Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

Gallivan’s Travels: The Choices We Make in the World We Live In

In Gallivan's Travels on January 18, 2020 at 7:36 pm

Sometimes you have a destination and you want to get there as quickly as possible. Other times you just want to travel, so you can take it slow and enjoy the scenery. And sometimes you want to reach as perfect as possible a compromise between the two.
And then there are the times you think you you know what you want, but life steps in and changes your plans.
I am not a big fan of the interstates. Most of the time I prefer to travel the secondary highways and less travelled roads. So, before we left Lums Pond State park, near St. Georges Delaware, I consulted my road atlas (much more useful for this kind of planning than a GPS app) and plotted a route south on US 301. We had a destination – a state park just outside of Richmond, VA. We wanted to get there at a reasonable hour, but didn’t want to rush. Also, we knew that we were likely to encounter some messy weather along the way.
US 301 is nice road to take south if you want to avoid the interstates. From St. Georges almost to the Maryland line it’s a well-maintained 4-lane with a wide, grassy media separating the north and south lanes, and relatively little civilization along the edges. I imagine the trees and fields must be gorgeous in the spring and summer. There was one toll just before the state line (I generally like to avoid tolls).
The scenery began to change a bit in Maryland, but the road still moved along well with little traffic. As son as we began to see signs for the Bay Bridge, however, the road expanded to 6 0r 8 lanes, and it got a little crowded. All in all, though, it was till preferable to the stress and pace of I95. Things stayed that way until we got within spitting distance of D.C., when we turned south again, and the road quieted down.
And the weather turned colder and wetter.
But we had our destination, we were still making good time, and we were looking forward to a relaxing evening in the campground and perhaps a short tour of Richmond tomorrow.
Then we got a phone call from someone back home in RI.
Be careful in Richmond, she said, the governor has declared a state of emergency ahead of the big gun rights rally planned next week. The FBI just arrested four men who were planning on bringing military-style rifles to the capitol. There have been weeks of online threats of violence, including white-supremacist sites calling for a “bugaloo,” the precursor to a race war.
Now, quite apart from the political and constitutional issues involved here, we are not the sort of people who feel comfortable driving deliberately into a place where there may be people with large guns thinking about actually shooting people.
Suddenly, Richmond was out as a tourist stop this week. And our campsite just outside the city seemed too close to the action, too. Who knew whether it might be filling up already with people plotting violence.
Now, before anyone starts talking about good guys with guns and police presence and “paranoia,” think about this. How many people might choose differently about going to a rally, or a concert, or a theater, or a church or a school if they knew that there might be even one person there, never mind possibly dozens, who was threatening violence and would bee heavily armed? The original planners of the Richmond event claim to have wanted peaceful protest, said they represent responsible gun ownership; but somewhere along the line, they lost control of the situation. It is (to put it mildly) ironic that a rally to protect the rights of responsible gun owners could turn so quickly into a display of the most dangerously irresponsible use of them.
But that is the world we live in now – not just around gun rights, but around a lot of issues. We have to make what used to be simple decisions about where we go and what precautions we take based on the unpredictable behavior of people who want us to be afraid.
Now, our original plan was to hurry up to Richmond tonight, take a stroll through the city tomorrow, then make a leisurely drive to visit family in Greenville, NC. We would arrive early enough for conversation, games, and a special dinner. We’d have time to adore and exclaim over our obviously talented and brilliant grandson, and then sleep in a real bed one night before going on our way.
Then the texts started coming and going. There were scheduling conflicts. Complicated family dynamics meant juggling different sets of parents and step-parents on the same day. How many nights did we want to stay, could we arrive this time rather than that time, and, oh yeah, there’s this other thing happening if you wanted to come that night instead of this one. So the leisurely trip became a destination, and the desire to avoid the interstates ringing Richmond meant going the long way around.
And that also is the way of the world right now. It’s harder to be spontaneous, even with family. We live far apart, and we have blended families and broken families and too many permutations of our relationships. We can’t just call up and say, hey, we’re ten minutes away, just passing through, and how about we bring you dinner or dessert, or a nice bottle of wine, and we hang out for a while.
Now everything has been sorted out, of course. One of the advantages of traveling in a small motor home and not having to get back to jobs or other responsibilities is that we can be flexible. We can adjust. Richmond will, I hope, still be there on our way back north in a few weeks. Family can be visited again when we might hope for a smoother connection. There will almost always be a way to choose the roads less travelled if we want to, or take the highway when we need to.
The complicated can usually be simplified.
And that, to, is the world we live in.

Escaping the Cold — Well, Almost.

