It's been a while since I've updated the blog and I thought now would be a good time to share a bit of some inside info on what's really been going on. My weekdays are now consumed by going to what Katie refers to as "my fake job". Fake in the sense that because I work with my dad I must just get to screw off the whole time. The reality is in fact that I work my ass off at this place. I've taken it upon myself to set the pace of the work environment when I'm there. Things are in a constant state of movement and the plant is coming together nicely. In just a couple of short weeks there will be pre-packaged sandwiches and beef jerky pouring out of this plant and into the hands of consumers. My current role is constructor-in-chief. It's a self made title that basically means I've got to be able to build it all, whenever it is needed. It's strange to go back to construction as my means of income. Approximately ten years have passed since that was my last official title. Funny how the world work out.
sIn between the hours of work there is still real life things that need to be taken care of. We have moved into the house and Roo needs to be put away for the winter. Katie stripped the ol' girl of all our worldly things and placed them into the new abode. After that she gets a good cleaning and all of the plumbing systems get winterized. Part of the winter process is stripping off all of the parts I added to make our trip better. The focus changes to all of our improvements. There's no sense in leaving these expensive add-ons for the next owner. The strip down process takes me to the propane tank where I had added an extend-a-stay kit. I pulled off the regulator from the tank and some goo starts to drip out. That's not good. Propane is a gas.. not goo. A quick google search tells me that it's a result of overfilling the tank and all of the chemicals to make the propane stink have accumulated and sat in the lines. No big deal though. I let it drain out and hook the regulator back up. All is well.
Roo gets parked on the street after her full washdown and I can't help but snap a picture. It's a polarizing moment. Our house on wheels is parked in front of our house on bricks. She's been so good to us. It feels as though we have given up on her and that breaks my heart. The miles of asphalt under her wheels have taken us on the greatest trip of our lives. Now she sits under the cloudy sky in cold temps waiting to be put away.
Faithful she has always been.
Resiliency she has always provided.
Security she has always encompassed us with.
We will miss the miles you delivered under our feet my dear. We both shed a tear for the loss of our travels together. Know that we love you, and all that you have given us.
There are things in life you take for granted. Running water, flushing toilets, and hot showers. For most people these things are everyday life activities that are basically forgotten. I would be willing to bet that less than 1% of people out there worry about having running water still working in the house. Perhaps less than 1% of people out there contemplate whether or not the hot water heater has exploded and left a torrential flood in the basement during there work day. These are things I currently think about with the house in it's current state of disarray. To thwart the ever pressing thoughts of peril I took the pro-active approach and replaced the 12 year old water heater with a brand spankin new one.
Is it propped up off the floor on bricks? Yes it is. Is that the correct way to do things? NO it is not. However sometimes you've got to make do with what you got. The water heater will be placed into a code correct position somewhere else in the renovation timeline. For now it's good enough. That means I don't have to have all of those plumbing conundrum nightmares racing through my head on the way home from work.
This is it. The swanky new house in New Athens Il. For a grand sum of $27,500 we picked up a house that was still standing and hasn't been condemned. Built in 1892 it definitely shows it's signs of age on the inside. Due to the many problems with it we had to pony up the cash out of our own pockets. No bank is going to touch this decrepit monster.
After the signing party we headed from the realtor's office to the house to check it out. This flip will be a little different than anything else we've done so far. Our offer was placed on this house sight unseen, and this would be the first time laid eyes on it. We took a ten minute look around and then went back to my dad's house. Roo was uprooted from her resting spot and driven towards her replacement. We'll be boondocking in our own back yard until a few things get fixed. The city water valve is leaking horribly and we can't use water in the house.
My attention turns towards the electrical box as I scan through the labels looking for AC. I decided to tap into the AC power on the outside of the house to wire in the RV outlet so we can continue to live like normal for the next few days. Turns out that was a bad idea.
The screwdriver above isn't being held by me. It's welded into the box. Yep. Welded in there. Turns out the breakers weren't labeled correctly and shame on me for not double checking the power. I disconnected a fully hot wire from the box which then touched the screwdriver and arc welded itself to the ground screws. Oops. Hopefully the rest of the flip won't be so exciting.
