Photo taken at Winchester Bay, Oregon

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Estes Park With Friends as Guides

At Elk Meadow RV Campground, Estes Park, Colorado...

We have spent most of the week here at Estes Park, enjoying the incredible high mountain weather with daytime temperatures in the seventies and needing to turn on some heat on the chilly mornings. When we see the reports of triple-digit temperatures in Texas, it seems far away and unreal. However, when we return there at the end of summer, it will still be hot and all too real, I'm afraid. We wouldn't think of going back so soon, but we need to make our way to Tennessee and points east, to fulfill our autumn plans. Before we do that, we need to make our semiannual appearances at the offices of various medical professionals in the Houston area. This will facilitate the prescription renewals of the chemicals that largely hold our aging carcasses together.

While enjoying the cool mountain climate here, we have been in the company of Glenn and Joy, fellow Phaeton owners whom we met recently at Colorado Springs. We find it amazing that we would run into a couple who are so simpatico, sharing as they do my deep roots in the beautiful forested hills of far east Texas. (We grew up only about 75 miles apart.) We find that our backgrounds are remarkably similar, having many of the same family customs and preferences, borne from our mutual rural heritage.

Joy and Glenn
Glenn and Joy have spent many summers in Estes Park, so we have had the unexpected good fortune to enjoy their role as tour guides, a favor they seem to delight in performing for us. Had it not been for our daily pilgrimages together around the area, we would have missed some very interesting and beautiful parts of this picturesque area. We traveled into Rocky Mountain National Park several times, seeing new sights and learning more about the beautiful area each time. Aside from an ascent to the highest point in the park at 11,000 feet, we saw numerous places we hadn't seen before, including these scenes from near the beautiful, crystal-clear waters of Bear Lake:

Sandy, Joy and Glenn at the Alpine Visitor Center at the top of RMNP

We also enjoyed a very entertaining western show at the Lazy B Chuckwagon in Estes Park. This was a talented troupe who were great musicians and who kept us laughing throughout:

Our good time was well worth the small price for the dinner and show, and we highly recommend it if you are in the area.

This post serves as a nice follow-on to the previous one, where I discussed friendships, old and new. We know that Joy and Glenn, while actually new friends, are already forever ones. And so it goes with this lifestyle. That's why we always close our posts with these thoughts:

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I don't appreciate it each day as I should.

You don't stop playing when you get old; you get old when you stop playing.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Fulltiming: Do You Lose All Your Friends?

At Goldfield RV Park, Colorado Springs, Colorado...

We have been enjoying the afternoon showers that are often present here  in the mountains. The rain brings a freshness to the air and often a little chill that chases away the heat of the day (if you can call temperatures in the eighties 'heat'). Temperatures in the fifties and sixties are the norm at night here and yes, we feel for our fellow Texans whom we have abandoned in our flight from the hot weather down there. However, based on the gang that we've run into here in Colorado, we're thinking now that we didn't leave all that many of our friends behind after all!

Believe it or not, we have counted no fewer than three dozen of our friends--mostly RVers from Texas--with whom we have visited here this summer!  You've already seen photos of our local friends Phyllis and Vicki and the large contingent of RV friends occupying spaces at Mountaindale, about 15 miles south of town. Amazingly,  we have also been blessed with the presence of perhaps five or six additional couples, most of whom are members of our Tiffin Bluebonnet Club in Texas, but they also include new friends Glenn and Joy, whom we will see again in Estes Park. Here are photos of some of the bunch from our Tiffin club:

So what is a favorite pastime of the group?  Eating out, of course! This is a seafood boil-in-the-bag orgy at a place called Krabby's in Colorado Springs. It was a little messy but good, and we were well protected, as you can see. No one was injured in the process.  Left to right are Sandy, Chip, Hank, Jackie, Steve, Shirleen, Diane, Shirley and Art. A great time was had by all.

Hank, a member of the Elks, got us into an Elks lodge for an inexpensive but tasty taco dinner, after which some of the couples danced a bit to tunes from the jukebox. Art and Shirley in the foreground and Hank and Shirleen on the right. Suddenly, it was the fifties again!

