Friday, April 24, 2020

Plotting escape for when the storm door closes

   POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - It's gotten to be a very familiar question from friends and neighbors.
     So, um, when are you leaving on your trip north and east?
     The answer is equally familiar.
     The minute we can. The minute we can.
     But when that minute will arrive all depends on when shelter-in-place restrictions are lifted and it seems safe to travel.
     Exactly when that safe-to-travel time will come is a topic of much conversation at our house - and everywhere in the nation, of course. I know, I have been reading and writing about the coronavirus, infection rates, flattening curves and how efficient protective masks are against COVID-19 almost endlessly for at least the last month.
     But eventually - we hope - the virus storm door will close and we can safely head out.
     So yesterday Admiral Fox, Biscuit and I pulled The Red Writer out of storage a mile away and brought it home to clean it up, stock it up and test the systems for quick getaway.
     There's a couple of days worth of things to do - along with pondering routes to take.
    When we're done, we will be ready to be On The Road Again - Play It Willie!

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

San Francisco to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia...?

   POINT RICHMOND, California - Spring brings out the maps, calendars and dreams of summer travel.
      And after several summers of criss-crossing the U.S. from San Francisco to New England, Adm. Fox and I are considering pushing the envelope a little further (or is it farther?).
     That further - or farther - is Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, a camping/touristing paradise by all accounts.
     It does mean a drive of more than 4,000 miles - each way. But the mighty Toyota Tundra still has less than 200,000 miles on it. And The Red Writer trailer is now rejiggered and ready for Canadian wilds.
    Note that in paragraph two above the operant word is 'considering.' Given how crazy things are getting with the coronavirus (and life in general), it's hard to make solid plans until we get closer to May when we would begin a trip.
     And that 4,000 miles? Well, add a 1,000 or two miles more because on the way to Cape Breton, we have plans to stop in Portland, WA, extreme Northern Michigan, and various Finger Lakes and upstate NY locales on the way.
     Just yesterday, R. Biscuit Fitzfox, Assistant Navigator and Morale Officer was cleared for limited duty by his doctor after his broken leg episodes. By May Biscuit should be certified 100 percent fit for travel, we hope. 
     Below are some of the sights he'll be taking in with us.

Friday, February 28, 2020

New axle, tires and personality for The Red Writer

   POINT RICHMOND, California - The wizardry of Sean Keown, master mechanic at Vogel's RV in Ukiah was clearly demonstrated Wednesday.
Waaaaaay higher off the ground
     He skillfully - and quickly - installed the new axle and boondock-style tires on The Red Writer, boosting the trailer's ground clearance dramatically.
     The new tires and higher ground clearance make the trailer look, well, much beefier.
     But an unexpected outcome from the retrofit was that the rig is much more comfortable to drive. Bumps in the road are just bumps and no longer feel like craters. On the test drive on a bumpy section of Highway 101 outside Ukiah, I hardly felt anything.
     Just amazing, really.
     The one downside to the whole change is that because the trailer is higher, I need a taller stepladder to put on the trailer cover when The Red Writer is in storage.
     Maybe the solution is to keep traveling and not put it in storage at all.
     Now there's a thought.

New axle installed...

Tougher tires, too
The day before leaving to get The Red Writer retrofitted
Home the next day with new tires and axle installed

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Spring renovations & maps for The Red Writer

   UKIAH, California - For the last few seasons, The Red Writer has occasionally gone where no T@B 320 probably should go.
     There was that rutted goat trail in Oklahoma and then 'W' Road in Tennessee.
Thank you CSAA for the maps... And the rest I will order
     And so it is that next week The Red Writer will be handed over to a mechanical magician named Sean at Vogel's RV to swap out the axle and tires on the trailer with those normally used on a more beefy unit called the T@B Boondock model.
     With the modification The Red Writer should be about 6 inches higher off the ground - a ground clearance boost that should make my off-roading less stressful.
     Pix of that axle-swap operation and the finished install will be posted sometime after Wednesday.
     The other innovation for this spring/summer/fall travel is the addition of paper maps to the navigation department.
     Yes, paper maps. You know, those things that used to fill up your car's glove compartment because you couldn't get them folded back the right way.
     While my Rand-McNally Road Atlas (Big Print Edition, thank you very much) is useful, it lacks sufficient detail for, well, the boondocking I have inadvertently done and some that I want to do - on purpose.
     Today 14 maps arrived from the California State Automobile Association, a good start on the hardcopy map library. Already I spotted some less-traveled roads in the Midwest and East that are likely candidates for this season's travel.
     Two of the maps are for Canada, by the way. Brrrrr...