In Gallivan's Travels on January 17, 2020 at 9:10 pm

It’s January in New England. Cold. Last night the temperatures dropped to fifteen degrees. So, today we headed south. It’s got to be warmer, right?
Well, sort of.
We stopped for the night is northern Delaware – Lums Pond State Park.
And the temperatures tonight will be in the 20s.
But first, let me talk a bit about the travels of the day.
We set out at a reasonable hour – 09:30 am. We knew that it would be a five or six hour trip, just driving time, to get as far as Delaware. We also knew that we would be traveling some of the time on I95. So, traffic. But our GPS mapping app took all of that into account, right?
Yes and no.
The first part of the trip went fairly easily. We drove down 395 to 95 and on toward the NY border. We got off onto 287 and across the Tappan zee bridge.
Then things gotg strange.
We generally map our trip to avoid tolls. So, the GPS took us off of 287, through several unnamed roads, then back onto 287. It was actually kind of enjoyable. Nice scenery, rural, but not difficult roads, easy driving, but the long way around.
The real trouble started when we got finally around near Philadelphia and back onto I95. Suddenly, there were delays – accidents, traffic, general slowdowns – every 5 to 10 miles, for 5 to 20 minutes at a time. An estimated arrival time of 5:30 became 5:45. 6:00, 6:15. And the scenery became long lines of cars in the dark – their taillights glowing and dimming ahead of us.
We finally arrived at a campsite in Lums Pond State Park at about 6:20. Dark. Cold.
One of the advantages of traveling in Gallivan is that we can stop anywhere and don’t have to stay long, however. We had a quick bite of lunch in New Jersey, then right back on the road. We stopped for gas once. We got coffee. And we almost never left Gallivan. Into the cold.
The cold we thought we were escaping.
Eventually, of course, we will reach some warmer days, but tonight we will have the heat on and the blankets drawn close.
Tomorrow, we will head down into Virginia, where daytime temps will be – gad! – in the 40s, and nighttime temps will drop into the 20s. By the beginning of the week, we will be in North Carolina, where temps will struggle into the 50s – better than Rhode Island, but not exactly warm.
It is, I suppose, a characteristic of New England thinking in the winter, that everywhere else, especially south, must be not just warmer, but warm. This is why so many New Englanders head for Florida in the winter. Warm weather. Sunshine. Summer all year.
So, we are disappointed when we get anywhere south of New Jersey and it’s still too cold.
But Gallivan is warm. We have lentil soup for supper. We have blankets and a heater and each other. Not that bad a deal, after all.

Hello-o-o-o, Austin! Aside from one more glitch, it was a very pleasant drive.

In Gallivan's Travels on March 28, 2019 at 7:29 pm

One of the fun things to do when one travels south at this time of year from New England is to check regularly on the weather at home. Today in Austin the high temperature was 78o. Last night we slept just north of Waco and, for the first time, didn’t need to set the heaters or keep the sleeping bag pulled all night. At home in RI the temp only got up to 51o and tonight will be in the 30s.
I only mention that because I don’t know if we told any of our friends at home yet today. And telling them is another fun thing about traveling south in March from NE.
Texas, it appears is under construction. Route 35 from Dallas to Waco (and I am assuming into Austin) is wide and getting wider. The on ramps and connectors between the state routes and the interstates loop and fly and weave around above and below. In a lot of places, we could see the unfinished ends of bridges and ramps that seem to pint nowhere in particular. It’s a bit like riding through the middle of an amusement park where the roller coaster isn’t quite finished, but they’re using it anyway.
We stopped at an RV shop in Waco this morning (more on that in a moment) and the owner, Ken Bellringer, told us that the Silos area has changed dramatically over the last few years. Much of that is due to Magnolia, the upscale, just-gotta-have-this-if-you’re-going-to-be-somebody, furnishings and accessories made famous, apparently by some Austinites named Chip and Joanne. Everyone knows them and their television show, which is why we looked completely blank when Ken first mentioned them. They have a television show. Home make-overs. That sort of thing. Reality TV. So we’re told.
I am not used to highways quite this dramatic running through the middle of the city. Boston’s 18th century streets and intersecting of I9o, I93, and those tunnels (“My god, where am I and where am I going to end up?”) seem quaint and reasonable compared to the six or more lanes in each direction, flanked by access roads that take you into town and back on your way. Amazingly, we have seen very few slowdowns or other delays. And they must have elves doing the construction in the middle of the night, because it is extremely rare to get pushed aside by a road crew.
In between the cities, the Texas countryside is, with regard to people and human structures, very full of empty from Texarkana to Austin. The plains stretch out on either side, with fields and pastures not yet showing the crops or grasses that will soon be pushing up. The herds seemed to be somewhere else, as we only saw a few examples of the bovine ilk lazing in the sun.
The bluebonnets, however, are starting to bloom, growing from tiny purple dots near Dallas to four- or five-inch young stalks as we pulled into Austin.
As for Ken Bellringer (remember him?), our last couple of days have reminded us that if something can go wrong, just hope it’s something small.
I told in my last essay about the adventure with the oil sensor, the nail-in-tire, and the parking brake, which no one ever uses, but I seem to miss immensely now that I can’t use it. Many popular songs have dealt with this phenomenon, I know, but who listens?
Well, we stopped last night at a Safety Rest Stop near Hillsboro.
An aside, if you’ll indulge me. I know, I have always told my students that one needs to try not to write exactly as one thinks, because our thinking is generally disorderly and our writing and speaking is supposed to give it order. But that’s not the aside.
The aside is a shout out to the state of Texas for their Safety Rest Stops. Several states, not most, however, allow people to sleep in their vehicles overnight at roadside rest stops. Truckers do this all the time, and RVers even have a name for it, dry camping, because you aren’t hooked up to any utilities.
(Another aside within the aside: there is an ongoing dispute within the RV communities whether the term ”boondocking” applies to both camping in places away form actual civilization, not just hookups, and camping in rest stops and parking lots. I have decided to throw in with the boondocking is only in relative wilderness crowd. There, now you know two or three things you probably didn’t know before if you don’t do this sort of thing.)
These Texas stops, however are amazing. Each is designed specifically to reflect the features and history and ecology of its location. There is a main building open only during the day. And another that has 24-hour bathroom facilities. Each stop has a large parking lot for trucks , buses, and large RVs; and a separate lot on the other side of the building for cars, small trucks and vans like ours. In between, surrounding the buildings is a landscaped area with a playground, walking paths, and a stretch and exercise station. There isn’t much in the way of shade, but this is Texas, after all. The only real issue is highway noise, so bring earplugs; and the fact that the parking areas remain lighted, so bring window shades or a blindfold. Otherwise they are secure and comfortable.
Now Ken. Ken Bellringer, remember? Ken runs an RV repair shop just about 4 miles out from the Silos district in Waco. It feels really isolated, though because once the Baylor University campus ends, the city disappears quickly.
When we parked it the Safety Rest Stop last night, we discovered water dripping from something that looked important under the camper. So I went online for repair shops. (Out here, by the way, there are so many RVs that the repair shops actually make house calls. I’ve decided these aren’t really asides, so much as in-text notes to elaborate on or explain things.) I found one in Hillsboro, run by a man named Paul. I explained my situation to Paul, over the phone, and he told me that he couldn’t help me, but I should call on Ken Bellringer in the morning. He also assured me, even though I didn’t ask, that his name is, indeed, Bellringer.
So, this morning, we made our way to Waco and Ken’s shop. Ken and I and his mechanics discussed the situation and he agreed that they would be willing to fix it, with several caveats. If what it looked like wasn’t what it was, he might not have the parts, so I would have to drive it with the thing disassembled until tomorrow, then go back to Waco to finish the job. That seemed reasonable.
Then Ken talked a blue streak about Waco, and where we might want to visit while they were working on Gallivan and suggested that most folks take an Uber into town. That was how we ended up discovering the Silos and Magnolia and another place called the Findery, which had all that stuff I mentioned earlier; and eating a lunch of barbecue brisket sandwich from a food truck over near the park. I would tell you more about that, but some asides are less important than others.
We got the call that Gallivan was ready, we took an Uber back to Ken’s place, chatted some more about changes going on and other random topics, paid our bill, said our goodbyes and have-a-safe-trips, and drove on down to Austin.
Tomorrow night is the start of the HONK,TX festival. The day will be used to meet up with our friends who all arrived by plane yesterday and today, and taking in the sights. It could be a late night, so you probably won’t hear from me again until Saturday, or even Sunday, if it’s as good a time as it should be.
Aside from that.

