2004 Wrap up

You can click on "photos" to get directly to the first photo page.  Our travelogues are not only to relay our touring experiences, but also to serve as a chronology of our life on the road.  In keeping with that purpose, this is the final travelogue for 2004 and wraps up the last four months of the year as we made our way east and south after touring the Dakokta over the summer.

After spending a very pleasant week in the LaCrosse, Wisconsin area visiting with our new friends George and Kathleen Brosius we headed to an appointment at the Spartan factory to take care of annual maintenance on the Dutch Star.  We drove to the Flying J in Gary, Indiana and parked it there for the night after fueling up.  We usually enjoy spending a night at a Flying J.  It usually consists of a dinner and then breakfast the next morning.  As much as I don't like to pay $5 for a day's access to a WiFi network, I have occasionally done that and decided to sign up for access to the Flying J network.  There are times when it almost seems worth it, especially when there is no cell phone signal.

From Gary, we drove to the American Campground in Hartford, Michigan.  We stayed there a couple of times, the last one being in 2003 in between the Spartan and Newmar rallies when we were traveling with Norm and Linda Payne.  It's an okay campground for a short stay and it's part of the Coast to Coast network, so the price was right.

Our appointment at the Spartan factory was scheduled for Monday, September 13, but we arrived on Friday as we usually do prior to a Monday appointment.  It gives us a few days of free parking with a 50-amp hookup.  We like to visit the Spartan factory and the Charlotte area.  It's close enough to Lansing for us to catch up on some movies, which we did while we were in the area.  We saw Cellular and Paparazzi and enjoyed both movies.  Thanks to the WiFi search engines we found a free WiFi hotspot in Charlotte at the Gavel Restaurant.  We ate lunch and a couple of breakfasts there while accessing the Internet via their network.  The connection was good when it worked, but it kept dropping and then reconnecting.  But it was free.

We met Bruce and Faye Ward while at the Spartan factory and they also had a Dutch Star.  It turned out that we met them again at the Newmar factory and got out together for a couple of meals.  They were going to be in the Orlando area during the same time we planned to be there, so we agreed to hook up again in Florida.

Our next stop was the Newmar factory in Nappannee, Indiana to get a new washer/dryer and floor installed.  You may remember that we had a problem with it from the get-go in 2000.  Newmar stepped up and fixed the problem.  A summary of the problem and solution is in the following text that I sent in a note to a couple of RV magazines and the Yahoo Newmar Owners Group.  The letter was published in the Family Motorcoach Association (FMCA) magazine.

" When we were getting ready to start full-timing in early 2000 we decided to purchase a Newmar Dutch Star. We ordered a Splendide combo washer/dryer for the motorhome and Newmar inadvertently left the shipping brackets attached inside the machine when they installed it.  As a result, the machine shook violently and finally bit the dust in the spring of 2001 as we were traveling out to the West.  Newmar authorized repairs to the machine and we had it fixed at a Foretravel dealership in Spokane, WA.  At that time, the Splendide service manager suggested I ask Newmar to install a new machine.  He said he couldn't guarantee that there wasn't additional damage inside the machine that wouldn't show up until later.  Newmar said they would not install a new machine, but would note it in the record of our Dutch Star.

Our three year warranty on the Dutch Star ran out in May 2003 and we are now in year five.  In the Spring of 2004 we started to notice that our Wilson Art flooring was starting to buckle, but we were never able to detect where water might be coming from as we never saw water leaks inside the rig.  When Diane was doing some Spring cleaning, she removed the drawers in the bathroom sink and saw water on floor.  We wiped it up and then she did a load of clothes and found the water was coming from the washer. 

I traded a few notes with Newmar and they said service techs would look at the problem when we were at the Newmar rally in DuQuoin, IL in June.  Diane and I met with the warranty manager who told us he had read the documentation I provided from the 2001 time frame and immediately said Newmar would give us a new washer/dryer and a new floor.  We were very pleased, but the story gets even better.  Diane had decided that she would rather have the stacked washer/dryer in our next motorhome, so we asked if it that would be possible instead of another Splendide, which was actually a less costly solution for Newmar.  He said that if a stacked unit would fit in our closet, they would install one instead of the combo machine.  Newmar currently installs other floors as standard equipment, so we were able to get a "marble look" floor instead of the Wilson Art wood floor.

We are ecstatic that Newmar stepped up to the problem and they corrected it better than we could have imagined.  Needless to say, provided we aren't priced out of the market, Newmar is the choice for us for our next motorhome."

Our friends Stan and Betty Bober live in Mishawaka, so we contacted them and got together for a couple of meals in their hometown.  We met some friends of the Bobers, Joan and David Whittacker, who also went to dinner with us one evening at Peddler Village.