Four days ago we were in Houston Texas enjoying what could have been a 75° day of absolute bliss. Instead we woke up to a 20° morning with a 20 mph wind blowing across the parking lot. The weather decided to throw a bit of wispy snow in for good measure. I went out to start the truck and all I heard was "click". Nothing. No start. Son of a bitch, I'm 450 miles from home and the truck won't start. I headed inside and broke the good news to Katie. After walking around the motel room flipping through truck forums I came to the conclusion that the starter was most likely crap. Typically when this happens you can just smack it with a hammer and it starts. Well, I didn't have any tools with me. So another 20 or so turns of the key did the trick and it finally fired off.
From here we traveled about 60 miles west to one of my dad's properties to drop off the tractor and trailer in order to grab our enclosed trailer that had a bunch of our housewares in it. I turned the corner and checked my mirrors like I always do. I noticed that the one of the rear tires was sticking out further than normal. Within seconds I saw the tire roll right off the trailer and pass me on the highway and slowly roll into the ditch.
The bearings had seized up and broke the hub in half. I can honestly say it's the first time I've ever seen this.
I was able to hobble to the old restaurant and drop the trailer off with little fanfare. The parts will be ordered and I'll slap on a new hub assembly when we get up to grab the combo on another trip. For now the enclosed trailer will be strapped onto the "Beast" and driven home. For those of you not in the know the "Beast" is a nickname my old neighbor Mario coined for my truck. She's a 2009 Dodge 2500 regular cab diesel. Equipped with a 6 speed manual trans and 4 wheel drive she's nothing to snuff at. Especially after the full emissions delete and custom tune to make it a little more fun to drive.
And drive we did. Another 450 miles of pounding the asphalt would lead us back to St. Louis to continue the set up of our new lives. Upon our arrival we were greeted with another treat. The main furnace for the RV stopped working around 2000. A ceramic ignitor had failed and would no longer light the fire needed to keep us warm. It just so happens that I had already ordered an identical part weeks ago for the secondary furnace that suffered from the same problem. With the ignitor in my hand the repair was able to be made in a few minutes. The heat was back on and life was good.
Let's recap the day:
With Roo parked at my old man's house we needed to start putting the pieces back together of a normal life. Our late arrival meant I had to wedge the 40' rig into a tight twisty driveway in the dark. The very next morning came up and we were on the road by 0700. The goal for the day was to turn Shirley's tires and get to the our parents shop to grab the truck, trailer, tractor, and Katie's car out of storage.
Let me digress for a second. "Our parents" is a phrase we coined for our particular situation. I'll try to keep this as simple as I can for you guys who don't know how Katie and I met.
Okay, back to the story. We got to our parents place late in the day and pulled my truck and Katie's car out of storage. Shirley had to do her share of the grunt work. The building was a bit tight and I asked her to move 7,000 lbs of load around the tight quarters.
Shirley did her job and moved around in the cold weather like she's done it everyday. A week ago she was driving through Houston, today shes moving trailers in 20 degree weather. For the grand finale we grabbed my truck and headed towards Waupaca, WI. There we picked up a hotel room for the night and let Eli have his very own bed. That's one happy dog. The next day however is a different story...
It is a beautiful late fall morning in northern Arkansas. The air is crisp and we awoke to the naked trees bristling in the wind. A glance through the front windshield during our morning coffee reveals a sight we were not prepared for. A stark white school bus with two white trucks arrive just to the left of our campsite. A bakers dozen of men in white jumpsuits come out of the bus and start raking the leaves that have fallen from the frost. Then a gentleman in blue appears and seems to give direction to the working men. He carries himself as a stern man which is only exacerbated by the gun on his hip. WTF? Why the hell does this guy have a gun? Oh shit... there are a dozen prisoners walking around our RV looking through the window. Thanks Arkansas. We're so glad we paid $27 to wake up to your prisoners cleaning the leaves in front of our RV.