Sometimes It’s the Journey: Observations from a day on the road.

In Gallivan's Travels on March 26, 2019 at 7:39 pm

It was a long drive today, without side trips. We had to make up some time from our unexpected layover in Nashville. We got on the road before 9:00 and reached Lake Catherine in Arkansas about 4:00. But that doesn’t mean there was nothing to see.
— From Virginia west across the middle of the country, the interstates belong to the trucks. Large box trucks, eighteen wheelers, some in tandem, glittering tankers, flat beds with shrouded lumber or great rolls of steel or stacks of concrete forms, or enormous pipes line up on both sides of the highway in long caravans. There are the well-known national carriers, the regional freighters, the independent drivers; they’re pulling well marked, even colorful trailers, shipping containers on rail trucks, and anonymous silver or white boxes; all moving along in the great daily migration of the stuff of our lives.
These are their roads, integral to their livelihoods and their identities. It is they who share them with us, not the other way around.
For some, it could be intimidating, hurry along in the midst of these roaring behemoths, but I find it somewhat comforting in Gallivan. The drivers are, almost without exception, courteous, careful, and professional. They are much more concerned about the stupidity of the automobilers who over-estimate their own agility or speed, or overestimate how much room they need for that lane change or a sudden stop. But if you respect the truckers’ knowledge of the roads and experience with the terrain, they can help you move along on a long drive. I have said before that I like to fall in behind an eighteen-wheeler, far enough back so the driver knows I’m there, and to allow for merging at on ramps and disappearing right lanes. I match the driver’s speed, watch for his reactions to road events I can’t see. And when the wind tear fiercely across the highway, the trucks provide both warning and some protection from the blasts.
— The highway is mostly a steady rumble of McAdam, that ubiquitous black surface that has carried Americans across the continent in all directions for decades now. Occasionally, however, it turns into a segmented road, pieced together from separate sections of pavement that bounce you along to a steady thudding of the wheels against the seams. Less often, especially less often that a New Englander might have anticipate, the road gets ugly, with pot holes and repairs that, at 70 miles-an-hour seem to want to shake you right apart.
— The rest areas out here are reliable and clean. Each new one is a clone of the last. They have a large area for trucks and buses, and a separate area for cars (which is where a Class B motorhome best fits. They offer the simple amenities of a couple of vending machines, clean bathrooms, fresh water, and a place to park for the night if you are road weary or simply want to skip the campgrounds and find Walmart parking lots a little creepy.
— It is important to stay flexible even when you’re in a hurry. We set out this morning for Hot Springs National Park. After all but half-an-hour of our trip, having just pulled off I30 onto US 171, we realized that the NP doesn’t have showers. They have full hook-ups and nice bathrooms, but no showers. We decided that we needed the showers. So we re-routed to Lake Catherine State Park. Our GPS, however, didn’t seem to understand what we were doing. It took us over several miles of narrow, winding country roads through the middle of nowhere, only to dump us back onto I30. Why it didn’t just tell us to make a U-turn, I’ll never know. But the scenery was gorgeous, the roads were old and slow, but they were passable. And just before we got back on the interstate, we rand right into a large truck stop and gas station. Since the gauge had just crept onto the red, it was a welcome sight. And it turns out we might have blown right by it and not seen another before we got to Lake Catherine.
— Now we have had a nice walk, a light supper, and a chance to sit with a drink. Our site sits right by the lake and the night is beautiful. We weren’t headed here, but here is where we have come to. Sometimes it is helpful to remember to pay attention to the journey and remember that every end sets you up for the next beginning. Tomorrow we will find a stopping place somewhere between Lake Catherine and Austin. Don’t know where it will be yet, but I’ll try to enjoy the ride.

Stay Calm . . . and find out who your new friends’ friends are.