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

The Red Writer visits Olema for Biscuit's birthday

   OLEMA, Calif. - We dusted off The Red Writer last weekend for a three-day sojourn to Olema to camp and celebrate The Biscuit's birthday.
     He was one-year-old Saturday and celebrated at a party at the Olema Campground in the company of maybe 100 people.
     OK, they didn't all come just for his birthday. It was a Northern California T@B Rally, a gathering of folks with T@B trailers like The Red Writer.

     Admiral Fox, The Biscuit and I toured a dozen other trailers and found all kinds of neat RV hacks to make things more comfortable.
     Perhaps the biggest single thing was finally getting courageous enough to put up the tent that affixes to the outside of the trailer. Since buying The Red Writer, a dozen tales of mishaps from T@B owners had made me hesitant to try it. But with about 30+ T@B trailers there - a half-dozen of which sported similar tents - we knew we had plenty of backup to make it work.
    As it was, it took just the two of 20 minutes at the most. And it was easy-peasy.
     That might have been because: A. Admiral Fox and I have decades of sailing experience doing similar things and B. The Admiral read the instructions.
     The tent has more square footage than the inside of the trailer. And it is a game changer. Of course, we need accessories now for inside the tent. (I'm pushing for a wine rack.)
     The Biscuit proved that he loves the outdoors a lot more than our Point Richmond condo. He scampered hither and yon the whole time. And as part of our weekend, we took him out to Limantour Beach on Point Reyes where he chased birds and ran like the wind for an hour.
     We hope to get The Red Writer out for another foray in a week or two before the rains set in. But if they do, well, we have tent in addition to a trailer now.

Biscuit was subdued early in his birthday party

Although a good camper, The Biscuit proved not to be a morning dog
A Sunday selfie at Point Reyes

Biscuit thought this was his birthday party...

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Red Writer is safely back in Point Richmond

   POINT RICHMOND - A summer full of travels and adventures that began in early May closed out Sunday when The Red Writer trailer pulled into the condo driveway after the final leg of a cross-country drive - a 250 mile, 5-hour push from Fallon, Nevada.
The Biscuit
     A 3,000+ mile trek from Seneca Lake to California was supposed to go across Ontario, Canada, through the upper peninsula of Michigan and then on a northern route though Montana until turning south in Oregon.
     Note the words supposed to in that sentence.
     What happened?
      His name is The Biscuit, an 8-pound Yorkshire Terrier who joined the family mid-summer and wreaked a certain amount of havoc on travel plans. Ok, a lot of havoc. Originally he was to be a travel buddy on the return trip West. But after only a week in NY it was obvious he was too young and too much a puppy for me handle alone.
Admiral Fox with The Biscuit
 Admiral Fox and I flew home with him in mid-July, so he could get settled into a California lifestyle. He's adjusting. We're adjusting. He hasn't asked for a surfboard yet, but he'll probably get one if he wants it. Admiral Fox has had The Biscuit on a daily crash course of learning how to be civilized. His grades are improving she says. (But maybe not quite fast enough!)
      By next spring we all should be ready to drive across the Andes together. Well, maybe something a little less adventurous.
     Wyoming, perhaps? Michigan? Newfoundland?
     After the California hiatus to get The Biscuit home, I flew back to NY to grab the truck and trailer, only to find that the Tundra "check engine" light was on. Santo Crappo. About $300 dollars later - and nearly a week of waiting for the repair shop to fix it - the mighty Tundra and The Red Writer were back ready to roll.
     The quick return drive across the U.S. - a nearly straight I-80 run across familiar territory - was rewarding, if incredibly hot. Every day was 90 degrees or hotter.
     Only two massive thunderstorms overtook me - both times while safely in campgrounds: one in Davenport, Iowa, the second in Ogallala, Nebraska. Quite a change from the eastward trip.
    I have a notebook full of entries about the people, places and adventurous mishaps (of course...) from the westward leg of the trip. Those will spill out here in coming weeks as I try to make sense of my handwriting.
     But for the moment, here are a few photos.

