Photo taken at Winchester Bay, Oregon

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Hannibal: There Are Things Here Even Older than Ed!

At the Mark Twain Cave and Campground, Hannibal, Missouri...

It was at the much more genteel hour of 11 a.m. when Ed and Marilyn strode down to where Mae was parked for our departure on today's adventure. Ed guided me expertly to the historic downtown area of Hannibal and, with the extra sleep this morning, I was able to do important things like process information and recognize the people in our car.  

We were concentrating on the historic street where Samuel Clemens spent his boyhood, including the family home and the storied white fence of Tom Sawyer's:

Across the street was Samuel Clemens' father's office:

 Next door to this was the house belonging to the wealthier Hawkins family whose daughter, Laura, was the inspiration for Tom Sawyer's love interest, Becky Thatcher:

Nearby was the ramshackle house of the ne're-do-well Blankenship family, whose offspring, Tom Blankenship, was the inspiration for Huckleberry Finn.

All of these edifices have been lovingly restored, and the visitor center and museum have inexpensive interpretive tours that are fascinating. There was so much information that I didn't know; the books I had read so long ago seemed to come alive for me here. After seeing all this, I vowed that I would read the books about Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn again soon.

After lunch downtown, Ed took us on a private tour of the Mark Twain cave that was prominently mentioned in Clemens' story of Tom Sawyer. 

Ed works part time as a tour guide in the cave, and I must tell you that his knowledge of the cave and the lore surrounding it was something to behold. We found ourselves captivated by his knowledge of the geology and the detailed stories he told about the history of the cave. His flawless delivery of the talks at each spot had the desired effect, keeping us transfixed and sometimes feeling a little creepy. At one point, Ed partially told a cave story, purposely leaving the ending in suspense until later in the tour. This was painful for the ever-curious Sandy, who told Ed, playfully, to speed up the tour so she could find out how the story ended. There were stories of love, death, fear, criminals, hideouts, treasure, discovery, escapes, bats, ghosts, dead bodies and everything else imaginable in this limestone labyrinth formed over a period of 300 million years. It was an epic adventure--masterfully presented by Ed--and we felt very fortunate to have him as our guide. 

Following are a few pics from our tour:

So we reluctantly leave Hannibal and these good friends behind, perhaps not seeing everything this historic place had to offer, but having plenty to remember until the next visit. Our thanks to you fine folks for showing us such hospitality.

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

Friday, June 23, 2017

Hannibal: We are Treated to a Fine Tour

At Mark Twain Cave and Campground, Hannibal, Missouri...

For those who follow Ed  and Marilyn's blog, The Happy Wanderers, their frequent mentions of their ancestral home near Hannibal, Missouri probably piqued your curiosity as it did ours. Having never before visited the historic river town that was the home of Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, and the setting for his classic novels, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885). 

Being as close by as Memphis, I thought there would be no better opportunity to catch these two friends in their home habitat than this one, so we pointed Phannie northbound on I-55 toward St. Louis and Hannibal. It also occurred to me that no one would be better suited to help us get acquainted with the area than they and, of course, this assumption turned out to be spot on.

Somehow Ed must have sensed that we were nearing Hannibal, as I got a call from him when we were about ten miles south of town. His purpose in doing so was to give me instructions for a better route to the campground where they are currently parked than the directions that are delivered impassively by the small woman inside my GPS. Once Ed gave me an overview of the route, my brain rather quickly ran out of RAM as he described the twists and turns he had in mind. Not wishing to make some off-road error with the leviathan that is Phannie and Mae hooked together, I asked Ed to stick with me on the phone while I negotiated his suggested route. This turned out to be a wise move, as I almost certainly would have made a wrong turn without his real-time guidance. 

Ed greeted us warmly at the park entrance and led us to our site, which he and Marilyn had chosen as the best for our needs instead of the site originally chosen by the office. Upon spotting the site,we agreed that our friends had made the perfect choice. It's so nice to have friends waiting on us and smoothing the way. It's almost like having our own concierges! 

Shortly afterward, Marilyn drove up to our rig with grandchildren Lauren and Colby, whose photos we had seen since their birth but never met in person. They are certainly cute and smart kids and are obviously adored by their grandparents, with whom they were to enjoy a pizza dinner that evening. 