In Gallivan's Travels on March 25, 2019 at 6:36 pm

Saturday’s glitch kept us off the road all day yesterday. We relaxed, we napped, and we took a nice long walk. It was a good day. It meant re-thinking our schedule a bit. We need to be in Austin sometime on the 28th, so we have time, but we were hoping to spend a day in Memphis and another in Hot Springs, Arkansas. At least one of those would have to be bypassed. It was Sunday, and there wasn’t a mechanic to be found who could fix what was wrong with Gallivan.
When you are traveling in a Class B motor home and looking for a place to spend a night, an RV “park” may not seem like what you’re looking for. Many of them are just wide open spaces with graveled parking spaces equipped with hook-ups for electric, water, and sewer; and possible cable TV. These are generally filled with large fifth-wheel trailers and bus-sized RVs. Most of those are often long-term guests. People will park their house away from home and stay all season. There may not be many sites that are built for a small RV.
That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t park there while you’re on the road. The parks usually have a site or three that they can rent out for an overnight or short stay. And there can be other benefits to staying in one.
A shout out here to the folks at Grand Ole RV Park in Goodlettsville, Tennessee. It is, in fact, a big parking area for big RVs. There were rigs in every available spot. We called them on Friday afternoon and asked if they had a spot for us. We didn’t need much, we said. Just a simple site, didn’t need full utilities. They said they could find something.
What they found when we got there was a spot under a tree with an electric hook-up. Water was nearby, but it would need a garden hose to reach us. We didn’t need running water, but our fresh water tank was low and we wanted to fill it for washing and non-cooking uses. After we added some water to the tank, Tommy, the owner of the park noticed that we were going to have some trouble getting things level, so he looked around and found a new site for us. It was graveled and level and had both electric and water. Great.
Grand Ole RV has all the amenities. A small camp store, mostly filled with stuff you might need for your RV, not much in the way of food, for example, except beer and soft drinks. But they have a kitchen that serves up a new menu of country cooking every day. They also have, of course, bathrooms and showers and a laundry. And every night, dinner and the evening hours are accompanied by live country music from a long list of local bands who play there. It was loud and it was close, but everyone was having a good time.
Saturday, as you know if you’ve been reading the blog, we spent the day in Nashville. When we returned, we discovered that the 30 amp electric hookup was being used by the adjoining site and there was only a 50 amp outlet available. Sue, the other owner, lent us an adapter, though, and all was good. These people were proving to be very helpful, even eager to help, for a little van that came in on the spur of the moment.
We also knew, however that we were going to need to get Gallivan looked at before we headed further west. Sunday, we began to deal with that. Tommy gave us the name of a local mechanic, who spent a good twenty minutes on the phone with me talking about the issue with the oil pump sensor switch, reassured us that it could be fixed, but not by him. He did offer, however to let us drop his name at the Dodge dealership downtown. Nothing with a mechanic, however, was going to be open until 8:30 Monday. And we had used up our two nights at Grand Ole RV.
Sue took a look at the availability, and offered to let us stay put one more night – and even gave us a discount for the third one.
This morning I began calling around for an appointment for the van. Nobody seemed to be able to take us, unless we came on in and sat around all day waiting for a break in their schedule. So we looked at our options and decided we might just need to drive Gallivan half-an-hour to a dealership in Nashville that had a lift that could accommodate the van and not interfere with all the equipment under the Rv portion.
So, I went inside to say goodbye, and got to talking with Tommy. “Have you called David Smith,” he asked. “yeah,” I said, “I’m waiting for a call back.”
“Let me try. He’s probably just out in his garage and can’t take the time for a call.”
So, he called. David, it turns out was nowhere to be found, however.
So, I said, well, we’d probably head on over to Nashville to the dealer there, seeing as the one in Goodlettesville didn’t have the equipment they needed to fix the van.
“What equipment?” he asked. “Checking and replacing a sensor shouldn’t need any special equipment. Hold on a moment. Let me call my friend, she’s a part owner.”
He called her, she called the dealership, and we suddenly had an appointment, if we wanted it, with Christina.
“Go on over to David’s first,” Tommy suggested, “And if he can’t help you, you call me back and I’ll set it up with Bob Frensley’s, the Goodlettesville dealer.
Well we got lost on the two mile drive to David’s, called Tommy who got us back on track. David told us there was no way he could do anything today, so we called Tommy again. And we headed for Frensley’s.
Now things began to get interesting. The engine light went out and the tire pressure light came on. Apparently the pressure sensor was working again, but there was a slow leak around a nail in the rear, driver-side tire.
We pushed on to Frensley’s. I talked to Christina, who turned me over to Krista, who remembered that I had called the day before. She explained that the equipment they lacked was a lift that would allow them to work on the engine if they had to get it off the ground. They would, however, be able to check the DTC codes, update the computer, change the oil, and, using a floor jack, fix the tire.
Do it.
Two hours later, all of that was done, we were charged only for the oil change and were on our way to lunch, the whole thing having only cost us a few hours and fifty dollars.
But that’s not all, folks. After lunch, we got back in Gallivan, started off and heard a squeak symphony coming from somewhere near the repaired tire.
Back to Frensley’s and Krista. We were clearly not going to get very far today.
Several more hours passed. The chief mechanic came out to tell us that the hand brake was freezing up on the rear wheel on that one side, and they weren’t sure how much it would take to get it working again. It seems that the parking brake does not get used much anymore. People simply leave their vehicles in park. But if it’s not used, especially when there is significant salt and snow and mud being thrown around there, rust and dev=bris can make things sticky.
You know what we’re thinking, right? Major repair. He’d do what he could. Another hour or so passed. Krista came in to tell us that they had freed up the parking brake enough so that the brakes would work just fine, but we should go on not using the parking brake because that would just make it stick and squeak and wear away the brake pads again. Everything else was working fine, we could go on our way. Oh, and there’d be no further charges, have a good trip.
This is the beauty of so much of America when you take the time to really see it. People are friendly and fun and helpful. They will go out of their way simply because they want to. They don’t want to know your biases or your politics or your religion. They just want to know how they can help and y’ll have a good trip now.
We stopped over night a short way down I40 at the Johnny Cash Rest Stop. Tomorrow will be a longer than usual day as we head past Memphis to Hot Springs.
Have a good night, y’all. We’ll talk again when we get to Arkansas.

