Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Caravan to Branson With Friends

At Branson KOA, Branson, MO...

As fans of gospel music, we cooked up this trip with Bubba and LouAnn and talked mutual friends Harvey and Mary Lou into going with us to a three-day music event called "Praisefest Branson."  

Mary Lou and Harvey: Two of the Sweetest People on the Planet
We caravanned from Fort Worth in tandem with Bubba's bus, "Woody" and stopped in Hot Springs for the first night.

Lake Hamilton RV Resort 
Our campground of choice at Hot Springs was the Lake Hamilton RV Resort, a friendly but average park right on the lake.

Since it was just a stopover, and we had visited Hot Springs several times before, we didn't do any sightseeing, but we had a good seafood dinner at the Cajun Boil restaurant just a stone's throw from the RV park.

In determining our route for the next day, Bubba decided he wanted to take Arkansas highway 7 up to Harrison before turning onto 65 for the final leg to Branson. Now highway 7 is mostly a two-lane road that winds through the Ozarks for more than 180 miles and, while it is a scenic drive, it is a bit of a challenge in a couple of big rigs. By the time we reached Branson, I was pretty well worn out from negotiating all of the hairpin curves and the constant engine and transmission management on the endless grades.

We made a stop at one of the picturesque roadside viewing turnouts on highway 7.  It occurred to me that Bubba and I had stopped in this very spot 11 years ago, when we were just getting started in RVing. Here's a photo of our rigs back then--along with Sandy and LouAnn:

Now, fast forward eleven years at the same turnout on highway 7 in Arkansas:
Sandy, LouAnn, Bubba, Harvey and Mary Lou
Who knew that we would be making the same trip a decade later with a couple of big rigs?

Our first RV back then was the very basic Jayco model in the first photo above. We grew disappointed with it rather quickly, mainly because when we bought it, we didn't know what we didn't know about RVs at the time. As we began to take trips in it, many of the assumptions we had made about the usability of the design and layout proved false. There's nothing like the experience of a long shakedown trip in a new RV to reveal problems, and it wasn't long until we were asking ourselves what we were thinking when we bought this. We didn't keep the Jayco very long and upgraded to a much larger and nicer fifth wheel.

After we purchased the second fiver, a Sierra model made by Forest River, we enjoyed immensely the new layout and design for a while: 

It wasn't long, however, until we discovered through using the new rig that it, too, had design flaws and inconveniences that we wanted to avoid in the next one. And, while we've now had very good experience with motorhome living in Phannie, we have discovered some things about her layout and design that we will certainly want to change when or if we get another motorhome. I wonder if we'll ever find the perfect rig?

 Once we got set up at Branson, we had a nice hamburger cookout with Bubba as chef. He did a good job! Harvey, a totally great guy, looks on.

We enjoyed greatly the three-day Praisefest event at the Mansion Theater. 

Spring has sprung at the Mansion Theater in Branson
One of our favorite groups, the Booth Brothers, were there. I didn't get a photo of them this time, but here is one from the Alaska cruise last summer. We were able to get to know some of the artists personally, and that was one of the best parts of the more intimate setting of that cruise ship.

We also had a nice lunch visit with lifelong friend, John Sharp, who was best man at my wedding and I at his. We had a nice meal at Famous Dave's BBQ, and it was really good to see him again. 

As we often do when in Branson, we treated ourselves to an excellent lunch at Big Cedar, a beautiful resort on Table Rock Lake. 

Devil's Pool Restaurant at Big Cedar

Inside the Devil's Pool Restaurant

The photo below is of a wooden bridge built above the Devil's Pool waterfall near the restaurant.

We will part company with our friends here in Branson. Bubba is not yet retired, so he has to get back to work in Fort Worth. We, on the other hand, have decided to stop in Eureka Springs for a couple of days to do some shopping; I'll tell you more about that in another post.

As Bubba's coach pulls out, headed for Texas, I can't help but think of the two recent great gifts of freedom that have come our way--gifts that Bubba hasn't yet experienced, unfortunately. The first was my decision to retire nearly three years ago, the most profound result of which was the elimination of the limitations that my job placed on our travel decisions. When you're working, your time off is never really your own, as there is always a conscious or subconscious demand on your time that you are obligated to fulfill--if not immediately, then it's waiting for you when you return. You are rarely able to take a few extra days in order to enjoy a longer stay somewhere. Retirees, of course, can come and go whenever they like, and that was something I had only dreamed about for decades while I was still working. The second blessed freedom was our decision to sell the house and go fulltime. That's what now allows us the freedom and resources to do something spontaneous like stopping in a bucolic little town like Eureka Springs, just so Sandy can do some special shopping. Furthermore, if we get another brainstorm like that, we'll do that, too! And why not? We have no limitations or obligations now. Yes, friends, this fulltiming gig is proving to be even better than we could possibly have imagined. For those of you getting the urge to do that, don't be afraid to pull the trigger; you likely have some really good times in store for you. (But don't tell anyone; we should keep this to ourselves.)

Speaking of folks who are thinking about fulltiming, we got a call from Bobbie Jo and John, more good friends with whom we spent some time in the Rio Grande Valley last winter. She said that she and John had been talking to a realtor about selling their large home near Dallas and going almost fulltime while retaining a storage building/casita they currently own. They said they were influenced by the happiness we demonstrated when we were with them in the Valley, so that made us feel really good. We have a date to visit with them again in a few weeks, and we'll find out how they're doing. 

We also had a call from Steve and Jackie, friends from Austin who are new fulltimers and who recently traded their fifth wheel for a Tiffin Phaeton after they saw ours. They are headed out west for a couple of months and, boy, are they excited. We're glad they love their rig, and we hope to visit with them soon.

As a favor to another fulltimer friend and fellow blogger, Ed, of Happy Wanderers fame, I have taken on a project to edit a book he has written about his long flying career as a pilot. I'm not sure he chose his editor very well, but since I am also a retired commercial pilot who enjoys writing, I suppose this made some sense to him. My guess is that there was another overriding influence for his decision: I work cheap. Really cheap. But that's what friends are for; I think Ed, like several other longtime pals of mine, would probably do almost any favor I asked of him, with no questions asked. Everyone should have such friends.

So far, my editing gig has proven to be an interesting undertaking, albeit a bit slow; I've completed only the introduction and two of 31 chapters. There are reasons for my slow progress; English composition was a favorite subject in high school and college; therefore, I learned well and became rather picky about things like proper spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax and the like. Such attention to detail is, fortunately or unfortunately, a bit of an obsession. Even writing this post takes me quite a number of hours and countless tweaks and rewrites. Another reason I get slowed down is that I often have to lay the project aside when it conflicts with my own activities and obligations; not doing so would make Ed's project seem like w*rk to me, and I've sworn off that for good. I'll get it done, though; I just hope Ed's patience holds out.

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

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