Normally, we sit around outside in the cool early evening, but on this day, a rainstorm forced us to take refuge in Art and Shirley's coach. Not too shabby!  We engaged in a trivia game, and I think the guys won. We're not entirely sure, because we think Russia might have rigged the scoring.
I mention all of the camaraderie among these friends to illustrate a partial answer to the question I posed in the title of this piece--whether you leave all your friends behind when you begin fulltiming. The answer is that you not only don't lose your old friends, you gain many new ones!

In today's communications age, the world is a much smaller place than it was a few decades ago. We may not see the friends from our old neighborhood as often as we used to, but that doesn't mean we don't keep up with them through social media and visit them from time to time. It has been my observation that good friends are good for a lifetime, and the reunions are all the sweeter after a little absence.

When we began this adventure, we would never have guessed that we would meet so many new friends who, like us, share a common interest in this kind of travel and who enjoy each other's company. We feel doubly blessed that we have the health and resources to enjoy this window of opportunity to experience the freedom of movement around the country, enjoying God's creation. It will not always be so, of course; we will eventually have to hang up the keys, and we will rely on our memories (or what's left of them) and this journal to remember all the good times. But right here and right now, with so many of our friends around us, it is a sweet time we will always remember.

Oh yes, and we shouldn't forget that there is another contingent of friends I haven't mentioned who are touring other parts of the country now, with whom we will certainly get together in the fall when the great RV migration begins from the north back to the south. And, of course, with social media, we keep up with them and know when and where our paths are likely to cross. We are certainly looking forward to seeing them again.

Friends? We never had so many. So, if this is something that you're worrying about as a potential fulltimer, you can scratch it off your list. 

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I don't appreciate it as I should each day.

You don't stop playing when you get old; you get old when you stop playing.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Gatherings of Friends in Colorado

At Goldfield RV Park, Colorado Springs, Colorado...

After an uneventful 300-plus miles from Santa Fe, we settled in at Goldfield RV Park here in Colorado Springs. We don't normally stay at parks of this stripe, but suffice it to say that beggars can't be choosers. We made these reservations a few months ago after failing to find any other long-term accommodations here in the Springs. Apparently, if you don't make reservations here at least six months or more in advance, the more desirable parks will simply be unavailable. 
Goldfield RV Park in Colorado Springs
Goldfield has only one positive that comes to mind, that being close to Old Colorado City with all the attractions a short drive away. The main problem is that RVs are parked incredibly close together--so close that I think we could hear someone sneeze in the coach next door!

There is a woeful shortage of RV parks in the Denver-Colorado Springs-Estes Park areas, and the owners of the ones that are here know it: A space at mega-crowded Goldfield runs over a grand a month; Dakota Ridge in Denver is around $1800, and some campgrounds in Estes Park soar to over $2000 per month! Now I realize that the summer season is short and that this brevity has a significant effect on pricing, but this seems pretty breathtaking for a place to park! On the other hand, the law of supply and demand hasn't been repealed; they can charge a big price because they can get it.

Okay, enough ranting; let's move on to the fun part. While summer here on the front range is a little warmer than I had hoped, being with old friends and making new ones is a warmth to which we have looked forward. The day after we arrived, we joined a familiar group of RVer friends at Ed and Marilyn's Mountaindale campsite for snacks and laughter as nonstop harassment ensued among the guys; there was no place to hide. One cannot survive in this group with a thin skin, that's for sure. 

On our first Saturday here, we strolled around the farmer's market in Old Colorado City. This market, occurring every Saturday in the summer, was a much larger group of vendors than we had anticipated, and there was a crowd of onlookers moving slowly among the tents. We bought some fresh fruit and vegetables, along with some homemade sausage and pickles that we have really been enjoying. 

Fresh Colorado Peaches.  Yum!

Wares from the La Baguette French Bakery. So good, it's truly sinful.
 Soon thereafter, we met some new friends right in our RV park, by virtue of their stopping and chatting with us upon noticing Phannie's Texas license tags. We learned that Joy and Glenn are from a small town not far from my ancestral homeland of Nacogdoches in east Texas; they are headed to Estes Park for the rest of the summer.

