Monday, March 31, 2008

Where do 4 Wheelers go at Night?

We quickly realized, as we started our trip back to Indiana in our toad, that we have done little long distance driving in the USA outside of an RV. (Strictly speaking, we have a frog - Four Rolling On Ground - not a toad, which is a backronym for Two On A Dolly. In any event, it's that little clunker that follows the coach everywhere)
Back in the old country, of course, there is no such thing as long distance driving since the whole place is only about the size of Alabama. Worse yet, the longest drive we had taken in the toad (a Saturn Vue) had been occasional emergencies - ice cream procurement or
Outback Steakhouse therapy, that sort of thing. Driving nearly 1200 miles in this woeful little machine is certainly not for the faint of heart!
Roadside feeding is also a crap-shoot. The only constant is that the same basic four food groups - fat, starch, cholesterol and salt - are always on offer in a variety of branded disguises. Bio-breaks are yet another excruciating "off-road" experience with adventures into swampy grottoes adorned with wet paper towels and other, even less inviting artifacts. In reality, even the acquisition of a glass of water, a cup of tea or a cold soda is elevated to the level of a carefully planned excursion into the hinterland of such magnitude, that dehydration quickly becomes the preferred alternative. To make matters even worse, each of these forays into the DMZ results in a loss of twenty minutes or more, making daily progress miserably slow.
The ultimate terror, what to do when it gets dark? No more locating a convenient Wal-Mart on the Internet and setting the GPS to head there. Instead, there are volumes of visitor reviews of stays at various of America's finest roadside motels. Noted features include sticky carpets, freeway noise, trains passing every ten minutes, eccentric plumbing, strange stains, large insects stumbling around, curious odors, hostile staff, no functioning air conditioner and many other unexpected thrills for the innocent traveler to discover. Checking in was a little bizarre as well, since we had no formal baggage, just armfuls of computers, cameras, GPSs - each with its yards of entrails and dangling connectors - and, as a hurried afterthought, a couple of grocery sacks containing needed personal items.
Even so, the
Interstate motel scene was quite interesting. Many old geezers like ourselves leisurely roving around the country (most well heeled enough to have real luggage), "new-lifers" hauling their old life behind them in U-Haul rentals, coach loads of of sports retards traveling to or from their latest vandal gathering and regular families with their 2.4 kids burning off a day's energy screaming along the corridors and slamming doors. A challenging slice of Americana.
And the evening meal? You guessed it, another selection from the four food groups. If there is an upside to this regime, it is that each meal probably moves one a week closer to the big cash register in the sky, ultimately eliminating the need to travel, sooner rather than later.
Despite these horrors, there are a few pluses to
four-wheeler travel. You can get in and out of every parking lot, find somewhere to park in almost every little burg, buy fuel at any gas station (sometimes more than once a day!) and back track easily to visit unexpected features that sometimes flash by. The azaleas and their butterfly sex-slave was one such stop that would have been impracticable in the big rig.
Our conclusion from this rude awakening is to devise ways in which we can reduce the pain on our return trip to Lazy Days at the end of June to pick up our new coach. Two things for sure, we will be so grateful to have our home on wheels back again and will forever regard four wheelers with a new level of pity!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Free at Last, Free at Last...

For the first time since 1991 we are free of that habit forming blight - the RV, temporarily at least. Last week, our little convoy set off to the land of the newly-weds and nearly-deads to turn our RVs in to the grim raper, Lazy Days. With Black Bess hauling the Saturn Vue and Marian bringing up the rear (which she still does very nicely) in White Rabbit. An uneventful 1150 miles, except for the frenetic traffic from Chattanooga on south and approximately 100 miles of road works set out for our entertainment.
We arrived at Lazy Days on Friday, in the nick of time for a life threatening calorie infusion at the Crown Club luncheon, having dumped the vehicles at the Check-in. By the time we were thrown out of the Crown Club, the Signature had been parked at a delivery site where we were to perform the last rites, and the Vue was parked alongside. "Where is the little one?" we naively asked. Turned out that it had already been through the shave and shampoo ritual and was strutting its stuff among the other used RVs, almost crying out "Choose me, choose me!" Got to hand it to Lazy days when it comes to inventory turns effort.
After signing a couple of papers and sinking a few mud slides at cocktail time, we spent our last evening in Ol' Faithful. It is nothing short of amazing, that having essentially stripped the coach bare in Indiana, we were still finding odd items here and there that had escaped notice. By mid-morning on Saturday however, everything had been tossed into the Vue which, by this juncture, had taken on the air of a garbage skow and it was finally time to cut the umbilical. After five years and 50+ thousand miles, I had to pry Marian from the coach where she appeared to be embarking on some close encounters of an uncertain kind.
I finally got her attention by pointing to a shiny new coach and assured her "...those nice people in Oregon were building one just like that, especially for her..." That did the trick - fickle as she is, Black Bess was cursorily abandoned as the numerous, and largely useless features of her new love were explored and adored. And, just imagine, all it took to bring about this metamorphosis was to open my billfold and utter the magic phrase "Help yourself". Seems to work every time.
Black Bess meanwhile, heaved a final sigh of relief and blissfully looked forward to her first wash in five years.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Rabbit attacked and left for dead!