This is how we end our RV trip. After all the days on the road this was probably the sketchiest thing to we have woken up to unexpectedly. From here out it was time to burn some miles and end up at my dad's house just outside St. Louis. We parked for the night and came to the realization that this was it. It was over, and our journey had just entered chapter 2.
What lies forth from here remains unkown to me and my dear wife. Will I continue the blog? I don't know. Will we hit the road again next year? You can bet your ass we will. For now I must depart with this: Thanks for reading and paying attention to our travels. It's been my pleasure to fill you in on the tidbits of our life. Hopefully, somehow, some way, this journey will continue on for years to come.
Although we are headed to St. Louis for work that doesn't mean we should stop enjoying the trip. This would prove itself to be the weirdest National Park I've experienced yet. The land owned by the federal government is literally in the town of Hot Springs.
It's the least preserved feeling National Park of all. The main attractions of the park consist of bathouses from the early 1900's that used the natural springs to lure in customers. Today approximately 3/4 of these buildings are privately owned and still ran as businesses. One of the buildings has been turned into the visitor center and invites guest to take a walk back to the early 1900's. Keep in mind as you scroll through the following pictures: this was the lap of luxury back then.
After a couple hours of moseying around it was time to hit the streets and check out a real hot spring. Here's one behind a bathhouse still doing it's thing today.
With another National Park knocked out it was time to hit the road. By 1400 we were stacking on the miles and heading north toward Jacksonport Arkansas. They've got room for big RV's at a state park and we want a decent place to stay for the night. This will be our last night on the road and we don't want it to suck. Yep.... last night on the road. A somber thought considering this was supposed to be a year long trip. By the time we got there it was 1700. The weather had stayed cold and gloomy for most of the drive. We parked and did our normal set up to settle in for the night. A storm was on it's way in and we were both excited about that. This would be the first time we had seen rain since the Redwoods almost two months ago. We'll get to experience it all to ourselves. Nobody else is stupid enough to go camping in the cold weather.
The time had come to hit the bricks and make our way towards St. Louis. The house closing was coming up soon and we had some miles to start stacking on. We left Houston bright and early and were jamming through the gears by 0800. Mile after mile clicked by as the vast expanse of Texas rolled by through the windshield. We had no plan. No destination in mind. The goal for the day was to gain as much traction northward as possible. It was late in the day when we finally rolled into Hot Springs Arkansas. Four hundred miles of asphalt passed beneath Roo's tires before we laid the old girl to rest for the day. Our arrival at 1700 was to little fan fare. The park was almost empty and signs of late fall were abound. All of the trees had shuddered their leaves due to the cold. We went from summer to late fall in a single day. The low temps took us by surprise and reminded us that we were headed back to the land of winter and frost.
One of the reasons we stopped to see my old pal was his invitation to go sailing. Tony has always been a man of the sea and considers himself a sailor. Prior to setting off for the marina we had to make a few pitstops to stock up. One of the stops was at the local market to pick up some bay caught shrimp that was still whole. That means it has the head and all the guts attached to it.
Afterwards it was off to the Kemah district to indulge in the marina.
Here the boat rests at it's dock as the loving hands of Tony and Jen bring it back to life. The 30 ft Catalina started off in it's new life as a rough project. She was half sunk and full of mold upon their declaration of ownership. Following a full engine rebuild, and a cabin to hull cleaning it was ready to set sail. Amidst it's upgrades she departed from the dock and took us out to open water.
Out across the bay we saw other boats and a couple of oil platforms in the bay. Autonomous drilling rigs out here pump the sweet crude back to the mainland without a soul on board. It's kind of a creepy thought. Heading around the circle and back to the marina we pulled in for the night and started dinner.
Tequila marinated shrimp was the reward for our day on the water. Eli agreed this was a good idea and was happy to see the dock again. I'm pretty sure he's not an animal that would acclimate to the sea life.
The rest of the night was sitting around and just hanging out with friends. Overall a good time in southern Texas. Regardless of our time their, we still haven't seen the real Houston.