Joy and Glenn and their beautiful Phaeton 
We hit it off so well that we went out with them several times to nearby restaurants. We happily add these fine folks to our constellation of friends whose paths we love crossing from time to time. 

We also visited with friends Vicki and Phyllis, who introduced us to a really good Chinese restaurant that served good-sized portions at a bargain price. It was exactly the kind of mom-and-pop joint that we love to discover:

These two delightful sisters are longtime residents of Colorado Springs--friends whom Sandy has known since high school. It was good to connect with them again.

At another lunch gathering, we met at Nairi Siam, a great Thai restaurant with some of our Mountaindale friends to enjoy fellowship with Trent and Teresa, who were visiting from Canada. By the way, this restaurant appears in my "Favorite Restaurants" page in this blog. (Few are able to achieve that honor.)

Marilyn, Teresa, Janet, Jackie, Denny, Bob, Ed and Trent
I found time one afternoon to replace one of Phannie's windshield wiper assemblies that was giving trouble. After having the driver's wiper deconstruct itself during a rainstorm on the way up here, I called the Tiffin factory in Red Bay, and their parts people sent out a new assembly to me right away. One of the nice things about Tiffin is that I can still order the exact part I need for Phannie, even though she is 12 years old now. 

On a recent Saturday, Bob and Janet invited us out to Mountaindale RV Resort for a wonderful taco salad lunch at their campsite. Most of our merry group were there, and we had a fine time sitting around and swapping stories. The 78-degree mountain breeze made for a delightful time there among the pine trees:

I suppose one could get the impression that all we do is eat and visit and, well, that's not far off the mark, I guess. However, we do make frequent excursions on our own or in small groups to see the beautiful scenery or visit the local attractions that appeal to our varied interests. Colorado Springs seems to have evolved into a summer gathering place for this group, and there are certainly worse places to enjoy our summer-long escape from the hot Texas weather. 

During the next couple of weeks here in the Springs, we'll be joined by several other RVing friends from Texas, and we'll be able to show them around to all the local discoveries we've made and introduce them to the Mountaindale group of friends; a good time will be had by all, for sure. After that, we will be heading to beautiful Estes Park, Colorado, where we hope to see Joy and Glenn again. 

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I don't appreciate it as I should each day.

You don't stop playing when you get old; you get old when you stop playing.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

New Chairs, A Water Park Weekend and We Head North

At the Santa Fe KOA, Santa Fe, New Mexico...

Upon our return from Hawaii, we had only a few days to reset our body clocks and undo all the packing we did for the cruise. In the process, many vows were made as to what we would do differently in the future in regard to packing and limiting the number of pieces of luggage that would be carried. (Did you know that we had to buy an additional suitcase in Hawaii for dirty clothes and the extra stuff 'someone' bought while there? Well, we did, and this is not unusual for us.) 

It was such a good feeling to carry the excess clothes and suitcases back to storage, leaving our regular accouterments stowed in their familiar places in Phannie. Now, will our fresh vows be broken in the future? Probably; we have never been what you would call strict with that sort of thing or with anything else, for that matter. So, resolutions, for us, tend to be a bit short-lived. Perhaps because we don't take ourselves very seriously, we have a good life and a relationship that is about as strife-free and stress-free as one can be. On the downside, we're probably always going to look like the Beverly Hillbillies traveling with their belongings piled up in their old Model T.

When we arrived back in Conroe, son-in-law Tyler was kind enough to bring out some new recliners that we had ordered and had shipped to his house. They were too large, of course, to fit through Phannie's door, so he partially disassembled them and then put them back together inside the coach. (I wouldn't want him to know this, but he is a really good guy.)

We had absolutely worn out our previous recliners, so we were glad to find these--all leather and very comfy. By the way, we have  nap-tested these, and they passed with flying colors!  Thank you, Tyler, for your help!

On our way northward, we stopped in Burleson, Texas to join our kids at the Jellystone water park. We get a big kick out of watching our grandsons have such a good time:

Here is a fresh photo of daughter Mindy and grandson Pryce: 

Below is grandson Mason with pal Yogi:

Sandy and I seemed best suited for just sitting around and watching the spectacle. These boys are pretty special to us:

Reluctantly, we said goodbye to the kids and headed Phannie northward in our quest to find cool air. In doing so, we stretched our usual 200 to 250-mile leg to 373 miles before parking at Oasis RV Resort in Amarillo for the night. (By the way, I-40 is a mess all the way through Amarillo--lots of construction.)