Day 7 – When in Nashville . . . (and a glitch)

In Gallivan's Travels on March 23, 2019 at 7:54 pm

Day 7

First, I will get the less-than-happy items out of the way.
Sue and I try to eat healthy food, preferably organically or sustainable produced, when we feed ourselves. We understand that it is harder to find food like that on the road and that’s fine. We have, in fact found places for lunch or dinner that served high quality food. But Nashville seems to exist in a no-natural zone. We stopped at a grocery store for a few supplies (bread, eggs, some mandarins, that sort of thing) and there was not a single thing in the store that had even a suggestion of being even “natural,” never mind organic. Not even a bakery for a real loaf of bread that hasn’t been overly processed. We did, find a loaf of bread with a lower salt count than the others, though. Small successes.
Second, the glitch. As we headed into Nashville this morning – a 15 minute drive – the check engine light on Gallivan’s dash came on. Now the information we have is that this is most often caused by a loose gas cap (I know, I can’t explain it either), so the solution is to re-tighten the cap than keep driving (as long as there aren’t any other indications of genuine trouble. If the light goes out after a few miles, problem solved.
Didn’t work.
Plan B was to get out my DTC Code Reader. (Never mind what all that means, just know that it plugs into a thingy under the dash and shows you a diagnostic code number that you can then check online to get an idea what’s wrong. Did that. The code indicated a problem with the oil pressure sensor switch. Now one can perhaps drive quite a while with the sensor switch not working as long as the oil pressure is actually good and the engine doesn’t think that it needs to stop working because the sensor is telling it something’s wrong. But it’s a long enough way to Memphis (there’s a country song in there somewhere), so that it might not be worth the risk.
Tomorrow is Sunday, so we may have to find a place to stay the night tomorrow, then get a local Chrysler dealer to take a look at it on an emergency basis. It’s a good thing we gave ourselves a little extra time to get to Austin.
But now Nashville.
Let me just say that lower Broadway in Memphis is a party. I don’t know id it’s always this way or it’s spring break around here or what, but we were happy to have parked across the river at the Titan’s Stadium and walked across the pedestrian bridge into town.
The sidewalks are packed, the restaurants and bars are packed, the streets are packed, and all of it is insane. Every door as far as 6th Avenue overflows with people drinking and dancing (this is before noon and it went on all day) while live music plays loudly, pulsing with a fantastic country beat and full of the bravado and heartbreak of country lyrics. Little rental scooters buzzed all around us through the crowds and into the streets, while mixing in with the regular traffic were mule-drawn tourist carts, tour buses, and trolleys. And there were these amazing bars on wheels, some of them motorized and a whole fleet of them propelled by the passengers who pedaled furiously while singing and drinking and exuberantly shouting. Most of those seemed to be filled, for some reason, with groups of women, bachelorette parties or other groups of women. One pink conveyance with a suggestive name I can’t now recall, was filled with young women making merry and waving large pink inflated penis balloons.
Even the roofs are filled with bands and booze and revelers. On purpose. Most of the restaurants and bars have two or three floors of eating, drinking and music ending on the roof.
It was, however only a couple of blocks to Ryman Auditorium, the “Mother Church” of country music, and long-time home of The Grand Ole Opry. It’s a beautiful building with a story worth telling. We did both the short movie about the building’s history, and a self-guided tour.
Then it was a walk up to 8th Avenue and the Frist Museum of Art. The two key exhibits right now are a collection called Van Gogh, Manet, Degas and their contemporaries; and a collection of Dorothea Lange photographs of America during some of its most difficult times, from the dust bowl to the Japanese internment, the subjects of the photos are of iconic and always moving.
Then we ate at Acme Seed and Feed, where you order your food, seat yourself somewhere at the long tables and wait for it to be brought out; and headed back to our campsite. Tomorrow we will regroup, decide about Gallivan’s booboo and get along with getting along.
Nashville is Nashville, but a glitch is just a glitch.

