is very colorful. But that just isn’t so. These long-exposure photos came off the web:

Our photos are very different, and much closer to what we actually saw with naked eyes, because your naked eye doesn’t have a long-exposure mode.

And this selfie gives you a much better impression of what it’s really like with all the muted and directed lighting.

The over-riding impression we’re left with is the VASTNESS of it all. The birth of the caverns stretches 150 million years back when the area was a shallow sea, and the Capitan Reef was formed in it by trillions of small animals (not corals) that died and fused to form a long calcium rich ridge/reef that got buried over time by hundreds of feet of sediment. When the sea receded, geologic forces broke the reef in half underground, and the large fissure resulted in the cave structure. Millions of years of water seeping through all the calcium derivatives, enhanced by all the acidic chemical reactions, leaves us standing and staring at the result. It makes a body feel small and leaves a very strong feeling that there are forces at work much, much larger than us.

We made the loop, about 1 ½ miles, and ended back at the tour start and elevators. We had asked about the bats. Where are the bats? We were told that we could walk over to the hike start point, about 5 minutes, and see the Natural Entrance, where the bats exit and enter the complex. The Mexican bats migrate up in the early spring to use the cave as a daytime shelter so they can fly out to feed over the Pecos River at night. In the late spring and summer, there is seating at dusk to wait for the giant cloud to emerge, but there isn’t any guarantee it will happen on any given night. We opted for a YouTube video.

The Bat Show takes place at dusk from late Spring to Summer’s end
The hiking trail that leads down into the cavern complex through the Natural (sans dynamite) Entrance. It goes 80 stories down.
Cool air came out of the caves like natural air conditioning

We left after 3 hours with an overall sense of the vastness and age of the caverns, and the smallness of our lives in comparison. It’s a trip worth making at least once in your life!

Next up: Wagon’s Ho to Abilene, and Banking on the Run

Tippy keeps it all in perspective regardless of size. And that’s coming from an elephant.

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ALIEN BURGERS TASTE LIKE ALIEN CHICKEN

My newfound path to Hippiedom has been blessed with many outposts, rest stops, roadside attractions, and Kodak Photo Points. Remember the Kodak Photo Points at Disneyland? When I was a kid, these were where your parents would drag or push you to get “the perfect shot”. Of course, it was all manufactured, even the backdrop, out of a retired agricultural field using wire, concrete and plaster. And it was a way for Walt and his brother to make a few bucks off a Kodak sponsorship or by selling a few rolls of film. I’m gushing cynical here but contrasting our trip to date with that benchmark I find that a loosely structured jump into America produces something that much more closely resembles perfect.

As we motor down the highway, all 17,000 pounds of us and always in the middle of a stretch of road that goes 40 miles in either direction without seeing hide nor hair (well, sometimes a hare), I always marvel at the appearance out of nowhere of a giant yellow sign that warns “BUMP”, followed almost immediately by a bump that rattles us and everything in every cabinet of the rig.

The time, cost, and trouble it took to acquire and erect the sign could have been better spent just fixing the damn bump, no?

The most common question I get asked is “How do you manage to write so much almost every day?”. First, it really isn’t so much. Second, we are seeing a lot every day, and that gives lots of fuel to the writer’s engine. Third, I keep pretty regular writer’s hours, usually 4AM-6AM, and I fill that time emptying the bucket of observations into the laptop. What isn’t specifically germane to the days’ sightseeing theme, our random thoughts and philosophical moments, usually gets transcribed into a prose bank, a document I keep on the side to cut and paste from. We both keep one; it serves a purpose all on its own to just unclutter the mind and make more room for the important stuff. This paragraph came from it. I’m sure that’s way more than you all wanted to know.

Our trip to Carlsbad took us through Roswell, apparently the center of the Universe for UFO activity. Everything in the Southwest seems “out in the middle of nowhere” because of the huge expanses (full of BUMP signs) of unpopulated land, and Roswell is no exception. Most of the wide-spread dots on the map pop up in your windshield and just as fast are gone in your rear-view mirror. But Roswell gradually rises up out of the desert like one of those pop-up greeting cards that go all 3D when you open them. We were expecting far less, surprised to see Walmart, Sam’s Club, Target, Albertson’s, even a JC Penney (the only one I’ve seen in YEARS). And Roswell spends a lot of its landscape advertising itself.

This image doesn’t do the saucer justice. I would take the truck over it anyway.
We’re led to believe this green guy is actually FBI.

It was lunchtime and we were thinking we could stop somewhere and order Alien burgers, but didn’t even though they have a McDonalds fashioned out of an old alien spaceship. They probably just taste like chicken anyway.

The Kid’s PlayPlace is out of this world!

Of course, we had to stop and buy a magnet, so we also took the opportunity to pose with a few of the locals.

Looking fashionable in her Palm Coast t-shirt!

Onward we went after our lunch and a gas fill-up (just barely north of $4/gallon!), southward back into the vast desert. As RVers, we are bucking the natural order of things by going South in the Summer (the dashboard temp shows 99F, probably headed to 103). We did this before when we last lived in a rig and went North in the Winter. The obvious disadvantages are the tribulations that adverse weather can bring to those who live in a box on wheels, whether it be cold or heat. The advantage is being able to see and tour without the crowds of other RVers. Off-season locals can be very chatty about their towns when the crowds are gone, but you’ll never know until you try it yourself.

Carlsbad was another “ship in the desert” that amazed us. We read in the “Quick Facts” that “Carlsbad is a city in the southeast of New Mexico, founded in the southeast of New Mexico so that the citizens of southeast New Mexico could have a city”. We figure Kamala Harris has a side gig writing these things.

It’s a l o n g city, 10 miles north to south, and contains many of the large city amenities we have become accustomed to. I previously studied cell phone coverage maps of all of our destinations, trying to determine what kind of connection we could maintain to the internet at our stops. It is now clear to me that the pace of growth in cell phone coverage and speed has outpaced the ability of the web to keep up with it. My research showed that Carlsbad had “nearly zero” coverage of any type, and the reviews were there to back that opinion up, even if they were a couple of years old. Most warned T-Mobile customers to steer clear, or immediately transition to Verizon, “the only partial coverage in town”. We had a very good 5G signal all the way through, only dipping to moderately good LTE coverage as we drifted out of town south toward our campground. After our visit to The Caverns on Memorial Day, we are going to stock up on some necessities in town, especially some needed RV supplies. Our campground is next door to an RV supply shop, and there is a Tractor Supply and a Walmart just down the road!

Next up: Carlsbad Caverns, a post worthy of all-on-its-own status.

Tippy has stopped dwelling on the past. He and one of my all-time favorite sports coaches.

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