Unfortunately, catching up on our rest after the long leg proved a bit elusive, as a cold front blew through Amarillo after dark. The  gale-force wind from nearby thunderstorms was so great that we had to bring in the slides and stow the satellite dish, after which the park's electrical power was interrupted.  A few minutes later, the park's water supply also went off, probably because the park's water pump was affected by the power outage. Things calmed down around four a.m., and we were able re-deploy the slides and satellite and get a bit of sleep. Also, it had mercifully cooled down into the sixties--nice!

The next leg to Santa Fe was longer than usual, too--the better part of 300 miles. I mentioned above our historical limitation in a day's travel because we're usually not in any hurry. However, that may be changing, especially if we are traversing some geography that is not particularly appealing or where there are no interesting stops.  Such is certainly the case with the numbing nondescriptness of west Texas and eastern New Mexico topography. In such cases, I just put on an audiobook and keep the big bus cruising 'on the step.' 

I should explain that term, for I'm showing my age here: On the step represents a very old flying technique that may be as much an old pilot's tale as anything else. According to this theory, a pilot can achieve a little better cruising speed at a given altitude by first climbing above then descending back to the altitude into a 'sweet spot' of a cruising configuration. This has been the subject of hangar talk and barroom speculation among pilots for ages, and I've tried it, but the outcome was hardly convincing. I remain neutral but skeptical.  

Anyhow, the passing around of this shibboleth among pilots has diminished rather pointedly since computers began to do more of the flying than pilots. In the more sophisticated airplanes these days, pilots largely monitor the automation rather than doing hands-on flying, and the younger fliers coming up probably have no idea what I'm even talking about. Frankly, I'm not unhappy that I missed most of the automation; I enjoyed flying too much.

It should be noted that Phannie doesn't have much automation either, except automatic transmission and cruise control. She certainly doesn't drive herself, but I rarely get tired of driving unless we spend a good deal of time in a high traffic metropolitan area, which I desperately try to avoid. If we're on Interstate highways and other roads with little traffic and few stops, I sometimes take advantage of this and drive longer legs when appropriate.

One disappointment in reaching Santa Fe was that the place was having a heat wave. In fact, Denver, which is not too far away, recorded its highest June temperature in history! Wouldn't you know it? The temperature was in the nineties when we got to Santa Fe and it didn't abate for a couple of days. This is a bit unusual for a place that's above 7,000 feet in elevation. Another disappointment was the Santa Fe KOA, where we are set up until after the holiday rush. The park itself is okay, but it's all dirt and gravel and, therefore, very dusty. As the place is down in a canyon, the AT&T cell service is weak. But the worst thing is the water, which has a strong mineral smell and taste and is not as clear as it should be. We certainly don't drink it, purchasing our drinking water instead. We would probably already have moved, but getting space elsewhere around the July 4th holiday is unlikely.

We took the opportunity to hop in Mae and take an air-conditioned drive up to Taos and then over to Angel Fire to meet some friends who were staying at the Angel Fire RV Resort. This was one of the nicest RV parks we've ever seen, and the daytime temperature there at 8,300 feet was, mercifully, in the 70s and low 80s. Now that's more like it! We had a very nice dinner with our friends at the Angel Fire Country Club and drove back afterward. What a great evening!

Angel Fire RV Resort

I got a delightful surprise this week from the author of Reflections Around the Campfire, a breezy and well written RV camping blog that I discovered a while ago and have been reading ever since. I think Mary, the author, and I are kindred spirits, to a degree, in our writing styles. We both strive to make our posts readable and entertaining by trying to achieve more of a conversational or storytelling tone than one that comes across as bookish or travelogue-like. This sometimes isn't easy and, coupled with my obsessive-compulsive disorder that requires me to edit these posts to death while trying for perfection, my rewrites are many and largely unjustified, I'm sure. I mean, would you really stop reading this if I were to leave out a comma or use a dangling participle? I hope not, but I've not had much success in finding a help program. As I've mentioned before, I think this neurosis of mine originated with Mrs. Reed, an English teacher in high school who actually rapped her students' knuckles with a ruler if they failed to recite properly the rules of grammar. Of course, she would probably be in jail today, but I will always be grateful--even with the trauma she administered--for insisting on excellence; that experience served me incredibly well throughout my career. Thank you, Mrs. Reed.