The Museum of Appalachia

In Gallivan's Travels on March 22, 2019 at 8:38 pm

Sometimes, a short trip in the wrong direction is the right thing to do.
We camped last night in Clinton, Tennessee and planned to head for Nashville this morning. But we decided to take a look first at something called the Museum of Appalachia. It was a short distance away, but north and east when we were going to go west.
We had slept late, so anything more than a short visit would mean getting to Nashville with only enough time to find our campsite and settle in. Exploration of the home of country music would have to wait another day. But we figured a short visit would be all we’d need.
The Museum of Appalachia is a collection of buildings spread over a couple of acres, with a walking path for a self-guided tour. Most of the structures contain artifacts collected mainly by the museum’s founder, John Rice Irwin, who also seems to have written most of the informative plaques and descriptive essays. Visitors are greeted along the path from the parking lot by two peacocks and eight peahens. They sit on and about a rail fence, unbothered by the comings and goings of humans.
Entrance to the museum is through the spacious gift shop and restaurant, where we greeted with such a cheery and assured welcome that we quite forgot that we had not yet decided to stay. But it was mid-morning and it did not look as though the small collection of buildings would take too much time to walk by and through.
At first that seemed to be the case. The first building we saw was an eight-foot wide cabin with nothing inside except, as the poster outside said, “a little cot . . . a stove for heating and cooking, a frying pan, a bean pot, an old dresser, (and a) fiddle.” Nest to it was a child’s play house with some dolls and pother toys inside.
But the third building was called the Appalachia Hall of Fame, and all hope of a quick visit disappeared.
The hall of Fame contains an extraordinary collection of artifacts and displays covering notable Appalachians, unusual local people, and objects covering the region’s history from the pre-settler tribes of the fifteenth century to the daily life of the early twentieth. There were handwoven baskets of exquisite design, hundreds of native arrowheads and spear points and hand axes, leather working tools, woodworking tools, looms and spinning wheels, beehives and beekeeping tools, and blacksmithing tools. At least half of them all were hand-made, jerry-rigged, personal, and extremely clever contraptions. There were displays dedicated to figures from bluegrass musical history that I had never heard of, but wish I had.
And there was the largest, most varied, and most eccentric collection I have ever seen of banjos, lutes, dulcimers, guitars, fiddles, and string music hybrids. There were instruments carved from a single piece of wood, constructed on gourds, and pieced together from every found object imaginable. There was the “ukaweewee,” a banjo with had been constructed with a stainless-steel bed pan for, appropriately, the head. There was a fiddle built on the jawbone of a mule. Some showed how a desire to make music had forced people to build ugly, unwieldy instruments that later evolved into the elegant folk instruments of today. Others showed a level of craftsmanship and loving devotion we tend to associate with the great Violin-makers of Europe.
There were also displays dedicated to historical figures of note, including Sargent York, the Appalachian hero of World War I, who went to war despite his strong conviction that killing, even in war, was a terrible sin; and Cordell Hull, who was FDR’s Secretary of State, and who developed the first graduated income tax – his own tax return was on display – and was instrumental in the foundation of the United Nations.
We spent well over an hour in this one building before we emerged with a feeling that the rest of the tour would have to be a tad quicker.
We passed by some sheds and peered into a couple of steel boxes, free-standing jail cells with steel cots hanging from the inside and steel doors with locks. A sign outside talked of a couple of bad men who were taken from these cells to be hanged, which in hindsight may have been a fate less horrible than staying in the cells.
Then came the display barn.
The display barn houses what the brochure calls “one of the nation’s largest collections of frontier and pioneer memorabilia. From leather tanning to fabric-making to logging and the curing of meat in great hand-carved log troughs, the displays showed the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the Appalachian settlers. And the carvings! Whittlers and wood-carvers of all kinds shaped the plentiful wood of the region into everything from small, intricately details tools of everyday life to large human figures with square, stylized bodies and faces, but expressions that seemed perfectly drawn. There was a general store, and a small shack called the Medicine Cabin where a country doctor had only enough room for his medications and his desk, but from which he traveled all through the mountains, finding his patients far and wide. It was aid that he often slept in his saddle after a day on the trail and only woke when his horse reached the gate at home and rattle it until the doctor wakened.
There tools enormous and delicate. One display had a large collection of augers ranging from a three-inch gimlet to a ten- or fifteen-foot auger used for reaming out the wooden pipes that carried water from the mountain streams and lakes.
And there were the toys. They were dolls and dancing puppets and cup-and-balls and small, carved replicas of all the objects of daily life. Some were simply wooden models, others had working parts fashioned from whatever was around. One small tractor had rear wheels fashioned from two adhesive tape spools.
As we walked around, we overheard a young man visiting with a school group comment to a friend that these people must have had a lot of time on their hands. It was clear from what we saw, however, that the reality was just the opposite. These were people whose lives were so full of hardship and the labor of just living, that they filled a few moments here and there making their lives more beautiful, more creative, and more loving through the simple pleasures of turning the world around them into art.
When we finally cleared out of the barn, we had only just begun to walk along and look at and into barns, cribs, smokehouses, tiny cabins where large families lived and prospered. One four-room cabin had a photograph of a woman who had been born there (along with her siblings) and died there after raising nine children of her own. There was the schoolhouse and the church and the log mill and the corn mill and more personal stories than I can tell here of eccentrics and achievers who came from the mountains and valleys of Tennessee.
In the end, we lost track of time and stayed at the museum for three or four hours. It was well worth the thirty dollars it cost for the two of us to get in.
Finally, back on our way to Nashville, it was a fairly quiet drive down route 61 and onto I40.
I will, however end with one additional observation. The most difficult part of driving these mountains along the open interstate highways and some of the four-lane roads between, is the wind. The further west one goes, the more intensely it blows across the road. I suppose one gets used to it in time, but this life-long New Englander has not reached that point.