This post will be short. Just a day hanging out with Tony working on his girlfriend house. We spent the afternoon working on the bathroom and trying to get it set up for a tub. The walls were too wide, the plumbing was off center, and the floor was uneven. Another adventure of working on someone else's poor planning. We capped the day off with the local mexican joint right across the street.
Tony is probably not super pumped about me putting this up for the world to see. But let's face facts here. I'm already 1,000 miles away and hopefully he will forget about this in the 6 year span until we see each other again. Getting a picture with this guy is like trying to capture a unicorn in a raccon trap, not gonna happen. Fortunately for me we were on the way to the budweiser plant in Houston that offers tours. A little chit chat about some delicious suds is just enough to distract the man while driving his 1984 plymouth reliant wagon. You read that right. He drives it on purpose. More on that later.... off to the factory.
We grab our first drink at the bar and meet our tour guide Maggie. She's cool enough to take just the three of us through the plant and spit our the repititious speech regarding the process. As we weave in and out of buildings one fact is made abundantly clear. This is a working factory first and a tour destination second. Compared to the Willy Wonka land of St. Lousis, this place is a sawmill. Another room brings us to the kettles where hops and yeast are turning into beer.
The tour continues and we end up in one of the rooms with holding tanks. Here we drink some Michelob Light on tap.
The tour wraps up and we cash in our vouchers for some free beer at the bar before we leave. Around a dozen employees are sitting around enjoying an afternoon draft and the mood is pleasant. We finish up and head back to the house for dinner. Another day in Houston wrapped up. Another one waiting for us tomorrow.
The delightful city of Houston. We've flown out of here in the past but still have yet to see it. Our arrival into the outskirts is less than joyful. Traffic flows at a slow pace and sirens blare in the background. We drive through a few dirty suburbs and nothing impressive strikes us through the window. Our goal of the day is to end up in an old friends back yard. Years ago I had made friends with a maintenance man at work. Tony and I had similar interest in a few things. We liked cars, machines, and drinking at the bar. It's been almost 6 years since we have seen each other but that didn't stop him from welcoming us to his home with open arms. As we crawl through rush hour traffic I can't help but wonder what it will be like to see him again. How has he changed? Will we still get along? What's the next few days going to be like?
We greet each other with a bro-hug and get Roo parked in her spot for the next few days. The conversation immediately turns to cars in the driveway and what's been going on in our lives. Just like old times. Hopefully we can still click like this for the next couple of days. Life never stops being lived, and the adventure in our hearts never die.
On the way out of the RV park and to the beach visitors still see remnants of Harvey. The debris line in the picture consists of furniture, freezers, washers, dryers and a myriad of other things. The grassy knoll prior to the beach trapped the trash as the storm surge retreated. This theme is common in the area. For nearly three months the entire focus has been to clean up the streets and get businesses back up and running. Plod on through the debris and the beach looks as clean as can be.
It's early in the morning with temps in the mid 70's. This really will be the last day we have to just lounge around a build up another layer of tan color before our return trip north. Ninety three million miles away a giant ball of gas is burning to keep our legs warm.
Although we enjoy the blistering heat our faithful companion needs some shade. This guy is always wearing a black sweater and prefers the colder temps. Yes, that is a beach towel for the dog. No, I don't know why Katie insisted he needed his own towel.
The hours pass by and the heat is making things uncomfortable. Time to head in for lunch and then back to Port Aransas. Our title company for the new house is claiming the earnest money check must have been "lost in the mail". A sorry excuse for their inability to perform their duties.
Everything in town was affected by the hurricane. The post office is still closed and undergoing it's re-model. Sounds of hammers and saws fill the air with a sense of re-building spirit. Adjacent to the damaged building is the temporary post office. Life must go on.
With the check business out of the way it's back to doing what we do best. The dog is dropped off with Roo and we head west in search of lagoon water. Our kayaks get dumped into the bay surrounding Padre Island. Swift currents make it a difficult paddle. Along with it comes a southward breeze and the kayak trip isn't all that enjoyable. A few fish jump out of the water with keen pelicans waiting for their chance. Just another day in Corpus Chrisit, just another day for us.