The Red Writer at Bud and Roxanne Hooper's house in Lakewood, NY
Wedged in with other highway adventurers at an RV rest stop in Ohio
The entrance to the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum in Ashland, Neb.
Lakeside campground near Ashland, Nebraska
Near son Jason Fitzgerald's house in Minturn, Colorado
Sunset at Ely, Nevada
Back in California - at Donner Summit

Friday, June 7, 2019

The first week in the Finger Lakes zooms by

   VALOIS, NY - The summer always flies by in the Finger Lakes for me. But it seems like this first week has been even more packed than normal.
     After arriving last Friday at the cottage, there's been the normal spring cleanup outside and in.
     But added to that was the Bicentennial Celebration in the nearby Village of Burdett, political events, an open house at Hector Handmade, music events every night and some mad dashing around to deal with a broken toe.
At Amanda's in Watkins Glen - ready to zoom to Valois
     Somewhere in there I had thought I would get back to work on the next novel. Maybe over the weekend?
     Summer is trying hard to arrive after a winter and spring that gave the region a helluva a pasting. But the weather prognosticators promise 80 degree temperatures in the next few days.
     More rain on Sunday. But by then I should be dried out.
     In the meantime there's no shortage of column topics for the Finger Lakes Times.
     It sounds like the vacation rentals in Watkins Glen are causing the police headaches again. The homes that were badly damaged in last summer's epic rainstorm are concerned about their tax bills (no income from summer rentals!). And the Geneva City Council is in the middle of a political meltdown.
     But those can wait a few days. I have a lawn to mow.

At home in Valois

First Finger Lakes' meal of the summer - at Village Marina in Watkins

Sunset from the Valois overlook

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Safe landing at Seneca Lake, in the rain, of course

   WATKINS GLEN, NY - After Wednesday's wild ending to the day, it was heartening to see a sort-of sunrise today with scattered thunderclouds here and there in Duncansville, near Altoona, PA.
     And so rather than dawdle, The Red Writer covered the last 200 or so miles to Watkins Glen quickly, knowing that more rainstorms were predicted for late today.
Radar screen shot as this is being written
     As this is being written, two gully washers have just rolled through about 10 minutes apart.
     As soon as the next one (expected very, very soon!), I plan to walk the half block to the El Rancho Mexican restaurant near my amiga Amanda's house. Admiral Fox reminded me today on the telephone that I loved the place last year. I feel a margarita coming on. I missed the ones served at son Dustin Fox's birthday party yesterday in Point Richmond. Reportedly, they were industrial strength.
     The Red Writer is resting comfortably in Amanda's side yard until I move the rig to the family cottage in Valois tomorrow. And, not coincidentally, it is not supposed to rain tomorrow. At all.
    And so the journey that started in Point Richmond May 3 ended on the last day of May 2500+ miles eastward, having touched base in 11 or 12 states. The number is fuzzy because I believe I was in West Virginia briefly Wednesday. Very briefly. Ditto for Maryland.
    Today did bring a real first though. Out in the wild hinterlands of Pennsylvania I drove by a hydrofracking site, the first I have ever seen up really close. It was  even more ugly than any photo I have ever seen.
     I'll try to wash the image away when I have dinner.
     Cripes, it's starting to rain again!

My neighbor last night at the Duncansville, PA RV Park

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Idyllic dinner, smooth travels then a tornado watch