The next morning, Ed had scheduled a boat ride out on the lake with other fulltiming friends, Steve and Cathy. He couldn't help but smirk a bit when he informed us of the MORNING departure, as he is fully aware that we are anything but morning people. Nevertheless, we defied the odds and rolled out of our bed at the ridiculous hour of 8:00 a.m. I always take a lot of grief from others about our late-sleeping habit but frankly, we think they are the abnormal ones. Ed typically goes to bed early, then sleeps 10 hours or so and arises before dawn--something that might be fitting for ancient neanderthals but...oh wait, I think I've just figured this out.

Our mutual friend, Bob L., tells a revealing story on these two:  "Ed and Marilyn stayed up after sunset once and, seeing the setting sun, thought it was morning and were frightened because the sun was rising in the west." 

We enjoyed the drive to Mark Twain Lake and the COE park that was really beautiful. After boarding Steve's and Cathy's very nice pontoon boat, we motored a short distance out in the lake until an engine problem developed, causing Steve to return to the dock. Although it was short-lived, we enjoyed the ride a lot along with the company of these four friends. We had lunch afterward, where I was able to harass Steve by mentioning that the "three-hour tour" in the theme song of the old Gilligan's Island TV show must have been Steve's inspiration for his "three-minute tour." He will never be able to live this down, much to the delight of his "friends." When you're around this bunch, having thick skin is a requirement; there is never an end to the good-natured harassment.

Steve, Sandy, Marilyn and Ed

Cathy and Steve
Steve and Cathy are volunteers at the beautiful visitor center at Mark Twain Lake. Thanks for showing us around, guys...we really enjoyed it.

After our tour, Ed and Marilyn took us to nearby Monroe City where they lived and Ed did much of the flying he recounts in his book, My Journey to the Clouds, available from Amazon. I was honored to have edited the book, and I definitely enjoyed our collaboration.

Next on our tour was the Garth Mansion, now a beautiful old bed and breakfast owned by friends of Ed and Marilyn. We enjoyed this a great deal, and I had the good fortune to play the 1869 Steinway piano that was lovingly restored by the mansion's owners. 

Mike plays the 1869 Steinway piano

Mark Twain always sat in the wine-colored chair when he visited his friends, the Garth family.
Reluctantly leaving the Garth mansion, we drove to Lovers Leap, a high promontory overlooking Hannibal at the Mississippi:

Our view of Hannibal from Lovers Leap

The photo above is the actual Lovers Leap rock overlooking the Mississippi, where, according to local legend, an Indian brave and an Indian princess, each from a warring tribe, jumped to their deaths because the young brave was forbidden to marry the one he loved.   

All of this we experienced in only one day, thanks to our wonderful friends. Thank you, guys!  Our Hannibal adventure continues in the next post. Stay tuned!

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

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

For RV Happiness, Be Flexible and Be Prepared

At Cape Camping and RV Park, Cape Girardeau, Missouri...

It was departure day from Memphis, so we rolled out of bed crazy early, a little after eight o'clock!  We've done so many departures now that our respective duties are pretty well automated. Sandy takes care of most of the 'pink' things (chores inside the coach), and I tend to the 'blue' things (chores outside the coach). My chores do extend inside Phannie a bit to include things like stowing the satellite antenna (not much effort there; it requires pushing a button), raising the jacks and bringing in the front slides. On this particular day, The long main slide would retract only on one side and not the other. I knew from experience exactly what had happened: A slide motor torque tube shear bolt had broken. 

This was not my first experience with this problem; we've had a shear bolt failure on this slide on two previous occasions in the past six years. This appears to be a poor design by Tiffin on this older coach. The slides are all electric, and they have worked perfectly for more than ten years, except for these doggone shear bolts--and only the ones on the main slide, which is, of course, the largest and heaviest. This is what the bolt looks like:

In keeping with the title of this post, you should know that I was prepared.  Some time ago, I had ordered a half dozen of these bolts from Tiffin, and I knew where to access the broken one from inside the belly compartment underneath the errant slide. Opening up the belly door and shining a flashlight on the bolt, I found that it was still intact!  Assuming the problem was something more serious, I gave up and called a mobile RV service tech, who appeared at Phannie's door in a couple of hours. I informed Sandy that we would not be leaving Memphis today, and she more or less shrugged and began undoing the preparations she had already made. (That's where the flexible part comes in; If you don't learn to be flexible while RVing, you probably won't do it for long.)

Jay, the very friendly RV tech, found the problem in a couple of minutes--a broken shear bolt! 

"What?" I said.  "I looked at it before I called you, and it looked fine!" 

"Did you look at one in this compartment?" 