She's big. She's bad. She was reported sunk 4 times. The USS Lexington checks in at as one of the most decorated ships in WW2 history. She was commissioned in February of 1943 and saw extensive battles in the Pacific. Throughout the war the Japanese reported her sunk four times. They nicknamed her " The Blue Ghost" because of her mysterious return to battles following the reports. At 27,000 tons and 872 feet in length, The Blue Ghost checks in as one tremendous piece war equipment that proved to help turn the tides against the Japanese.
On each flank and rear corners were a pair of 3 inch 50 cal guns. The actual measurement of the shells were 3 inches in diameter which then traveled down a 150 inch barrel. These were mainly used as anti-aircraft weapons. A 34 lb shell would be loaded into the chamber and fired by the gunner through a set of iron sights. The 1.27 pound bullet would then travel up to 8 miles in order to strike it's target. Not the type of thing you want to be on the receiving end of.
Add to that the astounding 8 inch 55 cal main turrets that were located front and rear. This monster took a 260 lb shell and then delivered it with the help of two, yes two 45 lb bags of gunpowder behind it. Eighteen miles later that 260 lb ball of lead would end up in someone's lap.
Her tenacity as a weapon was further enhanced by the cargo it carried. As one of the largest Essex class aircraft carriers in the fleet it was no surprise that the most deadly bombers were strapped to her deck. Above is an example of a Vietnam era bomber that was launched from her deck. Why is this important? Following WW2 Lexington was decommissioned only to be re-commissioned in the early 1950's for the Korean conflict. She then continued to serve as an active carrier until 1991. This ship currently holds the record for the longest service tenure of any Navy vessel.
The self guided tour through the bowels of the ship didn't disappoint. Visitors are welcome to crawl arond through the vast ship unguided. Sure there were a few spots roped off, but for the most part it turned out to be a very intimate experience of how soldiers of the past created our lives for today. Is the US perfect? Not even close. But I will tell you this... when the national anthem is played I STAND for our flag.
Port Aransas was one of the hardest hit residences from Hurricane Harvey. Directly along it's path and on the ocean equaled a formula for disaster. The life of the town is in full swing however. Hundreds of workers are seen cleaning up debris and putting buildings back together.
It was around lunch time and we popped in to the local Whataburger. A texas chain of fast food that we haven't tried yet. Verdict: Not that good. There were only a few other restaurants that were open or getting real close to it. You need to keep in mind that the hurricane was three months ago.
Along Mustang island there are a few roads that go directly to the beach. The only two we found open were the roads on each side of town. Crews with bulldozers and graders were still collecting the debris along the rest of the island. It seems like cleaning the beach was almost a first step to recovery. A place for locals to go for a sense of normalcy when they needed a break from reality.
The beach has posted speed limit of 15mph and stretches for miles. We took advantage of this and got Eli out for a walk down the shoreline. Shirley likes the beach too. The red outer shell of the Jeep really pops in the sunlight. After the beach break it will be back to the RV park and we will settle in for the night. Just another day on the road.
From San Antonio we opted to head straight to our next destination with no messing around. With only a couple of weeks left on the road the decision was made to enjoy it as much as we can. That necessitates us cruising down towards the Gulf of Mexico and over the bridges from Corpus Christi to Mustang Island.
A quick hook to the left and just 14 miles down the road is our place of freedom for the next few days. Pioneer RV Park is still in cleanup mode from Hurricane Harvey. They've put about 95% of the facility back together and are welcoming people back with open arms. After being guided to our site we went through the usual set up and looked towards the shore. A large sand dune covered in cactus and grass blocked our view of the ocean. Eli gets hooked up and it's down the boardwalk and onto the beach.
The rest of the afternoon is exactly what you see above. Mid 70's temps and a slight breeze keeps the beach a little on the cool side. As the sun came down so did the thermometer until we just couldn't take it anymore. Dinner is made and it's time for one more dog walk. Eli loves a good stroll on the beach.