A Change of Pace

In Gallivan's Travels on March 21, 2019 at 6:55 pm

If you’re not going to just zip on by the country on the interstates, it’s a good idea to leave time to see some of the sights up close.
On day four of our trip, we left our friends behind in black Mountain and headed west again toward Asheville, a pretty little town in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Our first stop was one of necessity, however, not exploration. The kitchen water pump had sprung a leak, wh8ch I had not been able to seal with either of the sticky things I slathered on it when I got it as dry as possible. So, I a day earlier I had called a place I found online, called RV Service, and they were able to get me an appointment at 9:00 in the morning, with a promise that they had the part I needed.
One of the nicest things about traveling this way is that you get to meet local people who have no agenda except to help you with whatever they can. Jay and Mary and their young mechanic sent us across the street to find some coffee and a little breakfast, and had the part replace and everything set to go in less than forty-five minutes. Nice people, good work, and a cheerful, positive attitude.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is an amazing stretch of two-lane road running north to south through the Blue Ridge Mountains. Near Ashville there is a visitor center and folk arts and crafts museum called the Blue Ridge Folk Art Center. Now we are great admirers of folk artists, so we decided to head over for a look. This meant two things: that we were getting aways off track, and we would probably be spending the night in or near Asheville, a not impressive bit of driving since Black Mountain. Neither was a problem. We now had a full week to get to Austin and could afford some extra time for side trips.
The Parkway is incredible. I have driven some white-knuckle main roads through the mountains, but the part of the Blue Ridge we drove that day north from I40, meandered through the mountains gently. The ups, downs and grand curves were well maintained, easy to drive, and beautiful to see. The speed limit is only thirty-five miles-per-hour, so you can take your time without holding anyone up.
The Center houses some of the most incredible pieces fiber art, quilting, wood working, kaleidoscopes, painting, sculpture, jewelry, and just about every craft you can imagine. We were in the land of bluegrass music, so the references to banjos and dulcimers and fiddles and guitars were everywhere. There was also a store where the artists sold some of their creations, and it was all we could do not to buy things we couldn’t afford, couldn’t carry in Gallivan, and had no place to put when we get home. But we did buy wonderful book of color photos and discussions of contemporary quilting. There’s always room for another book or two.
After a brief nap in the parking lot, we headed south through the parkway, then off onto route 191 to the Lake Powhatan National Recreation Area and Campground. My senior pass (I have what’s called a Geezer Pass, because I got it several years ago before the price and the benefits changed) got us half-price for a basic campsite, a shower in the morning and refills for our water jugs.
The pump worked perfectly.
On day five, we took our time getting up, had a light breakfast, and headed for Knoxville, two hours down the road. The Big Ears arts and music festival is just beginning in Knoxville, if you’re in the are, but we only had plans to spend a day exploring downtown. We parked at the corner of the Old Town and walked over to Market Square for lunch. Tupelo Honey serves an excellent fried chicken and outstanding southern-style biscuits. Then it was around the corner to Coffee and Chocolate for some dark chocolate espresso beans and a chocolate chip cookie. Did I mention chocolate? We like chocolate. And coffee.
We then walked down to World’s Fair Park. I had not remembered that Knoxville had a World’s Fair sometime in the 80s, but except for a single pavilion, a signature structure called the Sphere, which is a tower topped by a gold-colored geodesic ball there is really not all that much to remind you. Gay street, however, is a blend of the arts and food and shops that will perfectly envelope the Big Ears.
It was getting late for us to get to our campsite for the night. So we headed north of I275 to Raccoon Valley and the Escapees RV Park, where you have to be member to stay awhile, but people passing through can spend one night for a pittance.
We had again not travelled very far, but far enough. Tomorrow we will head another two hours or so down the road to Nashville, looking to spend at least a day looking for some good music and new adventures.

Accommodations: The Blanket Thief and A Short Visit With Friends

In Gallivan's Travels on March 20, 2019 at 10:28 am

Today’s adventure begins with the tale of the blanket thief, an appropriately dark epic, but with the possibility of a warm and enlightening resolution. Which is to say it happens during the night and is taken care of the next day.
Just to be clear, the blanket thief is neither I nor Sue, but the bed itself. Perhaps you have once owned a pair of sock-eating boots. You simply wish to protect your feet from the elements, the wet and the cold. But every hundred feet or so, you find that you have to reach down in and pull up one or both socks or they will soon have formed an uncomfortable donut around your foot and begun to fill up the bit of space in the toe of the boot. This is sort of what happens in Gallivan’s bed.
As I have suggested before. Staying warm on these very chilly nights is a challenge. We have two decent blankets and a couple of throws to cover ourselves with at night, but we can’t seem to keep them with us. The problem is that the bed fits tightly between three and a half walls and has one odd corner. It is, therefore, difficult to tuck things reliably around the mattress. And although we are not inordinately large people and do not mind the warm intimacy of the confined quarters, we are, nonetheless, forced for comfort sake to turn over from time to time. As soon as either of us moves, however, the blanket thing that would help would be a heavier blanket, a quilt for example, that would help to hold everything under it in place and keep us even more cozy.
So, this morning we looked about for a thrift store (I know, but I promise not to have a thrift store playing a significant part in every tale I tell from the road). The solution was to buy a very nice used sleeping back that will serve as a comforter. For five dollars (plus the cost of the other miscellaneous items we couldn’t not buy) we hope to bring a satisfactory end to the tale of the Blanket Thief.
With our blanket secured, we headed on down the road toward Black Mountain, NC, to visit with friends. More in a bit about that, but first we had to stop for lunch.
Accommodations, after all, include food as well as lodging. Our habit is to eat once in a restaurant and otherwise use the food in our own refrigerator. Breakfast is usually light – toast and peanut butter, or perhaps some oatmeal, with a cup of coffee (or two). Lunch is the best time to eat other people’s food, because it only requires a short stop just off the road. It’s also a chance to meet some nice people, take a brief rest, and get back on the road satisfied and refreshed.
Today, we stopped in Pulaski, Virginia, just shy of our turn south into North Carolina. Pulaski is a charming little town and two nice young women at the gas station just off the highway directed us to Al’s on First, a fairly new restaurant in a newly renovated mill near downtown Pulaski. When we first walked in, I wondered if we were looking at more of an expense than we intended. Al’s is spacious, well laid out, well appointed, and has very professional staff to greet you. But it turns out that the food was both tasty and reasonably priced. We shared a southern roasted chicken sandwich and some pasta salad that was subtly flavored, not uber-salty, and not more food than anyone might expect to shove down midday.
Let me say here, that the gentle lilt of the Virginia accent is a joy to listen to and has made me aware that my Boston Irish accent must immediately flag me as an outsider, a fact which has thus far not one whit dampened the hospitality of the people we have met.
We than continued on down to North Carolina, taking I77 as far as Statesville, then I40 west, the Blue Ridge Parkway. The forsythia and the cherries and the daffodils and what I think were snowy viburnum were all in bloom. There were numerous hawks soaring overhead, and the mountains went from gold to green to rust as the day moved along. There is a kind of rock in these mountains with streaks of gold and red and silvery white; and there were places where waterfalls of ice still clung to the cliffs. And there were more incredible vistas than I (having to keep my eye on the road) could fully appreciate.
We made it to Black Mountain in the late afternoon and found our way to Molly and Dick.
Dick is a high school classmate of mine and Molly is his wife of thirteen years. I have known Molly for a few years as a FB friend, but had never met her in person. Dick and I have been infrequent correspondents over the years. So, we were looking forward both to reunion and to new acquaintance.
Another of the pleasures of travel is the opportunity to get off the road for a night and connect with friends. Molly and Dick were wonderful hosts. We took them out to a Mexican eatery they told us about, then they showed us around Black Mountain. We saw Montreat College, and the town center. We learned that Franklin Graham resides nearby. We saw the small theater where a fellow from New York had long ago begun to bring in professional acts. We say the library and the schools and the mercantile and the galleries and the two breweries.
And we talked. We learned new things about each other, shared stories or our courtship and marriage (Dick and I are contemporaries and Molly and Sue are also), and reminisced about our histories. We also found ourselves compatible in matters of faith and politics and education and people in general, so our conversations occasionally turned to philosophical wonderings and contemporary issues.
We finally went to bed, sleeping on a sofa bed especially prepared for us.
The accommodations, in other words, have been fine, from blankets to brunch to bedtime.
Tomorrow we will hit the road again, but with a week to get to Austin, we expect to relax a bit, take in some more sights, and discover places we have never been or need to see again.