You never know who you are going to run into.  One day I was walking through the campground at the Newmar factory and heard someone say my name.  I didn't recognize him at first because it was quite a while since we hooked up, but it was Bob Roney.  We met via the RVAMERICA bulletin board and then visited with them at our very first rally, the FMCA International Convention in Brunswick, Maine in 2000.  It was great to see Bob and Anne again.

With our repairs completed at the Newmar factory, we headed out for a timeshare week in Fairfield Glade, Tennessee, one of our favorite places to visit.  Out of the more than ten years that we have owned a timeshare week in Ormond Beach, Florida, we have probably traded to Fairfield Glade five or six times.  Once again we find that we really love Fairfield Glade.  It had been two years since our last visit and there were now five golf courses in Fairfield Glade.  We got to play three of them during the week we were there.  As we drove around the area, we  stopped to chat with people who were all very friendly.  One guy had a house on the street where we once owned a lot and to him it was heaven.  I told him we don't do winter anymore so we'd have to head south for the winter.  He loved it and tried to explain how he plays golf all year long.  I told him, yeah, that's how it was in Atlanta and even those winters got too cold and long for us.  He told us about another RV home, so we went to find it.  There were two retired New York school teachers who lived in the house.  The guy was outside so we chatted and he invited us to look at his 42' 2003 COUNTRY COACH MAGNA housed in a huge garage that allowed two small cars to be parked behind it.  We always thought one problem might be the lack of a movie theater in the area, but that gets fixed in 2005 when the Crossville Stadium 10 opens.

We drove over to see how The Gardens RV Village was coming along in Crossville.  It was still pretty new last time we were in the area.  Now there were lots of RV homes.  They were large duplexes with the garages in the middle and houses to the outside.  Some folks were working in their garage so we stopped to chat.  We just drove into their driveway and told them we were full-timers checking out the area and they invited us in to see their home.  They had an Endeavor in their garage.  The house had 1750 sq ft and it seemed like plenty of room, plus a garage of about 2000 sq ft.  The house next door was for sale for $375K and had 3300 sq ft of house and 2000 sq ft of garage.  We saw some open garages with RVs ranging from small to medium gas motorhomes to a Prevost to an old Foretravel to a Country Coach.  Although living in a place like that would be nice for the camaraderie with other RVers, we definitely love Fairfield Glade as the place to be in the area. 
If we ever decided to become snowbirds, we would surely look into living in Fairfield Glade and spend winters in Florida or some other warm climate area.

We didn't go very far after leaving Fairfield Glade, only a bit down I-40 in Kingston, just west of Knoxville .  Our first choice for a campground was Four Seasons as it sounded okay in the directory.  It turned out to be a small campground that wasn't very appealing.  There was no one in the office and then some woman came up and told us which campsite to take.  It was horrible.  She didn't focus on the length and width of our motorhome and put us in a tight site bounded by trees.  The power was horrible.  We looked in the directory and decided to move down the road to Soaring Eagle.  That was a good decision and we spent four days there.

While at Soaring Eagle, we met Joe, Jon, and Kathleen Caudill who were traveling in two rigs.  They were sitting out one day so I went over to chat. They were from Tallahassee.  Turned out Joe and Jon were 57-year old fraternal twins who were at some kind of family reunion for Jon's wife.  Interesting folks.  Joe and Jon were musicians and played guitars and drums.  We talked about lots of stuff, including "two buck Charley" wine after they mentioned that they make their own wine from kits.  I got a taste of a blush wine and it wasn't bad, but stronger than most commercial wines.

The sad story is that the couple, Jon & Kathleen, lost their 16-year old daughter (only child) in a car accident.  The most I could figure from what they said about the girl's dog that they now take care of and it's age, the accident was about four years ago.  I can't imagine.  It's not possible to comprehend what it must be like to go through something like that.  I have known two other folks during my working days who lost children and each time I tried, but couldn't, comprehend what it must have been like for them.  Only they know what the pain is really like.

Then we learned that one of the brothers, Joe Caudill, who was traveling with his dog, lost his wife to cancer 1 1/2 years ago.  Same as my dad's, pancreatic cancer.  She loved their motorhome and she preferred to live in that rather than the house until almost the very end.  Such nice folks with such sad stories.

They told us about what they consider to be a great Corps of Engineers (COE) park on Lake Seminole that we may try to stop by on our way to Florida.  Jon and Kathleen still still work, so they wouldn't be able to meet us during the week, but if we could go through the area over a weekend, they said they would try to hook up with us there.  They gave me a copy of a CD they cut on which they played music by The Ventures (remember them?) and it was very good.  It was just two guys who laid down 16 tracks and played all the instruments.  We hope to cross paths with the Caudills again sometime.