But I digress.

Mary sent me a note saying how much she enjoyed Phannie and Mae and that she has included it as a favorite in the new blogroll that she has now added to her site. She linked to it in her latest post, as I have similarly done with her blog title above. This may not seem like a big deal, and everyone likes a high five, but recognition from a respected peer is pretty special to me.  Thanks, Mary; I'm glad we toil in the same vineyard.

After July 4th, we will be making our way to Colorado Springs, where we will meet up with a number of friends who are already there and with others who will be dropping in later in the month.

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it as I should each day.

We don't stop playing when we get old; we get old when we stop playing.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Cruising Hawaii, A Rant on Air Travel and a Thank You!

At Lake Conroe Thousand Trails, Willis, Texas...

First of all, I notice that the pageview counter has gone over a half million on this blog.  That is something noteworthy and a reminder to thank you for taking time to look in and see what we're up to. I don't think it matters that the number there on the counter isn't accurate; the blog has been around a lot longer than that widget has, and it started at zero. Yes, Phannie and Mae is beginning its 14th year of publication, having been started at the very beginning of our first RV trip in 2005 as a means to document our adventures. Each passing year brings with it a little more fogginess in our memories, and this journal becomes ever so much more meaningful in helping us relive all those good times. That's why I always encourage newbies not to fail to make a good pictorial record of your travels. You'll be glad you did!

Since we've been RVing, we really hadn't traveled by air for quite a while before this trip from Houston to Honolulu and back. We knew that the airlines had figured out how to boost revenue by gouging passengers for, well, everything imaginable, but I hadn't really had the experience of being turned upside down until even the change fell out of my trousers. Having been involved with the industry for a long time, I can remember well when a passenger was treated with great respect, coddled in a spacious and comfortable reclining seat, enjoying a nice free meal and plenty of attention from a courteous flight attendant. Those days are obviously gone, based on our recent experience.

We paid more than a thousand bucks each to United for non-stop round trip tickets, only to be shoehorned into a seat so narrow that we needed Crisco on our hips to get in and out of it. And the rows of seats were so close together that pushing the recline button would only get you about two inches of rearward travel of the chair back. This meant that we went from sitting straight up to, well, sitting 'almost' straight up. For eight hours, mind you. Perhaps a better way to explain it was that we went from 'please kill me now' to 'you'll need to call the paramedics when we arrive.' And the 'meal' consisted of a prepackaged bun, inside of which was what appeared to be a ground beef patty that could easily be used as a paperweight. This was accompanied by a little cardboard coffin containing wilted lettuce, a slice of tomato and a dill pickle slice, components that were obviously meant to be assembled by us in order to enjoy fully the privilege of making our own dinner. And for this, they charged us ten bucks apiece! 

If we wanted access to their wi-fi to use our iPad, that would be another ten bucks; or, if we wanted to rent their notebook, that would also be ten bucks. We were almost shocked that we could still have a free beverage, but our euphoria was dashed when we were told that we could not have a whole can of soda. I wondered what they were going to charge us to go to the bathroom! For the world, I thought United should rename its economy section 'Steerage.' 

The flight attendants serving us and the 350 or so other sardines were mostly older and out of shape--like us--and, when they walked down the incredibly narrow aisles, the passengers' shoulders usually got a smack or two from the flight attendants' ample and wayward derriere cheeks. What happened to the young flight attendants in short shorts; remember those? 

Our luggage fees for the round trip amounted to over $200 and, not wishing to fold myself up again for the trip home, I upgraded us to premium seats--which were still there in steerage--but with a little more legroom; they called it "Economy Premium." I called it thievery! The cost for these few more inches between seats? $300. 