It was then that I noticed he had opened the compartment containing the propane tank instead of the one beside it where I had looked at the bolt. 

"This slide has four shear bolts," he said, "two on each side of the motor; the second one on this side of the motor is in here."

I was clueless about this; I thought there were only two--one on each side of the motor. I didn't know that another one was lurking inside the next compartment, well hidden from view by the large tank inside. I also wondered why the extra one would be needed. I suppose I could have looked in the owner's manual for this information, but guys don't usually do that. It would be a sign of weakness--much like asking others for directions. It's much better for us to spend money needlessly on mobile mechanics and find ourselves hopelessly lost from time to time.

I sheepishly handed him the bolt and, in a few minutes, I was also handing him eighty dollars for the service call. Now I have more reasons to worry about shear bolts, since I know there are four of them on this slide instead of two.

The delay wasn't a complete loss. We went out for dinner with Dan and Peggy again, which was very enjoyable. Sandy and I also had time for a late afternoon walk along the riverbank, where I was able to snap this photo of clouds over the Mississippi that were reflecting the fading light of the setting sun: 

I always enjoy our stays here close to the river, struck as I am by the size and power of this mighty force of nature. We do not take for granted the good fortune we have, being able to travel anywhere we wish and see God's creation up close.

The next morning, we went through the same departure ritual again and, this time, the slide came in exactly as it should. I retracted the satellite dish and raised the jacks, and we were ready to go, saying farewell to Dan and Peggy and wishing them safe travels. 

We stopped for fuel when we got to the Interstate, paying $2.11 a gallon at a barebones discount place that had no amenities at all. Thank you, Dan, for pointing it out to me eariler! There were no restrooms, no food and drinks, no attendant, and the door was locked; you just pay with your credit card and go. That suited me fine; Phannie already has all of those amenities, and I saved about 25 cents a gallon. Sweet!

Then we stopped at a nearby truck wash to get Phannie and Mae cleaned up. It had been raining in Memphis, and these girls needed a bath. They look really good now.

We drove north on I-55 to Sikeston, where we were finally going to patronize Lambert's Cafe, the "Home of the Throwed Rolls." 

Once inside, the waiter brought Sandy a huge mug of iced tea and another mug full of ice. Tea-aholic that she is, she was clearly in heaven:

The owners of Lambert's have had the good fortune of exploiting to the hilt the novel premise of throwing dinner rolls at their customers since 1942. The food, while plentiful, is not that great (yes, I'm picky, and I don't apologize for it), and it is rather overpriced, but the place was very busy, even at 2:00 p.m. What a gold mine! The restaurant is large with acres of parking, so we had no trouble parking our rig. And now that we've experienced Lambert's, we can say we've been there. We don't see a need to return.

It was a hot day, and it felt good to get back to cool Phannie, where the air conditioners kept her frosty while we were in the restaurant. Yes, it is indeed time to keep heading north!

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

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Memphis and Making New Friends

At Tom Sawyer's RV Park, Memphis, Tennessee...

Before I get started on this, let me mention that most of the extra linked pages on the right side of the blog margin have been updated. I've listed quite a few new "Best of the Best RV Parks" that I've learned about. If you, dear readers, become aware of new RV parks that would fall into this category, please let me know in a comment. Also, please let me know if one of these parks doesn't measure up to its listing.  Similarly, if you've found one of the favorite restaurant listings closed, please let me know that, too. 

We are near Memphis, on the Arkansas side, parked at the Tom Sawyer RV Park on the bank of the Mississippi River:

Dawn on the Mississippi. This was pure insanity; I usually never, ever get up this early.
We always enjoy staying here right on the river, sitting on the park benches provided and watching the barge traffic go by. I got a twofer in this photo showing a family of geese headed toward the water while a tugboat struggled against the current as it pushed a group of barges upriver:

We're here to attend the annual gospel quartet show before we head northbound for the summer. On a previous trip, we toured Graceland and did the Elvis thing, so we're going to check out some other attractions and restaurants while we're here. The last time we were here, we tried downtown's famous Rendezvous for ribs and Gus's Fried Chicken and liked them enough to list them on our favorite restaurants page. This time, I was intrigued by a TV show that featured Dyer's hamburger place on Beale Street, so we went there to check it out. That's the joint where they fry the patties in 100-year-old grease! They claim to strain the grease every day but they never discard it and start over. They also season it by frying up some garlic cloves at the beginning of the day and, while I thought this was all pretty bizarre, it was not quite off-putting enough to keep me from trying it. Now I can already hear the collective gasps out there at the revelation that I would even consider participating in such an artery-clogging bit of gluttony as this, but give me a break--wouldn't you be just a little curious, too?