     DUNCANSVILLE, PA  - So what is it with The Red Writer and tornadoes?
     A thunderstorm and rain, sure! It's the East Coast, it's summer. It rains. Often buckets.
     But before landing safely here this afternoon The Red Writer was huddled under a freeway (in the company of a half a dozen cars) seeking shelter from lashing rains, lightning and thunder and a repeated "storm shield" announcement of possible tornadoes.
The Red Hen in downtown Lexington
     None materialized (Gracias, Dios!) and the Duncansville RV park had a nice spot waiting when I arrived.
     I turned down a opportunity to play Texas Hold'em with a group that gets together every night. I burned up my luck driving blindly off the freeway to get out of the rainstorm.
     The day dawned beautiful outside Lexington, VA where I had a hillside campsite overlooking the truck stop. Scenic? Hardly. But it was 5 miles to the center of Lexington where I spent one entire day and evening soaking up the place.
     It has two colleges (Virginia Military Institute and Washington & Lee) so much history it's overwhelming, cool little shops and stores. And food! Great food. Gawd.
     My dinner at the infamous Red Hen was one of the best restaurant meals I have ever had. It's the place where White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave by the owner without Ms. Sanders being served so much as a breadstick.
     I didn't get to meet the owner - she keeps a very low profile. But I did give her staff a copy of The Devil's Pipeline with the inscription to her: "Resistance is Never Futile. Thanks for taking a stand for truth and decency."
     Weather permitting, I'll mosey another 100 or so miles closer to Seneca Lake tomorrow, staying somewhere in this fracked state of Pennsylvania.
     Any chance of tornadoes again and I'm sticking here at this RV park. Maybe play a few hands of cards tomorrow night.

The Red Writer's scenic overlook campsite near Lexington

Downtown Lexington historic hotel

Stonewall Jackson's garden

An older sister to The Red Writer... built in 2008...

Friday, May 24, 2019

Descending the Matterhorn with The Red Writer!

   MARION, Ohio - OK! OK! I didn't actually drive The Red Writer down the real Matterhorn Thursday morning.
     But damn! It sure felt like it for about 20 minutes.
     I did drive down  a mountain road that is, way, way waaaaaaay too curvy and steep for a truck pulling a 16-foot trailer - even as nimble a team as the Tundra and The Red Writer.
     I was coming down off Signal Mountain, Tenn. after a wonderful three-day visit with my friends Brynne and John and their daughter Sofia. All the emotions, conversations and fun of the visit were rolling through my mind when the GPS piped up and told me to take a left turn.
     I took the left, without thinking I was high above the city of Chattanooga and what a cliff-side descent might be like.
    Within moments I found myself in the middle of a hairpin curve so sharp, I had to back the trailer up several times to get the rig around the corner. I managed to snap a small emergency brake cable in that process, I discovered later.
     From the look on the face of the driver who watched in horror as I backed-and-filled, I was pretty sure I had - as the early Apollo astronauts would say - screwed the pooch. As soon as I got rolling again my heart sank, thinking of maybe 20 or 30 more curves too tight for the rig.
     It's a good thing I don't wear a blood pressure monitor because it would have red-lined or possibly exploded into tiny electronic bits.
     But some unearned divine intervention must have straightened things out just enough to let me slide around curves with relative ease.
     At the bottom when the road flattened out, I briefly considered stopping and kissing the pavement.
     Once on flat ground I smoothly sailed to a Southern icon: a Waffle House restaurant. I met high school amigo Jim Nelson for breakfast. He had briefed a couple of the waitresses about where I was and how I was coming down the infamous W Road. When I walked in, one of the waitresses looked at me like I was total madman.
     Not a madman but dumb enough to listen to my GPS when I should have read the road signs.
     How was breakfast? Great actually. And catching up with Jim great, too -  even for just the short time it takes to inhale hash brown potatoes, toast and tea.
     The rest of the day was standard highway ho-hum, with a few interesting stops and eventually landing at the Interstate RV park in Marion, VA thanks to Admiral Fox's on-the-ground, long-distance navigational support.
     The place looks like a housing development because the owner started with a 75+ RV space park that he gradually replaced with mostly small apartments.
The Red Hen in Lexington, VA
It's so peaceful - with just a handful of RV spaces left in the center of the complex - that I decided to catch up on writing several things. Like this blog.
    On to Lexington, VA tomorrow and a visit and meal at The Red Hen restaurant. Yes, that Red Hen, the one that declined to serve Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her group last year.
     At least I hope to eat there... The place is packed all the time and getting a reservation is like winning the lottery.
     But I was clearly lucky driving down the Matterhorn, er, I mean Signal Mountain.
     Maybe I'll be lucky again.

Brynne, John and Sofia's house at the top of Signal Mountain

The welcome sign at you drive in

Brynne, Sofia and Michael

High school amigo Jim Nelson and Michael outside the Waffle House
A 1907 photo of construction of the road The Red Writer careened down...

The Red Writer safely at rest in Marion Virginia...