Yes, I know that you get what you pay for and, for another thousand bucks each, we could have gotten first-class seats and, by the time we paid all the extra fees, we may as well have done that, I guess. But most people don't want to or can't spend that kind of money, so they are at the mercy of the airlines and their airborne cattle drive. I must tell you that I was disgusted and embarrassed that airline travel has come to this; it was not this way back in my flying days. I was also appalled that pilots in uniform had become so sloppy. I didn't see a single uniform cap being worn among perhaps a dozen pilots we saw, something at which I would have bristled as a former airline chief pilot myself. These guys would have been doing a carpet dance in my office, for sure. 

What the experience did, however, was to make me ever so grateful for Phannie and our comfortable means of RV travel. I'm not sure when we'll be enduring this fiendish hassle again; it won't be soon.

Okay, enough of my ranting; let's get to something more pleasant. We met our friends in Honolulu and boarded our ship for the seven-day cruise around the islands. This was the Norwegian's Pride of America, and here are some photos:

Here is our group (except for yours truly taking the photo); Bubba, LouAnn, Sandy, Mary Lou and Harvey.

Sailing out of Honolulu harbor, with Diamond Head in the distance:

Since we're all fans of southern gospel music, we enjoyed concerts each evening from some of our favorite groups cruising with us, like the Collingsworth family below:

Here are some more photos from the ship: 

The great seal of the U. S.-- Nice touch!

Ah, the food!  Non-stop temptation! This is the buffet area; there were several more restaurants, some of which were surprisingly elegant.

Ours was the first cruise ship allowed back into the big island's ports since the new Kilauea eruptions, and we were very happy about that. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to go near there or even to Volcanoes National Park, a big personal disappointment. We did see a volcano plume from a long distance, however.

Here we all are on deck overlooking Hilo after dinner:

There were beautiful beaches, great waves and lots of surfers on Maui but, somehow, I failed to get a photo. 

The waterfalls and flora on the islands were beautiful and unusual, of course, and I'm going to try to avoid inundating you with photos, but here are some nice samples of what we saw. Most of these were taken in Allerton Botanical Garden on Kauai:


This was the most unusual of all the flowering plants we saw. Note the little violet flower growing out of the pink cone:

In one area of the park were these strange-looking trees. We learned that some scenes from Jurassic Park were filmed here. Easy to see why!

Much of the volcanic rock shoreline was stark evidence of the means by which these islands were formed:

A curiosity was the omnipresence of chickens on Kauai. These are protected here, and they are literally everywhere on the island. There is almost never a time when you don't hear a rooster crowing somewhere in the distance:

Allerton Gardens is a beautiful park; you shouldn't miss it if you happen to visit Kauai.  

Here we are, back (almost) where we started our honeymoon 42 years ago and still sweethearts: 

Our favorite stop for finding crystal clear ocean was Kona (below). We would have loved to go snorkeling here. Mary Lou got some Kona coffee, on which she is now hooked, I think:

Leaving Kauai, we sailed just offshore along the Napali coast and its ruggedly beautiful cliffs on the north side of the island:

Our last stop--Honolulu, early, early on Saturday morning (below). I wasn't quite awake enough to include all of Diamond Head in the photo; it's on the right edge of the photo below. What a great cruise!

Our last photo on the ship; we're about to go ashore in Honolulu:

Of course, no Honolulu port of call would be complete without a visit to Pearl Harbor, so we went to the new very large and informative visitor center, seen here in a panoramic view. The center is much, much larger than the photo indicates:

The presentations included a film shown in the theater as well as other video presentations and memorabilia in the various buildings. Since WWII is a favorite historical period of mine, I found it very interesting. We didn't take a boat out to the Arizona memorial, as it was closed due to repairs. But we had been there before, and I found the Arizona wreck model in the museum to be very interesting:

It was both fascinating and sobering to imagine what this harbor must have been like back on December 7, 1941 during the two-hour attack by the Japanese. Soon, all those who were there will be gone, and only they will have known firsthand of that hellish experience:

Only the Missouri remains visible now, docked adjacent to the Arizona memorial on Ford Island. The battleship is open for tours, but we didn't have time to go before our flight left.  Oh well, we must come back now, mustn't we?!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I don't appreciate it as I should each day.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old when when we stop playing.