The burger patties are dropped into a vat of hot grease by the cook in the photo below:

This is what the burger looked like when served:

Frankly, I can't figure out why this burger is supposed to be popular. To me, it was just, well, okay. Tomatoes and lettuce are not provided (no, you can't have it your way). I had rather have had the patty cooked on a griddle, I think. And worst of all, the onion rings were the pre-frozen kind. For me, this is the kiss of death for an onion ring. I have yet to find a frozen one that was any good. The onion rings inside their little sarcophaguses  had almost disintegrated, as expected, leaving only the fried batter ring from the outside. It was disgusting. 

We walked around Beale Street a bit but found it a bit too touristy to hang around for long:

For another lunch on another day, we dropped into the nearby Blues City Cafe and tried their gumbo and a catfish/BBQ rib combo plate. The gumbo was outstanding and very spicy, just the way I like it. The combo was good, too, but the meal was way overpriced at $42 for one entree and one appetizer. Another black mark for restaurants in the middle of tourist hangouts. Beware!

Before we even reached Memphis, Dan, one of our readers and fellow bloggers (, commented on our blog that he and his wife, Peggy, were parked at Tom Sawyer's RV Park in West Memphis and would like to meet us if that's where we were headed. We replied that we were, indeed, going to park there and that we would look them up! We're always delighted to do these meetups, and we were excited at the prospect of meeting Dan and Peggy. We found them to be a very personable, fun-loving couple of fulltimers with an unusual rig that I found fascinating. It is a large toyhauler fifth wheel, something that I really hadn't seen up close before:

But that wasn't the only guy-toy Dan had! He gave us an enjoyable ride to dinner in his roomy Freightliner medium-duty monster truck that he uses to pull his big fiver. There is absolutely no shortage of power in this big rig, for sure:

These folks are serious fulltimers, and we were astonished to see that their fifth wheel has an air conditioned garage in the rear that can convert to a bedroom! Here's a photo of the small Reeper runabout they keep in the garage and that takes them where the Freightliner can't go. Pretty cool, huh?:

In our conversations with Dan and Peggy, we became aware that we had been in the same RV park in the Rio Grande Valley recently but failed to meet up by one day; I'm glad we connected this time. We talked a good deal about where we were headed next, and they had some excellent suggestions that we will consider. Meeting good folks like Dan and Peggy is one of the many positive aspects of this lifestyle that we appreciate so much. And now, they join other bloggers we've met and are listed on the linked page, "Bloggers We've Met."

On another day, Sandy and I dropped in at the Cotton Museum in downtown Memphis. For many decades in the 19th and 20th centuries, the cotton trade provided the lifeblood for the development of Memphis, and this exchange building on Front Street was the nerve center for the cotton market in the old South. In the photo below, you can see the huge chalkboards upon which the prices of cotton in various world markets were posted after being received over a telegraph wire. The chalkboards were in use until 1978 when they were replaced by computerized displays:

This was an interesting tour, in which we learned a good deal about early Memphis through the interactive displays.

Next, we decided to go over to the Peabody Hotel and watch the famed parade of ducks as they leave the fountain in the hotel lobby and march to the elevator to go upstairs after their afternoon swim. This custom originated in 1933, soon after the hotel was built, and it was done as a prank. Someone thought it would be funny to put some ducks in the hotel fountain, and it became such a hit with customers that they continued the practice to this day. That was a good call, as the hotel lobby was packed with several hundred sightseers during our visit. Here's a photo of the fountain but, of course, the ducks all happened to be bunched up, swimming on the opposite side. Typical of my luck as a photographer:

It was a cute ceremony that included a lengthy narrative by the 'duck master' seen in the red tunic, followed by the ducks parading down the steps onto the red carpet in a single line all the way to the elevator where they were whisked away to their 'duck palace' on the top floor of the hotel. Here is a video that I pulled off YouTube:

We kept pretty busy going to several concert sessions during the week, and we continued to try new restaurants. One of them was the Half Shell, a rather forgettable (supposedly cajun) seafood restaurant that served perhaps the worst gumbo I've ever eaten.  I couldn't help but marvel in the irony that I had had perhaps the best (Blues City Cafe) and worst (this place) gumbo ever during this one trip to Memphis. Amazing!