Norm and Linda were spending several months in Louisville as Norm prepared for some surgery on his jaw, so we drove there and spent a night boondocking across from Tom Stinnett RV.  Norm and Linda were just up the road at a KOA and we got to visit and go out for a meal.  We knew it may be a long time before our paths cross again, so it was a bit sad saying good-bye.

Our friends, John and Libby, were planning to drive up from Okeechobee to their former home area in Blairsville, Georgia, so we decided we would detour off our route to Douglasville and visit with them, as well as Pappy and Cecile, for a few days.  We had some time to get to Blairsville, so we stopped in Chattanooga for a few days.  It was a Holiday Trav-L-Park right off I-75 and it offered FREE WiFi.  Naturally, I was a happy camper.  It turned out to be the weekend of the grand opening of a new Camping World, so we went over to check it out and walked off with a couple of small door prizes.

One evening while out walking, we noticed a car with a license plate that we recognized as being from Germany, a country we visited many times when I was doing a lot of business travel and we loved each visit.  A couple was sitting outside and we started up a conversation.  They were Dietmar and Petra Langen  from Germany.  Both had worked for Lufthansa and he was a retired pilot.  It turned out they owned their motorhome and toured the USA every year.  They would store the motorhome for the winter in an area where they could catch a Lufthansa flight back to Germany and then pick it up in the Spring.  This winter they were storing it in the Atlanta area.  What a great way to travel.  Diane and I have actually thought about doing something like that in reverse.  That is, store our motorhome and spend several months in Europe and then pick up our USA travels when we return.  It's just a dream for now, but we think about it.

After a nice stay in Chattanooga where we didn't do much other than lounge around, we headed to Blairsville.  Libby had made reservations at the Georgia Mountain Campground across from where the Georgia Mountain Fair was being held.  However, we got there first and saw that it was a very tight campground and not conducive for big rigs.  A couple, Bob and Polly Seifried, who were checking out the campground in their car came by and told us about Bald Mountain Campground, so we called there to see if they had two sites.  They did, so I called John and Libby who were enroute and told them about the change in plans.  We hooked up at the Bald Mountain Campground.  During our stay in Blairsville we got to visit with John and Libby, Pappy and Cecile, and Bill and Kathy Champ.  John and I got to play a round of golf on a very chilly day on a very hilly course that resulted in a very high score.

Then it was on to Douglasville to visit with kids and grandkids, and to take care of doctor and dentist visits.  It was a shorter visit than we normally do when we are in Jill's driveway, but we wanted to get to Florida.  We celebrated Ashley's fourth birthday while we were there and saw a few movies.  Diane had a little scare with a mammogram that resulted in them wanting to do an ultrasound, but everything turned out okay.

My mom hadn't seen us for many months, so we stayed in the area for a couple of weeks to visit with her and help her run some errands. We always stay at the Ocala Ranch RV park since it's only seven miles from my mom's house.  Her house sustained some damage due to the hurricanes and she was dealing with insurance and roofing companies to get her roof repaired.  Our timing was good and we were able to help her through that.

We had a couple of items with the Dutch Star that needed fixing, so we headed to Independence RV in Winter Garden.  We were having a problem with a leaky toilet and a water pump that was cycling for no reason.  While there we had contact with Steve and Amy Turney and we got together for a meal one evening.  They also toured the Dakotas last summer but were always about three weeks behind us.  We finally connected in Florida.

Our plan was to stay in the Orlando area for a few days before heading back to Ocala for Thanksgiving Week with my mom.  We usually stay at the Encore RV Resort near Disney, and usually stay at a Passport America rate that is half of the normal rate.  However, due to a few campground in the area going out of business, Encore is very busy and decided to cut off the discounted price as of October 15.  We don't usually spend $30+ for campground fees, but we did this time for three nights.  We wanted to visit with Ray and Earline Greer who earlier in the year sold their Dutch Star and built a house in Kings Ridge.  We went to visit them in their new home and went out for a nice meal and visit.  Diane and I play golf at the Kings Ridge Executive (short) course.

We spent Thanksgiving Week visiting with my mom and went out for Thanksgiving dinner along with my mom's very nice neighbors, Walt and Evilyn Cook.  While in Ocala we decided it was a good place to look into switching to Verizon for our cell phone.  We were getting very disenchanted with Cingular as we toured last summer.  I did a lot of research on the Yahoo group "internetbycellphone" and everyone seemed very pleased with their Verizon connections.  So we did sign up for an account and decided to keep the Cingular phone, too, at least for a while.  I cut the plan down to 250 minutes plus 400 minutes with Verizon.  So our total minutes went from 500 to 650 and our total cost went up about $20 after taxes and surcharges.  Now we'll have two providers during 2005 to see how it goes and then we'll decide later in the year whether to keep the Cingular account.