Day Two: The Road Will Share Its Lessons and Its Secrets

In Gallivan's Travels on March 18, 2019 at 4:31 pm

Our first night in Pennsylvania proved, let us say, interesting.
The overnight temps dropped into the low twenties, and we were not plugged in. We misestimated a few things: how high the thermostat needed to be set to keep us warm (underestimated) , how much the battery would drain overnight with the refrigerator not on propane (underestimated), and how much propane the heater and refrigerator would use (overestimated). As a result, we had to run the generator at midnight to recharge the battery, and we froze all night because the temperature wasn’t set high enough. Okay. New strategy for nights we are parking without utilities, rather than hitting a campground. Refrigerator on propane, heater set a tad higher.
We did, however, discover that it is relatively easy to park in truck stops, highway rest areas, and certain public parks and natural areas for little or no cost. Shopping center parking lots also work, but one has to be careful of locations.
We also discovered that it is possible to get along without much water from the cabin tank, because our water pump has sprung a leak and I have not yet been able to seal it until it can be replaced. Potable water is readily available, and any water can be used to wash dishes, clean ourselves, and flush the toilet.
So many things to learn.
But on to better things.
I should say, first, that I really enjoy driving. I most enjoy the secondary and rural roads, where one can discover unexpected gems in the people and places away from the interstates. But this trip will be mostly along the major roads, because we have a specific destination and an only somewhat flexible deadline for getting there and back again.
Not to worry, some of the nation’s highways are as beautiful and pleasant to travel as the nation’s byways. I have long enjoyed, for example, taking I91 and I89 through Vermont from the Massachusetts line to the Canadian Border in the Northwest. Route 90 from Spokane, through Idaho and Montana, and on into Wyoming is another spectacular drive.
Today, we travelled I81 from the Pennsylvania line through a bit of Maryland, a bit more of West Virginia, and more than half the way through Virginia. And through a lot of the Allegheny Mountains. The road is easy to drive, with the mountains running along with you on either side, always seeming just a little ways away, even as you roll through valleys and skate along the edges of the foothills and lower slopes. As we passed by, we made note of so many places we will return to when we can take the time to stop – perhaps on our way home.
We had travelled the same route north in January, passing through the mountains, driving a 15 ft UHaul box truck, in the middle of a wet, cold, snowy night. It was spectacular even then, but I do think I enjoyed the drive a bit more today.
And there is always, on any road, the possibility of surprise and discovery. And modern GPS technology can help.
Around lunch time, Sue began to look for a place to get off the highway for a bite to eat and a chance to relax. A short distance down Route 11 just outside of Harrisonburg, Virginia, and only a few miles from I81, she found us a trifecta – a little plaza with a terrific restaurant called A Bowl of Good, that shared a wall with a coffee shop called Merger Coffee Brewers, and across a small parking lot from an amazing thrift shop. Sue ate an Asian slaw with tofu over a salad bowl. I had the Nigerian chicken stew over rice. She got her customary cup of hot water for tea, and I had some coffee. Then we went across to the thrift store and bought some books, a game to teach a grandchild, some bluegrass sheet music for my Banjo, bits of fabric for quilting, and a shirt for Sue. The lunch was less than thirty dollars and the thrift purchases less than twenty. And the more than an hour with bright, cheerful and charming people was priceless.
Tonight we have camped at a KOA at Natural Bridge/Lexington, just north of Roanoke. We have electricity, potable water, showers and (if we were interested) cable. It’s not free, but forty-two dollars, including tax, is not going to break the budget, either.
Tomorrow we will head for Black Mountain, North Carolina, to visit friends. And then it’s on through Tennessee, Arkansas, and on into Texas, with plenty of time to dawdle a bit and see the countryside, both from the highway and a few byways.

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