Dan and Peggy helped us salvage our restaurant quest by accompanying us to Memphis BBQ Company just across the Mississippi state line south of Memphis. This restaurant is one of their favorites, and we were especially fond of the ribs; we were able to take home enough leftovers for another meal:

And yes, the onion rings were fresh and hand breaded, as they should be.

Late in the evening, as we were leaving the convention center, the site of the concert series we were attending, we drove by Beale Street in downtown Memphis and noticed an ambulance and police cruiser standing by. It was a Friday night, and the street was jammed with intoxicated revelers, so I guess the first responders were staged there, ready for anything. Somehow, this struck me as a bit sad to think that an expectation of violence or injuries is almost considered normal nowadays in places like this.

The next day, we took Dan and Peggy to our pick of a restaurant, a tiny Japanese place named Tokyo Grill. It turned out to be one of those wonderful mom and pop places where the food was outstanding, plentiful and ridiculously cheap. I could hardly wait to include it on my favorites list: 

We have delayed our departure from Memphis for a day due to a line of storms moving through. It's good to be retired so we can adjust our travel plans when needed for the sake of good traveling weather. We're heading farther north from here...stay tuned!

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

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Making Our Way North for the Summer

At Cowtown RV Park, Aledo, Texas...

My wonderful state of Texas is not a great place to be in the summertime. Until they air condition the entire state (don't laugh--big stuff happens here), those who have the means and the time to do so tend to evacuate to a cooler clime. We hung around Conroe to attend grandson Mason's eighth birthday party on June 3, and then it was time to start making our way north for the summer.

The first stop was the DFW area, where we have been unable to wean ourselves from our beloved family doctor and dentist, both of whom I needed to visit. The visit to the dentist was to get a broken tooth repaired. I didn't include a photo of the snaggle tooth, lest it be used by some of my hopelessly evil friends to "out" me as some kind of tooth-gapped backwoods redneck which, as I think about it, does describe some of my lineage. It was one of the upper front teeth that broke, seemingly for no reason other than to remind me that my choppers have been hanging around for 70 years and that some of them are like other body parts of mine that have worn out and been repaired--like my hip, for example.

Fortunately, my longtime dentist, Roger, a true artist, was able to patch it up amazingly well without doing a cap, and it looks as good as new. No one would believe now that, besides having a hip made from a ball bearing, my teeth are held together with Bondo. Sometimes I feel as though I belong in an auto body shop.

The second stop was to our family doctor and an exam to acquire a new pilot's "Basic Med" medical certificate, required to keep my pilot's license active. In an unusual retreat from unnecessarily burdensome government requirements, the FAA changed the rules for obtaining a medical certificate for pilots of most small airplanes that carry no more than six occupants. Now with the new rule, these pilots no longer have to visit an FAA-designated physician every two years. They can see any state-licensed physician and have him or her perform an exam and fill out a relatively simple form that will suffice as a medical certificate. This must be done now at four-year intervals instead of two. The only other requirements are that the pilot must have held a standard medical certificate within the past ten years and that he or she must have completed a brief video course on recognizing medical conditions that could impair pilot performance. Pilots of larger high-performance airplanes still must abide by the original FAA rules for medical exams. Since I won't be flying jet airliners any longer, this new rule is perfect for my occasional pleasure flights in small airplanes.

This exam was the first of its kind for my family doctor, and he seemed glad to learn of the new FAA regimen and the allowance for all physicians to participate. After the exam, he said that he didn't see anything that would indicate I would soon assume room temperature, so he signed the form. I now have the exam record loaded into my cell phone, which will suffice quite nicely in case an FAA inspector asks to see it.

I took care of a few other chores while we were in the DFW area, like an oil change for Mae and a trip to our accountant's office while Sandy did some shopping with LouAnn, and old friend, after which Bubba joined us for dinner. On our last night, we got together with LouAnn and other dear friends Harvey and MaryLou, for dinner at Horseshoe Hill Cafe in Fort Worth. Sandy and I shared an excellent rib eye steak with some wonderfully fresh sides:

(Sorry, but I had eaten most of my half of the steak before I thought to take a photo; it was really good.) 

Our friends said their chicken fried steak was terrific, so Horseshoe Hill will certainly go on our list of favorite restaurants linked here on the blog.

We talked about a Hawaiian cruise that we're planning to take next summer, and there was plenty of laughter to go around as we lingered over dinner.  We hugged when we parted, knowing we would get together again at the end of summer.

Today we depart for Texarkana on our way to Memphis, where we will spend a week before turning northbound.

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