Roanoke, Indiana 21st March - After getting back to Indiana last week, we cleared everything out of the large RV (fondly known as Black Bess) and prepped it for delivery to Lazy Days in Florida. Next up, it was the turn of White Rabbit, the 23 foot Itasca Navion, for gutting and cleaning ready to join the south-bound posse. With a sigh of relief, White Rabbit started on the first crank and all seemed well. However, while disconnecting the shore power, a colorful flood of vital fluids were seen flowing across the driveway from under the vehicle and running into the grass. A quick inspection, accompanied by a fragrant diesel oil shower, revealed a rodent gnawed fuel line, spray-cleaning the entire under hood area, including the exhaust system. Probably not a good thing.
Comes the tow truck. Hauls the little rig up the extended sloping deck and proceeds to retract the deck. Retraction was proceeding nicely except for the deck staying firmly planted on the driveway and the tow truck front wheels ending three feet in the air. Reverse all procedures and exit tow truck.
Second tow truck appears. This time - no mistakes - overkill was clearly foremost in the mind of the dispatcher. This mechanical marvel, intended for rescuing semis and 45 foot RVs - a veritable incredible hulk, was surely adequate to the task. That, alas, will never be known. Short of clearing an acre or two of woods, there was no way to get this leviathan anywhere near White Rabbit.
A pause for the weekend, and the third try was indeed the charm. After twenty minutes of clanking, creaking and wheezing, the third wrecker hauled a dejected White Rabbit off into the distance and we adjourned for more strong coffee. Several hours later we received the formal diagnosis and quickly switched from coffee to Valium.
In addition to two fuel lines being breached, the power steering hoses had been gnawed to pieces as had
the serpentine belt, several air conditioner hoses with the loss of all refrigerant and, as if the varmints needed any assistance, one of the "clanks" heard during the rescue phase turned out to be a frame member that had been crushed. Phew!
The good news is, that of all the parts needed to fix everything, the serpentine belt was actually in stock, everything else has to be ordered. Hurrah for Glenbrook Dodge! The bottom line is about $1,300.00 and the moral of the story is "Don't let your RV play outside on its own for too long."

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Ozark Interlude

On our way back north to Indiana, we meandered through Arkansas, from the delta country in the south to the Ozarks in the north. My, what a difference a hundred miles can make. Below Little Rock, Arkansas is flat - very flat down by the Louisiana border - while north of Little Rock the terrain is hilly, especially so if you're driving a Class A RV.
The Ozarks, a dissected plain, comprise the southern half of Missouri, including the Branson area, and the northern portion of Arkansas. The entire region is extensively wooded and is enhanced by several large man made lakes developed throughout the twentieth century. Relaxing countryside with numerous peaks around 1,500 feet.
It is on the banks of one such enormous lake, formed by The Greer's Ferry Dam, that Vicki and Don are building Xanadu. This particular dam, incidentally, was dedicated by JFK in 1963 - his last public act prior to his fateful final appearance in Dallas. Acting like retired folk with time on their hands, over the last nine months the Leiths have added features and spaces to their house to such an extent that at one time the builder declared it would no longer fit on the lot. Shown is the rear elevation that faces the lake. Suffice it to say, the end result is going to be magnificent and, with two full service RV pads on site, it is destined to become a popular stopover for itinerant motor-homers. Having been entertained in Vicki's bedroom, with Guinness and chips no less (it was OK, really - her mother was there to see fair play), we returned to the campground to enjoy corned beef and cabbage for Saint Patrick's eve. We retired for the night at about 1.00 am having solved most of the worlds problems.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

When I Grow Up...