While we were in the Ocala area, we got to meet Ted and Donna Rogers who were from Houston.  They own a villa in huge retiremement community in the Leesburg area, The Villages.  Diane and I had actually looked there back in 1996 when we were still thinking about having a home base from which we would travel half the year.  All that changed when we decided to full-time.  Ted had contacted me when he found our website.  They were in Florida for Thanksgiving Week and this was the first chance to actually meet.  Diane and I went to visit them in their villa.  After a round of golf, Ted and I picked up Diane and Donna and went out for a nice meal.  It was great meeting new friends and I'm sure our paths will cross again in the future.

When we were at the Newmar rally in DuQuoin in June we joined the Newmar Fulltimers Chapter.  They were holding a rally at The Great Outdoors (TGO) in Titusville the week after Thanksgiving, so we headed there the day after the holiday weekend.  We had a very nice time meeting new folks who were also full-timers.  I got to play golf on the very nice course at TGO; we had a big group go on an air boat ride on two boats; and a big group went to the Dixie Crossroad restaurant for dinner one evening.

One of the full-timers, Jim Smith, told me he had been following our website for quite a while and it was nice to hear that.  Jim had a satellite internet dish on the roof of his motorhome and he enabled it for any of us who were WiFi enabled to access.  It was again great to have high speed internet access during the week.  I'm certainly no guru about WiFi, but when we met the rally coordinators, Martha and Bill Verity, at the Newmar factory in September, she asked me if I would moderate a roundtable about WiFi.  We had a good turnout by folks who were interested in learning about WiFi and what was needed to get their laptops enabled to connect to a WiFi network.

Sometime over a year ago I got a note from David Spain who said he found our website and followed it from time to time.  He told me that he owned a hotel in Cocoa Beach and we were welcome to stop by if we were ever in the area and park there for a few days.  The hotel was right across from the beach so it was very inviting.  TGO was only an hour north of Cocoa Beach, so I contacted Dave to see if his hotel made it through the hurricanes okay and if the offer was still there to park on his property.  Both were positive, so we drove there and parked for five days. 
It was mid-December and the beach was pretty empty.  The weather was perfect and we spent a few days walking along the beach, including to the Cocoa Beach Pier.  We saw lots of damage caused by the hurricanes.  The Ramada, the Doubletree, and the Hilton hotels were all still closed.  An old Howard Johnson was so damaged that Dave said they were just going to level it.  As for Dave's hotel, it sustained more than a million dollars worth of damage, but it was open for business.  Florida was really hurt bad by the rapid succession of hurricanes last summer.

Our next stop before heading back to Ocala to spend Christmas with my mom was the Escapees park in Wachula.  We weren't usually in the area until after the Tampa RV Show in January and the park was usually full at that time.  This was the first time we were able to get a full hookup site in this park, so we stayed for a week.  As we usually do when we are in this area, we visited with Bob and Donna Eberly and Dick and Kay Ackerman who, once again, were workamping at the state park in Bowling Green.  Diane and I played golf with Bob and Donna and then we all met at a Chinese Buffet in Wachula for dinner one evening.   It was great to visit again and get all caught up with our travels.

Our other friends in the area that we always look forward to visiting are Paul and Diane Andrus who live in Sebring.  I always enjoy playing the two golf courses there.  I have always had problems scoring on those two courses, but I finally played well and scored well.  The four of us played together one day, and then I played with Paul and some of his friends another day.  We enjoyed a very nice visit and meal in their home.

Then it was back to Independence RV to get a part installed they had to order for the water pump and then it was on to Ocala. 

My mom didn't want to travel to Atlanta for Christmas, so we told her we would spend it in Ocala.  Jill, Tonya, April, and Richard came down for a few days and spent Christmas Eve in Ocala.  Jill surprised us by also bringing Ashley along.  April and Diane made a couple of apple pies, and then Jill and Diane did the cooking.  We told my mom to just relax and enjoy the company.  Jill's plan was to head back to Douglasville on Christmas Day to spend the rest of the holiday with nieces and nephew.  The lure of spending some time with the younger grandkids was too much, so we told my mom we were going to drive up to Douglasville for a few days and asked if she would like to go.  She declined and said she would rather stay home and visit with her neighbors.  So Diane and I drove the motorhome up to Jill's place for four days.  I guess we aren't ready to not spend the holidays with as many grandkids as we can, and most of them live in the Atlanta area.

With Christmas over, we headed to the Encore park in Orlando on December 31 where we planned to spend the winter.  We were booked in there until March 31, at which time we will head north again.  This concludes our 2004 travels.  Our plans are still to tour the Washington and Oregon coast in 2005 and maybe finally have a chance to do the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta in early October as we make our way back east.

Until next time, safe travels.....

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