For years, I've wondered what I will do when I grow up. This week I think I found the answer. But more of that anon.
For the last month or so, we have been flitting around Florida and, along the way, have visited
various campgrounds to study the reported "explosion" of the condominium resorts. First, we noticed how many plain old campgrounds have recently upgraded to "Resort" status simply by putting up a new sign. Cute move. As for the vaunted lot ownership explosion, in Florida at least, it appears to focus around the sale of tired old campgrounds to eager investment groups, who generally have a game plan along the following lines. 1- Update the amenities; 2 - Advertise individual lots for sale; 3 - Sell 80 or 90 percent of the lots and hand over the operation to the owner community; 4 - Live extravagantly ever after.
In reality,
many of these operations seem not to be going to plan and, one way or another, slow sales appear to be at the root of the problem. Whether a company made most of its investment up front, or relied on reinvestment of revenues to build out as sales progressed, at each location that we stayed at there were signs of distress.
Up front investors appear trapped in a sales cycles so slow - as many as seven years in one case - that investment carrying costs have slowly pushed the price of an 80' x 100' lot as high as an astounding $250,000 - pretty salty, especially after pad costs are added and maintenance is figured in. Add a little real estate and pretty soon the cost soars to $400,000 to $700,000.
pay-as-you-go school have fared no better. Operational costs quickly gobble up the infrequent sales dollars leaving little money for reinvestment, again with the inevitable result of forcing lot prices up. Meanwhile, addition after addition of traditional houses, in similar price ranges and locations, continue to sell, suggesting that the central value proposition of RV lot ownership in Florida may not be what it's crackered up to be.
What a pleasant surprise then, when Marian found Williston Crossings on the Internet and booked us in for a while. Here is a brand new, start from scratch Class A and large fifth wheel only campground, in which the sites are for rent only - no sales! The project is the pride and joy of Bill Martin, a local contractor who majored in banks, burger buildings and similar edifices in the surrounding area. Bill is in his mid sixties and, three years ago, bought 160 acres of wooded land that includes an exhausted limestone quarry. Three years later, the enterprise is about one third complete - 115 sites out an eventual 330 with 50 more slated for this year - and is pretty much booked up to a year ahead. The project is being built from the rear exit forward and construction is managed via the eventual front entrance leaving campers undisturbed. Thus far, the campground has a park like feeling with large, level, screened sites and a quiet, comfortable atmosphere. Present amenities include paved roads, upscale club house, laundry facilities, camp fire, fishing, trolley cars to ferry folk to events and excellent security. Currently under construction is a grist mill, a waterfall with fish lagoon and preparatory work for two swimming pools to be built this summer. While we were there, a 60' x 80' lumber pavilion was erected for outdoor events. Planned for the future is an entire mini-village with a railway station with train, shops, ice cream parlor, a fire station and a church. The quarry is being remodeled into a fishing and boating area with rumors of a nine hole golf course to follow.But, for me, the best part of this park is that something is always going on. One or more of a powerful stable of yellow Tonka toy machines can usually be found trenching, excavating, dredging, bulldozing, pulverizing, compacting, building, tree felling, ditching or grading somewhere on the property. And, from the number of other head shaking wastrel spectators like me that turn up for these events, the fantasy of a playground such as this is probably not mine alone. Maybe, I could even consider some sharing of the toys if this was really what I could do when I grow up.
See Nerd's Nirvana Slideshow

In the meantime, whenever we are traveling through northern Florida on US 19, US 27, US 41 or I-75, we will be stopping by Williston Crossings for a few days, just to make sure they are doing things properly.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Williston, old time Florida

Sometimes referred to as "The Crossroads of Florida", Williston is actually at the intersection where US 27 and US 41 separate again on their journey south. Outside of this rousing achievement not a whole lot goes on in town.

The most exciting shopping opportunity in town
at the local hardware store where a variety
concrete yard ornaments are available

Marian was strangely attracted to this big
fella but, happily, there was no room in
the coach for such a cutie

With a population of 6,000 or so, the most recent excitement
dates back to 1975 when
Foolish Pleasure, a locally born
horse, won the Kentucky Derby. How about that!

Since we were in the market for another coach we
out a couple of sub-prime repo RVs. This one
promised great
gas mileage but needed a lot of work

I also briefly considered a towable but
Marian appeared less than enthusiastic